From the vaults: Shows Alone

Maggie Vail just posted a tweet asking someone to write a piece about older women going to shows, especially alone. I wrote this piece for the Insound blog in the late 1990s, when I was in my early 20s. I should revisit this now as someone nearing 40. I apologize for making an ageist comment about Kim Gordon, but I left it in as archive:

Going to shows alone as a woman

Often I go to shows alone. This may not seem very peculiar, but next time you go to a show, see how many men are standing by the walls, by poles and columns or hanging by the bar appearing to be with someone else. Then count how many women do it. It’s not uncommon to see men up to sixty at shows by themselves (witness the old man bootlegger in NYC), but the only old woman you’ll see at a show is Kim Gordon. I live in fear.

Sometimes I go because I have to cover the show for publication, but more often I don’t even bother asking anyone else. There is an uncomfortable dance that I must do to get a friend to venture into unfamiliar music; I twist the sounds into words they would understand, words that they have used to express delight at their own artistic conquests. Only several steps away from blatant manipulation, the ordeal begins what could be a catastrophic evening.

As my addiction only grows over time (in spite of what my mother said), I have developed a set of friends with a whole range of musical tastes to correspond to the events I desire to attend. This includes both fanatics and those with a sense of irony strong enough to accompany me on whatever random adventures take my fancy.

Upon moving to London I was both horrified and excited to find dozens of shows just waiting for me. The guilty pleasure of circling things in NME! The terror of potentially seeing The Cure alone! (Come on, the Bloodflowers tour? I have to.) But I have lost my infrastructure and comfort zone. So, in abandon, I have been dragging my classmates to shows as often as my powers of persuasion allow.

I find two categories of success, hit and miss. The first is an unexpected surprise. I gambled my fortune by taking two friends to see Motorhome, a Swedish pop band whose pre-gig (gig is English for show, but I feel so much like an annoying Guitar Magazine writer for typing it) blurb made mention of melancholy and Nick Drake. Had to see what that was all about. Bonus points were scored for the slick club with rice paper walls and what seemed to be the entire population of the Royal Art Academy packed in its basement confines. Those points were then wiped away by the opening band, whose pretensions leaned towards the Verve, but whose roots lay in the nether regions of the Dead. I must admit, sadly, that I lost one soldier during the changeover.

But Motorhome! Apart from the awful, awful name, the band was amazing…well Radiohead is amazing and they are rather a carbon copy (minus the astute lyrics). I know, humble reader*, that you say no one can be Tom Yorke, but this man had the golden voice, the long strains of woe, the amazing reach. It was all settled in the braver soldier’s account of the evening. “Daphne took me to see a great band last night.” Ahh, the thrill of the capture.

Then comes the catastrophic plunder of the miss. This most often takes the form of someone who is unfamiliar with one genre but quite devoted to another. There is a reason he or she never got in to it, but then insist that maybe this evening will be an awakening. Witness friend C, a monstrously cool girl with subcultural tendencies who never ‘got in’ to classical music. What better than a night of Stravinsky for introduction? I should have seen this one coming, but it wasn’t until we were well situated in the concert hall that I realized the depth of my mistake.

She tossed. She bumped into people around her. During intermission she began her informal observations of the dead white men canon. With every passing moment her body seemed more contorted: angry with me for bringing her into this din. In response I grew nervous. The performance wore on for over three hours in which I began frantically rethinking every aspect of the situation: the music, the man, the institution. I’ve already wrestled with my love of privilege music and my personal politics. This was not the time. These things would have never happened if I had come alone.

Then came the silence. The unbearable silence created after musicians have left the stage, when people shuffle to get their coats at the check and ushers run to pick up stray pieces of paper between the seats. I wanted to apologize to her for the disaster that was an evening of discordant new music reflecting on Stravinsky (Not what I’d expected, and some parts were painful). I wanted to give her the evening back. She was terribly polite about it.

“I will never subject a friend to that again,” “I will just go alone,” and other stoic statements followed. Of course, those words are casually forgotten when a lull in plans presents my ability to gain an evening’s partner. But I must be careful because to this partner I am now in artistic debt. Starting on that evening, I have to keep up my guard for advances. Soon the favor will have to be returned and then I will become the unknowing spectator.

I live in expectation that my friends will present me with wondrous and unknown vistas of entertainment in return for my exposing them to new things. Inside, I recoil with the primal fear of the unknown.

*Forgive this: I am reading DeQuincey and the like here, and they charmingly address the audience all the time. I had to try it out.


Pretty Hate Machine 33 1/3 book project

Limited edition NIN book

Q: What is the world that Nine Inch Nails made, and what was the world that made Nine Inch Nails?

