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  • Category Archives Music and Concerts
  • Butt Ugly

    Police Riot Concert 2013

    I still make an effort to attend the annual Police Riot Concert, even if just briefly. My photographer friend Bill Shatto and I do it for the photo ops. The crowd of attendees as well as the performers afford some of the best photo subjects in New York City. If you’re looking for a rainbow coalition literally, then come to this event. Here, people are truly many hued – whether hair, clothing, or skin art.

    There are weekend warriors whose idea of punk rock is primarily costume and theater. But there are aging punk rock people, too. There are crusties galore with their signature tag-along dogs. Piercings and body art are de rigueur. Many were drunk and/or drugged and not in full control of their motor functions. The bar was set low for fun – standing or walking was an achievement for some. There was a little bit of slam dancing and stage diving.

    At one point, I spotted one shirtless participant who was sporting an enormous beer belly, covered with tattoos, as was the rest of his body. Another, more modest attendee who was shirted, caught the former’s eye, and, with a bit of body language along with hand and eye gestures, they gave each other nods of approval. They approached each other. They compared bellies. There were high fives and even a warm embrace. It was now a beer belly festival.

    Seeing he had an audience of onlookers, the shirtless one decided to bend over and moon the audience. I did not savor seeing that pimply display, and I believe he knew quite well that neither his rear end nor his tattooed belly were objects of desire. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, however, in this case, the only phrase that came to mind was Butt Ugly :)

    Related Posts: The Real Peel, Misfits, False Assumptions

  • You’re Not Gonna Find in Bristol

    ‘Tis a bit unfair, but among close friends, the town where I grew up, Bristol, CT, has become the butt of a private joke – a metaphor for all things boring, a place devoid of culture and nightlife. Whenever I see something particularly unusual, crowded (as I wrote in 212 and 2:12), or abuzz, I sometimes remark that it is certainly something you’re not gonna find in Bristol.
    In this town of 60,000, there is little to do but visit strip malls and eat fast food. My family never ate in Bristol, opting instead to travel for our infrequent restaurant outings. Although it does have a surprising number of claims to fame – Lake Compounce (the oldest amusement park in continuous operation in the US), national headquarters for ESPN, hos of Little League New England, a Clock Museum ( one of a very few museums in the United States dedicated solely to horology), the New England Carousel Museum, and the Otis Elevator Company test  tower – the largest in the United States. Nonetheless, these are things of little import on a day-to-day basis, and most residents will only partake of these places once or twice in a lifetime, if at all. But for culture or shopping quality merchandise, most residents will find themselves traveling. My high school English teacher, a rebel, advised us not to read the local paper, something he found tantamount to trash. He recommended that we leave Bristol altogether. There are staunch supporters of my hometown, I am sure. In my lifetime, I have seen Bristol alternately on lists of best and worst places to live in America. But I yearned to live in New York City and, in 1969, undeterred by my guidance counselor (as I wrote about in Jungle Lovers), I came to the big city.

    In the 7 years that I have written for the pages of this website, I have featured many unusual and remarkable people, places, and things – people such as Mark Birnbaum or pianist Colin Huggins, who performs with a baby grand in Washington Square Park. But, as typifies the New Yorker, I have become inured to the lunacy of a man assembling and disassembling a baby grand piano daily, hauling it many city blocks to and from storage, setting it up, and playing for hours, even in the most inhospitable weather. Most recently, Colin upped the ante considerably by performing during the winter months in frigid weather. Neither biting cold nor a slim audience deters him from his daily grind.

    As I traversed the park on the morning of Friday, February 15, the bar for novelty in New York City was raised again – a piano turner wearing roller blades was busy tuning Colin’s baby grand piano, with banks of snow as backdrop. It was decidedly a scene uniquely New York and certainly something You’re Not Gonna Find in Bristol :)

  • All Things Feral

    I recall a conversation with my sister about children and a viewpoint expressed by Polly Platt in French or Foe. In this book, various aspects of French culture are laid out by the author, an American living in France married to a Frenchman. According to Platt, the French, who believe that they brought the world civilization, see the importance of discipline in child rearing as well, with children viewed as “little savages” who must be civilized in order to enter society. Children are expected at a very young age to behave like adults, even, for example, sitting well behaved throughout an entire meal in a restaurant.

