Monthly Archives: August 2014

Native American Artists Reclaim Images That Represent Them


There’s been a lot of discussion about the name of a certain Washington football team — with lawsuits arguing that it is disparaging, and media outlets choosing not to use it in their content.

But while the debates around the language are raging, the logo — also a part of the trademark lawsuit — remains emblazoned on hats, T-shirts, and picnic blankets around the capital.

The logo has been the team’s brand ambassador for a long time and this team isn’t the only sports team to use Native American imagery. It’s also not something that is exclusive to sports teams; caricatures and motifs depicting indigenous people have long been used to sell stuff — cigars for one, but also things like chewing gum and butter.

But there is another body of artwork out there — produced by Native American artists and entrepreneurs — that asserts ownership over the images associated with their culture. Their work counters the existing “non-Native” representations, questions these portrayals and provides new context.

‘Apache’ In A Transcultural Fabric

Jason Lujan lives in Brooklyn, pretty far from the small town in West Texas where he grew up. Lujan, who is Chiricahua, Apache and Mexican moved to New York after graduate school in Colorado in 2001. The move changed his outlook and his work.

“My entire approach is to present Native content, but in the way I see it existing in the world today — everything exists all at once, everything all at the same time,” he says.

The word “Apache”, for example, really fascinates Lujan. Through his art, Lujan shows how it’s changed over time.

Growing up, “it meant who we were, but it meant who we were to outsiders….that’s someone else’s word to describe us,” he says. But the images it invoked then aren’t the same as now.

In Lujan’s work, “Apache” exists as the helicopter, quite well-known around the world. Lujan juxtaposes that visual against newspapers in another language, in this case Chinese — quite literally, placing it in an international context.

Jason Lujan "re-contextualizes" the word 'Apache' in his art.i
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Jason Lujan “re-contextualizes” the word ‘Apache’ in his art.

Jason Lujan


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Jason Lujan

Jason Lujan "re-contextualizes" the word 'Apache' in his art.

Jason Lujan “re-contextualizes” the word ‘Apache’ in his art.

Jason Lujan

In another piece, a part of his “Wild Places” series, he surrounds the helicopter with materials he found in his own neighborhood in Brooklyn such as packaging from a Muji store. At the bottom, there’s a native pattern.

Artist Jason Lujan uses cardboard packaging material to give context to the 'Apache' motif in his pieces.

Artist Jason Lujan uses cardboard packaging material to give context to the ‘Apache’ motif in his pieces.

Jason Lujan


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Jason Lujan

“It’s an exercise in putting, forms and words and labels together with the ‘Apache’ element inserted in there at some point,” he says. “It all needs to work in tandem with each other because that’s how I see us operating in the world with equitable circumstances.”

For Lujan, language is a way to approach another world view.

“When you say to someone — ‘Native American’ — there’s kind of an ahistorical image that appears in their mind…someone on a horse or someone living in a very traditional way and that’s not the entire story,” he says. “My intent is to highlight a more contemporary context where everyone is connected.”

Cowgirls And Indian Princesses

Sarah Sense was born in Sacramento. Her mother is Native American — Choctaw and Chitimacha — and her father is of European descent. Sense became acquainted with her Chitimacha family in college, when she worked on the reservation as a part of her scholarship program. During that time, she became curious about her connection with this community, about her own family and their heritage.

She was also fascinated by the traditional weaving practices — which she incorporated into her art at graduate school at Parsons. She uses photo paper as a sort of fabric, weaving it into depictions of the reservation landscape.

Sense continued using the technique in her next series — the “Hollywood” series.

“It had to do with politics of how women were portrayed, and also politics of how Native Americans were portrayed,” she says. “I think for me, it was the best way to portray what it felt like… to embody the characters of those two personas — the cowgirl and the Indian princess.”

Sarah Sense embodies the Cowgirl and Indian princess roles in her art.

Sarah Sense embodies the Cowgirl and Indian princess roles in her art.

Sarah Sense


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Sarah Sense

The series is a melange of images from a couple of different sources. She uses old Hollywood posters she got from Sunset Strip and Burbank with the cowboy v. Indian tropes, images in antique stores, photos from Native American archives and combines them with family photos.

Sarah Sense embeds her own image into old Hollywood posters with stereotypical depictions of Native Americans.

Sarah Sense embeds her own image into old Hollywood posters with stereotypical depictions of Native Americans.

Sarah Sense


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Sarah Sense

The piece above, for example, consists of pictures of Sense and her sister dressed up by their mother — who Sense says was very proud of their heritage.

She didn’t want to personalize the experience, but humanize it by questioning, “The person in that photo — who’s that person?”

Smiling Indians. Bad Indians.

Demockratees T-shirt design showing the element Indium (play on the word Indian) with the atomic number 49. Coincidentally, Red Corn says, "49"s are a colloquial name for Indian after-parties with singing and dancing.

Demockratees T-shirt design showing the element Indium (play on the word Indian) with the atomic number 49. Coincidentally, Red Corn says, “49”s are a colloquial name for Indian after-parties with singing and dancing.

Ryan Red Corn


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Ryan Red Corn

Ryan Red Corn is a graphic artist and entrepreneur who grew up on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma. Once he got his degree in visual communications from the University of Kansas, he started a T-shirt business called “Demockratees.” The T-shirts had Native messages and Indian-themed inside jokes.

But Red Corn soon expanded that to a branding business, helping Native American businesses tell their stories through the web.

Along the way, Red Corn came together with other Native American artists to start an comedy improv group called the 1491s. The group has released a stream of videos since 2009 in which they responded to the things they saw around them, Red Corn says.

The group’s work is mostly satire — and like all satire, while some people read a lot into it, Red Corn says others don’t get the point. That doesn’t matter to the group, though.

“We reflect what we know and what we see,” he says.

For the 1491s, the videos are one way to claim some artistic territory, and exert full control over it.

Red Corn has also dabbled in other visual media, making short films like Bad Indians and a film and portrait series of smiling Native people he sees around him. He produces images that don’t adhere to the “noble savage romantic idea” that he sees in broader culture.

Red Corn's portraits of smiling Native American people are not "radical," he says.

Red Corn’s portraits of smiling Native American people are not “radical,” he says.

Ryan Red Corn


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Ryan Red Corn

“What people attribute to my work is that I’m breaking new ground because I photograph Indian people smiling…but really, that should not be a radical notion,” he says. “I don’t have the luxury of the time to go and find that perfect indigenous specimen to photograph, I’m just photographing regular people.”

