YouTube is a treasure trove, if you want it. I go thrifting there sometimes (all the time), and the roadshow of antiques can surprise even a seasoned spelunker. One Sunday morning, while I was deep in a rut, the algorithm burped out something wonderful – Dua Lipa’s Tiny Desk concert from December 2020.
Ms. Dua is simply glowing – the light she exudes, and her band amplifies, is genuinely contagious. The smiling, the bopping. And that orange background! Is it light? Paint? Someone’s aura? I’ve been trying to name the color, and nothing seems quite right. Apricot? Tropical sunrise? Sherbet? Whatever it is, I want to eat it.
The musicians perform among that delicious color and a set mimicking a minimalist office, like someone raided the archives of Mad Men and spirited some pieces to a London studio. Dua is decked out in an updated version of a classic Chanel tweed suit, sans the restricting sleeves but complete with the “C” earrings. Her turquoise heels match the suit’s piping. Her band is in blazers and business casual. Chunky gold jewelry adorns all around. They are a team, they are a business. Glow, Incorporated.
After the first song, Dua explains how the pandemic separated them – lockdown stopped their impending tour in spring 2020. But it looks like they barely lost any time, beaming to be in each other’s company, making these sounds. They are a group of shifting chords, making beautiful music. I’m so drawn to their group, their universe. So at ease with each other, despite months of separation, probably degrees of isolation. Their choreography is connection.
This video only intensifies my lifelong fascination with backup singers. They tread such a fine line, complementing the lead singer while building the very foundation of sound. An underappreciated art form. Dua’s backup singers are a sherbet (and beige) quartet, each with their own style. They are unison and individual amazingness all at once. They enhance the overall glow my moth brain is drawn to – the world is full of backup singers. May we see them, may we be them.
My favorite of the four songs performed is a new version of “Love Again” – ‘70s -type weeping acoustic guitar to begin, Dua laments her situation, then her people chime in with their harmonies to bring in the love. “But goddamn, you’ve got me in love,” they intone over and over again.
This video brought me love again, it brought me light again. It circulates in my mind like so much dopamine (that’s how it works, right?). Dua glows on her own, but even brighter with her fellow musicians. It sparked something in me, too, a tiny fire I hope to build to a similar lava-lamp lustrousness as the background of this video.
Like a lot of other beating hearts on this planet, I haven’t been able to muster myself into any sort of creativity lately. I haven’t written, I haven’t collaged. Those pages sit blank. I’ve only managed to make some horrible postcards that fall apart in the mail and appear at their recipients’ houses mysteriously blank. (A sign from above?) These were slapdash creations glued together and doused in glitter and swathed in washi tape, the only “art” I could squeeze out of myself.
And so I turn to Céline.
The only flow I can get into is playing certain songs on a loop, someone else’s art blasting into my ears. One of those is Miss Céline Marie Claudette Dion’s rendition of “All By Myself.” It is a symphony of cheesery and so, so comforting, even as it articulates the pang of longing for companionship. A bit on the nose, perhaps, for those in lockdown alone, but with Céline in your ears, you’re not really alone.
I may not be able to belt it out right now (or technically, ever), but Céline always has and always will. In my time of need, the desire to create something, anything, but coming up short every time, this woman comes through like the Titanic headed for the iceberg. The song may be an emotional tsunami, but Céline makes sounds that register as something that whales would respond to. Plaintive and wailing, but also a form of navigation out of the dark depths.
The music video is a master class in ‘90s adult contemporary visuals. In black and white, Céline is walking around in a choice of a haircut in some green room decorated like a Tucson nightmare. She walks onto a stage, emotes in front of a droopy fabric background. Oh, but then, some color! Mostly white, though. She’s by herself, ok! When she dials the telephone, nobody’s home. Back to monochrome, she’s on stage singing it out in front of her many fans, in pleather. She doesn’t want to live by herself anymore! Anymooo–ooo–oorrr-hooo–orree!!
Here we are again, another tennis Grand Slam, more opportunities to ogle some outfits. Let’s look at what some famous people chose to wear to the 2019 U.S. Open in the idyllically named Flushing Meadows.
Once again supporting her friend Serena Williams at her job, Meghan Markle is all understated elegance. She knows all the cameras will be on her, but she doesn’t want to take away from Serena’s day. However, Meghan is still making a statement – the chic sunglasses, the simple dress with a cinched waist, and editor drape – her signature look. The Duchess checks off another patented public appearance.
