A Blue Wave Worthy of Hokusai

Well, well, well, Dames Nation. We all did it!

O, our prophetic gif selection! GIF by Libby VanderPloeg.

The Blue Wave flipped the US House of Representatives to the Democrats, shifted a bunch of governorships, and managed to hold the Republican leadership in the Senate to a minimal level. To say nothing of all the amazing successes in down-ballot races around the nation, and the careful tallying that’s yielding some later-breaking wins and potential recounts or runoffs. After a long day of waiting and reconciling herself to a likely close loss, Dame Sophie nearly lost her damn mind over Andy Kim’s soon-to-be-official victory here in NJ. We’re pulling for you, Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, Bill Nelson, and Kyrsten Sinema!

We asked you for your Election Day experiences and per usual, you wildly exceeded our expectations. This week’s issue consists of your wonderful, soul-nourishing reports and a particularly high-quality rerun of one of our best Bossy Takes. Enjoy!

We salute all the canvassers among you! DamesFav Olivia traveled far & wide:

I voted! I was lucky enough to get to work with the good folks over at Flippable and got to help canvass in Florida and Pennsylvania in the weeks leading up to the election. Here's my favorite photo of Flippable team member Cher-Wen DeWitt, who got an undercut for the weekend.  

Hardworking Kiana, whose entire family got involved in canvassing for Beto O’Rourke, on something her home state of Washington has got down pat:

And something that I LOVE about Washington State is that since we are entirely vote by mail (with pre-paid postage for the first time this year), we are on track to have the highest voter turnout EVER for a midterm, passing a record set more than 30 years ago at 70%. We can't be stopped by weather, hacking, faulty voting machines, or long lines--and while you don't get a sticker, you can bring your ballot to the bar to fill out in style, with a side of cocktails. It'll be interesting to see where turnout numbers end, but as of yesterday morning more than 45% of ballots had been returned across the state. Pretty darn amazing.

Jessica set a great example for her son by taking him canvassing with her:

Zoe got involved in two races in Georgia that you may have heard a little something about:

I participated for the very first time in text-banking! I did not realize this was a thing. But there are in fact people behind the text blasts that are sometimes sent to your phone, not bots! And I was one of them.

We text-banked for Stacey Abrams [who we hope will get her deserved run-off -- Eds.] and Lucy McBath [whose successful run was inspired by the horror of losing her son Jordan Davis to someone who shot him for playing his music too loud and being Black in Public -- Eds.] thanks to an event hosted by Higher Heights for America, an amazing organization that supports black women candidates running for public office. It was truly a moving and inspiring experience. The other volunteers were wonderful -- thoughtful and funny and passionate about reaching out to the people of Georgia. Some responses to our texts were full of frustration or asking to be taken off a list or, occasionally, spewing some kind of hate. But I've been blown away by the kindness of many strangers responding to these texts, their excitement and their drive to use their voices and make a change. The best has been the people sending in selfies with their "I Voted" stickers -- which, in Georgia, are printed in the shape of a peach.

Past TBD Guest Editrix Miranda Popkey tells us:

For a very brief period (two to three hours on the night before the primary), I became overly invested in a hyper-local race (Governor's Council) (I live in Massachusetts) (something something recommends judges?) and went down a rabbit hole that ended at a badly misspelled LinkedIn blogpost in which the current seat-holder was accused of falling asleep during meetings. The challenger (for whom I voted) lost, so I guess this isn't a victory, but the animus around the race did briefly delight me, and I have made a promise to myself to learn more about county and city-level elections going forward, so that evens out to above-neutral, I think.

Obviously, we love reports from polling station. Alicia kicked things off with this vignette:

I just wanted to shout out, I think her name was Flora. She were working at my polling place, which around 8:40 this morning was a complete zoo. People were filling out their ballots in line to get them scanned, the line was out the door, not enough pens, not enough of the folders for ballots, and two of the scanners were jamming. Anyway, she was amazing with just having an amazing attitude and keeping everything going. People wanted to take photos with her (I didn't, but now I wish I did) and at one point she announced how happy she was that we all came out and how she knew we needed to get to work/on with our day and how they were working to make it happen. She really made my morning.

