Monday, June 16, 2014

i was your silver lining, but now i'm gold

"People always want to know about the past, but I'm much more interested in tomorrow." 

Ultra Violet (born Isabelle Collin Dufresne), the French-born artist known for being a muse to both Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, passed away on Saturday at the age of 78. I admittedly am not familiar by heart with her story, as when I read about the Factory my eyes were often clouded with thoughts of Edie Sedgwick, but I have always admired Ultra Violet's art, her candor, and (of course) her indulgence in stylistic eccentricities. She was an immense beauty -- her features call to mind Vivien Leigh and Ava Gardner -- but she always subverted her classic look by pulling strange expressions in photographs or sporting electric hair hues like violet or lilac (according to Warholian legend, her vivid hair was the inspiration for her name 'Ultra Violet'). A tremendous artist in her own right, Ultra Violet was known for her relations with fellow artists like Warhol, Dali (of her time as his muse and pupil, she once said, "I realized that I was 'surreal,' which I never knew until I met Dali"), John Chamberlain, Marcel Duchamp, and Damien Hirst, as well as affairs with dancer Rudolf Nureyev, director Milos Forman, and artist Ed Ruscha.
There was an exhibit this year staged at the Dillon Gallery in Manhattan called "Ultra Violet: The Studio Recreated," which recreated her Chelsea studio in the form of an installation. It featured dozens of her artworks, plus personal items -- books, albums, mementos from throughout her life. Even though I knew it was an art piece, wandering around the gallery I couldn't help but feel how intensely personal an experience it was. In one of the last acts of her life, Ultra Violet granted access into her sanctuary of creation, allowing a brief glimpse into a great mind. 

"Fame is somewhat legitimate. People want to be God. People want to be remembered. People want to live in eternity." 

Title: from "Silver Lining" (Rilo Kiley)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tattoo You: Janis Joplin

I hate discussing my generation, the 'Millennials' -- not because I am ashamed to be a part of them (quite the opposite in fact, I think we're rather rad), but because it is such an exhausted topic. Critics, commentators and others of the same ilk have examined, analyzed and attempted to characterize us, to fit literally millions into a tight definition. This is something that occurs in every generation: the older folks warning that their successors will lead this world into galloping ruin. One trend that many who have written about this particular demographic have made note of is the more common acceptance of tattoos. I really love this discussion, because so many dismiss it as body ink becoming 'trendy'. Instead of celebrating how many more people embrace tattoos -- as a way to adorn your body, to celebrate your personhood in a way, to mark a moment in your life -- these people seem to prefer when tattoos were imbued with a certain meaning in regards to class/profession/general station in life. In the olden days, tattoos were marks of people on the fringes of society, people who couldn't be hemmed by rules of respectability. Those who had ink and wanted to be seen as 'proper' had to hide their body art (my grandfather, for example, has never acknowledged the design on his upper arm he got done during his sailor days).

I have tattoos myself, so perhaps I am a bit biased, but why do so many people point to the wider acceptance of tattoos as something to be critical of? The most frequent thing I hear is that I will regret them when I'm old, 'they'll look so weird when your skin ages.' Well, my skin itself will look weirder when it ages (should I cut off all my skin? Live out my twilight years as a living skeleton or something?) so I'm none too concerned about that. Also, I'm so excited because I envision myself and friends as a bunch of grannies all tatted up, and that frankly sounds AWESOME to me. I've written about body art a lot -- a few years back I wrote a little thing on DRG when I was considering whether or not to get one (ahh, youth) and more recently I talked to some girls for Teen Vogue about what it was like for them to get inked, but I wanted to highlight people I admire who have gotten tattoos. Some modern day, but more often those who got them before the body art renaissance (due to this blog's nature as a RETRO-oriented entity).

I wanted to start with Janis Joplin because she was one of the first super-influential celebrities to advocate tattoos, and also because her ink is so in-keeping with her personal style (i.e. it's BEAUTIFUL and ENVY-INDUCING). 

A few looks at Janis's beautiful Florentine bracelet design

Of her ink, Janis has been quoted as saying, "I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends. Just a little treat for the boys, like icing on the cake." Though Janis only spoke of two tattoos -- a Florentine bracelet design (which, according to this nifty article, is also a symbol of female liberation) on her left wrist and a heart on her left breast -- according to her autopsy report (which I feel really shady about reading, but stumbled upon while doing fact-checking for this post), she had a third design: a small flower near her right heel.  

