June 13, 2013

Learning from David Bowie

bowie-david-bowie-32025052-360-500Does it get any more Vigilante Living than David Bowie? Talk about inventing yourself on your own terms! Of course there is Bowie, the colossal figure in 20th Century rock music; and then there is Bowie the inventor of fashion shock-value (and gender ambiguity) as a tool for branding and marketing.  I’m sure some music historian would correct me, declaring some obscure baroque violinist the first shock-artist-musician. But in  contemporary times, David Bowie is the pinnacle of modern self-expression. Bowie is famous for harnessing “glam weirdness” as part of his performance art; he broke as many rules in fashion as he did in rock music. Bowie’s invention of the androgynous Ziggy Stardust — his alter ego — is a particularly captivating creative device: by playing off his face’s delicate feminine features, he turned himself into a canvas for exploratory fashion, makeup, and gender expectation. He looks like he’s posing for an avant garde fashion shoot — and in my book usually nails ‘Beautiful’. You can tell I’m not alone in my admiration. When you see a performer donning such an artful ensemble now, its just plain derivative. (Imitation is the highest form of flattery.) But the idea of being liberated and ballsy enough to invent who you want to be (even if it’s fake and temporary) takes cojones. So the next time you’re about to take a big creative risk that could potentially make you feel like a big ninny, think of Bowie in his Ziggy unitard with striped jodphur thighs and go for broke. The worst that can happen is you sober up and lay claim to a colorful past. Normal is boring.

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david-bowie_via rollingstone

Photos:/ Rolling Stone archive

May 28, 2013

Literary Jukebox

Literary JukeboxWe are trained from a young age to put things into boxes. There is art and there is science. You are either a modernist or a traditionalist. Vigilante Living believes these arbitrary boxes to be inaccurate ways of organizing ideas, people and art. The brilliant blogger Maria Popova of Brain Pickings understands this and uses her blog to dissemble these boxes in a most refreshing way. Her newest side project, Literary Jukebox, unboxes the worlds of literature and music and groups songs and books in associative pairs. Every day, a quote from a book Popova has appreciated is paired with a song that she feels aligns with it. The song and the quote are often sisterly in nature rather than identical, which makes them all the more interesting. It is a genius concept and I love her for creating this side project. To read more about Maria Popova, see the New York Times feature on her from November 2012. She is a true Vigilante in her thinking: “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.” This woman’s brain is on fire — for highbrow intellectual pursuits (i.e. Italo Calvino quoted below!) to pop culture references and trashy Americana. Amen, Popova.  Please keep up the wonderful work in box deconstruction.

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May 17, 2013

Todd Hido

todd hido 14Todd Hido is a Bay Area photographer who gained prominence around the time of the millenium for his ghostly, poetic large format color photographs of houses in the fog. Immediately his work spoke to me in the darkly beautiful way that Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides and the movie Donnie Darko spoke to me. Hido’s photography is about anonymity and what you do not know about seemingly innocuous places, like a typical suburban home. When lit from within, and with fog encasing his subject matter at twilight, the untold stories of these houses and their inhabitants leave an eerie, hypnotic imprint. You also might feel like The Arcade Fire’s 2010 album The Suburbs took some creative energy from the work of Hido, as evidenced in their album cover. Andy Grunberg, in an Artforum piece on Hido entitled “House Sitting” (1998) describes Hido’s photography well: “The houses in Hido’s outdoor shots seem to glow in the dark. While the bright light that shines through the windows gives some indication that these structures are lived in, one can also sense their gloomy desolation.” In addition to his exteriors of houses, Hido also shoots interiors, primarily of foreclosed houses and hotels. For me, Todd Hido is an expert in Northern California noir. There is much made of Southern California, Raymond Chandler-esque landscapes, but Hido alludes to another side of this stereotypically happy, surfers-and-redwoods part of the Golden State. I like lugubrious; it just has to be pretty.

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The Arcade Fire_The Suburbs album

All photography by Todd Hido.

