Currently viewing the tag: "lists"

600full-joe-strummer6) Townes Van Zandt, Be Here to Love Me

Before I watched this thing, I knew “Pancho and Lefty” and Justin Townes Earle’s namesake, and that was about it. But this sad, sad, documentary that is a country song in itself went so well with my last Nashville adventure. S.T. and I perched in R.B.’s disaster of a music nerd bachelor apartment and sunk into the life of Townes.

The most memorable part, besides the quiet, woeful songs? Van Zandt’s son talking about how he learned his dad was dead. Switching across the stations one night, the son heard one of his dad’s song, which was rare. Then he heard another one and thought, oh, a two-fer, great. A third song followed and he knew something awful had happened.

Before S.T. and I watched this, and before we saw Old Crow Medicine Show that night for a WSM radio show, we had paid tribute to Townes by having a beer at The Gold Rush. There is a picture of the man himself above one of the bars. When S.T. and I went to take a photo, the middle-afged bartender began telling us perfect, tragic stories about how shit-faced Townes used to stagger home from the place. Sometimes he would leave his lyrics-covered napkins behind, and the bartenders would keep them for him. By telling us these raw, real tales of sorrow, the bartender managed to simultaneously puncture the unserious fun time impression of the country-drunk and enhance it one hundred-fold. All in all, it was a very Nashville moment.

Favorite Townes Van Zandt song (besides the one I put in Friday Afternoon links below):

Oh, and here’s the whole documentary on Youtube!

5) Tommy Jarrell, Sprout Wings and Fly

A group of us has rented a little house in Nashville — by us, I mean the collection of oddballs I met from internet Old Crow Medicine Show fandom, all of whom are at least 15 years older than I am — to see the group at the Ryman for the switch from 2010 to 2011. There was moonshine, black-eyed peas, collard greens, Prince’s Hot Chicken, and S.T. and J.K. busking their hearts out on the corners and side-streets off of Broadway. And when S.T. and J.K. practice their fiddle and guitar, it gets serious — even religious. During their practice at our (for the moment) little house, the DVD of Les Blank’s Sprout Wings and Fly was brought out. “Tommy” they called Jarrell. In their reverence, he needs no other name. I didn’t display my ignorance, but watched and tried to learn the appropriate lessons and display my old time piety.

Jarrell was an old school Appalachian fiddler, absolutely from another universe, even while Blank filmed him at the end of his life in the 1980s. It’s just one of those perfect folk moments in amber that makes one wish to be named Lomax. S.T. told me later that the story goes that Jarrell’s musician father learned “Poor Ellen Smith” from Peter Degraf himself as he sat in jail for the poor woman’s murder. That story is so America, that I hope never to confirm whether it is true or not.

Favorite Tommy Jarrell song:

Here’s the trailer for the documentary:

4) The Clash, Westway to the World

I don’t remember the first time I watched Westway to the World, but my 15th and 16th years saw the DVD nearly worn to splinters. It’s just the Clash talking, with archival footage. Headon is withered and still on heroin, Jones is all teeth and a bit of smarm, Simonon is still handsome and cheeky, and Strummer seems sweet, and sad, and regretful about his key part in fucking up the completely magical foursome had had going.

Favorite Clash song:

And the documentary:

3) Joe StrummerLet’s Rock Again!

Oh,  Let’s Rock Again! I waited breathlessly to watch, sobbed my eyes out when Strummer is passing out flyers to his own gig, or sitting on the sidewalk chatting with teens, or being hugged by hysterically joyful Japanese fans, and then I could never watch it again. The Clash I missed by miles, but if congenital heart defects and my lack of prodigious coolness hadn’t gotten in the way, I could have seen the Mescaleros, dammit. I missed it. I fucked up. I was late. But the whole documentary just makes you love Strummer’s humanity and his earnest, human optimism. (Which, knowing how he turned out, makes asshole, must be a punker, 1976 Strummer even more adorable.)

Favorite Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros song:

And the clip where Joe passes out flyers to his own show — contrived or not, I want to hug him real bad. Strummer was the most huggable of all the old punk rockers.