    I summarized for my sister the discipline imposed on children by the French and their expectations. My sister concluded that this type of child rearing was cruel. Strict discipline of children is certainly a contentious subject, however, with what I have seen in the subways of New York City which at times can appear to be like Lord of the Flies with children and teens acting out and even cursing their parents in public, perhaps a bit of French thinking might serve us well in the taming of children.
    The conversation with my sister regarding wild children was appropriate coming from a French perspective – not only is my family of French ancestry, but also, perhaps the most well-known case of feral children is that of Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron. The story is the basis for Truffaut’s film L’Enfant Sauvage.

    In 1797, a boy was first discovered and captured by hunters near Saint-Sernin, France. He was taken in and studied by a young medical student, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who named him Victor. At the time of Victor’s capture, he was estimated to be about 12 years old and was naked, filthy, had numerous scars on his body, and was wild, unsocialized, and unable to speak other than guttural sounds and squeals. It was speculated that he been raised by animals and was a true “feral child.” Although there were many hypotheses regarding his origin, nothing was ever substantiated, including any rearing by wild animals. His interests were very basic, and he was highly attuned to activities, sounds etc. During his time with Itard, he wore no clothing, eliminated by squatting on the ground, and would neither use utensils to eat nor sit on a chair. Little progress was made with his socialization, and Victor died in Paris in 1828. You can read more here.

    I have always been fascinated with stories of feral children, and on a raw, cold, bleak November day nearly a decade ago, I got as close as I ever have at meeting someone who certainly appeared untamed. I was passing through Washington Square Park, which was deserted, excepting one lone musician who was sitting on a concrete bench playing guitar, seemingly oblivious to the cold. I recognized him, having seen him previously a handful of times playing in the park, often with a wild, disheveled appearance. He was playing blues with occasional use of a slide, which I love. His raw, edgy style and interpretations of blues classics were very engaging – I listened to a few songs standing in the cold and left a dollar in his open guitar case. When I asked his name and he said Feral, I confirmed the spelling, lest he had thought that I had asked about his disposition or temperament.

    Years passed and I had not seen him since that period. Recently, at the Folk Festival, I scanned the program and was excited to see Feral Foster listed as the closing act. He played and sang an original composition, The Whole Wide World. I really liked it and after his set, introduced myself. He gave me one of his CDs, all original songs, i.e. no covers – a difficult road to travel for any musician, but a necessary path for anyone looking to make their mark. I saw him a few days later at The Gaslight, a club on MacDougal Street in the Village. His music still has a rawness and his playing style and persona has an idiosyncratic and untamed look and feel, befitting a man named Feral. Whether it is a film like L’Enfant Sauvage, the rearing of children in France, or my meeting of Matt Foster, from early on, there has been a thread in my life of All Things Feral :)

    Photo Note: Top photo courtesy of Bill Shatto.

  • Folk Festival 2012

    What is commonly thought of as folk music does not have the lure or following of other genres of music. Most of the big names have passed their prime or are no longer with us. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan may come to mind for those who know them and their music. But one is not likely to see legends like these at a local Folk Festival, an event that can easily slip in under the radar. I would not have known about the 2nd Annual Washington Square Park Folk Festival had it not been for a friend who asked if I was aware that Blind Boy Paxton would be playing in the park on Sunday, September 16. I knew not the artist nor the festival.

    My friend assured me that Blind Boy Paxton was the “real deal” and a must-see. However, I was unsure about my liking of the rest of the day’s music, so, without much expectation and camera in hand, I sauntered into the park a little late at 2PM at the start of the 2nd act. The festival was a two-day event (there were six acts Saturday and seven on Sunday, from 1PM – 7PM with a different act hourly).

    On stage when I arrived was Piedmont Bluz. I love blues and realized looking through the program that this festival’s definition of folk was the dictionary one and broad – including blues, bluegrass, country, old time, and actually very little of the stereotypical folk artist – the solo singer/acoustic guitarist.

    The lineup for Sunday was Mamie Minch and Tamar Korn, Piedmont Bluz, Unnamed Hillbilly Orchestra w/ John Cohen, Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz, Blind Boy Paxton, 4 O’Clock Flowers, and Feral Foster. I video-recorded the acts, and you can watch a montage below.
    The acts were all phenomenal – I salute those who produced this event for bringing together such a group of talent for a free festival.

    The whole thing came as a big surprise to me – the caliber of performer and music was much greater than I expected. Every act was SOLID. All were working professionals, typically with CDs and websites. A few had their own Wikipedia pages. A number of the acts had traveled some distance to make this event. I was only disappointed that I had not gone to the entire festival and that I had missed Saturday. I hope the festival returns. I hope to see you there next year at the 3rd Annual Folk Festival :)

  • Whence She Came

    I once had the privilege of knowing and employing an individual who was intelligent, well-educated, talented, hard working, and a great human being. Apart from his day jobs, he was also an accomplished musician, from a musical family and married to a musician. This was a great privilege for me – I was able to ask a myriad of questions regarding music, which he was always happy to indulge.

