Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Worst States for the LBGT Community

My friend Erin wrote up this wonderful critique of Gawker's 50 Worst States as it concerns LBGT rights. Erin's thesis is that Gawker's analysis is simplistic because it does not take into account the myriad issues that are important to the LBGT community (which, as far as Gawker> is concerned, is all about gay marriage). I agree that gay marriage, while an important step for legal reasons, is not nearly as important as fighting discrimination in other ways. Erin was right to talk about how ugly the phrase "glittery, gay bandwagon" is.
I would also say, referring to the Gawker article in general, that it is unfair to judge an entire state by the things they are famous for and by googling their latest news. Places and the people connected to them are complex, and often generalizations do more to obfuscate than to enlighten, which unfortunately could also be said for how heteronormative society treats the LBGT community.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Packaging Girlhood

Packaging Girlhood is a really interesting blog that dissects the things that are advertised to girls, both in terms of the products themselves and the subtle messages those things send. I do not necessarily agree with everything that this blog highlights, but it is important that feminists think about the way young girls are taught certain ideas about their career opportunities, bodies and other issues, and that we combat the ideas that oppress women by offering positive, empowering images and ideas to girls at the beginning of their lives.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Tropics of New York

Claude McKay was an Afro-Caribbean poet and a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance and I recently found myself marveling at his "The Tropics of New York." You cannot tell from this work, but his writing was often in his native dialect, which was considering a lesser form of English. His work is similar to that of Robert Burns, who too wrote in a looked-down upon dialect. Unlike Burns, McKay had to deal with crippling racism, since so many white elites were not interested in the writing of a man of color.
"The Tropics of New York" begins describing "exotic" fruit, and the reader is lead to wonder if the speaker is in Jamaica, McKay's birth country. At the end of the first stanza, McKay reveals that this fruit is for sale for a high price, drawing the connection between the fetishistic aspects of American life on other places and people and capitalism. This poem may be about fruit, but the fruit stands in place of his island home that is misrepresented and exploited by racist and colonial cultural and economic forces. The second stanza of the poem is McKay's authentic version of Jamaica, one that is sacred, as obvious by his use of the words "benediction" and "nun-like." The third stanza expresses his homesickness and reminds readers that New York's version of the tropics is not the true tropics and will only make his or her longing worse.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cute Boys with Cats

I must admit that I really love cats. So I really love this sweethearted blog, Cute Boys with Cats. And its title is basically all you need to know: photographs of boys and cats. My current favorite picture is of these two, sleeping. I love how the cat is named after Oscar Wilde and they are both in the same position.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ghost Poet

One of my favorite recent music discoveries is Ghost Poet. He is a rapper, but the music he samples is far more soul, funk and techno than most of the samples of American rappers. He initially caught my attention because of his name, and I mistakenly thought he was just a poet. And then I fell in love with the name of his album, Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. I also really love his songs "Gone" and "Love Confusion."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Amy Levy

My undergraduate thesis was on "forgotten" 19th century female poets. Although in the initial stages of research I worked on British women, I ended up focusing on American women, including Francis E.W. Harper. That said, I was shocked at how many women were writing and were known as writers. (I was unsurprised by the amount of poems published by "A Lady" or some other basically untraceable name.) One of these women happened to be Amy Levy.
Levy's life was fascinating. Her first novel, Romance of the Shop, focused on the conditions of the "new women," women who refrained from marriage and instead pursued careers. Her novel would make an excellent study, both from a literary and historical perspective, of how women grappled with a society that looked down on their choices. Other of Levy's writings are probably worth exploring, since her novel Reuben Sachs dealt with the Jewish community in London.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vintage Script

I really love literary magazines, especially all the new ones that are starting online or older ones that have now posted so much material on their websites. But in addition to loving literature I love history, and there is this lovely new website called Vintage Script that is dedicated to history.
Even better, it looks like they take submissions. Their next due date is September 12th.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Obama's Reading List

