“A Nice Way to Think About One’s Relationship with Time and Objects”–A Chat About Perfume with Shiamin Kwa
Welcome to the perfume episode!
(Well, hopefully the first of many perfume episodes.)
Let’s take a temporary glamour break from everything that’s awful in the world right now, shall we?
Much like my very first episode of the show with Casey Andrews, where we chatted for well over an hour about our favorite films of the 2010s, this episode is less of an interview and more of an excuse for me to nerd out about one of my big passions with a fellow scent obsessive.
Today I’m in conversation with my dear and brilliant friend Shiamin Kwa.
Shiamin is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature at Bryn Mawr College. She is the author of three books, the most recent being Regarding Frames: Thinking with Comics in the Twenty-first Century, which was just released by RIT Press in February of this year. Her written work explores relationships between form and content, text and image, self and self-presentation, surface and depth, and the conflicts between what we say and what we mean. Her research interests include theater and fiction, food studies, graphic narratives, literary studies, cultural studies, comparative and world literature, and literary and narrative theory.
She also contributed an amazingly funny and tender essay about the band Wham! to my most recent zine The Last Band of My Youth.
In today’s deep dive on perfume, we talk about how smells can seem so much richer in our memories when we don’t have access to them anymore, the quiet spaciousness of perfume as object, how we’re meant to interact with perfume on a time scale, how wearing Frederic Malle’s “Portrait of a Lady” is like having to do self-promotion as the author of a new book, and the difficulty of imposing order on things you love.Read More
So, how’s everyone doing this week, now that so many of us are sheltering in place?
From the bottom of my heart, I’m wishing you and your loved ones health and ease during this supremely strange and unsettling time.
I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many wise and compassionate friends who are helping me make sense of the wide variety of emotions that have been coming up around all the continued uncertainty in this ongoing coronavirus situation.
I feel even more fortunate that I had the chance to speak with one of those wise and compassionate friends for this week’s episode.
Today, I’m incredibly pleased to be speaking with my friend, neighbor, and former bandmate, the poet Tony Trigilio.
Tony is the author and editor of 13 books, including, most recently, Ghosts of the Upper Floor (published by BlazeVOX [books] in 2019), which is the third installment in his multivolume poem, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published in Guatemala by Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He is editor of Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (published by Ahsahta Press in 2014), and the author of Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2012). Tony coedits the poetry journal Court Green and is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly. He is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.
Today we discuss his origin story as a poet, the possibilities that get unlocked by asking a student “tell me more of what you mean by that,” building bridges between the hemispheres of the brain, how playing drums professionally helped Tony unite his practice as a writer with his work as a scholar, and why the best art feels like a friend saying to you, “I’m going to tell you something but it’s hard to say.”
For more information about Tony, you can find him online at starve.org.Read More
Welcome to the coronavirus special.
OK, not really.
But if you’re taking your social distancing seriously–and for the sake of the most vulnerable among us, I hope that you are–you might suddenly find yourself with a bit more time on your freshly washed hands. Hopefully this week’s episode featuring my dear friend the artist Keiler Roberts will be a balm and a welcome hour’s worth of distraction.
Keiler has been writing autobiographical comics for ten years. Her six books include Sunburning, Chlorine Gardens, and, most recently, Rat Time, all three of which were published by Koyama Press. Her self-published autobiographical comic series Powdered Milk received an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Series in 2016, and in 2019 Chlorine Gardens received Slate’s Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of 2018, which was selected by The Slate Book Review and The Center for Cartoon Studies. Her work has been included in The Best American Comics in 2016 and 2018 and was mentioned on their Notables list for 2014. Her work has been featured in numerous gallery exhibitions, including a solo show in Northern Ireland at The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s University, Belfast, curated by Ben Crothers. She has taught at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago since 2013 and lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her husband, the artist Scott Roberts, their daughter Xia, and perhaps the most famous cartoon pet since Snoopy, their dog Crooky.
