This month in Boulder Lifestyle Magazine, I run through ten necessities for commuting by bike in the approaching cold, wet weather safely. It’s easier than you think to keep riding no matter the weather, and starting and ending your work day by biking through snow will make you feel like a kid again. You can read the piece here.
My daughter, Sidney, is somewhat of a punk-rock connoisseur, at least for a Boulderite, and especially for a five-year-old. Sure, she’s obsessed with Cinderella (the princess, not the band) and digs Frozen, but “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill is near the top of Sidney’s favorite songs. Plus, when she heard the Clash’s debut album last year, Sidney unknowingly echoed many noted rock critics, scoffing, “Papa, this just sounds like the Ramones. Can you put the Ramones on?” She was even able to recognize that the theme song to PBS’s The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! blatantly rips off “Glad to See You Go.”
When I asked her to define punk rock, Sidney—one of probably very few kindergartners in Colorado who show off the Ramones posters above their beds during playdates—told me, “Punk is a sound that is awesome. Punk is loud and has loud singing. I just like it.” With Sidney’s budding music-geekdom in mind, I recently procured a copy of the new children’s book What Is Punk? and sat down for a father-daughter jaunt from Iggy through the Dead Kennedys.
Billed as “a punk primer for the youngest set,” What Is Punk? is thirty pages of colorful clay figures (by Anny Yi) and a playful recap of punk history written by Trampoline House’s founding editor, Eric Morse. It’s an especially entertaining and educational little book if you pause with your child to share a YouTube snippet each time a new band is mentioned.
One of the highlights of What Is Punk? is a scene outside CBGB in Manhattan, ostensibly in the mid-1970s, featuring cartoonish clay likenesses of members of crucial early punk-associated acts Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground. It’s all in good fun—and wonderful for any kiddo to get exposure to some of the all-time great American rock bands—except that the Velvet Underground (New York’s late-’60s alternate-universe Grateful Dead) was defunct by the time those other acts effectively gave birth to punk in the East Village, inspiring the 1977 punk explosion in England and eventually the ‘80s hardcore revolution in California.
Even more confusing is that not until three pages later do the Stooges—whose phenomenal 1970 sophomore LP Funhouse essentially invented the raw power that still defines most punk—get a mention, although the hugely influential Detroit quartet had broken up by the time CBGB began hosting the aforementioned groups, along with the Ramones.
Arguing over what represented the first true punk band is useless, sure, but providing a simple, accurate timeline would have been an easy task for Morse. What Is Punk? gets on track, however, when Yi’s extraordinary clay scenes move along to late-’70s England. Partly because of the amazing photos included in the Clash’s big, hot-pink eponymous biography, my daughter now loves Joe Strummer, but Yi’s incredible Sex Pistols scene in What Is Punk? piqued her curiosity about the Pistols’ brash music and “silly names.” By our second time reading What Is Punk? as a bedtime story, Sidney was already able to identify Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious by their outfits.
Yi and Morse also hit a home run with the two-page spread declaring “just like the boys, the girls came to play.” Clay figures of the Slits, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are framed over pink wallpaper, a nice touch if you’re trying to get Disney princess-obsessed tykes into music with edge, or—as Morse writes—young women who “made a holy racket with their glitter and their grit.”
When I asked Sidney what she thought of the female-fronted bands featured in What Is Punk?, she replied, “They are weird. I like them more because they sing louder.”
Pressed for her personal review of What Is Punk?, Sidney continued, “It is really fun because it has lots of pictures of clay people. It is amazing that they can make those people. But I don’t want to play punk, because I’m shy of being with so many people I don’t know in the audience.”
The book’s succinct, effective conclusion is fantastic: “Punk is music, it’s art, it’s culture and vision. But if you really want to know punk you just have to listen.”
More than anything, Yi’s engaging clay figures (especially those depicting Milo Aukerman and Iggy Pop) represent the bulk of what enticed and educated Sidney within What Is Punk? That’s partly because Morse was so general in his description of what punk actually sounds like—“a deafening roar,” “a fresh new sound,”—until the last few pages, when the unlikely pairing of Steve Ignorant and Glenn Danzig is juxtaposed with the words “loud and fast.”
Along with adding a more straightforward, accurate timeline, it would have been helpful if Morse had used the first few pages of What Is Punk? to plainly describe not only the instrumentation and musical ethos of early punk, but also what it was a musical reaction to. Still, What Is Punk? belongs on the bookshelves of music-loving parents, because Morse’s creative, charming narrative and Yi’s unforgettable clay scenes bring to life the genesis of a music that’s all about freedom and energy, and they do so in an amusing way that has my kid excited to travel down the many rabbit holes of punk history.
Trevor Powers debuted as Youth Lagoon in 2011 with the gorgeous indie-pop minimalism of The Year of Hibernation, a calm, poetic and endearing trip through the anxiety, curiosity and lament of the then-21-year-old Boise State University student. Powers, who looked even younger than 21 in press photos surrounding The Year of Hibernation, has since become a worldwide phenomenon, touring with Death Cab for Cutie and performing at every major festival from Pitchfork to SXSW.
Admirably, the vast critical success of The Year of Hibernation — which was followed in 2013 by a powerfully psychedelic left-turn called Wondrous Bughouse — resulted in a quick, and stunning, evolution.
The ghostly video for the stark, ambitious electro-pop tune “Highway Patrol Stun Gun” — from July’s Savage Hills Ballroom — shows Powers (looking considerably more grown up than the fresh-faced, adorably goofy hipster who emerged in 2011) wandering New York with a man in a gold mask. The images are nearly as thought-provoking as Savage Hills Ballroom’s dark lyrics, from “Everybody wants to think that their luck will change / when there’s no such thing” to “We’re gold that’s as bright as hell’s own flame.”
Sera Cahoone, a Littleton native and graduate of Columbine High School, now lives in Seattle, where she once played drums for Band of Horses and Carissa’s Wierd. But she quickly rose to critical acclaim as a singer-songwriter with the release of a self-titled solo album in 2006.
Cahoone’s dusty, welcoming songs feature mellow, beautifully delivered country rock that breathes depth into deceptively gloomy music. Her most recent release, 2013’s impressive Deer Creek Canyon, is both hopeful and dark, paying tribute to Cahoone’s Colorado roots and juxtaposing lyrics like “My heart is breaking/and I’m the one to blame” with tasteful, woodsy alt-folk.
Recently, Cahoone’s world — one in which the sounds of acoustic guitar, pedal steel and banjo abound — merged with one filled with soccer balls and World Cup trophies, when she and Seattle Reign FC (and U.S. Women’s National Team) star Megan Rapinoe got engaged. Cahoone, who is completing a new album, discussed that and more with Westword in an interview by phone from her Seattle home.
Adam Perry: You left Colorado in 1998. What’s it like coming back?
Sera Cahoone: I love it every time. I still definitely call Denver home. Every time I play there it’s special, because my family’s all there, and friends, and it always feels good.
Do you still carry Colorado in your songwriting?
Definitely. Deer Creek Canyon was based on Deer Creek Canyon Road there. My mom lives up on top of there, so that song is about my mother and going home. Colorado is a huge part of me. I miss it a lot, but it’s too hard to move. I was so excited to play the Fox Theatre, because it’s the one place in Colorado I’ve never played. I used to go there in high school all the time. I saw Radiohead and all these huge bands there, and I was always like, “I can’t wait to play here one day.”
What was the Denver music scene like when you were just starting out compared to what’s happening now?
I feel like it’s changed a lot. I know they have that great radio station with [102.3 FM] OpenAir; stuff like that is exciting. When I was living there, I was really young and didn’t have a full view of what was going on. But there are so many great bands out of Denver now, always. I always keep an eye out for Denver bands, because there’s such a great vibe going on there, which is super-exciting to me. I want to be involved in it, but I’m not, because I’m in Seattle — but I still feel like a part of it. I loved seeing Nathaniel [Rateliff] on [The Tonight Show]. That was amazing.
How did you decide to fully shift from being a drummer to being a singer-songwriter?
When I was in high school, I would kind of mess around with the guitar, but I was super-shy, so I kind of just did it on the side. I always wanted to play the guitar, because [with] drums you can only do so much, really. I started singing a little bit, and when I moved to Seattle I started to just force myself to play open mikes. I didn’t know anyone, so I would just kind of go out to open mikes and try to get over my awkward shyness of even singing in front of people. I think I just really wanted to do something different for a while. I never expected to be where I am right now with it.
You didn’t think you’d have a career doing your own songs?
I wanted to put out a record. I wanted to do all the guitar and play all the drums; that was my goal with my very first record. I didn’t have much money, but I wanted to just do the record for myself. I sent it to KEXP here, to John “In the Morning” [Richards], thinking that it would get played on a local thing. He played it on his show, and I was like, “Holy shit.” I think it was just the demo; my record wasn’t [finished] yet. Having the huge support of KEXP got it in people’s ears, and it’s kind of just gone from there, I guess. Of course I wanted to play shows, because I felt really excited about my songs and wanted people to hear it — but I also didn’t really expect to be where I am with it.
Deer Creek Canyon had a lot of difficult but necessary life lessons, like “You’re the only one who has control of what you need.” Do you find yourself trying to live by the lessons in your songs?
That’s an interesting question. Yeah, I guess in ways, of course, something like that will come out. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things that do come out. That’s something I love about the songs, is how they do affect people, and that’s why I do what I do. So I would answer yes.
If you Google “Sera Cahoone” and “sad,” you’ll find tons of articles about you. But “Might as Well,” for instance, has melancholy music with lyrics that are romantic in a positive way. Where does that mixture of moods come from?It’s funny, because people do put “sad.” Sometimes I have people asking if I’m okay [laughs]. I’m actually a very happy person, but I’m also a very sensitive person; I think I see a lot of hopefulness in relationships and in life. But I love sad songs in general. Whenever I put music on, I like to listen to songs that make me feel something, and I’ve always loved super-somber music. So I think when I write songs, that’s just what comes out, because I listen to that kind of music so much and that’s what really gets me.
Did you listen to music that was a little twisted growing up? The Carter Family?
Yeah, I loved a lot of old country music. My mother listened to old folk records. And I was super into heavy metal in junior high. But I think when I got really into music, it was more singer-songwriter, sad music that I wanted to sit with. Tracy Chapman, for example.
It seems like it was a huge surprise to most of your fans to suddenly see you on SportsCenter. Has that kind of mass exposure grown your fan base?
I definitely have a lot more Megan Rapinoe fans [laughs]. That could even be youngsters or gay [people], so of course…. Usually it’s more in the Americana world. But I also haven’t played a ton of shows [lately]; I haven’t put out a record. So it’s hard for me to really say. But, yeah, it’s been interesting.
What’s it like to be famous in one realm and then enter a very public relationship with someone who is famous in another?
I feel like ever since I met Megan, we’ve had this connection where we’ve understood each other in a lot of ways. I mean, she’s definitely [famous] on a much higher level than me, but it’s exciting because I get to live this completely “other” life and get to go see her play soccer and not have to be doing my thing. I feel like we understand each other in this way that’s been really sweet. But, yes, it is interesting. It’s just cool to see each other in, I don’t know, work mode.
So will the new songs all be happy?
[Laughs.] There are definitely some more sweet songs in there, but I think when I write, I just love writing sad songs, even if it’s not about me. If it’s too happy, it’s hard for me. Even when I start strumming a guitar part, it’s like, “Oh, that sounds sad.” I feel like it’s more natural for me to write sad songs. I can just go to that place; it makes me feel calm.
Boulder resident Arrow Zoe Amelia, a 29-year-old Florida native and Naropa University graduate, was a key member of the now-defunct Language of Fish Collective Arts in Boulder from 2011-2014. LOFCA, as it was affectionately known, was a “performance company” that utilized the diverse talents of numerous young local women to create original long-form pieces, some of them site-specific, incorporating dance, theater and music.
Among many other works, 2013’s powerful Francescafound the members of LOFCA building a strange home inside Naropa’s Performing Arts Center, where they told the haunting tale of late Boulder photographer Francesca Woodman with their bodies and the music of Inner Oceans’ Griff Snyder. And 2014’s Wait, a comical Beckett-inspired piece of musical theater, saw Amelia—in partnership with LOFCA co-founder Adderly Bigelow—going back to her roots as an actor and playwright.
As part of this year’s Boulder International Fringe Festival, Amelia makes her post-LOFCA debut along Boulder Creek with the musically inclined play Building a Home Despite All the Bodies, in which she and fellow Naropa alum Lily Brown (under the name Our Skins) portray a couple making its way “through the boggy swamps of middle.” With the help of a four-member chorus, the couple traverses the naïve sparks of infatuation and the banal monotony of archetypal home life, reaching something resembling a happy commitment to continue “building something together.” In advance of performances this weekend, Amelia and Brown sat down with Westword to talk about Building a Home and what it’s like to spend so much time working on art that’s unclassifiable.
Adam Perry: Where did this piece come from?
Arrow Zoe Amelia: We were neighbors and Lily lived right upstairs. I had been sort of grieving Language of Fish and not creating anything, and then I started writing something and in a burst of excitement I ran upstairs and said, “I need to make something, and it would be so cool if we could work together.” I had always admired what Lily had done at school, in her thesis and just in our workshop moments in the classroom.
Lily Brown: I think both of us were in a space where creativity had been dead for a while. We were both kind of slogging around and it felt bad.
Amelia: As we started looking for a space and would have these long walks and talk about what was going on in our lives, what kept on coming was our questions, and our curiosities and our frustrations, around romantic relationship — the different layers and complexities, and also the similarities that we were experiencing, like “How am I myself with this other person?”
