“A Nice Way to Think About One’s Relationship with Time and Objects”–A Chat About Perfume with Shiamin Kwa

Welcome to the perfume episode!

(Well, hopefully the first of many perfume episodes.)

Let’s take a temporary glamour break from everything that’s awful in the world right now, shall we?

Much like my very first episode of the show with Casey Andrews, where we chatted for well over an hour about our favorite films of the 2010s, this episode is less of an interview and more of an excuse for me to nerd out about one of my big passions with a fellow scent obsessive.

Today I’m in conversation with my dear and brilliant friend Shiamin Kwa.

Shiamin is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature at Bryn Mawr College. She is the author of three books, the most recent being Regarding Frames: Thinking with Comics in the Twenty-first Century, which was just released by RIT Press in February of this year. Her written work explores relationships between form and content, text and image, self and self-presentation, surface and depth, and the conflicts between what we say and what we mean. Her research interests include theater and fiction, food studies, graphic narratives, literary studies, cultural studies, comparative and world literature, and literary and narrative theory.

She also contributed an amazingly funny and tender essay about the band Wham! to my most recent zine The Last Band of My Youth

In today’s deep dive on perfume, we talk about how smells can seem so much richer in our memories when we don’t have access to them anymore, the quiet spaciousness of perfume as object, how we’re meant to interact with perfume on a time scale, how wearing Frederic Malle’s “Portrait of a Lady” is like having to do self-promotion as the author of a new book, and the difficulty of imposing order on things you love.

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"The Guiding Light Is Surprise"–A Chat with Tony Trigilio

So, how’s everyone doing this week, now that so many of us are sheltering in place? 

From the bottom of my heart, I’m wishing you and your loved ones health and ease during this supremely strange and unsettling time.

I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many wise and compassionate friends who are helping me make sense of the wide variety of emotions that have been coming up around all the continued uncertainty in this ongoing coronavirus situation.

I feel even more fortunate that I had the chance to speak with one of those wise and compassionate friends for this week’s episode.

Today, I’m incredibly pleased to be speaking with my friend, neighbor, and former bandmate, the poet Tony Trigilio

Tony is the author and editor of 13 books, including, most recently, Ghosts of the Upper Floor (published by BlazeVOX [books] in 2019), which is the third installment in his multivolume poem, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published in Guatemala by Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He is editor of Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (published by Ahsahta Press in 2014), and the author of Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2012). Tony coedits the poetry journal Court Green and is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly. He is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.

Today we discuss his origin story as a poet, the possibilities that get unlocked by asking a student “tell me more of what you mean by that,” building bridges between the hemispheres of the brain, how playing drums professionally helped Tony unite his practice as a writer with his work as a scholar, and why the best art feels like a friend saying to you, “I’m going to tell you something but it’s hard to say.”

For more information about Tony, you can find him online at starve.org.

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“I Don’t Want to Be an Expert”–A Chat with Keiler Roberts

Welcome to the coronavirus special.

OK, not really.

But if you’re taking your social distancing seriously–and for the sake of the most vulnerable among us, I hope that you are–you might suddenly find yourself with a bit more time on your freshly washed hands. Hopefully this week’s episode featuring my dear friend the artist Keiler Roberts will be a balm and a welcome hour’s worth of distraction.

Keiler has been writing autobiographical comics for ten years. Her six books include Sunburning, Chlorine Gardens, and, most recently, Rat Time, all three of which were published by Koyama Press. Her self-published autobiographical comic series Powdered Milk received an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Series in 2016, and in 2019 Chlorine Gardens received Slate’s Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of 2018, which was selected by The Slate Book Review and The Center for Cartoon Studies. Her work has been included in The Best American Comics in 2016 and 2018 and was mentioned on their Notables list for 2014. Her work has been featured in numerous gallery exhibitions, including a solo show in Northern Ireland at The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s University, Belfast, curated by Ben Crothers. She has taught at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago since 2013 and lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband, the artist Scott Roberts, their daughter Xia, and perhaps the most famous cartoon pet since Snoopy, their dog Crooky.

This week on the show, Keiler and I talk about the thrill of the possibility of failure, embracing disorganization, the difficulties that arise when you try to do an unnameable activity, why telling someone “just be yourself” can be bad advice, and the difference between a story that’s funny to tell and a story that’s funny to draw.

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“I Would Always Say Yes to a Spiritual Experience”–A Chat with Angie Yingst

Today on the show I’m incredibly pleased to be in conversation with Angie Yingst.

Angie is a published writer, a sacred artist, a Usui Reiki Master Teacher, and an Earth Medicine Practitioner specializing in shamanic and crystal healing techniques. 

Angie has been reading Tarot for thirty years and is a member of the American Tarot Association. She has also trained through the Hibiscus Moon Crystal Academy as a Certified Crystal Healer and an Advanced Crystal Master, and she now serves the school and its community as Curriculum Specialist and Crystal Coach. Angie has also been studying since 2012 with Pixie Lighthorse and has completed all four levels of her training through SouLodge Earth Medicine School. 

