INDY Week 7.7.21

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Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill July 7, 2021

How, out of the dark days of the pandemic, a joyful friendship emerged BY NICOLE KAGAN, P. 10


Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 38 NO. 25

Watermelon Kava Martini at Da Kine’s Kava Bar, p. 13 PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

CONTENTS NEWS 7

A slew of new high-rise developments promises to change downtown Raleigh's skyline. BY LEIGH TAUSS 8 Inside Republican state lawmakers' efforts to ban critical race theory in schools. BY THOMASI MCDONALD 10 Meet the scooter-riding man and dog duo bringing joy to the streets of Durham. BY NICOLE KAGAN 12 Residents of Orange County's Ridgewood Mobile Home Park are organizing after a hedge fund acquired the property. BY SARA PEQUEÑO

ARTS & CULTURE 13 In Durham, a new bar brings buzz without the hangover. BY LENA GELLER 15 The Mountain Goats latest album may return to old themes, but it's no broken record. BY JORDAN LAWRENCE 16 What's the reason for Pat Jr.'s new smile? BY BRIAN HOWE 18 Her Take: It Gets Dark Sometimes on 3AMSOUNDS latest release. BY KYESHA JENNINGS

20 Is the loneliest whale in the world really that lonely? A new documentary investigates. BY SARAH EDWARDS 21 Black Widow spins a fierce yarn about sisterhood. BY GLENN MCDONALD

THE REGULARS 3 15 Minutes

4 Voices

6 Quickbait

COVER Photo by Becca Schneid

WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper

Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald

EDITOR I AL

Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño

Editor in Chief Jane Porter Managing Editor Geoff West Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards

Copy Editor Abigail O'Neill Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods

Interns Caryl Espinoza Jaen, Ellie Heffernan, Rebecca Schneid

Senior Writer Leigh Tauss

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Contributors Madeline Crone, Jameela F. Dallis, Grant Golden, Spencer Griffith, Lucas Hubbard, Layla Khoury-Hanold, Brian Howe, Lewis Kendall, Kyesha Jennings, Glenn McDonald, Anna Mudd, Dan Ruccia, Jake Sheridan

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BACK TA L K

Right before we went to print this week, the news broke that journalist Nikole HannahJones declined UNC’s offer for a tenured position as Knight Chair in favor of a position at Howard University as founder of the new Center for Democracy and Journalism alongside the awardwinning author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Our writer Sara Pequeño was there at the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees meeting last week where the trustees (finally!) voted 9-4 in favor of awarding tenure to Hannah-Jones. A lot happened during that three-hour, closed-door meeting, including UNC Campus Police forcibly removing students from the Carolina Inn. And while some of the comments on Sara’s story from our Facebook page got out of hand, other readers weighed in to offer their thoughts and ask the hard questions. “How can voters, citizens and alumni vote to remove those four [trustees]?” asked commenter TACY NEWELL. “Getting our state legislature out of GOP hands will be a good start,” SABRINA MIRACOLI responded. “Great news! People were forced to give someone worthy the respect they are due and they gave in and did so (well, just enough of them did so to make it happen),” wrote commenter JEFFREY DAVID ZACKO-SMITH. “Giving someone something they didn’t earn or deserve is not the solution,” ventured JASON WILLIAMS. “By that, we’ll assume you mean those four trustees’ positions on the Board,” MARK ELLIS wrote in response to Jason. “Oh, honey, did Nikole take your Pulitzer? Or was it your Macarthur genius grant?,” quipped LAUREN FABER, in response. We also wrote about a state Senate committee’s approval of a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina. Readers aren’t happy about it, but not for the reasons you may expect. “this bill is just about the worst possible way to legalize,” wrote Facebook commenter DAVID STRAUGHAN. “the number of conditions for which people can be prescribed is extremely limited and arbitrary. it is going to create even more of a two-tiered legal system for people who use this plant.” We’ll continue to follow SB 711 as it moves through the General Assembly.

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COURTESY OF THE SUBJECTS

also identify and create a space to validate those voices.

Why release an album specifically? W: We wanted Feminine Waste initially to be an art collective focused on all different disciplines, visual art, music, poetry, and how that all works within the community. So it was stepping into that opportunity and having the familiarity with what Feminine Waste is in terms of emphasizing different community and collective-based things. R: What’s so cool about the whole space is thinking about what you’re passionate about, who you know or what you want to know further, and then just making it happen. Audrey wanted to do a comp album of musicians and we thought about combining poetry within that and creating a comp album with a twist by including some poets.

Chapel Hill

15 MINUTES Audrey Walsh, 20, and Lila Richardson, 20 from Feminine Waste BY CARYL ESPINOZA JAEN backtalk@indyweek.com

UNC-Chapel Hill students Audrey Walsh and Lila Richardson are members of Feminine Waste, an art, music, activism, and skate collective. Last spring, they teamed up with the art-curating class project No(w)here Collective to create Feminine Waste x No(w) here Collective Comp, an album uplifting women, minority, and LGBTQ+ artists.

What prompted the collaboration? W: It happened as a function between the curatorial class, technically our final project. Me and a bunch of the students decided to contribute to this collective by organizing the comp album, and we called ourselves the No(w)here Collective. It was based in identifying the Chapel Hill art community and knowing that we wanted to emphasize a community feeling. There was this overarching feeling, like, “I want this community to feel big.” It’s hard to have that happen during COVID, so that’s a feeling we all shared. R: Speaking on the arts community of Chapel Hill, or making music, Audrey and I have this experience of it being isolating, especially for non-cis men, or queer voices. We were trying to

All proceeds are going to the Trans Justice Funding Project, LGBT Books To Prisoners, and For The Gworls. Why these organizations? W: When thinking about making money off of anything at this point of my life, I’m like mutual aid, giving it away, reallocating it. It was without question that if we’re going to sell anything we should give the money to different organizations that are about the stuff that we are about. R: The Gworls are doing good work in getting housing for trans, BIPOC individuals, and top surgery, so I feel like having a space that is prioritizing these voices, the money should go back into the community.

