Magic

Thawing the Ice: a Tarot Card Cast for March 2016

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: March is my least favourite month of the year. With truly insane weather and the anticipation of Spring in everyone’s minds, it always seems unnecessarily tense and generally unpleasant. Last year, the first brought a monster snowstorm to New York City, and I shivered my way through the month with curses on my breath and rubber boots on my feet. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this year needs to follow suit: we can’t change the weather, but we can change our outlook.

March CardCast

We may be feeling a little burned out, the emotional hangover from a tumultuous winter of highs and lows. It’s weighed on us heavily, and it’s affected more than just our mood. But winter is almost over and we’re beginning to catch glimpses of growth under the snow. Just like the crocus that pop up to tell us it’s all okay, that we survived another dismal, frozen season, we’re beginning to see signs of hope all around. Our creative fire is coming back, thawing the ice that’s stopped us cold in our tracks. Remember that renewal energy we felt last month? Well, we can’t fight it anymore. Why would we want to? We’ve put this off for way too long.

March CardCast

We still have some unfinished business to take care of before the month is out, but we’ll get it done. We need to clear some space in order to receive all the hot new energy coming in–clean out the spiritual closets to make room for what will become our Spring signatures. I know that it can be hard to let go of the old, especially when it’s something we’ve held onto for so long. But just like the pair of jeans you outgrew in highschool or the shoes you ran into the ground, there are some things that just stop serving a purpose in our lives. If we’re not careful, we can clutter up our lives with so many useless energies that there’s no room for the things we actually need. Embrace the new. Use this burst of energy to clear out all the winter muck. Remember: you can smother a flame with too much fuel.

March CardCast

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Reviews

Keep On Spinning: the Edit Review

As an early Millennial, I’ve watched a lot of technology rise and fall. My first computer was a simple DOS system, I can recite every Windows update in chronological order from 1990, and the sound of dial-up still haunts my dreams. As a life-long audiophile, I remember the thrill of finally owning my own portable CD player, realizing I was no longer limited to the narrow selection of bulky cassettes my parents kept in the car, even if the disc did skip every time we hit a bump. Stalking out the new CD singles was a weekend ritual, and finding a Sam Goody gift card tucked into a birthday card was like winning the lottery. Mp3s offered relief from the clutter of all those jewel cases, but I’ve always liked to keep physical copies of my favorite albums: like precious art objects, there’s something sacred to the physical record of a song. The grooves and pits of the recording are like a fingerprint of the artist.
That said, while I’d always been intrigued by the stack of Stones’ and Beatles’ albums my parents left to collect dust and the massive stack of 7” disco singles my grandmother had acquired through the years, I’d never really experienced vinyl. I collected a couple of my favorite albums as I found them in thrift stores or garage sales—ChangesOneBowie, Rebel Yell, Bloodflowers—but as my technologically gung-ho family tossed whatever they deemed dated, I had no way to really listen to them. And in a gesture that seems all too popular in my generation, I eschewed modern convenience for nostalgia by purchasing only a portable turntable to set the musical mood of my apartment. Little did I realize when I bought myself a used copy of First and Last and Always for just pennies more than my morning latte that I was about to have something like a Religious Experience of the Ears. It was an album I’d heard literally hundreds of times in various formats—CD, mp3, even recorded off someone else’s stereo on a cassette—but I’d never heard the depth of tone or richness that I was getting from this piece of carved-up plastic that was older than me. I was moved by nuances I’d never even noticed before, all channeled out of barely-there speakers in a device that looked like a briefcase. Clearly, this piece of plastic was something magical, and I fully intended to root out more.
turn, baby, turn
Luckily, vinyl is coming back. Like film photography and Super-8 video, there’s been a such a surge in interest that companies are starting to press records again. Hell, even Barnes and Noble has a section devoted to vinyl LPs. But what if you’re not looking for the new Adele album or an overpriced Elvis reissue? Where do you get your fix?
Enter the Edit. One part subscription service, one part personal shopper, the Edit is a daily text service that brings you a new, handpicked album or set with every message. How do they know what to suggest? Well, when you sign up, you’re asked to rate popular albums after providing your mobile number–the more albums you rate, the better the suggestions. Don’t worry, the rating process is more like Tinder than Consumer Report, and a simple swipe left or right tells the Edit all it needs to know. But don’t be discouraged if you still get some unpalatable choices–you can respond back to any text with a simple “LIKE” or “DISLIKE,” and the Edit logs that info. And if you don’t like something, you’re given the opportunity to request something else. I’ve snagged releases from Depeche Mode, remastered double LPs from the Cure, and a boxed collection of Floodland-era releases from the Sisters of Mercy.
Collection, Part I
Recently, the Edit offered up a double LP recording from Peter Murphy’s Wild Birds tour—needless to say, I jumped on it. I texted “yes” and got my confirmation, but hours later received another text saying my order was cancelled due to inventory issues. Disappointing, but I figured it just wasn’t meant to be. The next day, I woke up to a text saying they had gotten in a new shipment if I was still interested in ordering. This time, I my order was cancelled less than an hour after it was placed. Honestly, I was a little put off—why offer me something twice only to tell me I couldn’t have it? When my phone chimed the next day, I was surprised to see an apology and a credit for my troubles with the service. They explained that there had been an issue with their shipment and they didn’t want to sell defective product. Returns are free, but who wants the heartbreak of a broken record? Within the week, however, I received another offer for the elusive Wild Birds Live album, and my order was processed and shipped without cancellation. The marble-white double LP set was well worth the wait, and the Edit more than made up for the frustration of their back-end issues.
birds2
Whether you’re a newly-initiated vinyl enthusiast looking to expand your library or a seasoned collector seeking out the newest releases, the Edit is a fun, easy service with plenty to offer. There’s no obligation to purchase, though I can’t promise you won’t be incredibly tempted at least twice a week. The Edit’s texts have become a highlight of my day—with seemingly endless resources for inventory and intelligence, there’s always something interesting to offer. Go ahead–ask the Edit to track down that album you’ve been stalking out, or let them help you find your new favourite record. It’s quickly become my favourite subscription service, and with no membership fees or recurring charges, it’s one of my wallet’s favourites too!
Full disclosure: I have not been compensated to promote the Edit in any way, but if you like what you hear and sign up using one of the links above, I receive referral credit which helps me bring you more music- and vinyl-related content on the regular!
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Writing

