Monthly Archives: January 2015

Balm for the Broken: Rachael Yamagata at Lincoln Hall

Rachael Yamagata, The Dove & Wolf, Hemming

Lincoln Hall

Concert date: Oct. 10, 2014

On the ten-year anniversary of her first album, Happenstance, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata proves that she still retains her trademark grit and soulfulness. Since she made a name for herself a decade ago on the alternative-rock scene with Happenstance, Yamagata has recorded two other studio albums and several EPs. Despite her growing fame in the last ten years, Yamagata continues to embrace the raw edginess that her contemporaries (think Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson) shed during their metamorphoses into queens of pop.

On Friday, October 10th, Rachael Yamagata performed a sold-out show at Lincoln Hall. Returning to Chicago, where she had—according to her Twitter—lived in nine different apartments, Yamagata was charismatic and at ease on stage. She opened with a new song, “Over,” which she jokingly remarked needed to be renamed as it could be easily confused with her 2008 single, “Over and Over.” The number showcased her sultry vocals and trademark balm-for-the-broken lyrics.

Another new song she performed, temporarily entitled “Tightrope Walker” and less aesthetically familiar than “Over,” was inspired by the remarkable balancing act she witnessed in a tightrope walker. She revealed that the combination of tension and ease, strength and powerlessness in such a performer reflected the struggles she faced in her life and career.

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Radhika Sanghani

The Berkeley Publishing Group

In Radhika Sanghani’s debut novel, Virgin, twenty-one year old Ellie Kostakis obsesses over finding a man to deflower her. Desperation drives her to endure the excruciating pain of a “Playboy Brazilian wax,” attempt several one-night stands, and even make out with a gay man. During her quest to lose her virginity, Ellie muses about the meaning of feminism and the sexual double standard for women. Unfortunately, the novel reads too much like a high-schooler’s whiny diary to manage any intriguing insights.

Ellie, however, isn’t a high schooler. She’s a senior at University College London, and the lone virgin in her social group—a fact she laments constantly. “The majority of university students have had sex, which I’m missing out on with every day that goes by, so for me to be like everyone else and be able to relate to my friends’ stories, I need to have sex and do the [chlamydia] test. It represents the dream,” she tells her best friend.

Sex—or the lack thereof—dominates Ellie’s every thought, action, and conversation. Everyone, from her mother to the beautician who gives her a Brazilian wax, seems fixated on Ellie’s lack of sexual experience. Of her two best friends, one is a self-proclaimed “slut,” and the other sleeps with the man Ellie is interested in…in Ellie’s bathtub. The world, filtered through her warped perspective, is hell-bent on rejecting her unless she can lose her v-card.

To Sanghani’s credit, however, the novel takes up some of the heated issues concerning sex in the twenty-first century, such as body image and the role of the porn industry. In the list of “Great Sexpectations” she compiles for her Vagina Blog (shortened to vlog), Ellie cites the following as modern-day expectations for women: no pubes, loud sex, wild sex, dirty talk, no condoms, blow jobs, and emotional detachment.

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Islamophobia Infects Germany’s Right

The short-lived Pegida movement seems to be over, a mayfly movement against the “Islamization” of Germany and the West. But Pegida’s xenophobia spread to Germany’s far right before its collapse.

The leader of Germany’s AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) party declared that he wants “no more Middle Eastern immigrants.”  AfD’s earlier line opposed the European Union, but hadn’t yet coalesced around the issue of immigration. Pegida’s recent marches showed AfD’s leaders just how many votes they could grab if they dipped even one foot in the gutter. My article appears in full here at The American Interest.

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Review: Juilliard415 Plays Beethoven

Peter Jay Sharp Theater; Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 5 p.m.

Monica Huggett, violin and director; Chloe Fedor, violin

All-Beethoven Program:

BEETHOVEN Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus, Op. 43
BEETHOVEN Romance No. 2 in F Major
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 4

Juilliard415 hurtled out of its Baroque sanctuary to present an all-Beethoven program from the early 19th century, which featured a whole new menagerie of instruments for the period ensemble. The violins may have looked more modern than medieval, but the performance as a whole sounded quite different from the anodyne Beethoven that rides the airwaves today.

