In Which We Come Up With A Plan For The Ages

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My stepsister Joann recently got married to a wonderful man and is pregnant with her first child. The two are planning a wedding before the baby arrives. With the prospect of a baby shower, an engagement brunch (no clue what that is), a bachelorette party, bridesmaid dress and other incidentals, Joann’s fertility is probably going to cost me in four figures. I don’t have the kind of income where I can absorb these expenses; on the other hand I don’t want to let my stepsister down. What should I do?

Kate T.

Dear Kate,

Marriage is a wonderful institution, except when Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart: that was completely gross. 

Whatever you do, do not bring this problem up to Joann. Create an entirely independent drama that requires your attention. For example, your car broke down and needs a new hamburglarator. She has bigger issues on her mind, she’s not going to check if it’s actually part of a car. For a more plausible excuse, humbly reveal that you have to take a weeklong trip during her bachelorette party to accomplish a continuing education bonafide. For some reason, using the word “education” justifies any expense or behavior.

Failing that, is there the possibility of suggesting Joann’s fiance may not be the father? Because that could really shake up this loathsome set of obligatons on your plate. Also, when you lie, don’t touch your face.

Hey,

 

My boyfriend Kyle and I have a great relationship. We spend almost all our free time together and we rarely argue or fight. He’s really supportive of me and never criticizes anything I do. 

There is one problem though. Kyle fancies himself an amateur gourmet. He is always planning some recipe composed of farm-to-table ingredients. Once he smiled at a lobster he was about to boil, which was a little strange, but the larger issue is that Kyle can’t really cook. His meals are so adventurous that they’re frequently inedible. He consumes them with aplomb and never seems to notice my lack of enthusiasm. How can I make him stop without getting in leg-deep shit? 

Angela D. 

Dear Angela,

Just come up with some strange diet plan that requires cooking things that even this Julia Childish can’t screw up.

Preface your lie by saying that you had an allergic reaction to one of his terrible meals (preferably rabbit, since humans should not consume rabbits except as a direct fuck you to Beatrix Potter). Explain that you were tested for allergies and it turns out you have some rare condition which involves never consuming the worst of his preparations in any form whatsoever.

NB: We’ve received some electronic mail recently complaining that our solution to every problem is to lie. This is an untrue accusation. When a lie is for someone’s own good, it’s just called a compliment.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Without Me” – Mac DeMarco (mp3)

“My House By The Water” – Mac DeMarco (mp3)

In Which It Is More Difficult Than You Think

Orange Blossoms

by ELEANOR MORROW

Fort Tilden
dir. Sarah-Violet Bliss
95 minutes

“The criminal mind always sets its own traps,” a man screams at Allie (Claire McNulty) as she peels off the down a Brooklyn street on a bike after hitting a child. Her friend Harper (Bridey Elliott) is even worse, hitting up her greasy ex-boyfriend for drugs and writing a check for iced coffee. They live in the most magnificent New York apartment I have ever seen:

Sarah-Violet Bliss, a writer for Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer series, is like an even meaner Nicole Holofcener. Her satire of her peers is savage — at first it seems like there is nothing redemptive in Fort Tilden. Bliss’ debut film takes place in an area of New York City where everyone wants to live: children, families, dogs. Fort Tilden makes it look like an unrelenting nightmare of posturing and whining, persistently disgusting gentrification.

In one scene the two women are shopping in a thrift store when they see a small Asian teenager stealing their bikes. Instead of stopping him or trying to intervene, they just observe him pedaling away. A woman behind them in line wonders aloud, “That boy just took your bikes, and all you did was watch him do it.” Things are immaterial to a certain type of person, captured effortlessly in Bliss’ writing. They can be replaced. Everything can.

White people are especially disgusting, Bliss argues in her satire, and they are incapable of ever understanding their privilege. Their power comes from their ignorance of what power is. Any attempt at recognizing the racism of cultural norms just transitions into appropriation. This goes for underrepresented minorities themselves as well. “You have to let these people do what they are going to do,” Allie ironically explains to Harper at one point. “You just have to take punches.”

It emerges that the origin of Harper’s casual lifestyle is her father’s imperialist Indian business. He takes advantage of his position in the country and sends her money to continue her lifestyle. “It’s not my fault that I am his daughter,” she explains after being thrown out of a cab by a Indian immigrant. Fort Tilden‘s attempt at constructing real drama to underlie Bliss’ brilliant one-liners is disturbingly insightful, making me wish that she would shelve some of the Broad City-esque humor and make something that reaches even deeper than the story of two shallow Brooklynites.

