Category Archives: alt-weeklies

On Nazi looting and bad temp jobs.

In this week’s Boston Phoenix, I write about a new novel by Brookline Native, Sara Houghteling. Here’s an excerpt:

During World War II, Nazi plunderers focused their greedy eyes on Paris and began looting the city’s artwork — operating according to Hitler’s plan to open a massive, self-aggrandizing museum in Germany. Savvy employees at the Louvre emptied the museum and stashed its paintings in dark basements of the Parisian suburbs. So, the Nazis turned to Jewish art collectors and gallery owners, and used the Jeu de Paume Museum (formerly Napoleon III’s tennis courts) as a depository for their booty.

Rose Valland, a Louvre employee assigned to oversee the Jeu de Paume under the Nazis, kept a secret list of the paintings the Nazis had stolen, where they came from, and where in Germany they were being shipped. After the war, Valland worked to recover the lost artwork and, in the process, became a real-life heroine.

Houghteling is an excellent storyteller, and Pictures excellently weaves fact with fiction – the tragedy of Nazi art-looting, the heartbreak that often comes with early adulthood romances, the struggle for parental acceptance, and the complexities of the art-dealing world.

Houghteling has been a writer and a teacher for about a decade now, and had the time and room of one’s own, as they say, to write Pictures, her debut novel, by virtue of a Fulbright Scholarship, which she used to travel to Paris to research and write this novel. As I mentioned, though, she’s a Brookline native and a Harvard grad, and she freelanced a bit for the Phoenix back in the early naughts. Here’s a funny little piece of hers I stumbled across, detailing the various odd jobs she’s had to take in the process of pursuing her writing dream. Her method of excelling at a telemarketing job, in order to raise funds to travel to Prague for a writer’s workshop, is particulary hilarious:

Mostly I called Southern area codes, so I adopted the slow, syrupy drawl of my college roommate from Arkansas. My success rate crept upward. I changed my name to fit the customer’s business. For florist shops, I was Rose or Lilac. Ophelia dialed the bookstore crone, Prometheana called the fire station, and Mary Catherine rang up churches. Ginger and Candy, my porn-star alter egos and most successful saleswomen, phoned gas stations and hardware stores. These names inspired comments such as “You must be thirsty, Candy. Like a drink of me?” Or “I’m a very dirty man, Miss Ginger. I’d like it if you were dirty for me.”

Read the rest of this piece (and marvel at the Phoenix‘s old web design) here.


Tonight: Red readings

From the Phlog:

Tonight: Amy Goldwasser and a few of the Red contributors come to the Harvard Coop at 7 pm.

I want to write something for Red, the recently-released, Plume-published collection of 58 essays by teenage women, “on what fires up their lives today.” Or rather, my teenage self would like to. While I was scribbling bad poetry about trees in my journal (the old-fashioned way), the Red writers keep up a group blog, opine politically for the Huffington Post, dash off op-eds for the LA Times and Newsweek, and their words may soon become a play. How’s that for college application fodder? (Founding the Anime Club now seems so much less impressive, doesn’t it?)

The exposure is both exciting and warranted. Red gives these 58 essayists a place where their thoughts are appreciated – which probably does not happen often enough for teenage women. If I could time-travel back to 1998 and offer my high school aged, Baltimore Catholic school girl self the opportunity to pen something candid for a book, I have no idea what I would have said – but hopefully it would be as compelling, unpretentious, and reflective as this assemblage of writings, some of which are by Boston locals (or semi-locals).

The book is the brainchild of Amy Goldwasser, a freelance editor and writer for publications like the New Yorker (NYer devotees will remember her hilariously fantastic Talk of the Town about Christian Louboutin over-the-knee boots), Vogue and the New York Times. The idea to collect and publish essays by teenage women dawned upon her by virtue of a steady volunteer gig, teaching writing at the LowerEastside Girls Club. Goldwasser admired the strength, honesty, and lack of compulsion to conform to a certain style of the writers she worked with there (as opposed to professional writers, whose work she edits daily), and thought that type of writing needed an outlet.

“I’d say in a lot of ways seeing if I could turn this into a book was a selfish idea,” Goldwasser says via -email. “Because I was enjoying the volunteer editing more than my paid work. I thought maybe I could combine them.” So, she sent an e-mail to a few dozen friends, seeking writing submissions from teenage girls across the country, and not long after, she was sorting through 800-something submissions.

