Fashion Gallery: Channeling Ali MacGraw in Robert Evans’ Mansion

The kid might not be in these pictures, but legendary producer Robert Evans (The Godfather, Chinatown, Love Story) gave us free rein to explore his Hollywood estate in this sartorial homage to ’70s icon Ali MacGraw.

Photography by Tatijana Shoan. Styling by Christopher Campbell.

A Look Inside the World of Celebrity Webmasters

On a recent Monday morning, Stephan, a teenager living in the Netherlands, woke to a barrage of text messages: “Justin says he doesn’t have a girlfriend,” “Justin is upset over Kim Kardashian Twitter death threats.” Worried that he might have gotten these messages too late, he clamored to his computer, hurriedly trying to make sense of the incoming details of pop sensation Justin Bieber’s latest tabloid-worthy dalliances before sharing the news on his website, Justin-B.org. Stephan is accustomed to these early-morning disturbances. As a webmaster—the person who creates and maintains fansites—he’s spent the last nine years dedicating himself to the lives of celebrities.

In addition to his Bieber fansite, Stephan also runs a site devoted to Lady Gaga. “I wish I could say that I go to clubs, or that I paint, but all of my time is taken up with building my sites,” he says. “I’m a Belieber and a Little Monster. It’s what Bieber fans and Gaga fans are called, and it’s who I am.” Still, Stephan’s daily routine scans like that of a double agent: after combing Twitter, he shares information with his internet allies—listed under “affiliates” on most classic fansite layouts—and then closes his internet browser, erasing his search history to ensure that his parents and friends won’t discover his online operation. “What else can I do?” he asks. “Justin is a boy, and few people—least of all my parents—would understand why I dedicate myself to something like this.”

Stephan is able to speak with me, however, because, like most of his fellow Bieber followers, I don’t know him. In the past few years, social media sites have made it easy for fans to bond over celebrity idols, with shrines dedicated to everyone from Miley Cyrus to Helena Bonham Carter offering anonymity while satisfying the social-psychological desire for group affiliation. People like Stephan can now connect with a community of likeminded individuals, anytime and anywhere. These uncensored digital communities, housed in interlocking networks like Twitter, Facebook, fansites, and forums, influence the way fans connect, reshaping their identities and manipulating their sense of accountability. If it were a game, it would be a fun waste of time. But this is no game.

“Becoming a fan is like picking a college,” says Cassie, a 20-year-old Katy Perry fan from Braidwood, Illinois. “Every group has its own reputation.” As far as Cassie is concerned, Perry fans are mercenaries for justice. “There are so many haters out there. I feel like we spend all of our time battling people who say Katy is weird, or that her engagement is fake.” Many fans spend their time spreading their chosen celebrity’s gospel, which is really the gospel of celebrity, with the hope of converting others. “I’m sure if the Jonas Brothers’ fans would just take the time to know Justin, they would be so moved by his heart that they would forget about Jonas,” says Sidhu, an impassioned 14-year-old Belieber from Holcomb, Kansas. Like millions of other dedicated followers, Sidhu doesn’t run a site of her own. Instead, she trolls anti-sites, like Anti-Justin Bieber on Facebook, posting flattering photos of her idol and attacking the “haters” with scathing comments.

Most webmasters truly believe that Bieber—and others like him—will eventually take notice of their tireless work. “Justin calls fans! There’s proof on YouTube!” says Sidhu, who often pleads for Bieber to call her. “I’ve given my number out a million times on fan scrapbooks and on Twitter. I ask him all the time to call me!” And maybe one day he will. But more likely, Bieber’s well-documented fan outreach is the result of a one-off, carefully crafted marketing ploy meant to stoke Bieber fever.

It’s difficult to ignore the more obsessive fans. They control Twitter trending topics and Google trends with their regular comments. “Justin was always a trending topic, but Twitter updated the way they count tweets in order to kick him off his permanent spot,” Stephan says. It’s true that Twitter changed its algorithm to focus on topics that were newly trending, not consistently tweeted, but his legion seems to have cracked the system. “Now we focus on crazy things to trend. Justin will ask his followers on Twitter to wake him up in the morning, and suddenly #WakeJustinUp is a trend. It happens all the time. All Justin has to do is ask.”

As much as webmasters and their followers are looking to connect through technology, it’s still an impersonal medium, which means it’s much easier to malign someone without consequence. Getting on a fan group’s bad side is not a good idea. A recent example of cyber bullying comes courtesy of the Belieber army. Sydney Dalton became a “TT”—a trending topic—after she posted a video of herself and two girlfriends ripping down all of her Bieber posters. The backlash was significant, and it came paired with outlandish rumors—“Dalton is dating Justin!” “Dalton received free tickets to Justin’s show!”—that ignited the Beliebers’ hatred. Dalton even received a number of death threats. RealTeffy tweeted, “Sydney Dalton is such a whore. She and [her] fat ass friends. I wanna kick their asses so bad!” Dalton was baffled by the overflow of venom, but showed incredible composure when she addressed the throngs of scorned fans: “You don’t have to like me. You can hate me (idk why you would, since Justin doesn’t) but there is no need to send me death threats. My friends and I screen capped some of the bad ones and I am still debating if I should bring it to the police. I don’t care if that’s immature; I want you guys to learn a lesson. You can’t cyber bully people. Honestly, it’s not right.” It was a surprisingly mature response to the unchecked vitriol.

Los Angeles-based Bella, 22, who maintains a Jennifer Lopez fansite, says, “People don’t realize they’re targeting real people.” She recently noticed that Twitter began trending “Diustin Biber,” something that confused her until she realized Bieber fans were passing around a link to a video. In it, a young Brazilian girl attempts to pronounce Bieber’s name, which comes out sounding like “Diustin Biber.” Another fan linked to the video on Twitter, which led to a frenzy of cruel, fan-fueled mockery. “That girl was so excited in her video,” Bella says. “She must be so embarrassed now.”