The Daily Beast recently published this really fascinating chart of all the books President Obama has read since his last campaign. Besides being a nice infographic, I was unsurprised and relatively pleased to see that Obama has been reading lots of Presidential biographies (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, John Adams) and economic books (Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age and Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet). The only thing that I am a little sad about is that I have not had the time to read any of these books yet myself, which just means that I am going to have to get on it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I am hopeful about this new movie coming out about Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela is very famously the second wife of Nelson Mandela, who is more famous for his work on apartheid, even though Winnie herself was one of the three major leaders of the movement, doing more than Nelson was able to do while he was imprisoned.
The one thing that gives me pause is the possible depiction of Nelson's economic policies. Nelson was sentenced only to life in prison (and not death) because, unlike the other leaders of the movement, he supported capitalism and major businesses in South Africa. These business leaders wanted to keep him alive, and Nelson's loyalty to capitalism is part of the reason that South Africa still has such a large gap between the rich and the poor.
Also, I want to know how the third leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Chris Hani, is going to factor into this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Walking Central Park in the Morning

Reading an article recently discussing what to do and not do in New York City I found myself reconsidering my recent time there. This particular article had many good suggestions worth hearing. One of my favorite suggestions was that you should walk Central Park in the morning, which I did. (Though I found that even the picture-taking on Sunday evenings were also lovely.)
Even though my pictures are mostly of the southern section of the park (which is also the part of the park that is the most touristy and most frequently depicted in movies and tv shows), my favorite part of the park was its northwest section, which is hilly and heavily forested. It is easy to forget there, especially in the mornings, that you are surrounded by a massive city. I walked for about a hour there one morning without seeing one other person, which, given how many people are living in Manhattan, seems unlikely and extraordinary. I went home that particular day feeling blissful.
If you need to get some nature when in New York City, I highly suggest Central Park, but also some of the other smaller parks, including The High Line (which is fascinatingly different from most parks), Washington Square, Union Square and The Brooklyn Garden. All of these spots offer surprisingly pleasant walks, especially if you go on a weekday. The beach at Coney Island is also a nice walk.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Not Sexist, But

As a feminist, it is really frustrating to try to explain to people the way in which sexist ideology is part of so much of our lives. I'm Not Sexist, But website collects Facebook posts that use this exact phrase. Each individual post contains all sorts of problematic ideas, like implying that a woman's sexuality is morally wrong, that women are incompetent at their jobs, and that women's emotions are irrational or irritating. Collected together, this is a great site to point people to, since it shows the ways people are sexist in one of the forums that have become such a normal part of our modern lives.
The site also posts great feminist ideas every Friday, because not everyone is sexist.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Quilts and Feminism

There is this lovely blog post from the National Museum of American History on their quilt collection. The posted video has some wonderful examples and talks about quilts. At one point, they even call quilts a kind of "sandwich," which is hilarious and cute. I also love the detail of how women rejected men, called "giving him the mitten."
Even though I am myself not a quilter, I am a feminist. In Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, talks about how creative expression for women has been historically limited. Despite this obvious problem of this, Walker asks her readers to see things, including quilts, which she explicitly mentions, as a way for women to creatively expressed themselves, especially women of color. The blog post does not mention Walker, unfortunately, but it does note the use of quotes as a source of history, specifically a source of history of women.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Publishing Catcher in the Rye

Recently, berfrois published this really interesting story about the drama surrounding the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. There are some really interesting details that both shed light on publishing and Salinger.
Salinger was actually lucky that he caught the attention of Robert Giroux, who was later on part of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a massively influential publishing company. Giroux, like so many other good publishers, advocated for a work he believed in, even when people within his own company thought the work was about someone crazy.
This piece also notes, perhaps unintentionally, the strange and blurry line between publishers and writers. Salinger's comments about his own work, after all, prompt Giroux to ask him if Salinger should be a publisher, not a writer.
Salinger's reputation for being emotionally attached to the work is also confirmed in this piece, since the criticism of certain people clearly upset him. He did not want his picture to be included in the book jacket and he did not want to be sent any reviews or mentions in newspapers or magazines about his book. And even years earlier, he submitted his work stating that it would not be edited in any way. Salinger also apparently would not let them set review copies away to the press and refused to participate in its own promotion, which would probably be unheard of today for many writers. Most publishers would not even consider a book if the writer said they would not do any promotional work for it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sonic Youth

For what will probably be my last set of notes on the Seattle music scene, I wanted to write about Sonic Youth. Despite not being from Seattle (but New York), the band influenced many late eighties and early nineties bands. It is easy to see why, given that they practiced D.I.Y. ethics as part of hardcore punk and are often considered an important early indie band.

