Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven”: Seven links on writing and creativity in your inbox by 7 AM EST every Wednesday. Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS music reviews, too. Interviews with writers every 2nd and 4th Friday. Read on your browser.
It’s Wednesday morning. Oof.
And we’re back! I hope y’all were able to relax (when you could) in the past few weeks, and I hope you enjoyed the first interview of the year with Dan Ozzi.
Now back to the dang thing. Here are seven links to make your week more interesting:
If nothing else, read this for the paragraph below. Being a beginner is fun, especially when you feel no pressure.
“For most of us, the beginner stage is something to be got through as quickly as possible, like a socially awkward skin condition. But even if we’re only passing through, we should pay particular attention to this moment. For once it goes, it’s hard to get back.”
2. When jokes fail.
A reminder that art is for life. Art is NOT life.
“If you ask any comedian what their first job is, they’ll say some version of making people laugh. Conversations about what the art form can do are secondary to the primary transaction. Laughing makes people feel better, and comedians (because of myriad deep-seated psychological needs) really enjoy making people feel better. In turn, political comedy’s first goal is to make people feel better about politics. But what if it can’t?”
3. I love this idea of moral competence, which relates to the idea of making art: Before you get to be great, you have to be good.
Or, at least before you want to change something, you first … have to understand what you want to change.
“What we were missing, and what many social-good founders are missing, is moral competence. If you want to do good, you actually have to help people. Merely attempting to help people is not enough. That doesn't mean that trying to help people is bad. It's not, but moral good comes from moral competence. And that was something we lacked.
“The morally incompetent want purpose; they want to be on the front-lines of the helping. But for the morally incompetent, helping people is more important than the folks being helped. They don't offer service, they seek it. The service outranks the outcome. The signature move of the morally incompetent is to be told about existing solutions that they were previously unaware of and then soldier on without any critical examination of any added value they're providing. Others working on the problem are ignored entirely or seen as a threat to their own solution. The morally incompetent are passionate about working on the problem and potentially even solving the problem, so long as they were involved in the solution.”
I block and unfollow many people I care about on social media. It’s the specific version of that person that I decide isn’t worth following anymore. We all have a side of ourselves that turns off other people, and that’s fine.
“You don’t need to stay “connected” to people that you don’t actually want to interact with. You gain nothing by seeing occasional updates from people who might not even recognize you if the two of you passed in a crowd.”
Read the full essay when you have time, especially for the last paragraph.
“This past April, my father died of a virus that is killing Black people in crazy numbers. In May, I watched a cop murder a Black man on-camera. But on Wednesday, I saw something that brought me joy: a picture of a white guy roaming the halls of Congress with Nancy Pelosi’s podium stashed under his arm, grinning like he just scored the last Playstation 5 at Best Buy.”
6. I meant to share this before going on break, yet one of the more unexpected critics of Trump that I read in the immediate aftermath of the election came from a place I don’t usually cite … (some of) the ways Trump screwed up.
I don’t agree with a lot of what McCarthy writes; the first 10 paragraphs are what you’d expect from the National “but I’m not touching you” Review. I do think his critics of Trump are weirdly clear-eyed. He also hits at a lot of the reasons that most of the non-MAGAs I know in real life who voted for Trump in 2020 are telling me as to why they voted for him again, or for the first time. McCarthy stands by these reasons. Throughout this year, if you listen to any conservatives up for reelection in 2021, I’m guessing that they’ll cite one of McCarthy’s reasons. There are a lot. They all seem pretty clear and easy. For many people, it is that easy. It is easy to put up with a President when you’re not the targets of his rants and insults. It’s easy to sigh and ignore someone who does not go out of their way to attack you.
What’s also easy: to defend a mob that stormed our nation’s capitol, when you look like most of the mob. It’s easy to hide behind the cult of freedom of speech, when you know that you’re free of the consequences of your speech (and you know you’ll get away with throwing a tantrum, like a child, when you get the slightest bit of pushback from other people exercising their own freedom of speech, or, when private business, like, does its job). It’s easy to wave the confederate flag and project your own vague beliefs onto a symbol that represents the very specific and very active desire to enslave and control other human beings, when you know that it’s a weight you don’t have to carry. It’s easy to talk about how great our economy is, when you’ve always had money. It’s easy to say that many people need to die in order for the economy to make it through the pandemic, when you know that you’re not going to be one of those people. It’s easy to say that racism is not an issue when you don’t have to deal with racism.
I guess McCarthy was right. It is easy.
(Can’t you tell that I have a lot of feels about this right now?)