Love Songs Don’t Lie: the Death of Romance, and a Valentine’s Day Playlist

Romance is dead. It was a devastating realization for someone who grew up on stories like the Phantom of the Opera and Wuthering Heights. I spent my childhood swishing around with stars in my eyes, writing my own love story in my head–my soulmate would see me in the opposite box at the opera, across a ballroom crowded with waltzing couples, drinking espresso at a sidewalk cafe, and instantly fall in love with my tumbling waves of raven hair, my fiery russet eyes, my almond-creme skin. He would find me irresistibly charming, witty, talented, and whisk me off to Paris, or New York, or Carpathia to love me til death and beyond. Every year, I waited for it to happen. It wasn’t an if, it was a when…

lilies
But ten years later with a string of volatile, unstable relationships behind me, I had lost faith. Romance was just another fairy tale, something reserved for novels and cinema, not something that happened to real people in everyday life and anyone who said otherwise was delusional. Those who had magical stories about meeting their partners were embellishing for presentation. There was no Heathcliff, there was no Erik, and my youthful ideas about true love were an embarrassing blip that time would eventually strike from the record. The stories I once loved now seemed pathetic. I told myself that it was all in the spirit of childhood fantasy, that I had simply grown up. So I swapped sighs for cynicism and swept it all behind me.
And then, one day, I found myself crying on 1st Avenue. It had suddenly occurred to me that I had resigned myself to a life of dull mediocrity, where things were convenient and accessible. Love songs and sonnets aren’t created from ambivalence. I had been moved to tears by a love song, one I had heard hundreds of times before—I realized that the romantic had never died, I had simply hidden her away. Romance is delicate, fragile. It can be wounded easily, and takes time and care to recover. I’ve always advocated self-invention, creating art out of life, yet I had completely ignored that particular plot point, leaving it all to chance in an often-hostile setting. But I also don’t believe in coincidences—standing that morning on the sidewalk, blinking back tears as I listened to lyrics, I knew something had been set in motion. I had opened up to the Universe, and the Universe never misses an opportunity to set things right.
city
If we’re being completely honest, part of me never stopped believing in love: I’ve always thrilled at vampire stories, paranormal romances—hell, I even stalked out wedding blogs. And despite a lifetime of truly disastrous events, Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. But since that fateful morning, I can fully count myself among the faithful. I love hearing about how couples met, I emotionally invest in relationships between fictional characters, and there have been many, many repeat performances of my sidewalk waterworks. It may sound sappy, naive, or radically uncool, but I believe my life is richer for it. It can be scary to open yourself up to something that might feel like nothing more than a pretty idea, but if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never see the reward. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be hurt, disillusioned, let down—it’s been worth every second of sadness to appreciate the happiness that can come from putting your trust into another human being, and watching the magic that happens when two people believe in a feeling.
the Lovers
This Valentine’s weekend, whether you find yourself banding together with friends, painting the town with a lover, or comfortably at home with family, consider your emotions. Where do they come from? Are they from the heart, from the core of your soul? Have you dredged whatever deep, labyrinthine recesses you hide under the surface? Or are you sitting safely in the shallows, feeling from the surface? Open up. The Universe is listening.
If you need some inspiration, I put together a Spotify playlist to serenade you. Inside, you’ll find some heartbreaking love songs, some smoldering seductions, songs for soulmates, and just-for-the-moment lovers. No matter where you are, there’s magic to be found: it turns out, love songs don’t lie.