Album art of The Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs: Design by Caroline Robert, Art Direction by Vincent Morisset, Photos by Gabriel Jones

May 2, 2013

It’s Vinyl and it’s Just my Type

I am a die-hard enthusiast of vinyl. There are so many reasons why. Let me count the ways: (1) because of the record jacket, and all the cool design real estate that it provides. (2) Because the sound of a record is more tactile and scratchy than digital recordings. Whether it’s Chopin, or an old Pixies album, vinyl sounds real and imperfect —  the way life really is. (3) I also appreciate the display of records. There is nostalgia in a big bookshelf lined with records. Whether its a record nook tucked inside a closet, or a repurposed bar cart for your turntable, or just a stack piled high in your living room — having records is unconventional in this increasingly digital world where folks hide their music collection on private iPods never to be exposed. Records are for public consumption on display in your house, like books. Here are some examples from over the years. Crosley makes a super affordable portable record player around $130 if you’re not wanting to invest in a vintage one, or a fancy DJ’s variety. Jack White’s label, Third Man Records also offers a portable turntable for just a little more at $165.

Crosley makes a really cool affordable turntable.

Crosley makes a very simple and affordable record player with retro luggage lines.

Third Man Records, Jack White's record label, offers this supercool and affordable Crosley portable record player.

Third Man Records, Jack White’s record label, offers this sharp yellow accented Crosley portable record player.


From Terence Conran's House Book (1970) a fabulous record and wet bar nook.

From Terence Conran’s House Book (1970) a fabulous record and wet bar nook.

No need to be fancy. A simple metal bookshelf makes a lovely record nook.

No need to be fancy. A simple metal bookshelf makes a lovely record nook.

Also from Conran's book, a record storage area at L, and with cabinets open, at R.

Also from Conran’s book, a record storage area at left; and with cabinets open, at right, hiding all the hifi equipment.


April 29, 2013

The Best Podcast for New Music

Illustrators spend a lot of time at their desks. As such, it can be a lonely occupation without music.  Despite living in radio-rich Chicago, my preferred alternative music show is a podcast out of Seattle: KEXP’s Music that Matters. There are several different DJs for the Podcast: some specialize in electronica, others alternative Americana, folk, electro-pop, etc. The DJs all rotate through the podcast weekly and name their mixes poetic titles like “Scared and Lonely — Sittin’ in the Bathtub” or “You Are All I See.” Each week there are two episodes. The DJ who is most aligned with my music tastes, is the buttery-voiced Cheryl Waters. Cheryl has an encyclopedic knowledge of indie music going back to 1994 when she began DJing at KEXP. There is always at least one amazing nugget of a song — if not several— that drive me to buy a new album. Let’s face it: there is an abundance of new music out there and it can be daunting to even research new music. Cheryl Waters is the perfect editor for narrowing it all down and selecting the most captivating songs. For example, her Vol #235 “Sleep Forever” is one that I still play over and over — and introduced me to some of the musicians below.


KEXP’s Music that Matters podcast is a great education (on a regular basis) for alternative music lovers.

Active Child

Active Child   “In in Your Church at Night”

The Hundred in the Hands

The Hundred in the Hands, “Pigeons”

Band of Horses

“Ode to LRC” Band of Horses (not from this album… I just like this album art.)


April 9, 2013

Dreamy Music

Everyone has their own way of categorizing music in their brain. There’s cooking music (peppy, upbeat, lyrical.) There’s exercise music (up tempo, perhaps heavy on the bass, rockin.) You have work music (atmospheric? not too heavy on the complex lyrics.) Music is the soundtrack to the movie of your life. It is crazy important to your mental health; to a Vigilante Living kind of person, your music collection is a little window into who you are and how you are wired.  Right now I am in a dreamy music period, and have been revisiting old bands in this genre. Here is a is a little illustration of dreamy music and how it’s organized in my head. Please leave a comment if you have any more dreamy music I should know about!