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Entries in brittany julious (22)


In Which We View The Lady From Afar

Cover Art


Last year, I browsed a small record collection at a vintage store. In the bins I found early Grace Jones singles and Nu Shooz albums, but she was nowhere to be found. "Do you have any Whitney Houston?" I asked. I had been thinking about her more than normal. It is only lately that I can begin to break down the people, places, and moments that shaped my existence. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia shapes my actions. I am discovering what I’ve always known, but never appreciated. Houston fit in nicely.

I went home disappointed. Later I pulled up her album covers.

On one, Houston is front and center. Her hair is pulled back from her face and she wears a Grecian gown. It is her self-titled debut, and atop the photograph of Houston are the words “WHITNEY HOUSTON” written in a straight-forward and conservative typeface. The cover art suggests a maturity far beyond her 22 years. However, songs on her LP such as “Saving All My Love For You” and “Greatest Love of All” correlate more closely to the image on the album. This is a voice that is front and center, a voice that demands the seriousness of its power.

The one anomaly of this time period is the single “How Will I Know.” The song is both a clear departure that first garnered attention for Houston and a necessary step to gain a newly-powerful audience: fans of MTV. Whereas her earlier cover art was muted in shades of blue, white, and black, “How Will I Know,” is an eager grab for the teen set. “How Will I Know” was released prior to “Greatest Love of All,” a true-to-form Houston ballad. The release of the latter single was a pointed reminder that despite wanting to branch out to other “markets,” what truly set Houston apart was the power to silence thousands with one note.

Whitney Houston is average. I say this not as an insult, but as an observation of her earlier appearance and demeanor. She was not overtly sexual or crass. She existed beyond what it meant (and means) to be a black woman making music. She had an image that was never transient. When I look at old photographs of her now, I am reminded of the black women I see on the streets, the ones who exhibit the sort of vulnerability and curiosity that is typically ignored. Houston was never an “angry black woman.” She was brokenhearted and troubled and hopeful. This much was apparent.

The apartment my family lived in when we first moved to the suburb of Oak Park was small, with low ceilings and a tiny bathroom that could barely fit more than one person at a time. But it was also well lived-in and even now, eighteen years later, I can clearly picture the space. I remember early evenings and my mother fixing dinner on the stove. She listened to Houston’s music. It was never a big deal, but merely what she did after a hard day at work. Whitney was routine and day-to-day. She was always there.

Like a lot of people, I began listening to Whitney’s music again last Saturday evening, focusing on her earlier albums. These, to me, stood out the most. Once “I Will Always Love You” had its moment, it was the music from her earlier LPs that radio stations continued to play. This was the music that I grew up with, the music that ultimately shaped me into the woman I am today. It was the music of my middle class black life.

Fully immersing in early Whitney for a lot of young women like myself began and ended in long car rides. Like the soothing comfort of quiet storm, songs like “Saving All My Love for You” were the soundtrack for the here and there. I can’t recall where we were going, but I can remember the cool breeze blowing in from a cracked window, the light golden glare from street lamps, and the radio as “I’m Your Baby Tonight” played again and again.

For a brief period of time, Houston represented stability. Her music was comfort food. It always sounded nice. If the time was right, if the speakers were loud enough, we would know those songs from beginning to end. The music only settled somewhere skin deep. She was always there for us with little fanfare. But when we pulled her out or when she graced our speakers, we paid attention. This was my informal education. My parents did not need to introduce me. To have a car, to have a long commute, to have parents of a certain age meant her music was constant and normal. This is who we listened to. It’s just what we did. It's just who we were.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Party Girl. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Secret Message" - Nu Shooz (mp3)

"Goin' Thru the Motions" - Nu Shooz (mp3)

"You Put Me In A Trance" - Nu Shooz (mp3)


In Which We Are The First To Leave The Party

Last Dance


Party Girl
dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
94 min.

The most iconic Party Girl moment for me is Mary's walk of pride post-jail. Things happen to her. Life is something that happens around her parties, outfits, and friendships. A night in jail is just another event in a long line of events, but it can't define her. She is too much her own girl for that.

I say girl instead of woman, as Party Girl is a film about an emotional late bloomer's transition into adulthood. Mary (Parker Posey) may scrape by on rent parties to keep her spacious Chinatown loft or parade around the East Village in Chanel, but she is no more grown in her actions and choices than any other member of the underground party scene that frames the narrative.

I first watched Party Girl in college during my film boom dedicated to post-collegiate happenings. Paranoid about a future that increasingly appeared bleak and rife with stress, I took to films featuring "hip, young things" or just "young things" as a way to seek solace and comfort before the party of sporadic classes and little responsibility ended.

