Spotify Killed the Record Store

I hate to say it, but I think the arrival of Spotify in the U.S. signals the death knell for indie record stores. For less than 10 bucks a month, I now have access to just about any artist to whom I want to listen. On my computer. And my phone.

Okay, so Bob Dylan isn’t on Spotify, but don’t most of us Dylan fans have at least a dozen of his albums floating around anyway?

Spotify has sent me on another PJ Harvey kick. The woman whose lyrics once inspired me to move to Spain (I want to bath in milk/eat grapes/Robert DeNiro/sit on my face/I want to go to Spain/spend nights/just sipping on nectar & ice) keeps putting out stunning, avant garde albums that never feel like repeats.

Needless to say, I am psyched to have all this rad music on hand for so cheap, but pretty bummed for good old Waterloo Records.
Spoon at Waterloo Records. photo by Manuel Nauta.

God(dess) Bless Rachel Maddow

photo by Paul Shoul

I watched part of “The Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday night as I was running on the treadmill. (Okay, okay, the treadmill is lame, I know. But at 108 degrees outside it’s even too hot for me to run out there). And I was reminded of just how much of a bad ass she is. So I wanted to make a quick list of my

Top 5 Reasons to Love Rachel Maddow.

1. She doesn’t hesitate to call out the Republicans for advocating to strip the neediest and most marginalized Americans of current state and federal support services.

2. She doesn’t hesitate to call out the Democrats for being saggy old man balls and incite them to take some meaningful action. (I would call the Democrats pussies, but let’s face it, the vagina is an incredibly strong and muscular organ). And she presents Dems with viable ways they can take a stand, as she did during Wednesday night’s segment “GOP war on Unions presents advantage to Democrats.”

3. She speaks clearly about what’s at stake in the current political climate.

4. She’s hot to lesbians and bi girls. I mean, let’s face it, with her carefully crafted TV makeup on, she’s straight up gorgeous.

5. She’s hot to straight gals. I mean, let’s face it, in Buddy Holly Glasses and a hoodie she reminds every hetero leaning gal of our first tomboy crush…

Thanks, Rachel. Please keep showing us what it means to be a citizen!

A Diamond Is Forever: One Woman Questions the Most Successful Ad Slogan of All Time


The A Diamond Is Forever ad campaign (launched in 1938 by Harry Oppenheimer and the president of N.W. Ayer & Son, Gerold M. Lauck) successfully brainwashed a nation into believing that a diamond represents lasting romantic love; and even that the gift of a diamond ring at the time of engagement will help such love to endure the inevitable trials of a couple’s married life.

Women have been trained by ubiquitous advertising–on billboards, in magazines, and on television–to long for a man to give her a diamond ring, an expensive symbol that his unswerving devotion will last a lifetime.

Newly engaged women show off their sparkling diamond rings to oohing and aahing friends. The ring speaks loudly for the woman who wears it, saying: I am loved; I have been chosen; I am not alone.

As aware as I am of the history of the A Diamond Is Forever ad campaign and its impact on our perception of diamond rings, I myself–a happily never-married woman–find that my first thought upon seeing a pretty diamond on a woman’s ring finger is: Someone loves her enough to have bought her that ring.

Now I am the first to rejoice for loving partnerships and happy marriages; I also admire the wedding aesthetics of white dresses, diamond rings and elegant bouquets. Yet I feel it’s important to be aware of the way the A Diamond is Forever ad campaign–the most successful ad campaign in history–has shaped our thinking about this symbol of romantic love, which has too often also become a symbol of class, status, “worth,” and heteronormativity.

So it was with delight that as I was going through the checkout line at Whole Foods the other day, I noticed that the young woman bagging my groceries wore a gigantic faux diamond on the middle finger of her right hand. The diamond dazzled; it was ostentatiously huge, clearly fake, and super duper pretty.

“I like your ring,” I said.