Only a few glimpses of her small heart design were ever captured in a photo

Lyle Tuttle, Janis's tattoo artist, said about the period of the late 60s & early 70s when celebrities of the counterculture (Janis, Joan Baez, Peter Fonda, Flip Wilson, Cher) started getting tattoos: "Women’s liberation came along, gay liberation came along, kids’ liberation came along. Liberated people [were everywhere]. So then women started getting tattooed, and Janis Joplin, she got tattooed. She ran around at concerts all over the world telling about it. She wrote the best advertisement for tattooing that could ever be written. She got up there, her and her Chihuahua, one time and told them, 'People who get tattooed like to fuck a lot.'"

A rare shot capturing two of Janis's tattoos

With her signature salty humor and beautifully done designs, Janis really ushered in the modern era of body art appreciation, with many of her friends following suit after she got inked. Tuttle also stated in Rolling Stone that after Janis's death in 1970, he gave similar heart tattoos to over a hundred Janis fans in mourning and has continued to replicate for customers eager to pay tribute to their favorite songstress. 

What do you think of Janis's tattoos? Are there any other fab retro icons with enviable ink? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 5: Covers of R&B and Rap Songs

It's definitely not at all noteworthy for someone to say they love music. It's like saying you love to laugh or enjoy fun activities -- it's remarkable if you say you don't like it. But whatever, because that's pretty much what I'm getting at in this post. My love for music often manifests itself in making strange, unnecessary playlists -- they go beyond the run-of-the-mill tracks for showering, running errands or working out, and cover a range from the uncomfortably specific to selections eliciting certain moods (I don't just have a 'sad songs' playlist, I have multiple that relate to several gradations on sadness). I don't know, maybe everyone does this and I am not as precious or special as I'd like to believe. BUT what I'm getting at is that I love making mixes. I make mixes for pretty much everyone I know (if you would like one, drop me a line!) -- if you express even the vaguest of interest in an artist that I like, you can bet I will be making a best-of compilation for you. I've done music playlists in the past (like this one for V-Day 2013), but I want to do them with more frequency so that I can indulge my inherent need to make mix CDs. Which leads me to this post! (Ace transition, if I do say so myself.)
I have a deep affection for covers (which I have been told is weird considering how passionately angry I can get about film remakes, but I suppose that is an entirely different beast) -- particularly versions of songs done by artists with a markedly different sound than the original musician. There's a grand tradition of cross-genre covers: from the Beatles' love for the Shirelles in their early days to Johnny Cash's heartbreaking version of "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails (no lie, I first saw the music video in the student center at my university and I WEPT OPENLY... in front of a lot of people ... for like a really long time). 
One of the reasons that I love the particular trend of translating rap and R&B songs into other musical styles is that there is an additional difficulty of it -- you can't just change the pace of it and have it remain intact. There is a particular rhythm to the songs in these genres that, if neglected, can cause the track to just fall apart. This process requires real innovation. Here are my favorite tracks that really get it right: 

Crazy in Love (Beyoncé) by Seyoncé

It's tough enough to do justice to a track by Queen B -- and when it's a song like "Crazy in Love," with cover versions by everyone from David Byrne to Emeli Sandé, the pressure is on a whole other level. But let me tell you, Seyoncé masters the track with aplomb. (WITH APLOMB, I SAY!) I was introduced to this video by my friend Hannah (of the amazing band The Dirty Boys -- check them out!!) and, let me tell you, it is glorious. The low voice, the moody sound and the fantastically odd and quite genius video, it's a profound obsession of mine. And the name. THE NAME. It's all perfection. I have been assured that there will be future releases from Seyoncé, so we can all rest easy. Honor your soul and watch this video.

Whatever You Like (T.I.) by Anya Marina

If there is one thing I love more than a cover of a rap song, it is a cover of a rap song done by a singer with breathy, delicate vocals. It's called intertextuality, and yeah it's very important. From Nina Gordon's acoustic take on "Straight Outta Compton" to Kanye's "Heartless" becoming an emotional ballad through the piano-charged stylings of Dia Frampton, there's something about the unexpectedness of the pairing that can create some real magic. I really dig Anya Marina's version of this song. So much so that I don't even care too much about admitting that I found it via Gossip Girl (2009 was a dark time for me).

Bitches Ain't Shit (Dr. Dre) by Ben Folds

This is one of the defining tracks of the admittedly niche genre of rap/R&B covers. There's not too much else I can say about it other than if you haven't heard it by now, you're doing yourself a disservice. The piano, the choral accompaniment, the whole vibe works so wonderfully that it is no surprise that countless other artists were inspired to have a go at translating their favorite R&B or rap song into a rock or alternative format after hearing this tune.

99 Problems (Jay-Z) by Hugo

This song is wildly good. Listen to it and you can't believe it works so well. Hugo is signed to Jay-Z's Roc National label, where he is described as "gangsta-rock" -- his bluegrass version of Hova's "99 Problems" solidified his position.

