Talkhouse Music editor-in-chief Brenna Ehrlich (until March 17, 2017) is the founder of the small press/label for weird teens, All Ages Press. She previously served as senior pop editor for MTV News, editor for MTV Hive, associate editor of media and entertainment at Mashable and columnist for CNN. Her first book was Stuff Hipsters Hate: A Field Guide to the Passionate Opinions of the Indifferent, so it makes sense that she lives in Brooklyn with three cats and spends her weekends trying not to die in moshpits. Brenna also plays drums and sings in the band Medium Mystic.
A year ago, my writing this piece would have torn the very fabric of the Talkhouse Music — we are “musicians writing about music,” and I was decidedly not a musician. I was a dilettante of a drummer, sure, and my Kim Gordon-inspired rendition of “Aneurysm” was somewhat famous (infamous?) at local karaoke joints, but the idea of me being in a band was a pipe dream of hookah-smoking-caterpillar proportions.
A year ago roughly today (give or take a week or two), I was also sitting in the balcony of Carnegie Hall, watching a cadre of impressive musicians (including Talkhouse contributors Laurie Anderson, Robyn Hitchcock, Wayne Coyne, etc.) paying tribute to David Bowie. I don’t remember what everyone sang, specifically, but I do recall a stomach-dropping feeling that could have been nostalgia or some kind of vertigo — I was sitting at the very front of one of Carnegie’s jutting balconies, after all. I was crying, I do remember that — hardest when the audience all sang “Space Oddity” with the New York City Children’s Chorus. The couple next to me, the woman decked out in elaborate Ziggy Stardust makeup, gave me a sad smile as I swayed and dropped my tears on the audience below.
I had felt the sadness mounting throughout the tribute show, not just because Bowie was gone, but because I realized a part of me had been gone for a while as well — the part that had wanted to be just like the man we were all memorializing. The part of me that had tried to play a broken guitar when I was eight while I watched “Ashes to Ashes” on repeat on an old attic TV that took a while to warm up. The part of me that took weekly vocal lessons only to stand, shaking and clutching the piano as I warbled “In My Own Little Corner” at my first and last recital. The part of me that took two years of guitar lessons when I was a teen so that I could play just like Nick Drake on Pink Moon (I couldn’t). I had wanted to be a musician once, and now I was just standing there, crying as I sang “Planet Earth is blue/And there’s nothing I can do” with the woman in the gold Ziggy makeup.
Musicians are not gods — they’re just really brave people.
Working at the Talkhouse has taught me a lot. It’s taught me that musicians often have weird Yahoo email addresses that in no way include their real names. It’s taught me that Brian Wilson brings his own, beat-up La-Z-Boy on tour with him. Most importantly, however, it’s taught me that musicians are not gods — they’re just really brave people, and if they’re not feeling particularly brave, they fake it. It takes a lot to get up on a stage and open your mouth or to wield drumsticks. It takes a lot to put something out into the world, hoping that someone, anyone, listens — especially when you risk, as the late, great Talkhouse contributor Lou Reed once said “working for a fucking year, and [getting] a B+ from some asshole in The Village Voice.” And, in the case of the Talkhouse, it takes a lot to sit down and write something about what you do.
Sure, I’ve had a ton of musicians start out the writing process hemming and hawing, wondering if they have the ability to put fingers to keyboard and say what they want to say. But, in the end, my writers all do just that — and they write in a way that’s full of so much love, knowledge and humor that I’m often left humbled by the work that we collectively do. Yes, they’re just people, but they’re people, like Bowie, who decided at some point that they have something worth saying — fuck the naysayers both external and internal.
My writers have been my friends and teachers, and I am grateful to have collaborated with every one of them.
(Side note to the external naysayers: If a musician can spend years working on a record, you can spend more than thirty seconds blasting off a “hot take” tweet about how that record sucks. Listen to Lou Reed.)
So it’s because of them, you — my writers — that I’m sitting in my little red bedroom drinking a more-than-little amount of red wine, typing this now while my boyfriend listens to Sun Kil Moon’s newest record. Because now, finally, I am a musician. I formed a band with Talkhouse’s former marketing manager, Dave Lucas, and the aforementioned boyfriend, who I also met via the Talkhouse. We’re called Medium Mystic, and I think we’re pretty OK — and owe our existence entirely to working at Talkhouse, to learning from and working with musicians. They have been my friends and teachers, and I am grateful to have collaborated with every one of them.
That said, it’s with more than a little sadness that I announce that today is my last day at the Talkhouse, my home for the last few years — and the best job that I’ve ever had. And, ironically enough, today Medium Mystic plays our third show — one year after I sat in that balcony, crying partly for losing Bowie and partly for losing myself. So thank you my writers, my muses, my friends. Keep making, keep writing and keep not giving a fuck what the naysayers say.