Of course, for both feverishness and fanaticism, Bieber fans aren’t alone. Each group has its own personality, explains 14-year-old Sarah, from Grand Prairie, Texas, who adores Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. “Jonas fans are all, like, emo. Miley Cyrus fans are pushy and rude to each other. Gaga fans are okay, but mostly gay, and Adam Lambert fans are all really old.”

Carol, known online as Glamb #7, is a contributor to Adam-Lambert.org. She shares the task with several other older fans of the American Idol star. “In my non-Adam time,” she says, “I’m a wife, the mother of a 19-year-old son, and a full-time independent consultant for a kitchen tools company.” When asked her age, she says, “I’m 49 plus 2 years old.”

American Idol fans are all old ladies these days,” says Sarah dismissively. “They all have Twitter accounts, and they tweet to other people who don’t really like Glambs,” which has become the umbrella term for Lambert fans. “It’s really sad, because it’s like, dude, he’s gay. He’s not going to turn straight!” With more than a hint of disdain—and not a bit of irony—she adds, “Don’t they have families to take care of?”

Shared hatred of a particular celebrity can often be a stronger bonding agent than admiration. Miley Cyrus, for example, has a tight-knit group of opponents. Hannah, who uses the YouTube handle MissVideo28, can’t quite explain why she doesn’t like Cyrus. “I hate Miley because she’s her, okay? She’s really pretty and very talented, but I just don’t like her.” The Official Anti-Miley Cyrus Fanclub on Facebook has 10,752 active users, all linked by their mutual loathing, while Twitter users like ilove_CameronQ seek affirmation by constantly posting comments like, “RT if you hate Miley Cyrus :).”

Different outlets handle different levels of obsession, and while the variety is relatively new to fandom, the idea has been around for decades. Radio programs like Little Orphan Annie rose to fame in the 1930s and used fanclubs, or secret societies, as Annie’s were called, to connect the living rooms of children across America. The power shifted in the 1970s when “teenyboppers,” a term that was coined during the reigning years of David Cassidy and The Partridge Family, started to create their own clubs. Cat Ortiz-White, a contributor to the David Cassidy fan site and a Cassidy fan club president in the ’80s, remembers the transfer of power from studio executives to fan-run nonprofits. “The original clubs advertised on the back of albums and in teen magazines such as Tiger Beat. The clubs would promise a packet of material for a certain amount of profit.” Ortiz-White says, “After The Partridge Family ended, so did its official fan clubs.” Later, a club surfaced called “David’s Girls Against Disease,” which was the first fan-created club. Jan Schulman, its creator, put out a monthly newsletter, using the club to raise money for charities that fought an array of diseases. Taking notice of their ostensibly altruistic mission, Cassidy’s manager, Ruth Aaron, quickly took control and renamed DGAD the Official DC Fan Club for the USA.

It’s no surprise that today’s tweens and teens, who are navigating a transitional and usually difficult period in their lives, choose to escape into online communities. “I started running fansites when I was having trouble with my high school friends,” says Natasha, a 23-year-old college student who oversees sites devoted to Ellen Page, Adam Lambert, and Blake Lively. “At that time I really needed to focus on something other than school.” Natasha now takes college courses online so that she has more time to keep up with her pages. “It’s a lot of work to keep the information updated. I’m very dedicated.”

The focus and drive exhibited by webmasters like Natasha—as well as Stephan, Bella, and Carol, among countless others—is at once impressive and frightening. For the mother whose empty nest has her seeking new distractions online, or the teenager whose celebrity interest and technological know-how determines how she spends her free time, hobby becomes obsession. “I’d love for Justin Bieber to see all of this one day and know that I was there,” Sidhu says, “supporting him.”

Welcome to Burning Lamb

First there was Burning Man, the New Age, pseudo-anarchist rave in the Nevada desert. Then came Burning Lamb, an outdoor party held in upstate New York. It doesn’t take a post-hippie peyote muncher to notice that even the names suggest a connection. “Essentially, a small group of us got together for a lamb roast up at our property in the fall after Burning Man,” says Burning Lamb architect and co-founder Lionel Ohayon. “We had some DJ friends and a laser projecting on the cliff and in the woods. We were kidding around about what to call the party, but Burning Lamb came up and stuck.”

As with Burning Man, which started when 20 friends gathered on Baker Beach near San Francisco for an informal affair, Burning Lamb has grown over the past three years. This year’s event attracted around 200 invitees, mostly successful urban professionals looking to flee the city in search of their “elemental selves,” according to Ohayon.

Unlike its Left Coast contemporary, Burning Lamb is a private fête held on adjoining properties owned by three friends: husband and wife Harlan and Alhia Berger, and Ohayon. There are plenty of activities to choose from, all of which are integrated with the environment. (Think sylvan libations, cavorting under waterfalls, and listening to musical performances from the likes of the Gipsy Kings and Beats Antique.)

Thanks to Ohayon’s background as a designer of chic hotspots the world over—STK, Bagatelle—the venue (if you can call acres of Eastern woodland a venue) looks like a green-friendly adult playground. There are fake butterflies attached to the trees, candles floating in the water, chandeliers hanging from branches, and even a 50-foot DIY hand-harp strung from the ground to the top of the waterfall, where the fire dancers perform.

Burning Man attracted 50,000 participants this year, and Burning Lamb’s organizers certainly aren’t averse to growing their event to match. “I think it should be a larger event, and I think we should open it up to more people,” Ohayon says. “My sense is that Burning Lamb could become the greatest outdoor projection and laser-light art show in the world.” One thing is for sure: We’ll all have a good time finding out.

