Criticism & Culture

When the Dishes Are Done, I Wonder About Progress,” a review of Rachel Cusk’s first essay collection, Coventry, for Long Reads. October 2019.

“Perhaps this need for recognition has always been vital; Hegel first described it with the phrase ‘kampf um anerkennung’ in 1807’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. Seeking recognition might seem like an innocent search for confirmation, i.e., a subjective truth made to feel objective, but it’s also inextricable from power — a confusion Cusk confronts on intimate terms. In being ejected from her family’s narrative, Cusk was subjugated, too: an act of authorship in real time that Cusk cannot separate from violence: ‘War is a narrative: it might almost be said to embody the narrative principle itself. It is the attempt to create a story of life, to create agreement. In war there is no point of view; war is the end of point of view.'”

 

I’m Not the Only One,” a review of Jess Row’s White Flights, for Los Angeles Review of Books. August 2019.

“Suspicious of accidental segregation, Row considers a good house in the white suburbs as analogous to the real estate of the literary standard, almost as if the red-line that’s been drawn around black neighborhoods by mortgage lenders is the same that comes from the editor’s pen, culling early drafts into white spaces, inhabited by white characters, and supported by sentences that are sparse and echoing.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 11_optJust a Girl and Her Sad Songs,” a review of Ani DiFranco’s memoir, No Walls and A Recurring Dream, for Los Angeles Review of Books. May 2019. 

“DiFranco hardly stopped playing to talk. The woman who was never shy for words seemed utterly fatigued — as if, after more than 25 years on the road, it was all she could do to stand there and let her lyrics speak for her, guitar faithfully bobbing in tune. But it wasn’t so long ago that that very same guitar had been a stand-in for the world DiFranco railed against, as she beat on its slender body like a drum. What I expected was her defining and central discord. What I got was a melody that was easy and smooth.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 11_opt (1).png“Writing Toward Freedom”: a review of Zadie Smith’s collection of essays, Feel Free, for Los Angeles Review of Books. March 2019.

“It isn’t until the last section, “Feel Free,” when Smith allows herself to explore life on its own terms and always in the first person. Here, finally, she examines her inner world with an irreverent tone that is to be taken as the tone of freedom itself. The achievement of her freedom, which is the privilege of her citizenship, has been earned through the hard work performed in the previous essays, and so the structure itself becomes a comment on the duty required of an artist to enjoy artistic freedoms.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 11_opt (2).pngJenn Zuko on the Art of Stage Intimacy, and Violence“: an article for Boulder Weekly. November 2018.

“You’re at the theater, watching a lovely scene succumb to violence. You’ve just seen the marriage of a young couple but now, moments later, it’s just the bride and her mother-in-law on stage, alone together in a bedroom. The mother-in-law gets closer and closer to her new daughter, hurling accusations of infidelity until finally, she pushes her down onto the bed. You continue to watch as the young woman lies on her back, the elder holding her down so she can push her hand inside the young woman’s vagina to see if she is really the virgin she proclaims to be. The woman on the bed lunges back as the hand enters. Her hips shift, she leans her head back and gasps. Her eyes wince. She bites her bottom lip.

Just 20 feet from the action, the scene arouses sympathetic echoes in your own body and, as you recoil in your chair, a part of you wonders if you were supposed to see such intimate violence so closely. A part of you feels ashamed. A part of you experiences it as real.

No. You couldn’t see the hand enter the vagina and later, in hindsight, you can’t remember if the blood on the woman’s hand was real or imagined. Somehow the scene crossed the fine line between fact and fiction and you are left trying to understand it both ways, as experience and as art.”

Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 11_opt (3)“Breathe Like You Are Giving Birth“: Theater Review of Paper Cut for Boulder Weekly.

“By the end of Paper Cut the lead character, Kyle, i.e. the little spoon, has literally and symbolically undressed; he is not the “stereotypical, all-American soldier” we were once promised. Yes, he is a man with a buzz cut and a dry sense of humor, a man whose patriotism is inseparable from his identity. Yes, he is a tough guy, one who parrots the quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf,” as a way to make sense of the costs of being a soldier, costs he knew going in, but that were impossible to understand until they were incurred: losing a leg, losing his penis, and so losing his ability to serve as a soldier.”

 

~Welcome to the archives: below are articles from my reportage days at Boulder Weekly~

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Punketry versus Jazzetry. Either you know what it is or you don’t. If you do, you’re probably a poet — and not just any kind of poet, but the kind that doesn’t hide their words in books, the kind that doesn’t think poems should be read on the page, the kind that believes words have a life of their own.

