WesCeleb: Ally Bernstein
Ally “Fucking” Bernstein ’13 is slumped in the armchair of her living room on Lawn Avenue, where domestic adornments range from a marble narwhal and a vintage sewing machine to a poster declaring “CAPITALISM IS A PYRAMID SCHEME.” When I walk in, she’s attempting a Grimes song on her ukulele. Embarrassed, she stops. She’s nervous. (“Can you make me not sound stupid?” she asks.) But when the interview starts, she’s suddenly in her element: enthusing about fake blood recipes, the idea of a massive human die-off, and that weird time I ran into her selling bread at a yoga festival in Vermont.
Newton’s only WesCeleb with a name ending in ’stein might seem like a time capsule from the 1990s (we first bonded over a shared enthusiasm for early ’90s indie rock, punk zines, and pretty much any countercultural signifier of the Clinton Era), but like the best reunited lo-fi legends, she’s just as relevant in 2012.
The Argus: So what makes you a WesCeleb?
Ally Bernstein: Well, Zach, unfortunately many of my accomplishments at Wesleyan do not have my name attached to them, which I suppose is the plight of the artist-cum-hermit. But I will tell you about just a few. Once, on Halloween, I picked up a guy using the line, “I’m just so scared of dying.” I convinced a small crowd, including Anwar Batte [’13], to swarm Foss Hill dressed as zombies.
A: That was during WesFest 2011. I remember that!
AB: Yes. I made a lot of fake blood. And once I emailed all of the Bernsteins on campus and requested their attendance at a summit of the Bernsteins, and none of them responded to my email. I’m looking at you, Rex! You have to put that in The Argus. Because I don’t know Rex Bernstein [’15].
A: Your brother [Ben Bernstein ’10] didn’t even come?
AB: No, I think it was last year. It was Emily, Isabelle, and Rex Bernstein.
A: What exactly is the Zombie Art Collective and how did you get involved with it?
AB: Zombie Art Collective has a very, very long history. They used to squat in the squash courts before it was the building, and they called it the Squat Courts. In recent years, it’s become a way for Wesleyan students to finance public and activist art endeavors. Having an older brother who went to Wesleyan is awesome. His friends told me to hang out and make buttons with them freshman year, so I kinda knew about it, but it’s hard to make people be excited about it.
A: You also dress up as zombies on occasion.
AB: Yeah. That actually started as, like, an activist performance art forum that did the first zombie flash mob, and then it happened maybe during our WesFest, so we decided to do it our sophomore year. A lot of people kinda didn’t know what was going on. But I don’t really ever know what’s going on. I really like to make fake blood. I can give you a good recipe. It’s all about the corn syrup.
A: How’d you get your nickname?
AB: Ally “Fucking” Bernstein? I don’t know, it just gets chanted at me a lot. I really don’t know! [laughs]
I think what it was is that I made it my Facebook name, and I’m very purposefully not friends with my parents on Facebook, but I’m friends with my aunt, and my aunt told my mom, and my mom said, “I heard about your Facebook name”—my mom really hates cursing (I love you, mom!)—and my mom said, “You need to change it.” And I said, “I’m 18 or 19 or whatever, you can’t make me change my Facebook name!” And she said, “Change your Facebook name.”
A: How did your hair get so blue?
AB: Well, Zach. You might not know this, but I’m half-mermaid. But it’s just the upper half.
A: I don’t really get this, but Will [Feinstein ’13] told me to ask you about #seapunk.
AB: So this hair color is associated with this subculture that I honestly don’t know much about called #seapunk. The idea is something about, like, ’90s internet imagery, and I’ve never actually listened to the music, but pretty frequently at parties someone will come up to me and be like, “Yo, #seapunk!” and I’m like, “Yeah, #seapunk!” And they’ll be like, “Yo, you know Zombelle?” And I’ll be like, “Yeah, she’s my girl!” I think it’s harmless.
A: You do a lot of farming. Tell me about that. How’d you get involved with Long Lane?
AB: Every Saturday morning freshman year, my dear roommate Charlotte Heyrman [’13] would go to Long Lane Farm and she’d always say, “Ally Bernstein! Come to Long Lane Farm with me!" And I was usually not in any state to go to Long Lane Farm.
But after sophomore summer, I came back to school early to hang out and work on the farm, which was great until Hurricane Irene hit, and my father said, “Ally! You shouldn’t be in Connecticut. You should be in Vermont.” And then I went to Vermont. And the entire state flooded. But I’ve worked on Long Lane ever since then, usually planting things that don’t sprout. But mostly just enjoying the groundhogs.
A: What is your title?
AB: “Plant Mama.” That’s the title I gave myself in my head. [laughs] I have thought about this.
A: Do you remember that time I ran into you at a yoga festival in Vermont?
