It was a big moment in a life that has had a lot of them. Patti Smith performed a Bob Dylan song at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm last night, in honor of the man born Robert Zimmerman, who was not there to accept his award for literature himself. It was a wonderful choice by the Nobel committee: Smith teethed on Dylan’s music, and they have performed together in the past. (I saw them share a bill and a mike at the Beacon Theater in New York many years ago; she had wonder in her face as she looked at her hero next to her.) Like Bob, Patti is not exactly a singer in the bel canto tradition: She has a rough voice, prone to flat tones . But unlike him, she can belt with a strong, powerful vibrato. Her rendition of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” silenced the theater full of men in tuxes and women in gowns.
And then, she forgot the words. She stumbled, stumbled again, then stopped the guitar accompaniment, apologized, and asked if she could start over. “I apologize. Sorry, I’m so nervous,” she said smiling the tight smile of someone mortified to the point of tears, her cheeks crimson — a human moment in a night of buttoned-up formality. Later, it happened again. It was a stumble big enough to make online headlines. I hope, in the video below, people play beyond the gaffes and listen to the words of this timely and timeless protest song by one great writer, sung by another, blessedly fallible one.
Sunrise, Cabrillo Beach, Dec. 9, 2016
The sun splashed above the clouds early yesterday morning but never broke at the horizon. It barely peeked through all day and there was no sunset; we even had moisture in the air last night. (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it rain.) Today the sea and the sky have merged into one gray slate, the line between water and air indistinguishable. Twice, I’ve see the sun shine a spotlight on ocean patches, but it was quickly overtaken by clouds. Time blurs like the elements. When does the day begin and end if we don’t have the sun to mark it?
Sunset, Point Fermin, Dec. 8, 2016
Every day I count my blessings to live in a beautiful place. San Pedro may house the port of one of the biggest cities in the world, but past the cranes, barges, and refineries lie the cliffs of Point Fermin and the dark blue Pacific Ocean. Unusually for California, our house is located on a bluff facing east, so we can watch the sun rise over the water from our bed. At night, we can take a short walk down the beach and look back at the point to see the sun setting, casting our house into darkness while lighting up Catalina.
I’m going to try to start documenting the daily entrance and egress of this celestial body, as it bids hello and goodbye to the west coast of North America. These photos are taken from Cabrillo Beach this evening. In the far right of the photo of Point Fermin, you can see the lights of our house, among others. It’s a good time to reflect on the things that are eternal, ineffable, and even divine.
Catalina Island, Dec. 8, 2016
“Trouble in the Heartland,” in which I come clean about my love affair with Bruce Springsteen.
My next book project got announced yesterday on the Publisher’s Marketplace newsletter:
Edited and with an introduction by Evelyn McDonnell’s WOMEN WHO ROCK, an illustrated history featuring essays on key female artists in hip-hop, pop, soul, and rock by leading women writers and musicians, with illustrations by female artists, to Becky Koh at Black Dog & Leventhal, by Sarah Lazin at Sarah Lazin Books (World).
I am really excited about this book, which I think is going to be smart and inspirational. I’m looking forward to assembling a talented crew of writers and helping locate illustrators. Narrowing down our list of female musicians to celebrate will be hard, and I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life defending omissions. But more than ever right now, we need to honor and gather the work of women. Thanks to my agent Sarah Lazin and editor Becky Koh for making this happen.
Allison Wolfe (left) and Nadya Tolokno. Courtesy of Allison
Last night was a queer punk rock feminist dream come true, hanging with and hearing some key gender game-changers, past and present. First, Allison Wolfe and I went to the Ace Hotel, where Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot was holding court. It was the first time the original Riot Grrrl had met the original Pussy Riot girl, so that was a bit of a moment. We also ran into Mukta Mohan and Gabrielle Costa of the very cool Honey Power female DJ collective. Lots of girl power on that rooftop last night. Tolokno showed her three new videos, in which Putin’s least favorite punk raps and grooves. The former art student is pursuing a more Madonna/Peaches/PJ Harvey groove than the band’s former anarcho thrash. The videos are very sexualized, and bloody. Allison will be on a panel with Maria from Pussy Riot Monday night at the Regent, so she is on the full PR tour this week.
Afterwards, the Sex Stains goddess and I trucked up to USC, where we caught the second half of the Trans/Gender Tipping Point event organized by Jack Halberstam and Karen Tongson, two scholars whose work is not just analyzing but leading the discourse on gender variance. Four members of the Transparent artistic team talked about that show’s, er, transformative effect on trans visibility, television, and their own lives. Director Silas Howard, producers Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, and actor Trace Lysette also discussed how the show could go even further, including having feature characters who have fully transitioned. Howard, for one, is optimistic the show will continue to break ground, saying of Jill Soloway’s Transparent team, “Whenever they’re most afraid, they most bravely go forward.” Stay tuned.
Some students asked me recently what the best part of being a journalist is, and I would say it’s being a witness to the making of history. Being in a room with Howard and Wolfe again, a couple decades after we were all first connected to Revolution Girl Style, or watching Allison and Nadya talk, or being dazzled by Lysette’s simultaneous poise and vulnerability — it felt like another of those nights. That’s my blessing as a journalist; my job is to tell you about it, which I just did.
It’s becoming a running theme: Someone I wrote about 15, 20, 25 years ago finally gets their day in the sun, and I get to reconnect. Call it Early Adopter Syndrome, or, as poet Mike Tyler says, the Turtle Generation finally crossing the finish line. In today’s edition, it’s a his and a her: that old queer punk Hedwig. Eighteen years ago I interviewed John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask, the creators of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for The Village Voice. I was such a tireless Hedwig advocate back then that Carrie Brownstein — yeah, I was onto her a long time ago too — used to tease me about my obsession. Cue forward to 2014, and the old “slip of a girlie” is finally on Broadway, and, er, snatching Tonys. I caught up with John and Stephen recently for the LA Weekly. They are both rabid music fans, and it’s always great fun to talk about punk and politics with them. The revival of Hedwig launches at the Pantages tonight, with Darren Criss in the title role and Tony-winner Lena Hall as Yitzhak and, on Sunday nights, Hedwig — more gender warping from this vanguard show.