Archive for the 'Arts and literature' Category

Moss (Heart): New York Honch’s Limited Engagement

My unofficial experiment with the Nov. 3 issue of New York involved lots of pain medication and 15 minutes earmarked for a flip through Adam Moss’ redux of this grotty Gotham bible.  The results?  Five minutes left over to cut the more direct transmissions from Planet Lortab and also plan my dream wedding to the new editor-in-chief.  Anyone who can make New York digestible in under 10 minutes is clearly worth keeping around.


0:00-0:15…02:15-02:50:  Barack Obama Cover and Story

New York banner is almost completely obliterated by the first portrait of Obama I’ve seen where he actually looks black.  Inside, this new “urbanization” of Obama reveals itself as “let’s just not light him.”


00:30-01:05:  Intelligencer Page

Where’s Kurt Andersen?  I actually read the Justin Ravitz item on Lindsay Lohan.  I’ll make up the time later.  Li.Lo’s no account father is slamming Li.Lo’s gal pal Samanthan Ronson, but at the end of the item dad retracts because he’s a “Christian.”  Shouldn’t he just stone them both and get it over with?  My favorite mention is the one about the father’s “noncelebrity son.”  Son’s name appears in bold anyway.


01:05-01:27:  Intelligencer Page Two

One of those cheap New York cutouts of either Sarah Palin or Tina Fey: really tired of trying to discern those two.


01:27-01:37:  Intelligencer Page Three (math+teachers=who cares?)

Weird, early Todd Haynes-styled art really slows me down.  I think the portrait of Mattel’s Ken and Barbie might portent one of the real reasons I read New York.  Maybe a cashed-crazed Hamptons wife offed her hubby?  Perhaps there’s some big deal art heist?  Maybe someone famous had plastic surgery?  Turns out to be about Lehman Bros.  Bummer.  If Li.Lo stays out of the rest of the issue, I’ll make up the time.


01:37-01:55:  Party Lines!

I’d light a cigarette if I smoked.  This page is a triumph.  Tab-collared Karl Lagerfeld looks like his head is now levitating two feet above his neck.  Patti LaBelle’s starting to look Asian.  Stay away from those red, silk kimonos, Patti and Karl, but more Party Lines!


02:50-03:40:  Second Feature in the Well

There are three Billy Elliots on Broadway.  This feature seems remarkably reminiscent of one that ran in Time Out London when there were three Billy Elliots on the West End the summer The Tube blew up.  Next!


03:40-04:10:  Third Feature in the Well (But I Think I’m Still in Thatcher’s UK)

Unwittingly stumble into New York Knicks feature, thinking, wow, one of the Billy Elliots is really hairy.


04:10-04:15:  British Airways ad Separating Features from Strategist.

Come on, I’m not the only reader who saw Billy Elliot in London.  Get on the stick, Adam.


04:15-04:30:  Best Bets

Really bad layout on hoodies.  Candy Pratts Price, where are you?


04:30-05:15:  Look Book

Hot boy in a McCain/Palin hat assuming the traditional Republican “do me” position.  I probably would.  Oh, this is that stupid fashion thing where they highlight what “real’ New Yorkers are wearing.  I’d settle for Corky Pollan at this point.


05:15-05:27:  Food

Restaurants I can’t afford unless I’m reviewing them.  Hey, I thought Gael Greene was dead?  Can’t wait to hear what Pauline Kael makes of High School Musical 3: Senior Year.


05:49-06:22:  More Winter Travel

Shotgun shooting really close to Syracuse in Milford, Penn.  Cool.


06:30- 06:46:  Art

Since when did New York snatch up Jerry Saltz for their art page?  Not bad for a former truck driver.  He’s on about some art fair in London: those British Airways adverts don’t pay for themselves.


07:37:-08:00: Approval Matrix

Woo-whoo!  Liza on Broadway.


08:00-08:41: Agenda

How is just Billy Corrigan still Smashing Pumpkins?  Sarah Silverman, take a break.


08:41-08:47: Movies

Don’t tease a good movie (Rosemary’s Baby) with a better movie (The Bad Seed).  Pauline?


08:47-08:54: Still Movies

Zidane is starred.  Now here’s a listings ed. I can live with.  I mean, if Adam’s open to that type of arrangement.


