September 6, 2009

the things that help us feel alive.

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British author Nick Hornby wrote a fascinating piece in today’s Guardian about what he’s found in mp3 blogs, and the changing ways we seek out and share and find connection with music and other music lovers. In the piece (entitled, “The Thrill Of It All“), Hornby muses:

Keeping in touch with the things that help us feel alive – music, books, movies, even the theatre, if, mysteriously, you are that way inclined – becomes a battle, and one that many of us lose, as we get older; I don’t think enough of our cultural pundits, people who write about that stuff for a living, fully understand this.”

When I got to that sentence this morning, I stopped, and immediately re-read it three times, then set down my cup of coffee and thought about it for a good while there in my kitchen. I kinda wanted to make that first part the tagline on my blog, or script it out in flashing pink letters down the left sidebar of the site (my designers would not like this), because it simply summed up what I hope this blog would always be about to me, to you, to everyone that stops by. How do we keep in touch with the things that make us feel alive as we get older, with so many things that jockey for position and jostle to the head of the line to be attended to in the limited hours before we collapse from exhaustion at midnight, one a.m., later?

Lately I’ve really felt the weight of expectation (mine and others) in regards to my writing here, and struggled to frame and define it in a way that I can embrace moving forward. Since the inception of music blogs, and the year 2005 when many of us moderately-oldtimers started our sites, things have diverged in a dozen different directions. As with any new medium, the rules are written as we go along, and with music blogs, they’ve been written by each of us simply taking the tack that feels right to us. What I want this site to be — nay, what it really has to be for me to want to continue to be invested in it — is a place for me to keep in touch with some of the tangible, artsy-type things that help me feel alive (so thanks, Nick, for phrasing that in a way that makes it seem so clear and simple).

When I write about music, I don’t do it with an eye to the stats or an ear to the ground to bring you the hottest news out there. I figure there are dozens of sites that do the news thing far better than I do, mostly because it’s their full-time job, and this for me is something I do “in addition to.” I started writing Fuel/Friends to share my voice, and the things that poked me somewhere in the deep red of my heart, or the analytical, word-loving part of my brain. If a revised tack of increasing balance means that I post less often in this season, but I only post things that spark a genuine reaction in me, then that to me is far preferable for where I’m at in my life these days. One thing I’ve learned is that people will absolutely take as much as you will give, and more. On the one hand, it is flattering. On the other hand, it will wear me to a tiny nub of dessicated exhaustion if I don’t set hedges in place.

Ultimately, many things in the life I lead help me to feel alive. I try every day to balance the ones I don’t blog much about (namely, my marvelous little boy, my deeply rewarding job, and all my interpersonal relationships that take time and watering and love to grow) with the things that I do sit down to tippety-type about: the songs, the albums, the movies, the books, the art exhibits, the poetry that sends a jolt down my spine and lights me up inside. Lately I’ve been struggling quite a bit with folks’ comments about what they expect to find here, versus what I see this site as being and doing in my little corner of the internet. If you would like to pop in every now and again to share what I’m connecting with, please do. I love having you here. But I hope you don’t expect me to meet your news and coolness needs (and comment negatively when I don’t) because I promise you, I will let you down.

I feel extraordinarily lucky every day that I get to engage this stream of new music and culture that comes pouring through my mailbox, my inbox, my network of friends. There is so much good stuff out there that I can’t envision a time when it will ever dry up, and that feels like a miraculous thing. There was a time when I graduated college and got so wrapped up in grown-up responsibilities that I handily cut most new music out from entering my life, simply from lack of time to find it. Music blogs have meant as much to me as they might mean to you, in that they have singlehandedly revived my excitement about all the new sounds.

Now. Come, let’s carry on. There’s new music being recorded right now, new sprigs of vibrancy popping up all over the place.

I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.



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38 Comments »

  • Fantastic post. I wish I had the creative talent to express my thoughts concerning music as well as you do Heather. Keep it up.

    J — September 6, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  • Bravo!