2) Simon and Garfunkel, Songs of America and The Concert in Central Park

The latter, a 1981 concert that made 12-year-old me infuriated that I had even missed that pale imitation of a folk reunion by six years of life — making the ’60s I yearned to visit seem farther away still. The former, though officially packaged with a shiny new version of Bridge Over Troubled Water a few years back, came to my eager hands as a grainy VHS from an internet friend (I “met” her in an MSN Paul Simon fans group. She also sent me a burned CD of a bootleg of the once-rare The Paul Simon Songbook). That tape was painfully wonderful — finally a glimpse of the duo at their peak, the thing I missed. The thing itself is pretty low-key, sometimes it lags, but there are some good concert scenes, and a particularly wonderful Simon and Garfunkel warming up bit.

Favorite Simon and Garfunkel song:

And Songs of America! (You God damned kids have no idea what it was like pre-Youtube. The dial-up days were dark indeed.)

And the Central Park one as well!

(I finally saw Simon and Garfunkel in 2004, though for most of my childhood I assumed it was impossible. I heard “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Suspect Device” that year. Seventeen was a good musical year.)

1) Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense

This, for the distinctive memory of my father rushing home from work one day, piece of mail in hand, and how he popped in his brand new VHS of the flawless Talking Heads doing their thing. He and mom were actually there for one of the nights the concert was made from. Though they were a very New York City band, my parents in LA in 1984 watching David Byrne in his great big suit, dancing with a lamp, makes them seem very California, and very familiar in a way — as if they helped raise me. And the concert is as wonderful as everyone says — its slow build from David Byrne playing “Psycho Killer” all alone to the full, wild stage and incomprehensible energy. It’s perfect, and it’s strange, and it’s my parents being cool and before my time.

Favorite Talking Heads song:

And —

— David Byrne and that lamp.

downloadThe rule about Esquire is the issues with men on the cover are better. Esquire on masculinity is pretentious, but strangely earnest, but also sort of vulnerable at the end of it all. They’re over-thinking manliness, but it’s better than when they get into sonnets on the symmetry of Megan Fox’s face. Esquire on women is dressed-up lad magazine atittude. It’s all about looks, but Esquire swears it’s because these B-list actresses are just so captivating, man. The way they eat their salad in the cafe in which the interview takes place is totally art. Like, sexiness is art. This actress who played minor parts on several network TV shows is like a canvas.

And men are well-dressed, well-fed, well-read; tough, but real, human beings.

The April issue of the magazine — starring Jimmy Kimmel with a sharpie mustache drawn on his face — has an intriguing list, “84 Things a Man Should Do Before He Dies: The Life List.” I figured as a well-dressed, well-fed, well-read, not super tough, but working on it real human lady being, I would see how many manly things I have done so far.

1. Apologize.  Should work on my skills there. But boring.

2. Construction related man stuff, nope. Never ripped down a wall.

3. Lost 15 pounds without talking about it — literally everyone losing 15 pounds should stop talking about it.

4. Take one stunning train trip. The more nights, the better. Done! And awesome.

5. Say “I’m sorry, too” in the middle of a “vicious argument”: Uh, not sure off hand. Boring.

6. Spend an uncomfortable amount of money on a really good suit. I haven’t. But I would.

7. Leave a tip big enough to upset you. I am poor and nice, so yes.

8. No, I have never been to Bonneville Salt Flats, but it sounds great. Possibly even greater than this Charlie Parr song called “Bonneville.”

9. I haven’t taken a little girl to see The Nutcracker, but I have been a little girl who saw it. Hell, I was a little girl who listened to a tape of the songs and made my stuffed animals dance. This was when I was six and thought “rock and roll” was loud and grating.

10. Nearly die, then don’t. I almost died from asthma and pneumonia as a six-month-old, so sure.

11. See a band’s last show ever. Not yet, hopefully. I did see the very last Old Crow Medicine Show concert that Willie Watson played with them, however. Tears. Unmanly tears.

12-13. I lose major man points for not being able to drive.

14. Volunteer. Obligatory entry, and not as much as I should. I should do some Food, Not Bombs. I did pass out Christmas toys in Zagreb once, on the other hand.

15. No, I haven’t taken a tiny sea plane in Vancouver. That sounds like something I would be terrified and delighted to do.

