Writing with a broken brain

Writing is fun! Writing is therapeutic! Writing is awful!

Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT, the only email newsletter about music. In fact, this newsletter marks the first time anyone has ever emailed another person about music. Before REPLY ALT, all people used email for was forwarding Groupons for introductory rockclimbing lessons to friends and saying “could be fun?”

I don’t have a “point” to this email. Just wanted to dump out some thoughts about writing and suggest some things I’ve been into lately. So if you’re game, read on. If not, dump me in the trash where I belong.

Ever since I had a giant meltdown about how far behind I am on MY BOOK I’ve been sequestering myself to focus on it exclusively. I don’t have much time to take on additional work at the moment unless it’s something very worth my time and/or pays me a lot of money like for example if Pitchfork decides to get off their duff and finally have someone give Maybe I’ll Catch Fire the review it deserves.

But recently I got an email from the very prestigious music/tech/breakfast burrito festival known as SXSW about an opportunity to contribute to their Music Preview Guide wherein I was asked to write brief bios for three artists on their preselected list. The email said: 

“The Music Preview Guide is an unbranded digital guide to the artists at SXSW curated by music industry insiders. The purpose is to encourage music discovery and build anticipation for those searching for breakout artists from the festival.”

Hey now! “Music industry insiders”! That’s me! SXSW is a Big Deal and they work with a lot of tech startups that get tons of venture capital investment money to invent apps people didn’t know they didn’t need. I haven’t been reading the news too closely lately but it seems like apps are really popular right now! Sounds like the money ship has finally come in for ol’ Dan! So I wrote back to ask how much I’d be getting paid for such a prestigious writing opportunity. The person wrote back and said:

“Unfortunately as an objective guide to the artists we aren't able to pay for the write-ups, but can offer a music badge to the writers to attend.” 

So I said Ah ok that sounds interesting let me get back to you. Then I sent a text to my landlord that said Hey I know it’s not mentioned in our lease agreement but would you accept a SXSW badge as rent this month? She wrote back and said, “What are you talking about? Also, we need to have a serious conversation about the constant sobbing noises coming from your apartment at all hours of the ni—” and I said aaahhhhhhhhh ok nevermind nevermind. Then I wrote an email to the SXSW person and said that I’d checked with my landlord and press passes are not an acceptable form of currency right now and that I unfortunately must decline the offer to contribute to their preview guide.

Then I started thinking about SXSW and remembered that story from a few years ago about how one of the companies there had the idea to turn local homeless people into roaming internet hotspots by strapping routers to them. In case you don’t remember that, in 2012 a company called BBH Labs equipped people with devices that offered pay-per-use internet hotspot service and slapped t-shirts on them that said:


These people would be tipped for their service and I’m sure BBH Labs thought they were doing a good and generous thing by offering people an opportunity to work for money. But a bunch of folks got angry about this because I guess treating homeless people like human ethernet cables for the benefit of Silicon Valley Tesla bros is like, extremely dystopian or whatever. But then I started thinking—damn, SXSW views writing to be a less valuable skill than standing around wearing a t-shirt with your name on it. So I’ve decided that I’d like to quit writing about music to pursue a more profitable career of wearing various t-shirts for money. If you know of any lucrative t-shirt-wearing opportunities, please get in touch. I am a size Large.

I joke a lot about how demeaning being a writer can be but I’m actually extremely grateful for it as a distraction from everything else running through my brain these days.

Every morning I awake to my brain saying to me hey if we don’t have any other plans today how about we walk into the ocean and never come back? Then I have to reason with my brain and say hm let’s put that on the maybe pile and how about we instead spend the day writing? And my brain says Alright. 

Then throughout the day my brain will pipe up every so often to say hey are we still writing or can we do that other thing now? I say that we are still writing but maybe later. And my brain says Alright. 

All day I make excuses to my brain and try to distract it like a child who wants to go to the park when it’s raining. I explain that we’re too busy for that other thing until I hear my brain say Alright. 

I do this all day until my brain is too tired to ask anymore and I can go to sleep. I know my brain will ask again tomorrow. And the next day. And probably the day after that too. All I can do is hope that I can keep convincing it to say Alright.

OK enough about my broken brain. How about some recommendations.