Angie offers both in-person and distance one-on-one healing sessions that combine crystal healing, shamanic healing, Reiki, drum and rattle, breathwork, and plant medicine to facilitate healing in her clients, balancing her work with the moon cycles and seasonal energies to maximize healing potential. Angie teaches tarot, crystals and crystal healing, shamanic work, psychic development and intuitive work, creative and art workshops, and offers group healing sessions through the Alta View Wellness Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Today we dig deep to talk about grief, addiction, perfectionism, and the dangers of spiritual bypassing, as well as the difference between being a guru and an effective space-holder. 

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Creating an Underground Awards Show with the Nick Movie Awards

If you were on Twitter the day that the 2019 Oscar nominations were announced, you may have noticed a little viral excitement about an alternate set of awards called the Elsie’s.

16 year old actress Elsie Fisher, who’s probably best known for her starring role in the 2018 film Eighth Grade, took to Twitter to declare that, “I’ve decided to start my own film awards because sometimes other ones suck, so here are the nominations for the first annual Elsie Awards.”

And from there she proceeded to announce her nominations for the typical categories like Best Actress and Best Director, as well as innovations like Best Horror Feature, Best Young Performer, and Best Independent Feature. 

Her nominations referenced films with impeccable cool cred–like The Lighthouse, The Farewell, Hustlers, and Us–and sought to implicitly critique the lack of diversity among the actual Oscar nominations.

I think I first saw the thread when comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted about it, but there were a bunch of articles posted about it within the day on sites like Teen Vogue and Indiewire praising Fisher for her good taste, inclusivity, and plucky ingenuity for taking matters into her hands.

However, to a select handful of people, this whole idea of the Elsie’s sounded strangely familiar. 

See, there’s another individually produced, underground movie awards ceremony that’s been around for nearly 30 years now, and that’s the Nick Movie Awards.

Established in 1992 by Nick Ivankovic, the Nick Movie Awards began as a way for Nick to honor his favorite films and performances each year. In the years since, the Nick Movie Awards have grown from a literal bedroom project to an annual event that has included parties, trivia, viewer’s choice categories, online voting, and even its own signature menu items.

Nick grew up in Schererville, Indiana, and attended Butler University as an Accounting major. He’s been a finance professional for 20 years and is currently based in Los Angeles, California.  

I asked him to join the show this week to talk through the history of the NMAs (as they’re affectionately known) and to give a more in-depth glimpse into his nominations for the 2019 movie year.

You can stream the episode above here, on Anchor.fm, or on the podcast service of your choice.

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My Favorite Songs of 2019

As I’ve written before, I started making year-end mixes back in 2004 as a way to avoid spending a ton of money on Christmas presents and to share some of my favorite new music with my pals. I haven’t skipped a year, and I’m so pleased to have everything archived on the site here in the “Mixes” tab you see above.

This mix and all my notes will live in perpetuity there, but I wanted also to be sure to post everything in my main blog feed as well. I’ve embedded the Mixcloud player below so you can stream the mix, in its sequenced order, right here while you’re reading. But I also finally broke down and put it up on Spotify and Apple Music as well.

I hope you enjoy listening to these songs as much as I have all year! I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts and musings as well.

I give you my “Best of 2019: Songs Build Little Rooms in Time” mix.

1. Let’s Go on the Run—Chance the Rapper, feat. Knox Fortune (The Big Day)
2. Sports/Best in Show—Viagra Boys (Street Worms)
3. bad guy—Billie Eilish (WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?)
4. Kill Switch—Ride (This Is Not a Safe Place)
5. Veka—Zola Jesus (Okovi)
6. My Little Treasures—Richard Hawley (Further)
7. Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company—The Divine Comedy (Office Politics)
8. Ride Around—Matt Ox (OX)
9. Le Responsable—The King Khan Experience (Turkey Ride)
10. 8 AM—The Marcus King Band (Carolina Confessions)
11. MILES—Jamila Woods (LEGACY! LEGACY!)
12. Empty Handed—Robben Ford (Purple House)
13. Jerome—Lizzo (Cuz I Love You)
14. Hard to Be Alone—Tal Wilkenfeld (Love Remains)
15. We Are the People—Iggy Pop (Free)
16. Snow Is Falling in Manhattan—Purple Mountains (Purple Mountains)

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Tom Verlaine, Live in Chicago

ticket stub for television concert in chicago

Circa 2006(ish?), I’d been working on a book about punk rock at my publishing gig and was chatting about it with my dad at one my semi-regular visits to see him in his nursing home.

