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February 22, 2019 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Friday, February 22, 2019 — 5

A few months ago, a friend
sent me a quote by Sandra
Cisneros: “I’m married to my
writing, and he can be brutal
but he never strays.” Writing
was my first love. When my
friend sent me this, though,
I hadn’t written anything in
months. Every time I sat down
to write, there seemed to be
a block. It was visceral — I
could feel it in my chest. It was
something close to anxiety, a
deep-rooted resistance to sit
down and write.
summers ago at a
writing workshop
in New York City.
I was still writing
the “right format”
or “right structure”
or “right way to say
trying desperately
to say, and you
finally say it, but
no, that’s the wrong way to say
it. Change it.” She was writing
for fun, too, but she also took
herself seriously — something
I didn’t do. I didn’t want to
take myself seriously. I didn’t
want to think about writing
an agent or fighting to the
death for an internship at the
New Yorker. I loved writing,
probably more than anything.
I thought I was good at it. I
had my style and my way of
saying things and, generally,
people liked it. My writing was
It came naturally to me. One
day I’d publish a book and
it’d do really well, but for the
present, I’d just keep calling
myself a writer until I became
a real writer, and everything

would fall into place.
I learned how to write
and that’s where everything
fell apart. I became consumed
with readability, with concise
and flow, with am I saying too
much here? Writing became
agonizing. A cycle had arisen.
I couldn’t type a sentence
without immediately erasing
it, typing it again, erasing it
again. I was obsessed with the
“right” way to write. When I

finished a piece, I’d ask myself:
Would Harper’s or the New
Yorker or the New York Times
publish this? And if the answer
was no (which it always was)
I’d erase everything and start
over again.
This was exhausting. My
perfectionism took hold of
my creativity — I couldn’t
even journal anymore. I can’t
remember when I stopped
writing completely, but I did.
She’s writing a collection of
personal essays — our mutual
favorite genre. I think of
this often. I was inexplicably
envious of her at first. I miss
writing. I wish I could do that.
But I can’t. It won’t be good

something of a mantra. My
classes were half-hearted, and
I’d sweat before I sent them to
my classmates. I was falling
out of love with writing — in
fact, I hated it.
journals that I keep on a
bookshelf in my apartment
but never touch. I re-read
from months and years ago.
I remembered, for the first
writing means to
me, how much of
my identity and my
head and my heart
that it holds. I fell
back in love with
the thing I’d loved
first. So I sat down
and wrote like I
hadn’t written in
a very long time.
being in love with your art
form resonates across genres.
Falling out of love with your
art form resonates, too. Many
of my artist friends have
dropped out of art school,
many of my musician friends
out of music school. When
your art form becomes too
restricted, too serious, too
taught, you fall out of love
with it. When you remember
that your art form is you – that
there are no rules, that there
is nothing to be taught beyond
what you can teach yourself
through art – you fall back in
love. And it’s beautiful.
It takes a lot to remind
myself that I can still be
married to my writing, but he
doesn’t have to be brutal. And
he’ll never stray.

On loving your art form

Eva Hendricks, the lead singer of Charly
Bliss, tells me over the phone that she
recently went out to do karaoke — I tell
her I already know, because I watched her
performance of the Spice Girls’s “Wannabe”
over Instagram live. It was around the same
time as the release of lead single “Capacity”
from Charly Bliss’s forthcoming album
Young Enough. Hendricks goes on to say
that she hates karaoke and, as a side note,
that she doesn’t remember broadcasting
“I am someone
who hates karaoke
— not only do I hate
it, I am, like, afraid
of it,” Hendricks
in-law, Kathy, is
karaoke. The same
day that ‘Capacity’
came out, she got
a huge promotion
at work.” There
way to celebrate,
Hendrick’s sister-
in-law: karaoke.
singing lead vocals
and hating karaoke, there is a friction.
Both in musical style and as a performer,
Hendricks commands and pushes forth.
Her voice, elastic, resonant and feminine,
is matched by her brio. On Guppy, Charly
Bliss’s debut album, she shrieks, she coos,
she belts. On stage, Hendricks moves like
she’s working something out from the very
depths of her spirit, like those lyrics she
and bandmates Spencer Fox, Dan Shure
and Sam Hendricks have been singing for
years bear original and new weights. In
a word? Dynamic. Hearing that karaoke
isn’t her forte, then, maybe isn’t a surprise.
Maybe there’s not enough at stake with a
prerecorded track you didn’t write yourself.
“I must say it is a really great way to
celebrate and really like, I’m someone
who loves dancing so much, but I’m not
someone who would go to (she pauses for
emphasis) the club. I don’t even know what
that would look like for me,” Hendricks
said. She says all of this with good humor
and tacit acknowledgement of her own

