Alec Hanley Bemis

  • culture August 11, 2013

    Galaxie 500 and the (Upper) Class Consciousness of Indie Rock

    If you spend a lot of time pondering the importance of “punk rock,” applying the adjectives “restraint,” “educated,” or “upper class” to a band is clearly a dis. Not so with Galaxie 500. As we see in Temperature's Rising, a new oral history of the band, they mark a turning point—when underground artists began questioning rock and roll’s rebellious foundational aesthetic, rather than pushing it to its alienated extremes.

    The perfect encapsulation of Galaxie 500 appears rather late in Temperature’s Rising, a brief but intriguing scrapbook and oral history about the band. A college classmate of theirs explains, “Their album covers made a statement. Cool Restraint. Educated. Upper Class. Lots of Social Contacts.”

    This frames them in a way few musicians would aspire to be framed. From one perspective, it could even be taken as a devastating bon mot. First of all it’s about their album art, not their music. Second, the word “restraint” was anathema to rock and pop music until quite recently. If you still look

  • culture June 27, 2012

    Tucker Max's Book Memes for the Digital Age

    How do you write a bestseller in the iPad age? You could do worse than looking to Tucker Max, the wildly successful author of modern "fratire" classics such as Hilarity Ensues. Just don't be surprised when you find in his pages the antics of an eager-to-offend, fratty nihilist—one who now claims that he's a guru.

    I have a bad habit. (No it’s not that I read Tucker Max’s books for pleasure.) My bad habit is that I often begin books by taking a peek at the ending. The best test of a book is not the seduction of a well-planned first sentence; it is how well the book satisfies expectations at the bitter end. By this measure, Tucker Max’s third book, Hilarity Ensues, is a great read. The epilogue begins, “When I got to the literary world, it was like a great big pussy, just waiting to get fucked—and I stepped up and fucked the ever loving shit out of it.”

    I was sold—not on the book’s literary value, per

  • culture November 16, 2011

    Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative by Lawrence Weschler

    Somewhere at the intersection of practical science, high art, dorm room philosophy, and idiosyncratic star-making exists the journalism of Lawrence Weschler, a longtime New Yorker writer and the current head of New York University's Institute for the Humanities. As a sculptor of his own career, he has never been afraid to pithily brand what it is he does. In the 2000s, McSweeney’s began publishing a series of unlikely but oddly compelling visual rhymes under the rubric of “convergences.” In the ’90s, when he was engaged deeply in political journalism, he explained that he was shuttling between

  • Sing, Muse

    During Kristin Hersh’s mid-1980s salad days as a teenage musician in New England, the very notion of rock stardom was being drastically revised. Early on in her new memoir of that period, Rat Girl, her father—an affable hippie-cum-professor nicknamed Dude—gives her a guitar lesson.

    I didn’t like how the chords sounded and I told him that. He looked hurt. “Why don’t you like them?”

    “They’re boring.”

    “But Bob Dylan plays these chords. And Neil Young.”

    “Mm-hm.” I looked down at my hands, willing them to play better. “They’re probably nice guys.” . . .

    Dude took the guitar, then sat, staring at