OH MY GOD, IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME. It was just announced that Facebook users can now enter “neutral” for their gender—or customize it with a host of other options, including trans variations, “gender questioning,” “bigender,” “androgynous,” “pangender,” and many more, if they’re accessing the site in the U.S. English format. You can also select new pronoun options other than “he” and “she,” so that, for example, all pronouns referring to you get switched to “they” and “them,” as in “It’s Krista’s birthday! Wish them a happy birthday!” HOORAY! This is huge for people who are genderqueer or gender fluid, as well as people who don’t think their gender is anyone’s dang business, anyway!
I want to give the Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen a hug. While reporting a story about the possible drafting of Michael Sam to the NFL, Hansen went off about negative reactions to the openly gay athlete from coaches and media outlets. Talking about current NFL players, he said, “You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away? You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far!” Ahhh, perfect! You’re killin’ ’em, Dale!
Earlier this week, Shirley Temple, a child actress in the 1930s, passed away at the age of 85. The Washington Post published this look back at some of Temple’s most memorable movie roles, and the briefest scan of her list of films had me texting my sisters, lovingly reminiscing about our childhood years spent watching Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Little Princess, and Heidi with our grandfather. He was born just a few years earlier than Shirley, and her movies always meant a lot to him. He never told us why, but we all vividly remember spending school breaks lying around his living room and singing along to “Come and Get Your Happiness,” “On the Good Ship Lollipop,” and other Shirley Temple songs with him. Her work has a really special place in the lives of my sisters, my grandfather, me, and countless others.
Valentine’s Day weekend can be Bummertown, U.S.A. for anyone dealing with loneliness, longing, or a broken heart. It’s as if the entire world’s decided to shove their happiness in your face, via pink paper hearts and terrible jewelry commercials. I used to handle this by doing the ol’ “Whatever! Hallmark holiday BS” crab festival, until I realized that raining on everyone else’s love parade didn’t make me feel any better about my own situation. The truth is that breakups hurt, and being reminded of the one you loved—whether it’s by a holiday, the smell of lavender, the movie Hot Rod, or whatever—can bring up myriad difficult emotions.
Sometimes you need a little help to sort the millions of thoughts and feelings that come flowing through you after a breakup, and, as Tyler Coates discusses in his lovely piece “Sing It, Sister: How Pop Music Can Heal a Heartbreak,” music is a marvelous place to find solace. Tyler shares his own breakup and describes how artists like Taylor Swift, Liz Phair, and Fleetwood Mac helped him “understand how to feel.” It’s a rare and valuable thing for a stranger to get into your brain for a while and reassure you that you’re not alone.
Bonus! Tyler has posted his “Sing It, Sister!” breakup playlist on Spotify, and it is well worth a listen.
This week, the feminist spoken word artist and writer Maggie Estep passed away from a heart attack at the devastatingly young age of 50. It’s hard to overestimate how important Estep was to a certain faction of ’90s women, a strong and avowedly individual, bringing insanely powerful feminist spoken word to MTV and HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, pre-internet mass-media outlets that were still overrun by bro-dudes. She lived a life of power to the very day she died, as her longtime partner, Seth Rogovoy, wrote in this moving chronicle of their relationship. “I never laughed so much as I did with Maggie these last two years. She cracked me up. And now she’s cracked me up.” RIP Maggie, you will never die. Watch her classic video “Hey Baby,” a hilarious song about street harassment from 1994, above.
I will never, ever, not love the Spice Girls and will defend them and their music to the end. Some people are all, “LOL, guilty pleasure!” but, like, no—this cover of “Say You’ll be There” by the Danish singer Mø (whom I had never heard from before but now I will most def INVESTIGATE) proves that their awesome songs totally stand the test of time. This version has a total SPICE vibe, but with a new hint of melancholy. Spice Girls FOREVER.
Praising an actress as “sooo real” is a huge cliché—but then there’s Kristen Stewart. As this Marie Claire cover story about K. Stew captures perfectly, she’s just too awkward for this life, constantly cringing at the weirdness around her and then cringing at herself for cringing so obviously while everyone was watching. When she’s forced to be in public, which is a lot because she’s a mega-famous actress, she looks like she’s cycling through three big, highly relatable questions: What is this world? Who are these people? When can I go home?
In the article, Stewart uses dude and the F-word a lot, and says things like “I totally agree when people say I’m, like, the most awkward person.” And yet she’s not afraid to put herself out there, sharing a poem she wrote, called “My Heart Is a Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole.” (“Oh, my God, it’s so embarrassing,” she says. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”) It’s about a road trip (her favorite book is On the Road) and features stanzas like:
I’ll suck the bones pretty.
Your nature perforated the abrasive organ pumps
“If you’re operating from a genuine place,” she says, “then you can’t really regret anything.” Juliette Binoche, one of Stewart’s co-stars in the upcoming Clouds of Sils Maria, describes her as “a soul explorer,” which is so French, so perfect, and, yes, so real.
I was bummed when, a few weeks ago, I asked some friends to brunch and they said, “Sorry, no, we gotta go be cute in a new Tacocat video!” Now that I’ve seen the finished product, I take it back—this thing is too cute to be mad at. Plus, “Crimson Wave”, which Rookie premiered a few weeks back, is just about as cheery and celebratory a period anthem as a girl, a dancing lobster, or a beach bum could ever wish for. All is forgiven.
Darlene Love has one of my all-time favorite voices in the ’60s-girl-group pantheon, and is just generally tops in my book. Here’s a little spot on Love’s history, in which she tells Phil Spector off and instantly earns 100% of my respect. I’m doubly excited upon reading this because I have her City Arts & Lectures talk on my calendar—if you’re in San Francisco, check it out!