16. Love something other than yourself (with picture of dog). Well, of course.

17. Shoot a Glock. No! But I have shot a Colt .45 and a dang semi-automatic SKS. I think I have more man points than John H. Richardson, who wrote the brief.

18. Write a poem. Fuck yeah, man. I once earned $50 from a poem, which probably puts me in the top three most successful poets of our time.

19-21. Drug and casual sex suggestions. Boring.

22. No, I do not make incredibly important decisions quickly. Nor do I make inane ones. It is not in my genes.

23. Coach kids what? Sports? God help them.

24. Vacations with friends are good, annual ones would be great.

25. I have better than a personal uniform. I have style.

26. I cannot tell a joke. But I will keep telling the one I made up. What do you call a frat boy who enjoys making up new words by putting two together?

27. I haven’t met a lot of newborns, and I haven’t yet held their hands.

28. I have been lost, both on purpose and by accident.

29. No, I cannot change a tire. Have definitely never done it without telling someone.

30. I haven’t toasted my father.

31. Write a country song? Ah, fuck you, Esquire. Stop trying to win my heart. Joke ones, sure.

32.  Build an irresponsible fire. I was with some disreputable 25-year-old punks, and I was 17, but we did have a trespassing bonfire on a muddy night in God Knows Where Woods.

33. Shovel soil onto a casket. Oh, Jesus, Esquire. It will happen, do we need to put on the official list?

34. Take a month off? Not really on purpose.

35. Face your own mortality by taking a physical risk. I have climbed some Montana boulders and hills that were not so safe, and I was not so skillful.

36. Drive cross country the other way — from Great Falls, Montana to Austin, Texas. Great one! I have been across country by bus, train, car, and plane, AND my mom is from Great Falls, but I have not yet done the sideways venture. It’s going on the list.

37. Walk somewhere at least 50 miles away. This has long been on my list. It has to be if you grew up on a diet of children’s books filled with runaway orphans and stranded Alaskan travelers.

38. No, I haven’t been to or climbed Angels Landing in Zion National Park. Sounds Biblical.

39. Drive a Glacier National Park road! Shit, who in Esquire loves Montana this much? Tragically, I haven’t been to Glacier yet.

40.  Hondle. A word I have never heard in my life. It means haggle, basically. I am so bad at haggling that when I saw a $100,000 Reichmark bill for sale at a flea market, I said “I WANT THAT NOW, NO HAGGLING, NOW. TAKE MY MONEY.”

41. Quit your job. I haven’t had a lot of them.

42. Kill your dinner. Not even been fishing. Feel like I should, though.

43. Put your phone down. People always call when you do that. But I love to ignore my phone as much as possible.

44. Be obsessed. Have you met me?

45. Make enemies. Working on it, darling. And all the right ones.

46. Sleep outside, next to a fire. Done. You tend to wake up cold.

47. Sleep outside, in a public park. Not yet. Not even after reading Evasion.

48. Try really fucking hard to be great at one thing. I should try a lot harder.

49. Help to bring life into the world. No thanks. But I would like a puppy. Or to make one in a lab.

50. More driving.

51. I can’t do much while drunk, no.

52. Live your nightmare. Non-specific, but the piece is about dying at a comedy club. No, thank you.

53. I can’t make an old-fashioned, but the last one I had was made by a Southerner who is a foreign correspondent in Haiti. I cam eto his party clutching my Christmas Rye, and he made me one old-fashioned out of the last dregs of it. It was delicious.

54. Never rode a horse. Mom says I rode an elephant in LA once. It was probably well-tethered.

55. I really am not handy.

56. Make a sandwich at three in the morning. This is just an excuse to show Jessica Pare in her underwear. On the other hand, she has a friendly pin-up girl smile and is not posing in an impossible way, and for a man magazine, that is true enlightenment.

57. Swim naked. More Jessica Pare juxtaposition excuses, but again, she looks friendly, not deadly-sexy. Fair enough. And yes I have gone skinny-dipping. Love those cold Montana creeks.

58. I have never busked! Which is part of my sneaking suspicion that I will never be great. Wait, once I was sitting on the sidewalk for my mom and I began fiddling with my viola, because this was after junior orchestra. One of the directors throw a quarter into my case, so there you go.