contradictions. Sociable, fun and energetic,
yes, but on her own terms.
“I went to NYU and my first night
living in New York, my friends and I paid
a $20 cover to go to a shitty, gross club,”
Hendricks said. “We accepted shots from
a stranger and danced on a table and that
was the last time I ever went to (she pauses
briefly, again, for emphasis) a club. But, that
being said, if you’re someone who loves to
dance, and you don’t like to go to the club,
really, the only time I get to dance is if
someone in my life gets married, and so like,
I think that the great thing about karaoke is
that you can kind of go nuts and satisfy that
craving without being surrounded by scary
“Yeah, or being
married, I need to
have a cathartic
freak out in front of
all of my relatives.”
The portrait of
Guppy paints isn’t
that far from the
person I’m talking
to over the phone.
Guppy is a sketch
of maturation and
the many, many
attempts it takes to get what you want
from the world, especially in love. Striving
(and failing) like this on the record takes
countless forms: giving yourself over to
something without heed, settling for less,
internalizing conflict so you can try to fix it
instead of letting it fester. And, through all
of it, realizing that sometimes life can seem
like blow after blow. Hendricks knows that
part of life is taking what the world gives
you and cobbling it into something that
resembles your desires. Using karaoke as
an outlet for dancing as well as singing fits
right into the scheme.
Hendricks recognizes the difficulty in
answering that vast question: How do I
get what I want in the constraints of my
life? Songs like “Scare U” approach writing
these answers directly: “I don’t wanna
scare you / I don’t wanna share you.” A
few others, like “Westermarck,” are drawn
from Hendricks’s own experience: “From
across your room I saw / Second cousins
kissing on the lawn / We will never speak

“The thing about pop music is that, I
think it’s actually the hardest music to write
because it has to sound deceptively simple,”
Hendricks said. “Writing in a way that
sounds effortless and comes across as being
effortless is really difficult.” Hendricks gets
at a point for which many pop songwriters,
especially those that are women, are
harangued: the supposed “mindlessness”
of lyrics about love. There is often an
implicit sexism in this criticism, one that
tries to pick on women as overemotional,
sentimental and fickle. Sure, love is a well
explored topic in art and music, but does
anyone ever really get tired of finding the
right song for that loving moment?
“When people criticize artists like Taylor
Swift, like oh it’s just crap, she’s writing
about her relationships,” Hendricks said,
“It is actually so difficult to write lyrics that
are communicative and evocative and feel
as though, oh my God, this person must
have read my diary because I have felt
exactly this way before.”
Part of what makes Guppy such a strong
album are the band’s efforts to write lyrics
that are just that expressive. “DQ” is a track
that combines the worry of wasted youth
with that dirty, shameful jealousy that
spikes when somebody steals the attention
of a lover: “I laughed when your dog died, /
It is cruel, but it’s true, / Take me back, kiss
my soft side, / Does he love me most now
that his dog is toast?”
At the same time, the members of Charly
Bliss aren’t just writing songs that express
things directly. The opening track on
Guppy, “Percolator,” is a clear parody of the
“overemotional songwriter” trope: “I cry
all the time, I think that it’s cool / I’m in
touch with my feelings.” What Hendricks
does on this track, and a couple others, is
a classic method to kill a feeling: Act it out
with exaggeration. The sensation becomes
small, almost comical in comparison to the
set of new clothes you just dressed it in.
“I think that’s because pop music makes
me feel strong,” Hendricks said. “It makes
me feel invincible, and I kind of needed
that shield in order to write lyrics that felt
so vulnerable ... I think in a way, and I don’t
think I realized this when we were writing
(Young Enough), but a lot of the songs that
are filled with darkest content are the ones
that sound like bangers on the album.”
Pop music and conjured invincibility go
hand in hand. Take Robyn’s “Dancing On
My Own” or “Call Your Girlfriend.” Take
Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” or, to take a
turn, the entirety of Lemonade. Take Amy