Video courtesy Michael Saint-Onge

The World According to Björk & Antony

I remember going up to her cabin in Iceland, and meeting her there for the first time,” says Antony, a New York-based musician and artist, of his introduction to Björk. “We had a chat on the side of a hill next to a big goat. She gave us all jumpers. That was our first summit.” They connected immediately, and have since recorded a number of songs together, two of which were released on Björk’s 2007 album, Volta.

Their third collaboration, the graceful and delicate “Flétta,” appears this month on Swanlights, Antony’s fourth album as part of Antony and the Johnsons. Recorded a few years ago, the song came to fruition when Björk, 44, invited Antony, 39, to Jamaica for some much needed downtime. Quite possibly, its creation had something to do with a night of excessive drinking. We’ll let them take it from here.

ANTONY: To be honest, I think Björk had a double intention when she brought me to Jamaica. I was really exhausted because I had just finished my I Am a Bird Now tour. She saw me out on a limb, burnt out, and was like, “Come swim with me in the ocean.” Our working together in the studio was kind of an aside to her harboring me for a bit after that blowout.

BJÖRK: I spontaneously went to Jamaica because I was flipping out in New York. We did “The Dull Flame of Desire” and then I asked you to replace one of my vocals on “My Juvenile” [both of which appear on Volta] so that it would sound like another character in the song rather than me having a conversation with myself—as usual. Volta had a very trumpets-on-top-of-a-mountain, justice-demanding sound to it. I really loved “Flétta,” the song that’s coming out now, but it didn’t have that emotional stance. It was more fragile and playful. We’d been singing all day and I just kind of improvised the vocals in one go, in Icelandic gibberish, and then I went to bed. I was exhausted, or was I drunk? I can’t remember. Antony sneaked into the studio and he very carefully put all these layered backing vocals on top of my gibberish. The next morning, he said, “Do you want to come hear something?” I sat down and was totally blown away. It was really unplanned and probably could have only happened in Jamaica.

BLACKBOOK: Is this organic style characteristic of your approach to making music?

A: Working with Björk was unique because it was through music that we got to know each other. In some ways, we were very polite with each other, weren’t we? We wanted to leave enough space for each of us to be present and see what that space contained. This song was one of those encounters. It’s almost like a sonic diary entry about the beginning of our friendship.

Björk, you split your time between New York and Reykjavik, two places that couldn’t be more different.

B: I wear mountain boots in Iceland and heels in New York! I’m going to bring my mountain boots to New York and see how that goes.

Or maybe you should bring your heels to Iceland?

B: It took me 10 years to realize I’d separated my two lives into different types of footwear, but I’m going to try to mix them up more.

How do you deal with the tension between being an artist and being a celebrity?

B: You just have to take it as it comes. Dirty years ago, public perception was that all celebrities were the same, that they’re all just one brand. They were perceived as being obsessed with attention, always wanting their photograph taken. But I think that the internet, reality TV shows, and Paris Hilton have helped to change this perception. Now people understand that there are several very different species of celebrity. When I was in London, I was an A-list celebrity with 40 photographers in my garden each day, and so I just moved away. I went somewhere else where I became C-list or D-list, or F-list, even.

image

Antony, what inspired the creation of this new album?

A: This is something that Björk and I have had quite a few conversations about—our relationship as artists to our environment, in the present, but also grappling with what the future might hold.

B: I come from a country with 300,000 people and we’re at a major crossroads right now. People are trying to decide if Iceland will join the EU, and if they’ll privatize access to Iceland’s energy sources. They’re both really huge questions. Usually, if I’m not involved with music, I feel like I’m wasting my time, but now I’m standing up and saying, Listen, you ruined the banks. You can’t just stick your messy fingers in nature. Right now we have an online petition in which we’re asking the government for a national referendum on how to deal with access to our energy sources. As we speak, I think about 10 percent of the islanders have signed, and we only need 15 percent. So that’s the stuff I’ve been sticking my messy fingers into.

A: Your life has become full with this, especially in the past year.

B: I now realize that if I was to sit down and say, Okay, I’m just going to write music and you guys can sort this shit out, that in the two years it might take me to make an album, all the rights to Iceland’s energy sources will have been sold to international companies that have committed humanitarian and environmental crimes.

Antony, are you similarly involved in this type of activism?

A: I’m always wrestling with my sense of responsibility to the unfolding story that we’re telling right now as a society, and as a civilization, in relation to the environment, biodiversity, and our ecosystem. Björk is talking about different kinds of practical activism, but this new work is much more internal. It’s more about my psychic path through this evolution of awareness, and my attempts to evolve, change, respond to, or grieve in the face of where I perceive we are. I don’t even think of environmentalism as a political issue anymore. It’s one of survival.

B: I remember when I went to England when I was 16 and I met all these punks. They were all vegetarians, and I knew if I lived in England I would be a vegetarian, too, because of all those factory farms. In Iceland, though, the sheep still walk wild in the mountains, and I still eat lamb. Each situation is different. What’s been most difficult for me is stepping out of my poetic comfort zone. When you’ve done music for so long, the fact that most things you do are in harmony with the poetic stance of your work spoils you. I have to admit that part of me is a bit of a snob. I think that politics are hideous and vulgar. For me to confront some of these people, I’ve had to use a certain language that I find really vulgar. But I wouldn’t get any results if I kept being esoteric. In the long run, I respect the statements on Antony’s album 500,000 times more than some silly article in the newspaper. I think his is a more valuable weapon.