This week on the show, Keiler and I talk about the thrill of the possibility of failure, embracing disorganization, the difficulties that arise when you try to do an unnameable activity, why telling someone “just be yourself” can be bad advice, and the difference between a story that’s funny to tell and a story that’s funny to draw.Read More
This week on I’ll Follow You, I’m delighted to be speaking with a very dear friend, the theatrical impresario and President of NoHo himself, Mr. Paul Storiale.
Paul is the Artistic Director for the Defiance Theatre Company, the President and Founder of the Valley Theatre Awards in Los Angeles, and creator of the award-winning stage play The Columbine Project. He’s also the creator of the web series Gossip Boy, which you can stream on Amazon Prime, and a successful comedic actor in his own right, having performed for many years in the dinner theater phenomenon Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding and having recently toured the country as part of the cast of My Big Gay Italian Wedding.
And if that’s not enough of a full plate, Paul is also a Los Angeles elected public official, currently serving as president of the NoHo Neighborhood Council, an advisory board created by the Los Angeles City Charter to provide improved access to government and make government more responsive to local needs in the North Hollywood community.
Today we chat about how to create a little bit of healthy antagonism among your cast during rehearsals, establishing a container for catharsis in a live theater space, and the secret of never having to audition as an actor ever again.Read More
Today I’m pleased to have on the show one of my all-time favorite humans, David Higgins.
David teaches English at Inver Hills Community College in Minnesota. He is a specialist in 20th-century American literature and culture, and his research explores transformations in imperial fantasy during the Cold War period and beyond. His article “Toward a Cosmopolitan Science Fiction” won the 2012 Science Fiction Research Association’s Pioneer Award for excellence in scholarship. He has published in journals such as American Literature, Science Fiction Studies, Science Fiction Film and Television, and Extrapolation, and his work has appeared in edited volumes such as The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction.
He is also the Speculative Fiction Editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
In our chat today, we talk about his upcoming book on reverse colonization narratives in the science fiction of the 1960s, how he’s calibrated his own best creative routines, why he congratulates his undergraduate students when they feel like they’ve failed, and the many flexible ways to approach the study and criticism of speculative fiction.Read More
One of the whack-a-mole topics of conversation that recurs periodically on social media is this whole notion of the side hustle. Do you take one of your hobbies that you’re really good at and then turn it into something you make money off of? Or do you protect that hobby at all costs from the imperatives of capitalism, and instead turn to it as an escape from whatever your daily grind may be?
While of course there are plenty of arguments for and against both of those options, I feel like a big part of what I’m trying to do with this podcast is shining a light on people who take a sort of third route, where it’s a little more difficult to dismiss these major parts of people’s lives as “just” a hobby, even if it’s not something they make any money from or gain any significant notoriety for. I think there are way more interesting, and way less reductive, ways to think about the specific things that people commit their time and attention and energy to.
Which is why I’m so excited to be able to introduce you all today to my good friend Michael Sherron.
Although there are any number of things he and I could have spent an hour talking about, I specifically wanted him to talk about the process of becoming a docent at the Phoenix Art Museum in Arizona.
He’s currently an apprentice docent from the class of 2018 and now leads tours there for adults and school groups. In his day job, he’s an engineering manager building large scale cloud hosting solutions for the enterprise.
Mike is one of the most remarkable people I know, in terms of his sheer capacity to tackle incredibly ambitious projects simply for the joy of learning how to do them. That deep focus and insatiable curiosity is definitely at the heart of what led him to commit the past two years to studying really intensely in order to start giving tours at the Phoenix Art Museum.
In addition to talking about what the program was like, in the last twenty or so minutes of our chat, Mike guides me through a deeper look at two paintings from the Phoenix Art Museum’s collection, Lew Davis’s The Rebel and Frida Kahlo’s The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.Read More
Just this past week, my band, the Felus Cremins Band, released our latest album. It’s called American Romantic Music, and you can stream it right here, or check it out on our Bandcamp page.
