The Best Credit Cards to Use When Gas Prices Peak This Summer
Planning a summer road trip? Be prepared to fork over some more cash at the pump. With crude oil prices at their highest level in more than three years — and not expected to slow down any time soon — gas prices are predicted to continue a steady incline.
According to the Oil Price Information Service, the average price for regular gasoline in the US is $2.81 per gallon, up from about $2.39 per gallon just one year ago. In total, 13% of gas stations in the US are charging $3 per gallon or more. “This will be the most expensive driving season since 2014,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service.
As reported by the Associated Press, a wave of global economic growth has driven demand for oil, while production cutbacks have slowed supplies. Drivers in the western states of California, Oregon and Washington, as well as the harder-to-reach Alaska and Hawaii and the eastern states of Connecticut and Pennsylvania are paying the highest prices for gas this summer — ranging on average from $2.95 to $3.61 per gallon. Meanwhile, drivers in Florida, New Hampshire, Delaware and Georgia are paying the least at the pump, ranging from $2.68 to $2.80 per gallon.
So, if you find yourself paying more at the pump this summer, the positive of the situation comes in the form of bonus points. That’s right, even though you might be paying more at the pump, you’ll earn more rewards. It begs the question: What credit cards are best for maximizing your summertime gas purchases?
Citi ThankYou Premier Card
The Citi ThankYou Premier Card is a great option for filling up your tank. The card comes with an earning structure of 3x points on travel and gas purchases. So, you’ll earn 3x Citi ThankYou points on your gas tank full up. Along with this 3x bonus category for travel purchases, you’ll also earn 2x points on dining and entertainment and 1x points on everything else. The card comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months.
Amex EveryDay Preferred
The Amex EveryDay Preferred Card from American Express is another good choice when it comes to gas purchases. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent every time you fill up at the pump, which is already a nice return since TPG values Amex Membership Rewards points at 1.9 cents apiece. But as an added bonus, when you make 30 or more purchases in a month on the EveryDay Preferred card, you’ll get a 50% point bonus. That means you can actually earn 3 points per dollar on gas purchases if you make the monthly transaction threshold.
Another card that could give you a good return on your gas include the Chase Freedom Unlimited, which earns you 1.5% cash back on every purchase. When coupled with an Ultimate Rewards-earning card, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that cash back can be earned as points. Alternatively, while it likely won’t be an option this summer, when the Chase Freedom Card has a rotating bonus category of 5% cash back on gas purchases — which it most recently did in the first quarter of this year — that would be a fantastic choice.
Finally, for a few more months, it could be worth it to build up your stash of Starpoints with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express. While gas isn’t a bonus category, you’ll still be earning 1x Starpoints, which are worth 2.7 cents apiece based on TPG’s most recent valuations.
The US Energy Information Administration projects that gas prices will rise to their peak at Memorial Day before slowly declining as the summer progresses. While today’s increased prices are nothing compared to 2008, when gas prices surged to an all-time-high of $4.11 per gallon, you’ll still want to be sure you’re at least getting some sort of return for paying more at the pump this summer.
Featured image by Mongkol Chuewong / Getty Images.
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April 30, 2018 at 10:36PM
The Truth About Selfie Culture
The selfie, that ubiquitous symbol of millennial navel-gazing, is often used as Exhibit A in the argument by older generations that millennials are self-absorbed, narcissistic, and entitled. But is that really the whole picture? As Jia Tolentino pointed out in a recent issue of The New Yorker, this argument focusses “on the individual rather than on the structures and the conditions that govern one’s life.” Maybe it’s time to put the much maligned selfie into its proper cultural context.
A new video by Erin Brethauer and Tim Hussin, the latest installment in our Obsessions series, takes another tack, placing this symbol of millennial narcissism in a larger cultural story. Will Storr, the author of “Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us,” traces selfie culture to the self-esteem movement. “This crazy idea came about in the late eighties and early nineties that, in order free ourselves of all these social problems, everything from drug abuse to domestic violence to teen-age pregnancy, we just had to believe we were special and amazing,” Storr says.
