Dec 31, 2012

Lasting


Today's not only the last day of 2012, it's the last day the Lenox Lounge is open.

This past year has been filled with many good moments, but spending time in the noisy, busy, buzzy environs  of the historic Harlem jazz club rates at the top. For all my love of New York City and its vibrant energy, there was something uniquely, defiantly old-school, bad-ass NYC about the LL. It had a rich sense of history, pungent through every aspect of its being: from walls to drinks to the look of the patrons and musicians alike, something winked, with long lashes, as lacquered nails held stubby cigarette, "history, baby..."

The Lenox Lounge will be history tonight.

A certain sadness over lost places presented itself during a recent Toronto visit over the December holidays. All my old youthful haunts -the Uptown Theatre on Yonge Street, Flo's Diner in Yorkville, Sam The Record Man near the Eaton Centre -are gone, replaced with shiny-glass/hard-concrete boxes. They're monolithic symbols of an infuriating brand of unquestioned cultural homogeny, the pervasiveness of which I find totally depressing. No one remembers -and if they do, they shrug; who cares?

Now, nostalgia is a word - a concept -I don't always like, but it does have its uses. And, it must be said, I do mourn the loss of historic markers signifying another time and era. It worries me to think I've turned into one of those white-templed, sharply-cheek-boned women tut-tutting the kids of today who "don't know any better!" But perhaps there's nothing wrong with becoming that grand old dame, either. "I remember when!" might be a good mantra; there's something good about being a (hopefully somewhat glam) living, breathing collection of memories of a lost era. I tell younger friends about loopy, wild times enjoyed in the Toronto and New York of old, and I get dumb stares. It wasn't perfect, but it was fun. We felt we were connected to something larger than us -the people who'd gone before, generations who'd worked on those old buildings, warm bodies and flustered souls who'd sweat in those old theaters and clubs and stores, curious types who passed through, looking for fireworks and noise and fury, leaving with new colors, shapes, ways of being and seeing in the world. There was something older, grander, larger around us, a history that wasn't choking but enlivening, not constricting but yawning wide in a creaky old embrace. Everything was crooked, dirty, cock-eyed, chipped and scruffy; nothing looked the same, because nothing and no one was. Way Back When wasn't shiny, but it could hardly be called dull.

"I remember when!" It's a mantra that commands a weird respect, even as it inspires reminiscence tinged with whimsy, sadness, and regret. You feel your age when you say it. Bones creak. Breath tightens. Nose hairs appear. Another year passing means more buildings knocked over, more places like the Lenox Lounge vanishing. It's good to cherish the past but it's troubling when you're stuck in it. Problems arise when "I remember when!" comes "To hell with tomorrow!" So maybe it's best whispered, as jazz joints and record stores and grand old cinemas vanish, to remember those places with a smile and to wait, with baited breath, for what 2013 might bring. I remember that, but I'm curious about this.

Just please, keep the glass boxes. Bland has no place in the future I envision.

(Photos taken from my Flickr stream)

Dec 12, 2012

Get Back


Inductees to the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced yesterday.

As Slate noted, bands like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Kraftwerk were passed over in favor of Rush. It's strange to put two such different bands into the same huge, gooey melange that is the Hall of Fame nominations. Looking through reactions across social media, I've noted more than a few expressing disgust that so few perceived "greats" have been admitted, somehow looked over in favor of more popular, mainstream acts.

I have a whole-hearted indifference to the entire affair. Like the Grammys or the American Music Awards, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame represents little of the true state of popular music, much less its fandom or current culture. It's a fond museum piece that's made a formerly-dangerous artform respectable. Certainly more upscale than the AMAs but far less distinguished than the Kennedy Center Honors, the Hall of Fame seems like a quaint exercise in industry back-slappery designed to garner as much hate as adoration. Any reaction is a good reaction in the music industry of 2012.

But the position of rock and roll as dangerous, unsavory, ill-mannered, lecherous, and immoral has become as pre-packaged and pre-fabricated as the soon-to-be-extinct Twinkie. Was it ever thus? Perhaps. Artists have always known image is important -though maybe they felt it a little more in August 1981. It follows then, that while bands that have changed, so have listeners -our listening habits, of course, but beyond that, our expectations around what popular bands should be, how they should sound, and how they should present themselves to the world at large.

The past few decades, it feels as if the world of rock and roll has turned into a meticulously-micro-managed PR affair, complete with stylists, makeup artists, nutritionists, fitness consultants, an army of assistants, and a bucketful of "I'd-like-to-thank-God-and-our-fans"-style honors from supposedly respectable societies. All this grooming, primping, praise and applause, happens while maintaining an air of groundedness and connection -to roots, family, country, God, whatever it is we, as a society, are supposed to cherish in our own lives. This "just like us" corollary is, of course, laughably false: no one's family is perfect, everyone has complicated relationships with their God, and very often we think of hometown roots as either desperately uncool or hipster-fied beyond all recognition (but that's the point, isn't it?). Yet the quest for conveying authenticity continues. It seems awfully important to an awful lot of rock and roll people. 

This quest tends to express itself lately in unexpected collaborations. Should we be surprised hiphop and rock have blurred, the respective heroes from each striking poses that reflect and relay the supposed "rebellion" of the other? Nothing seals so-called "street cred" like skipping across (pre-approved) cultures -or generations, a fact I was reminded of in reading that none other than Sir Paul McCartney will be joining the surviving members of Nirvana for tonight's Hurricane Sandy 12/12/12 benefit concert in New York. Purists may make faces, but there's something simultaneously clever and nauseating about two generations of music icons purposely diluting their beloved respective brands -to what, create something new? Perhaps, though it seems there's also a deliberate attempt to attain some kind of cool creative "cred" in the process. Authenticity through dilution? It seems like a way of holding on to the creative spark, however weak, dull, and muddy the spark itself may be to outsiders.


So where are the true rebels, you may ask? Where are the mouthy ones, the daring ones, the hell-raising risk-loving leaders? Where are rock and roll's authentic voices? It's an ever-changing thing, hard to define, harder yet to hold and not snuff out. But when I think of the phrase "rock and roll," I don't automatically think sex and drugs; I think of daring, I think of risk, I think of being challenged and even a bit (/a lot) unsettled. I think of a band like Pussy Riot and Tinariwen. I think of PJ Harvey and Fela Kuti. I think of Pearl Jam and The Virgin Prunes, of Grinderman, of Run DMC, of Public Enemy (who did, by the way, also get inducted yesterday), of Massive Attack, Throbbing Gristle, The Cramps, of Patti Smith, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Scott Walker. I think of  Meshell Ndegeocello. I think of Jacques Brel and Leonard Cohen and Little Richard ...and and and. Artists with something to say, something to prove, a unique way of saying it and an incredible propensity to create various levels of thought, reflection, insight, perspective -even discomfort in listeners/viewers. They're artists with a visual side (or defiantly non-visual, as is the case with Pearl Jam, a statement in and of itself) as well as a brash, beautiful sonic side. They don't need to prove their groundedness; they answer only to their respective muses. There's an authenticity that stands firmly outside grooming too, even if some (hello Misters Cave, Bowie, Cohen) maintain(ed) an intoxicating air of smashing, scintillating physicality.

