Woo, it’s March! One month closer to warmer weather. But also whew…it’s March. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year since this pandemic started. If this were March 2020, in just three days SXSW will be canceled. Six days from now my school will pause in-person instruction and in ten days they’ll cancel it for the rest of the semester. In a week and two days, I will go to my last show of 2020. It will be a tense affair, the opener canceling last minute and the looming pandemic scaring my friends (rightfully) off. I’ll regret it immediately and start isolating that weekend.
A pit will start to form in my stomach but I won’t realize it’s my last show of 2020 until two days later when we’re told that bars, restaurants, and venues will have to close. My entire life will migrate online for better or for worse, and I’ll spend the rest of my time in NYC in a basement in Queens trying to ignore the sound of ambulances passing by. Everything about my life will change in the span of just two weeks. Two weeks that will stretch into a rough, disruptive, and destructive year-and-counting.
I feel like it’s bad form to open on such a sour note, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t reflect on the one-year anniversary of the live music pause1. Those two weeks don’t even feel that long ago, a side effect of a year so traumatic that it’ll linger long past its time. It’s surreal and a bit scary to realize how much time has passed. I don’t want to get used to pandemic life. I don’t want to think of “celebrating” this anniversary again next year. I don’t want to forget that this isn’t normal2, that we’re in this situation because our government is willing to let us die.
Thankfully, nostalgia is powerful and my frequent dives back into the time-before remind me of what we’ve lost. I also probably think “this would kill live” while listening to music at least six times a day. It’s been a year and I still suffer from what Groupie’s Johanna called “serious COVID withdrawal.”3 That’ll teach me to stop revolving my entire personality around attending shows!4
As you know, I’ve been trying to fill the void left by live music with other music-related pursuits, like the weekly music doc resolution I made last month. Well, it’s a new month so that means four new movies; but first, a quick debrief from last month. I really didn’t like The United States vs. Billie Holiday; I know it’s a movie, not a celebration of her life, but there was no attempt to balance out Billie’s life at all. The sum total of the movie was “she was tragic and the end.” This is the second movie I’ve watched with a female lead that disappointed me (looking at you I Care a Lot). That’s my fault for picking it, but hopefully, this month will be better.
March is Women’s History Month so I picked documentaries around that theme. I wish I could have delivered on my promise to do watch parties for a few of these, but unfortunately, I keep getting scheduled to work nights (bummer). I might have to scrap that idea for now.
And finally, a Bandcamp Friday list. I’ve included some rap spirituals from Bogota, British post-punk, Philly hardcore, and quiet grrrl punk. I also threw Brooklyn rapper and confirmed Gemini maassai’s long-awaited full-length on here, With The Shifts, which I had the opportunity to talk to her more about for The Family Reviews.
It was actually an interview I did in collaboration with Riley McShane, which was my first time tag-teaming an interview. maassai spoke with us about women like India.Arie and Grace Jones who’ve inspired her, white critics over-stepping when it comes to Black art5, and how With The Shifts is a motivational album. It was great getting to dig deep into her process with Riley, so read it or at least check out maassai’s music! Here’s a little excerpt to entice you:
Alyana: How do other people's expectations affect your creative process?
maassai: I think sometimes obviously it can feel like pressure, or it can feel like maybe you need to dumb yourself down. Will people understand you? But when it comes to those things, I try to quiet those voices because it's like, look: I am who I am. And this is what you want to get.
I think my Bandcamp list is pretty finalized at this point, but if you’ve got any suggestions send them my way!
You might notice I’ve used the footnotes quite liberally. I love footnotes! I love real footnotes that help guide me to new sources, fake ones too (I read something once where the author put a bunch of fake scientific information in the footnotes as a part of world-building), and the kind of conversational footnotes that I first encountered in adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy. So when I found out that Substack added footnotes (you won’t see it if you are viewing this through email) I couldn’t help myself. Like, do you see how many parentheses I just used? Footnotes will either help me organize my tangential thoughts or enable my wordiness. We’ll see!
Anyways, have you been watching the music docs with me? What have you thought so far? Did you hate The United States vs. as much as I did? Hit reply to tell me what you think or just chat! Until next time, keep wearing a mask and tell a woman in your life how amazing she is.
I’m actually writing a new interview series around the one-year anniversary for The Family Reviews. I’ve been asking a ton of music people to reflect on the past year, so you can expect that to come out later this month.
So I get angry about all the things this pandemic has taken from us—and all of us that it has taken—and tend to that rage. Healthy? Jury’s out!
Got to interview Ashley and Johanna of Groupie about their debut album Ephemeral for The Family Reviews. Ashley told me about making music with her mother and meeting Patti Smith, while Johanna reflected on why all her idols when she was young were men. It’s a fun read, but the biggest takeaway is that if you want to start a band, just do it!
I will never learn.