Instead, this philosophy filtered into a parenting style that created impossible expectations for the children who were raised with it. “When they fail to meet [these expectations] over and over again, they enter this state of despair that can manifest in all kinds of self-destructive behaviors,” Storr says. One particular moment in the video captures the tension between a selfie’s presentation of perfection and the precarious sense of self underneath: a group of women in San Francisco’s Dolores Park takes exuberant selfies, throwing practiced, sunlit poses with their bottle of White Girl Rosé, looking happy and carefree. But, when asked, one of the women admits, with unmistakeable sadness, that Instagram only worsens her feelings of inadequacy: “Ultimately, for me, I think it’s not that healthy.”—Michele Moses
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April 30, 2018 at 10:12PM
Fred Moten’s Radical Critique of the Present
When I met the poet, critic, and theorist Fred Moten for lunch near Washington Square Park recently, he ordered a hamburger, and asked the waiter to hold the aioli. When the food arrived, it was clear that his request had not been followed. After a brief, disappointed examination of the bun, Moten, who recently became a professor at N.Y.U. after a few years at the University of California, Riverside, found an idea.
“I think mayonnaise—actually, sorry, this is stupid, this is crazy,” he said.
“Not at all,” I said.
“I think mayonnaise has a complex kind of relation to the sublime,” he said. “And I think emulsion does generally. It’s something about that intermediary—I don’t know—place, between being solid and being a liquid, that has a weird relation to the sublime, in the sense that the sublimity of it is in the indefinable nature of it.”
“It’s liminal also,” I offered.
“It’s liminal, and it connects to the body in a certain way.”
“You have to shake it up,” I said. “You have to put the energy into it to get it into that state.”
“Anyway,” Moten said, “mostly I just don’t fucking like it.”
Moten had agreed to meet so that I could ask him about his newest books, three dense volumes of critical writing, written in the course of fifteen years, and gathered under the name “consent not to be a single being.” The first volume, “Black and Blur,” has writings on art and music: Charles Mingus, Theodor Adorno, David Hammons, Glenn Gould. The second, “Stolen Life,” focusses on ideas that Moten describes as, broadly, “sociopolitical.” The third, “The Universal Machine,” deals with something like “philosophy proper,” as he put it to me, and is broken into “three suites of essays” on Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt, and Frantz Fanon.
Moten speaks softly and, once he gets going, in long, complex paragraphs. He is drawn to in-between states: rather than accepting straightforward answers, he seeks out new dissonances. On the page, this can take a complex and even forbidding form. “Black studies,” he writes in an essay collected in “Stolen Life,” “is a dehiscence at the heart of the institution on its edge; its broken, coded documents sanction walking in another world while passing through this one, graphically disordering the administered scarcity from which black studies flows as wealth.” A reader may need to sit with that sentence for a while, read it over once or twice, perhaps look up the word dehiscence (“a surgical complication in which a wound ruptures along a surgical incision”).
In person, though, Moten’s way of thinking and speaking feels like an intuitive way of seeing the world. Moten was born in 1962, and he grew up in Las Vegas, in a thriving black community that took root there after the Great Migration. His mother was a schoolteacher, and books were always present in the house, from works of sociology to anthologies of black literature. Moten went to Harvard, but falling grades led to a year off, back home, which he spent, in part, working at the Nevada Test Site. Out in the desert, he got a lot of reading done. “I like to read, and I like to be involved in reading,” he said. “And for me, writing is part of what it is to be involved in reading.”
Moten’s 2003 book, “In the Break,” a study of the “black radical tradition” through the notion of performance, took up the ideas of such pioneering black-studies scholars as Saidiya Hartman, exploring them within a freewheeling discourse on phenomenology and jazz. For Moten, blackness is something “fugitive,” as he puts it—an ongoing refusal of standards imposed from elsewhere. In “Stolen Life,” he writes, “Fugitivity, then, is a desire for and a spirit of escape and transgression of the proper and the proposed. It’s a desire for the outside, for a playing or being outside, an outlaw edge proper to the now always already improper voice or instrument.” In this spirit, Moten works to connect subjects that our preconceptions may have led us to think had little relation. One also finds a certain uncompromising attitude—a conviction that the truest engagement with a subject will overcome any difficulties of terminology. “I think that writing in general, you know, is a constant disruption of the means of semantic production, all the time,” he told me. “And I don’t see any reason to try to avoid that. I’d rather see a reason to try to accentuate that. But I try to accentuate that not in the interest of obfuscation but in the interest of precision.”