How would you describe the album’s sound? R: I would say punk, indie—spacey, too. Every time I think about the album I think of friends or community, which is really nice, because all the people who are on there know of each other or are affiliated in connected ways. It feels small in a good way. W: Something else that comes to mind is that it’s so comforting. Maybe it’s because the place that it comes from is based in these connections that feel really sweet. But yeah, it is like this small comfort music, comfort poetry that feels like a hug, a hug when we can’t hug very much. R: It also sometimes feels like a twisted wire, because the poetry contrasts very well with the music, so you’re jamming, feeling the vibes, and then the next poem is so incredible and dark. W Feminine Waste x No(w)here Collective Comp is available to stream and download at Bandcamp. INDYweek.com

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To Be Poor, Gifted, and Homeless voices

The racial proximity that characterizes mixed income housing developments shouldn’t be confused with the genuine relationships that are established in true communities. BY COURTNEY NAPIER backtalk@indyweek.com

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s I was putting the finishing touches on a story covering the reopening of John Chavis Memorial Park last month, friends on social media alerted me to some disturbing comments made by District A Raleigh Council member Patrick Buffkin. He claimed to be paraphrasing Durham Mayor Steve Schewel when he said, “Don’t build projects that house only poor people. These are places that are devoid of hope. There are very few role models for the children that live there and a much better way for the community is to have this mix of incomes, people from different backgrounds, people from different means helping each other to learn how to live together.” Though most of his colleagues chose not to address these ignorant and false statements, some from the community did. Fair housing advocate Wanda Coker, Nicole Heckstall Bennett, a member of the Planning Commission, and historian Carmen Cauthen all penned thoughtful and vulnerable rebuttals to Buffkin’s comments. Yet, instead of honoring their lived experience and apologizing for causing harm, the self-identified antiracist called the criticisms ‘gotcha politics,’ then added, “it saddens me that instead of focusing on the work of building a stronger community for everyone in Raleigh some have chosen to distort my comments in an attempt to score political points.” Those who understand the history of Raleigh know that across from Chavis Park was Raleigh’s first public housing complex for Black residents. While writing my article on the park, I met former residents of the community. The way 4

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No one had a lot, but they had each they spoke about their neighborhood was very different from the way Buffkin other. That is, until the city decided to describes life in a “project that [housed] redevelop the property into mixed-income housing. The part about this kind of redeonly poor people.” Ms. Virginia Talley was intent on com- velopment process that often goes unsaid municating the pride her family and is that—unless the developer decides othneighbors took in their apartments. “They erwise—some residents will be kicked out were apartment homes,” she said, with of their neighborhoods and never be able added emphasis, then described the pride to return. Converting a neighborhood that of place so often attributed exclusively to exclusively serves low-income families to homeowners that was alive and well in one that serves “everyone” may be more beneficial to the city’s her community. bottom line, but it is Another former “Poverty does not devastating to the re s i d e n t named of a commuDarnell Henderson diminish a human fabric nity. Bonds will be remembered growing broken, children will up in Chavis Heights being’s capacity lose friends, parents and playing baseball, to love, lead, and will lose the people football, and basketwho kept a watchful ball at the park as innovate ... But eye over their chila child. He went on dren while at work, to coach the Chavis it does starve and those elders will Park basketball team, individuals of lose the young, enerand led the team to getic people who its first championthe resources help bring their groship victory. ceries in from the car Years ago, while I afforded to or rake the leaves for was curating the first others.” them in autumn. Black Oak Society The other myth Zine, Carmen Cauthen in Buffkin’s words is taught me about Jessie Copeland, a tenant organizer for Chavis that mixed income neighborhoods result Heights. She baked cookies for the neigh- in socioeconomic harmony, helping peoborhood children by day and advocated for ple of different backgrounds “learn how to live together.” the rights of their parents by night. What Buffkin is referring to, as Demetrius Hunter, a Raleigh native and business owner, remembers riding in his described in sociologist Michael Banton’s father Zelb’s truck that was converted Order of Racial Contact, is called “instiinto a mobile produce market and served tutionalized contact,” when the dominant healthful, farm-fresh foods to the resi- class comes into the community of the dents, with special attention to the single marginalized class to “improve” it or otherwise redefine it. mothers and elders.

Buffkin’s comments suggest that if Raleigh changes Heritage Park from traditional public housing to mixed-income housing, it will be making something “devoid of hope” (a community of only poor people) into something “much better” (a community with fewer poor people and more wealthy people). That, in turn, will result in poor people and wealthy people building relationships and repairing the wrongs of discrimination and inequality. This is not on the minds of most upper-income families moving into gentrifying communities. I would challenge those newcomers to Raleigh’s historically Black neighborhoods to comment below this piece and state the names of those neighbors whose properties their new homes cast a shadow over, or the last time they invited them over for dinner. When’s the last time that neighbor has called you for help, or you have called them? These things happen with trust and vulnerability, two relational features that wealthy newcomers often forget to unpack along with their ski equipment and old paperwork. In Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book, Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, he discusses that even when white people are in racially integrated spaces like neighborhoods, schools, or workplaces, they rarely develop meaningful relationships with their Black peers. He also observed that, despite this, white people too often believe they have a much closer relationship to the marginalized people in their world because of that proximity. When pressed to share the specific nature of those relationships—what is the name of your Black


best friend, when is the last time that you went out for drinks with those colleagues—it becomes clear that there is no real relationship, just cordial observation. When I have spoken to residents of historically Black or disinvested communities in Raleigh, I hear a cautionary tale. My friend Chalisa Williams talks about going on her morning walk and feeling like she is out of place in her downtown neighborhood. Raleigh native Johnny Blaylock shared a story of how newcomers to his neighborhood walk past him while he tends to his garden as if he is invisible. Other residents speak of feeling endangered as new white neighbors call the police on young people gathered on the corner or upon hearing loud music and conversations at night. Buffkin’s remarks reflect the paternalism emblematic of color-blind racism. It’s the belief that poor people (of color) are ill-equipped to care for themselves and their children, so they need wealthier (white) people to come into their communities to show them the way. While it is not hateful language by any means, and Buffkin’s heart may be in the right place, his analysis lacks any semblance of reality. Poverty does not diminish a human being’s capacity to love, lead, and innovate. Many religious and spiritual traditions suggest the exact opposite, and data show that the isolated socialization of the dominant classes impacts their ability to empathize with marginalized people. But what poverty does do is starve individuals of the resources afforded to others, leaving them fewer options as they seek to care for their families and neighbors. Displacing people from their homes creates anxiety, upheaval, and anger. It renders people powerless to do what they were created to do: to provide stable and nurturing homes and communities in which to raise their young. The answer to the suffering of Raleigh’s low-income families is not to break apart their village and stick in some wealthy families. It’s to give them the resources they have long been denied—that have been stolen from them for generations—and stand back as their neighborhoods burst forth with the most beautiful flowering humans the city has ever seen. W Voices is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Join today at KeepItINDY.com. COURTNEY NAPIER is a is a Raleigh native, writer, and the founder of Black Oak Society. INDYweek.com

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215 South McDowell Street 123 West Hargett Street East West Partners

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330 West Hargett Street 119 South Harrington Street CityPlat Legends LLC

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615 West Morgan Street 117 South Boylan Avenue Crocker Family Properties, LLC and Betty Poole Brinkley

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Raleigh

Growing Up A slew of new high-rise buildings in development promises to radically change the Raleigh skyline. BY LEIGH TAUSS ltauss@indyweek.com

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he Raleigh skyline could look very different soon. A slew of new projects in development— consisting of 20- to 40-story mixed-use towers—will bring added density, housing, offices, and commercial space downtown. In total, these projects could add more than 200 stories of height, creating a denser, taller city center. But there’s no way to know just how much taller the city could get. The city’s planning office doesn’t track building height, as city code doesn’t include height maximums for projects taller than seven stories, Raleigh Planning Director Ken Bowers explained. So when developers apply for projects, there’s no restriction for how high they can go. Everyone knows PNC Plaza is the tallest building in the city at 32 stories, but the city doesn’t keep an official record of its height. According to Emporis, an online database, it stands at 538 feet, followed by Two Hannover Square at 431 feet. To complicate matters, the height of each floor in a building differs from project to project, with office and commercial spaces typically several feet higher than residential projects, due to greater infrastructure needs. When looking ahead at these projects, all we have, for the most part, are estimates. While zoning will allow up to 40 stories for seven projects, it’s unlikely developers will actually construct buildings that tall because doing so is just really expensive. If they did—estimating an average of 15 feet per floor—that would add more than 3,000 feet of height to the city. That’s akin to six PNC towers. Here’s a rundown of what we know about the projects.

