RIP the village voice

That one time I took a Sylvia Plachy picture.

I read the Village Voice every week of the seven years I lived in New York. Every single week. If I was out of town, I bought it at the nearest big newsstand, for it was distributed nationally. It cost $1 an issue when I moved there, and it always had a page of free or cheap things to do each day, some of which I did. During the years I lived in a 7 x 11 foot room in a single-room occupancy hotel, ten percent of the usable floor (ca $50 a month in rent) was devoted to stacks of the Voice [1]. It was an excellent use of space.

Because of the Voice, I regularly read long essays by black and Latinx writers on race and ethnicity, as well as reported articles on communities I would otherwise not have seen.

Because of the Voice (and Katha Pollitt of The Nation), I kept up with feminism through the dark years of “I’m not a feminist, but …”

I remember Paul Cowen’s first-person piece on dying of leukemia, which he was thought to have contracted covering Three Mile Island.

I remember a long article on drag balls, even before Paris Is Burning if I’m not mistaken.

I remember another long article on backup singers, decades before Twenty Feet from Stardom. I loved that article so much I probably still have it here in my file boxes.

I remember not understanding a damn word Robert Christgau wrote, or rather I understood all of the words but none of the propositions.

I remember not getting a single reference in Michael Musto’s gossip column (“La Dolce Musto”), even in the non-blind items, and not caring because it was so much fun.

I remember going to see films from Brazil and Iceland and a performance art festival featuring Penny Arcade because the Voice wrote about them.

I remember reading about the AIDS epidemic in some depth, before And the Band Played On was published and certainly before it was available in paperback.

I remember a review of rapper Schoolly D that was written in hiphop, more or less. This must have been about 1988.

I remember Murray Kempton and somebody else, Jack Newfield or Wayne Barrett or LynNell Hancock, alternating an inside-baseball column on city politics. I remember that the Voice covered low income housing and homelessness like the tenants and non-tenants were human, when nobody else seemed to. I remember the very nerdy quarterly book review supplement. I remember being impressed that the Voice writers were organized by the United Auto Workers when hardly any journalists were union members any more. I remember reading the listings in the back every week and feeling like I could become an air courier or move to Brooklyn or actually go on one of those Wildman Steve Brill tours to forage food in Central Park and it would all be all right.

That’s a great newspaper. I can’t believe it’s gone.

[0] Also, the Voice had the best comics. Not just Jules Feiffer and his annual “A Dance to Spring”, which I already knew about because my parents did. It was the golden age of Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons Life in Hell, Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (“All Dialogue Guaranteed Overheard”). (This is a standalone endnote.)

[1] And its shorter-lived uptown sibling, 7 Days. 7 Days was decried as fluff at the time, but compared with today’s promotion press it was the Whole Earth Review of middle-class Manhattan. Laurie Colwin wrote her cooking column there. Peter Schjeldahl covered art (is “Up the Damn Ramp” a great title for a piece about the Guggenheim or what?). It was Joan Acocella’s first big stage for her dance writing. For a while, New York actually had three strong alternapress weeklies, for there was New York Press as well, which was more of a self-conscious hipster editor-publisher production but did have great front-page essays.

[2] Yes, I know, it continues as a website. That’s like a well-served train line continuing as a “rail replacement” bus. (This too is a standalone endnote.)

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Worldcon 75

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museums: David Hockney

Is that … the Ladybird Book of David Hockney?

A few things about David Hockney, based on the exhibition now closing at the Tate:

1. His palette resembles the acrylic paints we used in school – those saturated hues that came in squeeze bottles, like condiments. The blues were especially intense, including the bright turquoise color of the squeeze bottles themselves. Hockney likes that blue spectrum, a bit more to the purple and less to the green side. Most of his works have at least one patch of intense blue, like a ground socket. Some of them work through the blue obsession more subtly; for example, pictures of modern window-walled buildings and tiled bathrooms in which the blue/grey patches vary systematically like Pantone samplers.