If you don’t know what it means, you’re in luck because both Punketry and Jazzetry are rather self-explanatory. The former is an improv performance of punk and poetry, the later an improv performance of jazz and poetry. The former is a monthly event at the Mutiny Cafe in Denver, the later a monthly event at The Laughing Goat in Boulder. Established just six months apart, they both came to fruition in 2016 and each is a brainchild of a band and a poetry publication from their respective hometowns. The two events have existed, separately, for the past two years, but on Nov. 15 they will converge, in a competition of sorts, at Tennyson’s Tap in Denver.

Read the rest of Punketry vs. Jazzetry, here.

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Don’t read in to the title, “So, You’re a Poet,” just see it for what it is. There’s no question mark, no other words. It’s not meant to be intimidating, judgmental or provocative.

“It’s a rhetorical, merely,” says Thomas Peters, emcee and host of the “So, You’re a Poet” poetry series and owner of the Beat Book Shop. “It’s a reply. It’s totally non-judgmental. It’s casual, colloquial.”

Thirty years ago, Peters was a fresh graduate of Naropa University with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and poetics. Back then the scene was bustling, but even so it was hard to make a living out of verse. For a short time Peters drove limos and worked at bars to pay the bills, but when people would ask him, “What do you do?,” he would say he wrote poetry. Then, a funny thing would happen: no matter who he was talking to they would always reply:

“So, you’re a poet.” Read the 30 year commemorative article, HERE.

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If stone artist Kimmer Marcus seems a bit uncomfortable, it’s because she’s in unfamiliar territory, working so quickly on so many small stones. She tends to prefer and is known for carving big opuses that take a year or more to complete. Like her work “Flower of Life,” for example, a 6-foot tall face of a woman carved in white Colorado marble, or “The Boat of the Universe,” a smiling piece of glacier granite from Salida, Colorado, hollowed out like a big bowl or a scooping chair, an inviting vessel either way.

It might be unexpected, but it’s easy to imagine the 100 pound, 5-foot-2-inch artist carving such behemoth pieces. It seems natural. There’s an undeniable power about her, even in the way she walks, with a little bit of a cowboy saunter, as if she knows the secret advantage in having to stand on your tip toes to see the top of something. Read about how Kimmer came to stare such big stones in the face in my article “How to Start,” HERE.

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Ellen Mahoney, Boulder-based journalist and co-author of the young adult nonfiction book Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut, can’t remember a time when she didn’t stare up at the stars and wonder about the big, humbling questions of life.

“Who I am? Why am I here? What is that we’re all a part of? Where are we going? That’s always who I’ve been, and that was who Edgar was, too,” Mahoney says.

She’s referring to her co-author, the late Edgar Mitchell, the moon-walking, alien-hunting, psychically inclined astronaut. Read about the oddball YA book that springs from their partnership in my article “We Are Stardust,” HERE.

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“I want to be free,” she says. “Freedom is limitless. Within a social construct and within the capitalist society we are in, actually being able to be free means being able to connect to your deepest truth and owning it. It’s about trusting others enough to share that self, collaborating with them to come together in an authentic community. It’s about being totally vulnerable.”

Her ideation of freedom has a decidedly feminine quality, invoking notions of yielding instead of conquering. It’s a philosophy that requires her to forsake the license to do whatever she wants in the name of a more universal liberty. This is the ethos with which she leads her band and also the way she measures their success:

“Lately people have been telling me that my music opens their hearts. To spiritually release things is what we are here for and if my music can do that, well, I think that’s beautiful.” Read the whole scoop in my article for Boulder Weekly Like a Pearl. 

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He’d hate this comparison, but Earle is a bit like Bizarro World’s President Trump, appealing to blue-collar America with a no-holds-barred demeanor. But where Trump will, as Earle says, “do whatever it takes to get the working man to vote against his own interests,” Earle is only interested in offering his art to the people who are as bruised and battered by life as he is.

When it comes to the alt-country-Americana tradition Earle is part of, the one he helped to build, he’s been served well by his ability to turn his outcast status into the hero’s tale, and, over the course of his career, to turn the outcast into the mainstream. The result is a compendium of songs that speak to broader themes of life in America — the kind that sound best when wafting through the beer-stained and humid air of a dark bar, muddled just a little by all the peanuts padding the floor.

Read all about Steve Earle, his new album and storytelling in Steve Earle on Being Here Now

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“I can’t sit down to write,” she says. “Writing songs is just part of living for me, making stuff up and singing out loud. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t making up songs. Anyone who’s really been around me is no longer charmed by how I have to sing little songs about everything I’m doing. Like if I’m making toast I’m singing, ‘I’m making some toast.’”

Her ditty may be offered in jest but the tonal undulations of her impromptu song are thrilling — soft, crisp and striking a balance between depth and levity. Patterson may have to work at making a living out of her folksy and musical life on the road, but that voice… well, that’s special, and that’s a part of who she’s always been.