321, 327 West Hargett Street & 213 South Harrington Street Located a block west of City Hall in the city’s burgeoning Warehouse District, this project could allow the construction of a 40-story, mixed-use tower on a half-acre block currently zoned for up to 12 stories. Developer Highwoods Properties also acquired a 6,500-square-foot parking deck nearby. The Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the project in June. A public hearing will be required before the City Council votes on the project.

333 South Dawson Street This project, a block from Nash Square, is currently a Firestone auto shop in an area zoned for up to 20 stories. The new tower will be zoned up to 40 stories with a mix of uses, including up to nearly 500 residential units, which the developer RALDT 2, LLC notes in the application is “likely to slow the rate of increase of housing costs nearby by adding units to the marketplace to meet the steady rising demand.” The city’s Planning Commission is expected to vote on the project by the end of summer.

215 South McDowell Street & 123 West Hargett Street Dubbed “The Nexus,” this is one of the more hotly anticipated projects in the city, which aspires to transform a 3.3-acre site located across from Nash Square into an up to 40-story mixed-use development. Formerly the offices of The News & Observer, the property was purchased by California-based firm The Acquisition Group for $22 million in 2017. Original plans called for two towers, two stories each, for offices and residential units; however, the developer increased the

Downtown Raleigh skyline from Boylan Bridge in May request to 40 stories to allow for more flexibility, according to the Triangle Business Journal. Approval is currently pending.

400 & 410 Glenwood Avenue Located in the heart of the city’s nightclub district, this historic building with a nightclub and restaurant would be transformed into an up to 40-story tower with shopfronts on the ground floor. The request from New York-based firm Turnbridge Equities includes a historic easement to preserve the frontage of the building, known as The Creamery. The request is still pending.

320 & 328 West South Street This request for a 20-story tower is located near Red Hat Amphitheater. The request, which has already been approved, allows the developer to choose between two options: either 300 residential units with commercial storefronts on the ground floor or 211,000 square feet of office space.

330 West Hargett Street & 119 South Harrington Street This site is currently the location of Legends Nightclub. The property was sold to developer CityPlat last year for $4.3 million dollars. While the rezoning request is for 40 stories, the developer has said it doesn’t intend to construct a tower that high, but wants to keep the options open.

PHOTO BRETT VILLENA

506 Capital Boulevard Currently zoned for up to 12 stories, this project known as Smokey Hollow Tower could add another 40-story, mixed-use tower to the intersection of Peace Street and Capital Boulevard. Zimmer Development Company says the project could include more than 1,400 residential units. The site is located near several other planned and in-progress projects from John Kane, which city officials have described as a new “gateway” to downtown. The project was greenlit by the City Council last fall.

615 West Morgan Street & 117 South Boylan Avenue Developer Crocker Family Properties has been granted approval for an up to 20-story tower for this site, currently a vacant lot. This site is next to the Origin Hotel and a block from Morgan Street Food Hall in a transition area between the Warehouse District and Glenwood South club district.

220 East Morgan Street This site is currently a parking lot, but has been approved for an up to 20-story tower. The current owners hope to sell the lot to an interested buyer to develop it. The City Council has already approved the request. W INDYweek.com

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North Carolina

Inconvenient History GOP lawmakers want a school ban on the portions of American history that may make white students (but mostly, their parents) feel uncomfortable. BY THOMASI MCDONALD tmcdonald@indyweek.com

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merica just celebrated its 245th birthday amid growing polarization about the truth of its origins, including the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of kidnapped Africans by its European settlers. The legacy of those atrocities persists to this day. Nonetheless, North Carolina legislators are expected to vote soon on a GOP-led bill that proposes to make white people feel less uncomfortable with the negative aspects of this country’s history. Among its provisions, House Bill 324 seeks to prohibit public school teachers from teaching “that the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief” or that the country “was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.” The bill passed the House in May by a 66-48 vote along party lines and has been referred to the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee. Supporters of the bill claim that the legislation’s intent is to forbid the teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior, or that someone by virtue of their race or sex is inherently racist or sexist, or that someone’s moral character is necessarily determined by their race or sex—which are all provisions of the bill as well. Critics say the bill’s true intent is to undermine critical race theory (CRT), an academic concept that views systemic racism as a fixture in the country’s DNA. HB 324 formally joins a chorus of rightwing fear echoing in statehouses across the country. So far, six states have passed anti-CRT legislation and another 20, including North 8

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Carolina, have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution. In Durham, the city council and school board each adopted resolutions opposing HB 324. “It’s a manufactured issue and a manufactured concern that’s really a partisan issue being used to divide people,” Natalie Beyer, a Durham County school board member, said. “It’s not based in fact, and it’s being used by the right wing to drum up their base without having any basis in factual concerns.” N.C. Central University law professor Irving Joyner also said the CRT debate was “manufactured” and “created to distract, mislead and politicize efforts to assist people to understand and remedy the racial bias, antagonism and discrimination which continue to exist in this country.” “It is also another justification for attempts to re-write or hide the real racial history which has guided and continues to guide the thinking of too many political leaders and their followers,” Joyner added. A prominent opponent of CRT is Mark Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, who believes the discipline is part of a growing “anti-American” sentiment and rooted in socialism. Those who oppose the bill disagree. “We try to be leaders for truth and equity in school districts across North Carolina; equity in the Durham community and across the country as we wrestle with the painful truths of our history and work towards reconciliation moving forward,” Beyer said. Joyner, the NCCU law professor, noted that CRT has been “a very popular course over the years” at the law school.