So while I applaud the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's far-overdue recognition of disco with its induction of Donna Summer (and she was so much more than that, by the way), and its symbolism in terms of an ever-expanding, all-encompassing genre of sound, the award means little, if anything, becoming more and more of a footnote in my perennially growing musical palate. I don't love awarded artists any less, or any more, for the nods they do or don't receive. I'm sure they're well award rock and roll has changed -some for good, some for bad. It isn't what it was. It won't be. But so long as we all stay curious, educating ourselves about the past while adding our way through the thick fog of the future, perhaps we'll find a place where rock and roll actually matters again. Maybe we'll land at a spot where a perfect face matters far less than a messy, chaotic, imperfection-is-perfect sound. That would be a true rebellion indeed -and maybe just what we've been waiting for.

(Photo credits: Top photo via HBO; Scott Walker photo via The Quietus)

Oct 21, 2012

Remember Laughter?


This blog was started as a means of celebrating a sense of "play," both in work and in life. Lately that element has gone sorely missing in my life.

Amidst stresses personal and professional, playfulness is often the first thing to be jettisoned; it's as if the dour responsibilities of adulthood stand diametrically opposed to smiling whimsy of play. Why is this? Why do we dump fun things when the going gets tough? Maybe we have to give ourselves permission to have fun, without any guilt "oh-I-should-really-be-doing..." Maybe we have to give up our inherent need to please everyone around us. Maybe we have to throw open the door to a tiny bit of fun chaos every now and again.

An old friend visited recently, which afforded the opportunity of pulling out some old toys we used to share, enjoy, and occasionally war over as kids. In that magical moment, all the trappings of our dour adult lives got put aside: the complicated jobs, the painful relationships, the pressing money issues, the maybe-maybe-not plans for tomorrow, the droning ugly siren's call of Monday morning. Silliness and imagination took precedence; neural pathways of joy were blasted open in a joyous expression of carefree loveliness. Nothing else mattered but living in the moment of our shared creativity. It wasn't a drunken series of incidents, either; amidst bites of tomatoey veal and sips of red wine, there erupted much laughter, as we posed superheroes and bits of every day ephemera in a sort of cacophony of cartoon surrealism. Our old worried selves became carefree kids once more.

I'm thinking about those moments of play a lot right now as I face a particularly stressful series of situations yawning, with ugly, hooked fangs, before me this coming week. Something about the joy of that experience feels light, instructive -redemptive, even -and beautifully pristine, as if I can always return to the warm, nurturing arms of play. Those arms are never really as far away as I'd imagine. I don't have to wait for the proverbial "tinkle trunk" to access that joyousness: it's already there. Just takes a bit of reminding, a bit of time away from the computer, thinking everything has to be done right away, this very instant. Allowing myself permission to laugh freely at silly things is good. Giving myself permission to smile is grand. Discovering I had the keys to the kingdom all along is a shock. There's a sort of divinity at work I'd never imagined.



A few superheroes still sit on the kitchen table. Far from being false idols, they're talismans, reminders, fortifiers. Cheerleaders for play. Adulthood doesn't have to be all misery; sometimes it's good to allow play in to brighten up the room, the week, the grey pallor of grown-up-hood. I'm glad I did. We plan, God laughs. Maybe it's time I started laughing more.

Oct 10, 2012

Look and Like

This is my most popular post on Tumblr. Hell, it's probably my most popular blog post. It's not my most popular post online ever... yet. What makes this photo so beloved? How did it earn 1,313 notes, exactly?

I came across this in June as part of the Hyperallergic newsletter that lands in my inbox twice a week.

"Oh," I thought, "that's kind of pretty and creative - I bet the kids om Tumblr would like it." It has just enough unusual-ness, mixed with just enough eye-catching design, and a certain crafty appeal that made me think it'd be perfect.

Um, yes?

I do stop and wonder if anyone who's liked or reblogged this from me has actually tried this; more than that, I'm curious how much traffic Sugar Nails (the originator of the photo) has seen from it. But mostly, I'm amazed - just flat-out amazed - at how much Tumblr-ers like and share this around. One thousand-plus notes?! Wow.

My big regret is that I didn't pull a meta-moment and take a photo of this to stick on Instagram - because the popular photo-sharing service has now surpassed Twitter for users. How many more "likes"? How many more "notes"? How many more shares? Following the numbers can be a breathless business, and more than a little addictive. It's nice to be popular, even (or especially) when you don't have to reveal a thing about yourself in the process. No one knows whether or not I paint my nails, or indeed, I may've tried the nail art above (confession: I haven't). But the more I work in digital journalism, the more I'm determined to keep my private life private; I curate what I share from my real life the way I do with links, news, @s, photos, and status updates. But what to do when something awfully personal goes viral? How would I feel if an awfully personal aspect of my life had 1,313 notes?

Online culture is, in many ways, a numbers game: how many followers, how many "likes", how much, and how fast. It's less about originality (hey, these aren't my nails after all, much less my photo) and more about who's first and who gets noticed when. That can ratchet up personal drama online, resulting in a sometime-CAPS-lock style proselytizing. Some are able to channel drama into a meaningful expression and assessment of their experiences (see: my friend Diana Rodriguez' smart blog). Some are able to build a solid brand through their particular sort of online sharing. And yes, I could gain tons more followers by publicizing various aspects of my life, but the price feels too high.

And so, I find photos of things I find curious, interesting, share-worthy, and I post them, and people share. Sometimes they share my professional (/original) work -which is even better. Every time that happens, I'm reminded of my gratitude toward my followers across various online platforms -my Facebook subscribers, my Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter followers, my blog and Digital Journal readers: I'm grateful for all of them -you, that is -and always will be, nails or no nails. Now here's a neat online thing - please like and share it!

Oct 1, 2012

Up There

"Everyone should see this."

That was my first thought upon leaving Discovering Columbus, the new art project from Public Art Fund in New York. There's so much going on in Tatzu Nishi's incredible installation -from climbing the six stories, to the views, to the wallpaper and TV in the "living room" -that it's hard to take in on one visit alone. Beautiful, deep, shallow, troubling, whimsical... it's a lot of things at once, just like its (immense) subject matter, America itself.