 

Illustration from the Shadowscapes Tarot, by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
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Fashion

the Semiotics of Style: Identity as Art and Expression

You must be an artist.”
What band are you in?
Where are you shooting?”
My family never failed to marvel at the questions I’m asked by total strangers, some of whom have crossed streets or held up lines to ask advice in whatever field they think I’m in. “It’s so funny,” my mother will whisper. “How do they know?”
To me, the answer is plain: they can read my style. Each piece I wear, each choice I make is indicative of an influence, an icon or industry. To those in the know, everything is a symbol: the semiotics of style. It may be what’s inside that counts, but the outside can be a language used to decode the mysteries within. It’s a language that takes years to cultivate, and one that never stops evolving. Some of us take to it naturally, knowing just what to put on and pair to communicate our interests and ideas; others take years trying to gain fluency.
Stevie Nicks Self Portrait
For creative people, each article we wear, each hairstyle, lip colour, accessory, is a statement. We indicate our interests, our quirks, our differences on the outside—sometimes as fluid and gracefully as our creative pursuits, sometimes a little clumsier. I can’t even begin to count the awkward teenage translations I mucked up to communicate my still-developing identity. Sometimes, we plagiarize—in my own adventures in style, one could easily see Siouxsie’s brows, Robert Smith’s Hair, Stevie Nicks’ gypsy layers, Mana’s exaggerated lip color. Before I developed my own dialect, I lifted language directly from others. Like a child, we learn through imitation. We might try on so many other identities, learn so many different ways of speaking before honing in on what best communicates us to others. And after years of practice, gaining fluency and command of our new language, we allow these assumed identities to accent our individual voices.
Identity is my favourite medium. I admire skillful painting, and I marvel at musical composition, but every artist I can count among my favorites worked endlessly in cultivating not only their artistic skills but also their identity. Joel-Peter Witkin’s infamy is due not only to his strange, abject photography, but also the mythology that shrouds him. Edward Gorey illustrated countless works of whimsical fiction, but his larger-than-life character earned him a place in the public eye. David Bowie shape-shifted from character to character in order to immerse his audience in the fantastic worlds he conceived of. Andy Warhol not only became his own masterpiece of commercial culture, but also kept a veritable gallery of experimental identities. In my opinion, Candy Darling and Edie Sedgwick are infinitely more finely-crafted art objects than any silkscreened disaster or painted Brillo Box.
the Factory regulars
We’re often told to “dress for the job we want, not the job we have.” By trying on identities and learning the language of personal style, we explore not only our relationship with the world around us, but our deepest desires in life. Motivational speakers and life coaches will add that definite statements of success will help manifest goals—“I will be collected in the MoMA,” “I will write a NY Times best seller.” When you say these things with outward style, the sentiment is echoed back at you, which not only stokes the flame of our long-term goals, but also gives the immediate gratification of instant success—“you must be a rock star,” “I can tell you’re an artist.”
Walking through my neighborhood the other day, I passed a man who spoke volumes to me without ever saying a word. At a glance, I could tell what music he listened to, what places he frequented, what books he likely read, what shows he’d probably seen. —and in the fleeting instant our eyes connected, I wondered how he read me with my sea-witch hair and my waxed black jeans. It was clear as he stood on that corner in his matched tartan plaid bondage trousers and field jacket, taking long drags from a gnarled cigarette, that he had spoken this language far longer than I. He had settled comfortably in his manner of speech years ago. I wondered if he saw me as a foreigner still building my vocabulary, or as a modern polyglot chameleon, shifting from one language to another according to habitat. I could read his bleach-burned hair and bovver boots, but did my vintage frames and abundant silver jewelry translate to him?
David Bowie, Hadden Hall
Whether conversation-casual or professional-proper, our outward presentations say a lot to people. They can read our drives and desires before we ever open out mouths. We are art objects as much as anything we create, and we should take pride in our fluency and expressions. Popular opinion has shifted lately, placing the responsibility of style on the outside world—that we dress for other people, to please society, draw sexual interest, or squeeze into a designated role. But when considered as a form of expression, making these statements about style is like saying that artists produce work solely to please the public—and any artist can tell you that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Artists create work to convey ideas and concepts dear to them, to articulate points that may not be otherwise heard. They create to satisfy a deep need to express what’s going on inside. So too is style—we ought to adorn ourselves out of that same expressive drive. My hair isn’t blue in order to attract men or set myself apart from society, it’s a statement of self: “I am an exotic bird, a creature of my own creation.”
The next time you dress for the day, pause for a moment before the mirror. What are you saying today? Where did that expression stem from? From whom have you learned your visual language? Are you satisfied—even mores, are you happy? Express yourself. Exorcise those thoughts and feelings, pull yourself inside-out and look at your signs and signifiers as they manifest. What kind of life do they indicate? Life and art aren’t the tag-team separates we paint them to be—they are one in the same. Art doesn’t imitate life—life is art, and it begins with you. You are your own masterpiece. Speak out proudly.
Photo Credits: Self Portrait by Stevie Nicks, Factory Group Shot by Andy Warhol, David Bowie Hadden Hall 1972 by Mick Rock
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Magic

