June 17, 6:52 p.m.
2 Train, Nevins St. to Grand Army Plaza
News for June 2010
On Board #74
June 17, 6:52 p.m.
Each one of these U.S. maps from Michael Crawford are more amusing than the last. Here, Oklahoma fears another Dust Bowl:
This Week's Best Profile – The Trophy Son
Among the thanks I can offer to my father this week, not putting any sporting pressure on my young body is among the top. Perhaps my will-o’-the-wisp frame led him to make the right decision, but point is, the rewards are minimal. See this, from 1998:
The injustice of it all finally brought Mr. Rutherford to express himself again. Mrs. Rutherford, because of her work with the football programs, had been asked to help organize a farewell book for the graduating seniors. There would be ads from parents wishing their children the best — Kyle’s would be one of the few full-page ads — and there would be “wills,” in which seniors would take parting shots at those they were leaving behind.
The wills were supposed to be exclusively from seniors, but Mr. Rutherford later confessed to authoring two anonymous bequests. One, “to all football parents,” offered the number of a good real estate agent: “Call 444-MOVE!!!” Another left Coach Hooks “a new set of earplugs so you can’t hear the other coaches in the district laughing at you.”
Mr. Rutherford also had a suggestion for Kyle’s will. As Mrs. Rutherford recalled, Kyle said, “But Coach Hooks will get mad, won’t he?”
“Well, what can he do to you?” asked Mr. Rutherford. “You’re out of school. You’ll never see him again.”
“Well, okay,” Kyle said, and he sat down to write the will that would change his life. To one comrade, he left “some of my blazing speed”; to another, “some of my smarts I don’t use”; and to a third, a can of Skoal. And just as his daddy told him, Kyle wrote, “To Coach Hooks, I leave a $40,000 debt. I figure you cost me that much with your 37 season.”
Parents going off the deep end, and ruining a kid’s childhood, here.
The following is a beach house listing on CraigsList:
$1,000 wk/8BR — Come enjoy beautiful East Hampton this summer! Awesome beach house just steps from ocean, with fabulous views throughout. New Weber grill. Plenty of rooms to sob in. Totally did not just rent this and hope I could find seven other people to spend the summer with me. Tennis nearby.
Interested renters inquire here.
On Board #73
August 4, 6:36 p.m.
B Train – 42nd Street to 96th Street
Few subway-related struggles seem worse than dealing with a stroller, a friend recently noted. True, I thought, except for handling a child just large enough to make a stroller unreasonable. Here we have a mother and a stroller. The stroller holds two children, but she pays them no attention, with good reason: her focus is on another child, around six, busily applying a black marker to a subway pole. Mom snatches the marker and gives a lecture in Spanish. Roughly translated:
Mom: Stop that. You need to draw on your paper.
Girl: [Throws yellow paper to the floor. One side is covered in lines and shapes, the other with an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant.] No! No! No!
Mom has had a long day: brow furrowed, eyes locked on points unknown around the car, mouth forming an unwavering horizontal line. She holds a red mesh shopping bag next to her with a baby’s bottle, roll of toilet paper and cell phone sticking out of the top. She checks the phone, quickly.
The girl leans into her mother’s arm.
“Ewwww,” she spouts.
“That’s what perfume smells like,” Mom answers, in English, without a hint of sheepishness.
There is a second stroller in the car that might alleviate some of the crying if it weren’t tucked behind the two children, out of view. A man in a black polo and jeans holds a yellow cage that looks like a see-through rolling suitcase. Inside is a Yorkshire terrier that keeps still, though its open eyes betray that it’s awake. The man folds the extended handle and picks up the cage as he exits the car, the three children never the wiser.
The girl has moved from graffiti to gymnastics. She lays on her back, her head resting awkwardly at a 45 degree angle on her mother’s lap. She sticks her legs straight up, then spreads them like a reverse jumping jack. As a final flourish, she wraps her knees around the horizontal bar and pulls her torso up into a human arch.
“Look, I spit in the train,” the girl says as she, sure enough, spits in the train.
“Don’t do that,” her mother finally snaps, giving her a mild slap on the wrist. “That’s disgusting.”
The girl turns to face an ad for Dallas BBQ. Though she does not comment on the leathery texture of it’s brisket, she does begin reciting the letters she recognizes in the poster, in no particular order.
“That’s not the right order,” Mom says, in her best teaching voice.
The girl stops and recites the alphabet from a to t, then hums an indistinguishable tune. She’s too busy for u, v, w, x, y, and z.
This Week's Best Profile (If We Only Count Profile's I Wrote) – Janelle Monae
Suddenly, Monae emerged from beneath one of the cloaks and jumped into a bursting tribal beat from her then un-released new album, “The ArchAndroid.” She and her troupe blitzed through regimental marches and jangly dance numbers. Then, just before the encore, Monae’s perfectly coiffed pompadour exploded into a shower of individual strands. She paused as the music hit an instrumental interlude, brushing the hairs out of her face and attempting to corral them with a few bobby pins.