59-60. Meet your hero/have a hero. I have met several of mine, musical, ideological, journalistic, and otherwise.

61. No, I have never been to that specific place either.

62. Walk away from a conversation you’re not enjoying, without explanation. Yes. It’s hard for the shy, but it’s good practice for the woman getting creeped on at a Justin Townes Earle show.

63. Get fired, with cause. I was much better at that work study in the ELS office at Chatham than the one girl. But dammit, last hired, first fired. She slept at her desk, man!

64. Talk to your father about back in the day. Not for a while, but I was THE child for this sort of story of back in the day.

65. Sail continuously for three days and night on the open ocean. Oh, come now.

66. No, my left hand is rubbish. I am way far from ambidextrous.

67. Never been married, don’t really want the state to endorse my relationship. We’ll see.

68-69. Never hired or fired someone.

70. I still laugh at Cookie Monster, and the lesson from Sesame Street I learn is that eating inanimate objects with glee is hilarious. Enthusiasm. Let’s say I learned enthusiasm.

71. I would be glad to attend the launch of a rocket.

72. Be a true believer, then believe in the opposite side of the thing. Unless I become a fundamentalist or a fascist, seems unlikely to happen.

73. I like LA, and I have always wondered about chicken and waffles, so okay, maybe that one. I will visit that restaurant.

74. Walk around New York City all night. I thought not, but actually Pamela Stubbart, Todd Seavey and I just made it to dawn in January, 2013. Bam!

75. Commit a petty crime. Sneaking into a Pittsburgh city park swimming pool at night. Twice. Very rewarding crime.

76. Reread highschool novels you skimmed. Plan to.

77. Read Huckleberry Finn. I was literally just thinking today I should do this.

78. Read 50 Shades of Grey. Oh stop it, hipster-contrarians.

79. Do something awesome and not get paid for it. Sorry, “refuse to monetize it.” This blog post counts.

80. Have a pair of shoes made. I should, because my leg is all fucked up. Do $700 orthopedic insoles count?

81. No, I will never win an office.

82. I could definitely lose at running for office, but it seems unlikely I will ever bother.

83. I would like to go to Detroit for journalistic reasons, but, uh, it’s a little weird that Esquire thinks you can do most of the things on this list with impunity there.

84. Don’t have a life list. Edgy. Manly and edgy twist there.

Sadly, there is no way to tally your man score at the end. The magazine that published “The Falling Man” and “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” would never be so quantitatively lowbrow, so unliterary, man.

Let’s just say I am relatively manly.

I haven’t ever seen a Cosmo, etc. version of this list, but I suspect it would be 1) have a sweet boyfriend/have kids or don’t, but decide!!! 2) buy clothing that makes you feel good (hint: this thing from our advertisers), 3) A wild stab at topical feminism with “uh, ask for a raise, I guess.”

Esquire‘s life list is both a demonstration of its conventions, and better than it might be, all things considered, and much better than any general interest magazine for ladies. In short, Esquire-y.

Photo by Lauren Pond/Washington Post

6.5) The Montana firefighter I heard of once who was named Charley Stillsmoking…

6) …who could ideally be combined with the story of another Montana firefighter  — the poor fellow was chased by a grizzly, he hid under a pile of logs, and the bear grabbed him and pulled him out by the legs. Mr. or Ms. Grizzly gave one slash with his mighty paw across the firefighter’s chest, then went on his way. This happened, by the way, right in the middle of his fighting a forest fire that endangered my family’s cabin. So thanks for braving those beasts, anyway. I’d like to reward you with a song if I knew how.

Actually, has anyone musically covered the tragedy of that Arizona hotshot crew yet? That could break some damn hearts. We may need to bring Johnny Cash back from the dead for this.

5) The story of the only pair of high heels I ever owned (less than two inches) — I bought them to go on Alyona’s Happy Hour. I wore them on RT probably three times and also to the White House Press Correspondent’s Dinner, then I accidentally left them the backseat of a 22-year-old jazz drummer’s car, a stranger who gave my friend and I a ride back to my home after we had drank whiskey sours with him, playing at being interesting older women who had done things like go to Russia (her) and develop opinions about Gene Krupa (me, those opinions being he was awesome and attractive).

