Wednesday, October 5, 2022

A Rainy Day in NYC

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4th, was a rainy one in NYC. In fact, it was so rainy that a transformer near my house got flooded and we lost power in our kitchen. But enough about our good times -- yesterday was one of those days where two unrelated yet nonetheless semi-historic events took place that proves this city is and will forever be fascinating.

First, a princess took the ferry -- literally. Princess Anne, the daughter of the late Queen Elizabeth II, came to town for a bunch of events (I guess she's back at work now) and one of her excursions included taking the Staten Island Ferry. Don't worry, the princess is married so I don't think she was traveling to the Forgotten Borough in order to date Pete Davidson. Instead, her highness took in a unique and fascinating view of NYC -- even if it was in a rainy haze. I hope she had a good voyage.

Second, and most notable, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hit homerun 62 in a single season for the American League, besting Yankee Roger Maris' record from the 1960s. Now this isn't the first time 62 homeruns has been achieved in a single season. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did it in 1998, then Barry Bonds did it in 2001. However, it's been revealed that they did this from using performance-enhancing steroids so Judge's presumably drug-free achievement is all the more remarkable. Sadly, he didn't hit this homerun in NYC -- it was down in Texas against the Rangers -- but nonetheless it's a big win for the city as well as for him and his team. Congrats.

And it all happened on one rainy day in New York City. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

25 Essential New York City Tips in 10 Minutes

Out On The Streets

The streets of NYC have so much romance attached to them that there have literally been great songs written in their honor  -- "The Sidewalks of New York", "Across 110th Street", and "Positively 4th Street" just to name a few.  

Right now, and until the end of October, there's an exhibit in Greenwich Village called Village Voices 2002 where, on the streets of the beloved neighborhood, there are boxes with small exhibits and recordings that tell you the history of the streets their located on. 

The streets of NYC have a magic to them, representing the limitless possibilities of this city in concrete and steel.

But the streets of NYC also have an obvious menace. Danger lurks on them, intertwined with the glamour and excitement of the city. And while the streets of NYC are always fascinating to traverse, it's another thing if that's where you have to live, where you are forced to make your home. The expression "out on the streets" is as scary a threat as there is.

One Year, a podcast series that chronicles little-known or forgotten news stories from years past (recent seasons were 1977 and 1995) is currently doing a season on 1986. Their latest and last episode from this season is called "The Man From Fifth Avenue" about a movie of the same name that none of us have ever or will ever see but that became something a scandal in that summer 36 years ago. It follows a man named Joe being evicted from his apartment on the Upper West Side -- he faces life "on the streets", hurtling towards certain death in penury. This episode, which is a must-listen, tells the story of this man and his predicament, a fascinating NYC story that is way more complicated and with a much more unbelievable backstory than any of us could have imagined.

So why was the The Man From Fifth Avenue a scandal? Because it was -- ready for this? -- a piece of communist Soviet propaganda. This "movie" was created, with Joe as the willing tool, to demonstrate the greed and cruelty of American capitalism to Soviet citizens, to make them appreciate their "workers paradise" -- never mind that their country had many homeless people "on the streets" too. The problem for the USSR was that this movie came out around the same time as the Chernobyl disaster that would expose the venal dishonesty and incompetence of the Soviet system -- and that would lead to its demise five years later. 

There's another way to think about this movie and how it relates to our lives today: it was an early piece of disinformation -- although this time targeted at the Russians and not Americans -- that would eventually come back to haunt us in our presidential election 30 years later. It's also a reminder that while communism fell in the Soviet Union/Russia, what came afterwards was equally scary. And, closer to home, it was an example of dislocation and gentrification that have rocked NYC in the decades since. This propagandistic movie was a giant lie that also exposed certain uncomfortable truths. 

The streets of NYC have always held, and always will hold, so much promise and so much danger. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Farewell to the "Phantom"

There are certain things we know are going to happen but still can't believe it when they do -- like graduating from school, the death of elderly relatives, the end of our favorite TV shows.

This month saw two such non-surprises surprises: the death of Queen Elizabeth II after 70 years on the British throne and the announcement that The Phantom of the Opera will close in February, 2023. It opened in January, 1988 so it will end after just over 35 years, the longest-running show -- by far -- in Broadway history.

In fact, it ran for nearly half the length of QE2's reign.

The changes to Broadway, NYC, and America between 1988 and now are almost impossible to list. Needless to say, it opened in a very different time and city from when it will sing its swan song. Still, much like QE2, it's had a run that will be almost impossible to top -- and a place burnished in cultural history. 

Roxy Music @ MSG, September 12, 2022 -- "Same Old Scene"


Friday, September 16, 2022

Blair Brown Introduces "Into the Woods" for American Playhouse -- March 15, 1991

Currently on Broadway there is a massively successful revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1980s musical Into the Woods, a brilliant integration and revisionist takes on the Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel fairy tales. It's a very funny, fast-moving show, the songs and music are incredible, and it's one of Sondheim's last great musicals, a master at the top of his game.