In 2013, Moten published “The Undercommons,” a slender collection of essays co-written with his former classmate and fellow-theorist Stefano Harney. For a book of theory, it has been widely read, perhaps because of its unapologetic antagonism. “The Undercommons” lays out a radical critique of the present. Hope, they write, “has been deployed against us in ever more perverted and reduced form by the Clinton-Obama axis for much of the last twenty years.” One essay considers our lives as a flawed system of credit and debit, another explores a kind of technocratic coercion that Moten and Harney simply call “policy.” “The Undercommons” has become well known, especially, for its criticism of academia. “It cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment,” Moten and Harney write. They lament the focus on grading and other deadening forms of regulation, asking, in effect: Why is it so hard to have new discussions in a place that is ostensibly designed to foster them?
They suggest alternatives: to gather with friends and talk about whatever you want to talk about, to have a barbecue or a dance—all forms of unrestricted sociality that they slyly call “study.” The book concludes with a long interview of Moten and Harney by Stevphen Shukaitis, a lecturer at the University of Essex, in which Moten explains the idea.
We are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people. It’s talking and walking around with other people, working, dancing, suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice. The notion of a rehearsal—being in a kind of workshop, playing in a band, in a jam session, or old men sitting on a porch, or people working together in a factory—there are these various modes of activity. The point of calling it “study” is to mark that the incessant and irreversible intellectuality of these activities is already present.
Moten maintains that this kind of open-ended approach can be brought to bear everywhere, and can address even those subjects that might seem most traditionally academic. Over lunch, we spoke about Moten’s essay “Knowledge of Freedom,” collected in “Stolen Life.” It’s a critique of Kant that considers the philosopher’s ideas about the imagination and his “scientific” racism alongside a close reading of “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” an autobiography published, in London, in 1789, the year after Kant published his “Critique of Practical Reason” and the year before he published “Critique of Judgment.” Equiano was enslaved in what is now Nigeria, worked for years on British ships, and later, in the United States, bought his freedom.
“I neither want to refute Kant nor put Kant in his place,” Moten said. “I want to think about Kant as a particular moment in the history of a general displacement.” This, he added, “requires recognizing that Kant is a crucial figure in the development of the very concept of race on something like a philosophically rigorous level. But, of course, the fact that the incoherence that we call race can somehow be compatible with something like philosophical rigor lets us know something about the limits of philosophy, you know?”
Moten’s poetry, which was a finalist for a National Book Award, in 2014, has a good deal in common with his critical work. In it, he gathers the sources running through his head and transforms them into something musical, driven by the material of language itself. The poem “all topological last friday evening,” collected in Moten’s 2015 book, “The Little Edges,” begins:
taken to bridges from lula to lela to lena to eula to ayler to tala to
but untorn and bend
like fenders breathe, felder’s or fielder’s, that family, man, that
so much more than air and world and time.
The poem unfolds as a chain of references, from free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler to Andrew Marvell. We may not know exactly how we moved from one to the other, but there’s pleasure in getting lost in the dance.
When we discussed his poetry, Moten, citing Amiri Baraka, made a distinction between voice and sound. “I always thought that ‘the voice’ was meant to indicate a kind of genuine, authentic, absolute individuation, which struck me as (a) undesirable and (b) impossible,” he said. “Whereas a ‘sound’ was really within the midst of this intense engagement with everything: with all the noise that you’ve ever heard, you struggle somehow to make a difference, so to speak, within that noise. And that difference isn’t necessarily about you as an individual, it’s much more simply about trying to augment and to differentiate what’s around you. And that’s what a sound is for me.”
As we finished lunch, I asked Moten what his next projects might be. He began, typically, with everyday things: unpacking from the move to New York, getting his two children enrolled in school, adjusting to walking everywhere again instead of driving. Then, in the same casual tone, he said that he was working on two new books, and that he might try his hand at opera soon—perhaps write some librettos. And he’s still trying to figure out how to teach a good class, he said. He wasn’t sure that it was possible under the current conditions. “You just have to get together with people and try to do something different,” he said. “You know, I really believe that. But I also recognize how truly difficult that is to do.”