“Thanks,” she said. And then she added, a little sheepishly, “I bought it for myself at the mall for seven bucks.”

“Wow,” I said. “It turns out none of us have to wait around for a man to buy us a gigantic diamond ring. We can just go get ourselves one at Claire’s.”

Both the young woman bagging groceries and the female cashier laughed as if they understood exactly what I meant, which was that we as women no longer need a man to marry us in order to feel validated, successful and worthy of approval. And yet we still, in some dark corner of our hearts, long for the sparkle and shine of the stone that speaks of everlasting love.

So if you have always secretly wanted a giant diamond, but:
1) don’t have a partner who wants to buy you one; and/or
2) don’t have a partner who can afford to buy you one; and/or
3) aren’t into funding the diamond trade,
take yourself to the mall, or hop on Amazon or Ebay and buy yourself an inexpensive and satisfyingly sparkly reminder that you are worthy, beautiful and loved.

After all, you can rest assured that even if that cheap piece of crap ring falls apart in two weeks, your relationship with yourself will certainly endure until you take your very last breath.

From Gender Violence to Gender Democracy: What Will It Take?

[caption id="attachment_9047" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Helen Zia, activist, author, former editor of Ms. Magazine (San Francisco Sentinel)"][/caption]

My eight years working full-time in the movement to end violence against women have left me a little jaded. I realized this a few days ago when, at a team meeting, some of my colleagues were discussing The Family Violence Prevention Fund’s new name: Futures Without Violence.

“Ugh,” I said. “Who do they thing they’re kidding?”

My colleagues laughed.

“Better turn on your light box today, Mary,” one of my colleagues quipped.

So it was with mixed feelings that I prepared to travel to San Francisco to attend the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence’s (APIIDV) 2011 National Summit entitled: From Gender Violence to Gender Democracy. What Will It Take? A snarky voice in my head said: “From Gender Violence to Gender Democracy? Good luck with that one, ladies.”

My tenure as an advocate in a domestic violence shelter followed by years working on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, followed by my current work as a Public Policy Analyst at the Texas Council on Family Violence have left me with a keen awareness of the overwhelming problem of violence against women, a problem that I believe to be rooted in patriarchy and gender oppression and inequity.

While working on the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I answered over 25,000 calls from domestic violence victims and their friends and families, and in doing so I developed what I consider to be an extensive anecdotal understanding of the triumvirate of race, class and gender oppression in America. Take for instance, a call I received from a Mexican immigrant woman whose physically and sexually abusive husband had left her alone with her two children and no income. She’d been pounding the pavement for weeks looking for work, but because she had no work permit she had not been able to secure employment. And because she was a monolingual spanish speaker without state identification, she had been unable to find and access a local food bank.

“My teenager understands why we don’t have food,” she told me. “But I’ve had nothing for my two year-old to eat for three days except sugar water, and she doesn’t understand why she is hungry.”

Because of the secondary trauma and sadness that the heightened awareness of gender violence has brought about in me, I had a hard time believing that attending APIIDV’s 2 ½ day summit would truly energize me to continue my work to cut through the barriers to services for all victims of gender violence, or allow me to believe that this cause for which I have worked for so long is not painfully, terribly hopeless.

But Helen Zia, the summit’s first speaker, changed all that for me. Zia, a long-time activist, author and former editor of Ms. Magazine, took the stage and immediately addressed this issue with which I had been grappling.

Zia spoke on the title of the summit, saying that when she thinks about moving towards the goal of gender democracy she is reminded of how she, as a lesbian, used to feel about the Gay Rights Movement’s fight for legal marriage for gays and lesbians.

Zia said, “I had to ask myself, is this worth fighting for? Because:
a) It will never happen anyway, so what’s the point; and
b) What’s so great about marriage anyway?”