There are an awful lot of songs about shoes, and I feel like those 40-dollar beauties who did so much in their short time on my feet are worthy of that honor.

4) Songs that namedrop other songs are usually terrible earnest, but — front row center at the Ryman Auditorium on New Year’s Eve, Matt Welch playing “Fourth of July” drunk (I’m sorry, it was a strange and memorable night, in spite of the bottle of wine), Bob and I singing Against Me! songs while driving through the backwoods of New Mexico on my first road trip, cousin T. and in our first moshpit together (La Plebe and Jello Biafra!), etc. Lots of possibilities in a life full of the perfect moments with songs.

Music on music can work with the proper amount of overly direct, earnest This Bike is a Pipe Bomb, Defiance Ohio, or Endless Mike and the Beagle Club spirit. (These songs need to be written by a scrappy, local level folk punk/rock band is what I am saying.)

3)

Or any American drug war songs — good try, Lindy, but you just don’t scan as well as you could. I love you to death, Steve Earle, but I want more than “Copperhead Road.”

Ballad of Cory Maye, anyway? Ryan Frederick? All too many cases choose from.

2) The woeful tale of my ancestor Anders Olson who was scalped by hungry, uprising Sioux in Minnesota in 1862. Poor Anders had taken the family to hide in a fort, so the story goes, but he went back to check on the livestock and that’s when they got him. I’m feeling an “El Paso” vibe from this one, at least lyrically. Going back when you shouldn’t and all that sort of thing.

1)  But most of all, give me a moving country tale of Pastor Randy Wolford — this guy — who died from a rattlesnake bite in West Virginia last year. Wolford was a snake handler, which is strange and stupid and fascinating enough without any deaths, but the detail that just kills in this case is that Wolford’s father had already died the same way — in front of him when the boy was just 15. Could be straight, sincere country, but something a little more subversive — that would include the foolishness, and the doomed quality of it all — would be better still. I’m looking at you, Critter Fuqua, Justin Townes Earle, Cary Ann Hearst, someone get on this.

When we think about anti-government songs, naturally the mind wanders to the punk and folk genres. And usually these songs are terrible. Three to four chords, awkwardly forced lyrics, musicianship that would make Simple Plan blush. Fortunately, there exists songs that not only rock, but also have a good ol’ fashioned anti-government message. Because these songs feature actual rock and roll played by actual musicians, hippies, indie kids, and punks should use caution when listening.

7. The Trees – Rush

PEART-INENT LYRICS: So the maples formed a union/And demanded equal rights/The oaks are just too greedy/We will make them give us light/Now there’s no more oak oppression/For they passed a noble law/And the trees are all kept equal/By hatchet, axe, and saw.

This prog-rock classic by Rush from their 1978 album Hemispheres is a searing attack on unions and forced equality. The use of oaks and maples makes the lyrics a little too cute, but the message is loud and clear.

6. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

KEY PHRASE: There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me/And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye/And the parting on the left is now parting on the right/And the beards have all grown longer overnight.

Won’t Get Fooled Again isn’t exactly a libertarian screed– Pete Townshend probably shares more in common with socialists than libertarians– but the lyrics definitely harken a world in which both the left and right fight for their own good and the people get the shaft. Every third party candidate should adopt this song as their own.

5. Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine

KEY RAGING: Line up to the mind cemetery now/What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive an movin/’They don’t gotta burn the books they just remove ’em/While arms warehouses fill as quick as the cells

One of the hardest rocking songs ever written, and a dynamite screed against government. Rage Against the Machine may be awful, horrible left-wing nutjobs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t common ground with libertarians. They hate the government, we hate the government. They hate the military industrial complex, we hate the military industrial complex. They hate capitalism, we hate… [END OF SIMILARITIES].

4. Symphony of Destruction – Megadeth

LORD ACTON-APPROVED LYRICS: You take a mortal man/And put him in control/Watch him become a god/Watch peoples heads a’roll

Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine may be insane, and he may not be a lyrical genius (see above,) but he can shred a mean guitar and he hates the government. The song itself rails against the corruptive power of power. Lord Acton would be proud.

3. Taxman – Beatles

THESE LYRICS APPROVED BY GROVER NORQUIST: If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street/If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat/If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat/If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

Not the subtlest lyrics ever written. But damn are they accurate.

