Take Me With You: The Artist Always Loved as Prince

The internet will be ripe in the coming days and weeks with tributes, discourses, and dissections of Prince. It is our nature to process things through tribute. When David Bowie died earlier this year, I read through these tributes, particularly those presented by his peers, hoping in some way to move beyond my own sadness. It worked to some extent. As much as I loved David Bowie, however, my connection to Prince is something much more. And so I will become one of the pathetic masses who tries to grieve in possibly the most selfish way possible–by talking about what he meant to me.

When I was 10 years old, I subscribed to a CD of the month club because I wanted to have a copy of “When Doves Cry.” The first time I heard those opening bars–bars that ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons would claim he spent years trying to replicate–something shifted for me. My mother agreed to let me; that is how I acquired The Hits/The B Sides, my first Prince album. I listen to it all the way through aince it was my first CD and I wanted to get my allowance’s worth. Several of the songs were familiar from the radio, but many of them were new to me. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for example, scorched my ears in a way I have still not recovered from. I played “When Doves Cry” over and over, reveling in that Am G cord sequence.

That was it for me. I was all in. Prince became the soundtrack of my life.

Over the years I would read more books than I care to number about Prince. Someone once informed me that I got a “tone” when people talked about his infamous name change and I set them straight as to why. When I auditioned for Universal Studies (and booked the job), I talked about how the museum scene from Batman was one of the greatest on film because how could you beat Jack Nicholson deconstructing art to the sounds of Prince?

When his death was announced today and the women sitting at the table in my meeting started talking about superficial details of his life as if discussing their salads, I had to bite my tongue not to spout every single detail my brain has catalogued over the years. Or even just scream, “Shut up! How dare you talk about him like this just because you ‘kinda liked’ ‘1999’? How are we still having a meeting?” Later, when a guy at the bar said, “I can’t believe Prince died,” and “Taylor Swift is funny in the this ad” in the same breath, I had to walk away to avoid punching him in the face.

Undoubtedly, a number of better qualified sources will speak of his many talents in much more articulate ways than I can. There will be lists of his greatest songs, accolades of his many performances (like the Super Bowl and George Harrison tribute), and revisiting of Purple Rain as the greatest soundtrack of all time. They will all be right.

He was astounding, both in his recordings, and on stage. I saw him live three times and each time cried my way through the concerts because I was so overwhelmed by the experience. He played more instruments than I can name. He worshiped women, not just as the subjects of his songs but as artists. I once watched him carry the cape of Chaka Khan after she opened for him. He played with Lou Reed that same night, not done up as “Prince,” but wearing jeans and a knit cap, sneaking on to work as a back up player with a musician he admired. The dress I wore to my first Prince concert is sealed in storage like one might seal a wedding dress. His stage presence was something so much more than life. Although he included some “show” aspects, it was truly about his music and the musicians he worked with.

From Prince I learned that gender is fluid, artists and their work have value, identity is ours to claim, it is okay to be serious about things people consider irrelevant, sex and sexuality are part of who we are, cultivating talent in others does not diminish your own, and if a man can play guitar and jump on piano in four inch heels, by God I can walk in them. More than anything, I learned that it is okay to never apologize for who you are. That lesson I forget sometimes, but he brings it back to me.

When I think about Prince, I think about love and passion. And fun. Holy shit, he was fun. His music was fun. Yet, it was also so authentic and challenging. As much as I love his original works, his covers of other artists were exceptional in their own right. Give “One of Us” a listen sometime. He rips through it in a way that Joan Osbourne never dreamed.

I am not sure how to finish this post because I want it to mean something, if only just to me. In the end, I live a small existence. I have no personal connection to Prince beyond being a fan. But maybe that is enough. How wonderful is it that art can touch us to the point that the loss of its creator is such a profound tragedy? That the silence of a voice can give us pause, make us reach out. I received a number of phone calls, messages, and texts today.

“Are you okay?” they all want to know. “You are the first person I thought of when I heard this,” they say.

Maybe that is the legacy. That people know this man, the strange, brilliant, extraordinary man, meant something to someone. That beyond a song on the radio, he is something so meaningful to someone so small.

