“Dear West Ghost”

Illustration by Daniel Zender

Please submit questions to or via email: 

Q: If someone you loved was lonely, lost, confused about life and, as a result, recently joined a CULT, what would you say to convince them to rethink? Assuming you were able to get ahold of them. Typical religious cult: kind presenting with family style compound living, family meals – welcoming at first but they cut u off from the outside world (no cell phone, no computers) and have problematic core views which they don’t originally present (racism, sexism, homophobia). She’s smart but young & vulnerable.

A: I don’t have much life experience to lend here, but I think some helpful comparisons can be drawn between this situation and a loved one in an abusive relationship. It’s like you see her get in the car with the man who has a bad reputation and pray she’ll come home soon, no black eye.

She’s making a choice that separates you two. As frustrated as you are, try to keep communication lines open. While this is going to be difficult (and probably all on her terms) your support will play a leading role in the story of her recovery. She needs to feel less lonely, less isolated and some kind of tie to the life she left behind. Bring up home, family, make her laugh. Let her feel the light on the other side of the telephone. Soften her blind resolve by showing her how un-lost she really is.

Listen very, very carefully to the way she talks about her experiences. It’s possible that the approach more effective than begging for her return will be looking for cracks in the system and blowing them up. The leader of the family contradicting himself? Presenting as progressive, but exploiting its members? Promising community but restricting communication? Point out the places where they are failing and manipulating her.

The giant red flag on top of the mountain of shit is “they cut u off from the outside world.” You can agree to disagree about a lot in this life, but that is point-blank controlling and if I were you, I’d hammer that one in hard. But a patient ear can only go so far. If any kind of contact becomes impossible and googling/asking about this “family” leads you to believe they might be truly dangerous, consider getting outside help. There are resources and support groups galore, just a search bar away.

This phase of her life will have a physiological impact, but will it be temporary? Will it fill a momentary void in her life and teach her a lesson? Or will it lead to brainwashing and self-harm? There are the questions that will probably be keeping you up at night until this is resolved and I’m sorry. If one of my girls moved her ass to a compound, I honestly don’t know how I could keep myself from driving up to pull her out kicking and screaming.

Q; Dear West Ghost, Do you have a mantra?

A: I’d never really thought that I had a mantra but, after reflecting on your question, I think I might have a few. I don’t have a word, sound or phrase that I meditate on for religious reasons, but I definitely have recurring, self-affirming thoughts which I focus on to help ground me.

When I feel nervous or anxious, especially in public:
This situation is totally in my control.
Relax, everyone is safe.

When I feel inadequate or insecure:
I deserve the same respect as everyone else.
I am my own endless source of power.

Whenever I light sage (which I do a lot these days):
All things are made new.
Also, when I’m starting to feel sick or my mind turns generally toward my health, I close my eyes and individually thank every body part/organ and system for its hard work, which I realize sounds REALLY corny but it’s a pretty rejuvenating meditation I’ve been practicing for a few years now. Always seems to make me want to take better care of myself.

Those are some general mantra-type affirmations I find myself coming back to again and again. But when I’m working toward something specific like trying to accomplish a goal or generally change my perspective on something, I always write it down. I put it somewhere private, but somewhere I know I will see more than once a day (bathroom mirror, the dash of my car, or even on this laptop) and I read it out loud as often as possible.

Q: Yo West Ghost, if you had to guess without googling it, how tall would you say Jake Gyllenhall is?

A; Tall enough to get it but not much taller so like 6′1″ ??

Q: Dear West Ghost, what advice can you give me for my bad body image days? I feel like I’ve worked for a long time to really love my body and most days I’m feeling pretty good about it. But then every once in a while I get stuck and I’m thinking about how I need to go on a diet or lose weight or go to the gym. Then thinking that way makes me feel guilty and I know I shouldn’t care about body image norms projected onto me by society, so how can I learn to love my body all of the time? xoxo

A: Ugh. Body image norms – the images and shapes we see valued from the time we have the most basic understanding of life. We are shown, even as children, who gets the boys and who wears the crowns and who should cover up at the pool. Who stops traffic and who is the punchline of a joke? No one needs to tell us. These norms are everywhere and we are subjected to them constantly. We hear our mothers hate their bodies, standing and sighing in the mirror, and every image in popular media reinforces the central thought of the suffering sisterhood: “I’d look better if I just lost a few more pounds.”

