Write like you've already won, or write like you never will

Also, HEADPHONE NATION and ARTS & FARTS are back, again!

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 at the end of each newsletter. 1st Friday: a new short story. 2nd + 4th Fridays: interviews with writers. Read on your browser.


the face of someone who’s finally at peace with their limits and abilities and still wants to do the dang thing and i definitely didn’t wait until the very last minute to draw this cartoon ah the simplicity it is intentional mmhmm yes indeed very ah good.

It’s Wednesday morning. Oof.

And some more updates this week … I think I figured out the best way to bring back ARTS & FARTS and Headphone Nation back into this newsletter post-Substack. And so, they’re BACK.

To newer subscribers: In 2011, I started Headphone Nation, a music blog that evolved into me writing about new songs by artists and bands outside the United States. I dubbed it “The International Music Blog,” which is a ridiculous and silly name. I’m a ridiculous person, so it works. Over the years, the blog grew into my first “serious” writing gig. It got me into a habit of writing and posting daily, it forced me to look for music beyond my comfort zone, and it allowed me a space to write a million poorly-written words before I finally learned how to write stuff that I didn’t think was truly horrendous. (New writers: the best advice I can still offer for getting into this business is to start your own blog or newsletter, read everything you can, read more, and then write what you want to see in the world.) I paused Headphone Nation a few times throughout the years for various reasons, yet as long as I’ve been publishing, there’s been some form of Headphone Nation.

ARTS & FARTS is more recent. Growing up as a Midwest punk (I listened to Bob Seger) and learning about music through the Rolling Stone magazines my mom would graciously buy whenever we went to Kroger, my dream was to have an entire page of RS to myself to write snappy, groundbreaking, never-been-done reviews and blurbs about music that dads liked. You know, like all the groundbreaking tweens listening to Bob Seger and Death Cab. Wow.

Many years later, I’ve been lucky not only to contribute something to Rolling Stone but also to be in a position to still write about music for other wonderful outlets. I’m tremendously lucky. But alas, no full-spread Rolling Stone page yet. So last year, I decided to make my own column on my website. Because … why not? But because I came into my own as a writer in the age of the mp3 blog and Twitter, ARTS & FARTS was less full reviews and more blurbs. I’ve been pretty bad about keeping it updated on a consistent schedule, but it’s become another space that I love and cherish. Like Headphone Nation, I paused ARTS & FARTS recently as I tried to figure out the new kinds of writings that I wanted to do. I still love writing for other places, yet it feels good knowing that, even if Headphone Nation or ARTS & FARTS aren’t active, I still have a space to write about music that no one can take away from me. Even if I never write for a magazine again, I can still write. I’m thankful for that.

So why am I bringing both Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS to this newsletter?

Well, mainly because of you.

In a good way!

From analyzing the recent survey that y’all filled out (thank you to those who answered!), the most notable and consistent feedback was that most of you (over 80% of you) wanted more music recommendations in this newsletter, in addition to my typical links and advice on writing and creativity. This makes me happy! I'm glad that so many of you follow my writings and trust me to talk about music.

So in that spirit, I wanted to bring out that musical side more in this newsletter. All the stuff you already love about 7 For Seven will still be here. Now there’s more, for more people. And I would rather do this all in one place instead of trying to run three different websites at once. (lol nope.) The downside is that this newsletter will now be longer, though I think that’s more good than bad. Like, I truly don’t read every single thing of the newsletter I love and follow, but I usually hone in on one or two sections that I really like. I imagine that’s the same for you as well.

Both HN and A&F have gone through different variations throughout the years - Headphone Nation now lives here and on my personal Twitter as #HeadphoneNation, ARTS & FARTS now just lives here - and they’ve always been what I needed them to be at any given time. Right now, this feels like the right thing to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both change again in the near future.

These changes come out of necessity, too. Job and work-wise, it’s bleak for everyone right now. Freelancer writers like myself, and countless other writers way more talented and well-connected than me, are now facing frozen freelance budgets at their go-to places and are now losing work. It’s terrifying. But then I remembered why I made HN and A&F in the first place. Now more than ever, you have to create the space that you want to be a part of, and I hope that this newsletter is whatever you need it to be, or that it inspires you to create your own space. You got this.

By no means is ARTS & FARTS original - I’m literally stealing this from Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide - but you gotta steal from your heroes, right?

So the idea is that now the first half of 7 For Seven is for all my writer friends, and the second half is for all my music friends. And if you’re into both, even better. All are welcomed. Also, I’ve getting used to linking Bandcamp and YouTube into Substacks, so apologies this week if they’re not working or won’t play in the email.

Also, thank you, everyone, for the support and shout-outs from Donna-Claire’s interview this past Friday. It was a blast to talk to her, and there are some exciting ones coming up on future Fridays. Stay tuned.


Back to the thing. Here are at least seven things to make your week more interesting:

  1. Congratulations to all of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners; this link goes to all the works that won this year. I also wanted to share this great advice from now-Pulitzer-Prize-winner Jericho Brown’s recent interview with Ashia Ajani at them.:

    "You either need to write like you have already won every prize, or you need to write like you know for a fact you will never win any prize. The truth is no matter what, you still have to wake up the next morning and endure the tyranny of the blank page."

  2. Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s latest blog post about starting fresh with your work and career plans and goals post-COVID-19 is essential reading, whether you’ve been let go or are thinking about your next steps.

