Aaaand, We're Back!
|Aug 10, 2019|| 1|
Hello, friends. A great light has gone out.
From Morrison’s incredibly concise elucidation of racism for Charlie Rose in 1993
Toni Morrison died on Tuesday and the world is diminished by her absence. Whether her books lie in your future (as they do for Dame Margaret) or are an indelible part of the formation of your literary loves (as for Dame Sophie), her presence in the world has affected you deeply whether you realized it before Tuesday, or not. Here are some highlights from her life as a public intellectual and the outpouring of eloquent grief her passing has occasioned:
You can watch the lecture she gave upon accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first African American woman to ever receive that award.
If your heart can stand it, you can watch President Obama present her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, during which they look so delighted to be in each other’s company that you just know they kept in touch afterwards
Courtesy of the newly available archives of Fresh Air, you can listen to Morrison’s four appearances on that show, spanning from 1992-2015
You can also read her searching interview on The Art of Fiction with The Paris Review, from 1993
To get a sense of how deep her often-unseen unseen impact on American literature has been, you should read this profile from the New York Times which discusses, at length, her editorial purview and work at Random House.
Both The Paris Review and The New York Times collected brief recollections on Morrison’s life and work from... nearly every writer and thinker you could hope they'd speak with, from Margaret Atwood to Jesmyn Ward
In addition to these brief recollections, the Times also featured longer pieces such as:
And, as our country is marked anew by the violence of shootings, mass and incidental, and ICE raids, Toni Morrison’s exhortation to keep making art, and make art that speaks urgently to the world you see around you, is more essential than ever.
Finally, if, like Dame Margaret, you have managed to make it this far in life without reading one of Toni Morrison’s novels (despite being assigned them multiple times in school!), remember:
Dame Sophie’s Personal Is Political Mishmash
A very useful gif, whose sentiment can never apply to Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt is one of those musical artists who was kind of always running in the background throughout my most impressionable years. She duets beautifully with Paul Simon on Under African Skies from Graceland, an album my entire family loved & played constantly. My sisters & I used to watch & rewatch these Muppet Show compilations from the local video store, and there were several that included her performances: It’s In His Kiss, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, and the one I remember most vividly and fondly, Blue Bayou. All of these performances are treasures -- When I Grow Too Old To Dream in particular is a poignancy arrow straight to my heart -- but I want to spend a little time with Blue Bayou, just to recognize how sweetly odd it is. It’s set on a bayou, so far, so expected. The Electric Mayhem are there, as a quasi-jug band, ok, ok. Out strolls Linda wearing...a weird lacy romper? Some kind of early 1900s swimming costume? She’s singing so earnestly while a chorus of felt frogs ribbits very seriously behind her! I’m left with two thoughts: good god, what a professional! And: I would bet 5 entire US dollars that this peculiar fever dream inspired some of the animation of Ashman & Menken’s classic “Kiss The Girl”. All of which is to say, of course I love Linda Ronstadt, but not in a way that made me devote a ton of headspace to her or her place in musical history, until I watched the Eagles documentary on Netflix and learned that Glenn Frey & Don Henley had been in her backing band. (She talks a little bit about how she met them & how they put their own band together in this interview from some time in the mid-70s & I just love how her enjoyment of other people’s musical gifts shines through in the conversation). It was just so clear that the Eagles owe Linda Ronstadt a great deal, and I’ve been longing ever since for a four-hour examination of her career. I don’t think we’ll ever get that, but a forthcoming documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, will finally go some way towards filling the gap.
JLo turned 50 (!!) in July, and for NBC News’ THINK section, I got to write about how much I’ve enjoyed watching Jenny From The Block weave elements from her personal life and career into her public performance of her celebrity persona as a booty ambassador, a regular yet outstandingly fit divorced mom of tweens looking for a love that will last, and a luxury lifestyle icon.
Ocean Vuong gave a talk at the recent Asian American Literature Festival, which fellow author Minh Lê recapped in wonderful detail in this Twitter thread. Running through every sentence of Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous are brutality and tenderness and the profoundly optimistic insistence on claiming a space here, in the country that nearly destroyed Vuong’s own birth country. His talk captures how and why the novel is structured as it is and embraces the possibility that he may not write another book, which is a very gutsy thing for an acclaimed young writer to say aloud.
