Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Self-Esteem

Our generation has been getting painted with a broad, narcissism-colored brush quite a lot lately. The New York Times thinks we all have some blithe notion that our degrees in philosophy or comparative literature are going to land us jobs...and that we're not even particularly concerned if they do or not. We're getting called the “why worry?” generation, and there's much crowing about this being the backlash against modern, coddling parenting. The article asks the question--do we really have too much self-esteem? and then dismisses it, saying that "don't worry, be happy" attitude is going to get us through hard times. (Yeah I want some of whatever they're smoking, too.) But I think—as a member of the “why worry” generation—that the problem genuinely is that we have way to much self-esteem. I'm not kidding. I know Seventeen wants you to have the stuff coming out your ears, but did anybody ever stop to think that maybe it's not such a good idea to have millions of teens and twenty-somethings running around thinking they're special snowflakes?

So I have this to say: fuck self-esteem. Get some self-respect. Self-esteem buys a four-hundred dollar pocket book “because I'm worth it.” Self-respect opens a savings account. Self-esteem is too good to flip burgers. Self-respect knows you can't eat talent. Self-esteem talks the talk, self-respect walks the walk. Self-esteem wants vacation days and special treatment. Self-respect knows you have to start at the bottom to get anywhere. Self-esteem expects a job to come to them. Self-respect sends out fifty cover letters, hears nothing and sends out fifty more. Self-esteem whines, self-respect works.

A "why worry" attitude is not going to cut it, cupcakes. We should be worried. There's a lot of fucked up shit going on in the world right now. I'm not saying that our overblown collective self-esteem is to blame for the oil spill or the recession or the fact that our computers are apparently killing African babies....but it's sure as hell not helping. The world doesn't need anymore snowflakes. We need thinkers, doers, builders, teachers. We need people to figure out what they're good at, and then to go off and do whatever that is the best they possibly can (that sounded more eloquent in my head).

I think we're born talented, born with potential, born able to do whatever we put our minds to. (except I'll never be able to parallel park.) But I don't believe we're born special—that's earned. Truth is, the only people in the world who think you're special just for breathing are your parents. The other six billion people in the world are going to need some proof. Roll up your sleeves, and start trading the self-esteem for some self-respect.

yumm dan auerbach

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Smell Like a Baby Prostitute

I went shopping yesterday, and because I'm just really cranky for my age, I came home pretty annoyed. First of all, these things are everywhere. Rompers. Onesies for big people, basically. First of all, you have to weigh about ninety pounds in order to get the advertised look (which is what? toddler-chic?) and second of all, I'm guessing that unless you're really talented you have to take it all the way off to go to bathroom. (or have a quickie, for that matter.) Also, they look ridiculous. The rule I apply to my clothing is imagining my kids looking back at pictures of present-day me twenty years from now. Will they think I look like a circus freak? Yes? Back away from the romper. My parents, while not the snappiest dressers you ever met, are classic dressers. I look back at pictures of them when they were my age and they don't look ridiculous--they're in button downs, blue jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, pencil skirts, khakis. Maybe it's a boring way to think about fashion, but they don't have fashion-- they've got style.

There's not a lot of style going on these days, especially when it comes to clothes marketed to people my age. As far as I'm concerned the biggest offender on this score is American Apparel. Now, my primary complaint about AA is that they advertise on Texts from Last Night, splashing their porn-y crotch shots and nipple flashes all over a site that I just want to use to waste time in class. I feel pretty uncomfortable having some Asian girl in a black lace body suit that leaves nothing to the imagination just sitting there and staring suggestively at me from my computer screen, especially when all I’m trying to do is not pay attention in sociology. Maybe the gentlemen don’t mind so much, but I’m guessing they’re also not the target market of the clothes.

I’m pretty sure I don’t own anything from American Apparel anymore, although I did have some of their T-shirts. I was pretty taken with the whole “we pay our workers more than a dollar a day” philosophy of the company for a little while, but that was before stuff got so a.) expensive, b.) tacky and c.) skeezy. Okay, maybe it was always semi-skeezy. And those gold-lame-Spandex jumpsuits are not exactly the epitome of class unless you’re Ziggy Stardust. But this? WHAT IS THAT?

