The Avant-Garde Project Features Music from 200 Cutting-Edge Composers, Including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage & More

The Avant-Garde ProjectEvery sphere of recorded music, from late-1960s folk to Philadelphia hip-hop to Japanese jazz (a personal pursuit of mine), has its crate-diggers, those happy to flip through hundreds — nay, hundreds of thousands — of obscure, forgotten vinyl albums in search of their subgenre’s even obscurer, more forgotten gems. This holds especially true, if not in number than in avidity, for enthusiasts of the 20th-century classical-experimental-electroacoustic tradition that The Avant-Garde Project takes as its preservation mandate. The site offers material “digitized from LPs whose music has in most cases never been released on CD, and so is effectively inaccessible to the vast majority of music listeners today.” To the best of the Archive’s knowledge, the LPs are all currently out of print, and all the music is extracted with an analog rig that ranks as “near state-of-the-art, producing almost none of the tracking distortion or surface noise normally associated with LPs.”

The Avant-Garde Project’s efforts, the archive of which you can browse here (or alphabetically by composer, or through choice samplers, or through the “AGP top twenty,” or through the founder’s personal favorites), has borne a great deal of fruit so far, especially from such music-history class favorites as Arnold Schoenberg, whose String Trio performed by the Los Angeles String Trio you can hear above, and Igor Stravinsky, whose Symphony of Psalms you’ll find below. Everything in the Avant-Garde Project’s archive comes downloadable as torrents of Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) files. This audiophile’s compression format of choice requires a bit of special but easily obtained software to play or burn to CDs, all of which you can get explained here (with even more information here). Those who’d like to keep it simple (if not quite as aurally pristine) can listen through a smaller version of the archive at Ubuweb. Either way, you’ll enjoy all the artistic richness of rare 20th-century classical-experimental-electroacoustic music with none of the digging.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Literary Critic Northrop Frye Teaches “The Bible and English Literature”: All 25 Lectures Free Online

One reason I’m glad for having had a childhood religious education: it has made me conversant in even some of the most obscure stories and ideas in the Christian Bible, which is everywhere in English literature. Not only was the King James translation formative for early modern English, but stories like that of King David and his son Absalom have furnished material for great works from John Dryden’s dense political allegory “Absalom and Achitophel” to William Faulkner’s dense modernist fable Absalom, Absalom!  Then, of course, there’s so much of the work of Blake, Shakespeare, and Milton to account for. Without a fairly solid grounding in Biblical literature, it can be doubly difficult to make headway in a study of the secular variety.

The students of highly regarded Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye found this to be true. As a junior instructor, Frye had difficulty getting his class to understand what was going on in John Milton’s Paradise Lost because so many of the Biblical allusions were lost on them. (It’s a hard enough poem to grasp when you get the references.) “How do you expect to teach Paradise Lost,” said the chair of Frye’s department, “to people who don’t know the difference between a Philistine and a Pharisee?” Responding to this gap in cultural literacy, Frye designed and taught “The Bible and English Literature.” The entire, videotaped course from a 1981 session at the University of Toronto is available online in 25 lectures.

It’s very much a treat to sit in on these lectures. Frye’s work on myth and folktale in English literature is still nearly definitive; his 1957 Anatomy of Criticism, though picked apart many times over through the decades, retains an authoritative place in studies of literary archetypes and rhetoric. Frye’s lectures on the Bible focus on what he sees as its “narrative unity,” due in part to “a number of recurring images: mountain, sheep, river, hill, pasture, bride, bread, wine and so on.” He also spends a good deal of time, at least in his first lecture above, discussing church history, theological and critical conflicts, and the history of various translations. The UToronto site includes full transcripts of each lecture, and the entire course promises to be enlightening for students of literature, of the Bible and church history, or both.

The Bible and English Literature will be added to our list of Free Online Literature Courses and Free Online Religion Courses, part of our larger collection, 1000 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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Why We Love Repetition in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Animation

Our favorite pop songs have a repeating chorus. You can pretty much bank on that. But, as it turns out, repetition isn’t just a phenomenon in Western music. You’ll find it in many forms of music across the globe. Why is this the case? What makes repetition a fairly universal feature in music? In a new TED-Ed video, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, Professor and Director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas, “walks us through the basic principles of the ‘exposure effect,’ detailing how repetition invites us into music as active participants, rather than [as] passive listeners.” The animation was done by Andrew Zimbelman.

