Wandering Oak are the Fantasy Metal Band of your Dreams

I visited friends in Rochester, NY last weekend and my buddy suggested we check out this metal gig while I was in town. There were five bands on the bill at a venue called The Montage, so I knew it was going to be an interesting spread. There were a lot of grindcore acts, and one group that felt like Dr. Frankenstein bought a bunch of guitar pedals. But for me, there was one clear standout.

When Wandering Oak took the stage, my attention was immediately piqued. They commanded the attention of everyone in the room. They told a compelling and immersive story, with the musicians wearing black patterned face-paint and mostly regular civillian clothes. One of the guitarists was wearing a beast mask. The front man was wearing a leather vest with no shirt on underneath. Their presentation went just hard enough.

A Wandering Oak set feels like watching the band that would have been playing behind the Stronghold at Helm’s Deep – Around the campfire, someone has to bring the Rock, and these goblins are up to the task. Over the course of their act, I saw bigger smiles break out on the faces in the crowd, myself included. At one point the front-person, pulled out a long flute and everyone in the room lost their fucking minds over a restrained and ominous flute solo. Seeing them perform was genuinely the time of my life and I can’t recommend Wandering Oak enough. You can buy their LP on bandcamp and I think you should.

I reached out to the band and asked a few questions when I got back to Maine. Here’s what band member R. Bruce Pollard had to say about what Wandering Oak is all about:

Where is the idea for Wandering Oak coming from? You tell a super cohesive story on stage and I’m so curious what that’s influenced by? – I think the biggest influence is the idea of an Ent from Tolkien lore. A literal walking tree. It can also be seen as a kenning, which is a poetic device from Icelandic sagas. It’s meant to describe the music – heavy, strong and flexible,  mandering yet organic. Also, the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer is an influence.

What role do you think metal music plays in creating an anti-fascist future? What role do you think fantasy plays in that radical future? – Well, unfortunately metal music has a serious fascism problem nowadays. And it’s certainly an uphill battle to be openly leftist in a scene that is Rife with Centrist fence sitting and apologism. This is a far cry from [metal’s] roots, which were inherently left-leaning, anti-War, pro-drug, [and] inclusive. We believe in using the power of heavy metal to fight back, and prove that the left can indeed riff. As far as fantasy, I think it provides a sense of Escape for people who have been traumatized by the reality of Oppression under capitalism and the growing onset of fascism. I think there is a lot of inspiration that can be taken from fantasy literature because much of it in itself was based on real life.

What do you want people to leave a Wandering Oak show thinking about? – Mainly how every sub-genre of metal has Merit and can be used to create a greater whole. And think outside the box in terms of what heavy metal can be, and who can play it.

What’s the best way for people to keep up with you and support the project? – for music and merch, @wanderingoakband on IG, and look us up on Facebook!

Anything coming down the pipeline? – Starting pre-production on our second full length as we speak! It’s a huge step forward musically and we’re really excited to share it with the world. Should be done by the Fall!

One Piece

ONE PIECE: The Difference Between a Sag Sun and a Sag Moon

For the past three weeks I’ve been totally sucked into this TV show about pirates searching for the treasure of all treasures and watching it is the only thing I do with my free time. I have two Sagittarius friends who are obsessed with this anime One Piece, and one of them told me a couple of spoilers that made me want to check it out. I think it’s a little ironic that the people who pitched the show to me are both Sag Suns because two of the main characters – Luffy and Zoro – are a perfect example of Sag Sun and Sag Moon.

Sagittarians are fun, exciting, and excited people, and they don’t give a shit what other people think. They have codes of honor that they stick to and are often a good judge of character. They’re often really into loyalty. If I were in astrology college, my minor would be in Sagittarius moons (even though I get C’s in all my classes ). I love having Sagittarius placement people in my life because they force me to work on my self-esteem, and being friends with them has helped me become a more fearless and confident person.

Luffy (right) is going to become King of the Pirates and find the One Piece. That’s how he approaches his life – the first thing he says on the show is priceless Sag Sun energy: “I SLEPT SO GOOD!” Where I am in the show (episode 35), Luffy is just starting to get his crew together. The first person he recruits is Zoro, who has green hair and mad himbo energy. Zoro is going to be the Greatest Swordsman who Ever Lived. Luffy and Zoro decide right away that they like the cut of the other one’s gib, and they are quickly a subtly inseparable duo.