2. Electric Eye – Judas Priest

NSA NON-APPROVED LYRICS: Up here in space/I’m looking down on you./My lasers trace/Everything you do./You think you’ve private lives/Think nothing of the kind./There is no true escape/I’m watching all the time./I’m made of metal/My circuits gleam./I am perpetual/I keep the country clean.

If there was ever a song to describe the past few months, this would be it. Priest may have written the song in 1982 as an homage to George Orwell’s 1984, but it holds even more meaning in today’s ever-expanding surveillance state. It’s easy to imagine the analysts at the NSA cranking this over their loudspeakers as they record your personal conversations. “Electric Eye” was so prescient it was even noticed by Stephen Kinsella at Lew Rockwell.com.

1. Cult of Personality – Living Colour

BLINDLY FOLLOW THESE LYRICS: I sell the things you need to be/I’m the smiling face on your TV/I’m the cult of personality/I exploit you, still you love me/I tell you one and one makes three/I’m the cult of personality/Like Joseph Stalin and Gandhi/I’m the cult of personality

According to Wikipedia, “Cult of personality” refers to “an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” If there was ever a song to describe the past 5 years… “Cult of Personality” isn’t just one of the best songs ever written, it’s also informative and educational! Living Colour name drops Stalin, Kennedy, Gandhi, and Mussolini, and includes a snippet of FDR reciting his famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” speech. A killer riff, history, one of the great guitar solos of all time, a thoughtful examination of the dangers of hero worship and a complicit media; this song has it all.

1000992_10100888966231447_827789867_n1) Every knee-jerk patriot who so loves his loyalty to flag and country is celebrating treason right now. Yes, treason.

2) The Declaration of Independence is a dynamite piece of work, it really is.

3) Bill Pullman’s presidential speech before the final battle in Independence Day. Tell me he doesn’t give his all.

4) The X version of “Fourth of July”, which I played on my radio show yesterday afternoon. It’s such a gut-wrencher in many different ways. What a ridiculously great song. In order of quality of versions it goes 1) X 2) Drunk Matt Welch 3) Dave Alvin, for what that’s worth.

5) Maybe the bad-ass words of the Founders have melted into offensive hypocrisy, perhaps they did right away (or by the time John Adams rolled into office with his Sedition Act shenanigans), but again, that Deceleration is a kick-ass “fuck you” to people getting involved your business of living.

Hell, the World War I Christmas Truce failed, but I still think about and toast it every December 24. Maybe I could celebrate, if nothing else, the sheer audacity of people throwing off their King and saying, nah, we can do better. Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the perfect American woodsman, but his Civil Disobedience does the poetry of liberty better than anything. There’s a place for the pretty words of even the Founders. They knew. They knew so well the dangers of government tyranny and they still were all awful presidents — thereby proving their warnings that it’s the power that’s the problem.

6) Yes, six. I think under my libertarian anarchism there is some stupid, poetic core that wants America to be what its reputation says it is. You know, that wacky, anti-collectivist nation. The world’s cool Bohemian cousin who is kind of scary, but captivating. The life of the party. Can you imagine if we really were the bad-ass, individualist, cranky, cool nation of only Lysander Spooners and Rose Wilder Lanes? Who kept to ourselves, but always left the front door open to immigrants?

That’d be nice.

The fact that I have a lingering disappointment in America always surprises me. We’ve got such great geography, history, folklore, culture. We could have been a contender…We could have been the America that conservatives tell themselves that we always were and are and forever will be. (But better, cause we’d also have Mexicans and gay people.)

And now my patriotism for the year is done. Because again I’m wondering and worrying over where America’s trimmings of liberty are what keeps people from realizing how bad it is, and how much worse it can get. We have the amendments, we have that wonderful document of (mostly) negative liberties (God, what an awesome idea), and then we have a million tiny chips in each one. The Fourth is in particularly bad shape, but since it’s still there in law, are we going to notice if it becomes utterly meaningless, like my friend Bob’s sandals that were eventually held together only with duct tape?

Is it ever going to feel like a people in the street, this time it’s serious, this time we make a stand moment in a nation devoted to pretty words about being the freest place in the world? Are we just lulling ourselves to sleep by repeating what we were supposed to be as a country? What kind of shield is a piece of paper, anyway?