Nishi comes at Russo's statue of Christopher Columbus, and its busy locale, with an outsider's perspective; I was especially taken with the books lining the shelves in the installation. The works of Woody Allen, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, Malcolm Gladwell, Jeffrey Toobin and Steve Jobs and many more were like little glints of inspiration, offering exquisite, lacey detail to the fantastically-fitting dress that is Discovering Columbus. The statue itself is scary up-close -scary, and perhaps a bit bitchy; the exaggerated pose, hand on hip, imperious stare, and judging expression wouldn't be out of place anywhere in Manhattan.

I'm in the midst of putting a feature together on it - but seriously, GO AND SEE IT.

Addendum: Feature is now up. Go see! Go like! Go comment! Yay!

Sep 15, 2012

"Money Creates Taste"

On any given day, I'll plug a series of favorite tags into Tumblr to see what come up. I'm curious to see if there's anything new, inspiring, or interesting about my favorite topics or people. Something that catches my eye might get a "like" or even a reblog. Tumblr has a pleasing immediacy of visual experience that's utterly lacking in strict classification (unlike Pinterest), which makes it somehow more visceral and pleasingly jolting than other platforms (if also occasionally challenge to post to - you're never sure just what'll blow up, or why). Tonight I plugged in the name of a longtime favorite artist, just to see what came up. I wasn't prepared for the result.

Jenny Holzer, it appears, has gone high-fashion. Her truisms are appearing in Vogue Italia alongside model/singer/actor Milla Jovovich, carefully posed and poised in a variety of high-end settings. Is this to coincide with the release of Resident Evil: Retribution? Is it making a political point? Is it trying to bridge the worlds of high fashion and art (not that they need help)? My initial reaction was deeply unsettled; I felt dismayed Holzer would sell her talent out to an industry that is so reliant on the ephemeral, the superficial, the temporal and the boringly inauthentic. Her art has always struck me as the precise opposite of those qualities; real, deep, fierce, and deeply, sarcastically challenging of the expected norm, it also possesses a deeply feminist quality that separates it from many other contemporary artworks. Holzer's work is ferociously female and isn't afraid to express that through her art, while retaining her sense of being a human being -and human creator- first and foremost. (For an interesting corollary -and contrast - check the work of Cindy Sherman, who recently collaborated with M.A.C.) And there's something awfully disconcerting about seeing Holzer's snippy, snide truisms stuck beside super-pricey, high-end frocks most people will never wear, much less be able to afford. What the hell is someone as smart as Holzer doing in the flaky, flimsy, aesthetically-obsessed, surface-worshipping world of high fashion? And why would it be with someone who's known for being very pretty, but doing very little, outside of (wildly successful, if deeply lowbrow) zombie movies (and games), oodles of posing, a very mediocre album (yes, some of us bought it), and a mysterious Oscar appearance? Why Jenny, why? I'm sure my snobbery's showing at this point, but... c'est la vie.

In re-examining these images now, an hour or so later, I find myself intrigued, challenged, confused -and rather enjoying that mix of feelings. (Also, Peter Lindbergh's photography work is truly gorgeous.) I recently told a friend, after she'd viewed the work of Egon Schiele in-person and found it "upsetting," that art shouldn't be about making one comfortable, that art isn't about reassurance, or validating our world view; it's frequently about riling up feelings of discomfort and challenging our smug, too-cozy preconceptions. I wrote this to her last week, and now I'm being confronted with that very experience. Karma, irony, just-desserts, call it what you will... but I'm glad I plugged Holzer's name into Tumblr tonight. Maybe it's about creating a strong contrast - between all that high-end frockery and the raw realness of Holzer's art. Maybe it's about confronting women like me with our pre-conceived ideas relating to art, fashion, self-image, and empowerment. Maybe, amidst the shallow parade of lights and finery, there's some fierce depth going on.

Lesson? Not all art will conform to my definitions and world view -to my experience of being a woman, of being a writer, a culture vulture, a human being -and perhaps some of it -especially the work of favorite artists -shouldn't.

Thanks for the confusion, Jenny. Thinking too much can only cause problems.


(Note: Title of this blog post is also a Holzer trusim!)


Aug 30, 2012

Power of the Poles



Possibly the best way you'll spend four-and-a-half minutes today.

People like Jim Power -and the art he creates, and the community it, in turn, creates -are the reason I love New York City so much. But the fact he's homeless is infuriating. Makes the stuff in Tampa right now a lot harder to watch, much less stomach.

Aug 22, 2012

Holy Spirit


One of the strangest things I overheard about the Pussy Riot verdict occurred recently when I was out with friends. An older woman at a nearby table was talking into her cellphone, eyes obscured by heavy tortoise shell glasses.

"I'll tell you what," she said not-so-softly, tilting straw hat ever so slightly toward the blazing sun, "you can't just go around saying any goddam thing you like anytime , any place you like. They should've known better, those girls."

They should have known better. The words echoed and bounced around in my head as the gin and tonic glinted in the the afternoon sunshine. Should the members of Pussy Riot -Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Ekaterina Samutsevich, 30, and Maria Alekhina, 24 -stayed quiet? Writer Lynn Crosie recently observed that the girls' actions were "hideous" to have happened in a church. Watching the video for their new single, it's not difficult to see how they offended traditional, church-going sensibilities. The elderly nuns look perplexed and more than a bit pissed off by these pesky masked aerobi-dancing young women. But the protest did not involve any swear words or cussing, nor did it use a holy name in any obscene way; it lasted less than a minute and invoked a religious figure, in a sincere request for delivery from a perceived (if very real, to every day Russians) evil. The hypocrisy of the trial and obscene harshness of the sentence are all out of proportion to the actual crime, but Pussy Riot have become an international cause celebre in the process.

The whole affair points to a fetid underbelly of the ruling Russian politburo worthy of deeper investigation and exploration. The name "Anna Politkovskaya" floats somehow, ghostly, above all of this. But what's been heartening lately has been the outpouring of sincere support from various outspoken celebrities, including the holy (and wholly inspiring, to my mind) triumvirate of artsy female greatness; Madonna, Bjork, and Patti Smith have let it be publicly known they stand with the three members of Pussy Riot. Madonna donned a mask and wrote the band's name in marker on her own body during a concert in Oslo; Bjork did a manic live dance with a bevy of female chorister-musicians, shrieking in her signature banshee-like howl above the din. It was a beautiful, if perfect echo of Pussy Riot's own protest in one of Russia's holiest sites.