Refresh and Renew, a Tarot Card Cast for February 2016

CardCast Feb 2016

Whether you’re lighting a white pillar for Imbolc or waiting for news from a groundhog, we’re halfway through it–we can officially see the other side of winter. There are plenty of reasons to be happy to wave goodbye to January: personal strife, dreary weather, readjustments and resolutions… but we’ve done it! We’ve officially made it into February!

Cardcast Feb 2016

February brings the Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, and this year, even a calendar-extending Leap Day, but most importantly, it brings us that much closer to Spring. With the sun in revolutionary Aquarius, our motivation kicks back into gear, and with Mars in Scorpio, we’re finally getting to the bottom of why–and knowing is half the battle. This month, we’ve finally found the energy to melt the freeze, wash off the sludge, and move forward. The temptations of winter–complacency, over-indulgence, malaise–aren’t so appealing now that we’ve caught the fire of renewal. Goals are becoming clearer, more concise, and looking more attainable than ever: your personal power has been slowly growing, like a bulb under the snow, and now you’re ready to bloom. You have everything you need to become the person you foresaw when you imagined 2016: use this energy to reconnect with yourself, reinvent yourself–remember, this is your time. You are not what others think you are, or what they need you to be. You are your own.

CardCast Feb 2016

But everything in moderation. Balancing your spiritual well-being with your worldly success is important: working too hard in one area or the other can throw the entire effort. Be patient and kind to yourself–you’re still learning, and you always will be. Every failure, like every success, brings opportunities for reflection. Use them. Everything is on your side.

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Art

Art and Grief, a Legacy of Loss

As human beings, we share certain experiences. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve experienced the deep and profound heartbreak that comes with losing that life. They become part of your daily rituals, from feeding them in the morning to cuddling up at night. They rely on you to tend to their needs, and they love you unconditionally for it. No matter what you go through, who hurts you or how you self-destruct, pets are there for you. This month, I’ve lost not one, but two animal companions, including my best childhood friend, Paco. Since I was 12 years old, Paco has been with me for every trial and tribulation that comes with growing up. He was there for sleepovers with friends and giggly adolescent parties, and he was there when I cried over teenage spats and family feuds. He comforted me through intense medical treatments and saw me through countless heartaches. For 16 years, he left his mark on every article of clothing I owned and every piece of furniture in my family’s home. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me Saturday morning, plucking his hair off a sweater that hadn’t seen daylight since last winter, knowing I wouldn’t be doing it again.

Paco

This January has been full of grief, from mourning a lifelong hero, navigating the illness and death of one pet, to coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of another. I’m not proud to admit that it’s effected my productivity–sleepless nights and mornings spent bargaining one’s way out of bed doesn’t lend itself well to getting things done. But that can only go on for so long. Grief needs to be experienced, but then it needs to be worked through and dispersed.

As an artist, I’ve always processed my emotions through projects–paintings, drawings, essays. John Lydon has said that anger was his primary driving source, Yayoi Kusama painted to stave off mental illness. It’s a common experience amongst artists: no matter your medium, you work through your feelings by producing work. So many amazing works of art have been made as a response to grief–Francis Bacon painted several tributes to his lover George Dyer after his 1971 suicide, and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (among so many other artists) worked through the grief of wartime by creating truly profound pieces. Barthes wrote his classic essay, Camera Lucida, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, and it contains some mindblowing, heartwrenching thoughts on mortality and its inherent role in art. On some level, I think death is a driving motivation behind all artistic pursuits: the artist creates work to fight against his or her own mortality, unsatisfied with a life that leaves nothing living in its wake.

