Friday, September 30, 2005
She played with her band earlier tonight at Town Hall, and I have to say I loved every song she played. It’s nice to have a few artists out there who rarely disappoint you. You know what to expect, and they deliver and sometimes even surprise you.
Her new album, My Better Self, is as good as ever, and she played several songs from it, including two of my favorites – “Echoes” and “I’ll Miss You Till I Meet You” – which feel like instant classics. The first time I heard them, I knew they’d fit in well with the rest of her repertoire.
Favorites from past albums that made appearances included “The Beauty of the Rain,” “The One Who Knows,” “As Cool As I Am,” and “Are You Out There.”
As her first encore, she played the touching “Babysitter’s Here” – which everybody seems to want to hear at every concert, complete with the child-narrator’s cute asides (and who can blame them really?). She messed up on it midway through, joking: "It's not like I haven't played this song 2,000 times." The audience didn't seem to mind, cheering her on instead. Then the band returned to finish with a thrilling, singing-it-out-the-door cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”
If you’ve never heard Dar Williams, something that she really does well is write story songs that modulate in perspective or mood or plot about three-quarters of the way through. They start off being one kind of song, and then by the end, have transformed into something slightly more nuanced or complicated, deeper or more interesting.
“Teen for God” is a good example from the latest album. Others that I love are “When I Was a Boy” and “It Happens Every Day.” The babysitter song fits that bill as well.
Another must-listen is "Mortal City" -- a quiet seven-minute masterpiece with minimal music, spoken and sung with the perfect mix of frostiness and warmth, to match the setting and mood.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
In other news, Lil’ Kim is still in jail and won’t be getting released from incarceration nearly as soon, but at least her new CD is out.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
And in other news about the Internets, a PR firm in the UK surveyed some of the least likely people to be staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day about what's hip, wow, and now among those who do happen to be staring at computer screens for that length of time: "A survey of British taxi drivers, pub landlords and hairdressers -- often seen as barometers of popular trends -- found that nearly 90 percent had no idea what a podcast is and more than 70 percent had never heard of blogging."
Hmm. Color me surprised. I guess this is one trend that doesn't really come up too often when you're rushing home to watch Corrie, downing a pint, or getting your fringe trimmed. It's the same reason this T-shirt is not exactly the hippest of apparel. It's something we do, but don't admit to talking about.
But apparently, according to the survey, "assaulting people while capturing it on video with their mobile phones" and "watching couples have sex in semi-secluded places such as out-of-town car parks" are activities you do talk about with your friendly neighborhood cabbies, barmaids, and stylists.
Those crazy Brits, you never know what they'll be into.
TONY is one of those magazines that’s not always really a cover-to-cover must-read, especially since half of it is just listings. But the moment your subscription expires, you have a free night and you wish you had a copy nearby to let you know what’s going on.
Oh, and in case you haven’t read the mag’s latest motto, it’s “telling you where to go for ten years.” Yup, they went there.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Monday, September 26, 2005
And not just that, but TV shows are also marketing themselves via free DVDs attached to magazines, the latest being Everybody Hates Chris. Even with all the good press this show has been getting [Slate], I doubt I would’ve sought it out regularly (I’m not a very committed TV watcher in general) if I hadn’t seen the premiere episode on DVD. The verdict? It’s funny but sweet, and rather fresh as well, which was surprising to me but not unwelcome.
It’s pretty amazing that the cost of production on these discs has come down so much that they can be spread around to the public so readily, but I have to admit they seem to be succeeding at rising above the clutter, in ad speak.
If you didn’t get the DVD of Chris, Google Video is getting in on the marketing action with this streaming video, which also pops up on the sponsored links if you do a search using the name of the show.
Also, this unofficial blog about Over the River popped up on my comments the other day.
What a wonderful mix of artistry and playful wit! I'm not always a Burton fan, but he had me at the opening titles. As many reviewers have noted, the underworld of the dead is a more colorful and lively place than the land of the living in this movie's tale. Its structure reminded me of Shakespeare and his green world narratives: where the forest is a place of more spunk and freedom, while the court in town feels restrained, dowdy and unappealing.
There are so many great moments of word play that I'm sure I missed quite a few. In the skillful hands of the filmmakers, they come across as endearing and witty instead of forced and self-congratulatory like they could be.
