2-5-05, 3:20 PM -
Odd, how a place you've been to dozens of times can be transformed by a little weather. I'm resting on a bench bearing a plaque dedicating it to Billie Jean King. It overlooks Central Park's Bow Bridge and the Lake, now coated with a thick layer of ice. Last time I was here, autumn winds were stirring up the dark green water, upon which gondolists warbled lovers' carols in foreign tongues. Now even the ducks have packed up, leaving the park to the humans and puffed-up sparrows who complain in the treetops. "Dammit! Dammit!" they shout. Aye, friends. Aye.
I'm only out here today because of a brief upturn in the thermometer reading, a blessed respite from the arctic assault we've received this winter. We got our blizzard, all right, and the mercury's been so low since then that the sidewalks remain piled high with its browned leavings. Most of the park, though, is still painted white in the setting sun, and it would make a fabulous postcard. If only I had a digital camera.
I'm not much of a photographer anyway, but my friend Bartomeu Amengual is. He took a bunch of new shots of me, since I realized that most pictures on my website were over two years old, and durned if he didn't do his best to make me purty. Here's some of his handiwork:
Spent the morning getting my arty-fart on over on Astor Place. On a wild hair, I accepted a Lighting Tech position for a small theatre production running over the next couple of months. I have to do this every few years, get some bit part in a little play so I can feel the live theatre buzz and get the bug out of my system. I'm a passable actor, but not much more than that, but I still like the theatre vibe.
I used to think acting was my thing, but really, being the best actor in Weatherford High School's class of 1992 isn't a terribly big distinction, nor was it very hard to do. True, there are plenty of actors worse than me in this city (I've seen them), but there are also plenty better. And anyway, I find that what I'm after isn't the stage time, but the rush of being part of a production; the tense weeks before the show as everything falls into place, the energy of opening night, the unexpected moments of error and brilliance. It's something I can't go too long without pining for, and it's cool to finally do it in the ultimate theatre town.
On my way out of this morning's rehearsal, I swung by the estimable Famiglia Pizzeria on Broadway. Single men, if you ever want to spend an afternoon of viewing enjoyment, do so in a window table at this crucial NYU chickie intersection. I just went by for the pizza, of course...
4:39 PM -
Got too damn cold to write out there, so I'm on the D train back to Brooklyn. Central Park has shut all of its restrooms for the season (humans don't pee in winter), so I had to make a pit stop at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. It really is a monster, but it's an attractive one. Kinda like Fran Drescher.
I don't begin to imagine that this ultra-super-upscale shopping nexus was built for the likes of me, but I like to walk around and pretend I'm a rumpled old wealthy eccentric, maybe a photographer or screenwriter. I think they believe me, but if they don't, at least they don't call the cops.
My charade is bolstered my the new kickass boots I have on. The old Converse-n-Khakis thing wasn't working for me anymore, so now I'm Mr. Black Jeans-n-Boots. It works particularly well in the winter, but come summer I may have to revert to the usual Goober-In-Shorts-n-Sneakers once again.
While I was purchasing new footwear (a rare occurrence), I made myself buy new dress shoes, since I can only be Mr. Black Jeans-n-Boots on the weekends. I must say that 90% of all men's dress shoes are worth crap in NYC, because they are missing one vitally important attribute: Tread.
I don't know what geniuses came up with the flat leather sole, but they've obviously never walked more than a block in rain or snow. The treadless death moccasins I've been sliding around town in for two years have damn near cracked my head on the pavement more times than I care to remember or would disclose to my mother. So when the funds finally presented themselves, I embarked upon a hunt through shoe store after shoe store, grabbing every pair of dress shoes and performing one simple operation: Flipping them over. No tread, no dice.
My search was long, for I was not to be toyed with. No namby-pamby weenie tread, like tiny ripples on a pond, so easily rent asunder by the flapping of the ducks of weatherborne death. No tread atop a wooden heel, which would be clacking against concrete in no time, rubber-destroyer that I am.