    Me — September 6, 2009 @ 9:49 pm

  • Ahh, i believe you’re pretty cool. i’ve just stumbled upon this site in search of another site that i found a while back, but this one has comfortably replaced it.
    You do a good thing here and i hope you can shrug off the nit-pickers as easily as your words string themselves together. By all means, keep doing what you do dear you’re doing it well.
    -cheers

    sergio — September 6, 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  • I am so thankful for your blog. Your site means so much and I am so glad there is someone so talented out there like you to express and record the trends and favorites.

    Ley — September 6, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  • Bravo

    JK — September 7, 2009 @ 12:16 am

  • Out of all the music blogs out there, yours is my favorite. I was so happy to see Hornby mention you in that article, because I feel like you both listen to music to same way I do – to be moved, not to be recognized – and all that love comes through in your writing. I’m excited to see where it all goes next. Cheers!

    Jenny — September 7, 2009 @ 6:06 am

  • Keep it up. It’s such a joy. I don’t know how you find the time. I visit your blog about 5 times a week. I like you have many things to balance. I also have a passion for music, and your blog is certainly a source for high quality fuel. Never turn off the things that make your sole dance. Being responsible isn’t easy, but it’s the best path to freedom. There isn’t a governing body over the arts. Just opinions, and we should be so lucky.

    Thank you,

    Dave

    Dave — September 7, 2009 @ 6:14 am

  • I never comment, but I visit your blog all the time. I just want to say that I love what you do here & I’m very thankful that you share your time in this way. This post proves exactly why I keep coming back.

    So THANK YOU!
    Kristen

    Kristen — September 7, 2009 @ 6:19 am

  • “I started writing Fuel/Friends to share my voice…”

    That voice is why I always read your blog.

    Dave Lifton — September 7, 2009 @ 6:38 am

  • Let me add my voice to the chorus as well. The reason your site works so well is for the very reasons you talk about. It doesn’t matter to me if you post every day; I just know that when a new post pops up in my reader I will find something of interest. Thanks for writing with such joy about the music that moves you.

    Justin Steiner — September 7, 2009 @ 6:55 am

  • like kristen, i visit your blog regularly but never comment. just wanted to share that the voice which you mention in this post – the way that you write about music that moves you – is the reason that of all the music blogs i have surfed through and read on occasion yours is really my only “must read.” your love of sharing good music comes across not as competitive, but as a genuine desire to make the world a little smaller by bringing people together with the love of a beautiful song.

    thanks for writing.

    rachel — September 7, 2009 @ 6:56 am

  • Dahyum-nice shout out!

    Mine — September 7, 2009 @ 7:01 am

  • it is a wordy musing, alright, but worth the read. thx for making many of my days.

    kat — September 7, 2009 @ 7:15 am

  • i think you may want to revisit your definition of “cool”. honey, if it’s cool enough for NICK HORNBY then, um, it’s cool. you, and the music you introduce me to, add a little spark to the drudge of my day. how many people can honestly say that?

    denise — September 7, 2009 @ 8:21 am

  • Thank you, Heather, for sharing your taste and thoughts on all those things that help you, and us, feel alive. Like others above, I’m here all the time but just absorb rather than comment… this time, though, I couldn’t resist adding my appreciation.

    That Hornby quote struck me in such a very similar way when I read it last night, and I immediately cut and pasted it in a draft post, then read it over and over again. It really got me, so I was thrilled to see part of it appear in your post title (just as I was so glad to see him mention F/F). I think I’ll erase my draft and just point people over here ;)

    Brad — September 7, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  • Heather,

    By all means, this site is yours to do with as you please. The best musicians, the best directors, the best writers, all follow their own vision and create what pleases them most. If others enjoy it, so be it, whether that response is immediate or takes decades (some people take a while to come around).

    I enjoy your site because it doesn’t have a narrow focus, and I never know what to expect when I read it. But if you feel that a “quality over quantity” approach is more to your liking, then by all means, change your blog.

    The American character is just as you noted: if someone creates it, Americans will consume it. Hence thickburgers, meth, and sub-prime loans.

    My point: you’ll always have fans/readers, even if some leave and new ones find you.

    Back to “quality over quantity”…

    Being an adult necessarily means pushing entertainment into the background. That sucks, but that’s how it is. Luckily, it also means a paycheck and the ability to see as many concerts and movies and such as we have time and money for.

