PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies


paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


Nathaniel Popkin digs into Design Philadelphia, the city-wide showcase for creativity in art and design, and he sourced his article with some bigwigs in the world of design. First, Hilary Jay, executive director of the Design Center at Philadelphia University.

When I ask her how, in a city of countless design mistakes and seemingly endless missed opportunities, the event can ultimately have deeper impact on policy, she notes the role of young people. “I see it as beyond a cp_2009_10_01.jpgfestival at this point. It’s really more visual and vocal advocating. Students end up staying. The energy is everything. I put my faith in the little guys.” When I press still, she is matter-of-fact. “I have to look at the Piazza. This is a guy [developer Bart Blatstein] who is a strip-mall king. So I hope for every misstep, there’s a real step.”

It’s good, if limited, evidence. The Piazza at Schmidts, the work of architects Scott Erdy and Dave McHenry, is extraordinarily well designed; moreover, its presence — who it attracts and how it reinforces the urban fabric — amplifies the very energy of which Jay, a longtime Philadelphian, is so justifiably proud. The Piazza asks us to pay attention, to notice, to imagine. Doing so, we might realize we can design things better and that, indeed, new sums and new parts — new urban forms — are possible. What might Philadelphia therefore become?

He also pins down Jay Corless, a UNESCO consultant on the International Creative Cities Network and definitely a dude with an eye for visionary design.

“In the American context, Philadelphia is unique,” Corless says. Among the most advanced 10 to 15 cities, with a well-established design and arts community, strong institutions and a major annual event, in UNESCO-speak the city also has a high cultural heritage index. That means its history of innovation and production is alive in the minds of creative people, today (a nice example is the Design Center at Philadelphia University’s just-opened exhibit “Lace in Translation,” a ravishing conversation between contemporary artists and the lace patterns of the 19th-century Quaker Lace Co.). Critically, he notes, “Design Philadelphia and the London Design Festival are the only two in the world that employ the city as an open-source platform for ideas.”

So, where do we go from here? The project-a-day Welcome House seems like a good start to put creative work all up in everyone’s faces, but can a city-wide revamp really take place in this economic morass, with arts of all kinds under siege? I dig ideas and idealism as much as the next guy, but they tend to wilt in the face of lingering hard times.

With his latest album coming out next week, much-salivated-over indie icon Kurt Vile lands the cover spot. BMac covers his musical upbringing, his roots in Philly and in the DelCo burbs, and his fiendish devotion to songwriting that took hold when he was handed a banjo at age 14.

cover093009_1.jpgAt 29, Vile doesn’t look a day over 16, helped by permanent grin and hearty fits of uncontrollable laughter that seem to shield him, Dick Clark-style, from aging. If he told you he decided to never cut his hair again the day he got said banjo, you might believe him—his thick brown hair cascades around his shoulders in a way that almost informs what his music sounds like before you’ve heard a note. “It’s getting out of control,” Vile laughs, shaking out his impressive mop, and throwing it in his face for his best Cousin Itt impression.

After two years in Boston, Vile and Lang headed back to Philly where he met Adam Granduciel, now a guitarist in the Violators and his own band, the War on Drugs, in which Vile also did a stint. The two have remained good friends and musical collaborators. People started talking about Vile’s CD-Rs. He began playing live sets on Drexel’s WKDU, and establishing a devoted fanbase.

One of those fans, Bob Richert, put out a collection of Vile’s songs, Constant Hitmaker , on his tiny imprint, Gulcher, in February of last year. From there, things grew. Vile got spins regularly on WFMU, and those taking notes on the underground started seeing his name quite a bit. In March at South by Southwest—America’s largest music conference held in Austin, Texas—it seemed as though everyone in the industry had Vile on the brain and on the tips of their tongues.

The profile is matter-of-fact rather than over-hyped, and there’s a clear sense that Vile’s accomplishments have been earned over the course of a slow ascent. Apart from a few missteps — weaving is a good metaphor for incorporating influences; “gobbling up tons of influences and shitting them out in bits of his own creativity” is a bad one — style and subject are a good match.BMac, the Philly indie scene and the city as a whole can be proud indeed.


CP: Dispatches from the other side of Pennsyltucky. Pittsburgh Firepower: the western counterpart to Philadelphia Freedom. Viva Vile: a cover story is not enough. South Street: where the elite meet to eat?

PW: New coke, same old problems. Journalism death watch continues. Hitting the sauce at Sonata. Smokeless tobacco trumps Shakespeare.

Almost seems like a continuation of the Vision Awards this week — no disputing that both Design Philadelphia and Kurt Vile are having awesome years. PW takes it, though: down and dirty, rather than sleek and modern, is much more Philly’s style.

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