2. Hockney loves to vary techniques and treatments event within the same work. A single painting may have faces with their features resting lightly on the skin in the Alex Katz style, wireframe representations of furniture, deep fluffy fur, solid and shaded Platonic shapes of Russian constructivists, the depth of pool water, and the occasional patch of realism just to show he can do it. Sometimes the same object gets a double treatment, as in Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool where the ring flickers between Rothko style abstract with extra layers, and photorealism.

3. Some favorite paintings:

– A landscape of the Pacific Coast Highway, showing the variegation of terrain with different paint treatment techniques – layering, swirling, scratching – and another of the Colorado River in rich reds.
Breakfast at Malibu Wednesday 89 and Sunday 89, with the background of deep blue and teal ocean, zen-combed like a Japanese print, looming over the willow pattern pieces on the table in the foreground. He uses the broadest of brushstrokes to suggest the willow pattern, blue in one canvas and deep pink in the other.
– And of course Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy. The basic story of the love quadrangle comes through even in reproductions, but what you get extra in the painting is the textures of the objects ringing it: cool copper frame, elegant vase of flowers, supertufty rug, and oddly flat lamp. All these are not enough to fill the void at the center.

4. He experimented with mosaic photographs, which split the field of vision into hundreds of white-edged panes like an old window. The three early portraits and double portraits assembled from SX-70 Polaroids are especially fine. The overlapping and repetition, especially of the central human features in the portraits, gives the cubist effect of multiple perspective. There was also a large oblong assemblage of a pool with a swimmer. The swimmer appears in successive frames like a graphic novel, several chains of them in different parts of the pool. All of the mosaics feel cognitively real in that the field of vision is not even and the glance must dart around.

5. David Hockney can work in any medium including crayons, mostly with exquisite control though some of his portrait sketches are a bit distorted. His video installation The Four Seasons gives a sense of layered, simultaneous time by surrounding visitors with massive, pinpoint sharp slow zooms of the same Yorkshire forest in winter, spring, summer and fall. It is the same forest but not quite the same view, exclusive of the seasons, as if he wanted to make the point that you can’t walk into the same forest twice. His pictures on the iPhone and iPad, in streaky Warhol brights that appear through time lapse video, are astonishing. It’s like watching someone paint a Gauguin on a blackboard using only the eraser. Part of the pitch of Apple devices is that they make everyone a creative. It takes more. David Hockney is still streets ahead.
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#trinnytribe

Trinny puts seventeen different moisturizers on her face and takes us shopping, but not both in the same episode. She likes to wear things that are made of silver parachute material or have sleeves that flare out like medieval costumes, but not both in the same garment. She prefers to layer them. She secretly films herself trying on things in shops and then says the shopkeepers are trying to throw her out. We don’t know why they would. People watch her and afterwards they go and buy the things she tries on. Women watch her, to judge from the messages she displays on the screen, but surely men too. She talks to her viewers when she sees their messages on the screen. “Hello Elly, hello Amanda,” she says in her commanding voice. “Is it sunny in Brighton? It’s very grey here.” Sometimes her assistants hold the cameraphone and relay the messages. “Trinny, they want to know the name of that concealer.” She puts on her spectacles and reads them the name on the package. The assistants are European and Trinny has viewers all over the world to judge from her shout-outs. “Good morning, Auckland! You’re up late, my god, what time is it there? Hello, Istanbul!”

Some products I have learned about from Trinny: long gilets made of soft cashmere, metallic trainers, Vitamin C serum, apricot hued skintone corrector, rouge that is also lipstick, electric facial massagers, a little roller which sticks pins into your skin like a yogi’s pillow. “What it’s great for, ladies, is stimulating the collagen,” Trinny says in her voice that could close a prizegiving or open Parliament. Trinny finds something great in almost every product she talks about. Sometimes she will say a skin or makeup product is not exciting and she does not like it as well as the seven she is about to show us. We take that as proof of her honesty. All the products in the same category look the same when she puts them on, but most of the time she is able to find differences between them. If she can’t find any difference or the difference is only something transient like smell, that means the cheaper one is a bargain and she is letting us in on a secret. Still, how things smell is important to Trinny. If a handbag is leather, she snuffs it like a dog. If it is not leather, she snuffs it anyway and talks about it as good value and long wear.