A: When I talk about the spirit world on my album, it’s very much tied into the way I perceive the environment and the state that it’s in, and the trajectory that we’re on in our relationship to it. It’s not some pastoral, romantic vision of the environment. The manifest world is to me the spirit world. I was raised in a Catholic house where I was taught that only human beings have souls and that nature is supplied to meet our needs throughout our lives, until we go all off to some paradise, which has been prescribed by these male religious models. Over the past 10 years—and this ties in with my own sense of identity as a trans-gender person—I’ve moved toward more feminine models. I don’t mean feminine in any kind of floral way, but rather an intensely powerful, creative way.

Does either of you feel any sense of obligation to address environmental issues?

B: Whether I like it or not, I have a pedestal. I have access to the media, which a lot of people don’t, and I am listened to, so, yes, I’ve made a decision to use that pedestal.

A: I’m not sure how effective I am, or could ever really be, in the political arena. But I do think as an artist, especially as an artist with any kind of a platform, that I mirror the greater consciousness of the community of people who listen to my work. I can’t separate these issues, which are so primary to me in my own value system, from my creative process.

B: Iceland, in a way, is like America about 200 years ago. The Industrial Revolution didn’t happen in Iceland. We were a colony and because of that we were treated like shit, which was terrible, but the upside is that our country wasn’t industrialized. Now we are confronted with the question, “Are we going to become New Jersey?” The battle in Iceland is that we still don’t have to go there. We could go straight to 21st century green solutions.

A: Except that this is a global issue. There are basic moral questions that reach far beyond local or even national politics at this point. It’s about a more profound evolution than anyone’s yet willing to imagine.

B: I still think there’s hope. It’s like when they invented the nuclear bomb, or fire: “What do you do with it? Do you destroy things, or do you do something good?” And it took a huge change in the world to decide that nuclear bombs maybe weren’t such a good idea, an issue we’re still dealing with. I feel the same way about our relationship with the environment: We can change it. I’m not saying things are going to get fixed right away, and that we’re all going to have a smashing happy ending, but I think we’re in the process of learning how to make technology communicate with nature, feminine communicate with masculine, the spiritual unite with the scientific. These two sides have been separated for 200 years, and they can be combined again.

A: And this is why I’m friends with Björk, because she tells me things like that and then I put down the phone and think, Okay, I can get through three more days.

The Black List: The Ten Things Alan Cumming Hates About Celebrity

Writer, director, and actor Alan Cumming will soon appear in two new films—Burlesque, with Cher, and Julie Taymor’s The Tempest—but it’s his website, It’s A Sickness, “an obsession network for an obsessive culture,” that makes the star of The Good Wife (for which he recently received an Emmy nod) the perfect man to lash out against the ravenous cult of celebrity. This is what we call a true Hollywood story.

1. I hate that kids get older and weirder. When kids know you from a film, they are genuine and open in the way they approach you. Then they get older and jaded, and you have to deal with their new adult shit, and they come up to you and say things like, “I don’t know who the fuck you are but my friend thinks you’re kind of hot.” Then they let slip something about a film you’ve been in and of course they do know you, and actually quite respect you, but they are unable to betray that level of emotion and you wish they’d just stayed age 9.

2. Celebrities are not deaf. We can hear you when you talk about us.

3. Twitter is the devil. Not only does it mean that people will grow up unable to experience something without instantly commenting on it, but it is also a hideous invasion of normal human interaction to watch someone you are talking to in a bar go to the loo, and then be told later that they did so to tweet about you. Or how about when someone witnesses a fender bender and tweets about it rather than asking if you’re okay, or if they can help? This happened to me, and a friend of mine saw the tweet and freaked out thinking I was hurt because, of course, the tweeter didn’t bother to follow up and say that I was fine. But worst of all are people who tweet their comments during a play or a movie! I mean, come on! What ever happened to analysis, or allowing an experience to actually be just that?

4. I hate, hate, hate people who come up to you and ask if you remember them, revealing that they slept with you a long time ago. Why would you put yourself in a place of potential humiliation? If the celeb doesn’t remember you it will only make you angry and upset, and make you feel like you weren’t that good of a shag in the first place. Also, didn’t you ever consider the fact that you would never have remembered the celeb either had you not seen his face again and again on TV and in magazines? Wouldn’t it be nicer to gently remind your former shag of where and when you met, subtly and with decorum, and allow you both to have a nice little flashback to why you wanted to get into each other’s pants in the first place?

5. I hate the existential dilemma that magazines and websites deliver: if there isn’t a photo of me in US Weekly or on the latest vacuous blog, was I really at the party/premiere/awards ceremony? Do I even exist if I am not in those publications and on those sites? Is there an alternate reality where outmoded celebrities go to die or exist in a timeless zone waiting to be reborn or reinvented in a Betty White sort of manner?

6. I hate that celebrities are asked our opinion on every inane aspect of society and culture, some recent examples being, “What do you think of Kate Gosselin’s new hairdo?” and, “Are you a Gleek?” and, “Can you do a George Clooney impression?” But we’re supposed to shut up and say nothing about things that actually matter.

7. I hate that we are called “talent.” Not even the talent. My publicist shouted out of a car window recently: “You have to let us through! I have talent!” At first I thought she was referring to herself and was rather excited about what her hitherto unrevealed talent might be, but then I realized it was me, and talent was a noun by which I have come to be known. I am not talented, I am talent. One of the most vivid memories I have about a crazy, embittered ex of mine (and on reflection, probably what precipitated the beginning of the end) was him having to wear a lanyard at an event that was attached to a plastic card emblazoned with the phrase “Guest of Talent.” Ouch.

