When I first saw the oak outside the Brattle Apartments where Elizabeth Bishop once lived, I was twenty-two, and it was summer, and I cracked open my window to look out at its branches, heavy with leaves, and the air was thick and smelled sour, and I thought of that line in “Crusoe in England” where she writes “I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree, an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere,” and I thought of all her poems I had read and all the letters I had ever held in my hands and all the lines she had written about New England and Nova Scotia and Brazil, lines that I repeat to myself as I walk to class and home again. And those were what informed me that this home could never really be just mine, and that one day I would long for something and somewhere else, as Bishop always had. In one letter Bishop once wrote that she “always felt a sort of guest,” in the places she lived, and if it is late enough at night I wonder if I feel that same way.
Claire Messud and I met outside, under the blue umbrellas of Pamplona Cafe. The day was cloudy but the author wore a thin grey sweater and a smile. She’d arrived a few minutes past the hour, which most students would probably call early, but Messud began by apologizing: she’d bumped into a former student in the lobby of the English department and had to say hello, probably with a hug, the same way she’d greeted me. We sat and ordered coffee. Next door, a baptism was happening at St. Paul’s. A fire truck screamed past, and I asked about last week’s reading at the Harvard bookstore. “I suppose one way it might be expressed,” Messud tapped her cup, “is that I’m writing a cliche of frustrated narrative expectations.” She was referring to the suggestion, or maybe it was a complaint, that The Burning Girl, her newest novel, lacked the kind of sexiness that defined the bestselling The Woman Upstairs or 2006’s The Emperor’s Children.
Earlier this year, Tank and The Bangas’ Tiny Desk contest-winning video went (deservedly) viral. NPR’s been hosting the concerts since 2008 (there had been 550, viewed a collective 80 million times as of November 2016), and the yearly contest is going on its fourth cycle now. But as much of an NPR fan-girl as I am Tank’s video is the first I remember watching the whole way through. Because, and maybe there’s no other way to put it, Tank, and The Bangas, are artists in a spectacularly new way.This past Thursday the group came up (they’re from and based in New Orleans) with Sweet Crude to play a gig at The Sinclair. Sweet Crude opened, starting exactly on time (and maybe I’m not going to enough Sinclair gigs but that has never happened to me, not once, not even within 15 minutes of the posted time) and right away had the half-full crowd completely rapt.
Poking fun at Pitchfork Media –– indie tastemaker slash never-ending bastion of cultural snobbery and Portlandia material –– is an act that is facile to the point of being self-defeating. This is the website, after all, that pioneered the decimal-digit review score and worked itself into logical convulsions deciding whether Andrew W.K. was ironically dumb or just dumb, and whether there was any discernible difference between the two positions in the first place. To call Pitchfork hilariously overwrought might be the most redundant statement in the universe. To call it pretentious would be lazy. Pitchfork is certainly both of those things, but more than that it has become a cultural artifact, Rolling Stone for the brunch-goer. When Pitchfork launched in 1995, however, it was essentially a local hub for Minneapolis area bands and college radio station diehards.
It was only fitting that Michelle Kuo gave her Cambridge reading at the Cambridge Public Library. College ’03 and Law School ’09, and now a professor at the American University of Paris, Kuo spent two years after college in Helena, Arkansas with Teach for America. Her memoir, Reading With Patrick, documents and reflects on her time working with Patrick Browning, a quiet and introspective student in her classroom whom she returned to Arkansas to see upon learning he had been placed in jail for killing another man. While awaiting Patrick’s trial, in which the unintentional death was ultimately charged as manslaughter, Patrick and Kuo read and wrote together every day. I sat down with Michelle to talk about the complex process of writing and discussing the memoir, the questions we ask ourselves as progressives and young people, and, of course, books.
The end of the 2008 financial crisis marked the beginning of an agitated love-hate affair between Hollywood and Wall Street. Movies that satirized, maligned, or celebrated the exploits of the veiled “masters of the universe” became incredibly popular. Hollywood had found its new villain, and the following years saw the release of a string of movies like Margin Call (2011), Too Big to Fail (2011), and The Big Short (2015). Steve James’s new documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, might be described as the anti-Big Short. It refuses to play into the tropes and excesses of its precursors. For one, it makes no attempt to glamorize the work of bankers or bamboozle the viewer into dumb awe with a barrage of inscrutable technical terms—CDS’s, MBS’s, tranches, and the like. Instead, the only source of the fantastic comes from the film’s very premise: Abacus is a profile of the only bank to have been criminally charged with mortgage fraud in the wake of 2008, and the family behind its operations.
