2011 - %3, July

My Topless Video Chat With Amanda Palmer

| Sat Jul. 30, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Amanda Palmer's arrest in Amsterdam.

Amanda Palmer is not an artist so much as an event. Probably best known as the former front woman for punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls, she's also a street performer, director, composer, blogger, and the unhinged virtuoso of fucking bring-it. After a heated battle with Roadrunner, her former label, Palmer has turned into a crusader for DIY music distribution. She now relies on her wits, her Twits (she's up to 517,000 followers on Twitter), and her loyal, creative fanbase to keep her rocking. Not to mention fan donations on her website, or music-making pledge campaigns on sites like Kickstarter.

Not too long ago, Huffington Post dubbed Palmer the "Social Media Queen of Rock-N-Roll"—her awesomeness in that realm is perhaps best encapuslated by her performance at The Shorty Awards, where she compiled and sang the year's most amusing tweets from the likes of Kanye West, Paris Hilton, and Beaker from the Muppets.

When she's not on the interwebs, Palmer tours relentlessly (New England and Europe this summer), and she recently collaborated on a project called 8in8 with Ben Folds, OK Go's Damian Kulash (we interview him here), and Palmer's husband, the author Neil Gaiman. In short, they tried to create and record eight songs in eight hours—and ended up with six songs in twelve hours, but still. Prior to that, Palmer released Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, an Australia tribute featuring a cheeky homage to pubic hair, "Map of Tasmania," which you can watch below.

I reached out to Ms. Palmer on Twitter (of course), and she agreed to talk after I promised to take her on a dive bar date to find a Russian cyclops. For the record, I didn't actually ask her to do the interview in her bra, but, you know, you're welcome. Click on the questions in blue to watch Palmer's answers.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

PS: You can find more Amanda Palmer on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And you really should watch "Map of Tasmania"—here it is!

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [26]

| Fri Jul. 29, 2011 5:17 PM PDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Review: Eilen Jewell's "Queen of the Minor Key"

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

TRACK 11

"Only One"

from Eilen Jewell's Queen of the Minor Key (Signature Sounds)

Liner notes: Best known as an alt-country artist, Jewell (not to be confused with the '90s diva) channels jazz siren Billie Holiday on this torch song, as shimmering electric guitar and organ cast a late-night spell.

Behind the music: Boise-born and Boston-based, the versatile former street busker performs gospel in a side project, The Sacred Shakers, and released a Loretta Lynn tribute album last year. She wrote the songs on Queen of the Minor Key while holed up in an Idaho cabin without electricity or running water.

Check it out if you like: Progressive traditionalists such as Neko Case, Buddy Miller, and Lucinda Williams.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Front page image: Marcel Houweling/Flickr

Review: "The Goo Goo Muck," by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

TRACK 15

"The Goo Goo Muck," by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads

from Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers: A Collection of Rare Rockabilly, Surf and Exotica (BBE)

Liner notes: "I cruise through the city and I roam the streets/Lookin' for something that is nice to eat," purrs Ronnie Cook over a sleazy sax groove on this 1962 obscurity out of Bakersfield, California. The song was memorably covered by psychobilly greats The Cramps on their 1981 album, Psychedelic Jungle.

Behind the music: Scottish DJ Keb Darge played a pivotal role in establishing Britain's northern soul club scene, which celebrates obscure US R&B. Following his compilations of funk and jump blues, this boisterous 20-track set also features The Reekers' "Don't Call Me Flyface" and "King Kong," by Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers.

Check it out if you like: Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Link Wray, and other early rock mavericks.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Review: Arctic Monkeys' Suck It and See

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 3:30 AM PDT

TRACK 8

"Reckless Serenade"

from Arctic Monkeys' Suck It and See (Domino)

Liner notes: Rebounding from Humbug, their overly heavy third outing, the British quartet corrects course with a brighter sound that emphasizes Alex Turner's gritty-yet-tender voice.

Behind the music: An old-school guitar band for the modern age, Arctic Monkeys built a loyal audience before they landed a record deal by releasing their music free online. Their subsequent 2006 album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, became the fastest-selling debut in UK history.

Check it out if you like: Confident hipster dudes, including The Strokes, The Libertines, and Oasis.

Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

Front page image: Tammy Lo/Flickr

Langhorne Slim Hits the Alt-Country Road

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 6:30 PM PDT
Langhorne Slim (front) and The War Eagles.

Years ago, Sean Scolnick would have told you he's the bastard child of Hasil Adkins, the Appalachian country-and-blues legend known for birthing rockabilly songs like "No More Hotdogs" and "Chicken Walk." He wasn't far off, since, like Adkins, Scolnick spends most of his time on the road, often solo. And with a boyish frame usually found under a vest and a tilted porkpie hat, he's a natural fit against a backcountry landscape.