PHOTO BY JEFFEREY HAMILTON VIA UNSPLASH

“By law, there was racial discrimination in this country and it broadly provided negative impacts upon its intended victims,” he said. “Some of the most foundational cases in American law centered around the law’s treatment of racial minorities. The understanding of this treatment begins with a reading of the U.S. Constitution and is confirmed in the Dred Scott and other racebased pronouncement decisions.” If adopted, HB 324 would render teachers inflexible and leave students ignorant of the context that has created racial disparities in health, wealth, and education, Durham council member DeDreana Freeman said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to whitewash critical race theory and why we need it,” Freeman said. “It’s not that Black people choose to be unhealthy or choose to be uneducated.” Chief among the points in the school board’s resolution opposing the legislation were disagreements with the bill’s requirement that public schools not promote the belief that America was created by white men to oppress others. The school board’s resolution asserted that “a sound education, including accurate facts about all aspects of American history

including systemic racism and discrimination, is guaranteed for every North Carolina student in our state’s Constitution.” The resolution also noted that CRT is a valid discipline that seeks to understand how racism has shaped the country’s laws and how those lives impact the lives of nonwhite people. Critical race theory, the resolution states, “does not attack individual students for their privileges, but rather makes them aware of how different systems in the United States discriminate against others.” The school board’s resolution also noted that in 2019 the state’s board of education adopted a strategic plan that defined equity as a guiding principle and recently approved social studies standards “to ensure that a more comprehensive, accurate and honest history was taught to all students, including teaching on racism, identity and discrimination.” “It’s important for teachers to be able to teach children to think critically from primary sources,” Beyer, the school board member, said. “And as we are more honest about our history we can learn from the past. We don’t censor teachers. We don’t ban books. We teach children to be anti-racist.” W


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TRiP – We work to create effective pain-relief options for pets

HIP OR ELBOW DYSPLASIA?

NC State Veterinary College Translational Research in Pain (TRiP) Group is running several clinical trials (therapeutics and diets) to help dogs that can’t walk as well as they used to. Please go to bit.ly/3mpS4ae for more information or contact cvmclinicalstudies@ncsu.edu or 919-515-3634

New downtown Raleigh location opening this July! “West Street Dog” will have pet boarding, daycare, grooming PLUS a dog friendly bar and off leash dog park!

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Durham Durhamite David Cunningham and his collie, Miss Betty White PHOTO BY BECCA SCHNEID

many beings running around the house with him and his six siblings. Since moving to Durham almost 20 years ago, he had always wanted a dog of his own, but never had the time. That changed when COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, West End Billiards, the bar where he works, closed, and Cunningham found himself alone with little to do. He found Miss Betty White in a kennel in Lexington, North Carolina. A registered emotional support dog, Miss Betty, as he calls her, lifted him out of his quarantine blues. Since then, Cunningham’s buddies have told him he’s become a calmer, friendlier guy. “She’s the best thing to happen in 2020. She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.” He then adds, “But if she did, she would gnaw on it.”

A peek in her closet

A Man, a Dog, and a Scooter The friendship of David Cunningham and a collie named Miss Betty White began in the dark days of the pandemic. Today, they find their joy on the streets of Durham. BY NICOLE KAGAN backtalk@indyweek.com

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n a Thursday afternoon in Durham, traffic begins to slow on West Main Street as drivers gawk and smile at a cherry red Vespa. Pedestrians turn and pull out their phones to take a photo of the odd spectacle in front of them. They need a picture because otherwise their friends may not believe them. This is what they see: A man and a dog riding a scooter. The man has Ray-Bans and a thick brown beard. The dog, strapped to the man in a K9 backpack, is a brown and white collie wearing bright red goggles and a colorful tulle collar with sequined stars. 10

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As they ride, the man stays focused on the road ahead, but the dog, Miss Betty White, seems very aware of the paparazzi. Her tail wags under the nylon pack that secures her to the man’s back. She turns and tilts her head slightly, striking a pose. In a year of turmoil and doubt, the sight of a man and a collie on a Vespa evokes a momentary burst of joy. For David Cunningham and his 14-month-old dog, it is just another ride. Cunningham, a 43-year-old bartender, grew up in Ohio surrounded by dogs. They were just some of the

Off the scooter, they spend their evenings together, often dining at outdoor restaurants, or just watching The Call of the Wild on Cunningham’s couch. Along with her diet kibble, Miss Betty gets a steak dinner once a week and a daily dog-friendly ‘pupcake’ or donut. Every Tuesday night the pair hits a local restaurant for date night. While Cunningham orders off the menu, Miss Betty snacks on a dairy-free peanut butter cup from her favorite dog bakery, Oliver’s Collar. “She likes Reese’s just like her dad,” Cunningham says. She earned her name because of her distinctive fur and as a tribute to the legendary actress: “With her big ole white mane like that, I was like, it’s gotta be Betty White. But there’s only one Betty White, so I insist people call her Miss Betty White.” True to character, Miss Betty gets dressed up before an outing. A peek into her closet reveals dozens of outfits and accessories, complete with sequins, pom-poms, and ruffles. She has a rainbow tutu, denim overalls, and her “naughty Santa Claus outfit,” named because it is slightly too small and “her booty sticks out,” according to Cunningham. Though luscious, Miss Betty’s shiny coat comes with a price. It has made vacuuming a crucial part of Cunningham’s daily schedule. That, along with her anti-shed-


ding shampoo, ensures that his couch and cargo pants aren’t completely covered in dog hair. Cunningham walks Miss Betty at least a half-mile four times a day, they go to the dog park once a week, and on the weekends they take hikes around the Eno, Duke Forest, or the Al Buehler Trail. Miss Betty also has regular doggy-dates with her best friend Jack-Jack (a “little beagle lookin’ thing”) who lives in the neighborhood. Miss Betty White’s active lifestyle keeps Cunningham in shape. He says he’s lost weight since he’s gotten her and developed a tan from being outdoors so often.

“Damn I’m beautiful” She isn’t always as sweet as she looks. When she gets restless, Miss Betty can misbehave. On one such occasion a few months ago, she chewed up the molding around Cunningham’s door. He put her in a crate when he left home after that—until his guilt became too strong. Then Cunningham discovered the Furbo, a remotely operated camera that lets you see, talk, and toss treats to your dog when you’re not home. It’s even got an infrared camera so he can see Miss Betty in the dark. In between customers at the bar, Cunningham will open the app to find Miss Betty White “laying up in the window sill like a cat.” He’ll use the microphone to get her attention, and then shoot a few treats onto the rug for her to find. She has become something of a local celebrity. During their scooter rides, drivers often swerve to take photos to post. To Cunningham’s surprise, Miss Betty’s fan club stretches beyond Durham. He said she’s been recognized in Hillsborough, without the scooter. For fans who want to keep in touch with Miss Betty, she has her own Instagram page. One post reads: “I love my human!!! Steak and eggs for breakfast...was not expecting that.” “Bathed, nails trimmed, and brushed... damn I’m beautiful!!!!!” says another. Cunningham grins.“I’m that guy. I used to make fun of those guys, but now I am one...I show my dog off like she’s my girlfriend or one of my kids.” One post of Miss Betty as a puppy sitting in the grass is Cunningham’s favorite. He’s thinking he may get it as a tattoo. Their scooter rides always end the same way. After parking the Vespa, Cunningham removes his helmet, exposing his bald head. Miss Betty gives him a joyous lick. W INDYweek.com

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N E WS

Orange County Ridgewood residents and supporters outside Price’s office on June 29 PHOTO BY JULIA SENDOR

Home Team Residents of Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Orange County are organizing after a hedge fund acquired the property. BY SARA PEQUEÑO spequeno@indyweek.com