    On one occasion, I asked the reasoning for male rock vocalists to often sing in falsetto or head voice. He answered that strong, high-pitched sounds are physically exciting. This applies to women as well as men, and the physiological reasons have actually been documented.*

    I have spent time in Washington Square Park for many years. Those who are regulars there will, from time to time, be rewarded with cameos and surprises by performing individuals and groups who come from all corners of the earth. On the evening of September 15, a newcomer caught my eyes and ears. She appeared to be quiet and shy, sitting with a group of musicians who were doing their rendition of Let It Be by the Beatles.

    At one point in the song, she was encouraged to solo (from about 1 min 10 seconds into the video). I am not an expert in the vocal ranges of sopranos, but her controlled and sustained high register was beautiful and astonishing. I can’t speak for the others, but I felt like an angel from high had come to rest for a moment and grace us with the voice of a nightingale.

    I know nothing about her other than her name was Margaret. She was given a rose for her efforts and went as mysteriously as she arrived. All that was left were notes on high. As she sang, beautiful and beatific, her fingers pointed skywards where angels reside, letting us know Whence She Came

    *When singers sing high and loud, the brain releases the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, causing a general increase in physiological arousal – higher heart rate, faster respiration, increased perspiration, and greater attentiveness.

    More musical cameos in Washington Square Park: Up Up We Go, Strike While the Music is Hot, Esai is Taken, Mzuri Sings, Only in New York

  • Tardy to the Party, Part 2

    The Madonna Concert, 2012 (see Part 1 here)

    Two hours of hustling with three grueling subway rides, and we were at last in our seats at Yankee Stadium. We were late for the scheduled time Madonna was to appear, however, as is often the case, the main act was late in going on, so, our efforts were rewarded and we were not Tardy for the Party, but 5 minutes early.

    But the tide of good fortune had only just begun. Our seats were very conveniently located under the seating tier above us – we were as far forward as possible and still sheltered from the rain, which was not a downpour but was nonetheless a factor. We did not need any rain gear whatsoever – plastic bags, umbrellas, raincoats, and ponchos were all now in storage for the evening. I was told by two young fans next to me that I would not be disappointed at my first Madonna concert.

    Madonna made her stage arrival to a roaring, anticipatory crowd, and the party began. This was my first large arena concert in decades, and it was nothing short of a dazzling multimedia extravaganza. I will not review this concert in detail here – for that, there are many other sources, such as the New York Times review of her American premiere in Philadelphia. Here are excerpts from that review:

    A ritual, a blood bath, slacklining, a partial striptease, drummers in midair, traditional Basque harmonies, a psychedelic train ride — they’re all part of Madonna’s “MDNA” tour

    Madonna has described the show in a statement as “the journey of a soul from darkness to light,” and perhaps it is. Near the beginning, after tolling church bells and chanting, a gun-toting Madonna is besieged by assailants from all directions and dispatches them in self-defense as giant spatters of blood fill the video screen. In that opening segment she sings about jealousy, divorce and, in “Revolver” — with images of guns and ammunition — about sex as a weapon.

    Madonna, at 54, isn’t giving in to pop obsolescence. The concert is a display of energy and nutty inventiveness, with Madonna costumed as everything from baton twirler to folk dancer. Featured among the musicians is Kalakan, a trio of Basque singers and drummers who bring medieval and folky elements to various songs, including a version of “Open Your Heart” that arrived as a kind of Basque jig, with Madonna dancing and singing alongside her son Rocco.

    Madonna has been extraordinarily successful in reinventing herself and remaining durable over the decades. A sold out stadium at $189 per ticket says something, even if you are not a fan of Madonna :)

    See my complete photo gallery here.

  • Tardy to the Party, Part 1

    I had never been to the new Yankee Stadium, a replacement for the Yankees’ previous home, the original Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923 and closed in 2008. Friends had purchased a set of four highly coveted Madonna tickets. One of their family, however, was unable to attend, leaving them with one ticket, which I was offered. I am not intimately familiar with Madonna’s music and so, I was somewhat unsure that I wanted to spend $189 to see a woman whom I was not particularly a fan of.  My friends persuaded me to go – after all it would be a Saturday night out, an opportunity to see Yankee Stadium, and an arena concert, something I had not done in many decades. To sweeten the deal, they said that I could decide after the concert what it was worth to me and pay what I like – essentially a ticket on consignment. It was a deal I could not refuse, and so, on Saturday, September 8, I found myself at my friends’ apartment in the Village, readying ourselves for the Madonna concert.