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via Laughing Squid

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“The Civil War and Reconstruction,” a New MOOC by Pulitzer-Prize Winning Historian Eric Foner

It ended in early April 149 years ago. But it begins again on Wednesday. Columbia University’s “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” the latest salvo in the MOOC wars, opens Wednesday, September 17, for free to the world – a 27-week series of three courses on the nonprofit edX platform taught by Eric Foner, the university’s Pulitzer-Prize winning history professor and one of the world’s leading experts on 19th-century America. You can enroll for free here.

“If you want to know where the world you’re living in today comes from,” Foner says in the series promotional trailer,  “you need to know about the Civil War era.“  Headline issues of the moment – black-white race relations first among them, but also more general issues of equal justice under law, the power and proper role of government, and how lawmakers should deal with extremism, terror, and violence – all find roots in this conflict and its aftermath, a four-year war that saw approximately 700,000 Americans killed, and scores more injured, at the hands of their countrymen.

Foner’s general history books on the subject have sold thousands of copies – his new work on the underground railroad publishes in January – and he’s the author of the leading American history textbook taught in U.S. high schools.  He’s crossed over from academe into mainstream media in other ways – with appearances on The Daily Show with John Stewart, The Colbert Report, The Charlie Rose Show, Bill Moyers’s Journal, and more.

Columbia’s effort in free history education on screen dates back decades – as Foner makes clear in the promo video. Columbia’s history professors Richard Hofstadter and James Patrick Shenton reached thousands of people in their books and lectures, with Shenton even teaching a 76-part survey course on WNET Public Television called “The Rise of the American Nation” – which premiered in 1963!  But many of the great lecturers from this university – literary critics and scholars Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling, art historian Meyer Shapiro, and others – were never filmed systematically, and Foner, who will formally retire from teaching in a few years, was determined to ensure his courses were recorded, well-produced, and preserved for posterity – and available as educational resources to all.

The series, generously supported by Columbia’s provost, historian John Coatsworth, is produced by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL), coincidentally celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. It’s the university’s first set of online courses on edX, after more than a dozen MOOCs on Coursera – and with more to come on both.  The course promises some tantalizing new perspectives on the world then and now – as their two highlights reels show above.

Come & enlist – oops! – that is, enroll – today!

Peter B. Kaufman works at the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning and is Executive Producer of Intelligent Television and YouTube’s Intelligent Channel

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The Historic LSD Debate at MIT: Timothy Leary v. Professor Jerome Lettvin (1967)

On May 3, 1967, Dr. Timothy Leary, that high priest of hallucinogens, faced off in a debate with MIT professor Dr. Jerome Lettvin about LSD in MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. Leary spent the debate in the lotus position, dressed in a white gown, beads and bare feet. The very picture of a counter culture icon. Lettvin, on the other hand, cuts a distinctly conservative figure, sporting a short-sleeved white shirt, a skinny tie and thick-framed glasses. On first blush, the debate might look like a stereotypical clash between the hip versus the square, but it ended up being much more interesting than that. Lettvin, who proved to be at least as charismatic as Leary, more than held his own against the man Richard Nixon once called “the most dangerous man in American.” You can watch the full debate above.

Leary speaks for the first half of the video. For those familiar with his routine, little of what you see will come as a surprise. He argues that LSD is a “a way of life and a sacrament and a sacrament is something that gets you high.” He goes on to cite groundbreaking figures like Einstein, Newton and William James who struggled to understand reality and consciousness. “The real goal of the scientist is to flip out,” he said to a packed auditorium filled with future scientists. “I don’t know if LSD is good or bad. It’s a gamble. It’s a risk. The sacrament is always a risk. … What isn’t? But LSD is the best gamble in the house.” Aiding him with his argument is a psychedelic picture show featuring a steady stream of images including ocean waves rolling backward, children bouncing on trampolines, and a man in a goatee eating soup, all set to a soundtrack by Ravi Shankar.

lettvin-leary

“Tim, your argument is exceedingly seductive,” Lettvin concedes at the beginning of his presentation (it begins around the 30:30 mark), which had none of the visual razzamatazz of Leary’s spiel. “I feel like this man is [in] the hands of the devil.”

