On Self-Inflicted Wounds

I’m crazy for all things Aisha right now. I first knew Aisha Tyler (as many people did) as Ross’ black girlfriend on the sitcom Friends. Little did I know back then, Ms. Tyler is a lady of very many talents (podcaster, comedian, writer, actress, TV host, writer), vast intelligence, and unparalleled quirkiness. My husband recently got me into her excellent interview podcast, Girl on Guy, on which she speaks with mostly male comedians and entertainers about their origin stories and always finishes up with a tale of their worst self-inflicted wound (Chris Rock’s is pretty epic and can be heard here). I’ve even gone so far as to make my husband suffer through rampant applause breaks and painfully shallow gossip during the 2:00 hour on snow days by watching The Talk, the panel-style afternoon talk show that Ms. Tyler co-hosts along with Cheryl Underwood, Sharon Osbourne, Julie Chen, and Sarah Gilbert. I just can’t get enough of this lady.

So I also picked up her second book entitled Self-Inflicted Wounds” Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation. Not truly a memoir, nor really an essay collection, the book defies any kind of classification. Ms. Tyler first explains the concept of the self-inflicted wound, essentially an event of supreme pain, humiliation, shame, failure, etc. for which you have no one to blame but yourself. She then goes on to recount a series of said wounds experienced in her own life, from childhood up to now. The stories are humorous, well-told, and surprisingly (well maybe not too surprisingly because after all my girl did go to Dartmouth) ripe with wisdom and intelligence. They run the gamut from literal wounds, broken bones, and physical scars to emotional and psychological injuries. Unlike most of us, Aisha owns these shameful incidents with pride, never afraid to make fun of herself, point out her flaws, and pass on a good lesson learned. She fuses the funny with the sage, always coming up with some insight from each tale, no matter how silly and impractical or universal and true. This book even brings in the motivational/self-help genre, as Aisha pushes her readers and fans (as she loving refers to them, her army) to pursue their dreams and be okay with failing in an effort to achieve success (like she did). Really this book couldn’t challenge the boundaries of any single literary category more and that made me like it all the more.

Aisha’s playful idioms kept me smiling and her prodigious footnotes kept me in stitches – and I rarely, if ever, laugh aloud while reading. Since she’s a comedian for a living, I expected the book to be humorous but it takes a lot of smart to be this funny. And Aisha won’t let you forget her wit and wisdom, for as soon as she talks about doing something as stupid as lighting her own kitchen on fire or breaking her arm and then snowboarding down a mountain three more times before seeking medical attention, she turns around and composes a heartfelt, well considered essay about the homeless community of San Francisco or references a quote from a brilliant philosopher to remind you that there is some substance behind the wackiness. Tangents and asides are ripe in this one, but whenever Aisha gets off track, she comes back around to draw connections between the various topics knotted up in one little essay that are at once logical and hilarious. Highly pedantic, Aisha resorts to the type of vocabulary and references that prove her intellectual prowess more than a few times, although she never alienates readers with her smarts because it’s all in the service of humor. The girl can write and she does so with great care and personality and pizzazz.

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On Lydia Loveless

From the first twangy guitar riffs on the opening track off Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless wormed her way right on in to the alt-country corners of my heart. The Colombus, Ohio-based singer songwriter has proven musically irresistible with her fourth album, a brilliant blend of country straight out of the honky tonk and unapologetic punk rock. It’s damn hard not to compare Loveless’ vocals to those of Stevie Nicks or Bonnie Raitt, but her sound is unmistakably original and her big voice comes as a huge surprise once you see the petite 23-year-old it comes package in. Lyrically the album proves that the young but mature performer doesn’t take herself too seriously despite all the heartache and experience she’s got to sing about.

Unfortunately I can’t say that I’ve given the whole album a proper listen; so smitten as I am with the first six tracks, the remaining four see far fewer rotations. The 25 minute timing of my commute doesn’t help, especially since I love to both start my day and blow off steam on my ride home with the album’s rocking opener “Really Wanna See You Again,” a tune about the temptation, made worse by drug-induced emotionalism and lack of judgment, to contact an old, now-married lover. Another favorite about unrequited love is “Chris Isaak,” a deceptively optimistic song about remorse and doing things differently. “To Love Somebody,” the most poppy track on this release, is a meditation on the meaning, pains, responsibilities, and inconsistencies of being in love.

Despite the fact that most of these songs dwell on love lost and the hurting after a relationship goes awry, Somewhere Else isn’t an album just for the love-lorn. Rather it’s an intelligent, ambitious, and even fun reflection on intimacy that anyone can enjoy for both its songwriting and the musical joy it brings. More than that, it stands as another example of excellent  up and coming female singer songwriters worth paying close attention to.

 

 

 

 

On Letitia Vansant

I love for music to surprise me. It’s quite a rarity these days, when so much of what we hear on the radio is highly formulaic and over-produced. So it is a treat of the best order when you come across a true original, an artist whose refreshingly unfamiliar sound defies genre-classification and comparisons to similar artists. Although I wasn’t initially smitten with the first Letitia Vansant song I heard called “Macy’s Parking Lot,” I was hooked not even halfway through my first listen to her album.

Once again, I’ve got to hand it to local Baltimore radio station WTMD – true to their word, they helped me discover an incredible artist that I cannot imagine having discovered by any other means. Letitia Vansant’s album “Breakfast Truce” was featured on the independent station as their January Album of the Month, offering the Baltimore-based singer-songerwriter plenty of much deserved airplay all month long and beyond. Though “Macy’s Parking Lot” was her most popular cut on WTMD’s playlist, it wasn’t until I caught the tail end of “Brother Left the Mine” that I decided to listen to the entirety of this album my favorite radio station couldn’t stop plugging.