No Diggity (Blackstreet) by Chet Faker

The original track by Blackstreet also featured fellow list-maker Dr. Dre and a collaboration from Queen Pen, and is not only one of the defining songs of the 1990s, but is one of the BEST SONGS OF ALL TIME. (This is not at all a biased opinion. It is a truth universally acknowledged that "No Diggity" is the best.) Klaxons also have a stellar cover of this song, but I love this version of the song for it's almost ambient sound and lounge-y quality. There's a very chilled out atmosphere to this song, due in part to the sound and Chet's particular vocal style (which manages to capture a degree of the intimacy and unpolished texture of the name he pays homage to with his name: Chet Baker). In his hands, "No Diggity" becomes something entirely different.

Are there any rap/R&B covers that you love that you think should make the list? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shop It to Me: Brian Jones, Pretty in Pink

I’ve never been one to wear tons of pinks – being blonde, I always felt wearing the color would give off immediate Barbie connotations. I’ve always loved dark, earthy tones – deep reds, plums, emeralds … shades that evoke darkness, witchiness, general badassery. Wearing something soft and pink was always on the opposite end of the style spectrum for me. But this photo of Brian Jones might be enough to change it all for me.
This is one of my favorite photos of the Stones founder – I actually have a print hanging on the wall in my bedroom. He somehow makes a precious outfit look kind of super badass – I mean, who other than Brian could make a pink cable-knit sweater and boa look sexy? The man is such a mystery to me – yin-yang exemplified in human form: the darkness of his drug addition and womanizing and the lightness of his obsession with trains, storybooks and Winnie the Pooh. How could these extremes of innocence and cruelty ever be reconcilable in one person? But on a strict style basis, these two opposites came together for a really stellar look.
Granted, I don’t have the pageboy haircut to complete this look but I kind of want to give this outfit a try:

First, start with a pink cable-knit sweater like this one, which is currently on sale (all the better!). I went for a slightly darker shade of pink because I’m not sure if I’m quite up for the ballerina vibes I get from Brian’s super-pale sweater. Pair it with a feather boa – I LOVE this one from Groupie Couture so much (I even included it in my holiday gift round-up last year), I am constantly strategizing ways to wear it in outfits. Since most people don’t have many options for purple pants in their wardrobes (another cause of my great sadness for my generation), I suggest investing in a versatile pair of colored denim, like these True Religion skinnies. So at this point, this outfit is very girlish and sweet – but the accessories give the look a supreme edge worthy of a rock star. Brian is wearing some really amazing jewelry – I love his beaded tassel necklace, which I found a modern version of here, and his stone jewelry. I firmly believe big cuff bracelets and statement rings are absolute must-haves for anyone’s wardrobe. Obviously, he must have picked his goods on his travels, but I found a pretty groovy multi-colored cuff from ASOS. Finish off the look with a super sixties pair of round frame sunglasses and I swear, Anita Pallenberg would take one look at you and want to date you. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Defense of Bebe Buell, 'Groupies' and Women in Music