Lettvin, however, proves not to be your standard anti-drug scold. At one point in the debate, he proclaims, “I can conceive of no more immoral thing than has been done by the government in the wholesale banning of drugs. … There’s a fundamentally monstrous thing about forbidding rather than reasoning people out.” And that’s exactly what Lettvin set out to do — reason the audience against taking acid. “The question is not scientific but moral,” he says. LSD has the potential to rob takers of their critical faculties, rendering them permanently spaced out. “The price seems a little steep to pay. You are settling for a permanent second rate world by the abnegation of the intellect.”

Lettvin’s performance is all the more impressive because he had little time to prepare. The faculty member who was originally slated to debate Leary bowed out at the last moment, and organizers scrambled to get someone, anyone, to face down the famed guru. Lettvin reportedly came straight from the lab to the auditorium and he even had to borrow a tie. Too bad Leary didn’t have a spare Nehru jacket.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.


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Partisan Review Now Free Online: Read All 70 Years of the Preeminent Literary Journal (1934-2003)

partisan review

Founded by William Phillips and Philip Rahv in February of 1934, leftist arts and politics magazine Partisan Review came about initially as an alternative to the American Communist Party’s publication, New Masses. While Partisan Review (PR) published many a Marxist writer, its politics diverged sharply from communism with the rise of Stalin. Perhaps this turn ensured the magazine’s almost 70-year run from ’34 to 2003, while New Masses folded in 1948. Partisan Review nonetheless remained a venue for some very heated political conversations (see more on which below), yet it has equally, if not more so, been known as one of the foremost literary journals of the 20th century.

PR first published James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” in Summer 1957 and two of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in 1940, for example, as well as Delmore Schwartz’s brilliant story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” in a 1937 issue that also featured Wallace Stevens, Edmund Wilson, Pablo Picasso (writing on Franco), James Agee, and Mary McCarthy. “More a literary event,” writes Robin Hemley at The Believer, “than a literary magazine,” even issues sixty or more years old can still carry “the punch of revelation.”

Now you can assess the impact of that punch by accessing all 70-years’ worth of issues online at Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. BU began hosting the magazine in 1978 after it moved from Rutgers, where founding editor William Phillips taught. Now the university has finished digitizing the entire collection, in handsome scans of vintage copies that readers can page through like an actual magazine. The collection is searchable, though this function is a little clunky (all links here direct you to the front cover of the issue. You’ll have to navigate to the actual pages yourself.)

In a post on the Gotlieb Center project, Hyperallergic points us toward a few more highlights:

In art, Partisan Review is perhaps best known as the publisher of Clement Greenberg, who contributed over 30 articles from 1939 to 1981, most notably his Summer 1939 essay entitled “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” (Greenberg even made a posthumous appearance in the Spring 1999 issue.) Beyond Greenberg’s voluble legacy we encounter such landmark texts as Dwight Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult,” from the Spring 1960 issue, and Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” from Winter 1964, as well as the seminal popular-culture criticism of Robert Warshow (his essay on the Krazy Kat comic strip in the November-December 1946 issue is especially great) and the work of Hilton Kramer, the conservative iconoclast who went on to found The New Criterion.

Partisan Review also served as an outlet for George Orwell, who lambasted leftist pacifists—calling them, more or less, fascist sympathizers—in his series of articles between January 1941 and the summer of 1946, which he called “London Letters.” (See here and here for two examples.) Orwell did not hesitate to name names; he also reported in 1945 of the “most enormous crimes and disasters” committed by the Soviets, including “purges, deportations, massacres, famines, imprisonment without trial, aggressive wars, broken treaties….” These things, Orwell remarked “not only fail to excite the big public, but can actually escape notice altogether.”

Partisan Review, however, was not aimed at “the big public.” Its “rarified principles,” writes Sam Tanenhaus of Slate—who calls PR “Trotskyist” for its interventionist boosterism—“attracted only 15,000 subscribers at its peak.”PR began in the age of the “little magazine,” a “term of honor” for the small journals that nurtured the high culture of their day, and which seem now so antiquated even as beleaguered publishers keep pushing them out to preciously small cliques of devoted readers. But charges of elitism can ring hollow, and given all we have to thank “little magazines” like Partisan Review for, it would probably behoove to pay attention to their successors.

h/t Hyperallergic

Image via Book/Shop

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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David Bowie & Brian Eno’s Collaboration on “Warszawa” Reimagined in Comic Animation