Trinny lets us see her at home, in her bathroom with its library of skin and makeup products, and her bedroom with its clothing archive that takes up an entire wall. The kitchen she keeps private. Sometimes she has a clearout and gives away a few things. “Yes, they want it,” the assistant says as soon as she offers a spare blouse or tube of beauty balm. Trinny shares a lot with her ladies. We have seen her jogging in her underwear while she brushes her teeth. We have seen her with her hair full of color foils. We have seen her with threads scissoring whiskers off her face. We have seen her, from the waist up, getting a colonic. Trinny shows us what she is getting everyone for Christmas: her daughter, her goddaughters, her assistants who have to leave the room when she gets to their presents. A jacket with metal sequins like coins, a pashmina, rose and violet creams, a drone. “What’s great about this drone is it can go to any height and you can control it from your phone.” [Dɾəʊn], [gəʊ], [‘kəntɾəʊl], [fəʊn]. Nobody is going to disagree when she says it like that. It probably smells divine as well. She is our mad posh aunt and we cannot stop watching her.

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buried treasure: epistolatory

Break in the book summaries for an actual handwritten letter from 65 years ago, found in the attic last year. They don’t write ’em like this anymore. I have H’s full name, but not T’s.

Jan 14 51

Dear T…,

Your royal Christmas present arrived a few days ahead of time and I didn’t have to rattle it to make sure it was what I’d hoped it was. Thanks ever so much, T—! I’m lingering it out for the whole month.

I got knocked over on the 5th with a touch of pneu. which wasn’t too bad, but all these fancy drugs they shot me full of have left me feeling rather sour since. I’m hoping to get in town tomorrow for a short session and be on my way again.

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buried treasure: campfire girls

Julianne DeVries. (1933) The Campfire Girls Flying Around the World. Cleveland: World Syndicate Publication.

In 1972 my mother’s family sent us a box of children’s books that had belonged to her and her niece Molly, among them four or five from the 1930s Campfire Girls series. These are in the mold of the Famous Five: a gang of children who perform heroic feats and are celebrated for them, in one volume even being invited to Mrs. Roosevelt’s White House. The series is similar to New Girl books in its project of writing heroines relatively unhobbled by gender, and resembles Nancy Drew in the wholesome setting of Glendale with its malt shops and roadsters.

The Campfire Girls offered broader scope for identification than other girls’ books of the period, where diversity typically manifested as one blonde, one pale-skinned brunette, and one redhead, all with Anglo-Saxon names. Here there were five: Alice (shy spice), a police sergeant’s daughter which comes in handy when the girls are solving mysteries: Lenore (sporty spice), Anita (neutral spice), Dolores (Spanish spice, but not Latina spice, as her father was born in Barcelona), and Mabel (fat jolly prankster spice and the only one with a real personality). In loco parentis is their “pretty, young” leader Mrs. Evans (old spice).

This book sees the members of the Wa-Wan-Da Camp called by the national organization, run by Miss Hannah Rosenfeld in New York (kosher spice, we are led to infer), to take a glamorous, expenses-paid trip around the world, instructing local organizers on how to build the movement.

But what was the movement? Camp Fire Girls was a hippie alternative to Girl Scouts, founded during the Progressive era by environmentalist health experts in Maine who were enamored of Native American culture. The groups “emphasized camping, outdoor activities, and preparing women for work outside the home.”  OF COURSE exporting a girls’ scouting club built on faux American Indian symbolism and Red Pioneer neckerchiefs is going to save the world in 1933.
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buried treasure: schlesinger’s 1930s

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (2000) A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Though I don’t have time to finish this 530-page first volume of memoirs by the historian and Kennedy advisor, it is good enough to save for later. Schlesinger is a great summarizer of his times and their texts and communities, at least the elite communities. The paean to the years in the Yard that is obligatory for all Harvard men is divided into “Harvard College: What I Did,” “Harvard College: What I Enjoyed,” and “Harvard College: What I Learned.” The first of these chapters begins with the following technical description (108-112), which I have cut for length and palatability; although keen to distance himself from contemporary attitudes to “Negroes” and Jews, Schlesinger is less modern on gender and sexual orientation.