My anonymous friend, on days you’re not feeling like your boldest, most beautiful badass self, I want you to place your hand on your tummy or your arms or thighs or whatever parts of your body you tend to feel are inadequate. Think and speak the same kind and loving thoughts to yourself that you might share with someone else you love. “I am gorgeous today. I am worthy of love the way I am. I am enough, just like this.”

Trust me, I feel you on this one and I’m on this journey with you, learning to love myself. Fighting to feel worthy. Resisting the urge to be invisible. But, we are not alone and sometimes it just helps to see how other normal people live their beautiful and fulfilling lives. If you don’t follow any fat-positive bloggers, you might consider it. I find it refreshing to see different bodies in my feed every day, looking beautiful, falling in love, living their dreams. (Here’s a good place to start:

While I’m talking fat-positivity, let me add something. Love doesn’t always mean saying yes. In the same way you might take the keys from a loved one who’s had too much to drink or discourage a friend from reaching out someone who isn’t good for them, sometimes you may need to tell your body no. Sometimes you show yourself love by buying and eating exactly what you want and loving every minute of it. Sometimes you show yourself love by ordering the side of veggies instead of fries.

Love and punishment. Sometimes they can look identical but come from two completely different places: one nourishing and one toxic. A small salad with dressing on the side, the 2 hours logged at the gym, are they gifts to the body or forms of self-hatred? I believe it all begins in the mind. No, you should not feel guilty if you don’t go to the gym. That kind of self-shaming doesn’t help build you up into a happier and more confident person. But you also shouldn’t feel guilty for thinking you should go to the gym. Pay attention to your body and what it needs. It’s communicating with you all the time. If it wants a walk, then walk. If it wants a long stretch, then stretch. And if it wants chocolate ice cream, then scoop on.


Bad Horoscopes

Your poorly-informed forecast for November 2016.
Image by Tyler Gross

Take a look at the people you have in place around you. This is your team. Does it feel right? Double check because it’s time to get to work. Start mapping out the practical steps it’s going to take to get you from here to your most complete level of freedom, then invite select members of your team to give you constructive input. The energy of your new vision will drive you forward.

Your mind is on your hustle and you are driven in a way you haven’t felt in a while. This is a powerful and productive moment for you, take full advantage. But be careful not to railroad others in the process. Don’t let tunnel vision harm peaceful and beneficial relationships. You’re not the only one who needs to succeed right now. Be both gentle and determined and you will come out on the other side of this as the winner.

Love, love, love little Gemini baby. The time is right for you to let your wall down a little further and express real affection to those who mean so much to you. You’re catching a creative wave right now too. This is as much a relief to you as it is to those around you who benefit from your talents. Your goal this month: get out of your own way. Let love and imagination flow in an out of you like water- one is hydrogen and the other oxygen, not to be separated.

Take a deep breath and loosen your sweaty grip because you are not in danger. You are not fighting to explain or defend yourself for once. Enjoy the break life is giving you right now because you are 100% supported. Switch out of fight or flight gear and your imagination will illuminate the dark corners of your mind and win out over anxiety. It’s a peaceful and celebratory month to be you, Cancer.

You’ve been working so hard. Don’t you think it’s time for a little adventure? Sometimes it’s not discipline, but a fresh perspective that we need in order to move forward in the right direction. Don’t think of a vacation as slowing down. It’s a much-needed jumpstart. Then bust out the atlas, buy a new album and go somewhere you’ve never been before. It’s time.

Focus, Virgo. Take care of yourself, watch your money, line up the next couple moves. If you keep grinding, you WILL get one glamourous payoff before the month is out. But keep your head down and put in work until it arrives.  It’s a good time to push yourself further. And while you’re at it, start expecting more from people around you. You deserve to be treated fairly and with the care you are so quick to extend to others.