Perry: Inhabiting these two characters, is it like you started a relationship with each other?
Amelia: It’s funny, because I think what we’ve created is a combination of references to our relationships to other people.
Brown: We’re hopping back and forth between ourselves and other people who we’ve related to, being in their perspective, and then doing the same thing for each other. I could be some sort of dynamic that Arrow has been in the past, or she could be replaying these things and working them out—just feeling this mysterious quality of the whole thing, not being in control of who we’re attracted to and why, and the [discomfort] of following through with something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Perry: Does the play make you question why we enter partnerships at all?
Brown: I hold that strongly. I’m not in a relationship very often. It’s really easy for me to say, “This isn’t worth it” and throw things away. So for me, yeah.
Amelia: Mostly the second half, where it becomes a little domestic, is based on my experiences. It’s funny because I don’t question why we [enter into relationships]. It just seems like the reasons why I’ve learned so much about myself and about life is because of the experiences I’ve had in my relationships.
Brown: I remember this exciting day [when] we were hanging out in Arrow’s apartment talking about these different realms that seem to pop up in relationships, and one of them we called the “How was your day?” realm. Just this realm of not really having any spark with the person, or anything to say, scraping the bottom of the pot.
Amelia: The most generic communication.
Brown: Yeah, “What are we doing together? How do we communicate? What is this?” A lot of relationships hang on in that realm for eternity.
Amelia: Neither of us [has] been in a relationship yet past a certain stage. The end of [Building a Home] is sort of like our prayer for moving through the “How is your day?” phase and the muck phase, those layers we haven’t seen our way through yet. I think if you’re both willing and passionate about the work that you have to do to continue to walk together through all that you will face, you can do it. Also, you each as individuals have to find your own autonomous center and ground in order to continue to walk together.
Perry:What’s it like being an artist in Boulder?
Amelia: I guess what’s frustrating is trying to speak to people about it, because often the work is what’s speaking. What I usually say is “multi-disciplinary performance.” I could say, “My influences are Samuel Beckett, Pina Bausch and Meredith Monk,” and if you could put those people together, this is the type of performance I’d like to be making. To be based in San Francisco or New York, where there are a lot of different types of strange new things happening all the time, there’s just a different focus.
Brown: There’s something nice about there being almost no focus, that I can see, on art in Boulder. We don’t really have to be able to articulate as much what it is, because we’re not in an artistic community and people don’t really care; they don’t resonate with those words. We can just say, “Hey, we’re a part of your community and we did this thing, and we did it for you and for us.” We don’t need to get involved with what genre it is, and if we were in San Francisco we might have to.
Amelia: What’s interesting, though, is that being in Boulder as a site-specific artist I find myself inspired all the time by our environment—the mountains and the big open spaces. The creek, especially. It’s this place that is communicating so many things [and] I find myself inspired and sort of asked to relate to this place and share it. And there are so many things that can happen with site-specific performance. It could rain. There might even be a football game happening. You’re relating to a space that you can’t control, and that’s part of what’s really scary and really beautiful about it—there’s risk and there’s magic about it.
Perry: What is it about working in collaboration that seems so necessary, that you couldn’t get out of a one-woman show?
Amelia: I have definitely wondered that, because after Language of Fish I had gone through a breakup and I was just trying to change the way I thought about how I could be with myself. I thought, “Okay, this is my lesson. I need to be doing it all by myself.” But I just don’t have any interest in doing it all by myself. I’m inspired by other people and when you can be a reflection for each other, there’s something really special about having a back and forth. It makes it so much more rich.
Perry: How do you deal with writing these pieces, rehearsing for so long, putting together the little string of performances and then letting it go?
Brown: What I feel about Arrow’s pieces is that she hammers at the wall for a long time to break through this mundane world. By inviting an audience, it kind of breaks open all of that work that she’s done, to witness it. So it’s over, but it can whisper in your ear in a way that nature always does, this possibility of being playful with phenomenon. I don’t think a DVD would have the same effect.
Amelia: That’s the thing, also, with site-specific performance: It’s hard to get that sensation on film. It’s such an experiential situation. A part of what I’m losing is what it was to be inside of it. I’m not going to get that back from seeing [a DVD]. My shared experience with the people I collaborated with, that’s sort of a dream we got to have together and share with other people. But it is a practice of letting go.
Building a Home Despite All the Bodies will be performed at 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 18 through September 20, and again September 25 through September 27, along Boulder Creek between Folsom Street and Grandview Avenue. Find more information here.
This month’s issue of Bicycle Times features my recap of completing the 30th-annual Ride the Rockies with my partner, Irene. Here is a little preview – physical copies of the magazine are available at Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, etc.