It's a Nylon Spandex Stretch Floral Lace Unitard. Now, unitard seems like a better word for anyone who would wear this than for the actual article of clothing, but that's beside the point.

The point, if I have one, is that we have to stop buying this shit. It's not classy, it's not aesthetically pleasing, and it definitely makes it hard to go to the bathroom. And our kids are going to laugh their asses off at us.

Style Rookie Tavi Gevinson's brilliant post on American Apparel:

I Talk to Elsa Cross

“I hate to be pigeonholed,” says singer-songwriter Elsa Cross right away, and once she starts talking about her influences and favorite music, it's clear how hard it is to label her. If you call her country, she’ll answer with a Breeders cover. If you call her rockabilly, she’ll tell you that Frank Black of the Pixies is one of her favorite artists. Her foot-stomping mixture of blues, country and rockabilly has earned her a reputation as a “female Johnny Cash,” but Cross is making a name for herself in the Seacoast and well beyond as a true original.
While growing up in Exeter, Cross’ musical education included a high school punk rock phase, a mother who listened to country music around the house, and a boyfriend who introduced her to rockabilly music. “I was like what is this?” Cross said of rockabilly. “It’s so cool. I never figured I’d end up playing it.” Some of Cross’ biggest influences are Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. “I love Elvis, I think he’s just such a rock and roll vessel, you know?” Cross said. “I collect Elvis stuff…I’ve toned it down a bit lately though.” she said with a laugh.
Cross got her first guitar when she was eighteen.
“I had played clarinet all through high school, I was a band geek.” Cross said. “Guitar always seemed cooler. I had really basic lessons, and I sort of fell out of it for awhile…I was probably distracted by boys.” Around age twenty, Cross began to write her own songs. She decided to leave Vermont College, where she had been studying social work, in order to focus on her “I couldn’t work and go to school and work on my music all at the same time.” Cross said. “So I figured I should do it while I’m young.” “It’s kind of a blur,” Cross said of her transition into an active music career. “I didn’t plan it, I’ve always felt that it just happened.” Cross started out solo, but says that she was afraid to play in front of people for a long time.“I was kind of stuck in my bedroom for a long time.” she said. “I wouldn’t even play in front of my roommates. I had a boyfriend who said I had to start playing open mics and get out there, and I had some horrible open mic experiences where I froze up. But that’s what I always tell people who are starting out though, you’ve got to break through that stage.”
Cross started going to bluegrass jams at The Stone Church in Newmarket, an
experience that she says changed her musical path entirely. “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t gone [to bluegrass jams]” she said. “I started meeting people, I met my first band there.” Her first band was made up of guitarist Steve Roy and her current drum player PJ Donohue. “They were really experienced musicians,” Cross said. “They taught me everything I know about playing with people. It was Steve, especially. He’s one of my best friends to this day. He still plays with me sometimes, but he plays all over the country now because he’s so talented and he can play with people who can actually pay." Cross says she mostly taught herself the basics of songwriting by picking apart classic country songs and looking at their chords and structure. But in the end, she says it all comes down to emotion. “It’s all in how you sing it, what’s going on in my head as I’m playing it and singing it.” she said. Cross says although she didn’t start playing guitar until her late teens, she has always been a singer. “I was always very into singing as a kid, singing around the house, in the car, annoying the crap out of my brother.” Cross said. “And one day I was singing a Loretta Lynn song, just in my bedroom…and I just heard this voice that I had never really heard from myself before. I was like, whoa, I think I can actually sing.” Like most songwriters, Cross says her songs are based on personal experience. “It’s life,” she said. “It’s how I process what’s going on in my head. I was on my own a lot as a kid, I didn’t really have an ideal childhood. So this is kind of the way I relate to people, if they’ve felt similar to how I’m feeling.” “Girls who come to my shows, they relate.” Cross said. “ I’m not a man hater or anything but I’ve had a broken heart before, let’s just say that.” For now, Cross is a waitress at Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich Shop in Portsmouth. “It’s how I support my band…the money’s not always coming in [from music] so I work daytime hours and play music at night.” Cross said. Although she admits that the balancing act is a lot of work, Cross said that she sees this time as a necessary part of the process. “I’m paying my dues.” she said. “Waitressing, getting my name out there, booking my own shows, and it’s progressing.” she said. “But sometimes I feel like I haven’t had anything happen in awhile, that I’m just playing all local shows and treading water.” At 28, Cross says that there are times when she considers moving on. “There’s always going to be some people who won’t take me seriously because I don’t have a bachelors degree.” Cross said. “When people ask me what I do it’s like, well, I’m a waitress and a musician and they kind of go oh, she’s one of those.” When she feels discouraged, Cross said she turns to her bandmates. She lives in Durham in an old farmhouse with bassist Mary Dellea, drummer PJ Donohue and guitarist Nick Phaneuf. “We’re like this wacky artist commune.” Cross said. “We’ve got dogs everywhere, every instrument you can imagine, acres of land.” The “wacky artist commune” that Cross calls family is also her support system. “They keep me going,” she said. “I have that network to back me up. My real family’s like, you know, you could come visit us once in a while.” Cross’ debut album “Unavailable” came out in 2007, and Cross estimates that she has about twenty finished original songs that she performs. Her second album, “Me vs. Myself” comes out on August 27.
Cross' shows are a mix of original songs and covers of some of her favorite artists.
Once again refusing to be typecast, Cross doesn’t stick to straight country or rockabilly, choosing some classics and some surprises. “Some of my favorite covers right now are Sam Cooke, The Breeders, and Ernest Tubb.” Cross said. For the future, Cross said she’d be happy to make a living playing music. “I’d like to be able to sing and live comfortably.” She said. “The goal isn’t so much to be rich and famous, not that I’d complain. I love to tour, so I want to be able to travel, be with my friends. So I’d like to be able to travel the world, and buy groceries.” Cross is a regular at local venues such as The Press Room in Portsmouth, the Barley Pub in Dover and The Stone Church in Newmarket. Increasingly, she and her band are also playing festivals and shows in Boston, New York and beyond. On Cross' playlist at the moment are Gogol Bordello, Frank Black of the Pixes, and, naturally, the man in black himself. “I'm always listening to Johnny Cash.” Cross said. Tom Petty another artist in heavy rotation on Cross' iPod—an addition so important to Cross that she emails after her interview to make sure he's included in her list of influences. Even if doesn't pay the rent for now, the most important thing about music for Cross is that it is what she's truly passionate about. “This is what makes me happy,” she said, “and I feel privileged to have it clear as day what makes me happy. Even in hard times I have my music.”
Elsa Cross plays the Barley Pub on July 2, and the release of her second album“Me vs. Myself,”will be at The Press Room on August 27.

