Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number ninety.
As a member of Barnes & Noble’s rewards program, I often get book recommendations from the chain emailed to me. One read “Because you purchased Robert Hilburn’s Paul Simon: The Life, we think you’d like The Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Alaska – Fifth Edition.” What one had to do with the other I haven’t the foggiest, but I took their word for it. After all, no bull is in their name, kind of. I bought myself a copy of The Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Alaska – Fifth Edition. Here are the Cliff Notes:
Did you know that in Alaska there is a type of duck called the northern shoveler? When I first saw Alaska and shoveler together, I thought of Sarah Palin, ‘cause she sure knows how to shovel it. But she’s not a duck. More of a dodo. (Just kidding, Sarah! Don’t sue me!)
The northern shoveler is recognized by its large rounded bill. The male duck, called a drake, has an iridescent dark green head, while the female duck, a hen, is described as being a drab brown. The male is very territorial during breeding season, chasing off any duck who tries to flirt with his tweetheart, but after breeding season, he’s out with the boys, leaving her in the nest with a brood to birth and feed. In essence, these male ducks are self-absorbed and disgusting. Shove it, shovelers! You need to change up your tune.
There is a town in Alaska called Unalaska that is overrun with bald eagles. The bald eagles are huge and have sharp beaks and claws which they won’t hesitate to use if they feel their food or offspring are being threatened. Bald eagles reach sexual maturity at around four or five years old, as do most residents of Alaska. And here’s a fun fact I learned reading The Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Alaska – Fifth Edition: bald eagles aren’t actually bald. What else are they lying about? Are they even eagles? I doubt it, as they don’t give me a peaceful, easy feeling. Up yours, bald eagles, you lying, long-haired Lolitas and low-lifes. With you as our national bird, it’s no wonder the United States of America has issues.
The wigeon is a kind of duck that is an expert at searching and obtaining food. How does the wigeon do it? They swim up to other water animals and just as those animals find food and bring it to the surface, the wigeon snatches it away, even though they are perfectly capable of finding their own food. Those who have studied this bird say they do this simply because they enjoy it. In other words, wigeons are assholes. Thieving assholes. I hate them.
Have you ever dated someone because that person was persistent in pursuing you and you finally said “Fine. I’m tired of waiting around for Mr. or Ms. Right?” Then you have something in common with a Swainson’s Thrush. The male thrush stakes his territory and lets the female thrushes try to get his attention while he just plays it cool, like Danny Zuko when Sandy Olson showed up at Rydell High after a change of plans kept her family from moving back to Australia. You know how it is – rockin’ and rollin’ and whatnot. Finally, the male thrush will let a persistent female be a dirty bird with him and they stay with each other mating season after mating season. The male thrush thinks he’s a godsend. He ain’t no godsend. Lady thrushes, don’t sell yourself short. There are plenty of birds in the sky. Don’t hitch your wagon to one who doesn’t believe that relationships involve reciprocity. You need a man who’ll support you as you spread your wings, not a disrespectful, egotistical chowderhead. Yeah, I said it.
There is a type of Alaskan bird called the Greater Yellowlegs, and a type called the lesser yellowlegs. Lesser? Don’t be all full of yourself, greater yellowlegs. You hang out in a mosquito-infested marsh, breed in the bogs, and eat insects and worms, so don’t think you’re all that. You ain’t all that. Not even half of that. Th. They remind me of the rich, snobby kids in the private school I attended for eleventh and twelfth grades. Once, when I pulled into the parking lot, one of those kids, Chester Hamilton, looked at my car and said “A Pinto? Your parents must really like you.” Up yours, Chester Hamilton! And up yours, greater yellowlegs! You’re no greater than any other yellowbirds; you were merely born into privilege, so get over yourselves. You’re an absurd bird who acts like a turd. Word!
Don’t think I’m going to move on without mentioning the winter wren. The female wrens move stones – STONES – to form a patio around their nests, patios that may include up to 300 rocks. What is the male wren doing while his old lady is building a beautiful home? He’s building other nests where he breeds with women birds who are not his shorty. Can you believe that? The missus is working hard, carrying stones, and he’s with Becky with the good plumage, getting beak. I have a message for you male winter wrens – #TimesUp! Stop thinking with your cloacae and help move those stones, you dicks!
I’m working myself into a lather, so I’m going to stop now. The Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Alaska – Fifth Edition taught me that the birds of Alaska are sexist, classist, thieving douchebags.
That brings us to Beyoncé.
On Lemonade, Beyoncé has a message for all winter wrens, and Swainson’s Thrushes, and wigeons, bald eagles, northern shovelers, and yellowlegs, the so-called “greater” ones and the so-called “lesser” ones: Don’t let the way your gender or species has been treated historically hold you back. The Queen Bey has also struggled. She’s experienced pain. Her advice is to take your dark history and let it become an inspiration for transformation. As she said when accepting a Grammy Award for Lemonade, and I misquote, “It’s vital that the Swainson’s Thrush learns from the past and recognizes its tendencies to repeat its mistakes.”
Though Beyoncé made the album specifically to uplift Alaskan birds, its message can apply to other species as well. Every group of living things has a history that affects its relationships in the modern era. We can change those relationships for the better. The first step is awareness.
Just as there is a variety of birds in Alaska, there is a variety of music genres that informs Lemonade: r&b, hip hop, pop, country, rock, blues, gospel, reggae, Americana, electronica, and funk among them.
And just as there’s a place in Alaska called Snowbird Glacier, on Lemonade, Beyoncé samples a song by Andy Williams, who recorded a version of the Anne Murray hit “Snowbird,” and somehow, sampling Andy Williams is the coolest thing one can do. The song she samples isn’t “Snowbird;” that’s just me stretching really far for a related tie-in.
And just as you can find a drake in Alaska, you can also find a drake on this album. Not a drake, as in a male duck with iridescent feathers on his back, but Drake, the Canadian rapper/singer/actor with iridescent feathers on his back. Stretch, Glenn, stretch! [NOTE: Upon completing this essay it hit me that while Drake the Canadian was a guest on Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album, he is not on Lemonade. Ignore this whole paragraph, please.]
Lemonade is an ambitious album that marked a high point in Beyoncé’s career nearly 20 years after her debut album with Destiny’s Child, an album I helped market. (You can read about that in my forthcoming book.) A male wren may not support women. Glenn does.
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