His brain had been altered in funny ways by his strokes. The slurred speech and loss of function on one half of his body were the most obvious/typical/expected. Some people were shocked by his outbursts of anger and assumed that they too must have been a result of the strokes; I struggled to adequately convey to those people that, no, that was actually the same old Terry, his temper just exacerbated by his frustrations with his new physical limitations. His anger categorically was not a personality change stemming from brain trauma. (Though, I guess, depending on how you look at it, the loss of his ability to mask that anger probably was a side effect of his brain changes. At any rate.)

But, the one change that did seem chemical (or borderline spiritual) was that some kind of mental door had opened to his deep, personal past, and he found he could remember things that he hadn’t thought about in years. Often it was nothing profound–one afternoon he went on a jag telling a series of jokes that he’d probably learned as a five year old. But on that day, as I was talking about how interesting I was finding the New York punk history I’d been reading about in the manuscript, he casually mentioned, “oh, I always really liked and respected Tom Verlaine’s playing.”

My mind = blown.

I didn’t grow up with the rock and roll affinities that a lot of folks my age did. My dad had always been mostly a jazz guy (with some doo-wop and other 50s-era “oldies” thrown in for good measure). Sure, he introduced us to “Good Vibrations” and a few of the Beatles’ earliest singles on 45, but there was certainly no Stones, no Zep, no Floyd. He gifted my brother some Hendrix recordings when my brother started to learn to play guitar, but I don’t remember ever hearing Jimi around the house prior to that. Not that my dad outright avoided guitar–he liked shredders like Pat Metheny and Joe Satriani, but also Jose Feliciano and Christopher Parkening. He prized technique and technical wizardry, no matter the instrument, his Virgo sun basking in all that exactitude.

Oddly, this was also where I think his masculinity felt most safe asserting itself. He was SO sensitive in so many ways, but he really got off on high-testosterone demonstrations of “chops,” exclaiming over complicated time signatures and outrageously high notes and ridiculously fast fingering the way I assume other dads enthused about sports stars’ athletic prowess. So, in that sense, Tom Verlaine–a guy playing extended, complicated, thinky solos in jazz-inflected modes–wasn’t exactly anathema to my dad’s sensibility.

It was just more–when in the hell and where in the hell was my dad listening to Tom Verlaine? My dad knew Television?? This square, accordion-playing, Polish-American nerd from Indiana knew about Marquee Moon?! When had that happened and where had I been and why hadn’t I known? Why was this information suddenly coming to light now?

The great joke being, of course, that I needed to learn about Television myself before I could be impressed with my dad knowing about them. Only took me til I was about 27, so, good job me being both a dick and a snob about it.

*

Brian and I had seen Television play live once before, in the spring of 2014 at the Metro in Chicago. It was an excellent show, and I even included it in my 2014 year-end zine on my short list of favorite concerts of the year. As far as I can remember, none of the players talked to the audience that night; in fact Verlaine even seemed borderline aggrieved by being on stage in front of a crowd at all. But that in no way diminished my enjoyment of the set; in fact, it kind of instantly catapulted the band into a weird personal pantheon of artists like Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) and Stanley Kubrick whom I love specifically because of the way deadpan presentation combines with extreme technical precision in their art to create a sort of ecstatic tension between heart and mind.

And because the show was so brainy, and their engagement with the audience so limited to the strictly musical, it was the perfect playground for me to practice my idea of psychically reading the players on stage. (You can read more about this, and see how I read drummer Billy Ficca and Verlaine himself, in my piece Musical Chakras.) The whole night was almost more like performance art or a classical concert than a typical rock show, and pretty much confirmed my idea of Television being an aggressively cerebral band.

Truth be told, I tend not to listen to their albums all that often, though Brian always knows he can make me laugh if he randomly throws that stabbing, two-note riff from “Marquee Moon” into any given song he may be playing on his own guitar. Still, I felt like I knew what to expect when we got tickets for their first set at the Old Town School of Folk Music on Friday, May 10.  Imagine my surprise, though, when I walked in, braced for a chilly though intellectually nourishing night of music to find them…loose? To find Verlaine not only talking to the crowd but telling jokes? Jokes?! 

My mind = blown.

Let’s be honest–growing older, it’s harder and harder for me to be impressed by much anymore. I remember that youthful sense of feeling like I’d just had sex on a spaceship if the energy at a concert was electric and alive and if I was in the right frame of mind to receive its blessing. I don’t go out expecting to come home feeling like that these days. A softer sense of contentment, of aesthetic satiation, though, does still arise from time to time–with young artists still figuring out the limits of their own power, yes, but even more encouragingly with old dogs who’ve resisted calcifying into audience-pleasing tricks and have instead managed to stay connected to a current of vitality and discovery. I’ve experienced that with Peter Gabriel, with Iggy Pop, with King Crimson, with Bob Dylan, and now with Television. It’s nice to be reminded that an old door doesn’t always have to open onto the past; it opens into the future sometimes too.