Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder
In the 1970s, young people went West to find drugs and love; Ken Kaufman went to find birds. At 16, armed with binoculars, stringy hair, and roughly $1,000 in savings, he dropped out of high school to hitchhike around the States, hoping to break the North American birding record. During his mission, he made life-long friends in Tucson, sailed to the tropical islands of Dry Tortugas, and even flew in a sea plane to the remote Alaskan town of Gambell.
On its surface, the memoir seems to be largely concerned with birds and the 1970s birding sub-culture. But it isn’t long before Kaufman’s journey subtly transforms into a coming-of-age story. Rather than fixating on whether he’ll complete his goal, we feel a tenderness, and a concern, for the young, lost protagonist. Accordingly, Kingbird Highway is not just a touching read for bird-lovers, but for anyone struggling to find their way.
Mollika Jai Singh
The original theorist of the twenty-two year old teenage girl is Olivia Gatwood. Her 2018 piece, “When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls,” was the first of many works to assure me that what I was feeling in high school was normal, and that many people have those same feelings. On the Button Poetry YouTube channel, I was also assured that slam poetry doesn’t have to be lame. Somehow, I had already internalized this idea of slam as overdramatic, annoying, and loud. I learned that the best of the best are raw, honest, and moving. Slam poets do what we are afraid to do in our daily lives: put our sensations into the air around us and feel deeply what is inconvenient to feel. It is freeing to listen in the crowd and even to perform, loud, to be received with mmmms and the soft sound of snaps.
Don’t miss Ratboys’ latest album, The Window. The group has this skill of making alt-rock sound exciting in the way it probably did to our ancestors in the early 2010s. The Window takes this talent and gives it a new amplifier – they’ve never sounded larger or more alive. The instrumentation effortlessly moves from crisp and bright to angsty garage-rock. Lead singer Julia Steiner’s voice has some of that trendy Adrienne Lenker folksiness to it, but combined with the arena-ready instrumentals and Alvvays-like jubilation that producer Chris Walla has brought to the project, you won’t be mistaking Ratboys for anyone else.
Close your eyes and imagine you’re an old Nass reader of yore. Crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Today, it’s as fresh as a 2012 Williamsburg morning. The Window tastes just as bright: It’s a crisp, loud, and refreshing album.
Tracks to check out: “Morning Zoo,” “Black Earth, WI,” “It’s Alive.”
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan
The first time, it was Brad Meldhau and Chris Thile—piano, mandolin, and Dylan’s resigned longing: “It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe, / if’n you don’t know by now.” Next was Peter, Paul and Mary. Then, Joan Baez; her version shines with clarity and empathy. It was much later when I heard the original “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Like so much of his work, it’s a proposal, an essay, a trial piece. Bob Dylan’s career is folk music ex novo—in other words, it’s not about individual songs, but the oral tradition of covers sprouting from each one. You should listen to Dylan’s version, yes, but that’s only the start. Try the Indigo Girls (jovial, feminine), or Susan Tedeschi (nearly gospel), or Emilie-Claire Barlow (samba, somehow). Each is Dylan again as he could’ve never imagined himself: “that light I never knowed.”
Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne recently released his third album, Unreal Unearth —and it’s indeed unreal. He’s known for lyrics about Greek mythology, Catholic guilt, and loving women, like, a lot—and we get plenty of that, on bangers like “Unknown (Nth)” and “Francesca.” But he also diverges from his tried-and-true themes; “Butchered Tongue” is an ode to the survival of indigenous languages. It’s his first album to feature Gaelic, in “De Shelby (Part 1)” and “To Someone from a Warm Climate (Uiscefhuaraithe),” both great songs to cry to. The rare missteps come when he tries, and fails, to infuse his usual bluesy rock with radio-ready indie pop (see “Damage Gets Done”) but with a 16-track LP, you’re bound to get a couple skips. Overall, this is Andrew at his best since the glory days of his self-titled album. Give it a listen—Princeton’s Fund for Irish Studies will thank you.
Was Henry Kissinger a transgender allegory? Was White House Counsel John Ehrlichman a cottage-core girlie who painted watercolors and collected cow plushies? Was Richard Nixon a traumaqueer dog-girl? Or a paranoid and wounded sigma-male? According to recent Twitter and Tiktok memes, Nixon and his White House Staff can be mapped onto these and any number of internet subcultures: bimbofied, queered, shipped, and sigma-edited into unrecognizability. These are distortions that would have horrified Nixon, who, though sleazy and untrustworthy, thought himself the defender of the Eisenhower-era white middle-class, unsettled by the 60s, race-rioters, flower children, and Vietnam. The extremely-online teens of American history Twitter, drunk on Tumblr aesthetics and the Nixon tapes, now imagine Nixon and his cronies exploring those aspects of modern life Nixon found “perverse”: same-sex love, intimate discussion of feelings and childhood psycho-sexual trauma, and liberation from the gender binary that haunted these sweaty, criminal, strangely vulnerable men.
I often consider my introduction to Ryan Beatty the only good thing that came out of my Brockhampton phase. Calico has solidified him as so much more than that. After over two years of radio silence, this surprise return has become a personal favorite. So much so that I hate to admit I didn’t “get it” at first. Released at the end of April, the simple, acoustic-like production of this record felt almost too quiet to soundtrack spring exams at Princeton for me. But it came to be just quiet enough for the end of summer. With Calico, Beatty manages to sonically capture wistfulness, uncertainty, and numerous indescribable feelings in a way that feels personal to both Beatty and the listener. To those stricken with ennui, I recommend you just sit in this album. I can’t promise it will make you feel better, but it might make you feel understood.