Lastly, Burton seemed to know exactly when to end the movie without overdoing the denoument, leaving us with just enough -- a virtue that I think is sorely lacking from a lot of movies.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Oh, and someone should probably tell the people over at Yahoo! Travel that they're not taking any more reservations at the Mayflower. Also, click on one of the final reviews of that dearly departed rooming house: "This hotel gets 1 star because there is no way to give NO stars. We stayed here in Sept 2004. Rumor has it the place is being torn down. That might explain why the place is in the condition it is. But where to start. The shower pressure was great. Now that the [positives] are over: The shower pressure was great at the expense of the pressure needed to flush the toilet. The carpet throughout was worn and dirty. The furniture is old and stained. The 2 double beds were hard as rock and sat low to the floor. The [building's] lobby and elevators had no a/c and were very warm. On a warmer day, it would have been unbearable. The room had 2 [in-window] a/c that had seen ... better days. The elevators are small and slow. My advice would be spend a few dollars more or less and stay somewhere else. The location doesn't overcome the conditions."
The developers of 15CPW better be hoping the site isn't cursed.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
A powerboat-borne Gate -- ripped off from Christo -- chasing Smithson's posthumous "jewel-box version of Central Park." You knew it was bound to happen sometime, in a city bound to be full of jokers and artistes. I wonder if the UN was monitoring the situation.
As for Christo & Jeanne-Claude? Watch out Coloradans. They're planning their next big thing (Over the River) for -- at the earliest -- summer of '08. Can Through the Woods be very far behind?
During the second half of the evening, I met up with M+J, who were venturing out to Brooklyn for the first time (I know, I know) to visit a newly minted graduate student friend of J’s. We got off at the Carroll Street F stop, and found our way to the corner of Henry and Union streets in Carroll Gardens. Said graduate student lives practically above the new Royal’s Downtown, a moderately pricey but elegant restaurant that had emptied of diners by the time we opened the little black gate and slid up to the bar for some drinks and bar snacks. (Mmm. Bar snacks.) I had a Madame Royal, the featured drink of the evening, chalked up on the board beside the bar. It’s a mix of Chambord, Crown Royal and mint, and it was delicious. They must’ve been giving us a discount or something, because the total for M+J and I came to less than I’d expected for a classy place like that.
Marketers’ dream quote of the evening came from J: “I didn’t know there were rules to having a social life in New York; one of them is you have to have a weekly subscription to Time Out New York.”
Friday, September 23, 2005
You can never be too sure these days: One starchitect can't always rely on his/her compatriots to make it to the party on time.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
A technician shepherded me into the preparation room this afternoon and told me to take off my shirt, put on one of those blue smocks, and lie down on the gurney. While I waited my turn with the doctor and the anesthesiologist, the classical music played and we talked about – what else – neighborhoods. She asked me whether where I live is actually Manhattan or feels like it even, and I replied yes and a little bit. No, we don’t get many tourists (except those headed to the Cloisters and the occasional especially devout Catholic who knows where Mother Cabrini is enshrined), but there are still numbered streets. It’s just that if they were degrees, they’d be approaching the boiling point here.
Finally, they opened up the doors to the adjacent room and rolled me in. My doctor and the anesthesiologist greeted me and told me what to expect. The only bit of pain was when they put the IV in my arm, and that was slight. They rolled me onto my side, inserted a plastic mouthpiece, and turned out the lights in the room. I felt a slight not-unpleasant tingling throughout my body, and then I was out.
When I awoke, it felt like I’d just woken up from a nap. It had been less than half an hour. I sat up from the gurney, then put my shirt and shoes back on and talked with the technician again. I thanked her as if she had been the one to make the procedure so painless, and realized I was acting like I was a little drunk. But by the time the doctor came in to speak with me later, I was almost back to normal and feeling fine, if a bit hungry. (I hadn’t eaten and drank anything for 12 hours – 6 of which had been prescribed to me.)
The good news was that my stomach looked normal, but the inherent bad news was that if I continue to feel persistent pain, they need to find some other explanation. I’m just hoping that the sample pills they gave me work and make whatever it is that’s bothering me go away entirely. I made an appointment for two weeks from now and left.
For more on the upper endoscopy procedure, the NIH has a site explaining things.
Monday, September 19, 2005
The "island" swayed back and forth beside the pier, the trees staying always perpendictular to the barge, lashed as they are with thin wires. I kept hoping for some birds to alight on the trees, but it didn't happen. Standing at the railing, snapping photos of it, I thought of two things: How it is not all that strange to create new land; just think of Battery Park City, hidden in the back of the frame. It was created out of landfill dredged during the creation of the World Trade Center. And also, I thought of the fable of "The Sixth Borough," probably one of the better, simpler and more honest works by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which the origin of Central Park is explained via the existence of a mystical, forgotten other borough.
