Weird Like Us: A Bohemian America

Ann Powers, Author
Ann Powers, Author Simon & Schuster $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-684-83808-3
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-306-81024-4
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Coined to characterize Parisian cafe denizens in the 1830s, the term ""bohemian"" now refers somewhat vaguely to a lifestyle or attitude that lies outside the mainstream. An acclaimed pop critic for the New York Times, Powers (co-editor, Rock She Wrote) attempts to get inside the soul of modern-day bohemia but ends up muddling its definition even more. Approaching her subject with a mix of techniques, she interviews sex workers, porn purveyors and others among her former roommates; reminisces nostalgically about San Francisco group houses in the 1980s; and, least compellingly, attempts to reveal the glory of today's bohemians in a cultural exploration limited mostly to her own experiences and those of her friends. In the journalistic passages, Powers displays her fine skills and allows her interviewees to shine. When she switches to memoir, the result is mildly engaging, although it flounders when she starts offering such details as who in the household did dishes most often. Yet even a digression about a great chair she once pulled from the trash is better honed than her messy forays into cultural theory, which are full of contradictions and unsubstantiated, sweeping statements. Bohemia is ""disgustingly dead,"" she declares at the outset, then opines at the book's conclusion that it may be within all of us. Powers's ""bohemian America"" is more a clubhouse for an elite fringe than a country-within-a-country. Those hoping to find true insight into alternative culture should look elsewhere. Agent, Sarah Lazin. (Feb.)
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