But Scolnick, better known as Langhorne Slim, hails from the suburbs of northeast Pennsylvania, where he didn't get out much, he says, and was once kicked out of school. That might explain his sidewalk-scuffed style, which transcends the traditional blues genre. Some time after moving to New York for college, Scolnick hit the road and his nomadic career has saved him for most of his adult life from having to to pay rent. Reviewers have compared the 30-year-old singer-songwriter to Bob Dylan and The Avett Brothers (with whom he has toured), and his last album, 2009's Be Set Free, was produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists.

Scolnick distinguishes himself, meanwhile, with heartbreaking lyrics sung over punk-rock country blues with a dash of Kurt Cobainesque angst. "I’m not sure that there’s any other kind, but the songs I write are love songs," he says. I caught up with Mr. Slim in advance of his July 22 show at The Independent in San Francisco. (Click here for his full tour schedule.) The singer, battling a cold, put up with my questions about hunky bachelorhood, vegetarianism on the road, and why he named his act after his hometown. 

Mother Jones: You grew up in Langhorne, a big Philly suburb, as well as New York City. How'd you get into folk and blues?

Langhorne Slim: I love all kind of music and I think there's a bit of a lot of different styles in my own music. Early blues and folk are to me as raw and real as it gets. I'm most drawn to the roots of various musical styles whether it be blues, rock 'n' roll, jazz, or whatever. For me it's at the beginnings of these forms that they are at their most primitive, honest state.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [25]

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 5:46 PM PDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Wonder Woman Wants Education Reform in Chile Now!

| Wed Jul. 20, 2011 3:55 AM PDT
A "protest kiss" during a July education-reform rally in Santiago, Chile.

While Chile's recent string of student protests has had its fair share of water cannons sprayed and Molotov cocktails hurled, there have been a good deal of bloodless—and downright entertaining—demonstrations as well.

Young Chilean protesters, calling for increased funding for public education and lower university fees, choreographed and staged elaborate song-and-dance routines in the capital, Santiago, this week. The real kicker? The college kids and high schoolers were decked-out in colorful comic book costumes and superhero attire, BBC News reports.

Batman, Superman, Mario, Wonder Woman, Catwoman (who actually looked more like Lady Gaga on a bad morning), Poison Ivy, and a few jolly pirates all made appearances, while C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat" was blasted for good measure.

Book Review: The Hobo Handbook

| Tue Jul. 19, 2011 12:30 PM PDT

The Hobo Handbook: A Field Guide to Living By Your Own Rules

Josh Mack

Adams Media

The job market is dismal, the economy is stagnant—seems like as good a time as any to chuck off "real-world" constraints and...become a hobo? Ridin' the rails, livin' on a prayer, flyin' by the seat of your only pair of pants. "That's the life for me!" (some of) you are thinking.

Josh Mack's new book, The Hobo Handbook: A Field Guide to Living By Your Own Rules, might give you pause. Don't get me wrong, it's a great read—quick, entertaining, and full of sage advice. It just dutifully points out what every wannabe hobo needs to know: It ain't easy.

"Unless your life has been pretty traumatic already, you can't imagine how miserable you can be alone outside on a dark, rainy night," says Mack—a traveler, carpenter, and family man, among other things—via phone. "That whole romantic notion disappears." (Note: Hobo-ing is not to be confused with idle homelessness, perpetual drunkenness, or being a "bum." Hobos travel by choice. Also, they still exist).

If I've scared you off already, come back! The Handbook, which came out yesterday, is here to help. Starting off with his "Hobo Aptitude Test," Mack combines research with firsthand experience to give readers an explicit how-to on what to put on (lightweight, fast-drying underwear), what to eat (recipes for things like Dandelion salad; instructions for is-that-road-kill-fresh-ish? analysis), what to bring (as little as possible), how to get around (trains are good, although dodging security is a lot harder now than it was back in the day).

Book Review: The Steal

| Tue Jul. 19, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting

By Rachel Shteir

PENGUIN PRESS

For as long as shopping has existed, so too has shoplifting, from early incarnations in 17th- and 18th-century England (where cutpurses akin to the fictional Moll Flanders filched brocaded silk from London storefronts) to its modern manifestation as a disease (kleptomania), anti-establishment protest (the 1971 cult manual Steal This Book), and vice of the blasé celebrity (Winona Ryder, Lindsay Lohan). Yet through it all, no one has come up with a cure—retail's "silent epidemic" still costs consumers a small fortune in price increases. In this fascinating and sweeping history, Shteir, a cultural critic, shows how the crime's persistence reveals "important truths about our markets, our courtrooms, and our identities."