I’ve been a bit touch-and-go with this site for a while now – a combination of moving to a new city, starting a job, trying to figure out how to live a life that makes me happy (all that super pleasant quarterlife crisis stuff!) – but my love for the women I write about and for the gorgeous dolls who read this site has never wavered. I keep your energy and passion with me always, mixing in my heart with everything I’ve loved and admired about the great muses of yesteryear. Because of this, I take it intensely personal when someone tries to slag off on someone I adore. I’m used to it to a certain extent – there are loads of people who criticize these women, calling them ‘groupies’ (as though that’s a bad thing!) and worthless, and basically throw some sort of moral assessment on them that ignores everything else about their amazing lives other than whose arm they were photographed on forty years ago.
I was looking through my comments feed today and found a comment left about a month ago on a post about Bebe Buell. Bebe is a bit of a controversial subject for many in the classic rock fandom. Many moons ago on this site, I mentioned that I liked I’m With the Band better than Rebel Heart purely because Miss Pamela was so forthcoming with the nerdiest facts of her life (I mean, the fart list anyone?) whereas Bebe, who was always a dreamer (something I admire and relate to her about immensely), also has this supreme self-confidence and assuredness in herself that intimidated me when first read her book when I was fourteen and thought I was the foulest creature to ever roam the planet. In my pubescent mind, Bebe was not only on a different level than myself – she was in a different plane of existence.
My little innocuous comment led to a GIANT blowup in the comments section. Bebe’s fans are passionately dedicated to her and will not stand for anyone speaking ill of her, but in that case I was mortified because I always considered myself one of her fans – but in someone else’s eyes I was the enemy!
In the time between that debacle and now, I’ve written about Bebe extensively. Most feedback I’ve seen on these posts are positive comments from people who admire her, love her music, find her infinitely sweet (and she is! She is one of the few people who loves to interact directly with her fans). But the comment I want to discuss came from a post I did over two years ago called “How to be like Bebe Buell.” This is one of my favorite types of posts to do – half serious, half fun, it allows me to indulge in my obsessive behavior about muses and icons. The comment that caught my eye this morning was only two lines and sent by an anonymous poster (what bravery it takes to comment anonymously on the internet!):
I was struck by the ludicrousness of this comment for multiple reasons. Firstly, I like that this person thought I had never heard the term ‘star-fucker’ before. Yes, in my many years being obsessed with groupies I had never once heard them dismissed in a derogatory way with this term. I am enlightened now! I can only imagine the anonymous commenter somehow being led to this site, leaving their snarky comment, and then being horrified by literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER POST on this blog.  
Secondly, the commenter ignores every other aspect of Bebe’s life that makes up her “great legacy” (which I use sarcasm-free). Apparently, a career as a top model, a writer and a recording artist as well as being a single mother and surviving an abusive marriage can be negated if you dated Jimmy Page for a few months when you were nineteen.
But what troubles me most is that this is yet another example of women being shamed for their sexual behavior. I am reminded of a recent piece on xoJane that discusses the public’s tendency to dismiss women due to their romantic pasts. In the article, the author cites the attacks against Mia and Dylan Farrow from defenders of Woody Allen as well as the recent treatment Joyce Maynard has experienced surrounding the release of the film adaptation of her novel Labor Day. For those who don’t know, Maynard had an eleven-month long relationship with J.D. Salinger when she was 18 and the author was 53, and that fact has been exploited by several critics to dismiss her work and her legitimacy as an artist in her own right.
I do not speak for Bebe, but I do speak for myself. For all that we have advanced in terms of a woman’s rights to her body, her sexuality and her identity, there is still a thriving pocket of humanity that thinks that a woman’s romantic choices are acceptable points of argument against her professional legitimacy. I cannot even articulate how troublesome this culture is to me. I feel like in recent months there has been a more open dialogue about female sexuality and the slut-shaming phenomenon – as well as the nature of feminism in general – and I am extremely thankful for that. I just hope that something comes of all this talk and people begin to change their minds and behavior.
I’d like to point out for the record that I know Bebe herself doesn’t consider herself a groupie – she has distanced herself from that term, especially in recent years, because of the loaded connotations of that tag. To close this post, I’ll include an excerpt of a quote from Bebe that was in Miss Pamela’s book Let's Spend the Night Together, from a conversation that revolved around the infamous G-word:
“I’m not upset about the actual word. I would be an idiot to say that I never hung around a rock band, didn’t date a rock star, or marry one, or see a lot of music in my life. Because it’s who I am, that’s part of me. But I’m not going to let somebody call me stupid, judgmental names either. […] Everybody’s a little bit of a groupie anyway. We’re all fans of something.” 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

the being known as wonder girl

It's an odd thing, mourning the loss of someone you never knew -- and yet so much of our culture revolves around it. We grieve for those whose worlds never intersected with our own, and yet our lives were touched by their very existence. Samantha Juste was one of the girls who really ignited within me a passion for the culture of the 1960s. Early on in my teenage years, I would pour over photographs of her and try to mimic her dolly eye makeup, in hopes of capturing some of her magic. I cannot even count the number of biographies I've read -- about countless musicians -- that mention Samantha, how she influenced the culture of the 1960s and how she cared for and protected artists. In her modeling photos, she had an infectious energy that elevated simple magazine editorials into a whole happening. She truly was "the being known as wonder girl."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

i got a woman, stay drunk all the time

In honor of my unwavering LUV (in the full Shangri-Las sense of the word) for Led Zeppelin, I wanted to put up a tribute for Jimmy Page on his birthday about the great love affair of his life. No, it wasn't Miss Pamela or Lori Lightning. It wasn't even a girl at all. It was -- plot twist! -- Jack Daniels.

I have an intense love for photos of rock stars drinking copious amounts of booze. Yeah, sure, there's a level of badassery to them -- evidence of the hard-partying world of rock'n'roll that I can't help but dream at night about joining. But frankly I just love seeing famous people shitfaced. In the name of SERIOUS JOURNALISM I took the liberty of scouring through the internet to find photos of Jimmy Page living out Ke$ha lyrics with his bottle of Jack. Of the famous image of Jimmy with his head back chugging from the bottle, Neal Preston (the lucky photographer who captured the image in 1975, top row center of the above collage) said: "The bottle stayed up in the air for what seemed like eternity. Normally I would have shot a whole motor-drive sequence of photos, but I only took one frame. I guess that photo says a lot."

Title: "Hey Hey What Can I Do" (Led Zeppelin)