Let me recall superficialities of life in the Thirties. Daily routines were more complicated then. When we went to bed at night, we had to wind our watches; the battery-powered watch was still to come. When we dressed in the morning, some began by putting on BVDs, a form of one-piece underwear now extinct; the more advanced turned to shorts and undershirts, though, after seeing Clark Gable in It Happened One Night in 1934 most of us discarded the undershirt …

When we bought a suit, two pairs of pants came with the jacket and vest. After putting on pants (no khakis or jeans), we had to button our flies; the zipper did not appear till the late Thirties … Garters still held up socks, and we had to lace our shoes; the loafer or moccasin was not yet acceptable …

When we wanted sandwiches, we had to use a knife to slice the bread; sliced bread was still in the future. When we went outdoors, we put on hats – gray felt in winter, soft panama in summer. Hatless John Kennedy killed the hat craze in 1960, much to the chagrin of his powerful supporter in New York, Alex Rose, the head of the Hatters Union and boss of the Liberal party. On cold days in the year 2000 I wear a cap; in the Thirties the cap was strictly a proletarian taste …

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buried treasure

bowiebooks

One of my vacation tasks is to sort through the junk in my parents’ attic, which is dominated by books accumulated from years of library book sales for as little as a dollar a box. Old books as such became a near-worthless commodity in late 20th century America, well ahead of the Internet, and more space for books had of course been one of the attractions of the house. Once we had an attic and could no longer see the whole collection, stockpiling and duplication were inevitable.

Categories we are very long on include British political and military biographies (my mother’s favorites), books with science in the title (my father), foreign language (me), essays and journalism (again me), philosophy (especially existentialism, I don’t know why – possibly my brother was a secret Sartre fan), architecture (my brother), sociology, murder mysteries, scifi, Judaica, Australiana, poetry, drama, art and museum catalogs, modern and ancient classics, humor, printing and typography, machine and electronics manuals, one-volume encyclopedias and textbooks of all kinds. In other words, most of the interesting categories that show up at bulk book sales for Friends of the Library in any Massachusetts town. I was fortunate to grow up bathed in books and even if most of them were not the right books or the right books for me, some of them were.

Every day that I visit the public library where we got most of these books, I have deposited a few volumes to be recycled in their future sales, beginning with the duplicate and triplicate copies of Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Eric Ambler’s A Coffin for Demetrios, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower, and Stephen Birmingham’s Our Crowd, the pedantic musings of Edwin Newman and William Safire, and proceeding through lesser-loved singletons such as the two-volume life of the Earl of Sandwich, which will never be read by any family member still living. Continue reading

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2016: the meme

1. Which social media provided the best echo chamber to buffer public events this year?
2. Did any close friends become zombies?
3. Was there anything at which you tried to level up and missed?
4. What body systems gave their first signs of slowing or failure?
5. What former fandoms or pastimes did you realize you were over?
6. Whom did you consider getting back in touch with and then decide not to?
7. What formerly foolish behavior by self or others makes sense to you now?
8. Which public figures died whom you hadn’t realized were so high in your pantheon?
9. What new and unnecessary things did you feel lured to buy by online media?
10. How much more did home and security soar out of your reach?
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what they don’t tell you about the raspberry pi

The Raspberry Pi is a double-edged device: it is designed to challenge the user to learn about technology because it is not encased in a simplified consumer product interface. At the same time, it is meant to be a little bit user-friendly, helping to widen participation in electronics hacking. A persistent person with access to the Internet – and a parts budget, because this thing attracts more accessories than a Barbie doll – should be able to figure it out.

I bought an RPi 2B+ a year and a half ago at the first Ipswich Raspberry Pi Jam and finally got it to work at the third Pi Jam this weekend. Thanks to all the members of Ipswich Makerspace who took time to answer questions, check on my progress, reiterate encouragingly that “it’s supposed to just work. Usually it just works,” and finally reflash my card in some magical way. Below are some hints for others who are trying to realize the Raspberry Pi dream.

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theater: macbeth at the globe

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Cloth wrappings are integral to Iqbal Khan’s Macbeth; the witches, four of them, perform a body-part puppet show with a black curtain while a PA system speaks their speech over ghostly music. At intervals through the action, characters appear draped in tents, encased in overcoats, swaddled in bedding, smothered and screaming. Out of these depths emerges a memorable production that has placed Khan with Josie Rourke on my list of directors to keep track of.