What surprised me most about Sonic Youth when I first started listening to them was how normal they sounded. Everyone had either loved them but conceded they were strange or they hated them because they were "just noise." I find neither true, but maybe after all the music I have been listening to lately, this is not all that surprising. If anything, I am struck by how much they chant in their music like other punk bands and like protopunk Patti Smith does in songs like "Gloria," and how generally amazing Sonic Youth are. I can see why someone would love them.
Below, perhaps the most famous song from the band, "Kool Thing." Chuck D from Public Enemy guested on this song, which completely threw me. The song mentions pulling away from corporate influence, even though the song was released on Geffen, which was itself a major corporate entity. (And would later, of course, be the label Nirvana was on.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Museum of One's Own

For those of you who regularly read this blog, I am a museum nerd. I love going and sometimes even review them. I also am a feminist, and I love the idea of a National Women's History Museum. Women's history is an essential part of history, but one that is often forgotten or marginalized. Men frequently wrote the primary sources that historians pull from and since most societies were patriarchies, this meant that women stories often went untold, and if they were, they were from a male view.
A museum is a great way to celebrate and educate museum-goers on the achievements and struggles of American women. Even though there are a few women-centic museums and homes, like the National Museum for Women in the Arts, women have made achievements in other fields too, and despite a few (male) senators beliefs women are all about reproduction and thus a museum is not necessary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Congrats Philip Levine!

Philip Levine has just been named the new Poet Laureate. Levine, a Detroit-native who worked on automobile assembly lines and studied at Wayne State University, writes poetry that details the lives of the working class, often bringing attention to their backbreaking work and lack of personal power.
What is most lovely about Levine is his dedication to teaching poetry to whoever wants to learn. Levine has worked as a teacher at universities (most notably the University of California, Fresno.), but has always taught students who simply wanted to sit in at his classes and students who write to him and include their own work. This sort of behavior (which has gotten him into trouble with university officials on occasion) shows Levine's dedication to poetry, teaching, and his belief that those of us who had the least deserve attention and respect. Levine's appointment as a Poet Laureate could not have happened to a more deserving poet or person.
Levine's poetry famously centers around his experiences growing up in Detroit, and although he has been living elsewhere, hopefully he will use the "bully pulpit" to talk to a wider audience about class, truly hard work and the needs of Detroit, a city filled with exactly the sort of people he talks about.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Unwound is an indie rock band, described by some as "the most musically abrasive. For most other music, this would indicate that most people would find it unlistenable, but this is hardly the case here. Instead, they sound more like a pop-minded Sonic Youth. (Cue the usually accusation that Sonic Youth is "just noise.") Like Sonic Youth, there is something strangely compelling about their nontraditional songs.

Unwound was founded in Olympia, the town that was the center of so much punk music. The band released two singles early in their career with Kill Rock Stars, and later on started their own label, Punk in my Vitamins.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Downstairs Drama

