Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Unassist me

Here I stand, between a two-year-old and an eighty-two-year-old. My mom has not been doing so well of late. Her merry widowhood is now under the shadow of early-onset "memory loss." That's what her wonderful doctor is calling her inability to remember the day of the week, using kind terms to alleviate our terror of you know what. It's awful that the very things we laughed about three weeks ago -- her misplacing her car in the lot at Target, for example -- now make us grow quiet with anxiety. But she's working to keep up her humor, and to still move about the world as much as possible.

I love my mom so much that I'm really terrified of what happens when I lose her, whether she remains in her body for a few years after that event or not. Thankfully we're not there yet, but really, now that we've been officially told she's slipping, I'm starting to quietly freak. And we're having to look into the dreaded "assisted living" situation. Do you know what rents are like at a nice Catholic joint for elders in this town? From the website:

Studio Apartments: Type A (205 - 222 square feet): $2,970 - $3,260T
ype B (256 - 282 square feet): $3,285 - $3,635
Type C (334 - 372 square feet): $3,505 - $3,760

Sure, meals are included, but even you miserable Brooklynites aren't dealing with three grand for TWO HUNDRED SQUARE FEET!!!! Needless to say, this kind of think has my mom feeling down. And me feeling a bit like we're thinking about sending her off to the zoo. Sure, they make it look like a natural habitat, but those animals never get to roam.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Unfamous genius at work

My friend Stephanie is one of the best writers I know. Her form, in the past, has been email (though she's dabbled in comix and now is looking to author children's lit). Her style, minimalist. She is the queen of the short cogent sentence that rings like a bell inside your head after you've left it. Also, she came to our wedding dressed as a wedding cake -- in a costume she made -- so that should tell you something.

Now, as it should be, she has a blog. You don't know who she is because to the world she is mostly known as Mom to Alex and Nate and Wife/Rock/Stimulant to Christopher. But if there's any justice, she'll get some heat in the mom blog world. It might take a while -- she ain't flashy. But trust me, there's there there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Been a While

I've been doing this and that. But now, thanks to magnanimous Blender, I'm in a fancy hotel room in Hollywood with nothing to spend the evening on. So I'm sitting her gazing at the view (dominated by a giant iPod billboard) and catching up on my repetitive stress injury. Seriously, why can't hip hotels have ergonomic desks for weary travelers? But the free cookies were nice....and I guess I'm supposed to be hanging around the burger bar looking for Ryan Gosling, not holing up and blogging like some sort of 21st century freak.

I do intend to walk down to Amoeba if I have time and look for something I don't even know I want. And maybe see a movie tomorrow after conducting my pop-star interview. I haven't seen a movie in ages, and the Oscars always seem so much more meaningful when you have an opinion. Aside from Brokeback Mountain, my "best picture" slate is clean. I think the only other nominee playing anywhere near Hollywood and Vine, unfortunately, is "Capote," which frankly feels like something best left for DVD. Maybe I'll just have to finally go look at my boyfriend Jonny in mega-huge Woody-induced cinematic glory. We'll see.

Last week I had a different kind of glamour assignment. Thanks to the kind and witty Thom Swiss -- whose students just call him "Swiss," like a sneaker -- I joined the always gracious Mark Anthony Neal and Jim DeRogatis, with whom I've tussled ideologically in the past but whom I do enjoy in person, in a seminar about the "criticalness" of music criticism. (Swiss is a poet, thus the pun.) Though I sat there and shared my opinions with the room like a regular blowhard, I was the one educated.

The crowd was mostly regional pop critics, from places like Fargo (yes, Klosterman's old hang) and Des Moines, and wow, is their reality harsh. We bigger-city kids can complain about imperfect editors and shrinking space, but I'm not sure my armor wouldn't have disintegrated in the face of what these soldiers handle. Totally CLUELESS upper management, with whom they have to regularly fight to get any pop coverage at all; lackluster performances from touring acts, who sure aren't saving their best for the middle of the tour in middle America; and worst of all, impossible deadlines forced upon them by editors terrified of the Web.

The latter came up late in the day, when we'd broken into small groups to discuss some samples of work the journalists had brought in. In the course of dissecting a piece on Brad Paisley, someone revealed that she'd reviewed the same concert, but had to retreat to a press box halfway through to meet her deadline. She couldn't fully see the stage from the press box, so she pretty much had to fudge.

Others chimed in about their similarly harsh realities. Some bring their laptops and hope for WiFi in the stadium or theater, typing away as the concert commences. Others actually have to leave the theater six songs into the show. Some disclose this in their reviews. Others don't. But across the board, they all share one reality -- editors who don't think it's a problem that their writers aren't fully seeing or hearing the concerts they review.

In what universe is this okay? Forget about thoughtfulness, which Mark not even facetiously brought up as an important aspect of criticism. How about actually witnessing what you're writing about. For Chrissakes, I know every newspaper in the country is terrified of bloggers stealing their thunder, but does anyone actually read a live concert review from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, as if it's a war report?

Listen, editors -- that's not how the artists treat these shows. With very little variation (Tori excepted, Goddess love her), mainstream and even major club artists play basically the same set every night. Now, you might say this calls into question the very need for live reviews. But I say -- this is exactly what makes your particulary reviewer important. Her perspective is what you're selling, editors. If readers have loyalty to newspaper-level arts coverage, it's to the voice of the particular critics they've learned to trust, or argue with, or just enjoy. Limiting her chance to really assess the show, not only by giving her no time to think about her opinions or her words, but by actually preventing her from complete attendance, is a foolhardy, shortsighted sin.

I'm proud of the people I met at the seminar, for fighting the fight despite these odds, and for caring enough to work on developing their skills and ideas in the face of virtually no respect. If writers ruled the journalism world, things would be so much better. But then, it's been this way since New Grub Street.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


What I "mean" is, isn't immersing in a "meaningful moment" pretty enjoyable, emotional, sensual even?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


I hesitate to even begin commenting on the ongoing rockism/popism "debate" that in some ways defines the music-crit cabal of late. I will say this, however, re. Simon's assertion (on Feb. 1 for those scrolling through the blog) that no one voted for M.I.A. in the VV Pazz & Jop poll because of her plastic-fun qualities: I voted for her because her music reminds me of jumprope rhymes. Not that doubledutch is not serious or meaningful; ask Kyra. But it's equally, crucially fun.

I just don't understand the distinction between fun and meaningful that Simon implies, and Matos falls for a bit here, in his post from my birthday. It's about hierarchies, right? Rockists overvalue meaning over fun. But stepping outside the tiny world of music-crit, I wonder if those hierarchies can actually be maintained. In the experience of absorbing music, no matter whether it's on the dance floor, in the bedroom, in the headphones, or on the blog, who really separates meaning from fun? Sure, maybe some people say they're just having fun with music -- that's how they feel in the moment, or in casual conversation of the kind you might have with an Armenian cab driver who can't think of his favorite artist and says he listens to everything -- but nostalgia proves otherwise: the theme from Dirty Dancing comes on at his son's bar mitzvah and a tear forms in his eye. Fun or meaningful? Not to pick bones or be thick or rest in rockism, but isn't meaningful actually quite fun?