As Allie, McNulty projects a saucy innocence that you would expect of a blonde girl about to be sent to Liberia by the Peace Corps. Bridey Elliott (daughter of comedian Chris Elliott) carries Fort Tilden with a retinue of facial expressions that express every conceivable emotion as the girls try to make their way to a beach date with two guys they met at a party the night before.

After these two find a quartet of stranded kittens, they begin to argue over which one of them posted a picture on the internet. The fight escalates, and one of the women says that the other isn’t an artist. This is the worst thing one person can conceivably convey to another at this time in our lives.

By the end of Fort Tilden there is actually only disappointment. This sadness comes not from the massively entertaining and humorous film constructed by an exciting new voice who spent too much time watching Broad City. The real let down of Fort Tilden is the world that is being satirized. There is not really much to it, and the movie culminates like the sad, disturbing end of a wet dream.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“I Got That Feeling Once Again” – The Memories (mp3)

“Love To Break Your Heart” – The Memories (mp3)

In Which Ve Indulge In All Ver Most Potent Fantasies

Ash Factory

by DICK CHENEY

Kissing a woman on the forehead is the literal kiss of death unless you are a nun or a pimp. As this season of True Detective spirals to a close, Vince Vaughn smooches his wife on the head way too much for my liking. He does it in his creepy bar, in his mediocre apartment, at the movies. A man kisses a woman on the head for one reason and one reason only: because he does not want to kiss her on the lips. Lynne says it is because Kelly Reilly’s mouth tastes like ash and lotion. It is dangerous to assume that other people put the same things in their mouths as you or I or Michelle Obama does.

That is what I was thinking when a woman sprayed ecstasy into Rachel McAdams’ face cavity at the Eyes Wide Shut sex party. Rach did not like it, primarily because the drug could not make the woman happy, which frankly suggests that nothing can.

You’re going to a cool party with all the right people. Why aren’t you psyched?

I took ecstasy for the first and only time in 1997. I then read some Leo Strauss and masturbated. One was about as good as the other.

There is this New Zealand novelist who invented a whole set of gender neutral pronouns because she herself is a declared asexual. Ve and vis and ver are used pretty interchangeably, although sometimes they refer to biological gender. McAdams’ haircut and new wig reminded me of their utility.

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Can Vince Vaughn even grow a beard?

In her stupor McAdams dreamt of ver childhood molestation, where ve was tempted into a van down by the river by a man promising rare animals and delicious treats. All unicorns are sterile and suffer from low testerone. The unicorn is ver spirit animal, the same way that Carly Fiorina’s spirit animal is an opossum and Bernie Sanders’ spirit animal is a turkey sandwich.

Even the pimp went to great pains to emphasize her age. Rachel McAdams’ agent has been in Cabo for the past year is the only explanation for all this.

I think Rachel McAdams thinks gender is probably just a construct. She probably reads Judith Butler when she isn’t watching her sister strip on the internet.

Colin Farrell is undecided. He gets really drunk and really high on last night’s True Detective. He is so messed up that he no longer even enjoys constructing models of airplanes. (His son explains that they are killing machines.) There was also a long scene where he threatened to puncture the balls of a man awaiting his sentencing in a local jail, but I didn’t really understand the point of it or who the guy was.

They should have just sent this guy to the Wall.

Under the influence of drugs we can acquire an otherworldly courage, Pizzolatto is saying. This pro-drug messaging has been heard from Boulder to the PCH. Given the moral at work here, I would be surprised if the man isn’t addicted to some substance. That vice is clearly not alcohol, given that it is merely a lingering percussion in the symphony of drug abuse we suffer through on the show.

His spirit animal is a lasagna.

It was hard to understand the connection of a masked robbery during the L.A. riots to all this, unless Casper was one of the thieves. Perhaps the children recognized his face and decided to murder him — it doesn’t seem to be the evil hosts of the party who murdered Ben. The killing strikes me as more personal, and they had nothing to gain from the death of the city manager in their employ.

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Taylor Kitsch’s acting in this scene consisted of nods and murmurs. It was somewhere between completely awful and career-ending.

The culprits are therefore a formerly well-to-do brother and sister who were dropped into the foster system. The now-deceased Latina described a cop, so we can assume the perpetrators are police officers. The male child looked suspiciously like McAdams’ ex-partner played by Michael Irby. By encouraging the subordinate she did anal with to file charges against ver, he planned to keep ver away from the truth. I have no idea who his sister is, except that I demand she be portrayed by Kelly Ripa.

That is a very natural way to stand.

