Gold Star for the Internet: KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic”

On weekday work mornings, I listen to music to focus myself and tune out ambient office noise. There are two things that happen to me quite often:

1. I end up listening to the same bands and records over and over and over again.

2. I feel like a slug from 8 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., even with coffee.

In the fall, I discovered a solution that has worked for me every morning and puts me in the right headspace. It’s the KCRW Radio app — specifically the Morning Becomes Eclectic show.

KCRW is a National Public Radio member station that operates out of Santa Monica College, and it seems to have a cult following in Los Angeles. Its programming is mainly for the Southern California and Greater Los Angeles area, but anyone can tune in on its website or its app. Their music director, Jason Bentley, hosts the Morning Becomes Eclectic program every weekday from 9 a.m. to noon. For three hours, he plays all kinds of music: new stuff from new artists, genres you don’t hear on mainstream radio and super deep cuts. A few times a week, the last hour will feature realtime live performances with mini-interviews.

I discovered Morning Becomes Eclectic when I saw social media advertising that Iggy Pop had dropped by to play a live set in support of Depression Cherry. I downloaded the app one night to listen and look through the rest of the recordings, and found out they came from a daily program. The next morning I tuned in, and I was instantly hooked.

Bentley plays a lot of my favorite artists — like Spoon, Angel Olsen, Real Estate and Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — that have stellar tracks I sometimes forget about, and rediscovering those songs through someone else’s set is like experiencing them for the first time. I’ve also been introduced to or further acquainted with so many good artists and bands over the past few months, like Rubblebucket, Ty Segall, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cherry Glazerr and Jim James. These new influences spill into my music library, as I have a running list of tracks to buy on Bandcamp or iTunes. Sometimes the show has tracks I don’t really care for, but I never consider it boring. The artist/song variety is the stimulation I need to focus and get my work done, and I’m simultaneously exploring what’s happening in the music world.

The other thing that I’ve come to appreciate about Morning Becomes Eclectic is its place in both Los Angeles and public radio culture. The programming is a reflection of the best of the LA music scene. That’s partly because some of the the track picks for the day often coincide with the artists being in LA that night for a show, but mostly because Bentley is attuned to what Angelenos like. The music is diverse in origin but always refined in tastes, just like the people who live here. I also love that Bentley’s daily sets are ephemeral, and the latest show disappears from the app and website after a day. It’s refreshing in a world where everything else is always on-demand, and to know that the only people who have had that particular listening experience are you and the others that happened to tune in too.

People often think about the news, traffic alerts or programs like This American Life when they think about NPR, and I’ll admit that I didn’t know there was anything like Morning Becomes Eclectic before I discovered it. Both types of programming are equally important when it comes to public access and community building. When politicians want to defund the public agencies that support the arts, it makes me angry. It’s crucial that we support those public agencies by both listening and donating, so that everyone continues to enjoy them. The producers, journalists and creative professionals behind KCRW and other public radio stations deserve more recognition for the work they do, and I’m giving them a huge gold star.

Do you listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic, or other public radio programs? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

Link Party: 2/13-2/17

My at-home deskscape, coming together.
My at-home deskscape, coming together.

Here’s something I want to share that recently came back to me — in an episode of Twin Peaks (side note: I have a soft spot for this show and I hope the revival isn’t garbage), FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper gives the Twin Peaks sheriff, Harry Truman, a solid gold piece of advice. “Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” he says. “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

That’s the advice I also have for you. I’m not a big fan of the treat yo’self ethos that millennials like to use as an excuse for spending money, but both you and I should enjoy life’s small joys when they come. I hope you feel the same way.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. I already pre-ordered Joan Didion’s South and West weeks ago, and this review makes me excited to get my hands on it.

2. Meet George Howell, the dude behind the third-wave coffee craze and the originator of the Frappuccino.

3. A tale of fighting a Spotify hacker.

4. The next big blue-collar job is coding.

5. The fear of a feminist future. (This essay was written back in October pre-election and makes the assumption Hillary Clinton would be president, which makes this extra oooof.)

And a bonus: I’ve become a Candle Person and this one is my favorite so far.

Enjoy your week.

Link Party: 2/6-2/10

Adventures in keeping plants alive.
Adventures in keeping plants alive.

I had a good week, and I hope you did too.