Emily has made us cry and given us reason to consider signing up to work the polls in our respective districts next time around:

I serve as an election judge in my county, and this year, I became the provisional voting judge for my polling place as well. That meant that every time we couldn’t find someone in our precinct’s polling book, they came to me. Sometimes I could give them information on their correct polling place and sent them on their way! Sometimes, I could set them up to vote provisionally so that as long as they were registered to vote in our state, their vote would be counted. But sometimes, folks who weren’t registered to vote showed up, hoping there was a way to vote and have their voice be heard.  I had to tell them that our state doesn’t have same-day registration, but that it was on our ballot today. Hopefully, today we all voted to improve voter access so that next time, we don’t have to turn anyone who wants to vote away. I worked a 15 hr day today so that I could make it as easy as possible for everyone in my district to vote, and so did hundreds of thousands of other election workers today. That gives me hope.

Erin in Kentucky shared this charming tableau from her polling station:

Today at my suuuuuper packed polling place an elderly woman was sitting at my table voting with her baby boomer daughter. The mom happily said, "So many women!" About the candidates on the ballot and I almost lost it. No matter what, I am taking heart that women are showing up to vote AND showing up to serve!

Tana’s report from Denver County, CO, is a marvel of civic tenacity:

Denver's ballot was the longest in its history: 3 pages, front and back, of initiatives, one prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude for everyone, including those who are incarcerated. One was about whether judges up for reelection should be grouped together under one banner of "Shall the following be retained" or listed separately: "Shall XXXXX be retained?" "Shall XXXXXX be retained?"  

Those judges, by the way, each had a short narrative analysis in our voter guide (which was easily 50 pages long -- 25 English and 25 Spanish) to assist us in deciding how to vote. One woman's said that the committee advising was split on her, 6-3, and that as she's relatively new, they are confident she will improve, especially as they have seen the "strategic plan she has for improvement." That just seemed so thoughtful! And plans for improvement are exactly what we encourage our students to create, so it's nice to see it's advocated at a county-judge level, as well.

It took me two hours to work my way through the guide and look up more information online where necessary, but I was exhilarated when it was done.

Laura’s tale of waiting in a very long line to early vote in Chicago highlights how long lines at the polls are a form of voter suppression and the delights of voting in our nation’s greatest public amenity, a library:

I early voted at the last minute, Monday at 3, in a library in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. The librarians told us it would take at least 2 hours to vote but they encouraged us to stay if it was our last chance, and they offered us Halloween candy. Nicest place to vote I've ever been! The line wove among the stacks, so the man in front of me grabbed a book on the history of art and was up to minimalism by the time he cast his ballot. The ladies behind me shared recipes when we got to the cookbooks. Next to the registration desk upstairs, two hours fifteen minutes later, there was a big stack of titles that people had picked up en route. And for me, who wasn't feeling the printed word an hour in? Free WiFi, so I could watch Great British Bakeoff: The Beginning on my phone. Nobody complained, people leaving cheered on those in line. It shouldn't take two and a half hours to vote, but when it does I wish everyone the absolute pleasantness of this experience.

Darling Casey has the following to share, and we’re pleased to incorporate the addendum that Abby Spanberger WON her race in VA:

In Virginia House district 7, Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA ops officer, is running against incumbent and terrible human Dave Brat. This district hasn't elected a Democrat in decades and it's currently a dead heat. Check out some clips from their debate here (FF to about 2 minutes in for her smackdown of the way Brat refused to use her name and instead kept invoking Nancy Pelosi as some sort of boogeyman).

BONUS: look at Casey & her spouse, adorably & literally embodying the Blue Wave!

Laura is also keeping it all in the family, with a scarf & a mug to die for:

You asked for selfies, and I thought you might especially enjoy the scarf I wore today. My partner’s grandmother is 96 years old and has been an active member of the League of Women Voters in Montgomery County, MD for over twenty years. She gave me this scarf last week and I knew I had to wear it today.