Now that I have solved True Detective, I feel at peace. I went around all day kissing Lynne on the top of the forehead and watching Key & Peele. Boy are those guys deft, very very deft, when it comes to dealing with America’s tarnished, racist past. I also didn’t realize exactly how awful the title sequence of True Detective was until I saw their parody of it.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Saw the Light” – Seapony (mp3)

“Bad Dream” – Seapony (mp3)

In Which We Would Like To Explain To The Citizens Of West Germany

Perestroika

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Deutschland 83
creators Anna Winger & Joerg Winger

Germany in 1983 was a very special time and place to be a part of. Sundance Channel’s Deutschland 83 begins where last season of The Americans ended — Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech. No one takes Reagan the least bit seriously in East Germany, if they could even watch the speech, which was mostly about the evil of women aborting their children. Enlisted East German soldier Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) has bigger problems: a blonde named Annette (Sonja Gerhardt) whose sexuality is a beacon in this grim time.

Martin doesn’t take communism very seriously. Annette is more devoted to the cause. When she finds some banned books in the house of Martin’s mother, she immediately takes them to the Stasi. “That’s a good book,” Walter Schweppenstette (Sylvester Groth) tells her upon seeing a paperback copy of 1984. “But it’s not permitted in East Germany.”

Martin is deployed by the Stasi as an aide to a West German general named Edel (Ulrich Noethen), the disobedient son of a Nazi officer. Edel is the real hero of Deutschland 83, a man trying to unite his country in a good faith democracy and turn back the communists. Every single person around him, from his wacky wife, to his commune-residing daughter, to his turncoat son Alexander (Ludwig Trepte), seems focused on impeding that goal.

Martin is not much of a spy. At an important NATO meeting he is almost killed by an American operative. His sloppy work leads to a floppy disk no East German computer can access. Tasked with seducing the secretary of a NATO representative, Martin can’t bring himself to let her drown when a cleaning lady finds a microphone he has placed under her desk. (Another agent runs her over with a car.) It is precisely because Martin is so goofy that the West Germans don’t suspect he is endangering all their lives.

Nay only has three or four main facial expressions, but he vacillates between them at a moment’s notice. He is blackmailed into his service by his aunt Lenora (Maria Schrader), who insists that his mother will be moved up on the kidney transplant list through his continued service with the Stasi. Martin continues his work even after his mother gets his own kidney, recognizing that he is in too deep with these people to simply abscond.

Filming Deutschland 83 in the native language of the period adds a lot to the diegesis. The German language is gorgeous and practical in the right tones, but screeching and inhuman when elevated through anger or pain. Unlike English, it very quickly ceases to make sense when stress is put on it — a facile metaphor for Germany’s national character in the late part of the 20th century.

Deutschland 83 presents a nuanced view of the country. No one comes across very bad: the worst thing you can be in a serious time is silly, and no one has ever accused the Stasi of that. There is a lot of humor here, but it is always a broader comedy, never at the expense of the individuals involved. The German state is ridiculous — the people that comprise it are only doing their best.

The husband-and-wife team behind Deutschland 83 marches the German versions of 80s music over the proceedings like it is the first time anyone has thought of using “Boys Don’t Cry” ironically. It’s actually the millionth time, but there is a certain triumph in the innocence of Deutschland 83 — nothing here is especially new, but the series doesn’t do its viewers the insult of assuming you have seen and heard it all before. It is more important to be in the spirit of a period that may have never really existed, than to get it all down right.

Despite the fact that he believes she is carrying his child, Martin becomes disillusioned with Annette. Instead he begins a relationship with General Edel’s daughter Yvonne (Lisa Tomaschewsky). Yvonne is a backup singer who has escaped her society by taking up with the nonviolent Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh worshippers. She is the most beautiful thing in the entire world, so it is not a surprise that Martin is drawn to her after his fourth or fifth murder.

While the music and dialogue might feel a bit familiar, the wonderful sets, striking color and wildy different scenarios of Deutschland 83 all add up to an experience not previously possible in television. The series brings a sense of absurd fun to historical events that has evaporated from dull jaunts like The Hour and Aquarius. There is really nowhere to go with the show from here except to explore darker and more horrifying avenues, and that may ruin it. The Wingers seem intent on preserving the history itself, reminding us that it is more important to remember things as they were, before going on and on about why they ceased to exist.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Unstoppable” – Lianne La Havas (mp3)

“Green and Gold” – Lianne La Havas (mp3)

In Which Walter Benjamin’s Troubles Possessed Far Simpler Remedies

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A Genius of Dwelling

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Walter Benjamin’s father Emil was something of a dilettante. His major focus was the Berlin villa he purchased for his wife Pauline and their growing family. It was basically the house in The Royal Tenenbaums with nothing rotten or outdated; the culture it recalled had long since vanished from the earth.

