Monday, August 8, 2016

"Life after Carrie Bradshaw"/ "Musgraves's message: Be yourself"

Jan. 24, 2016 "Life after Carrie Bradshaw": I cut out this article by Celia Walden in Edmonton Journal on Jun. 25, 2015.  It's about the Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell.  I never really watched the show, but the article is really good and it's about her being a writer.  It's also about feminism too:

Twelve years ago, Candace Bushnell and I spent a happy afternoon talking about death over a bottle of Pinot Grigio in her Charlotte Street hotel suite.

“I’m pretty sure my epitaph will just say, ‘Here lies Candace Bushnell: author of Sex and the City’,” shrugged the micro-mini-skirted blonde, fag in hand. A lot has changed since then.

At 56, Bushnell still looks like one of her thirty-something fictional creations, but she now reserves her “two glasses of wine – with ice” for dinners with friends and only occasionally allows herself to light up. Eschewing mad Manhattan (where she still owns an apartment downtown) for her house in Connecticut, she “lives a very, very disciplined life”.

“I eat a lot of asparagus,” sighs the best-selling author. “By 8pm I’m drinking tea and ready for bed. Because you know getting drunk is dangerous as you get older: you could fall down and break something.”

It’s the kind of pithy, Waughsian one-liner you’d expect any one of her literary alter-egos to come out with: if not, perhaps, the terminally girlish Carrie Bradshaw then certainly Samantha Jones, or PJ Wallis, the world-weary heroine of Bushnell’s new novel, Killing Monica.

Wallis inhabits the same brittle, elegant, pink champagne-infused world as the SATC, Lipstick Jungle, Four Blondes and Trading Up girls, but here’s the twist: as an author herself and the creator of the universally adored Monica (also the star of a blockbuster movie franchise), Wallis perpetually finds herself mistaken for - and gradually imprisoned by - her own creation.

“Of course it was totally tongue in cheek,” laughs Bushnell. “Yes, I took my life as a stepping off point but the reality is that I’ve never felt imprisoned by Carrie Bradshaw. In fact I’m the one who is always guilty of wanting more Carrie Bradshaw. And I’ve written so many books that weren’t about Carrie, three of which were also turned into TV series…” So she’s never had a Frankenstein moment when she wished she’d never invented her? “No!” scoffs Bushnell. “To me Carrie Bradshaw is every girl, whereas Monica is The Girl: nothing bad ever happens to her. She’s the perfect woman that looms over all of us.”

Being confused with her own glamorous characters is something Bushnell will admit she’s played up to over the years. On her forthcoming book tour, she knows she’ll have to “give them the full Bushnell” – as she puts it – “and that means the hair and make-up when honestly I just want to wear my ‘soft pants’” she groans. “The older you get, the less interesting clothes, shoes and handbags become.

"Of course it’s human nature for women in their 20s and 30s to be really focused on their looks and finding a partner. And it’s also about belonging. The mentality is: ‘This shoe will prove that I’m a part of this tribe’. But as a mature human being one should have less of a need for that kind of outside validation and be more interested in what’s going on in inside peoples’ heads.”

Statements like these are likely to enrage the same die-hard fans who accused Bushnell of being "a traitor to singletons" when – having dated the likes of media tycoon Bob Guccione Jr and publisher Ron Galotti, who inspired Mr Big – she finally married Charles Askegard, a 6ft 4in principal dancer for the New York City Ballet ten years her junior, weeks after their first meeting in 2002. There may even have been a touch of schadenfreude when they divorced in 2011. Certainly, the news that she is back on the dating scene is likely to please her acolytes.

“Still, I look at pictures of myself now and I see the wrinkles,” she says. “There’s no getting around it: I’m a 56 year-old woman and that’s how I look now. So my attitude is: ‘take it or leave it’. And it’s not like I’m trying to get a 25-year-old football player. I’m not even sure I’m trying to get any 25 year-old...” Not sure? Would she date a much younger man again? “Sure I’d date ‘em,” she sasses, “but I’m not going to marry ‘em.”

Bushnell doesn’t sound unhappy to be out there again. Nor should she be. After all, it was her wild dating adventures in the early Nineties that spawned the Sex and the City column (in the New York Observer), book and hit TV series (estimates of the deal she struck with HBO range from $50,000 - $500,000) - and two films.

Until the Connecticut-born daughter of a scientist (who invented the fuel cell used in the first Apollo space mission) and travel agency head hit Manhattan, she was “a skinny, flat-chested kid in cat’s eye-glasses” who spent her time at the local library penning short stories and sending them off to every agent in The Writer’s Handbook. At 19, Simon and Schuster paid her $1,000 to write one of a series of children’s books, Dress The Bear. “They never published it. Turns out people wanted Pat The Bunny but not Dress The Bear. Still, it taught me that if you wanted to be a writer, you had to deliver. And ever since then I’ve been big on delivering. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself writing the Sex and the City column at 4am, while all my friends were still clubbing.”

A regular at Studio 54, the young Bushnell “wore outrageous clothes and was always partying".
“I was like Miley Cyrus back then,” she smiles, “so wild and so full of myself. Had social media existed I would have been just like Miley – all over the show.”

Although feminists have questioned the messages in Bushnell’s oeuvre (many of her heroines are on a quest to find Mr Right), the author has described herself as a feminist “stealth bomber”.

“Today, it makes me sad when I see feminists attacking other women,” she tells me. “Because maybe we can do that a hundred years down the road, when we have dealt with real sexism towards women, but for now, let’s keep the focus where it belongs.” That focus, she believes, should be on changing the male psyche.