A

lejandra Rivera was already working less than usual when she had to undergo surgery in February. The nail technician used to do at least eight sets of nails a week; the pandemic brought her down to two. When she couldn’t work at all for 12 weeks, her 20-year-old son left school and picked up a full-time job. She wants him to go back, but a new increase in the rent at Ridgewood Mobile Home Park may mean it’s impossible. “They’re going to raise the rent up to 40 percent for some, but they have not responded to the serious health and safety concerns that we have,” Rivera says in Spanish, translated through a supporter. “They are squeezing us.” 12

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Rivera is one of four residents who spoke at the entrance of Congressman David Price’s office on June 29, but they represented a group of about 40 residents who were struggling with their new landlords, an LLC owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital (a group also known as the “destroyer of newspapers” for its consumption and decimation of regarded newsrooms such as the Chicago Tribune). In April, the new owners sent out a new lease agreement to residents regarding rent increases that they were told they had to sign by June 30. The information was sent in English, despite nearly all of the households in Ridgewood speaking only Spanish. The contract also states that residents will be charged for water and septic use, even though they use well water.

“We also tried to talk with the owners through the managers, to try to negotiate with them that they do not increase our rent again, since we are going through a pandemic, and the rent increases range from $65 to $150 for some of my neighbors,” Rivera says. The group of residents organized a press conference with their supporters, asking Price to intervene in the contract negotiations on their behalf. Aside from rent increases, the group has concerns about sewage buildup and dead trees that could damage their homes, as well as the contractual inability for them to sell their mobile homes directly; now, they must sell to Smith Management, the LLC, or move them off the property. Jane Gump, a retired widow and 27-year resident of the park, says her rent has increased by $150. She also brought photos of her backed-up septic system, which is pooling in her yard after being cleaned the month prior. She has been told by the property managers that the new owners are preventing them from submitting and fulfilling work orders. “That will just increase and overflow into the next yard, and children play there,” Gump says. The issues between residents and their new landlords is not new; they previously tried to work through their concerns privately but couldn’t resolve them. Julia Sendor, the media relations coordinator for the residents and a community organizer at Orange County Justice United, says representatives of Smith Management were surprised when they received a call from the group, and told them not to call the company again. “We were trying to figure out the right moment, and then it came all of a sudden,” Sendor says. The INDY contacted two employees of Smith Management for this story, but neither responded to requests for comment. In a press statement last week, Price said that while he couldn’t directly solve private housing disputes, he planned to speak to residents on July 6, after this story went to print. “Too many residents are being pushed out of their homes due to rising rents, low wages, and unsafe conditions,” Price said in the statement. “We must work at every level of government to make housing a priority and ensure families can stay in their homes.” The group also plans to speak to the Orange County Housing and Community Development Department on Wednesday. Although the community has a Chapel Hill mailing address, it is outside of town limits and under jurisdiction of only the county. For now, Sendor says the majority of the residents have signed contracts but will keep trying to negotiate and work toward potential litigation. W


FO O D & D R I N K

DA KINE’S KAVA 1114 W Chapel Hill St, Durham | dakineskava.lingaros.com

Classic Kava at Da Kine’s Kava Bar PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Keep Kava and Carry On Opened last summer, Da Kine’s Kava bar in Durham offers an open, relaxed, booze-free atmosphere for socializing BY LENA GELLER food@indyweek.com

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can’t feel my throat, the woman beside me just claimed to be 400 years old, and I have no idea how long I’ve been sitting here, but somehow, I’ve never felt more at peace. It’s a rainy Friday afternoon in June, and no, I’m not smoking DMT in a dingy basement; rather, I’m perched on a stool in Da Kine’s, a cheerful, cerulean-walled kava bar on West Chapel Hill Street that opened last summer in the space formerly occupied by coffee shop Joe Van Gogh. Da Kine’s is owned by Bull City native and Duke graduate Zoey Best and her husband Brent Waffle, who fell in love with kava while living in Hawaii (Best lived in Hawaii in 2013, and Waffle lived there from 20072012). Upon moving back, the duo thought Durham residents would take well to the laidback culture linked to the drink.

“Durham reminds me a lot of Hawaii,” Waffle says. “Community is very important here, and everybody is willing to try new things.” Waffle says he and Best designed Da Kine’s to emulate the bright, open, and inviting vibe of the bars they frequented in the Pacific Islands. In efforts to honor Polynesian culture and avoid coming across as a tacky tiki bar, the pair decorated Da Kine’s with personal totems from their travels, like certificates Waffle received while studying the ancient Hawaiian martial art of Lua, a picture of a beach where Best liked to hang out after work, and a wooden ax lined with shark teeth. They tout the business as Durham’s first non-alcoholic kava bar. As I nurse my Haleakala Sunrise—a mocktail containing kava extract, coconut milk, and lots of tropical fruit juices—I start chatting with Ria Garcia, a fellow custom-

er who paused work on her intricate, psychedelic pen drawing to bid me hello. This is Garcia’s third visit to Da Kine’s, though she’s been drinking kava since 2003—a timespan that seems impossible, I tell her, given how young she looks. When Garcia goes on to assert that she’s several centuries old, it admittedly takes me more than a moment to realize that she’s joking, but in my defense, I’ve drained a few cups of kava and I’m feeling a little funky: my mouth and throat are numb, my brain is pleasantly foggy, and the normally tense muscles in my shoulders and back are slack. It’s sort of like being on drugs, but also not: I feel relaxed, in control, and free from the crushing anxiety that usually derails my attempts at socializing. Kava is made from the powdered root of a shrub that grows in the Pacific Islands. The plant contains compounds called kavalactones, which have a sedative, euphoric effect on the central nervous system when consumed. In its rawest form, kava is just water plus the crushed root, but because its bitter taste can be hard to stomach, most kava bars also offer sweetened mixed drinks made using kava extract. The menu at Da Kine’s includes traditional kava from Hawaii, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, half a dozen creative mocktails, and a variety of other stress-relieving products, like tea, CBD edibles, and Kratom. Kava remains most popular in Polynesia, but the beverage has gained traction in the continental U.S. over the past 20 years, largely due to its viability as an alternative to alcohol. Kava can “take the edge off” in a way comparable to having a few drinks, but beyond that, consuming it in a communal setting like Da Kine’s can provide sober folks with the social atmosphere they might be missing from typical bars. “I used to have a problem with drinking, so having kava bars where I can come and talk to people is really cool for me,” Garcia says. “It fills the social void.” “Da kine” is a Hawaiian Pidgin word that can mean pretty much anything, Best tells me, and is generally used as a placeholder to reference a person, an object, or a concept. “Being this thing, or that thing, or whatever you need it to be, that’s what we want to exemplify with the bar,” Best says. “We want to provide a warm and welcoming space where you can choose your own adventure.” For people like Garcia, Da Kine’s can act as an art studio, or an alcohol-free social spot. Others might treat it as a solitary workspace or a venue to get safely, calmly “buzzed” with friends. For me, Da Kine’s felt like a place where I could be fully present, unbothered by the passage of time. If you told me I’d been sitting at the bar for four hours—or 400 years—I probably would’ve believed you. W INDYweek.com

