Category Archives: boston phoenix

On Paint Pens in Purses (aka a totally rad female urban art collective).

Photos from a series I shot for the Boston Phoenix of the Paint Pens in Purses art show at the recently-closed Marty’s Liquors space. See the whole series here.

Previously: Photos, video and a write-up of the Paint Pens gals muralizing LAB’s windows

On Of Montreal.

Photo by Eric Baumann for the Boston Phoenix

The Of Montreal show at the Paradise Tuesday night, the second of their two sold-out shows at that venue this week, wasn’t just a concert — it was an interpretive dance performance, an assemblage of trippy video installations, an excuse to parade a multitude of animal-head masks across the stage, and one giant homage to Flaming Lips–style stage antics. Of Montreal’s previous appearances in town, at Avalon and the Middle East downstairs, had merely hinted at their theatrical aptitude. At Avalon they’d incorporated video projections from the cover art for 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? At the Middle East, lead singer Kevin Barnes had donned a wedding dress and proposed to the audience.

This time, the Athens-based outfit brought along a hype man in a white tiger head and a team of ambiguous, unitarded dancers who transmorphed themselves with silver Buddha costumes, platinum-blond wigs, and plastic pig masks in a confusing series of skits. It was a spectacle, for sure, but it didn’t always work to the band’s advantage. At times, it felt like commotion meant to distract us from the weaker songs in the set, which consisted of tunes from Hissing Fauna and the band’s most recent release, Skeletal Lamping (Polyvinyl), with a few staples peppered in between. “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” and “Forecast Fascist Future,” both from 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, were highlights.

Read the full review I wrote for the Boston Phoenix here.

On Sarah Haskins and “Target: Women.”

“Yogurt is the official food of women.” Or so enthuses TV writer Sarah Haskins in her sarcastic three-minute video “Target Women: Yogurt Edition,” which aired this past May on Current TV, the largely Internet-driven independent cable network founded by Al Gore.

“Just turn on your TV,” continues Haskins, a pretty 29 year old with an unfussed blond ponytail and an oblong face. “Day and night — but mostly day, unless you’re watching Lifetime — there’s gonna be some ladies just chilling out, eating some yogurt, and appealing to our inner woman, to get us to do it too.” She then bombards viewers with clips from yogurt commercials — which she points out are targeted at women of every race, but specifically ones who wear gray-hooded sweatshirts (“It’s that ‘I have a master’s but then I got married’ look”) and are on diets. We see women likening the experience of eating yogurt to getting a long massage, gushing over unlikely flavors such as apple turnover, and Jamie Lee Curtis advocating the power of certain yogurts to regulate digestion.

“Yogurt,” Haskins concludes. “What else could a woman possibly need?”

Read the rest here.

On Antje Duvekot.

Midway through her set at Club Passim last Friday, right before covering Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” Antje Duvekot remarked on something she’d read about the Great Depression. “Lighthearted entertainment became important to people,” said the Somerville-based singer-songwriter. “They needed it to get them through it.” A beat of silence, and then laughter rose from the crammed, brick-walled, basement folk club.

The unstated punch line of Duvekot’s self-depreciating joke had been made evident by the first half of her show, the second of four sold-out gigs promoting her just-released second studio album, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer (Black Wolf Records). Duvekot, who’s become one of Boston’s folk darlings over the past five years or so, writes songs soaked in forlorn wisdom, with lyrics like “the moonlight has made it plain that nobody needs me to call them home,” sung in her trademark weather-worn throatiness. They’re the opposite of lighthearted entertainment, but without the generic, maudlin cheese that plagues less skilled folkies.

The Economic Crisis 2009 crowd seemed cool with a gloomier tone, perhaps because the formerly dry Club Passim now serves wine and beer. Or perhaps because they knew what to expect.

Read the full review here.

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.

Lovers’ rock


Drug Rug
When we first started doing press, that’s all people wanted to talk about. And we were like, “Fuck, that’s so annoying.”

Despite their fatigue with the topic — being in a relationship that exists within a band (or vice versa) — Sarah Cronin and Tommy Allen (who’s quoted above), of the Cambridge-based, Beatles-esque, lo-fi rock band Drug Rug, are surprisingly welcoming and amicable when I visit them at their Inman Square apartment on a Friday afternoon. Cronin and Allen know what I’m there to talk about, but apparently they’re not holding it against me.

Their frustrations are understandable. Much like Jenny Lewis would rather not be known for her childhood acting gigs — starring in Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard and Jakob Dylan probably wishes just one journalist would neglect to mention his legendary-rocker father, most couples in bands don’t want the “couple” part to loom over the “band” part. But like rock musicians, music journalists are always looking for hooks, and romance is a tempting element to any band’s narrative.

Still, there’s telling the story, and then there’s selling the story — for example, an early press release described Drug Rug, much to their chagrin, as a “magical love duo.” Even for Cronin and Allen, though, the line between bandmates and boyfriend/girlfriend is often vague, and sometimes nonexistent.

Read the full article 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.”

Never say smile.

Ryan Adams photo by Annie Leibovitz.

Could there be anyone cooler to have for a photography teacher than Annie Leibovitz? The 59-year-old lens master, known best for her intimate, idiosyncratic portraiture work for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, is not drawing up lesson plans quite yet. But her latest book, Annie Leibovitz at Work (Random House), details her career, some of her most famous photo shoots, and includes a section on equipment and questions that budding photographers frequently ask her. If her previous work, A Photographer’s Life: 1990–2005, was a penetrating look into Leibovitz’s personal and work lives, At Work narrows the focus to meaningful moments of her 30-year career.

“I thought of it as a primer or text for a young photographer,” says Leibovitz, over the phone from Manhattan. The book is not a rigid must-have and must-do set of rules for would-be shooters, but rather a loose collection of thoughts and lessons Leibovitz has learned over the years.

Read the rest here.

Mixed media.

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.


From the Phlog, yesterday:

1. As soon as Obama uttered the words: “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House,” on November 4, a certain subset of people (you know, just smaller media outlets, like the San Francisco Chronicle and Reuters, and pretty much everyone else who was tired of covering real news. BORING!) stopped thinking about this year’s “historic” election, and what it meant about race in America, and how Obama will tackle the many, gargantuan problems awaiting him in the White House. Nope, they were thinking about puppies, and in particular what kind of puppy the Obama family should adopt as first dog. An ambitious seventh-grader from Conway, N.H. has already penned a letter to Obama, asking him to adopt from the Conway Area Humane Society shelter. A canine club in Peru has offered up a hypoallergenic, Peruvian hairless dog. Apparently, a golden doodle is also in the running.

2.  The Brickbottom Gallery, in Somerville, is opening a show on December 4 called “Best in Show: Artists and Their Dogs.” The show will run through January 10, with a reception on December 7 from 4-6 pm. Here’s an irresistible sneak peak. It’s a pastel painting called “Cleve in the Grass,” by David Sholl:

3. Have you seen the puppy cam!? If you’ve got anything to do for the next few weeks, cancel it. This is much better. Nothing can top watching grainy, live footage of a couple of five-week-old Shiba Inus puppies. (Gawker called it “a fantasty [sic] that cures us of our free-floating anxiety in an uncertain world.”) They sleep! They snuggle! They roll around and trip over each other! I actually laughed out loud with delight last night, when one of them sleepily stood up, then promptly, and clumsily collapsed on another dozing puppy nearby. I’ll stop trying to explain it, though. Just watch, here.