Ploughshares Renewed: Review of Memory Theater

Last year ended with my announcement of my last column for Ploughshares; however, I am pleased to announce that was not the end of my work for them. January 1 marked the publication of my first review for the literary magazine. I was privileged enough to receive an advance copy of Simon Critchley’s Memory Theater. It was the kind of book that I was recommending to my philosophy groupie friends before I had even turned the last page. Check out my review here.

If you enjoy that, you might also enjoy Critchley’s contributions to the New York Times blog, The Stone.

Read, Write, and Be Merry,

Amber

Ploughshares Finale: The Orphan

In 2013, I was lucky enough to be selected to join the Ploughshares blog for a one year contract. Due to the wonderful staff at Ploughshares, I was kept on an additional two years, discussing everything from Revenge Writing to my most recent Literary Blueprint series. Today marks the final installment and my adieu to Ploughshares blog. It has been a fantastic run and I hope to work with them again in the future.

Literary Blueprints: The Orphan

In terms of writing, I have new ventures coming in the new year that I can’t wait to share.

In honor of this final post, I will reshare my first post with Ploughshares, Part 1 of The Myth of the Literary Cowboy.

Read, Write, and be Merry,

Amber

 

From Ploughshares: Blueprint of the Monster

Top o’ a Tuesday to you!

Last week Ploughshares published the latest in my Literary Blueprint series, this time focusing on The Monster.

Literary Blueprints: The Monster

Enjoy!

Read, Write, and Be Merry,

Amber

The Temptress Wears Yoga Pants, Or the Not Stupid Reason I Don’t Wear Yoga Pants in Public

My Facebook feed turned up this little gem on Friday about Christian blogger Veronica Partridge, a woman who is not wearing yoga pants in public as they might inspire lustful feelings in men other than her husband. Because you know how those lustful feelings just can’t be controlled unless we of the fairer sex cover it up. It is, after all, our responsibility to control men’s minds and not tempt them with our dirty pillows, both in the front and the rear.

As a male friend of mine pointed out when I told him about the story, “You can put a woman in a burka and a guy’s still going to have lustful feelings.” I like that Partridge basically blames other women for her husband getting all fired up in the naughty way because they are tempting him with their athletic wear seven veils dance.

Here’s the thing–women should never be accountable for men’s morality. That crap fizzled to me with Eve. Samson chose to tell Delilah his coiffure secret. Taking away accountability for their thoughts and actions is like saying, “Nah, it’s fine, man. You can totally be pure id. Never mind social norms and impulse control. She was wearing compression leggings not on the treadmill. It was like she was throwing condoms and evil right in your face!”

Give. Me. A. Break.

Now, having said all that, I am trying to ween myself off of wearing yoga pants in public. It is so fantastically tempting to jump in my car and dash off to the grocery store in my ball cap, yoga pants, and “I’m Gonna to Man Up All Over Myself” t-shirt. But here is the main reason I am trying to reject the siren call:

I don’t need to wander around in public looking like crap.

I live in a small town and I run into people I know EVERYWHERE. Just this last weekend, I decided to go shopping for an hour or so. On a whim, I elected to change out of my bumming around the house clothes into a casual dress and sandals. Thank goodness I did, because I ran into the president of our college.

Tim Gunn talks about how casual we have become as a society. He’s exactly right. I’m not saying we have to trot out the lipstick and fur for every occasion, but there is something to be said for looking neat and put together. One of the signs of depression is a lack of attention to personal appearance. Tim’s advice is to come up with an alternative to sweat pants. This can be jeans and a top or a comfy sundress or whatever you want that is comfortable but won’t make you die a little inside should you run into your boss or your ex-boyfriend. If nothing else, throw on some giant sunglasses (to hide the no make up eyes), non-athletic shoes (or put on your nice ones), and a scarf (to hide the stains on your shirt).

As for Ms. Partridge, I hope those lustful thoughts stay far away from her happy little home. For me, I could give a damn about being the thought police for anyone else. But I vow to pull myself together before venturing out of the house for the love of style. It’s my civic duty.

Read, Write, and Be Merry,

Amber

 

 

I Get Around: HelloGiggles, Black Fox, and Cinefilles

Happy Wednesday, Pals and Gals!

I am pleased as punch (like the really yummy, slightly boozy kind of punch), to share a few little things I have published recently.