One of the reasons that they get along so well is that they have really similar approaches to their goals. To become the King of the Pirates and the Greatest Swordsman who Ever Lived, you just have to do it, and Sagittarius is all about doing. They are both quick to size someone else up and decide how they feel about them. An interesting part of their dynamic is that sometimes Zoro trusts Luffy’s gut as an extension of his own – there are people who Luffy brings onto the crew that Zoro isn’t so sure about, but he trusts his Captain. I chalk this up to be Sag Moon’s propensity to go with the flow. Having a Captain around who he really jives with gives Zoro a good flow to get into.

The size of their personalities is another place where you can see the difference between a Sag Sun and Moon placement. Luffy has a huge personality. The reason he’s able to listen to his gut is because that boy’s gut is fucking loud. Zoro is kind of a cool as a cucumber type instead. He has the Sag Moon panache: the three earrings on one side, no piercings on the other? The Hawaiian shirt he’s wearing while they’re trying to rescue Nami from the fishmen pirates?? Zoro can be really cool by only doing a little, and Luffy is cool because of how willing he is to be a lot.

I’m only a small way into this series, so this is not my final answer on what their placements might be – but it seems to me like the things that draw Luffy and Zoro together are pretty Jupiterian. They’re lucky. They’re charming. They’re determined. God’s Favorite. Sagittarius.


Astrology and Basketball

I grew up in Washington County, Maine, where high school basketball was everything. Growing up, there was always a game on the radio, and I played on rec league teams all throughout my childhood. My dad would drive me to practice and we would bang our heads listening to “Paradise City,” by Guns ‘n Roses. The annual high school tournament in Bangor, Maine was a colossal occasion. In the Bangor Civic Center, thousands of Mainers gather to watch the teenage players duke it out, to the raucous squeaks of teenage marching bands. My sister and I would eat tubes of Italian Ice and butter popcorn from the concession stand.

During my teen years I resented basketball – When my other peers started hitting their growth spurts, I lost my competitive edge and never recovered. The girl’s locker room was the setting for many of my most embarrassing teenage social faux pas. And the competitive atmosphere was too much for me at the time – I was too miserable about puberty to get invested in athletics.

When my best friend Josie stopped playing basketball, I decided to stop too. Never looked back. Except for my life long dream of being in a queer basketball pickup league. Except for my love of Pistol Shrimps Radio during college. Except for the fact that the Dennis Rodman episode of the Last Dance was the piece of art that defined my summer. And except for the other day, when my friend came over for me to read her birth chart, and I found myself asking over and over – “Do you care about Basketball?”

As far as a sports analogy goes, basketball is an excellent way to think about how birth charts work. A birth chart is a map of the way energy moves through a person during their lifetime – the energy is the ball.

Chani Nicholas talks about the planets that are “on your team,” when she describes which planets to pay special attention to in your chart. If you were born during the day, your team is the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn; At night, the Moon, Venus and Mars. Mercury breaks the analogy a little bit, but you can think of it this way: in high school sports, if one team doesn’t have enough players for a full game, they borrow someone from the other team. That’s how Mercury works too – they can be the wind beneath your wings or a spitball launched at your face, depending on the day.

Aspects are a really important part of the birth chart, and act as the first defense against a, “I know plenty of Capricorns and they’re nothing alike!” argument. Aspects are the relationships between the planets in the chart, based on where they all landed at the moment you were born.

On the court of a birth chart, where planets are in relationship to one another determines how easy it is to pass energy between them. Sometimes the angle is too close, and passing maybe wouldn’t do very much good – in Astrology, there is tension between the signs that are directly adjacent to each other (Gemini might feel frustrated by Taurus and Cancer). Sometimes, you have the perfect angle to pass with a teammate who you know you can count on – like if you were on the Sun team, and your Saturn was just two signs over from you (Gemini to Leo, for example, would be an ally-oop). Sometimes it seems like you have a good angle, like an opposition in a birth chart, when one planet is directly across the Karmic Wheel from you (Gemini and Sagittarius). But, just because it looks easy doesn’t mean it is. The distance between the two players is pretty wide, and over relying on that connection is going to take a lot of energy, and leave some players out.