Red reads like 58 diaries at once; it feels simultaneously enthralling and verboten, like a hidden entrance into the private thinking spheres of teenage girls, circa 2008. No tiny gold key is required to gain access, though – these women gush their thoughts with ease, about everything, from the challenges of being tall (as relayed by Tufts student Charlotte Steinway), to divorce, to spelling bees, to being too fat or too skinny, to losing friends to the clique-commandeered world of middle school, to losing friends to fatal car accidents, to having crushes on boys, to having crushes on JohnnyDepp, and to having crushes on other women.

“People stereotype and categorize us and assume they know us,” e-mails Caro Fink, 18, from Lexington. Fink penned an extremely brave piece for Red, about her battles with cutting, as a tool for coping with emotional distress. “This book really showcases the variety and intensity of our lives and gives a real version, not censored by psychology and preconceived notions.”

“Teenagers’ opinions often are disregarded because of our lack of experience,” e-mails Sara Harari – who, coincidentally, is also 18, and from Lexington. “I think that the essays in this book show that while we may be young, we have a lot to say, whether or not you’re ready to listen.”

Harari’s essay an intensely thoughtful and emotionally charged account of dealing with a high school nemesis; a boy pseudonymed “Todd,” whose very vocal case of homophobia was a daily challenge for Harari.

“I can’t help fantasizing about punching him in the face and breaking his nose cleanly in two,” she writes in Red. “Disfigured for life, he will be forced to see the error of his ways… Maybe flaming liberals like me who support women’s rights, world peace, and wind turbines just weren’t meant to get along with sexist, war-obsessed, gas-guzzling raging conservatives like him.”

Harari never clocked “Todd” in the face, luckily. Instead, she fought back with her writing. “The essay was my way of retaliating,” she says in an e-mail. “I was eager to get word out about facing homophobia in high school, even though it wasn’t directed at me.”

Mixed media.

OUT_lbbatinside.jpg
A still from E.J. Barnes’ animated short, The Leatherwing Bat

Last Saturday’s mixed-bill affair at the Papercut Zine Library was a strange hybrid of contemporary salon, multimedia talent show, and impromptu modern-dance class (with instructions to move our bodies “like fire”). Around these parts, such an event may be possible only at Papercut, the volunteer-staffed ‘zine-lending venue that occupies the creaky, wood-paneled first floor of the Democracy Center on Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square.

At first, wandering in felt like trespassing on a stranger’s house party. Folding chairs littered a back room where the performances took place, the audience strolling in and out in the course of the evening. Unpretentiousness was a theme of the night. When Zine librarian Rachel Suskewicz instructed us to sing along with one of her sparse folk tunes, we did so ungrudgingly. After her set, a man in a gray hoodie assured us with endearing concern: “In case you’re confused, don’t leave yet! There are plenty more acts to come.”

And there were.

Read on here.

Ask me anything.

(I like to think that this photo is supposed to be me.)

More on the world of Cha Cha here.

The show by street artists that’s not about street art… sort of.

Photo by Hargo

Photo by Hargo

You could say I’m slightly obsessed with the Wall in Central Square. It’s sort of the same way I feel about certain bands, or certain musicians. Like when I’m watching a really phenomenally great band, and it’s maybe a band that not many people have heard of, or that isn’t making any money really (that’s pretty much everyone nowadays), and I get to witness That Moment. The moment where someone is just totally and completely lost in the music – hunched over, or crawling on the floor, or shaking their head, and sweating, and just totally oblivious that anyone is watching, because they are so absorbed and enamored by what they are creating, and I’m sort of caught up in it, too – well, those are my favorite moments. It’s amazing and slightly overwhelming, even just to witness, especially when it’s people I know or am friends with, because I feel suddenly feel so in awe of them that I don’t even know what to say afterwards. “Great show?” “Thanks for spilling your guts out on stage for no apparent reason other than just to do it?” And this is what makes me love music.