Here’s what I read:

1.  This article about how the media treats leaks is good on its own, but I want to point out a sentence that contextualized John Podesta’s emails in an eye-opening way, at least for me: “the conversation around the emails became a battle over what they really were and the significance of how they came to be.”

2. Meet the editor-in-chief of the new Vogue ArabiaPrincess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz.

3. A young Wikipedia editor decides to fight back against the Internet trolls that harass her.

4. Lady Gaga‘s political messaging at the Super Bowl.

5. When things go missing — a reflection on loss.

And a bonus: The Dry Down, a newsletter about perfume.

Have a great week.

Link Party: 1/30-2/3

Another art journal closeup.
Another art journal closeup.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This article on how Taylor Swift made her career on being a victim has the Receipts. (This blog is vehemently anti-Taylor Swift. Don’t @ me.)

2. Rahawa Haile on being a black female thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

3. The heart-breaking stories of Filipinos who work on cruise ships and the horrible conditions they suffer through to provide for their families. I had no idea.

4. We need to hold Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook accountable for its political involvement and non-involvement, now more than ever.

5. The story of a new homeowner and her despair sparked by paint colors.

And a bonus: My good friend Klarize took me to this wonderful wine bar in downtown Los Angeles that I’m still thinking about and know that I will return to over and over again. Find your wonderful wine bar that you’re still thinking about and know that you will return to over and over again.

Have a great week.

What I Read: January 2017

2017 is my year of reading books written by women. Here’s what I read in January:

Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth has been on my to-read list for quite some time, far before Shire’s involvement in Beyonce’s Lemonade. You may have seen the Somali writer and poet’s words in the news recently. In response to the Trump administration’s recent ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, protestors have quoted from her poem “Conversations About Home” (which is in this book): “No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark.”

These poems are about Africa, trauma, tradition, gender, displacement and precarity in all of its forms, and they are often uncomfortable. The common thread is Shire’s searing observations on the female body in Muslim culture — the prize of virginity, the things women must do to keep their husbands’ attentions and the othering of her body when juxtaposed against white women. But Shire’s narrator also seems to urge her female readers to view their femininity as a source of exceptional inner strength. My favorite poem is actually the last one, “In Love and In War”:

To my daughter I will say,

‘when the men come, set yourself on fire’.

This was actually the last book I read in January: I wanted something short to fill in the last few days, and I read this 38-page pamphlet of poetry in about an hour. If you don’t normally read poetry, try reading this pamphlet — I think you’ll find it extremely enlightening in today’s political climate.

Nayyirah Waheed’s Salt

I became a big fan of Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry when I followed her on Instagram, where she reposts a lot of the poems you find in Salt. I wanted to read the collection in full, and I’m so glad I did — Instagram screenshots of the poems don’t do the words justice. Most of the poems are often two lines and rely extensively on enjambment — line breaks in middle of sentences.

Waheed’s poetry touches on so many points all at once: the black woman experience, the magic of femininity, the fragility of masculinity, the power of the earth and the elements, and the importance of a resilient relationship with your own self. Waheed’s intended audience seems to be other black women and women of color, and I had to assess my own role as a white woman reading these poems. I think reading and supporting the work of women of color is crucial to working towards being truly intersectional, and I want to make an effort to understand their experiences more fully.

Each poem tells its own story, but it’s all extremely cohesive and breathtaking. I am in awe of how Waheed can turn simple words into such profound and complex ideas, and she makes most of the poetry I’ve read up until this point seem clunky and inarticulate. That’s how much I love Salt.

knowing your power

is what creates

humility,

not knowing your power

is what creates

insecurity.

— ego

It’s impossible for me to pick one favorite poem from Salt. Every single poem is beautiful, insightful and haunting. I will return to this poetry collection over and over again.

Suzanne Roberts’ Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail

In my mission to read more books about California written by women, I came across this delightful memoir. After she graduated from college in 1993, Roberts and two friends decided to hike the John Muir Trail from Mount Whitney to Yosemite Valley. Along the way, they run into all of the problems you think they’d have: tense group dynamics, bears, injuries, food shortages and weird dudes. In her travelogue, Roberts reflects on her thoughts about her future and often leans on Muir’s words and writings to contextualize her feelings.

