Monday, March 20, 2017

Jimmy Breslin RIP

Jimmy Breslin, the famous newspaper columnist and quintessential New Yorker, died this past weekend. His regular Daily News column reigned like a lion in the second half of 20th century NYC. 

Breslin wrote about everything and everyone, and he did what all great journalists should do: he afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted. He tortured corrupt politicians and businessmen with withering words and he reported on the humanity of the common man, the regular Joe. He was a gumshoe reporter, a deadline hack, a chaser of headlines, a man of the newsprint that dirtied your hands while opening your mind and touching your heart. Sure, he won a Pulitzer Prize, hosted Saturday Night Live, and published books as well but that never changed him or the focus of his writing. He was a New Yorker and a writer through-and-through and that was probably enough for him.

Needless to say, for a reporter and a New Yorker who was so influential and popular, the tributes are pouring in. You can read some of them here and here and here. And in this age of social media and screaming heads on cable news, this city may never see the likes of reporters like Jimmy Breslin again.  



Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Day Without Women NYC


Et in Bohemia Ergo

NYC is the epicenter of wealth, glamour, culture, and power but it has also long been something else -- the capital of Bohemian American.
This city has always attracted the freaks and the funky, the artists and the thinkers, the dreamers and the strivers, and the weirdos who just want to "hang." Long before any place -- New Orleans, San Francisco, Austin or Portland, Oregon -- challenged us for the place where la vie Boheme thrived, this city, more than any other, was where Bohemians flocked.

Not all Bohemians are created equal, of course. Roughly categorized, Bohemians broke down into the following:
  • Nouveau: bohemians with money who attempt to join traditional bohemianism with contemporary culture
  • Gypsy: the expatriate types, they create their own Gypsy ideal of nirvana wherever they go
  • Beat: also drifters, but non-materialist and art-focused
  • Zen: "post-beat," focus on spirituality rather than art
  • Dandy: no money, but try to appear as if they have it by buying and displaying expensive or rare items – such as brands of alcohol
Today, NYC is less friendly to traditional Bohemians (except for the Nouveau). But these two articles, one about the late Andy Warhol, another about the Chelsea Hotel, seek to put the Bohemian experience in NYC into some context and how this city might, just might, be able to retain its spirit in the era of the gentrification onslaught.



Keep NYC weird!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Smithereens

If you love NYC, you love movies about NYC, especially those that depict a real-life, on the streets, brutally honest version of it.

I can't think of a better example than director Susan Seidelman's 1982 independent movie Smithereens. Set in the East Village during the dying days of punk rock, Smithereens is about a young woman, a New Jersey-transplant named Wren, who has no money, no real friends, no particular talent (musical, artistic, or otherwise) who is trying to become part of a scene that doesn't want her. She gets kicked out of her apartment, tries to hook up with a failed rock star who mostly ignores her, and toys with the affections of a young man from Montana who lives in a van. This is a story about a nobody from nowhere destined to become nothing. It's both sad and poignant, a reminder that not all stories have happy endings.  

This movie was made for almost no money and doesn't star anyone famous, but it's a fascinating look at downtown NYC at a time when the city was dirty, dangerous, and fun. It's about people living on the fringes of the city, barely surviving in a Manhattan where you still could, some way or another, afford to starve in. It's the NYC that exists today only in memory, the city some still yearn for, that others are glad is good and buried. It's also one of the earliest independent movies, made outside the studio system, launching Susan Seidelman's career (her next film was Desperately Seeking Susan that featured a young singer named Madonna), culminating in the 1990s movie renaissance with directors like Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, and Quentin Tarantino. 

If you liked the Coen Brothers Inside Llewin Davis, another great movie about a homeless aspiring musician (it came out in 2013 but is set in 1961 Greenwich Village), you should check out Smithereens. It'll remind you of what this city was -- and what it's still about today. 
Seidelman herself reflect on her movie in these two great interviews:

Blogging Mojo

You may have noticed that I haven't been blogging lately, and there's a reason why -- it's name is Donald Trump.

I'll admit it -- ever since the orange orangutan vaulted from tabloid joke to leader of the free world, my blogging mojo has been hammered. It's been tough to work up the enthusiasm necessary to write about the very same city that produced the man currently menacing the White House. It's like seeing something you love betray you. It's like finding out that your childhood friend became a serial killer. How NYC, the most progressive and tolerant city in America, could produce this country's first truly fascist president, is beyond me. It's a nightmare, particularly for someone who takes such pride in his hometown.

