Growing Up In Public

how do you live broken hearted?

Growing Up In Public

I walked up and down this stretch of Pine Street so much when I lived in Seattle. Walking down Bellevue Avenue East, on the corner of Roy, turn right and straight down over the I-5 overpass into downtown. (I still don’t believe that I moved here without a car and thought that I would get by without one, and I tried, reader, I tried.) That distance, from home to my first downtown office (at Third and Pine) is a reasonable NYC distance, and an okay Seattle one, if you are one of those Seattle people who wear shorts year-round and bike everywhere. There is nothing wrong with that, except the reason people do that is because of what happened to me on Sunday, when I switched hotels from near the Seattle Center to downtown (and that view!) and wanted to take the bus up the hill to Elliot Bay Books. Either I ran to get the bus in the next two minutes OR I would have to wait another 30 minutes for the next one. Yes, it was a Sunday, but that experience completely encapsulates my experience with Seattle public transportation for the decade I lived here.

But I made it to Elliot Bay via rideshare, bought my book, and then walked back downtown (downhill, a crucial distinction), passing the Comet Tavern, touching my fingers gently to the side of it as I whispered to Mia Zapata’s ghost. My Seattle, the one I knew and loved and was eternally frustrated by, is fading away. Nothing is the same, but I can still see my memories between the lines and the big shiny buildings, and I even saw a bit of it in the audience for Low Cut Connie at the Sunset Tavern; the last show I saw there was Mudhoney, probably… 15 or 17 years ago? But the crowd looked and felt like old, weird Seattle—and it makes sense that those are the people that would come out for this band (who sold out two nights at the Sunset!)

When I crossed over I-5 I turned right at the Paramount and thought about how much time I spent in and around it, how I had my 31st birthday party at the Cloud Room, and wallowed for a little bit in that well-weighted feeling of knowing a place because you were once of this place. Nine and a half years is a long time, even if I’ve been back in New York for longer than I lived in Seattle.

I was in Seattle to present a paper at the 2019 Pop Conference at MoPop (formerly: EMP). This year’s theme was Only You and Your Ghost Will Know: Music, Death and Afterlife. You can make a bunch of goth jokes (and we certainly did) but the papers and roundtables and presentations this year were uniformly fantastic. No matter what session you attended, you’d come out talking about how great it was only to run into your friends and hear the same thing from them. I was on a panel with the great Annie Zaleski (and should have been joined by the formidable Holly Gleason, sadly MIA) titled How Survivals, Grief and Legacies Unfold in American Music. Annie held forth brilliantly on R.E.M.’s Monster (“Mourning and Monster”) and my talk was titled “Growing Up In Public: Musicians Processing Loss in Modern Times.” The essential premise of my paper centered on musicians’ public acknowledgement of grief and loss in the current day and age, and offers specifically as examples Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen (shocker, I know) and the Afghan Whigs. I am not making the paper available as I’ve been encouraged to try to find a home for it, but you can watch a video of the talk below.

You can read more about the conference and see the other papers presented here:

Since the conference isn’t affiliated with a university, there isn’t any central repository for the presentations, and me telling you about the great ones is pointless, but it was such a great and thoughtful event and one of my main takeaways is how women are now the ones who are defining place and history and memory so it is not always presented through the male gaze. Men do not get to solely determine what is important, and why. Three women presented on Prince’s legacy, Mairead Case spoke about Mia Zapata on a panel filled with Hendrix and Cobain, and a panel of five women had a tremendously nuanced discussion on how gender follows musicians to the grave, which ended with Evelyn McDonnell playing Aretha singing “Amazing Grace” on the big screen in MoPop’s Sky Church.

I was about to type “I haven’t written anything since my last newsletter” but I did close a story that’s coming out in print and have also obviously been working on this PopCon paper. I have to switch into book mode now that I am past the conference so that will be my primary focus until the end of the year. But I will still send these things out monthly to annoy those of you still listening.