Somewhere around the age of 40, I began to refer to myself as “old”. I was working in an industry (food writing) that was beginning to skew younger and younger and I unconsciously began using “old” to differentiate myself. I’ve also used “old” when trying to explain my involvement in the alternative music sub-culture; sometimes it’s just easier to tell a (young) mainstream person that I’m “an old punk” as opposed to trying to explain the growth of the early 80’s post-punk music scene (and all of its different offshoots) into Goth and Industrial music as an identifier for who I am, all while trying to make it clear that I’m not a Green Day fan.
Heck, the tag line for this website is even “Cranky Old Broad About Town”.
Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.
Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.
Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.
The most refreshing part of Girl In a Band is that Kim Gordon is a really great writer. Not that I’m surprised by that – she’s written pieces for a variety of publications over the years – but so many rock star autobiographies are stilted, repetitive and trashy. Gordon approaches the story of her life as a grand piece of art, with different elements, mediums and characters, that are all explored, and related to the audience, with sensitivity and care. (Okay, there’s a bit of trash talk about Courtney Love that seems as if Gordon gave in to an editor insisting that she share the dirt, but for the most part, that’s the only point where there’s mud flying.)
As a California girl from the late 60s, Gordon is no stranger to gender stereotypes and misogyny. While the title comes from the oft-asked question from media “what’s it like being… a girl in a band”, the bassist seems to not have experienced much sexism from bandmates and peers (or at least none that she’s related), although her experiences growing up with a schizophrenic brother often left her feeling that she had to take on the traditional female roles of being docile and supportive within her family. Add to that the spectre of Charles Manson, who Gordon references on multiple occasions throughout the book, and you can see how she entered adulthood with lots of questions about her identity and her role in the world.
While people will know Gordon first and foremost as a member of Sonic Youth, and the (ex)wife of bandmate Thurston Moore, music is just one of her talents – she admits it wasn’t on her radar as a career until she met Moore. Gordon is also an artist, fashion designer, writer and actress. Much of Girl In a Band explores Gordon’s other projects, touching on relationships forged in the art, fashion, and music worlds. In any other book, this would seem like name-dropping but in Gordon’s case, it’s just factual, and allows her to give props to the creative talents around her.
Music and style – they go hand in hand. Youth culture through the decades has always consisted of a specific type of music paired with specific sartorial elements that defined each trend. Imagine A Flock of Seagulls in anything other than the winged hairdos and the snap-front overlapped shirts or Kurt Cobain without his ratty sweater.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, music and style in Britain changed so rapidly that it must have been hard to keep up. Movements around a particular scene (punk, for instance) gave way to styles associated with specific bands, record labels, and clubs (Smithsmania, The Postcard Look, and the Blitz kids, specifically). Many of these scenes were short-lived, many morphed and melded, punk being the seed for almost everything that came after it, and some even came back around as revivals of themselves after a few years.
Documenting all of this is Sam Knee. Himself a life-long Mod and vintage clothing expert, Knee’s book The Bag I’m In documents 36 “youf” cultures of Britain between 1960 and 1990, all of which were associated with a specific genre of music and a specific style of dress. Starting with Mods and Rockers, Knee moves through Hard Mod to get to the original Skinheads, looking in on Beatniks, Boho/Art School and Hippies along the way. He traces the move through Punk to its various offshoots (2nd Wave, Goth, Crust, Anarcho…) and then the influence of indie labels and New Wave.
Make stuff. It comes up every year at this time, one of the regular resolutions – be more crafty, make more stuff. DIY, y’know? And as far as resolutions go, it’s not a bad one. You get the sense of accomplishment of making something with your own hands, you get a cool, thing, made exactly to your measurements and specifications, and you (probably) save some money over buying a similar thing in a store.
I picked up Pretty In Punk on a whim. It came up in a library search and I grabbed it thinking it would be a good chuckle. Published in 2007, it caught that first wave of young hipsters who had started to learn the craft skills they were never taught as kids (as opposed to Gen X – most of whom could at least do some basics because we still had Home Ec and industrial arts when we were in school).
Created by Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles, Pretty In Punk includes patterns for items from their popular Knit-Head line and shop, including their signature Punk’s Not Dead earflap hat with fringe mohawk.
