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Welcome to My World
By Erik Hage
Photos by Joe Putrock

Fans of WRPI’s Hello Pretty City tune in for an offbeat musical experience—and for the one-of-a-kind voice and verbal sensibility of DJ Laura Glazer

 

Laura Glazer frets that when people talk to her on the phone at her data-processing job at Albany Med, “they really think that I’m 14.”

“I’m so not 14,” she deadpans.

For many listeners of WRPI’s Hello Pretty City, the most distinctive element of the program is the voice of Glazer, the DJ. It’s a tiny, delicate instrument—a honeyed timbre more suited to a sweet young girl than a woman of 28.

In conversation, Glazer’s tones sometimes add a poignant or unintentionally ironic tinge to her observations. (It doesn’t hurt that she says the damnedest things—her odd, sweet, vaguely ironic way with an anecdote is one of the many charms of her show.) Her voice is also an interesting foil for the music she plays: the quirky, experimental, occasionally discordant tunes (everything from indie pop to Franco pop to offbeat country) cut interestingly against her frank, guileless observations.

For a college radio show, Hello Pretty City has done pretty darn well for itself (despite its bright-and-early time slot). Last year, the Times Union named it the best college-radio show, and the Daily Gazette did a lengthy piece on it. But it’s more than just her voice that is enchanting listeners; there’s something about the twisting gyres of hip, quirky tunes and Glazer’s unique verbal sensibilities that builds up a beguiling little world for a couple of hours.

And people are certainly drawn to her world: A Hello Pretty City concert at Valentine’s last March drew a healthy crowd of nearly 200 to bask in Glazer’s small universe for a night.

So imagine my surprise when, upon meeting Glazer in her new, still vaguely furnished apartment in downtown Albany (which she shares with boyfriend Brett and cat Miso), I realized that the radio show was only a small part of a sort of life aesthetic that Glazer has established for herself. She is a combination of quaint sincerity and sharp, offbeat irony, and she finds many outlets for that nature. In short, Glazer is a character bursting at the seams with creativity. And a visit with her is an extraordinary show-and-tell adventure.

In person, she is tall, confident and funny, with thick-framed glasses, a dark poof of wavy hair and a broad, lethal smile. And throughout this Sunday morning, she moves with long strides across the hardwood floors, pulling all kinds of creative projects—photo books, CDs, mementos—from meticulously organized files. The interview itself becomes an interactive media experience that combines Glazer’s arresting anecdotes with all sorts of visuals.

For one, she has a fanzine about knitting called Knit 122, which she brightly terms “a magazine about knitting for people in the ‘122’ zip codes.” It is a small, handcrafted publication adorned with her illustrations and beautiful handwriting (carefully etched letters that come off more like perfectly cartoonish typography than something produced by hand) and held together by a decoratively functional strand of yarn.

Inside you’ll find such observations as: “I like that knitting has spilled into other parts of my life. Now when I take a bad picture, I can say to myself: that one was just practice; with all this practice, something good will come along a lot sooner.” (A typical Glazer observation is like a Jack Handy Deep Thought with less punchline and more quaintness.) On another page, a stick figure encircles yearning arms around a giant yarn ball with knitting needles thrust through it (like some sort of emblematic crest). “Oh skein of yarn,” reads the etched caption. “Please accept this hug.”

Glazer is also a dead-serious photographer; in fact, a Diane Arbus-like piece of hers (featuring a couple of adolescents wildly making out at a bowling alley while another, shiftless teen girl stands by) was featured in The New York Times Magazine a couple of years ago. She has a photography degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, and a cursory flip through her portfolio displays a keen eye for the bizarre and affecting. She also makes some intriguing connections between her craft and knitting. From knitting, she says, she has learned to “think about color in an abstract way” and more simply that “being patient and making mistakes” is part of creativity.

In the past Glazer also chronicled a road trip from Rochester to Tucson, Ariz., via photos and a fanzine called Edith, which she widely distributed. (Everything Glazer does is packed with her folksy, childlike drawings and beautiful handwriting.) Another project is a tiny, delicate book chronicling all of the years of Glazer’s life; it is festooned with her photography and tiny photos from her past tucked into little envelope flaps. (Much of her work has a delicately ornate quality that requires tiny fingers to fully appreciate.)

While I am examining Glazer’s work, she continues reeling off anecdotes. A typical yarn moves through some pretty bizarre terrain and then ends on a bright, positive lift (and her vocal quality can serve as red herring for razor-sharp wit).

For example: About a brief, dark period she spent living in Minneapolis (nursing a bad relationship), she muses, “I looked really different from people in Minneapolis. And I also worked second shift, so I never saw people. I lived in an old motel. My parents never visited me. It was not something that fits in my personal history.” Then comes the spin: “But Minneapolis is a great city, and it was weird that I had such an awkward experience there.”

On discovering she had an autoimmune condition called celiac disease: “In April 2002 I ate 25 chocolate chip cookies for my birthday, because I turned 25.” [Of course.] “I got so sick, and I went to the doctor and found out that I had celiac disease and couldn’t eat oats, barley, wheat or rye. So a loaf of bread is like 6 dollars. . . . But I’m great now! I’m on a diet.”

Of her time spent with Americorps, living in a small town in Texas, she remembers,

“I had a mohawk. It wasn’t a very good mohawk, because, like, when you’re working outside you can’t really maintain it.” Then, apparently, a small local girl spied Glazer, heard her unique voice, and mistook her for someone from another planet (literally). “That was my first clue that my voice was really strange—because I never knew that. But I still keep in touch with [the little girl].”

Glazer came to Albany in 2001 (after the emotional fallout of the Minneapolis experience), staying with a friend from college, working at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza and starting Hello Pretty City in the fall of 2002. Initially her boyfriend and another friend were involved in the show, but in a rare fit of prima-donna pique, Glazer says she staked it out as her own. “I totally fucked shit up. . . . I totally lost my shit, and one day I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this show by myself.’ And they were like, ‘Whoa.’”

And what draws in listeners is Glazer’s personality; like all of her projects, the program is an expression of that personality, from the idiosyncratic tunes to her voice to her anecdotes, which just hit you in a strange place. (In one chestnut, she relates how she got rid of her bicycle, first going for a long walk with it and chatting with it about the departure.) So it’s only fitting to end with a few Glazer gems from our chat:

On her love of truck-stop pinball: “I have always maintained that if people write a song about pinball, I will play it.”

On using “bad radio” to stay awake while driving: “My favorite thing about radio is listening to things I don’t like. I listen to JAMS 96.3 constantly.”

On rock music: “I have a big classic-rock repertoire. When I sing karaoke I do Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.”

“‘Turn the Page’?” I ask.

“That’s my song!” she cheers excitedly, then trails off singing, “‘You smoke the day’s last cigarette . . .”

Hello Pretty City airs Tuesday mornings from 7 to 9 AM on WRPI (91.5 FM). Knit 122 is online at knit122.blogspot.com


ROUGH MIX

-no rough mix this week-



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