First up, I wrote an article for the lovely HelloGiggles about “How to be an introvert in an extrovert’s job.” This is my first piece for them and I am hopeful that more will follow (even though one of my friends is disappointed the writing gig doesn’t mean we get to meet the website’s co-founder Zooey Deschanel).

Next, there is “Twelve Variations on a Left Hook,” a flash fiction piece appearing in the newest edition of Black Fox Literary Magazine (the story starts on page 94). It is the piece I referenced writing in the first of my Ploughshares series on revenge writing–read part one of “The Revenge Society” here.

And finally, I am writing about the sexual revolution, or at least Showtime’s version of it, in recapping Masters of Sex for Cinefilles. Check there every Monday for my reviews.

Read, Write, and Be Merry,

Amber

PS. Here’s a little Beach Boys goodness for your midweek blues.

Fashion Up Friday: Liza Minnelli, Style Icon

A Style Icon is a precious thing. Entire eras are built around the looks defined by a select few. Like most girls, I adhere to the gold standard of Icons, ie. Audrey Hepburn. She is the end and the beginning. However, there are so many other women (and some men) who influence my personal style. One of those ladies is the ginormously talented Liza Minnelli.

Yes, her personal life has come to overshadow her talent, but it doesn’t dampen the fact that she is a fantastic singer and actress. And during the 70s her style was divine, primarily due to one key word: Halston. My love affair with Halston stems specifically from Liza in during this time period.

Minelli with Halston in 1974. The gold dress layered over the sheer black top is heaven.

The first time I remember seeing Liza was on a VHS recording my grandmother had of Frank, Liza, and Sammy. It was one of the only tapes she kept in her house, so I watched it on repeat, although only the part with Liza. Her outfit–a deeply cut black sequined chiffon pants suit–blew my little mind. It was overtly sexual with her display of cleavage, yet masculine. I loved it. Obsessed over it for years. (I might still dream of wearing it from time to time.)

Liza was so smart in the way she dressed, even with her stage costumes. She often danced or did comedy bits, so her wardrobe was functional while still being eye catching. Even as her weight has fluctuated and she has aged, her style has remained pretty true to the same basics.

My Style Lessons from Liza:

Keep a Simple Color Palette

Liza loves black, which is smart for a number of reasons. If she isn’t in black, then it is usually red or white. Sometimes she’ll try something else–she accepted her Oscar in a mustard-ish gold (see below)–but she sticks to jewel tones or black. Her dressing also tends to be monochromatic which does great things for creating a fluid silhouette.

Minelli with her Oscar for Cabaret. Note the relaxed cut with the vibrant color and minimal, but eye catching accessories.

But Never Boring

While her color choices might be basic, she makes up for it with daring cuts (deep V necks or super short skirts), sparkle, and interesting fabrics like jersey, chiffon, or satin. The result is that her outfits never look like they are trying too hard, nor do they look too casual. There is a versatility to this type dressing that make it seem as if she could just walk from dinner to the stage to a night club with no transitioning necessary.

The fit on her pants contrasts beautifully with the draped and low cut top. Again, tasteful accessories give the look polish.

Know Your Proportions

Liza looks in the 70s tended to go one of two ways: super short or diving neckline. Rarely (save her famous Cabaret look) did she do both. One of her most famous stage looks for Liza with a Z is a red sequin micro-mini that let her dance and show off her legs. The top, however, is high cut, balancing out the super short skirt.

Yes, this is basically a shirt, but it is a performance costume. She also sticks with her monochromatic look while mixing the sequins with sheer tights and patent heels to keep it from being boring.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Just a Little Too Much (Especially if You Are)

More than her clothing, Liza’s signature look revolves around her jet black hair and enormous eyes. During the 70s she made them look even more exaggerated with fake lashes and gallons of eye liner. She never tried to pretend that her beauty wasn’t intentional.

Andy Warhol snapped this Polaroid sometime during the 70s. She’s wearing just a basic shirt, but her makeup is flawless. There is no trying to balance a bold eye with a subdued lip–this is all out glam, but it is perfectly done and fits her features.