At a very tender age Walter Benjamin was ensconced in a custom of indoor and outdoor living. If there was something to take lessons in – butterfly hunting or ice skating, for example — he joined with all the aplomb he could muster. Each room of his father’s house held a different sort of emotion, and could be inhabited completely or discarded with the closing of a door.

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Emil’s favorite place to be was on the telephone — this way a part of himself could be elsewhere, and a part with his family at all times. The self Emil Benjamin sent out, angry and forceful, was often different from the one they got back. His moustache was ranked either excellent or nonpareil depending on the humidity or time of day.

In a new biography from Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, Benjamin’s younger days are given a reverent kind of attention as though they’re depicting a young man either recovering from or developing a psychosis. In reality, Emil’s disturbing utopia was all the more perplexing because it anticipated the complete destruction of the German residence, which perished during the war.

Walter’s mother Pauline was thirteen years his father’s junior. She called Walter “Mr. Clumsy” because he never lived up to her idea of decorum.

His brother and sister were both separated from Walter by age, Eiland reports, so that they each experienced life as an only child. When Walter was finally divested of his private tutors and send to class with other pupils, it may not surprise you to learn that he did not fit in whatsoever. He was sick so often that other arrangements had to be made; it was good to get those illnesses out in the open air.

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In a country boarding school called Haubinda, Benjamin found a love of learning that separated him from all else — nothing was closer to him than that pedagogy. Upon his graduation from high school, his father gave him a trip as a gift. The family had already traveled around Europe at their leisure, this was Walter’s first trip to Italy on his own, the first where he determined the direction and purpose: Como, Milan, Verona, Vicenza, Padua. Among the masters he never cowered.

This temporary elation passed, a miasma of longing mixed with a desire to survive persisted. At University Benjamin found himself again outside the times, and eventually he returned to the villa to live at home while he pursued his studies. He had one friend of any import, a painter/novelist named Philip, and he steered clear of everyone else.

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University, Eiland and Jennings say, was Benjamin’s first introduction to his Judaism. Really, it was only his first introduction to Zionism, because although the Benjamin family was entirely secular, the boy’s upbringing was hardly divorced from some bare essentials of the European Jewish experience. He now fancied himself the quintessential Jew, and all of his friends were similarly disposed financially and ethnically.

Unsuccessful liasions with women would depress him, but their troubles never superseded his intellectual ones, and indeed possessed far simpler remedies.

as a student 1912

His friend Charlotte Wolff wrote of the man he became:

He had not the male bearing of his generation. And there were disturbing features about him which did not fit with the rest of his personality. The rosy apple-cheeks of a child, the black curly hair and fine brow were appealing, but there was sometimes a cynical glint in his eyes. His thick, sensuous lips, badly hidden by a moustache, were also an unexpected feature, not fitting with the rest. His posture and gestures were ‘uptight’ and lacked spontaneity, except when he spoke of things he was involved in or of people he loved.

He held, always, a part of himself back from those closest to him. Even his first amorous relationships with women never mention his body or theirs, as if he were describing two minds touching at the brainstem. All of Walter’s friends felt this dissonance in their relationships with him: from the time he left home, he was far closer to ideas than people.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about the life of Jules Verne. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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The Best of Ellen Copperfield on This Recording

Dorothea Lange’s Failed Marriage

Sex Life Of Marlon Brando

Lifetime of Threats and Insults

The Onset Of The Western Canon

Entitled To Madonna’s Opinion

Barbra Streisand Grows Up In Flatbush

A Sneaking Suspicion of Literature

Anjelica Huston Falls Off The Horse

Prefer To Be Simone de Beauvoir

The Marriage of Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra

Elongated Childhood of Jorge Luis Borges

Jokes At The Expense Of Tom Hanks

Which One Is The Gay?

In Which There Is A Lot Carrie Brownstein Neglects To Mention

Surface Envy

by ERIC FARWELL

Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, eschews the typical “tell-all” format of the rock confessional. Using music as a gateway to explore her identity – including influential bands and her own experiences in Excuse 17 and Sleater-Kinney – it’s as autobiographical as it is a sentimental love letter to the music scene. Music gave her strength to carve her own identity. It builds the memoir’s largest theme: one finds their identity through experiences and the art that helps us navigate them.

The first section opens up with Brownstein’s anxieties as a young girl who desperately wants to be noticed as someone who exists. An anxious child, she takes to performing and slowly segues her natural talents into creating music. In her element, she is a girl in search of herself, of power, of clarity. There’s a distance between her and everyone else, even those she loves, a characteristic that may or may not be attributed to her difficult parents.

