INTERVIEW : IRA GLASS : PART I
Hello?
Hello?
Hi, Ira. How are you?
Hey, it’s Ira.
Hi, just to let you know this has already started recording.
Noted, we’re on the record. I’m prepared with my important answers to the national security and other public policy questions that will be presented.
Pretty much, have you ever been associated with a member of the Communist Party?
Have I been with the Communist Party? Not the Communist Party, no.
Thank you for making time to do this. We are all really big fans over here. First off, since you recently crossed the 500th episode mark, how has your selection process for topics evolved from the beginning and how do you search out new material for the show?
In the beginning, the premise of the show was that we we were going to apply the tools of journalism to things so small and personal that journalists don’t normally bother with them. We’re trying to have compelling characters and emotional moments and funny moments and, after doing that for a number of years, myself and the producers on the staff became very interested in trying that same kind of story but doing it for the news. More and more, I think, we’ve been tackling things that are in the news — things that other people try to cover in other ways but we do it with stories that are gripping and emotional and more narrative in a very traditional way and less like news features in that newsy news way.
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One that strikes my mind is the Giant Pool of Money episode where it really went from a massive topic that confused a lot of people and you broke it down in a way that people could understand. Do you feel like that episode was a turning point — did it do that for the show?
I think it did that. Up until then, we had done a ton of stories about things like the war on terror in Guantanamo and Iraq and guns and things and domestic politics. I think that show just got so many people’s attention because at the point that it appeared in 2008, even before the final parts of the crash, it was before the Lehman brothers fell. It stepped back and was explaining phrases that I think all of us were hearing in the news but didn’t quite know what they meant, like mortgage-backed securities.
I remember that I really didn’t know what that even referred to, before we started working on that episode. I think in time, everybody came to learn from the news. A mortgage-backed security is basically just where somebody buys a bunch of mortgages and bundles them up in a pile and then sells them all at once to somebody else. That’s all that is. It’s a fancy phrase for that.
I think that was a really early piece of reporting — explaining it and explaining exactly what was going on in the economy. In that case specifically, the advantage that we had as non-experts was that we could ask the dumb questions that real beat reporters covering economics never would ask. The whole thing came about because one of our producers, Alex Bloomberg, became very interested in answering the question, “Why are banks doing something that banks have never done since the beginning of the history of capitalism: giving out loans to people and not bothering to check if they were able to pay them back?”
There was a standard loan product called a NINA Loan, a No Interest No Asset Loan. The idea of a NINA Loan was that you didn’t have to prove that you had a job or anything. You didn’t have to do anything to show that you could pay back the loan. We opened our show with this guy who had two part-time jobs, made $30,000 or $40,000 a year, who got a $400,000 loan from a bank, and he said, “I wouldn’t have lent me this money. This is too much money.” We were just like, “Why would a bank do that?”
The answer is the bank did that because it wasn’t going to hold on to the loan. It didn’t matter to the bank if anybody ever paid it back. The bank was going to sell the loan. The bank was going to make the loan and then just sell it to these bundlers who were going to bundle it together into these so-called mortgage-backed securities and all the bank cared about was they had this product that they could sell upstream to these other guys.
That show let us do this thing that reporters weren’t doing quite yet which was to go around to all the people in that business, the bankers, the people selling the mortgage-backed securities, everybody trading in these commodities and say to them, “You guys knew this stuff was crap, right? You knew these people couldn’t pay it back. Since they all did know, what did you think was going to happen? How was this going to work out okay?” You got to hear from the people who brought down the world economy, many of them lovely people.

