26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Ann Powers, age 36, has led an interesting life so far. She's a nice whitebread Catholic girl from Seattle who took her first acid trip at 16; became a record-store clerk, sexual adventuress & conscientious drug-user in the Bay Area in the 80's; and is now a pop-music journalist and bohemian sellout in New York.
For one who played at the edge of Bohemia in the late 60's, it's fun to read about a more-serious boho of the following generation. Starting with high-school alienation (is there anyone who's gone through adolescence in America in the last 50 years who *didn't * feel alienated?), Powers falls into Bad Company -- indie rock, soft drugs and (mostly) safe sex.
She drops out of college and moves to San Francisco, America's western Capitol of Cool since (at least) the Gilded Age. She makes friends, shares cheap apartments with wildly-assorted roomates, takes lovers, menial jobs and quite a lot of dope. In short, she was growing up and having fun, albeit in a more, umm, colorful milieu than most of us manage. It's good stuff, guaranteed to bring nostalgia for your own misspent youth. I'm thankful to have had a much quieter coming-of-age, but it's fun to read about someone who had a harder go of it.
Finally she gets the Big Break -- a call from the New York Times, asking her to work for them as a pop-music critic! After much agonizing -- not the least about leaving California for New York -- and a push from her boyfriend (now husband), she makes the leap to Upper Bohemia, gets married, buys a house in Brooklyn, and moans & groans about Selling Out. I'd skip over the last pretty lightly, if I were you -- "did I really think I could resist the temptation of moral emptiness, like some Boho Joan of Arc?" etc. I liked it better when Powers muses that she'd have sold out before, but no one was buying....
Powers is most engaging when she's retelling True Stories about herself and her friends. When she drifts off into boho philosophy, I skimmed, and you may want to, too. She does try to put her and her friends'experiences into perspective with the beats, hippies, slackers, etc. Powers takes pop music seriously (it's her livelihood), and the rock-indie-grunge stuff will be more interesting to readers who follow it (not me). "Weird Like Us" is a nice companion piece to David Brooks' "Bobos in Paradise" (or how Bourgeois Bohemians conquered America). Prof. Brooks is more polished, and much funnier, but Ann Powers has walked the walk. Both books are essential reading for those interested in late-20th century American pop-culture.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2000
I found this book a fascinating read. I can somewhat identify with Powers' experience as I am about the same age (on the older side of Gen X) and lived through some of the same things. It was intriguing to hear recent events from our culture given such a respectful and thoughtful treatment.
Powers is at her best when writing about people she knows well and the complexities of their ongoing relationships. I was particularly drawn into the experiences of long term roommates, many of whom made a somewhat rash decision that they would be able to act as substitute family for each other and then had to deal with the increasingly complex challenges offered by the need to make up rules for a life with no rules.
In fact, a general theme of the book is the intensity of youthful passions, and how those passions interact with the unanticipated burdens of growing up a bit. Powers has a rare ability to both understand and value such passions, and at the same time look unflinchingly at what happens to them over time. And her candor about her own experiences and decisions -- good and bad -- give her writing a remarkable depth of authority and feeling.
It may not stand up as a definitive work on what bohemianism really does or doesn't mean, but I don't think I'd be interested in the kind of book that would. As the subtitle implies, this book is a insightful personal look at life just slightly outside the mainstream of American life. I highly recommend it.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2002
The people who dismiss this as a personal memoir about the author's life seem not to have really read the book. I was really impressed at how Powers turns a very thoughtful, perceptive spotlight on aspects of our culture that usually go un-analyzed. The chapter on thrift shopping, for example, was a great exploration of this phenomenon--why do people do this? Why does it have meaning? What does it say about them? And the same for drugs, group houses, sex, etc. This isn't just reminiscence by any means, but is an incredibly interesting hard look at WHY these bohemian practices exist, and WHAT they mean to bohemians and (I think this is the real point) to everyone who seeks to fashion a true self in today's culture.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2000
Weird Like Us is an amazing account of the ways smart, cool people lead lives beyond the mainstream. Ann Powers explores the ways like-minded adventurers identify, nourish and support one another in hidden (or not so hidden) communities all around us. Her writing is moving and personal, but always clear.
She asks all the hard questions: How does the mainstream reflect alternative, marginalized or minority viewpoints? How can we tell the difference between the manipulation of the public and real popular culture? How can we integrate our values into our daily lives? What does it mean to be a family, a friend, a fan?
She combines criticism, memoir and journalism to look at the history, impact and potential of alternative culture. She describes the successes and failures of her friends, family and colleagues as they make new rules for living through work, living arrangements, sex, and art. She finds that it is the responsibility of the Bohemian to introduce her values to the mainstream and transform it, rather than railing against the co-optation of Bohemian innovations and sensibilities by Madison Avenue and its clients. I'm telling all my friends who live in boring parts of America to read this book so they can see they are not alone and have the power to change their worlds and the lives of people around them.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2001
Before you find yourself swayed by the words of the past reviewers who seemed to have recieved a narcissistic orgasm out of slamming the hell out of this book, I suggest you go to the bookstore, pick up a copy and read a chapter. If you have ever worked retail, especially music, books, or movies, turn immediately to the chapter on the Cultured Proletariat. If you say you've never participated in this rebellious shadow economy, then I say you're a liar. Read it and recognize yourself, but don't laugh out loud...your boss might be watching. Also, Mr. and Mizz Bohemia out there, relax. Don't be so critical when someone actually offers an autobiographical glimpse into those more wild times of thier lives. Many of the past reviewers are not able to see past the one crime Powers committed: she got on with her life and is able to look back and examine the temporal context in which she lived....