My Grandma keeps on suggesting that I read the newspaper funnies, so I must remind myself that not all comics are terrible. Please wince as I recklessly call graphic novels comics, but nobody who loved Calvin and Hobbes and Foxtrot as much as I did as a child could every consider “comic” a pejorative, so don’t even worry about it.

In website form:

Mitch Clem: maker of Nothing Nice to Say and My Stupid Life, the latter of which I have read through more times than I can count. Occasionally I worry over him, when he draws something too real. Often he just writes ska-pickle jokes, or jokes about stupid, loitering punks. Sometimes I don’t get the punk rock specific joke, unless it is making fun of Against Me! or Tim Armstrong. Clem helped me learn about the existence of the edited for TV Big Lebowski. Plus, this is hilarious.

Bonus: Clem’s fiance Nation of Amanda, who watercolors his comics and just seems amazing in internetland and as a character in “My Stupid Life.” I just want them to be punk and artistic and happy together forever and ever.

Kate Beaton: How much do I love Kate Beaton’s Hark, a vagrant series? Almost enough to look up Canadian history references. Almost. She’s feminist, she’s funny, she is a giant nerd for history, a love which she mixes weirdly with pop culture and literary references and jokes about Canadian politeness. Her art is awesome, with a deceptively simple, Quentin Blake-esque style. Plus, she made the greatest mocking of/tribute to the Kennedys since that time Garrett Quinn wouldn’t stop doing a Ted Kennedy impression on the way to LPAC. Also, she invented “I had fun once, it was awful,” so fuck you, Grumpy Cat.

In book form:

Anders Nilsen’s Dogs and Water — I once read it when I was really depressed, and it didn’t help, but I still got pleasingly lost in the troubling, spare  mysterious world of this comic. Something has happened — or is happening — and a lone individual, plus a teddy bear, is wandering a barren, post-war, post-apocalypse landscape.

Tintin — particularly Tintin in Tibet, The Blue Lotus, The Crab with the Golden Claws, basically anything with a lot of opium in the subplot, and at least some minority characters portrayed as heroic, not just as racist as fuck-all stereotypes (Japanese people, holy shit, Herge. You should have met some real ones). I read these books when I was little. They’re racist, violent, make light of alcoholism, and opium smuggling is a subplot in what seems like every other book. They’re also beautifully drawn, funny, and the adventures within each volume’s 62 pages inspired half the games I played as a kid (stuffed animals always had to jump/fall down a waterfall, ideally after being chased by someone gun-toting). And 1) Yes, Tintin was a journalist who never wrote a story and that was bizarre. And 2) Tintin in the Land of the Soviets sucks, but it does have a reference to Soviets taking wheat from Kulaks and letting them starve. I mean, Herge got it before The New York Times did, that’s all.  And 3) No, I didn’t watch the movie, and I just don’t want to.

Guy Delisle’s work, mainlyPyongyang: a Journey in North Korea. That is the book that got me fascinated with that world’s most fucked up nation. Delisle has more of that simple style I love. The French Canadian draws himself as big-nosed and quizzical  the backgrounds in simple black and white, sometimes with pale greens or tan. But nearly all of the most fascinating details of North Korea, from the hideous food, to the fact that Pyongyang is almost dark at night, I first got from Delisle. He’s a great person to travel with in comic form — the drawings are a bit childish, but the grim point of North Korea comes across all too effectively. 

Jeff Lemire: Beaton is the Canadian comic artists to make you happy, Lemire is the one who will just make you weep, but then feel kind of good, but still lonely, but lonely in a beautiful kind of way. Ugh. His Essex County is just wonderful. I need to read all of Sweet Tooth.

Also read: Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, for real comics reporting on the Bosnian war, and Peter Bagge’s compilation of reason comic: Everyone  Is Stupid Except for Me. 

And a special shout-out to the first comic I ever bought: Batman vs. Tarzan. It’s true.

Besides this comic book about The Carter Family (I love a world where that exists) which I intend to read on the train home from California, what should I be reading that I did not include here?

I am so sorry.Ladies. Am I right, fellows?