Her daughter Bianca may have won the U.S. Open women’s final (first Canadian to do so), but Maria Andreescu stole the show in her flamboyant ensembles. Big hair, big glasses, big attitude. Beyond her fashion sense, Maria also brought puppy Coco to every match. From an ivory look draped with a voluminous Louis Vuitton scarf to a Versace dog embalmed with a lady wearing a cat hat with “Dog Queen” written across the neck, Maria wins the trophy for arriving like she’d been here all along. Respect to you and your dog, madame.
Cute, coordinated, and Conversed.
James Blake and Jameela Jamil
What are they lugging around in those matching cross-body bags? Sunscreen? Reading material? Tiny binoculars? Though I am glad to see a man carrying (heh) at least some of the purse responsibilities in a household. Otherwise, James aims for high-water haute couture and comes up a bit short. This whole look is a bit “Grandpa refuses to wear anything but his old golf pants and crew socks so we’re just going with it.” Jameela is part businesswoman, part bicyclist in some rather unfortunate chunky tennis shoes. Points for sports-inspired looks but try again next time, kids!
Berries and cream Berries and cream I’m a little lad Who loves berries and cream -Little lad from Starburst commercial, 2007*
I deeply identify with this song and dance by the wee page boy’d page boy extolling the virtues of berries and cream. To me, it applies to Wimbledon and the famous strawberries and cream of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. When this tiny chap claps his hands at the prospect of a sweet treat via berries and cream, I clap my hands at seeing outfits and style at this annual tennis tournament. I’m convinced the royals and celebrities carefully calibrate their appearances, allegiances, and sartorial statements – Jude Law would never go on a day someone more famous will get more camera time, and Meghan supports Serena while other randos vie for the secondary coverage. Some berries and cream is better than no berries and cream. Forthwith, some fashion! (Player clothes choices are a different conversation altogether.)
Clearly these women will generate the most buzz when appearing at Wimbledon – together and separately. Into the hive!
One glorious (Earl of) sandwich (and everyone wins at sunglasses!)
Kate: Buttons! Bows! This dress has it all! The buttons say “I’m here for the business of tennis;” the bow says “I’ll also make small talk about your boat.” I don’t understand the forest green but I do understand Kate’s fashion choices tend toward militaristic influences. Carry on.
Meghan: Our Ralph Lauren princess is back at it. I don’t know if this is actually Ralph Lauren and I shan’t be googling it but it has that classic silhouette. The simple, crisp white shirt shows off the glorious pleated skirt to wondrous effect. Duchess Markle shows us once again she is Queen of Subtle Sophistication.
Pippa:I’m a sucker for toile but this looks like she got a last-minute invite to appear with the Duchesses while staying at her cottage in the English countryside so she had some mice and birds make a frock real quick out of her country chic curtains. I would like to stage a picnic on that pattern.
Meghan: Has anyone so successfully pulled off a fedora since Paul Newman in The Sting? Doubtful. What other powers does she possess if she can effortlessly slay a fedora look on a random Tuesday? Apparently the jeans are a no-no at Wimbledon, but if I were a duchess, I’d wear jeans any chance I got. I make the rules, you plebes! The light-checked blazer is a tennis homage, to my untrained eye, and I appreciate the casual cool.
Kate: Bows and buttons continue, but I love this. It’s Kate’s tennis whites with a little black to set it off. She looks like she’s going to underground to crack some codes for WWII Britain whilst tricking the Axis into thinking she’s just visiting her soldier. Some serious spy chic.
Kate and William:Once again we see the royals sunglassing hard. See this Everyone Looks Hotter in Sunglasses (ELHis) rule. They coordinated! Kate in a powder blue Fraulein Maria-esque frock – the sleeves, what is the folding there? Royal curtains again. But overall, a lovely summer look. I also like the flowery clutch, like she’s stashing seeds for her secret garden in there. William powdered his blue, too, taking cues from his Queen, as he should.
Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch
It absolutely delights me that a man who gets paid to lurk in movies and Benediction Corksnatch sat near each other at Wimbledon. What did they talk about? The intricacies of the Marvel universe? Their respective British private schooling? How much Pimms to consume before retiring to the yacht? Oh yes, sorry, their fashions – Mr. Hiddleston appears to have come straight from the investment bank he moonlights at, complete with navy suit. Really throwing caution to the wind there with the polka dot tie. I don’t understand the hair and I won’t respond to it. Mr. Cucumberbench is captivated by something on the court, and was clearly tipped off somehow to Kate’s outfit, because he brought out the powder blue. No competing with the Duchess, however – the is just boring. I’ll expect a better showing next outing, Mr. Corkybang.