Before (and sometimes now) Red Corn does a bit of what he calls “brandalism” — tearing down discriminatory advertising or corporations behind discriminatory symbols using the”brand equity that somebody has already poured into those symbols.” Basically what that means is that he uses the symbols in the original advertising and subverts the message. But of late, Red Corn is trying to create original narratives instead of subverting old ones.

“If you want to tear down something old, you have to build something new,” he paraphrases a Socrates quote he recently read.

In a media space crowded by messages, Red Corn wants to create a large enough body of work that “it can take up the maximum amount of bandwidth possible,” he says.

Graphic designer Ryan Red Corn takes portraits of Natives Americans "as they are."

Graphic designer Ryan Red Corn takes portraits of Natives Americans “as they are.”

Ryan Red Corn


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Ryan Red Corn

“One of the things I try to do is put as much stuff into that pipeline…so that as a group, we’re able to counteract those non-Native images that are representing us.” he says.

The Same Until You Shuffle


On-air challenge: Every answer this week is a made-up two-word phrase, in which both words start with ‘S’ and they’re anagrams of each other.

Example: Identical line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together = SAME SEAM

Last week’s challenge: Name a world leader of the 1960s (two words). Change the last letter of the second word. Then switch the order of the words, putting the second word in front. The result will name a hit song of the 1990s. Who is the leader, and what is the song?

Answer: U Thant (third Secretary-General of the United Nations), “Thank U” (by Alanis Morissette)

Winner: David Henner of Las Cruces, N.M.

Next week’s challenge: This challenge comes from listener Peter Gwinn, a former writer for The Colbert Report. Think of a word that means “to come before.” Replace its last letter with two new letters to get “someone who comes after you.” These two words are unrelated etymologically. What words are they?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

This Time It’s ‘Personal': Lee Child Writes His 19th Jack Reacher Novel


Lee Child is the author of 19 Jack Reacher novels — and is currently working on the 20th.i
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Lee Child is the author of 19 Jack Reacher novels — and is currently working on the 20th.

Sigrid Estrada/AP/Random House


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Sigrid Estrada/AP/Random House

Lee Child is the author of 19 Jack Reacher novels — and is currently working on the 20th.

Lee Child is the author of 19 Jack Reacher novels — and is currently working on the 20th.

Sigrid Estrada/AP/Random House

As Lee Child writes new installments in his Jack Reacher series, he thinks back to something his father said: When it came to books and films, “he would say he wanted the same but different,” Child tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer. And that, for Child, is the fun and the challenge of it all.

Personal is his 19th novel starring Jack Reacher, the retired U.S. military policeman who puts his folding toothbrush in his shirt pocket and boards a bus to wherever that bus is going.

Reacher roams the country and along the way, saves lives, solves problems and thrashes the bad guys. And he makes readers momentarily want to rethink their lives — at least for the few evenings it takes to read the latest book.

Interview Highlights

On how he structures the books in many different ways, with Reacher as the anchor

It’s a bit like a composer, I think, writing music. You start out with a key in mind and a feeling comes over me — I want a book to be a certain mood, a certain tone, almost a certain color, and that then will suggest a location, it will suggest the type of story that could be told and it takes off from their organically.

On the exceptionally talented sniper at the heart of his new book

I wanted to start the book with action … but I wanted it to be failed action. What happens here is the sniper tries a shot against the president of France in Paris and it’s a long way — over 3/4 of a mile — and he makes the shot, except, like world leaders are these days, this guy is protected by a bullet proof screen and the bullet does not break the screen. So Reacher is brought on board to contribute toward finding this particular guy.

Personal

On using Reacher to make light of international politics, politicians and various national security agencies

A guy like Reacher … he’s been a soldier. He’s seen it from the inside, and there is nothing more cynical than a serving soldier. They know everything’s nonsense and they know this is all behind-covering by the politicians. … So he is both challenged by the technical problem but also somewhat contemptuous of the reasons why it needs to be sorted out.

On creating a character in this book who is even bigger and uglier than 6’5″ Jack Reacher

That’s something I feel I have to do sometimes because if its David versus Goliath and Reacher is David then Goliath has got to be some really awesome thing. So I invented a character that is substantially bigger than Reacher and of course Reacher thinks that’s weird. To be his size is fine, to be any bigger than that is weird.

On the selection of Tom Cruise to play Reacher in the first film adaptation

A book is entirely in the realm of imagination: my imagination and your imagination. But then, if you turn that into a movie, it is fundamentally real: people in a real physical place and so you’re limited straight away to the real people available. For years we were in a bizarre conversation where we were saying, well, this guy who was eight inches shorter than Reacher is obviously better than this guy who is 8.5 inches shorter than Reacher. [It] didn’t seem really worth arguing about after a while, so what we went for was a guy who could do the internals — the vibe, the feel, everything about Reacher except for the physicality — and I thought Cruise did a really great job about that.

More With Lee Child

On whether he paid a price for selecting Cruise

I paid that I wasn’t entirely expecting, because, in my head it was very clear: This was a version. This does not replace the books in any way. But it did surprise me a little bit how people felt that somehow the movie was liable to overshadow the books. Because to me books are the thing. I mean frankly, I was thrilled that anyone had an opinion. I mean … if somebody had said to me, you’re going to create a character so popular that people are going to get upset about who is going to play them in the movie, I would have bit their hands off.

On what’s in store for Reacher in the 20th book

It’s a lonely landscape somewhere with a single railroad line running through it and what happens after that I have no idea. But a year from now no doubt there will be a book and it will be coming out and this early fumbling towards it will seem very odd when it’s a completed project.

Rescuing Science From The Military … With Comics?


Think Tank cover

Pouty lips, flowing hair and … oligonucleotide synthesizers? Two of these things don’t seem to belong — at least, not in a comic that seeks to expose high-level Defense Department research to the critical light of day. Human physicality seems somehow out of place in the sterile confines of a government lab.

Comic creator Matt Hawkins has a different view. With Think Tank, collected here in a three-volume box set, he hopes his sexy characters will help bring some of the government’s most complex and sinister projects to the attention of a broad audience. Or, heck, even a narrow audience. After all, it’s no easy task to make hypersonic technology vehicles and electronic counter-countermeasures accessible to the average reader, particularly one who’s inclined to share Hawkins’ dovish views on the military. People who understand this kind of thing tend to be part of that forbidding subculture that memorizes the specs of Black Hawk helicopters and is uncritically entranced by new tech.