    There was a pre-show, but none of us were driven to see it, so a group decision was made to depart at 8:30PM. With travel time, this would leave about an hour before Madonna was to go on stage at 10PM. It was raining, but the concert was rain or shine. We planned and collected our raingear: umbrellas, ponchos, plastic bags, and raincoats, fully prepared for the worst – an evening sitting for two hours in the rain.

    We made the short walk to Union Square at 8:30PM, walking briskly in the rain. Our train arrived promptly, however, there was congestion, and our train stopped abruptly. To add insult to injury, the train was mobbed, hot, and humid, and we learned that due to equipment failure, there was no air conditioning between 96th and 125th Streets. Everyone made the best of it as we enjoyed a joint roast. Finally, after what seemed to be an interminable journey, we arrived at our destination in the Bronx – 161st Street/Yankee Stadium. As the train pulled into the station, Hellen, shepherdess of the tickets, made the most disturbing announcement that could be imagined. Yes, she had forgotten the tickets.

    So now, with only 45 minutes to concert time, we were in the very unenviable position of being at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for a Madonna concert with $760 of tickets in Hellen’s closet in lower Manhattan, a distance that, even with the best of train fortune, was a long journey. To make the round trip journey seemed unthinkable, but the tickets were purchased via Ticketmaster, and with no recourse or ability to reprint them, only two options remained. Scrap the concert, or make the round trip and see what remained of the concert. A group management decision was made to do what we could to salvage the evening.

    So back on the #4 to Union Square. A nice connection to the #6 to Astor Place was making the affair look more promising. A jog to their home, a swift elevator ride up to their apartment, and a beeline to the closet, where, as Hellen predicted, four tickets laid waiting. It was 9:40PM. I took a quick photo of Hellen gleefully brandishing four tickets, and we bolted out the door to retrace our steps. The subway ride was uneventful, however, we had become quite weary of train travel – this was now our third subway ride between the Village and Yankee Stadium.

    We arrived at the stadium at 10:10, not bad, and in our seats approximately at 10:23 PM. Madonna had not gone on stage and so, through a miracle of fate, we had actually arrived 5 minutes before her portion of the concert. We had, with decisiveness and good fortune, accomplished our mission, avoiding what Hellen’s daughter had hoped – that we would not be Tardy to the Party :)

    See Part 2 here for the conclusion to the story and a video.

  • Culture Fix

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I grew up in a town where, regardless of the fact that it has a population of 61,000, THEY ROLL UP THE STREETS AT NIGHT. Even on Saturday, it is like visiting a ghost town of the West. There is virtually nowhere to eat other than fast food and nothing to do except cruise the streets in despair. No wonder the youth of America is bored out of their minds in suburban USA and turn to drugs and sex. And no wonder that places like New York City became a mecca for those who crave culture in all its variants. I understand that there are many options out of the city and also an inner world to explore – I was an avid reader and also extremely active and social. However, there are limits to how much blood one can extract from a stone, and many of our suburbs are virtually devoid of cultural activities.

    So, in 1969, I, like many, made my way to a somewhat bigger town called New York City. Here, I found everything I had dreamed of and more. That young boy still lurks within, starry eyed and excitement bound, and, from time to time, I need a jolt of electric current and a culture fix. I rekindle those first moments when everything was ALIVE at any hour, day, or night and the feeling that anything is possible. Perhaps you even have a hankering to see a grown man dressed as a macaw, dancing about, while accompanied by a band called Moon Hooch, featuring a saxophonist with an enormous cardboard tube shoved into it.

    I took a walk recently to Union Square, where, regardless of season, time, or weather, you are guaranteed to see humans in all manner of activities. Steps from street level to the park on the south side of Union Square provide impromptu stadium seating and is one of the best spots in New York City for people watching. The square is surrounded by merchants and is one of the city’s major transportation hubs. Historically it has also been a major meeting ground, a place to see and be seen and ideal for those with a political agenda or need to bring a message to the masses. The place is abuzz with people and energy.

    It was here, on July 4th, 2012, at 12:17 AM that I found a grown man dancing in a macaw suit accompanied by a rock band. I was to learn that the performance was not spontaneous nor the product of birdbrains. It was a campaign on the part of Rock the Osa to raise awareness about the development threats facing Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, home to the area’s last virgin rainforest and “the most biologically intense place on earth.”  Marco Bollinger the Macaw and Eytan Elterman the Sea Turtle have nearly reached their target of $25,000 by dancing to produce the documentary project, 2.5 Percent, a film promoting conscious travel in Costa Rica.

