Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tune Time: May 2016

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately:

Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home.

I realized recently that I don’t listen to a lot of Bob Dylan, and that I needed to fix that to keep my rock cred. I decided to start with Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth album. This is best known as the album where Dylan made a move to electric rock and roll, which was divisive at the time. On a side note, if you stumble across older music, I highly recommend reading about its history and what people thought about it at the time it was released. It’ll inform your contemporary understanding and help you to trace its cultural importance.

What I love most about this album is its exploration of bohemia, for all of its good and bad aspects. Songs like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are steeped in the political lyrics that Dylan is known for, which is reminiscent of what we’re going through today re: the 2016 election.( I can’t think of one artist who’s channeling Dylan today for the same purpose.) For the most part, he shines light on hippie shortcomings and tries to create some distance from the folk movement he’s so closely associated with. I’m still trying to decipher the enigmatic lyrics and what they could mean, and that’s how I know I’ve stumbled across a great album.

It’s hard to pick my favorite tracks, but I especially dig “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Now that I’m wading in the Dylan pond, I’m excited to see what I discover next.

The Strokes’ Future Present Past

Since high school, The Strokes have been one of my favorite bands. I was beyond excited when Future Present Past dropped out of the blue on Thursday morning, so much so that I impulse-bought the vinyl and didn’t care about the shipping cost. That’s how you know it’s real.

So much of The Strokes’ music focuses on the recurring themes of growing up, with the energy that only youth can harness. I think this is summed up so brilliantly in “Hard to Explain” from Is This It?: “I missed the last bus / I’ll take the next train / I’ll try, but you see / It’s hard to explain.”  You try and you try and you try, but you can never feel like you can get everything right — which breeds feeling of existentialism, debates of right and wrong, and of course, star-crossed love. From that first incredible record all the way to this three-song and bonus remix EP, the Strokes have tried to navigate these feelings. “Oblivius” picks that back up: the repetition of “What side are you standing on?” suggests a conflict on both personal and political levels, something frontman Julian Casablancas explores deeply in his solo work. Anyone who has ever been a young adult can find some resonance in the Strokes’ lyrics, and as someone who is on the precipice of Real Adulthood the Strokes are more important to me than ever.

My favorite song is “Threat of Joy,” because it sounds like quintessential Strokes from the riffs to the lyrics: “I cannot wait to chase it all / Yeah, I saw it in my crystal ball.” I cannot wait to see what else they unveil. Viva la Strokes.

Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City

A couple of weeks ago, Ezra Koenig played “Step” on his radio show, which made me realize that I hadn’t listened to the entirety of Modern Vampires of the City in a really long time. This album came out while I was still in college, and I spent a lot of time walking across campus and studying with it in my ears. I didn’t expect to be hit with so many waves of nostalgia when I replayed it this month, which I think mostly stems from the fact that I am back on campus but no longer a student.

Modern Vampires of the City is a dense album that deals with ontological themes of mortality, religion and time in a masterful way. If you trace the tracks as one narrative, you can see that the narrator is attempting to seek out deeper truths about who he is and his place in the world, and rebelling against what society is telling him to believe and accept. But these beliefs are also very contradictory, which makes it so wonderfully relatable. One of my favorite lyrics of all time comes from “Unbelievers,” where the narrator is simultaneously trying to work out some heavy romantic and religious stuff:

Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?
I know I love you, and you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

Later in the album on “Ya Hey,” which deals almost exclusively in Christian allusions, the narrator is extremely critical of God and faith in something that seems so removed, despite wanting that for himself earlier:

Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name
Only “I am that I am”
But who could ever live that way?

There’s a lot of other examples throughout Modern Vampires of the City that could fill a whole book about this album’s cultural relevance. What I love most about it is that Modern Vampires of the City reminds me that I’m not alone in trying to figure out the deeper purpose of my life in relation to bigger cultural mores. Ezra Koenig is one of my favorite musicians that I find a kinship in. My favorite tracks are “Unbelievers,” “Step,” “Hannah Hunt” (The beat drop at 2:31 is better than most beat drops in all of music),  “Ya Hey” and “Young Lion.” Rediscovering this album now has solidified it as one of my favorites, and I’m looking forward to rediscovering it over and over again.

Drake’s Views

In general, I thought Drake’s Views was a huge disappointment. It’s about 10 tracks too long. It doesn’t have as many bangers as If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The album version of “Pop Style” doesn’t have the Throne feature. And to top it all off, Future is a track-ruiner. It was so hyped and overdue that Views could never have been as good as everyone thought it was going to be.

I’m also not really interested in Drake’s lyrics — even though I love the bravado and one-liners that IYRTITL perfected, I don’t care for angry-that-a-woman-slighted-him Drake, which is a pervasive theme on Views. The narrative of “Hotline Bling,” for example, is really about Drake being upset that his ex is out living her best life without him. From my point of view, it’s really none of his business. This lyrical content is old, and doesn’t do anything to help Drake grow as an artist.

