From Saturday’s Globe, a piece (by me!) about whether four historically “bad neighbourhoods” still deserve a bad rep. This was pretty inspiring to write – the tiny, one-table farmer’s market at Jane and Finch caused my heart to swell far more than the yuppie fest that is the Brickworks. And I say that as a veritable yuppie myself.
The Gossip killed it at the Opera House on Wednesday. JD Samson and MEN opened. Talk about a dance party. It was hot and sweaty, and I liked it.
The always-pithy Kate Carraway made a plea yesterday for the reappearance of Kathleen Hanna, and I concur. In the meantime, though, JD and Beth Ditto are still bringing it. For an encore, they led the crowd in a singalong of “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” I think that’s what you call a perfect night.
A recent travel piece I did on Miami. Click the image for a PDF, or see the text at the Report on Business site.
Today I ran across some videos by Teen Voices, a print and online mag by high school girls from Boston. Their latest project is reworking popular rap songs, replacing violent and sexist lyrics with a little female positivity. Watching these vids was bittersweet. It’s awesome: these girls are having so much fun. It’s nostalgic: back in the day, my girls and I did much the same thing. But therein lies the rub: the more things change, the more they just don’t.
Picture this, Ottawa, 1996. I lived in the world’s most female-positive, assumption-challenging household. Let’s call the decor 1990s Shabby Feminist Chic. The couch had springs sticking out the back, every dish was always dirty and every wall was plastered with images of strong women (aside from a prominently displayed world map, which was upside-down. By the end of the year, new visitors who queried the map’s positioning were met with a weary “It’s less eurocentric,” by regulars to our house.) Reclaiming sexist words, images and scenes was our definition of fun. After the revolting sex-for-points Spur Posse made headlines, we dubbed ourselves the Spur Pussy and…none of your business. We spent our days talking politics (and periods) while digging up tunes by chicks that kicked ass (like Kathleen Hanna, above, who I miss very much).
Now the 90s, of course, was when hip hop fell over the cutting edge into the mainstream. Everyone, including me and my girlfriends, wanted to be down. As feminists, we also wanted to be on the up and up. We fought back against insulting lyrics by purchasing every female rap CD there was to own and spent a lot of time yelling ladies’ lyrics over misogynist spewing. One favourite comeback was the very classy Lil Kim line, “I don’t want dick tonight! Eat my pussy right!” Believe me, we were very loud.
It’s 2009, and what’s changed? Female MCs are still heartbreakingly scarce, and for every Kid Sister, there are 2,000 nameless, half-naked young women accessorizing music videos, participating in their own objectification, then being derided as the “same ho.” There’s so much to unpack here, all the heartbreak of women/queers/people of colour who love art that hates us (rap is in no way the only offender—how messed is my affection for the very racist children’s novel The Secret Garden?). On a bad day, it’s enough to make a music-loving woman go instrumental, forever.
On a good day, I’m thrilled there are girls who are still keeping on. Much respect to the young ladies of Teen Voices for joyfully asserting their self-esteem. And boys, no matter what your age is, think before you speak. Because we will remember your words and actions, for always.
I looked up the etymology of “career” yesterday and as I suspected, it comes from horse racing. Before it came to signify a work trajectory with personal meaning, the word meant galloping at full speed like a sweaty animal, which isn’t too far off the mark of how I feel sometimes.
It’s so complicated, balancing the ethereal bits and pieces that comprise success. So I’m middle-class and snooty, so I know I don’t want a “job.” My day-to-day livelihood earning has to be “fulfilling.” It has to have Meaning. In my younger days, I’ve been an absolute brat about well paying work because it wasn’t Meaningful (or at least Fun) enough for smarty-pants me.
Lately though, my bratty ass has had a wake up call. Being skint isn’t romantic, it sucks, and I’m re-evaluating my concept of success to include, you know, financial solvency. I’m also re-evaluating the peer recognition angle—I want to have good relationships with my colleagues and of course I want people to appreciate my work, but dang, f’n politics. Like my mom always said, other people’s opinions of you aren’t as important as your opinion of yourself. Right? Right?
Writer Alain de Botton (who’s almost as smart as my mom) makes a similar point in the TED lecture below, where he opines on the definition of success and failure. He defines snobbery as judging someone on one aspect of their self—like, you know, their job. As always, his observations are witty and thought-provoking, as he discusses envy, fortune and the oh-so North American concept of a Loser. He reiterates that you really can’t have it all. I’ve been reading about David Foster Wallace and Dash Snow this week, sad stories where talent and money didn’t bring happiness. Sacrifices are a part of life, and so it’s best to make them knowingly and peacefully. It’s definitely muse-worthy stuff, so here I am, musing.
Careering wildly seems a bit pointless, at least until I figure out where the track leads. For the next bit, I’m going to have a vocation, the definition of which is “an occupation to which a person has a specific calling:” I can’t help it, I still want to write. So, I’m going to write, pay my bills and be glad about it. I’m also going to nurture and be thankful for the non-work aspects of my life (love! health! food!). And, because it’s July and kinda sunny out, I am not going to let this fading summer pass me by.
I am SICK with excitement to see Sonic Youth in a mere two weeks. It’s been a loooong time. The last show I saw was when they headlined Lollapalooza in 1995*, when like 75 per cent of the crowd up and left after Hole, which drove me insane (if it drives you insane, too, here’s a Web 1.0 flashback, an excerpt from Thurston Moore’s bitchy tour diary entry about “the singer from Hole.”) I also saw them at the Concert Hall (RIP, best concert venue ever) the year before: I bought a way oversized t-shirt and made out with some guy, the latter mostly cause I was pretending my life was the video for Dirty Boots.