Carrie characterizes her parents as ineffectual and aloof: her mother struggles with an eating disorder while her father slowly comes to recognize his homosexuality; both do so while she and her sister navigate life on their own.

The book explicitly deals with Brownstein’s search for a sense of normalcy and certainty while working in an unusual field. There is little music industry struggle. In fact, the main area of contention comes from the press, who label Sleater-Kinney as a “female rock band” or some variation thereof, ignoring the fact that the label is useless for such a talented and undeniable group.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is a literary product of someone who loves books and has developed their own writing style. The beauty of the language gives visibility to some of the more interesting decisions Brownstein makes. One aspect that’s not written about but implied by the writing is a sense of privacy and control. This is especially evident in the memoir’s lack of exploration of her relationships.

Most prominently, her romance with Corin Tucker is touched on, but the trajectory of their relationship is glossed over, with Brownstein abandoning scrutiny save for a few mentions of fooling around and cohabitation. While it’s not uncommon to be reserved about certain aspects of life in memoir, Brownstein’s decision to even mention topics is interesting. Intentionally or not, they paint a picture of someone with wounds and experiences that still seem strange and new. Not knowing exactly how to discuss them gives nuance to the inner world of an already complex person.

On the page, this creates messiness in an otherwise clear narrative, as if Brownstein is applying the subversive skills that Sleater-Kinney utilize to her life story. Sleater-Kinney gives the book its skeletal structure, and the revisiting of the emotional zeitgeist around each album and subsequent tour creates motion and comfortable refrain, as Brownstein finds pockets of personal growth in the monotony of write-record-tour.

Throughout it all, she vacillates between feeling slightly lost or in upheaval and having a sense of certainty and roots, yet this never comes across as peripatetic or pedantic. If anything, it solidifies the value of her band and bandmates to her, and unironically, earnestly offers up the tried and true story of music as salvation and respite from the dour world.

Eric Farwell is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New Jersey. This is his first appearance in these pages. He has written for The Rumpus, Electric Literature and Critical Flame.

“By The Time You’re Twenty-Five” – Sleater-Kinney (mp3)

“Tapping” – Sleater-Kinney (mp3)

In Which We Have Run Away In Fear Of So Much Less

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My friend Ami has a new boyfriend names Jacques. Jacques goes out a lot to the clubs and although Ami never took drugs before this, her life consists of taking them and going dancing. I really miss my friend and worry for her. She is so messed up the other night that I had to carry her home and put her to bed.

P.S. Jacques is not a bad guy, he is just fun-loving.

Frederique N.

Dear Frederique,

The role of the caretaker is a time-honored one in the drug culture. I hope I’m not being too broad here when I say you should never take of anyone for any reason except hefty financial remuneration.

If Ami ends up in the hospital or dead, do you really want to be the person who enabled her all this time, allowing her to think she could act however she wanted and someone else would pick up the pieces? You think you are helping her but the reality couldn’t be more different: you are the one putting her in danger.

This Jacques fellow sounds like a real prince. He is not really interested in your friend’s well-being, and he is not nice. He’s just wearing a nice sweater.

Hi,

I am in a committed relationship with my girlfriend of two years, Amy. We live together, and share many laughs and bon mots.

In early May I received a package in the mail from an ex. It was a box that my girlfriend unknowingly opened. While almost everything in the box only held a sentimental meaning obvious to the parties involved, there was one letter in the group, written by me, which could be described as romantic in nature.

The majority of the letter itself was chaste, but there was a reference to anal sex in it (a practice my ex enjoyed but is not a part of my life now). At first Amy seemed fine with what was undoubtedly a bit of a shock, but now she seems to have trouble overcoming the idea that the sex life I had with my ex was some kind of winsomely exotic menagerie, which it most certainly was not.

How can I get her to realize it wasn’t all that important?

Henry L.

Dear Henry,

Telling Amy in minute detail what occurred is only going to open a Pandora’s Box of insecurity. You need to give her an airtight reassurance to rely on in her mind: a recurring, comfortable phrase whose mere repetition is a solace. (Jonah Hill uses slurs.)

Sit her down with her favorite beverage. Perhaps she likes a piping hot tea? Who doesn’t, as long as it’s not a cherished part of anal play. She’ll associate the taste of those ground beans with your definitive statement that she is in every way better than your ex. Having imprinted that idea, if Amy mentions it again, clearly state that you feel you have already addressed the issue, and that if she continues bringing it up she is liable to be shown the door.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

 

“Thick As Blood” – Stubborn Son (mp3)

“Head Above Water” – Stubborn Son (mp3)