I Talk to Gnarlemagne

If you ask Gnarlemagne's Stuart Dias to explain what kind of music the band plays, he turns to the words of MC Hammer. “If you can't move to this, you're probably dead.” Dias quotes. And from the first notes of a Gnarlemagne song it's clear right away: this music is pure fun.

The seven man band has been playing in the Seacoast and beyond since they formed the group back in their college days at UNH. The guys of Gnarlemagne all have day jobs now, but their passion is still getting people moving.

Trombone player Ian Katz says that Gnarlemange's music is part rock, part “get-up-and-dance-music” and part soul. Most of all, Gnarlemagne's music draws on the contributions and influences of the band members.

“I think the music is a great representation of us as people, because no two members of the band listen to the same music, and because of that, we can make stuff we've never heard before.” Dias said.

Some influences that most members of the band agree on are Sly and the Family Stone, The Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age, Otis Redding, and Gnarls Barkley.

“I like to tell people we're somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.” said drummer Jed Allen. “That usually tricks them into going to a show.”

The band evolved out of a casual collaboration between Dias and drummer Jed Allen, who were forming a blues band as part of a college course they were taking called “The Blues.” A few friends—Katz, trumpet players Alex Brenneman and Mike Kulik, Matt Francoeur on saxophone and bassist Alex Koffler— joined in, and the group began to play together. The music that came out of this collaboration wasn't exactly the blues.

“It was a lot more upbeat,” Dias said, “and instead of trying to control what was naturally happening we just went with it.”

When they formed the band, the members all had varying levels of experience as musicians, but they say that they really found what they love in Gnarlemagne. When they first began to play together during the school year of 2005-2006, Koffler says it was exactly what he'd been looking for.

