Ms. America Can't Stand The Rain
Thoughts on Bully, summer, loss, and High Fidelity (Zoe's Version)
Howdy, and welcome to Good And Good For You, a newsletter about music and feelings. I’ve been Going Through It™ recently, and in addition to actual real therapy, I’m surviving by writing about the music that’s saving me. Thanks for reading.
Austin this time of year is viciously beautiful. Most people will say I’m insane for saying that, but I’m right. It’s a heat that commands attention, a heat that subdues. A heat that doesn’t let you think about anything else. That’s beautiful, in its way.
I’m in the back of an Uber, hurtling toward where I left my car after too many slushy, melty margaritas, the through-street winding down, down, down to the sunbaked hell-sidewalks of South Lamar through improbably green trees. They’re more or less used to this, I reason. So am I.
My sister and I have been joking that we like the heat because it makes us strong. Actually, what I like about it is that it makes me feel solid. It slows the day down to a pace I can keep. The sweat on my skin fills in the borders between my silhouette and the dry, clawing air, and it makes me feel real.
On my buzzing, busted car speakers, the perfectly cigarette-scored voice of Alicia Bognanno, aka Bully, blares over the blasting AC. Her growls accent the Texas summer heat in a way that didn’t fit while I was in Portugal for a week—I kept trying to put on her new record, Lucky For You, to no avail. Lisbon was too lovely, not gritty enough. It didn’t fit. Now that I’m back, she’s back.
What a wonderful life, she professes, to kick off track 3. My heart’s breaking on the bathroom floor. The past two—THREE???—months since my world collapsed in on itself, this line has bounced around inside of me perpetually. I can’t really explain it, but my life feels exactly like a movie lately. To be clear, it’s a sad movie. But a movie nonetheless. Things keep happening that are impossibly picturesque, flashes of kismet that either weren’t there before, or perhaps went unnoticed because I wasn’t open to them. I’m staying open; I’m letting it happen. What choice do I have?
HARD TO LOVE, I’M TOO HARD TO LOVE, WAY TOO HARD TO LOVE, I’M TOO HARD TO LOVE, Alicia howls over clunking bass, drums, and distortion on the next track of the same title. It’s like she’s mad about it instead of mopey. Daring someone to prove her wrong, and putting her fist through a wall when they won’t. It goes by fast, though; self-loathing isn’t a destination, but a demon to be exorcised. Sometimes calling it by its name is the only way.
I got a lawless love for you / and I got nothin’ better to do, go the final lines of “Change Your Mind.” There’s something about this album that feels very… *adult* to me. Sure, it’s all about love and longing, and sonically, there are a hundred ways it could fit in an angsty teen movie soundtrack from the early 2000s. But I’m 31, and Bognanno is 29, and lyrics like the ones in “Change Your Mind” sound, to me, like the product of the years—we try for a long, long time to shape a narrative, to change a mind, to wrap our hearts around all the time wagered and squandered. Guitars and drums can sharpen and scorch with age, just as much as they can with youth.
Under the sun’s merciless eye this morning, the sweat beginning, my neighbor and I watched the dogs run around and mess with each other. I told her about why I had changed my travel plans, why I was back sooner than expected, about how uncertain the future seems. “This house, man,” she lamented. (She’s owned the one next door to mine for almost a decade.) “The people who lived in it before y’all—nice couple, they were doing fine when they moved in. They ended up splitting.” LOL, I thought. How was I supposed to know I was moving into the breakup house. How movie-like.
I guess everything falls apart, Bognanno sings, a little more softly, on my favorite track on the album, “Ms. America.” Finding hope in a broken heart. All I wanted was a daughter, try my best to raise her right. But the whole world’s caught on fire and I don’t wanna teach a kid to fight.
That’s the core of it all, isn’t it? The sweet little things that grow up inside us over the years, the quiet green hopes, are the ones that wilt in the heat. Like another poet once said, “Oh, the years burn, burn, burn.”
I’ve been waiting to feel lighter like the sun / but it’s burning my eyes and the morning’s just begun, confesses Alicia. It’s hotter than hell out here, and I’m still trying to find the words for the parts that don’t feel like a movie.
After a long nap in my AC-cooled cave, I reheat my coffee and pull a cheese and nuts snack out of the fridge. The empty evening stares back at me like a blank Google doc. I’d been thinking about rewatching High Fidelity (Zoe’s Version), so I throw it on the TV. I’ve been (re)indulging the fantasy of moving to New York City for a year, so why not fully engage? Nothing is real, who cares.
“Thank you, Ann Peebles,” quips Zoe Kravitz’s character Rob to wrap up the pilot. She’s set the scene that her one great lost love is back in the City, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. I heard “Ann Peoples” at first, but it still rang a bell—OH, duh, Ann Peebles. “I Can’t Stand The Rain.”
Right as my memory hit its stride, Rob lit up a cigarette, and those oddball violin-string plucks bounced in like droplets on a tin roof. I can’t stand the rain / against my window / bringin’ back sweet memories.
And, RIGHT as that lighter sparked, as Ann’s breathy alto revved up, a real-life ruckus outside broke my concentration, and I turned to my living room window. It was pouring rain, Hollywood-set-style. The timing, dude… I can’t make this shit up. I scrambled out onto the stoop to witness the downpour.
Toward the west, down my sleepy street, sheets of diamond diffused all that larger-than-life afternoon light. The Texas summer heat remained, but briefly—just for a moment—the burn subsided.