After a moment, perhaps realizing the crowd had reached a frenzy over her new look, she let the strands fall, offered a quick smile and went on.
For the bloggin’ community – the titles of great novels, SEO’d:
8 Surprising Ways West Egg Is Exemplary Of The Hollowness Of The American Dream
Animal Farm, Catcher in the Rye, and more, here.
A rising star
By Reeves Wiedeman
Kansas City Star
June 12, 2010
NEW YORK | Janelle Monae, a neo-soul/hip-hop songstress from Wyandotte County, wears a strictly regimented outfit to all public appearances. Part Yves St. Laurent, part James Brown, she dons a tuxedo, saddle shoes and bow tie and wears her hair styled into a towering cliff-like pompadour.
Before her performance last month at New York’s Highline Ballroom, the first of back-to-back-to-back sold-out shows in the city, a man in similar dress — tails and a top hat — walked to the microphone.
“This is an emotion picture, produced, directed and performed … ” he announced, pausing dramatically, “ … by Janelle Monae.”
Three cloaked figures stepped on stage, their backs turned to the audience. The hype had been building in New York for months: Hip-hop impresario Diddy, who signed Monae to his Bad Boy record label, called her “possibly the most important signing of my career.”
Suddenly, Monae emerged from beneath one of the cloaks and jumped into a bursting tribal beat from her new album, “The ArchAndroid.” The set was blitzing through regimental marches and jangly dance numbers when, suddenly, Monae’s perfectly coiffed pompadour exploded into a shower of individual strands. She paused as the music hit an instrumental interlude, brushing the hairs out of her face and attempting to corral them with a few bobby pins.
After a moment, perhaps realizing the crowd was in a frenzy over her new look, she let the strands fall, offered a quick smile and went on. The exploding hairdo — “It happens,” she says later, “depending on how well I pin it up.” — is an irresistible metaphor for Monae’s career, which seems on the verge of blowing up, in a good way.
Her latest album is executive-produced by hip-hop powerhouses Diddy and Big Boi, and she has been lauded by tastemakers as indie as the kingmaking music website Pitchfork and as established as Anna Wintour, who has featured Monae in the pages of Vogue three times.
At 24, Monae has built an underground career on her own terms and with her own style. Now the question is, can a tuxedo-wearing black girl from KCK who sings about androids become a pop star?
“You have to know who you are,” she said recently from her new home in Atlanta. “First you start swimming, then you learn to backstroke, then you learn a flip. I know where I’m trying to go, and I’m not sitting around waiting for someone to make things happen for me.”
In 2008, Monae released her first solo EP, “Metropolis,” the opening chapter in a planned concept album about the life of Cindi Mayweather, an android messiah. The EP was named after Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 sci-fi film, in which Monae recognized a bit of her old KCK neighborhood in the movie’s underground masses constantly oppressed by the powerful forces of the Metropolis.
She ended the EP’s driving dance tune, “Many Moons,” with a recitation — staccato, like gunshots — of the ills that afflicted many of her friends and neighbors: crack, welfare, Jim Crow, HIV, “lost hope.”
“A lot of people I grew up with who sang because they couldn’t find outlets, they’d get into trouble: doing drugs, committing crimes or getting killed,” Monae says. “Not having a place to get your talent out, that’s frustrating.”
Monae grew up near 21st Street and Quindaro Boulevard, the daughter of a janitor (her mom) and a postal worker (her stepfather). Along with her best friend, Kinshasa Smith, she traveled the area performing in talent shows: at 13, the pair won $500 singing “My Life” by Mary J. Blige.
At Schlagle High School, Monae joined the choir and began performing in school plays, starring as Cinderella and playing Dorothy in “The Wiz.” (Similarities to one of that musical’s original stars have not gone unnoticed. One music critic wrote that Monae “seems to be channeling Michael Jackson’s versatility.”)
“We were always singing, and we always wanted to be different,” Smith says. “Whatever anyone else was doing, we were doing the opposite.”
Seeing few opportunities for a singer in Kansas City, Monae moved to New York and enrolled in the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, where she studied musical theater. But again she was disappointed, this time by the limited musical roles available to black women on Broadway — “The Lion King,” “Aida” and not much else — and moved south, to Atlanta.
The early days of hip-hop were dominated by artists out of New York and Los Angeles, but the genre’s power balance has shifted southward over the past decade, specifically to Atlanta. Rap titans Ludacris, T.I. and Young Jeezy hail from the area, and when Monae arrived she found a welcome, if small-time audience while playing shows in dorm lounges at the city’s triumvirate of black colleges.
One night, in 2005, Monae went to an open mic night at an Atlanta restaurant owned by Diddy. She sang Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” received a standing ovation and walked off stage, where she felt a tug on her arm. It was Big Boi, one half of the eccentric, chart-topping hip-hop duo OutKast. He wanted to sign Monae to Purple Ribbon, his record label.