Never Let the Clothes Wear You

One of my complaints about many modern celebrities is that the clothes often wear them. They get lost in their outfits, their personalities drowned out with the noise of their clothes. Liza was never shy, but she owned every look she wore. Even in the famed Cabaret look below, with so much going on (low cut, short, garters, bowler, heavy make up), she is still in charge of the look. Fashion should be fun, functional, and exciting, but it should never hide who you really are.

One of my favorite film looks of all times. How many women can pull off a bowler and not look silly? A Bob Fosse biography talks about how Gwen Verdon would melt crayons to use on the performers’ eyelashes.

Liza deserves props for her 2014 appearance at the Academy Awards. I love that she didn’t go for a gown or some frumpy thing that wasn’t her. The pantsuit is very her–good fabric, nice cut, great color–and the blue streak is just a bit too much (which on her is just enough).  Accessories are perfection. Although I’m not crazy about the shoes, I will cut her a break because the rest is exactly right for her style.

Until next time.

Read, Write, and Fashion Up,

Amber

Fashion Up Friday: This is Not a Fashion Blog

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I was texting a friend the other day when she mentioned my recent lawn mowing post.

It was good. I liked it. But I always hope you’ll talk about your clothes or something like that one time you talked about how to walk in heels. That changed my life or at least my shoe life . . . Maybe just pictures of your shoes? That could be a series.

She was referring to a post I wrote for another blog (read it here), but it got me thinking. Flattering my fashion sense will get most people anywhere they want to go. I personally love looking at fashion blogs, but I have some issues with many of them.

1. The Goop Syndrome–Many fashion blogs live for labels that are not attainable to most women. I love some high end stuff, but I can’t really afford more than a few pieces every couple of years. Show me a mix of things or if you are going to show me reasonably priced alternatives to the $500 dress.

2. The Sex in the City Syndrome–Sometimes I look at the things bloggers post as “casual Saturday outfit” and have to ask myself, “Who the f- wears a pencil skirt and bra top for a casual on a Saturday?” I love personal style, but it needs to be realistic personal style. Give me some fantasy items for fun, but if the blog looks like you stole it from Carrie Bradshaw, I am going to pass.

3. The Vintage Syndrome–It kills me, I mean kills me, when a blogger shows tons of amazing clothes only to reveal that they were all pulled from vintage or thrift stores in some urban center like Portland or New York. That’s great if you live someplace that just happens to have the perfect leopard swing coat in stock. Most of us can’t bop down to Patricia Fields NYC treasure trove of eclectic fashion. My local stores like that are more the kitten sweatshirt/old baggy communion dress fare. Like with the label pieces, show me a few pieces, but let me know where I can find something comparable in the real world.

4. The Over Shot Syndrome–I like great pictures of outfits, make up, hairstyles, etc. But twenty pictures of the same outfit from a bazillion different angles? Your mermaid waves and vintage crushed velvet dress aren’t that special. There is a fine line between good visuals and vanity.

5. The Secret Syndrome–These are the blogs that post pictures of fantastic clothes with no information about where they came from. So maybe the skirt is from a few seasons ago, so what? Chances are, if I like the style, I might like the brand beyond a skirt I can no longer get.

6. The Go To Syndrome–Any blog that shows jeans, boots, and a scarf as key components for an outfit gets a big pass. I remember a fashion blogger talking about how she and two other fashion bloggers had been challenged to show their favorite travel outfit. Guess what it was? T-shirt, scarf, jeans, and boots. All three. We needed a post on this to tell us that you all wear the same thing on the plane? With pictures? Yes, we all wear this combination. We wear it on planes, shopping, and out on date night. It is like the new uniform of the modern woman. So we don’t need to see it again. No, not even with different heights of boots. We’ve all got it.

All that to say, this is not a fashion blog. But just to switch things up, in honor of my friend, I’m going to start including some posts about my style icons, personal style, and other random thoughts regarding my great fashion vice.

Are you a fan of fashion blogs? If so, who do you love and who do you loathe?

Read, Write, Be Merry, and Fashion Up,

Amber

 

Conversations with a Sad Kitten

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Two weeks ago, my children’s father picked them up to spend the month with him. Since I discovered this would be the arrangement back in April, I had been in some sort of fog of denial. By the end of May I started making plans for distractions–trips, home improvements, logging extra hours at work–anything to keep me busy once my chicks flew the nest.

