Cultural Consumption: 2/14/24

On travel, arena rock, very sweet books, and music that does not touch the ground

Cultural Consumption: 2/14/24

I'm back! I returned home less than 24 hours ago and my body has no idea what time zone it's in, but I'm sitting at my keyboard and I'm awake, so let's do this.

First off, I have to say that I'm going to try and figure out some way of making it so you guys don't necessarily notice when I'm out of town. I don't know if I'll be able to swing it, because these posts are all kind of time-consuming and my ability to manage them basically evaporates when I'm traveling, but the last thing I want to do is create the impression that I'm not taking this site seriously. I'm stoked as fuck that you guys are here, and I feel a responsibility to keep showing up on my regularly scheduled basis.

All of that being said, pre-loading enough posts to account for my semi-regular travel might be (probably is?) a lost cause. I'm going to keep trying; just know that if and when I'm absent because my schedule has been turned upside down, I haven't forgotten you.

This latest trip wasn't a work trip — instead, I took my eldest to the Bay Area to see family members he hadn't seen since before the pandemic. A lot has happened since then, obviously, and he himself has gone through some extremely profound changes — all of which is to say that while it was little more than a long weekend on the calendar, it contained a miniature world of experiences, and I ended up spending maybe an hour at my laptop, most of that in service of a column I didn't even end up writing. They were days full of talking and reminiscing and connecting and laughing and... well, you get the idea. Important stuff.

But now I'm back home, and the first record I listened to was — thankfully — pretty fuckin' rad. That record: Keyon Herrold's Foreverland, which I'm pretty sure bubbled up on my list of shit to check out because the amazing Laura Mvula guests on a track. If you haven't availed yourself of Ms. Mvula's mighty talent, friend, you must repent, and do so in exceedingly short order. Hers is a discography built upon breathtakingly gorgeous melodies and vocals stacked to the high heavens, and I greet news of new Mvula music with a reverence typically reserved for religious rituals and shit. Needless to say, once I found out she'd blessed Foreverland with her presence, I knew I needed to give it a listen.

Well, I ended up giving it upwards of half a dozen listens today, and I'm quite glad I did. This is one beautiful record — the cover artwork depicts Herrold floating in a pink cloud, and, well, that's basically how listening to these songs feels. If you pointed a gun at me and forced me to try and squeeze it into some kind of genre-based description, I guess I'd say it's ethereal jazz with a hip-hop bent, but really, there are worlds within these songs, and they deserve to be approached without those expectations. Sometimes the focus is on guest vocalists (Mvula, Common, P.J. Morton); sometimes the focus is on Herrold's trumpet. Always, without fail, the results are beautiful. This is music that does not touch the ground, and it lifts you up with it.

Watching: I spent more time reading than watching during the pair of cross-country flights I just made, but I did make sure to watch Taylor Tomlinson's new Have It All special, which might represent a slight step down from her previous stand-up films, but is still smart and raw and self-aware enough to make a person laugh out loud more than once, perhaps even on a plane while surrounded by strangers. I think a rush of major success is difficult for just about any artist to deal with, and that might be even more true for comedians; recognizing this, Tomlinson built the core of Have It All around her experiences with fame. That isn't to say that this hour is about her fanning herself in the spotlight — more that it head-on acknowledges the often prickly relationship people have with the success they perceive in others, and the general karmic impossibility of actually having it all. Also, there are dick jokes. Highly recommend.

Reading: As I said above, I spent a bunch of time reading on my flights. In fact, on my flight out, I devoured The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer, a novel about what happens when a wildly popular YA author emerges from years of seclusion with a new book — but there's only one copy, and it's going to the winner of a contest held among a small group of grown-ups who had the childish audacity to make their way to his private island when they were kids. That's a pretty high-concept logline, but I'm telling you that this is one sweet book — in fact, I would argue that it's juuuuuuuust on the right side of cloying. If you're the type of person who reacts with rage when a book tugs at your heartstrings, then you should avoid The Wishing Game entirely, but I found it quite moving — up to and including the recurring theme of trying to make up for lost time after neglecting one's creative calling for far too long. Yes, I am a softie; yes, I respond to things aimed squarely at my own experience. If any of the above resonates with you whatsoever, give this book a try. I don't think you'll regret it.

I also got about halfway through Worlds Apart by Nick DeRiso, which is a 400+ page book about Journey, a band for which I have never cared a single whit. I happen to know Nick a bit, and he was good enough to supply me with a pre-release copy, and now I am here to tell you that even though I have been fresh out of whits for Journey since at least the early '80s, I will not only most likely finish this fucking thing, I am listening to Journey's Greatest Hits as I type this. I'm not happy about it, but if I can't be honest here, then where can I be honest? Look, the point is that Nick is a persuasive writer, and if you're any kind of Journey fan, then you probably owe it to yourself to get your hands on this book. And even if you have never thought Journey was worth a single damn, you might find yourself being drawn in. Goddamn you, Nick.