Following the Macy’s song, Vansant’s album opens with the plainly beautiful “Brother Left the Mine,” a track whose simplicity showcases Vansant’s abilities as a songwriter. Though the ensuing tracks have a cohesive flow, Vansant’s debut release demonstrates her wide range in both style and sound. “As I Was Told” rings with innocence and a poppy lightness, only to be followed by the darker haunting tune “The Bits and the Pieces.” A few tracks later, the folk-meets-country “Crick in My Neck” highlights the raspier side of Vansant’s vocals over a strings-driven tune. “The Notion” has an intriguingly French feel to it, plucky and sophisticatedly flirtatious. It’s remarkable that a song with so much personality features just Vansant’s lone guitar and vocals for its entire duration. And then the full musicality of “Man Enough” shortly follows, with its vaguely 90’s melody and more nuanced instrumentation. “Breakfast Truce” ends strong with the title song, a mournful track that draws on the soulfulness of Vansant’s voice. The cut sounds like a live lo-fi recording – I can’t help but picture Vansant belting it out from atop a stool on an otherwise bare stage in some dark basement bar.

Much as I have grown to adore the entirety of Vansant’s diverse album, my favorite number is undoubtedly “Parajita,” one of the most interesting tracks I’ve heard in far too long. Unlike many songs nowadays where you can sense what notes, sometimes even what lyrics, are coming next, this tune kept me on my toes, continually surprised by the instruments, sounds, and chord changes introduced. My first listen was a totally refreshing and addicting experience, and it has become the one song I jump to each and every time I power up Spotify.

With Letitia Vansant’s “Breakfast Truce,” I’ve discovered a brilliant female artist with a bright future, a catalogue of new songs to relish, one for nearly any mood in which I might find myself. Vansant’s raw talent is undeniable and, paired with her master  songwriting skills, allows Vansant to hone in on many of a wide range of emotions with remarkable musical precision.

On Female Vocalists and Healing

I’ve always found great solace in books, probably more so than most people. At times when I’ve felt most lost, alone, and confused, I’ve regained a sense of myself by revisiting those books with which I’ve most identified, a firm reminder of who I am. But when I experienced my first heartbreak – my first real, gut-wrenching, hopeless phase of inconsolable sobbing and impending doom at the thought of being without he who I had come to know so well – no piece of fiction could provide me with even a modicum of comfort. I’ve always been a lover of music, but never more so than when I was despondent and broken-hearted. It was during these times that songs provided companionship to me, more than any written word or kindly offered shoulder could.

Prior to my first heartbreak, female vocalists generally held little lasting appeal for me. It wasn’t that I categorically refused to listen to women singers, but rather that the songs I was most interested in were of a style that doesn’t lend itself to the female voice as well. It was mostly indie rock and alternative for me, but not yet the folksy ballads and substantial pop of artists like Laura Marling or Regina Spektor. I wanted music that moved me through beat and rhythm, rather than vocal beauty and lyric. My limited world experience barely resembles that of adult female artists. Since I didn’t relate to musicians of my sex, I stuck to what I knew – the omnipotent male voice of independent, alternative rock. Maybe it was my youthful immaturity or maybe I just hadn’t yet found the right voice from among the female offerings, but it wasn’t until my first broken heart that I could rightfully place any female artist among my favorites.

In the mournful words and music composed by Feist, Rachael Yamagata, and the like, I learned that my feelings of complete despair, false hope, and futile torment were not as unique as I had heretofore imagined. To most, that would seem all the more reason to lose hope, but not I. In finding their songs about unrequited love, imagining one’s ex-lover everywhere, and indulging oneself with mythical mental reunions, I learned that my heartbreak was not earth-shattering, in fact it was nothing new at all. I needed to hear a female perspective to recognize that successful and content women could emerge from the wreckage of long-term relationships fully intact. No male voice could cure my lonesomeness,  but these distinctive female songs of heartbreaks true and deeply felt allowed the intolerable pain of my experience some meager outlet. I gorged on the music which indulged these emotions without guilt or remorse. Finding these songs was like having arrived upon my own holy grail, a journey on which I never knew I had embarked until I arrived at my destination. These were the people who most fully helped me recover, find my own two feet again, and recognize that my heartbreak was nothing the world hadn’t seen before. The world was only going to continue turning and I had to keep up.

In time I was able to heal without fully relying upon those ladies in which I first found such grand solace. From the consolation within and the truth behind these women’s songs came the strength of solidarity, no matter how intangible and imaginary. Though I never spoke to these women directly, never confided in or personally encountered them, I drank up their empathy like a magic elixir to stimulate the healing process.

Now when I hear those songs, I grow nostalgic for that time of grief, recovery, and healing. It is not a sadistic notion but rather a longing for those formative months when I thought I was lost and broken. As cliche as the point is, out of heartbreaks come the most pure versions of ourselves. After a thorough period of nurturing and cleansing, we are left with an amazingly stunning picture of ourselves, a more clear and focused image with which we can better understand and identify our own nature. The important part is finding a consolation in someone or something, anything that nurtures and heals, and regaining the clarity of mind of finish that healing process for yourself. And I’d like to thank some of the following ladies for that.