J.D. Daniels’ writing has provoked a response that only a unique talent could. In both praise and criticism of Daniels’ recently published first collection, The Correspondence, there exists a common tone: a sort of what the hell is this? It’s a confusion that fresh style demands – a confrontation with the sheen of the new. Daniels manages to marry registers that might sound contradictory, but, in his hands, appear natural: bravura and vulnerability, academic erudition and folk wisdom, humor and frankness. And this wealth of material somehow finds the space to rattle around in a tightly bound, rhythmic prose. His essays take the liberty to chase ideas and often become something that they once weren’t in the span of just a sentence. It’s a thrilling agility. To read him can be like watching a brain at work.
A Tweeted History of Cage the ElephantSupporting Cage the Elephant was my first taste of hipsterdom. When I saw the band open for Stone Temple Pilots in 2010, I was one of the fifteen audience members who knew the words and stood by the stage. The hundreds of seated attendees who had never heard of the opener could see that I was a real fan.With every step the band took toward mainstream success, I tried to claim them as my own. I broadcasted my excitement for Cage the Elephant releases on Facebook (Figure 1). I refused to take pictures on my flip phone after their concert, fearing I might somehow replace my home-screen photo of lead singer Matt Schultz jumping into the audience.When I heard the single from their 2013 album Melophobia inside an elevator, I knew I had to accept that Cage the Elephant was popular.
"Make some noise if you wanna go to heaven.”When Chance the Rapper uttered this phrase about halfway through his set at Boston Calling, no one skipped a beat, the crowd roaring for everyone’s favorite friendly rapper. Pyrotechnics and massive screens began to roll as he transitioned into yet another immensely catchy and soulful song from his hit-studded repertoire. In front of the stage, beach balls flew and a sea of arms glistening with wristbands bobbed slightly off beat. All eyes focused on Chance. As he ran and jumped across the stage, it was hard not to revel at his fervor and knack for crowd engagement. But if college has taught me anything, it is to immediately transform my natural revelry into analytical impetus. And as a Religious Studies major, I couldn’t help but take a step back to look at the precedent and undertones of Chance’s massive performance.
Men Without Women By Haruki Murakami Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen 228 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95 In his new book Men Without Women, Haruki Murakami tells the stories of seven heartbroken men to explore the condition of solitude—of being a Men Without Women, which the titular story insists is “always a relentlessly frigid plural.” The fidelity of the stories to this central theme is tight and precise, giving the collection an overall feel similar to one of the “days” in the Decameron—if, instead of the plague-ridden Italian countryside, the aching lovers roamed across Murakami’s melancholic Tokyo. In Murakami’s treatment, solitude emerges as a chronic condition whose incurability stifles the possibility of action.
(Yoni Wolf has been making music since the mid-nineties and has been frontman of the band Why? since it formed in 2004. Why? released the album Moh Lhean in March 2017 and is currently on tour through the US.)EE: Hey! Thanks so much for doing this. You’ve started off on tour lately—how’s that going?YW: We’ve been on tour for about three weeks now. It’s fine, we have a day off today, so I’m walking around with my lady friend; gonna do some cooking, gonna do some laundry, et cetera.EE: We wanted to ask about your latest album, Moh Lhean— is it pronounced Mo Lean?YW: That’s fine.EE: You’d been on a little hiatus until it came out, right? It’s a lot of new songs — I was wondering if you could tell us a little about what went into it: process, time frame, inspiration…YW: Well, we recorded this one at home, so it went on for a while, as things tend to do when you have as much time as you want to work on them.
In 2014, Albie and Chris Manzo, the sons of Real Housewife of New Jersey Caroline Manzo, became the faces of BLK, a designer Canadian spring water the color of coal. BLK is infused with fulvic acid, a natural compound popular in alternative medicine, which gives the water its signature black hue. The company was started by two sisters Jacqueline and Louise Wilkie, who believe the drink’s “alkaline fulvic trace” saved their mother’s life. On Wikipedia, “Blackwater” may refer to the private American security consulting firm associated with the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, a liquid waste remaining after coal preparation, and a wastewater containing feces, flushwater and urine from toilets, an acute kidney disease, towns in Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Romania, United Kingdom, and the United States, and assorted artworks.