With all that being said, the Jamaican dancehall tracks are the best part of Views and the songs I think will have the most longevity in the pop culture sphere. These tracks are “With You,” “Controlla,” “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling.” Drake and Noah Shebib, his record producer, have picked up some samples that scream eternal summer vibes. Even though the lyrics are horrible, the beats are infectious and examples of good producing. I will probably end up playing them all summer as part of my driving-around playlist, and I will definitely forget that the rest of Views exists.

What have you been listening to lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

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What I Read: May 2016

To help me stay on track in my 2016 goals, I’m documenting the books I read all year. Here’s what I read in May:

Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things.

I bought this book a few years ago for a class where it ended up getting replaced on the syllabus, but I figured I would read it eventually and stuck it in my bookshelf. While waiting for my next Amazon order to come, I plucked it out to tide me over. I didn’t know anything about it other than that it was postmodern literature. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

In The Country of Last Things is a quick read, clocking in a few pages shy of 200. The story revolves around a young woman named Anna Blume, who travels to an unnamed city to find her missing brother William, and tells her story through letters she writes to someone back home. There seems to have been some kind of political upheaval or natural disaster, and the entire culture has descended into chaos and violence. Anna is able to survive by looking through the garbage for stuff to sell to a system of dealers, which is extremely corrupt. In some ways, it reminded me of Invisible Man in that every good thing that happens to Anna is accompanied by an equally horrible thing, but that the people she meets along the way buoy her optimism towards finding her brother and getting out of the city.

Auster builds this narrative on the idea that one day our society will get to a place where we can’t make anything anymore, and that we’ll walk around as former ghosts of ourselves. Everyone in the novel lives in a constant state of precarity, with no protection from a government or any kind of social structure. It’s scary how real this situation could be. The novel also includes an interesting commentary about death and suicide — in the novel, there are two acceptable ways to kill yourself — as well as reproductivity, all with biopolitical underpinnings. You probably won’t like In The Country of Last Things unless you’re already into postmodern literature — it makes Orwellian and Huxley dystopias look like funhouses.  I’m not sure I’ll seek out any other Auster novels, but I’m glad I decided to finally read it.

Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton.

I have read two, now three of Lauren Groff’s novels, and count her as one of my favorite fiction writers. She has a knack for dreaming up fascinating universes within her novels, and creating compelling female characters that don’t take anybody’s shit. The Monsters of Templeton is no exception.

Groff found her inspiration in her hometown of Cooperstown, which you should read about. The story centers around a young woman named Willie, who comes home to Templeton in a crisis. When she arrives, she finds out from her mother that her father, who Willie thought was a freewheeling no-named hippie, is actually still living in Templeton and someone Willie knows. The town is also having its own crisis — Templeton’s version of the Loch Ness monster has turned up dead.

Although I liked Lauren Groff’s other novels better, The Monsters of Templeton is an engrossing and highly enjoyable read. Groff weaves Willie’s story and her geneological research with letters, testimonies and documents that concern both Willie’s family and the town’s history. The revelation of who Willie’s father is kind of weird, but the book isn’t really about that — it’s about Willie finding herself and accepting that her small town and its magic is part of who she is, which is something I can relate to. On another level, this novel is about how we make martyrs out of our historical figures, who were really people like us that make mistakes.

If you love ~~Victorian scandal~~, you will love this book. Once you read The Monsters of Templeton, get to reading Arcadia and Fates and Furies ASAP.

Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name

After reading My Brilliant Friend in March, I bought myself a first-class ticket on the Elena Ferrante train. Even though I thought My Brilliant Friend was great, The Story of a New Name, the second novel in the Neapolitan novel cycle, blew me even further away.

The Story of a New Name picks up right where My Brilliant Friend leaves off. Elena and Lila, who are still close friends, deviate even further in their paths — Elena becomes the first in her family to go to college, while Lila gets married as a teenager. Along the way they both experience betrayal, romance and the plights of growing up. The Napoli neighborhood and Italy they live in are swirling with violence and political strife, which nearly parallels what’s going on in their personal lives. Ferrante is so eloquent and writes with such intensity that it’s easy to get sucked into the story, even if it is just about two women.

The cover art suggests that this is a fluffy romance novel, but it’s anything but that. What I enjoy most about reading these books is that Ferrante explores the complexities of female friendship in a compelling way. Elena and Lila are inseparable in spirit but struggle to find separate identities that can coexist, something I came to understand the more I read. The person you love the most is also the one who can hurt you the most, and that idea comes up over and over again throughout the novel. The empathy you feel for both characters is very real, at least in my experience — these women are stuck within traditional gender roles, and trying to deviate from them has real consequences. I already bought the third novel, and can’t wait to crack it open.