When Monae met Big Boi, she was a fairly conventional R&B singer. Photos and video from those years make it hard to distinguish her vocal and sartorial choices from the Mary J. Bliges and Brandys she grew up listening to. She appeared in this form on a Purple Ribbon compilation, and the soundtrack for OutKast’s 2006 musical, “Idlewild,” but Monae knew she needed something unique to prove she wasn’t a cookie-cutter R&B crooner.
“When I figured out that I could take this to another level, being exposed to lots of science fiction, and loving alternative worlds, I thought that a concept album could make a strong statement,” Monae says. “I can create a world.”
Thus, her new wardrobe and the “Metropolis” suite. The “ArchAndroid” tells the middle two chapters in Cindi Mayweather’s four-part life, and the futuristic motif is in full force (her stage show includes footage of Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader).
Monae’s quirkiness has helped make her a critical darling, not unlike OutKast: That duo’s 2000 single, “B.O.B.,” was named the best song of the decade by Pitchfork, while its 2003 album, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” sold more than 11 million copies.
But sales for Monae’s first EP were counted in the thousands, not millions.
Now, the girl from KCK appears on the verge of breaking out. Early buzz about her album was positive, and the video for “Tightrope” has been viewed 750,000 times on YouTube. Time Out New York speculated, in reference to Monae: “If anyone’s going to give Gaga a run for her money…” But the video for Lady Gaga’s latest single, “Telephone,” has been viewed more than 80 million times.
On the one hand, Gaga provides a model for success: the quirky pop star whose fashion choices provide as many headlines as her songs. On the other, Gaga’s songs are, in many ways, more conventionally pop than Monae’s. Monae’s songs rarely mention clubs or boys, and her lyrics are more likely to investigate identity and encourage empowerment than linger on sex and bling.
On “Tightrope,” Monae sings, “They trying to take all your dreams/ But you can’t allow it” and pronounces “Ain’t no equivocating/ I fight for what I believe.”
But those same songs are also immediately catchy. Her voice wouldn’t be out of place on a classic Motown record, yet she has supercharged the beats and spits quick rhymes equal to any Atlanta emcee (“I tip on alligators and little rattle snakers / But I’m another flavor/ something like a Terminator”).
It takes a certain ear for pop hooks and melodies to turn quirk — see Prince or Bowie, both of whom Monae cites as influences — into pop success, and like “1999” or “Let’s Dance,” Monae’s album is dance-ready. The Artist himself was spotted at one of her shows in Minneapolis. Of Monae he has said simply, “She’s so smart.”
If Monae doesn’t crest this wave of hype, it won’t be for lack of trying. She has appeared on MTV, traveled the U.S. and Europe for shows and photo shoots, and tweets daily. (These tweets are interspersed with more ethereal pronouncements, like “Dr. Stephen Hawking is my muse,” or, simply, “Time traveling.”)
Monae closed her spring promotional tour with a show at Joe’s Pub, a nightclub operated by New York’s upper crust Public Theater. She released fliers to the audience printed with “Ten Droid Commandments” (“No. II: If you see your neighbor jamming harder than you, covet his or her jam”). Dinner tables covered with gourmet sandwiches surrounded the stage, a fact she maligned on Twitter: “Tables and seats ruin experience. Trust me.”
The man in the top hat appeared again. “Beware,” he announced. “Ms. Monae has been known to step on sandwiches in the front row.”
Sure enough, three songs into the set, Monae two-stepped precariously on a table. Her dancers waded into the crowd, lifting audience members out of their seats by the armpits. Water guns were sprayed into the crowd. A pillow fight broke out.
And Monae’s hair exploded yet again, this time as she leaped into “Faster,” a blistering dance tune from the new album. Throughout the three-minute song, Monae was sprinting in place, as the crowd joined in. She barely broke stride.
This Week's Best Profile – Messi
He’s the best soccer player in the world. His coach is one of the best players, ever. Joy and tension have ensued:
Lionel Messi is not happy. Why is not clear at first, because, as all Spain knows on this cool, sparkling November day, the 22-year-old Argentine soccer god should be ecstatic. Last night his club team, Barcelona, beat archrival Real Madrid before a home crowd of 90,000, and tomorrow looks to be even better: Word has leaked that Messi will be awarded the Golden Ball as 2009 European Footballer of the Year. His annual income, including endorsements, is $46 million. His team is dominating La Liga, the Spanish first division. His game is rounding into breathtaking form.
Still, look at him: hunched in a chair like a kid hauled into the principal’s office, pausing after each question to glance at his manager-brother, Rodrigo, as if to say, Can you get me out of here? Now? The clock is ticking: This is shaping up to be the worst Q and A in history.
Adidas had offered up its soccer show pony for a 30-minute chat, but once it became clear that the discussion would touch on the Argentine national team and its tempestuous coach, Diego Maradona, a coolness set in. The 30 minutes were abruptly slashed to 15, and Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.
“What’s tiresome,” he says in Spanish, “is always being asked the same question.”
S.L. Price delivers this good primer for the World Cup. For some historical context, try these articles from The New Yorker archive. Also, this video didn’t blow me away at first. But it repays repeated viewings: