CF*2012: for the love of pop!


chickfactor beermats: designed, typeset and printed by hand on a letterpress by Tim Hopkins at the Half Pint Press

The magic starts in just a few weeks and we can hardly wait. Just look at these lineups! And the audience will be pretty special too.

Fri April 6 at Artisphere, Arlington, VA: The Pines + Dot Dash + Honey Bunch + Stevie Jackson + Frankie Rose! Tickets

Sat April 7 at Artisphere, Arlington, VA: Black Tambourine + Lilys + Fan Modine + Lorelei + Special Guest Tickets

Sun April 8: CF editor will be on WFMU with the awesome Gaylord Fields from 5-7pm EST, ticket giveaways may occur!

Mon April 9 at Maxwells, Hoboken, NJ: Black Tambourine + Fan Modine + Rose Melberg + Special Guest Tickets here, also at Other Music & Tunes Hoboken

Tues April 10 at Bell House, Brooklyn, NY: Black Tambourine + Small Factory + Versus + The Lois Plus + Some special guests (Sold out but keep an eye here for people selling)

Wed April 11 at Bell House, Brooklyn, NY: The Aislers Set + Pipas + The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group + Bridget St John + Special guests (Sold out online but Other Music had 17 left as of yesterday)

Thurs April 12 at Bell House, Brooklyn, NY: Stevie Jackson (Belle & Sebastian) + Honey Bunch+ The Softies + The Pines + Special guests Tickets here & Other Music

Wed May 30 at Bunk Bar, Portland, OR: Joe Pernice + The Softies + Lois + Selector Dub Narcotic Tickets here

We are planning to have a party like it’s 1992: we challenge you to put your cell phones away for the entire night!

chickfactor 2012: for the love of pop update!

Wow, thanks for the enthusiastic response, pop kids! We, too, cannot wait for these shows to happen.

Here’s the ticket link for the D.C. shows on April 6 & 7 featuring Black Tambourine, Lilys, Stevie Jackson, Frankie Rose, Lorelei, Dot Dash, Honey Bunch and Fan Modine!

There are also still tickets for the April 11 show in Brooklyn, NY (The Aislers Set! Pipas! The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group! Bridget St John! Special guests!)

and the April 12 show in Brookyn, NY (Stevie Jackson! From Belle and Sebastian! Honey Bunch! The Softies! The Pines! Special guests! *please note A Girl Called Eddy had to cancel due to recording dates)

We are looking into setting up shows in London and the West Coast (work with me, Portland!) and there will be *one more* East Coast announcement sometime this month.

Black Tambourine (Mike! Pam! Brian! Archie!) photo by Tae Won Yu.

pdx: bob stanley pop quiz!

I don’t really have to babble on about missing London these days. London knows how much I miss it! As do New York, D.C., NC, LA, SF and the folks in those places. I am very happy that London has decided to send its (unofficial) mayor and one of its finest advocates and citizens out here to Portland, Oregon, to check up on me. That’s right, folks. We are lucky to be able to announce this event for the PDX pop kids…

chickfactor is super-excited to present…


and a screening of FINISTERRE, the gorgeous film about the delovely city of London made by Paul Kelly and Kieran Evans

Watch the Finisterre trailer
About Finisterre (from the Plexi website)…

London has always been a source of influence, inspiration and curiosity. Paul Kelly and Kieran Evans’ FINISTERRE tries to identify the dreams that London holds for so many, and the reality of the city — the spaces between the landmarks, the spaces Londoners inhabit.

Presented and scored by Saint Etienne, the film takes us on a journey from the suburbs into the heart of the city over an imaginary 24 hours. Along the way we hear from characters that have influenced or been a part of the Saint Etienne story. FINISTERRE features the observations and reminiscences of Lawrence from Felt/Denim, Mark Perry, the editor of original punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, as well as Vic Godard from Subway Sect and artist Julian Opie, folk singer Vashti Bunyan, London-centric author Shena Mackay, and Nick Sanderson from Earl Brutus. Through the interviews and imagery we see London from an insider’s perspective. The result is a hymn to London, and an extraordinary record of the city today.

“Enraptured by the possibilities the city offers for creating exhilarating forms of social and cultural life… FINISTERRE should serve as an inspiration to London Lovers everywhere.”
-Sight & Sound

“Beauty, pathos, magic — FINISTERRE, like the city it chronicles so lovingly, has it all.”
-The Telegraph

**** [four stars] “A feature-length love letter to a pop-art metropolis. The camera’s unequivocally seduced by the dazzle and the drizzle of the wonderland.”

One of the most important groups to emerge from Britain in the early 1990s, Saint Etienne first turned the music scene back to the pop aesthetic of the ’60s, combining it with danceable club beats. In 1990, they released their debut single, a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, which became a massive club hit, priming fans for the 1992 debut album, “Fox Base Alpha”. The album was a hit and several other singles followed. They have subsequently gone on to release over ten albums. Their latest, “Tales from Turnpike House”, was recently released in the UK by Sanctuary Records.
There will be some kinda prize(s) for pop know-it-alls, to be sure. It’s all happening at Beulahland on Thursday, October 6 at 7pm!

from chickfactor #15: an interview with nikki mcclure

nikki is an inspiration—a renaissance woman, a jane of all trades. she took the time out of her busy schedule of art, gardening, cooking, making music, nature-watching, and everything else, to answer some questions.

interview by dawn, photo by gail (nikki with cynthia connolly at ladyfest 2000; interview originally appeared in cf#15, 2002)

cf: describe your art.
nikki mcclure: I primarily make papercuts. I cut images from paper using my trusty x-acto knife with a box of fresh sharp blades nearby. I then reproduce the pictures with offset or letterpresses for the masses. the original artwork is sculptural though. at first people think that they are woodblock prints, but when they get real close they see that the paper has been carved like lace. they are 3-d and 2-d at the same time.
cf: describe the process of making your cuts/prints.
nikki: I sketch out ideas working from tiny postage stamp/thumbnail sketches to larger and more definitive drawings. my sketches are usually pretty rough. I save the details for when I am working with the paper. I then draw a new sketch onto black paper with pencil and start cutting. I leave a lot up to chance; making mistakes and fixing them is an important part of my process. the choice of light or dark is of the moment.
cf: how did you get into paper cuts?
nikki: one day I was working with scratchboard and was not getting the look that I wanted and tae won yu was sitting nearby and said, “why don’t you try cutting it out of paper?” I did. it turned out the way I had imagined and it felt good to boot. it really satisfies me.
cf: what is the tradition of paper cuts?
nikki: it has been around since the invention of paper. there are early chinese papercuts that look like snowflakes progressing towards modern cuts that are giant sized and detailed. there is a history of papercutting in mexico, poland, germany, japan, and there is also a jewish tradition. we all have made snowflakes. there is a guild of american papercutters even.
cf: where do you get the inspirations for your books/art pieces?
from living adventures and from happiness. nature, gardens, people working together, swimming in anacortes, new york city, water, the walk home, the morning light, love, those moments where time doesn’t matter, watching birds fly.
cf: did you do a birding map? (I think I read this online) if so, who was it for and why? (can you also describe it?)
nikki: I think you are referring to a guidebook to the birds of east bay (olympia) that I illustrated. I have made maps with birds on them, but they are not necessarily birding maps.
cf: is birding a hobby that inspired your punk rock nature walks during yo-yo a go-go?
nikki: yes. but I am not a hardcore birder by any means, so it really isn’t a hobby. I did bring binoculars with me camping this week and I did get a guide to birds in japan at a garage sale last week…plants and insects are hobbies as well. it’s the whole of the forest and wanting to share some of its secrets that inspired the walks. plus, I wanted to get the punks out into nature.
cf: you taught a letterpress class at the oly ladyfest. do you teach this often? what do you like about the letterpress? do you use it in your work?
nikki: yes. I am eager to share the resources that are at community print with the community. I think it is magic to print and want others to be able to print whatever they want without censorship and by the power of their own hands. therefore, I share more than teach. letterpress is full of mistakes (for me) and I like that. I print text for different things, make posters, an occasional book, and I always wish I had more time to print. I also would love to get a vandercook letterpress. if there is anyone out there who knows where I can get one, please let me know!
cf: what other types of art do you do?
nikki: I print, make a monoprint every so often, draw, watercolor on vacations, and I want to learn how to build things from my woodworking husband.
cf: do you consider your house art? please describe it.
nikki: the garden is always art, even in the winter as the iris seedpods gray. right now it is full of red poppies ringing the baby apple trees; their seeds brought in from the compost. the garden is constantly growing, changing, and more and more lawn is being removed. inside it is looking more like an art gallery with rotating exhibits of friend’s artwork. right now there is work by jean smith, khaela maricich, tae won yu, kanako wynkoop, mal pina chan, katie baldwin, and amber bell. the last issue of nest [magazine] also made me throw out a chair and plan an improved entryway. the kitchen is waiting for cork flooring and the garage is in need of a vandercook to go with the windows salvaged from a cabin on mt. rainier. the house is a 1922 bungalow. wood everywhere and wide open floor plan. (I have yoga class at my house.) I have never been anywhere like it.
cf: what piece of art that you’ve made are you most proud of?
nikki: oh this one’s hard. pride. there are my favorites, of course, but pride is something different. I just made a picture for my 2003 calendar that I am proud of. it was hard. I challenged myself and all it is a man in a field with another figure approaching with a bucket of water. but it is the bucket and how the shadow falls on the water that is what I am proud of. I am proud of pieces, of line width and subtle curves, of hands held right, and water dripping into circles.
cf: when you make art, do you have a specific audience in mind? gail says your art appeals to toddlers. can you explain this?
nikki: my audience usually is me first. I make work to make myself feel good, for the most part. not every picture is a joy, some are work, or rather work, as I make pictures for a client with a picture already in their mind. my book about chickens appeals to the toddler set. they love it. it becomes their favorite book. black and white, find the chickens, what’s going to happen next? pretty suspenseful stuff to a 2-year-old. another audience is everyone’s mothers. and yet another audience are lovers, mine and yours.
cf: does your art support you? if so, in what way—commissioned jobs or selling our work?
nikki: I make art and the art supports me. I sell the original papercuts of all my books and calendars. I have art shows, collaborate on making lamps and furniture with jay t. scott (my husband). I also make the calendars and books as a way for more people to enjoy my art. rather than relying on sales of originals, I can sell the reprints affordably. I also do commissions, logos, illustrations, k2 snowboards for 2003, teach art at schools, trade art for veggies…
I try to do more art from the heart than from assignments. I find that the self-inspired art is the art that supports me the most—financially as well as spiritually. but it is good to do jobs for other people: it is nice to not always have to make up new, brilliant ideas; it is good to not work alone all the time and to develop sketches with a client; and work makes more work.
cf: do you have any non-art jobs?
nikki: at present, no. I have worked doing bird surveys, a year at dept. of ecology, substitute teaching, waitressing. but these are all becoming historical notations. I need to clean out my car, oh and do bookkeeping! that’s work.
cf: what is your involvement with tell me how it came about. is it successful?
nikki: is pat castaldo and aaron tuller and artists/makers in olympia. pat is an old friend of mine. he is a master of computer graphics and I work with him on all my projects. so one day he tells me about his dream of selling olympia wares online. it sounded too good to be true, though I was a bit skeptical that people would find out about it. but buyolympia has done well. they advertise, link to the indie web, work all night mailing out everything during the holidays, call the artists to keep everything in stock, support and encourage new work, and people from sweden can not only buy a book and some olympia honey, but contact me to be in an art show.
cf: I hear your studio is a collective. who else belongs?
nikki: the studios are a community of working artists and members of a self-made economy. stella marrs operates her worldwide card empire; amber bell makes books and quilts and studies to be teacher; lucas gray cartoons; rebecca pearcy makes queen bee necessities (though she moves soon for portland); k records stays abreast of the underground music scene; khaela maricich paints and plans operas; phil elvrum orchestrates the microphones; people drop by to silk screen, sing, say hi, take tours, deliver the mail. then there is community print, add al and cypress and ariana to the mix and some salvaged presses and type and boxes of paper and you have a collective of printers. we took a show called 508 legion way to space 1026 in philadelphia this past march.
cf: where have you shown your artwork? will you have a show in nyc?
nikki: I have shown my work in olympia, seattle, portland, toronto, philly, sweden, tokyo, and kyoto. I would love to show in new york, but how and when require some work.
cf: why do you think that crafting is such a big trend right now? can we blame martha stewart?
nikki: sure, she can be part of the blame. but I think she should be blamed for encouraging classist consumerism instead. the trend to make crafts is due to the lack of using our hands to make work. sure we may type all day on these computers, but nothing real and tangible is being made by pressing all those keys. knitting, crossing sticks and pulling yarn into knots, row after row to make something warm is real work. folding paper and threading needle to sew up a book, make the hands work. crafting is handiwork. our neurons crave it.
cf: who are your favorite artists right now?
nikki: mecca normal
cf: who are your favorite musicians right now?
nikki: mecca normal
cf: do you still make music? perform?
nikki: yes, though pictures are my primary form of expression. I sang in tokyo in february and will perform at the what the heck fest in anacortes in july. I haven’t given it up, but I have less desire.
cf: what are some of your other hobbies? okay, more specifically, do you cook? if so, what and how? what’s your favorite dish to cook? hobbies?
nikki: camping, gardening, foraging, gleaning, and cooking, sure, but it seems too necessary for survival to be merely a hobby. I made cherry pies the other night for a camping trip. the tree at the abandoned house a few doors down called to me like a siren with her cascading red cherries. so jay t. and I got some ladders and filled up a bucket in 15 minutes. pitted with sugar and tapioca, crust made with ice cubes in water and cold butter cut into flour with two knives like my grandma taught me. wrap up the finished pies in parchment, pack them in a box with care, and then carry them in your backpack to a lake in old growth forest. eat them around a campfire and you are set.
cf: I hear you play soccer. on your own for fun, or in a league?
nikki: my mom signed me up for soccer in the 2nd grade and I cried, “but that’s a boys sport!” I have played ever since. my women’s team is called the sharks. I play sweeper/stopper (a defensive midfielder, defensive offense/offensive defense); I have been battling with injuries lately ever since I got kicked in the ankle playing co-ed. I dream about soccer all the time though.
cf: what’s the best thing about living in olympia? the worst?
nikki: the best is the abandoned blueberry farm where you crawl under the bushes or walk on top all crouching dragon style and fill your buckets with blue. the worst…I don’t want to tell. cf

nikki’s first major museum retrospective just opened at the museum of contemporary craft in portland, oregon.

top ten (ish) lists: round three.

it is not too late, people. deadline, schmeadline — got a list? send it to me.

excuses for not coming up with a top ten for Gail by travis elborough
1. I failed O level mathematics and have since developed a pathological fear of numbers and find that some days I am simply unable to face charts of any kind. There have been a lot of those kind of days lately. Possibly ten, even. But obviously I can’t be sure, as I was unable to count them.
2. I couldn’t think of ten things that I could wholeheartedly commit to. Three or four, sometimes. But ten. It suddenly got too much.
3. While thinking about top ten things I should write a list about, I was overcome with nostalgia for the 1990s, arguably the decade in which top ten lists really came into their own. By the time I’d got thoughts of Slacker, Generation X, So Tough, When I Was Born for the 7th Time out of my brain I was too exhausted to contemplate a top ten.
4. Phoebe, our cat, mistaking it for a mouse,a bird or something, tore up the piece of paper I had painstakingly composed my top ten list on. I lost heart after that.
5. I genuinely forgot. And having forgotten, didn’t remember until today. And, alas, inspiration didn’t exactly strike. Still hasn’t. Sorry.
6. I found I didn’t actually have ten excuses for not coming up with a top ten for Gail, so this one is in to make up the numbers.
7. God is seven, and it would be morally wrong to try and out do him/her by going in for a top ten.
8. All the other top tens were so good I just got overawed.
9. I just felt convinced that the base 10 number system had had its day.
10. I wanted to do sandwich fillings, bed-bound people in novels and Lloyd Cole songs but all of those had already been nabbed.

top ten roads in virginia by cynthia connolly
1. Route 11 (runs north / south)
2. State Route 40 (runs east / west)
3. Route 252 between Stauton and Lexington
4. Mount Tabor Road North of Blacksburg, Virginia
5. Route 231 south of Sperryville to Route 29
6. Crest Hill Road between Marshall and Flint Hill
7. Fodderstack Road between Flint Hill and Little Washington
8. Route 58 in the southern and western most part of Virginia
9. Route 42 between I – 77 and alt 16 going through Ceres
10. Route 311 west of Roanoke and then South on 635 terminating at 460

top ten reasons I am now in the eff-book herd by cf editor
yes, I know I have written on this very blog saying it was never gonna happen. I am ashamed. I am sheepish. I feel silly. happy?
1. I need a job.
2. peer pressure.
3. I was missing births, deaths and weddings.
4. every conversation I had on the old-fashioned land line (gasp!) was eff-book related.
5. to promote my new career as a TV chef.
6. to read gilmore’s london diary (see below).
7. so I could reconnect with all my cute bfs from 7th grade: will we have anything in common now?
8. nicole.
9. to be on the radar. sadly, this is the now way.
10. my real-life friend dawn sutter madell started a grassroots campaign to herd me in, flooding my private inbox, wrote this list:
top ten reasons why gail should be on facebook
1. It’s like all of your friends have blogs and can let you know what they are up to–what they are eating, taking photos of, all the mundane stuff like that.
2. It sounds so retarded and stupid, but it’s, sadly, a pretty amazing way to keep up with people.
3. All of your friends are on there. Facebook often reminds me of you when I’m on there
4. Gilmore’s London diary was some of the most amazing things I have read. Ever. EV-ER. I missed her writing!
5. You can see photos that other people post, like the ones I just saw of Dan Koretsky and Rian in high school. AMAZING. Dan looks like ducky in Pretty in Pink.
6. long chats with candice. candice. i haven’t talked to her in forever. so nice to chat with her. i’m sure you have spoken to her more recently, but still. it’s that kind of a thing. people that you have maybe fallen out of touch with, but that you REALLY like and miss.
7. oh i’m gonna stop now.
(dawn, if music supervision becomes obsolete, you can always become a lobbyist!)

top ten ways to avoid work, waste hours, be inspired. in no particular order by dawn “agoraphone” sutter madell
1. oh man. she has a great aesthetic.
2. so thorough and great. who needs martha?
3. great story teller. not to mention designer.
4. yummy veggie recipes. no, i don’t cook.
5. design-y. crafty. kids. i like it.
6. obvious.
7. sewing and knitting crafts. i sew, don’t knit.
8. again, i don’t cook. but i find this to be enthralling.
9. a potpourri of great things.
10. cosmetics database (for the paranoid in you)

Ten books you should read before you say you’ve read the most beautiful book ever by “louis philippe” auclair
1. Philip Larkin – The Whitsun Weddings
2. Antal Szerb – Journey by Moonlight
3. WG Sebald – Austerlitz
4. Alexandre Dumas père – Le Vicomte de Bragelonne
5. Kingsley Amis – The Old Devils
6. Guy de Maupassant – La Maison Tellier
7. Haruki Murakami – Sputnik Sweetheart
8. Albert Cohen – Belle du Seigneur
9. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita
10. Boris Pasternak – Dr Zhivago

Fifteen films you should see, etc. by philippe auclair
1. Ingmar Bergman – The Silence
2. Jean Renoir – Une Partie de campagne
3. Preston Sturges – Sullivan’s Travels
4. Terence Davies – Of Time and the City
5. Howard Hawks – Only Angels Have Wings
6. Carl Dreyer – Ordet
7. Michael Powell & Eric Pressburger – I Know Where I’m Going
8. Michael Powell & Eric Pressburger – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
9. Orson Welles – Touch of Evil
10. Chris Marker – La Jetée
11. Billy Wilder – The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
12. Albert Lewin – Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
13. Jean Vigo – L’Atalante
14. Lars von Trier – Idioterne
15. Andreï Tarkovsky – The Sacrifice

Ten mushrooms I look for in autumn by philippe auclair
1. Shaggy Parasol
2. Chanterelle
3. Beefsteak mushroom
4. Charcoal Burner
5. The Deceiver (laccaria amethysta)
6. Oyster Mushroom
7. Penny Bun (boletus edulis)
8. Lawyer’s wig
9. Horn of plenty
10 Woodland agaric

10 Lloyd Cole songs people don’t appreciate enough. each described in 10 words by joe pines / foxgloves
1 Don’t Look Back: Morning breaks, open roads, wide-eyed stoic, Grand Canyon guitar
2 What He Doesn’t Know: Crickets chirp, delicacy, nocturnal tendresse and regret, a lost standard
3 Rain On The Parade: Weeping guitar, smouldering stories: mixing again formality and rainy seediness
4 The ‘L’ Word: Alternate take sounds live, casually cool, Quine burns it down
5 A Long Way Down: Old New York, space, daylight, cruising drums, Lloyd on lead
6 Man On The Verge: Astor Place, D arpeggios, Quine blows the place apart again
7 Minor Character: Touchingly melodic drama: 1985 strings, histrionics, strain, 12-string, motion, closure
8 Alright People: Fresh picking, skyful of sound, guess what? Quine on fire
9 Shelf Life: Lengthy closer, hypnosis repetition riffs, piano echo, life’s time passes
10 Wild Orphan: Controlled verses, leaping choruses: Jodie Foster, twanging air, true joy

a sparkling new year to you all.

may we present round two of the non-2008-music-related top ten lists…

Top 10 Easy Pasta Dishes by stella marrs
Note: I do not give amounts- it’s cooking!
All start in a large cast iron pan. (Except #9)
For these recipes, the sautéing starts with a generous amount of the best olive oil. Sea salt, fresh ground pepper, organic pastas, fresh basil, and Romano or Parmesan cheese are the defaults for the most satisfying results.

1. The Syracuse. Caramelize onions, add can of whole tomatoes, add brown sugar- cook for many, many hours. Finish with garlic and fresh basil toward the end.
2. Fresh Roman. Mushrooms browned in olive oil. Thyme, garlic, parsley, pepper. Tossed into linguine with olive oil and lemon.
3. San Francisco. Sautéed garlic and bitter greens and hot pepper flakes, tossed with linguine and chopped anchovies. Splash of balsamic at the end.
4. Ancient Rome. Sauté red pepper flakes and garlic and breadcrumbs until golden. Toss with spaghetti.
5. Easy Italian. Sautéed garlic, red pepper flakes and broccolini. Add sliced black dried olive bits and lemon juice when tossing with the pasta.
6. The Olympian. Sauté tofu. Add a splash of soy sauce at the end and leave in pan on low. Add straight to the cooked linguine in this order and tossing after each addition: olive oil, sea salt, mustard, brewers yeast, and hot sauce. Top with the golden brown tofu.
7. The New Yorker. (Breakfast at midnight) Cook bacon and crumble it into a big bowl. Add several eggs, shakes of paprika, snips of parsley, lots of ground pepper. Add the just drained pasta and mix and toss, toss, toss. Extra cheese on this one.
8. The Portlander. Caramelize onions and red peppers and garlic. Add a well-rinsed can of white beans and basil and parsley. Finish with a splash of balsamic.
9. The Northwesterner.Cooked linguine gets coated with sour cream, capers, finely minced white part of the green onion, and smoked salmon.
10. The Buffalonian. Sauté garlic, onions, and sliced Italian sausage. Add a can of tomato sauce. Finish with oregano, basil and Franks! (A local hot sauce)

Top Ten things (in no particular order) that helped me survive 2008 by john woo / the magnetic fields
1. Nephews
2. Sigma DP1
3. Capilene
4. The Economist
5. Lonely Planet
6. Free Wi-fi
7. LIRR beach packages
8. Press 195’s pork sandwiches
9. Woorijip’s hot buffet
10. Earbuds in a pocket of every jacket I own

Top Ten Books About the Lost Generation (in no particular order), or, How I Spent 2008 by lisa “cf” levy
1. Malcolm, Janet. Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
Gertrude and Alice and Janet Malcolm and Nazis and the vagaries of Stein scholarship and the ABT Cookbook and those hints about S/M and odd Leo Stein and what it is like to be so convinced of your genius that nothing and no one can really touch you, and nothing really matters but the work. Could not be better.
2. Douglas, Ann. Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. New York: FSG, 1995.
One of the best histories ever written, Douglas covers New York in the 1920s with astonishing breadth while spinning a number of impressive thematic plates. She writes about jazz, Freud, Fitzgerald, anthropology, railroads, hardboiled fiction, advertising and photography with style and panache. A book study, to use, to be cowered by, and to emulate. The bibliographic essay alone is so good I weep. I tremble at the thought of her next book, about America in the Cold War (and her previous one, the Feminization of American Culture, which argues for the intellectual and spiritual collusion of the clergy and female authors in the 1890’s to remake gender roles, is also fantastic).
3. Wilson will write better books than Axel’s Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930 (1931. New York: FSG, 2004), but this is really the book that made him as a critic. Far from perfect, but brash and a nice reminder that even Bunny Wilson was once young.
4. Page, Tim, ed. The Diaries of Dawn Powell, 1931-1965. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1995.
She shoved herself into the Lost Generation photo in Esquire as a joke, but her diaries have the same sensibility as all the folks who were “there” (and were her pals later on anyway) with a lot more color. Also instructive to see how the other half lived–that is to say, a woman burdened by a loutish drunk husband and a son with Down’s Syndrome who really had to write for a living. Pair it with one of her novels for some levity–I love A Time To Be Born (1942), a parody of the life of Clare Booth Luce–or just admire her for doing what Dorothy Parker never could, just keep at it when all the odds were stacked against her.
5. Time for the hard stuff: ease into Stein with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and then, only for the intrepid, get the Dalkey Archives The Making of Americans. Follow Malcolm’s lead and rip the book into portable pieces. Stein would have been delighted.
6. Your reward is a visit to the Fitzgerald’s. No biography is better than Scott on himself, so get thee a copy of The Crack-Up and ride the ride again. No one has written his own rise and fall any better—poignant, but honest. Nancy Milford’s Zelda is a landmark in feminist biography and it holds up damned well. Her character is as rich as any in biography before or since.
7. Now that you are in the party/crash mood, I highly recommend a whirl with Harry Crosby via Geoffrey Wolff’s brilliant Black Sun (Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby. 1976. New York: New York Review Books, 2003). It’s got everything–sex, drugs,suicide pacts, astrology, murder, jazz, gambling, shell shock, a burning hatred of Boston, whippets, and solid rants against previous theories about the era. You won’t be disappointed.
8. Next is an introduction to a couple of my favorite Lost Generation characters, Gerald and Sara Murphy. The first book, Calvin Tomkins’ Living Well Is the Best Revenge, an expansion of his New Yorker piece about them, is too slim and evasive.
9. It will leave you wanting more, and there are two easy ways to get it: one is Linda Miller’s Letters from the Lost Generation (Letters from the Lost Generation: Gerald and Sara Murphy and Friends. Expanded Edition. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002), and the other is…
10. Deborah Rothschild’s essay collection assembled for the exhibit about the Murphy’s that travelled across the country in 2007, Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy. You will only regret that you live in a time where the dollar is weak, artists are so often silly, and style is something relegated to–sigh–magazines and the upper reaches of your digital channels, with the world “life” shoved ridiculously in front of it. Once upon a time style was a matter of some urgency, life (especially given the stakes of a war that was supposed to end all wars) was supposed to be lived to the hilt, and money was incidental, not the point of a day’s work but a byproduct of it. My wish for 2009–for all of us–would be to try and keep these ideas in our consciousness, if not as our goals.

Ten best lines from New Kids on the Block songs by emma straub
1. “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.”
2. (Heavy sigh)
3. (Softer sigh)
4. “(sigh) Sounds good to you, don’t it?”
5. “Huh!” (Accompanied by a pelvic thrust)
6. “Girl!”
7. “Ooh, girl!”
8. “Didn’t I blow your mind this time.” (Okay, fine, it was a cover.)
9. “We’re five bad brothers from the Beantown land.”
10. (Heavy breathing, due to dancing in unison.)

Family Movie Night in the Davol Household: 10 Most Recent Films Watched by sam davol / the magnetic fields
1. Home Movie (2002)
2. The Way Things Go (1987)
3. The Best of The Electric Company (1971)
4. The Films of Charles & Ray Eames: Powers of Ten (1977)
5. Wild Wheels (1992)
6. Top Hat (1935)
7. The Life of Birds (1998)
8. Creature Comforts: Season 1 (2004)
9. That’s Entertainment (1974)
10. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City (2001)

“With our tape recorders and our disheveled girl friends” (three lists by shawn belschwender)

Pre-Eliminator ZZ Top in order, from most awesome to least awesome
1. Tres Hombres (1973)
“Soundin’ a lot like they got House Congressional / ‘Cause we’re experimental and professional.” – Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers. I thought this song was an ode to being a numbskull, until I Googled the lyrics. I’m not sure what “got House Congressional” sounds like, but “experimental and professional” exactly describes themselves.
2. Rio Grande Mud (1972)
This thing opens with an ode to a thirteen-year-old girl (“Francine”) which is only right in rock ‘n roll. It is wrong in every other context. This thing contains “Just Got Paid” and the instant good time that is “Bar-B-Q.”
3. ZZ Top’s First Album (1970)
“And soon we’ll be all breathin’ out of tanks
if somethin’ ain’t done about the squank.” – Squank
I can’t think about pollution without imagining it how they painted it so graphically, as monstrous “Squank.” So where’s their Nobel Prize? They wrote their own “Brown Sugar” that is pretty crazy-good. About a minute and forty seconds in, it kinda blows up and rolls over you. This album doesn’t have the hooks and the hits, but it’s hard rocking from end to end, with only “Old Man” as the speed-bump.
4. Fandango! (1975)
“Ladies and gents, the fantastic ZZ Top!” Every DJ set, mixed tape/CD and playlist should kick off with this sample from the live “Thunderbird” on this album. Why don’t yours?
5. El Loco (1981)
I enjoy the whipcracks during “Party on the Patio” and the space guitar solos throughout, and even some of the tiresome car/lady analogies (“I Wanna Drive You Home”) they’re partial too. But really, this thing is less like a collection of solid songs than a space guitar delivery system. Like boogie guitar solos NASA would produce. Try “Ten Foot Pole” if you don’t believe me. As everybody knows, NASA had a space center in Houston, so it all makes perfect sense.
6. Degüello (1979). This is better than Tejas, but it still kind of bores me. “I Thank You” is the best, “Manic Mechanic” the worst.
7. Tejas (1977)
The only Tejas I know is the one they remixed with the 1980s-era mechanical drum sound. And it doesn’t bother me. I mean, I guess they had to do something with this thing, although it’s not as terrible an album as I’d expected it would be. It’s actually not bad. “Ten Dollar Man” my fave track here. Oh, it’s probably to do with whores and pimps and brothels, you know.

The Best American Film Critics, in order of birth
1. Cecilia Ager (1902 – 1981). The only Ager I can find is contained in an anthology edited by Phillip Lopate, called American Movie Critics. I would love to read more. Wrote extremely witty short film reviews for PM, and entertainment pieces for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Described Joan Crawford in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney as having “deafening poise.”
2. Otis Ferguson (1907 – 1943). Wrote for the New Republic, was killed in WWII. See The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson. “I never again expect to see so much ham crowded into one smokehouse…” – Ferguson on A Tale of Two Cities (1936). Wrote a great piece about the experience of attending a movie in the 1930s before start times were listed in the newspapers and everyone showed up whenever they just felt it, and climbed all over you to get to an empty seat. I would put Ferguson, Pauline Kael and William Pechter in my Big Three of favorite film critics.
3. James Agee (1909 – 1955). See Agee on Film.
4. Manny Farber (1917 – 2008)
“One of the desperate facts about being part of movies today is that every thirtieth word might be ‘Truffaut-Moreau-Godard,’ a depressing, chewed-over sound, and that a heavy segment of any day is consumed by an obsessive, nervous talking about film. This is often a joyless sound that couldn’t inspire anybody, but it suggests that modern moviegoers are trying to possess the film or at least give it a form or a momentousness which it doesn’t have.” Farber’s “Afterthoughts” on the 1968 New York Film Festival, describing a time long-gone. From a collection titled Negative Space. Was a painter, had painter’s eye; famously championed B-movie directors without being an auteur knucklehead.
5. Robert Warshow (1917 – 1955). The Immediate Experience: Movies, Comics, Theatre and Other Aspects of Popular Culture. Is good on Westerns, Gangster films, and Charlie Chaplin. Also, decimates Arthur Miller (The Crucible, Death of A Salesman).
6. Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001). Everything of hers is worth reading, even the collections of her work that cover movies in the 1980s. Don’t settle for that giant anthology. Hunt down all her collections. The best writer of this bunch.
7. William Pechter (b. 1936)
“Liza Minnelli, singing, is, not to put too fine a point on it, the ne plus ultra of tastelessness, a load of loud-mouthed showbiz schmaltz. Like her predecessors in the tradition, Minnelli isn’t a singer but a belter; she doesn’t sing a song, she sells it; and whenever she opens her mouth to sing, in Cabaret or out, it’s strictly Las Vegas. To say that a little of Garland (outside her movies) or Streisand or Minnelli sends me rushing for the antidote of some Irene Kral or Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday is unfairly to load the comparison; one need hardlly go to jazz to find a musical style and level of musicianship to use as a stick to beat Minnelli’s and Streisand’s with. The fact is their music is less musical than histrionic: every song becomes either a big, get-happy production number or a miniature tragedy. Nor is it a question of unfairly judging one style by the standards of another. The Garland-Streisand-Minnelli style, trading as is does in trumped-up emotions, is, in itself, an artistically corrupt one.” – 1972. There are two collections of his work, Movies Plus One and Twenty-Four Times A Second. My second favorite film critic, after Kael.

The three greatest non-fiction books in the world, according to me:
1. The Gulag Archipelago Volume 1, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The “Red” volume. Depressing. Walks you through your arrest by the Cheka. For no reason at all, other than maybe you were ratted out by your neighbor while under torture, just to make the nut-stomping stop.
2. The Gulag Archipelago Volume 2, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The “Black” volume. “None blacker.” Volume 1 ends by warning that everything is about to get worse, and he’s not kidding! I had to put together a Marx Brothers film festival (staying roughly in the time period covered) to lift my spirits. Early Warner Brothers cartoons and Marx Brothers films: the only antidote to this crushing volume.
3. The Gulag Archipelago Volume 3, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Volume 3. The “White” volume. Thrilling, and yes, depressing. Describes revolts in the prisons of the Gulag, as well as escape attempts from them. Where could anybody escape to, in Soviet Russia? Nowhere, you coddled, candy-ass Westerner. Solzhenitsyn’ description of his exile, after 8 years in the Gulag, and the day, early in his exile, when they learned that Stalin died, are some of the best sections in all three volumes.

Some of my favorite quotes. As you can see, Gulag made him cranky!

“Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig”

“Both in the camps and in exile, whispered rumors of an amnesty flourished. People have a remarkable capacity for pig-headed credulity.”

Tape Recorders and Disheveled Girl Friends (!!!)
“The majority of young people could not care less whether we have been rehabilitated or not, whether 12 million people are still inside or are inside no longer; they do not see that it affects them. Just so long as they themselves are at liberty, with their tape recorders and their disheveled girl friends.”

“But then, only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.”

“A human being is all hope and impatience.”

Quoting I.S. Karpunich-Braven, a brigade commander in the civil war: “It is not enough to love mankind – you must be able to stand people.”

(dear readers, please post your lists in the comment box!)

the top ten lists.

we are a little tired of the top 50 albums, top 20 singles, top readers polls, critics polls blah blah blah this year — they are all the effing same! so here is round one of our non-2008-music-related lists…enjoy…

Top ten male vocalists who can melt the heart by the legendary jim ruiz
1. Marcos Valle
2. Louis Armstrong
3. Keith Girdler
4. Joao Gilberto
5. Ibrahim Ferrer
6. Dandy Livingstone
7. Georgie Fame
8. Edwyn Collins
9. Chet Baker
10. Pierre Barouh

Ten reasons to love/obsess over/stalk Peter Sarsgaard by Uncle LD
10. – 2. Smart, handsome, talented, funny, quirky, great voice, versatile, personable and has an excellent beard.
1. He’s heterosexual, and thus unavailable — and thus infinitely desirable.

The Ten Songs I Listen To Least, Not Including Songs I’ve Never Listened To, According To My I-Tunes by Daniel Handler
1. ZZ Top, “Planet Of Women” from Greatest Hits
2. Zheng Yingsun, “The Empress’s Lament” from Lost Sounds Of The Tao: Chinese Masters of the Guqin
3. Warner Brothers Studio Orchestra, “Puddy Cat Trouble Pt. 6,” from The Carl Stalling Project
4. The Shangri-Las, “Radio Spot #1: How Pretty Can You Get?” from Myrmidons Of Melodrama
5. Louis Armstrong, “Pause Track,” from The Complete Hot Five & Seven Recordings, Disc Three
6. Eric Serra, “Whispering Statues,” from Goldeneye Original Soundtrack
7. Zeena Parkins, “Acoustic and Electric Harps,” from 100 Of The World’s Most Beautiful Melodies
8. Michael Tenzer, “Situ Banda,” from American Works For Balinese Gamelan
9. Lo Pa King, “The Lonely Teal,” from Lost Sounds Of The Tao: Chinese Masters of the Guqin
10. Limahl, “Never Ending Story,” from Living In Oblivion Vol. 2

Bob Stanley’s siesta-themed playlist
1. Love Letters – Ketty Lester
2. Wondrous Place – Billy Fury
3. He Noticed Me – Priscilla Paris
4. Missin’ My Baby – Clydie King
5. All I Wanna Do (from Sunflower, not 20/20)- The Beach Boys
6. Try – John Barry
7. Chanson d’O – Francoise Hardy
8. Sara – Fleetwood Mac
9. Oh My Love – John Lennon
10. Amore Come Dolore – Ennio Morricone

favourite cemeteries of 2008 by stephen coates / the real tuesday weld
1. nunhead (london)
2. pere le chaise (paris)
3. bunhill fields (london)
4. highgate (london)
5. montmartre (paris)
6. allied war grave (meuse argonne)
7. abney park (london)
8. postman’s park (london)
9. mausoleum of augustus (rome)
10. catacombs (paris)

Ten comics that I will always buy to give to friends when I find them in a bargain bin by clarissa cf
1. Amy Unbounded
2. Clan Apis
3. Tales of the Beanworld
4. Zot!
5. The first dozen issues of Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 4
6. The issue of Batman Adventures whose plot revolves around Batman never having seen “In the Realm of the Senses”
7. Finder
8. Journey
9. Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman
10. The Brendan McCarthy issue of Solo

