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Entries in emily gould (5)

Friday
Apr022010

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

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Joni and Graham

by EMILY GOULD

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)

Sunday
Jan102010

In Which We Preemptively Acknowledge Our Flaws

The Impulse To Expiate

by EMILY GOULD

Woody and Diane Keaton meet, in Manhattan, and immediately start contradicting and one-upping each other. They do so intensely, with a focus that excludes the people they’re notionally on dates with. Watching them, you might find yourself suddenly seized with a strange and increasingly less-shakeable suspicion. You, too, have some habitual patterns of interacting with the romanceable people you meet, you've noticed. But have these habits developed organically, or are they just a set of tricks and tics that you subliminally learned from watching early Woody Allen movies? Do these movies succeed, as you’d assumed they did, by evoking the shock of recognition, or is the shock of recognition you feel, watching them, just the end product of a feedback loop?

Regardless, the depth of identification you (fine okay I) feel watching jerks fall in love can be so intense it’s jarring. And when those love affairs fail to end happily — and no matter how many times you’ve seen the movies, those failures somehow have the power to surprise again and again — it is possible to become super bummed out.

Manhattan is also a bummer because, while it is formally the best Woody Allen movie — the Woody-Allen-movie-est Woody Allen movie — it also codifies the fatal Woody flaw, which is his un-get-aroundably creepy thing for little girls.

Mariel Hemingway got an Oscar nomination for her performance as Woody’s Dalton-senior love interest in this movie, but the prize seems inadequate compensation for the then-16 year old's having been subjected to multiple takes of the scenes wherein the fortyish Woody gropes and kisses her. Her fundamental physical indifference, even as she mouths lines like "Let’s fool around!", is legible in every line of her coltish body.

The ick factor is especially pronounced when these scenes are juxtaposed with the ones that showcase Diane and Woody’s unfakeable chemistry. But we do believe that Mariel’s Tracy thinks she loves Woody’s Isaac, and that consequently he is able to hurt her. Their love scenes may be stomach-turning, but when he dumps her, Tracy’s obvious pain reveals Isaac’s essential sliminess with unprecedented vividness. "Why should I feel guilty about this? This is ridiculous!” he says, as her beautiful, reason-to-live face quivers on the verge of eerily childish tears. The chord of recognition is struck here too — we have all tried to break a heart guiltlessly, or witnessed someone try guiltlessly to break ours. (But did these movies teach us, and them, how to go about it?)

Tracy, we’re told, is mature for her age. That’s why Isaac is attracted to her, he says early on. But somehow the moments that are meant to demonstrate this maturity are the moments when his real desires slip out – part of his character’s charm, of course, is that he is always helplessly showing his hand. "You keep stating it like it’s to my advantage, when it’s you that wants to get out," she says when he explains why they should break up. "Don’t be so smart, don’t be so precocious," he commands. In their final scene together, when she refuses to buy the recantation of this breakup speech, he tells her not to be so mature.

Isaac's romance with Diane Keaton's Mary Wilkie has its creepy moments too. There is one moment especially when Mary is talking to Isaac but really she is talking to herself, about how she deserves better than Yale, Isaac's married friend who she’s seeing. She is giving herself a little self-esteem lecture about how she is young and beautiful and smart and deserves better. Like Isaac, she is helplessly showing her hand, but unlike him, her foibles aren’t presented lovingly. Isaac’s selfishness seems meant to come off, thanks to his ostentatious self-awareness, as a lovable quirk. Mary seems to have no idea how monstrous she’s being, and therefore seems doubly monstrous.

Isaac’s no monster, though, or at least he isn’t meant to seem like one. His overlay of protective self-awareness — his preemptive acknowledgment of flaws that you haven’t even noticed yet, the sense that he hates himself more than you ever could — has provided a reliable template for future generations of dudes, cinematic and otherwise. It’s this kind of guy who’d think to inoculate himself against charges of misogyny by having Bella Abzug make a cameo in his movie about a forty year old man who’s fucking a high-schooler. These dudes don’t just to get away with being assholes, they want to be loved both for and in spite of it.

You have met these dudes. As kids, they were mocked for the same traits that they’ve now transformed into social currency, but this reversal hasn’t fully salved the wounded rage in them. So they are maybe going to take that anger out on some powerless girls, but they’re going to be so super aware the whole time, of what they’re doing and why. To paraphrase the terrible novel whose opening paragraph Isaac is writing at the movie’s outset, New York is their town, and it always will be. And maybe they live here because the city is like them: trapped between the impulse to expiate or to celebrate its sins, and trapped in the misconception that admitting to them somehow accomplishes both things at once.

Emily Gould is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here.You can pre-order her book And the Heart Says...Whatever here.

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Tuesday
Oct062009

In Which Emily Gould Is Bored To Death With Brooklyn Cliches

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

by EMILY GOULD

"Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you are to me! On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose; And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose," wrote Walt Whitman in 1900, of his fellow Brooklyn ferry passengers. 

