7 For Seven: Monuments & History
Gone With The Wind, Birth of a Nation, War & Peace, Do The Right Thing, and other conflicting art monuments to history.
Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven”: Seven links on writing and creativity in your inbox by 7 AM EST every Wednesday, as well as Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS song reviews. 1st Friday: a new short story. 2nd and 4th Fridays: interviews with writers. Read on your browser.
“smelly” “works” of “art”
It’s Wednesday morning. Oof. Here are seven things to make your week more interesting:
1. What do we do with Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, and other cinematic monuments to the Confederacy?
“Whereas [monuments] have one message — to celebrate and uphold a painful time in American history, whose scars linger to this day — a film, especially one with so many influences as Gone With the Wind, rarely holds a single message.”
2. Another related Gone With the Wind feature: The absolutist case for problematic pop culture, and its limits.
“Things don’t stop existing because you drape a shroud over them any more than they stop existing because you cover your eyes, and rewriting the past is not how you write a better future.”
(I would clarify that unearthing the parts of our past that have been written out - especially history that doesn’t revolve around straight cis white dudes - can better inform our present to give guidance to our future; I think we all would benefit from expanding our view of history, not reducing it. This piece explores more of the idea of the dangers of that reduction, and that taking Gone With the Wind off one streaming service gives off an illusion of progress.)
(An example of a streaming service that is helping expand our history: Criterion Collection.)
3. Speaking of monuments and history: “Carlyle got history wrong but us right.”
(I understand that this feature, which focuses on the limits of having any statues in the first place, can come across as annoyingly contrarian and avoids the problem. I also think it’s good to consider that Thomas Carlyle … probably screwed us all up with his “Great Man” theory?)
(You know who wasn’t a fan of Carlyle? Tolstoy. And how little did Tolstoy care for Carlyle and his theory? His response was to literally write War & Peace.)
(War & Peace is one of the few Very Famous And Important Long Books that I actually think holds up. It’s also surprisingly easy and straightforward to read; it’s just really long. Also, according to Tolstoy, War & Peace is not a novel, nor was it supposed to be “a fun read.”)
4. Related to the idea that art is better at making us ask questions than giving us answers: Roger Ebert’s original review of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
“Of course it is confused. Of course it wavers between middle-class values and street values. Of course it is not sure whether it believes in liberal pieties or militancy. Of course some of the characters are sympathetic and others are hateful. And of course some of the likable characters do bad things. Isn't that the way it is in America today? Anyone who walks into this film expecting answers is a dreamer or a fool. But anyone who leaves the movie with more intolerance than they walked in with wasn't paying attention.”
5. How cities across the United States allocate their budgets.
(This NYT deep-dive into police funding across U.S. cities is long and detailed - there is no single tl;dr - but I’m sharing it because it drives home this important point: “The Los Angeles city budget does not include the school system, for example, while the New York City budget does … This data offers a sense of all public priorities, but not necessarily a road map for activists: Police spending controlled by cities can’t simply be moved to independent school districts or county governments.”)
(Related to what I talked about last week: when looking into how cities spend their money, it’s important to understand that each city’s fund is going to look different, and will require different laws and approaches; there is no single blanket law to defund all police at once, so it’s important to keep focusing on local laws; in order to change law & order, it’s important to first understand the literal laws.)
6. This messy, sometimes eye-rolling, often enlightening new Jon Stewart interview.
(I do appreciate Stewart owning up to his 2010 “rally,” which inspired one of my favorite thinkpieces: Dawn Herrera Helphand’s “What Can Comedy News Shows Actually Accomplish?; if anyone ever writes a book about how The Daily Show, Fox News, and MSNBC all started around the same time in 1996, I would read it in a heartbeat.)
“What, then, are we to make of the fact that the American center-left has such an appetite for editorial leavened with satire? As reflected by the response to Stewart’s rally, there is a hunger for some kind of effective political public. But without a sense of political agency, satirical news makes it possible to remain attached to the American political system, just as it is, by positioning oneself in relation to it but also outside of it. Through The Daily Show and its heirs, people who feel burned by the political present can engage the intensity of the political moment, while simultaneously holding it at a distance.”
7. And finally, Dave Chappelle on celebrity, George Floyd, and “8:46.”
(If you don’t want to watch the whole thing - I understand if Chappelle is not your favorite person - I recommend watching from 3:30 to 9:05, when he talks specifically about George Floyd.)
And so …
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Beyhude (Germany) - Achtung!