8. I hate very, very much when people recognize me enough to stop me and sometimes physically prevent me from moving on with my life, yet do not exactly know who I am and so feel entitled to ask me a series of questions about things they might have seen me in. I hate that when I say, “Well, I don’t know, because I wasn’t there when you saw it,” they don’t suddenly realize what an annoying and rude twat they are being. Ditto when, after more questions (and them still clinging onto my arm to disable my flight), I say, Why don’t you Google me?—and they still persevere. What is the solution? Should I try to become more famous to ensure that everyone, everywhere will automatically know me and I will avoid this sort of exchange? But won’t that mean that more and more people will want to stop and talk to me, and take my photo and try to drag me through bars to meet their cousins who are visiting from Arkansas?

9. I hate that people assume that being famous means you’re an asshole; that you’ll be rude to bar staff, waiters, and anyone further down the totem pole than you (which, when you’re a celebrity, is pretty much everyone, with the exception of bigger celebrities); that you will demand loads of expensive booze, clothes, and drugs, and not expect to pay for it. This is utter transference. I am always asking people to stop being total bitches on my behalf and trying to explain that it would be a nice change for me to have a conversation that isn’t about me, my work, how fabulous I am, or how I can help someone get a start as an actor, model, screenwriter, agent, publicist, or my assistant. I think it’s a real test of someone’s character if they choose to be mean to people they can be mean to. Some celebrities do this—but then, some celebrities are revolting shits. There are, however, many more revolting shits who are celebrity hangers-on.

10. I hate that I am even writing this, because it will be misinterpreted, and weird blogs and British newspapers will take lines from it and make up articles that will make me look like a spoiled, frothy dick, and there will be that “Oh, poor you to have so many problems because you’re famous” reaction from people I know and even like. But you know what? I don’t hate the fact that I still notice these things, because it means that I have not hidden myself away from the world, and I am glad about that. Also, as ambivalent as I am about my own fame, it is a byproduct—unwelcome as it may be—of me getting to do the work I love, and be the person I am, so, hooray for that.

October Music Reviews: Apache Beat, Gucci Mane, Tired Pony

Apache Beat Last Chants (Babylon/Beverly Martel) Out of the cacophony of New York buzz bands rises Apache Beat. The Brooklyn-based quintet has been performing live for years, but they’re just now making a play for traditional music career-dom with their first full- length album. For a band with the word “beat” in its name, Chants is disarmingly unpolished, instrumental, and melodic. On album standout “Tropics,” steady keyboards balance out tumbling bongos (which appear on almost every song), while vocalist Ilirjana Alushaj perfects and builds upon her androgynous growl. Shades of Sonic Youth can be felt throughout—the bands share a producer—especially on “Walking on Fire,” with its warbled guitars and crashing cymbals. This is music, au naturel. —Ben Barna

Chromeo Business Casual (Atlantic) Montreal-based synth-funk duo Chromeo return with their third album, Business Casual, and bring with it more of their tongue-in-cheek lyrics and packed party beats. Members P-Thugg and Dave 1 reiterate their affinity for feel-good music, and with tracks like “Hot Mess” and “I’m Not Contagious,” you’d think they were taking the piss out of themselves. Rest assured they are quite serious. On “J’ai Claqué la Porte,” Dave 1 showcases his smooth French skills, while other songs, like “When the Night Falls” (featuring Solange Knowles), are reminiscent of syrupy ’80s dance beats. Whatever your vibe, Business Casual is the perfect soundtrack to a PBR buzz. —Hillary Weston

The Drums Down by the Water (Downtown) It took nothing less than the election of the first black president (and the end of the Bush era) for this Brooklyn-based quartet to write two minutes and 55 seconds of perfect, ecstatic pop. “Let’s Go Surfing”—supposedly conceived on November 4, 2008—is all morning whistles, finger snaps, and handclaps. But then, like the rest of the country, the Drums’ euphoria ended quickly. While the rest of the songs on their debut LP are packaged in gleaming, chewable melodies, the sentiments beneath them tell a different story. On opener “Best Friend,” lead singer Jonathan Pierce croons, “You were my best friend/ And then you died.” And on “Book of Stories,” he sings, “I don’t want to dance anymore/ I don’t want to sing anymore.” But we can’t help wanting to dance; melancholy has never sounded this fun. —BB

John Legend & The Roots Wake Up! (Columbia) John Legend’s soulful voice blends easily with the Roots’ musical dexterity on Wake Up!, an intelligent treatment of damn-the-man classics from the ’60s and ’70s. An album of covers, the songs shimmy between funked-up anthems (Baby Huey’s “Hard Times”), soul-stirring ballads (Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy”), and heartfelt political satire (Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left Handed”). If you’re looking for hip-hop, go somewhere else. But if top-notch performances steeped in history are your bag, then Wake Up! is definitely worth a rousing spin. —Adam Sellers

Marnie Stern Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars) Starbucks fueled guitar hero Marnie Stern’s third album is ballsy and huge, bouncing precision-timed riffs off Himalaya-size soundscapes. Employing her signature guitar-tapping technique, Stern shreds like Steve Vai but recalls Lightning Bolt and Asobi Seksu—complexity at its most insouciant. Hella’s Zach Hill, mixer Lars Stalfors, and Stern’s boyfriend, Matthew Flegel, a bassist and member of psych-rock band Women, lend their formidable talents. Simply called Marnie Stern (too long to repeat here, her previous album title sounds like a Tourettic game of telephone), it delivers a grown-up artist—her vocals tamer and more melodic—who hasn’t sacrificed ambition for confidence. According to track five, “Female Guitar Players Are the New Black.” —Megan Conway