If you want to talk about David Bowie, you’ll sooner or later have to talk about Brian Eno. That music producer, visual artist, technological tinkerer, and “drifting clarifier” hasn’t had a hand in all the image-shifting rock star’s work, of course, but what collaborations they’ve done rank among the most enduring items in the Bowie catalog. “I’m Afraid of Americans,” which Eno co-wrote, remains a favorite of casual and die-hard fans alike; the 1995 Eno-produced “cybernoir” concept album 1.Outside seems to draw more acclaim now than it did on its release. But for the highest monument to the meeting of Bowie and Eno’s minds, look no further than Low, and Heroes, and Lodger, which the two crafted together in the late 1970s. These albums became informally known as the “Berlin trilogy,” so named for one of the cities in which Bowie and Eno worked on them. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during those sessions.

Animators the Brothers McLeod have given us just that perspective in the cartoon above. It opens in September 1976 at the Château d’Hérouville, the “northern Frenchland” studio which hosted the bulk of Low‘s recording sessions. These three and a half minutes, in which Bowie, Eno, and producer Tony Visconti lay down a couple of takes for what will become “Warszawa,” one of the album’s most memorable tracks, come loaded with gags just for the Bowie-Eno enthusiast. The cartoon Bowie (voiced uncannily by comedian Adam Buxton) sports exactly the look he did in the Man Who Fell to Earth publicity photo repurposed for Low’s cover. Eno offers Bowie a piece of ambient music, explaining that, if Bowie doesn’t like it, “I’ll use on one of my weird albums” (like Music for Bus Stops). Visconti constantly underscores his doing, as a producer, “more than people think.” And when Bowie and Eno find themselves in need of some creative inspiration, where else would they turn than to the infallible advice of Oblique Strategies — even if it advises the use of “a made-up language that sounds kind of Italian”?

via Biblioklept

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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20 Free Essays & Stories by David Sedaris: A Sampling of His Inimitable Humor

My first exposure to the writing of David Sedaris came fifteen years ago, at a reading he gave in Seattle. I couldn’t remember laughing at anything before quite so hard as I laughed at the stories of the author and his fellow French-learners struggling for a grasp on the language. I fought hardest for oxygen when he got to the part about his classmates, a veritable United Nations of a group, straining in this non-native language of theirs to discuss various holidays. One particular line has always stuck with me, after a Moroccan student demands an explanation of Easter:

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and… oh, shit.”

She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.

“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two… morsels of… lumber.”

The scene eventually ended up in print in “Jesus Shaves,” a story in Sedaris’ third collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day. You can read it free online in a selection of three of his pieces rounded up by Esquire. Sedaris’ observational humor does tend to come out in full force on holidays (see also his reading of the Saint Nicholas-themed story “Six to Eight Black Men” on Dutch television above), and indeed the holidays provided him the material that first launched him into the mainstream. When Ira Glass, the soon-to-be mastermind of This American Life, happened to hear him reading his diary aloud at a Chicago club, Glass knew he simply had to put this man on the radio. This led up to the big break of a National Public Radio broadcast of “The Santaland Diaries,” Sedaris’ rich account of a season spent as a Macy’s elf. You can still hear This American Life‘s full broadcast of it on the show’s site.

True Sedarians, of course, know him for not just his inimitably askew perspective on the holidays, but for his accounts of life in New York, Paris (the reason he enrolled in those French classes in the first place), Normandy, London, the English countryside, and growing up amid his large Greek-American family. Many of Sedaris’ stories — 20 in fact — have been collected at the web site, The Electric Typewriter, giving you an overview of Sedaris’ world: his time in the elfin trenches, his rare moments of ease among siblings and parents, his futile father-mandated guitar lessons, his less futile language lessons, his relinquishment of his signature smoking habit (the easy indulgence of which took him, so he’d said at that Seattle reading, to France in the first place). Among the collected stories, you will find:

For the complete list, visit: 20 Great Essays and Short Stories by David Sedaris. And, just to be clear, you can read these stories, for free, online.