Ten best bread-based snacks by lauren cf
1. plum tomato, avocado, and torn basil with ground black pepper on crusty
white bread
2. poached salmon and horseradish on grainy brown bread
3. hot white bread toast with lots of butter
4. vintage cheddar (irish) with branston pickle on french bread
5. manchego with quince on walnut bread
6. hummous and roasted red pepper in a ciabatta
7. crayfish, rocket, mayo and lemon juice on whole meal bread
8. gentleman’s relish on cold brown toast
9. feta, black olive and marinated artichoke hearts tomato on toasted ciabatta
10. smoked salmon with ground black pepper, lemon juice and cream cheese in
a plain bagel

favorite songs in 2008 that were not from 2008 by james mcnew / yo la tengo/dump
1. “depression,” black flag
2. “b.y.s.,” gang starr
3. “jeffrey i hear you,” the girls
4. “who am i today,” yura yura teikoku
5. “enter the mirror,” les rallizes desnudes
6. “i’ll bet you,” billy butler
7. “daniel,” tortoise & bonnie prince billy
8. “girls in their summer clothes,” bruce springsteen
9. “ah! melody,” serge gainsbourg
10. “everything flows,” teenage fanclub

the unlikely heroes crush list 2008 by gail cf
1. just like the rest of america, I cannot get enough of dr. gregory house as played by hugh laurie. he is such a jerk but you gotta love him. unlike the rest of america, I’ve seen him in his earlier work (like jeeves & wooster, where he is very funny but infinitely less crushworthy). at the moment dr house is tied with captain von trapp, my other new/old crush.
2. I don’t even remember what I’ve seen adam arkin in that got me all excited. northern exposure? perhaps. chicago hope? maybe. tv is all well and good but he’s going to waste in these small endeavors. why can’t he be a leading man for once? just look at that salt and pepper hair.
3. chris eigeman, once celebrated as the steve malkmus of whit stillman films, went missing around the same time that whit stillman did. he resurfaced on the gilmore girls (another reason to love those girls) but where is he now? someone give the man some proper work!
4. c.k. dexter haven, as played by cary grant in the philadelphia story, is very badly behaved yet you root for him. the movie’s message wouldn’t fly in this day and age but he is still more fun to watch than any of today’s romantic leads.
5. joel mccrea may have starred in many westerns over many decades, but it’s the preston sturges movies that I love. go buy the box set or at least rent sullivan’s travels.
6. okay, stop laughing. yes, topher grace did star on that 70s show, but he is destined for much greater roles. I hope! I think he has something there.
7. I got hooked on bbc productions of various classics whilst living in london and one person who stood out is the so-manly-it’s-scary actor richard armitage, who is particularly good and manly in the recent-ish robin hood among other period dramas, where he is usually dark, brooding and misunderstood.
8. matthew slaughter was my favorite character played by hal hartley mainstay martin donovan. I even got to interview marty d once when I worked for timeout newyork and he was starting a new tv show. but where has he gone? where have all the indie films like trust gone? I miss them.
9. richard jenkins played the dead, dysfunctional father on six feet under, but I barely noticed because I was too busy staring at peter krause. now krause is on a silly tv show and jenkins starred in the visitor, the film of the year or at least the american film of the year. see it.
10. I did not approve of alec baldwin’s embarrassing phone message to his daughter that got him in trouble a while back, but I believe he has tortured himself sufficiently over it (see his new yorker profile) — and plus, he has just been so damn funny on 30 rock that I forgave him. he never floated my boat back when he was younger but he even looks cute puffy (just like james spader looks cute and puffy these days). of course I wish tina fey and I were friends (tina please hire me!), but the 30 rock cast member that I actually do/did/would run into is the trucker-cap-sporting judah friedlander, who I recently waited for the toilet with at angelica kitchen. I bet he goes to max fish.

Top Reasons I Hit The Snooze Button Every Morning by kendall jane meade / mascott
1. Just five more minutes
2. Late night mindless cable watching
3. I’ll just go to the gym after work
4. Just ten more minutes
5. Attempt at creative visualization
6. Attempt at re-entering really good dream
7. Beauty Sleep
8. Late night mindless facebook crap
9. Horrible Duane Reade-bought alarm sound
10. Just 15 more minutes

Top Ten Bedridden Fictional Characters… by Dickon Edwards
1. Colin in The Secret Garden (who is much more like me than the Dickon in the book)
2. Charlie’s three other grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
3. Michael Gambon’s character in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective
4. Michael Gambon’s character in Stephen Poliakoff’s Perfect Strangers.
5. Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – who goes to bed for so long he changes into a woman.
6. Julianne Moore in The Hours – who dreams of drowning in bed after reading a book by the above Ms Woolf.
7. Angela Lansbury and her NON-drowning underwater bed in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
8. Johnny Depp eaten by an unkind mattress in Nightmare on Elm Street
9. Lyta Hall in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, off to kill Dream in her dreams.
10. David Tennant’s Doctor in ‘Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion’, saving the world with a satsuma in his pyjamas.

Ten best places to eat in Oxford by peter momtchiloff / the would-be-goods, scarlet’s well, les clochards
1. Al-Shami (Lebanese)
2. Carne (Brazilian)
3. Al-Andalus (tapas)
4. Liaison (Chinese)
5. Branca (Mediterranean)
6. Chiang Mai (Thai)
7. Red Star (noodles)
8. La Cucina (Italian)
9. Edamame (Japanese)
10. Dildunia (Indian)

Ten best things about the movie ‘Twilight’ by emma straub
1. Robert Pattinson’s gravity-defying hair.
2. Catherine Hardwicke’s creepily good eye for teenage misery.
3. Casual reference to Debussy.
4. The hot teenage vampire drives a Volvo.
5. She’s still a virgin at the end, and totally pissed about it.
6. Robert Pattinson’s completely bizarre American accent, which is neither Pacific Northwest nor anywhere else.
7. Vampires turn into glitter in the sun?
8. Mom ran off with a minor league baseball player. Really?
9. The mean vampire is also the bad seed from ‘The O.C.’, another world I loved that made little sense in its final moments.
10. Werewolves coming up next!

Ten best secret pie ingredients by candice pedersen
1. Graham cracker crumbs (crust)
2. Nutmeg for (savory pies)
3. Vodka (crust)
4. Crystalized ginger (fruit pies)
5. Orange zest (fruit pies)
6. Apple cider (apple pie)
7. Animal crackers (crust)
8. Sherry (savory pies)
9. Grated Granny Smith apple (blueberry pie)
10. King Arthur flours

chickfactor top ten holiday records.

it’s the time of year when, as crazy old phil spector goes back to his murder trial with yet another crazy hairstyle, we should remember the absolute genius of the man. I don’t know why but this year I have been infected with holiday spirit and here’s my playlist that keeps me sane while I pour the soy eggnog over the maker’s mark — yum.