A: March 2011: Issue 78 of 33 1/3 Series, Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine

The 33 1/3 Series is known for having each author take a unique perspective on the music and culture of one specific album. Canonical? Germinal? Important? Memorable? Genius? Most of the books take that line of argument, while a few others use the sound and times of one particular album to evoke a moment, set a place, develop characters. Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine is one of the latter, a work of deep ethnographic and sociological work into the life, times, and mythology of the band, tracing the fictions fans and the media have told about Trent Reznor. Continue reading “Pretty Hate Machine 33 1/3 book project”

Wildwood Oral History

The Wildwoods are four shore communities (North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, West Wildwood) on a barrier island on the southernmost edge of the South Jersey peninsula. The island has been a center for working class summer recreation for over 100 years and has a rich and unique history generated by tourism, amusements, entertainment, local businesses, and an active local government.

From 2002-2006 I worked on The Wildwoods Oral History Project, a project to interview a diverse array of year-round residents to create an archive of stories about the post-World War II era in the Wildwoods. In December 2006 more than 900 pages of original oral history transcripts and photography as well as family-generated genealogies and copies of personal effects and memorabilia were deposited in two local history museum archives. This was the completetion of the first stage of my Wildwoods project.

Copies of the original sound recordings for this oral history project reside in the George F. Boyer Museum collection (51 tapes of 34 interview subjects).

Copies of this printed collection and a digital archive (CDR) of all the texts appear in the following locations:

George F. Boyer Museum
3907 Pacific Avenue
Wildwood, NJ 08260

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
111 North Central Avenue
North Wildwood, NJ 08260

Here is a brief description of the project’s aims and methods:
The Wildwoods Oral History Project: Project Overview

Click below for an index of interview participants and a brief description of topics discussed in each interview:
Wildwoods Oral History Project: Index of Interviews


Currently in print:

Call to Write book cover“Run the World: A Global View of Women’s Place at the Top of the Pops” in The Call To Write, Cengage Learning/Nelson Education  2013.



Best Music Writing 2011, Guest edited by Alex Ross. Da Capo Press,  2011.



Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis On Rock Music. Afterward co-authored with Evie Nagy, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Finalist, National Book Award in Criticism,  winner of the Deems Taylor Award (2011)

Nine Inch Nails Pretty Hate Machine, Continuum 2011.




Current Musicology. Editor for Issues 90, 91 (Fall 2010, Spring 2011)

Issue 91 special issue “Post-Socialist Popular Music”

Available through ProQuest

“SPORTO” in Zde Jsou Psi (Here Be Dogs), edited by Michal Nanoru and Martina Overstreet, a book on the visual culture of Czech indie/underground bands,  Yinachi 2011


Best Music Writing 2010, Guest Edited by Ann Powers. Da Capo Press  2010.



Best Music Writing 2009, Guest edited by Greil Marcus. Da Capo Press 2009.



The Jukebox at the Standard plays only sad, sad songs” in Rock and Roll Cage Match, edited by Sean Manning, Three Rivers Press 2008.



Best Music Writing 2008, Guest edited by Nelson George. Da Capo Press 2008.



“Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” in Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs, edited by Phil Freeman. Da Capo 2007.



Best Music Writing 2007, Guest Edited by Robert Christgau. Da Capo 2007.



Best Music Writing 2006, Guest edited by Mary Gaitskill. Da Capo Press 2006.



“Dancing, democracy and kitsch: Poland’s Disco-Polo” in Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music, Duke University Press 2007.


2013 Writing

What We Learned at Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine Listening Party

2012 Writing

On Zola Jesus, Thirlwelled

On Nicki Minaj recorded

On “indie classical”

On Lady Jaye, filmed

On Julia Holter debuted

On Magnetic Fields recorded

On Frank Tovey remembered

On Skrillex live

On Sharon Van Etten live

2011 Writing

From Patti, with Love, Capital NY (Dec. 2011)

Keep Kate Bush Weird! (Nov. 2011)

Run The World: A Global View of Women’s Place at the Top of the Pops Flaunt (fall 2011)


The Back Catalog

This page serves as my archive for music journalism, criticism, columns, essays, and other writing published either on-line or in print. If there is a piece listed that has no link or a broken link and you would like to read the article, please email me for a text or pdf copy.

Lists of Raves, Pazz and jop, and Jackin Pop Ballots

Idolator Pop Critics Poll (aka Jackin Pop) 2007

Jackin Pop 2006
Pazz & Jop 2005
Pazz & Jop 2004

Writing Archive


Flaunt, summer 2010 “Tramp to the Beat: A Discovery of the Czech Republic’s Americana”

July 2008

Babe, Terror “nasa goodbye” for Paper Thin Walls

Nico Muhly Mothertongue for LA Weekly

June 2008

Abe Vigoda “Bear Hands” for Paper Thin Walls

May 2008

Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Free Music and Creative Competition for LA Weekly

No Fun Fest for Pitchfork Media

April 2008

Boris, HEALTH, and Wighnomy Brothers for LA Weekly

February 2008

Growing “Lateral” for Paper Thin Walls

January 2008

Tom Petty’s LA for LA Weekly

“In The Mix” for Idolator’s Pop Critics Poll

Tuxedomoon “Big Olive” at Paper Thin Walls


My current work is on the conditions of possibility for the NYPD to use LRAD on civilian publics.

I have done historical work on Czech popular music.

Here is my list of conference papers.

Here is my contemporary and historical scholarly service.