Hawkins has clearly thought about this problem. His hero is Dr. David Loren, a Bradley Cooper lookalike with a naughty smirk, a sharp wit and a knack for explaining scientific jargon. Recruited by the government before he even entered college, David has since decided he doesn’t want to help kill anymore. “I watched what I built punch a hole through a man they just left to rot in the sun,” he says. “I’m no liberal whack job. I get the need for defense. … I just don’t want to be the one doing it.”

But the government won’t let David walk away. He’s too valuable a resource, both for what he knows and what he’s capable of. Think Tank is largely a chronicle of his rebellions, which range from extreme passive-aggressiveness to outright flight from the high-security facility where he lives. His attempts to back out of his devil’s deal — or, failing that, to undercut his own effectiveness as a killing tool — make for a compelling story.

Even so, Hawkins’ project would be impossible without artist Rahsan Ekedal. If not for him, Think Tank would probably get bogged down in indistinguishable military personnel and static “talking” scenes. But Ekedal is exactly the kind of artist who can bring warmth and dimension to a book like this. He doesn’t bother to draw all the details of aircraft carriers and drones, but he pulls out all the stops with the characters’ faces.

And what faces! Except for a couple of irredeemable bad guys, Ekedal’s characters all have big, round irises, cute dimples and lips that look ready to kiss. His pen seems bored by straight lines, constantly on the verge of breaking out in a fit of curlicues. (Ekedal gets to let loose with the hair of Mirra Sway, David’s unpredictable girlfriend, and his delight is palpable.) There’s still a lot of yakking in Think Tank, but each panel has as much going on as Ekedal can manage.

Then there’s David himself. Ekedal lavishes care on his cheek stubble, and makes his hair tumble into art nouveau arabesques. David even dresses interestingly, lounging around the lab around in sweatpants and socks like someone’s boyfriend on a Saturday morning. Unfortunately, while his government military handlers tolerate his penchant for video games and remote-control toys, they’re also determined to get him working again. And “working,” in this case, means developing horrifying new ways to kill.

The resulting struggle is a potent metaphor for our country’s entanglement with the military-industrial complex. A few bad decisions he made years ago cage David as surely as steel bars. Again and again, he sees his creativity hopelessly corrupted. Even his loose, unmacho physical style expresses the conflict, creating an ever-present contrast between the geek and the soldier-jock, the organic and the mechanical, the flesh and the high-tensile-strength polymer.

David isn’t all that great a guy; his curiosity drives him to develop dangerous technologies almost in spite of himself. It’s debatable whether he’s any more admirable than Mirra, his compliant friend Dr. Pavi, or even his archenemy, Gen. Diana Clarkson. And yet somehow, none of David’s flaws lessens his basic charisma — which is just as Hawkins intended.

Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Salon.com.

‘Why Not?’ David Mitchell On Mixing Fantasy And Reality In ‘Bone Clocks’


The Bone Clocks

David Mitchell's previous books include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas.i
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David Mitchell’s previous books include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas.

/Paul Stuart


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/Paul Stuart

David Mitchell's previous books include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas.

David Mitchell’s previous books include The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Cloud Atlas.

/Paul Stuart

The Bone Clocks is David Mitchell’s newest book — he’s best known for 2004’s Cloud Atlas, which was made into a movie with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Mitchell’s many fans have been eagerly waiting for this new one, hoping it would present the same kind of fascinating puzzles as Cloud Atlas, which featured a very complicated set of nesting plots.

But Mitchell’s done something different in this book — building it around one character that we follow for several decades: Holly Sykes. Mitchell tells NPR’s Linda Wertheimer that Holly starts out as a rebellious teenage punk in the first section, “and she’s there either as the narrator or a minor character turning into a major character in each of the six novellas that the book is made up of.” Writing a female protagonist was a challenge, but an attractive one, he says.

Interview Highlights

On the influence of Dickens on Holly Sykes and her name

He’s a master, of course I’ve read him, of course if you’re going to write a large, complex, teeming kind of novel, you’re a fool to ignore him. So if this book works in the ways I hope it does work, it’s in large part because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and one of those giants is him. I chose “Sykes” … just because, thanks to Dickens, it kind of smells slightly of the East End of London. Holly starts out in one of the less salubrious exit points of London, on the South Bank of the Thames. It’s also quite a spiky name, don’t you think? Holly is already a spiky name, thanks to the plant, and Sykes is quite close to spikes … it did take a long time to find that name, but until you get just the right name for a character, they’re not properly alive.

On The Bone Clocks‘ abrupt turn into alternate reality

That’s what I like as a reader, I like being surprised, I liked having the rug pulled from under my feet. The rules have to be fair, and I have to trust the writer that it’s not being done gratuitously … I’m interested in genre, I think it’s an underused set of colors in a writer’s paintbox. I think interesting things could happen if a book moves through these sort of rooms of genre, these chambers — if, within the books’s own terms, this is logical, if it has its own reasons for doing it. Then, I kind of think, why not?

On mixing literary fiction and fantasy

It’s what the book wanted to be — I know I’m in charge of it, I’m not trying to shirk my responsibility here, but this book wanted many diverse things in it. It’s a big commitment to write something, it takes three or four years. I have to be deeply in love with it to get through that amount of time and still want to show up at my desk in the morning. And with an easier, safer, more predictable book, I just can’t get excited enough.

The Other Rock History


Singer Ian Curtis on stage in 1980 with Joy Division, whose song "Transmission" is among those explored in Greil Marcus' book The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs.i
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Singer Ian Curtis on stage in 1980 with Joy Division, whose song “Transmission” is among those explored in Greil Marcus’ book The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns


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Rob Verhorst/Redferns

Singer Ian Curtis on stage in 1980 with Joy Division, whose song "Transmission" is among those explored in Greil Marcus' book The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs.

Singer Ian Curtis on stage in 1980 with Joy Division, whose song “Transmission” is among those explored in Greil Marcus’ book The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs.

Rob Verhorst/Redferns

The new book The History of Rock N Roll in Ten Songs is missing everything you would expect. No Rolling Stones or Beatles. No Jimi Hendrix performances or remembrances of Woodstock.

