Friday, October 29, 2010


Why watch Guided by Voices ten yards away when you can watch them on your camera ten inches away?

SAM COOMES: People used to come to those shows, when it was underground rock, to get loose and lose their shit. Now the motivations are different—they come to make YouTube videos on their iPhones. I don’t know what the fuck is going on…. In your mind you think the older generation is complaining that the kids are too crazy or too weird and they can’t understand it, but now it’s kind of the opposite: The older people today are complaining that the kids are too well-behaved and clean and commercialized. It’s a strange turn of events. Satyricon definitely represents that old era for me.

--from the Willamette Week's oral history of doomed and beloved skanky rock dive Satyricon.

See also the terrifying NYT Sunday Styles piece last week about the iPhone as baby-hypnotist.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I went to a candlelight vigil last week for the queer and perceived-queer teens who have taken their own lives. Vigils often feel a little awkward to me but I felt it was important to show up, to be visible and present. After the fifteen minutes of silence, people got up and spoke. One said, Remember that even though this is getting a lot of attention in the media now, we can't let it fade out with the news cycle. It will keep happening long after the news forgets it. Another person shared what her mother had always told her: It is not your task to complete the work, nor are you free to desist from it.

Corin Tucker's new song and video "Riley" aren't about this specifically, but they still connect for me. The song is a shout-out of support to a young person going through a terrible time, from an adult who may not be a regular part of the kid's life but still cares deeply. Riley, we're still around.

I like that we. I think of all the struggling kids I've known over the years, from the queer SMYRC youth to the girl rock campers to the high school students I would meet with every week after school to sit down and write. Some of them did reach out to me when things got desperate at home. Many didn't. I tried to give them tools to empower themselves--writing prompts and journals, cooking dinner together, permission to be loud, scream circles, a model for forging the life you want, not the compulsory one you're taught. I'm trying to resist the rescue narrative because that's not what happens, it's not saving people one at a time so much as it is being present for them. It's showing up. Every day or week or month or summer. I hope these kids and now-adults know I still think of them. I hope they know there are a lot of us out here rooting for them, people who may not be in their inner orbit but who stand in this outer circle, ready to catch them if they fall. If they call.

(Props to Corin for her moving new album and Aubree for the beautifully-shot video.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


So a few weeks ago, I read Freedom—the first Franzen fiction I've ever read, I confess. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. And I liked it. It's compulsively readable, swiftly paced, ambitious, it's quite funny, it's character-driven. Plus, as a fourth-generation northern Minnesotan, I couldn't help but love the pivotal role (fictional) Nameless Lake up by (real) Grand Rapids played in the book.

I'm fascinated about why the guy is a magnet for repressed writer rage, because I too have long felt a kneejerk irritation at the sight of his contented smirk and writerly spectacles. (Recently snatched right from his face and held for ransom!) Per the more recent woman-writer outrage so prominently acted out on Twitter, he ends up standing in for all lauded straight white bourgeois male writers; I guess someone's got to fill the late Updike's loved-and-loathed shoes. Meghan O'Rourke wrote a good piece on Slate about how the whole tempest stirs up deeper questions about unconscious bias not only in reading but in writing.

But I also have to say, for such a gifted creator of characters and the interplay between them, ultimately there's something off-putting about the women in Freedom. Patty Berglund is, I'll grant, a pretty great character, full-fledged and complex and full of drive and yearning. But the other ones?
• Lalitha is the delicately-accented brown beauty who is defined mostly by her twin passions for a) Walter and b) Walter's cause. Walter actually reflects in one moment in the car that one of the most satisfying outcomes of women's liberation was that Lalitha could accelerate the car with confidence.
• Neighbor Carol is a working-class woman whose youthful sluttery with a man in power has landed her a lifetime supply of hush money that only enables her bad manners and bad taste in men, housing, and aesthetics.
• Jenna is a mumbling sexpot who seems destined only for a Real Housewives franchise twenty years down the road.
• Connie is a total cipher. I have never read a more passive character in my life, which is I suppose partly the point, but when the character's one act of transgression is to halfheartedly let her manager sleep with her a few times... come on. And how I wish I could unread the line about the "clitoris of Connie's intelligence."
• The daughter Jessica is the exception—smart, together, capable, self-sufficient. She is utterly, almost comically, ignored. For the entire novel.

It's not like the main men in the story—Walter, Richard, and Joey—are angels. But they're so interesting. They get things done. They're complex. They're captivating, even when they're doing things you grit your teeth at. Even when Richard is lamenting "the yawning microcosm of Patty's cunt," another line I wish I could delete from my memory.

Ultimately, I think Freedom is really a love story between Walter and Richard. The women are mostly there to get in the way of it--productively for the story if not for the women.