Palette Magazine

In Tune: The best LGBTQ books and music of 2016

By Gregg Shapiro

Car Seat Headrest;
Car Seat Headrest;

There’s no denying that 2016 was an exceptional year for queer writers and musicians. The year delivered veritable feast for the eyes and ears. New voices — Ocean Vuong and Garth Greenwell — and established writers — Jacqueline Woodson, Paul Lisicky and Julie Marie Wade — thrilled readers with their storytelling. Musically, 2016 found queer favorites such as Tegan and Sara, Rufus Wainwright and Bob Mould continuing to hone their craft, while relative newcomers including Car Seat Headrest, Brandy Clark and Anohni surpassed expectations.


Great Reads

What Belongs To You (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2016), the debut novel by writer Garth Greenwell, is a dazzling achievement. The author tells the story of an American teacher living in Bulgaria who gets involved with a young hustler.

Spanning 40 years, from the early 1980s to the early 2020s, writer Tim Murphy’s epic third novel Christodora (Grove Atlantic, 2016) takes readers back to New York during the early days of the AIDS crisis and provides a view from deep within the trenches, while shining a light on what has become possible. 

Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), the full-length debut collection by lauded poet Ocean Vuong, deserves all the praise it has received — including a Whiting Award. It is now on its second printing, a remarkable feat for a book of poetry.

A portrait of loss, focused on the death of friend and writer Denise Gess and the end of his relationship with his partner the writer Mark Doty, Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door (Graywolf, 2016) is an intimate and emotionally charged memoir.

Jim Colucci’s irreverent Golden Girls Forever (Harper Design, 2016), subtitled An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai, pays homage to one of Miami’s favorite foursomes — Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia. With his book, Colucci invites readers on a guide tour of the “wicker wonderland.”

Soon to be a movie with a screenplay by Chris Weitz, Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality (William Morrow, 2016) by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell, is called the “definitive account…of the dramatic and previously unreported events” leading up to Obergefell v Hodges, the milestone case regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Probably the only other first lady who could have been the first female president, “duty-bound” Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with “feisty campaign reporter” Lorena Hickock is given close scrutiny in Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady (Penguin Press, 2016) by Susan Quinn.

Prolific South Florida-based lesbian writer Julie Marie Wade had a banner year with the publication of two books — the poetic essays collection Catechism: A Love Story (Noctuary, 2016) and the experimental six-poem collection SIX (Red Hen Press, 2016).

National Book Award-winning African-American lesbian memoirist and young-adult novelist Jacqueline Woodson’s adult novel Another Brooklyn (Amistad, 2016) reminds us that the story of August, her family and close friends Sylvia, Gigi and Angela, are a memory, one as unforgettable as this book.


Hot Tracks

Times are changing in Nashville and Brandy Clark, an award-winning country singer-songwriter, is living proof. Her second album (and major-label debut), Big Day in a Small Town (Warner Brothers), not only firmly establishes her as the reigning queen of story songs (“Broke,” “Daughter,” “Three Kids No Husband” and “Homecoming Queen”), but as an artist who is equally comfortable with a tear-jerking ballad (“You Can Come Over”) as she is with a full-on dance track (“Girl Next Door”).

Car Seat Headrest, aka musician Will Toledo, comes across like the lovechild of Beck and Jonathan Richman on his exhilarating second album, Teens of Denial (Matador). Rocking out like he means business on “Destroyed By Hippie Powers,” “Fill in the Blank,” “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” and “Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra),” Car Seat Headrest takes listeners on a new kind of joyride.

Queer twin duo Tegan and Sara’s electro-powered Love You To Death (Rhino/WB) is ‘80s nostalgia by way of the 21st century, particularly on tracks like “Stop Desire,” the dramatic “White Knuckles,” break-up ballad “100X,” the retro strut of “U-Turn” and the dreamy “Hang On to the Night.”

Anohni, formerly the androgynous Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, has made her transition complete with her inspiring solo debut album Hopelessness (Secretly Canadian). The music is primarily focused on electronics and experimentation, especially on “4 Degrees,” “Drone Bomb Me,” “Watch Me,” “Execution” and “Obama.”

Rufus Wainwright fans got a special treat in 2016. First, the “gay messiah” released Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets (Deutsche Grammophon), his musical homage to the Bard’s 400th anniversary, in which he seamlessly combines an opera fixation with his pop passion by featuring guest vocalists Anna Prohaska, sister Martha Wainwright, Florence Welch, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner and Helena Bonham Carter. Then, his eponymous 1998 debut album and 2001’s Poses were reissued as double LPs on 180-gram vinyl by Geffen/UMe.

Combining the best (and most rocking) elements of his previous bands — Husker Du and Sugar — 
Bob Mould has found a groove and he’s sticking with it on Patch The Sky (Merge), from gentle opener “Voice In My Head” to the walls of sound on “The End of Things,” “You Say You,” “Daddy’s Favorite,” “Black Confetti,” “Pray For Rain” and “Losing Time.”

With Your Dying Wish Come True (, Jim Andralis, of gay post-punk sensations The Isotoners fame, released one of the best solo debut discs of the year.  The track “For a Minute or Two,” alone, is enough to justify that statement. 

case/lang/veirs is only 1/3 queer, but that’s enough to earn this hipster trio’s self-titled debut (Anti-) a spot on this list. The firepower of singer-songwriters Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs has resulted in one of the most satisfying collaborations in recent memory. Stellar tunes include the splendid album opener “Atomic Numbers,” the girl-group pop of “Delirium,” 
the glorious harmonies of “I Want 
to Be Here,” the enchanting “Best Kept Secret,” the propulsive “Down I-5,” and the delicious “Honey
 and Smoke.”