In place of the iconic, musicologist Greil Marcus analyzes 10 songs that he says tell the wild story of one of America’s greatest gifts to the world. No. 1 is “Shake Some Action” by the The Flamin’ Groovies — which Marcus calls “a name so stupid, it’s embarrassing to say out loud.” But as he argues throughout the book, it isn’t enough to examine the music in its original context: The true measure of an impactful song is in how and where it travels, what lives and opinions it steers and disrupts.

Marcus spoke with NPR’s Arun Rath about a few of the ten songs and about where their rippling effects can be felt: in the work of Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Amy Winehouse — even The Beatles. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read more of their conversation below.

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs

Arun Rath: Let’s jump into this list with No. 2 — that’s the 1979 post-punk anthem “Transmission” by the British band Joy Division. I have to confess, I felt kind of uncool in high school because I could never really get into Joy Division. I liked a lot of American punk back in the day. What’s the British post-punk have to do with American rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities?

Greil Marcus: Well, I don’t know that there’s a division between American and British, European, South American, Asian sensibilities when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, or really any form of music. Songs travel and people take them into their lives in all different kinds of unpredictable and really untraceable ways. When I listen to Joy Division, it doesn’t sound particularly English. The song I wrote about, “Transmission,” is just an example of the way that a song can start out seemingly controlled, seemingly orderly, and then blow apart to the point where you can’t imagine that it could ever end, that it could ever reach any kind of resolution, whether it’s musical or spiritual or in any other form — and yet it does. It is really one of the scariest performances — in all the different ways that Joy Division and Ian Curtis performed it — that I’ve ever encountered. And so, writing this book, obviously I had hundreds of hundreds of thousands of songs to choose from and I didn’t try to wade through and find the best or the most representative or the most anything. It was simply a group of songs, each of which in its own way could contain the whole notion of what rock ‘n’ roll is and, more importantly, what it can do: What it can do as music, what it can do to a performer, what it can do to a listener.

I didn’t get Joy Division right away either. The head of their label sent me their first album when it came out, and it was impenetrable to me — it just didn’t reach me at all. There were songs of theirs, as time went on, that I did connect to, but it wasn’t until I saw the film Control, a fictional film about Joy Division with actors.

It came out just several years ago.

Right, I think it was in 2008. And one of the first things that you see is Joy Division early in their career appearing on a Manchester TV show: very corny set, really sort of oleaginous host introducing the band, and they look very impatient and embarrassed. And then they start to play “Transmission” — that is, the actors are playing the instruments, and an actor, Sam Reilly, is doing the singing. It’s not the real band. And yet, because of the way it was filmed, because of the way it was dramatized — and credit to the actor-musicians and the actor-singer too — it was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen on a screen, and it was just a performance of a song. And when it ended, I realized I hadn’t taken a breath for almost a minute, I was just so stunned. So I knew when I came up with the notion of this book, I would have to write about this song. Anything that is so powerful that it could be taken away from the people who actually created it and given to a bunch of actors and a film director, and at the same time maintain, even extend its power — wow. You have to take that as a challenge to write about.

One of the things that’s really delightful about this book is you say, “These songs, they travel.” And you follow them where they travel — you’re interpreting Bob Dylan in the context of A.J. Soprano listening to him, or “In the Still of the Night” coming up in that creepy David Cronenberg movie Dead Ringers. No. 4 is a particular favorite of mine: the Etta James song “All I Could Do Was Cry.” … Talk to me about that opening line.

“I heard church bells ringing.” It’s a song about a woman whose lover is marrying somebody else. She’s in the church — maybe she’s standing just outside the church, maybe she’s on the street — and she has to experience this tragedy for her.

“I heard.” That’s the whole song; that is a definition of soul music. That’s as deep as any person can reach into herself, just in those two words. The way Etta James stretches “I heard” over a long two, three seconds and is able to get so many intimations of different shades of emotion — of resignation, of anger, of fear and desperation — into the way she pronounces, intones those words. So much of rock ‘n’ roll, so much of popular music, comes down to these tiny little moments when an artist is able to put absolutely everything that she has, that she knows, into that. Those are the things that stick with us. Those are the things that are taken up by other performers in years to come, either when they sing the same song or when they sing their own songs. There’s a memory of something like Etta James’ “I heard” as a goal, as something you reach for: Could I express as much in a 10-minute song as she expresses in two seconds? And that’s one of the ways songs travel, is that people hear them and they realize someone has put something beautiful into the world. “I wanna do the same. I wonder if I can.”

And you write about how it was picked up by, I think a lot of people would say, one of our most expressive contemporary singers: Beyoncé, who covered that song, and before that she was signed to the same record company as Etta James. Can you talk about Etta James’ reaction to that?

Etta James, at least in one interview I read — and I can’t vouch for its accuracy, it seems a little bit dubious to me — said, “I’m not like Beyoncé. She’s bourgie, she’s bourgeois. I wasn’t no good girl. I smoked in the girls’ bathroom.” You know, saying, “The hell with this, I don’t need some Sally Come Lately walking into my song and taking it away from me.”

And yet, we’re talking about Beyoncé in the movie Cadillac Records, where she plays Etta James — she’s wearing a short, blonde Etta James wig. And you know, Etta James was not a pretty woman. Obviously, Beyoncé is quite beautiful. But in this movie, she’s not pretty, at least in this scene: She’s angry, she’s disgusted, she’s full of self-loathing, she’s full of resentment toward her producer and that’s all in her face, which can go just dead on screen. Her acting in that scene is really intense. And when she turns to that song, Jeffrey Wright, who’s playing Muddy Waters, is listening to her from the control room, and she hits a note and his eyebrows go up. That’s all in the script, of course: He’s supposed to raise his eyebrows at this moment. But the way Beyoncé sings the song, it takes it off the script. You can’t believe anybody would react any differently than go, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!”

No. 5 is a beautiful little song: “Crying, Hoping, Waiting,” originally by Buddy Holly, covered by The Beatles. I have this impression, no doubt from the various rock histories that you kind of criticize in your book, that basically all rock ‘n’ roll lives in the shadow of Buddy Holly. How important, really, is Buddy Holly’s music to American rock ‘n’ roll?