    But there is also an accumulation, and it’s important to look back. The biggest advantage is that it saves time; if we’ve already discovered something great, why spend time looking for the next great thing? In spite of your blog, and all the others, in spite of radio, television, magazines, friends, family…well, that’s just it…I’ve already invested in these CDs and DVDs over here. Sometimes even that small group of people that I normally trust for finding new material is just too tiresome to deal with, as well-intentioned and well-informed as they may be.

    I’ve long considered a blog that would only post thoughts and reviews of material publicly available for at least two years. Placing an album in context 17 years after the fact can be as valuable as the reviews of next week’s releases. In fact, it’s easier to make connections between albums, between bands, between social events and the message or meaning of the album’s content.

    At 41, I’m tired of searching for new music, new movies, new anything. I’ve amassed a collection of music greater than all of my friends except one, and enjoy rooting around in what will one day be a valuable contribution to my local landfill.

    My time is now spent editing video, working as a graphic designer, enjoying that rare movie or CD that still gets my blood pumping, or a concert by a band that is pure in its enjoyment of making music. Entertainment might be on the back burner, but it can still get red hot, still boil over, still demand my attention.

    Your blog is a trusted link to the shiny and new, and I value that. I’m not making demands of you, and won’t. Any creative effort such as this is take-it-or-leave-it, and such items can’t be questioned, only accepted or rejected.

    And honestly, I don’t have the energy or the time to start up a new blog to cover territory with as many dirt paths as the Appalachians. It seems that you can’t throw a rock in this country without hitting a band, and it’s not my age that makes the entire process of finding new music seem overwhelming. This is a country of excess, and that includes one’s daily entertainment options. While it took me years to accumulate a small mountain of musical enjoyment, it would only take a week to do so now, if I felt I could dispose of my job and search full-time for freebies.

    My point is that while I enjoy your blog, and its offerings, doesn’t anyone ever question the sheer volume being produced? If anyone can make a song – and it seems like everyone IS making a song – then what is its real value?

    If we all have such individual tastes that there’s no longer a common thread between us, then are we really Americans, or just a bunch of music junkies living under the same roof?

    As I progress in years, it seems that music can be just as divisive as politics or money. The biggest bands today have only a fraction of the fans that bands from 15 or 20 years ago would have. Yes, I know that these new bands are more agreeable to your preferences, or my preferences, or anyone else’s tastes, but don’t we also need the U2s of the world? The Neil Young’s, KISS’s, Elton John’s of the world?

    I’m not one to stand in the way of progress. I just want to point out what’s being lost in the march forward, and it’s a sense of identity that’s being atomized, made smaller but more intense, and I think it limits our overall ability to connect to those who see the world differently.

    I just feel more apt to shun away from the endless waves of pop culture that hits the digital shores each day, and I can’t be the only person to feel this way. If the quantity is such that it pushes us away from the quality, then what is the real value of a song?

    It’s one thing to hop in the ocean and frolic, another to be pushed under by the excess of high waves. (Metaphors don’t come easily at 2:15 in the morning, let me tell you.)

    So write what you will. I’ll still come knocking and want to visit. But you might want to have a beach towel handy…

    Michael

    Michael — September 7, 2009 @ 8:27 am

  • Add one more to the “long time reader, first time poster” list. Just wanted to pipe up to voice my appreciation for what is an oasis of warm fandom in an otherwise overwhelming desert of cynical hipsterdom. What sets this place apart from the rest is the abundance of care and kindness that clearly go into each post. So many of the blogs out there are all about pose, lightning quick one-liners with the express intent of out-cooling the next guy. Being the first or only to post about something becomes more important than what you are posting. The comments sections turn into a venue for the anonymous mob to try and come up with the cleverest way to tear something down, a never ending contest of indie “yo mama” jokes. Your approach of lovingly presenting the things you care about in the hopes that someone else may come to appreciate them too is a gift, one that I hope to continue accepting as long as you care to give. Many thanks.

    Grizz — September 7, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  • Read the Hornby and thought about why this is such an enjoyable place to visit;what touches the heart is to be respected;as is respecting its right to beat a little faster at the mystery of living which music seems to underline.

