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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which It's A Lot Like Milking A Cow

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The Angle of the Nipple


My sister and I took a week-long cake-decorating class in the summer of 1991. Our intention was to make pretty cakes, and also to eat icing. The class was at a local middle school which I considered particularly institutional: fluorescent light, pea-green linoleum, gray walls. The previous summer we’d taken a week-long typing class at the same school. Even now, this typing class appears in my dreams as a form of purgatory. We had to be there at 9 a.m., (meaning I missed CHiPs and The Price is Right) and sat in long, even rows and typed on typewriters. The teacher, an old black lady who wore spectacles and floral dresses, was incredibly stern and made fish faces when she thought no one was looking. I was looking because I wasn’t typing. I mostly watched the clock and cursed whatever power was responsible for designing this school and establishing this class and creating this mean little typing teacher. Vanessa didn’t like it either, but she seemed to find some value in typing skills where my 9-year-old constitution was only deeply appalled.

Nevertheless, we returned the next summer to decorate cakes. The subject matter was pleasantly disparate from typing, and the possibility of eating icing all day long was too great. The class was held in a home-ec room, and the other students, all girls, seemed to take it seriously. I don’t remember now if we baked the cakes we iced, but both Vanessa and I liked to bake. While in retrospect there’s a Betty Draper undertone to the whole thing (the typing class included), for us it was about “being sisters.” In our house this meant doing things together while our mom, a kindergarten teacher, passed through singing songs about how two sisters are best friends forever. In addition to baking edible goods, we had a bathroom cooking show where we invented recipes with silly-putty and paste.

The first thing we learned in cake decorating class was that there are many ways to decorate a cake, and over the course of the week, we practiced a few of the simpler methods. Cake-decorating is a mess, and it’s a lot like milking a cow. You fill a pastry bag with icing, and attach the nipple (or “tip”) of your choice, and then squeeze.

Much of the instruction involved demonstrating which nipple made which shape. Smooth narrow tips for lace patterns, star tips for a Fleurs-de-lis or shell patterns. The angle of the tip on the cake is important. If you get the angle wrong, your rosette will be too flat. My rosettes were usually flat because I held the bag directly over the cake and squeezed too hard. The key is to ease into it at a 45-degree angle. I was an imperfect cake-decorator not only for my lack of nuance but also because I put too much icing in the pastry bag. It oozed out the top and smeared all over my hands, but that was fine with me because I just licked it off. Vanessa was a better decorator, but she managed to get icing all over her hands as well, and she licked it off too.

The real take-away from cake decorating class was that icings vary in taste according to color. Pastels were too sweet and therefore dreaded. Red was bland, and like blue, stained your mouth. Green, orange, and purple tasted much like blue and red — sugary and predictable. The standout icing, the best color of all, was gray. It had an unexpected tartness, a bittersweet aftertaste that sat well in the stomach, which meant you could eat a lot of it, and it was specked with darker gray dots that gave the appearance of texture. When the time came to design patterns for our final cakes, I drew a chick popping out of an egg. This, I thought, was the perfect way to use as much gray icing as possible, and it was.

I emerged on the final day of class with an almost entirely gray cake, a rosette egg with a sliver of yellow chick. I have no memory of eating this cake — by the time I finished decorating it I was completely sick of icing, we both were — I only recall myself holding it, walking beside Vanessa, approaching our mother’s car, and feeling pleased.

Yvonne Georgina Puig is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here.



In Which She May Bake Some Brownies Today Loo Loo Loo Loo Loo

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Joni and Graham


Released just a month after her Grammy win for Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon ushered in a period of unprecedented commercial success for Joni Mitchell. Warner Brothers marketed the album explicitly to young women, betting that they’d aspire to the liberated yet traditional bohemian earth-mother image embodied by Joni and the “canyon ladies” she celebrated.

Cats and babies ‘round her feet/all are fat and none are thin,” Mitchell sang of a Laurel Canyon neighbor; her voice still has that high, pure almost-yodel that cigarettes would eventually strip from it, leaving a more nuanced, less cloying instrument. “She may bake some brownies today/loo loo loo loo loo loo loo.” A listener could be forgiven for wondering what had melted the brilliant lyricist’s brain.  

An exaggeration, sure: after all, Ladies contains some of Mitchell’s most enduring hits "Big Yellow Taxi," "Woodstock", and the affecting meditation on fame "For Free." But it also has some resounding, cringe-inducing clunkers: “Sometimes in the evening he would read to her/roll her in his arms and give his seed to her.” Eugh. Was it marijuana? California? Love? All three, probably, but primarily the lattermost.  

