As an adolescent, I had a habit of watching too much stand-up comedy. Every Friday night, when there were football games and dances I was too anxious to attend, I would fall asleep to whatever performer I could find on Comedy Central Presents, and all was right with my life as long as I could laugh. I think I inherited this habit from my family, whose core philosophy — if they were to choose one — would center humor as a way to communicate with and understand others. My little brother used to tell me he could make anyone laugh once he got to know them. My mother told me how she laughed at her brother’s funeral, only because crying would have been too difficult. Not to mention she remembered how much my late uncle made her smile.
“Hotlanta” is a groovy Allman Brothers track. It also nicknames a humid sprawl with an area of about 8,300 square miles which has generated its fair share of Confederate battle-flag toting libertarians and trap superstars. For the past 20 years, the city has risen in notoriety, mostly for its music culture. Outkast’s Southernplayalistikcadillacmuzik includes a tongue-in-cheek sketch announcing that despite its states’ racist flag, Atlanta is “the new Motown of the South.” I doubt Andre and Big Boi knew how true those words would 20 years later, when Lil Yachty and Migos top the charts with no signs of fatigue in sight. Donald Glover cemented a vision of Atlanta as a haze of concrete.
From ages 11-15 my outfit of choice amounted to a t-shirt of my favorite metal band, my pale-ass shaved head, and a pair of khaki shorts to beat the heat. The band on the shirts varied. The trend began with messy Slipknot and Tool and System of a Down shirts (metal snobs feel free to roll your eyes) and ended with the designs of Mastodon’s Blood Mountain plastered across my torso. I wore them for a lot of reasons, some of which had to do with how much I enjoyed sneering at the cute little middle schoolers who got weirded out by my fashion taste. But first and foremost I came to school in these morbid cotton nightmares because I thought the music was rad as hell.
Since Trump was elected, I am bothered every day by a certain set of questions and anxieties. Whenever I go on a news site or look at a paper, our current president apparently fits the bill of tyranny wearing a fresh set of big boy underpants. He has begun an enormous upheaval of all values we carried closely to our hearts. Truth, facts, common decency—these diamond American ideals have gone out the window. Meanwhile, the media stands by professionally wide-mouthed.
Admittedly, during times of intense crisis or panic, most people aren’t running around asking what the poets think. My own interpretation of this fact is not that people don’t care what poets have to say. It’s rather that they don’t believe in any reason for listening to them (a faulty judgement that I suppose amounts to the same result). If we experience social upheaval, for example, what good would reading Wordsworth do? If we encounter history in palpable manifestations, why read a poet to understand that history?
Maybe the oddest thing about the television show Reno 911! was how little work needed to be put in for a mid-2000s cable TV stint to become something unique and inventive. The show was founded mostly on a collection of whims by alumni of the infamous mid ’90s sketch comedy troupe The State, specifically Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver, whose endeavor Viva Variety had ended shortly beforehand on Comedy Central. Simply put, it’s a fake cop documentary about the Reno Nevada Sheriff’s Department, only the police aren’t depicted as heroes. Instead, they’re portrayed as magnificent buffoons.
From about age 15-17 I played bass for my high school’s in-house Christian worship band. Each Thursday once a week we would gather our gear in the chapel for a run-through of the classic standards our audiences had come to know with every Sunday of every month of every year. We jammed around. We sang pristine 21st century Christian music, which often sounded as if some type of cliché folk-indie band had encountered divine inspiration. It was usually fun, not to mention the shows.
“The MacDonald’s Man” folds the highbrow seriousness of literature in on itself. People come out and denounce it not as a poem, but as “good poetry.” Well I do think it’s a good poem, but for different reasons.
For the past twenty years the Academy of American Poets, with support from a number of big-name publishers and bookstores, has christened the month of April “National Poetry Month.” The Academy now claims that National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world. Each year it amasses plenty of support, due in some part I imagine to the simplicity and ease with which one can engage with poetry. If you’re running short of ideas, the Academy’s website suggests memorizing poems, showing other people your favorite poems and even asking your representatives in local government to issue proclamations in support of National Poetry Month (that last one is very real). It also suggests specific books to buy and particular essays to write, quite a number of which lead back to the Academy of American Poets. I find it pretty difficult to think about National Poetry Month from a critical standpoint.
Tim Hecker has always made physical music. His pieces target not only the mind or the emotions. They also aim at the body. Beyond the usual heart and soul, Hecker’s compositions induce quivers and shakes up and down the skin. Sentiments of love or hurt — the expected, comfortable motifs — fade out and give way to sensations of terror and reverence.