With its charming outfits, spastic supporting characters, and rampant early-90s Manhattan romanticism, Party Girl was a personal favorite. In particular, Parker Posey's talents – the way she needs only a facial expression or two to dominate and escalate the comedy of any given scene, her voice that is simultaneously Valley Girl and know-it-all pretentious – created a lasting impression. Watching it again recently further cemented the film as a modern, independent classic for the girls and women who view "a good time" as a translatable goal from work to play.

For the casual viewer, Mary's transformation from Downtown It Girl to library student is a radical one. But director Daisy von Scherler Mayer subtly hints at the necessary skills of a librarian that Mary possesses throughout the film. She is able to get along – or at least communicate effectively – with different types of people. She has a general curiosity for the world around her and approaches each person she meets with an eagerness to help, or just bring them into her fold. And her closet – organized in a methodical system that only she truly understands – speaks to the Dewey Decimal System, a source of anxiety followed by pleasure for the heroine.

Mary ditches a date with young, dreamy falafel seller Mustafa to learn the Dewey Decimal System, all the while transforming the space into a party-like space of her own. She dances atop the table in her shorts and combat boots. She gets things done (“things” being a knowledge of a system she had been unfamiliar with upon taking the job at the library) while still maintaining a connection to her old self and her true self.

Later, Mary organizes temporary roommate Leo’s record collection based on this same system she spent a long evening trying to understand. Mary honestly described the evening as, “The wildest night of my life.” Understanding the system was further solidification of the connection between her burgeoning interests and her love for organizing the people, places, and things that are a part of her life.

Leo (Guillermo Díaz) is visibly upset by the order that disrupted his chaos of more than 1,000 singles and LP’s, but Mary remains unfazed by the potential problems in her unwarranted organizing project. For Leo, it is a challenge to his lack of a system and the potential catalyst for losing a paid gig as a DJ. For Mary, it is a way to more effectively provide the world to Leo. Like telling Leo earlier about Rene, the owner of the bar that Leo is auditioning at as a DJ, organizing his set of records is a means of helping a friend and bringing him more closely into her fold.

This method doesn’t always prove to be beneficial. A party thrown at the end of the second act turns disastrous for Mary who no longer has her library clerk job. Unlike her work in organizing Leo’s record collection, Mary’s party is another task to make rent. Inviting friends to DJ or Mustafa to sell his food is less a method of helping a friend succeed and more a means of making things better for herself. At 24, Mary’s growing sense of purpose feels familiar, but it is her quick emotional descent once that newly-found career path is taken from her that is disturbing in its truth.

Thus far in this decade of personal development, I have realized people are unhappy or dissatisfied, that it is not just an internal frustration, but also a universal, generational worry. I’ve also realized that people have many goals and aspirations, and the older they get, the more hesitant they are to admit them. Goals begin to feel like things that young people do and accomplish, and now one’s goals should be simpler: fall in love, get married, have children, live in comfort. I remember how my friends talked about what they wanted to do, but now they talk more about what things have been done to them. There is a loss of control. Career goals are still exciting, but the ability to hold on to them as reality loudly asserts the difficulties of The Way We Live Now, can crush even the most starry-eyed party girls.

Mary eventually triumphs as friends and coworkers believe in her and it is this moment that makes the film so memorable. As a viewer, I come back to Party Girl for the fashion, the dialogue, but also the "happy ending." There is a comfort in seeing one’s life not end in a similar way to how it began: confused, jumbled, and floundering.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here

"Peter Piper" - Run DMC (mp3)

"Mama Told Me Not To Come" - The Wolfgang Press (mp3)

"Burning (Vibe mix)" - MK (mp3)


In Which Lights Go On And Doors Open

When Will You Come Home?



We don't talk about status. We pretend that we are black like everyone else and that we are still "real." But our conversations over holiday dinners acknowledge the separation. There's a lot of "them" and and a lot of "us." Blackness is not a monolithic culture. I know this inherently as a woman whose tastes run counter to what I've been told I should like. These tastes were not a choice to be different, but the things that shaped me as an individual. They continue to evolve and so too does the notion of blackness. 
I think of this in relation to my parents, my family, and our summer holidays together. Fourth of July or Memorial Day barbecues were a way to connect to the other side of the family that didn't live in the suburbs and live like we lived. My sister stopped attending years ago, first due to her job, then college, then friendships and adulthood. But I always went, in the back of my mind feeling like these trips down to the South Side were a means of rectifying the wrongs of breaking away from the community. 