Rebecca Traister profiled Elizabeth Warren for The Cut this week and I’m caught between loving the picture she paints and feeling deeply vexed and put off by the idea of a Teacher-In-Chief as off-putting to my fellow voters. I hate that premise and it makes me mad that we’d accept it so wholly that it would merit being taken seriously by an explicitly feminist venue and writer. Elizabeth Warren is, among other things, a teacher of substantial natural gifts working hard over decades to improve, challenging herself to make her teaching techniques support her egalitarian philosophy, wielding her influence to push Harvard Law School to admit more first-generation college students. Having just one good teacher is life-changing for any learner, so why wouldn’t we want one of the nation’s very best, most thoughtful teachers as our President? I know why. I reserve the right to reject the premise while also encouraging everyone to read the profile. The truth is, a number of us are going to have to have conversations about Why Elizabeth Warren, Teacher, Is A Great Choice, Actually with friends & family over the next few months, and this piece is full of solid talking points.
My Dad turns 70 today! He is not only a super parent, he’s also a beloved Contributor Emeritus to this very newsletter, having worked with us on our longest issue of all time, about nostalgia formation. As a retired historic preservationist, he had particularly valuable insights to share about how preserving historic buildings should be an easy sell, but isn’t, and how even good efforts don’t always hit the mark. He’s now a very accomplished printmaker, and if you’re so inclined, check out his work!
I’ll close with a Good TV News Round-Up:
Los Espookys has been renewed for a second season! Co-creator & cast member Ana Fabrega gave a terrific interview for NPR’s It’s Been A Minute, talking about how it feels to make art you know nobody else might like at all (weird and anxiety-laden, but ultimately pretty good when you are happy with the work you do!). Her fellow co-creator Julio Torres has a comedy special debuting on HBO this weekend, My Favorite Shapes. My 13 year-old and I have decided the preview is both weird & utterly delightful (same) and Kathryn says the special as a whole lives up to this fairly dazzling promise.
Monica Lewinsky will produce the forthcoming Season 3 of American Crime Story: Impeachment, dramatizing the Whitewater investigation which first brought her relationship with then-President Bill Clinton into the public eye. This revenge will be served so cold, they’ll need liquid nitrogen to bring it to the right temperature, and I am here for it.
Also here for this monoprint of Merce Cunningham dancing by my Dad. You can buy this and hang it proudly in your house!
Dame Margaret Learned Tonight That a Bar Near Work Has VERY Sparsely Attended Karaoke on Fridays and It’s a Real Game Changer
Me, trying to describe Jed Wyatt’s perfidy to the Uninitiated
I was recently given an opportunity to write about my Grand Unifying Theory of Pleasure Without Guilt and The Bachelor Franchise puts it to the test which is great, because this past season’s surprisingly feminist arc and Dramatic Conclusion have been practically all I want to talk about. Jed Wyatt, the man who won the right to propose to Hannah Brown (this season’s SNEAK ATTACK Southern Badass lead), was revealed weeks before the show’s conclusion to have a girlfriend he’d strung along and then ghosted back home, all after freely admitting he’d come on the show to promote his music (which is terrible). So, mere moments after the show televised his successful (and predictably guitar-accompanied) proposal, it aired his swift and unceremonious dumping by Hannah, and concluded with her phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the fuckbois she spent the season battling. If you love rubber-necking at drama (which you know I do), this was a dangerously addictive situation. The whole situation perfectly illuminated two of my hardest won dating insights: (1) Men with Faces Only a Girlfriend Can Love are sometimes the biggest players, because you don’t KNOW you need to protect yourself against them and (2)
In further good luck, my favorite former contestant Lawyer-turned-sports commentator Rachel Lindsay (the only black lead in the franchise’s history to date) launched a new Bachelor-breakdown podcast, Bachelor Happy Hour, which featured long interview with both Jed and Hannah. While Rachel’s co-host Ali Fedowtowsky-Manno (another former Bachelorette) is MUCH too eager to let Jed off the hook for his incredible shitheel behavior, Rachel is deliciously good at giving him just enough rope to hang himself. In a summer of feuds and rubbernecking, this one is probably the one I find most personally compelling, so I’m very grateful to have such great content.