I'll be posting more shots to the "floating island" tag on Flickr.
[The title quote is by one Thomas Dibdin.]
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Bad island. Be more punctual next time!
Instead, we headed over to Philip Marie, a New American restaurant on Hudson Street. It's across from Mama Buddha, the "Chinese diner" where I like to eat and can afford to eat on a more regular basis. I had baked brie with endive and asparagus salad to start and grilled salmon with grilled vegetables and jack cakes for my entree. I'm not sure what jack cakes are made of, but they certainly tasted good. I want to say there was a cornmeal base involved, but I can't be sure.
Our evening together was capped off with a stop at Tasti-D-Lite and a walk uptown.
Yes, I really like that place and their soft-serve and will go there willingly.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Along comes another man – very tall and wearing what looks like a velvet track suit. He shakes the hand of the guitarist and rests for a moment on the bench next to me, before rising up and starting to dance. Well, sort of dance. It looks more like a crazy acrobatics routine, a lot of twice-to-the-left and twice-to-the-right and up and back and this way and that. And it’s not like it really fits with the music, but in this atmosphere of drowsiness and drunkenness and maybe a healthy dose of craziness too, it’s cool.
People who are listening to the music with one ear also keep one eye on the tall man in the track suit, who looks like a massive marionette being jerked around on strings. Whereas at a normal hour of the day we might play the game of avoiding eye contact and pretending not to notice the funny New-York-City-underground things that are happening, in the early morning, when everyone wants to just get home or otherwise have resigned themselves to being here on this platform for however long necessary, they betray their interest and their curiosity a little more than usual.
My bench fills up and eventually a young guy comes over and asks me whether he can have my seat to sit next to his girl. He asks it with the intention of offering me the next seat over, but I get up and choose to stand up near the pillar, instead, not minding much, I say, because I wouldn’t want to take Mr. Marionette’s seat in case he needed a breather. Of course that doesn’t stop someone else from sitting down in my place.
I stand around and listen to the guitarist playing a drawn-out, jazzy version of “Stand by Me” – one of his favorites, because I remember it from a previous daytime set – and reach into my bag for some change. I grip it inside my fist for a while, and then hear the A train barreling up the track. It arrives, I toss my coins into the guitar case on the floor, a few mothers push their strollers with closed-eye babies onto the train, and I hop on as well, and we’re off, headed uptown to pause for something like seven seconds at every station up the island.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Thursday, September 15, 2005
First, there was the piece about the latest disaster photo to evoke Michelangelo's Pieta -- the famous shot of the firefighter holding the bloody infant in Oklahoma City also comes to mind, although on a different scale.
Then, he got to the bottom of that photo I mentioned last night -- the Bush bathroom-break one -- and that also earned a mention. Rock on, D! Way to keep your finger on the pulse of daily visual culture.
What a great movie! Charlie Kaufman is a genius! I'd seen it before in the theaters, but it was still very entertaining to see a second time, since I forgot what happens at certain points. I think something that makes Kaufman's scripts so great is that they have really intriguing premises, but he doesn't relax after establishing the premise. He runs with it and takes it in all sorts of directions. Too many movies just seem to conk out after they've established their premise, hitting autopilot somewhere midway through.
One bit of trivia that I learned from the DVD extras: The scene where Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet's characters are watching the circus elephants marching through Midtown was not planned as a scene, but the crew happened to be filming when this annual event was going on outside, so they rushed over and did some spontaneous shooting. Much more trivia (it is a Kaufman movie after all) is tabulated at IMDB.
[The quote is from the movie ... and Nietzsche, of course.]
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Then some of us headed uptown to crash a primary election night party. It was fun to slip in among all the supporters and media milling about, chatting, watching the big TV screens. It would've been even better if there had been an open bar, but oh, well. After a while, I felt a little bit out of place, because I was working at the last election night shindig I visited. This time, I wasn't on the job at all, so I felt unsure of what to do, how to act. I'm proud to vote in every election that I can, but it's rare that I'm ever around campaigners without my own separate task at hand.
This morning, it's off to the doctor's -- yet again -- before work. It's not a place I like to be dropping by so often.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Coming home tonight on an A train, I sat next to a woman who appeared to have just arrived in the city to visit a man of similar age. They were talking. He stood most of the way uptown, standing over her rolling suitcase. He was dressed in casual business attire (which he referred to at one point as a “monkey suit”); she had dyed red hair, a punk-plaid skirt and black knee-length boots.