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April 30, 2018 at 10:12PM
Hotels Near and Far Attempt to Capitalize on the Upcoming Royal Wedding
Hotels are getting in on royal wedding mania, offering $50,000 packages fit for a queen, handing out condoms decorated with the Union Jack and hosting Champagne parties where the wedding will be shown on big-screen TVs.
New York’s Moxy Times Square hotel is including condoms with a Union Jack logo as part of an overnight stay that also features a travel-sized bottle of gin and a British slang dictionary.
Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel is asking guests to wear hats, gloves and other finery to a $150 Champagne breakfast beginning at 6:30 a.m., New York time, on May 19. The best-dressed attendee will win a prize of a free night at the hotel. The wedding will be live streamed in the Plaza’s Palm Court on big-screen TVs as it unfolds live midday in England at Windsor Castle. A panel of experts at the Plaza will provide play-by-play commentary on etiquette, the royal family and whatever else needs explicating on this side of the pond.
The Plaza even has a legitimate connection to Markle. In her former life as an actress, she portrayed Rachel Zane on the cable show “Suits.” Her character dreamed of getting married at the Plaza, though the wedding scene for the show was actually filmed at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. The Fairmont Royal York also plans festivities for May 19 with a menu that includes classic British fare like bubble and squeak (cabbage and potatoes) and bangers (sausages) and eggs.
Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans has a wedding package priced at $51,918. (The numbers match the May 19 date of Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry.) The package includes three nights in a two-bedroom suite, round-trip first-class airfare from anywhere in the U.S., life-size cardboard cutouts of Harry and Meghan, afternoon tea, a wedding day Champagne breakfast, take-home gifts like Wedgwood china and crystal stemware, food and shopping credits worth thousands of dollars and a lemon elderflower cake, just like the one chosen by the happy couple.
And that’s not the only hotel package with a sky-high price tag. The Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills in California is offering a $30,000 “royal treatment package,” while the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C., is offering a $1 million wedding package that includes a private jet, custom-made gown and ring, honeymoon and more.
Whether anybody books these high-priced packages, the wedding gives hotels an opportunity to associate their brand with something special.
“Royal weddings occur on only a few occasions during a lifetime,” said Larry Chiagouris, professor of marketing at Pace University in New York. “They are therefore a rare opportunity for brands to reach large global audiences and for consumers to be a part of a rare event. So, to do so, the price of participation will always be very, very high.”
The Drake hotel in Chicago will host a royal-themed luncheon on May 19 with the same menu served in 1996 when Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, stayed there. Guests can even book the suite Diana stayed in, which has been decorated with photos of her. The Drake is also offering special royal teas, cocktails and a series of screenings of royal-themed movies like “Victoria & Abdul.”
In England, the Conrad London St. James has a “Propose Like A Prince” package with a horse carriage ride, Champagne and a room decorated with rose petals. And Mercure Hotels invited couples who share Harry and Meghan’s first names to apply for a free stay at one of Mercure’s London properties, and two couples won.
Royal-watchers heading to England will find it nearly impossible to book a room in Windsor, though hotels in London and elsewhere are still available. London’s Hotel Cafe Royal has a package that includes a luxury limo trip to Windsor Castle with a picnic hamper. Just don’t try to picnic there on May 19.
Photo Credit: This image released by USA Network shows a wedding scene from the “Good-Bye” episode of “Suits.” Meghan Markle’s character dreams of getting married at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, though the scene was filmed at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. Both hotels are hosting royal-themed events in honor of Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry. Ian Watson / USA Network via Associated Press
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April 30, 2018 at 10:02PM
You Can Get Paid $10,000 to Travel the Country and Take Photos of Sunsets This Summer
Sunset photos on Instagram are a dime a dozen — but if you’re chosen to be a “sun-tern” for Days Inn by Wyndham, those saturated snapshots will really pay off.
This summer, the company is hiring someone to spend a month traveling around the United States while snapping photographs of the nation’s most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. It’s an all-expenses-paid trip with a $10,000 stipend as extra incentive.
(We can really only think of one summer internship that compares.)
According to the hotel brand’s website, the company will work with the sun-tern to figure out an ideal agenda, though the itinerary will be based on the nearly 1,500 Days Inn locations scattered across the country.