    Moon Hooch is a Bushwick, Brooklyn, based band which has played regularly in the NYC subway system. The three band members, James Muschler, Mike Wilbur, and Wenzl McGowen, met at the New School, where they studied music. Moon Hooch plays cave, a style of house music. After only a year, they have produced an album, toured nationally, and worked for a TV company.

    As with everything else in New York City, things are often more than they seem. It’s where preconceived notions are best left in the checkroom. And all the better – it just means more opportunity for someone needing a Culture Fix :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Up Up We Go

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I was tipped off by a friend that I might want to hurry to see this group of musicians from New Orleans. He referred to them as a “crusty” band. They certainly have the signature attendant dog, and there is a vagabond character to the group which is hard to define in many ways. The group is a moving target with a non-specific stable of individual members. However, regardless of any nomadic similarities, Up Up We Go did not appear to me to embrace the hapless, nihilistic lifestyle of the crust punks.

    The core member of Up Up We Go is Salvatore Geloso, originally from Brooklyn, New York. His unique, impassioned style of delivery with highly animated facial expressions is what prompted my friend to bring them to my attention.

    My first encounter with them was in Washington Square Park. A full ensemble was playing with an acoustic upright bass, accordion, violin, guitar, and a saw. Salvatore plays guitar, kazoo, and provides the lead vocals. I have seen saw players before, but they always seemed to be more of a novelty or curiosity. Here, in Up Up We Go, the saw was truly used melodically, adding a wonderful musical element to the melange. I was entranced by the music and must say that this was one of the most entertaining music ensembles I have seen on the streets of New York City. Their music, original or that of fellow musicians, was very catchy – I have been listening to The Pony Song for over 3 weeks.

    Unfortunately, the group is hard to nail down, as they are not based in New York. Being the magnet that this city is means that this is a place where talent comes and goes. The group’s name is an apt metaphor for the vanishing act we will see soon. I hope it applies as well to future success for Salvatore and the band members of Up Up We Go :)

    More street performers in Washington Square Park: Strike While the Music is Hot, Sirens of Culture, Mzuri Sings, Crooks and Perverts, Curse of the Mouth Trumpet, Impossible, Catch Em If You Can, Sieve of Darwin, Tune Out, Tune Up, Tune In, Artiste Extraordinare, One-Man Band, New York State of Mind, Music Speaks for Itself

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Strike While the Music is Hot

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    As I stood late night in Washington Square Park, the very faint sounds of violins began wafting over me and friends. Had I heard perhaps Ashokan Farewell, the haunting melody chosen by Ken Burns as the musical theme for his award-winning Civil War film series? I spotted two violinists across the park plaza and walked briskly in their direction. Here, late at night, one must strike while the music is hot. There are no guarantees how long anyone has played or will continue to play. If you like what you hear, better run and enjoy.

    It was apparent that these were no ordinary musicians. I suspected that they were accomplished interlopers, on some mission in New York City, and, given some down time, had decided to grace us with their notes, as visitors are often apt to do. I was right, and I learned that the couple were a brother and sister who were in town to do a commercial recording gig. They had not played together in 20 years, so we were also privy to a family reunion.

    I arrived as they were completing a song, and I asked if they knew Ashokan Farewell. Of course, they replied, and that they had just played it a moment before. They were, however, quite happy to play it again. I recorded a video:

    I spoke to them and was surprised to learn that both were professional classically trained musicians and were in New York City only for some days for the recording session. They were leaving the next day. I learned their names, John and Rebecca Patek, and took their contact information. From John’s website:

    John began playing the violin when he was two years old and hasn’t stopped since. Born and raised in Mequon, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee), John learned the art of performance at a young age through his involvement with both the Milwaukee Youth Symphony and the Homestead High School Orchestra.

    John continues to perform actively in Switzerland, Italy and in the Midwestern United States. He also teaches several group and private lessons.

    Rebecca Patek, from Wisconsin, began studying violin since she was 2 years old when she saw Itzhak Perlman playing violin on Sesame Street. She grew up playing classical violin and at 10 was playing with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. She became hooked on old time and bluegrass in middle school when her mom took her to a bluegrass jam at a local bar. Patek went on to study jazz violin and has won the Wisconsin state fiddle championship several times.

    From a recent correspondence with John:

    I was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1981 and grew up just north of Milwaukee in Thiensville, WI.