Tired Pony The Place We Ran From (Mom+Pop) A glimmer in the eye of Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, Tired Pony was born when R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Belle & Sebastian’s Richard Colburn, and producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee, among other musical dignitaries, gathered in Portland’s Type Foundry studio to record 10 Americana-inspired songs over one week. For such a congregation of talent, Tired Pony—with its twee name and whitewashed nods to the Wild West—lacks energy. The band is at their best when they stick to pure pop. “Dead American Writers” finds Lightbody’s voice trilling interestingly, but the album ultimately lacks the whisky-soaked grit that makes the best alt-country—Bill Callahan, Wilco—so memorable. —MC

Guccie Mane The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted (Warner Bros.) Atlanta-based rapper Gucci Mane has become a ubiquitous presence in the hip-hop game over the past three years, his marbled monotone ordering us—from inside pulsing clubs and vibrating car windows—to party, party, party. (So steadfast is his desire to get down that Gucci even dropped a mixtape from jail.) His first post- penitentiary album needed something with broader appeal, which is precisely what we get with, well, The Appeal. Featuring an arsenal of guest artists including Ray J,Wyclef Jean, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Nicki Minaj, and Estelle, the album borrows equally from his woozy sex-and-money tracks and more conventional pop fare. —Daniela Dello Joio

Sean Lennon & Charlotte Kemp Muhl Make Beautiful Music Together

THE SHOW: Late on a sultry summer evening, a smart-looking crowd settles in for cocktails at Joe’s Pub, an intimate music venue at New York’s Public Theater. At the stroke of midnight, Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl walk onto the stage, taking their seats amid a dozen or so instruments laid out for the performance.

Introducing themselves as the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, they begin their set by describing the long day they’ve had: waking up in Annapolis, Maryland, following a gig at the Rams Head; driving to NPR’s Washington D.C. studios for a private show for the All Things Considered staff; and then making the arduous five-hour journey to New York for tonight’s event. “I’m convinced the GPS is bisexual,” says Lennon, 34, reproducing the affected voice of his satellite navigator. Muhl, Lennon’s 23-year-old girlfriend and musical partner, plays along with the twee banter. But the audience falls silent as they launch into “Jardin du Luxembourg,” a haunting track from their upcoming album, Acoustic Sessions, out October 25.

Lennon’s clip-clop rhythm on guitar brings to mind a sunny western ballad, while an undercurrent of minor notes from Muhl’s melodica bends it into something more austere. The song serves as a two-minute introduction to the duo, themselves a mishmash of styles, sounds, and influences.

Lennon, sporting a black shirt paired with white bowtie, gray jacket, and red-and-white striped pants, is a study in curio-shop chic. His hair pokes out from beneath a black felt bowler, his handsome face framed by a thin beard and darkrimmed glasses. Muhl, an internationally renowned model, is appropriately ravishing in a white babydoll dress and knee-high stockings.

They almost look too good to be taken seriously—like actors cast as musicians—but there’s no denying their talent. Multi-instrumentalist Lennon is an accomplished guitarist and virtuosic pianist. He takes to the ivories for “Richard Brown,” a playful tune that he sings with an impressively commanding baritone. Muhl plays no less than 10 instruments, from bass and keyboard to accordion and glockenspiel, the last of which comes into play during the achingly beautiful “Dark Matter,” with ethereal tones that sound as if they were siphoned from a Victorian nursery.

For the neo-Aquarian anthem “Rainbows in Gasoline,” the duo sings, “Why do we give memories eyes and teeth, like taxidermy dreams?” Immediately, all of the baggage associated with Lennon’s famous father and Muhl’s modeling contracts melts away. They belong on this stage, at this moment.

THE SHOOT: The following afternoon, Lennon and Muhl are being photographed for this story in an enormous Soho apartment at the top of a building that also houses a Chinese beauty academy. They’re in the master bedroom, framed by a phalanx of taxidermy animals that seem to jockey for attention in the viewfinder, vintage pieces cobbled together in part from their own collection: a bobcat, a monkey, a peacock with detachable tail feathers, a “jackalope.”

Lennon stays serious, staring into the camera unblinkingly amid a fusillade of flashes. There’s no denying his resemblance to his late father, John Lennon, who would have turned 70 on October 9, the same day the younger Lennon turns 35. He neither avoids nor embraces the inevitable comparisons, but simply plays the hand he’s been dealt, pushing forward with the mix of confidence and doubt familiar to any young musician.

image

Whereas Lennon remains quite still, Muhl is modeling, snapping into pose after pose. Her long limbs wrap around Lennon, green-brown eyes trained on his face, raven hair accentuated by the presence of an actual raven.

After the shoot wraps, Lennon and Muhl relax on a white couch and discuss their art, their inspiration, and the source of the greatest beauty in the world. Take the taxidermy, for example. Their interest lies in the idea that the true essence of beauty can only be found in nature, while mankind’s efforts to improve upon it are destined to fall short. “My favorite period of art is art nouveau, right before art deco starts,” Lennon says. “It was the transition between modeling architecture and art after nature—flowers, trees, animals, and naked women—into deco, which was like streamlining imitations of machines.”

In between bites of fruit salad, Muhl provides examples of nature’s artistic perfection. “Watch a sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji or eat a red strawberry and you’ll know we haven’t topped it yet,” she says. “But we also love the secret-attic feeling of dust and cobwebs and old mannequin parts and taxidermy and anatomical books and odds and ends.” Thus, their conflicted feelings about taxidermy, which reflects the beauty of the animal kingdom but wouldn’t be possible without, well, killing animals. The ethical conundrum becomes even more acute as Lennon and Muhl prepare to drive to Woodstock, New York, to perform at a benefit concert the following evening for the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, which rescues and rehabilitates abused and neglected farm animals. For now, they’re comforted by the fact that all the “warped, mangled, and mangy” pieces in the room, as Muhl describes them, are generations old, relics of a dying industry.

