The Way We Get By: Meg Remy (U.S. Girls) Actually Doesn’t Feel That Uncomfortable Right Now

Though she did enjoy The Marion Stokes Project!

It’s funny, because I really haven’t felt the need to be comforted. I’ve felt the opposite — I feel comforted by the situation that is unfolding. Granted, I have not had a loved one die from COVID, and I am not a healthcare worker risking my life, and I am not stuck in isolation with an abusive partner or family member. But still, I really feel like this is happening for a reason, and that it’s exposing so many things that need to shift and need to be looked at in a different light. So I haven’t really needed comfort; I haven’t been seeking it.

I did watch a film last week that felt really related to this situation, and gave me hope and made me think about the pandemic from every angle I could imagine: The Marion Stokes Project. It’s a documentary about Marion Stokes, a brilliant woman from Philadelphia who I would say was a philosopher and an activist. In the ‘70s, she started recording TV 24 hours a day — which she did until she died in the 2000s — on multiple different TVs and VCRs. Her whole life revolved around changing VHS tapes to capture what was going on on TV. How it started was, she did it during the Iran hostage scandal. That was a whole hundreds of days-long process that became almost like a reality show that America was watching. She captured it, and in doing so captured the manipulation of that story and how the official party line changed throughout the process.

She ended up capturing 9/11, and all these kinds of traumas but also the mundane — sometimes they’ll put something on tv, but it will only air once, a fluke or a clue, and you can’t find it again. A lot of these stations didn’t keep their archives. You’d think people would hold onto them, but they didn’t. Burn after viewing. So, she captured, like, 70,000 VHS taps, 12,000 days worth of TV. For me, it was so good to realize that there is always someone out there in the world consciously keeping track. We’re lucky she did what she did.

It’s funny, because I’m the opposite of her: I don’t have TV channels, I don’t have internet in my house. So I’m having a really different reaction to COVID — I’m listening to the radio, mostly, for my news. I know what I need to keep myself safe and to help keep others safe, I need to know if there’s any funding available to me, because I’m unemployed, I need to know if public transit is officially closed. I really only need to know a few basic things. I don’t need to be updated on every cough that is coughed. I definitely don’t need to be updated on anything Donald says. If I am constantly being updated from outside sources, how do I know how I feel? When will I have time to listen to my body and what its telling me?

Marion was also obsessed with Mac computers. They say in the doc that when the first commercial aired, she obviously recorded it, it was a really big deal in her house. She thought these Mac computers were going to be this next step for people, and a good thing for humanity. I had never seen the original commercial — it was from 1984, and the theme of it is 1984. The commercial represents some totalitarian state, and looks just like the movie, with Big Brother on the screen and this mass of people who are all very gray. Then this woman comes in carrying a torch or something, and she’s considered the “Mac.” She comes in and smashes the Big Brother screen ostensibly liberating the masses. It’s so crazy that they used that as an a campaign when Big Brother is exactly what they have become. The liberation did not happen.

That’s the thing: It’s not actually a conspiracy. Everything is in plain sight, which I think is the point Marion Stokes was proving, too. The fact that that company had the nerve to use that imagery for selling something, it’s kind of like they were foreshadowing their future and telling on themselves what their intentions really were. “Yes, we want to give you accessibility and more exposure to the world, but, in turn, we get total control of said world.”

The idea that her eyes were really open to things, and yet she kind of fell for the Apple thing — we’re all filled with contradictions. That’s what it means to be human. The more that you can admit that, I find that really comforting. It means that I can make mistakes, I can be confused, I can make wrong choices or I can be manipulated or propagandized to, I can own a Mac while being skeptical of it. That doesn’t mean anything about me other than that I’m living and living is messy at best.

I really recommend the film, it’s fabulous. Also, her whole archive was donated to the Internet Archive, which is a website I use a lot for stock footage and stock sound. They’re in the process of uploading it all online, and it’ll be accessible. It’s incredible, because there’s so much news footage we don’t have access to — only maybe articles and stuff, but not the raw footage of things they originally let air and then recanted on or covered up. This archive is a gift.

It’s wonderful when an independent force is keeping track. She was literally just creating an archive that was a mirror capturing what was put out there. The footage speaks for itself and reveals things about itself, and how you’re going to interpret it has so much to do with what your experience has been. What’s interesting about the internet is, everyone can put up what they’re thinking and feeling based on their experience, and what their life story has been. Which is nice, because you hear more perspectives. The news seems to me to have just one perspective, which is to make sure that the news continues.

I really think that most of the world needs to face and accept death — the evidence about how the planet has changed has not been enough to scare most people into change. I think that this is finally something that’s affecting people personally and daily, so maybe we’ll start waking up and working towards that paradigm shift that needs to occur. Also, the greatest thing it’s doing is showing how flimsy money is. I find comfort in that.

It’s not the end of the world. We’ve survived for a very long time with things being a certain way, but you can survive with bad habits, and you’ll never change them because it’s telling your body that these bad habits are keeping you alive. So why would you ever change said habits if, when you participate in them, you’re surviving? But surviving is different than thriving. It feels really threatening to everyone because their routines are upset, but if people can sit with the discomfort, the reward is going to be massive.

I probably wouldn’t do very well if I decided to go with the doom perspective. I don’t know how long I’d last. But I know that the planet’s going to continue even if this virus kills every single one of us. So it’s not the end of the world. That would be really pompous, to think that just because humans are compromised, the world is almost over. 

The coronavirus has hit many people financially, and it’s been especially tough on musicians who rely on touring to support themselves. If you’re able and inclined, check out US Girls’s website and order a T-shirt, some vinyl, or whatever they’ve got on offer. Every little bit helps.

U.S. Girls is Meg Remy’s musical moniker. The Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist’s music traces a circuitous evolution. It encompasses unconventional, challenging sound work as prominently as her vocally-driven explorations of American pop mores (often on the same album). Since 2007, Remy has toured several times in Europe, Eastern Canada and the United States. She accompanies her hugely distinctive voice with innovative set-ups, including combinations of reel-to-reel players, tape decks, and samplers, as well as occasionally singing with a full band. Remy has released a clutch of original records on labels as diverse as Siltbreeze, Kraak, FatCat and her own Calico Corp. imprint.

Her latest album Heavy Light was released in March 2020 via 4AD.