    I am lucky to be a musician.  I have my own private studio in Mequon, WI with about 15 students and I also teach at Milwaukee Montessori School. Currently I am a freelance musician based in Milwaukee but I was a member of the Madison symphony, I work as violinist with two different orchestras in Switzerland and am an active recording artist.  I have worked with television, film scores and various bands contributing violin and cello tracks.  I have worked quite a few non musical jobs but they only make me appreciate my life as violinist even more.  I suppose this is the story for so many musicians but whenever I get to play the violin in know I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

    I did my bachelors degree at the University of Wisconsin as a student of the late Vartan Manoogian, and did my masters degree at the Conservatory of Neuchatel in Switzerland studying under Stefan Muhmenthaler.

    I split my time between Milwaukee and Switzerland.  I have not lived anywhere else.  I have gotten to travel throughout Europe because of the violin touring with orchestras and studying.

    My Mom and Dad made sure that I had the best teachers, an amazing violin that I still play and was able to attend any summer festival i ever wanted. They love music and art and made sure that my sister and I were able to develop our talents and have a great time.  They took us to lessons before school, drove us across the summer camps across the country, to and from youth symphony rehearsals, got us on flights to Europe and made sure we practiced before we wasted time like we wanted to.

    Joan Rooney, one of my first violin teachers and Vartan and Stefan my teachers in College really made me realize how challenging and amazing playing the violin can be.  I have had great teachers in music and my other academic classes and I know that because of them I do a better job teaching.  I am able to combine all of their great guidance and ideas and share them with my students.  I only hope that I can inspire my students the way my great teachers inspired me.

    I was so glad to have made their acquaintance and heard some of their playing. On the streets of New York City, things are in flux, whimsical and temporal. To experiences those serendipitous pockets of joy, don’t deliberate, but Strike While the Music is Hot :)

    More music in Washington Square Park: Sirens of Culture, Mzuri Sings, Curse of the Mouth Trumpet, New York is Bluegrass Country, On the Road, Sieve of Darwin, Tune Out, Tune Up, Tune In, Delivery, Bluegrass Reunion, Fete de la Musique, New York State of Mind, Music Speaks for Itself

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • A Classical Revolution

    Play this clip to accompany your reading:

    It was the early 1980s, and I had just purchased my first CD player. I had the future in my hands, however, I had no music on CD whatsoever. What would I get that would be worthy of such a new piece of technology? I had grabbed a copy of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor recorded in a church in Europe, but such a short piece only served to assure me that at full volume, my living room could be made to sound like a Gothic cathedral during an organ recital.

    I had heard that the classical genre had the largest musical dynamic range and thus would best take advantage of the CD technology. So, I turned to a friend and performer, William Lee (aka Master Lee), whose mother I knew listened to classical music. My impatience knew no bounds.

    When I met him soon thereafter passing through Washington Square Park, I asked what classical music recordings I should get as a neophyte. He replied, without hesitation, the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach. Hearing a plural, I asked how many concertos there were and which I should buy. Six, he answered, and it does not matter which. So, initially, I purchased the 1-3 and later 4-6. I am forever grateful for his recommendation – it is hard to imagine a better choice for the first-time listener to classical music.

    My interest in classical music grew, and it became my total musical diet for some years. I even dabbled in playing instruments that I came to love, taking lessons in violin and cello. My German-made Pfretzschner cello still sits gathering dust in my closet, testimony to the daunting task of learning an unfretted classical stringed instrument.

    As I write this, I am listening to Brandenburg Concerto #3, 3rd Movement, and all I can think is what a lively, engaging, absolutely sublime piece of music. My hair is standing on end in full-body goosebumps. So, you can imagine my surprise and elation last night when, walking into Think Coffee cafe, only to get out of the cold on a dreary, drizzly night, a friend and I encountered a string quartet in full swing. They played a Brahms sextet and, in a fortuitous and serendipitous twist of fate, an ensemble of nine players finished with none other than the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto #3.

    I was to learn that this was not a spontaneous or whimsical event but rather the New York City chapter of a group known as Classical Revolution, an organization with 30 chapters worldwide. The organization was formed in 2006 at Revolution Cafe in San Francisco by violist Charith Premawardhana with a mission of presenting classical music in a casual atmosphere. The members are a collective of accomplished classically trained musicians. The performances are jam sessions, and any musician is welcome to join and play along with the core members. I love the concept of chamber music brought to casual venues.

