Posts from the “Culture” Category

In The Pleasure Groove

Posted on October 18, 2012

itpg Nigel John Taylor grew up as a shy only child in working class Birmingham, England. It was the 1960s. His father harbored deep, dark secrets from World War II and poured his heart into working on his car. His mother, who couldn’t drive at all, walked her bespectacled lad to church five days a week. That self-same lad was not a jock, not cool and not sure about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Then the seventies came. When Nigel saw British pop band Roxy Music on television, it was his moon landing. By the end of that decade, he had a best friend named Nick Bates (later Nick Rhodes) who shared his love of music and dream of starting a band. Together they would form Duran Duran, a pop-funk-new wave quintet named after the villain in the futuristic 1968 film “Barbarella.” The band — consisting of keyboardist Rhodes, frontman Simon Le Bon, drummer Roger Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist Nigel (who was going by the more rock-n-roll “John” by then) — became the biggest band of the 1980s. Their music was catchy, their videos were decadent, their looks were pin-up boy fabulous.

They made a lot of teenaged girls scream.

I was one of those girls.

Taylor’s much-anticipated memoir In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran came out this Tuesday and I finished it in less than a day. The story, co-written with freelance writer Tom Sykes, is an engaging look at Taylor’s extraordinarily blessed life, which was rooted in the Catholic Church, then the pop music and new wave fashion of the 1970s before rock-n-roll superstardom took him on a wild ride around the globe. In some respects, the story is a conventional “nothing could have prepared me for this” tale, one full of screaming teens rifling through his trash, lines of coke snorted through rolled-up $100 bills, more apartments than he could afford and eventual disillusionment with the business aspects of the band that made him a such a fixture on MTV in the early 1980s. But in other respects, it’s a wonderful look at Taylor’s life, the musical and fashion influences that shaped Duran Duran, the creative opportunities that unfolded because of Duran’s success (i.e. the Bond theme “A View To A Kill,” side projects such as Arcadia and Power Station and involvement in Bob Geldof’s Live Aid), and Taylor’s rocky journey away from addiction. His is a redemptive story, which ends with a stronger and better Duran Duran and a healthier, more grounded Taylor who is able to balance the demands of fame and family life.

“The music never sounded better,” he writes.

And Taylor’s book couldn’t have been a better read.

To close, here’s Duran Duran’s Hyde Park performance from the London Olympics. What better way to show off J.T.’s bass magic than “Rio”:

Eugene Atget

Posted on October 17, 2012

atgeteclipseEugene Atget was a late 19th and early 20th century photographer in Paris. He’s interesting to me because he captured scenes of the old city (winding cobblestone streets, small tradesmen, basic daily living) at a time when it was slowly being demolished and replaced with something new (grand boulevards, colossal department stores and the like). For all the reading I’ve done about that time period, these pictures bring the City of Light to life for me in an entirely different way, giving it a slower, sweeter pace than I’d find in an account of Haussmann’s reconstruction, a tale of the bloody Commune, or a glitzy recap about opening night at the Palais Garnier.


Atget’s technique was interesting to artists such as Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, all of whom championed his work.  He took his pictures with a long exposure, which gave his snapshots an unusual depth. So in the shop window pictured above, you not only get the suits and the mannequins, but the reflection from the trees and buildings outside and a feel for the big new avenues that sliced through the city. organgrinderThe old was still there, if you looked for it. Atget looked for it, and preserved what he could. And as a nostalgia dork, I can appreciate that he tried to capture as much of the city’s vintage charms before they faded away.

Tippi Hedren

Posted on October 12, 2012



I interviewed the actress Tippi Hedren more than a decade ago in Palm Beach, Fla. At the time, I was working as an in-house freelance writer at Palm Beach Illustrated. My boss knew I loved Alfred Hitchcock’s films, so he assigned me to interview and write about Ms. Hedren, who was in town for the Palm Beach International Film Festival. She was there to promote her film “Mulligans,” in which she played a golf widow named Dottie. But we were eager to profile her as a living Hitchcock muse and star of “The Birds.”

I was 24 years old. And so this was an era in my professional life when I found it difficult to detach from the sheer awesomeness of interviewing a real live icon. I didn’t sleep the night before the interview. I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t focus on the other stories I had to write. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the stormy weather on interview day was some terrible omen. Would Tippi Hedren cancel?

I drove to the apartment where the interview was supposed to take place and the rain stopped. The clouds parted. The sun peeked through gray sky. Seagulls circled the rooftop of the building I was about to enter.

Yeah. Birds. Lots of them.

The lights were out in the apartment building and the elevator was too. The man at the front desk gave me a flashlight so that I could navigate the stairwell to my destination. Everything was feeling a little Hitchcock, until I knocked on the door of the apartment I sought and was welcomed in to wait. Five, maybe ten minutes went by and then the front door opened, the electricity went back on and Tippi Hedren walked in and said hello.