This summer, my mother called from her car. She was outside of my new apartment, ready to pick me up so we could ride together to join the other side of the family for the Fourth. 
"It's not happening," she said. 
"What does that mean?" I asked. 
"It means they celebrated and didn't tell us. It means we're not going down there." 
There was a visible anger in the tenseness of her body and the direct stare she gave me as I entered her car. I sat in the passenger seat as we drove to Oak Park.  

"I knew this would eventually happen. This is so like them. This is what they do," she said.

What they do is stay down South. They like where they live. This is their home, their streets and sidewalks. This confused me as a child, but as I've grown older, I've understood the symbolism and importance based on where one lives. Place holds meaning and meaning changes with age and time.  

What we do is take the expressway past Chinatown and Bridgeport and straight to the neighborhoods that "blend together." I went to school on the north side of Chicago. Years later, I still live up here. When I discuss this part of the city, I break things down by neighborhoods, official and emerging. I live in Wicker Park. I live in the East Village. I live in West Town. I live in Ukrainian Village. These names encompass large areas and then smaller groups of streets. But to me and to many Chicagoans, this makes sense in a way that saying Back of the Yards or the South Shore may not. Everything is just the South Side past 35th street. This is not the reality, but place also builds stereotypes and laziness. It is easier to dismiss than understand. 


Our new part of town, the South Side of Oak Park, was about the same in terms of beauty. We lived off of a major avenue filled with boxed businesses that attracted temporary visitors. Before, we had a run-down Dominick's, a Subway, and a Blockbuster. Now we had a Walgreen's, a car dealership,and a laundromat. 

Our blackness existed on the other side of town. Blackness as a whole existed on the other side of town. The Austin neighborhood, predominately Black and predominately troubled, was across the street. We lived over there too, nearly two decades ago, but I still claim the vast, cold, and penetrating neighborhood as my own. 

When I mention Austin to New Chicagoans, they don't understand. It is a part of the city that is not: is not nice, is not new, and is not desirable. It is not where they live and walk and ride. It is the city that is vast and the city that we tend to forget about, or the city that we ignore.  

My memories are of my grandmother's living room, the expansive backyard, and the few friends I made on the street where my grandparents live. To the Chicagoans who were born and bred here, a mention of Austin is a point of fear and respect. Even they don't meet a lot of people from that side of the city. It shuts them up. There is no question of authenticity. It is an unknown Chicago, and therefore a respectable one. It is not for tourists, but people live and work here. They have done so for years and will continue to do so.  

The other Oak Park was no less beautiful, but the residents were largely black and they moved into that part of town perhaps because they could see faces like their own. Or maybe, as my parents did when we first "crossed the street," to be close to the place they were before. That part of Oak Park was a reminder of that part of Chicago. It was a reminder of where they came from, where they're going, and the structure of this city. 
On Madison Avenue, past Taylor Boulevard is where the Black businesses begin. They are not always Black-owned, but they cater to the Black customer, and in particular, the Black woman. A number of beauty supply stores sit next to and across the street from one another. They are always large and always packed, but I've grown to love them the older I get for their convenience and comforting familiarity. I can always find heavy, curly wigs or tiny bottles of neon-colored nail polish or make-up that is sustainable for exactly one day. No one store is owned by the same person, but you can walk into any and find your way around with ease.  

I came home during the holidays and I pointed out the new beauty supply store across the street. It was the first such business to exist outside of the segregated neighborhoods this town pretends don't exist. It was a bid deal, at least to me, and symbolic in its arrival. It took over an old pharmacy. Neon lights shine long into the night. This store, this space for this particular culture that I know and participate in, but does not define me, surprised me.  

My mother hadn't noticed it, or perhaps she blocked out its existence along with the new cheap shoe store, the other hair braiding salon just a few doors down from the one she's gone to for years, and the low-income housing apartments being constructed from the long-dormant remnants of a local cable company.  

These spaces were empty before, a true dimming on the small community within the local community inside of the town. But it is these new businesses that inspire a fear of change. It is a gentrification of the dilapidation that arose from the break in the economy. It is a renewal. It is an expansion of what it means to live here on this side of town and in the town as a whole. It's not just us anymore.  

At first she said, "You know what kind of store that'll be," but last week, the lights were on and the doors were open.  

"There are mannequins in the windows, modeling clothes," I pointed out as we drove down the street.  

"Hmm," she said. "That's unexpected. Maybe it won't be that bad."

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find the first part of this series here.

Photographs by the author.

"Umi Says" - Mos Def (mp3)

"Light to Dark" - Jesse Boykins III (mp3)

"Drowning" - Clams Casino (mp3)