Montero, Atonement, etc
It is an excellent Sunday today, my love. Before we start, if you aren’t familiar with Lil Nas X, he is a glorious magnificent musician / human, and his newest album came out this week. It is called Montero.
Okay that’s out of the way. Thank you, it is now time for me to gush.
Lil Nas X, man. All my days since his release day have just been Montero, Montero, Montero. I’ve been happily cruising on the unbelievable freshness, the unbelievable excitement of someone stepping fully into their power. Boldly and brilliantly creating a whole ass new genre of music.
As a businesswoman I am floored by his brilliant marketing. It is sticky, cutting edge, and even socially conscious in its badassery. It is so good that on September 17th I woke up, wrote the date in my morning pages, and promptly said, “Holy shit, it’s Montero day!”
(And I wasn’t even a fan yet.)
Which changed, immediately, as soon as I turned the album on.
Because as a musician, I am ALSO floored by the brilliance of his songwriting, production and vocal delivery.
Lil Nas X, man. Just casually, seamlessly, effortlessly breaking down barriers left and right. A voice simultaneously strong and vulnerable. An album that crosses genres as if the word doesn’t exist. Hip hop. Pop-rap. Emo-rock. All of it at once?!
His word play. His lyrics. The norms he’s crashing down as a gay black man.
The album spans so much. Gives wisdom and skill well beyond his 22 years while still delivering the infectious bravado of a 22 year old. And, though my favorite parts shift actively, today I’m so inspired by that bravado.
Lil Nas X, man. Ebulliently, vibrantly confident in his space. Does he know it, or do I just think he knows? Is he aware he’s just in the beginning of a golden age?
Either way, I hope he is beyond proud of himself.
2018, I was at my sister house the whole summer
Songs wasn’t doin’ numbers, whole life was goin' under
Left school, then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta
He said, "It’s one in a million chance, son," I told him, "Daddy, I am that one”
I’ve been sitting with that line since Montero Day. I’m thankful he took the courageous step of baring his soul in this album and I’m proud of him for getting that sentiment so right.
Because that’s the thing about being an artist. It’s a wild, terrifying and ultimately somewhat arrogant choice. In order to succeed, we all have to have the unreasonable confidence to believe we have that one in a million chance.
I’ve struggled with that one, myself. Even spoke about it in the full Stingray Songbook session, which you can peruse if you liked “Silver Bullet” last week.
Very few people thought that I was that one in a million. Like Lil Nas X (she says! deeply! flattering! herself!), this was ultimately to my advantage.
And I’m grateful for it in this period of reflection, especially as we head out of Yom Kippur, one of my favorite holidays in my people’s calendar.
(Yom Kippur, man.)
I’ve always loved Yom Kippur. I think it just deeply badass that my people devote a whole day to seeking forgiveness, giving forgiveness, and taking stock of where we could do better each year. I love it all, especially the mournful, hunger driven seriousness of the day.
My father leads the Mincha service at my childhood temple every year. Dons white robes and looks like a prophet each time. Since I was a kid, it’s always been the moment I saw his spirituality, deep enough to inspire so many, come to an apex.
My Savta drives up from Washington Heights to my parent’s house every year. She sets up shop in the entryway, staying for the night. She likes to go to temple for a small amount of time. Just enough for her to mumble along to the prayers and complain with me about the fasting. Then she and I go home and take a nap together.
My mom and I go to temple a bit, leaving eventually to begin preparing the break-fast meal. If you’re from a New York Ashkenazi family like mine, you may too have gotten down with the almighty classic: Bagels, lox, schmear, etc.
This year I missed everyone something fierce. José indulged me in the ritual of Tashlich, where you go to a body of water and throw your sins out as bread. Though we did it on the wrong day in Amsterdam, it is a treasured moment for me. In my family we do this at our friend Shana’s home on the Hudson River every year, and the seagulls have a field day.
Amsterdam-Canal-Tashlich, which José lovingly calls “Tashlee,” was equally amusing. In lieu of pigeons and seagulls I was gifted majestic mallards who were just ecstatic to consume my sins for the year.
In glorious order my sins were consumed first by small duck, then large duck, and ultimately ENORMOUS goose/swan.
These swans were a little harrowing, though. They had real “we came from dinosaurs what the fuck else do you have besides sins to feed us” energy. They had blue eyes and were looking at me like goose-mobsters, so it was time to go by then.
Sins were eaten. Time for break-fast.
For this I called one of the only Jewish humans I know around these parts, my dear friend Ido, and told him that he would have to be fed, because I needed someone to dine with José and me on bagels, lox, schmear, etc.
Amsterdam, I love you. You know I do. You’ve got the smoked fish part down to a science, and you’ve even got roomkaas on the schmear end. But let’s not talk about your bagels. They are fine, I know you like them. But I am also from New York. So measures had to be taken.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made bagels, so I know the drill. But it only occurred to me halfway through the dough proving process that the reason you order bagels, lox, schmear, etc on Yom Kippur is so you don’t have to cook, let alone painstakingly bake while fasting.
My stomach was screaming at me, and she was correct.
Still, I am a wild, stubborn and ridiculous Jewess, and I persevered. I made the perfect bagel on earth, my friend. At first I panicked because Dutch yeast is different from the Fleischman’s I hoard-packed in our first move over here. I ended up doing two batches, totaling 16 bagels. We ate all of them between the three of us because they were all equally delicious.
(Dutch yeast is great. Note to self: Never bake bagels while fasting ever again.)
Here I am below with all the excitement that comes after kneading dough while fasting, proving the dough while fasting, shaping the bagels while fasting, boiling them while fasting, baking them while fasting, and then finally eating them. Ido is looking on in slight amusement… I hope.
We were good COVID-ers and ate outside on our terrace. The meal was spectacular.
I woke up the next day with a feeling of clarity I’ve never felt in a post Yom Kippur. Something is different this year. My depression broke. Maybe it was those dinosaur-geese, who knows. I’m not asking any questions, just thanking the Dutch and higher powers and all of it.
On Yom Kippur, we famously beat our breasts (which you may recognize from my song “Hear You Now,” placed there intentionally). We recite a prayer called Ashamnu, translating to “We are guilty/We have sinned.” In the 24 line poem the entire congregation beats our breast as we sing a fabulously Jewish list of all the ways we could have sinned this past year.
But last week, my childhood Rabbi, legendary spiritual inspiration Rabbi Kenter, sent me an alternate take on Ashamnu, which he found from Rabbi Avi Weiss. It made me cry when I read it after all of the pain of the past year. And it feels truer this time around. If you, too, are looking for the clarity and love of a woman whose sins have all been eaten by a Dutch-dinosaur-goose, may I present it below:
We have loved,
We have blessed,
We have grown,
We have spoken positively.
We have raised up,
We have shown compassion,
We have acted enthusiastically,
We have been empathetic,
We have cultivated truth.
We have given good advice,
We have respected,
We have learned,
We have forgiven,
We have comforted,
We have been creative,
We have stirred,
We have been spiritual activists,
We have been just,
We have longed for the Land.
We have been merciful,
We have given full effort,
We have supported,
We have contributed,
We have repaired.
More next week.
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