    Stay gold.

    Russell — September 7, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  • Also – in the interest of sharing – have just read a sensational book called ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls, which is damn near perfect. His blog is very entertaining,too.

    http://david-nicholls.livejournal.com/

    Russell — September 7, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  • I’m glad to see I’m not alone in the repsonses here to hopefully bring you encouragement in response to the words and music you are are helping us know and discover more. I was trying to think of the best way to explain what it is I like about your site compared to so many others – I guess it’s pretty simple, it’s the honest passion with which you deliver your thoughts to us. You expose your heart and feelings about what the music does to you and not many people live like that these days with anything. Keep it up, challenge us to stop and feel the moments you share with us and not to settle for the news report but to be swept away in all this – from the artists you share with us and the notes that stream. Thank you – I feel like I know you but know I don’t and am jealoous of those who get to know you more.

    Mike — September 7, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  • Heather:

    I’ve been reading your blog since its first days — from a posting on the ten club forum. I don’t often find a lot of music on your site that I like, but when I do, it’s a gem.

    More importantly, yours is the first music blog I read on my small sweep of music blogs. As I mentioned, I don’t like a lot of what you post musically, but I love, love, love your passion and voice. I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to read a lot of blogs. So those I do read have to give me something of value. Your blog rewards me every time I read it. Thanks.

    Steve

    szg — September 7, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  • Heather – I used to read a handful of music blogs, but over the years, I’ve narrowed it down to just this one. I only occasionally comment, but after reading this post I felt I should let you know that your blog is what gave me the inspiration to start my own. You are so good at expressing how music makes you feel deep inside… sometimes I just sit at my computer in awe because you have put into words exactly what it is that I cannot express.

    Finally, thanks for the Jason Anderson track you posted back in July – it gave me exactly what I was missing on the new Springsteen album.

    Megan — September 8, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

  • Forgot to mention how ridiculously cool it is that Nick Hornby mentioned your blog. You know you’ve made it when…

    Megan — September 8, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  • And I love it here.

    spookycat — September 8, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  • I always love reading your blog. Many times I have downloaded the music you posted–from there I have bought, saved or deleted. But even when it was music that I did not like, I was still glad that I had the opportunity to read about another new artist and listen to their music. Thank you for bringing this new music into my world. Otherwise, I would never have the time or inclination to do this type of research myself.

    Anne — September 8, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

  • Heather:

    You said it so well and artfully, but, to glibly parahrase, your blog is your way of sharing your love of music with the world, nothing less and nothing more. Some will get that, and some won’t. C’est la vie. At the end of the day, the only opinion about what this blog should be that actually matters is yours. Sing your song and no one else’s. I’ll listen.

    Jason

    Jason — September 8, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

  • I want to say something amazing but they said it all. What they said. I love you!

    Angora — September 8, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  • Heather-
    Great music taste and wonderful writing make this site a top visit on my path of music discovery. Your passion for music has already been discussed (and I jump on the pile of love for it!) I do my own email music list daily (or as much as I can) by sending out one song a day. I do it because I love to share music and turn people on to whatever I’m into that day – old, new, borrowed or blue.

    Your love of music does not define what you are or what you do, it only provides the soundtrack and sometimes turns an emotion. Keep up the great work because I can tell you I love this site!

    el bandito — September 9, 2009 @ 4:36 am

  • I read the original Guardian piece, and felt a tingle of excitement on your behalf when Hornby recommended Fuel/Friends.

    I blog too, about food, and I do it for the same reasons you do. For myself. If other people like it, that’s great. If somebody who I really admire comes along and likes my stuff, that makes my day/year. I expect you feel this way about Nick Hornby. I certainly would.

    I remember Nick Cave once said that everybody else could just go f*** off, because Johnny Cash sang his song, and that to him was the top of the mountain. I thought of this as I read your post. Do this for yourself and let it take you where it takes you.

    Some people will like it, some people will hate it. Sometimes you’ll connect with people, sometimes you won’t. This doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy it.

    If you enjoy it, we will too.

