I never met Vivian Maier and doubt whether we’d have gotten along if I had. Taciturn, solitary people obsessed with their own struggles don’t often make friends. Yet we walked the same streets, went the same places. We probably crossed paths more than once, but it was as strangers—the way so many do in the city—never meant to know one another as anything but passersby. Now, many, many strangers know Maier, or think they do. She probably wouldn’t like the […]
When the elevator doors open on the fourth floor of the New Museum I don’t know which way to look first. Every wall is covered snuggly by pictures and words. Some drawings are framed, others just tacked to the wall the way a teenager might display a band flyer swiped from a club wall after a gig. It’s a dense polyphony which demands attention without giving the viewer much guidance. A quick scan yields glimpses of Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, and […]
I go way back with Nelson Algren. Reading his great second novel Never Come Morning in high school in the 80s introduced me to Chicago, the city which I have called home for most of my adult life. He is a writer who is loved fervently by a small cadre of rabid acolytes and largely ignored by the larger culture. The reasons for his abandonment are many. Periodically though, he is rediscovered. The last few years have been such a […]
A pilgrim is a person who travels to a sacred place for religious reasons. Pilgrim Jones, the haunted heroine of Melanie Finn’s vivid novel The Gloaming, is a seeker of sorts as well. Unmoored by the dissolution of her marriage and a tragic accident in which three Swiss children perish, she sets off for Africa hoping to find a reason to keep living. Though there are many elements of the thriller and mystery genres in Finn’s book, they are used […]
The act of doing nothing is a difficult thing to write about, especially over the length of a novel, but Masande Ntshanga manages to do so brilliantly in his debut novel The Reactive. Three friends spend their days huffing glue, chewing khat, getting drunk, and otherwise nullifying their days. They have day-jobs but make most of their money re-selling anti-retroviral drugs to HIV patients. It’s a stultifying existence, but these are not your garden variety junkies and their fate is […]
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” said either Martin Mull or Elvis Costello, depending on which source you believe. Either way we keep doing it, knowing full well the kind of lightning made by mouths or slapping strings can’t be captured on the printed page. The many differences between the sung and written word kept eating at me as I read Under the Big Black Sun—a Personal History of L.A. Punk.
I’ve known Tim Kinsella almost twenty years. He used to work at the coffee shop I haunted. Then, many years later, he interviewed me when my first book came out. Then he commissioned me to paint a cover for one of his records. I wouldn’t say we’re close friends but over the years we’ve had many good talks and there’s a level of mutual respect between us. I’ve never been in a band or been on tour (aside from a […]