An expert deployment of the Editor Drape, in lemon, no less. A delicious confection.
Something happens to you when you watch Bob Ross for an ungodly amount of time. Like his perm, all lines are blurred, and you start thinking of blues as “phthalos” and baby deer as potential pets. You want all beings in nature to be happy and all clouds to have feelings. And the colors – he uses a base arsenal of 13 and goes all over from there. I’ve spent so much time with these colors that I had to map them all out.
In the welcome sunshine of a Sunday morning, a wall went up. Not the structure, but the substance. A wall with a door in it, except this portal was painted on the outside. Twisting tubes, faceless figures, one large bear, a Superman, and many, many bricks. For a day, we marked. We painted. We made a mural, but it was one person’s vision.
This is Mike Turner’s work – look at this. And this. And THIS.
Based on a piece called “Vertical Suburbs,” the mural is a black-and-white expanse of brick walls, windows, tubes, and vignettes that invite and compel, leading places but not resolving. You can start anywhere along its length, but never really know where to end up. You can look at it up close, or from across the street – either way, it offers up a sort of labyrinth. You can stare at individual lines and shapes and not know what it put into your brain, but sit in that uncertain wonder for a while. It does things to whatever your thing is.
Vignette / Mike and Gina / Bear!
This mural was conjured on facade of the Violet Hour, a cocktail lounge in Wicker Park. Each month, they let a different artist muralize the exterior. Mike graciously let a group of friends help him put his up, thankfully in June, post-polar vortex. We pulled up on Saturday evening, a nice blank wall ready for us to reinvent it. As it turned out, weather and technology had other plans.
Mike and his fiancee Gina had planned the operation like a guerilla standoff – plenty of weapons at the ready to execute a quick(ish) mission, with all the backup needed to head off any issues along the way. However, you can’t reason with power converters that have previously tested fine in all readiness phases, only to fail in the moment of need. What had been planned as a projection of the original drawing onto the wall coalesced into a frantic search for a generator to rent, and ended in a parking lot of futility.
After having waited out a tornado-shaded downpour, ready to wipe every inch of the wall down with paper towels and get to work, we sat in the car, shadowed by a hulking Home Depot, talking about extension cords and batteries. (Also Patton Oswalt’s impression of Tom Carvel, somehow. Fudgie the Whale saved our sanity that night.) We resolved to try again in the morning, urgency nipping at everyone’s heels.
Sunday came with sun and breezes – cool even away from the lake. With a ladder bisecting the car, we drove back to the blank wall. Fueled by donuts and iced coffee, we faced that void again. The people in the group who actually knew what they were doing attacked it with renewed zeal, quadranting that sucker with tape and free-handing pencil outlines while Mike filled in details. A vision took shape. (In this phase, my contributions entailed playing seminal saxophone solos on YouTube and petting as many dogs as possible.) If someone had told us the night before we would end up Free-Soloing this mountain, we probably would have laughed with tight faces. We would have pretended not to scream inside. But today, in the sunshine, we did it because that was all we had left.
This was an experiment in a lot of ways – how do you prepare art for greater consumption? Do the weather gods want you to succeed? What happens to meticulous planning in the face of unforeseeable technological glitches? How many Home Depots are there in the greater Chicago area, and how long do they stay open? What do you do when Things Go Wrong? How do people act around a mural in progress? (They say things. Out loud. A lot of things. Their opinions WILL be heard.) A collective mindset held the answer to all of these questions.
A bit of a mindmeld cloud collected over our group. Mike was the piece’s mastermind, and we went to him with questions, but we also trusted each other to work in between. We all tuned into the same buzzing sound, and worked off of that. A radio frequency was born. If this is what it feels like to join and be in a cult, then I am deeply susceptible to it and should probably seek help. Possible Cult Joiners Anonymous? Local Lemmings?
At one point, I joined forces with a friend to erase some of the remaining pencil marks – we went around with two brushes and one can of white paint between us, talking to ourselves and conjoined twinning up the place. The world melted away even more as we painted and painted. Nothing else mattered but to keep space open.