Julia, marked, in 19-something

 

 

In the days since these personal tragedies, I’ve dived headfirst into my work. I’ve sought catharsis in ink and paper, writing new words, working in new media. For some, the imagery of my recent experiments will be perfectly obvious. They’re not a “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” but it’s the beginning of something, some way to understand the role of these lost lives through the kaleidoscopic lens of my own artistic journey. If we are the sum of our collective experience, then the individuals and ideas that impress themselves upon you are also part of that equation. And lately, my work as been entirely about exploring that link been identity and influence. Last year, that mostly meant pouring through photo albums, briefly peering into the lives of anonymous relatives, tied to me only through blood and universal experiences: labour, laughter, love…

Love, circa 19-Something

 

The pain of loss never really leaves us entirely–ten, twenty, forty years from now, we’ll still feel pangs of grief recalling beloved pets, departed family, friends that left too soon. But rather than losing time, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, use the memories as fuel for the creative fire. The death of someone close is absolute agony, but there is no greater heartbreak than a life gone unlived. Feel your sadness, grieve your losses, but process the pain into something positive. You can’t control when your time is up, but you can construct the legacy you leave. Let’s make this one count…

Self Portrait, Two Decades Removed

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Music

A Solitary Candle: the mystery of symbolism in Bowie’s Blackstar

Blackstar
From the moment I saw the strange, beautiful, baffling video for “Blackstar,” I knew there was much more to David Bowie’s new release than we initially see. Even beyond the avant-garde sound and experimental influences, there was something going on behind the music and lyrics that left my mind buzzing. By the time “Lazarus” was released, I was positive there were some deeply esoteric forces at work behind the scenes.
It’s no secret that Bowie steeped himself in the occult–he obsessively studied the work of master magician Aleister Crowley during his years in Berlin, but references to the Wickedest Man in the World begin as early as Hunky Dory. It’s a common phenomenon that people return to religion at the end of their lives, but Bowie was never one to take well-traveled roads. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw the visual references littered throughout the “Blackstar” video. “Uniform of imagery,” indeed…
Major Tom, Catacomb Saint
It began with the astronaut’s corpse. We last saw Major Tom somewhere in space, significantly less human than his previous incarnations. We bid him farewell and buried him in moon dust. But “Blackstar” sees him ressurrected, his skeleton bejeweled, made precious again in death. In this sense, the album itself is something of a catacomb saint: while many would have heard the chant-like harmonies and avant-garde progressions and dismissed them as the inaccessible musings of an artist who had officially done it all before, Bowie’s death turned the release into something magical. It becomes a relic, one final token to remind us of the miraculous career he had as an artist. It’s impossible to look at a Van Gogh or Rothko without thinking of the painters’ untimely ends: Blackstar will likely become a work inseparable from its author’s death. But I don’t necessarily think Bowie meant it to be anything else. It was timed and released specifically to coincide with his passing. This was a sign off.
Excavated from the ruins, Saint Tom is taken by a young girl with a tail—video director Johan Renck said Bowie had specifically requested the tail, but wasn’t quite sure why. Bowie himself dismissed it as something merely sexy, but nothing in this video is merely anything. The tail only made sense to me when I put it in the context of the setting, presumably the Villa of Ormen, as referenced in the lyrics. Ormen, it turns out, is not only the name of a town in Norway, it also translates in English as “serpent.” So that Villa of Ormen becomes the Town of the Serpent, and the girl with the tail could be seen as a sort of uncoiled Ouroboros. In retrieving the skull and bringing it back to the people of Ormen, she repurposes it as an object of worship, beginning a new cycle in Tom’s story. The feverish, vibrating dance performed by the worshippers immediately reminded me of voodoo—the possessed devotees in ecstasy before Ghede Tom, now an icon of death and life, sex and oblivion.
Ghede Tom
And this isn’t even where things get strange. In researching some of the symbolism in this post, I fell down an internet rabbit hole of weird. In addition to theories about terrorism, Robert Chambers, and everything in between, I came across a peculiar tumblr account filled with hypnotically creepy images directly corresponding to lyrics and themes not only in “Blackstar” and its music video, but also to the album’s second single, “Lazarus.” But the Villa of Ormen tumblr was created within hours of “Blackstar’s” release, and a full month and change before any hint of “Lazarus.” Needless to say, it’s created a stir
So what do we make of this beautiful, brain-rattling mess of symbols left for us to ponder? Maybe it alludes to Bowie’s ultimate spiritual leanings, or his return to the Gnostic fold; maybe it’s the wrap-up for a character Bowie felt had outlived his purpose again. Maybe Bowie was warning us about his own death and we all missed the message—or maybe it was just a great story, period. There may not be any connection with Chambers after all, but I think it’s safe to say that like the King in Yellow, the brilliance of “Blackstar” and its timing, its mystery, and its relation to its author’s death will drive us all mad in admiration.
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Music

Look Up Here, I’m in Heaven: Mourning David Bowie, the New York Vigil

The chorus of Manson’s “Heart-Shaped Glasses” jarred me awake just after 3AM. My phone was ringing for the second time that night–it was my sister. With one eye open, I flicked the silencer and put it back on the nightstand. I hadn’t seen the flood of text messages that was coming in, nor the countless Facebook messages and tags I had gotten. I went back to sleep like nothing had happened.