Note: If you would like to download a free audiobook narrated by David Sedaris, you might want to check out Audible’s 30 Day Free Trial. We have details on the program here. If you click this link, you will see the books narrated by Sedaris. If one intrigues, click on the “Learn how to get this Free” link next to each book. In the spirit of full disclosure, let me add that we have a partnership with Audible. So if you start a free trial with them, it helps support Open Culture.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Hear Demo Recordings of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity” & “Changes”

These days “demo tapes” are often radio-ready recordings, and bands often record one before they’ve even played their first gig. It’s a recent development, a byproduct of the revolution in affordable home recording technology. For most of the history of rock and pop music, demos were raw sketches, preserving ideas, tempos, changes, moods, but not at all ready to air. Listening back to demo versions of songs we already know well can be like excavating strata underneath a site like Stonehenge. Sometimes you find nothing but sediment. Sometimes you find another Stonehenge. Take for example John Lennon’s hypnotic demo recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Beatles’ acoustic White Album demos, or Roger Waters’ early demos of The Wall. Intriguingly rough gems all.

Today we bring you demo recordings of another artist whose work typically bespeaks polish and studio panache. As in the past, songwriters today still push play on cheap voice recorders—or expensive iphones—and capture new songs on the fly. But nobody today writes like Bowie did in his “Ziggy Stardust” phase. At the top of the post, hear Bowie’s solo acoustic demo recording of that song. You’ll find it on the second CD of the 30th Anniversary edition of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which also includes a demo version of “Lady Stardust” and two versions of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang on to Yourself” by “Arnold Corns,” the original name of Ziggy. I’ve heard more solo acoustic versions of “Ziggy” than I’d care to remember, played by earnest coffee-shop crooners and guitar-bearing party guests. But Bowie’s original demo I could listen to again and again.

While the “Arnold Corns” incarnations of Ziggy Stardust songs definitely fall into the category of not-Stonehenge, the 1969 demo recording of “Space Oddity” has a very monumental feel indeed—if that monument were 2001’s enigmatic Monolith. Set here to clips from that film, it seems like the perfect accompaniment to the glossy foreboding of Kubrick’s space vision. This drumless arrangement sounds somehow more contemporary than the recording we’ve heard countless times. It also sounds much closer to the psychedelic folk on the rest of the Space Oddity album, a collection of songs many Bowie fans, myself included, greatly admire, but which his first audience didn’t take to so readily. “Space Oddity” went through at least one more iteration before landing on the album. Hear the slightly more funked-up version, and see its awkward video, below.

Perhaps no song other than “Ashes to Ashes” so well articulates the creative destruction of Bowie’s many rock star personae—and the toll those metamorphoses take—than 1971’s “Changes.” But it’s a song written and recorded early in his career, before Ziggy Stardust, the character that first broke him into superstardom. The song appears on Hunky Dory in a recording with the Stardust band—Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, and Mick Woodmansey—but it’s such a Bowie-centric lyric that it outlasted hundreds of costume changes and served as the obvious choice of title for the 1990 compilation Changesbowie.

Does the piano demo above reveal an alternate pre-history? Not really. The handclaps and odd vocalizations are half-formed ideas at best, and the poor audio quality is not a feature. But what it does demonstrate, as do all of the rough recordings above, is that Bowie is Bowie—a stellar songwriter and vocal performer—whether captured on a cheap home tape machine or the best studio equipment money can buy. Studio wizardry of the present can do things producers forty years ago could only dream about, but no amount of technology can substitute for raw musical talent, nor for the long years of practice Bowie endured.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.


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Young Joni Mitchell Performs a Hit-Filled Concert in London (1970)

It’s hard to imagine the young lady seen performing her own songs on the BBC in the video above twerking or even tweeting, for that matter. The utterly unadorned quality of this performance suits the now-legendary purity of her youthful voice.

Woe, the deleterious effects of her longtime cigarette habit.

Now, back to 1970, when just shy of 27, Joni Mitchell played a hit-filled set to a British studio audience, despite a “little London flu” she alludes to more than once.

If it seemed unpretentious at the time, it’s even more so now, nary a laser beam or back up dancer in sight. No costume changes. Barely any makeup. Just Joni, her guitar, her piano, and a nifty custom dulcimer made by “a dynamite girl who lives in California.”

Passing the time as she tunes this last instrument, she mentions that the upcoming song, “California,”concerns an adventure to which she’d recently treated herself. She’d written it before her return, as a sort of postcard home. Meaning that that park bench in Paris, France was barely cold! This is way more exciting to me than a bevy of hair extensions, served with a practiced snarl and a side of auto tune.

A girlish giggle and dignified bow seal the deal. Classy!

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Ayun Halliday is an author, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

 

 


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