The science and technology industries of today are no less troubling, which gives the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger—the name is based on a story Muhl wrote as a child—plenty of creative fodder. “We like to frame modern things through an antique light,” Lennon says. “A song like ‘Dark Matter’ is about the future, but everything we talk about is only moments away from happening, like choosing your baby’s genetics.” Muhl nods, adding, “It’s not at all what the ’60s innocently imagined the future would be like, with everyone wearing these rainbowcolored silks and running around in bubbles with laser beams. It’s far more cynical and insidious and interesting.”

The result of this fascination is Acoustic Sessions, a collection of nine tracks that view the promises of the future through a 19th-century kaleidoscope. Musically, the album represents an evolution from Lennon’s earlier work. His first studio album, Into the Sun—released on the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label in 1998—contains the seed of his current sound, a mix of indie rock, modern folk, and Japanese pop influences, the latter courtesy of Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, his girlfriend at the time and the album’s producer.

After a nearly eight-year hiatus as a solo artist, during which he wrote two film scores, produced an album for a Brazilian heavy metal band, and collaborated with countless A-list artists, he released his second solo LP, 2006’s Friendly Fire. This sophomore effort presents a more complete, refined sound, and earned four stars from Rolling Stone.

With little musical background to call upon beyond an angelic singing voice, Muhl had to learn everything from scratch, tapping Lennon’s expertise to become proficient on quirky instruments like the banjo and recorder. Still, her relative lack of experience leaves her a bit uneasy next to her more seasoned partner. “Piano is the only instrument I’m not mortified playing,” she says. “Sean plays every single instrument incredibly well and I’m just trying to keep up, so I might as well play a lot of instruments badly instead of one well.” Lennon jumps in. “She picks up really fast, so anytime we want a band member, I kind of just make her one,” he says. “She had about one week to learn how to play bass, and she only bought an accordion a week before this last tour.”

image

The duo owns and operates Chimera Music, a label that produces their own records as well as those of others, like Lennon’s mother Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band, If By Yes (co-owner Yuka Honda’s collaboration with Petra Haden), Kemp and Eden (Muhl’s side project with longtime friend Eden Rice), and Floored By Four (with Honda, Mike Watt, Dougie Bowne, and Wilco’s Nels Cline). “We’re all best friends or ex-lovers or family members,” says Muhl.

To put it mildly, they’re a busy couple. When they return from Woodstock, Lennon and Muhl will hit the studio to write and record material for their follow-up album, which features a full band and collaborators like Mark Ronson, Lennon’s childhood friend. But neither of them shows any outward signs of stress. Muhl leans forward as she talks energetically about some of science’s creepiest and most fascinating advances: “They finally created… life,” she says. “Well, they made a bacteria come to life by artificial means, but it’s a valid life form.” Lennon sits on the floor in the Japanese seiza position, a posture used for meditation.

“He always sits like that,” Muhl says. “Cultural players will sit on their legs like that while some Noh or Kabuki theater is going on and they won’t move, and every two hours they’ll pluck one string on that amazing koto instrument. I don’t know how the blood doesn’t drain from their legs.”

“You have to be really thin, that’s the key,” answers Lennon.

“I wish he would accentuate his Japanese side more and wear full Kabuki makeup,” Muhl says.

“I used to do that when I was young—I wore Kabuki makeup and had long hair for one of my mom’s shows in Japan. I used to be a lot more eccentric in the way I dressed than I am now,” Lennon says.

“And now you’re really trying to be English,” Muhl replies.

“Now I enjoy dressing like an older gentleman.”

THE RECKONING: The following week, Lennon and Muhl are having a minor crisis of conscience. Their concert at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary has caused them to see the taxidermy and furs that decorated their photo shoot in a different light. Lennon sends an email clarifying his position:

“I’m starting to realize that even if the fur hat I happen to be wearing (theoretical) was hunted and eaten by a mountain man, or some other naturalist, meaning completely outside of the ‘system,’ my image still promotes the mass industry indirectly, as a whole. So although I love vintage furs, and respect people who have the balls to actually kill something they’re going to eat more than I do the average meat eater who wants to disconnect as much as possible from the reality of a hamburger’s origins, I am now starting to realize I may want to curb my enthusiasm for such regalia.”

While it’s doubtful that Lennon wearing a rabbit-fur hat, or Muhl posing with a stuffed bobcat, will worsen those animals’ plight to any significant degree, it’s a characteristically thoughtful and unselfish observation from artists intent on melding past and present, nature and technology, into an entirely new form of beauty.

image Photography by Alexandra Carr. Styling by April Johnson.

‘Nowhere Boy’s Aaron Johnson Chooses His Favorite Musicians

Aaron Johnson doesn’t listen to much new music, but he has heard of Lady Gaga. “I only know her because she’s all over the fucking place,” explains the raffish 20-year-old Brit. Stating the obvious, he adds, “But I don’t like her songs.” In fact, Johnson, who made an impression on American audiences as a clumsy masked avenger in the superhero satire Kick-Ass, isn’t all that fond of contemporary pop in general. “No one’s got anything great to sing about. It’s all about getting pussy in the club, drinking, being rich and famous. It’s all, I-wanna-bend-her-over-and-fuck-her-in-the-ass–type music. I find that music shit.”