Time-travel-noise! It's 2009.  And now here is how those who cross from shore to shore are typically limned:

"The people like organic food and bicycles. They compost. They fuss over their children. They don’t miss living in Manhattan. You get the idea." So NYTimes Moscow correspondent Clifford Levy wrote recently, in an article that purported to give Muscovites a primer on Brooklynites and vice versa. "Denizens of Brownstone Brooklyn like to pad around in plastic clogs," Levy also pointed out.

This kind of generalization is easy to come by, and so, to be honest, are Crocs, at least in Park Slope.  That neighborhood and several others near or nearish to it -- Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Fort Greene -- are what Levy is referring to when he says "Brownstone Brooklyn."  Levy is not referring to Bed-Stuy, though it is full of brownstones.  Those brownstones don't count as brownstones, because they are not yet entirely occupied by white gentrifiers.

The trouble with dismissing the stereotypical people who lazy writers describe when they want to call up an emblematic image of Brooklyniness is that they exist.  I see them all the time, glowy and unkempt, pushing their double stroller -- that odd kind where one child rides underneath, which seems un-fun for him-- and walking their large dog in the middle of the day on a weekday. 

What do they do? How does it enable them to afford an $800 imported stroller?  Why, during the pickup time for our Community Supported Agriculture vegetables, do they insist on letting little Phineas slowly, deliberately pluck his favorite 10 onions from the bin?  "One... (an eternity passes)...two...(another eternity, this one longer)"... They apologize to me, in line behind them, and shoot me winsome smiles as they throw up their hands like "What are you going to do?"  I have some suggestions, but I keep them to myself. 

I try not to get too worked up, knowing that these people constitute but one skein -- well, maybe three or four skeins, and they're the most visible, they're some flashy kind of sparkle-thread -- in the incredibly diverse tapestry that makes up my neighborhood and my borough. 

This, despite what pop culture would have you believe, but well, it's understandable that TV shows and movies and books and the New York Observer and New York magazine tend to fixate on either rich, overparenty breeders or rich, overstyled hipsters when writing about Brooklyn.  The consumption habits and recreational activities and intellectual preoccupations of these groups are simply the easiest to mine for yuks.  

It's hard to imagine Sarah Jessica Parker optioning an book about Borough Park Hasids, or Jonathan Ames developing an HBO series about a group of French-speaking African Baptists who stage lively revels in their Fort Greene church every Sunday. 

Instead, Parker has optioned Amy Sohn's recently-published novel Prospect Park West, which is a fantastical romp about the status anxieties of rich but not quite rich-enough Park Slope parents who vie for the attention of a secretly-troubled celebrity couple in their midst. 

Ames' series is about a feckless Fort Greene writer who spots a Raymond Chandler paperback on the floor of his sunny brownstone apartment after Moishe's Movers finishes loading out the belongings of his erstwhile girlfriend and immediately decides to declare himself, via Craigslist, a private eye. 


I watched the first episode of this series, Bored To Death -- a risky name for a show that, for people who aren't watching it for the thrill of spotting local landmarks, might be less than riveting -- at the end of a Brooklyn day.  It was Yom Kippur and I had spent the morning at free services that are provided by an organization called "Brooklyn Jews."  The services were held in Park Slope and I rode there from Clinton Hill on my bike. 

Later I rode my bike to Brooklyn Heights for a break-the-fast meal of bagels and lox.  As we wolfed the bagels and ate little mini-shortbreads from One Girl Cookies and looked out the beautiful bay window at the tall trees up and down the block shaking in a cloudburst, we talked about real estate, and the inexplicable dearth of good supermarkets in that neighborhood.   

Afterwards I went to a bar in Fort Greene -- a German beer garden with no garden -- and, while waiting for my friends to arrive, chatted with an middle-aged man who was sipping a beer while his laundry spun in the dryer at the laundromat next door.  He'd moved to the neighborhood -- actually, to an apartment above the beer garden -- from a Park Slope brownstone one year earlier.  "It's a one bedroom about the size of this half of the bar, like, from there to there," he said, delimiting an arc with his pointing finger that encompassed a wide swath of bar-space.  "$1350."  

"FUCK you," I said. The man took this in the intended spirit, and chuckled and felt good about himself.  It was the fourth time that day that someone had told me, unbidden, how much rent he paid.  

Then I went home and watched Bored To Death. In the first episode the protagonist, "Jonathan Ames," who is Jason Schwartzman, has coffee with his friend Zack Galifianakis at Smooch.  I guess the fictitious Jonathan Ames is unperturbed by the worst Yelp reviews I have ever seen for any business, and the flies.  (To be fair, the veggie burger is great). 

Jonathan and Zack have to sit outside because a postnatal yoga class has just gotten out and the shop is packed with mommies.  A herd of their parked strollers clog the sidewalk outside; Jonathan trips over one as he gets up to leave. 

I yawned.  The ghost of Walt Whitman yawned.  "Maybe less curious than I had supposed!" he mumbled.  We shut off my computer and went to bed.  

Emily Gould is a contributor to This Recording. She lives in Brooklyn and writes at Emily Magazine

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