The audience laughed; and I realized that I had found an iconoclastic activist with a sense of humor dark enough even for me. Zia went on to say that in the 1950s, African-Americans had to sit at the back of the bus; they had to drink water from separate fountains. And when they were finally allowed to sit at the front of the bus, they found the front of the bus was cleaner. And when they were finally allowed to drink from the forbidden fountains, they found that the water was sweeter.

Zia said that when she and her wife Lia legally married in California, they found that the water they had finally been allowed to drink was indeed sweeter. Her marriage brought about unexpected and beautiful things; because Zia and her wife had finally wed, the members of their two families began to consider themselves to be truly related, and made overtures to spend more time together and develop relationships with each other. As a result of their marriage, the two women’s families changed and grew closer. This was a wonderful benefit of marriage that Zia had not been able to anticipate or imagine. Zia used this personal experience to illuminate the title of the summit. “If we assume that gender violence will always be there,” she said, “then we will not bother to envision a world without violence. Thinking that way will ensure that a world without violence won’t happen, exactly because it will keep us from working towards it.”

Like Helen Zia, who did not know what it would be like to be married because she had never experienced it, none of us know what it will be like to experience a gender democracy because “we haven’t been there. But we are going to create it.”

Zia went on to say, “We can’t imagine what a gender democracy will be like. But we can know gender democracy will be better for women and girls who will be able to go to school or to the corner store without being snatched and trafficked,” will be able to walk across university campuses without being sexually assaulted, will be able to live safely in their own homes without fear of being abused by their intimate partners. “In a gender democracy, abusers will not be protected, no matter how rich and powerful they are.”

Zia’s powerful speech stripped away my feelings of hopelessness created by my hyper-awareness that gender oppression has both a long history and deep roots in our current society. Zia reminded me that it is possible to keep the snarky, dark humor that gets me through while maintaining an optimism and commitment to my work to bring an end to violence against women.

Helen Zia’s book “Asian American Dreams: the Emergence of An American People” is available for sale on Amazon. To read about or purchase the book click here.

Animal Kingdom

I had never heard of the Australian gem and terror of a film Animal Kingdom until Jacki Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her sweetly diabolical role as “Smurf,” the mother of a family of bankrobbers. A fan of every Australian film I’ve stumbled across (Flirting and Somersalt leap to mind) I decided to give Animal Kingdom a view.

The film begins with 17 year-old J sitting next to his mother as she ODs on heroin. The paramedics arrive and go to work. Cut to J calling his grandmother “Smurf”, who he obviously barely knows, to tell her his mother is dead. His grandmother tells him she is on her way to fetch him.

The surprisingly lovely grandmother arrives and whisks J to live with her and her four sons, a tight clan of loose cannons. The viewer quickly realizes that this family of crooks is truly complicated and terrible when Smurf gives one of her boys a lingering kiss on the mouth in front of all of the others.

The viewer has the unsettling sense that even J, a quiet, awkward boy gifted at keeping his head down and his mouth shut, will not be able to safely navigate his new place in this madhouse family.

This gorgeous, poetic, and terrifying tale by first time screenwriter/director David Michôd will resonate with anyone who remembers the helplessness of late adolescence, the time when we are so close to adulthood, yet not yet able to chose our household.

Part 2: Flying High with Trapeze Austin

Leap and the net will appear. –John Burroughs, American naturalist

Last week at trapeze class, I did not successfully complete a “mid-air transfer” i.e. when I let go of my trapeze, I wasn’t caught by the instructor hanging by his knees from the other trapeze.

But to put it more accurately, I didn’t let myself be caught.

See, the trick, when flying through the air, is to “present” your arms to the “catcher” and let him grab you by the wrists. Only once the “catcher” has you firmly by the wrists do you grab back.

But last week, as soon as the catcher was within my grasp, I tried desperately to grab ahold of him. And with me trying to grab him, he couldn’t catch me.

Trying to make the catch happen wasn’t my only mistake. In trapeze, your body goes where your eyes go. Instead of looking high towards the catcher, I stared straight down at the net. And so that is where I ended up.