    Good things are even better when they come unplanned as a complete surprise. This was New York City at its best, where culture can be found lurking around any corner – another Pocket of Joy and nothing short of a Classical Revolution

    More on classical music: The Redeemer, Click of a Mouse, Acquired Taste, Free Lunch, Bad Hair Day, Sounds of Summer, Bargemusic, Not So Kleine, Music for 9 Basses and 1 Cello

  • Pow-Wow

    Where would you go to see an authentic Pow-Wow? Surprisingly, such a thing can be seen right in downtown Manhattan at the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers in concert. The event took place at the Theater for the New City at 155 First Avenue in the East Village. This Pow-Wow, an annual event for the last 36 years, is a celebration of music, dance, and storytelling, with proceeds to benefit a scholarship fund for American Indian students. From their website:

    Thunderbird American Indian Dancers are the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. The troupe was founded in 1963 by a group of ten Native American men and women, all New Yorkers, who were descended from Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes. Some were in school at the time; all were “first generation,” meaning that their parents had been born on reservations. They founded the troupe to keep alive the traditions, songs and dances they had learned from their parents, and added to their repertoire from other Native Americans living in New York and some who were passing through. Within three or four years, they were traveling throughout the continental U.S., expanding and sharing their repertoire and gleaning new dances on the reservations.

    The juxtaposition of old traditional activities set against a contemporary urban environment is often jarring yet a wonderful opportunity to be catapulted to another time and place. For those with the time, money, and inclination, respite from the city’s stresses can be had by vacationing. However, full immersion in something like an American Indian Pow-Wow can also provide a small holiday for the mind, while at the same time giving a window into another culture.

    This event was recommended to me by a friend, Evan (see here and here), who has participated in this for years. I went with few expectations and was pleasantly surprised. The second half of the show was very dynamic, with continuous dance and musical accompaniment. One piece, the Round Dance, encouraged audience participation. My favorite piece was the Hoop Dance, which I found close to heart (my business makes hoops). It was fascinating to see an example of the adage that there is nothing new under the sun and that hooping (ala the hula hoop) has ancient precursors, relatively unknown, practiced right here in the United States by the American Indian. See my video of highlights of the show below.

    Dig deep, read between the lines, and you will find another way to enjoy what New York City has to offer at an authentic Pow-Wow :)

  • Less of an Ass

    In New York City, kind words stand out, as do gentle souls, genteel manners, and thoughtfulness. Some people exude one or more such qualities, and for a New Yorker, these people are show stoppers. Often this is a cultural trait, whether owing to another region of the United States or perhaps another country. This was what made meeting someone like Su Jung from Korea, featured in my story Friends (see Part 1 and Part 2), or Jamie Adkins in Kind Words, totally disarming. The impact was large enough to inspire an entire story based largely around each of their extraordinary characters.

    On New Year’s Eve, I attended a large party given by close friends who have been involved in a number of other parties, including the one featured in Myra’s Isle. As time passed and I ruminated on the midnight hour, I played with the idea of preparing a toast for our collective New Year’s Eve group. It occurred to me that it might be fun to ask people what their New Year’s resolutions might be, write them down, and read them aloud at midnight, perhaps even singling one out as my favorite. I squared away my idea with our party host and was given immediate approval.

    I made the rounds, chatting and collecting resolutions from those who had made them. My list grew, and I looked at how to best present them and perhaps choose a “winner.” Until I spoke to Mark Mahoney. His resolution was essentially four words, and after hearing them, I was so taken that I crumpled my list and decided that I would only present Mark’s resolution. They were not the words I expected from a New Yorker, and I knew that they would be met with tremendous approval, which they were.

    Mark Mahoney is one of those gentle souls, quiet and unassuming, always with a smile. He is a good guitarist; I video recorded his version of the classic blues song Key to the Highway. I love his casual, easy style. Mark’s father is also a musician, a pianist who can be found Sunday evenings at the Limerick House on West 23rd Street.

    A few minutes before midnight, I called together our revelers in preparation for a toast. Behind me on a large TV was Times Square with the teaming masses ready for the iconic ball drop. I began with a brief story about renowned science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, whom I had seen interviewed on television many years ago. He was asked what he would like his epitaph to read. I recall my mind racing to guess what a man of his stature as a writer might answer. I was quite stunned by his answer: that he would like to be remembered as a “really nice guy.”