Roses for Bowie

“I’m so sorry.” It was 8AM, and my boyfriend woke me up. “It’s really bad news.” I ran down a mental list of what could have happened, bracing myself for the worst–cancelled plans, a sold-out tour, a family emergency. The death of a lifelong idol and role model never even crossed my mind. Even when I heard the news that David Bowie had passed away, it seemed unreal–his 69th birthday was days ago, he had released a brand new album and two music videos. He had never felt more alive to me than he had just days before, while I listened to Blackstar, pulling apart lyrics to analyze the occult themes and esoteric influences. It was all impossible.

Altar of Bowie

I have never been one for idol worship. I’ve never imagined myself weeping at news of a celebrity death, but there I was, laying in bed, tearing up about the passing of a man I had never met. David Bowie and I had never shared more than New York airspace, but he had touched so much in my life. If ever there had been a model for the phoenician cycle of rebirth and reinvention that I live by, it was David Bowie. From humble beginnings as a soulful saxophone player, Bowie reimagined himself as a junky astronaut, an alien messiah, a decadent schizophrenic, and a hard-edged romantic. So many identities came and went over his career, heralding new musical styles, total image overhauls, and driving philosophies, that it’s sometimes difficult to think of Bowie as a singular entity. That doesn’t even account for his film characters–the Man Who Fell to Earth recently experienced new life in the off-Broadway Lazarus, and his infamous Goblin King set my nearly-unreachable standards for romance in Labyrinth. In fact, the news of Bowie’s death felt like the final nail in the coffin for my childhood.

Thanks for making my childhood...

Staring at my ceiling this morning, it seemed ironic that Bowie’s last single was “Lazarus” (“Look up here, I’m in Heaven!/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen/I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen/Everybody knows me now/Look up here, man, I’m in danger”). In fact, Blackstar as a whole is laced with references to mortality and resurrection, spoken both plainly in vernacular and in the language of master magicians and occultists. It’s a common phenomenon to turn to religion at the end of life, and it seems Bowie was no exception in his own way–the esoteric album was specifically planned to coincide with the end of his life. The release of “Lazarus” was a very particular choice.

Idol Worship

While the a world without Bowie is difficult for my millennial brain to comprehend, the post-Bowie world is richer for the legacy he leaves. From glam to goth, David Bowie had his hands in everything. I can’t think of a single musical artist I admire who would not count him among their top influences. His finger was perpetually on the pulse of popular culture–the drug-addled space man of the 60’s, the bisexual, androgynous alien saviour of the 70’s, the global superpower of the 80’s, and now, the catacomb saint resurrected.

Tribute

This evening, my sister and I stood on Lafayette Street waiting to pay tribute to our fallen idol, clutching cameras with frozen fingers and shivering as much with emotion as cold. Strangers were crowded around the block, and I was struck by the variety of people around me–a young couple in front of us touched hands as they snapped pictures of the line on their phones, while a man behind us rubbed tearing eyes while he stared at the glitter-strewn sidewalk. A middle-aged woman in a puffy purple coat held a massive bouquet of magenta roses, and her friend carried a moon-shaped sign to lay on the pile. This afternoon, I saw newscasters and photographers buzz about to capture tourists in parkas and soccer-moms with their stacked bobs laying bouquets of pastel flowers against the wall. Flamboyant, lite-brite expressionists and conservative, steel-faced professionals alike contemplated the sprawl of prayer candles and memorial portraits with a shared sense of gravity while I snapped photos on black and white film on an antique camera. Now, somewhere down the block, “Space Oddity” played out and the crowd sang in unison, clapping together to punctuate the music: nothing unified these people except Bowie–he had touched their lives, changed their personal histories, and here they gathered to mourn their rock and roll saviour.

Tribute

 

It seems impossible that Bowie is gone–he is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary musical minds of our time. But I can’t bring myself to join in the chorus of “rest in peace,” not because I don’t want the best for his soul, his family, his legacy, but because he was so prolific, so varied and far-reaching that I can’t help but pray for perpetual, prolonged exposure. Blackstar is fresh in the public eye, its singles still running the circuits. They’ve still got a ways to go. They still have work to do. Surely, such a driven, ambitious spirit won’t retire simply because the body that contained it for 69 years has expired. It will find a way to endure.

Tribute

–and so I leave you with that spirit’s latest expression, David Bowie’s final video, the truly genius, utterly heartbreaking, remarkably profound “Lazarus.” Godspeed, Bowie–you really are free.