"Jesus Christ would fucking forgive them!" roared Smith at recent concert in Stockholm. One senses she's right. Surely Jesus would smile at the ballsy, youthful vigor of it all. It's surreal, the protest -tacky, surreal, unsettling, gormless, and... young. That brave, outrageous, ballsy stuff we do when we're young translates into the stuff we awkwardly admire from the comfortable distance of gap-toothed time and fat adulthood. We may not do it again... but damn, we want to.

The childlike sincerity of Pussy Riot's protest dances with a childish desire to shock, which isn't so childish if you know the admittedly scary politics of Putin's Russia. It's as if the rioters, in using the slang for female genitalia so boldly, and doing their funky young-wooman-goddess-thing in a Christian environ, are asking people to stop and think where true power lies in 2012 Russia, and where it should lie; they're daring people to stop, to think, to choose, and to reconsider. As Crosbie wisely notes, "the word “pussy” has been on everyone’s lips for weeks. It’s hard to imagine a more simple and more complex way of disseminating the blunt, beautiful nature of the girls’ mission." Those colorful masked figures are 2012's gangly, Gaia-like, guitar-slinging Teletubbies, Mother Russia's monstrous, balaclava'd court jesters, pointing up the ridiculous nudity of Sovereign, State, and Society. All we can do, us boring grown-up women, is stand and smile as they call upon the Saint for delivery, mouths open, eyes wide, inspired by the bravery of youth and the beautiful danger of pussy power in holy houses made flesh and blood.

Jesus would forgive them - even if they knew better, but most especially if they didn't.

(Photo credits: Pussy Riot members [top] from Pitchfork.com; Madonna photo from nme.com; Pussy Riot [bottom] by Igor Mukhin.)

Aug 21, 2012

Live! Live!

The idea of imitation being the most sincere form of flattery is one I've been mentally turning back and forth the last while. If someone stands up on a stage and imitates someone else - well - does that make them a great artist too, or merely a gifted technician?

This question came into focus the last few months as I attended two different musical theater events, Million Dollar Quartet and Backbeat: The Birth Of The Beatles. Both works are based on real people and real music history events, and both involve the depiction of cultural touchstones. Constant comparison is an evitable part of such events, especially if one's been exposed to the real thing -or even, bizarrely, a good imitation of the real thing.

In the former, my companion turned up her nose to the performer playing Elvis Presley, dryly noting she'd seen far better impersonators in concert, and noting the actor playing Johnny Cash wasn't menacing enough; she'd seen (and met) the real thing years before, and the performance (/imitation) simply didn't measure up. Similarly, attending Backbeat afforded me the opportunity of unfair comparison, having seen Paul McCartney perform at Yankee Stadium last year. It wasn't so much the performer didn't measure up that bothered me as it was the knowledge he never could.

At the end of Backbeat, people were cheering and applauding, out of their seats and dancing to the loud, raucous sound of "Twist and Shout" - but what were they cheering, really? The performance? Or the music itself -and their memories associated with the music? It struck me as a surreal sort of nostalgia, one magnified by years of people having a casual connection (however tenuous and imagined) with their pop idols via the internet, where a few clicks yields live performances they very well may've been at themselves. Who wouldn't want to re-live happy memories, of happier times, with a younger self, bright and bushy-tailed, full of beer and brawl, piss and vinegar, howl and hope? The internet provides a quick, easy hit of nostalgia, available 24/7 - but I wonder, at what cost?

In June, I saw Patti Smith perform material from her remarkable new album "Banga." Before an excited audience at the Barnes and Noble near Union Square, Smith and her band (including longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye) did three numbers from the album: the swirlingly romantic"April Fool", the 50s ballad-like "This Is The Girl", and the album's title cut, with its fittingly literary inspiration. The audience smiled,  cheered, clapped, initially hesitant but eventually exuberant. There were no calls for "Dancing Barefoot" or "Because The Night" though I'm sure a few people were panting to hear them. This wasn't about nostalgia -it was promotion, after all -but Smith seemed far more interested in forging an authentic connection with her audience; it was refreshingly to see an artist of her calibre so genuinely happy to be there, wandering through the crowd before the show, chatting, and later, proudly presenting new material and carefully explaining various songs' origins. I found it especially encouraging to note so many young women in the audience, hanging on Smith's every word. The smartphones and cameras were firmly away when she spoke. The crowd, quiet but ready to laugh at Smith's knowing, occasionally self-deprecating asides, was genuinely interested in hearing -and experiencing -new material from an old favorite, first-hand.

New memories are forged through this sort of event; the holy spirits of exploration, expansion, and inspiration ask us, as arts lovers, to go see and do something just a bit different, regularly, rather than live in the spin cycle of favorite playlists, repeated ad nauseum. It's nice to revisit old times and places (and people) with a few clicks (or swipes), but I wouldn't want to re-live those times, live, at any concert; a few well-chosen old nuggets are just right when placed beside newer, more unfamiliar material. There's always a wealth of new memories being  created -sometimes it's new sounds that give them the nudge into creation. More than ever, I want to celebrate that creation.

(Photos from my Flickr stream)

Aug 5, 2012

Loss (& Magic)

Roughly an hour after my review of a new musical was posted came word that Chavela Vargas had passed. There was something eerie in the timing; my review had got me thinking more than ever about Astrid Kirchherr and women like her  - the strong, uncompromising female artists who refused to fit into tidy pre-determined roles around their femininity and whose art was never determined solely by their gender or the place that put that at in the world.

Vargas, the throaty Latin singer had long been a favorite of mine. The first time I saw her, in Frida, I was entranced. What a voice... what a soul... what a presence.



It feels as if this year has been a horrible one for losing strong female artists and presences. Zelda Kaplan, who passed in February, was another sparky figure I greatly admired; my clubbing days would've extended longer, I think, had I had gone with her. There was an Auntie Mame-esque joie de vivre about her. Alternately, Nora Ephron and Maeve Binchy felt like confidantes -the sort who'd be hilariously blunt with how ugly those jeans look on you, and why you (I) should stay from men who don't do a lot of reading or like art galleries. Donna Summer was the woman who stopped everyone talking (and got them dancing); self-contained in her sensuousness, confident in her calm sexuality, she never had to try hard, she simply was. Real sex appeal, as I recently told a friend, can't be faked. It only fools some of the people some of the time.

Donna Summer's moans, simpers, sighs and statements were a declaration of her independence, alright -the exact same way Chavela Vargas' anguished, fierce, defiant tones were. They still are, for me and female artists everywhere. Their tunes didn't definer them as a woman; they defined them as fleshy, living human beings: let me be what I am, here and now.

There's so much more I could say, should say, about these women, but it's not the time or place, and I still haven't finished meditating on their role in my life, or mourning their loss. Lou Reed's 1992 album Magic And Loss captures much of this feeling, of losing personal friends who were also artistic heroes. Creative and personal so often bleeds over in life, and in art. That's probably a good thing.