Some of our favorite updates are about the little things, like this dispatch from Carly:

I work for a public policy think tank in Oklahoma and we make fact sheets for state questions on the ballot. A measure that would allow optometrists to work in big-box stores and allow those stores to sell prescription eyewear has been our most-viewed fact sheet. I don't think we saw (heh heh) that coming!

Claire’s bold lip here is most impressive. We hope your votes went your way!

Lisa reports from Alabama:

Hi Dames! Just writing to say that I text-banked for Jenn Gray. She's not in my district, but she delighted me and seems amazing. She's a woman in STEM and a first time candidate among other things. Anyway, I was proud to support her and am sorry she lost her race.

Audrey tells us about a truly inspiring new state legislator in Minnesota:

I had the truly delightful experience this Tuesday of seeing a phenomenally qualified woman of color be elected to the Minnesota state House of Representatives in a seat that was previously held by an anti-choice (and unqualified to boot) republican. The woman elected is Ruth Richardson and she is amazing. I was lucky enough to see her campaign from its start, and watching her potential constituents learn about her and see the excitement and buzz around her grow was exactly what I needed during this election season. She was elected to a suburban district that has never been represented by a person of color. She is brilliant and incredibly smart and has worked as a human rights attorney and in non-profits for years—as a single mom!—and I am so excited for her to make Minnesota a better place for all of us. The world is hard and frequently unfair but every once in a while we get to actually witness a thing go right and it is so so worth it.

And finally, Dame Sophie’s Internet Ladyfriend of nearly two decades, Teri Anulewicz, who serves in Georgia’s House of Representatives, had a very emotional experience:

I was unopposed this year, but even knowing the outcome, it was incredibly emotional to see my name on the ballot.

We’d sure love for other Dames Nationals to have similarly profound experiences one election soon. Let us know if you run for any office! We think you’d be great. Yes, you! You can do it!

Bossy Take: Cover Songs

The beauty of Lisa Bonet: Just one of many ways you can, reluctantly, be made to love Peter Frampton

What follows is a rerun of one of our favorite longform Bossy Takes, on cover songs -- what makes them work for us, what we loathe, and everything in between. Enjoy!

Pre-Discussion Resources:

  1. The Spotify playlist of cover songs that both of Your Dames could enjoy.

  2. The Spotify playlist of the original versions of all the cover songs, save for one or two that were not available. Because half the fun of a cover is seeing how it's changed.

The Discussion Itself:

Margaret: Has anything done more damage to the notion of a cover song than earnest white men with acoustic guitars?

Sophie: Probably not! I used to be wild about covers, but I have REALLY soured on them in the last couple of years. I think unless the covering artist is doing something very interesting stylistically, they should keep covers to their live shows, where they’re a celebratory treat, and rarely, if ever, record them for release.

M: What constitutes “very interesting” for you?

S: This is so idiosyncratic, and probably unfair in many instances, BUT, very broadly speaking: recording the song in a totally different style is something I strongly prefer to a technically perfect cover. Use your range as an artist to show me something new about the original. The Charles Bradley cover of “Heart of Gold” that you put in the mix for this issue, for example, is GREAT. (Ugh, and I just found out he has cancer. Let’s all keep this brilliant man, recently featured in Luke Cage, in our thoughts!)

M: The soul cover of a non-soul song is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE GENRE of cover song. See our mix’s opening song, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” by J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound.

S: I have, many times! By contrast, all those covers of “Last Christmas”, by Death Cab for Cutie and even by our beloved Carly Rae Jepsen, should never have happened. They are such pale, ineffectual imitations of the original, which is full of perfect heartbreak, and is an ideal product of its time.

M: AGREED. Christmas albums are the worst offenders, in re: purely mercenary covers. IF I WANTED A MIX TAPE, I COULD MAKE ONE MYSELF, and Mariah is the only person I’m ever going to want to hear singing “All I Want For Christmas.” The music industry needs to accept that.

Please, REMOVE Justin Bieber from Christmas.  