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Music

Where Are We Now? The Musical Milestones of 2015 in Review

2016 comes with promises of big new releases from so many artists–David Bowie drops an album later this week, and that’s just the second week of January. I, for one, am on the edge of my seat for what’s to come. New albums can set the entire soundtrack for your life, and new releases serve as milestones to measure against–I know I’m looking back at where I was when Bowie’s last album reached my ears, looking at how far I’ve come since I drove around memorizing the lyrics to “Where Are We Now?” –and I know 2015 will be measured against some seriously killer albums in memory. I’ve rounded up some of the most memorable releases of 2015, albums that will forever live in my mind as markers of where I was and where I’ll go.

By the time the Pale Emperor was released in January, I had all ready been stalking critical reviews and sneak peaks for a while. In fact, I had tickets for Marilyn Manson‘s corresponding tour before the CD I pre-ordered ever hit my mailbox. Despite the fact that Born Villain wasn’t everything I had hoped it to be, I had high hopes for his 9th studio album–I recognized the more classic goth-rock influences he had drawn on for Villain (that very Bauhaus verse in “the Gardener,” tho) and I was hoping for more. I could tell by the third track (and “the Third Day…”) that what Manson brought was less Bauhaus and more blues–this was the soulful, sophisticated Manson, the Mephistopheles of Los Angeles in bespoke suits and Italian leather so far removed from the Antichrist Superstar who shocked us with bondage and blood. “Cupid”‘s witch drums might have pounded for the television series Salem, but the magic of this album was more hoodoo than witchcraft–the murky throb of “the Birds of Hell Awaiting” transported me straight to the banks of the Mississippi River. While I walked around New York with my headphones on, I dreamed of New Orleans for months. –Sure, Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals are classics, but the Pale Emperor, arguably his most mature offering to date, sits very steadily at the top of my favourite Manson albums.

The Maine doesn’t fit my usual musical profile–they’ve gone from pop-punk to classic rock and roll, and their Arizona roots give them a certain down-home flare that normally wouldn’t appeal to me. But since my sister played Pioneer ad nauseam over so many family car trips, I’ve developed a soft spot for them. When “English Girls” went live in February, I could tell something was different. The hint of 90’s Rock I had heard in Pioneer and Forever Halloween was back with a totally new energy behind it, turning it playful and nostalgic rather than brooding and edgy. That’s not to say that edge was gone–American Candy dropped in March, and along with it came some seriously moody tracks. Listen to “24 Floors,” really hear the words, and try not to cry. Go ahead, I dare you. “Am I Pretty?” undoubtedly strikes a chord for their longtime teenage fans, but anyone who’s ever been insecure about their social footing can identify–the same is true for most tracks on this strikingly self-aware album. Despite that, it’s one of my go-to feel-good albums, mellow without sedating, fun but reflective.
I was raised on the complexities of Baroque music and I found a familiar thrill in the classically-touched art rock of Muse. I spent so many summers rocking out to Origin of Symmetry and passed chilly winters with AbsolutionBlack Holes and Revelations had its own place in my car for years. When the Resistance tour came to town, I nabbed tickets without a second thought. So when the 2nd Law happened…well…let’s just say it was a tough break. Their last four albums were practically perfect–it sounds a little irrational that I’d let one lackluster release break my heart, but as far as I was concerned, Muse were all but disbanded. Which is why Drones almost escaped my notice. When Spotify told me it dropped in June, my reaction was basically “may as well.” Talk about underestimation. From the opening strains of “Dead Inside,” I could tell my Muse was back. Although they sport some heavily political lyrics, the new tracks are full of the aggressive energy I enjoyed from Absolution and Resistance. “Mercy,” with its oddly predictable stadium-rock vibe and the second single off the album, seemed a strange follow up considering the strength of other tracks like “Reapers” or “the Handler” (though the first was used as a promotional single on YouTube)–but it charted fairly high in the US, so I guess I’m in the minority. “Revolt,” November’s third single offering, was much more my speed (though only Belgium seemed to agree).
Say what you want, Duran Duran is still one of my all-time favourite bands, and 2010’s All You Need Is Now remains one of my favourite albums period. I didn’t question their summer tour before I had tickets in hand, but when I heard they were releasing a new album I properly flipped. The single was released that same week, an upbeat, super-poppy collaboration with Janelle Monáe and Nile Rodgers (of disco heavyweights Chic, and former producer for Duran) called “Pressure Off,” followed quickly on by promotional releases of a handful of other tracks–including the title track, Paper Gods. The album officially dropped in September, and with it a deluxe version featuring three bonus tracks (seen above between my teeth)–it’s a great collection of dance tracks, and the upbeat pop tunes were a fantastic soundtrack for stress-free, (dare I say?) cheerful commuting, but I felt like the album lacked the meat of some of its predecessors. –that is, until I saw some of the new tracks performed live. “Last Night in the City,” and “Danceaphobia” come alive on stage (and without Lindsay Lohan’s deadpan narration), and the band’s energy added an entirely new layer of emotion to more lyrical tracks like “What Are the Chances?” (In fact, the new stuff is so good live, I saw them three times during their promotional tour–they’ll be back this summer with the official production!) That said, “Face for Today” feels like what I loved most about their 2010 release–a driving beat, infectious tune, and a chorus that sticks in your head for hours, and “the Universe Alone,” with its soaring melody and throbbing beat, is a beautiful song with some seriously provocative lyrics.
I liked the 1975‘s self-titled release as much as the next girl (which is to say a lot), but “Robbers” can only get me so far. When my sister texted me that a new single was live online, I was on Spotify in record time–“Love Me” was the first release since their rosy rebrand, and I was dying to see whether the colour had creeped into their shoegazey sound. The answer was an instant and resounding yes, it had–with a funky baseline and soaring synth, the new track is disarmingly fun, fantastically retro, and actually downright danceable. Don’t worry, ladies: it’s still got the heat of their previous singles–you might not want to watch the corresponding video in polite company. Though released digitally as a single, their next full album (with its title totally chock-full of words) won’t drop until the end of February. To tide us over, they leaked another track, “Ugh,” in charmingly vintage style on the radio. If you’re hungry for more, it’s worth listening to the band’s interview on what’s to come–I’ve all ready got it on order (and on pink vinyl!) to devour as soon as possible.
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Writing