Thinking about your birth chart like it’s a basketball game puts the movement of energy in the center of the conversation. I think a lot of people think that astrology is a prophecy or an explanation of the personality – and I’m just a hobbyist, and would defer to people who have studied more than me to make those arguments. But my take has always been that the birth chart actually doesn’t really say anything about who you are. It just shows what energy you’re working with. It presents a way of thinking about how you might respond to situations that you’re in. Just like how sports work! You just play the game to the best of your ability until the buzzer goes off – or your best friend takes the season off, and you decide to join her and the concession stand popcorn on the sidelines.


Just One Long Song

I spent all day on Sunday running around town, going from thing to thing, without stopping for a second to catch my breath. I went to work early, had lunch with a friend, and played music all afternoon. It was the best day ever. Everything culminated in a volunteer shift at a show organized by Space Gallery.

Instead of hosting the concert at Space’s usual location on Congress Street, the main artery of Portland, The Microphones were scheduled to perform at the First Parrish Church, a Universalist Unitarian space close to City Hall. I parked down the street from the church and scarfed a slice of pizza on my way to the show, jumping the line that had already formed on the church steps. This was my first time volunteering with Space, and I got quickly introduced to a whole team of people who were a little stressed out about what was about to go down. My job: to point out where ticket holders could find bathrooms and concessions. Later, I was moved to a new job, where I had to stop people from bringing drinks into the church’s main room – “Water counts,” I would apologize, and people would either down their drink in front of me or toss it in the trash.

First Parrish is a gorgeous space and a perfect concert venue. The floors were covered in a vibrant red carpet, and the cushions on the pews matched perfectly, giving the whole space a lively, warm energy. At the end of each pew was a little door with the pew’s number, a detail me and the other event staff swooned over. Hanging from the ceiling was a chandelier with plastic candles, and taking up the whole back wall of the space were the gold pipes of an organ. 

“The whole organ is glowing,” Emily Sprague, the opening performer, said in the middle of her set, while tuning her guitar. “The chandelier is its sidekick. And all of you are glowing purple.” Sprague is the songwriter for Florist, (a band who came on my radar for the first time earlier that same day, unrelated to me volunteering at the show). She performed solo, wearing an oversized shirt and pants to match, playing love songs at the base of the church. Their love songs were thoughtful, but ultimately made me feel like we don’t quite see eye-to-eye about what the best things about love are. 

Everyone in town came out to this show – I saw acquaintances who I had met at parties, and people who I haven’t seen in years because of drama in the scene. I talked to a woman who had driven from New Hampshire to see the show, and was worried about drugs and growing old; and to a man who had driven four hours to be at the performance, from a small town in Western Massachusetts. I got to meet my friend Ethan’s mom, and hype him up to the woman who raised him. What feels better than telling someone’s mom how awesome they are? Nothing. 

When the Microphones show started, I took my seat at a pew in the corner, and took my shoes up so I could curl up comfortably on the red velvet cushion. I’d never listened to the Microphones before this evening – the reason I signed up to volunteer was because I saw their name listed on a “bands who sound like Car Seat Headrest,” list. 

If you don’t know either – the Microphones is the name of the early 00’s recording project Phil Elverum, also known from the band Mount Eerie. It’s a lot of punk and metal inspired actousic lo-fi. Elverum has mostly been putting work out under the name Mount Eerie, until the recent release, Microphones in 2020. When the show started, with a simple, acoustic drone punctuated with electric moments performed by a fellow musician, I didn’t know what I was in for, but it was truly badass.

Microphones in 2020 is the name of a 40+ minute song where Elverum explores memory, the body, the recording process, aging, nostalgia. The seemingly endless drone is the perfect accompaniment to the song’s vignette structure, where Elverum deftly moves between childhood, being 20, 17, 23. There were times where I wished I had the lyrics in front of me, so I could be reading along (words don’t always stick in my head the first time I hear them), but that meant I also left the show with the promise of engaging with the work again in the future. 

There were moments where I wanted to snap along, to clap or laugh, or even let out an “Amen,” in honor of the church setting, but the crowd wasn’t rowdy and I didn’t want to be a disturbance. There were times where I saw a skull in the smoke wafting out of the smoke machine behind Phil, and sometimes I saw birds. There were times when my attention wandered to my own creative dreams, and I wished I’d had a notebook or a more focused attention span. But that’s also one of my favorite things that happens when I see art in public – I have the overwhelming desire to get home and start working myself. 

