In college I took a class on Eastern religions with a professor whose entire social and family circle was seemingly peopled by Buddhists and Taoists. Thinking logically, I know this to be highly improbable (after all, we were not in the isolated mountains of Tibet) --- still it was easy to imagine that he was part of a spiritual elite, blessed with the ability to seek out the enlightened.
Reading WEIRD LIKE US: My Bohemian America is a lot like being in that class, listening to someone whose relationships and acquaintances all consist of daring "bohemians." However, this first book proves that Ann Powers is not a college philosopher; instead it shows a journalist and storyteller (and pop music critic with The New York Times) who reaches a little too far beyond her expertise. Luckily, Powers is a remarkably entertaining and persuasive journalist/storyteller.
From the start of her narrative, we find that Powers's Bohemian America is a working one. Its denizens are the bike messengers, record store cashiers, waiters, freelance writers, and temporary staff that keep the mainstream flowing. They are bound to each other through roommates in group houses, friends in local bands, cravings for the same drugs, experiments in sexual play, and trade in thrift store goods. They work not so hard at their minimum wage jobs and very hard at being subversive, quirky, and true to their weirdness.
As Powers explores the individual and shared experiences that form this alternative culture, we discover that her world is dated. Drawn as it is by personal anecdotes and interviews of her friends, it is limited to viewing a Bohemia that lives in the past. With its participants either married, commercially successful, or deceased, WEIRD LIKE US does vividly recall the thrill and satisfaction of a shared routine of cheap burrito joints, dive music clubs, and late night discussions with fellow bohemians. What it does not do is translate this fleeting experience of alternative culture in the 1980s into lasting social commentary.
Powers herself declaims, "I would not presume to dictate the meanings of the stories I have to offer." If she had, WEIRD LIKE US would have been more than a nostalgic tale of her Bohemian America; it might have illuminated the alternative in all of us.
Reviewed by Amee Vyas on April 26, 2001
Weird Like Us