A Treasury of Great Recipes
Mary and Vincent Price
Dover Publications; 50 Anv edition, 512 pages
You’d hear stories about people finding copies in used book stores. Or thrift shops where an unknowing relative had dumped the belongings of a deceased loved one, never knowing what an actual treasure they were giving away. There was a small re-pressing in 1974, but for decades, people talked about it with a bittersweet awe, for only a lucky few would ever possess it.
Last month, A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price was republished in all its original 1965 glory.
Yes, that Vincent Price.
It seems the actor was a great gourmand, and along with his wife Mary, an enthusiastic home cook. Both were avid travellers who enjoyed trying new restaurants. Together they toured the world, eating in the best bistros and cafes, convincing chefs along the way to share their recipes, and writing a number of cookbooks together. Because if you were a chef in the early 1960s and Vincent Price showed up at the door of your kitchen, wouldn’t you give him a recipe when he asked for it?
Fixing Fashion: Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes
by Michael Lavergne
There are plenty of books on the market bemoaning the sad state of the mainstream fashion industry from working conditions to the life-cycle of the average fast fashion garment. And while they are all well-written, carefully researched, and offer inspiration to change our shopping and fashion habits, most of them fall short on two counts – first because they are seldom written by someone with a first-hand, working knowledge of the apparel industry, and second, because while the suggestions for change are well-intended, they aren’t based in practicality.
Fixing Fashion by Michael Lavergne (Amazon) offers a different perspective. Lavergne made his start in the fashion industry working for corporations such as WalMart, and the apparel arm of Sara Lee. He specialized in product sourcing and supply chains (getting all the material to the right place at the right time and then getting the manufactured goods to stores halfway across the world in a timely fashion), and became an expert in labour and safety standards as he witnessed contractors and sub-contractors ignoring local laws (and corporate standards) regarding everything from wages to child labour to building codes.
Busy? Aren’t we all, right? Or maybe… we just think we are.
Time management is a skill that very few people are taught as kids, so as adults, we take on more and more responsibilities and succumb to what author Brigid Schulte calls “the overwhelm” only to find ourselves desperately stressed and unhappy.
In Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte talks to time management experts from around the world to try to discover what has happened to the average person’s leisure time, and why so many people join the rat race of gender-determined career paths in industries that value bums in chairs and daily face to face interactions instead of the myriad options that are available to us in the 21st century, such as working from home, job sharing and flexible working hours.
This is of particular importance when it comes to families where the “ideal worker” has priorities other than their job, and where kids can have a schedule as packed as their parents.
Schulte ultimately offers no solutions to the problem at hand. She’s learning as she goes, and experiences a fair bit of culture shock observing Danish families where kids are expected to help around the house and everyone is home for family dinner. The Danes have carefully avoided the helicopter parenting so prevalent in North America and it becomes obvious that anybody wanting to fight off the overwhelm might first have to have the nerve to buck the status quo.
Anybody who has ever strolled the streets of New Orleans, lazy with the humidity and history, overcome by the wafting smells of magnolias interspersed with a blast of jambalaya, knows that the crescent city is a town that loves its food. From beignets and acrid chicory-laced coffee at the touristy Cafe du Monde to po’boy sandwiches served up at some place in the 9th Ward with no sign to even let people know it exists, New Orleanians like to eat.
Nobody knows this better than food writer Tom Fitzmorris. The man who has been writing about food in New Orleans since the early 70s is probably the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of New Orleans restaurants and Cajun and Creole food. To say the guy is high-functioning would be an understatement – he does a daily 3-hour radio show about New Orleans food (can you imagine? 3 hours a day – just about local food and restaurants?), writes reviews almost daily, hosts a weekly dining event and runs The New Orleans Menu, a website on dining in New Orleans that is updated daily.
Some might say that a book about candy, with kids as the target market, could be a little off-base in this era of childhood obesity and early onset diabetes. But a childhood without candy is a sad one indeed, and authors Ann Love and Jane Drake spend most of their book looking at the history of candy over the course of 8000 years rather than encouraging their readers to run out and stuff their faces.
Geared to a readership between the ages of 9 and 12, Sweet could also skew younger if it was read with an adult to explain the more detailed passages, but would also make decent reading for teens and even adults. I have a personal library full of books on the history of candy and chocolate, and the authors managed to include more than a few facts and stories of which I was unaware. Fun cartoon-like illustrations by Claudia Davila definitely make it clear that this is a children’s book, but cartoon interpretations of such candy icons as Milton Hershey will amuse adults as well.