This week, I worked on a new trick—the split—and with a little faith in Chris, the catcher, I was able to both look up at her and “present” my hands and wrists. And sure enough, when I looked up and let go of the idea that I had to make the catch happen, I felt her hands wrapped solidly around my wrists.

Trapeze Austin

Anlo Sepulveda’s Brilliant Film “Otis Under Sky” Premieres at SXSW Film Festival

Otis (Anis Mojgani)

Otis Under Sky, a visually enchanting film by Austin director Anlo Sepulveda, makes its World Premiere at the SXSW Film Festival.

As an Austin native who grew up roaming the town’s streets, I am always interested to watch movies filmed here. Otis Under Sky is the first film I’ve ever seen that shows Austin as I see it. A beautiful and sometimes grubby town with magical hidden spaces along the edges of the lake, below bridges, and even in unglamorous co-ops.

The film tells the story of Otis (Anis Mojgani), a socially inept artistic savant who “spends his days in front of a computer researching Eastern religions, creating web-art, and vlogging.”

Otis struggles with his mother’s death and a longing for human connection. When Otis leaves his house, it’s to plaster the streets with renegade art about the pain of obsolete technologies. (Otis is practiced at quickly attaching VCR tapes printed with phrases such as “Nobody wants me” and “Digital killed the video star” to public buildings as he passes by on foot).

Otis Under Sky Trailer from Anlo Sepulveda on Vimeo.

The solitary Otis is forced to deal with the awkwardness and beauty of human interaction when he “falls into unrequited love at first sight with Ursula, a kleptomaniac womanizer” and lapsed Catholic who still crosses herself when she passes a street mural of the Virgin of the Guadalupe.

The romance between Otis and Ursula is awkward, profound, and non-physical. The silences between them are brilliantly executed and speak to the ineffable quality of unexpected and sudden friendships. But Otis and Ursula’s relationship is complicated by the return of Ursula’s girlfriend, which drives Otis to try the “severe meditation” that has so fascinated him.

Otis Under Sky, with its simple and endearing plot, eloquently addresses the larger issues of how to find both spiritual and human connections while living in a painful and changing world. Throughout the film, Otis ponders the questions of existence, but it is the film’s extraordinary use of light that speaks most eloquently of the spiritual transcendence Otis seeks.

This stunning debut by Sepulveda is one SXSW attraction I’d happily stand in line to see.

For a schedule of upcoming screenings of Otis Under Sky click HERE.

Part 3: Documentaries that Change the Way We Think About Art

Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of ‘Smile’ is a documentary that proves the maxim that no art project is ever dead.

The film tells the story of the album “Smile”, the most famous rock and roll album never released. The story begins with the Beach Boys’ ride to incredible fame on the wave of young Brian Wilson’s genius.

Wilson, whose fragile mental constitution was unable to handle the stress of touring, eventually stayed home to write the music that the Beach Boys played to adoring audiences around the world.

The film explores the interesting artistic competition between The Beatles and the Brian Wilson, who were both pushing to create a groundbreaking, innovative and important new album.

But while Brian Wilson wanted to fully engage in this competition by following up the Beach Boys’ “cutting edge, mega-hit” “Pet Sounds” with an even more unconventional album “Smile,” that would be Wilson’s masterpiece, the other members of the Beach Boys balked, wanting to stick closer to the surf sounds that had launched their career.

As a result, “Smile” was never released and Wilson—devastated both by the miscarriage of “Smile”  and the successful birth of  The Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”–spiraled down into a deep and legendary depression. (Many music lovers who came of of age in the early 90s can still sing all the lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies’ song “Bryan Wilson”).

After three decades of a terrible struggle with overeating, mental illness and drug use, Brian Wilson began to work through his stage fright and other problems and in 2004 he turned his energies back to his painful and beloved masterpiece “Smile.” The album was released 37 years after its conception and Brian Wilson played the album in its entirety at Carnegie Hall.