You just said that you approached that from the outside and that’s why you could ask these questions, but now a few years later I think that you’ve done some really big pieces…
Can I say one more thing? Yes, the thing that we can do is we can use the thing which is the unique power of radio which is that radio works best when you’re telling… it lets you get in there and hear from an actual person. You can get to know a person. It’s a very friendly, person-focused medium, unlike a lot of abstract economics reporting and the kind of talking heads reporting that you get when it comes to a lot of public policy issues. The fact that it’s radio lets us, first of all, spend a lot of time trying to figure out who would be a good talker and then basically let the audience meet the actual people. There are certain things that the medium is just particularly good for.
Do you think that this story changed the level of candidness or openness that your interviewees might have, knowing that their answers might implicate them? Has it caused potential interview subjects to be more guarded?
Our influence isn’t quite so big, I think, that the people we are interviewing have much of an awareness usually of who we are. I think among the people who do, if anything, they’ve seen that we treat people pretty fairly. Even in these newsy stories, people get to say their side. We’re not out to get people. We didn’t want to make the people in the mortgage business look like mobsters because they weren’t mobsters. They just messed something up, but they were perfectly nice people in other ways.
You obviously have a viewpoint as a person, but how much do your own opinions or emotions influence a story? I would say from the economic crisis, you knew that it was bad and people got screwed over, but do you just present the story or does your bias come into it, through editing, tone, music and maybe even just energetically?
I think when the show is working well and when journalists work well, it’s really about trying to understand people. You know what I mean? That requires a suspension of judgment, and really, that’s not very hard because generally I feel really curious about why people do the things they do and especially things in a climate with these sorts of consequences…it’s interesting.
Obviously, I think it was terrible what happened with the economy and I think these were greedy people who were out to make a buck and weren’t being careful about what it could do to the rest of us. As they said in the interviews, they were up against competitors and if they didn’t do it somebody else would just do it, and they were just working a job that they ended up in for whatever reason. I don’t know. In general, just even outside of my journalistic job, I don’t feel such a harsh sense of judgment about people.

From my standpoint, it’s so easy to be like “Screw the banks!” but do you feel because you’ve shared some level of candidness and closeness with the people you’ve interviewed, it’s not quite as easy to point fingers and say “Shame on you”?
No, I think there definitely are people who you can say shame on you about. There definitely are. There are things the banks have done that are really selfish and we tax payers ended up holding the bag for it. There’s no question about that. There’re people in that business who are just dicks, but that’s different. That’s a case-by-case basis kind of judgment. I definitely notice when somebody’s a total dick and when the banks do something that just seems ill-advised. 
For example, before the mortgage crisis hit, one of the things the banks did is that they went to the federal government and they lobbied to get leverage requirements lifted or raised and what those are…it’s a technical thing, but basically what it refers to is something really simple, which is how much money do they have to have on hand to cover all the loans that you’re putting out?
The banks were saying these new financial instruments were so sophisticated in the way that we monitored them and so on, so we don’t need to keep as much money lying around as the federal regulations currently require, and they got them raised. That was a huge problem. That really was a problem and the federal government eventually had to step in as part of the bailout and save them.
One of the things that put them in such bad straits was that the leverage requirements were raised. Obviously, I think that was just greed. There’s just no two ways about that, greed made them want to do that. They wanted to lend out more money and make more money and obviously they were completely wrong. They were wrong.
That’s a dick move that we ended up paying for. I don’t have a problem saying that either to you or on the radio.

Stay tuned for part two of three, coming soon to an Ace Hotel blog near you. And have a look at our Desert Gold schedule during Coachella for more from NPR deep in the desert in the next couple weeks at Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs.

INTERVIEW : IRA GLASS : PART I

Hello?

Hello?

Hi, Ira. How are you?

Hey, it’s Ira.

Hi, just to let you know this has already started recording.

Noted, we’re on the record. I’m prepared with my important answers to the national security and other public policy questions that will be presented.

Pretty much, have you ever been associated with a member of the Communist Party?

Have I been with the Communist Party? Not the Communist Party, no.

Thank you for making time to do this. We are all really big fans over here. First off, since you recently crossed the 500th episode mark, how has your selection process for topics evolved from the beginning and how do you search out new material for the show?

In the beginning, the premise of the show was that we we were going to apply the tools of journalism to things so small and personal that journalists don’t normally bother with them. We’re trying to have compelling characters and emotional moments and funny moments and, after doing that for a number of years, myself and the producers on the staff became very interested in trying that same kind of story but doing it for the news. More and more, I think, we’ve been tackling things that are in the news — things that other people try to cover in other ways but we do it with stories that are gripping and emotional and more narrative in a very traditional way and less like news features in that newsy news way.