My favorite lyric was, “I hope the absurdity that permeates everything joyfully rushes out and floods the room like water from the ceiling,” but this line was also the first time I got the haunting feeling that the song was about to end. When the song did eventually come to a close, the performers simply unplugged their instruments and briskly walked away from the stage they made out of the altar. The lights came up immediately – there isn’t an encore. For a couple of dudes playing one emo, autobiographical song for almost an hour, it was one of the most badass things I’ve seen in a while.


*`~ Soup *`~

I’m a recovering picky eater. I used to be embarrassed about it, but there is a clear upside. In my life, I’m constantly meeting foods for the first time and falling head over heels in love with things that are very accessible and easy to make. A few summers ago it was carrots. Before that it was turnips. And the prince of them all is *`~*`~ soup *`~*`~

The first soup I wasn’t afraid of was Butternut Squash – sweet and hearty, and ground in an immersion blender so you can’t really see anything scary that might be in it. I was curious about French Onion Soup, but now, I can’t even remember whether or not I tried it before I became a vegetarian. My sister Jenna makes a mean corn chowder and bullied me into trying it last summer, when I was having a flare up of my old picky ways.

But the one that really does it for me is a simple, homemade, mixed veggie and bean situation.

I chop up carrots, onions, celery, and a red bell pepper, along with minced garlic. A lot of people don’t care for red bell peppers – just the other day I had a friend over for a bowl of this exact soup, and when I took our dishes to the sink there was a little pile of bell pepper bits at the bottom of her bowl. I might include ginger if I have it, or sometimes some hot pepper if the mood is right. All of this goes into the dutch oven that my friend Gina gave me before she moved back to California, with already heated up olive oil. One time, I added a whole can of sweet corn and had a crunchy, sweet soup for the rest of the week.

I like to put white beans in my soup, too. This winter I’ve forgotten to pick them up at the store with some regularity, then texting my neighbors group chat to see if anyone has a can they can spare. The very best are Cannelloni beans, but I also like Great Northern. The soup is good without them, but not as filling, so I find myself left with two servings instead of four.

For spices, I always do salt and pepper, curry powder, and cinnamon. Sometimes I add more or less, and sometimes I’ll also add an oregano or a cumin. These experiments don’t always go over super well – I remember last winter I made a big batch of soup that was an undeniable flop. I had offered some to my roommate and her partner at the time before leaving the house to meet friends, and when I got home, the same amount of soup remained in the pot, takeout leftovers in the fridge. The remains of this failed attempt lived in my fridge for more than five weeks.

For bread, I usually go with a bun instead of a baguette, because I don’t want to do any slicing, and I drizzle it with olive oil instead of butter. I like to scoop up veggies into the hollowed out moments of gluten.

Soup is the best leftovers. Soup is a food snuggie – having some in the fridge feels like me from three days ago reaching forward to give me in the present a big hug. “I cooked for you,” I’m saying to my future self. “I’ve got your back.”



After effectively taking 2021 off from music exploration to listen exclusively to Erykah Badu and this reggae playlist a stranger made, I’ve been encouraged and relieved to find my appetite for music, and other arts, back in my tummy this January.


Live at Alice Tully Hall by Lou Reed – This January I thought a lot about what I would need to do to become “a Lou Reed guy,” or if I just already am one. Lou Reed articulates his own self-sabotage really beautifully, which I appreciated – this is one of the character flaws that I’ve been struggling with in my twenties! The Velvet Underground really spoke to me last winter, but this live album that’s been doing it for me this year. I walked over to my friend Kyle’s house to play DnD and listened to this version of “White Light/White Heat,” on repeat, daydreaming about becoming a rock star even though that’s not really my ambition (I just want the attention). I got a biography out from the library, thinking that finishing a book about him would mean that I can claim to be a “Lou Reed guy,” but by the time I claimed the hold I had placed on the book, the moment had passed. I think I might count, anyway.

Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada – This album is so me. A moody ambient world that I can listen to while I walk around the wonderland created by January snow-showers. “Roygbiv” especially feels like someone is taking a plastic fork and swirling my guts around.

Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise by the Frogs – Yeah I didn’t really live for this album as much as I wanted to, I thought it started really strong! The first three tracks are an interesting blend of late-90’s alt rock schools of thought. It is at once sincere and tongue-in-cheek, put together in a somewhat derivative package. The first three songs are great, though. If you want the rough edge, just listen to Butthole Surfers, and if you want the sweetness then maybe I’d direct you towards The Magnetic Fields.

Reinvineting Axl Rose by Against Me! – More on that some time soon.

Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine; Al Zmam Saib (Habibi Funk 002) by FadoulMidnight in a Moonless Dream by the ButtertonesCourt and Spark by Joni MitchellGreen by Kylie Fox.


I never read as much as I intend to in January, but this year I did get off to a pretty good start by picking up We Still Here by Mark Lamont Hill. I would really recommend picking this volume up if you’re feeling frustrated by the state of things! It’s packed with succinct, intersectional analysis of some of the ways the pandemic has exasperated existing inequalities. I got this at Abraxas in Portland, Maine, my favorite place in town to get books.

This month there were so many excellent episodes of Gender Reveal, but the one that made the biggest impact was a conversation with Io, co-founder of A.B.O. ComixA.B.O. publishes comics by Queer Prisoners, including an annual anthology collection. I picked up the fifth edition and have been so excited by the different art styles, stories, and experiences included in the collection. I also really loved Io’s Autobiography Zine.

I also adored this New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong and his performance on Succession. I’m catching up on the show now, and in my obsession have been consuming tons of bonus features. In my research I have discovered that everyone on Succession is kind of just playing themself, but none so much as Jeremy Strong, whose performance as super serious Kendall Roy comes from a less ironic place than I expected. (L to the O-G…)


Gender Reveal Episode 114: Krys Malcolm Belc – Made me cry! Mostly about trans parenting.

60 Songs that Explain the 90’s “Ex Factor” by Lauryn Hill – I wrote Rob Harvilla, the host of this show, a 600 word twitter DM about how much I loved this episode, and he replied very kindly one week later.

How to Survive the End of the World Sibling Miniseries #11: Faith and Joey Soloway – A joyful conversation about making sense of identity.

Talkhouse Podcast Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Laura Jane Grace – Genesis P-Orridge is a super inventive thinker and this conversation rocked my socks.

Have fun this February!


Carly’s Pissed

I never used to get the chorus of “You’re So Vain.” I thought it intentionally made no sense. Clearly this song was, in fact, about “you,” whoever “you” was. But we’re coming to the end of a Venus Retrograde, a time when we look back on the last eighteen-ish months of our lives to asses whether our actions are aligned with our values, our heart. It’s a time to point out what we need to leave behind so that we can follow our values more closely. It’s a time to open the box labeled “Love,” that you keep in your memory closet, and dig through it to see if there are any feelings or artifacts that you don’t need to bring with you in the next chapter.

So let’s get into it. Carly Simon gave us all the gift of still being mad about it. Still being really mad about it. It’s not that she’s not over it, no, she’s still mad, and I think there’s a difference. Hit play on “You’re so Vain.”

The anger has been simmering on low for a couple of years. But most of the time, she’s able to ignore it, enjoy her life. Weeks go by without him even crossing her mind. If or when he does, she’s able to shrug it off. Son of a Gun. She goes back about her joy.

But it’s unavoidable, sometimes she runs into him – they’re in the same circles some of the time. And he’s still like that, all those things she wasn’t able to see about him when she was still quite naive. Before she started to notice how much he got off on the attention. And girls are still giving him all that attention that he wants. Typical.

I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you?

I love that Carly admits that this all happened years ago. She’s just being honest about it – this still hurts sometimes! The way this guy treated me still pisses me off. And I’m not embarrassed about it. I’m the opposite of embarrassed – I’m mad.

I had some dreams they were clouds in my coffee.

Okay, so I’m Carly Simon and I’m still mad about it, and ever since I ran into him at that party it’s just been stewing in me, just boiling and simmering, and feeling all this anger is bringing a smile to my face, is making me feel like a mountain, standing strong against the horizon. 
So I call my friend Mick Jagger, because he was my friend who never really liked that guy, he was my friend who was there for me when things fell apart. He was my friend who made hating him fun. (I'm speculating here). 
"I want you to come over and record something with me" 
"Oh?" He asks, and I can hear his wide smile breaking out over the phone. 
“It’s about him.” 
“I'll be right there.” 