Before this album, Mitchell had sung hymns to women’s – well, her own — empowerment, coming off as preternaturally worldly-wise (she was still in her early 20s) and in control of romances that, while they might have caused her fleeting pain, left her with valuable impressions and experiences. She’d painted a sly, catty portrait of a compulsive seducer in The Gallery, quoting a male celebrity’s emosogynistic pickup line – “’Lady, don’t love me now, I am dead/ I am a saint, turn down your bed/ I have no heart,’ that’s what you said/ ‘I can be cruel, but let me gentle with you.’”  

“She will love them when she sees them,” she had written of another song’s heroine’s various lovers, “and her heart is full and hollow, like a cactus tree/ while she’s so busy being free.” By the time Ladies Of The Canyon was released, though, Mitchell was busy settling down.  

She had met Graham Nash at a radio station’s party for the Hollies, the British Invasion band he was about to abandon in favor of collaboration with the friends he’d made in Laurel Canyon, like David Crosby. Crosby, who’d met and semi-successfully seduced Mitchell during a Coconut Grove club engagement right after his ouster from the Byrds, had been responsible for importing her to California.

When he learned that Nash and Mitchell would both be in Ottawa simultaneously, he gave Nash a heads-up – and a tacit go-ahead: “He’d said ‘Watch out for this woman,” Nash told Sheila Weller when she interviewed him for her 2008 opus Girls Like Us. He described their first night together in that Ottawa hotel as one of not only carnal but artistic communion: after bringing him up to her room, Mitchell got out her guitar. “She played fifteen songs, almost her entire first record…I was gone. I had never heard music like that.” But it wasn’t just her music that smote Nash, he told Weller. “I loved her before she played a note, just from looking at her and talking to her and realizing what her spirit was.”  

The domesticity that the pair soon settled into in leafy, redolent Laurel Canyon would be immortalized in a hit that Nash would soon record with Crosby and Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills. Our House is a portrait of rich-hippie paradise, full of implicit lazy, sunny mornings and sex and good coffee and explicit cats in the yard (two). Who among us has not longed to light the fire while someone else puts the flowers in a newly-bought vase -- newly bought at, probably, a charming antique shop or outdoor flea market? Whether you love or hate "Our House", (or, indeed, CSN/Y), it’s hard to shake the idea of this effortless shacking-up as a domestic and romantic ideal: “Now everything is easy ‘cause of you.”  

Could the life of two cohabitating artists ever really be “easy,” though?  Nash describes racing Joni to the piano in the morning: “It was an intense time. Who’s gonna fill up the space with their music first?” And as CSN got more popular and Joni continued to open for them – especially after her song "Woodstock" became their signature hit – criticism that her performance had been “overshadowed” by theirs must have stung. “Willy [her nickname for Graham] is my child, he is my father/I would be his lady all my life,” Mitchell sings on Ladies, then promptly tones down this already-conditional declaration of lifelong fealty: "But you know it's hard to tell/When you're in the spell if it's wrong or if it's real."

Early in the spring of 1970, Mitchell left the canyon to wander through the Mediterranean for a bit.  On that trip she would meet a bright red devil who’d try to keep her in a tourist town in Crete and go to a party down a red dirt road in Ibiza, then come home – relieved and spent – to California, to see the folks she dug. Nash, by that point, no longer numbered among them: from Crete, she’d sent him a telegram that read, "if you hold sand too tightly in your hand it will run through your fingers.”

He’d told the world that he wanted her to play her love songs "only for me;" this had been too much to ask. She'd go on to write more and better love songs and hate songs, and songs of indifference, singing and playing in a sadder, more thwarted mode. From the memories of her travels and her cumulative heartbreaks, she would create an album that, while it contained no cats, no babies, and no sun-dappled paeans to idealized hippie homemaking, laid the groundwork for the rest of her career.  

"I am on a lonely road and I am traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling/ looking for something, what can it be?" Blue began.  “Oh I hate you some, I hate you some/I love you some/ Oh I love you when I forget about me.”  She would love lots of people besides Nash, of course (indeed, All I Want is, per Weller, likelier about James Taylor), but she would never again, for better or worse, forget about herself.  

Meanwhile, back in California, Nash wrote his first solo album, Songs for Beginners. The song “Simple Man,” like much of the album, is unambiguously, vulnerably directed towards Mitchell: “Never been so much in love/And never hurt so bad at the same time…I wish that I could see you once again/Across the room like the first time. /I just want to hold you, I don't want to hold you down.”