S: Word, bird. On the other hand, if you’re doing a note-for-note cover whose sole purpose is to loudly proclaim your full-hearted love of a song, go for it. That’s pretty ok to me because it’s highlighting influences & announcing one’s fandom, not an attempt to horn in on the original artist’s territory. My favorite example of this is “Feel A Whole Lot Better”, originally recorded by the Byrds & re-recorded by Tom Petty for his Full Moon Fever album. It’s almost indistinguishable from the original and it’s a little sonic Valentine. Tom just loves that song so much, he needed to share that with listeners.

M: Yes! I feel the same way about Laura Marling’s cover of “Blues Run the Game,” likewise featured in our mix. Does it do…. anything, really, to distinguish itself from Jackson Frank’s original? Nope. But does it need to? Not at all! It’s such a wonderful song, and she sings it with such feeling.

S: Yeah, I think often the feeling matters most, if the artist isn’t going for a wholesale reinterpretation. And I don’t even know the original, in this case, so it’s not like Marling’s version is bumping up against my expectations in a way that is jarring.

M: I think it’s also clutch when an artist is bringing forward a song that might otherwise languish unknown. To me, that’s always welcome.

S: That was my experience with Red, Hot + Blue, an album that was recorded as a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS research in the late 80s. I wasn’t at all familiar with Cole Porter’s work in my early teens and U2’s bonkers cover of “Night & Day” & kd lang’s wrenching version of “So In Love” both blew my tiny teen mind & made me seek out original broadway cast recordings, along with Porter interpretations by Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie, Carmen McRae and more. For me, those covers turned into a way into the American Songbook and jazz, generally.

M: THIS IS A REALLY INTERESTING ANGLE! And it reminds me of one of my very favorite things, an interview of Jon Brion (my eternal beloved) from Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions podcast, an excerpt of which subsequently became the core of a 99% Invisible episode entitled “Frozen Music”. In this, Brion makes a really trenchant point about how our cultural understanding of music shifted as recorded music became more common. Brion argues, persuasively, that recordings diminished the importance of songwriting, which gave songs themselves tenacity, and popularized what Brion calls “frozen music” like Led Zeppelin, where what brings people back again and again isn’t the songs, but the specific way that they are performed. WHICH is a distinction I think you can see SO CLEARLY in the Christmas albums we mentioned earlier. When you think of songs we came to love as songs, like “Silver Bells,” I have a very open heart to new interpretations. But when you think of songs you came to love as performances, like “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” or “Blue Christmas,” the hurdle for reinterpretation is so much higher. Most of the time, I just want to hear the version I already know.

S: Same. I think part of what makes so many covers unsuccessful for me is that I have become very attached to the “frozen music” iteration of a song, and any attempt to replace that version with a new “frozen music” version is just...ugh, no thank you! (That’s a big problem for me at live shows, too. I get mad when artists deviate from their original interpretation of a song in a way that feels self-indulgent. Don’t noodle, guitarists!)

M: Exactly! Which means that a great cover ought to showcase the tenacity and brilliance of the original by bending it, taking it into a new AND DISTINCTIVE register, and making it do something exciting.

S: Yes, please don’t just record a boring version of “Boys of Summer” and throw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac in there. That’s cute the first time & thereafter, NO.

M: AND DON’T ACT LIKE SIMPLY BY MAKING A SONG DULL AND ACOUSTIC, you’ve somehow made a “soulless” pop song deep. 1989 WAS DEEP TO BEGIN WITH, BROS WHO ONLY LIKE IT BECAUSE RYAN ADAMS SAID YOU SHOULD. If you couldn’t hear that through the synths, that’s on you, not Taylor.

S: Fully agreed, but I am very on record as saying that’s not the fault of Ryan Adams.

Just two songwriters (about whom we both feel some ambivalence) mutually respecting one another.

M: No, you and I both agree-- Ryan Adams gets it. He was doing something profoundly respectful when he made 1989, and he IS showing the tenacity of the original songwriting. But does Ben Folds “get” it when he covers "Bitches Ain’t Shit"?

S: I don’t know? I don’t think he would bother to cover a song he didn’t like, but what’s the underlying message of that cover? Is he highlighting the ridiculousness & toxicity of its misogyny? (Maybe.) Is he also perpetuating that misogyny? (I think so.) Does he even like hip-hop? (Probably?) But, considered altogether, it mostly seems like a nasty joke on Dr. Dre to me.