Jupiter just landed in Libra, which only happens once every 12 years. It’ll be around until next October and signals a time where you catch a few nice breaks from the universe, hit a streak of good luck, and maybe even have a major dream come to fruition. My advice to you: know what you want from this coming year. If you don’t, you won’t be able to take advantage of this.

Scorpios are most comfortable covered in a certain degree of mystery. But in your own private little world, you can go pretty far unchecked. The time has come to address parts of your life that are hiding in your procrastination closet. Look at your financial, physical, and emotional health. If something is not quite jiving, this is the perfect time to address it. It’s Scorpio season, so the universe is championing for you. Start this new year out of the shadows.

You’ve got a social shift coming your way. If you’ve been more outgoing, spending your energy socially, the time is coming for you to slow down and make space for reflection. If you’ve been holed up and singing the lonesome blues, it’s time to call up some friends. You need a healthy balance of both so I’m here to remind you that ya can’t spell routine without r-u-t. Shake it up. You are your most dynamic and centered when you are flexible, but it takes practice.

Maybe just take a moment out of this endless grind schedule you’ve been on and celebrate your success. You’ve come so far, baby. You’re doing a great job. And while you’re at it, celebrate the success and creativity of others. Your opinion is held in high regard. Someone around you will perk right up like a flower in the rain with your encouragement. Credit where credit is due.

It’s time to do the damn thing. The idea or project you’ve been cooking up is ready to be launched into the spotlight. You’re not one for details, but this is the time to invest in tying up loose ends and putting your professional hat on. You got this, but don’t wing it. Sharpen your people skills for maximum financial success and step boldly into your new phase of life. We are ready to hear from you.

Creativity you have in spades. Your wheels aren’t turning without a new idea and your artistry is respected by those around you. You’d rather make something unique than make a lot of money and that’s fine, but it’s money season. Don’t be afraid to get it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. This is also a good time to show yourself some TLC. Pamper yourself a little extra, see your friends. Then get back on the money.


Leon Bridges: River

With the beginning of Black History Month, Leon Bridges comes forward with the strongest message he has presented to date: He is a black musician living in the present. Obvious, sure. But amid the hype and excitement surrounding his authentic, throw-back sound and carefully curated nostalgic imagery, it’s still a message worth noting. With the release of the music video for “River” we find Leon in a dream partnership with brilliant director Miles Jay as he takes off his vintage suit jacket and joins the dialogue of 2016. He reflects, takes his time, tells a powerful story, and shares a redemptive moment with the golden-voiced Brittni Jessie, who takes the song to an entirely new dimension.

In a statement made this morning Leon says, “When thinking about how to best represent this universal battle, I reflected on the depiction of black communities in our media and particular experiences in my own life. This video showcases the unique struggle many black men and women face across this country. However, unlike the captured images which tend to represent only part of the story, I wanted to showcase that through all the injustice, there’s real hope in the world.”

Old soul revivalist hype aside, Leon has never been one to shy away from his history with R&B or love of hip-hop. He’s open to talking about the present and where he comes from with honesty and humility. Still, it’s important to see him participating in present day conversation on this level. It shows a depth and relevance which far exceeds that of a novelty sound or Instagram filter. It shows maturity and fresh direction for what lies ahead. And it reminds us all that we live in a world of both injustice and hope, reality and redemption, past and present.

Jim Ford: Happy Songs Sell Records, Sad Songs Sell Beer

Sly Stone called him the funkiest white man he knew. He had enough soul to pen hits for Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, and The Temptations. He romanced Bobby Gentry and eventually took up with Marlon Brando’s ex, raising 2 of Brando’s children for a decade. Legend even has it he once boarded an airplane with over a million dollars worth of cocaine strapped to his body. But for all the wild tales surrounding the man, there remains a mystery around Jim Ford.