Buddy Holly had something very different from the other great early rock ‘n’ roll stars, whether it was Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Bo Diddley. He came across as so ordinary, as such a nerd. You know, he was a big guy, and he carried a gun. He was anything but a nerd. But he’s got these big glasses and he looks like the sort of person that, in high school, every time he’d open his locker, you’d slam it closed in his face. And Buddy Holly never lost that demeanor, that, “I could be anybody. I could be you, you could be me” — whether that was boys or girls, it didn’t matter. There was something unassuming, unthreatening, uncool about him that allowed anybody an entree into his music. And the effect that he had on The Beatles, on Bob Dylan, on The Rolling Stones, was enormous. They were all touched by him. You know, it has to do with the quality of his songs and his voice and his guitar playing, too — but for one figure to have affected that trinity so powerfully is more than I could ever explain.

“Crying, Waiting, Hoping” is a song that he recorded into his home tape recorder, accompanying himself on guitar, in his apartment in Greenwich Village in the early days of January 1959. When you listen to it today, it’s shocking just how clear the sound is, how strong the singing is, and yet modest. It’s a perfect song. And it’s been recorded over and over and over again by all different kinds of people; maybe Cat Power did the most recent really stunning version of that song. People hear that song and they have to try and get their hands on it.

In the chapter that I wrote about this song and Buddy Holly, the second half of the chapter is about how, all through The Beatles’ career, they tried to play this song. They tried to get it right and it kept defeating them. And they never really got the feeling, they never got the tone, until they were at the very end, breaking up in 1969 at the Let It Be sessions. One afternoon they start playing Buddy Holly songs, and they go from one to the other to the next, and when they stumble into “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” you are listening to a tragedy play out. “Crying, waiting, hoping you’ll come back to me”: That’s what they’re singing, and they know they aren’t coming back to each other ever again. The sense of fellowship, comradeship and brotherhood that The Beatles came to symbolize, you hear all of that, but you hear it as loss, you hear it as something that is disappearing before your ears.

Let’s talk about a song The Beatles seemed to nail the first time they did it: the song “Money (That’s What I Want).” I thought that originated with John Lee Hooker, but as I learned in your book, it came from Motown and Barrett Strong — that version is the version.

It’s the first Motown record. And it was one of those moments in the studio when Barrett Strong, who was far more a songwriter than a performer, is sitting at the piano with Berry Gordy just trying to pick out something, and they stumble onto a riff from Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” Barrett Strong pursues it and Janie Bradford and Berry Gordy are throwing words back and forth, and they hook onto a theme: “I want money.” “The best things in life are free, but you can keep ‘em for the birds and bees.” They just, erase, flatten, dissolve all values of truth and beauty down to one, which is money.

At that moment, Ramona Berry — his second wife, who was part of the company — comes rushing down to the studio and she hears what’s going on. She’s a singer, too, and she picks up the riff and she says, as Barrett Strong sings, “Money: That’s what I want.” And she knows, she writes about it in her autobiography, it’s that pause, “That’s what I want,” that makes the song, that puts suspense into it, that makes it threatening. She describes the creation of this record as just these accidents coming together until they begin to set off sparks, and finally 40 takes or however many it turned out to be, they’ve got this record and they’re ready to put the world on notice.

You write that every rock ‘n’ roll song about money flows to or from this track. And you go through the song “Money Changes Everything,” which, again, I thought was a Cyndi Lauper original, but you write about how it came from an Atlanta punk band group called The Brains.

“Money Changes Everything” is this terribly despairing, heartbreaking song. It starts off with a guy standing on his front porch and his woman has just walked out on him. And he says, “But we swore each other everlasting love,” and she says, “Yeah, right, but when we did, there was one thing we weren’t thinking of — and that’s money,” and she goes down the stairs to some guy waiting in the car. And again, just as with “That’s what I want,” or, “I heard,” it’s that, “Yeah, right.” I mean, that’s written into the song: that casual, awful throwaway. Not just, “Right,” not just, “Yes, I remember, dear,” but, “Yeah right”: reducing the guy standing on the steps to dust.

When Cyndi Lauper takes it up five years later — the single by The Brains came out in ’78 — she’s making her first solo album in New York in 1983. Her producer brings in this song and he wants it to be like a Dylan song, like a folk song. And she says, “No, no, this is The Clash. This is London Calling. That’s how I want to do it.” And so it becomes, you know, a very super-charged and raucous and noisy piece of music. But what’s extraordinary about it is that [The Brains’ lead singer] Tom Gray wrote it as a man’s lament — he’s the victim. Cyndi Lauper could have easily sung the song as the victim, and her man is walking out on her for the same reason. That’s not what she does with it. She is the woman of the song. She is the one who looks over her shoulder and says, “Yeah, right.” She turns it from a man’s lament into a woman’s manifesto: I’m going for what I need, I’m going for what I want and you know, good luck, loser, have a good life. And that’s a brave choice. That’s not the way most people would have approached this song.

One of the things that’s so fascinating is that, after Cyndi Lauper becomes a huge star and she has all these Top 10 records, one of which is “Money Changes Everything,” then she and Tom Gray continue to record and perform this song over the next 20, 25 years – until, in the end it’s turned into an old folk song. It sounds like an Appalachian ballad and that’s how they record it, that’s how they perform it, with dulcimers of all things. And it becomes even more tragic. It becomes something that’s not about “me,” that’s not about “her,” that’s not about “him.” It becomes, “This is the world we have to live in, this is our tragedy, these are the limits on our lives.” And in our resignation, in our acceptance, there’s something beautiful and almost suicidal. So the song deepens, the song grows. And I would bet in 10 years, Tom Gray and Cyndi Lauper will still be having a battle of the bands over this song.

One of these songs in here, I’ve gotta say, I had some difficulty with. It’s a dissonant, experimental track called “Guitar Drag,” and sounds like something you’d hear in a modern art installation. It doesn’t sound like rock ‘n’ roll to me.

I had written nine chapters of the book. I had to write a 10th chapter, and that’s when the absurdity of this project, taking all of rock ‘n’ roll in 10 songs, really hit me. For the first nine songs I could choose great music that I needed, wanted to write about where I could make an argument that everything about this music you can find in this song. But with one chapter left to go it was, “Well, what about this and what about that? How could I leave this out?” And I was frozen.