M: To me, too. Particularly when I have heard him do it live, the way the audience response feels like “WHAT A GREAT JOKE! To say rap lyrics like they’re words that matter!!!! LOLOLOLOLOLOL!” Which is NOT MY FAVORITE, you know? But, while this Ben Folds cover reaaaaaally bugs me, Jonathan Coulton’s arguably similar cover of "Baby Got Back" actually works for me.

S: I think the tone is what matters, because I get a real Shitty Fratboy vibe from Ben’s cover, while I am warmly disposed towards Luka Bloom’s cover of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” - which on reflection makes sense because “I Need Love” is basically a very open-hearted singer-songwritery sort of rap single. You can tell Bloom wishes HE’D written it.

M: RIGHT! Like, “Baby Got Back” earnestly works GREAT as like a soft-rock jam. Lyrically, it has a lot more in common with “Your Body Is A Wonderland” than “Your Body Is A Wonderland” would want you to think. I guess it works because the original song is silly, and Jonathan Coulton seems to be doing something equally silly, but impressively different with his version. Whereas that Ben Folds cover-- it seems like the joke is taking something “silly” (a rap song) and treating it “seriously” by making it sound like Folds’ other music.  

S: Yeah, the tune Folds chooses just sounds like a solid Ben Folds melody he had lying around somewhere and there’s no THERE there in the vocal? Unlike a lot of his other songs, where there’s an emotional investment in what he’s singing.

As Marnie Michaels taught us, a minor key acoustic arrangement does not automatically confer profundity on one’s artistic endeavor.

M: All of which brings me to my fucking cover song nemesis-- Obadiah Parker’s cover of "Hey Ya".

S: No. No. No. Imagine my face right now. No. I have never heard this song. I’m going to click that link & be mad, aren’t I?

M: SO MAD. I mean, it’s as repellent as the sequence in Dreamgirls, where they take the black, R&B version of “Cadillac Car” and have it covered by a souless, sweater vest-wearing crooner. He is doing N O T H I N G original or interesting. He is just COLUMBUSING that song’s emotional depth.  

S: I clicked. It’s so BORING. STRUMMY GUITARS + MINOR KEY doesn’t equal INTERESTING. What’s interesting about the original is the peppy soul groove contrasting with the deep, emotionally reflective lyrics! This is just as bad as when Eric Clapton recorded that dishwater-dull acoustic version of “Layla”. The original is full of searing emotions! The cover is a bowl of room-temperature sonic glop! Why would you play yourself like that, Slowhand???

M: THE CONTRAST IS THE WHOLE POINT! Which, incidentally, is why soul covers are so revelatory-- it’s a reminder of just how much depth of feeling Motown, Atlantic, and Stax could actually build a pop song to hold. The closest I come to this kind of Columbusing on our mix is Laura Nyro’s “Jimmy Mack.” It’s one song off a whole album of Motown covers she released and I really adore it. I feel like she’s doing the very loving cover style we spoke of earlier, but combining her affection with the production values of her time period, and the result is really appealing. I also give her snaps because she used it as an opportunity to collaborate with Labelle-- she’s not taking the blackness out of black music. She’s collaborating with black artists to shift the music into a slightly different vernacular. UNLIKE MY OTHER COVER NEMESIS, Phil Collins’s version of “You Can’t Hurry Love.”

S: I agree with you about Nyro’s collaboration with Labelle, but I have to admit, these arrangements of the songs just don’t do anything for me. To my ear, it falls into roughly the same category as David Bowie's PinUps, which is that it is a vanity project that is fine & was likely very fun for the artist to record, but probably didn't need to exist.

M: That’s totally fair. I’d never pick her version of “Dancing in the Street” over the Vandellas', that’s for sure. But it’s fun to hear my “sing into a hairbrush” music transformed into my “drink wine on a Sunday night music.” That harmonic mix of two different familiars can be lovely, when you find the type that suits you. But it’s definitely a place where your mileage may vary.