Winehouse’s “Rehab,” Bruce Springsteen’s
“Born to Run,” Leonard Cohen’s now-
standard “Hallelujah.” I’ll even be generous
and include The 1975’s “It’s Not Living (If
It’s Not With You).” Pop music doesn’t
have to mean “synth,” “dance,” “club” or
“femininity,” as audiences often assume.
Think pop as in popular, for the people,
accessible. The mission of a pop song, under
this definition, is to get to that just-read-
my-diary feeling without being so broad
that the song collapses under the weight of
It is easy, though, to
get caught in the mire of
feeling, and never work
it out. “I am someone
who loves young adult
that I love difficult
relationships, you know,
Buffy and Angel, the
‘Twilight’ series, ‘The
OC,’” Hendricks said. “I
love all that stuff, and I
think I really believed
in a way, at a certain
moment in my life,
that means it’s worth
fighting for, if it’s so
hard and this person
is really pushing you.
And it can mean that, it
also can just mean that
you and another person
really love each other
a lot but are just never
going to be able to give
the other person what
they need.”
Her comment turns
my attention to my own relationships — how
they come together, then apart. There are
times that feel meaningful, but are nothing
more than an intersection of two lives over
one summer. Other times that lead to “just
being friends,” and then feeling like a toy
when they tease you for wanting more. And
then, those times where it’s attraction, but
neither is scratching the other in the right
places to make it go anywhere.
“I think on Guppy,” Hendricks said.
“I felt so frustrated about that, whereas
on this album, you know what, that’s not
the worst experience you can have with
another person. That’s sweet, something
that everyone goes through, there’s a
universality to that experience. And it
doesn’t have to be horrible, and you can
kind of look back on it and laugh and be
like I remember what it felt like. And in

a way like that was kind of really sweet,
that we both really believed that. While
also recognizing I’m so happy that I don’t
believe that anymore. I’m at a place where
I know that I deserve something different
and that I want something different and
that something different doesn’t feel boring
or flat to me.”
That something different came sonically,
too. “Capacity” begins with a slick beat
and synthline, complete with other synth
notes and a crescendoing bridge with the
massive, soaring chords of
a power ballad. “No matter
what it was going to be a
transitional record and we
wanted to honor that. That
being said, I think that the
songs that are more rock
leaning, I still feel that we
really pushed ourselves,
and they don’t to me they
sound like they could have
been on Guppy, which is
important to us as well,”
Hendricks said.
ourselves to a new sound,
something that we were
totally conscious of, like
oh, we were a rock band,
and now we’re a pop
band,” she continued. “I
always talk about how
special it is that the four
of us are really close and
we really value our time
together.” She tells me
about how she and her
bandmates were listening
to Lorde’s Melodrama, Superorganism’s
debut album and Taylor Swift. “We did an
interview recently where Spencer was like,
‘We were inspired by our own pre-show
For what it’s worth, the freshness of
Young Enough seems like just the right
thing. Guppy was recorded twice, with
a handful of those songs being five years
old. So, naturally, outgrowing the things
that don’t make sense anymore makes
room for exciting, new things. “When we
were writing Young Enough, it served as a
really perfect barometer for how much I
had changed from the past couple of years,”
Hendricks said.