What brought about this healing and redemption? According to the documentary, it was purely and simply the love and support of his wife Melinda Ledbetter, who he married in 1995.

The film, which includes many present day interviews with Wilson, is both a fascinating portrait of artistic genius and an inspiring tale for anyone who has considered giving up on a beloved and devastating dream.

Lyrics to the Barenaked Ladies’ “Brian Wilson”

Drove downtown in the rain nine-thirty on a Tuesday night,
just to check out the late-night record shop.
Call it impulsive, call it compulsive, call it insane;
but when I’m surrounded I just can’t stop.

It’s a matter of instinct, it’s a matter of conditioning,
It’s a matter of fact.
You can call me Pavlov’s dog
Ring a bell and I’ll salivate- how’d you like that?
Dr. Landy tell me you’re not just a pedagogue,
cause right now I’m

Lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did
Well I’m lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did.

So I’m lying here, just staring at the ceiling tiles.
and I’m thinking about what to think about.
Just listening and relistening to Smiley Smile,
and I’m wondering if this is some kind of creative drought
because I am


And if you want to find me I’ll be out in the sandbox,
wondering where the hell all the love has gone.
Playing my guitar and building castles in the sun,
and singing “Fun, Fun, Fun.”


I had a dream that I was three hundred pounds
and though I was very heavy,
I floated ’til I couldn’t see the ground
I floated ’til I couldn’t see the ground
Somebody help me, I couldn’t see the ground
Somebody help me, I couldn’t see the ground
Somebody help me because I’m


Drove downtown in the rain nine-thirty on a Tuesday night.
Just to check out the late-night record shop.
Call it impulsive, call it compulsive, call it insane;
but when I’m surrounded I just can’t stop.


Flying High with Trapeze Austin

Mary Lowry takes a turn on the flying trapeze in the above video.

I was six years old and my mother took me to the circus. The elephants, the clowns crammed into cars, the roaring lions and their trainer were fun enough.

But I wasn’t mesmerized until a husband and wife trapeze couple and their six year-old daughter climbed up onto the platform high up in the air. The little girl’s sequined costume matched that of her parents and she flew through the air on the trapeze with a fearless grace.

I felt the deepest envy. But more than that, I felt a complete and utter disappointment in my own parents. What was wrong with them that they were not trapeze artists in the circus? Why had they not provided me the opportunity to be the little girl doing a graceful double back flip off of her trapeze? My sense of having been born into the wrong family was profound.

But of course, as the years passed I forgot that day of disappointment, that feeling of having missed my true calling. I didn’t remember it until I began to see ads for Trapeze Austin, a local business that gives trapeze lessons.

Nothing about paying $75 dollars to take a turn on a trapeze appealed to my Do It Yourself athletic nature. But when I saw a posting on Craig’s list for a part-time trapeze artist/instructor position at Trapeze Austin, I was intrigued. Getting paid to learn the art of the trapeze definitely held its appeal. I read through the job requirements —
Good endurance
Great with people
Able to lift your own body weight
Afraid of heights ok, but not terrified

I thought “Eureka, that’s me! (Except for the ‘not terrifed of heights’ part).”

I emailed a query about the position, but alas, it was already filled. But Cassandra at Trapeze Austin told me another position might open up soon and I should try out a class.

And suddenly, $75 to investigate a future career didn’t seem like so much money at all. I mean, law school costs $100,000. A trapeze class or two would be a drop in the career training bucket.

I arrived at Trapeze Austin nervous and excited. And as soon as I saw the trapeze—a full blown circus trapeze with platforms high about the ground—I forgot all monetary concerns. Would I be an old woman regretting the regular expense of trapeze lessons? Hell no! I’d just be happy to remember having been fearless enough to fly.

Russell Torretto flies high at Trapeze Austin

I met the trapeze instructors, all of whom were friendly and engaging. Russell Toretto, the owner/director of Trapeze Austin, welded the trapeze himself, and not only has incredible grace and skill on the trapeze, but also has a true talent for teaching.

