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Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 3: “Where Will I Be” by Emmylou Harris

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In March of 1996, I left the job I had been working at for five years — film critic for the Fresno Bee — and joined a then up-and-coming technology company called America Online as their in-house writer and editor. I had joined AOL for two reasons: The first was that the Bee wanted to put me in a more general reporting position after years of being a critic and columnist, and I was unhappy with that unilateral change, and the second was that AOL was part of this exciting new thing called “The Online World,” which represented the future, and the future was where I wanted to be. There was also a third reason, which was that AOL offered twice the salary I was getting at the Bee, and, well, I liked that, too.

Going to AOL was not without its complications. I was traveling from California to Northern Virginia, where I knew almost no one and where I had never lived, and my wife of less than a year had to stay behind in California for a couple of months to wrap up some things. I was going to be alone in a new place, with a new job, with new people, none of whom I yet knew. It was a weird interstitial time for me, and it made me feel reflective and introspective about who I was and where my life was going.

As it happens, a few months earlier, Emmylou Harris had released Wrecking Ball, an album that represented some very similar themes. Harris had with her last few albums gotten to a point where it looked like her career had gone as far as it was going to go; she was beloved but she wasn’t getting much radio airplay, and she felt at odds with the culture of country music of that era. Rather than attempt to fit in, she connected with producer Daniel Lanois and the two of them created an album that no one expected from her, one that helped shape in the in-between-folk-and-country-and-rock subgenre called “Americana,” and which found Harris openly questioning her place in the world, a questioning nowhere better represented than in the opening track, “Where Will I Be.”

I had bought and loved Wrecking Ball when I was still in Fresno — I’d not been a Harris fan before, but I was long an admirer of Lanois, so I bought the album on his association — but it was in Northern Virginia that this song and the whole of Harris’ album sank into my soul. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was homesick and especially missing my wife, and while I was already making friendships with people that would last even to this day, they weren’t yet in a place where they were soul-filling. I was adrift, like Harris’ music on Wrecking Ball suggested she was adrift. This album and particularly this song became my solace.

This ends happily: After a couple of months Krissy traveled to Northern Virginia to stay with me, and I got to introduce her to my new friends, who became our new friends, and we ended being very happy in the area until we moved, in 2001, to be closer to her family in Ohio. The first concert Krissy and I went to together in Northern Virginia, as it happens, was to see Emmylou Harris on her Wrecking Ball tour. She was wonderful.

A couple of years later, Wrecking Ball was playing in the room when Krissy was giving birth to our daughter Athena, who was born to the song “Waltz Across Texas Tonight.” And I’ve been an Emmylou Harris fan ever since, going backwards and forwards in her discography from Wrecking Ball.

If I had to pick one album of all the ones I have as my all-time favorite, Wrecking Ball is likely to be it — for the stunning quality of the album itself, but also for what it represented to me, and did for me, in a lonely, slightly lost time of my life. The opening chiming guitar of “Where Will I Be” takes me back to the moment, and also to the knowledge that thanks to that song, that album, and Emmylou Harris, I had something beautiful to hold onto until that moment passed, and a good life followed.

— JS

Categories
Athena Scalzi

Strawberry Flavored Disaster

For the past decade, I’ve had a tiny strawberry patch by my house. Most years, I fail to do anything with them, except maybe make some jam, but nothing spectacular. This year, I decided I would try to use them for a freshly baked pie. It seemed so aesthetic and simple.

So, I got to picking. I only picked half the patch before my container I brought out was overflowing.

Deciding that was probably plenty, I went inside and washed them, and set them on paper towels to dry while I looked up a recipe for the pie. Look at all these funky little dudes!

I settled on King Arthur’s No-Bake Fresh Strawberry Pie. Mainly because I already had all the ingredients listed, partially because I use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour anyway, so might as well use their recipe, right? Also, I don’t have pie weights, as I’ve never made a pie before, and this recipe calls for baking the crust in the microwave rather than the oven, so I figured I could skirt around using pie weights if I used this recipe.

First, it says to put the butter in a microwave safe 9″ pie pan. As soon as I dropped the stick of butter in my pie pan, I realized it mostly certainly was not a microwave safe one. In fact, I realized I don’t have any microwave safe pie pans. So, I figured I could just melt the butter in a bowl and then pour it into the pie pan, then add the dry ingredients on top of it. So I did that! And this is how it looked:

This was so different from how I imagined a pie crust to be. Most pie crusts are made using cold butter and ice water, and are certainly not as squishy as this was. Regardless, I pressed it into the pan the best I could, and discovered that there wasn’t enough dough to go up the sides, like a pie crust should. No matter how thin I made the bottom layer, it wouldn’t go up the sides. I wasn’t sure how to fix that, but then it didn’t even matter because I suddenly remembered that this was supposed to go BACK INTO THE MICROWAVE TO BAKE.

