Ann Powers' Bohemia for Dummies

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:26

    Weird Like Youth

    Now why exactly would my colleagues be so eager to review this thing? Unlike myself-I approach this kind of task with the utmost of critical meticulousness and scholarly honor-maybe they wanted an easy gig, a check with almost no effort. Who can blame them? It's difficult not to wonder whether Powers did the same. The gist of the book: brave Powers drops acid, meets a couple dominatrixes, lives in a house with a bunch of folks, works in a record store, sees The Rocky Horror Picture Show and fucks a guy named Jed. I shit you not. Clearly Powers isn't allergic to working for a living-witness the endless interviewing of people she worked in a record store with-but when I read the quote "'Of course you're a bohemian!' shouted Bob and Carola, who live...just down Second Avenue from Evelyn," and I realized she's talking about Christgau, Dibbell and McDonnell, respectively-all Voice compadres of hers-it didn't exactly convince me that she scaled peaks to get this shit down on paper.

    Powers is too smart to try to sell us swampland as beach property-self-deprecating remarks acknowledging her extreme subjectivity pop up here and there-but what's a thumbsucker without a little fudged glory? "I declare bohemia disgustingly dead," she announces on page 23. Apparently something rather momentous occurs soon thereafter-yet, search though I did, I couldn't figure out exactly what-for on page 28, she says, "I declare 'bohemia' resurrected." Maybe it's the quotes. She announces "the profound work" of "alternative culture" to be confronting the questions: "What constitutes a family? What is the worth of work? What are the parameters itself?" In fact, it's a lot more than mere profundity. It's "the historical prerogative of bohemians."

    I can't front; I've held the same faith in the importance of my own youth. (I'd like to think I'm a little past it, but then, who's banging out a review of this bullshit like he's ripping off the blindfold of the people?) And that's exactly what she's talking about-though, incredibly, she doesn't know it: youth. Fact is, young people have shitty jobs and steal stuff from their employers, live with a whole bunch of friends and successfully project the image of their earlier family life and familial conflicts upon them, puzzle over the mysterious rumblings in their loins and, above all, get shitfaced. Dude, I was soooooo wasted! The belief that one's youth was a bold stand against the forces of darkness is just about as common as, and just a hair less dumb than, a boomer's belief that she stopped the war in Vietnam. Are any of these struggles for consciousness not being struggled in frat houses right now?

    I sure wish she were better with the drugs. "Cocaine just isn't around anymore," she writes, "although reports from high society say it's made a comeback in fancier apartments than mine." Yeah, pal, in the stateliest mansions in Washington Heights. She assesses that heroin addiction is, in fact, a decision. "What appears to be a lack of will is in fact a serious commitment to the downward spiral," she says. It's not like heroin, you know, takes away your problems or anything; after all, most folks want to hate themselves for the bulk of life and save their false sense of safety for the weekend. Yeah, man, that's human nature-people really enjoy their crappy existences. What a shame they torture themselves with escapism they'd admit to hating if they weren't too cool to admit it.

    The two hits of LSD that start the book were downed by Powers in 1980. In that light it's very difficult to tell who she thinks she's writing the book for; she is super-Times-writer formal about making sure none of the references zip by anybody's head. She mentions "R.E.M., an indie-born band named after the active dream state." She cites "body doubles, that elite club...whose...gym-formed physiques let imperfect celebrities off the hook." Hustler "publishes pointedly transgressive material." A "'top' is the scene's doer, while the 'bottom' is the one done to." If anybody out there has missed this much of pop culture and still is tantalized by the word "bohemian" enough to buy this book, I sure hope they're stoked that Powers' editor is showing them this much love.

    The real audience for this geezerly reminiscence is kids in small towns too far away from college towns to catch the radio signals. Except the last time a kid yearning to reinvent herself needed a radio-not a computer and a phone jack-to access the far-off world of hipsterism was like 1993. But I'm willing to assume the existence of fresh-faced proto-bohos who stumble upon this at the Barnes & Noble in the mall and quench their thirst for knowledge of the dangerous life. I just wish there were something on the shelves better than this: a how-to manual for an antiquated paradigm.

    An amazing thing has been going on since last Wednesday. The Backstreet Boys have been coming in second to 'N Sync on TRL. 'N Sync, ever the second best in the boy band game, who work their asses off on every promotional opportunity thrown them while BSB coolly choose to blow off hosting TRL or judging Say What? Karaoke, only to clinch, week after week, the number one spot on the countdown.

    My theory was always that in doing everything they were asked to do, 'N Sync were playing themselves. Looks like I was wrong-or finally the BSB train is losing its momentum, being that their record Millennium is on its third single. Look, I have nothing but sympathy for 'N Sync-who wouldn't? They've got a ratio of three ugly guys to two heartthrobs in their lineup-but who can't love the nonsense of the title to the BSB single, "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely"? Let's try to apply this to a real-life situation: Are the BSB asking some girl, look, we want you to dump us-show us the meaning of being lonely, willya? Or is it, look, maybe before we dump you, you should show us the meaning of being lonely so we know what we're getting into here?

    It's just absolute gibberish. And that's not surprising, written, as it is, by Swedish pop super-producer Max Martin (formerly collaborator with the late Denniz Pop-in the video, BSB's A.J. rides a bus placarded "Denniz Street")-who's been the state of the art in guilty pleasure since Ace of Base, through Robyn's "Show Me Love," and has written all the best of the teen-pop songs, including Britney's "Crazy" and 'N Sync's "I Want You Back." This is just completely beautiful to me. The Swedes own the airwaves. "Show Me Ze Meanink uff Beink Lawn-lee"? That's so Swedish.