So I was out to dinner one night with [composer and visual artist] Christian Marclay, who was in San Francisco to install his 24-hour video, The Clock. Christian and I have known each other for quite a few years, and he produced a video in 2000 called Guitar Drag, where he put an amplifier in the back of a pickup truck, connected an electric guitar to it and tied a rope around the guitar, dropped it off the back of the pickup truck and took off. He filmed and also recorded the sounds that this electric guitar made while it was being tortured and damaged and driven over swamps and gravel and train tracks and onto asphalt, with the truck swerving and trying to smash the guitar, trying really to kill it. Now this was an allegory of the lynching, the murder, exactly in this manner, of James Byrd Jr. in Texas. And Christian was in Texas, in San Antonio, when the idea for this hit him.

This was a hate crime. He was an African-American man in Texas who was dragged to death.

That’s right — killed by three white supremacists, dragged to death from their pickup truck in exactly this manner. When you watch the video, which is an art installation in a black cube — it’s not just put up on a screen or anything, you have to lean into it — it’s an extremely intense experience. It’s almost unwatchable, it becomes so awful. Even if you don’t know the reference point, just watching it, it’s like seeing somebody waterboarded.

Christian mentioned to me a couple of years ago that he had actually put the soundtrack of this out as an LP. I said, “You did?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll send you one.” So he did, and I’d play it maybe three, four times in an afternoon. You know, the human mind will impose order on anything: Even though the sounds that were made by by dragging this guitar through Texas were utterly random, you listen and you hear patterns, you hear development, you hear a direction, you hear something happening. So I’m sitting there with Christian and I thought, “I’m gonna write about this for the last chapter of the book.” If I can make an argument that rock ‘n’ roll exists in this piece of noise, too, I want to try and do that.

But isn’t it something where — granted, it’s powerful, l and I know that noise is in rock ‘n’ roll. But this kind of feels like maybe too much thinking to do for a rock ‘n’ roll song.

You know, I think when people say, “You’re thinking about this too much,” it’s just another way of saying — and I’m not saying you’re saying this to me, but I’ve heard this or read this about me but all sorts of people forever — it’s another way of saying, “Shut up.” It’s also another way of saying, “This stuff really is trivial, this stuff is really not that interesting, this stuff is ephemeral and it has no lasting presence in our world.” I really do believe that this is just another way of dismissing those things that move us the most. And rock ‘n’ roll is one of the things that moves countless people as much or more than anything else. If I have any ambition, it’s to be a storyteller, and to start with something that is utterly abstract or random and see if you can make a compelling story out of that. I will stand behind “Guitar Drag” as a piece of music that you can actually listen to, and I’ll stand by it as an incident in the history of sound.

I want to talk about one more song in the book: “To Know Him Is To Love Him.” It was written in 1958 by Phil Spector, originally performed by The Teddy Bears — and honestly, the original version sounds pretty corny. And then you turn me on to the Amy Winehouse version, which is extraordinary. What does she do with the song?

Greil Marcus was the first reviews editor at Rolling Stone and is also the author of Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces and The Doors.i
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Greil Marcus was the first reviews editor at Rolling Stone and is also the author of Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces and The Doors.

Thierry Arditti/Courtesy of Yale University Press


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Thierry Arditti/Courtesy of Yale University Press

Greil Marcus was the first reviews editor at Rolling Stone and is also the author of Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces and The Doors.

Greil Marcus was the first reviews editor at Rolling Stone and is also the author of Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces and The Doors.

Thierry Arditti/Courtesy of Yale University Press

Well, here are The Teddy Bears in 1958. It’s Phil Spector and two of his high school classmates, Annette Kleinbard and Marshall Leib. She’s singing lead and Phil and Leib are doing the “doo-wahs” in the background, and like you say it’s a very corny doo-wop song, overwhelmingly sentimental and kind of simpering. It becomes a No. 1 national hit and then, after the song wears out on the radio, people are kind of embarrassed by it and they don’t really want to think about it. Nobody ever covers it; nobody wants to do this song. When Phil Spector becomes a great producer, he doesn’t shove this song on his artists — he doesn’t want to wreck their careers with something so bad as this.

Years after Amy Winehouse died, I guess it was in early 2013, her record company put out an album called Amy Winehouse at the BBC. And I’m driving in my car, I’m listening to the radio, and this comes on. And again, it’s like Etta James with “I heard”: This is, “To know.” “To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him and I do” – that’s the beginning of the song, but it’s all there in that “To know.” So here’s Amy Winehouse picking up the song, where she heard something in that song that maybe no one ever heard before. And I just thought, I have to capture that moment. I have to see where that comes from, where it goes.

For the people at shouting at their radios right now things like, “How could you not have a chapter on ‘Rock Around The Clock’ or ‘Purple Haze’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,'” what do you say to them?

I say that we don’t need the songs that most people know as a template, as a way of opening the door to the question of why we’re so moved by this music. Who wants to go back and write about stuff that has been written about over and over and over again? I certainly don’t. For that matter, I hate “Rock Around The Clock.” I didn’t like it when I was 10 years old, I don’t like it now. But the whole argument is that any good rock ‘n’ roll song can tell the story of rock ‘n’ roll.

When Wildlife Documentaries Jump The Shark


Mike Rowe scubas in protective underwater gear as he hosts an episode of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." Critics say sensationalized wildlife documentaries, like some of those broadcast during Shark Week, do more harm than good.i
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Mike Rowe scubas in protective underwater gear as he hosts an episode of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” Critics say sensationalized wildlife documentaries, like some of those broadcast during Shark Week, do more harm than good.

Claudia Pellarini/AP


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Claudia Pellarini/AP

Mike Rowe scubas in protective underwater gear as he hosts an episode of Discovery Channel's "Shark Week." Critics say sensationalized wildlife documentaries, like some of those broadcast during Shark Week, do more harm than good.

Mike Rowe scubas in protective underwater gear as he hosts an episode of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” Critics say sensationalized wildlife documentaries, like some of those broadcast during Shark Week, do more harm than good.

Claudia Pellarini/AP

This summer’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel was the highest-rated in the special’s 27-year history. But that success has also brought complaints.

The network has been criticized for pushing entertainment at the cost of science, with “documentaries” that advance dubious theories — or are entirely fake. Discovery Channel has aired specials about everything from mythical monster sharks in Louisiana’s rivers to long-extinct Megalodons supposedly still swimming the seas.

Animal Planet — which is owned by Discovery Communications — has even run fake documentaries on mermaids.

A Caveat Buried In The Credits

The line between authentic documentaries and so-called “docufiction” can be blurry. Even some legitimate filmmakers have committed video fakery for the sake of a project. Chris Palmer is among them: He’s a seasoned wildlife documentarian who now teaches the craft at American University in Washington, D.C.