–Tony Phillips



Stop Smiling and Get Serious

I recently discovered Stop Smiling, a bimonthly arts and culture magazine. Produced in Chicago, this “magazine for high-minded lowlifes” is smart, serious, and conspicuously lacking in advertisements. A sort of New Yorker with a modern, Midwestern sensibility, Stop Smiling is effortlessly intellectual yet accessible. The design is sleek and streamlined—stylish without being tragically hip. Stop Smiling is like the mysterious woman dressed in vintage, smoking a French cigarette at a boring cocktail party. You know she has stories to tell, and she’ll spill her guts if you just pour her some decent wine. The magazine has been around since the mid-nineties, and if the current issue, dedicated to expatriates, is an accurate indication of the magazine’s quality I predict Stop Smiling will continue to entertain readers with its brainy, cosmopolitan content. 


As the editors explain, the expatriate issue focuses “not only on Americans abroad but also on emigrants who moved from their respective homelands to practice their art and profession within our shores.” The editors have selected a heady mix of high and low subjects, focusing on historical and contemporary figures. Readers gain a real insight into the “expat” experience.

The trendy humorist and NPR favorite David Sedaris talks about his experience living in Paris and London; the legendary firebrand novelist and essayist Gore Vidal, who has happily chronicled the downfall of the American empire over the last 40 years, holds court at his home in Italy. For pop music fans, there are perceptive, in-depth interviews with the French electronic-music duo Daft Punk now based in L.A. and Ray Davies, the baby boomer front man of the seminal, British rock band The Kinks, who lived for years in New York City and New Orleans.

There’s also a charming story about the history of pizza in America and pages of book, album, and film reviews. 

I’m in love. And I can’t stop smiling.

-Jennifer Davis  


What’s in an “a”?

     Giles Coren – long-time restaurant critic for the London Times Magazine – was very angry one Sunday morning when he read his published review and saw that an editor had gotten rid of the second to last word of his final sentence.

     The edited review read: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”

     It was supposed to say, “…go for a nosh.”

     Perhaps somebody should have advised Coren to hold his breath and count to 10 – or 100, or 1,000 – before raising hell in an email to the Times’ editors. Or perhaps he would have thought twice about lacing it with more than a dozen F-words had somebody told him it would be leaked to The Guardian and plastered all over the internet.

     I’m glad nobody did though, and he sent the 1,000-word rant – which eventually made its way to me through the October issue of Harper’s Magazine. It is the highlight of the Readings section – a delightful department that offers miscellaneous excerpts of letters, documents, and original stories. 

     Why would an angry email make it to one of the most esteemed literary magazines? Because, despite his frequent use of curse words and berating remarks, Coren is a gifted writer. His insightful and highly structured writing reads more like a well conceived and revised piece of literature than an email.

     “’Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardization of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You have decided that this is what I meant and removed the ‘a’…the other noun, ‘nosh’ means ‘a session of eating’,” he wrote.

     At other times – to his shame – his ranting makes him sound like a dirty-mouthed baby whining uncontrollably because one of his toys (a word) was taken from him.

     “And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on ‘nosh’ is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable… I have written 350 restaurant reviews for the Times, and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable.  Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

     Putting aside Coren’s blatant overuse of the F-word, he makes a timely point. Words have decreased in value for today’s attention deficient generation. We seek everything fast-paced, short, and to the point.

     The editor who made the fateful error of removing that “a” probably thought people would read over it anyway. I know I would have.

     But removing that indefinite article – however trivial an action – killed the joke inherent in that highly nuanced line.

     “I have set up the street as ‘sexually-charged’,” Coren explained. “I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And ‘looking for a nosh’ has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is Soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. ‘Looking for nosh’ does not have that ambiguity. The joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke.”

     I would have missed the joke had there been an “a” there anyway. Yet I’m grateful Coren was very meticulous in including hidden dimensions in his writing. 

     It took a bold editor from Harper’s, who decided to run an over-the-top foul-cry from a wronged writer, to remind me there is such a thing as substance in today’s mass media – and it can be found in unexpected places such as weekend restaurant reviews.

Cristina Luiggi

Entertainment Weekly: Literate Fluff

I’ve been casually reading Entertainment Weekly for years, and it has always felt like a guilty pleasure. EW is good for reading on a lunch break, or when you’re trying to distract yourself from the horrors of an impending root canal, but it doesn’t contain a lot of substance.

At least, that’s what I thought until I bought a copy of the Oct. 3 issue to critique it. I intended to report that the magazine is nothing but fluff— mindless filler good for killing an idle hour. A closer look at EW revealed a literate, intellectual side buried within the fluff.

Admittedly, EW is not perfect.  At times, it strays too closely to the celebrity gossip rags like US Weekly, particularly on the “Monitor” page, where we learn about the latest arrests of Gary Coleman and George Michael. A feature on Disney star Demi Lovato would be more at home in Seventeen. Too often, the features in EW are short and superficial.

Despite these flaws, there is a lot to like about EW. Reading the magazine is a good way to stay current on entertainment industry news, without getting bogged down in the economic details that fill Variety’s pages. EW’s movie reviews, particularly those by Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum, are consistently fair and well-written.

What I like best about EW is its coverage of books and literature. I’m not an intellectual doomsayer who insists that no one reads anymore. But it does seem to me that literature no longer gets the attention it deserves. Books rarely receive more than a cursory treatment in mainstream magazines. EW reviews new books in every issue. For that, it deserves applause.

In this issue, EW even gives columnist and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) the freedom to write a tribute to Judy Blume— a bold choice, considering Blume writes for young girls and has not produced any new work in several years. I’m usually disappointed to stumble across Cody’s “Binge Thinking” column (I’m always hoping to find Stephen King’s “Pop of King” instead), but this article is a poignant and passionate homage to a writer who surely influenced countless girls, including Oscar-winner Cody. I’m almost tempted to pick up one of Blume’s books myself… but maybe I’ll read a brutally violent James Ellroy novel instead.

The books section near the back of the magazine focuses on more than just bestsellers. There is a fascinating sidebar on author JT LeRoy, who does not exist. LeRoy was the creation of author Laura Albert, who wrote under the LeRoy pseudonym and recruited her sister-in-law to play her alter-ego in public. There is also a glowing (if brief) review of Deaf Sentence by David Lodge, a great British writer who is not very well known in America.

A more cynical critic might complain that the books section only covers three pages. I’m just glad it exists at all, and I hope other magazines will follow EW’s example. It’s a little depressing to think of Entertainment Weekly as a bastion of literary criticism.

—Nick Roberts

‘What’s so funny?’ about Rolling Stone

It’s the “new golden age of comedy” and Rolling Stone wants everyone to know about it.  Its September 18 issue features several spreads of comedians, funny one-liners, and a profile of David Letterman.  Rolling Stone should stick to what they know and what has them a great publication in the past, long-form narratives.

The September 18 issue featured two great long-from narratives.  One was about Chucky Taylor, the first U.S. citizen to be formally charged with committing torture abroad, and the other, the obituary of Jerry Wexler.  They are both great pieces that keep you captivated.  The pieces on “the new golden age of comedy” are just fluff.  Eleven pages were dedicated to short quotes from different comedians that I guess were supposed to be hilarious.  Now readers of Rolling Stone can read a quote from Don Rickles about how he and his wife don’t understand the Internet.

Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J. Gleason founded Rolling Stone in 1967 to more than just a publication of lame one-liners.  Jann Wenner is still the editor and publisher of the publication.  The magazine knew a golden era in the ‘70s thanks to its political coverage and in-depth journalism.  In the ‘90s, to compete with younger male magazines, Rolling Stone changed its mix of content to focus more on sex, television, movies, and pop music.  Gradually Rolling Stone has gone back to the content that made it famous, including more coverage of politics. 

Rolling Stone has been criticized for selling out because of their change in content in the 90’s.  They lost some of their longtime readers and their magazine circulation dropped.  Since they’ve changed back to their traditional format circulation has increased to about 1.4 million.

When you look at the issue you can’t help but feel that maybe all of this focus on comedy is just an advertising ploy.  NBC has taken out huge advertising space in the issue; such as the gatefold in the center dedicated to their action show “Heroes.”  The front and back cover are also gatefolds that feature replicas of old concert posters hawking NBC programming like “The Office,” “30 Rock,” and their new show “Kath and Kim.”  The fronts of these covers are graced with NBC stars such as Tina Fey, David Letterman, Tracy Morgan, and Amy Poehler. 

Although Rolling Stone claims to be a magazine with a readership of young adults, they statistically fall into an older age range; 63% of their readers are between 25 and 54.  Perhaps Wenner and the other editors thought that inserting young comedians here and there like Dane Cook and Russell Brand, the Britney Spears-obsessed host of the 2008 MTV Music Awards, was going to make younger readers take notice.  Perhaps Rolling Stone should just stick to what they know best. 

– Cindia Gonzalez

The Vanity Fair Battle: Ads vs. Content

Perhaps Vanity Fair is best known for its elegant style or its ability to endure considerable controversy throughout its lifetime—from the libel claims made by director Roman Polanski to the nearly nude photos of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus taken by Annie Liebovitz just this year. After the magazine folded during the Great Depression in 1936, Conde Nast Publications revived the magazine nearly 47 years later, establishing it among the best of its class.

