A Year of Favorites: Mairead Case


“If beauty is in acts of ordinary devotion I think ugliness must be in the acts of everyday neglect, small gestures that chip and chip and eventually rip shards of what it means to be human, to be loved and loving, out of you. It is easy to pretend nothing is happening.” – Arabelle Sicardi, “The Year in Ugliness” (Hazlitt)

When I was sixteen, I started working at a corporate bookstore, and I kept working until I graduated from college. I was in the back in music, which meant I controlled the five-disc changer. Each month we had a set list of seven albums to choose from, but the manager let me sneak in my own picks as long as I sold some of them too. One Christmas – it doesn’t really matter that it was Christmas – I played a Billie Holiday comp one or two times a shift. I sold a lot of them, which was a triumph because the recording was terrible. The sound wasn’t even slightly leveled. It started with a needle scratch. But it was cheaper than the other albums at the front, and it was Billie Holiday, and everything else was Christmas music. So I sold a bunch. I was proud. I didn’t know she was already robbed, or that her family wouldn’t get any of the money from my register.

On the one hand, whatever. Love what you love, and hold that dear. On the other, be angry. Yes, even now. On the third hand, this year I thought a lot about that Christmas. I thought about it because I still listen to Billie Holiday a lot. But also, I thought I was doing so well that year. I bumped the volume whenever I heard the scratch. I sold a whole box, and my manager ordered another. I was proud. I was a tastemaker. I was also a kid, and when Spring came and I asked my manager if Corporate noticed the work we did for Billie, he laughed. Nobody cared. The seven January albums were snow-white in sight and sound. Same as it ever was, except this time I was frustrated.

What I mean is, this year felt like that January over and over again, though of course on a wider, wilder scale. At the bookstore I always felt like if I just told people, if somehow they just understood that music stores could also be for mystery and discovery and politics and intersectional history – if they just listened; they didn’t even have to buy! – then everything would be better. It’d be different. But at the end of the day my manager just laughed and patted my shoulder and suddenly we were in the hell of one slowest month and seven lite jazz albums. I’m no longer that naïve, but I’m just as shocked. (The difference is important.)

Obviously this is a feathery example – nobody’s life was at stake in the bookstore, and while music and politics (and amplification and distribution) have a lot to say to each other, I was still a kid working an after-school job. I was hungry for friends, not dinner. But it was the first time I clearly remember this falling-feeling, the first time the soft focus left me without any warning I heard.

Today, this morning, I can’t remember ever being an angrier American femme, I can’t remember a queasier exhaustion, but also I’ve never loved my friends more. And I’m not going anywhere. (I can’t remember ever meaning that more sincerely than I do now either.) So here are some stories and sounds that anchored me this year, and maybe kept me alive too: thank you.



Fray: Art and Textile Politics by Julia Bryan-Wilson (University of Chicago)

Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway (Duke University Press)

After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus (MIT Press)

Rebellious Mourning, ed. Cindy Milstein (AK Press)

The End of My Career by Martha Grover (Perfect Day Publishing)

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Ecco)

The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair (Penguin)

Objects from a Borrowed Confession by Julie Carr (Ahsahta Press)

Mean by Myriam Gurba (Coffee House Press)

Logic by Olympia Vernon (Atlantic Monthly)

The DIY Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad by Adam Gnade (Pioneers Press)

The Future Generation by China Martens (Atomic)

Motherwort by Lyric Hunter (Guillotine)

The Selfishness of Others by Kristin Dombek (FSG)

Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age by Joanna Macy (New Society)

Gaylord Phoenix #8 by Edie Fake (Pegacorn Press)

Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar (Alice James Books)

Gaslight by Joachim Kalka, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole (NYRB)

Land of Love and Ruins by Oddny Eir, trans. Roughton (Restless)


The Florida Project, dir. Sean Baker

Anne Carson’s Antigonick on KCRW

Almòdovar En Total at the Denver Film Society



Jackie Shane, Any Other Way (Numero Group)

Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans)

Weaves, Wide Open (Memphis Industries)

Fever Ray, Plunge (Rabid Records)

Jessy Lanza, Oh No (Hyperdub)

Josephine Foster, This Coming Gladness (Bo’Weavil Recordings)

Perfume Genius, Slip Away (Matador Records)

Moor Mother, Fetish Bones (Don Giovanni Records)

Joan of Arc, He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands (Joyful Noise)

Rainer Maria, Rainer Maria (Polyvinyl)


Tanya Tagaq at the Museum of Pop Culture

Diamanda Galas at Thalia Hall

Seth Cluett performing Pauline Oliveros’s “The Witness” at Shapeshifter Lab

Helena Hauff on BBC Radio 1 (2/25/2017)



Black Oak Tattoo

Marcin Nagraba’s photographs of his mother

Lisa Jarnot on the end of the world at the Naropa Summer Writing Program

Hassadah Damien’s Ride Free Fearless Money

Talia Migliaccio’s handpoked tattoos

Half Letter Press’s Library Excavation Bookmarks



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