    When I asked Mark Mahoney for his New Year’s resolution, I was reminded of the Asimov interview and how Mark’s response was essentially a variant on Asimov’s, just a little more self-deprecating. I was a very happy messenger as I heard everyone heartily applaud Mark’s resolution for 2012: to be a little “Less of an Ass” :)

    Related Posts: Jungle Lovers, Devil Ups the Ante, New Year’s Day

  • Hopping

    As a young boy growing up outside New York City, swamps and forests were the environs of choice for exploration. My best friend, Jaime, whom I know is reading these words, can attest to that, and our daily adventures brought us great joy and finds. There was nothing like a swamp for all manner of critters. Sometimes, following the lead of frogs who traversed ponds and swamps on lily pads, we would also travel across these waters, hopping onto tufted outgrowths. As might be expected, landing on such small targets and balancing for the next hop was often unsuccessful, and the drying of soaked sneakers and socks became the order of the late afternoon.

    In New York City, one can span dry land by bar hopping. This recreation is pursued by many, and evidence of such is best seen around 4 AM, closing time for bars, as the streets of the city are flooded with inebriated late-night revelers desperate for a taxi. In the colder months, groups of shivering, scantily clad girls can be seen competing for taxis which, at that hour, are in severe undersupply. The neighborhood with the highest concentration of bars in New York City is the East Village – not a big surprise. So if you are looking to bar hop, that’s the place to go.

    In the world of cyberspace, hypertext linking has become the new vehicle for those inclined to move. But, be it bars, swamps, or cyberspace, in time, one does weary of hopping or linking, and coming to rest and exploring and enjoying what is at hand becomes appealing.

    If you tire of bar hopping and are looking for the latest or coolest place (such as Death), then you may want to make the journey to Woodhaven, Queens, where you will find the antithesis of the East Village scene. Here, in a residential neighborhood at the corner of 78th Street and 88th Avenue, is Neir’s Tavern, what some say is the oldest bar in New York City. This is very much a local place, established in 1829 as the Blue Pump Room.

    The places exudes the charm and authenticity that many seek in a city where such places are rapidly disappearing. I ventured there one night to see the Lori Behrman band. The bar was where the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas was filmed. There is live music four nights per week with no cover charge. They also claim the coldest tap beer in town, with a centuries-old beer system using packed ice to cool the beer coils to a temperature just above freezing. And fear not the pangs of wanderlust – there’s free WiFi for those who can’t resist Hopping :)

    Related Posts: No Red Faces, The Ear Inn, Gotta Get Out, Shrine to Kitsch, Claims and Hooks

  • Transgendered Jesus

    I don’t relish the job of creating a name for a rock group. In the world of naming, much like the perennial complaint of women about available men, it often feels like “all the good ones are taken.” Some group names are enigmatic. Others, such as Leftöver Crack and Transgendered Jesus, give a strong impression, and seeing them in person confirms any preconceived notions that WYTIWYG – what you thought is what you get. Why do I say that?

    Meet cofounder of Transgendered Jesus, Anne Hanavan, a recovered East Village drug addict and prostitute. Hanavan hails from Buffalo, New York, and came to NYC in the 1980s to attend Fashion Institute of Technology. However, a cocaine habit was followed by heroin addiction. Her career as prostitute began at the downtown strip club, Pussycat Lounge, where she was originally employed as a bartender, then went on to dancing and turning tricks. This eventually evolved to streetwalking on East 12th St. and Allen St. for 8 years.

    Anne cleaned up her drug habits and built her life back up, worked various jobs, and later made a foray into short films, taking film classes at NYU. The films deal with themes of growing up Irish Catholic, sex work, drug addiction, and punk rock, and are often sexually explicit.

    The group name, Transgendered Jesus, is certainly provocative. In an interview in Artvoice, Anne says:

    A transgendered friend of mine had posted a crazy link on Facebook to some transgendered Jesus site, and I thought it was fantastic. It summed up everything I’m about: making your own choices, believing whatever you want to believe, and that nothing has to be black and white.

    I did peruse a few websites, and it was clarified that the concept of a transgendered Jesus is not to be associated with sexual orientation, only disposition. I came across statements such as:

    Jesus’s feminist politics worked in tandem with his transgendered disposition.

    Jesus’s Transgendered Disposition Always in Plain View!

    In flesh, Jesus was the Son of Man but, in spirit, the Daughter of Mary.

    The group’s shows have elements of performance art, reflecting Anne’s background as an artist and filmmaker. The show I saw was in Tompkins Square Park – the outdoor environment was not conducive to the full range of performance elements, including custom video projections, etc. that I understand often accompany their shows.  But the music was loud, brash, angry, and not for mainstream tastes. But neither is the image of a Transgendered Jesus :)

    Related Posts: WYSIWYG, False Assumptions, Piercing Al Fresco

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