The main thing I liked about this book is that it’s a testament to how powerful the human and nature relationship is, and that believing in that power can provide spiritual and emotional clarity. In the California context, it made me realize how important it is to preserve our natural heritage so that people can have those experiences. Roberts-as-her-character isn’t particularly sympathetic, but by the end you’re rooting for her to find her way. And it did make me want to attempt the same trip, even though I am definitely not a hiker. It’s a solid 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

Zadie Smith’s Swing Time

Swing Time, which is named after a Fred Astaire movie, follows two British women and the course of their friendship: an unnamed narrator, who is an assistant to a pop star, and her childhood friend Tracey, who attempts to pursue a career as a dancer. Both women are biracial living in 1990s England, and dance is their common interest. As they grow up, their lives diverge and intersect. But the main thing to note about the plot is that it’s framed in the unnamed narrator’s firing and her explanation of how it happened, which is engulfed in her history with Tracey. You learn about all of the characters through the narrator’s lens, and because she’s not particularly likable nor introspective you stay at the surface-level.

Here’s my deal with Swing Time: Smith executes the plot flawlessly and everything comes full circle in a satisfying way. This joins My Brilliant Friend in the vein of real, complex female friendship dynamics. The ideas of black bodies in white spaces, class differences and political privilege come up over and over again in smart and nuanced ways — especially when mirrored against dance, which is arguably a social equalizer.

But although this book made a lot of best of 2016 lists and I did enjoy reading it, it’s not my favorite Smith novel. I read On Beauty in 2015, and that novel’s universe was more immersive with dramatic stakes that that felt higher — a refreshed, academic, American version of E.M. Forster’s Howards End. Smith also has some really good essays and short fiction, and I would recommend starting with those first.

What have you been reading lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Link Party: 1/23-1/27

Paper monsteras.
Paper monsteras.

This was a really, really, really tough week on many levels. I hope that you’re taking care of yourself and working towards finding your own sense of balance. Do not feel guilty about taking breaks to do the things you enjoy. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Here’s what I read this week:

1. The extraordinary stories of the White House mailroom staff, Obama’s 10 letters a day and the people who wrote them.

2. This is what it’s like to come to the United States as a refugee.

— Before you get to the rest of the links, it’s imperative you read the first two. They are required reading. —

3. What Roxane Gay is reading.

4. The story of David Bowie’s secret final project.

5. “Self-care” is not the same as “treating yourself.”

And a bonus: How to begin again.

Have a great week. I believe in you.

Link Party: 1/16-1/20

Participating in the Los Angeles Women’s March on Washington with 750,000 people and millions more around the world was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I am proud that I exercised my civic duty in support of protecting basic human rights for all. Today is the first day of the next four years, and it’s time to get to work.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Buying feminist merchandise is not political action.

2. President Obama‘s memorable parting words.

3. Malia and Sasha Obama‘s post-White House lives.

4. We need to protect the street vendors of Los Angeles.

5. Inside the weird, industry-shaking world of Donald Glover.

And a bonus: The poem “Interview,” by Dorothy Parker:

The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints …
So far, I’ve had no complaints.
Have a great week.

Gold Star for the Internet: Gustavo Dudamel on YouTube

It’s kinda weird to say in 2017 that I have a favorite conductor, but I have a favorite conductor. His name is Gustavo Dudamel, and he’s the conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve probably heard of him or seen his photo on lightpole banners around the city. I’ve seen him at the Hollywood Bowl, and next week I’m going to go see him conduct Schoenberg and Mozart at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

I’m looking forward to it a lot, and not just because I get to cross off one of my L.A. to-do list and not just because I get to go with my grandma. Once I started college, I got more and more interested in learning about classical music appreciation, and I found that I really love that classical music tells stories without needing words.

If you’re wondering what a conductor does, the two main things they do are providing an interpretation of the music (believe it or not, there’s a lot of variation in different performances of the same piece) and leading the orchestra in both tempo and organization. There’s a lot I love about Dudamel, but to sum it up I find his charismatic, youthful and kinetic interpretations enthrall me. Plus, the sheer talents of the L.A. Philharmonic or the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela are both visual and aural treats. I feel extremely lucky that I have the chance to experience the art while it’s unfolding in front of us, and that as a culture we’ve preserved classical music. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not good or inspiring.

Whenever I need a creative boost, I always watch and listen to Gustavo Dudamel videos on YouTube. I have a few favorites that I want to share with you, and I have Opinions on all of them.

Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9, 4th movement.”

Okay, so there are several things I really love about this video — which is just a tiny section from the Czech composer’s “From The New World” symphony performed for Pope Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday — that comes up in some of the first Dudamel hits on YouTube. First, this is a beautiful piece of music that I really enjoy listening to and without YouTube I never would have found it. It’s happy and sad and brave and anxious all at the same time.

Secondly, I love that you can tell Dudamel is so into it, and I greatly appreciate that — he channels the performance and becomes the physical embodiment of the piece. (My favorite moment is at 10:35. My heart drops.) Watching him is as emotional of an experience as listening to the music is, because you can tell that this man believes in the power of classical music with all of his being. Thirdly, the fact that after the piece is over that Dudamel goes and commends the members of the orchestra is a testament to his professionalism and his humility. And last but not least, I love that in the few frames you see him in, the pope seems so disinterested that it makes you want to laugh. Lemme just say — Francis would never.

 

Marquez’s “Danzón No. 2.”

Cuban, Mexican and other Latin-American contemporary music is supremely, supremely underrated in the corners of the mainstream music world I frequent, and I need to listen to more of it. I love this particular arrangement so much that I actually ripped the audio from this YouTube video and put it in my iTunes so that I could listen to it on my phone in the car and at work. Arturo Marquez is actually a contemporary composer from Mexico, and he premiered this piece in 1994. “Danzón No. 2” actually became popular because Dudamel included it on the programme for the 2007 Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela world tour. A recording performed by that group is what you’re watching here.

The fact that this piece is almost as old as me is incredible, because it defies the notion that good and entertaining classical music has to have centuries-old timestamps. It makes you want to get up and dance, or at the very least move your shoulders to the beat while watching it in bed (which is what I’m doing as I write this.) In the frames where you can see Dudamel, watch his hands — they’re mesmerizing. He is as youthful as his musicians and the piece itself, which elevates the entire performance.

Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

The Wikipedia page for the orchestral music says that George Gershwin wrote “An American in Paris” as a “symphonic poem.” That phrase is my new favorite two-word combo in the English language, because that’s so apt for what this is. Gershwin is one of my favorite composers because his music tells intricate stories without words, and it often leaves me feeling more buoyant. I often wonder what American music would look and sound like if we had his talent and creativity for much longer than we did. The orchestral composition came way before the movie, but if you haven’t seen An American in Paris you should slot that into your weekend plans. It’s very good, and the fact that they made the movie in 1951 is amazing.

Anyway, if you look up Gershwin’s music you’ll find that Leonard Bernstein’s recordings are considered the end-all, be-all, and I’m sure it was phenomenal to hear them conducted in-person. But I like Dudamel’s better, because I think it sounds fresher. Compare the two and tell me what you think.

Bernstein’s “Mambo” and Pérez-Prado’s “Mambos.”

I saved the best for last. I’m not 100 percent sure on what specific mambos this video showcases, but I know it’s both Dámaso Pérez Prado and Bernstein’s composition for West Side Story.

My favorite, favorite, favorite thing about this video is that the overall enthusiasm and joy of this music — from Dudamel, the orchestra and the audience — is infectious even on the other side of the computer screen. His smile when the musicians get up out of their chairs and the standing ovation from the crowd makes me believe that the world is beautiful and good and pure. Bookmark this video — and all the others, while you’re at it — for when you need a pick-me-up. You can thank me later.

Do you love Dudamel too, or have other similar music videos to share? Leave effusive praise + links in the comments.

Link Party: 1/9-1/13

"The Man Who Fell to Earth," at photo l.a.
“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” at photo l.a.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This article about abortion and the future of women’s health in America is extremely important reading.

2. Solange, interviewed by Beyoncé.

3. Diet Coke is not killing you.

4. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Trump administration.

5. Ryan Gosling is a man after his time.

And a bonus: Terry Gross on the Longform podcast.

Take care of yourself.

Link Party: 1/2-1/6

The truest of the true facts.
The truest of the true facts.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

1. The fiction of Google Maps.

2. The size and weirdness of the Kardashian empire.

3. The restaurant industry bubble that’s about to burst.

4. Ada Harris, mother of the hair straightener.

5. Looking for answers in India after a seeker disappears and his guide commits suicide.

And a bonus: Bon Iver, live in concert.

Have a wonderful week.