July 7, 2021

13


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on’t new The Mo With t Durham’s albums u from crac increasing At the knack fo that last, subseque for explo ic detail a songs ins character continues them—ad ple, or ta explore t fessional On Dar as much bandmate The new plement and was who track ing in Me Tennessee to the leg Muscle Sh Like Kn expressive become. mer Jon W feel, whet pulsion o Douglas a piano, and All-star Dylan, Li organ an McFarlan tantalizin 14

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THE MOUNTAIN GOATS: DARK IN HERE| HHH1/2

[Merge; June 25]

ATTORNEY AT LAW

Light Years 600 songs in, The Mountain Goats may repeat themselves, but they’re no broken record BY JORDAN LAWRENCE music@indyweek.com

D

on’t repeat yourself—unless you find a new way to say something. The Mountain Goats understand this. With the June release of Dark in Here, Durham’s John Darnielle has issued 20 albums under the band moniker, growing from crackly boombox-recorded screeds into increasingly rich and nuanced rock. At the same time, he has refined his knack for finding the fine line between that last, brightest burst of hope and the subsequent descent into hopelessness. And for exploring it with a balance of specific detail and poetic vagary that makes his songs instantly relatable. His themes and character types don’t change much. But he continues to find new ways to sing about them—advancing his musicality, for example, or taking concept album excursions to explore the specific circumstances of professional wrestlers and goth kids. On Dark in Here, he echoes his past work as much as he ever has. By leaning on his bandmates, he manages to stay fresh. The new album is a companion and a complement to last year’s Getting Into Knives and was recorded with Matt Ross-Spang, who tracked Knives at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis. After spending a week in Tennessee, they decamped for another week to the legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Like Knives, Dark showcases the tight, expressive ensemble that the Goats have become. Bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster bring a rich and responsive feel, whether they’re providing rumbly propulsion or understated percolations. Matt Douglas adds poignant bits of woodwinds, piano, and guitar. All-star ringers—Spooner Oldham (Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt) on Hammond B3 organ and Wurlitzer electric piano, Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt) on guitar—add tantalizing embellishments, but the crux of

BILL BURTON

this album is the Goats’ chemistry as a band. The songs on Dark are good, but they’re slower and more passive than the ones on Knives. There’s less teeth-gnashing intensity and fewer searing declarations than a typical Mountain Goats record. But the band finds opportunity in this change of pace, allowing their music to take on more thematic weight. The slow-building “Lizard Suit” vividly explores social anxiety in an urban setting (“Let my phobias control my habits/ Let my habits form the shapes of days”), but the song’s show-stopping jazz outro makes the feeling inescapable, unspooling into purgative chaos. “To the Headless Horseman” couldn’t so perfectly evoke the mingled excitement and dread that comes with encountering mysterious people and places (“As you approached I could sense the threat/ But a stranger’s just a friend who hasn’t shared their secrets yet”) without its airy but apprehensive arrangement, which also shines in the outro. This musical growth is especially vital on the songs that most mimic Darnielle’s past. On “Mobile,” a desperate criminal ponders the tale of Jonah, pointing to the religious reflections of 2009’s biblically inspired The Life of the World to Come. But that album didn’t foreground Hughes and Wurster’s organic interplay, or benefit from McFarlane’s sprightly guitar flourishes. “The Slow Parts on Death Metal Albums” revisits the musical allegiance and dejected isolation of one of Darnielle’s most famous songs, 2001’s “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton.” He flips the narration to the first person here, and deploys a more wisened perspective. The music summons powerful tension between tentative electric piano and domineering bass, growing far past the blunt acoustic guitar of “Denton.” The Mountain Goats might repeat themselves. But they keep finding new ways to speak. W

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M U SIC

PAT JUNIOR: GOLD FANGS ON SUNDAY

[Self-released; July 7]

Pat Junior PHOTO BY BRETT VILLENA

Wisdom Teeth On the musical breakthroughs and personal growth behind Pat Junior’s bright new smile BY BRIAN HOWE music@indyweek.com

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at Junior’s third album, Gold Fangs on Sunday, features the Raleigh hip-hop auteur’s usual closely observed and—to use his favorite term—vulnerable discussions of mental health, self-care, racism, joy, and all platonic forms of love. As always, he raps with old-fashioned clarity and dexterity over consummately modern electronic production. But while the record is the next chapter in his emotional autobiography, picking up where the brooding I Thought I Knew left off in 2019, there’s something different about it, too. Though Pat’s music is still a lush and rugged array of subtle yet sweeping melodies, ticking drums, and thick, slicing basses, now it feels bright and airy where its predecessor was eerie and close. Beautiful chords rustle through it like fresh air, and celebratory singing cascades 16

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like sunlight through tales of growing through pain and healing through friendship. Despite everything, Pat Junior sounds happy, and in the “Black Beamin’” video, he has a big smile to prove it. It’s still there in the album’s promo art, decked in glinting gold fangs. They represent The Gold Fanged Medjay, a character he created that became so important to him that the words recently became his first tattoo. Burnished by the warmth of Durham-based singer DL Zene and the dynamism of Raleigh rapper theDeeepEnd, “Black Beamin’” is the second single from Gold Fangs on Sunday, which also features guest turns from Tyler Donavan, Liion Gamble, Aarik Duncan, Greg Cox, and Mique. The video for “Feels Like,” an irresistible slice of sensuous house with feel-good soul horns, is coming next.

It all started with “Rest!”, which debuted in a video filmed at NorthStar Church of the Arts right before the pandemic. Though Pat made or co-produced most of the record, “Rest!” took shape when a modular synthesis experiment by Byron August—an associate of Pelham & Junior, Pat’s thriving sample design company and burgeoning production team—caught his ear. He didn’t know then that it would be the first single for an ambitious new album. In fact, it was all about slowing down. “I just had to tell myself to take a break,” Pat says in a Zoom call. “A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it is to run what had become a six-figure business and do music. We’re not just doing sound design; we’re working with some bigger names that have hit us up for original samples. Keeping up with all this stuff can be a challenge sometimes, but I do it, man, by the grace of God.” Standing still, though, doesn’t seem to be Pat’s forte. Part of the triumphant aura glowing from Gold Fangs on Sunday has to do with the personal growth his music both fosters and chronicles. “I see it as miraculous, man, because during 2020, a lot of my peers were not inspired, and here I am making some of the happiest music of my life,” he says, laughing. “I’m just growing as an individual. I’ve been going to therapy, which has been great for me. It’s a blessing to have friends that care about your well-being and state of mind and heart and where you are spiritually and emotionally. I think people get that by now: that I make music where I am in life.” But the album’s luster has just as much to do with musical growth. It’s the fulfillment of Pat’s long-held desire to assimilate the hyper-vivid sound of the filmscore composers he idolizes, such as Joe Hisaishi (of Studio Ghibli fame), Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther), Ólafur Arnalds, and above all, Hans Zimmer. Pat cites “This Fire,” where he climbs a lathed bassline to a glorious climax like Phil Collins crossed with M83, as the epitome of what he’s been after. “I’ve been wanting to tap into that electronic cinematic sound, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make it hip-hop,” he says. “After I recorded that song, I cried, because I was like, ‘Yo, I’m finally accomplishing what I’ve been aiming for.’ It’s a lot more ambitious, and I’m proud of that, but I dreaded tracking out some sessions that were over 70 tracks.” Growing up in Raleigh, Pat always had an ear for music. “At the age of eight or nine, I had my mom’s tape recorder and a six-disc CD changer, and I remember burning instrumentals and holding the tape recorder up to the stereo and recording raps,” he says. But it wasn’t until around 2015, when he was getting a master’s degree in creative writing online from Full Sail University after graduating with honors as an English major at North Carolina Central University,


