Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America


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In a thoughtful mixture of autobiography, journalism, and cultural criticism, Ann Powers examines how "bohemian" culture--which many consider dead and buried--has seeped into the American mainstream. While writing extensively about her own trajectory from communal living and a dead-end record-store job in San Francisco to cohabital bliss and a staff position as a rock critic for The New York Times, Powers also takes great care to include the perspectives of her peers, even when their impressions clash violently with her own. In doing so, she turns Weird Like Us into a frontline analysis of how the members of (dare we say it?) Generation X try to find significance and purpose in their lives.

"It's hard to shock most Americans," Powers notes in a chapter on the shifts in sexual politics and culture. "But it's hard to engage them, too." Weird Like Us shows how this applies to many other aspects of social life besides sex: experimentation and variance have become increasingly normal in everything from drug use to pop-music styles, but with little or no conscious reflection on their consequences. Without that self-awareness, "alternative culture" risks becoming nothing more than an empty pose. "For too long we have united only within a culture of rebellion. What we need to refuse is the negativity that comes from always defining ourselves against a society we can't help but live within." For Powers, acknowledging and accepting one's position within mainstream culture isn't an act of "selling out," but an opportunity to act, in an individual capacity, as an agent for social change, an example of a good life worth living. Weird Like Us demonstrates that you don't have to be a cultural conservative to believe in "values," and Powers's emphasis on integrity, respect, and self-consciousness adds a new and inspiring voice to progressive cultural criticism. --Ron Hogan

There is a feeling of nostalgia that surrounds the idea of bohemia, that place where art and ideas and alternative thinking become the focal point of life. To most, bohemia is gone -- erased by the lifestyle of the 1990s and the too many, too fast influences of modern living.

Ann Powers, an acclaimed pop critic for The New York Times and one of today's most notable authorities on alternative culture, claims in this powerful and personal chronicle that bohemia is alive and well in America -- nurturing new lifestyles and defining our tastes in art, politics, sexual mores, and all matters cultural. Weird Like Us sets the record straight on alternative America -- a new bohemia whose dynamic citizens are re-creating traditional modes of building families, falling in love, having sex, and making careers, reinventing our shared values from the ground up.

So how different are these bohemians? Through stories from her own life and those of her fellow alternative Americans -- artists, writers, entrepreneurs, feminists, cyberoutlaws, punk rockers, politicos, and queers -- Powers traces the evolution of this world and where it has gone. The observations and attitudes that fill these pages will touch many who long for this lifestyle, and will shock others. No longer confined to coffee shops in North Beach or Greenwich Village, bohemia is thriving from coast to coast.

In this wonderfully written memoir, Ann Powers writes of an alternative culture that has never before been fully presented -- one that takes into account the real politics, real feelings, and genuine creativity of those who transformed the dying counterculture of the sixties into a mode of artistic and spiritual survival in the nineties. In doing so, she has written a vibrant, engrossing take on a culture and its people.

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