He tells NPR’s Arun Rath that it’s surprisingly easy to slip into misleading portrayals. One of his own misdeeds occurred during the filming of the IMAX documentary Wolves.

“While the audience thought they were watching wild, free-roaming wolves, in fact we rented them,” Palmer says. “We rented them from a game farm. It was on the end credits, but who — except for the director’s mother — ever reads the end credits? So it was kind of surreptitious and clandestine.”

He says they decided to rent wolves because they wanted to show the animals’ complex social life. That’s harder to do with wild wolves, which are skittish and might run away when they hear a camera.

“If you don’t use a captive pack, then you have to habituate wild wolves, which is not a good thing,” he says. “I think the mistake we made was not to be honest. It wasn’t so much that using the captive pack, as not telling the audience we were using the captive pack.”

Conscious Filmmaking

Palmer didn’t feel like he was deceiving anyone until he started to show the film around the country. After a screening, an audience member asked how he got a shot of one of the mother wolves in a den.

“We made that den — it’s an artificial den for that wolf. And I could tell when I told them, I could feel the disappointment in the air,” he says. “And that was one of the things that came to haunt me.”

He came to realize that filmmakers — as well as the broadcasters that commission and air their work — have to be more conscious about how viewers will react to their films.

“If they knew the facts and would feel betrayed, then we need to stop and think about what we’re doing,” he says.

For example, one common deceptive technique is editing a shot so the prey and predator appear closer together. Palmer says some directors also “crowd or harass animals” to get the shot they want.

“I think the key question is, when does legitimate filmmaking artifice become unacceptable deception?” he says.

Don’t Trust Those ‘Voodoo Shark’ Remarks

Sometimes, even scientists are unwittingly pulled into that “filmmaking artifice” and deception.

Jonathan Davis, a shark biologist, was researching bull sharks at the University of New Orleans when a film crew reached out to him for a Shark Week program they were filming.

“The initial contact suggested they wanted to do a documentary on sharks of Louisiana,” Davis says. “They said they wanted to focus on my research.”

What he didn’t know at the time was that it was for a documentary called Voodoo Sharks, about the possible existence of a huge mythical shark called the “Rookin.”

Davis says the interview lasted three hours and the filmmakers talked about science and his research for the majority of that time.

“But then as an after-thought, the last two minutes or so, the guy kind of just asked nonchalantly … ‘Hey, well what do you think about this Rookin voodoo shark that’s down in south Louisiana that the fisherman talk about?’ and I said, ‘Of course, that’s BS and I’ve never heard of it. And even if I had heard of it, it would be completely false,’ ” he says.

In an excerpt from the documentary, Davis’ comment is edited to sound like he thinks the “Voodoo shark” might be real. In a clip, he says: “Sharks are pretty amazing creatures. All of them have been found in weird places. So I’m not a hundred percent certain that it would happen, but it could happen.”

He says the whole experience left a bad taste in his mouth.

“It doesn’t change the fact that I was out there catching bull sharks, tagging them, taking blood, doing real science. So if they wanted to show real sharks, that’s what they had to show,” he says.

Gurney Productions — which made the documentary — and the Discovery Channel both declined to comment on Davis’s account.

Mermaids And Megalodons

Some networks have also been experimenting with completely staged “documentaries” on fake subjects. They have disclaimers explaining that they’re fictional, but like that note in Palmer’s credits, they’re easy to miss — especially for viewers who tune in midway.

Animal Planet has made two such films about mermaids. And last year the Discovery Channel aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, which suggested a long-extinct giant shark might still be menacing the ocean.

Palmer says that while the Discovery Channel has done a lot of good, the fake documentaries are not responsible.

“This is a time when science literacy is plummeting in this country. People are gullible. And so they watch this show coming from this highly esteemed broadcaster, Discovery, and they’re led to believe now there’s a monster in the ocean,” he says. “This is nonsense. There’s no evidence for it at all — they went extinct two million years ago.”

The problem, Palmer says, is that the films distract from real problems in the oceans, like shark finning and pollution.

But then again, real life — and real problems — may not be what audiences want to watch. Megalodon did so well that it spawned a sequel in this summer’s shark week.

And one of the fake mermaid documentaries was the highest-rated show in Animal Planet’s history.

Travelling Books: Vintage Van Carries Literature Around Lisbon


Francisco Antolin, the driver and co-founder of Tell A Story, speaks to a couple of Danish tourists who purchased some books from his mobile bookstore. The converted van travels around Lisbon and sells translations of Portuguese literature.i
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Francisco Antolin, the driver and co-founder of Tell A Story, speaks to a couple of Danish tourists who purchased some books from his mobile bookstore. The converted van travels around Lisbon and sells translations of Portuguese literature.

Laura Secorun Palet/Ozy.com


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Laura Secorun Palet/Ozy.com

Francisco Antolin, the driver and co-founder of Tell A Story, speaks to a couple of Danish tourists who purchased some books from his mobile bookstore. The converted van travels around Lisbon and sells translations of Portuguese literature.

Francisco Antolin, the driver and co-founder of Tell A Story, speaks to a couple of Danish tourists who purchased some books from his mobile bookstore. The converted van travels around Lisbon and sells translations of Portuguese literature.

Laura Secorun Palet/Ozy.com

You’re probably well-acquainted with the idea of the food van. The more sartorially minded may have even visited a fashion truck. Now, it’s translated into literature aimed at tourists.

In June 2013, three entrepreneurial literature lovers from Portugal’s capital created a nomadic bookstore that moves around the city all year long, bringing Portuguese literature to international visitors.

Tell a Story — that’s the van’s name — offers a collection of more than a dozen Portuguese classics that have been translated into English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. There’s something for everyone, from the evasive and sad verses of Fernando Pessoa — “To be understood is to prostitute oneself” — to Antonio Lobo Antunes’ dense and moving accounts of the country’s post-colonial legacy.

NPR On Bookmobiles

The vehicle, a gorgeous 1975 Renault Estafette, has character, but the soul of this literary omnibus is its driver, Francisco Antolin. He’s a 36-year-old Lisboner who loves books and talking about them with whomever stops by.

“We wanted to help people discover Portugal through our literature, because stories are a great way to understand a culture,” he says.