Then Carly and Mick and the rest of the band get together in the studio for one last whoo-ra before Carly leaves this joker in the past. She relishes how confident she feels now that she wants absolutely nothing to do with him. She does not pull one single punch for this last celebration her anger, especially not during that smooth, steely guitar solo, a guitar solo that says, “You should be embarrassed.”

I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee. CLOUDS IN MY COFFEE AND Carly brings in the strings, she brings in the drama, she is mad enough to pay for a string quartet to bring the grandiosity. Mick Jagger is in the background screaming “Go Off!”

My favorite lyric in “You’re So Vain,” is and you fl-e-w yo-ur women up to NnOva SCOtia, like Carly is giving this guy the “that’s what you sound like,” treatment. A friend who proof read this pointed out that the lyric is actually you flew your Lear Jet up to Nova Scotia – but I can’t erase the years I imagined a gaggle of women dressed in fur hats following this joker around. I love that you can hear Carly smiling during this third and last verse, the bridge really gassed her up. I always listen to this part of the song and just imagine Carly Simon’s incredible smile beaming in a music studio with bright gold sunlight pouring in through the windows, dappling her in a regal moment of fury. I love imagining the force of “You’re So Vain,” lifting Carly Simon up into the heavens, as if she’s singing every memory of her ex out of her body, even the anger, even the disgust. She doesn’t even need to be madanymore. She is singing the mad right out of her body.

Venus Retrograde ends on January 29, 2022.


Ladies of the Present

I love listening to someone else’s favorite music with them. They know all the twists and turns and layers of context, and who the songs might be about. You really get to react together.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because Joni Mitchell is finally starting to make sense to me. I’ve opened up some of the pathways in my chest and my imagination, and I finally have the room to hear what she’s been singing. It’s not like I’ve never had a special Joni moment – I listened to “A Case of You,” after I got dumped for the first time, and she helped me realize that I was definitely going to be fine. This summer, I listened to “California,” as I watched the trees roll by from my seat on the Amtrak, and wondered what waited for me when I got back to Maine.

I like Joni mostly because she means so much to people who I’ve met along the way. Like my neighbor! We met because I saw a flyer she made looking for bandmates, must love Sleater-Kinney, cut out magazine letters and all. I obviously texted the number without hesitation, and we were delighted to find out that we live one street number away from each other. When the summer was becoming fall, we picked high-bush blueberries and got locally made ice-cream at a stand where nobody was wearing masks. When I meet people who know my neighbor, they always say, “She’s amazing.” She’s one of my favorite friends in this season of life, and we cook dinner together every few weeks, and keep tabs on each other.

My neighbor grew up on Joni Mitchell, so when I started craving her songs a bit more this January, I invited her over to show me her favorites. She brought Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm and Ladies of the Canyon. My neighbor acted as the resident expert, telling my roommate and I who all the songs were about, and how her mom got her and her sister each one Joni Mitchell CD for Christmas one year. “I do not remember a time in my life before Joni,” she told us before we put the needle down on Ladies. At the end of “Conversation,” with all of the surprises, I turned to my neighbor with my mouth open wide as layer stacked upon layer, and she just looked back at me like, “Oh, yeah, dude.” It’s so special to share the best part of a song with someone.

I think what’s resonating with me most right now, about Joni, is that she’s all about coming back to yourself.

Her gift to me, in this season, has been setting an example of departure and return. The model seems to be: go, explore, find someone you love, love them as hard as you can until you can’t anymore, come back to your window, get reoriented, go. She always comes back to her own perspective, self, and being, Where am I seeing this all from now?

Joni, to me, is irremovable from her Canadianness, from this first point of departure, probably because my Canadian family adores her. My cousin Kylie sits between my sister and I in age, and lived about an hour north of the border from us when we were all growing up. When we visited St. John, Joni’s songs would sometimes dance from our Uncle’s turntable. Most of the little snippets of her lyrics that I know, I heard first under someone’s breath in the Fox family’s cozy, split level house. The first time I ever heard “Carrey,” it was from Kylie’s guitar.