Sure, they can get a little wanky, but in the best way ever. Admit it, you’re totally jealous that Sonic Youth have been noodling around with music and making art and clothes and doing whatever the hell they want for decades. They’re a testament to being weird and self-directed, rather than throwing in the towel and getting a job in communications or um, nevermind. The point is, if Sonic Youth is the musical establishment, the world is a good place. The show is at Massey Hall and it will be like the symphony for fans of experimental music and electric guitar. If I haven’t convinced you to shell out for tix, maybe Sasha Frere-Jones can in this New Yorker piece (which is apparently written in the future). Or maybe Chuck D. can, in this classic video. Fear of a female planet. Fear, baby.
*edit: proper date of SY Lollapalooza courtesy of fact-checking friend mechamoney.
Good piece in the NYT Arts section about two female artists playing with Islamic imagery in their work. Asma Ahmed Shikoh (whose work “Self Portrait 1″ is pictured here) was born in Pakistan and became more religious when she moved to the U.S.. Her work is about globalization and commercialization, like a painting where Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, morphs into Colonel Sanders. Negar Ahkami, an Iranian-American who grew up in the U.S., uses painting and sculpture to explore her feelings about Iran before and after the revolution, and her experiences of anti-Muslim racism in ’80s New Jersey. While their work and influences are very different, women also play with gender and cultural identity, including the all-important hijab. Interesting, of the minute stuff.
This issue of Dazed & Confused is gorgeous, full of wonderful photos and clever styling. The Ditto photos by Rankin, with makeup by Peter Philips, was especially cool. Beth Ditto and the Gossip are so cool. I wish they were my friends. The piece is about the band holing up in Rick Rubin’s mansion to record the new album, since titled Music for Men (I like the new single, do you? And I’m so glad they didn’t just put a snippet on MySpace like other lame bands have been doing lately). The interview doesn’t offer too much new info in terms of band lore, but there’s a collection of Nathan’s own backstage photos that give intimate, sweaty glimpses into the band’s trajectory and off-stage life.
In the front of the book, Hayley Hatton reviews photographer Martin Schoeller‘s new portrait collection of female bodybuilders. The shots are pretty striking—women with massive, rock-hard chiseled bodies, loaded up with makeup and huge breast implants. Ok, I don’t think male bodybuilders are attractive—their extreme muscle definition, dehydration and the inability to touch their toes doesn’t say “healthy body” to me. But I do sometimes think that the visible recoil that most people have to female bodybuilders also has to do with the fact that the standards of attractiveness for women also prize weakness and immobility (see: heels. I’m sure you can walk in them. But like the old Bikini Kill zine once asked, can you run for your life?). So, I thought it was pretty cool that Dazed picked up the female bodybuilder image again for “U”, a fashion spread in the back of the book that juxtaposes the big, hard body of a female bodybuilder with that of a reed-thin teenage model, both sporting various outfits in shades of pink. Fashion is so smrt. There’s a lot of fun gender play going on in the Y, O, U, trio of fashion spreads. “O” has got a selection of pouty girly-boys draped in silky fabrics, or sporting beards tangled up with sequins, a look that’s clever, but seems painful.
Aside from the consumerist itch that such magazines instill, I also tend not to buy them because the writing is only satisfactory. Poorly constructed run-on sentences and bad copyediting ruins the buzz for a word nerd like me. But there’s lots of new art and music to get excited about in here (has anyone heard The Coathangers?), and the photos and design are really fun to look at. I’m going to make a cut-and-paste zine just to use some of these fonts and fun titles. Still to read: the Peaches interview and James Mooney’s piece on the street fighting Spartans in New York City. Oh, and, FYI: I still miss The Face.
Update: The Face might make a comeback!
Went to the Textile Museum this aft to see the Judy Chicago retrospective When Women Rule the World. Curated by the fantastic Allyson Mitchell, the show is a chance to come face-to-face with selections from three decades worth of Chicago’s political, sexual and very tactile work in thread and fabric. Part of Chicago’s mandate with her textile works has always been to draw attention to the skill and patience of female needleworkers—over 150 volunteers have helped her with the embroidery, cross-stitching, quilting and even macrame needed to bring her visions to life. It’s still discomfiting to see a giant crochet pattern of a woman giving birth (a similar image to the silk embroidery piece Birth Tear/Tear, above), so imagine what it was like when these pieces were unveiled during the Reagan ’80s. A short video in the When Women Rule the World exhibit includes interviews with sweet suburban American housewives, many of whom found their move from tea towels to massive canvases incredibly empowering, even as their husbands and friends were often disturbed, even angry, at their participation.
Another Chicago piece, Red Flag. It’s not cloth, but I couldn’t help myself. Its been a long time since we’ve had a good tampon activist incident. Remember when Donita Sparks tossed hers at a heckler? Feminism = bad ass. Speaking of which, the Chicago exhibit is accompanied by a roundup of newer feminist textile works, They Will Always Be Younger Than Us. My favourite were Orly Cogan’s embroidered vintage tablecloths, especially Bittersweet Obsession, which sees pretty girls licking cupcakes, dressing in fishnets and doing a few lines, while they’re at it. Needlepoint—it’s not just for pioneers anymore.