AB: Yes, so clearly! [laughs] You have to understand what a trip that entire day was. All these crazy people kept coming up and being like “I’m just feeling these vibes,” and I was just there to sell bread, and I was like, “Yeah! Crazy vibes here!” And a lot of people at that yoga festival were gluten-free, and then they would ask questions to the farmer like, “Did you always have gluten-free bread?” and he would say, “Were you always gluten-free?” And it was just, like, very surreal. You know? To be coming from this very sincere farm in Vermont to this very strangely created and corporate-sponsored Yoga festival. And all of a sudden, Zach Schonfeld [’13] and Rebecca Vaadia [’13] were there!
A: How did you get involved with that farm in Vermont?
AB: I was going to take summer classes. And then I was at a nuclear power protest in Utah, where I spent my “semester abroad”—by “abroad” I mean “semester off”—and I went to this nuclear power protest and felt so supremely moved that I just knew I couldn’t spend the month of June sitting inside, so I went online and found a farm to work at. I definitely cried in front of a giant papier-mache head of Mr. Burns.
A: Why do you like the ’90s so much?
AB: I just feel like it was a simpler time. When you didn’t have to worry about whether or not your undercut was original because literally everyone had long hair and flannel. Plus, despite my inner-feminist leanings, I just really, really love male-fronted, semi-lo-fi 90s bands.
A: Who would win in a fight: Polvo or Superchunk?
AB: Definitely Superchunk. I’m gonna quote lyrics at you: “Do not pass me just to slow down / I will move right through you.”
A: Speaking of music, you used to be on Spring Fling Committee. How’d you get involved?
AB: Perfectly honestly, one of my brother’s friends was like, “Yo, you should apply.” And I was like, “OK!” And then I was like, “Yo, guys, I really like Yo La Tengo!” And they were like, “Cool, freshman.” [laughs] That’s really what happened. And freshman year it was just like, Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. We just figured it out.
This is a very controversial opinion, but I quit when I realized I didn’t feel comfortable being part of the committee that decides how to spend $50,000 on a concert. No disrespect meant to all the people who do a lot of very hard work bringing this concert to you. Most people don’t realize that it’s actually very difficult to put together.
A: What’s the best concert you’ve attended at Wesleyan?
AB: Beach House, freshman year. Suck it, underclassmen! [giggles] That’s not very nice. I’m really friendly! Man, it was just, like, beautiful. Victoria Legrand was, like, beautiful.
A: Tell me about your thesis.
AB: I’m a drawing major and an environmental studies major, and I have a lot of thoughts about civilization and the idea of a massive human die-off and death in general and, like, consequences of actions and so many things, so it’s kind of still changing day-to-day. Right now I’m reading and thinking about animism, and I’m starting a piece about cannibals. Like, I’m really fascinated by why cannibalism is so repulsive and also the idea of non-human persons inhabiting our world.
A: So it’s a studio art project?
AB: It’s a drawing project. I have an awesome studio. Perks of being an art major! Not a wallflower. [cracks self up].
A: What is your favorite blog and why?
AB: Oh my god. What a horrible question. Can I say two? My favorite serious blog is this blog called BLDGBLOG, and it’s this blog about all this fantasy architecture and imagined landscapes, but it’s very detailed, so they’ll look at all of these crazy projects. It’s amazing. My favorite non-serious blog is probably—I found this blog of this Japanese-American girl who spent a year of high school abroad in Japan. And reading about her boy problems was just so real to me [giggles uncontrollably].
A: Will also told me to ask you all about making out.
AB: That’s a really heavy question. Shit. At one point in time I was gonna write Ally Bernstein’s Guide to Boys. That was a project that got shelved, along with Charlotte Heyrman’s Guide to the Forty. What the fuck is Will talking about?
A: You started the knitting club?
AB: I did. With Betsy Sallee [’13]. I taught a lot of people how to knit. I mean, I knit—I knitted? I knat?—I knitted a lot in high school during class, and all my teachers were like, “Ah, Madame Defarge!” But I never really finish anything, because it takes a really long time. So I have a lot of one socks. You should ask me what my proudest accomplishment at Wesleyan is.
A: What’s your proudest accomplishment at Wesleyan?
AB: I made this zine during the blackout last year with Rachel Connor [’13]. I don’t think anyone read it, but I actually thought it was really cool because everyone was like, “Oh, power’s out! Let’s have sex!” and Rachel and I and some other people were like, “Whoah! Look how completely crippled campus has been without power.” No one knew anything that was going on. So we wanted to think about, “Where does our power come from? And how are we living using this much power?”
A: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done at Wesleyan?
AB: Uh…I can’t remember most of what I’ve done at Wesleyan. Once, Virgil [Taylor ’15] and I made a lot of signs that said “Seven minutes ago you weren’t here” and then put them around campus, and I guess a lot of people during Orientation waited there for eight minutes.
A: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
AB: I have both a dog and a friend named Isabel Bernstein.
A: Anything else that you want to mention?
AB: No. That’s it. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! Not all of that’s going in, right?