(Un)lost: the magic of New Years and an open letter to 2016

Change happens. Time marches on and we’re all left to put together the pieces left behind. Every year, at 11:59 on 31st December, we hold our breath and wait for change to wash over us. It comes in effervescent waves of champagne, noisy blows of party horns and the drunken cries of elated strangers. For one beautiful instant, we’re all united in our desire for change, looking with fresh eyes at the first moments of the new year, dripping with possibility and sparkling confetti. Wishes hang in the air like raindrops, washing away the negativity of the expired year.

Somewhere beneath 53rd St, the last few seconds of 2015 drowned in the strains of an upbeat 80’s pop song. I turned to my boyfriend and closed my eyes as we greeted 2016 together in a kiss, mentally listing my goals for the new year in a ritual older than I can remember. Familiar strangers patted shoulders and shook hands, united in the experience of watching the resurrection of the year. Some ten blocks downtown, Times Square was still a tangle of bodies, littered with coloured paper inscribed with the wishes of tens thousands. Despite the frenetic energy all around me, there was something so natural about the fresh new year. I all ready felt at home in its round, even digits mere moments in.

2015 was a year of adjustments: I spent the first half of the year adjusting to a new city, a new apartment, a new school. I adjusted my courses, my major, my career. I adjusted to new rolls within my family, my friendships, and my personal life. Some of it was incredibly trying, painful, intimidating. Some of it brought more happiness than I knew was possible. 2015 brought with it moments I will undoubtedly recall forever among the best and the worst, and for all of them, I am grateful. But 2016 is here, and with it come new lessons.

For years, I’ve sat on the floor with my cards some time after midnight and drawn for the coming year: one initial card for each month with an additional card or two for additional insight, creating a twelve-spot circle before me, laying a single card in the middle for the general theme of the year as a whole. In 2016, amongst an assortment of ambitious wands and root-laying pentacles, that central card spoke of letting go, moving forward, and looking to the future. While this reading was a personal one, meant for my own meditative purposes, I can’t think of a better message to move into the new year.

from the Thoth deck

from the Thoth deck

Whether 2015 was a dream come true or a waking nightmare, it’s time to put it to bed. It’s time to process the past, take an inventory of lessons learned, and suit up for the journey ahead. 2016 can take you to fantastic new places as long as you’re ready to make the trip. Even if the past is full of heartbreak and hardship, it can be hard to leave. The past is familiar, and familiar is comfortable. We know where we’ve been, and it’s so easy to stay there. 2016 challenges you to look beyond the horizon, to trust that the wild unknown is better than the beaten path, that your destination is still ahead. There will be thorns to dodge, storms to weather, bridges to cross, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and fortune favours the bold. 2016 begs you to be bold. I can’t help but hear John O’Callaghan in my head, singing words I never knew would be so relevant when I first heard them in March–

Unaware of where I’m going
Or if I’m going anywhere at all
But I know I’ll take the leap
If it is worth the fall
So long as the blood keeps flowing
I’ll set a sail and swim across
I’m not looking to be found
Just want to feel (un) lost

So, 2016, take it slow, control what you can, confront what you can’t, and always remember how lucky you are to have yourself. Whether 2016 is “our” year remains to be seen, but I can pretty much guarantee it’s a step down the right path.

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