Highlights from the program might include sunset sailings off the coast of Miami and sunrise yoga in San Diego, and Cosmopolitan reported that sun-terns could opt for pre-paid experiences such as zip lining and hot air balloon rides. Rough life.
During the “sun-ternship,” photos will be featured on the hotel brand’s website and dedicated social media channels. And at the program’s conclusion, the very best sun-shots will be framed and displayed in Days Inn rooms nationwide.
Ready to ditch all of your obligations and chase the sun this summer? To apply, you must be a US resident 21 years of age or older, and have at least one month free to travel. You don’t, however, even need any official photography expertise: just a passion for travel and the sunny outdoors.
Send your best original outdoor photo and a compelling 100-word bio about why you’re sun-tern material through the application on Wyndham’s website before May 20, and you could be on your way to spending the summer on the road.
Featured image by Resa Cahya/Unsplash.
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April 30, 2018 at 10:01PM
Aircraft From Southwest Flight 1380 Released From NTSB Investigation
Southwest’s Boeing 737-700 that operated Flight 1380 that was fatal for one passenger earlier in April just left the city where it landed and flew to Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, Washington, on Monday.
The flight path on Flight Aware shows the aircraft registered N772SW taking off Monday morning from Philadelphia (PHL), where it was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its engines exploded and sent shrapnel crashing through a window, killing Jennifer Riordan, 43.
An intrepid @airliners_net reader notes that N772SW — the aircraft in @SouthwestAir‘s April 17 uncontained engine failure — is flying from Philadelphia to Everett, Washington, according to @flightaware. pic.twitter.com/TFOUpnT5EO
— Brian Sumers (@BrianSumers) April 30, 2018
Southwest confirmed that the plane left Philadelphia because it was released from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation.
“We can confirm that the aircraft has been released from the NTSB’s investigation and flew to Paine Field today,” an airline spokesperson told TPG in an email.
The spokesperson did not say why the plane flew to Paine Field, but Everett is home to a major Boeing manufacturing outpost, so an educated guess would be that the aircraft would be heading there for some type of further inspection or perhaps for repair.
Featured image by NTSB via AP.
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April 30, 2018 at 09:35PM
Gol’s CEO Remains Optimistic Despite Choppiness in the Brazilian Market
It’s proving to be a bumpy year in Brazil, but the top executive of the country’s biggest airline can’t shake his optimism.
Despite election-year uncertainty and a currency that’s yet again unsettled, Chief Executive Officer Paulo Sergio Kakinoff sees historically low interest rates and subdued inflation — coupled with an economy that’s lurching forward — boosting Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA. That, and loyal consumers.
“The company is less impacted now by the macroeconomics,” Kakinoff, 43, said in an interview at Gol’s Sao Paulo headquarters. “There’s an impact because of the consumer’s preference — our market share is higher — that makes our results more resilient.”
News, Good and Bad
Aside from a less hostile economic environment — Brazil is far from its glory days of growing some 5 percent annually during the commodities boom, but a recession that sank GDP by 7.8 percent is over — an overhaul of the country’s labor laws has also helped the airline. Lawsuits from former employees, previously a constant headache, have dropped. Of the approximately 50 people who have left the company since the November reform — an admittedly small number — 10 percent would have normally sued the company, Kakinoff said. Instead, just one has.
The approval of an Open Skies accord between Brazil and the U.S., an agreement that sets rules for air travel between two nations, limiting government control over decisions about routes, fares and capacity, should be finalized this year and could also improve the outlook for the sector.
“Within two years of Open Skies, the airlines in Brazil will have joint ventures with U.S. airlines,” Kakinoff said. Delta Air Lines Inc. already has a stake of about 12 percent in Gol, not to mention a 49 percent stake in Grupo Aeromexico, with which it already has a joint venture agreement.
Until recently, the market seemed to agree with the CEO’s optimism. After touching a seven-year high in early April, shares have fallen 20 percent on a weakening currency, a dispute with Citigroup’s research department over accounting methods and the resurgence of old news that it’s cooperating with U.S. authorities regarding a leniency agreement signed with Brazil’s public prosecutor in 2016.
Starting in July, Gol will receive between eight and 10 new 737 Max, the fourth generation of Boeing’s narrow-body 737 series. The jets are 15 percent more fuel efficient than the current fleet of about 120 737s.