Don DeLillo’s Zero K

I found out about Don DeLillo in college, where I ended up reading White Noise and Underworld on my own time.  Part of what brought me to reading Zero K was the awesome opportunity to see DeLillo at a publicity event for the novel earlier in the month. In the conversation part of the event, he talked about death as a cultural artifact, a suggestion that stuck in my brain the whole time I was reading Zero K.

The novel is focalized through a man named Jeffrey Lockhart, who lives a pretty directionless life. His billionaire father Ross invests in a movement called the Convergence, which promises to control death. Jeffrey’s stepmother Artis, who is dying from illness, elects to undergo a procedure that would preserve her body until biotechnology is able to come up with more effective treatments, and Ross invites Jeffrey to the remote compound to say goodbye to both him and Artis, and also to convince Jeffrey to take over his businesses. Throughout the novel, Jeffrey tries to grasp a better understanding of  what it means to be dead, and how death figures into the meaning of life. Zero K is simultaneously cold and hilarious at many moments, which is frightening but also very DeLillo-esque. 

The Convergence is creepy and cultish, and what makes it even more creepy and cultish is that it seems like something that could actually happen. This seems like something today’s billionaires would do instead of funneling their money into larger social issues, in defense of innovation and the temptation to let technology take over. Because of DeLillo’s comment at the event, this book made me think about the social construction of death and how we have a preoccupation with being able to cheat it. We come up with all of these rituals surrounding death, and the way we handle it contains multitudes about our values and belief systems. The death-as-artifact thing is also a class issue: the Convergence is seemingly only accessible to someone who is able to subsidize its mission, and that opens up other problems about who has the right to choose their own death. DeLillo is an incredible writer, and Zero K was nothing short of incredible.

Have you read anything good lately? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 5/23-5/27

Today's lunchtime scene.

Today’s lunchtime scene.

Coincidentally, I read a lot of good profiles this week. Here’s what I read:

1. Stevie Nicks is a precious, precious gem that we should appreciate more.

2. I might have a slight crush on Daveed Diggs, but who wouldn’t?

3. The surreal saga of Bobby Shmurda. (#FreeBobbyShmurda).

4. This is the story of a man who went missing in Africa 13 years ago, and his family’s quest to find him.

5. A ranking of meal delivery boxes that makes me question life in 2016.

And a bonus: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky.

Have a gorgeous weekend.

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Gold Star for the Internet: Google Art Project

Except for bits and pieces of information in high school and one class in college, the breadth of my art history knowledge has been self-taught. I love reading about art history, and if you started reading this blog way back when, you know I love visiting museums. I’m over the moon when I find online resources that help me expand on this knowledge and think more critically about art. The Google Art Project is an example of an online resource that takes me on a virtual trip around the world, and one that I think everyone should know about.

Tons and tons and tons to explore.

Tons and tons and tons to explore.

Back in 2011, Google partnered with museums to host very high-resolution images of artwork, including photographs, architecture, sculptures and installations, and has worked to add even more pieces. In the same way that you can use Google Maps to see a street view of an address, you can also walk through museums and see what they look like. The main purpose of the Google Art Project is to be an educational tool, giving people more access to art than ever before. In addition to the image, each piece has metadata on the artist, when it was made and what it’s made out of. The art comes from all across the globe, so you can visit museums without leaving your house.

I have been to the Musee d'Orsay and can confirm this is what it looks like. I didn't even have to leave my room to visit again.

I have been to the Musee d’Orsay and can confirm this is what it looks like. I didn’t even have to leave my room to visit again.

You can search by collections, artists or pieces. The website also hosts a cool feature where you can save entries, which comes in handy if you’re working on a project or just want to keep an online list of all of your favorite pieces. It’s also fun to look at the featured collections the museums put together, and other users that are also playing curator.

You could totally get lost for hours looking at different artists and collections.

You could totally get lost for hours looking at different artists and collections.

My favorite thing is the zoom feature. If you pick a painting like The Starry Night, you can zoom so far in you see the brushstroke details. There’s something so satisfyingly zen about being able to see this artistry  at a micro-level. Plus, as a visitor you’d never get to go up that close to a piece in a museum, and you’d probably never see that kind of detail with the naked eye.

A screenshot does not do it justice. Go look.

A screenshot does not do it justice. Go look.

In a cultural moment where so much of the Internet is noise, it’s refreshing to discover or go back to these kinds of projects that have real educational value. Now that so many classrooms across the United States are outfitted with laptops and smart devices, teachers can build whole units around the access to these visuals they would once have had to pay for, either in an expensive art history textbook or students’ admission. These museum partners have been extremely generous to make their collections available without demanding extra money from the online visitors. When you can have this kind of content available to people who would maybe never see these pieces or be interested in art history otherwise — and keep it free — that’s really extraordinary. This kind of project makes me love the Internet, and think higher of companies like Google who use their wealth for all kinds of community service initiatives.