On a practice trapeze close to the ground, the instructors taught the 10 of us in the class the trick we were to learn that day. Then they belted us into safety belts. I volunteered to go first and began the long climb up the 25 foot ladder to the trapeze platform.

I am not just afraid of heights, I am mortally terrified of them. So much so that when I worked construction I would never, ever walk a top plate; and I came to harsh words with my carpenter boss anytime he wanted me to scurry up a ladder and yank out a second story window. So the climb up the ladder, and especially the transition from the ladder to the platform, was very scary for me.

The instructor Kenny hooked the safety lines onto my belt and I stood with ten toes hanging over the edge of the platform, and the trapeze finally and wonderfully gripped in my hands.

“Ready!” And I bent my knees.

“Hep!” And I jumped off the platform.

Following the instructor’s calls I hooked my knees over the trapeze, let go with my hands to hang free, grabbed the trapeze again with my hands, lowered my legs, and did a back flip off the trapeze to land in the net.

By the end of the first class, I completed a mid-air transfer, flying through the air and being caught by the wrists by a female instructor swinging from another trapeze.

I have fought forest fires; I have run marathons; I have backpacked across the Canyonlands; I have climbed the spiraling staircase inside Gaudi’s La Templa de la Sagrada Familia; I have watched as my sister’s first baby was born.

But never have I experienced such joy, such exhilaration, as I did when flying on the trapeze at Trapeze Austin.

The instructors are excellent. Safety is their first concern. And they clearly have a passion for pushing students to learn the difficult art of trapeze.

I hope to someday be gainfully employed there. But in the meantime, I’ll keep going back as an enthusiastic and grateful student of flight.

For more information about Trapeze Austin click HERE.

Part 2: Documentaries that Change the Way We Think About Art

[caption id="attachment_8682" align="alignleft" width="604" caption="Steve "Lips" Kudlow with renowned country musician Damon Bramblett at Emo's."] 



Steve “Lips” Kudlow with renowned country musician Damon Bramblett at Emo’s.
Steve "Lips" Kudlow with renowned country musician Damon Bramblett at Emo's.

I had no desire to watch a documentary about a Canadian heavy metal band, but I did and it told me more about a love of and commitment to an art form than any film I have ever seen.

Anvil: the story of Anvil is moving, poignant, inspiring and deeply heartbreaking. It poses the questions with which many artists that have yet to achieve any sort of fame or monetary success grapple: Am I delusional? Should I give this up? Is my perseverance admirable or ludicrous? Is my relentless pursuit of my art form worth the many costs I suffer as a result of my efforts?

The film follows the founders of the heavy metal band Anvil, Steve “Lips” Kudlow (lead vocals, lead guitar) and Rob Reiner (drums). The two have been best friends and band mates since they were fourteen. In 1984, they toured the world with heavy metal bands Scorpion, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. All the bands on the tour had astounding subsequent success, except for Anvil.

The film begins with shots of Anvil during this glory tour and then flashes forward twenty-something years. Anvil is still together, but playing strip mall bars to a small but dedicated group of fans. Lips and Rob are working decidedly unglamorous day jobs—Lips as a catering delivery driver and Rob as a construction worker. But the years, lack of success and drudge work have not dampened the pair’s enthusiasm or hope of once again reaching a wider audience. It’s wrenching to watch Rob and Lips’s sometimes painful hopefulness and dedication despite the cost to their marriages, finances, and even their friendship with each other.

And viewers of the film have to wonder, how could this aging pair even imagine they will ever make a comeback in the young man’s world of heavy metal? And yet it’s impossible to keep from rooting for them wholeheartedly as they come to represent every dedicated musician struggling to gain some recognition despite staggering odds.

It’s clear that Lips and Rob keep playing metal and pushing for their dream of having an audience for their shows because their passion for their music forces them to do so. An apt lesson for any aspiring artist.