The man remarked on how she’d finally get to see where he lives. She talked about her child, who – from what I could gather – is somewhere between 8 and 12, based on things she said about him seeing or not seeing PG-13 movies. She owns a car and lives in a townhouse or duplex somewhere not in the NYC metro area – perhaps somewhere in Minnesota, as it said on her luggage tag. I couldn’t tell whether the father of the woman’s son was in the picture, but I gradually realized that the man and the woman on the train must’ve known each other as teenagers, because they kept alluding to the secret things they did together as kids.
And then, somewhat to my surprise, they leaned in and kissed. The PDA floodgates opened. They started acting like long-lost lovers, kissing long and intensely after the man finally got a seat next to the woman. At 175th St., they got up, leaving me to silently ponder their situation. Who was the father of this woman’s child? Who was taking care of the kid? When was the last time these two had seen each other? Had they dated as kids, then grown apart, and now were rekindling their relationship? Was this a secret visit?
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Maybe this is a reflection of how disappointed I feel with how our country stands four years later. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq do not feel like they have in any real way answered for what happened here on this island, and in my native state, and just outside our nation’s capital, on Sept. 11, because that day, that 9/11 as we call it now, was given too much significance too soon and too recklessly. It all became too much like it used to be too quickly. This was supposed to be a new kind of disaster, one that reshaped the way we thought about our place in the world. But rethinking it all would’ve taken too long, would’ve required too much questioning, too much debate. And that is not what America does, or at least not what we are meant to do.
We are people (men?) of action. We look at a situation and know it at once and understand what must be done to right the wrong. All of which sounds very much like the conditioning of military training to me, which perhaps is all too apropos of a comparison. But it doesn’t do much in terms of convincing me that we live in a more evolved world, a country that learns from its mistakes somehow.
Now the forces of nature – upon which we may or may not have some immeasurable impact – have shown how ill-prepared we can be when faced with an enemy not as easily conquered. The aftermath has only made me more disappointed in light of tomorrow’s anniversary. In the must-act-now wake of 9/11, we reshuffled some of our bureaucracy and gave it a new name, but in its first large-scale test, it seems to have failed to secure our homeland in vital ways. Yes, many people share culpability in not doing more, and we are thankful for all those who did give their best and still are giving of themselves to improve the situation. But it still doesn’t do much for that pride feeling we’re supposed to have on national days of remembrance like tomorrow.
Let it be said: I am glad to live here and call this nation, this state, this city my home. But it is not the only way to live and if anything should be taken from this moment, it should be that we do not have it all figured out. We still struggle to help those who need it the most. We still do too much afflicting of the afflicted. And while we strive to be proud of what we as individuals and we as a still comparatively young nation have achieved, those feelings are weighed down by a sense of shame.
First there was former First Lady Barbara Bush: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
Then there was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: According to DomeBlog, DeLay stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots [at one of the shelters]. The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" They nodded yes, but looked perplexed.
Now, I learn of Louisiana's U.S. Rep. Richard Baker speaking to lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." [Via Eric Umansky]
Friday, September 09, 2005
Saw the new John Lennon musical tonight at the Broadhurst. I hadn’t really been dying to see it, and I understand it’s been getting mixed reviews, but cheap tickets came up and I’m a Beatles fan, and I haven’t seen anything officially on Broadway in a while.
It was pretty enjoyable if you like his music and don’t go in expecting a whole lot. At times some of the nine actors (who all represent John Lennon at some point in the show) seem like they’re trying too hard and singing too loud. But at other times, especially during the ballads, some really hit their marks and perform well. The story is a loose recounting of Lennon’s life, with a heavy emphasis on his relationship with Yoko Ono Lennon – who happened to be in the audience at tonight’s show – but not as much about the Beatles as hardcore Beatles fans perhaps would like. But part of what the show seems to be saying is that Paul, Ringo and George were only part of his life – a big part, but not the only part. Those who agree with the by-now-cliché statement that Yoko broke up the band may not love that about the show, but I’m a fan without being a fanatic, if you understand the difference, so it didn’t bother me much.
A quick tangent: Two of my other favorite musical groups – Dar Williams and the Barenaked Ladies – have written their own versions of the John and Yoko story – from different viewpoints, too: Dar’s “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” and BNL’s “Be My Yoko Ono.” I enjoy both perspectives.