Vanity Fair’s commitment to entertainment, world affairs, culture, and fashion make it highly influential in high society, pop culture and, well, the rest of the world. But it’s its mesmerizing yet staged photography and award-winning narrative writing that I sort through the seemingly endless advertisements to read the publication each month. 

This month I expected more advertisements, considering it was the style issue, conveniently planned to be on shelves during fashion week. What I didn’t expect was a cramped hand from flipping through roughly 265 of 408 pages (I counted) filled with ads just to find a riveting story. My initial reaction: what happened to the journalism?

In his feature “Day of the Crocodile,” Peter Godwin, a former Zimbabwe native, paints a vivid picture of Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. Godwin describes him as a “homicidal African dictator who stays in power against all odds” in a country devastated by corruption, fear, and hyperinflation. Godwin’s piece is compelling, filled with statistics, insider information, and history. His personal accounts from natives impoverished, unhealthy, and living in terror of their leader who would hold them at gunpoint to push them out of their own country are absolutely gut-wrenching. Godwin paints a picture in my mind of what was really happening in that country— doing what good journalism should do.

But just as the rest of the magazine is crowded by ads, so is Godwin’s story. The feature opens opposite a distractingly exotic Kenneth Cole model, while the first jump page faces a seductive model for Seiko watches. And ads for Svedka Vodka and Natural American Spirit cigarettes seem completely out of place next to a story as powerful as Godwin’s. Though these ads didn’t discount what I learned from the article, they definitely distracted me several times during the time it took to read the seven-page story.

  And it seems crass to market ads for such luxurious and pricey products next to stories dealing with serious economic issues in the world. Undoubtedly the magazine struggled with addressing important international issues while still banking those ad dollars by placing products not suitable with stories in the magazine. But with this fat 408-page issue, this distraction was much too overwhelming and distasteful.

But I guess it’s pointless to dream of a change at Vanity Fair. After all, only a fool wouldn’t sell what advertisers seem willing to buy. So the only solution for us readers seems to be this: Learn to read with one eye shut.

-Krista Scarlett

Poetically Correct

Do you remember the days when groups like Riverson were churning out jazz and R&B-infused rock music? How about when blues-guitarist Johnny Jenkins released his solo-debut, “Ton-Ton Macoute?”

Well, neither do I.

However, it is with these types of lesser-known musicians that Wax Poetics thrives on.

“When we started the magazine there was definitely something missing from music journalism,” said Wax Poetics founder and Editor-in-Chief Andre Torres in an April interview with Utne Reader Online. “No one was even touching jazz, soul, funk or anything like that.”

For the past seven years, the magazine has succeeded at telling there readers (65,000 circulation as of April) about lost and unknown musical gems of decades past. Each issue includes reviews of albums and singles that more than likely have not been discussed in any recent music magazine.

“Probably what separates the people who read Wax Poetics and the people who read Rolling Stone…is I want to know about music that I don’t know about,” added former Wax Poetics writer Allen Taylor in the same Utne Reader article.

Take for instance No. 30 (the magazine never lists the date of an issue, just the volume number), the latest Wax Poetics. Although being dubbed as “The Rock Issue,” it still has a fair share of its usual components including a review of the self-titled debut from Riverson, made up of the R&B, jazz, and rock ’n’ roll remnants of a previous group called Mashmakhan

With its rotation of soul, jazz, and hip-hop in check, No. 30 goes on to feature an article on Elvis Presley and his recording sessions for the album “From Elvis in Memphis.”

(While the magazine has the tendency to focus on the unique and obscure, they will occasionally include one or two feature articles on a more commercial act. However, the story usually covers an aspect that has not been focused on in recent years).

For this particular piece, Wax Poetics tells the story of Elvis and the makings of his last great album before drug use and drinking began to seriously take a toll on his personal health. The piece features Elvis’ sessions at Chip Morman’s American Sound Studios in Memphis, which at the time, was a hotbed for chart-topping singles such as Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Despite this, I am not sure if the Elvis article would appeal to the main base of Wax Poetics readers. (You can get a gauge of its readership by looking at the advertising in the magazine, the majority of which has some type of hip-hop theme).

One of the first things you notice about Wax Poetics is its compact size – about an inch smaller than a typical magazine.

However, what really sets it apart is the lack of cover lines.  The magazine keeps it simple with just the Wax Poetics title, the issue number, and an image – in this case, former lead singer Sid McCray from the group Bad Brains.

The design extends to the back cover as well. Where most would use an advertisement on the back page, this magazine hosts a second cover – in this case Elvis.

It’s a fitting send-off. Elvis is far from obscure, but the story of how he had one final good record in him is a story that no other music magazine would likely have told.

-Alex Suskind