Looking at a print in a book is great for reference and initial research, but there’s really nothing quite like the emotional experience of standing in front of a piece of art that resonates with you. The Google Art Project is a good compromise — at least until teleportation becomes a real thing. For that, I give it a huge gold star.

Do you have any art resources to share, or know of other cool Internet projects? Share them in the comments.

 

 

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Link Party: 5/16-5/20

Steadily getting better at this hand lettering thing.

Steadily getting better at this hand lettering thing.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Facebook’s initiative to bring the Internet to millions of people in India, and how it went wrong.

2. This essay on the fierce triumph of loneliness was one of the most personally relatable things I’ve read in a long time.

3. What does it mean when we call women girls?

4. How the cupcake became a “female” food.

5. Sixteen lessons learned from a year of traveling and eating.

And a bonus: Stunning photos of Patagonia.

Have an incredible weekend.

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Link Party: 5/9-5/13

On Wednesday, I saw Don DeLillo in person at an event in Beverly Hills. He signed my copy of White Noise and his new book, Zero K. It was great.

Don DeLillo signed my copy of White Noise and his new book, Zero K, and I’m still not over it. It was great.

Is it just me, or are the weeks just peeling by? Before we know it, it’ll be summer — a time I both look forward to (the mood) and despise (the weather).

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 45 years later.

2. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Chance the Rapper, in conversation.

3. @tasteofstreep.

4. The most successful female Everest climber of all time is a housekeeper in Connecticut.

5. U.S.G.S topographical maps are American art.

And a bonus: Alaska’s changing landscape, in photo and video.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Post-Grad Adventures: Success and Patience

One of the most significant life lessons I’ve learned post-graduation is to be patient with myself, especially when it comes to my career.

I’ve always put immense pressure on myself to be successful. Throughout undergrad, my definition of “success” was working hard, earning great grades, being a good scholar and getting into a prestigious grad program that would lead into a prestigious job. This, I felt, was how I should do it. It made the most sense.

While this track was something I pushed myself to do because I truly wanted the rigor, I was also under the influence of a particular cultural pressure that has seemed to really emerge for millennials. There’s this stress to immediately have a successful career after graduating college, and that you should always have your shit together. If you don’t, you will never be able to survive in an extremely competitive job market that seemingly only hires superhumans, and you will never have a chance of getting your foot in the door. That’s an easy mindset to fall into — when I spent last summer applying for jobs, I felt pretty hopeless about my prospects and pretty disappointed that things hadn’t worked out the way I had planned them. Not getting calls back for positions I thought I was definitely qualified for, when all my life I’ve been told I’m wonderful, was a huge wake up call about reality. Eventually I found a short-term job that gave me work experience and taught me a lot, but it wasn’t easy to let myself feel good about the way my life was going. I sincerely didn’t feel that way.

Since finding a real full-time job that I like and tending a budding freelance career, I’ve thought a lot about what “success” really means to me. To me, “success” is being able to do good and creative work that helps people, whether that’s giving information to students, sharing details about the culture I love or telling someone about a good human being that walks this world. The socially-constructed prestige of what I do doesn’t mean anything to me. I create the prestige.

A year ago, I didn’t imagine myself to be where I am in my life — not because I didn’t think I was better than it, but because I didn’t really know it existed. I think part of me knew that I was going to have to work at building myself up for better career opportunities, but I didn’t realize the extent to which I would have to do it and how long it would actually take to be a public affairs director or an editor-in-chief. The school system stunts you in that way — four years is not the same as 40 years, and getting out of that mindset is difficult. I am much younger than I realize. Success is not a moment, but a journey.

When I look back at my fledgling years, I’ll be able to see that the tough times and the deviations from the plan brought me to a better place, and reflect on the good things that happened that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I am a true believer that everything always happens for a reason, and that the universe works things out in the best of ways.

Now that I’ve had some emotional and temporal distance from graduation, I wish that I would have been kinder to myself about finding my way. I wish that I would have enjoyed the end of my undergraduate career. I wish that I would have spent less time wallowing about how miserable I was. And most importantly, I wish I would have realized sooner that I will hit my own milestones at my own pace. When I realized that, I realized that all of the internal and external voices telling me to ~~be more successful~~ and ~~be like everyone else~~ are just noise.

If I only had time to give one piece of advice to someone who’s about to graduate college, I would tell that person to be gentle with themself. Remember that patience is key, and that everything will work out. And whenever I start to get anxious about my future, I think about what John Steinbeck told his lovesick son about being patient. “If it is right, it happens — the main thing is not to hurry,” he said. “Nothing good gets away.”

Do you have something that you learned about yourself after graduation? Share it with me in the comments.

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