Whenever we had a sleepover, Kylie and I would share a room and tell each other stories until we fell asleep. When we were little, they were about anthropomorphic critters; and as we grew, Kylie’s stories moved from fiction to autobiography. Kylie is the kind of person who knows how to keep her heart open to life. She notices the world’s nooks and crannies with a songwriter’s grandiosity. I think she knows how to savor life like it’s a chocolate cake. This may be a byproduct of being raised on Joni.

When she started sharing the songs that she was writing, our visits would include a concert. We would gather around the living room and she’d pull out her acoustic guitar, and play the songs in her rotation, our Aunt Rossie chiming in to ask for “this one next!” It was a beautiful way of keeping up with my cousin, especially during a chapter of my life when returning to myself didn’t feel possible. Kylie set a good example. So, listening to Joni Mitchell alway makes me think of Kylie, who has the same gift for building a world for her feelings in a song.

Kylie and I finally got to see each other this November, after two years of lockdown, and stayed up in the dark until 3-ish a.m. telling each other stories, until we both fell asleep.

Top Five Joni Mitchell songs, ranked. (1) All I Want, (2) Conversation (3) California (4) Carrey, (5) Help Me.

playlist: songs by my cousin and this other Canadian.


69 Songs about Love

I really only listen to the same ten bands in a cycle that takes me about eighteen months to get through.

I’m always retracing my steps to see how I feel about the bands I have loved. Going back to the checkpoints. Respawning my heart (please clap). One of the bands that I keep going back to over and over again is the Magnetic Fields.

I was always into the post-Velvet Underground white New-Yorky bohemia that happened at the end of the nineties and early 2000’s. I listened to The Dandy Warhols and watched Igby Goes Down a lot in high school, and when I first got to college, I started listening to The Magnetic Fields a lot – it felt like a maturation at the time. This was when I was eighteen and had just started swearing. In my first semester of college I rapidly build a friend group who I treated like a family, and started my first romantic relationship, which followed a crush that I talked about non-stop to every single person I encountered. I delighted in it.

My first semester of school I was having so many new feelings it was like I was living in a world covered in sugarplum powder and exposed nerves. The song of this season of life was “Strange Powers,” from the album Holiday. It was the first time that I had ever let myself feel something like that. I learned how to play it on my best friend’s ukelele and sang to myself around campus. I leaned in. Other Magnetic Fields songs that stood out at the time: “I Think I Need a New Heart,” “Washington D.C.”

I like that Stephen Merritt works from prompts as much as he does. I like that on 69 Love Songs there are so many different protagonists. I like Stephen Merritt’s voice. I always liked the song “Andrew in Drag.” I like that he says that his songs aren’t autobiographical, but I don’t believe him. On 50 Song Memoir, the year he wrote “I Thought You Were my Boyfriend,” was represented by the song “The Ex And I.”

Oh, and when my first relationship ended I had no idea what to do with myself. I didn’t even really like spending time with him anymore, but I could not handle that breakup when it happened. I remember walking around my college campus in the snow listening to “I Shatter,” on repeat. I felt like a slow-motion car crash must! have been happening behind me. It was the end of the world.

It was almost a year before I really got over that relationship, and I had about a four month period before I met my next big love. Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian had just come out and all my girlfriends and I were obsessed with it. Call Me By Your Name was out, too, and while it didn’t make me weep like people had promised, it was the first time I met Timothee Chalamet (and kind of Sufjan ). I don’t have any memories during the daytime from this part of my life, only at night, with orange streetlights bouncing off the piles of snow and road salt. This was when I listened obsessively, over and over and over, to the album I.

The Magnetic Fields have such a huge catalog, and such long albums, that it is easy to miss gems the first, second, or even third time around. Every time I revisit them, another song gets stuck all over me. Over the lockdown, I got back into 69 Love Songs for the first time in a minute and became a sucker for “Epitaph for my Heart.”

I went on an incredible cross country road trip in the Spring of 2021. I was working on getting over another breakup that made me feel like I had actually been ripped out of the world as I had known it and splopped into a new reality. I was taking it very personally that my ex still listened to bands we used to listen to together (which was all of them), and wanted to re-stake my claim on the Magnetic Fields. They’re a band love I said to myself I loved them before this person and I’ll love them after!! I played my favorite songs of theirs for hours as we drove through Californian small towns in search of our next dispersed campground.