Earlier this year I wrote a couple of reviews of Downton Abbey, the new miniseries that follows both the lives of the wealthy family (the upstairs) and their servants (the downstairs). One of the many issues I struggled with, and that I hinted at in my reviews, is the depiction of women and queer/non-heterosexual men.*
The show spent an exorbitant amount of time justifying the economic disadvantages that the three daughters were in. Mary, the eldest, spends the most time complaining about this and trying to manipulate the situation to her advantage, but to no avail. Nothing can apparently be done, as is said by various characters. There was something about this that struck me as entirely false. First, if this is such the case, why not try to show how incredibly unjustified and hurtful for the sisters this is? Second, why does it matter if on this issue one is historically accurate, especially when historical accuracy is thrown out the window any other time it serves the writer's needs?
The show also demonized the two male characters who had sex with men. One of them was a drunk, conniving, mean-spirited and selfish git. The other one of them manipulated a female character. There are so many homophobic depictions of gay people out there, this seemed entirely ridiculous. Just because a piece is set in a historical period does not mean it needs to be written in a regressed fashion.
I have not been terribly impressed with certain other dramas that copy from this basic format (which itself is clearly copied from a much older show, titled Upstairs Downstairs.) I kept finding myself wishing that someone would tell some story about this time period that dealt more honestly with non-dominant views and told a story from a voice or voices of people who our so frequently overlooked, which is why I was overjoyed at seeing news of a new movie called Albert Nobbs, which explores the life of a woman who dresses as a man as a way to beat the economic disadvantages women faced and is attracted to another woman. I realize that this might not be a perfect movie either, but I am hopefully that this will be a more realistic and sympathetic portrayal of someone who is usually either absent or depicted unfairly in media.

*I am unsure what to make of certain male character's sexuality, and in an attempt not to place them in the incorrect category, I have tried simply to indicate that their behavior indicates that they are not heterosexual. Since this was a time of mostly silence around the issue, and the characters themselves do not identify themselves explicitly, I wanted to acknowledge that it would be easy to interpret their behavior in multiple ways.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Heavy Metals

As part of my D.I.Y. study of Seattle music, I have obviously encountered metal and metal-influenced bands. I recently found this great chart that categorizes all sorts of metal music, including Seattle bands like Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and The Melvins. This chart does a great job of organizing the different types of metal in relation with one another. In reference to my recent Seattle study, it is easy to see how Seattle metal interacted with other non-Seattle bands. These types of charts really help a novice such as myself really pick apart at these important bands, sounds, subgenres and movements.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Of most of Malfunkshun's music, I have been really unimpressed. This song, "My Only Fan," is one of the few songs I like. The guitar rifts here are particularly compelling. Malfunkshun is an important band, because, along with Green River, Skin Yard, Soundgarden and U-Men, they are considered one of the proto-grunge bands of Seattle. Andrew Wood, the frontman for the group, died of heroin, effectively ending the band.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Soundgarden, along with Nirvana, the Melvins, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, are all considered seminal grunge bands. Soundgarden, maybe more than these other bands, more directly influenced later rock music, at least in terms of sound. This may be due to the fact they were more directly influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, who have themselves continued to influence music.
"Spoonman," above, is one of the most loved among critics. It is hard not to see why, since the song is an ode to someone who makes music using spoons, integrating the sound into a rock song. (And who writes a rock song about something that does not involve sex, drugs, angst or fame? Who would write a rock song about spoons? Soundgarden, that's who.)

Chris Cornell is probably still the most famous member of this band. After Soundgarden, he would go on to found Audioslave, and I am under the impression he does solo work. Soundgarden has also recently gone on a short reunion tour.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From the Back Room

Considering my ongoing study of the Seattle music scene, I wanted to post this trailer for a documentary called From the Back Room, which is about women in the punk/D.I.Y. scene. Seattle was an important place for punk, particularly women in punk, and this documentary will have interviews with punk women from bands like Bikini Kill.
One of the things that makes me most hopefully about this documentary is that it immediately addresses the issue of women in punk (and their marginalization) but also racism, which is one of the other problems in punk. I cannot wait to see this.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Amazing Bookstores

Flavorwire recently posted this amazing-looking bookstores list. As a literary nerd, of course, I love lots of different bookstores, to the point where I have favorite bookstores for every city (Powell's for Portland, Curious for East Lansing, The Strand for New York). And looking at some of these amazing places, like Livraria da Vila in Sao Paulo, Poplar Kid's Republic Bookstore or The Montague Bookmill, I am tempted to plan a vacation to one of these cities just to have an excuse to go to one of these places. Given my love of Coney Island, I am heartbroken that I cannot hang out at their Bookstore and Barber Shop, which is charming in the same way Coney Island always is.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Charles Peterson