Most of the planes received over the next three years will be dedicated to international flights, Kakinoff said, and new investments will focus on expansion abroad, including new flights to Orlando and Miami from Fortaleza and Brasilia in November.
While Gol leads in market share domestically with 34 percent to Latam Airlines’ 33 percent, it has a long way to go internationally. It has a 12 percent market share among Brazilian airlines for international travel, compared to Azul’s 15 percent and Latam’s 68 percent, according to data compiled by the Brazilian airline association, Abear.
Gol isn’t the only airline pressing its bet on flights abroad. Avianca Brasil started flying to Miami and New York last year, and is adding yet another flight to its Florida destination this year.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
This article was written by Christiana Sciaudone and Julia Leite from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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April 30, 2018 at 09:34PM
ICE Comes to a Small Town in Tennessee
Earlier this month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted its largest workplace raid in a decade, in the tiny town of Bean Station, Tennessee. The owner of a meat-packing plant, who was being investigated by the I.R.S., was suspected of employing undocumented workers. Ninety-seven people, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, were arrested. Most lived in Morristown, in Hamblen County, where Donald Trump got seventy per cent of the vote in 2016 election. This suggests that Hamblen might be an inhospitable place for undocumented Latinos, but the reality that the staff writer Jonathan Blitzer found while covering the raid is more complicated; U.S.-born residents were quick to tell him that the community had raised sixty thousand dollars for the families of detainees. Blitzer talked with David Williams, the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, in Morristown, who said that the raid has inspired conservative residents to reconsider what immigration enforcement should look like.
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April 30, 2018 at 09:08PM
Grace Jones, Donna Summer, and the Power of Disco
Disco may never overcome the collective yearning for the “classic” rock era it supposedly ruined. Synthetic, tacky, decadent, dead—disco’s had plenty of invective hurled at it, even as it persists in the form of late-night infomercials and books of louche Studio 54 photographs. It’s easier to snort at the processed cheese of disco’s end than to celebrate its jagged beginnings, buoyed largely by gay, black, and Latino audiences who found a second home (or a first) on the dance floor.
This spring, two projects revisit two of disco’s reigning queens, with mixed success. One overexplains its subject, and the other explains too little. In the broad outline, Donna Summer and Grace Jones had plenty in common: both are black women who made music careers in the seventies, translating their bold sexuality to the dance floor. Both were molded by European men (for Summer, the music producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte; for Jones, the French director-photographer Jean-Paul Goude). Both grew up in the church, though Summer became a born-again Christian at the height of her fame, and Jones never looked back. Both weathered physical abuse, record-industry greed, controversy (more on that soon), and the decline of disco, the genre that catapulted them to fame. “I definitely had one foot in the 54 world, but not really for the music—more for the theatre of the place, the combination of people craving spontaneous excitement,” Jones writes in her autobiography, “I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.” “Musically, I was going with the flow along with the DJs who were resisting disco as a trend, as a headline, a dead end.”
Summer, who died in 2012, also tried to go with the flow, pivoting to pop songs such as “She Works Hard for the Money” in the eighties, but she didn’t share Jones’s flair for reinvention, and “Queen of Disco” became her permanent honorific. “For the longest time, people had me convinced there was something wrong with this music,” she tells us at the beginning of “Summer,” a new Broadway bio-musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. “ ‘Dance music.’ Like the term was some kind of insult.” The layered rhythms of her 1977 hit “I Feel Love”—a precursor to today’s electronic dance music—pulse in the background, as Summer (LaChanze) is joined by a chorus of women in John Travolta drag. “Once we found that bass line, it was a whole new world,” she continues. “A world of mystery and androgyny, blurring all the lines.”
