A brief history of the rock legend's style and fashions:
"Bowie’s image was as carefully contrived for album covers as for the actual musical performances: Sukita Masayoshi’s black-and-white photograph of Bowie posing like a mannequin doll on the cover of 'Heroes' (1977), or Bowie stretched out on a blue velvet sofa like a Pre-Raphaelite pinup in a long satin dress designed by Mr. Fish for The Man Who Sold the World (1971), or Guy Peellaert’s lurid drawing of Bowie as a 1920s carnival freak for Diamond Dogs (1974).
"All these images were created by Bowie himself, in collaboration with other artists. He drew his inspiration from anything that happened to catch his fancy: Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin of the 1930s, Hollywood divas of the 1940s, Kabuki theater, William Burroughs, English mummers, Jean Cocteau, Andy Warhol, French chansons, Buñuel’s surrealism, and Stanley Kubrick’s movies, especially A Clockwork Orange, whose mixture of high culture, science fiction, and lurking menace suited Bowie to the ground. Artists and filmmakers have often created interesting results by refining popular culture into high art. Bowie did the opposite: he would, as he once explained in an interview, plunder high art and take it down to the street; that was his brand of rock-and-roll theater."
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3932 words)
Recounting the life of Aaron Swartz:
"Eight or nine months before he died, Swartz became fixated on Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s massive, byzantine novel. Swartz believed he could unwind the book’s threads and assemble them into a coherent, easily parsed whole. This was a hard problem, but he thought it could be solved. As his friend Seth Schoen wrote after his death, Swartz believed it was possible to 'fix the world mainly by carefully explaining it to people.'
"It wasn’t that Swartz was smarter than everyone else, says Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman—he just asked better questions. In project after project, he would probe and tinker until he’d teased out the answers he was looking for. But in the end, he was faced with a problem he couldn’t solve, a system that didn’t make sense."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 58 minutes (14749 words)
[Fiction] A woman whose marriage is ending finds a new place to live:
"When my marriage fell apart one summer, I had to get out of the little flat in Kentish Town, where I had been first happy and then sad. I arranged to live for a few months in another woman’s house; she agreed to let me stay there rent-free, because she was going to America and wanted someone to keep an eye on things. I didn’t know Hana very well; she was a friend of a friend. I found her intimidating—she was tall and big-boned and gushing, with a high forehead and a curvaceous strong jaw, a mass of chestnut-colored curls. But I liked the idea of having her three-story red brick London town house all to myself."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6466 words)
Lawmakers in Illinois are living large on campaign money. A joint examination by Chicago magazine and the Better Government Association:
"Because it’s perfectly legal to use campaign funds to rent campaign offices, many Illinois politicians, like Welch, choose to locate the offices inside property that they (or a family member) already own. Consider Alderman Mell, 74, he of the Vegas getaway. Mell bought a single-story brick storefront on the Northwest Side for $210,000 in 1996, according to public records; he has owned it free and clear since 2004. From January 2008 to August 2012, he used campaign money to pay himself $231,000 in rent on the place and is currently collecting around $4,450 per month. Mell says that there is nothing illegal about it: “It’s convenient, and it’s in the ward.”
"Vehicles are another major area of questionable campaign spending. The Chicago/BGA analysis found that more than 100 lawmakers and candidates have used nearly $1.3 million in campaign funds to lease or buy cars, often high-end models, over the past five years. For example, Patrick O’Connor, the 40th Ward alderman and the mayor’s floor leader, paid $7,500 in campaign cash to McGrath Lexus in 2011 for a four-door sedan; he has since billed the campaign $1,100 every month in lease payments."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4622 words)
Author Ann Patchett on opening an independent bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. at a time when brick and mortar bookstores are considered dead:
"I was starting to understand the role that the interviews would play in that success. In my 30s, I had paid my rent by writing for fashion magazines. I found Elle to be the most baffling, because its editors insisted on identifying trends. Since most fashion magazines 'closed' (industry jargon for the point at which the pages are shipped to the printing plant) three months before they hit newsstands, the identification of trends, especially from Nashville, required an act of near-clairvoyance. Finally, I realized what everyone in fashion already knew: a trend is whatever you call a trend. This spring in Paris, fashionistas will wear fishbowls on their heads. In my hotel room in Australia, this insight came back to me more as a vision than a memory. 'The small independent bookstore is coming back,' I told reporters in Bangladesh and Berlin. 'It’s part of a trend.'
"My act was on the road, and with every performance, I tweaked the script, hammering out the details as I proclaimed them to strangers: All things happen in a cycle, I explained—the little bookstore had succeeded and grown into a bigger bookstore. Seeing the potential for profit, the superstore chains rose up and crushed the independents, then Amazon rose up and crushed the superstore chains. Now that we could order any book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm telling us what other shoppers had purchased. I promised whoever was listening that from those very ashes, the small independent bookstore would rise again."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 29, 2012
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4590 words)
The Legends of the Fall author and poet on aging:
"Obviously I need courage to deal with my current dysfunctional body. And religion? The bible says that the kingdom of God is within you. If so, I haven’t noticed it lately. I’m not making light of devotion or a mother praying to bring her baby back to life after it’s been cut out of the stomach of an anaconda in Venezuela. Human suffering has to be the largest of all question marks. You must beware of hope, a radically dangerous emotion. Hope can roll over and crush you. I went to a dozen doctors last winter in Tucson for shingles relief and each time I had a wide-eyed Midwestern hope and faith that was promptly smeared. Hope is a bourgeois Tinker Bell toy that can transform into a guard dog of the most vicious nature. You raise your expectations then are gutted like a deer. However, if you need to say a little prayer, go ahead and moisten your lips for the deaf gods, although it’s like fly fishing in a sewer: 'Raise your chin, o son of man, your doom is around the next corner on the left.'"
