Hey, dudes. A quick fashion tip for the ladies: Check out this week’s La Vida section for a Q&A with the Gem Sweater Lady (a.k.a. Leslie Hall). She’s an Iowa musical renegade (and Internet starlet) known for her collection of extreme sweaters — primarily, BedazzledT pullovers — of the sort found at church swap meets and suburban Goodwills across Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas. On her album, Gold Pants, she raps about sweaters and other timely topics, such as the unfortunate necessity of killing zombies. (Even the young ones, I’m afraid. There are no innocent zombies.)
I’m no fan, for this Gem Sweater Lady freaks me out. Still, I must give props: Big-city hipster sluts may think they’re pushing the edge of ugly-cool ’80s fashion, but only Leslie Hall has the stone-cold gangsta just-don’t-give-a-fuck to rock the real thing. Her group, Leslie and the Lys, play Safari Sam’s on Monday, September 18. They will share the bill with rap robots 8 Bit, another conceptual white-people group with Midwestern roots.
I’ve got a tiny old elf-janitor who sweeps up and does filing in the back of my brain by the light of a single hanging bulb. And this elf-janitor has decided to file Gem Lady in the same cabinet drawer with Casio-disco-rock boys Gil Mantera’s Party Dream (from Youngstown, Ohio) and Har Mar Superstar (from Minneapolis, of course). It would seem that the combined influences of an agrarian economy, local universities, cold winters, blue-collar dive bars, plentiful karaoke and a lack of ocean breezes produce a certain smart/lowbrow creativity in such places. It’s a uniquely Midwestern, DIY eccentricity with a beer-positive appeal. Not a lot of body-image issues, either.
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There’s a shitload of other examples — like Minneapolis electric-piano song man Mark Mallman (who actually taught me how to play the cowbell in a former life: intensely, without mercy). Unlike the aforementioned, Mallman is funny but he is not joking. And his new, umpteenth LP, Between the Devil and Middle C (Badman), appears to be the real rock & roll record he’s been threatening to write for years. Finally, all those comparisons to Meatloaf and Harry Nilsson don’t seem quite so improbable. In fact, I think I’m gonna go ahead and straight-up recommend Mallman’s live show, which you may catch Rocktober 3 (also at Safari Sam’s). He’ll share the bill with Giant Drag, so that should be fairly fucked up. And speaking of people I once knew, there’s also Boatel, a Midwesterner transplanted to L.A., whose home-cooked one-man rock & roll concept EP, On the Shores of Silver Lake, has received some airplay on Indie 103. (Then again, what hasn’t?) Boatel’s live show incorporates Old West aesthetics and projected images of Boatel as Jesus, for no clear reason.
The phenomenon of the Gem Sweater Lady raises an important issue. I only discovered her work a few weeks ago, through a colleague. Soon after, I learned that everybody else in America already knew about her. (She was almost as popular on YouTube as the widdow tiny bunny wabbits eating their baby bwekfast. Search YouTube.com for “black and white” and “rabbits.”)
Realizing I was totally out of the pop-ephemera loop was unsettling: What else did I not know about? Was there (as long suspected) a private club of Everyone Else that met on Thursday nights to discuss my shortcomings, and then break for minigolf?
Probably not, but with the infinite niche-making at work today in American pop culture — the podcasts and specialty shows and boutique labels and publishers and chat groups and DJ nights and all the rest of it — it’s easy to find oneself feeling chronicallyout of the loop. And, realistically, let’s face it: You are. You can’t not be (especially when it comes to music). No one can keep up with all the shit. That’s why I take speed. Maybe I should switch to gem sweaters.