I always wanted someone from New York City to become president - just not this someone!

The good news is that, in the weeks since he became president, the Resistance has come out in full force. It's amazing to watch ordinary citizens march and protest and fight back. I never thought it would happen this quickly or this loudly. I'm doing my best, as a busy professional with two small kids, to get involved. This blog is my small part of the Resistance but I recognize it's not enough. So that part of the story is TBD.

That said, my blogging mojo has returned -- somewhat. It's coming back, slowly but surely. Stay tuned. It gonna get REAL!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Outer Boroughs Strike Back!

The mind of Donald Trump is a terrifying place -- that much is obvious considering that, ten days in, his presidency is shaping up to be one of the most horrible, destructive, dangerous, neo-fascist reigns we've ever suffered through. What makes this horrible man so horrible?

Well, here's one theory: he's a resentful B&Ter, a child of the outer boroughs who resents the "elites" and the high-falutin snobs of Manhattan, and is using the powers of the nation's highest office as a mode of payback. He's driven to hurt "those people" who look down on him, as well as "those people" who are, let's face it, not white.

I don't entirely subscribe to this theory - I'm the child of outer boroughers, I live in an outer borough, I know lots and lots and lots of outer boroughers, and none of them are anything like this gaseous horror befouling the White House. That said, there's some interesting points in this article that defends the "outer borough resentment" that fuels this man so it's worth a read.

Thankfully, here in the outer borough at JFK airport, people are protesting this man-- and being heard. Long may they continue. Short may he reign


Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Women's March in NYC


January 20, 2017: The Presidency of Donald J. Trump begins.

January 21, 2017: The end of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump begins.

Watching hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and millions more around the country and globe, protest the noxious new president and his awful agenda, renewed my hope for humanity. It was overwhelming and exciting to see. I don't think Trump or the GOP knows what's going to hit them but this gave me a very good idea.

The dark time over. The resistance has begun. This is the morning.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The 2nd Avenue Subway Finally Opens

Midnight on January 1, 2017 was uniquely interesting moment in NYC history. At Times Square, Mariah Carey made a complete botch of her New Year's Eve performance but, just a little further uptown, the long-delayed, long-needed 2nd Avenue Subway finally opened after more than a century of talk and planning. This is a truly historic moment and reminder to the incoming administration that government - GASP - can do good things.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Interesting Times

There's a Chinese saying: "May you live in interesting times." 

This appears to be a blessing but, if you ask Chinese people, they will tell you it is, in fact, the most brutal of curses. Interesting times are usually times of tumult, horror, and misery; war, famine, and disease. Times are only interesting, the belief goes, if they are bad. Therefore it's a condemnation of people to wish interesting times upon them.

Conversely there is a Japanese saying: "May you have a boring life." This really is a blessing.

We are, sadly, living in the Chinese version of interesting times. A fascist, racist, misogynistic, demagogic bully who brags about his penis size, assaulting women, terrorizing immigrants, de-humanizing minorities, encourages violence towards others, and has really bad hair and taste in home decor is due to become the 45th President of the United States in 2017. This awful evil man is going to inhabit the same office as Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. That's interesting. It's also scary. It's a curse. Or is it something else?

This ogre was "elected" because he promises to make our country great "again." He promises to restore the past. As I've blogged about before, this is an impossible goal. But here we are.

In NYC, this clash between the past and present is never ending. Gentrification has made the battle lines stark. That's why you should read this article from Salon that is also an interview with the author of a book about nightlife in NYC from 1988 to 1999. Called "No Sleep", it's a coffee table book collection of "nightlife" flyers for downtown clubs and parties, etc. If you lived in NYC back then, you probably remember seeing these flyers all over the place. They were also sent around to places like my high school, trying to lure out young people with too much money. In short, these flyers are relics of an "interesting" time that no longer exists -- namely, downtown NYC when it was still funky. 

It's "interesting" to look at these flyers and and read what the author has to say about the book and take a peak at a world that no longer exists. NYC back then was a rougher place. Many would argue that it was more "interesting." Or not.

What's clear from this book and from the world we're currently living in is that the times are always "interesting." They never stop being interesting. It's hard to think of a time that wasn't. Interesting times never end. But eras do. They are replaced by other eras. And remembering them is a good way to gain perspective on our present and our hopes for the future.