Whoever made Shoshi Games, you are a beautiful genius and I kiss you from afar.
At the beginning of this year, the British band Metronomy announced that their new album, Love Letters, would be out on March 10. This week, they added to my (already enormous) excitement by sharing this video, directed by Michel Gondry, for the first single. “Love Letters” is the catchy, energetic musical boost everyone needs in the dead of winter, but the visuals almost made me forget about the music. For this project, Gondry created a tiny hand-painted cardboard universe that I’d gladly stay in for longer than the song’s three minutes.
For a very long time, I’ve harbored a secret obsession with MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, the shelf-stable, long-lasting prepackaged meals that are predominantly used to feed American military members stationed in areas where they aren’t able to access kitchens. So, obviously, I loved this article about food scientists getting closer to perfecting what they call the “Holy Grail” of MREs, a food soldiers clamor for, which as of yet has been impossible to achieve: PIZZA. It has proved frustratingly impossible to make a non-shitty slice that will stay fresh for three years in 80 degrees Fahrenheit (one of the requirements of all MREs). UNTIL NOW, that is. So rad.
On Tuesday, SPIN put up a retrospective of writing by Charles Aaron, a respected elder and colleague to many of us at Rookie, who left the magazine recently after 25 years there as a writer and an editor-at-large. Many of those pieces are online for the first time ever. As a Replacements devotee, of course I find this one about the band’s most wayward member, Bob Stinson, hugely affecting, but it’s really this essay about loving/being tortured by a career in culture criticism that makes me feel mad tender and gooped-up and lucky to get to read it and to be writing for a living.
In yet another Secret Amy Rose Obsession: REVEALED, my favorite opening to any song ever goes” “I’m your only friend / I’m not your only friend / But I’m a little glowing friend / But really I’m not actually your friend / But I am.” The rest of They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is pretty fucking wonderful, too. This history of “Birdhouse in Your Soul” and the album it appeared on, 1990’s Flood, deconstructs the enormous ambition of the song, a canny, gorgeous poem about the comforts of a blue canary-shaped nightlight that changes key 18 times in under three minutes. The piece also parses why I’ve always been kind of embarrassed to publicly admit my great love of the song:
Both literary and exuberantly naïve, the song epitomizes a particular everything-at-once way of thinking and being. In the ’80s, it was easy to disparage hyperassociation like this as awkwardly geekish. It belied an ignorance of when to shut up…. But something funny happened on the way to the millennium: The geeks won. Seemingly everyone “geeks out” about something in this, an age characterized by its overabundance of information. Enthusiasm became cool: We crave to connect our obsessions to the world around us in haphazard polyphony. In short, everything that once seemed weird about “Birdhouse in Your Soul” has become, well, normal.
But although [band members] Linnell and Flansburgh themselves never self-identified [as geeks] (Flansburgh continues to identify as a punk, noting that his musical idols “punched people in the face”), the importance of their music to this new audience is tough to understate. We were, after all, the generation for whom “geek” ceased being an insult and became a badge of honor. And in a funny way, Flood played a real part in that.
I came to “Birdhouse in Your Soul” later in life than most of its super-devout fans. I was neither teenage nor, in fact, even born at all when the song was released, and I spent my adolescence pretending not to like the They Might Be Giants songs I heard in Homestar Runner shorts and on Tiny Toons (Remember “Particle Man” and “Istanbul”? That was TMBG) for fear of being branded the kind of person described above. For a long time, I didn’t want to identify with TMBG because they’ve always been smart in goofy, earnest, and curious ways instead of disaffected, vague, “cool” ones. Also, they sometimes play the accordion.
Then, one night last year, my roommate put on Flood as he made dinner in my kitchen, next to where I was showering (my apartment has a weird floor plan, I know). At first, I rolled my eyes, but by the time “Birdhouse,” the second song on the album, was finishing, I was sticking my wet head out of the door screaming at him to play it again, then again. I’ve listened to it a minimum of 15–20 times a week since, and when my friends try to call me out about it based on my Spotify history, I care not a whit.
When I was cultivating this obsession, I had a bona fide music writing-ish job at a Big Internet Media Outlet. I remember telling my then-supervisor how much I loved this song. He sneered something in response to the effect of “That track is for geeks who don’t actually care about music.” Instead of being like, “Mon dieu!! All my fears, REALIZED!” I just thought that was fucking stupid—like, you don’t put 18 key changes in a song if you “don’t care about music,” and besides, why did he get to decide who “cared” anyway?
After I quit that job, which I hated for many intense and diverse reasons, I started editing at Rookie. Anaheed was making this playlist on one of the days that she was training me, and I started full-on screaming when she put on “Birdhouse,” which, as it turns out, she also knows every word to. She told me she’s always admired that the band doesn’t discuss it much in interviews, preferring to let it exist as whatever kind of companion its listeners need it to be. How beautiful is that? I felt so lucky, in that minute and still now, every time that I listen to it, to have not only the song’s companionship, but hers, my roommate’s, and that of every other little glowing friend in my life who would rather celebrate humane, interesting, nuanced, and kind approaches to art than dismiss any work that’s unconventional (but not in the right ways) as geeky. I actually don’t believe in that word at all. Like punk, it’s dumb and meaningless. But if I did take geeky seriously, I might be disinclined, as this article says, to take it as an insult—if that’s what “Birdhouse in Your Soul” is, then it’s got to be a good thing, right? ♦