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Things that saved me this year / by Jenn Pelly

On New Year's Day I texted a friend "2013" to which he replied "2013." Staring at these numbers, I foolishly expected that I had it all figured out, that I knew exactly what I would learn and make and see this year, and of course I was all wrong. You can't see a year looking forward. I spent a lot of time frustrated; nonetheless, I am a big fan of this moment, right now. Liz said I only have one hour to finish writing this so I am going to work under the wise premise of FIRST THOUGHT / BEST THOUGHT.

DREAM I HAD: In April, on the recommendation of a friend, I walked to a tea shop in Chinatown that was covered inside by Christmas lights and cloves of garlic. My plan was to buy African Dream Root Tea, which Mike said would give me vivid dreams, and I wanted to dream more. "Who told you we sell this," the woman beyond the counter asked, her eyes darting. I explained. She pulled a ceramic jar down from behind the counter and made me read three sheets of instructions before making the sale. My grandma said she would give me $20 to not drink it. As it turns out I did not need the tea anyway. My dreams were full of misery and terror and wacky as fuck this year all on their own, I had more nightmares than ever. When you spend all of your waking hours thinking about music, like me, sometimes certain bands become lodged into your memory… For example, this summer I dreamt that one of my favorite bands went on tour in Europe and started hating each other and broke up and somehow it was my fault. Earlier this year I spent a lot of time writing about Milk Music and Gun Outfit and one day I had a dream that members of both those bands and Calvin Johnson were being interviewed on Hot 97, the New York rap station I wake up to every morning. That was probably my favorite. I gave the tea to Carrie B. last week.

DREAM I WAS TOLD: My mom told me that when she was pregnant with me and Liz she had "a recurring dream that Nancy Sinatra was about the size of a Barbie doll, and every time I opened the kitchen pantry cabinets, she was in there on the shelf dancing with her entourage to that song. As soon as I would close the door, it would stop. Open the door, they would start singing ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ where they left off the last time I closed the door! I never forgot that dream!!!"

SHOW: What an impossible task, I had so many unreal live music experiences in 2013; and tonight I'm going to see Patti Smith! The first time my sister saw PRIESTS she texted me and said she felt like she'd experienced the energy of seeing Fugazi; any time I saw Priests was completely mind-blowing. Watching MERCHANDISE and DESTRUCTION UNIT play the bridge in Austin felt sacred. Another highlight was the RADIATOR HOSPITAL show at Suburbia, a basement venue in Bushwick that was started a couple of years ago by some kids I know from high school. There are artifacts from Long Island hardcore shows all over the living room/show space and there is a Promise Ring poster in the bathroom. The basement was dark and there was a shelf lined with burning candles behind the band and everyone screamed all the words. Oh yeah, I saw KATHLEEN HANNA play for the first time this year with her band THE JULIE RUIN! I cried.

BOOK: A few that come to mind immediately: a little book called SILENCE AS YOGA that I bought after an upsetting doctor's appointment (ugh Western medicine!) and re-read many times this year, as well as readings from the YOGA SUTRAS. I read and re-read the Aaron Cometbus book DOUBLE DUCE this year, as well as a book of Andy Warhol interviews called I'LL BE YOUR MIRROR because Bryan Waterman said I should and I will read anything he recommends, and A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, and more, etc.

TAPE: ALL DOGS demo. I also loved the FOREPLAY tape from Ascetic House so much that I once played it in full while hosting CRUCIAL CHAOS on WNYU, and it was so amazing that I just played it again.