At last, I came upon the magickal pair. Skechers, black and unfussy, tread like a monster truck tire...oh, yes, THESE were my shoes. The tread was so thick that the shoes were heavier than my boots. Oh, man. I knew they were badass shoes because they hurt like a bitch for the first two weeks I wore them. The best pairs of shoes I've had over the years have been absolute murder on my feet for the first week or two that I owned them, like wild stallions that wouldn't be tamed. But once domesticated, they are the hardiest mounts in the land, and remain faithful until at last my mighty feet pound them into dusty bits. 'Tis a hard life, but...well, they're shoes.
So at least I've reduced the likelihood of one type of death. This is New York City, however, so I can't let my guard down. Hasidic mothers with baby carriages move very quickly, and they'll run you down if you're not looking.
10:14 PM -
My mind is afloat in a sea of stuff. Some of it's good, gristy stuff, and some of it just floats there, like bits of carrot in the green Jello salad that no one will eat. Just finished listening to Rain Dogs. I want to be Tom Waits, but so does every songwriter over 30, at least the ones who don't want to be Diane Warren. Gotta put on something without lyrics, or I'll sing instead of finishing this letter. I need to expand my collection of instrumental works, which is pretty much limited to stuff I picked up free or cheap at old record store jobs. This Wynton Marsalis album of baroque trumpet thingies will work. Kinda makes me want to prance about with a poofy grin on my face, but then what doesn't?
I just read one of the most awesome books ever, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Seriously, if you don't go out and buy it after reading this letter, I'll fucking kill you. With a stick. I loved his first book, Ghostwritten, and this one is even more engaging. The characters are amazing, particularly this Englishman named Timothy Cavendish, carried over from Ghostwritten. Good Pete, I nearly embarrassed myself while reading on the train on numerous occasions by bursting out laughing at this guy. He's Black Adder funny, this guy. Which is one of the things I love about Mitchell. He can go from mind-bogglingly deep to brutally heart-rending to astoundingly hilarious in the blink of an eye. Sometimes I think I can write, then I read someone like Mitchell, and I think I need to keep working on it. Dang, the boy's good.
In addition to reading great books, I've been endeavoring to expose myself to more of what this city's got to offer, culture-wise. Last week, we took advantage of an offer made by one of the Wifely's co-workers and attended a Stravinsky concert at Carnegie Hall. Not Stravinsky himself, he's stone dead, but the London Symphony Orchestra with Pierre Boulez conducting.
Now, to paraphrase H.I. McDonnough, I don't know classical music from Shine-ola, apart from what I played in junior high and high school at the point of a baton, and half of that I don't remember at all. But recently I've felt like maybe I should know a little. Maybe not mid-to-late 20th century atonal stuff, but at least a modicum of seminal work that is, after all, part of how the music I'm influenced by got to where it is.
Of course, seeing a show, ANY show, in the superfamous Carnegie Hall is a worthwhile experience in itself, and certainly worth putting on your nice pants for. And it is a hell of a performance space, ornate as all get-out, with acoustics that ensure you hear every crinkle of the plastic shopping bag the woman in front of you put next to her feet.
I think that people in 1891, when the hall was built, had to have been less claustrophobic than me. Wouldn't you know it, we got a seat right smack in the middle of the aisle, and the folks who set this place up had never heard of stadium seating, so most of the performance was spent with me scrunching my arms and legs up to keep my limbs from ending up in people's laps. Even the hallway to the restroom was long and thin, like some Egyptian pyramid light-hole. Freaked me out something fierce, but my subway cramping experiences have taught me how to keep from screaming and punching my way out of such situations.
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the orchestra's performance of The Rite of Spring. I recognized bits of it as the dinosaur music from Fantasia (one of my primary classical reference points), but it was nice to hear it sans brontosaurus. Very aggressive, this music. I can see why it caused a bit of an uproar when it came out in 1913. Kinda like Metallica with more gong and bassoon. You wouldn't think a bassoon would be very aggressive, and in truth, it's not. But its innocuousness at the beginning makes the big whoopass section sound even more terrifying. Rrargh, brontosaurus come eat you! Me Grimlock say transform!! (I'm so glad I didn't shout that in the middle of the performance)
One unusual feature of this concert was a lecture of sorts beforehand by Boulez and some Carnegie staffer who spoke better English than the very French conductor. The orchestra would play bits of the piece, and the two men would discuss odd little quirks of the music and its history. It was interesting, but I found myself feeling like I used to when I first started working in record shops, presented with in-jokes and references that flew right over my wittle head. The Wifely was no better off, and when the orchestra struck up a snippet and Boulez exclaimed, "Vell, of courze, zees sounds nossing like Petrouschka!", we were obliged to titter along with the audience, glancing sidelong at each other in bewilderment and shared ignorance. Peer pressure's a bitch.