Juju Planet Dub (Piestany, Slovakia) - Sweet dreams are made of this …
Sarim Khan (Bengaluru, India) - I was prepared for Frank Ocean to pop in at any second on this Blonde-like beat.
Tipo Stereo (Luanda, Angola) - Weirdly compelling - I especially love the Stevie Wonder keys.
ReliefCook (La Tuque, Québec) - This is the Jason Bourne of Solitaire soundtracks.
… we carry on …
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ARTS & FARTS
Song “reviews” … listen to all available tracks on the ARTS & FARTS Spotify playlist
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - “Cameo” (2020)
This freakin’ band. “Cameo” is one of my favorite songs of this year by a mile. I feel dumb trying to write about it. It’s like me trying to describe my smile; I could, but I would rather just enjoy smiling and not overthink my happiness. I think it’s appropriate to call these riffs “crisp.” “Jangle” generally is an overused word in the English language, and it has been overused for this band, but yes, jangle galore. The album is good - it'll sound better with each relisten. I haven’t been in a car in months, and I plan to make this the first song I listen to if I ever make it back onto a highway.
The Byrds - “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965)
If I were alive in 1965, would I think The Byrds were deep and important? Considering that all my favorite bands were influenced in a way by The Byrds, probably. I’d probably feel the same about them as I do Father John Misty; music I personally enjoy a lot and pull a lot from but don’t pretend is important. (It’s OK to listen to music and not think, “But is this important???”) Growing up, I had been trained by classic rock to understand that everyone in the ‘60s trusted CCR, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan, who everyone in the United States agreed upon as the one single poet of the Civil Rights movement, which seems harder to wrap my head around now. Maybe that was true. It makes me wonder: How much great music from this era do we still not know about? And how much of that music would sound amazing right now? Speaking of Dylan, it’s always worth rereading Ellen Willis on Dylan.
Bob Dylan - “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (1966)
But I still love Dylan. On November 13, 2015, I was at my desk writing when I saw the news about a mass shooting at an Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris. Both my roommates were in Paris. A few seconds later, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” queued up, unprompted, on a shuffled Spotify playlist that I had made for the feature I was working on. I immediately emailed them, making sure they were OK. I waited. I waited for all 11 minutes and 20 seconds of this song, wondering if my roommates were alive or not. I just sat on my bed. I let “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” play out. All of a sudden, this strange, twisty, too-long folk ramble was a very simple song. It was exactly as long as it needed to be. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” had now become the sound of shock and unexpected loss. Its simplicity and gentle quietness made me furious. How dare a work of music sound so peaceful while I’m overwhelmed. My roommates responded soon after the song ended confirming that they were on the other side of Paris and were safe. I was thankful. I still hear “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” as a song about Paris and grief, which Dylan probably didn’t intend. I think he’ll be OK.
Run The Jewels - “JU$T (ft. Pharrell Williams & Zack De Rocha)” (2020)
The timing of this (very good) LP is ridiculous. I almost didn’t want to listen to it, since it felt too good to be true to have a new Run The Jewels album dropping during these summer protests. I had similar thoughts on the new Fiona Apple album; I heard it once, declared it a masterpiece, and haven’t listened to it since. I’m sharing “JU$T” specifically because it’s the latest example of Pharrell’s trademark production sign-off that, once you hear, you can’t unhear: The Pharrell Four-Count Start. Clever!
Hinds - “Just Like Kids (Miau)” (2020)
Remember the ‘90s?
Jill Sobule - “Supermodel” (1995)
Jill Sobule does!
Liza Minnelli - “Cabaret” (1972)
I watched Cabaret for the first time recently, and I now understand every Broadway joke and reference. This isn’t snark; I underestimated the bigness and influence of this musical. Whenever I thought Liza Minnelli (excellent in this movie) was annoying or cartoony, I remembered that every Sally Bowles-like character in every film after 1972 was pretty much ripping off her performance. Cabaret the movie is too long, yet it ends well and without any illusion of a happy ending; it’s a musical about wanting to believe that everything will work out in the end, yet deep down knowing that the opposite will be true.
Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Interview, Pitchfork, McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and more. Check out his website, where you’ll find his reading list this year, his latest features, and more ways to connect. Brady is a freelancer for hire who can do interviews, reporting, criticism, and playlists - get in touch if you need a writer.
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All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation logo by Sophie Wiener. ARTS & FARTS logo by Simon Morrow.
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