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2010
This is a much more personal book than I had anticipated. Ann Powers traces her own bohemianism from her childhood in Seattle to her present life in New York, all the while relating the life stories of friends and acquaintances who have defined their lives by their own versions of bohemia. Some of the ideas presented, like those regarding drugs and drug use, appear to be simply justifications of poor choices and bad behavior: junkies masquerading as bohemians. It's almost as if one can't be a bohemian without doing drugs. At the same time, Powers makes allowances for many of the "selling out" behaviors that would normally be scorned by true bohemians, such as working in corporate America.
Powers focuses mainly on her own brand of bohemianism, that of the punk scene of the 1980s. But, she never really delves that deeply into it. After reading this book, I don't feel like I understand the punk scene any better than before. The punk rockers and bohemians, as presented by Powers, feel superficial and somehow as if they're trying too hard. Another drawback is how outdated this book is. Powers devotes a whole section to the Speakeasy internet cafe in Seattle, which actually burned down in 2001, the same year my edition was published. Many of the cultural references are old, which some may think is excusable, but in all honesty, a book devoted to any cultural phenomenon or philosophy should be able to transcend time. This book doesn't do that.
All in all, I enjoyed this book, but there were several aspects of it that disappointed me. But I would still recommend it to anyone interested in counter-culture or music.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2000
I don't know which is worse: the book or the reviewers who've attacked it. Almost all these reviews have a comic edgier-than-thou resentment of Powers for getting a book contract when she's not nearly as cool, her little goatee not nearly as pointy, as the reviewers (most of whom are so cool and courageous they submit their reviews anonymously).These pedantic dweebs attack Powers on the grounds that she writes too much about her own experiences and is not sufficiently edgy or abstract. What drivel! That's not the problem at all. Her anecdotes about living in communal flats in SF are the best part of the book. Only a provincial fool could assert (as several reviewers have done) that personal anecdotes like the ones Powers tells are not valid social history.
In fact, as long as Powers is telling stories about her life, she's a decent writer. But she's too insecure to let her stories speak for themselves. She frames the stories with painfully clumsy, forced Presidential-speech oratory about How Bohemia Can Make Our America Stronger. Clinton himself would gag at the rancid treacle Powers pours on her perfectly good, sufficient memoir.
It's a striking example of one of the great paradoxes of contemporary history: Americans, who see themselves as pragmatic, anti-ideological folk, are in fact the most ideologically oppressed and oppressive nation in the world, unable to talk about anything at all without descending to utterly meaningless sloganeering.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2002
David Brooks did a much more insightful and more fun analysis with his Bobos in Paradise. Powers is writing about a younger group of Bohemian sellouts. She tells good stories about herself and her friends (that's the My Bohemian America part) but when she tries to say what it all means, she doesn't have much to say. She doesn't yet have enough perspective on her story. She's still glowing with her (justifiable) delight in finding a comfort zone in Bohemia after being a high-school nobody and thus still wanting to believe that her Bohemians are somehow better and above the non-Bohemian, non-weird America(whatever that is!). A little more perspective on the way Bohemian "coolness" re-enacts high school hierarchy might allow her to take herself a little less seriously and us to take her more seriously.
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2000
Bohemia was many things but it was not boring-until now.Ms Powers displays the characteristic arrogant naivete of GenX who have discovered profundities which escaped the previous generations of humanking.
From this book we have some surprising revelations: people in communal living situations sometimes do not get along, contrary to correct ideology people still form into couples, indeed, some even enter the bougeoise,oppressive instition of marriage! If you are soft on marriage however don't despair, it is ok if your spouse lives more than a thousand miles away, if the man does the childcare or if the purpose is to get one partner a green card. If you want to become a Bohemian, it's easy because membership is defined as listening to the right kind of hip-hop. If you are not sure what this is - as I admit I wasn't - the friendly salespersons at Tower Records can tell you. GenXers who dighip hop and rap are the successors to Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Manet and Picasso - even Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs. Folk music is out; if you like it, forget being cool. Be careful however. Not all would be bohemians are cool. For example some male artists are exploitive MCPs - their wives support them! We never learn whether women are ever supported by their husbands. We do learn however that the author had lots of boyfriends.
One great thing about the new bohemia. It's politically correct and committed to diversity. Powers fully documents this in an early chapter which could be used as a brief if there is ever a class action suit against bohemia for discrimination. Not only that but bohemians are sometimes friends with people of other races!
If you are a parent and afraid your children will become bohemians, there's a simple expedient. Give them this book;they'll lose interest and stay in the suburbs which are far more exciting than Ann Powers's bohemia. If you really want to learn about bohemia, read Grana and Grana's excellent anthology which Powers draws upon heavily; if you want to be entertained about it, read Herbert Gold's Bohemia. But Power's book isn't all bad.Unlike the music she advocates, it won't cause hearing loss.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2003
This book in a few words: Everything changes except the avant-garde. Well-written but very navel-gazey and self-absorbed. "Hi, like, I smoked weed, did lots of drugs, had tons of sex with unsuitable people, and then, like, you know, I grew up, and like, got a job and got married, but like, you know, I'm STILL Hardcore Bohemian, man! I'm out there! I'm making a DIFFERENCE!"
mmmmmm...um....take this one out of the library, folks.