Things happen to you individually, too. You make so many bricks you become a line, just wanting to connect other lines. You think and say things that only make sense to the people working alongside you. Your only goal, your single-minded dream, is to do whatever it takes in this moment to get this work just a tiny bit closer to realization. It’s a little universe.
Passersby want to peek into this tiny cosmos. People walking by on the street tended to say whatever they were thinking out loud, whether alone or in a group. I couldn’t decide whether they wanted us to hear, or thought we were like zoo animals. Some seemed to be performing for their groups, remarking that this wall contained the passageway to a bar with “amazing cocktails.” “You knock on the door, and it opens!” (No, sir, that is not how it works.) Others wanted to name artists the work reminded them of, or explain how we were making the mural. Other people would just yell “THANK YOU” – for what, exactly? One woman went up to my partner in erasing and quietly said it, a hand on her arm, like this was a conspiracy. In slightly more sinister fashion, a man said this loudly while hugging me from behind as he kept walking. NO thank you. A couple of drunk bros demanded high fives and then said Mike should paint the apartment building one of them owns. In decidedly the most charming show of curiosity, a little boy took one of the stepstools and sat on it, clutching his lil drink, sipping through a straw and observing the goings-on. Like a tiny king, he surveyed the workers, then summarily dismissed the whole thing and walked off, his dutiful parents trailing behind.
When we finished the mural, hours had slipped by, and sunset was imminent. We went to eat pizzas so big I could have used them as sausage-y blankets. We went home so full and so tired. This was easily one of the most satisfying, fulfilling days of my life. I got to help create something with a group of excellent people – even if I’d never picked up a marker or brush, I’d have been thankful just to be in that headspace. It really was a storm on a sidewalk. I was most floored by the fact that Mike took some of his art, secured a public space for it, and then let other people help him put it up on a wall. Even though the mural is only up for a month, it adds a layer to the city, and I hope many people will walk by and take a piece of it in. It doesn’t have to envelop them like a blanket pizza, but it’s something new to process.
Mike Turner’s mural “Horizontal Suburbs” will be up through June 30 at the Violet Hour (Wicker Park, Chicago, IL). Mike’s website: GravelPlayground.com
It has come to my attention that certain celebrities have been sporting sundry suitage of late. Specifically, three of the best famous people at work today have showed out in suits that telegraph their talent, their esteemed personage, the David Byrne-esque boxiness that says “I cannot be contained. But I’m wearing a suit that draws a map of my territory.”
Before I present the suit saviors, I need to establish my qualifications. My grandma wore a homemade suit to her wedding in 1947, smashing the patriarchy and serving a timeless look. She meant fashion business even with limited resources at her disposal. So I know from good suitage. Let’s begin.
Sandra Oh hosting Saturday Night Live
To host SNL on March 30, Ms. Oh and her fabulous hair rocked a blue tartan suit with a drop blazer (I’m making that a thing), and I now want to make that fabric my family crest. She noted it was her one-year anniversary of becoming an American citizen while recognizing her Korean and Canadian roots. Can we please have Ms. Oh in every editorial from now on? She and fellow visionaries like Whoopi Goldberg are underappreciated fashion plates who have discovered all the secret pathways in Mario Kart while the rest of us can’t even figure out how to get up the ramp in Koopa Troopa Beach. It takes someone with both verve and poise to wear a suit of less conventional proportions, and she gives us a lecture in making style your own. I want to attend her class and sit in her office hours. This country is beyond lucky to have Ms. Oh grace its screens, let one count her as one of its citizens. We are not worthy.
Harry Styles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Mr. Styles had the honor of introducing Stevie Nicks at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. (She is the first woman to be inducted twice, which is something I needed to lie down after hearing. Induct all the women multiple times, you soulless award-hoarding men.) And he certainly came correct: a royally blue velour suit, an ultramarine dream, also with a drop blazer and wide-legged pants, complete with Navy-esque white shoes and buttons. All aboard the SS Styles. After saying things about our Stephanie like “she’s the magical gypsy godmother who occupies the in-between,” and “She is a beacon to all of us. Whenever you hear her voice, life gets just a little bit better. When she sings, the world is hers, and it is yours,” he bowed down to her like the royalty she is. Naturally, he knew blue was the only true color to wear on such a divine occasion.