To mark the occasion, I asked my bandmate and partner Brian Cremins to join me to chat specifically about the making of the title track, the song “American Romantic Music.”
Rather than slogging through a whole boring track-by-track rundown of the entire album, I thought it might be instructive to focus just on this one song. I think the process by which it came to be written and recorded is particularly illustrative of the way that we collaborate.
In addition to our chat, you’ll also get to hear how the song progressed from its first demo to its first live performance to the final recorded version that’s the heart of the new album.
Many of you will be familiar with Brian’s work as a writer and scholar, but he is equally insightful about listening to, writing, and playing music. So I really think you’re going to be delighted by our conversation here.
Brian first started playing guitar when he was 16, and he joined his first bands while attending Dartmouth College in the ’90s. Some of the most memorable of these bands were The Frost Heaves, Hamlet Machine, and Wonderland Accident.
While in grad school at the University of Connecticut, he played guitar and sang in the rock trio The Confessors. They played all over the East Coast at notable venues including CBGBs, TT the Bear’s, and Toad’s Place, and lots of other clubs that have been turned into parking lots since then.
In Chicago, he’s played with and written songs for the bands Ten Hundred, Short Punks in Love, Tiny Magnets, and Pet Theories.
Though primarily self-taught, Brian has been studying jazz guitar with John Moulder for the past four years, and is currently also learning to play the oud.Read More
If you were on Twitter the day that the 2019 Oscar nominations were announced, you may have noticed a little viral excitement about an alternate set of awards called the Elsie’s.
16 year old actress Elsie Fisher, who’s probably best known for her starring role in the 2018 film Eighth Grade, took to Twitter to declare that, “I’ve decided to start my own film awards because sometimes other ones suck, so here are the nominations for the first annual Elsie Awards.”
And from there she proceeded to announce her nominations for the typical categories like Best Actress and Best Director, as well as innovations like Best Horror Feature, Best Young Performer, and Best Independent Feature.
Her nominations referenced films with impeccable cool cred–like The Lighthouse, The Farewell, Hustlers, and Us–and sought to implicitly critique the lack of diversity among the actual Oscar nominations.
I think I first saw the thread when comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted about it, but there were a bunch of articles posted about it within the day on sites like Teen Vogue and Indiewire praising Fisher for her good taste, inclusivity, and plucky ingenuity for taking matters into her hands.
However, to a select handful of people, this whole idea of the Elsie’s sounded strangely familiar.
See, there’s another individually produced, underground movie awards ceremony that’s been around for nearly 30 years now, and that’s the Nick Movie Awards.
Established in 1992 by Nick Ivankovic, the Nick Movie Awards began as a way for Nick to honor his favorite films and performances each year. In the years since, the Nick Movie Awards have grown from a literal bedroom project to an annual event that has included parties, trivia, viewer’s choice categories, online voting, and even its own signature menu items.
Nick grew up in Schererville, Indiana, and attended Butler University as an Accounting major. He’s been a finance professional for 20 years and is currently based in Los Angeles, California.
I asked him to join the show this week to talk through the history of the NMAs (as they’re affectionately known) and to give a more in-depth glimpse into his nominations for the 2019 movie year.Read More
So, as soon as I started my podcast project “I’ll Follow You,” I knew with absolute certainty that I had to have today’s guest on, preferably sooner rather than later. I’m absolutely thrilled not just to have him on for this wonderful chat, but also to be able to introduce him and his work to those of you who may not have had the pleasure of knowing him–yet.
Today I’m so excited to welcome to the show Dr. Gene Kannenberg Jr.
Gene is a cartoonist living in Evanston, Illinois. His comics, mostly abstract with asemic writing, include Qodèxx, Space Year 2015, and The Abstract Circus. His work was included in the Minnesota Center for Book Arts’ 2017 exhibit “Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery” and also appears in the book Abstraction et bande dessinée, produced by the ACME Comics Research Group at the University of Liège in Belgium.
