Archive for September 20, 2022

Banned Books Week: An artist residency at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

September 20, 2022

I’ll be joining fellow songwriters for Bushwick Book Club: Charlie Nieland, spiritchild, Patricia Santos and Thomas Teller in Indianapolis (not my first time!) 9/25-10/1 for an anti-censorship experiment at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. We’ll be living in the museum and writing songs all week in response to banned literature and performing the songs live at the end of the week. We talked with Chris LaFave of KVML in this interview that we’ve released as Episode 13 of The Bushwick Book Club Podcast. Take a listen! (It’s on iTunes too if you want.)


“For the good time…” A box of stationary.

September 15, 2022

I think I may be ready to drop cynicism. But maybe not, because I already feel silly and kind of embarrassed writing that sentence. Vulnerable? Exposed. Is there a draft? Seems a bit drafty in here.

I have a box of stationary from around when I first moved to New York in the late ’90s. Some of it is from Seoul, where I lived right before, and some from right after I moved to Queens sight unseen and started working as admin for Wall Street during the day so I could sing with my band, Murderizer, at night. The stationary from Seoul is embarrassingly sincere, showing a heterosexual white couple, both blonde, in between trailers on a gravel lot, embracing in torn jeans and cowboy boots. The caption is:

For the good time. Finding beautiful things to say brings dreams of happy meetings and with hesitation heart we head towards that mystical realm. Open up your heart and greet the world as it is. We can always find joy and love everyplace that our eyes land.

I remember picking these up, because from my perspective as an American, these were funny. The glaring naivete. The romance with which Koreans viewed American romance. The enthusiastic misuse of English. Words that grammatically make sense, that no one ever says. Sentiments so sincere no American would ever say to himself, much less utter in the light of day to another human being. This stationary was funny because you could laugh at Koreans and how they didn’t know anything about American culture while emulating and revering it. How bizarre.

The postcards I got in NYC also depict romance, but from old pulp romance novel covers––Barbie and Ken-like people in various formations of relationship drama––”He’s two-timing both girls, and they’re best friends!” “He knows she loves him, but she’s married… to God!” “She’s thinks he loves her; he knows it’s over!” “Mom! Stop stealing my boyfriend!”

There’s also a set of postcards where a cartoon girl sits in the mouth of a shark and says, “Wish you were here!” Or she’s underwater and says “Oops, I forgot to swim!” Or she’s floating in outerspace without a tether, and she says, “Oops, someone cut my space cord!” And these were funny because she’s so cute, and all her responses to dire circumstances are “Oops!” and “Wish you were here!”

It’s the lost astronaut one I really can’t laugh at anymore because it’s not like I’ve never felt like someone blowing in the wind. Leaving a relationship or a life or a context can make a girl feel like she’s floating in space without a tether. There’s part of me that’s always said, “It’s not having chains that’s the issue. It’s having the chains you WANT.”

I kind of still like the “Wish you were here.” Although I know it’s supposed to mean the girl is so cute and clueless she doesn’t know she’s about to be eaten by a shark, I relate to it in the sense that, even if what I’m doing and where I am looks dangerous to others and likely is dangerous, I’m still having a good time, and I wish you’d share it with me. It goes with the tombstone I’ve been writing:

Even the bad times were good.

What strikes me about all these postcards is the distancing from sincerity. I think of it now, because I rewatched “Heathers” recently, and I was surprised at how abrasive their sarcasm seemed to me now and how mean they were to each other. The violence, especially initially, was shocking––these young kids with their perfect bodies dying violent and horrible deaths. Yes, they were jerks, but they were only 17. There were few sincere expressions of grief, and the hippies were not to be trusted any more than the stodgy white male principal. Hippy was a dirty word.

I don’t think I’d ever identified it before, that this was an essence of what I grew up in and identified with––a fear of having and expressing a sincere emotion that wasn’t also followed with an underwhelmed catchy slang phrase like “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” or “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” I do like both these phrases though because the details are so specific. I do like specificity.

And THEN, I found some of my earliest stationary. I think shoes and stationary tie as my first loves (along with food). And this Little Twin Stars set is devoid of any humor whatsoever. And you can’t even laugh *at* it. There’s nothing funny about this cute. It’s just cute.

My point is, I think I’m ready to go back to Little Twin Stars. The reason I still have those other sets of postcards is because every time I would think to send one, I could never pick it up and send it and mean it. It was too mean or too sad, or why would I want to remind my friend of a possible romantic struggle they’ve had all their life especially when the two cats she’s had for the past 15 years have just died… or why send anything that isn’t actually funny…. or kind. I no longer think meanness is funny.

This on the other hand is timeless:

Louis Armstrong is my ancestor (it’s a long story).

And this isn’t funny at all, but it’s Walter’s mother, and how can you not love Walter’s mother?? That face! It’s Walter’s face too..

Walter Kuehr’s mom, Loni Kuehr c.1939

Correspondences are records of history. You find out what people’s lives were like by reading what they wrote each other. In my case, regardless of what I was writing, what I was writing on was already telling a story.

And all of this leads me back to…. nipples. And innocence. I was putting on a shirt today, and I noticed my nipples were hard and pointing through my shirt. Somehow, that’s not something you want people to see. But it’s like, my nipples are innocent. They’re just doing what they’re doing. I don’t control these things. And I can actually control a lot of things, like I freaked out a neurologist by not showing any reflex reaction in my knees. Nothing. It wasn’t a condition, it was just that I didn’t like him. Hmmm.. so again maybe that’s actually another example of my lack of control. I was mad at him, and therefore was withholding my normal nervous system response, which I did involuntarily. My unintentional emotional response was to shut off response! Wow. They say women are complicated.

Okay, so that’s a lot of time explaining things nobody asked to hear. And I still have to get to the post office.

Did I tell you what I’m doing next week? A couple things: Singing with Jessie Kilguss and friends for the release of her gorgeous new album. The show is September 23rd at Rockwood Music Hall.

And then me and four other musicians are going to Indianapolis to live in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library for week writing new songs about banned books for Banned Books Week. Bushwick Book Club is the band in residence for KVML’s annual Banned Books Week Artist Residency.

More on both those things soon!

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