The beauty of the Globe tends to overwhelm the plays it was meant to showcase. It’s the opposite of the immersive cinema experience and actors have to work extra hard to draw attention. Khan uses the thrust stage to advantage, pushing the speakers forward for their star turns and sometimes even bringing them in through the audience [1]. The early scenes were handsome if somewhat bloodless. Then Macbeth and Banquo (Ray Fearon and Jermaine Dominique) exploded on the stage and kicked up the action several notches. Dominique brought wonderful warm turns to his lines, making the early loss of Banquo especially harsh. Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald, as Lady Macbeth, seemed to be mugging for the crowds in their love scene (as one does in a Globe production), but then gave off sparks as they plotted. His soliloquys were splendid and her sleepwalking scene was unexpectedly fresh.

The rest of the cast was strong, actor for actor, and that meant even the most cryptic speeches were always delivered with some kind of local sense. Nadia Albina showed wonderful talent as the Porter, marred by topical deviations (Trump? Not disputing that he’s the devil, but it was more mugging). Elizabeth Andrewartha was not merely credible but constructive in her soldier role, and Kerry Gooderson showed great shape-shifting ability. The three youngish men with beards or stubble who were difficult for the face-blind person to distinguish since they were only on stage together at the end; but that means their performances were also of equivalent quality. Sam Cox’s Duncan was a lordly-looking place holder, which made the idea to remove him more logical; he was also the only greybeard in the thirtysomething-looking cast. He was present in the final tableau in another role (uncredited) together with Freddie Stewart as Malcolm and the youngest actor (also uncredited, and unexplained – he seemed almost to become communal property). Together they created a wordless commentary on succession in this very late Elizabethan moment. This production was long for Shakespeare’s shortest play [2], and yet it managed to end with a bang rather than the usual relief.

The Globe’s Macbeth runs through early October. Thanks to Nely and the Helsinki Shakespeare fans for their choice of production and their company.

[1] I was a groundling which probably boosted the impact of stage-edge acting further. I wholeheartedly recommend standing at the theater if you have the stamina. It concentrates the attention.

[2] There was one intermission, quite late. When the Globe opened, the idea was to have short intermissions after each act, and it might be good to return to that. It would keep the audience awake, distribute the bathroom queue, and make the structure of the play more evident.

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year of the pigs

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It was a hot, bright summer the year the pigs invaded Ipswich. They did so stealthily, under cover of one of the endless social media campaigns that were taking the place of government. Walkathons for medicine, ice bucket challenges to outfit submarines, the Prime Minister’s Ask Me Anything subreddit, Blue Nose Week to raise money for GSCE tests, children making murals on castle walls for the National Trust, teenagers being Special for a Day to fill out the police – and finally, the pigs. Three dozen full-grown pigs and almost as many piglets, painted and polished and buffed to a hard gloss, standing in front of every seat of power in Ipswich through the months of high sun. Their run was not intended to last forever. They were due to be rounded up and auctioned off a few days hence when they finally took matters into their own trotters.

The alarm went off at 17 minutes past 4 in the morning, in the form of a loud snuffling heard in the forecourt of the Cycle Cafe, following the bells of St Mary’s at quarter past. From plinth to plinth the snuffling and grunting and oinking spread, gathering consensus until the pigs were of one mind what to do – for since the war, pigs have operated peer to peer, none more equal than others -Orwell’s text was historical. At seven they carefully detached themselves from their platforms and advanced from all quarters toward the Cornmarket: Major Henry Wigglesworth from the banking district, Piggy Stardust from the bohemian precincts of the Saints, the Piñata Pig from the Cargo Cult cafe complex on the Waterfront, Pig-Geswyk from the Willis Building where she had been peering through its Darth Vader mirrorglass at the frog pond inside, Pepper Pig departing the Co-op Education Center courtyard through the iron gates where a spider had woven in admiration SOME PIG.

By the time the early churchgoers, including the town grandees, reached the Cornmarket, they were confronted with a multicolored, seething swine army. Continue reading

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