Emily Gould is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her book And The Heart Says Whatever comes out in May. You can preorder it here.

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"The Circle Game" - Joni Mitchell (mp3)

"The Arrangement" - Joni Mitchell (mp3)

"The Priest" - Joni Mitchell (mp3)


In Which We Are All Bloggers Of A Certain Age

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The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie



dir. Noah Baumbach

107 minutes

First, I should say that I love all of Noah Baumbach's films (with the exception of his collaborations with Wes Anderson, which don't really feel like Baumbach films anyway). I knew that I'd love Greenberg before I went into the movie, and I also knew that I'd have some opinions once I left the theater, considering that the movie has been a hot topic among bloggers of a certain age — that age roughly being the very wide range of twenty-five to thirty-five.

I think a pretty good assessment of Baumbach's oeuvre is that his movies are populated with assholes. They're charming assholes in his first feature, Kicking and Screaming (not the Will Ferrell one, obvs., which I'm sure also has its fair share of jerks); that's the one I most relate to, clearly, as I am younger than thirty and until then will consider myself "fresh out of college" (although I, like Greenberg's Florence, have been out of college for about the same amount of time as I was in college). Recent college graduates almost have a free pass to be shitheads since they're too young and immature to really understand how the world works, which is another reason I'm apt to include myself in that demographic.

As Baumbach has gotten older, his characters have become less sympathetic as they, too, have reached the age where considerate behavior should be the norm. His protagonists in The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding aren't sympathetic; they're pretty despicable people. I've heard people criticize those films (the latter especially) for being too focused on the petty aspects of self-indulgent, bourgeois white people. Well, sure!

Would we expect Noah Baumbach to write films about characters of the lower-class or of minority groups? I'd rather not see that, because I think they'd actually be offensive. But, still, white people have problems, and I relate to that as a white person with predictable and insufferably insipid problems. (But I like The Wire! Right?!)

Baumbach's films aren't offensive, of course — his characters are. It strikes me as slightly odd that people can hate a film because they don't like the main characters "as people." I certainly wouldn't want to hang around titular Margot or Bernard from The Squid and the Whale. I also don't want to know Patrick Bateman, either, but people certainly do love the shit out of American Psycho (probably because Bateman doesn't talk about his feelings after he murders people).

The same goes for Roger Greenberg, the forty-year-old man child played by Ben Stiller (who, per usual, rubbed me the wrong way; it doesn't matter if he's playing Greenberg or Zoolander — I just don't like him). I probably wouldn't have liked him very much if Baumbach had made him at all sympathetic (which, ultimately, he did not). But really, let's avoid that discussion; arguing over feeling empathy for a fictional character is very undergraduate. I had enough of this when I read High Fidelity for ENG 365: Contemporary British Novel.

Instead, let's talk about Florence, played by mumblecore actress (not my words — go read every other review of this film) Greta Gerwig. Both Gerwig and Florence are superb. Florence is a dynamic character (which is fresh for the female love interest of a lost / hopeless male protagonist!); she's smart, she's responsible, she's both happy and sad, she enjoys sex while hating the inevitable ramifications of it. And Gerwig makes Florence realistic because (and forgive me for Liz Lemmoning her right now) she's a relatively ordinary-looking actress.

It's too easy to label Greenberg as a misogynist. He doesn't hate women, he hates everyone, including himself, but he wouldn't admit it — he may come close to it in a self-deprecating way, but, as Edith Wharton writes in The House of Mirth, his outer self-deprecation is in proportion to his self-possessiveness. He's very sociopathic, rejecting connections with most of the people around him. I don't believe that his inabilities to form relationships are the result of anything other than the fact that he, as a human, is flawed, as most of us are.

I can't dispute the claims that he is self-indulgent and wrapped up in the petty problems of his bourgeois lifestyle. The great irony, of course, is that I am a white blogger who is publishing my self-indulgent reaction to a film featuring a realistically offensive protagonist. It's pretty rare when people can acknowledge the assholic (it's a word!) tendencies within themselves. (That is a statement that I do not intend to be a smug declaration.) Maybe that's why I relate to and appreciate Greenberg and the rest of Noah Baumbach's films so much: in his world, pretty much everyone is an asshole. 

Tyler Coates is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Chicago. He tumbls here.

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"Oh You (Christmas Blues)" - LCD Soundsystem (mp3)

"Jet Airliner" - Steve Miller Band (mp3)

"Please Don't Follow Me" - James Murphy (mp3)