Thank heavens, then, that his latest film, Nowhere Boy, is a biopic about a pre-Beatles John Lennon, not a young Marshall Mathers. Directed by celebrated British artist Sam Taylor-Wood (who fell in love with Johnson on set and recently gave birth to the couple’s daughter), the film charts Lennon’s teenage years and the formation of his friendship with Paul McCartney. For Johnson, it influenced how he listens to one of his favorite bands. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was my introduction to them,” he says of the Beatles, “but if I had to choose a favorite album it would be one of the earlier ones when they were just starting out, and still had that Buddy Holly feel. There’s something about an artist when they’re starting out, a raw energy you can’t quite put your finger on.” Here, along with 11 other legendary acts, he tries to do just that.

Elvis Presley. My only memory of my sister’s 9th birthday—I must have been about 4—was this Elvis song coming on, and all the boys and girls dancing with each other. Elvis sings, “I can’t help falling in love with you.” What’s it called? [Ed. note: It’s called “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”] When I hear that song, it reminds me of that party. There are a few songs that he sings that are absolutely beautiful beyond belief.

Velvet Underground. Lou Reed’s voice takes me to another world. It’s so dark, and Velvet Underground were so completely ahead of their time. They had a sound that no band nowadays can reproduce. Their songs were fucking meaningful. And the one about heroin! [Ed. note: It’s called “Heroin.”] Not that I’ve personally been through that, but the music puts you in a totally different dimension where you can almost feel this world of addiction.

The Doors. I was humming a Doors song today. I can’t even remember what it was, but it always gets me. Funnily enough, on the day my daughter was born, Sam and I went to the cinema to see the documentary When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors, and we’re pretty sure that’s what brought her labor on, because the music was pretty fucking cool.

The Who. I keep thinking about what a fantastic drummer Keith Moon was. It’s just insane, and I love that song, “My Generation,” when Roger Daltrey sings, “Why don’t you all f-f-f-f-f-f-fade away.” You know they’re bad boys, so you think they’re going to say “fuck,” but they said “fade.” I love that.

Roxy Music. I’ve got an old record player in my bedroom, and one of my favorite records to look at is the Roxy Music album, the one with the young woman laid out on the cover [Ed. note: It’s called Roxy Music]. I love “If There is Something.” It’s a seven-minute song, and it’s just beautiful. Bryan Ferry’s voice, when it trembles, is so poetic. When he sings, “I would put roses ’round our door/ sit in the garden/ growing potatoes by the score,” it’s so fucking powerful.

U2. Recently Sam and I were in the South of France, where we met up with Bono for lunch, and he very kindly offered to take us to Hanover in Germany to see U2 perform. They have their own jet and fly as a crew. It’s such a family vibe. We took our daughter, Wylda Rae, with us for her first rock concert, and Bono gave Wylda a few shout-outs and dedicated a couple songs to her—it was unbelievable. One of my favorite albums is The Joshua Tree. Every song on there is a fucking classic.

Rolling Stones. “Wild Horses” is one of my favorite songs. I’m pretty sure there’s an interview with John Lennon where he says something about the Stones being months behind them. [In a perfect Lennon accent] “Every album we’ve brought out, about a month later, the new Stones album will have taken our songs and tweaked them.” He was in typical cocky, arrogant mode. But I love the Stones. The raw attitude and edge they bring to their music is different than the Beatles.

Joy Division. I love “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” obviously. And I love the way Ian Curtis moves. It’s fantastic to watch. When Matt Greenhalgh, the writer of Nowhere Boy, wrote Control [the 2007 Joy Division biopic], he really made Joy Division more interesting in Britain, boosting their popularity up. DJs started playing them in clubs again.

The White Stripes. Have you ever heard them do that Dolly Parton song—what’s the fucking name of it? “Jolene!” That’s so fucking raw. It’s just insane, it literally puts shivers up my fucking spine. I love the White Stripes. And I love the one that goes, “I’m thinking about my doorbell/Thinking about my doorbell.” [Ed. note: It’s called “My Doorbell.”] It’s banging, that song.

Jay-Z. I think one of the best videos I’ve ever seen on MTV is “99 Problems.” I was younger when it came out, and whenever I saw it, I was like, this is a fucking tune! “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one!” That was one of the first music videos I’d ever seen.

Mozart. When Sam was pregnant, I played a lot of Mozart, because they say it’s supposed to be good for the baby. There’s a part of your brain that everyone has, but no one uses, and Mozart used that part, which is what made him such a fucking genius. When you listen to him, it exercises that part of your brain.

Scorpio Rising: October’s Key Events

October 1: David Fincher’s The Social Network is released. We like this. October 2: Jon Stewart hosts Night of Too Many Stars, an autism benefit featuring Chris Rock and Tina Fey. In this case, autism is kind of benefiting us. October 3: See blotches of paint worth more than some countries when Abstract Expressionist New York opens at MoMA.

October 7: The third annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival kicks off. It’s like Fashion Week for fatties! October 8: Arcade Fire continue their world tour with a show at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, proving that you really can’t escape The Suburbs. October 9: Lock your doors: openhousenewyork Weekend, America’s largest architecture and design event, is coming to town. October 12: Zufjan Ztevenz trades banjoes for synths when he releases his new electronica album, The Age of Adz. October 16: Treasure Island Music Festival kicks off in San Francisco featuring LCD Soundsystem, Broken Social Scene, and other artists who are pro-piracy. October 19: James Franco releases Palo Alto, a collection of stories he wrote while making out with Julia Roberts, editing his PhD dissertation, and clipping his toenails. October 21: Too soon for another Massive Attack in Manhattan? Nope. The legendary British trip-hoppers take the stage at Madison Square Garden. October 22: The lesson of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 goes unlearned when Paranormal Activity 2 hits theaters. October 28: World, the biggest indoor theme park in existence, opens today in Abu Dhabi. It’s like Disney World without all the pedophiles. October 21: Adding much-needed levity to a roster that includes Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC premieres Walking Dead, a new series about the apocalypse.