The other thing that was a bit precious – if not entirely inaccurate – was the indulgence of the “Give Peace a Chance” message. Hmm. Nixon,
Perhaps that’s what could have made this show better, if it hadn’t been so obvious in many ways. I’m reminded of last year’s Ears on a Beatle at the DR2. The two-person show focused specifically on the FBI’s investigations of Lennon, and featured an excellent performance by Dan Lauria of “Wonder Years” fame. That show had subtlety and wit and managed to really capture Lennon’s worldview at the time without hammering it home the way the musical does. But I guess, maybe, when you’re trying to capture the 40-year arc of a proto-rock-star’s life, you can’t afford to be coy and subtle the whole time. Still, not knowing much about Lennon’s life after the Beatles break-up, I was intrigued by some details of the story in Act II, and even liked the touch of the cop describing Lennon’s last moments and the way it resonates with the beginning.
So the show wasn’t that bad, and I have to go out and listen to more of Lennon’s own music now, but I still scrolled through to my Beatles greatest hits collection on the iPod going home on the 1.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
She read “Off” from her new book, Willful Creatures. The story was actually not one of my favorites in an otherwise exceptionally good collection, mostly because I don’t think the narrator is really very endearing to the reader. And I don’t think it was a great representative for a set of stories most of which are filled with fantastical elements (magical realism, surrealism). The story elicited some occasional laughs from the audience, but not as many as I would imagine. I missed the middle of the story, though, after my contact lens got dislodged and I had to run to the bathroom to straighten things out. I made it back in time for the Q&A.
I asked her whether she goes into a story with the fantastical motif in mind, or whether she has a narrative in mind and then finds a peculiarity to drive that story. She said it’s almost always the former. Something about the physical world has been altered (pumpkins for heads, keys for fingertips), she said, and it’s her task to figure out how those new rules affect the characters and their story. Later, she acknowledged that she had dampened her writing at one point in her development to try to make it more “adult” and “grown-up,” but later openly embraced the genre of fairy tales. And she’s been all the more successful because of it, I think.
The reading was also an opportunity for her to plug off-off-Broadway performances of her first collection of short stories, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, as adapted for the stage. The show’s at Walkerspace – a small Tribeca black box theater – next month, beginning Oct. 12. Tickets are $15, according to TheaterMania.
Update: I know it's not very hip to brag about page views, but today's 1000+ visitors just totally messed with my daily pattern.
1. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope by Jonathan Kozol (file under sociology/religion)
2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (poetry)
3. Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes by Merrill Feitell (short fiction)
Also, why has it taken me so long to listen to and love Death Cab for Cutie? I just got their new album, Plans. I especially like "Different Names for the Same Thing" and "Soul Meets Body," but it's all very good. How did you -- if you are a fan -- first discover this band?
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Monday, September 05, 2005
One place I recommend, whether or not you are ready to admit that you are a superhero: The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., a not-so-hush-hush storefront and perpetual fund-raiser for the writing and tutoring center in the back called 826 NYC [previously]. Upon entry, you are encouraged to sign your superhero name and secret power(s) in a big old ledger book that looks like it was sent via time machine to us here in the future from some time in the middle of the 20th century, back when superheroes were more popular and frequently chronicled in comic books. Besides the capes and grappling hooks and cans of anti-matter and economy-priced force field and balls of helium gum, there are books as well. I bought one of these. In order to buy something, you place it into a “vault” and then the attendant enters a big tall booth and her voice booms out over the entire store and she asks you to recite the superhero oath of loyalty – complete with your real name and superhero name – before she takes your payment and gives you your item(s) and receipt. And yes, they possess the super powers necessary for you to pay with credit cards.
Also to be recommended: Los Pollitos II, a reasonably priced Mexican restaurant, also on Fifth Ave. I had one of their cheap specials the other night: pumpkin-flower quesadillas. Yum!
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Gotta love rough-and-ready site-specific development commentary. This message was at the back of a block fenced off to make way for a new Commerce Bank [Curbed, see #3] on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. What I want to know is: Was the orange shading over the word "bank" made by the first disgruntled graffiti artist, a subsequent one, or someone from the construction company? Also, if a bank is the "last thing," what is the first thing this corner needs? Affordable housing? An independent coffee shop?
Friday, September 02, 2005
And this unwillingness to mention race and class comes as CNN is reporting: "The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates."
Some people are acting like it's just a case of stubborness, when it might instead be explained thusly (by Shafer): Why not have "... a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm."
UPDATE: An article in Friday's Times finally addresses this issue.