We know that he was a Kentucky boy who ran away to the streets of New Orleans and eventually ventured west for a taste of something bigger. The layers of his tone point to each place on the map which shaped his unique sound. I can hear the blue twang of a heavy heart-string, the rough and deep soul of a bluesman, and the wild twinkle in the eye of a man hungry for a taste of rock and roll fame.

From his melodies to the stories in his songs, it’s clear that he was the ideal troubadour to lead the great sonic union between country and blue-eyed funk. He fell between Gram Parsons and Van Morrison and the world was his for the taking. He was in the right place at the right time, namely Los Angeles in the 60s and 70s, befriending all the right people. And yet, though he was larger than life, he never found the elusive level of stardom he was after.

In 1969, Ford recorded his only solo record, Harlan County, an album perfectly capturing the country funk scene and his youth in the Bluegrass State. That sound, a marriage between grassroots Americana and southern soul, rolled out perfectly from a man who truly knew both worlds. Harlan County wasn’t considered a “success” but it was still a masterpiece of earnest songwriting, a bold batch of swagger dotted with moments of reflection. Ford’s lyrical ease and talent for storytelling couldn’t be denied. But, as tracks like “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy” and “Spoonful” suggest, his penchant for drugs couldn’t be denied either.


After Harlan County, he continued recording, entering deals with multiple labels only to sabotage them with his difficult demeanor and outrageous demands. He spent several years battling addictions, trying to get back on track, and losing. In the end, he was paid off, his contracts broken, and his success untapped. In 1980, he disappeared with his addiction and his unreleased songs. He holed up for a couple decades in Mendocino County, California, bags of masters littering the floor of the trailer he called home.

It’s a recycled story. A young man with talent and promise leaves home, tastes the dream, and loses a boxing match with his demons. His rise was bright and glimmering and his spiral was long and dark. But just before obscurity swallowed his story whole, someone came knocking on Jim Ford’s trailer door in 2006, someone to whom we owe a great deal. LP Anderson, a Swedish music publisher from Sonic Magazine, located the man and talked him out of hiding. Ford eventually revealed the goldmine of tracks he had just lying around and, after being approached by Bear Family Records to issue a compilation, agreed to release them. A buzz of excitement quickly grew around the rediscovery of the man, now 2 years sober and prepared to discuss additional releases. With a reunion gig in the works, one might even say there was a comeback on the table.

Unfortunately, (and once again) the rug was pulled out from under his efforts. Ford missed out on the second wave of success his music would find in a new audience. He was tragically found dead in his trailer in 2007, at the age of 66. But thanks to the unrelenting search of a few musical archivists, we have a collection of treasures from the Harlan County kid, who worked his way to LA. Like resilient creatures with a life of their own, the soulful and brilliant songs of Jim Ford finally emerged to see a day in the sun, even if the man himself never did.

The Music of 2015

Pretty sure I saw more shows in 2015 than any other year of my whole life. Between Monday nights at the Griffin, the occasional punk show in a bowling alley, and dancing the night away at Funky Sole, I stayed busy. I attended Coachella, Austin Psych Fest, and Burger Boogaloo this year, somehow all for free. I got to preview the new Snoop record at a Columbia Records listening party with the Dogg himself. I travelled to a lodge in the middle of the woods to see Father John Misty, drove out to the desert to see Black Lips under the stars, and went down to the beach to watch Ariel Pink on the pier. The list could go on but I’ll just say this year has been nothing short of magical.

Like most years, 2015  came with strong deliveries from established favorites and a couple fun new discoveries. I spent lots of time listening to familiar old music, most of which was released 30+ years ago – my 4 months at Light in the Attic Records helped with that. But I also  consumed wayyy more hip hop this year, thanks to Los Angeles radio and my required freeway fuel.

So. Here’s an honest and very self-indulgent list of 50 songs that stuck with me in 2015. I doubled and tripled up on lots of artists. I included songs from mediocre albums or even (arguably) terrible artists because they are great songs. Enjoy.

Misc 2015 Stats.