I’ve known Patterson for a long time and as we are sitting across the table from one another at Snarfs, two full-grown women, I’m flooded by memories of us playing and singing and dancing as kids. Read all about how wonderful she is (and how awkward I am) in Growing Up Next to Her

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Harry Tuft is the founder of the Denver Folklore Center, progenitor of Swallow Hill music and has promoted some of the most legendary shows in Denver during its hippie heyday, bringing the likes of Joan Baez, Taj Mahal and even Bob Dylan himself to the city.

You can say all that about Tuft, but it would be enough to say that he is simply a guy who loves music, thinks it endlessly beautiful and knows no other way to live than to share music with his community. Rarely does he get distracted by grandiosity, staying resolute in his quest to make folk music — plain, simple and humble — with an authenticity that has attracted the most famous of bards like moths to a flame. Without Tuft, music culture in Colorado would be a different beast. Read all about him in How He Listens

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Inaiah Lujan, frontman of the Haunted Windchimes, believes in the intimate moments of artistry and that they have the power to change the world. The Haunted Windchimes’ greatest ambition is to be just as they are, which is just like the rest of us — wandering, sometimes immersed in a sort of major key joy and happiness; at other times lost in minor key excursions into the dark and melancholy. It’s all a part of the muddiness of humanity that can connect us. Read the full article HERE.

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Instead of tempting you to read an article with the usual clip or synopsis, I’ll let Nicki Bluhm do the talking for me:

“I haven’t done many interviews lately, but last week I did one for a show coming up at Red Rocks. You never know how these are going to turn out, but I will say the writer did me well and really summed up my world at the moment. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/boulder_weekly

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As an artist trying to make sense of his own life, Earle found himself grappling with his negative space, tormented by the distance between him and the elder Earle. No matter how hard the younger fought to shake his dad’s legacy, it remained, as if his genius only existed insofar as it related to his father’s. He came to wear his father’s name like a ball and chain.
But, baby, balls and chains are meant to be broken… Read about his great escape in Negative Spaces.

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There is a rhythmic force that lives deep inside of Anaïs Mitchell. On stage she can’t help but pop and bob, as if punctuating the sing-songy undulations of her acoustic songs with a drum only she can hear. All the while, she swirls her guitar in little circles as the songs pour out, as if the two of them are sculpting the air into music, pulling vespers of folk out of the ether. Read my article, Take it Easy, Sweet and Slow HERE. 

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Suddenly and spontaneously a howl emerges from the edge of the crowd, first gutturally from a lone man, then a full-blown chorus composed of all the standers by. “The moon! The moon!” he yells before falling into a reading of a poem. Read For the Sake of the Endeavor HERE. 

Join me in a conversation with Sam Bush about learning how to be a frontman, about the friendships his music is made of and why he’ll never play solo in my article The Wisdom of a Good Day

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A story about Boulder’s bustling pool of artistic talent struggling to make ends meet in a depleted art market and about an art community committed to bringing art culture back to Boulder. Read the whole story in my article Cultivating and Curating HERE.

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Adam and Eve may have been duped into eating the forbidden fruit, but Chris Robinson walked right up to the tree of good and evil, plucked the apple from its branches and ate it as he walked out the gates of paradise into a mortal life.

He didn’t think twice because he was never that interested in paradise to begin with. From his early days roaming the streets of Atlanta as a kid, Robinson came to music looking for nothing more than a gateway to reality and since then, that’s been the only goal worth shooting for. Read my article, The Fall, HERE

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Credit: Von Swank

As a professional comedian, Dana Gould thinks it his job to reveal that none of us know as much as we think we do. He does this through a truthful sort of comedy, the kind that holds a mirror up to society in hopes of revealing its own stupidities. A wise word from a comedian can prevent us from making fools of ourselves and question senseless allegiances. Read my story, Between Laughing and Crying

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Andy Statman and his Kimble mandolin. Credit: Jason Marck

As long as music has existed it has bridged this gap between heaven and earth, from the earliest evidence of prehistoric music, shamanic in its imitation of natural sounds, to the marching of Gregorian chants aimed straight at God himself, to the holiday songs ringing in the season of giving.

No matter how the holidays might have become estranged from the spirit of the season, the connection between music and the divine persists. There is perhaps no better testament to this than Andy Statman, New York-based maestro of clarinet and mandolin, who played with his trio at Boulder’s newly built Jewish Community Center (JCC) in November. Read my article, From the terrestrial to the celestial: Klezmer and bluegrass musician Andy Statman bridges the gaphere.