Gene received his PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2002, and he has served in the past as Chair of both the International Comic Arts Festival and the Comic Art & Comics section of the Popular Culture Association. His book 500 Essential Graphic Novels was published by Collins Design in 2008.
Gene is currently the Research and Media Assistant at the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, where he has curated two exhibits on comic art.
As we allude to later in the conversation, Gene moved to Illinois in late 2014, and it was one of those rare examples of a later-in-life instant friendship. Just like, “yep, you’re my people.” He had gone to grad school with my partner Brian Cremins (whom we also allude to later in the conversation), and pretty much from the moment he signed the lease on his apartment, he was showing up at our gigs and taking the best photographs of us playing music, inviting us out to excellent readings and film screenings, and just generally being a key part of our urban family. We also collaborated together on a modern take on the Book and Record set with his project Qodèxx, an abstract graphic novella for which Brian and I composed the soundtrack. (You can read a bit more about my thoughts on making the album here.)
So, pardon all the giggles and excited blathering that you’ll hear from me here–it really does come from a place of extreme warmth and affection for Gene and our friendship and of course my enthusiasm for his work. So now to let him speak more for himself, here’s my conversation with Gene Kannenberg.Read More
As I’ve written before, I started making year-end mixes back in 2004 as a way to avoid spending a ton of money on Christmas presents and to share some of my favorite new music with my pals. I haven’t skipped a year, and I’m so pleased to have everything archived on the site here in the “Mixes” tab you see above.
This mix and all my notes will live in perpetuity there, but I wanted also to be sure to post everything in my main blog feed as well. I’ve embedded the Mixcloud player below so you can stream the mix, in its sequenced order, right here while you’re reading. But I also finally broke down and put it up on Spotify and Apple Music as well.
I hope you enjoy listening to these songs as much as I have all year! I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts and musings as well.
I give you my “Best of 2019: Songs Build Little Rooms in Time” mix.
1. Let’s Go on the Run—Chance the Rapper, feat. Knox Fortune (The Big Day)
2. Sports/Best in Show—Viagra Boys (Street Worms)
3. bad guy—Billie Eilish (WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?)
4. Kill Switch—Ride (This Is Not a Safe Place)
5. Veka—Zola Jesus (Okovi)
6. My Little Treasures—Richard Hawley (Further)
7. Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company—The Divine Comedy (Office Politics)
8. Ride Around—Matt Ox (OX)
9. Le Responsable—The King Khan Experience (Turkey Ride)
10. 8 AM—The Marcus King Band (Carolina Confessions)
11. MILES—Jamila Woods (LEGACY! LEGACY!)
12. Empty Handed—Robben Ford (Purple House)
13. Jerome—Lizzo (Cuz I Love You)
14. Hard to Be Alone—Tal Wilkenfeld (Love Remains)
15. We Are the People—Iggy Pop (Free)
16. Snow Is Falling in Manhattan—Purple Mountains (Purple Mountains)
Circa 2006(ish?), I’d been working on a book about punk rock at my publishing gig and was chatting about it with my dad at one my semi-regular visits to see him in his nursing home.
His brain had been altered in funny ways by his strokes. The slurred speech and loss of function on one half of his body were the most obvious/typical/expected. Some people were shocked by his outbursts of anger and assumed that they too must have been a result of the strokes; I struggled to adequately convey to those people that, no, that was actually the same old Terry, his temper just exacerbated by his frustrations with his new physical limitations. His anger categorically was not a personality change stemming from brain trauma. (Though, I guess, depending on how you look at it, the loss of his ability to mask that anger probably was a side effect of his brain changes. At any rate.)
But, the one change that did seem chemical (or borderline spiritual) was that some kind of mental door had opened to his deep, personal past, and he found he could remember things that he hadn’t thought about in years. Often it was nothing profound–one afternoon he went on a jag telling a series of jokes that he’d probably learned as a five year old. But on that day, as I was talking about how interesting I was finding the New York punk history I’d been reading about in the manuscript, he casually mentioned, “oh, I always really liked and respected Tom Verlaine’s playing.”