    For me, you turned me onto Bon Iver last December, and For Emma is one of those albums that just moved me deeply. It’s just beautiful. Thanks.

    them apples — September 9, 2009 @ 5:28 am

  • I remember the post where you talked about seeing Elvis Perkins and crying during “While You Were Sleeping.” And I remember thinking to my self that Heather understands that music must move you. Thanks for the site.

    Stephen Kimball — September 9, 2009 @ 8:02 am

  • Heather-

    I, too, have been reading your blog for a very long time. We used to chat over at ryanadams.org way back. I’m so happy that all of these people have taken the time to thank you and to tell you that what you do is important. You say you have a deeply rewarding job, and you say that Fuel/Friends is something you do “in addition to.” But I hope you can someday see the blog as rewarding, too. Without you, I never would have found so many of the songs that inspire me, challenge me, and–in the worst of times–comfort me. So let me say that again: without your contributions here on this blog, my life would be a little less “enriched” without the amazing music that you have introduced to me. I would rather see you post once a month than to have you give up on it. I don’t have expectations when I check your blog. I open the link with wonder and hope–”What’s Heather all excited about these days? I hope I like it, too.” I’d say 8 times out of 10 I get all excited about it, as well.
    Short story really long, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy life to share the love. I hope you do it for as long as you feel inspired, and I hope you feel inspired for a long time.

    Danielle — September 10, 2009 @ 8:51 am

  • Thanks for this — and for your blog. After a couple of months with hardly any time to check even blogs, I’ve been visiting your site again regularly, and enjoying what I find. Given the demise of (most) commercial radio, blogs are my major resource for finding new music. I’m only able to check a very few of them regularly, and yours is one. So… thank you! Keep up the excellent work!

    If you’re looking for something fun and new, “Lust for Life” by Girls (no, not the Iggy Pop song) is very fun, & catchy. Ragged vocal, crisp guitar, with some doo-bah-ing harmony vocals. Based on the samples I’ve heard — the rest of their album (titled Album) might be worth checking out. I have no idea about the rest of the album (which isn’t out yet), but Boy Crisis’s “Dress to Digress” is trashily fun and the lyrics’ lusty digressions amuse me. They sound a bit like Chromeo. And, um, as for any other new music I’m listening to, I likely read about it here first!

    Philip Nel — September 11, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  • Wow, congratulations! Having Nick Hornby read your writing is definitely one of the better claims to fame I’ve ever seen.

    Ps. If 4 years of blogging is a moderate old-timer, I must be the blogging cavewoman. :) 9 years & counting…

    muruch — September 16, 2009 @ 9:36 am

  • as i’ve found, if you don’t blog for your own personal reasons, you won’t blog at all. and we’d all be the poorer for that.

    jen — September 16, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

  • Hey Heather-

    I stumbled upon your site a few years ago on a crazed hunt for Ray LaMontagne rareities.. And oh how my life has changed! F/F is the only blog I must read (what you said about adulthood getting in the way) and that’s because you *don’t* shove the latest breaking must-hear-and-love-or-else-you’re-decidedly-uncool thing down our throats. You tell us what’s moving you in that particular moment, exactly how it feels and where. Thank you so much for so many favorites that you’ve brought into my life and keep it up. It’s your voice, let it speak how and when it wants to.

    Amy — September 23, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  • Hear, hear! I don’t understand the people who talk shit on other people’s blogs. It’s YOUR blog. No one’s forcing them to read it, for chrissake. Anyway, I think you are awesome & down-to-earth & that you should keep up the blog in whatever way works for you. I’ll keep reading (and listening).

    Faith — September 28, 2009 @ 6:58 am

  • Just thought I’d let you know that Nick recommended your blog to the crowd at the LA reading of Juliet, Naked last night. I was immediately smiling as I have been a fan of your blog for sometime (as a card carrying member of TenClub). People even had him repeat the blog name so they could write it down. I wrote a little bit about last night on my blog if you are at all interested. Keep up the good work!

    Eric — October 7, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  • holy hell. thanks Eric! ;)

    browneheather — October 7, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. If you represent an artist or a label and would prefer that I remove a link to an mp3, please email me at browneheather@gmail.com

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