I was somewhat less uniformly pleased with Hulu’s recent Veronica Mars revival. While I agree with critics that it’s the best it’s been since its first season, it made some choices that really annoyed me and, luckily, I was able to hash all those feelings out with the Pop Culture Happy Hour crew in a rare, spoiler-rific episode. I was also lucky that while one mystery was failing to live up to my exacting standards, I managed to find another I absolutely loved: Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman. I have been swimming around in Lippman’s back catalog all summer, listening to her Tess Monaghan books, and this book has everything I like about those, but with even more polish and nuance. It is simultaneously discursive, and page-turning, and I cannot recommend it enough.
On the subject of books, and podcasts, I appeared on the new romance-centric podcast Hot & Bothered to answer the important question: is it possible to read too many romance novels? And it will perhaps foreshadow my answer to mention that I’m looking forward enormously to Bookstore Romance Day, Saturday, August 17th, when bookstores all across the country are going to be putting their love of romance front and center with sales, events, and other cool features. Here in Cambridge, I am going to be leading a panel discussion with Loretta Chase, Satin Russell, Cecilia Tan, and Kerry Winfrey, and I think it is going to be a terrifically good time! Whether you can come to my event or must be forced to attend a lesser one, I hope you’ll find a way to participate!
The last two weeks have been an absolute cultural bacchanal for me, containing as they did both my annual pilgrimage to the Newport Folk Festival and a trip to New York to see Hadestown and Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma revival. From this fertile soil grow the following recommendations:
Yola was the breakout artist at Newport Folk Festival this year. A country soul singer from England whose debut album Walk Through Fire bowled me over, she both crushed her own set (with a stellar rendition of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road”) and participated gorgeously in other musicians’ sets.
Most notably, she sang with The Highwomen, an all-woman country supergroup who made their (absolutely incredible) debut at the festival. Comprised of Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Marren Morris, and Natalie Hemby, I cannot overstate how excited I am for their debut album. They have two singles out and a great cover of “The Chain.” They also got to act as Dolly Parton’s backing band for her surprise set on Saturday.
I know everyone BUT me has already realized that this Maggie Rogers character is really something special, but prior to seeing her set at Newport, I had never fully fallen for her. But apparently all it takes is one exquisite cover of “Angel from Montgomery,” and I am putty in your hands.
I already knew that Lucy Dacus was one of my favorite new musicians, but her set sold me on her even more. She can go from shattering your heart in a single blow with songs like “Night Shift” to making you feel like doing a rom-com airport run with her (arguably perfect) rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” At the close, she played an unreleased song that is going to fuck people up in a way nothing has since Neko Case’s “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.”
I also got to see Anais Mitchell’s newest project, Bonny Light Horseman, whose rendition of the old English folk ballad of the same name I have listened to a perfectly normal 20+ times since it was released this week.
AND FINALLY! The Hadestown Original Broadway Cast Recording is now OUT in its entirety, and it’s in some ways even better recorded than it was performed live. By which I mean that Reeve Carney, who sings the part of Orpheus, maybe benefits from having an infinite number of takes to perfect his (admittedly VERY challenging) falsetto sections.
I have long been a huge fan of the celebrity gossip comedy podcast Who? Weekly, but today, I finally made the jump to supporting them on Patreon (only $5 a month to get all their bonus content!!) and was richly rewarded when literally minutes later they sent out their most recent bonus: a bespoke commentary track for the CLASSIC FILM The First Wives Club. If I had finished this email in anything even vaguely resembling a timely fashion, I would be home watching this movie with commentary right now.
And finally, if the continuing saga of Gwyneth Paltrow being incapable of identifying her various Marvel castmates is revealed to be a FAKED BIT that she’s in on to like have a laugh at our expense for actually believing that she could be so out of touch, literally never tell me. I want to keep living in this world where Gwyneth picked up her paycheck and immediately forgot everything about her years playing Pepper Potts. I need Glamorously Oblivious Gwyneth to continue blythely and benignly forgetting her castmates like a plant needs the sun. Let her remain the shining beacon towards which to turn my face. Never make her relatable. Never allow her to be down to earth.
Two Bossy Dames is brought to you by:
Harry Styles, Time Lord
Tea before milk or milk before tea? It’s literally a matter of taste! Proven by science!
Seriously, you need to just follow Gritty on Twitter, already!
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