Soon we’re off to the races, with no less than twenty of Summer’s infectious hits (ending, inevitably, with “Last Dance”) shoehorned into a Wikipedia account of her life. In the late sixties, Summer moved from Boston to Germany, to be in a production of “Hair.” There, she teamed up with Moroder and Bellotte and recorded her breakout hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” which was extended into a seventeen-minute dance track. The story of the recording session—Summer turned out all the lights and lay on the floor, making orgasmic noises—is, naturally, recreated onstage. If Summer was the Queen of Disco, the director Des McAnuff is the King of Slick. McAnuff, who helmed “Jersey Boys,” uses many of the same tricks in “Summer”: familiar melodies building with anticipatory excitement, glittering scenery that never stops moving, and multiple narrators whisking the action along. Since there were four Jersey Boys but only one Summer, McAnuff splits her into three, played at different ages by LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever—each of them dynamite. There’s almost enough stagecraft to make you overlook the fact that the show never finds a coherent story to tell. Incidents from Summer’s life fly by, from her childhood cameo in a murder case to her religious reawakening, strung together with truisms such as, “Once you’re on a roller coaster, it’s real hard to get off.” McAnuff is counting on it.
Least convincing is the musical’s treatment of Summer’s reported homophobic comments at a 1983 concert (“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”), which cost her many of her ardent fans. She later apologized, but denied reports that she had called AIDS a divine punishment. Toward the end of “Summer,” she sits at a piano, surrounded by vintage photos of gay men, and explains that the “Adam and Steve” comment was a “bad joke.” Then she declares that “God made Adam and Steve and Eve and Louise.” It’s a cheap applause line, and the musical’s attempts to fashion a “woke” Donna for 2018 miss an opportunity to interrogate her contradictions: the born-again Christian who was also a gay icon. (When she died, Hilton Als wrote about Summer’s queer appeal.)
Grace Jones is a gay icon, too—still hula-hooping topless in her late sixties—but her controversies stemmed from her outrageousness, which is exactly what we want from her: the will to be herself. In 1980, she slapped the British talk-show host Russell Harty live on the air, because he had been ignoring her. The present-day Jones recounts the incident midway through “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami,” a new documentary by Sophie Fiennes (sister of Ralph and Joseph). “I don’t mind Russell, except the fact that he died—but I didn’t kill him!,” Jones says backstage, when someone asks for his own souvenir slap on the cheek. She then tells a garbled version of the story, but Fiennes doesn’t cut to the videotape, sticking rigorously to cinema-vérité pretensions: no talking heads, no archival images. Instead, the camera follows Jones driving around Jamaica, putting on makeup, and catching up with Goude, her onetime collaborator and lover. (“You’re the only man who made me buckle at the knees,” she tells him.)
Nothing about Jones is boring—she’s one of the world’s great eccentrics—but Fiennes is too lax in shaping our understanding of her. It would be helpful, for instance, to know how Jones’s fiercely androgynous look made her a groundbreaking fashion model in the seventies; how her 1977 disco version of “La Vie en Rose,” from the first of her three albums produced by Tom Moulton, made her an international star; how, with the producers Alex Sadkin and Chris Blackwell, she moved from disco into her own brand of reggae-infused New Wave; or how she played off her scary-exotic persona in films such as “A View to a Kill” and “Vamp.” Still, it’s understandable to want to focus on the present, which Jones compulsively uses to make trouble. (A few years ago, I got to interview her in New York, and we promptly got kicked out of a hotel spa together—a career high.)
The documentary comes alive, though, when Jones performs, usually in headgear that defies geometry. Her vocal ability was always more limited than Summer’s, but her art was her ferocious presence—captured by Goude in his indelible photographs or in the 1982 concert film “One Man Show.” Here we get the older Jones, sweating in a corset as she delights her audiences with the double-entendre-laden “Pull Up to the Bumper” (“Pull up to my bumper baby / In your long black limousine.”) One thing the documentary gets right: Grace Jones is funny. We know she’s got a temper; in the film, she describes her disciplinarian stepfather, called Mas P, and her later epiphany that she had repurposed his forbidding stare onstage. Her diva antics are absurd, but she’s more or less in on the joke. Her book includes her complete tour rider, which requires two dozen oysters be supplied to her dressing room—unopened, because “Grace does her own shucking.” In one scene in the documentary, she complains that her lingerie-clad backup dancers make her seem like a “madam in a whorehouse.” The dancers are dismissed.
Perhaps Jones defies explanation, at least as long as she’s around to entertain us, even as she perpetually slips through our fingers. It’s impossible to imagine a jukebox musical like “Summer” reducing her to platitudes, because she subverts anything resembling a life lesson. Donna Summer found God; Grace Jones demands our worship.