It was still not, nor was it ever, a microwave safe pie pan. So now I had a dough that needed to be cooked, and I could not follow the recipe’s method to cook it, because I just put it right back into the same pan I specifically did not put the butter in. Obviously, I took to Google to try to convert microwave time to oven time, as well as figure out what temperature I should bake it at.

After much thorough research (about one minute and skimming, because I’m wildly impatient), I threw it in the oven at 375 degrees for fifteen minutes. After that time was up, it wasn’t quite done, so I gave it another ten, which was too much, and it came out too dark in some parts.

So, the crust was a total bust in my eyes. I decided to go ahead and try to make the filling anyways, and then maybe retry another pie crust later.

For the filling, it said I needed eight cups of strawberries, which I was fairly sure I had. I cut up all the strawberries, and it ended up only measuring five cups. Then I realized I should have measured the eight cups before cutting them up, because they take up less space when they’re all cut up. So I totally mis-measured. I said fuck it and continued with the filling recipe, which called for sugar, cornstarch, water, and lemon juice. This is what it looked like when I was done with it:

Upon tasting it, the texture and taste were both off, and I wasn’t sure why, until I realized I probably used too much cornstarch, since I was using the amount that correlated with the eight cups of strawberries, rather than accounting for how much I actually had (which was an unknown amount, really, I was just estimating). Also, despite all the cornstarch, which I’m pretty sure was supposed to be the thickener, it was still runny.

Feeling defeated and disappointed, I covered the bowl with foil and put the strawberry mixture in the fridge, and left the non-pie-crust-pie-crust out on the stove, and walked away from it.

Along came my father, who always makes me feel better about my less than perfect baking attempts. He said both things I made tasted good, and whipped up this little concoction:

The pie crust I attempted really did taste far more like shortbread than a pie crust, and was also not even close to a pie crust texturally. Honestly, I don’t even like pie crust, and I love shortbread, so I guess I’m not too unhappy with how this turned out. I had him make me a serving, too, and it was pretty dang good.

Do you have any pie crust recipes to recommend? Have you ever had a garden fresh strawberry (they’re way better)? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

Categories
Big Idea

The Big Idea: Erica Friedman

We are all part of some sort of fandom, and some fandoms are better known than others. In By Your Side, author Erica Friedman explores a vital, but possibly lesser-known, group of fans.

ERICA FRIEDMAN:

Every day someone discovers a new fandom. How awesome is that?

Right away that new fan takes in all the key series to date and learns the ins and outs of the fandom –  their language, their in-jokes… and, in the best fandoms, new folks are welcomed and their enthusiasm for the newest bestest thing ever rejuvenates long-time fans. New fan fic and fan art are born. As those new fans try to absorb as much as they can about this new interest, they often come across an unintentional barrier. You see, Fandom’s collective long-term memory goes back about two years, so when new fans join, sometimes they bring with them this idea that the fandom itself is only as old as their interest in it. History is rewritten every time a new series brings new fans into an existing fandom.

Why should anyone care about the history of a fandom? you may ask.

And I will reply – history is part of representation. Of course, we want to see ourselves reflected in art and entertainment but, even more importantly for those of us part of marginalized communities, we also want to know that we have always been here, and to be assured that we always will be here.

As manga sales overwhelm western comic sales, there is a groundswell of manga for audiences that haven’t previously been taken as seriously by the largest comic publishers in the west. LGBTQ+ reader may get a Pride month special now from Marvel or DC, but long-term characterization and inclusion follows more slowly. In manga, queer characters and storylines are thriving.

In By Your Side: The First 100 Year of Yuri Anime and Manga, I trace the first 100 years of a fandom you may have discovered only a few years ago, or yesterday, or maybe you haven’t discovered it yet. Lesbian-themed Japanese animation and comics, known as Yuri, is the newest genre of anime and manga. Beginning with its root in girls magazines of Japan in the early 20th century, and expanding into all of the main demographic genres of manga, Yuri has a unique history even among manga genres. I cover key series that even non-fans may be familiar with – as Sailor Moon has saturated popular culture in the US for the past 30 years as it has in Japan.

I’ve been reading, watching, writing and speaking about Yuri for 20 years – watching as fandom, creators and publishers shaped this new genre in different ways and for different reasons. My publisher, Journey Press, is steeped in the literal history of science fiction fandom. We all believe that history has meaning for all fans. Through an interlocking series of essays, lectures, overview and analysis, By Your Side captures the history of a relatively new, still-growing fandom, so that every reader of Yuri manga or watcher of Yuri anime knows that their fandom has a history and that they are part of that story…that they belong.

I hope you’ll walk by my side along our garden path as we discuss the first 100 years of Yuri and look towards the next century.


By Your Side: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop

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