The idea came to him and two friends, Domingos Cruz and Joao Correia Pereira, when they realized how difficult it was to find translated editions of Portuguese literature to give to their non-Portuguese friends.

At first they thought about opening a conventional bookstore, but they ditched the idea after Cruz visited China and saw vans selling stationery and school supplies to children. They chose to put the whole thing on wheels. Twelve months and countless emails seeking permission from Lisbon’s City Council later, Tell a Story was born.

It was a bold move in a time of economic crisis. Would foreigners be interested? Would locals embrace a store that sold only foreign-language books? Would the vendor permits hold? The answers have been yes.

All year long — rainy days aside — the van is surrounded by curious passers-by, from tourist groups and Portuguese couples to the occasional literature teacher.

“I learn so much from them,” says Antolin. “Sometimes they come back and share books with me or even teach me something I didn’t know about an author.”

More Books On The Move

Already, Tell a Story has been swamped by partnership offers, but the trio has remained true to the original aim. “Once you start selling t-shirts and mugs, you can end up being just another touristy junk shop. We don’t want that,” says Antolin.

Instead, they’ve launched an editorial company with the same name. So far, the company has published an edition of Pessoa’s No Matter What We Dream, a Pessoa compilation titled Disquiet Lisbon, and Jesus Christ Drank Beer by a young contemporary Portuguese author, Afonso Cruz.

The plan now is to get their hands on a second van — perhaps a more reliable model than the dear Estafette, which often breaks down — and start traveling beyond Portugal and throughout Europe. They also plan to continue publishing up-and-coming Portuguese authors and selling the books abroad.

In need of a quick literary fix? To find these transient booksellers, the safest bet is to wander around Lisbon’s São Jorge Castle neighborhood in the mornings or the Jardim do Principe Real in the afternoons. There’s no strict schedule, so it’s best to check the Facebook page, where they update their location.

And who knows, the Tell a Story van, or others like it, could be coming to a city near you. As Antolin says, “Culture has no borders.”

You can follow Laura @LauraSecorun.

If These Shorts Could Talk … New Book Tells ‘Worn Stories’


Worn Stories

Clothes may not necessarily make the man, but they sure make memories. In her new book, Worn Stories, Emily Spivack compiles reflections from Rosanne Cash, Piper Kerman, Marcus Samuelsson and others about the meaningful articles of clothing stored in their closets.

“I asked them to look for something that they couldn’t part with,” she tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “Something that held some memory, whether it was something spectacular, momentous, wonderful, unusual that happened to them while they were wearing that piece of clothing.”

Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barney’s, and one of the contributors to the book, also joined the conversation.

Interview Highlights

On Doonan’s shorts

Simon Doonan used to wear these bike shorts to Jane Fonda's aerobics classes in the early 1980s.i
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Simon Doonan used to wear these bike shorts to Jane Fonda’s aerobics classes in the early 1980s.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press


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Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

Simon Doonan used to wear these bike shorts to Jane Fonda's aerobics classes in the early 1980s.

Simon Doonan used to wear these bike shorts to Jane Fonda’s aerobics classes in the early 1980s.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

Doonan: When Emily called me it wasn’t hard for me to figure out which garment I might choose because I’d actually only kept one thing: these strange, mirror-printed, fluorescent Lycra bicycle shorts from the early ’80s. And I’ve been unable to part with them for a variety of reasons, which I spelled out to Emily. … These shorts, I used to wear them to Jane Fonda’s aerobics classes during a time when the AIDS epidemic was just really gathering terrifying momentum, where there was no solutions, no cure. And so this piece of clothing holds both frivolity — superficiality, aerobics — and also an incredible reminder of this horrible dark period in the ’80s before there were any kind of options for people that were HIV positive.

On deciding what to keep when you’re feeling sentimental about a loved one’s clothes

Doonan: I always say, ‘Well, pick one thing that somehow epitomizes that person.’ And I think that’s — the spirit of what Emily’s done is really great, ’cause one thing can really epitomize a person, you don’t need to keep their entire inventory of stuff.

Spivack: And that’s been, actually, one of the interesting things about this project, having all the garments sent to me and then having them photographed. They all have some sense of wear: the rips, the tears, the love that’s gone into wearing them. You could really just get the sense that there was a human touch.

This is the suit that Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman wore to court on the day she was sentenced.i
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This is the suit that Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman wore to court on the day she was sentenced.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press


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Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

This is the suit that Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman wore to court on the day she was sentenced.

This is the suit that Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman wore to court on the day she was sentenced.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

On Spivack’s flip-flops

Spivack: That story is really about the mundane in our wardrobe that actually comes to mean something over time. So, they’re a pair of completely nondescript black, rubber flip-flops that I’ve had for almost 17 years at this point and so there’s just something about the comfort that comes along with having a few things that just have kind of been with you for a long time.

On how she’d feel if something were to happen to her favorite garments

Spivack: What I’ve found is that by actually documenting it, by writing the story, by collecting the story, I think I would feel like, ‘OK, at least I’ve got this story. At least I’ve documented this garment and the anecdotes that went along with it.’ And I think that that’s a lot of what people experienced when they were telling me their stories, that at least the story has been documented.

On the suit Piper Kerman, author of the book Orange is the New Black, wore in court the day she was sentenced.

Spivack: Her attorney said, “You want to wear something that a judge is going to look at you and he can see his daughter, his niece, his cousin; he can relate to the person who’s wearing that.”

Emily Spivack is the creator of Threaded, Smithsonian's fashion history blog.i
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Emily Spivack is the creator of Threaded, Smithsonian’s fashion history blog.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press


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Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

Emily Spivack is the creator of Threaded, Smithsonian's fashion history blog.

Emily Spivack is the creator of Threaded, Smithsonian’s fashion history blog.

Ally Lindsay/Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

On how we use clothes to express ourselves

Doonan: I think clothing is nonverbal communication, so you can use that in any way, you can use it to repel people, attract them, seduce them, appall them or delight them. … Today I’m wearing a very, very flamboyant flowery shirt and a pair of groovy jeans, a little narrow ’60s tie and fluorescent, cerise pink New Balance sneakers. … But this book is just a reminder that as superficial and noisy and crazy as this huge landscape of fashion has become, people’s actual relationship to clothes is really nuanced and subtle and poetic and strange and I think it’s a really good lesson.

Spivack: And I think also when you flip through the book you see these just very basic garments — a T-shirt, a pair of shorts — and yet they have such rich stories attached to them.