    (Since all our priorities and opportunities for everything have shifted, it’s important to adjust our goals and expectations as well, instead of waiting for things to go back to normal and carry on as before … because that’s not happening. And I like Gregory’s blog because she says these things in a very smart and calm way; not to scare you but to help you be on top of things.)

    “Instead of panicking, sit down and create a plan. Your efforts may not fix your calendar right away, but the plan will put you in position when things start to turn around. But instead of just throwing out a bunch of darts, your results (and your sanity) will be much better if you come up with a plan of action.”

  3. I loved this new Hayley Williams Vulture interview with Eve Barlow, especially this very true part about anxiety and depression that I think should be more well known to everyone:

    I’m a smart enough person. I can think through what I’m going through even when I’m really down on myself. A lot of people with anxiety or depression are intellectual and can understand, but it’s bigger than that. It’s a chemical problem. I was realizing how out of my control it was. It mattered to talk about it. Getting that down in front of me was a turning point.”

  4. There is now a Taco Bell literary magazine.

  5. Old yet still wise: How to create (and write) a terrifying villain, via Inglourious Basterds.

    (A great reminder on writing effective characters: “Do your characters … know?”)

  6. We lost two great musical souls this past week, Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider and Little Richard, which I’ll get to more below. For now, it’s worth resharing David Ramsey’s incredible 2015 Little Richard profile. It’s essential reading, especially for how it gets into Richard’s bisexuality (something that greatly influenced his music and, in a way, all of rock ‘n’ roll to come) and his late conversion back to religion.

  7. And finally, something that I didn’t realize I needed to see: Andrew Cuomo talking about his daughter’s boyfriend.

And so …

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(think global)

Hernan Hecht (Mexico) Sunny Mexican jazz that puts me into a more positive mood.

Stefan Goranov (Spain) More jazz for all the yazz; this one swings a little quicker, the sun not as bright.

Night (Nepal) When folk music is actual folk music - some of the more uplifting music I’ve heard in a while.

Peter Zimmermann (Hamburg, Germany) I think this is what James Murphy meant when he said “the forgotten ‘80s.”

Lavendelle (Helsinki, Finland) and this is the forgotten ‘90s.

… we carry on …

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Listen to these songs on a Spotify mix.

Little Richard - “Lucille (Live)” (1967)

In 1957, when a 15-year-old Paul McCartney auditioned for local group The Quarrymen, he impressed them by performing a few songs by Little Richard. McCartney loved Little Richard. All the girls loved Little Richard. Al the boys wanted to be him. No boy in Liverpool could do a good Little Richard impression, which was understood. McCartney stood out for being the least terrible. And the Quarrymen member most impressed by this new kid’s Richard-like howl and charisma: John Lennon. He recruited McCartney, and the band learned more Little Richard songs so that they could play enough songs to book a gig. The Quarrymen would change their name a few more times before settling on The Beatles. They never stopped being fans.

Kraftwerk - “Computer Love” (1981)

Computer World is one of the all-time great albums of modern music. “Modern” as in any time a human could pronounce the word “computer.” It’s my first pick for anyone wanting to get into electronic music. And if you want to start with Kraftwerk, this was the song that hooked me. If the intro melody reminds of you that Coldplay song, you’re not wrong: Chris Martin first received the band’s blessing to steal the melody. Imagine that phone call.

Oasis - “Live Forever” (1994)

Do you ever relisten to songs that sound more bittersweet as you get older? When I was young (like, younger), I thought Liam sounded like a rock ‘n’ roll god, and this song had sick riffs. That was all I needed to transcend. Now I’m 27, and I hear a terrified young man. Now the guitar sounds like it’s hiding something. I’m also now the same age as Noel when “Live Forever” came out, so maybe that has something to do with it. In a RadioX feature last month, Liam said that this was his favorite Oasis song. Like most things Oasis, the music video is tremendously dumb and brilliant.

Link Wray - “La De Da” (1971)

Link Wray is a vital link in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, though he’s nowhere near as appreciated, which is a shame. If you’ve ever played a power chord or used distortion on your guitar, thank “Rumble.” “La De Da” is not an outstanding song, but it’s a sound that Wray did very well in his later years.

Christine and the Queens - “People, I’ve been sad” (2020)

It took me a couple of songs, but I think Christine and the Queens have finally clicked with me. I think with past songs, I felt like the music was too busy. Like I was trapped in a glass cage of sheen and glitter. By comparison, “People, I’ve been sad” strikes me as stripped-down, in a good way. “People, I’ve been sad” also hits that melancholy glow that Robyn perfected in the 2010s. I love the chorus. And I still love that Charli collaboration.

The Hotelier - “Goodness, Pt. 2” (2016)

When it’s nice outside and you want to scream about everything.

The Olivia Tremor Control - “Jumping Fences” (1996)

I’ve been using Spotify for nearly a decade, yet I can probably still only count a handful of bands that I’ve “discovered” through the algorithm that I’ve actually followed up with and dug deeper into said discography. I’ve really always used Spotify as a tool to look up specific songs or albums; less discovery and more seeking. The Olivia Tremor Control is now another one of those handfuls of bands. They came up as one of those “Recommended Songs” that are added after a playlist you make ends. Good sound. Great harmonies. They take me to a specific sunny place in my mind where I can probably run barefoot. But I think I get why I click with them so much - they ran with the Neutral Milk Hotel crew around the time that that band released that one perfect record. Groovy, dude.



Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York MagazineRolling StoneInterviewPitchforkMcSweeney’sElectric LiteratureLiterary 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.

Read this and all past newsletters online here.

All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation logo by Sophie Wiener.

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