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No matter who Joe Russo plays with, he is able to speak to musicians in their own language, on their own terms, and bring out the best in what they do in a way that is exciting for the guys on stage and for the people in the crowd.

Russo thinks of this as a collective or communal experience, something shared between the band and the audience (“a rare and increasingly important experience in this day and age”) but listening to the way he talks about his music, his family and his friends, it could easily be labeled as good old-fashioned love. Read about my interview with Russo HERE

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A fall exhibit featuring several of Boulder’s founding women artists offers a unprecedented breadth and depth of Boulder’s art history.  My article Recalibrating the Present take a look at the art and artists in the show, the male curatorial team, the artist’s they left out and considers what an exhibition featuring “women” artists can hope to achieve in the process. Read the full article HERE.

Sure, music critique and analysis might be the thing to do, the activity that connects us to one another through a massive web of social expectation, but over all the chatter you can almost hear the defiant howl of The Felice Brothers as they slap their thighs, knock on their guitars and break down into a barn-style song, wildly singing “Sally!” into a dancing crowd.

They know better than to take this all so seriously. Dive into my interview with James Felice HERE.

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I first met Bradley Books seven years ago through a thin piece of plexiglass. Sitting inside the staff office at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, I watched him through the pane as he approached in his wheelchair — a tall, thin and handsome young man who wore a defiant but weary smile on his lips as if to foreshadow all of the greatness that was to come from his pain.

Read Book’s story, from homeless to professional artist and art teacher, in my article How lonely does it get? 

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An actor in the Society for Creative Aging’s VIVA Theater Troupe takes a nap during rehearsal. Credit Sarah Haas

“Some might say VIVA Theater Company’s work is about death or how to best spend the end of life, and on paper at least, it might seem that way. Their website and organizational documents carry serious sentiments about how old age is balanced “precariously between a weighty past and an intangible future” and seeks to enrich it with the vibrancy such an age deserves.

But here, in Katherine Campbell’s living room, with four actors sitting around a dark wooden table, glasses of iced lemonade in hand, the conversation is off script and unconventional.”

Read all of Tragic comedy,  written for Boulder Weekly in November, 2016.

Jackie Greene

Jackie Greene photographed in Ross, CA January 11, 2013 ©Jay Blakesberg

It’s easy to picture the life of a hard working musician — playing late into the night, touring long cross-country miles on a bus, lugging equipment from town to town. But when Jackie Greene mentions work, that’s not the kind he’s talking about.

“As an artist, I am supposed to be vulnerable,” he says. “It’s my job.”

This is one of my favorite musicians and favorite articles. Enjoy reading Jackie Greene is a Rock Star, written for Boulder Weekly in September 2016.

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Artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk visiting the Gold Hill History Museum. Courtesy Black Cube Museum

The Gold Hill Art Project is a pop-up contemporary art exhibition put on by Black Cube, a nomadic art museum based in Denver. Three up and coming contemporary artists create site-specific pieces that explore exploration different ideations of Gold Hill’s history and challenge its present identity in the process.

Read my August write up for Boulder Weekly, Between Past and Present.

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“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.” Oil paint on canvas. Lindy Chambers, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

Texas artist Lindy Chambers recognizes that the optimism typical of the American Dream is being challenged. Perhaps most notably acknowledged by President Obama in his inaugural address when he urged Americans not to heed the “nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”

Chambers chooses not to portray it as grim, but rather as a beautiful return to simplicity. The American dream, she says, is not dead or gone, it’s just hiding out of plain sight. As an artist, she paints colorful scenes of trailer parks to reveal those simple beauties. 

Read more in my June article for Boulder Weekly, American Dream.

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“Ship Rock #5.” Oil on canvas. Sangeeta Reedy, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Sangeeta Reedy’s paintings depict vast landscapes of the American west. But upon closer inspection, the details of the painting gain prominence. Fractures in the rock are depicted violently by jagged lines and extreme angles. Each shape in the composition is made of brush strokes that express the movement of the painter’s hand, indicating the direction of the motion in each feature of the landscape.

Read my feature story on the artist, Thrust up, twisted and frozen in time, for Boulder Weekly in April.

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Courtesy of Local Theater Company

The face of Abdel- Hamid Abu Oud flashes on screens across the country — the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks that killed at least 129 people. He is 27 years old, a young man smiling broadly in one picture, proudly holding the Koran in the next. Seeing his face and confronting the anger and blame is to see a young man, driven by an extreme belief, who turned almost inexplicably malevolent.

That same week, FAITH, a new play by James McLindon made its world premiere in Boulder, challenging these stereotypes by bringing fanaticism closer to home, setting the play in the United States and planting the seed of extremism in an ordinary American teenager. Read my write up on the premiere in Oh my god.