Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Plates" HD video

The nice people at Slam Tribu in Reims, France put together this great video of "Plates."

(Is it bad that throughout the whole thing I'm thinking "I wish it'd been lit from the other side?")

Friday, February 10, 2012

European Tour Recap

Paris Metro - photo by Caleb

Short version:

I toured Europe. It was awesome.

Extremely long version with more pictures and videos than you would ever want:

First of all, so much love and gratitude to The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, who made this tour possible with a generous travel grant. Also to Parisian poet Dareka Daremo, who helped us book the tour, found us places to stay, and even planned our travel routes. 

Sometimes this whole artist thing is worth it.

Our first stop was Barcelona, where we hit the ground running teaching two full days of poetry and performance classes at the Benjamin Franklin International School.

Check out the sweet Mass LEAP t-shirt.

It was my first time teaching in an international setting, which was interesting, mainly because I had to start from a different assumption of common experience with the kids. Jet lag and an unfortunately timed head cold didn't help, but by the end of the first day I felt like I was in the groove.

I even stayed late to help Sean teach a drama class.

On Thursday night, Sean and I were the first features ever at the Barcelona Poetry Slam.

Lacking a green room, I primped in the street.

The bar was this big beautiful boudoir of a room with red walls and paintings of tasteful nudes everywhere. The language barrier was trickiest here for me. I don't speak much Spanish and know about two words in Catalan, but the audience was absolutely engaged and silent anyway. It could not have been a better first show to kick off this tour.

On Saturday night, we played a combined music and poetry show to an intimate crowd in a club in the city's Gothica district.

Check it out, the audience started to spontaneously harmonize with one of my songs. One of those magic artist/audience kinetic moments.

On our day off, our host, the mystical, musical Rachel Rocky Bernstein (who you should listen to sing opera here, if you know what's good for you) took us to see Sagrada Familia, where we proceeded to pontificate about art and god, as is our unalienable wont.

It was hard to leave Barcelona, (I actually almost missed the flight -- running through the Barcelona airport after security holding my cowboy boots in my hands was not the highlight of the trip) but it was on to the canals and redlights of Amsterdam.

We were only in The Netherlands for one day, but our extremely knowledgeable hacker host Onno showed us the local flavor. For instance, the particularly Dutch problem of too many errant bikes clogging up all the canals.

Then it was on to Cafe Barones downtown, Daan Doesborgh's venue. The room was full of non-poets who were all there to hear poetry. Anomalous. There was no open mic at all, just four featured poets. It was super packed. The audience was attentive, and really wanted to talk about the work afterward.

Here are my last two poems from that set: "Plates" and "On Breathing."

On to France, where Caleb joined us.

Which means from here on out, all photos are about to get 1000x better. The above photo was taken by me, on my iPhone.

And this one was taken by Caleb. Photographic pwnage.

The first stop in France was Dijon, the capitol of the Burgundy region. We arrived on a foggy evening and followed our host Adelaide, an inconsiderately beautiful poet in a Humphrey Bogart hat and cowboy boots, as she delineated the minutiae of the town's architectural history.

Adelaide also had a nearly endless supply of English jokes.

After a dinner of eggs poached in red wine, it was time for poetry. Here I am at the show in Dijon, which was one of my favorites, struggling through a French version of one of my poems. The audience was so nice and supportive of my attempts. They even cheered me on when I totally screwed up.

Then it was on to Reims, capitol of Champagne.

There's a huge Cathedral in Reims where Joan of Arc supposedly convinced the King of France to declare war on England.

Look at all the majesty.

Reims was sort of like a rap video.

Some of Caleb's shots of the night. The first is of our host, Elodie as she performed and improvised poem.

Dareka helped me out at this one by reading the harder French translations.

So, I hate to play favorites, but if I had to pick a favorite show, overall, in Europe, Reims would be it. The community was so warm and inviting, and afterward we locked the doors of the venue and stayed up late drinking house wine, smoking inside, and talking.

Caleb didn't take the above picture, someone at the venue did, but it's still pretty sweet.

I'm taking an aside to comment on how much more infinitely badass French poets' stage names are than Americans'. My top three favorites (in translation):

1. Molotov Cocteau (in French, spelled Cocteau Mot Lotov, just for that extra double entendre)
2. Spring 2004 (Printemps 2004 - I don't even know, but I want to steal this)
3. Mister Lady (Monsieur Dame - a common address to audiences at the beginnings of events)

 Then there was Paris. First things first.

Once that was out of the way, I did two shows in Paris. The first was a music show with Sean in the stone basement of a bar.

We didn't get any video from this show, but Caleb recorded audio of everything. Coming soon, or something.

After that, Sean went off to tour Germany, and Caleb and I had two whole days just to be tourists.

For us, that meant going to lots of churches and flea markets.

Here we are at the Pompidou:

And we also went to Père Lachaise, where we visited Oscar Wilde's newly glass encased grave and left a smooch.

We also found Gertrude Stein's grave. It's piled high with stones.

My last show was at the Downtown Cafe in Paris.