At the risk of pulling a “There are good people on both sides” … a clever half-truth that I’ve written about before in the newsletter … I’m sharing this not to defend Trump (a peacetime President who couldn’t handle an actual challenge) but to share how most people I know in real life (who don’t live in New York, LA, or another major city) actually feel about the guy. I’m also not jazzed sharing all these feelings on what happened a week ago and not knowing what the best solution is going forward. No matter what happens, I feel like the response is going to be the same, and as intense. I wish I knew what to say. I hate seeing all this and not knowing what to do. To know that there is so much hate, and that we will not have a “let’s all come together” moment, as long as we can crawl into our own social media pits. (Frankly, I don’t think we’ve also earned that moment yet.) To know that the next four years will probably just amount to Biden repeating “C’mon, guys” over and over as Republicans (the party of bad ideas) and Democrats (the party of no ideas) drag their feet and bid their time until 2024. To know that, realistically, nothing that I say and do in this newsletter is going to change your mind. To know that most of you probably already agree with me and that this newsletter ends up amounting to just preaching to the choir and is probably no better than all the other echo chambers that we gravitate towards; where this place is not actually, despite my efforts, building up or sustaining any actual moral competence. (See what I did there.)
I don’t think my job as a writer is to tell you how to feel or think, too. I’ll try to help you consider ideas and feelings that might be new to you, and to share what I think is worth sharing. I think that is closer to the responsibility of a writer. To paraphrase what Joni Mitchell famously said, artists and writers are the smoke detectors. We can’t literally put out the fires. We can grab and direct your attention so that you’re aware of your surroundings. Sometimes, we’re wrong. Sometimes, we’re not. I still hope that I can be more right than wrong in this newsletter, and I appreciate y’all for sticking around to see.
(Speaking of the National Review, this is another chance for me to plug what has become one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read on politics and media: The awkward and fascinating history of James Baldwin vs National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. If I ever taught a media class, I would assign each student this book. That, and Postwar.)
“Donald Trump never could go there. He was under siege more than he deserved to be, but he brought a great deal of it on himself by gratuitously punching down at non-entities he should have ignored. Just as important, when troubles came, and they came in waves, he would recede into the comfort of his adoring base. They made excuses for his every foible, spun his errors as the shrewd maneuvering of a master businessman, and never demanded that he clean up his act. To the contrary, they found the act irresistible, just as he found his place at the center of the world’s attention irresistible — whether commanding attention for good or bad reasons.”
7. And finally, a bunch of tea-bags.
“God knows what this means, but he's on our side.”
And so …
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Suspeitos Do Costume (Odemira, Portugal): Melodic punk rock that makes me remember wearing cargo shorts and Hot Topic tees while playing Tony Hawk.
Pablo Lobos (Santiago, Chile): The sound of Saturday morning coffee.
Willie Waldman Project (La Porte, Indiana): Your friend’s Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, but good.
Sick Shit ƧƧ (Mierzyn, Poland): Diet black midi, but weirdly soulful.
Rubin Farr (Madrid, Spain): Dance music for Pulp fans who also can’t dance.
… we carry on …
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ARTS & FARTS
Vampire Weekend - “2021” (2019)
Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan - “Syncopation” (1958)
In 2003, David Bowie selected Dissevelt’s The Electrosoniks: Electronic Music as one of his 25 favorite albums. Here’s his blurb: “This was one of those strange albums put out by the record companies to show off that newfangled stereo. Only, here Philips opted for a truly pioneering couple of Dutch bods, Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan. As sonic explorers, these two rate along with Ennio Morricone, but far loopier. I’d adore a 5.1 mix of these absurdities. The sleeve notes inform us that “chimpanzees are painting, gorillas are writing.” Way to go.”
The La’s - “There She Goes (Single Version)” (1988)
I’ve talked before about how I think “There She Goes” is pretty much a perfect song. This single version is almost as good. It sounds rougher, as if they only had time to do one take and had to rush it out to release a single. That kind of makes this version more enduring, I think? It sounds smaller. Maybe it’s just the joy of rediscovering a song that you love like you’re hearing it again for the first time.
Madvillain - “Accordion” (2004)
RIP MF DOOM.
Baths - “Clarence Difference” (2019)
I think I’m now going to start a tradition to play “Clarence Difference” as my first song of each new year. It’s such a perfect song for January. Obviously, I hope this year doesn’t include as much pandemic, though I also know that a good year is still a year full of ups and downs. I have no freaking idea where we’ll be by the end of this year. We’ll find out, one way or another. Here’s to the year.
Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Interview Magazine, McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and more. Check out his website, where you’ll find his latest features and more ways to connect.
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All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation’s logo was made by Sophie Wiener. 7 for Seven was made possible with the help of Simon Morrow, who also designed the ARTS & FARTS logo. Thank you, Sophie and Simon!