that he had the means to make beats. His tuition included a MacBook Pro with GarageBand. He learned to sample from mentors like D. Steele and J. Pelham, his Pelham & Junior cofounder and all-around creative partner. “Getting the sample you want, chopping it up, having one track for the high end where you cut out the low end, and one where you cut out the high end for the low end, and then you add drums,” he says. “I started there.” Founded in 2018, Pelham & Junior sells custom samples and is also starting to function as a production team, with credits through working with Hit-Boy in LA, on songs like Big Sean’s “Overtime” and Nas’s “King’s Disease.” But Gold Fangs on Sunday is their major debut as a creative unit. It contains some royalty-free samples—that is, not from songs—but much of the music is electronically composed from scratch. “The chemistry between myself and J. Pelham, it’s crazy,” Pat says. “I will take my phone and hum a piano melody and ask him to turn it into a progression, and somehow he knows exactly what chords I’m hearing in my head.” Pat’s Zoom background made it look like he was in a video game, which is notable because a video game is where he discovered the Medjay. He was playing Assassin’s Creed Origins, an entry in the adventure franchise about ancient esoteric orders. The main character, a Black man in Ptolemaic Egypt, was part of a group called the Medjay. The demonym has a rich history, and through the game and further research, Pat focused on the image of desert rangers who solved problems in the communities they protected. They wore an emblem to proclaim their role: hence, Pat’s gold fangs. “I don’t know if I would qualify if I lived in those times,” he says, laughing, “but I identify with the creed of working for the well-being of others so much. I’m definitely someone who likes to present solutions when problems arrive. I’m definitely a protector.” But embracing this role hasn’t upset the balance of strength and sensitivity that defines Pat Junior, musically and personally, because he needs a Medjay of his own sometimes, too, and he’s no longer afraid to talk about it. “It’s not just that I’m strong, and that’s it,” he says. “It’s being the strong friend in my circle but being vulnerable and transparent at the same time. I’m so used to people calling me, but I’ve learned to say, this is what I need, and I realized I can’t be a good friend if I’m not taking care of myself.” W

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Her Take: On Carolina Hip-Hop

3AMSOUND: IT GETS DARK SOMETIMES

[Self-released; July 1]

3AMSOUND PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Night Vision With new album It Gets Dark Sometimes, Raleigh’s 3AMSOUND showcases his creative intuition and sonic cohesion BY KYESHA JENNINGS @kyeshajennings

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he earliest childhood memories that 3AMSOUND (Nick Graham) has are of shared musical experiences with close family members, from listening to Marvin Gaye on a vintage record player with his grandmother to rapping with his father, a Raleigh artist, to listening to his stepfather produce beats for local artists next door to his bedroom. Born and raised in Raleigh, Graham first began his musical career as Nyck Newz. The name found its origins in a mediocre diss as a teenager when another guy attempted to pursue Graham’s girlfriend, asking her: “Are you still dating Nickelodeon Nick News?” The name soon turned into comical subliminal message once Graham changed his display name on Myspace, that former king of social media. The Nyck Newz moniker stuck for a solid five years, but after perfecting his sound as an artist—a fusion of rap, R&B, pop, and trap—and going through a personal self-reconnection, Graham realized in 2016 that he created his best in the late hours—3:00 a.m., to be specific. 18

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“I was most comfortable [recording at night]. I can’t describe the amount of creativity I had late at night, but it was different from me making music all types of hours during the day,” says, Graham. “3AMSOUND is the description of my music. My name represents the vibe I offer and what listeners can expect.” On his most recent project, It Gets Dark Sometimes, self-released on July 1, Graham sets out to offer relatable lyrics. “Everybody has that moment where they just don’t know where to turn,” he says. “We go through these dark moments or any bad moments in our life just to come out on the other side where there’s light” Sonically, it’s easy to compare his sound to the likes of Travis Scott, Tory Lanez, and newcomer Roddy Ricch because of his rap-singing style. As many of Graham’s fans have stated, though, his music precedes the popularity of Travis Scott. Knowing that he has not (and does not) imitate Scott, though, Graham takes the comparisons as a compliment. He says that he looks forward to the day he can work with Scott.

“The people that know me, they say, ‘man is crazy you’ve been sounding like this before that,’” he says. “I don’t pay attention to it because I do like Trav, but people will constantly say [on and off social media] ‘yo, this sounds like your song. Or even my mom will be like, ‘I thought I heard you on the radio. I’ve been doing this so I don’t get discouraged. As long as the true people know, and I know, it don’t bother me”. The comparisons to successful contemporary mainstream artists only confirm that Graham not only has talent and is marketable, but also that his music can easily fit within today’s radio playlists ecosystem. On It Gets Dark Sometimes, each track has replay value and the production is impressive, arguably almost flawless in moments. Even though Graham worked with multiple producers from the United States to the UK, sonically, the project’s sound remains cohesive. UK producer Gibbo produced the majority of the tracks. The two connected via social media two months ago and have been building a working musical relationship since. Graham was also able to collaborate with his best friend, producer, and songwriter Mike100k on the EP’s second track “300k.” In addition to Graham’s creativity and arrangement of his song, it’s the production that sets him apart from his peers. Each track offers space for one to vibe out in, whether alone in the house or at a packed club. “[My producers and I] like just real simple sounds,” he says. “Nothing that’s doing too much. A smooth melody with a semi trap bass or guitars. Sounds that feel soothing to the ears where it’s quiet just enough to hear what I’m saying”. His approach to songwriting is an emotionally authentic one. On the project’s first track “Bleeding,” for instance, he sings about the struggles of being a musician, though the song is presented as if it’s about a love interest. “I’m inspired by any artist that takes music seriously. Artists that have a message within their music. I like listening to J. Cole because he’s talking about real-life situations in his songs. There are certain artists who do music just to have fun and it’s cool to have fun and turn up here and there, but I like music with messages in it too.” Luckily for Graham, his 8-track project succeeds at balancing vibe-inducing music with a wide range of messages. His seasoned fans and new listeners can expect a solid 23 minutes of carefully crafted, radio-ready music. As we spoke, Graham was preparing to headline Hotter Than July Fest produced by Carolina Waves at The Lincoln Theatre. When asked about nerves during a performance and his general preparation routine, he shared that getting nervous is a part of the package—but, as an artist, you have little to no choice but to push through. “When I’m performing I’m like, I’m like yo, that’s not me,” he says. “It’s an out-of-body experience. I go to this creative space and when I watch video clips I’m amazed like wow. That’s hard.” W