As part of my exploration of Seattle music, I have inevitably learned about other things, like record labels like Sub Pop and K, the popular places to perform, like the Crocodile Cafe, and the cool university to be at, Evergreen State.
One of the other interesting things I have discovered is the photography from the era, particularly Charles Peterson, who use to work for Sub Pop. Through Sub Pop, he had access to some incredible musicians, many before they were famous.
Peterson's website is here, and there's pictures of more current stars, like Andre 300, LCD Soundsystem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jane Austen as a Musical

Taking a break from the indie and rock music, this video has been going around the Internet, featuring music from Pride and Prejudice as a musical.
I really like what I have heard so far. I like all the violin being used. The music perfectly captured both the feel of Austen's world and musicals, which, considering how different these things can sometimes be, is impressive.
The above song appears to be when Elizabeth goes to Darcy's home and realizes that maybe her initial decision when it came to Darcy's proposal. Later in the song, Darcy confesses that he is embarrassed that he behaved the way he did in front of Elizabeth.
I would love to see this.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

King Dude

The first time I heard King Dude, the first thing I thought of was how he had taken the emo, goth, and metal lyrics and added relatively low-fi folk. This turned out to be relatively close to how King Dude sees themselves, as I have read their genre as "death folk" and they list themselves on their myspace as combining folk and gothic.

They also conjure up the late work of Johnny Cash, especially his version of "Hurt." Their is something primial about their music that creates a world where people live alone in crushing rural poverty, praying for God to save them, and end up dying alone in the field where there was once a garden.

I particularly love the video of "The Black Triangle." The falling snow is so beautiful. His videos seem to include a lot of women with pixie-cuts. There is also both a fair amount of blood and Wiccan-style magic involved.

Friday, August 5, 2011


During this project to get me to listen to, research and write about new music, I have generally liked what I have discovered. Some of it I have fallen love in, but none of it has rubbed me the wrong way like Yacht.
I'm not sure what it is about this band, but it makes my stomach curl up on itself in pain. Maybe it is the strange electronic stuff happening in the background, like the Skype-esque noises near the end of "Psychic City (Voodoo City)," which is above. Maybe it is the simplicity of their music. But I suspect it is the singing. Or at least mostly the singing, which seems just slightly off to me, and possibly off key. I dislike pretty much all of it, and I think it is the combination of the parts being less than the sum.
I would be curious to see what this band sounds like remixed because maybe that could improve it. But for the most part listening to this band makes me unhappy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pearly Gates Music

Pearly Gates Music is the creation of Zack Tillman, the younger brother of Fleet Foxes's J. Tillman, and unfortunately, that is probably what this band is most famous for. That is really too bad, because Fleet Foxes is far more slow folk, there is something more fun about Pearly Gates. "Big Escape," below, is the perfect driving music; it easily sounds like something the Beatles could have written around the time they were working on Abbey Road. Not until the end of the song they descend into the kind of distorted guitar that rock music loves so much.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The History of the Dead

Recently I was reading this article discussing mortuary issues. Among other things, it touches on the history of interning the dead, which is morbidly fascinated. In 19th century Britain, the London cemeteries got so bad that coffins were stacked on top of each other without much earth in between, and there was also a stench. I was recently reading Mary Olivier, a novel about 19th century Britain, and much of the novel takes place in cemeteries because (spoiler alert) almost everyone in the main character's family dies. And they allude, briefly, to this problem. There is also information about medieval burial practices. The poor, unsurprisingly, were buried in mass graves.
The article also talks about the recent problems. Apparently 70 to 80 percent of U.K. citizens are cremated and they still have problems with not enough space. Greece only allows people to buried in the ground for three years.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Fastbacks were a punk band. They had a wonderful lo-fi sound, the sort of thing that any Ramones-listening punk band would have loved. I particularly like this song. There are not many great rock songs out there concerning birthdays, the only other good one being the Beatles's "Birthday."
Fastbacks have had famous drummers, and because of they have had so many, they have connections to bands like Mudhoney, Presidents of the United States, Dharma Bubs, and The Decembrists.