RECORD: Putting records in order and choosing a favorite - the mundanity of it will kill me, it can feel arbitrary and so counter to music. An inexplicably personal relationship with a record can feel more valuable to me than rationalizing whys upon whys… Sometimes when I am listening to Merchandise these records fit so squarely into my idea of perfect music that I almost can't even believe they exist. I love everything about Totale Nite, released this year. There is dramatic imagery and surreal verse warding off confusion, and it is all completely poetic. A theme that runs through a lot of their music is this idea of killing your past self and becoming someone new; a narrative of change, of not following a path you've been handed ("It makes me shake to be kissed on the lips by someone else's fate," Carson sings) and that defines Totale Nite, too. These are above all songs of self-creation. I hear "Anxiety's Door" as a counterpart to "I Locked the Door" from 2010's Strange Songs in the Dark. The older record sounds like a person alone in his bedroom trying to answer big questions, while the new material sounds more awake and brave and willing to open itself up, like cautiously opening the door and finding what it takes to face the world and life. The fog is cleared; the sun beams. I relate to this idea of negotiating between past lives and new ones, between private reflection and a position of visibility, between self-doubt and steadiness of mind. Some of Totale Nite is dense; some is featherlight. The title track feels so vast, like a body of water. I love the vocals on "I'll Be Gone", how the sound is reflected like a house of mirrors as Carson sings the words Dave wrote, "My wings are strong and wide but there's no map for me to follow" or "I'm gonna plant myself in the sun just to be free from all you motherfuckers" or "Today I skip down the road with melodies ringing in my head, the score to I Vitelloni and these boots are made for walking, each day is a page in a textbook and the type-face grows increasingly bolder but it would be a gross over estimate to assume there will be no more sorrow." There are so many good ideas packed into these beautiful sprawling experimental pop songs that it is overwhelming.

(Sublist: Five Best Merchandise Shows 1. Poland 2. Bridge in Austin 3. 285 Kent in June 4. McAllen Texas in March 5. The Blonde God solo set where everyone had glow sticks and there was fog and Dave played guitar with a shirt over his head)

MEAL: Took a van 45 minutes outside Katowice, Poland to the industrial district of Bytom to a candle-lit converted garage for a "polish-mexican fusion" dinner. They made me this vegan seitan with hibiscus-infused red cabbage and then vegan chocolate mescal. Thanks!

FILM: Frances Ha is a masterpiece

MISCELLANEOUS MOMENT: Hanging out at the hotel in Monterrey with SAN PEDRO EL CORTEZ and friends around 6 a.m. while they all played drunk Velvet Underground covers and banged on the walls of the hotel for percussion and ripped pages out of magazines and threw them everywhere

ART SHOW: Kim Gordon's opening at White Columns b/w Mike Kelley retrospective at MoMA

MUSIC VIDEO: Milk Music "No, Nothing, My Shelter"

MUSIC TV MOMENT: The So So Glos on Letterman and watch-party at Shea Stadium

WORST PART OF 2013: All of Twitter except my little sister's account (@marissapelly), Brandon's account (@brandonstosuy) and Kim Gordon's (@kimletgordon)

ZINES: Undoubtedly NUTS, the punk newspaper made by Ben Trogden. The first time I held a copy of Nuts, I got ink all over my hands before I even opened it and thought "This is the best zine ever." Everything was OK. After spending so many hours over the past six years at zine libraries all over the city, at ABC No Rio and Fales and Barnard and the public library, exploring documents of decades past, I felt like I'd been waiting to read NUTS my whole "adult" life. I think NUTS really hit a stride with the most recent issues about New York City, bringing the current New York punk scene to life on paper with various characters in a way that is beautifully honest, rich in detail, and unpretentious. You open Issue 12, and the first question he asks PHARMAKON is "What do you think about THE GRATEFUL DEAD?" Do you understand how brilliant that is? That is the best possible question you could ask Pharmakon in a fanzine interview—she describes her ingrained disdain of hippies before explaining how she forced Dominick Fernow to sell records to her at Hospital Productions when she was 16. And then, you're halfway through reading an interview with Dawn of Humans—one set near the Brooklyn Bridge with views of Manhattan and beer drunk from paper cups—and the singer is talking about how he likes pain and plays shows naked with a chain wrapped around his dick. And Ben is like, "What do you think about THE GRATEFUL DEAD?"

Jenn lives in Brooklyn, New York (heard of it?) and works as a staff writer for Pitchfork (heard of it?) She is excited to distribute Cryptophasia, her new zine alongside twin sister, Liz Pelly. Jenn doesn't like brunch. We don't talk about it. E-mail Jenn at jennpelly at gmail dot com

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