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April 30, 2018 at 09:08PM
Maurizio Pollini at Carnegie Hall: A Piano Concert as Dramatic as the Movies
Though I often think about movies in relation to music, there’s also an aspect of music that’s similar to movies: drama. That aspect was in the forefront of an extraordinary piano recital by the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon, not least because his performance told a varied and unusual range of stories. Pollini’s New York recitals turn the hall into a virtual high temple of pianism, because he’s possessed of an astoundingly precise and rapid technique to go with a profoundly intellectual insight into music. A classical-music performance is good to the extent that it illuminates the composition that’s being performed and the world of the composer who wrote it, and it’s for such revelations—for the musical drama of his relationships with pieces of music, with the psychology and the history of their creators—that it’s worth seeing Pollini. Another reason is that many of his studio recordings have a rigidity to go with their precision, whereas, in concert, Pollini (who is seventy-six) plays and thinks dangerously, as he did on Sunday.
The first half of the concert was devoted to Frédéric Chopin, and it was a surprise. Pollini’s Carnegie Hall recital last year was an all-Chopin program, and there (as in the set of Chopin pieces he played here in 2014) his performances were crystalline, marked by a pointillistic bravura that made every note of Chopin’s often wildly profuse compositions shine forth independently. On Sunday, his approach to Chopin was radically different: he used his pedals more heavily to blur series of notes and, instead of making the dots on the page glitter, he emphasized the way that they’re grouped and divided—he played not sprays and constellations of notes but sharply contrasted, disjoined phrases.
The story that Pollini told, with his newfound style, is a story of history—of contrasting versions of modernity. Playing two short pieces, the Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 45, and the Barcarolle, Op. 60, Pollini often broke melodies into abruptly short outbursts of notes and slightly desynchronized his hands to provoke sudden dissonances. Instead of melodic flow and harmonic structure, Pollini emphasized the dramatic ebb and flow of tempo, volume, and density—and this emphasis on gesture brought to mind a special kind of cinematic modernity, in which narrative continuities are both disrupted and intensified by images and editing that emphasize the disjunctive physicality of hands-on filmmaking.
In Pollini’s performance of the mighty Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35—famous for its funeral march—he put his shoulders into it, making mighty thunder unlike any I’ve heard from him, and fragmenting and shifting phrases and melodies to make Chopin sound not improvisational and free but radically abrupt and fragmentary, to make the funeral march sound like a rage against the dying of the light. There’s another aspect, however, to Pollini’s hands-on camerawork with Chopin: his technique, among the glories of classical music, is a bit less secure than it used to be. In a small number of passages requiring both strength and speed, he fluffed a note or two—it doesn’t matter at all, since the goal of music isn’t perfection but expression, though I’d bet that it matters to Pollini, and that he recognizes that the rapid-fire multi-level precision that marked his playing of even a year ago is now sometimes a stretch. In the light of his new, albeit minor, fallibility, the rage against time takes on a sudden new pathos.
In the second half of the program, Pollini played the second book of Claude Debussy’s “Préludes,” from 1913, and here, too, his playing packed sonic, historical, and dramatic surprises. The dozen short pieces are actually preludes to nothing—unless it’s to the mini-dramas suggested by each piece’s title, such as “General Lavine—Eccentric” or “Fireworks.” But those titles and the characters or images that they suggest—in Pollini’s eruptive and analytical performance, forget them. Here, too, Pollini emphasized Debussy’s expressionistic discontinuities, suggesting the composer’s similarities to a contemporary: Arnold Schoenberg. Luxuriating in Debussy’s chromatic subtleties, Pollini made even the near-silence of the hall seem distractingly loud—until he shattered the stillness with percussive phrases of a fury reminiscent of another of the composer’s contemporaries, Béla Bartók. In short, Pollini stripped the music of its theatrical characterizations and visual impressions in order to lay bare its stark and fervent abstractions. By evaporating the humor, the whimsy, the theatrics, the implicit narrative, Pollini told another story, about a moment, a century ago, when, across a varied range of inspirations and experiences, classical music underwent a revolution that’s still being fought and disputed. The story that he told is a historical drama as stirring—and one as intimately psychological and poignant—as any onscreen.
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April 30, 2018 at 09:08PM