Category Archives: Boston

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 Rihanna and Chris Brown.

Today on Here and Now, the mid-day news program on the Boston-based NPR affiliate WBUR, reporters spoke with Boston-area teens about the recent news that pop singer Chris Brown allegedly physically abused his girlfriend (and fellow pop star) Rihanna. The idea for consulting local youths came from a recent survey conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission , which produced some surprising results:

  • 51% said Chris Brown was responsible for the incident
  • 46% said Rihanna was responsible for the incident
  • 52% said both individuals were to blame for the incident, despite knowing at the time that Rihanna had been beaten badly enough to require hospital treatment

On Here and Now, students from Match public charter high school shared their opinions. “She must have done something to provoke Chris Brown to hit her like that,” says one male student, adding that he doesn’t know enough about the relationship to say whether it was “right” or not – somewhat disturbing sentiments, until a female student named Denise disagrees, as does another male student, who says Brown needs “anger management.”

Much like the survey indicates, this sampling of students is conflicted over the boundaries between arguing and abuse in a relationship. Here and Now guest Nick Shiggs-Quiroga, a third grade teacher at Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, expresses that same thought, saying that he feels this is something he needs to discuss with – and to some degree, teach to – his students.

As someone who tutors Roxbury high schoolers (via 826 Boston), helping them to analyze and discuss required literature, this report made me feel like I should be spending less time on Hemingway heroes, and more time on the fact that no one (male or female) ever “deserves” – the word that several students used on Here and Now – to be physically abused. I recently had a conversation with a tenth-grade female student at English High, about how Frederic Henry from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is similar to men that she knows, in that they are both emotionally unavailable. That may be par for the course with tenth-grade boys – I don’t remember any of my sophomore year relationships being rife with outpourings of emotions – but abuse is an entirely separate issue, one that I hadn’t considered as a topic to be discussed during school hours before. But maybe it should be – or maybe we just need more groups like Girls Leap out there.

On MOMA, Poster Boy, and street art marketing.

One museum’s major exhibit-worthy street artist is another’s vandal, I suppose. Last week, while Boston was all a-chatter about Shepard Fairey’s exhibit at the ICA, and his arrest (en route to the opening, no less) for plastering our city walls with sneak peaks of said exhibit, something different was going on with MOMA.

The Museum of Modern Art’s crafty marketing executive, Doug Jaegar, “CEO of the brand-management agency the Happy Corp and president of the prestigious Art Directors Club,” according to New York Magazine, came up with an ad campaign that involved reproducing 57 of the museum’s most famous works, and wallpapering a Brooklyn subway station with them. But then, knowing that a) subway ads are prime targets for graffiti and street artists, and b) Poster Boy is New York’s street artist du jour, Jaeger recruited Poster Boy to intentionally “re-mix” the ads, in his own style – in the hopes of attracting even more attention to them. The remixes included giving Warhol’s screen print of Marilyn a nose job. NYMag writes:

“Early on we saw Poster Boy’s work, and we realized it was inevitable that if we did this project, his crew would likely see it as an opportunity. Whenever you create something, you want to make sure you’re prepared for that,” Jaeger says. “What I would hope is that it would cause debate and generate some argument, at a minimum.”

This is an ingenious move, especially for a museum of contemporary art. Simply plastering the subway with images from MOMA might remind some people of the great artworks that reside there – the Warhols, the Rothkos – or, it might introduce certain subway riders to artists they did not already know, thus drawing them to the museum.

But inviting Poster Boy to remix the ads presents a new angle. It’s the idea of sort of new art vs. really new art. It’s unpretentious and all-inclusive. It’s like MOMA saying, “Hey, we have a plethora of works by important artists from the last few decades, AND we’re also on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the art world now, from the echoing halls of our museum to cement ones on the streets, and in the subway stations.”

It’s not all that far off from what Shepard Fairey was doing in Boston, wheatpasting walls in virtually every neighborhood of our city to promote his show. The city may have arrested him, but at least the ICA had his back. The same can’t be said for MOMA, who made the decision to sever all ties with Jaegar after the Poster Boy incident, and denies approving the re-mixed (or destroyed, as the naysayers are calling it) ad campaign.

The museum had previously declined to comment, saying only that the destroyed ads would be reinstalled by Wednesday. But today it denied authorizing the attack. When it was suggested that actions took place with MoMA’s consent, Kim Mitchell, the museum’s spokesperson, responded: “That is not correct.”

Shouldn’t MOMA be defending and promoting new art forms, rather than discouraging them?

View photos of the remixes over at NYMag.

On Shepard Fairey

(Image from photos I took of Shepard Fairey’s visit to the Boston Phoenix offices)

In this week’s New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl comments on the storm of recent Shepard Fairey news, with some interesting points-of-view.

Fairey’s fight with the AP over whether the Obama photo he used for his famous “Hope” poster is downright stolen or covered by fair use laws, Schjeldahl says, is a “predictable legal snarl”:

“The general issue is an old story of our litigious republic. Appropriative artists, including David Salle, Jeff Koons, and Richard Prince, have been sued at intervals since Campbell’s soup went after Warhol, in 1962 (but then thought better of it). As an art maven, I’m for granting artists blanket liberty to play with any existing image…. and I’m bored by the kerfuffle’s rote recurrence, with its all but scripted lines for plaintiff and defendant alike.”

Fairey cites Warhol as one of his primary artistic influences – no surprise there – and it’s interesting that nearly 50 years after audiences struggled to consider images of soup cans as art, we’re still having trouble with the concept of blatant, purposely apparent borrowdness as a medium.

“Fairey’s stylistic borrowings from Russian Revolutionary, Soviet, and W.P.A. propaganda are often remarked upon,” Schjeldahl writes. “But borrowedness itself—studied anachronism—is his mode of seduction.”

Schjeldahl only makes a brief-yet-poignant mention of Fairey’s arrest, implying that the incident is only worth a few words – can you hear that, Boston.com commenters? – because the pro- versus anti-graffiti/street art argument has probably been around longer than Fairey himself. Street artsists exhibit their work in galleries often, and many have been arrested. Fairey just did it on a grander scale (at the ICA), and at a moment when the public (in Boston and elsewhere) happened to have all eyes on him.

“Boston’s I.C.A. has condoned a citywide smattering of street art by Fairey, as an extension of the show. That makes sense. So does the decision of the Boston police to arrest him for it, on his way to the show’s opening.”

Perhaps, much like Warhol did for pop artists, Fairey – as America’s best-known street artist at the moment (besides Banksy, whose anonymity lends him a separate and unique set of issues) – is creating a whole new set of inevitables for street artists making a foray into the museum and gallery world. Or maybe it’s just history repeating itself.

Lovers’ rock

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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.