Begin by Telling by Meg Remy

“..and I know full well what makes the shadows on my walls because I cast them there myself.” – U.S. Girls “IOU”

The first, or one of the first times, I met Meg she gave me a zine. I recognize that voice here almost twenty years on. But of course it’s able to tell things it never did before.

The elliptical, collage style is also recognizable from much of her physical and musical art. It’s a style I intellectually respond to and it resembles some of my own ideas towards text.

The rawness, honesty, and physicality of some of the descriptions reminds me of Michelle Tea’s Against Memoir, which was a book that really struck me and seemed removed from recognizable traditions of literature and more from the world of spoken word, pamphlets, zines, and other so called debased and low traditions(by declaration of male dominated academia) but the material and telling was so convincing it ridiculed those dispersions. The text served the material and so it does here as well. 

At the center of this book like many memoirs(a question of whether this fits that genre purposefully lingers) is a hidden crime exposed. The book circles around it and mentions it as almost an aside. I’ve seen it circled around in interviews and I’ll probably circle around it here. I know it has affected Meg’s life,art, friendships, and world view and I hope by not mentioning it by name I’m not giving it more mystery and power. Crimes are mystified and given allure by our systems. Read it and let her present it.  The crime deserves no mystery, “It’s common, but we don’t talk about it.” to quote the Bratmobile song. 

But talking about it. Telling it is what this book is about. To remove things from shame. To be a good witness. To do something forward with what you learned from this witness. To break down these systems.

The first part of the book most resembles a memoir with the current events of the last decade of the 20th century interposed with moments of her life. Desert Storm, Oklahoma City, Monica Lewinski, and 9/11. These are presented through the purposefully naive eyes of the child, with prejudices of the official history removed. To show the events as spectacle. It begins to fracture at the image of an oil ruined car and secret tape, an essay on media spectacle of phalluses, sports, and military precedes this ellipsis. And then a series of experiences that our “culture” likes to house in the column of “shame “ which of course relates to the body and health. Abortion, STDs, birth control, miscarriage, and the burden put on the accuser in a rape conviction. And the way trauma permeates a life and the actions of those afflicted. The inability of our “society “ to have honest discussions of trauma are continuingly open wounds bleeding beneath the surface. The response to punish the traumatized for their actions in response to that trauma so that they quietly fit into our culture, shown here by the doors being removed from a teenage bedroom. Privacy removed to attempt to stamp out an “antisocial “ response. Thus granting it the power of the forbidden and continuing the cycle. 

I’ve not discussed the section on random violence. Is it because I’m in this section? Where do I appear? When the man pulls a knife at a record store and everyone runs but Meg I’m part of that everyone. It was at the time something we all laughed at about us wimpy punk boys and how “badass” Meg was. This was our cope at the time, a way to dismiss the violence. She called his bluff and he probably just wanted our reaction but we don’t know his side, how far he was willing to go, how far Meg would have let it go. I was one who ran away and sure maybe he had no intention of violence towards a woman but would have loved to stab a dude. We don’t know. We can’t change it and thankfully can talk about it as a strange and not tragic incident but I was one who ran away. Now I must witness the telling. 

I remember then, we all saw America as an obvious scam so we felt we were free of it. But inaction does nothing to dissipate the schemes and narratives a culture sells.

Cars. Another scheme. Seen as a source of freedom. Freedom bought with oil. The oil ruined car. Car as suffocating prison and death. The oil ruined Buick mirrors her “Red Ford Radio “ that puts the car narrative on its head. The car of the Deadheads reminds me of the car of Arnold Friend in “Where are you going, where have been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. It offers death

This book is many things. A pamphlet for kinder world of mutual aid like her old zines, a phantasmagorical tour of America’s spectacle, a fractured memoir of crime, trauma, and survival, but it’s not a pop book by a pop star. For those not paying attention it could be as shocking as clicking on “Rosebud” on Spotify and then Introducing:

Meg’s recent trilogy of albums for 4AD are almost concept albums working through the themes of imprisonment, violence, and how memories are filtered through our culture and systems. The themes bleed into a whole and resonate here with the artifice and characters removed. She always claimed those characters are all her anyway. 

With the exception of the Beatles cover band connected to her first period and the Grateful Dead shirts it’s interesting how little music actually sneaks into this book. It’s like it’s kept separate. Another realm from these experiences. The cracks in between. The raw material of life without the dress up. 

Telephone play is an extra in the book and works with the theme and tone:

The final two kiss off lines are so perfect I’ll let her deliver them. A little perspective for those of so sure of the permanence of our systems, so convinced we’re not specks of dust in cosmic winds.

“I’m gonna put to bed the shame that I keep. It’s the only way to stay alive. I just wanna be alive” – U.S. Girls “IOU”

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