One cool thing about being on staff at a music website for so long is that I got to work with a few competent writers. (I had originally written that previous sentence as “a lot of” but backspaced it and changed it to “a few” because a good heap of writers like to submit Word docs that are just the turd emoji over and over.) One efficient writer was named Bonnie Stiernberg. She recently did an interview with Curb Your Enthusiasm actor and person who is definitely not Harvey Weinstein, Jeff Garlin. Apparently Garlin is a big fan of cameras. I am something of a shitty amateur photo hobbyist myself (my dumbass Instagram account here) so this article about him always having his Leica on set was extremely in my Venn diagram of Curb/photography nerdery. 

When I first started taking photos, David from Culture Abuse encouraged me to always have my camera on me and eventually my friends would just get used to it. Similar sentiment from Garlin here:

“My camera is always out,” he explains. “And they’re used to being with me, and they’re used to my camera being out. So there isn’t a moment where they would react. That’s how I’m able to get intimate pictures because there is no moment of, ‘Oh, here’s the camera.'”

Anyway, apparently Garlin has some photo show coming up in Los Angeles which is something I say I’ll go to but probably won’t. His stuff is really good though. I’d love to see more but then I’d have to leave the house, look for parking, be around other humans who might try to speak to me. This is all while I’m wearing pants, mind you. No thanks. Here’s one of his photos though:

Also, a bunch of people I know have been talking to each other in newsletters without me. Rude. My friend David Anthony talked to my other friend Luke O’Neil and even though they said nice things about me, this was an infuriating read. They discussed David’s recent medical procedures and how insurance companies are asking for disgustingly inordinate sums of money:

Then there was one line item, and many more under this, that was just Hospital Miscellaneous.  $26,000 for Hospital Miscellaneous. The Hospital Miscellaneous is what I paid for most. I don't know what that is. A lot people have seen this and reached out to say we should do a GoFundMe. It’s the saddest thing people have to do that. I pushed back on it since I don’t know what I owe. Maybe it’s only a few grand, and I don’t have that, but if I give them $20 a month for decades, that’s fine. If it’s $50,000 I may have to ask for help. I can’t do anything. 

M—and I cannot stress this enough—edicare for All.

Also, two of my other friends, Lauren from Worriers and Sarah from Illuminati Hotties, had a conversation in newsletter form but did not mention me at all for some reason. (I promise to interview both of these people for this newsletter soon.) Mostly they talked about Sarah’s relationship to making music as a job (she’s a studio engineer) and how it affects making music in her band:

When music became your livelihood, did that change your relationship to it a lot?

I think in some capacity it did. I think that there’s just as many magical moments in creation when it’s your job. You realize that the magical moments that happen when it’s not your job, happen like every time you touch the art. Then when it is your job, and you’re doing it every single day, that moment happens just as many times, but there’s also 60% of the days where you’re just moving the faders and you’re plugging stuff in and saying “Can you sing that one more time?” and just making the wheels turn because you have to turn them, because you have to make the record at the end of the day. So, yeah I think it just changed my relationship in that there are moments that it feels like a job, and that’s not always fun, and sometimes you just gotta pay your bills or get groceries. When I get in the slog, there’s always a day when I wake up and think “Oh my god, what do I have to complain about, I get to make music. Yes, I worked for 14 hours yesterday but I was listening to music for all 14 of them. I was making music, I was figuring out creative ways to draw inspiration together and pull the puzzle pieces together in a weird way.”

Alright one more thing. Even though I have made a “career” out of writing about semi-competent guitar bands, I have a deep fondness for girl groups of the 60s. The Chiffons, The Ronettes, The Marvellettes—these are all extremely my shit. Now, there are a lot of things that as a modern listener you have to look the other way on in order to enjoy these 50-year-old records—internalized misogyny, heteronormative relationship roles, the fact that all of them were recorded by an insane lunatic holding their singers at gunpoint. But then the other day I was listening to The Crystals’ 1963 album He’s a Rebel and whooo boy there’s a fuckin’ doozy on there, even for this period.

As the name might suggest, He’s a Rebel centers around the theme of being drawn to the bad boy James Dean-type. Most of it is your standard “my man rides a motorcycle, deal with it, DAD” fare. But then there’s a song called “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” tacked onto the end of the record that actually stopped me in my tracks:

He couldn't stand to hear me say
That I'd been with someone new,
And when I told him I had been untrue
He hit me
And it felt like a kiss
He hit me
And I knew he loved me
If he didn't care for me
I could have never made him mad
But he hit me,
And I was glad

Jeeeeesus. I don’t really have any other commentary on this other than it bums me out more than any song I can remember hearing and so I thought hey you know who also likes being bummed out is the people who read my newsletter. Thanks for subscribing!