  • Artist of the year:
    Wand (They also win “Band I Saw Most Often in 2015.”)
  • Album of the Year:
    If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late – Drake
  • Song of the year:
    “Pretty Pimpin” – Kurt Vile
  • Favorite new discoveries:
    Diane Coffee, Sheer Mag, Drug Cabin
  • Most Streamed Song This Year:
    “Go Back” – Tony Allen with Damon Albarn (2014) Honestly wtf is up with this song. It is PERFECT.
  • Show of the Year:
    I already know it’s the one I’m going to see tonight. Thee Oh Sees, Fuzz, and (duh) Wand.

Til next year, dudes.

Rehersals For (My) Departure

“Your dad used to sing this song to you all the time when you were a baby.” Every single time my mom hears “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder she says this to me.

Music has always been especially important to me. It’s in my blood perhaps. My mom can’t walk from one side of a room to another without singing her way there. She’s been like that my whole life. Pull any home movie out of the (giant) box of tapes in my parents’ garage and you’ll hear my dad, from behind the camera saying “Sing me a song!” And I would start singing at the drop of a hat about whatever was around me, or whatever popped into my imagination.

I remember sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car next to a little girl my age, probably 5 or 6. I barely knew this girl, but our moms were friends and we were forced to spend a certain forgettable afternoon together. I don’t remember her name or her face or where we were going or even whether we eventually became friends. But I just remember so clearly sitting next to her in the car and watching her sing along to every single song that came on the radio –  song after song – without missing a beat. I was in awe. I remember thinking she must be the coolest girl in the world.

Somewhere around this time, a babysitter canceled and my dad had to drive me in his truck to a school gymnasium to play a gig. I’d seen him play drums in church my whole life, but this was the first time I’d seen him play with a band. I watched him in adoration all night and told him on the way home, “I’m going to be in a band too, you know.” And that’s about the time the piano lessons started.

There was a mirror right above the piano for a while. I would sit down to practice every single day and look at myself in that mirror. Half the time I would be daydreaming and half the time I’d have tears running down my face from frustration. “You’re not going to quit,” my mother would say. “Play it again.” For the next seven years she would say that to me. The mirror wouldn’t stay up for long.

I was in 2nd grade when I discovered that my little cassette player had a built-in mic. I was home from school on a snow day, bored and goofing off when I accidentally pressed record and play at the same time. It was the discovery of the year. I took old cassettes from my mom’s room, ones that had church sermons on them because they were easy to erase. I stayed in my room for days recording my own DJ show and even made my little brother Luke pretend to be celebrities I could interview. We only played country music on my radio station.

Then one day a few years later my dad set up his record player.  I’d seen his record collection rotting away in our garage for years, but I’d never heard him play a single one. For some reason on that day, the record player appeared in the living room. I didn’t know how to use it, but I went out to the garage and picked out a stack of Beatles records. I stayed awake and snuck out to the living room once my parents fell asleep. When we figured out how to make it work, my brother and I laid down on the living room floor next to the speakers and played the records so quietly, flipping them over and over for hours.

This started a ritual between my brother and I. From middle school until I moved away, we would stay up late and listen to music after everyone had gone to bed. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we would just listen. As time went by, we got really into showing each other new things. We were becoming friends, I suppose, and were bound by these discoveries and this understanding. All the other sweet and early memories of music would soon be obliterated in this setting.

The first time music really broke my heart, I was 15. It was almost Christmas and the tree was glowing, the only light in the room. Luke came home, told me it was snowing and pushed play on a CD that his older friend had just given him. It was “Rehearsals for Departure” by Damien Jurado and to this day, every single time I hear it, I think of this snowy night.

“Remember that live Pedro the Lion song where he says ‘Jurado’ at the end? Well, I found out that Jurado is his friend’s name. It’s this guy.” He put the CD on and the song “Ohio” started with a harmonica that did a freight-train number on my heart. He started talking, told me it was a concept album and told me part of the story behind it. I could only sit and listen, the first note to the last, on repeat until I became obsessed.