All I can say at this point is: Dear Ms. Kirchherr, please hang on. I haven't met you yet, and I want to.

Aug 4, 2012

Unearthing Ireland

As has been noted, part of my mission this summer is to educate myself about music a little more - new music, old music, everything in-between. Being an arts journalist has afforded me a ton of opportunities to go exploring, even if time constraints mean I frequently feel a bit of a musical dilettante, skipping from one artist/band/era/genre to the next. But one thing caught my attention, and it's stayed glued there for months now. It even resulted in my writing a formal feature.

July 16th saw the release of Strange Passion, a compilation of sounds from the Irish post punk era. The first tune I heard from it (back in June) was SM Corporation's "Fire From Above", which has since become my unofficial summer anthem. With its bouncy beat and bleepy-bloopy electronic sound, along with a vaguely keening-esque vocal line, it's really the best sort of earworm to have through the heat waves and hot storms dominating the last couple weeks. In deciding to do a feature length story on Strange Passion and post punk in Ireland, I knew I'd be falling, delightedly head-first, into a cultural landscape I find deeply fascinating, even now. 

The Dublin of the late 1970s and early '80s was anything but glamorous, but, based on research and interviews (and frankly, the music), it was an inspiring time for artists. As Gavin Friday told me, sometimes the best art can come from the smaller, less glamorous cities; I turned this over in my mind after he said it, considering the home cities of some of my favorite artists (Prince is from Minneapolis; R.E.M., from Athens, Georgia; even The Beatles are from Liverpool, which was hardly a hotbed of hip cultural life in the late 1950s). There's something to be said for geography being destiny for artists: why, how, if (or when) they leave, they always carry a piece of their locale with them in song and sketch and spirit. 

Bands like Major Thinkers, Chant Chant Chant, and The Threat may not have lasted in any literal sense, but I'd like to think that listening to them affords me a peek into a creatively compelling place and time, one that's bled over into our own multi-faceted era of mixed sounds and places and experiences.

Addendum: For a detailed examination of the bands on Strange Passion, do check out Ian Maleney's excellent piece over at The Quietus. 

Jun 26, 2012

Good and Hot



The New York Times featured this lovely work by animator Gary Leib today. With a gorgeously simple sax soundtrack by Mike Hashim, the just-over two-minute video portrays city life in all its surreal splendour an sordid squalor. There's so much going on this piece of animation that reflects life in New York in 2012: peoples' sense of isolation mixed with a weary independence; their close relationship to pets; their love/hate relationships with nature and nurture; the dreariness of work; and the fortifying comfort of old (addictive) habits as a means of bolstering an ever-shifting identity. The animation is both whimsical and surreal, innocent and haunting - suitable for a man who created the sublimely bizarre underground comic Idiotland (gorgeous front and back covers here),  and whose work I've enjoyed seeing in The New Yorker now for a while.


Also: viva coffee! Though I used to be a hardcore tea drinker, lately I can't start the day without a good strong cup poured from the French press. Thank you NYT; thank you Mr. Leib; I'll think of ravenous birds and waitresses with bottomless carafes as I take my first morning sips now.

Jun 25, 2012

Lush Landscape



This just blew me out of my chair.

I've sat through many awful Jobim interpretations. However, this cover, by Gretchen Parlato and Esperanza Spalding, is well and truly astonishing; it doesn't belong anywhere near the tired old "predictable Jobim cover" bin.

Perhaps I've had covers on the brain lately, what with seeing Bettye LaVette perform this past weekend (and falling even more in love with that raspy voice of hers, if that's possible), and giving Robert Plant's Band Of Joy record a much-overdue re-listen -but it feels like when artists cover others artists' work, they take the safe high road of sonic politeness and predictability. If I wanted to hear it exactly like the original... hell, I'd put the original on for myself. When I hear an artist do a cover version, I want something creative, original, soulful, and thought-provoking; I don't have to agree with the result to appreciate the effort, but I want the feel the artist understands the meaning of the word "interpret." Most don't, or are cowed by the potential hisses of shrewd audiences. But what is artistry without a bit of risk? Chances are that just as many people will be pleased as be pissed off. Dear Artists: take the risk!

A composer like Jobim simply begs for interpretation. This duet delivers the goods. The poetically simple instrumentation - voices, hands, bass - combined with the tonal variations in voices, combined with that gorgeous, loping bassline, make for a swoon-worthy listen. My Monday just got a whole better hearing/watching this. Give it a watch/listen - yours may, too.

Addendum: for a beautiful version of the original, check out Ella Fitzgerald singing "Useless Landscape" live at Montreux in 1969. Awesome scatting included. Swooooon.

Jun 23, 2012

Worms, Soil, Sounds

Summer makes posting blogs here difficult because a/ it's festival season, meaning I'm busy reporting (and interviewing awesomely cool people like Bettye LaVette, woot!); b/ when I'm not writing I'm researching and doing the social media thing; and c/ when I'm not doing either of those (which takes up a fair chunk of time in any given day), I'm trying to do all the things I promised myself I'd do, namely, read more fiction, and expand my musical knowledge, as I wrote about in my last post.

Oh, and when I'm not doing THAT, I'm in the garden.

Along with a few discoveries amidst the weeds and ever-shifting soil, I've made a few musical ones too. (Soundcheck, you'd be proud!)

First, I sat down and finally listened to the entirety of Some Girls, by The Rolling Stones something I'd not done before. The reissue bonus track "Keep Up Blues" was my favorite - the corollaries between it and contemporary rap were especially striking, as was Mick's sexy, strutting delivery. I could practically see him thrusting hips and lips out in the studio. Brilliant. Hot. Listen.



Secondly, Tumblr is really becoming my mode of choice to discover new music. I came across English band the xx only today, and was struck by the way they're able to combine verbal and sonic poetry in one gorgeous package. This song is also wildly romantic, as reflected in the lyrics:

And I'll cross oceans, like never before
So you can feel the way I feel too
And I'll mirror images back at you
So you can see the way I feel too





The rhythmic repetition of such simple words and sounds is beautifully echoed in an aching series of guitar lines, making for a very haunting (if addictive) listen.


Speaking of rhythmic combinations of words and music... this is amazing:



It's taken from Strange Passion, a compilation of Irish post-punk and experimental music that's recently been released through Rough Trade. Irish music site Thumped.com wrote in their review of the album that "this compilation has become crucial, already. Hats off to all involved." I take that "crucial" to be applicable to anyone interested in not only the history of modern Irish music, but in understanding where we are now, in our very synth-sounding world.

