...Jaime, by Brittany Howard: I've had this album on repeat all week. Howard fronts The Alabama Shakes, a rootsy blues-rock band I dig, but Jaime is Howard's debut solo album and even better than the Shakes' first two records.
It's more expansive, for one. Howard drifts further into soul here. The melodic beat-driven "Goat Head" could have just been an instrumental number, and I'm left to wonder if Howard thought the same: It takes her half the song to break in. When she does she sings a story about the racism her black father faced when she was growing up, because her dad married a white woman and settled in Alabama.
"Goat Head," "13th Century Metal" and "Stay High": they all speak to the last couple weeks, even though Howard released the album last year. It is a rich and ultimately hopeful record at a time when we need hope. My favorite track is "Stay High," a sort of folk-soul number with a driving chord progression. It's beautiful, even more so because of the video that accompanies it: Terry Crews playing the role of Howard's father, ending his shift at the oil refinery and heading home through a Gulf Coast afternoon that I've seen so many times when visiting my in-laws in Houston.
I showed the video to my wife and she smiled. Howard captured a simplicity and happiness in that song and video that we've witnessed ourselves.
...Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke: I've been meaning to read this classic for some time and last week, as I watched the final credits roll on JoJo Rabbit—a film I loved and recommended here—I saw an excerpt of this Rilke poem:
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
With that I marched straight toward my copy of Letters to a Young Poet. The book is great. I don't know and don't care who Rilke was addressing in these letters; Wikipedia can tell you that. I just know I've taken a lot of comfort in what he had to say. I've started a new book proposal, something both rooted in history and deeply personal to me and my family in the present day. It's a challenge, to see the similarities between epochs and also push out a truth that'll leave me vulnerable. Rilke has been there for me:
Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentation, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened. Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.
...This episode of No Stupid Questions: It's a new podcast co-hosted by Stephen Dubner, the co-author of Freakonomics, and Angela Duckworth, who wrote Grit. The premise of the pod is simple: Ask a couple of hard questions and then let Stephen and Angela, two smart and accomplished writers and researchers, hash each out. The first half of the episode is dedicated to: "Does all creativity come from pain?" Once Dubner and Duckwork parry that one to its conclusion they follow up with: "How would your life be different if you knew you could live forever?"
The fun of the podcast is how deeply they consider these questions and how much of their lives they reveal. I haven't yet subscribed to it—I already listen to too many podcasts—but I'll give No Stupid Questions another listen next week, to see if it holds up.
...The Plot Against America: I'll go ahead and say the heretical: David Simon has created a mini-series that's as good as any season of The Wire. The Plot Against America is based on the Philip Roth novel, and I hesitated to watch the mini-series because the book is one of my favorites. It imagines what would happen if Charles Lindbergh, and not FDR, won the 1940 presidential election. Because of Lindbergh's anti-Semitism and sympathies toward Germany, America would have stayed out of the war in Europe while a civil war against Jews opened up here.
It builds, that's the genius of this mini-series: The tension builds across each episode and always in a manner that's realistic. The It Could Happen Here argument is so true to lived experience that it doubles as a commentary on our lives today, and what happens when hatred goes unchecked. The sixth and final episode is so tense, so good, its civil unrest so faithful to our actual history—who needs the Brownshirts when America has the white gowns of the Klan?—that I had to pace the living room when the screen went to black, in awe of what Simon and his co-creator Ed Burns pulled off.
I think I like the mini-series more than the book.
Have a great weekend. I'll be back next Friday.
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