Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America
by Ann Powers
Published by Simon & Schuster
287 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Reviewed by Shannon O'Leary
In an effective bit of packaging, the large title type on the dust jacket of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America is printed upside down. Not only is this a little joke on the reader -- who is constantly being duped into brief bouts of dyslexia -- but it also smartly symbolizes author Ann Powers' agenda between the covers, which is to flip the shallow rep of Generation X on its presumably empty head. (Plus, it shows how damn good these post-Boomers are with marketing gimmicks.)
Many of us had assumed that the Last of the Bohemians lost their voice sometime after Allen Ginsberg's Howl in the late 1950s, their minds at a Grateful Dead concert in the late 60s and their souls somewhere between disco, Vietnam and Watergate in the early 70s. In this, her first book (although she co-edited Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, 1995), Powers takes witty and wonderful aim at such conventional wisdom. The respected New York Times rock and pop-culture critic proposes that Gen X has produced a baby bohemian contingent that is alive and, well, working in America's record and video stores, among other places. Although it might seem unlikely that a generation reared in a David Lynchian world of Scooby Doo, divorce, mood rings and Charles Manson could merit the sobriquet of bohemian -- which, let's face it, has decidedly sophisticated (19th-century Paris) and intellectual (London's Bloomsbury Group ) connotations -- for Powers, it simply means leading an unconventional, nonconformist life. Besides, it sounds better than that overused adjective "alternative," and fits nicely with the new bohemia's other catchy aliases: "slacker, genderfucker, riot grrrl, hip-hop nation, ecotopia, recombinant techno-revolution." Which, by the way, all make beatnik and hippie seem somewhat paunchy.
"The average person may not see herself in the pierced and tattooed body and black leather pants of the stereotypical freak," admits Powers, "but she may be surprised to discover that this wild creature's reinventions of kinship, the work ethic, consumerism, and even desire -- matters that reveal the bohemian soul, not the costume -- intersect with her own quandaries and solutions." However, many 30-somethings will recognize their weird alter egos in Powers' text: Whether it's her own experimenting with acid as a near-senior at Seattle's Blanchet Catholic High School, her living and working with free-spirit types in San Francisco of the 1980s, or her stories of a matter-of-fact S&M couple, a never-say-grow-up gay man and a never-say-die struggling musician.
Shannon O'Leary is managing editor of the Seattle-based magazine Washington Law & Politics.