I love "Fire From Above" because it's so amazingly modern, and again, has a gorgeous poetry that references both the clinical emotional calculation of Kraftwerk, along with a certain menacing joy that totally reminds of early 80s New York sounds. The chords are lifted right from Pachelbel's (in)famous Canon, but have a bouncy synth beat beneath them. And the words are just as moving, with an old-world weariness and youthful exuberance, combined with a rhythmic interplay with their synthesized accompaniments that makes you listen in just that much closer.

Here's to digging up more good stuff as the summer progresses.

Jun 5, 2012

Resolution Revolution, With Dancing

Today: 2pm hit and I made a face.

I don't recognize this.

Then I remembered: Soundcheck ended. Well, not ended forever, but the celebrated afternoon music show on WNYC has taken a hiatus for the summer. It's being re-imagined and re-tooled for its post-Labor Day return (in a new evening timeslot) and you can follow its progress online.

Friday's final afternoon program was all about resolutions - specifically musical ones. John Schaefer's call to listeners, asking them what musical promises they wanted to keep, got me thinking, and feeling more than a little guilty. I've been making audio commitments to myself now for ages: I'm going to listen to this new album. I'm going to check out that cool band. I'm going to get to more live shows. 

And despite covering The Cult's new album, getting into a great new DJ, and seeing Garbage live, I still feel like I'm not doing enough. With every new week comes a new onslaught of albums, bands, shows, all of which I feel I should be paying more attention to.  Then there's the backwards glance - and a glance is really all it's been when it comes to my own, embarrassingly limited musical knowledge.

Raised as a classical music-playing child, I didn't really find out about the work and influence Bob Dylan, David Bowie, or The Rolling Stones until well into adolescence. My house was filled with the sounds of Cash, Presley, and ABBA (to say nothing of Back, Beethoven, and Mozart) for many years. Later, with my very-own turntable in my bedroom, neither The Clash and nor Black Flag provided the soundtrack to teenaged rebellion; Aretha Franklin, Ronnie Spector, and Donna Summer did. I related to the strong, glamorous ladies whose music I could dance to. A big part of me still does.



The first time I heard Bob Dylan I was fifteen years old. The song was "Tangled Up In Blue" and it was played to me by a Dylan-loving friend of my mother's. I'd never heard anything like it; the words dripped with angst, and anger, and a world-weariness I hadn't quite known before. Somehow, it made the grunge explosion that followed in popular culture make more sense. A guest of Schaefer's on Friday confessed she didn't know enough about Dylan's either, and that her musical resolution over the summer was to correct that oversight.

It was oddly comforting to hear that kind of confession in such a public forum. Admitting you don't know the canons of such huge music monoliths in public is hard, and it was nice to see Soundcheck - a show I consider to be as much entertainment as education, and a major smarty-pants beacon of deep pop culture know-how -welcome such curiosity with open arms. It's nice to not be afraid of judgment, or be worried about appearing uncool, of lacking taste, of being plain stupid, but to just be welcomed and accepted.

Perhaps that's why the "ending" of Soundcheck hit me harder than I expected, and why today's 2pm mix-up was a bit of a slug in the guts. Schaefer and the fantastic Soundcheck team have provided a wonderful forum for the musically curious masses (with whom I deeply identify) to learn, to ask questions, to branch out, to exercise our curious ear-muscles and maybe have a dance or two across our office/kitchen floors. Thusly inspired, this is what I'd like: to further my contemporary music-scene knowledge while deepening my appreciation of its past. Can it be done with any measure of success? I'll let you know when Soundcheck's back on the air in September. I'm starting here. Don't judge.

(Top photo from Sodahead)

May 14, 2012

Sinatra & Seduction

Fourteen years ago this week my life changed. Frank Sinatra died.

I don't remember the exact moment I became a Sinatra fan. I started listening to his work in the early 90s, inspired by more contemporary singers who looked up to him than by any sense of music-history know-how. Having been raised to an eclectic diet of opera, Elvis, Abba, Olivia, and country gold (Cash, Jennings, and Cline, mainly), there was something vaguely ... dangerous about Francis Albert. I couldn't put my finger on it but his voice, even at its sweetest, had a hint of something that both scared and delighted me. Only many years later did I understand that quality to be sex appeal -not the smooth, suave, safe sort, but the rough-and-tumble variety, where passion came before pronouncements.

Sinatra never had to be smutty to seduce through song; it could be a slight pause, a tiny added grace note, a lingering phrase. He deeply understood how tied up creative power was with sexual power (and vice-versa), and he used it, grandly, carefully, proudly and loudly, as he got behind the wheel of The Great American Songbook, flashing a smile, a dark stare, a cocked eyebrow, cruising by, leaving a wispy trail of cigarette smoke in his wake, and enough baritone reverb to echo through eons. Since his passing that Songbook has been reduced to a series of pieces that are mere vehicles for a bland, safe, PC-style seduction, souped up in a red hot convertible and tinkling horn. Sinatra would never be so obvious.

Though he had an undoubtedly operatic approach, and knew a thing or two about a romantic tune, Sinatra's sound let in the darkness through time; his voice became full of shadow, of color, of subtlety and suffering and self-doubt. It reflected life experience, of course - and what a life it was. James Kaplan's exhaustive 2010 biography of Sinatra's early-to-middle years is a mighty tome that rivals Ulysses in sheer size and detail. Until Kaplan publishes the companion piece, we won't know about Sinatra's final years - but I have my own specific memories of today, involving comforting older women in a shoe store, whose lives, memories, and perhaps even passions, were so tied up with the man and his music.

May 8, 2012

Bang Bang Shoot Post




Do you use Instagram? Do you love it? Hate it?

There's been a lot of talk about the mobile app recently. A reporter friend sung its wonders last summer; her prescient enthusiasm anticipated Instagram's huge dent in public consciousness over the last few months.  The mobile app was bought by Facebook for a big price tag; it was the subject of Jon Stewart's acerbic wit; it's been featured on the PBS Idea Channel (above); it's inspired a snarky (and very funny) parody video of its features; it's even made the pages of the Grey Old Lady. Oh, and  I recently did a feature on a prolific (and dedicated) IG user. What's the big deal?

Part of it seems to be the temporal nature of the app; it captures moments within a certain frame of time, with  filters reflecting users' moods and visual ideas around events. It's temporal, with a leaning toward the personal, taking the best bits of social media and putting them within a visual interface. Thus, it's become a beautiful complement to reporters' toolkits. For evidence, check out WSJ's impressive collection of Occupy Wall Street Instagram shots. Photojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez sees it as a game-changer. It was used for New York Fashion Week. Plenty of people - journalists and non-journalists alike - use it as a kind of blogging shorthand for what they see around them. Plenty don't, however, and in a neat twist of irony, they've used other social media outlets (particularly Twitter) to air their displeasure. Is Instagram a threat to traditional photojournalists? To journalists overall?

