Soraya Roberts | Longreads | August 2019 | 9 minutes (2,273 words)
I have no reason not to believe Rolling Stone when it calls cover star Harry Styles a “21st century rock star.” He certainly looks like one: shirtless, tattooed, his hair a tousled mess, and a smile that may not say big dick energy but definitely says he knows what to do with it. He could be 1977 cover star Peter Frampton, when he was named “Rock Star of the Year.” There’s even a tagline to the left of Styles’s nipple promising sex and psychedelics. But then you start reading, and the setup begins to break down. Sure, he has a reputation for fucking a lot, but it all sounds very consensual and age-appropriate. He also seems unfailingly polite, not to mention sunny. I mean, he gets sad — his new album is “all about having sex and feeling sad” — but he’s not broody and doesn’t seem like he’d ever trash a hotel. This is a guy who appears to sort his problems out the way therapists tell us to: friendships, meditation, even work. “I feel like the fans have given me an environment to be myself and grow up and create this safe space to learn and make mistakes,” he tells the magazine. He describes himself as vulnerable and loose (the mushrooms and weed can’t hurt). Rolling Stone describes one moment as “rock-star debauchery” but all he did while tripping was bite off the tip of his own tongue — the only person he bled on was himself. As for everyone else, he just wants them to feel loved. “I’m aware that as a white male, I don’t go through the same things as a lot of the people that come to the shows,” he says. “I’m just trying to make people feel included and seen.”
The classic ideal of the rock star — the depraved renegade with infinite hotel bills, addictions, and infidelities — is dead. The charismatic young white man (it was usually a young white man, sometimes several) who rebranded selfishness as revolution has been overthrown, taking with him a part of the individualist, white, patriarchal capitalist system he came from. In his place, new rock stars, sometimes white and male, often not, have sprung up to nurture rather than destroy — instead of shutting us out, they let us in. Read more…
Moderately successful indie rock groups like Grizzly Bear have found it difficult to earn a living that would place them solidly in the middle class:
For much of the late-twentieth century, you might have assumed that musicians with a top-twenty sales week and a Radio City show—say, the U2 tour in 1984, after The Unforgettable Fire—made at least as much as their dentists. Those days are long and irretrievably gone, but some of the mental habits linger. ‘People probably have an inflated idea of what we make,’ says Droste. ‘Bands appear so much bigger than they really are now, because no one’s buying records. But they’ll go to giant shows.’ Grizzly Bear tours for the bulk of its income, like most bands; licensing a song might provide each member with ‘a nice little “Yay, I don’t have to pay rent for two months.” ’ They don’t all have health insurance. Droste’s covered via his husband, Chad, an interior designer; they live in the same 450-square-foot Williamsburg apartment he occupied before Yellow House. When the band tours, it can afford a bus, an extra keyboard player, and sound and lighting engineers. (That U2 tour had a wardrobe manager.) After covering expenses like recording, publicity, and all the other machinery of a successful act (‘Agents, lawyers, tour managers, the merch girl, the venues take a merch cut; Ticketmaster takes their cut; the manager gets a percentage; publishers get a percentage’), Grizzly Bear’s members bring home … well, they’d rather not get into it. ‘I just think it’s inappropriate,’ says Droste. ‘Obviously we’re surviving. Some of us have health insurance, some of us don’t, we basically all live in the same places, no one’s renting private jets. Come to your own conclusions.’
Tony Judt, “Night,” New York Review of Books (January 14)
This was the year of the dying critic. Most writers would do themselves, and their readers, a service by dying without all the self-elegies (“selfegies”?). We’ve read once too often, right, of the bark of the lonely fox out the bay window. But then you had Judt in his wheelchair, climbing Everest every night, putting out a series of reflections and continuing to publish great work even post-mortem. In a different city, and a different vein, there’s Roger Ebert’s Journal, the essay that never ends—starting as a kind of testament, it transformed over many months into a mass lecture from an old newspaper hand (a man of a literally dying breed), holding forth on absolutely everything.
Dan Koeppel, “How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive” (Popular Mechanics, January 29)
Stuff like this is why magazines persist. It’s fun to imagine the pitch. “I’d like to write about falling thirty thou—” “You had me at falling.”
Frédéric Filloux, “Aggregators: the good ones vs. the looters” (Monday Note, September 19)
Inside baseball for publishing nerds, but bangs out its point. It’s hard to find good wide-angle writing about tech. Related: “Why the OS Doesn’t Matter.” Also: Tom Bissell on cocaine and Grand Theft Auto; Fred Vogelstein on the iPhone/AT&T meltdown; and Nitsuh Abebe on the Internet Paradox.
Issendai, “How to Keep Someone With You Forever,” (Issendai’s Superhero Training Journal, June 9)
You read this, right? I’ve visited friends and read this aloud. Explains publishers, graduate school, bad jobs, and broken marriages. (Related in a way I can’t fully articulate: Given that 2010 was, in addition to being the year of the dying critic, the year of the supercilious journalist writing about the Insane Clown Posse, it’s worth going back to 2009’s “MC CHRIS IS AT THE GATHERING: A LOVE STORY,” for the nerd’s eye view—a far more subtle view than presented elsewhere—of the weirdness of Juggalism.)
Josh Allen, Chokeville. (Ongoing)
Most prose born on the Internet is highly defensive. Everyone is braced for audience attack and opens their posts with four paragraphs explaining why the remaining four paragraphs are worth reading. Chokeville is not that. It tries to explain itself, but it can’t. Sometimes I get started and then drift away to Zooborns, but I know that’s my problem, because I’ve forgotten how, and I also know that I’ll end up some weekend night in front of my monitor, zoomed in, drinking my way through every word.
P.S. We’re also several years into the flowering of history blogs. Here’s a good place to start.