I just remember being so hungry to play music again,” Koffler said, “and walking over with my crappy bass and amp to jam with these funky, funky dudes.”

Allen says that he first saw something special in the band after their first show.

We were pretty terrible for a long time...[but] even though we clearly weren’t the most talented band, we had a lot of energy, and a lot of fun, and I think the crowd picked up on that.” he said.

The audience is a big part of the the infectious energy at a Gnarlemagne show.

“They dance, we play harder, it gets a little sweaty, and everyone leaves happy.” Katz said.

Gnarlemagne has come a long way since they started jamming outside the dorm.

“I feel that we’ve gotten a feel for the scene.” said Koffler. “Playing music was the easy part, figuring out the logistics of being a band was really the hardest thing to accomplish.”

“I’m proud of so much that we have done.” said Allen. “ I love some of the venues we have gotten to play, and I especially love some of the bands that we have played with. If you can judge a band by the company they keep I think we are doing pretty well.”

The band's first album, Run for Shelter debuted in October of 2009. Dias said that the record release show was one of his proudest moments.

“We had the Stone Church at capacity, and before we came out, the lights were off and people were chanting our name—it was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced.” Dias said.

The five years Gnarlemagne has been playing together haven't been without mishaps, or good stories. Dias recalled a time when the band had traveled several hours to a gig, only to find that they'd forgotten Koffler's bass.

“We stood outside on the street asking everyone that passed by if they had a bass we could borrow.” Dias said.

“After half an hour we found one and the show went off without a hitch.” said Allen.

“And then one of the girls who tried to help us ended up dating Koof.” Dias added, meaning Koffler.

One of Katz's favorite stories comes from a time when the band was stretching their legs in a parking lot en route to a show in Northhampton, MA.

“This girl leans out of her car and yells, 'hey, are you guys in a band?' 'Yeah,' we said. I mean, we look and act like a band, plus the cars are full of equipment. 'Are you guys in Gnarlemagne?' she says, and holds up our CD! We were all pretty blown away to be recognized so far from our hometown, and it really put us in a good mood for the show that night. We all signed her CD too.”

The band now has a catalog of around 16 original songs, and an arsenal of covers that range from Queens of the Stone Age to Sly and the Family Stone. Gnarlemagne's covers are almost as creative as their original songs.

“I like to cover songs and bands that people might not expect to hear from us.” said Allen. “A lot of the time fans will suggest we cover a song because it would be right up our alley. I prefer to cover songs that don’t sound like they are in the same genre, and make it our own.”

“One of my favorite covers that we do is 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkely.” said Dias. “It's heavy, dark and beautiful.”

The band is working on a new album that they hope to put out at some point later this year or ealy next year, in addition to a live album recorded at the Stone Church that is already recorded and they hope to press soon.

But what about that name? The band doesn't quite want to say—just that it's the right fit for who they are.

“When someone said it I remember thinking it was the perfect name: unique, epic, and funky, which is usually how I feel when we're ripping it up on stage.” said Koffler. “Now I think its almost perfect, the only downside being the endless number of ways you can misspell it.”

Gnarlemagne plays the Stone Church on July 9 and July 16.

Stuart Dias' Playlist:

Radiohead: 15 Steps

Earthless: Sonic Prayer

C.W. Stoneking: Jungle Blues

Erykah Badu: In Love With You

Queens of the Stone Age: 3's and 7's

Estelle: Come Over

Ian Katz's Playlist:

Jabberloop: Fly With the Wind

Michael Franti and Spearhead: Say Hey

No Doubt: Excuse Me Mister

Seatbelts: Rush

Soil & Pimp Sessions: Storm

Alex Koeffler's Playlist:

The Magical Mystery Chambers: Uh Huh

Raphael Saadiq: Let's Take a Walk

Kraftwerk: Computer Love

Soil & Pimp Sessions: Pluto

PizzaPastaTime-8 bit remix of Ke$ha's Tik Tok

Jed Allen's Playlist:

I Wanna Make it Wit Chu: Queens of the Stone Age

Thickfreakness: The Black Keys

Lord: Apollo Sunshine

Hey Bulldog: The Beatles

Toxic: Britney Spears

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Ballad of Me and John: The Final Chapter (hopefully)

August, 2008

“Ugh,” says my mother, staring at the computer screen. “I guess you can’t be surprised. He’s just like the rest of them.”