I am going to violate feminism right now and tell you to pay attention to several ladies who have nothing to do with each other except their gender and my love for them. Sorry for the tokenism/yay for the greatness.

1) Tavi Gevinson: Ha, laughed some people, Lucy is a god damned hipster after all. Also, she is not a teenage girl, so she is not allowed to be a fan of teenage girls. But, no, Tavi Gevinson is 16 years old and adorable and stylish gave us the best website ever for (technically) teenage girls. It is a web magazine called Rookie. It has a whole mess of stuff, some great, some just okay, but all of it worlds above any content in any print magazine marketed for teenage girls (no offensive, good Sassy, because I don’t remember you).  Tavi, according to her editor’s notes, is also working through ignoring that whole overly self-aware thing where you wonder if you like certain things because they’re cool and hipsterness, blah, blah, blah. Nah, she is genuine, and therefore actually fucking cool. And I am old (relatively speaking) and Tavi is a pipsqueak, but she makes me feel (the way my love Kennedy does) that you don’t have to grow up and wear beige all day so that people take you seriously as an adult. And who wants to do that, anyway? Mismatching, and putting shit you love on your walls and around your house until you die! Woo! (Manic pixie dream girl life crisis? Fuck you, no. The Smiths are pretty great.)

Rookie makes me want to flip off Luddites who scream about the death of print for hours and hours. If you don’t understand why a teenage girl magazine that included “Top Five Cryptoid Crushes” and why Hedy Lemarr  rules in inspired, you were never, ever, ever a weird teenage girl. And that’s okay, but you don’t get it, man.

2) Cary Ann Hearst: Cary Ann Heart of the staggeringly hardcore, cute, and sexy country duo Shovels and Rope. Shovels and Rope who were the best completely mysterious opening band ever. Cary Ann Hearst, who perfectly encapsulates the question usually provoked by male musicians — do I want to be you or marry you? Cary Ann Hearst who is all witty banter and sings all guts. And her hair, her crazy-ass hair. I love this woman. I love her stage persona. I love her chemistry with her (I think) husband Michael Trent. Their records are worth picking up, but their live shows are mandatory. Before you manage the latter, check out this whole series of live performances which I believe will eventually be part of a documentary on the pair. Look here, here, here, and here. Maximum cuteness with her and Michael Trent here. And if she doesn’t break your damn heart and raise the hairs on the back of your neck over here, you have no soul at all.

3) Wendy McElroy: McElroy is the libertarian lady of choice in your life, if you are living correctly. She saw the word “feminist” and was like, yeah, I’ll take that, statists. Her new book, The Art of Being Free, taught me about the best libertarian newspaper dude ever — R. C. Hoiles. It also explicitly looked and talked about the divide between wanting to be both of the two versions of Henry David Thoreau — the one who went to jail so as not to pay a tax that funded war and slavery, and the one who came out of jail, went berry-picking with some boys from town, looked over the rolling Connecticut hills and thought “the state was nowhere to be found.” She knows the conflicts, the warring feelings between just living free and wanting to not help to do evil towards your fellow man and lady. What I mean is, McElroy is the lady who wants to let you be, but she would appreciate you returning the favor.  She is great. Read her.

  1. Robert W. and I, somewhere in the woods of New Mexico, Against Me!, spring, 2006.
  2. Honorable mention: Robert and I, same trip, the hills of SF, listening to the New Pornographers and Joe Jackson albums, which he had just purchased from Amoeba records.
  3. And again, Robert and I on the very first day of the road trip, listening to “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth — a beautiful spring day and the prospect of three weeks before I had to see my home again.
  4. The clouds and I up in an airplane, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros (the “Global a-Go-Go” album), a general feeling that I wasn’t scared to die because there were clouds, Joe Strummer, and I. Date unrecalled.
  5. Tara, Steve, Jason, and I, Parker and Woolbright’s “The Man Who Wrote Home Sweet Home Never was  Married Man”, somewhere in Tennessee or North Carolina, December, 2010.
  6. The Carter Family and Old Crow Medicine Show on the headphones, a Greyhound bus in the middle of Montana, August, 2008.
  7. A Grateful Dead song that involved the name “Barbara”, Steve, Jason, Mia, Dina, and I, a speedy descent down the Great Smokies, January, 2013.