College Music For A New Student

American Weekend
Delta Queen Records (currently available as a donation based download)

Back in 199something when I was last attending University, my main musical loves were THE BIG THREE as I liked to call them. The music and poetry, style and cool of The Promise Ring, Braid and Lifetime was all my young English majoring heart needed to sustain me against the evils of Shakespeare classes, failed courtships, drunken make out sessions and academic failure. Somehow I graduated in four years with a degree in English, with concentrations in film studies and women’s literature and pretty much failed upward in a professional field that was so far away from sad bastard poetry or proclaiming in print how great all the sappy, love struck white boy shit I listened to was. THE BIG THREE were and remain epic in my musical history. Davey VonBohlen taught me the importance of geography in relation to romance. Ari Katz taught me that the small suburban towns we live in are epic in importance and shape how love and romance unfolds in front of us. Chris Broach and Bob Nanna twisted language and made it fun to roll off my tongue and swim in my brain. They also made sure that songs lacked linear structure. It was an epic and exciting time to be a lonely, uncomfortable white boy in the American suburbs.

Against all of this, of course I read, for the first time, novels by women. Aside from the Judy Bloom books I read when I was in grade school, I don’t think I read anything written by a women in all of my high school, save for the requisite Sylvia Plath.  Though at the time, I found the repetition of violent experiences in the stories draining, I now have a firm grip on the tragedy and violence that most women experience in their lives. And I fell in love with Jamaica Kincaid, which helped me to fall in love with Miranda July and Jhumpa Lahirni later on in life. Though it escaped me then, the dichotomy between what I was reading and the privileged love stories of white boys I was listening to is engrained in my being now. I can wish and dream and seek romance and still be aware of the violence and agony that befalls women who are the object of dominance. It gets murky up in this head of mine now and then, but it’s all quite helpful.

The soundtrack to my education was very important. It kept me grounded and forward moving. I didn’t quite realize this until the other day when I came across the new full length album by Katie Crutchfield under the Waxahatchee moniker. The haunting, bare and beautiful album took me, almost immediately and I knew that it would serve as the first entry into the canon of music I will lean on over the next few years while I pursue “higher” education.

I became aware of Madame Crutchfield through a very elegant piece she wrote on sexism in punk rock (which you should check out here). The piece is hardly soft and pleading, Crutchfield instead disceting  the heart of the matter with spiked tongue. And not without reason or validation. It was a striking piece to read on a lazy, unemployed day in May. The end note reflected that she played in a band called P.S. Eliot. A little internet researching helped me find their new album (for free) and the realization that she shared a split tape with my friend Chris that I bought but had not listened to yet. Never the less, summer drives in Albuquerque were thus filled with a few spins of Sadie and the sweet rush of smart, jangly pop.

I’m not sure why I am surprised that P.S. Eliot is from Birmingham, Alabama (a destination in a Promise Ring song, fyi). I guess I still carry some of that east coast snobbery with me, not totally humbled or healed by the amazing shit I’ve seen in Albuquerque. But there is something so honest and inviting about Crutchfield’s songs. Waxahatchee, named after a creek in Alabama, brings the solitude and peace of mind that bodies of water often inspire. You can’t ignore this music, even when it lays in the background of a long night of reading James Joyce or wrapping your head around the steps a world took to drop an atomic bomb. Waxahatchee has been my solace, my calming waters, and my place of escape when I need to settle the racket in my brain.

With mostly just an acoustic guitar and slightly slurred vocals drenched in reverb, this low-fi recording fits in pocket of your heart where you keep things dear. Crutchfield isn’t afraid to be young, hurt, drunk and in love. The songs are tales of sloppy, unsure nights that I find so familiar and comforting. There are fractured friendships brought on by heteronormative pairing and the frustration that brings when yr not entirely sure that’s the life you want, because perhaps another heavy drink makes more sense than marriage. There are abusive relationships brought about by words and how that violence haunts us. There is the redemption of strength, even in our weakest most vulnerable moments. They are the songs of moving on, despite the ruin we are subject to and that which we make with our own hands.

And while this isn’t exactly where I am this time around, I find comfort in all of it. The experience of institutional learning is one I am embracing, for as sterile and as structured as it can be, it’s still a gathering of people trying to share and know ideas. So the nights of falling over drunk in someone’s front lawn and passing out, or late night explorations of the history of emo at Denny’s while high on pot and coffee are not really part of the plan now, it’s nice to have stories the remind me of those days.