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THE LONELIEST WHALE | HHH

In Theaters July 9 & On Demand July 16

Still from The Loneliest Whale PHOTO COURTESY OF BLEECKER STREET

YOUR WEEK. EVERY WEDNESDAY. FOOD • NEWS • ARTS • MUSIC

Feeling Blue Documentary The Loneliest Whale searches for an isolated ocean creature that has found a devoted following BY SARAH EDWARDS sedwards@indyweek.com

S

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everal decades ago, right after the end of the Cold War, the perfect metaphor for loneliness was recorded by the U.S. Navy in the deep North Pacific. At first, the recordings, which resisted easy designation as either biological or mechanical, were classified. In the early 90s, though, pioneering marine mammal researcher Bill Watkins determined them to be those of a whale whose sonic signature fell at 52 hertz—a lonely frequency that registers just above the auditory range of other cetacean creatures. In short: for decades, the whale was speaking, but it seemed no one could understand him. This new explanation made the whale, commonly known as 52, sudden-

ly a kandthe most popular whale in the world—not that he knew it. People saw themselves in his lone-cowboy plight, and in a frustrating inability to communicate. This makes sense: loneliness is acute enough in the United States that it was classified as an epidemic years ago, long before the pandemic ever even sunk its teeth into our heightened social isolation. Tattoos, songs, fan clubs, foundations, essays, and poetry emerged all over the globe, all made in tribute to 52. Now the whale finds himself at the center of the new feature-length documentary The Loneliest Whale. Produced by Adrian Grenier and Leonardo DiCaprio and originally slated for a 2018 release, the documentary paints the fullest portrait of 52 yet.

It begins, as other famous whaling stories have, with a quest: Writer-director-narrator Joshua Zeman wants to find 52, an animal that has never before been seen. At the start of the film, a fresh audio footprint emerges, locating 52 somewhere off the shore of Southern California. Zeman sets off on a one-week voyage, accompanied by a crew of scientists and mariners who, while acknowledging many times that the search is a “needle in a haystack,” still believe it is one worth undertaking. And if the whale is truly lonely, as one animal psychologist confirms (“Absolutely, without a doubt, this whale is lonely”), at least the crew—sun-weathered and kind-faced—doesn’t seem to be. On the boat, they listen to soft rock, grip coffee mugs as the boat bobs, and respectfully finish each other’s sentences. (Watching, I kept thinking: Should I switch careers and go become a whale-chaser?) The crew gaze out at the ocean and wonder aloud if their questions about 52 will be answered. Though what questions, exactly? In this regard, the documentary falls a little short, and abruptly drops off. Zeman is an elegiac narrator, weaving in bits of history about our changing cultural relationship with whales, but I found myself wanting more of a roadmap for this voyage. What were the filmmakers looking for—was it confirmation that 52 was alive? Happy, lonely? Still singing? Was there a mystery that could even really be solved, or fully articulated, in this story? Not all of these queries are fully answered, but a plot twist at the end does offer an answer to at least one question, changing the nature of the metaphor in the process. As can be expected with most art, the beauty is found in the act of searching, and this is true here. There have been countless studies and articles addressing loneliness this past year; watching this film, it did seem that, as thorough and truthful as any of those were, somehow none could capture the emotional impact of isolation quite like this enormous whale, swimming and singing for years—and possibly alone, in a vast, open sea. W


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BLACK WIDOW | HHH1/2

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Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow

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Richard Thompson, Beeswing: Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975

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Women on a Mission Marvel origin story Black Widow spins a fierce feminist yarn about sisterhood BY GLENN MCDONALD arts@indyweek.com

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hen taking in a comic book movie, it’s always good policy to deliberately switch mental gears before the story even starts. You’re about to spend the next couple hours in the comic-book movie world, with its attendant logic, themes, and rules. This approach is especially helpful with Black Widow, the latest from the Marvel Studios assembly line. Keep your expectations adjusted properly, and it’s a pleasant surprise. Compared to the European spy genre films it emulates, Black Widow is a second-tier specimen at best. Compared to recent Marvel movies, it’s an odd and interesting departure. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Natasha Romanoff, ex-Soviet assassin turned good-guy superhero. Since Natasha famously perished in Avengers: Endgame (2019), the new film is essentially an extended flashback set in the period just after Captain America: Civil War (2016). The movie is as close to a self-contained one-off as anything we’ve seen so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that’s a good thing. It’s an origin story, in part, and a very busy one. The plot twists are too fun to spoil, but prepare yourself for Cold War 1980s flashbacks, chase scenes through the alleys of Budapest, a Siberian prison break, high-altitude goon-bashing aboard a flying fortress, and a sinister sub-villain with the frankly excellent name of Taskmaster. Also prep for Rachel Weisz as a maternal Russian scientist, David Harbour as a washed-up Soviet supersoldier, and Ray Winstone as the particularly loathsome criminal mastermind. Most important is Florence Pugh as Yelena, Natasha’s sister (sort of), and

heir apparent to the soon-to-be-vacated Black Widow franchise slot. You can find plenty of plot synopses online if you’re in the market, but I propose that the subtextual elements of Black Widow are the most interesting parts, at least for weary veterans of the Marvel movie era. This is a spy movie, sure, and a superhero movie in parts. But it’s also a film about sisterhood, improvised families, and our shifting cultural attitudes toward young women. As it happens, I watched Black Widow with my 13-year-old daughter, who is deeply committed to the various Marvel films and streaming series. I’ve found that I don’t mind this much. Superhero movies are really just modern mythmaking, and they’re designed on a basic architectural level to reflect, dramatize, and impart cultural values. With Black Widow, my daughter clearly responded to the fierce feminist vibe of the film, and to the basic throughline of young women fighting back against old, rich, powerful men in their attempts to divide and conquer the masses. I hope that the subliminal shape of that narrative stays with her, and with all the young people who will absorb this movie in the next few weeks. It’s good news, I think, that the general trajectory of these stories is changing. This isn’t the kind of movie I got as a kid. Black Widow ends with young women caring for one another, shaking off the toxic bullshit of older generations, and choosing to do the right thing as they see fit. It’s all pretty good stuff for a comic book movie, and it helps you get past the movie’s weak spots, like the rote repetition of genre tropes that were already tired 30 years ago, or the awkward forced banter between the sisters. (Actually, Pugh has one great bit about that crouch-and-hair-toss pose that Johansson does whenever she lands in a fight scene.) One final note: yes, there is a post-credits scene; yes, it has a startling cameo appearance; and yes, I had to have it all explained to me. Now that I think of it, there are lots of reasons to see this with a 13-year-old. W

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