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kottke.org posts about Heather Havrilesky

Heather Havrilesky teaches us many lessons via the music of Yes

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 24, 2018

I think we can all agree that Heather Havrilesky is brilliant as Ask Polly, but I’d like to point your attention to her analysis of a prog rock masterpiece.

Today, as an exercise, we’re going to watch this ancient reel of Yes in concert from 1975. Because this is something as far outside of you surrounded by you as it could possibly be. I don’t expect you to enjoy this. Listening will feel like work. That’s the point!

(Whatever you do, do NOT skip to 4:40. Heed the wisdom of Polly.)

She digs in:

Where do we even begin, right? Who starts a song with a four-minute long guitar solo, first of all? And look at that stage design. Is this a local dinner-theater production of Shrek: The Musical! or a major rock tour attended by a massive crowd? Take in the shiny satin prom-dress shirt on guitarist Steve Howe. Take in the notable absence of quality hair-product use. (We didn’t have quality hair products back then. You just poured something like Palmolive on your head and hoped for the best.) Take in the commitment to Peter Pan blouses and flared sleeves. Lead singer Jon Anderson was sort of a timeless hottie, though. He looks like he could be hanging out in a coffee joint in Prospect Heights, smoking weed and reading A Little Life.

I think Anderson always felt like the novice in this group. I mean, what a voice! But look at these other guys with all of their fucking instruments and alternate tunings. How much standing around like an asshole do you think Anderson had to do with these guys around? He had time to visit local gift shops and browse for new super-tight chokers and Robin Hood blouses in between his brief bouts of singing.

She continues:

Now, lyrically, we’ve got journeys and voids and seasons passing you by. There’s a real hobbit energy to Yes. If Zeppelin is like Sauron, Yes is the original hobbit, Bilbo Baggins: humble and connected to the rhythms of the seasons, attached to the comforts of daily life. Hobbits farm the land and sweat and toil, and then they drink a giant pint of beer after a long day’s work. It’s not that they can’t be a little neurotic or a little greedy. They are highly suggestible creatures. But as long as they are, you know, sticking their gross, hairy feet in the mud of the Shire …

And further:

Okay, now let’s skip to 11:44. “Two million people barely satisfied.” This feels like a tribute to the slog. There is suffering in the day-to-day. What do you do? You get up, you get down. Sure, most Yes lyrics are refrigerator-magnet mumbo jumbo of the highest order. But there are loose themes here: We’re connected to nature, to the seasons, and to each other. You can’t resist the bad weather; you can’t turn your back on how connected you are to everything and everyone else, because it’ll make you crazy. We all feel the shame of being regular, flawed humans. We are all BARELY satisfied, dig?

It gets SO much better, so I’ll leave you here to go on the journey of experiencing this classic Ask Polly column in its entirety at your own pace. YMMV, but I find it works just as well read by yourself, late at night in a dark kitchen as it does read aloud to a full car on a family holiday road trip. Oh, and Havrilesky has a new book out, in case it spoke to you: What If This Were Enough? Good read with or without a prog rock soundtrack.

Relationship advice from Al Swearengen

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2015

Ask Polly, by Heather Havrilesky,1 is surely one of the best advice columns out there. In yesterday’s installment, Havrilesky adopted the voice of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen to answer a letter about a boyfriend’s troublesome relationship with a married woman.

It sounds like you’re feeling less than your full fucking self, and for good reason! The hour requires some unvarnished words and since you made mention of your passion for Deadwood, David Milch’s brilliant portrait of the Wild West (largely unsung and partially unfinished thanks to some big-city cocksuckers at HBO, who’d sooner brand their own foreheads with a flat iron than allow a man of the pen to complete the masterpiece for which his name will henceforth be praised), I’d like to sally forth in a style befitting the scoundrels, whores, dirt-worshippers, and hoopleheads of that melancholy town. Be forewarned, though, the language herein might lead some to imagine that yours truly has been pillaging Doc’s stash of chloroform, more typically reserved for offering animals a merciful exit from this mortal plane. Suffice it to say that skeptical cocksuckers and those with delicate sensibilities might be well-advised to seek respite elsewhere. You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.

  1. Who I still think of as being from Suck and probably always will.

Tired TV tropes toppling hypothesizes Heather Havrilesky

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2012

Writing for The Awl, Heather Havrilesky (who you may remember from Suck) highlights three stereotypical TV characters (The Hapless Dad, The Friend, and The Wise Old Professional) and characters on three current shows (Louie, Girls, and Mad Men) that cut right through that bullshit.

Because on “Girls,” not only is The Friend (Hannah, played by Dunham) not all that insecure (relatively speaking), but she also has more swagger and courage and heart than The Hot One (Marnie) and The Other Hot One (Jessa) and The Sort of Hot One (Shoshanna) put together. Instead of whining and weeping snottily into her hands the way The Friend would do on any other television show, Hannah gets naked and refuses to exercise but realizes that she is exactly 13 pounds overweight (this isn’t some fantasyland, after all, except for the trust funds and bad Fu Manchus). Hannah has lots of not-very-great sex. She’s sometimes timid and confused, sure, but she’s brave enough to state her feelings to people directly. She’s self-possessed. But most importantly, she is not preoccupied with not being The Hot One. She wears clothing that doesn’t compliment her body. She doesn’t appear to brush her hair regularly. She doesn’t have to, because she doesn’t believe that there is some center of the universe located somewhere other than where she is, and she’ll only get there if her hair is brushed. No. She can simply exist and do what regular people do: Eat, worry, sleep late, roll her eyes, fall on her face.

I’m gonna come out and say that I really liked Girls, due in large part (I’m realizing now) to Hannah’s (and Adam’s and Ray’s) directness and self-possession.