PUBLISHED: Nov. 26, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2391 words)
A man with a doctorate in nuclear fusion physics builds a compound on 30 acres near Maysville, Mo. in an attempt to create a self-sufficient community where people can grow their own food and build their own tools:
"For a few years, Jakubowski lived mostly alone. First, he built the hut. That backbreaking work persuaded him to build a brick press. Next, he constructed a workshop to make more tools, including the tractor. He posted videos on the Web and gained a following of DIYers. Now and again, a couple people would show up during the summer to help out, and they made huts alongside Jakubowski’s. That changed in early 2011, when he was invited to give a lecture at a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference.
"In his TED Talk, Jakubowski took the stage in a khaki Mao suit and explained how he planted 100 trees in one day, pressed 500 bricks “from the dirt beneath my feet,” also in one day, and built a tractor in six. 'If we can lower the barriers to farming, building, manufacturing,' he said calmly, 'then we can unleash just massive amounts of human potential.' The goal, he said, is to create on one freely downloadable DVD a 'civilization starter kit.' He ended the talk and received TED’s customary rapturous applause.
"Since Jakubowski’s TED Talk was posted to YouTube in April 2011, it’s been viewed by more than 1 million people, around 500 of whom agreed to donate $10 or so a month to 'subscribe' to the farm. The foundation of Mark Shuttleworth, a billionaire South African technology entrepreneur, gave Jakubowski $360,000 to pursue the work. The TED video even inspired a handful of hardy idealists to make a pilgrimage to Missouri and help out on the Factor e Farm. Then a few more showed up, some staying a week or two, some for months. By August 2012, there were 14 to 20 people staying on the farm at any one time, though it looked less like a farm than an unhygienic encampment for overeducated misfits."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 2, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2562 words)
How Lisette Lee, a privileged young woman with ties to the Samsung fortune, turned to drug trafficking:
"Lee would go on to tell federal authorities a lot of things about herself: that she was a famous Korean pop star as well as the heiress to the Samsung electronics fortune; she was so emphatic on this last point that on police paperwork agents listed 'heiress' as her occupation. Back at home in L.A., Lee called herself the 'Korean Paris Hilton' and played the part of the spoiled socialite, with two Bentleys, a purse-size lap dog and, especially, her commanding, petulant personality that kept her posse of sycophants in check. It was as though Lisette Lee had studied some Beverly Hills heiress's handbook: how to dress, how to behave, how to run hot and cold to keep people in her thrall – in short, how to be a modern celebrity. But all of that would begin to unravel – amid the crowd and confusion on the Columbus tarmac that June 2010 evening – once a drug-sniffing German shepherd padded over to the van and sat down, signaling a hit.
"Agents threw open the van doors. Inside the suitcases were more than 500 pounds of marijuana in shrink-wrapped bricks. In Lee's crocodile purse were three cellphones, $6,500 in cash, a baggie of cocaine and a hotel notepad scrawled with weights and purchase prices totaling $300,000: a drug ledger."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 31, 2012
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8007 words)
A writer-comedian reviews his successes and failures, realizing there's not much difference between the two:
"You might be thinking to yourself, 'How do you know the fear never goes away?' It could just be me. It could just be pessimism, or cynicism. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks a few years back after witnessing an eye opening conversation in the green room of the UCB Theater. I saw two very accomplished comedians talking in one of the side rooms. One of these people was a cast member on SNL. The other was a correspondent for The Daily Show. (Luckily being at UCB there are multiple people who have passed through that have gone on to those illustrious jobs and I can use those specific examples without outing anyone. Please don’t ask who they were. It’s not important.) Person one said something along the lines of 'I’m just not sure what I’m going to do.' Person two said, 'Yeah, things have been so fucking dry lately. I’m really, really worried.' The conversation proceeded from there and sounded like the exact type of conversation I was having with my own friends who were in the trenches performing all around NYC with me. (To give you the context of where I was at, this was around 2008 or 2009, before the Comedy Central show, before my book, when I really was just a guy who was known on stages throughout NYC but could not catch a break for the life of me and was kind of becoming sadly infamous for it.)
"These were two people who both had careers I would kill for. Being on SNL! Being on The Daily Show! I think for any of us whose dream it is to do comedy, those would be two crown jewel jobs. Those would be two jobs that most of us would think feel like a life-altering accomplishment. Getting those gigs would feel like grabbing on to the brass ring we’ve been chasing. Those are the types of gigs that you imagine lead to the validation, wealth, and fame that we chase so hard. You have to imagine that’s true, right? Those jobs? You will feel like you did it. You made it. Your life can have a movie ending where the sun rises and the credits roll and the hard times are over, you’ve done it. You’ve won.
"But I eavesdropped on those two individuals, and realized – the fear is inside us. It’s part of why we do what we do."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 9, 2012
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6411 words)