Eva Hendricks on karaoke, maturity and pop music

Managing Arts Editor


poem tacked above my bed. Last
February I nailed a copy of “Let
Me Handle My Business, Damn,”
from Parker’s killer 2017 debut
“There Are More Beautiful Things
Than Beyoncé,” to my wall, where
it has remained to this day, again
finding me/you/us swimming in
winter’s brine.
Morgan Parker is a poet of the
powerful area between awareness
and authority, a writer who will
recompose the details around her,
brilliantly, until she finds enough
space to thrive. In “Let Me Handle
My Business, Damn,” our speaker
is “in the tub holding down / that
on-sale Bordeaux pretending /
to be well adjusted,” keeping it
together while keeping it real, a
gritty and generous situational
awareness that casually grounds
the declaration that comes next:
“I am on that real / jazz shit
sometimes I run the streets /
sometimes they run me.” It finds
raw glamour and rhythm without
loftiness or idealism, and that’s
exactly where its power lies.
Parker is able to generate
command out of nearly any
detail, granting phrases like “bad
drugs bad wine mu shu pork”
an emboldening, mantric sound
before you even realize what the
words are. This is tenacity: Morgan
Parker can wring purpose and
power from anything, rendering
creativity and resilience one and
the same. And she knows she’s got
it — in a recent print interview,
Poets & Writers asked Parker “You
are a literary superhero — what
is your name, your superpower,
your kryptonite?” Her response:
“Morgan Parker; Morgan Parker.”
In “Magical Negro,” her second
collection of poems and third
published work, Parker derives
her superpower from the cultural
legacy of Blackness and Black

maintains the sensory creativity of
“There Are More Beautiful Things
Than Beyoncé,” but complicates it
with historical and sociocultural
texture. In an interview with
Lumina, Parker explains that her
previous collection “felt very full
in terms of references and colors
and places and people and songs,”
whereas “(“Magical Negro”) felt
full as in, like, a heavy book.”
Full and heavy it is. There are
anthems in “Magical Negro,”
but there are also histories,
indictments and tributes. These
poems are about pain, but they
refuse to wallow — in fact, they
use pain, picking it up and holding
it in different contextual lights to
illustrate what Publishers Weekly
calls “a culture and community
where irreplicable nuances are
created in spite of, not because of,
pain and trauma.”
“Magical Negro” crackles with
the power of identity. In “When a
Man I Love Jerks Off in My Bed
Next to Me and Falls Asleep,”
our speaker relays that “When
I walk into the world and know
/ I am a black girl, I understand
/ I am a costume. I know the
rules. / I like the pain because it
makes me.” These poems locate a
community’s tenacity of in spite of
its trauma, an everyday superhero
recomposition of pain into power
through deadpan-statements like
“There’s no way a black woman /
killed herself, because everyone
inhuman amounts of pain” in “A
Brief History of the Present,” a
poem that ends with our speaker
describing “tectonic plates clicking
/ like a jaw, and — stubbornly, like
history — my mouth / becoming
their mouth speaking who I am.”
back and forth across time and
form to galvanize this power.
In one volume, Parker remixes
the Confiteor into a satire of
(“Here is the bright young food
co-op. / Here is the steeple.”),

writes a tribute to Zora Neale
Hurston (one of an excellent
many to come out this month),
and describes what it’s like to
date White dudes named Matt
(“Matt smokes unfiltered Pall
Malls because Kurt / Vonnegut
did.”). The February poem in
this collection is “What I Am,”
an anthem inspired by Terrance
Hayes that finds the electricity in
the everyday, in “waiting in line
at Walgreens / for my pills and
texting / a white man I hope will
fuck me,” and in recognizing that
“I play / my tarot only at night, my
eyes fall, / I get mean, I fall in love,
I deny this.”
The collection ends on a
powerful reimagining of “It was
summer now and the colored
people came out into the sunshine,
full blown with flowers,” an iconic
line from Gertrude Stein’s “Three
Lives.” But in “Magical Negro,”
the procession is far from flowers
and sunshine. It’s “descend(ing)
from the boat two by two,” it’s
“The gap in James Baldwin’s
teeth speak(ing) to the gap in
Malcolm X’s teeth,” it’s “Frederick
Douglass’s side part kiss(ing)
Nikki Giovanni’s Thug Life tattoo.”
It’s a choir:
“The choir loses its way. The
choir never returns home.
The choir sings funeral instead of
wedding, singe funeral
instead of allegedly, sings funeral
instead of help, sings
Black instead of grace, sings
Black as knucklebone,
mercy, junebug, sea air. It is time
for war.”

‘Magical Negro’ empowers


Daily Arts Writer


Morgan Parker

Tin House

Feb. 5, 2019

The mission of a pop
song ... is to get to that
feeling without being
so broad that the song
collapses under the
weight of itself.

“I’m at a place
where I know
that I deserve
different and
that I want
different and
that something
different doesn’t
feel boring or
flat to me.”


Daily Book Review Editor

The notion of being in love
with your art form resonates
across genres. Falling out
of love with your art form
resonates, too.

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