“Which is why we need more women scientists: to tinker with men’s brains. I know a lot of married women who feel like their husbands don’t see them or are dismissive. Because marriage is not equal. There is no way around that. It’s a job,” she says with a hoarse laugh, “and that job falls upon the woman. So sometimes women just get sick of it. The sense I get from women now is that they are very angry at men. They’re angry because of sexism, disrespect and their sense of entitlement - and that was exactly the same thirty years ago. Essentially, men haven’t changed.”

Bushnell’s fear is that change won’t be possible until male violence is addressed on a large scale. “I wonder if in a sense we are genetically breeding men for violence,” she laments. “Because the violence keeps perpetuating itself. As women we accept violence as part of male nature, and that’s where we have to start saying ‘no’.

"I’ve been in a couple of relationships where a man got violent. I’ve never actually been hit, but I’ve certainly seen inappropriate and illogical displays of male anger where I’ve known that I have to get out of there immediately. And when that happens a relationship cannot be fixed. But for women – who are still dependent on men, and men know that – one of the hardest issues is to really be able to draw that line. It would take a lot of courage and a big group of women to do that, but if in my lifetime it is acknowledged, I would be happy.”

The seriousness of Bushnell’s discourse shouldn’t come as the surprise that it does. Hers has always been the kind of sharpness that operates on a higher level to her subject matter, cutting straight through the froth. And although she confesses, like Killing Monica’s writer heroine, P.J. Wallis, to “literary” ambitions, she is also rightly scornful of the term.

“What’s funny is that Sex and the City came out in the UK at the same times as Bridget Jones’s Diary was published. Helen Fielding and I met at a party and exchanged books and when I read it I remember thinking: “Damn! She nailed it!” So that whole thing of literary/not literary is really a ridiculous concept. Because what’s important is whether the book is successful at what it sets out to do. And a great many literary books fail in that way.”

With that in mind, Bushnell feels that the epitaph she conjured up all those years ago shouldn’t be set in stone quite yet. “Although Sex and the City was huge and fantastic, I feel like I’m going to do other huge things. In some ways, I feel like my career is just getting started, which is ridiculous. Or is it?”

"Musgraves's message: Be yourself": I cut out this article by Chris Richards in Edmonton Journal on Jun. 25, 2015.  I'm not really a fan of hers, but it was a good article:

When Kacey Musgraves showed up two years ago singing about drags of weed and same-sex smooches, she wasn’t necessarily plotting an insurrection. At the time, the soon-to-be country star said she simply wanted to “create the new normal.”

Musgraves’s sturdy second major album, “Pageant Material,” finds the 26-year-old retrenching in her own brand of normal. Set to a series of svelte, mid-tempo country songs, she sticks to a message that’s both important and banal: Be yourself.

Because all of those small towns that have been glorified in all of those big country hits? They’re actually filled with petty, judgey, ornery, back-biting jerks. And those people should be ignored. “You can’t set sail if your anchor’s down,” Musgraves sings on “Miserable,” a song about those who seem to derive happiness only from being just that.

But throughout “Pageant Material,” Musgraves hews so tightly to this theme, she might as well be stitching sassy truisms onto throw pillows. “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy,” goes the hook of “Biscuits,” the album’s lead single. “I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t,” she sings on the title track. “Nobody’s everybody’s favorite,” she shrugs on “Cup of Tea.”

This folksy style of shade-throwing is both a fine art and a necessity in Nashville, an industry town with a low tolerance for boat-rockers and an allergy to game-changers. On Musgraves’s superb debut album, 2013’s “Same Trailer, Different Park,” she found smart ways to speak her truth, waltzing across the industry chessboard while projecting the image of a young woman following her own rules. Branded as a rebel, or at least an agent of change, she magnetized non-country listeners and won a couple of Grammys in the process.

The biggest bomb Musgraves drops on “Pageant Material” is aimed directly at the Nashville ­cognoscenti through a song called “Good Ol’ Boys Club” in which she declares that being “another gear in a big machine don’t sound like fun to me.” It’s a winking jab at Big Machine, the record label that Taylor Swift calls home. “If I end up going down in flames, well, at least I know I did it my own way,” Musgraves sings.

This posture feels a little same-old, but we have to assume it’s purposeful. For starters, nine of the 14 tracks on “Pageant Material” were co-written by Shane McAnally, a songwriting assassin who helped launch Musgraves and Sam Hunt, two of country music’s most exciting new stars. As the brightest mind and sharpest pen on Music Row, McAnally doesn’t make many missteps. Maybe McAnally and Musgraves are simply firming up that “new normal” she once promised.

But if you listen to an entire country album wondering about its strategic intent, it means the music hasn’t really whisked you off your feet. And on occasion, it does.

Musgraves can still do dazzling things with her plain singing voice, and she knows how to sell a punch line with deadpan sweetness. “Family Is Family,” a zingy ode to the unbreakable nature of blood ties, is filled with those kinds of laugh lines, for instance: “They own too much wicker and drink too much liquor.”

And because Musgraves’s singing rarely feels overtly performative, she often sounds like she’s reciting these songs to herself, perhaps in an attempt to better figure out who she is.

So who is she now? The album’s strongest cut, “Dime Store Cowgirl,” comes closest to answering. “It don’t matter where I’m going,” Musgraves sings. “I still call my home town home.”

That might seem like faux humility, but the song ultimately suggests that Musgraves doesn’t want to be a part of any narrative other than her own. Maybe she’s singing all this “be yourself” stuff into the mirror. And maybe she hasn’t figured out who that self is just yet. Do we ever?

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