Been making the rounds of art museums as well. Come to find out I'm a big fan of photo monographs. The hell I say!
For those unfamiliar, a photo monograph is a series of photographs presented together, often in book form, that make a statement of some sort. It's rather like a concept album, which is probably why I like it. That and they tend to be in black & white, so my colorblindness doesn't make me stare at them in bafflement as I do with a lot of art.
The selections from photo monographs at the Met's Few Are Chosen exhibition are from the early-to-mid 20th century, and are just fabulous. Ordinary but incredible moments in time, snapped still by great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bill Brandt, and Walker Evans. It makes me want to buy the books, but it turns out that many of them are out of print and fairly rare. Oh, great, now I'm an antiquarian. Except that I can't afford to be a goddamned antiquarian, so instead I'm a wannabe antiquarian. That's just great. If I'm going to be an eccentric old bastard, I could at least pick something less upper-crust. I always said I had great taste...
(cover by Henri Matisse, don't you know...)
My next museum stop was the Guggenheim, and this time it was to see things I couldn't possibly buy, even if Mr. Lotto paid me a front-porch visit: Aztec art.
Great stuff in this exhibit, and a reminder that my European ancestors certainly never held the monopoly on cruelty and barbarism. Notwithstanding subject matter, the work is fantastically crafted, mostly from stone but also from human remains and gold. Nice guys, the Aztecs. One of their gods was Xipe Totec, for whom priests would remove the skins of sacrificial victims, flay them and wear them as body stockings. Real Hannibal Lecter stuff there. They built a hellacious capital city, though, and it's interesting to see artifacts from it.
One of the chief pleasures of visiting the Guggenheim is the Guggenheim itself, with its sloped rotunda and little surprise galleries off to the side, filled with everything from Picasso to Rembrandt. The sculpture room is particularly cool.
The last time I was at the Guggenheim, the rotunda was closed for their installation of that Matthew Barney reproductive-organ-pontification crapulum, so it was nice to finally see the museum as intended. Got to take the Wifely and deanpence as well, so I had someone to nudge when there were private parts in the pictures. Maybe I should've gone to the Matthew Barney exhibit, too...
2-7-05, 7:18 PM -
Lots going on in matthew show news. That version of Warren Zevon's Mohammed's Radio I did last year is finally going to see light as the compilation it was created for is released on March 30th. Hurry Home Early: The Songs of Warren Zevon will be available from Wampus Multimedia, and you can find out more about the album and the artists on it here.
It should be a great collection, and I hope everyone will pick up a copy.
Another piece of rather big news is that my own label, Naive Music, has just entered a partnership with an ambitious new label, Schismatik.
Label owner Martin Schuster and I have been talking for a couple of months, and I have seldom found as much common with anyone in the industry as I have with Martin. His vision for the label is revolutionary in its simplicity, and he actually has a working business model, something many upstart labels don't spend too much time on. I think that between my efforts and his, the matthew show and other Naive artists can find a wider audience for our work.
I know I talk a lot about there being other Naive artists, and some of you may be wondering who those may be aside from me & Dorian. That's because the other two artists currently on the roster are still in the production stages of their albums, so I haven't put anything up on the website. But rest assured, they're coming, and you'll dig them.
But in the meantime, Schismatik will be working with me and eventually Dorian to help spread our wanton seed across the countryside. I'm really excited about the partnership, and I encourage you to check out the fine labelmates I'm sharing the new stable with, as well as Martin's manifesto.
I mean, how many labels have a manifesto? Where is the Warner Brothers manifesto, I ask you? Nowhere, mon frer.
(defunct now, sadly - ed.)
Another little enterprise I've entered into is a bit more cockamamie, but fun:
(also defunct now, also sadly - ed.)