And that’s the same feeling I get from street art. When you walk into the alleyway by Central Kitchen that encompasses the Wall, it’s like the visual incarnation of that moment. Honestly, I think I have a stronger emotional reaction to the wall than to the Louvre or the nine million churches I was forced to visit for art history classes in Italy. I’ve always been more of a modern/20th-21st century art gal. The Mona Lisa, etc. always felt sort of dead to me, not just in the sense that the artist is literally dead, of course, but it just didn’t really speak to me in any way that later art, also by now-deceased artists like Mark Rothko or Matisse could. Obviously there is a place in this world for fine art; there’s a whole chain of influences in place. But visiting the Wall just feels so now. It’s truly imaginative, put there for no other reason than to create art, and all you have to do to see it is walk down the street.

So, when I heard about the latest show at the Distillery Gallery, in South Boston, I knew I had to write about it – just based on the list of names alone: Hargo, Dark Clouds, Buildmore, Kenji, Noir Boston, Alphabet Soup…

From today’s Phoenix:

Not long after walking into the Distillery Gallery on a Monday evening, Thomas Buildmore removes two painted-over NO PARKING signs that had been screwed into the wall. “This show isn’t about street art,” he says.

If it were, “we’d have some cliché conversation about street art versus fine art.” Moments prior, I’d had that cliché conversation, with Cantabridgian artist Morgan Thomas. We agreed that “Paint It Now” — the show that opens tonight at the first-floor alt-gallery in the Distillery, South Boston’s living space-cum-artistic haven — is street art moved into the fine-art world. It’s just a change of location, with the added luxury of time, which most street artists — who are constantly looking over their shoulders — lack.

Buildmore’s sentiment is a surprising one, given that the show features a dozen or so artists, many of whom use city walls as their canvases. He and Thomas, who are part of a collective called Overkill Studio that’s based in the same building, organized the show with Scott Chase, the director of the Distillery Gallery.

The idea behind “Paint It Now” is simple: give two white walls and an unending supply of black paint to several of Boston and New York’s young artistic talents, and see what happens.”

Read the rest here. (Or come to the opening tonight.) Also, I took a film making class, and made my first ever movie at (you guessed it!) THE WALL. I’ll post that eventually.

Fast and dirty!

It was one of those nights where the Middle East crowd spills onto the sidewalk and then into the street (cars be damned), creating a scene that rivals the one inside the venue. Upstairs, the Seattle-based Sub Pop indie-folk band Fleet Foxes were playing; downstairs the Hollywood art-punk duo No Age, also Sub Poppers, held forth. The rivaling headlining sets from these hot-button labelmates felt just wrong — like your best friend throwing a party the same night as you.

Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, the surprisingly unpunkish-looking pair who make up No Age, were unfazed — then again, there’s probably not much that pisses off two dudes who play free shows at vegan supermarkets.

Read on here.

Weezer releases new video, pwns YouTube

Via OTD:

Rick Astley may have seized YouTube for a day, but Weezer’s out to condense the whole damn thing into one music video. From the inbox:

“Today, Weezer unveiled the launch of their YouTube channel to coincide with the premier of  the band’s new music video ‘Pork And Beans’ on the homepage of YouTube. This is the first time a major label band has featured such a multitude of YouTube celebrities in their video, which include Tay Zonday (Chocolate Rain), Lauren Caitlin Upton (Junior Miss South Carolina), Judson Laipply (Evolution of Dance) being three of more than fifteen YouTube stars making cameos in the video.”

As reported a few weeks ago, “Pork and Beans” (and the rest of the Red Album) are no Blue Album, but the video’s fairly entertaining, in the schizophrenic way only a mash-up of YouTube favorites can be. They even managed to squeeze a “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” reference in there – that’s one of the pioneering viral Internet vids, in our opinion. And there’s no denying the sheer brilliance of a mustachioed Rivers Cuomo hugging Chris Crocker with tender reassurance, all “It’s okay, Chris, we’ll leave Britney alone now.” Those Weezer kids are tugging at our heartstrings, yo.

Here’s what Phoenix staffer Will Spitz had to say about it:

“Lauren Caitlin Upton on why Weezer have been unable to make a good record in the last ten years and what should be done about it:

‘I personally believe that Weezer are unable to do so because, uh, they don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, Foo Fighters and, uh, the Green Day, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the Rentals, uh, or, uh, should help Rivers Curomo and should help the Weezer, so they will be able to build up a half-decent collection of songs, for our children.'”**

** Note: Lauren Caitlin Upston did not actually say this. We totally made it up. But she would’ve said that, we think.