The line between reporting and art feels perilously thin when considering the  potential of the app. I happen to like it for on-the-go shots of my daily life, though I'm careful to avoid the "this is what I ate  for breakfast" mundanity that seems to dominate so much social media photo-sharing. As a former photographer who worked in (and occasionally misses) film, I find Instagram's range of "vintage" filters more amusing than annoying. Still, there's something to be said for the tactile, and more than once, I've found myself drawing (or wanting to draw) some of the shots I come across on my daily Instagram look-throughs. Perhaps that's the basic beauty of the app: it embraces the sharp, thorny terrain of the present, while snuggling with the soft, messy sheets of yesteryear. It's Now, and Then, and Maybe, all at once.

May 7, 2012

Awful Funny

This past week, I posted the cover of the New York Post on my Facebook wall. I shared it from another friend's wall, a journalist friend in New York, who'd come across the "toasty" cover and, presumably, found it too horrible -and horribly amusing -not to share.

While the cover didn't get too much reaction on my journo-friend's wall, it lit a bonfire on mine. Some people howled at the hilarious awfulness, others howled in derision at the aggressive cruelty. It was interesting to note not only the nationalistic splits (Canadians, you really are a nice bunch, mostly) but the fact that some people reacted in such a personal manner. The incident forced reflection on my recent love of mean humor, something I never used to indulge in, perhaps out of guilt, anxiety, or a caustic mix of both.

Now, I've sat through some rough stand-up material involving the most blatant, stomach-churning sort of chauvinism; I've sat beside people I had deemed intelligent as they haw-haw-haw'd at sexual and racial cliches being exhaustively exploited. That sort of humor isn't mean; it's lazy. And the Post isn't much different in its laziness - but the difference is, it's agonizingly clever. That cleverness that makes urban smarty-pants types like me (who poo-poo the Post, rolling eyes and making yucky faces) feel ashamed at the vicarious thrill to be gained from enjoying the notoriously bad taste of the News Corp tabloid in their quest to outdo themselves each day with the clever-meets-queasy quotient of their covers. My journo-friend admitted the cover was "tame for (the Post)." Too true.

Dark humor is more prevalent in some cultures than others. Living in Ireland taught me how often it's been used as a survival tactic, meant to provoke and polarize; that's a big part of its effectiveness. At the moment, I'm reading Shalom Auslander's Hope: A Tragedy (Riverhead), a book that's chalk-a-block with dark humor, revolving around... the Holocaust, and what happens when the main character finds that a grown Anne Frank is living in his attic. Auslander mercilessly mocks -and shamelessly milks -a persistent, pernicious victim mentality as personified in both his main character as well as his mother. Upon the book's release, author A.L. Kennedy observed that the book "will make very many people angry. It will also make very many people happy."

Hope: A Tragedy makes me laugh, even as I gasp and feel slight pangs of guilt. Good, dark humor, when it's done well, finds our weak spots and exploits them, as it should. The Post is not nearly as deep as this book, not by a long shot, but it is a cultural by-product of a human yearning (conscious or not) to be poked and prodded. Macabre humor isn't only accepted but welcomed, especially by those of us who, having been bullied, beaten, and mocked, have emerged at the other end, with a ready smirk, triumphant, no longer victimized, but defiantly, vividly alive. At the end of the day, that is humor's highest compliment, and its greatest achievement.

May 5, 2012

Jay-Eee-El-El-Oh!



From the Facebook page of WNYC's excellent music program Soundcheck:
Weird, yet fascinating prototype in which users cook and shape their own jelly ... and make music with it. Believe it or not, neither Jell-O nor pitchman Bill Cosby are involved with this. It comes from, yes, France.
Bien sur! C'est génial, non? Page Flickrl est ici.

May 2, 2012

Excellent Super Good



Love electrorock? Hiphop? Electronica? Um... dancing? Check out early 80s New York band ESG.

They were so heavily sampled that they actually titled an EP, Sample Credits Don't Pay Our Bills.

They opened for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and their work's been sampled by acts like TLC, The Beastie Boys, Tricky, and Wu-Tang Clan. Pretty impressive for a group of sisters from the Bronx.

I love them because of their blend of old-school and new-school approach; they use traditional instruments (bongos, guitars, bass) to produce a futuristic, near-electronic sound that reminds me of Krautrockers like Can and Kraftwerk. ESG were able to produce some very atmospheric sounds with a mix of minimal melodics and maximum rhythm, capturing the magical madness of New York City like so many before and after.

ESG play their final gig in June at Le Poisson Rouge.

Go if you can. Thank me later.

May 1, 2012

Then And Now

It was an interesting experience, to sit on the stage of Markham Theatre today, eating lunch with various town luminaries and performers, learning about its 2012-2013 season and noting who was using a smartphone and who wasn't. I couldn't help but take pictures. Each table boasted a flag representing the nationality of upcoming performers; ironically or not, I'd been seated at the table boasting the American flag. The moment was a strange fusion of old and new loves.

I last performed on that stage in 1997, in Carol Shields' Departures And Arrivals, donning a variety of roles and costumes. Though drama was an absolute passion back then (nay, a career path), I clearly remember that dreaded gremlin, stage fright, taking a firm icy grip during a monologue I had toward the end of the play on opening night. For a few awful seconds, I blanked out. It was mortifying.

Today, I looked down at the seats family and friends had occupied that night, and a flood of gratitude and relief washed over me. Gratitude at the patience of good people, and relief at changing my career trajectory after many bumps and false starts. Sometimes, it's good to step out of the spotlight.

This desire for privacy coincides with a dawning reluctance over the past months at revealing too much personal information on here, and on other online spots. That may be owing to the fact that I'm moving deeper into the professional journo-world, and don't care to splash around personal details, or it may be a distaste for over-sharing, a trend that doesn't seem likely to wane in internet culture, where "heels and meals," as a recent interviewee put it, rule the day. I don't hate the trend; I just don't happen to think I fit into it - and truth be told, don't want to. I'd rather people get a small taste of me through my writing (and choice of coverage), but enjoy a full meal when they meet me in-person. I'm an unabashed sensualist at the end of the day, and I'd sooner meet someone over a glass of wine, if it's possible; I'm fully cognizant that isn't always possible, but when I'm out in the world, there's always a new person to meet, always a new conversation to be had. I don't want to miss those moments.

