Jolanta Pucilowska is a hipster. No, she doesn’t have a pierced tongue or a giant Harley tattoo across her back. She doesn’t sit in smoky dives hand-rolling cigarettes and swilling beer. And she doesn’t name-drop Ginsberg or Camus at the slightest provocation. But she does know a little something about everything, has a keen and critical eye–for politics, art, whatever–and possesses the hard-won wisdom you’d expect from a mother of five.
Pucilowska grew up during heady times in Communist Poland. At 49, she’s the right age to have been a hippie, although it’s questionable whether people defined themselves so rigorously in late-’60s Warsaw. Her attitude is strikingly European, refreshingly void of good old American Puritanism. She immigrated to the United States 11 years ago and now lives in Chapel Hill with her husband and five sons.
Pucilowska claims to know next-to-nothing about music. She lies, of course. As a doctor doing medical research at UNC-Chapel Hill, she works in a lab full of people with wildly varying musical tastes. The lab radio is always on–it’s often tuned to WXYC or WUNC–and the only rules are no classical (the boss hates it) and no country.
Her other exposure to new sounds comes from her sons. “Some days when I get home from work, all I want to listen to is Beethoven. But when I’m in the car with Simon I listen to hip hop, with Jakob it’s trance. Junior likes G-105 and Julian enjoys classical music.” Matt likes American punk pioneers Dead Kennedys, she says without batting an eyelash. I begin to understand who I’m dealing with when she tells me she finds German noise-lords Einstürzende Neubauten “really interesting.”
Not surprisingly, Pucilowska describes her own taste as eclectic. She says she doesn’t buy many records, and when she does it’s usually classical music. Her last purchase? The Future, by Leonard Cohen. Told you she’s a hipster.
I recently nominated Pucilowska for what The Independent used to call a “Musical Makeover.” This is where you ridicule a willing victim for their crappy or outdated musical taste, then bombard them with new music to see what sticks. I nominated her knowing full well that a) her taste doesn’t stink and b) I wasn’t ready to cop to the condescension of such a thing.
On one recent evening, I asked her to judge and comment on eight (mostly) new songs. In lieu of calling it a “makeover,” may I present Jolanta Pucilowska’s Jukebox Jury.Air, “Radio #1”
Our smug Indy critic says: Suave French synth-pop with a dash of ELO.
Jolanta says: “At the very beginning before they started singing I thought there should be an accordion, but I don’t know why. I really like this, especially the percussion solo at the end. I can imagine this song is good for everything–good in the car, good when you are trying to relax and good for dancing. Now that I know it’s a French band, maybe there is something from the Old World there.” Grade: B
Staind, “It’s Been Awhile”
Classic power ballad in the vein of Alice in Chains. Or April Wine.”I like it.” [Hears lyrics full of angst and dysfunction.] “The song didn’t make me particularly sad until you read me the lyrics. I like the music very much, but probably with the words I’m going to like it even more.” [Asked whether she’s a fan of hard rock.] “I don’t think that I’m a fan of any particular type of music but I think that there are songs of every kind that I like.” Grade: A
Bebel Gilberto, “Samba da Bencao”
Drool-worthy Brazilian charm from a latter-day bossa nova princess.
“I like everything old-fashioned about this. Her voice is classic, jazzy bossa nova. And I like these sounds. This makes me want to listen to the music my parents liked.” [Reference made to the 1964 Getz/Gilberto classic.] “What year was that? I don’t know, coming from a Communist country I think everything was sort of shifted in time. So what we were getting was sometimes 20 years late.” Grade: A+
Trailer Bride, “Itchin’ For You” (Bloodshot) Local country-blues champions sing about bugs.
“I don’t really like country music very much, but I sometimes listen to it when I’m driving late at night. I’m really puzzled by this song. I love to listen to Back Porch Music on NPR but I think that may be a little more authentic than this. A little less sophisticated but a little more authentic. This does have some kind of freshness, an originality that I like. It’s very unpretentious. I cannot say that I really like it very much, but I think that it’s OK.” Grade: B-
P. Diddy & The Bad Boy Family, “Bad Boy For Life”
Like sweet tea melting in the August sun, so goes the king of watered-down hip-hop.
“I know many people that hate rap but I must say I enjoy many songs. Oftentimes the performers come from backgrounds where they’ve been hurting, they’ve been mistreated. They have issues! And this is the way they let other people know. Not always I like what they say, not always I like how they say it, but I think there is some value in it. With P. Diddy, the problem I have is that he is not authentic. He is trying to be a thug, but he is a businessman. He comes from a middle-class black family. So I think he is fake.” Grade: C
blink-182, “Anthem, Part 2”
Snot-nosed punks get pierced, use F-word, spit on things. Millions applaud.
“Maybe I wouldn’t listen to this by myself, but it sort of reminds me of riding in the car with my children. I wasn’t impressed with the singing–he has a rather irritating voice.” [Reads lyrics–‘If we’re fucked up you’re to blame’–chiding adults for failing to help troubled kids.] “I can imagine that young people can feel this way. If they are fucked up, this is our fault.” Grade: C
Jimmy Scott,”Pennies From Heaven” (Milestone) Warm chestnut from underappreciated jazz balladeer.“Oh, this is great music, great singing and a great song. This is an old standard.” [Looks at album cover.] “Oh my goodness. When I look at him and hear his voice, he looks like a hypo-pit, a person with dysfunctional pituitary.” [Learns that Scott was born with Kallmans Syndrome, a hereditary health condition.] “Aha! That’s the endocrinologist in me! I sort of knew and didn’t know that it was a man. It sounded like a perfect woman to me. And then when you know he’s a man, maybe it’s strange to some people but I think that it’s beautiful.” Grade: A
Jessica Simpson and Marc Anthony, “There You Were”
His-and-herstrionic cocktail recipe: two parts Titanic, one part “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
“This song is okay but–the way she sings?–I don’t like it. Why do women do this where they don’t sing straight? They go like this …” [Waves arms to mirror Simpson’s up-and-down vocal runs.] “Britney Spears does this. It’s a mannerism that a lot of hip-hop singers have. It’s supposedly seductive and feminine, but to me it’s irritating. It’s about as seductive as a nagging wife. Certainly Jessica Simpson has a voice and she can sing, but she needs to grow up and find her own style.” Grade: D
The Independent would like to thank Bob at the Chapel Hill Record Exchange for providing some of the records reviewed here. Especially the schlock.