She was generous with her time that day, an utter delight to interview. But what I remember most is her account of Hitchcock’s obsession with her and how that destroyed her career. Part of me has always wondered what her life would be like if she had worked with another director early on, but I know that “The Birds” and “Marnie” wouldn’t have been the same films without her.  She faced what no woman should have to in the workplace and stayed true to herself and her morals. That took bravery, especially in the early 1960s. A week from now HBO will debut “The Girl,” a movie that depicts this era in Hedren’s life. Hedren has helped promote the project and has worked with its screenwriters and the actress Sienna Miller, who plays her in the movie. Hedren said that she “just froze” when she heard Toby Jones first speak as Hitchcock.

Clearly, this is still painful for Hedren.

Earlier this week, Andrew Goldman of The New York Times Magazine ignited a firestorm when he asked Hedren if she ever considered sleeping with a director to further her career. She said no, and Goldman was taken to task on Twitter by some prominent female writers who felt he was being inappropriate. Here is how the NYT public editor responded to the imbroglio.

Fall Reading List

Posted on September 28, 2012

One of my friends asked me what it was like now that I was out of graduate school and could read anything I wanted. I said it was great, but I was still reading plenty of French history. “The difference is, you have a choice now,” she told me. The truth may be that I have no choice at all. It may be that I can’t help myself anymore.

At any rate, here is a list of some of the books I’ll be reading this fall, broken down by genre. I’ll try to review some of these reads here from time to time. If you have any recommendations for me, please don’t hesitate to leave them in comments.

Rock and roll memoirs on my Kindle

Life by Keith Richards — My fondest Keith Richards memory dates back to when I was an undergraduate in college and

+Read more

Herbert Lom Dies

Posted on September 27, 2012

Herbert Lom, the Czechoslovakian actor known for playing Inspector Clouseau’s twitchy boss in the “Pink Panther” movies, died today in London at age 95. Although Lom also played Napoleon Bonaparte and the Phantom of the Opera, and wrote two historical novels, he is best known for his role as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who was driven crazy by Clouseau. Above is a collection of some of his finest Dreyfus moments, among them, his twitch, his maniacal giggle, and his respective run-ins with a guillotine cigar cutter and letter opener. “Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world,” Lom once said. Give us Lom in seven “Pink Panther” movies and we’ll have no shortage of laughs.

Some articles about Herbert Lom and links to his books:

The New York Times: Herbert Lom, Frustrated Boss of Inspector Clouseau, Dies at 95

TIME: “Pink Panther” Actor Herbert Lom Dead at 95 Dr. Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist; Enter A Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe

Islamic Arts Pavilion at the Louvre

Posted on September 25, 2012

Photo: © M. Bellini - R. Ricciotti / Musée du Louvre, © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Antoine Mongodin

Photo: © M. Bellini - R. Ricciotti / Musée du Louvre, © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Antoine Mongodin

Religious wars are not caused by the fact that there is more than one religion, but by the spirit of intolerance…the spread of which can only be regarded as the total eclipse of human reason.

Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Persian Letters

Last week the Louvre opened its new Islamic Arts pavilion, a 50,000-square-foot space that cost $127 million and took four years to build. Designed by architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini, its golden glass rooftop has been likened to a sand dune, a magic carpet or a fluttering veil. Ricciotti said in this past Sunday’s New York Times that his design — the first modern change to the Louvre since I.M. Pei added the pyramid in the 1989 — evokes Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, which is about two Persian noblemen trying to make sense of Parisian life. At a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is high in France, Ricciotti has created an elegant space that could (or should) spark discussion about multiculturalism in the country.

The Louvre has been exhibiting Muslim art since 1793. Most of the pieces it showed were from royal collections. Among its treasures: Ottoman jade bowls that belonged to Louis XIV, an inlaid metal basin made in Syria in the fourteenth century and various textiles. In the late nineteenth century, some well-off Parisian families collected their own Islamic pieces (which were in vogue at the time) before eventually donating them to the Louvre. By the time the museum established a formal Islamic Arts section in 2003, it had more than 14,000 items in its possession. Three thousand of those works are currently on display, representing some 1,300 years of history from Spain to Southeast Asia.

The Louvre’s web site features some of the collection’s highlights here.

Blouin ArtInfo has a beautiful gallery of the new pavilion here.

Other stories about the Louvre’s new Islamic Arts pavilion and Islam and in France:

New York Times: “Art Tells of Upheavals as Louvre Opens a New Wing

New York Times: “Qatar’s Latest Investment Stirs the French

Quartz: “Why French Law Protects Kate Middleton’s Breasts, But Not Muhammad’s Bottom

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Islamic Cartoon Row, Flying Carpet Hang Over Louvre

Los Angeles Times: “In Paris, Louvre’s New Islamic Wing Provides Tonic at Time of Tension

Washington Post: “Amid restive cultural divides, Louvre’s biggest facelift in a generation honors Islamic Art