My mind = blown.
I didn’t grow up with the rock and roll affinities that a lot of folks my age did. My dad had always been mostly a jazz guy (with some doo-wop and other 50s-era “oldies” thrown in for good measure). Sure, he introduced us to “Good Vibrations” and a few of the Beatles’ earliest singles on 45, but there was certainly no Stones, no Zep, no Floyd. He gifted my brother some Hendrix recordings when my brother started to learn to play guitar, but I don’t remember ever hearing Jimi around the house prior to that. Not that my dad outright avoided guitar–he liked shredders like Pat Metheny and Joe Satriani, but also Jose Feliciano and Christopher Parkening. He prized technique and technical wizardry, no matter the instrument, his Virgo sun basking in all that exactitude.
Oddly, this was also where I think his masculinity felt most safe asserting itself. He was SO sensitive in so many ways, but he really got off on high-testosterone demonstrations of “chops,” exclaiming over complicated time signatures and outrageously high notes and ridiculously fast fingering the way I assume other dads enthused about sports stars’ athletic prowess. So, in that sense, Tom Verlaine–a guy playing extended, complicated, thinky solos in jazz-inflected modes–wasn’t exactly anathema to my dad’s sensibility.
It was just more–when in the hell and where in the hell was my dad listening to Tom Verlaine? My dad knew Television?? This square, accordion-playing, Polish-American nerd from Indiana knew about Marquee Moon?! When had that happened and where had I been and why hadn’t I known? Why was this information suddenly coming to light now?
The great joke being, of course, that I needed to learn about Television myself before I could be impressed with my dad knowing about them. Only took me til I was about 27, so, good job me being both a dick and a snob about it.
Brian and I had seen Television play live once before, in the spring of 2014 at the Metro in Chicago. It was an excellent show, and I even included it in my 2014 year-end zine on my short list of favorite concerts of the year. As far as I can remember, none of the players talked to the audience that night; in fact Verlaine even seemed borderline aggrieved by being on stage in front of a crowd at all. But that in no way diminished my enjoyment of the set; in fact, it kind of instantly catapulted the band into a weird personal pantheon of artists like Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) and Stanley Kubrick whom I love specifically because of the way deadpan presentation combines with extreme technical precision in their art to create a sort of ecstatic tension between heart and mind.
And because the show was so brainy, and their engagement with the audience so limited to the strictly musical, it was the perfect playground for me to practice my idea of psychically reading the players on stage. (You can read more about this, and see how I read drummer Billy Ficca and Verlaine himself, in my piece Musical Chakras.) The whole night was almost more like performance art or a classical concert than a typical rock show, and pretty much confirmed my idea of Television being an aggressively cerebral band.
Truth be told, I tend not to listen to their albums all that often, though Brian always knows he can make me laugh if he randomly throws that stabbing, two-note riff from “Marquee Moon” into any given song he may be playing on his own guitar. Still, I felt like I knew what to expect when we got tickets for their first set at the Old Town School of Folk Music on Friday, May 10. Imagine my surprise, though, when I walked in, braced for a chilly though intellectually nourishing night of music to find them…loose? To find Verlaine not only talking to the crowd but telling jokes? Jokes?!
My mind = blown.
Let’s be honest–growing older, it’s harder and harder for me to be impressed by much anymore. I remember that youthful sense of feeling like I’d just had sex on a spaceship if the energy at a concert was electric and alive and if I was in the right frame of mind to receive its blessing. I don’t go out expecting to come home feeling like that these days. A softer sense of contentment, of aesthetic satiation, though, does still arise from time to time–with young artists still figuring out the limits of their own power, yes, but even more encouragingly with old dogs who’ve resisted calcifying into audience-pleasing tricks and have instead managed to stay connected to a current of vitality and discovery. I’ve experienced that with Peter Gabriel, with Iggy Pop, with King Crimson, with Bob Dylan, and now with Television. It’s nice to be reminded that an old door doesn’t always have to open onto the past; it opens into the future sometimes too.