Behold my latest attempt to escape dayjobbery. Who knows, it might yield something more than a tremendous pain in my ass and a double encore of Mustang Sally. Those of you in the greater NYC area who know someone in need of backup, feel free to give out the address.
And don't tell them they can get a "good friend discount", either. I wants the money.
"But what about the MUUUSIC, man?"
The music is expensive.
"Sounds like somebody's living for their WALLET, man!"
Hey, I've already got one job that doesn't pay my rent, why do I need two?
"But MUUUSIC is its own reward, man!"
"Dude, you've changed."
I said suck it.
2-8-05, 9:30 PM -
Lovely weather we've been having. The snow's nearly melted off, and the stray cats aren't mewling pitifully at me as I pass, making me have visions of Jehosafat eviscerating them if I were to bring them home.
Found this flyer on my door. An impossibly old rabbi cradles a lump of white fabric embossed with golden Hebrew lettering. His glasses are thick enough to stop a flying metal battle yarmulke, and they're mashed sideways onto his nose so that one rheumy eye peers out over them, asking you to give him money.
The cause? Well, I haven't figured it out yet. Apparently I can receive a bracha from the Gedolei Hador for a $180 donation. To quote: "as this is a well-known segulah for hatzlacha, and there are only a limited number of aravos available, don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"
Well, if I ain't excited about that, God's a possum.
I think these flyers are the Jewish equivalent of Robert Tilton's personally blessed prayer cloths. They use the same font as all the Christian networks, and have that feel of Betty-Jo-and-her-free-clip-art-catalog, notched up to include full-color pictures of half-blind, nearly dead rabbis who probably don't even know what the hell they're being photographed for.
While I'm being offensive, I must share with you a story the Wifely told me, which she probably won't tell because she possesses more decorum than I.
As she was walking home the other day, she heard a great honking and screeching commotion from one of the intersections in our neighborhood. Being a well-assimilated New Yorker, she naturally ignored it. That is until she heard someone yell, "Fucking Jew!!"
Well, this was going to be something. You don't drive through Borough Park cursing Jews if you want to get out without...well, something nasty happening, I'll tell you that.
Spinning around to see what might happen, she turned towards the sound of the cursing, and saw...A JEW!! A tall man in an overcoat and a yarmulke was apparently taking his religious appellation in vain, stepping out of his crumpled car and assailing a bearded Hasidic gent with the repeated charge of "Fucking Jew!!"
Needless to say, the Wifely was flabberghasted. I mean, we've heard various minority groups use language on each other that, if spoken by an outsider, would mean instant bigass death in a bigass death-shaped hat, but never from Semitic mouths. Holy Pete on a stick.
So now you know. I'm not really sure how that information is terribly useful to those of you without the proper heritage, but for those who know where and what a shul is, be aware that you have a new weapon in your arsenal. Unless, of course, you already knew that and I'm just a dumb gentile honky who thinks its funny when people in little skullcaps curse at each other.
2-12-05, 7:01 PM -
Dang, I kept meaning to send this letter out this week, but crap kept coming up. But most of the crap seems to have already come up by now, so I think I'll just send this sucker out as is in case more crap appears.
The 80-year-old woman in the apartment next to us is cranking her psychedelic rock like she does most weekends. I don't know what to make of that. I would suspect that she's got a dopehead grandson staying with her, but if so, I never see him. The neighbors upstairs keep their soca or calypso or whatever it is at a fairly constant thump, and everyone in this apartment's got our doors closed to rock out to our personal soundtracks. On the platters right now:
Wifely - Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut
me - Mutual Admiration Society's self-titled debut.
We're just a buncha fucking indietastic bastards in this house. Where my tragic haircut at? (actually, the Wifely's convinced me to work on one...oh, the fear)
Dinnertime awaits. Might go with dad's chili recipe, minus a few onions for the Wifely's benefit. I like stinky, breath-altering vegetables, but not everyone does. I know that indiependent floppy-haired New York musicians are supposed to cook up vegan bamboo shoot casseroles, but friend, I do love the smell of seared pig flesh. Hell, if I didn't eat him, he'd eat me. Damn pigs.
Now close this email, go forth, become fruitful, and buy Cloud Atlas. Trust me, I'm an antiquarian.