Edwards, not unpredictably, finished third in New Hampshire, behind Obama by a comfortable margin, who in turn is behind Clinton by a not-insignificant spread. Edwards dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday. The campaign packed up, the office was shuttered. Life went regrettably back to normal.

But now John is back in the news, and not for anything good. The details of the story are fuzzy at first, but eventually it all comes out, as the truth is wont to do. At first, I have a knee-jerk, journalism student reaction. The National Enquirer? All lies, don’t worry about it, no one will take it seriously. Then The New York Times picks it up, then my beloved Boston Globe. Anderson Cooper is grave, Katie Couric frowns sadly, and Bill O’Reilly is getting near-sexual satisfaction out of the whole thing. It’s legit.

John Edwards did in fact have an affair with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign employee. He did in fact spend time in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, the night the National Enquirer decided to stake out and corner him in a public restroom. The whole sordid debacle took place while his wife was battling breast cancer. In his interview with Bob Woodruff Edwards is quick to point out he was only running around on his wife while her cancer was in remission-- and he wasn’t in love with Hunter. Edwards does his repentant face. Women all over America throw things at the TV. These are the same women who wept over the story of Elizabeth Edwards’ battle with cancer, whose hearts broke over the Edwards’ eldest son, killed in a car accident before his twenty-first birthday. These are the same women who were behind Edwards’ healthcare plan and proactive approach to eradicating poverty. And the same women who voted for somebody who’s starting to look an eensie bit like a total and utter scumbag.

Nobody can believe it.

“I can’t believe it!” cry the pundits. “Who have thought?”

“I really thought he was different, you know?” says my grandmother. Never much for politics, she voted for Edwards almost solely because I asked her to. Which makes me feel as though I belong somewhere between earthworms and leeches.

“I can’t fucking believe this,” Ian says in an email to everyone from the office. “I spent a year-- that’s four percent of my life so far, I figured it out--working for him and now he’s done.” He caught it all right.

And although I sort of want to commiserate with my friends from the campaign, sort of want to get upset and infuriated and indignant, I just...don’t.

“This must be hard for you,” somebody says to me. I shrug it off, smile a regretful smile. But I want to say, no--death is hard, breakups are hard, the AP Spanish test is hard. This is not hard. This is politics as usual.

I hadn’t realized until now that I didn’t really believe in John Edwards, or at least not the way Ian did, or Emily. I had wanted to believe—and I believed in what he said and what he stood for, but I hadn’t quite drunk the Kool-Aid. My parents taught me, via Bill Clinton, these three things: 1. Politicians are humans, and often pretty reprehensible ones. 2. This doesn’t mean that they can’t accomplish a lot of great things and 3. This all means that we have to be more involved with politics, not less.

Why do we insist on tying politics with politicians? When someone tells me they don’t vote because they just can’t stand politics—it’s such a dirty business, it’s so corrupt—I cringe a little. I believed in John Edwards; and although I was as put off by the scandal as everyone else, I’m not ashamed that I worked for him.. Maybe it’s time we accepted that we have to stop falling in love with politicians, stop wanting to go have a beer with politicians, stop thinking that politicians are any less human than the rest of us.

March 2010

Once a scumbag, always a scumbag. It was his baby. There was the sex tape with Edwards doing something other than talking with that silver tongue of his. There was Rielle's creepy pantsless photo shoot. There were tearful Oprah episodes and flamethrowing in the blogosphere. There was, in short, a lot of shit. I’ve run into a few other young people who worked for Edwards since Obama’s election. This unhappy, sheepish confederacy of idealists taken in by all that William Jennings Bryan cross of gold talk (and the hair, too, let’s not shit ourselves) is getting on with life. We made a mistake. We almost handed the presidency to John “I Crashed Three Planes” McCain. I stand by my previous argument—politicians are as human as the rest us—but let me speak for the hairocracy of dunces that was the Edwards grassroots movement when I say: We’re sorry, America.