Constellation prize

Today’s assortment of random enthusiams brought to you courtesy of my favorite student malapropism of the semester (see above).


1. Live music
I am incredibly excited to go see Kelly Hogan tonight at a house concert here in Madison. Hogan is sort of a personal hero of mine, which is sometimes awkward because she also a local and an entirely regular person. Except for, you know, the part where she’s a genius.

Hogan is often described as a “singer’s singer,” which is a little bit of a curse: it means you’re a critical darling who has never found a broad enough audience. When she’s not touring her own material, she sings backup for Neko Case and, as her alter ago Betty Bong, helps cartoonist Lynda Barry run her justly celebrated “Writing the Unthinkable” workshops. She has collaborated with everyone from Mavis Staples to Will Oldham. When she needs a keyboard player for her session band, she calls Booker T. Jones. I am in awe.

For her recent album, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, Hogan made a fantasy list of songwriters she wanted to work with, then began approaching them one by one. The result, which took more than a decade to complete, sounds like a 21st-century version of the Great American Songbook, with contributions from Stephen Merritt, Vic Chesnutt, M.Ward, Andrew Bird, Catherine Irwin (Freakwater—Chicago readers, feel free to fangirl all over the place), Jon Langford (Mekons—ditto), The Handsome Family, and a slew of others. The overriding musical idiom is alt-country, but it’s an eclectic mix.


On one of the last perfect days of summer, Hogan performed on the lawn of the East Side Club, a Madison fixture on the shore of Lake Monona. A couple hundred people relaxed on lawn chairs; an easygoing, family-picnic vibe dominated the show. I watched the sun set over the lake and drank cold hard cider. It was one of those times when you think, “I can’t imagine being any more content than I am right now.”


A short headlining tour includes a date at the Mercury Lounge on December 5, so you NYC folks, go represent! And get blissed-out yourselves.

2. The print is the original
I recently bought a print by the local linocut artist Juliet Darken. Not a lot of money in art-world terms, but easily the most I’ve ever spent on a picture, and completely worth it. It makes me so happy.

3. Sense memory
Even as I become increasingly unable to remember where I left my sunglasses or the three things I needed to get at the grocery store, sensory recollections grow overwhelming. Is this one of those weird signs of getting older that no one told me about, like the fact that I will never again sleep all the way through the night without chemical assistance?

The key for the sense memory was a smell: a linoleum panel (plate? tablet? I should really find out what they’re called) of the sort Darken uses. It has been about thirty years since I last encountered that distinct smell, maybe more, and it unlocked a ton of images, feelings, and impressions. They came tumbling out of some cupboard in my brain I didn’t even know was there.

I had just switched grammar schools for the first time. The old brick building had an incredible room in the basement that served as the kids’ art studio, costume shop, music room, and general chill-out space. We sang, put on plays, painted, and yes, did crude linocuts there. That room became my haven. How had I forgotten about it so completely? Or that I had ever been that unself-consciously creative? Or the teachers who tried to help me adjust? Or that year’s amazing soundtrack? Sure, we remember “Rock With You,” “Call Me” (and yes, “Xanadu”)… but I must have listened to this song a thousand times. (Crank up your computer’s speakers and dance. You’re welcome.)


4 responses to “Constellation prize”

  1. LP says:

    Oh, my god – that Fame Gospel Choir song is the most happy-making thing I’ve ever heard! I love hearing music that sounds as if actual people are singing – can’t even express how much I hate today’s epidemic of auto-tune, where every singer sounds like a robot. And old gospel records are the best for plain old, pure vocal bliss. Thanks, Ms. Berkowitz!

  2. T-Mo says:

    I so envy you right now because you’re likely at the house concert at this very moment. I’m looking forward to hearing your full report.

    Thanks for this array of current enthusiasms, and especially for the title. I’d like Orion for my constellation prize, please.

  3. Bryan says:

    What a great thing to wake up to. Nice to hear your recent enthusiasms. I’ve been having that “I can’t imagine being any more content than I am right now” feeling more than usual lately, although the realization that I can’t just walk over to Mercury Lounge was like a little knife. Still, glad for these recs but even gladder for the paragraphs in between.

  4. Rachel says:

    Timo: It was awesome! You can watch part of it here. We sat about five feet to the left of the guitar player.