1. a christmas gift for you from phil spector. highlights: ‘marshmallow world’ and ‘christmas (baby please come home)’ by darlene love. buy it here
2. vince guaraldi trio, a charlie brown christmas. I went to a real-life christmas pageant last week and it was amazingly reminiscent of this classic jazzy collection.
3. the pogues and kirsty maccoll, ‘fairy tale of new york’. living in the UK, one hears this song over the holidays hundreds of times, in pubs, in shops, on tv, etc. drunk brits select the track at karaoke following falling-down-drunk xmas lunches. good old shane used to be my neighbor in london, and kirsty (rest in peace) was one of my favorite lady songwriters ever. be like a proper brit and learn the lyrics and sing along or watch it here.
4. pytor illych tchaikovsky: the nutcracker suite. nothing says magic like the dance of the sugarplum fairies. if you have a chance to go to the ballet, oh do.
5. the pines, christmas EP, especially ‘chalet’ and ‘high street’. southeast london’s brightest folk-pop stars made an EP that really should have topped the billboard charts, if people weren’t stupidly buying other dumb things like *christmas with toby keith*, or *shania twain sings the holiday classics* or *hannah montana: what a dork*. hear it here, here and here.
6. the flaming lips, ‘white christmas’. just like wayne coyne himself, this version is warped, whimsical and wonderful. the only band that’s ever mattered from oklahoma city has also made their own kooky holiday film: buy their christmas on mars DVD here.
7. low, ‘just like christmas’. the first time I saw low, I had to walk through like three feet of snow to get there and when I did get there, the poor dears had just driven 17 hours to get to nyc and there were just three of us in the audience (and one was their then-A&R woman). they are a very wintery band indeed! here’s a lovely track.
8. jens lekman, ‘maple leaves’. it’s not a christmas song you say? but surely it almost is.
9. aztec camera, ‘walk out to winter’. our man roddy — he used to be so great.
10. robert gordon or elvis presley, ‘blue christmas’. here is elvis singing the holiday classic. I kind of prefer robert gordon’s — he’s a classic rockabilly dude I used to see tons when I was small.
runners up:
11. kiki & herb, do you hear what we hear? if you can track down the xmas song stephin merritt wrote for them, hear it. best idea: go see kiki & herb (oh, wait, did they split up?) at xmastime, preferably not at a big fancy venue like queen elizabeth hall but a cozy place like fez. oh, that used to cheer me up.
12. vashti bunyan, winter is blue.
okay people, tell me what I forgot! what are your faves?

chessie: the chickfactor interview.

ben and stephen chessie.

chickfactor turns 16 this summer and it’s hard not to think back to the old days of the d.c. indie scene where we found inspiration for the magazine. one of the ubiquitous creatures on the scene in those days was stephen gardner, a lanky kid who played in lorelei and later went on to form chessie, first on his own and later with ben bailes. despite being hailed by the new york times as having made one of 2001’s best albums, chessie remains far too unknown. you should go and get on a train with some chessie in your ears. (oh, and lorelei’s matt dingee recently moved back to the D.C. area so they’re on again at least until another member moves away.) we found ourselves digging the train-obsessed duo’s latest recordings and decided to catch up with them….
chickfactor: I think you were the youngest member of the d.c. indiepop scene way back when. what was it like then and how did you get involved?
stephen gardner: well, I started going to shows actively when I was 11 or so, and I owe that mainly to my older twin sisters. They were in the DC punk scene and I adopted their interests in that way that younger siblings do. Luckily, they — and my parents — were cool enough to let me tag along with them to shows and since I was tall for my age (6’2″ by 13), I passed as much older. The other factor that got me involved was that DC’s laws allow venues to be all-ages and there were tons of shows at churches or other public spaces, mostly put on by other kids. I didn’t realize how special this was until I spent a summer in San Francisco as a 20-year-old and realized I couldn’t go to venues. I was shocked. Also, I’d be remiss if didn’t give credit to Dischord records and for the punk scene of mid to late 80s in DC for making it seem totally possible to be in a band and do something that mattered on your own terms.
As for what it was like, I’m the youngest in my family, so I suppose it felt totally natural to be the youngest at shows or out with friends. Also, being tall helped me to never really feel totally out of place — by 12, I was taller than most adults. I also was surrounded by older people in other areas too, as I started working at skate shop when I was 12 and then a record store by 14, and i was always the youngest there, so I just learned to adapt.
cf: chessie was a one-man act for a long time. why change and become a duo? tell us about ben.
stephen: Ben Bailes and I are old friends from middle school/high school. He was one of the few drummers at our school and actually briefly played with lorelei during one of many line-ups in the first 6 months of being a band. We stayed in touch over the years as he got involved in audio engineering and he liked the first chessie record. I was working on the second album, Meet, while at college and he had just moved to NY to work as an engineer and we arranged for him to come up to engineer a session. We did a couple of songs together and had a blast. Our skill sets complemented each other really well and we had a deep trust from years of friendship. Next Ben and some other friends joined me for a tour as Chessie and after that, I think it was clear that we’d be doing this as a project together, with him expanding into the songwriting from just production initially. In the end, my goal with chessie was to always create a compositional process that would lead my ideas to new places and unexpected outcomes — it’s not a pop project, like lorelei, where I’m trying to execute a perfectly defined composition. If I’ve already conceived the outcome of a song in full, than there’s little point in proceeding. At first, I tried to reach this goal by using processes that took my ideas out of my own hands, like using unsynchronized tapes loops and other techniques that would introduce chance into the compositions. But, in Ben, I found the perfect partner to take my ideas and have them realized in profoundly different and exciting ways. Turns out another human is the best way to introduce chance into your songwriting.
cf: does being a train nerd have the same stigma in the US that it does in the UK?
stephen: I dont think so. I think most Americans don’t have a clue that there are millions of “railfans” out there and I doubt they’d care much if they did. Certainly, the culture is different as well, as the US has lots of rail photographers and history buffs, but very few of the UK’s trainspotters who record every passing passenger car and locomotive. US railfans are an oddity, but not particularly annoying, as they seem to be portrayed in the UK.
cf: was your musical path affected by the new york times endorsement?
stephen: Not the slightest. We been blessed with lots of critical acclaim and almost no record sales or personal attention. So, we just carry on as if none of that really exists, working in our basement studio as time permits.
cf: do you still have a turntable and if so what’s on it?
stephen: Yes. The Huck-a-Bucks “chronic breakdown” 2xLP — a classic mid-90s go-go record. Like all DC kids, I love the go-go and if you listen closely, you’ll hear a go-go break or two on at least one track on every chessie record.
cf: we hear you just got married — congrats! can you tell us a little about the bachelor party?
stephen: Ok, this is pretty nerdie. A group of friends and I rented an old railway caboose that is in use as a portable campsite on a railroad in West Virginia. They attach the caboose to the end of a train and drop the caboose deep in the woods next to a river on a side track where you can camp for a few days and then come pick you up. It was heaven.
cf: do you dream of trains?
stephen: Sometimes, yes. Mostly, I dream of everyday situations that are slightly altered. Since my day job is working with railways, they are often featured.
cf: what makes you sad about the way music has changed (formats, sounds, etc)? or is nostalgia for the baby boomers?
stephen: This list could be a long one but beyond the normal rant about the horrors of mp3s, the loss of vinyl, the end of hand-made flyers, I’m mostly just sad that music feels pretty irrelevant now amidst all of the other competing media. I know that the days when going over to a friend’s to listen to records was an entertaining and exciting way to spend a few hours are over for most of America.
listen to chessie here.