Now I’d heard emotional music before. I’d been moved by other songs. Hell, I cried every time I heard “When You’re the Best of Friends” on my The Fox and Hound cassette tape. But this moment – this was where my part of this insane journey started. I hadn’t heard anything like this before or if I had, I wasn’t able to understand what it really meant. And this particular album was full of stories, complex and gut-wrenching, broken up into little acts. Every single song was so perfect to me. More phases and loves would come, but the force behind this one really set me off. And for better or worse, it turned me into a junkie for heartache.

It was at once sweet and uncomfortably honest. It felt like the gross part of growing up – like cigarette stink on the sides of your fingers and catching someone you love smiling at someone else in a way only you understand. And it felt like winter, like the ice cold gravel of our driveway burning under my bare feet. It was a shattering and a heavy weight all at the same time and I had to live out 15 whole years before I could even feel that way. And I just knew I’d be chasing down that feeling like a bloodhound for the rest of my life.

Out from my window, please hear me Ohio
Your daughter wants to come home
She longs to be with you, to hug you to kiss you
To never leave her alone

Now That Everything’s Been Said

She felt the earth move under her feet, she wanted you to love her tomorrow – you know her as your mama’s Carole King. But before she sat barefoot on the cover of Tapestry, she was part of a very brief rock and roll moment with a band called The City.

Rewind several years before  familiar hits like “You’ve Got a Friend” and you’ll find a hard-working resident in the great hit-making compound known as New York’s Brill Building. Here, Carole plunged into the world of music, writing for quick cash and getting noticed by acts like The Monkees, The Shirelles and even The Beatles. Carole King describes the atmosphere at the “Brill Building” publishing houses of the period:

Every day we squeezed into our respective cubby holes with just enough room for a piano, a bench, and maybe a chair for the lyricist if you were lucky. You’d sit there and write and you could hear someone in the next cubby hole composing a song exactly like yours. The pressure in the Brill Building was really terrific—because Donny (Kirshner) would play one songwriter against another. He’d say: “We need a new smash hit”—and we’d all go back and write a song and the next day we’d each audition for Bobby Vee’s producer.*

in 1967, after paying her dues in the city, King ditched the grind and left for sunny California. She set up in Laurel Canyon, which would become home to the California country sound, molded by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Mamas & Papas. She began collaborating with garage musicians Danny Kortchmar (of The Fugs) and Charles Larkey (of The Myddle Class). With Jim Gordon on drums, this group became The City. Heavily influenced by her peers in Laurel Canyon  they created the one-off album, 
Now That Everything’s Been Said, which serves as a beautiful experiment into the mellow, psych-influenced canyon rock of the day.

On Now That Everything’s Been Said, we find King holding the microphone, singing her own songs for the very first time. And yet, she isn’t timidly emerging or finding her voice. She approaches the microphone with the comfort and ease of a veteran because, by this time, she’s already been all over the radio. Her voice emerges warm and confident and is backed by an ensemble who knows how to support it, letting her shine while lending their own creative direction.

While the album itself is seen as a “missing link” of sorts – an overlooked and forgotten blip on the radar of King’s monstrous career – it produced two notable covers. Blood, Sweat and Tears had great success covering The City’s “Hi-Di-Ho” and The Byrds recorded “Wasn’t Born to Follow” which was featured in the film Easy Rider.

This album was produced by Monterey Pop Festival coordinator Lou Adler, who also produced The Mamas and Papas, Sam Cooke and every Mary Clayton album. Adler released Now That Everything’s Been Said on his label, Ode, the same label which put out the Brothers And Sisters’ Dylan’s Gospel release. At the time, King was not ready to be a live performer and she turned down the opportunity to tour the album – a hesitation she quickly outgrew once she saw disappointing album sales. After Now That Everything’s Been Said, The City faded into history for decades. But now, with its re-release on Light in the Attic, we can revisit The City and this forgotten but special moment in the life of an extraordinarily talented songwriter, before she became our mama’s Carole King. 


*Quoted in The Sociology of Rock by Simon Frith[4]