One thing I had not anticipated was their four month old kitten, Izabeau, losing her freaking mind with them gone. I incorrectly assumed that she would be relieved by their absence as it meant a break from being constantly carted around, tossed, held, and stalked. On the contrary, she finds my gentle play and appropriate grip to be a nuisance. With no one else around except an aging deaf dog, I have been spouting a number of gems to that little ball of fur.

  1. “Hey Battle Cat, let’s take it down about five notches.”
  2. “Kittens don’t eat icing. Not even pirate icing.”
  3. (referring to our dog) “She’s an old lady. Don’t flaunt your youth in her face. No girl likes that.”
  4. Masters of Sex does not have kittens in it.”
  5. “Why are you yelling? I am literally one room away.”
  6. “My feet and your body can not actually exist in the same space at the same time. That’s physics.”
  7. “I like my rice with more rice and less kitten in it.”
  8. “Why do you always escalate it it to biting? Don’t you have a warning level?”
  9. “Kittens who want to live in this house are kittens who realize we don’t touch Mahnolo Blahniks.”
  10. “That’s right, Cheetara, fight the power. You’re still going to bed.”

 

A Woman’s Right to Mow

Dear Commenter:

Yesterday you passed by my home while I was out mowing my lawn. As it was over 95 degrees, I was sweating in my dorky overalls leftover from the Gap heyday of the late 90s and I am sure I wasn’t looking my most fetching. That wasn’t really my goal. My goal was, quite simply, to mow my lawn on my own.

Silly, I know. Who cares if I can do something any 10 year old kid can do? Well, I do. You see, until last April, I had never mowed a lawn. Never tried to start a mower, never heard the sound of a blade running into pine cones (it kind of reminds me of the wood chipper in Fargo), never had my whole face itch from being out in the flying grass and weeds. A friend taught me how to do it and even let me use his mower. I felt pretty proud of myself that first time, even though I had help.

This go around, I wanted to do more of it on my own. So I went out last night to see what I could do with no help. I was feeling proud of myself, to be honest, because I started it on my own and was navigating the ridiculously tall weeds all the May rain brought without killing the motor. With my son following behind me with his Mater bubble mower, I felt strong and useful.

Thankfully my sweet little boy was in the house by the time you came by. A few minutes before you and your friend tramped through my yard like it was your own, ignoring that it was clearly somebody’s home, a guy and his friends pulled up at the curb to tell me how hot I looked and make piss-poor puns about “hoeing.” Needless to say, I was not feeling as great when decided to use my yard as a short cut. But it was what you said that made me mad, much madder than I was at the dumb guys with their dumb innuendos.

You wanted to know why my husband wasn’t mowing the lawn for me. Now, I will give you a break since you are at the most fifteen, but there is something you need to know before you go a step further in life.

Waiting for or expecting a man to take care of you is the worst thing you can do to yourself.

This is not just coming from a place of divorce, which is why I am now the mower of my own lawn. It is coming from a place of reality. People die, people get sick, people never fall in love, people fall out of love, people realize they can be happy on their own. There are so many possibilities in life, assuming that you will marry a man who will take care of anything you don’t want to is nothing short of a failure of imagination.

I’m sad for you that at this stage in your life you have already settled into such limited perception. You probably didn’t even realize how your comment spat in the face of women who struggle every day in a male dominated world. You probably just thought it was funny to mock someone who was clearly working hard and physically showed it. That makes me sad for you too.

If you do get married one day or even end up in a long term relationship, to whomever, you should build your life on your own rules, not the defined rules of a society that itself doesn’t truly uphold them. If you want to mow the lawn, mow the lawn. It’s actually sort of therapeutic and rewarding. But don’t do or not do something because that is what your gender stereotype tells you.

Kill your own spiders, do your own laundry, change your own tires, and make your own dinner. Even if you don’t do those things well at first, you will eventually. Then if you do chose to be with somebody, you can work together to make your lives run the way you want.

I am glad my 8 year old daughter did not hear you say what you did because she was excited to see me start the lawn mower and wanted to know when she could start helping too. My son prefers vacuuming as it turns out, which is good news for me since I would rather mow.

Amber