I wrote a thing for Culturicoabout the connection between music & trans rights, and how an Ezra Furman song changed my life.
The rights of trans people have been a hot topic lately. Yet while music played a significant role in the civil rights movements of women, gays, and Black Americans, there haven’t exactly been any songs about the struggles of trans people that have captured hearts or climbed the charts. There’s no simple answer as to why that’s the case. But what’s more important is that trans musicians continue to be seen and heard, regardless of the messages in their songs.
Originally written for a class on Young Adult Literaturein my library science school at Rutgers.
HOLDEN / ELVIS, TOM, FRANK, & ANDROMEDA
If we were to compare YA lit to rock & roll, The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield would arguably be its Elvis Presley: the charismatic young rebel whose restless, hormonal angst resonated so profoundly with American postwar teens that any history of the genre would absolutely have to include him at some early and pivotal point.
Tom Henderson, the narrator of Frank Portman’s 2006 novel King Dork and its 2014 sequel King Dork Approximately, thinks The Catcher in the Rye sucks. Plus, he’s ever eager to tell you why he thinks everyone who loves that overrated book is a dumb hypocrite. He’s a lot like a late-seventies punk rocker. He’s a sardonic & antisocial misfit, though not violently so; he’d far more likely be the victim of a senseless beating than the instigator. Because, you see, he’s also like a sensitive and cerebral kind of late-seventies punk rocker, the kind who prefers wryly subversive songs of alienation & romantic dysfunction over righteous, riotous protest anthems.
In fact, Tom’s not just a punk rocker for the purposes of our YA / rock and roll analogy. He actually sort of is one, even though his story starts in 1999 during his sophomore year of high school. Like so many sardonic & antisocial misfits, his weapon of choice in the rebellion against the conjoined-twin evils of conformity and cruelty is the power of rock and roll. He talks about it to an obsessive degree, and plays in a punk-spirited rock band with his best friend, Sam Hellerman– that is, when he’s not obsessively thinking about girls, or obsessively trying to solve the mystery of his dad’s suspicious death.
In our extended YA / rock and roll analogy, Tom Henderson may not have a match quite as congruent as Holden / Elvis. (Granted, the histories of these two artforms, despite being geared toward the same age group, have rarely been congruent, each one ebbing and flowing to its own rhythms. So it’s hard to find many congruent pairings at all beyond Holden / Elvis. For example, the rock and roll equivalent of the Harry Potter series, which brought fanatic mania and blockbuster fantasy to YA lit at the turn of the 21st century, would probably be the so-called “British Invasion” that began with The Beatles in the ‘60s and ended with Led Zeppelin in the ‘70s.) You might say Tom is a bit like another Elvis (Costello), a bit like Joey Ramone, a bit like Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks, and a bit like Dan Treacy of The Television Personalities.
If you’re familiar with any of those names, you might know that numerous histories of rock and roll have been written with little or no mention of them. But any such history that does include the likes of them is going to be way more interesting and kick way more ass than those that don’t.
The same could be said about YA lit and Tom “King Dork” Henderson. For that matter, the same could be said of YA lit and Frank Portman himself, who also created a timelessly archetypal yet fascinatingly unique teenage character in the eponymous protagonist of 2009’s Andromeda Klein. (Andromeda Klein, however, has no rock and roll counterpart, though not because she’s unworthy of one. It’s more like rock and roll isn’t worthy of her. Like Tom, Andromeda is a precocious and introspective outcast obsessed with investigating the life and untimely death of a departed love one– in this case, her dear friend Daisy who died of leukemia. But Andromeda’s pet preoccupation is occultism, not rock and roll. She copes with the chaotic iniquities of the universe by casting spells and reading Tarot cards, she idolizes dead magicians like they’re rock stars, and she can’t stand any music that isn’t by 14th-century ars nova composer Guillame de Machaut.)
And of course, if we wanted to find the perfect rock and roll counterpart to YA author Frank Portman, it would have to be none other than Frank “Dr. Frank” Portman, from a little band called The Mr. T Experience.
For the latest issue of ➰➰➰ (aka Many Loops), I reviewed Mutant Eternity, a highly addictive album that remixes itself with each new spin:
In all my years of listening to and writing about music, I never thought I’d declare something as hyperbolic as this, but if I could listen to only one album for the rest of my life, it would absolutely be Mutant Eternity. It’s basically a cheater’s choice. From what I can tell, Mutant Eternity is never the same album twice. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical way, like when Heracliltus said, “No person ever steps in the same stream twice, because it’s not the same stream or the same person” (although that’s somewhat true with all albums, because even if the music recorded on an album remains exactly the same, both we and the times are no longer the same when we listen to it later). I’m talking about an album that literally remixes itself every time you listen to it.
It must be nearly 50 years since I got my mind bent at the movies like that.
I just saw Once Upon a Time in Tennessee, the latest addition to the Quentin Tarantino Cinematic Universe. My expectations were modest, as they’ve been for all these films ever since Tarantino officially retired and sold his intellectual property to Sony. I’m always curious to see other filmmakers explore his world, employ his characters, and actualize his numerous unfinished ideas. But I’m also keen to remind myself that overabundant film franchises are bound to be inconsistent. (See also Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, as the 2010s grinded along). As a result, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by stuff like The Vega Brothers and Killer Crow and Queen Medieval, and only mildly disappointed by stuff like Fox Force Five and The Adventures of Hangman Ruth and Jules Winnfield Walks the Earth.
Jessie Janeshek’s MADCAP (Stalking Horse Press, 2019) is a poetry collection with the soul of a surreal neo-noir film directed by David Lynch and starring Mae West as the hard-boiled detective. It’s a mystery wrapped in faux fur, wandering through a jagged and smoky past like it’s a hall of mercury-glass mirrors. It seeks clues to answer haunting existential questions about the eternal entanglement of beauty and violence. To track down leads, it conducts seances with the spirits of Old Hollywood starlets, their voices phasing in & out like staticky radio waves on West Virginia mountain roads, their sentences cut up & reassembled by the ghost of William S. Burroughs.
The recursion-obsessed journal ➰➰➰ (or “Many Loops”) just launched its 2nd issue and it’s even more mind-blowing than I could’ve expected. And I’m proud that it includes “Groundhog Days & Russian Dolls,” a thing I wrote about time-loops, simulation theory, mental health, Natasha Lyonne, and more…
It’s not exactly breaking news that we may well be living in a computer simulation. If the number of computer-simulated worlds that’ve been created is increasing exponentially toward infinity, so the logic goes, we’re probably already inside one.
But just because a scenario is highly probable doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept as reality. I get it. I have a hard time accepting this idea myself. The logic seems retroactive. Besides, reality usually feels too real to be fake, even when it feels too fake to be real.
Of course, logic can be illogical in a simulation. In a simulation, time can flow in all kinds of directions. And if fake reality were the only kind of reality we’ve ever known, how would we tell the difference between real reality and fake reality—if there even was a difference?
I’ve talked about conceptual aspects of the collection; O’Brien’s craft is also strong. I love their flexibility with and careful use of form to suit both the aura of the flapper in question and the song that she’s paired with…
My debut poetry EP, BADMOTORFLAPPER, is now on sale! It’s a 10-track collection of poems I wrote as tributes to some of my favorite women of the 1920s + music of the 1990s. Some of these poems have been previously published in places like Yes, Poetry and Rag Queen Periodical, but some are exclusive to this little booklet.