Top Ten All Time Magnetic Fields Songs, alphabetical order: ‘81: How to Play the Synthesizer,All My Little Words, Andrew in Drag, Born on a Train, Eiptaph for my Heart, I Don’t Believe You, I Don’t Want to Get Over You, I Wish I Had Pictures, Parades Go By.

all songs listed.

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Pop Culture

Glitching Liberation

In 2010 I was in the seventh grade and every Friday I would go Valley Video and rent queer-coded butch science fiction movies. It was my first Jupiter Return. I was very into the X-Men (especially Cyclops), and I had heard good and mysterious things about the Matrix, so I rented it on VHS tape. From the moment I saw it, it became my prerogative to watch it as often as possible. I knew the exact spot on the VHS where the lobby scene started. Once I got it on DVD, I would bring it with me everywhere, including to the parking lot where I waited for my sister to get her belly button pierced. The Matrix was pretty much the only reason why I studied what I studied in Undergrad. 

So, yes, I am another genderqueer person who was anxious-excited about The Matrix: Resurrections, which came out just in time for Christmas weekend. My roommate and I took advantage of the Maine Winter Early Evenings, and the fact that a friend had left their HBO account on our smart TV (thank you Kyle and Nathan!) to watch it a few nights before we went to our family’s homes for the holiday.

The Matrix: Resurrections is extremely meta, even for today’s referential sense of humor. A group of revolutionaries discover that Neo is not only alive, but hooked back into the Matrix as a successful game designer, someone who built a game iconic for being “realistic.” He’s also in therapy for having an emotional breakdown where he lost his ability to distinguish fiction from fact. These worries flare up when he realizes that his parent company wants to make another installment of The Matrix.

I’ve described this movie to some people as “a relief.” I thought that it really eloquently touched on themes of digital life, liberation, and empowered identity. Stuff that’s been kicking around in my head since I saw the First Matrix 11+ years ago. It was a surprise to see a movie that had a meta sense of humor that I really genuinely enjoyed. This movie is an easter egg hunt, it delights in genuine delight of itself. It’s like, “Yeah, I Am better than you thought I was gonna be.” In the first third, there is a bit of a callback-a-thon, but I actually thought that was a really effective part of the tapestry that made the modern Matrix so hard to get out of. 

The Matrix: Resurrections has two ideas at it’s core: First, the idea that liberation is an iterative process where you work on a liveable present, not just an idyllic future; and second, that imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy* swallows up any tools that could be used towards liberation, and finds ways to make them work towards oppression. 

*thanks bell hooks.

It’s eerie to see the way that things in the real world are growing closer and closer to what Lana and Lily imagined for 2299 – scenes of humans trapped in isolation pods where they live their lives completely through a virtual reality so that their energy can be directed towards oppressive machines were especially chilling as Maine, where I live, racks up the highest coronavirus case numbers that we’ve faced since the disease first arrived. All the while, some remain effectively distracted.

The reality that systems of domination seem to be becoming stronger every day doesn’t need to be the only thing that lives in our imagination – in Resurrections, we also see that life outside of the Matrix is more than just struggle. Being free doesn’t just mean eating translucent oatmeal and drinking engine de-greaser (even though that was an important step in the process). Liberation also means being part of a thriving community where you can still garden, and there’s still a sky to look up at. Humans are being creative about rebelling against the system in a holistic way. People have big disagreements about what the right thing to do in a situation might be. I thought that this spoke to the current moment of humanity really beautifully. I have joked that this movie is just about infighting on the left. 

I love stories that explore the potential of the Internet, and The Matrix is obviously interested in that conversation as well. Last winter I was really excited by Glitch Feminism, by Legacy Russell. It’s a manifesto that uses analysis of art made by trans and non-binary artists of color to map language from the internet onto gender. She establishes that a glitch is an interruption in an established system, something that breaks the code and requires entire systems to change. If you’re interested in the themes that come up in Resurrections, this would make a great next-up. 

okay, last thought: Carrie Ann Moss is a badass throughout. Carrie Ann Moss delivers a scene in this movie that she just destroys. She just pulls the best out of every other performer she shares the screen with, lifting everyone’s game with the strength of her own. This movie shows off her unique thing as a performer and I was just all about it. This movie does her a tremendous amount of justice, and she to it.

Short answer: I loved it.