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PART III : LINDA GERARD & DJ DAY

Dear faithful readers — if you know us and love us at all then you know who Linda Gerard is. And you know that we love her beyond reason. And you know that she is currently facing off with the asshole named cancer — and we’re hoping everyone can chip in to help her out. Coin, vibes and kind words all matter.

Above, you’ll see Linda’s brief chat with Andrew Andrew during Desert Gold 2010 — the fifth edition is fast approaching this month. And below is part three of Linda’s interview with DJ Day — you can grab Linda’s Sissy Bingo t-shirt and her latest record, a compilation of greatest hits, Fabulous Selections, on our shop — all proceeds go to Linda’s Kick Cancer’s Ass Fund.

Read on for more from this right-on woman — you can also catch up on parts one and two while you’re at it. Light a candle, sing a show tune and dress everyday as though for paradise, in her honor.

Next up in our interview series: Ira Glass!

Can we talk about Funny Girl?

Well what happened with Funny Girl — I was with William Morris, and the pianist for Funny Girl was a guy named Peter Daniels. Peter Daniels was my accompanist. He was also Barbra Streisand’s accompanist and Lainie Kazan’s. He worked for all three of us and when Funny Girl opened, I went to opening night with my husband at the time, and I remember nudging him and saying, “It’s going to be me up there someday.” I knew that role was written for me.

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"It’s a winning song, it’s meant for everybody." Queen circa 1984, with Dutch subtitles.


ARMORY INTERVIEW : ERIC SHINER

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Eric Shiner is the man behind Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. He’s also this year’s Armory Focus curator, turning the Armory Show spotlight — now in its 100th year — to US-based artists of the now. As a curator, he has a very strong voice — he’s commissioned an on-site tower of Brillo boxes in tribute to Warhol by Charles Lutz, and light sculpture by Peter Liversidge — and he’s also orchestrating an installation and performance at Ace Hotel New York we’ll tell you about soon… Another distinguishing facet: if you Google Image search him, you find a lot of guys named Eric with black eyes. We recently talked with Mr. Shiner a little bit about the centennial and these last hundred years of art.

Is the centennial of the first Armory Show an inspiration or a long shadow that it’s hard to get out from under? If the lead-up to WWI was the catalyst for the revolutions that were going on then in art, should we just be happy our own malaise are tame by comparison? Does art benefit from adversity and how much adversity is enough/too much?

I can safely say that the first Armory Show is just one of the countless change agents that have occurred in the art world over the past 100 years, although it is certainly an important one. For me, it was simply a point of reference for the Focus Section of The Armory Show, and I am including one installation that makes a direct reference on Marcel Duchamp, whose work at the 1913 Armory certainly ruffled many feathers. War and political upheaval do indeed act as a major influencer on the art being made in that period, but it’s important to note that the Armory was in 1913, with World War I starting a year later in 1914, so there is no connection to that specific war, but more broadly to the cataclysmic social change that was unfolding on a number of fronts in Europe at the time. Art always benefits from adversity, and so too does art present a fair amount of necessary adversity to its audiences. I think that great art should always make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable, challenging them to think in new ways. So, in the end, too much is never enough.

As curator of the Focus section, the country you got handed was the United States of America. That’s a big, rich country. How do you even start to narrow it down?

Yes, indeed. America is a very big thing, both in terms of geography and in more importantly in terms of its psychographic presence in the world, both within and without its borders. It’s true that it is a big, rich country… for some that’s very true, but I think it is critically important to always remember that for many, it is a very poor country with millions of people facing actual need on a daily basis. America is nothing more than a continual series of juxtapositions, from Big to Small, Rich to Poor, Liberal to Conservative. One might even say it is a series of never-ending internal strife and conflict — something that keeps it alive, if nothing else.  This being the case, I didn’t narrow anything down at all. I simply addressed some of the juxtapositions that make up this nation, and selected artists who make a career out of always questioning the powers that be, in one form or another.

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LA INTERVIEW : ARI TAYMOR OF ALMA

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Chef Ari Taymor at Alma, a soon-to-be next-door neighbor to Ace Hotel Downtown LA, is a kindred spirit who understands that a dish holds every bit as much power to take you back in time or across the big ponds as the most haunting note struck on a Mellotron M400. We stopped in recently and broke bread with him and the Alma family and asked him if he could ruminate on some formative dishes for us.

Most of my memories of food and the compositions that take place from these memories center around other senses than taste.

Celery root soup, smoked lardo, apple and pine: This is a winter dish that for me evokes a summer day. A drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains on a first date. The cool, misty fog that covers the central coast each morning in the summertime is starting to burn off. The late morning turns to early afternoon and the lazy sun makes the resin of the pine trees fragrant, mixing with the smell of campfire. The blue of the ocean is visible in the distance. This dish that conjures for me a very clear moment in time and the flavors for me compartmentalize those emotions. Sweetness, smoke, bitter and salt.

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INTERVIEW : LINDA GERARD & DJ DAY

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To many, Linda Gerard needs no introduction. She has a cult following of devoted fans who journey to sunny Ace in Palm Springs to catch a glimpse and an earful of this self-described — Older, Wiser Lesbian. She’s everyone’s femme idol, the apple of our eye and one of our favorite human beings. She’s also a ridiculously talented woman with many an industry notch on her belt. That she’s decided to settle down with us in the desert, hosting Sissy Bingo every week and otherwise wowing those in the know as well as virgin ears and eyes, makes us incredibly blessed. Linda’s voice carries the oceanic vibrations of every great Broadway star before her, and she lets it ricochet ‘gainst the walls of King’s Highway when the mood is right. Her penchant for show-stopping eyewear and envy-inducing collection of let-your-light-shine sweaters and blazers leave us swooning.

We recently released a vinyl-only limited edition of Linda’s greatest hits, Fabulous Selections on our shop, and for our mutual dear friend DJ Day — another Palm Spring legend — we also present his first album, Land of 1000 Chances, on the shop. Day and Linda sat down recently to thumb through a bit of Linda’s life story — the stuff of big dreams, massive love, brave independence and a woman from whom we all have a lot to learn — entrusted to a confidante half her age but who’s definitely dancing to a similar drummer.

Find below the first of three chapters — you’ll see more in the weeks to come. And check out Linda’s and Day’s albums on our shop.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1938, to a very orthodox Jewish family. Kept kosher, did the whole bit. I was always a performer. I always got up in front of people and sang. So, when I was old enough to get on the train my parents would let me go by myself to study in New York. I studied singing, dancing, acting, elocution and all that stuff. My parents wanted me to go to private school, but I said, “No, no, no. I don’t want to go to private school.”

I went to Trenton High School and I was in all the plays and the musicals and that was fun. Then when it was time to go to college and my parents wanted me to go I said, “I want to be in show business, but I’ll go to college if I can go to New York City.” There was a college in New York City called Finch, and it was on 78th Street between Park and Madison. I knew that if I got in I could sing on the weekends because that’s what I wanted to do. I got into Finch and on weekends I sang at 1 Fifth Avenue. I was always singing. I didn’t get great grades but I didn’t care. My parents cared, but I didn’t care. So the following year I didn’t want to go back. I said to parents, “Let me audition for the American Theatre Wing,” which was a very good school, for musical comedy.

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FASHION WEEK : OPULENCE PROJECT

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op·u·lent adj: 1. characterized by an obvious or lavish display of wealth or affluence    2. in richly abundant supply

The Opulent Project is a Portland-based designer/maker collaborative founded by Meg Drinkwater and Erin Gardner a handful of years ago. Drinkwater and Gardner make “jewelry about jewelry” — and they’re of particular interest to us in this moment not only because their work is stunning, inspiring all sort of covetous, curious thoughts — but also because their 3D Ring has us thinking about the metaphor of 3D printing in the era of DIY, “makers” and the conflation of art and fashion. Culled from Google Image Commons, the ring is a stack of digital images never intended to see the light of day IRL. Having broken this unspoken contract, they’ve made something beautiful, thoughtful and slightly dangerous.

"We like to make objects. We are curious about the relationship our society has to its objects. We ponder infatuations. We are interested the nature of possessions. With that, we become a factory.”

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The term ekphrasis refers to the act of “making art about art” — it comes to mind when you mention making “jewelry about jewelry” in that both practices invoke translation, cynicism, celebration and a sort of intentional nonsense-making, calling into question the social, aesthetic and material scaffolding around “real,” “fake” and “meaningful.” How cerebral do you get in your process — does it touch on these points or is more about play? Or both?

This is a great question and I think it considers our process and approach very well. Our process is absolutely rooted in a cerebral investigation of a subject matter, however the outcome, or the product, is very much about play. We try not to take ourselves too seriously. But the viewer/wearer response can be varied in relation to this question. We recently had a bit of a debate with our gallerist in New Jersey about this exact subject. She was wondering if people were ever insulted by some of our projects. Where I had thought we were blending all of the above: translation, cynicism, celebration and intentional nonsense making, she seemed to think some of our work could be more on the cynical side. She thought some of our projects could be seen as a bit more of a sarcastic representation of jewelry than a celebratory one, as though we were saying, “Oh you want a fancy ring; I’ll give you a fancy ring.” We can be pretty cynical and we are of course critical of the established system of value related to commercial jewelry and luxury objects, but we regard this culture with fascination, not necessarily disgust. Our work is not angry, but curious… We are asking questions, not making statements.

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FASHION WEEK : CHRIS HABANA

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We kick off our Fall Fashion Week interviews with designer and sorcerer Chris Habana. Raised in the Philippines and the US on a steady diet of sci-fi, fantasy role play, Dungeons and Dragons and 90s gay counter-culture, Chris’ work blends gothic iconography with a playful and aggressive take on a pop lens. Amidst sketching up his collaboration with thefuturefuture on a series of pieces for our in-house 3D-printed jewelry bazaar at Ace Hotel New York this weekend, Chris talked to us briefly about Catholic School, his queer icons and being an early adopter of 3D mapping in the fashion world.

Talk about how your binational, big gay life has fused with sci-fi to create your strong visual statements about religion, salvation and human agency.

My design process is very organic. My day to day life experiences, my lovers, my encounters — all influence the work. With regards to religion, sex, gay counter-culture, and sci-fi — well, how many times have you heard that story of the young geeky Dungeons and Dragons-playing Filipino immigrant who went to Catholic School and came to the States to realize his goth/angst homosexual dreams in the club and fashion world?

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BROOKLYN CASTLE

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We’re proud to have sponsored a screening of the fantastic documentary Brooklyn Castle for afterschool students at St. Nicks Alliance in Williamsburg. The film is nominated for an NAACP Image Award at tonight’s awards show, and it’ll be available on iTunes February 5. If you yourself haven’t yet seen the film, find a way to do so — and contact them about sponsoring more kids from public schools to attend screenings at independent theaters around Manhattan and surrounding boroughs.

Though she’s getting ready to give birth to a chess champ herself, director Katie DellaMaggiore answered some questions for us — including a couple from the St. Nicks crew themselves.

Were you an avid chess fan prior to filming, and if not, are you one now? And! Did you ever play against any of the students from IS318?

I wasn’t a chess player before we made the film and I still don’t consider myself a chess player after finishing the film either. My husband still enjoys kicking my butt every opportunity he gets. And I’m proud to say I finally got the nerve to play my first game against one of the kids recently. It was against Pobo, and he said I actually didn’t play so bad – so I’m pretty proud of that!

What moved you to make this film?

In 2007, I read a NYT article about Shawn Martinez, a talented chess player at Murrow High School in Midwood, Brooklyn, a neighborhood just a few minutes from where I grew up. I did some digging and found out that the feeder junior high school to Murrow was I.S. 318 and that not only had they won more national chess championships than any junior high school ever, but they were basically breaking down all the tired, negative stereotypes associated with inner city public schools. I was intrigued by the idea that the story defied expectations — people don’t expect a Title I school (more than 60% of the students are from low income households) in Brooklyn to have the number one chess team in the nation.

What was it like getting to know these kids? Do you still see each other? 

In documenting the lives of our subjects trust was always our number one priority — we think the kids know they can come to us if they ever need advice or have a problem and that they can really trust us. We’re also always trying to find opportunities for them to prosper from the movie. Last summer Pobo got to speak at an afterschool conference on Capitol Hill. He did a stellar job, of course. We were able to connect Rochelle with an awesome summer job at a top law firm this summer. After four years of working on this film we’ve become a Brooklyn Castle family and we’ll likely be in each other’s lives for a long time.

Do you have plans to do any sort of follow-up documentary in a decade or two? How can we stay apprised of these kids’ lives and growth?

No plans for that yet, but it would be interesting to see something like that for sure. I mean, Pobo will most certainly be president one day, don’t you agree? We haven’t seen the last of him. He’s got a twitter account @pobama318 for anyone in need of a political advisor. Rochelle is off to Stanford, where she received a full scholarship. We’re invested in their success and we know that people that see the film feel the same way too, so we’ll keep you apprised.

What resources do you recommend to parents with kids in public school who would like to initiate this kind of program at their own school?

I.S. 318’s chess teacher Elizabeth Vicary has shared a guide for getting a chess program started in your school on our websiteThe Afterschool Alliance also has a ton of great resources on how to start an afterschool program. If you need help finding a volunteer you can reach out to two great organizations: Citizens in Schools and Community in Schools.

What’s next for you?

I’m about to have a baby, our first, any day now.  Ask me in six months.  Seriously though, we have a bunch of ideas cooking. Scott Rudin acquired the rights to remake the film into a Hollywood feature, so Brooklyn Castle could be coming again to a theater near you. Albeit, ‘based on a true story’…


INTERVIEW : JOHANNA JACKSON

Johanna Jackson, a treasure of the West Coast and of the universe, introduced to most of the world through Beautiful Losers, has six hand-knit sweaters and a blanket strung up at the new Portland Museum of Modern Art, a makeshift gallery inside Mississippi Studios on North Albina in Portland, Oregon. Her show, The Big Fig, reflects her roots in street and folk art culture, and celebrates craft, feminized mediums and the psychically, physically and philosophically dynamic metaphor of weaving and knitting.

You still have a few more days to catch the show in Portland — it’s up through Saturday.

I’m curious if other textile artists like Sheila Hicks or Lenore Tawney provide you with any inspiration. Hicks has a book called Weaving as a Metaphor the pages of which hold all of her miniature weavings she’s done over the last 40, 50 years in Paris, Mexico, Florida, wherever. Each one is like a poem — how the weft expresses the way the wind was moving that day and the deep blue ribbon was a man she’d spoken with on the corner. Do you feel like your sweaters are part of this sort of kinesthetic storytelling tradition?

I do feel influenced by Tawney and Hicks, but more influenced by people way outside of the professional art world, like Bertha Gray Hayes and Martha Stewart. Still, I love Hick’s poetry, and I feel the cyclical loop within loop motion of the knitting process mimicking a kind of narrative impulse — it turns the formless enormity of time into fabric the way a story turns the infinite succession of events into a finite chain of events, looped one to another.

Does art have to be useful? These sweaters are real and will keep animals and humans warm. They could even insulate tomato plants or reupholster the driver’s seat of a car. Does it feel different to make art that can be useful in real life?

I don’t think that art has to be useful. I mean, it’s all dust.

It seems like you and your partner Chris have strong feelings about not worrying to much about shit and just living the good life. What is there to learn from letting go of the label of “artist” — or conversely, spreading it out to encompass everything you do?

Life is the best thing that I have. I don’t want to block it by labeling myself, limiting my creativity or prioritizing some of my life work (say painting) over others (brushing my teeth). I want to be here for all of it, who knows where the art is?

Images via Portland MoMA


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