Right now I'm reconsidering the purpose of this blog, and am thinking of making it a space more for short, punchy observations - artistic, political, social, cultural - and for inviting more active commentary and feedback. Yes, I'm still going to keep my newsy (/sassy) Tumblr blog, and I'm active on Twitter and Facebook too - but really, I want readers to go to Digital Journal to read my formal work. I hope that isn't too much to ask. It's time for me to step off the proverbial stage of personal blogging, and move into the backstage realm, and, we hope, on to after-party to mix and mingle. The diva has exited the stage; she's still around, though, if you want to look for her.

Mar 25, 2012

Twenty Zoo

The desire to be accurate with anniversaries and remembrances grows over the years. When you don't have kids or a partner to mark time for you with loose teeth and grey hairs, odd drawings and fancy diplomas, you have to choose other markers.

Twenty years ago I trundled off to Maple Leaf Gardens, then a rattling old hockey arena for a hard-scrabble team, for a rock concert. There were cars hanging from the ceiling. And screens. Lots of them.

I'd been leafing through Orwell, gawking at Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, sitting googie-eyed at the movies of Marlene Dietrich, and enchanted by the music of the Weimar republic. I'd been letting Ziggy Stardust and Kraftwerk lull me to sleep and jotting down strange thoughts and abstract shapes in journals spread across wooden floors alongside plates of half-eaten baguette and unfinished essays.

It's okay if you don't have a computer, the teacher had said, not everyone does. Just print neatly and it'll be fine.

I trudged up the stairs of the Carlton subway stop to be confronted with a choir of rosy-cheeked faces.

'Tickets! Anyone selling? Anyone? Please?'

I walked through the masses, hands stuffed in deep, smooth winter pockets.

'You selling?!' a swarthy, balding, wild-eyed man asked me as I reached the top of the stairs.

No way, I told him.

'Come on. Give you a hundred bucks.'

No.

I hadn't even seen the band inside, but something in me said... go.

The lines for the loos were ridiculous. The lines for a bottle of water were ridiculous. Four dollars? Ridiculous. I was used to the concert hall, Lincoln Center, Roy Thompson Hall, Jesus, why was everyone pushing and shouting?

Settling in, I noted my side-view of the stage. The myriad of screens and cars and metallic pieces of spaced-out junk, poked out hither and thither, at all angles, like Picasso came to life via Flash Gordon. Oh. Was this supposed to be art? MOMA did it better.

The Pixies took the stage. I made a face. Who is this? God, that guy's ugly. I thought about Pavarotti and Ziggy Stardust and the essay I was writing for Classics defending Clytemnestra. Really, she was the victim of historical sexism, and I had to set things straight, between bites of brie and glances at Ginsberg.

The Pixies left, I sighed with relief, my seatmate got popcorn. I doodled in my chip-faced journal. Time passed. I jotted down potential screenplay ideas, and put the journal in my backpack, where a copy of Naked Lunch was tucked away. It made no sense, but it made the clang-clang-clang of the subway easier.

My seatmate and I munched the popcorn, laughed at people's hairdos, picking our teeth and gossiping, trading ideas and avoiding the yawning reality of graduation. He crumpled up the empty bucket and whipped it under his chair, ever-polite with a jaunty whistle and a bright-eyed grin.

I looked at the stage, and noted a small man wandering onto it. He wore dark over-large sunglasses, tight black leathers. He was looking around, curious, head cocked and smirking. A few people shrieked. Then a few more. I cocked my head back at him. Such a big head he had. Such big dark hair. And such big glasses. The arena was in an uproar. Oh? The show's starting now?

It's Jesus, I whispered sarcastically to my companion. He's gonna save us all.

For the next two hours, I was witness to a marriage of words, music, ideas, art, sound, performance, and sheer theater such as I had never seen before. The snarling menace of "The Fly," the shimmering sex of "Mysterious Ways," the barking outrage of "Bullet The Blue Sky," the shiny grandiosity of "Desire" ... it was hard to verbalize what I was seeing... feeling... it was hard to take in, all at once, in one go. Jesus staggered along the outer rim of where the glass would be placed for hockey games, holding hand after hand after hand for support, a tiny smile spread across his lips. He reminded me of Dennis the Menace.

If you twist and turn away...
If you tear yourself in two again...

He was ridiculous -utterly ridiculous - but a very magnetic, theatrical presence. I was transfixed.

In 1992, I had no idea who Jenny Holzer was, or Mark Wojnarowicz, or the Emergency Broadcast Network. I'd vaguely heard of televangelists and had seen pieces of Apocalypse Now. I was months away from graduating high school and had a creative writing teacher who took students outside to a nearby cemetery for inspiration. I'd been to New York a dozen times and had hit all the major museums. I'd seen Pavarotti sing live in a few operas and eaten at top restaurants. But I'd never seen anything like this. Jesus was thrusting around in a silver suit, throwing money at the fawning crowd. Good grief.

ZOO-TV was a sexy, scintillating, stimulating soupcon of pop culture references both contemporary and classical, one that licked the brain cells even as it caressed the heart muscles in a winking, wide, over-friendly love embrace. I felt drawn to a life and way of thinking I'd only glimpsed at in all my trips to New York and Europe: it was full of arts, smarts, sauce, spice, and ever-present sex, wafting and floating above all things, its power only heightened by the intense, naughty mambo it held with a force equally as strong: love. Love for music, art, living, performing, the being-there-ness of the moment. All that stuff I'd been touching on in my Orwell-Burroughs-Kerouac-Ziggy-artsy-fartsy explorations. Authenticity as way of life. Authenticity as mask. Know who the hell you are... then play with it. Fuck up the mainstream.


It's said this tour re-defined what big bands are, what they could do, who they could be, and how far they could reach. And that's all true, but such an assessment misses the profound personal connotations. For me, ZOO-TV will always be a bigger thing than a tour, a band, a t-shirt, tons of gear, clever sayings, or flashy effects. It remains a marker, a compass, a talisman, a confusing pregnancy and messy birth, a shocking awakening to a wider world both without and within. It was grand opera and the intimate whisper ever. It was the absolute end of one phase, and the start of something much greater, far wider, unimaginably deeper, and vastly more frightening. And maybe, possibly, more thrilling. Welcome to your life; it's all up to you now.

I go to encounter for the million time
the reality of experience
and to forge, in the smith of my soul,

To all involved in ZOO-TV, directly and not: thank you, from the bottom of my heart, now and forever more. I remember, I smile, I dance.

I'm dancing barefoot
Heading for a spin
Some strange music drags me in
makes me come up

(Quotes: James Joyce; Patti Smith)

Photo credits: Top, via cinesonic; middle via Democratic Underground; bottom, artwork by Jenny Holzer via Walk With The Crustaceans.