Steven Van Zandt at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Not one to be showed up by younger generations, E Street veteran Little Steven brought his own brand of suiting to the same fete as Mr. Styles. Also royally resplendent in a monochrome purple ensemble, the Jersey don rolled up looking like a rock and roll turtle, the kind that lives forever and bears the markings of history on its shell. My theory is that while not on tour with Bruce Springsteen, he moonlights as an enforcer for Grimace, hence all the purple suiting he has apparently accumulated. I stand in awe of his accomplishment in making myriad McDonald’s spokesman violet tones look regal. Or I might just be blinded by the light. But as Bruce himself says, any good magic trick begins with the setup, and Little Steven has Set It Up.
I think about “The Princess Bride” probably every day. I don’t especially care if that’s too much; it’s a pair of lungs to me now. So it was an unexpected loss of air to hear that its storyteller, William Goldman, recently passed away. I never knew this person, but his work was a joy that seeped into my own life.
My love for this movie (and the book that preceded it) is complete and all-encompassing. Its lines and ethos permeate all of my days – my need to rhyme with “peanut,” my knowledge to never get involved in a land war in Asia, my tendency to overuse the word “inconceivable” even in the most conceivable of situations. Buttercup and Westley gave me a love that’s as fun as it is deep. A sense of humor is key when dealing with the forces of evil. The Dread Pirate Roberts knows this.
I’m not sure of the precise moment “The Princess Bride” arrived in my life; like most lasting cultural touchstones, it seems to transcend origin and simply exist across planes of time. My existence has always been wrapped around a VHS tape that brought me this story. I know it came to my family’s house one Christmas, but I don’t remember its manger-like presence under the tree. My awareness came later. I’m not positive on when I first popped that tape into our tiny white TV unit, that moment of discovery. I do know I’ve never been the same.
It’s funny which things from the past are embedded there, like moths in amber, visible but immobile, and which things jump out and demand to be known again.
The spirit of this photograph is strong as ever. It is mysterious and commanding, with lightning strikes of memories. It houses an ectoplasm that keeps it moving through realms.
I fully believe this spirit is there. It breathes. When I look at this image, its motion captivates me. My grandpa Earl dashes forward, his arms wide, beguiling a jumping dog. Another dog leaps down from a tree split in half, the trunk bent and the blond wood exposed. It appears lightning-struck, a sudden change in form. The photo’s simple mysteries unfold in a long-forgotten summer day. Handwriting on the back indicates it’s July 1984, and the feeling of wonder from that day is preserved.
The dogs and Earl are in the backyard of my grandparents’ house in Atlantic, Iowa. The scene emanates the ghosts of a heated thunderstorm, the morning after a heavy rain and lightning fest ripped the night open. I’m not sure who took the photo – perhaps my aunt, as those are her dogs frolicking around the frame. The lens captures such a sweet ceremony, a joy that Earl bestowed on the things he loved. That joy streams through the decades, the love sustaining a family.
This image is a window I frequent – its energy is still strong, it depicts a realm I want to embody. The ectoplasm inhabits the photograph, manifesting a spirit I am always trying to conjure. I want to know how the lens came to freeze this particular moment, limbs and paws midair, the tree’s raw insides opened up. The person on the other side of the camera somehow knew.
The spirit dances inside this photo, just as Earl did that day in July. The storm’s energy is still in the air, and the dogs nip it up, reveling in Earl’s presence. Maybe I put as much voodoo in this image as I believe is there, but it still holds power.
How many people have written about watching Bob Ross paint? I don’t know why I’m asking that question because I don’t care about the answer. I’m joining up.
His dual-color brush move is a killer. One moment, you’re looking at his relaxed hand smoothing some beautiful forest green down a mountainside underneath some lavender-mauve clouds, and the next he flicks the brush in the other direction and a gorgeous emerald tone appears on the other side of the mountain. He is painting a dream with all the right colors, the ones you see in your mind but can never seem to recreate or even name to any satisfaction. But Bob knows how.
What I didn’t remember is that at the beginning of each episode, Bob runs the names of all the colors you’ll need for your own painting at the bottom of the screen. He thinks you can do this, too – that you can take these very same pigments and do what he does. But even a simple background – the basis for a cliffside, say – he’s made a shade of black that you will never recreate. There are many blended colors that make it a unique hue, and even with Bob spelling out its recipe, your cliffside black will not match his. But you can look at it all you want, and that is enough.