I walked halfway down the path of writing one letter this week before I realized I was just wandering around my subject aimlessly. I know I had something to say, but what exactly? This is a predicament I've found myself in quite often lately. I write a lot of notes to myself, scattering ideas all over the place like a seedbomb tossed in a vacant lot, just waiting to see whatever crops up. The difference between a weed and a wildflower is pretty subjective in these circumstances, but at least you know the ground is fertile. It's in this spirit that instead of my own half-sprouted thinking, I'm sending out a round-up (not a terrible weed-killing pun, btw) of other writers' more finely manicured ideascapes.
But hang on, because the following selection of reading material is not without thematic intent. Last week, I off-handedly mentioned that I've got a music-related project in the works, so this gives me a good opportunity to tell you about it.
In the new year–which is coming up a LOT faster than it might seem–I'll be launching a new newsletter to focus entirely on writing about music. I figured it was finally time to come back around to the dream that put me on this writing path in the first place. The funny thing is, I've barely had any experience or practice writing about music since college. I have no idea if I'm even any good at it. But there's only one way to find out, and there's only one way to get better.
Meanwhile, I'll be transitioning this letter to a monthly-ish missive where I'll be checking in as your wayward penpal, sharing the odd bits of what I'm working on and sending postcards from wherever I happen to be headquartered. There is, however, a more strategic aim to this plan.
Whether I like it or not, growing as a writer, which is to say growing an audience, requires more dedicated and proactive self-promotion. Essentially, I've got to make it part of my job. And since I'm not about to waste any of my precious and dwindling time on this planet contributing to society's tweet-by-tweet ruination, I'm going to have to find other ways of putting myself out there.
To be perfectly frank, this letter hasn't exactly been a model of, "if you write it, they will come." Exactly no one asked me to write it, or to keep writing it. It's a labor of love to say the least. More than anything, though, it's been a practice, a kind of mental and emotional yoga that's helped get me in shape. So after all this practice, it's time to take the training wheels off. I've had some luck pitching pithy little food stories, and now I'd like to see how I fare pitching work in the vein of what I've been sharing here for the past four years. You can't win if you don't play, right?
Anyway, what will this music letter be about? I'm still fine-tuning, but basically it'll be about whatever I'm listening to. A vibe. A playlist as a soundtrack. A mixtape as a story. A mood in stereo. You get it.
Here's a little warm-up before the real gig.
Don't Let Me Down
Even though I didn't grow up with the Beatles, I grew up with the Beatles. I'm still growing up with the Beatles. In anticipation of Peter Jackson's forthcoming docuseries, Get Back, about the last days of the band, David Remnick's profile of Paul McCartney shows that Macca hasn't slowed down one bit. But I still couldn't help feeling like I wanted to stop time, just put the brakes on right now and haul Paul and Ringo to some cryogenic preservation chamber in an undisclosed location. Maybe grab Jagger too. Keith I'm less worried about. He's in it to win it.
A while ago I got to to thinking that there'd been a noticeable resurgence of Stevie Nicks over the past decade or so. It seemed like millennial women had embraced her as their aesthetic avatar. Stevie was suddenly (but also always?) a whole mood, if you will. And this is even before Harry Styles entered the conversation. Ever the astute researcher, I Googled "why do millennials love Stevie Nicks." Despite feeling like my journalistic hunch had been scooped, I also felt very validated in having perceived this was actually a thing. Like really a thing. But why? And how? Of course, should we even be surprised that Beyoncé had something to do with it? More hard-hitting reporting on this topic to come.
One of the best hours I spent recently was watching Questlove and Jimmy Fallon, fellow Beastie Boys stans, just hardcore nerd out interviewing AdRock and Mike D last year. It was downright heartwarming. Quest, you are all of us, my man. Between his encyclopedic knowledge and open-hearted enthusiasm, Questlove is a massive inspiration for music obsessives. Jazmine Hughes' profile in last week's New York Times Magazine was a delightful shuffle through the cognitive card catalog of "hip hop's Library of Congress." Now I'm excited to take Quest's Masterclass on music curation and DJing, which he approaches with a narrative sensibility: each of his DJ sets "has a beginning, establishing action, rising action, climax, falling action and ending."
Blood on the Streets in the Town of New Haven
The Doors' Robbie Krieger remembers the night Jim Morrison was arrested on stage:
"Like at all the best Doors shows, we were creating a moment. A specific connection with a specific audience that would exist only on that specific night."
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Just very simply an unvarnished view of music writer Michael Azzerad's friendship with Kurt Cobain. None of the romanticizing, none of the conspiracy theorizing, none of the cautionary tale proselytizing.