I was pretty pleased with how it went.

Adelaide happened to be in Paris for a job, so she joined us for the show.

She took these pictures:


After the show on the last night, as we were going to bed, I said to Caleb, "Why did I want to be an artist? It's so exhausting."

He said, laughing at me a little like he does, "Yeah, but everything else is exhausting, too. It's just not rewarding."

Well, consider me rewarded.

More pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150599513844419.405882.757784418&type=3

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Hipsters Hate Themselves

I was into cancer way before it was cool.

I am a hipster. You might've never heard anyone say that before. Likely, out at the indie-rock show with thirty impeccably dressed, mostly white, socio-economically mid-to-upper-mid range, "arty," if not quite artistic people in the audience, and the AWESOME PHOTOBOOTH (one of the bandmember's photographer boyfriends) at which you can pose and pout for Facebook with all of your tastefully tattooed, dyed, and Ben Sherman'd friends, you're more likely to hear someone say, over their 'Gansett or Hi-Life or Schlitz (PBR is so 00s, after all, and so effing hipster), "I'm not a hipster, but..." before segueing into a confession of some über-hipster proclivity.

Anyone who starts a sentence, "I'm not a hipster, but..." is a hipster.  If you have started a sentence like this, then you are a hipster. In fact, I would argue that the denial of one's hipsterness is so engrained in the fabric of The Hipster that it's nearly integral. In order to be a hipster, you have to believe (or at least project the belief) that you are not.

Also common, though more extreme, are the sentences started with: "I hate hipsters, but..." Sites like Look at this Fucking Hipster have been popular because hipsters love to hate hipsters (and you can be sure that hipsters are 95% of these sites' web traffic). The implication is usually that this elusive "hipster" is someone who is a less authentic version of whatever the speaker identifies as. Someone who wears the clothes and talks the talk, but is only faking it.

It makes sense. Hipsters were probably not the popular kids in school, and their perception of "coolness," formed at lunch tables and school dances, must be almost undivorceable from phoniness. However, this assumption leads the hipster into a bizarre self-negating conundrum. She's found herself, ukulele, glasses, and all, suddenly cool. Now she must reconcile this fact with her negative coolness associations by denying her coolness, and an easy way to do that is to decry similar coolness in others.

Other hipsters are hipsters, but hipsters refer to themselves as geeks or nerds. As in, "I'm just a design geek," or, "Fellow music nerds unite!" Geeks and nerds, we remember from school, are not cool, so they're okay labels for the hipster to identify with. Hipsters mistrust coolness. A hipster will never admit to being cool, even though I would argue that's pretty much the base definition of what a hipster is. The classic line is, "I read manga before it was cool." This means, "I read manga when it was nerdy to read manga, and only nerds read it, and I was a nerd for reading it." By this train of logic, the hipster avoids the dubious realm of cool by grandfathering himself in to the familiar safety of nerd territory.

Subtler and trickier is the trope that challenges the authenticity or motives of other hipsters' personal tastes. I can't count how many times I've heard someone say, "I'm not a hipster. I actually LIKE microbrews." As though there are a bunch of other people out there gagging on their IPAs just to fit in with the cool kids.

What's actually happened, of course, is what we all suspected and were told would happen when we were kids. The nerdy, curious, and creative parts of ourselves that made us awkward in school have set us apart and become our strengths as adults. The college-rule notebook comic-book illustrators, the walking music trivia encyclopedias, and those kids who made their prom tuxedos out of duct tape are now the cultural trendsetters. The geeks have inherited the earth.

But because of the internet and "new media," the hipster is aware of himself and his relevance to larger society in a way that hippies, beatniks, mods, flappers, dandies, and the first slew of hipsters (you know, the jazz cats) were not. It's not just painful memories of two-faced high school mean girls that cause hipsters to mistrust their own coolness. The modern hipster also has a sophomoric grasp of marketing and media manipulation, thanks to an adulthood reached with legs up from Jon Stewart and (more recently) Stephen Colbert. Deconstructing advertising, television, and print media is now a common discourse game over coffee or cocktails. The man behind the big media curtain has been revealed, and hipsters can see how easy it is to fool people into thinking products, celebrities, and politicians are shiny, desirable, and cool. Coolness is elusive, manipulative, and staggeringly powerful. It's no wonder we have a hard time trusting it.

Unfortunately, this loop of self-negation and self-deprecation is one reason why modern hipsters, as opposed to hippies, beatniks, or whatever, haven't made any sort of unified cultural statement. Hipsters are a big post-modern mess of artistic ball-bearings, rolling around each other, bouncing off one another, each one hoping to land in some sort of groove of authenticity, not realizing the rolling itself is authentic enough.

Hipsters, stop wasting time hating other hipsters. What you always wished for growing up has happened. The prom king and queen are atrophying on their sofas somewhere in the suburbs consuming the art and media you and your ilk have a hand in creating. You are now the cool kids. You have a chance to direct the culture. Stop looking at what one another is doing and start looking forward together. Hipsters, unite.