S: Shall we talk about another favorite cover angle? I was re-listening to the playlist we’ve been working on and was struck by the similarity between my responses to the Indigo Girls’ “Romeo & Juliet” and the Beatles’ “Baby, It’s You”. I think what I love so much about them both is the combination of raw emotion with the unexpectedness of it - both upend the listener’s gender expectations & it’s thrilling.

M: Particularly with “Romeo & Juliet”-- MAN does queering that song deepen its impact! In Dire Straits’ hands, it’s just a typical “Boy, bet Romeo and Juliet would play out differently if it happened today, huh?” But when you queer it, when you use it to suggest a different, modern type of star-crossed lovers-- an openly queer girl in love with an arguably closeted one-- you give an old story NEW LEGS.

S: INDEED. See also: Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”, Me’shell Ndegeocello’s “Who Is He And What Is He To You?”, and Lin-Manuel Miranda & Raul Esparza’s version of “A Boy Like That.”

I know. Shocking. We were moved by a thing involving Lin-Manuel Miranda.

M: See also: Rufus Wainwright’s cover of his own dad’s song “One Man Guy,” which is a masterpiece of layered meanings. QUEER UP STRAIGHT MUSIC. There is so much power in flipping “universal” white, straight, male narratives and using them to tell specific stories about populations pop culture previously erased. But maayyyyyybe don’t make queer songs straight, I’m looking at you PEOPLE WHO COVER THE MAGNETIC FIELDS.

S: That’s really tricky for me - I think anyone should be able to see their own experiences validated in a song that’s meaningful to them, even if the thing they’re seeing is a zillion degrees away from what the songwriter intended. And what is Stephin Merritt, if not a songwriter who wants to be the Tin Pan Alley man of his generation? His entire project with The 6ths is based on the idea of writing songs for others to sing (side note: the first 6ths album is my favorite Stephin Merritt project of all time, if you haven’t listened to it, friends, GET INVOLVED.)

M: I do not mean to say that Stephin Merritt is incapable of writing songs that are universal-- I, too, think he’s our closest modern equivalent to Gershwin or Cole Porter. But I would say that there is a queer sensibility to some of his songs-- like “The Book of Love”-- that can get erased in schmaltz factory covers like that made famous by dumdum Peter Gabriel. I am maybe labeling the ironical tone and distance in Merritt’s vocals as “queer” in a casual way that actually requires a LOT MORE EVIDENCE but…  

S: No, I think it’s there, though I read it as completely earnest. When Merritt wrote & recorded “I love it when you give me things / And you oughta give me wedding rings” in 1999, that was not a federally recognized possibility for queer folks in the U.S. And Peter Gabriel is a chief offender in the category of Musicians Draining The Life From Their Peers’ Beautiful Work. Let us not even speak of his terrible cover of “‘Heroes’”, used to such dull effect in Stranger Things, when the original would have perpetrated a deeply satisfying emotional murder for this viewer.

M: Peter Gabriel and the TV producers who prefer him, y’all have a LOT TO ANSWER FOR. And speaking of “covers made famous by television,” let’s touch on the value of covers like Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” (not included on our list ONLY because it is a horse that has been truly beaten dead) and the blessed category of cover it represents: songs written and originated by, um, “vocal stylists” like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan subsequently covered by traditionally gifted vocalists. Do you have a favorite example of that?

S: Sorry, I was having a giggle fit over your categorization of Dylan & Cohen as “vocal stylists”! Let me have a think.

M: Please never apologize for having a giggle fit at one of my jokes.

S: There are so many women who’ve brought out the proper beauty of Dylan’s lyrics: Nanci Griffith, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris. The clarity of their voices on songs like “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Don’t Think Twice” actually led me back to the originals, but the originals miss the target for me overall.

M: Whereas, for me, there’s nothing better in the world than taking the Dylan out of Dylan.  WELL, we have now talked about this for a solid thousand words more than we expected to, and could probably continue doing so until the end of time. BUT WE WON’T!

We would, however, love love love to hear your thoughts on this issue! Do you have favorite cover, readers? Have we criticized one of your darlings? Please, by all means, do @ us, dear readers! We can take it!

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