The group performs differently with each piece of music, and can be followed best through its bows. Juilliard415’s October production of Zelenka’s “Missa Dei Patris” with the Yale Schola Cantorum featured bows only a bit more evolved than the top example in the picture below. (They really did look like archery bows, too–at least back then).


Photo: Oliver Webber,

The Beethoven bows were like the one in the middle of the photo above, some time after François-Xavier Tourte’s revolutionary new design hit the market. These new bows projected more to fill the bigger concert halls of Tourte’s day, and actually bent backwards rather than forwards to increase the surface tension of the horsehair. The final bow, with an even more pronounced bend, is what a violinist uses today.

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Culture Crash: Scott Timberg on the Creative Class

Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class by Scott Timberg. Yale University Press, 320 pages.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” such is Scott Timberg’s diagnosis of the creative professions in the twenty-first century. A variety of social and cultural forces–from industry consolidation to the Internet–have decimated both the diversity and depth of the art produced by the American system of cultural production. For Timberg, cultural progress has led cultural middlemen to disappear almost completely, from booksellers (63-69) to art critics (159). These jobs were more than inefficient purveyors of post-Fordist service goods; for Timberg, these middlemen also serve as a cultural repository, or “infrastructure,” (12) that informs American cultural life and encourages collaboration and the creation of new works. Their disappearance will accordingly retard the growth and quality of American art as a whole for years to come.

Timberg’s definition of the “creative class” improves upon the work of Atlantic editor Richard Florida, whose “creative class” includes 40 million American “knowledge workers” involved in everything from “engineering to theater, biotech to education, [and] architecture to small business.” This overly diffuse definition is certainly stellar for the self-conception of the one in three American workers that can now be labeled “creative.” However, such an inchoate group of workers cannot be said to share many qualities beyond the fact that they avoid manual and clerical labor.

Timberg’s definition, in contrast, focuses on the product rather than the process. “A more useful understanding of the creative class would include anyone who helps create or disseminate culture. So along with sculptors and architects, I mean deejays, bookstore clerks, theater set designers, people who edit books in publishing houses and so on.” (10) This creative class is an ecosystem where artists create and market their works. But recent trends have placed this fragile ecosystem in jeopardy. Timberg argues that the highest echelons of artistic production are somewhat insulated from cultural restructuring (with higher wealth inequality, paradoxically, comes a greater ability to patronize high art; see 224). Truly ‘autonomous’ art made without expectation of commercial gain, too, is insulated from the market through a greater unwillingness to submit to its demands. This leaves the vast middle ground of art that has become ever more commercialized, even as ubiquitous unpaid accessibility to this art means that the benefits of the market accrue to these artists less and less.*

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Conspiracy of the Week

France’s far-right Front National is a political dynasty, not too different from most American parties by this point. FN President Marine Le Pen’s dad, though, is full of crazy. And it’s not just a case of bad lip reading. Here’s some of the more recent gems from an article I worked on for The American Interest:

According to Mr. Le Pen, a mysterious Western superstate led by “the secret services” may have choreographed the Hebdo attacks that are themselves linked with September 11 […] The Honorary President of the National Front backed away from his Secret Service allegations in a January 16 conversation with Le Monde, but maintained that both attacks were part of a larger international conspiracy. Jean-Marie Le Pen is infamous for his Holocaust jokes, his defense of France’s fascists in World War II, and a recent quip that “Monseigneur Ebola” could solve Africa’s demographic problems.

Marine Le Pen has ignored her father’s Charlie Hebdo remarks so far. It’s probably a good tactic, too. Shying away from Jean-Marie’s outré ideology has helped the FN in the past, and probably helps to obscure the dynastic continuities that remain between father and daughter. Read the whole article here. There’s another good post here, too, written by Haun Saussy at PrintCulture.

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