In the decades since, Into the Woods has been revived a few times on Broadway and elsewhere, and even become a hit 2014 movie. Apparently this latest revival is the best yet, and a whole new generation is discovering this brilliant work. 

In 1991, a few years after the original Broadway run, a taped version of Into the Woods was show on the now sadly defunct PBS series "American Playhouse." Back then, there was no streaming, no YouTube, you couldn't just search and dial up a recording of a Broadway show. So if you hadn't seen the actual production on Broadway, there was nowhere else to see it -- except if you tuned in for this special presentation on March 15, 1991.

March of 1991 was an interesting time -- in what was one of the first viral videos, motorist Rodney King was recorded getting beaten by the LAPD, the first Gulf War had just ended, and the now classic movie The Silence of the Lambs was burning up the box office.

Blair Brown was a television star at the time, her show The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd was still running (although about to go off the air). In an odd way, she and this show were both quintessential NYC cultural landmarks of the time, so it was appropriate that she would introduce this special airing of it -- which also includes an interview with Sondheim itself. 

So here's a look at a special moment in time more than 30 years ago -- for something that has proven to be truly timeless. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Crises? What Crises?

Public service is generally defined as serving in a job, often in government, where your work is to better the lives of the general public. That's generally how public service has been understood throughout American history.

Elected officials, politicians, are two things at once: public servants but also celebrities of a sort -- they need to have a certain charisma, "star power", magnetism of some sort that gets lots and lots of people to vote for them (at least get more votes than their opponents) and often has little to do with their qualifications or competence for the actual work of the job.

Something interesting has happened in last decade or two -- now we have politicians who clearly have no interest in serving the public, who don't care about doing the actual job. They just want to be a celebrity. 

Sarah Palin and then Trump are classic examples. But we have one big one closer to home.

Mayor Eric Adams is the very model of a modern politician -- he doesn't actually care about governing, he's not much interested in policy. He likes to hang out at nightclubs and rant about crime but doesn't seem have any vision, any policies, any ideas about helping the general public.

There are twin crises in NYC today that Mayor Adams seems wholly indifferent to:

1. The fact that, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, generations of Hasidic children are not receiving a proper education or being prepared for adult life, all of which is being partially subsidized by taxpayers. The New York Times published a bombshell investigation about how a huge number of Hasidic children are essentially living in a mini-North Korea. Adams response? It's no big deal. To be fair, this has been a years-long, bipartisan disgrace but this has been fully exposed on Adams watch -- and his response is to do nothing.

2. The odious thing about the conservative political movement is to say that government doesn't work and then, when they get control of the government, make sure it doesn't. There is currently a crises in the staffing of the municipal government because the salaries are too low, there are no work-from-home options, and attrition since COVID began has been awful. Again, Adams doesn't see a problem with this and, in fact, has contributed to the problem -- he wants the city government to lowball salaries to applicants for city jobs and has been totally inflexible on them working from home. 

Ross Barkan, a three-time Mr NYC interviewee, has a great new article about how Mayor Adams doesn't see this as a crises because he doesn't see governing as a priority. The depressing thing is that Adams is not an outlier, not the exception to the rule: he is the rule, he's the standard of today's politician who do nothing policy-wise, claim to have no responsibility for anything, and preen for cameras and social media feeds. 

So if you wonder why problems in today's city, today's country, today's society remain unresolved, this is why.

Friday, September 9, 2022

NY1 & "Quantum Leap": 30 Years Old and Going Strong

This month, two totally unrelated but nonetheless interesting (to me) things on TV are happening:

1. The local cable news channel NY1 just turned 30 years old -- it first hit the air on September 8th, 1992 in a very different time and city. First something of a curiosity -- a 24/7 news station dedicated only to NYC news? -- it's become a beloved staple of city, a vital necessity to life for almost all New Yorkers. Here's what NY1 looked like in the early days:

2. If you've read this blog long enough you'll learn about some the of the music, movies, books, and TV shows that Mr NYC loves. One of them is the early 1990s show Quantum Leap about a time traveler who "leaps" into different lives between the 1950s and 1980s. The original brilliant series went off the air in 1993 but -- guess what? -- it's back! A reboot, more like a continuation, of the series debuts later this month and I'm eager to see it. I certainly hope it's good.

There were many episodes of Quantum Leap set in NYC and I've blogged about them. Also, a couple of years ago, I even interviewed the costumer designer of the original series who gave some great behind the scenes anecdotes of the show. You can read all the Mr NYC Quantum Leap coverage here

NYC Mourns Queen Elizabeth II

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Sterling Lord RIP

One of my favorite books is Jack Kerouac's 1957 classic On the Road, the quintessential 20th American adventure story of two lost souls who have "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the the road."

Famously Kerouac wrote the novel on a giant scroll in three weeks but it took four years to get published, thanks to a man named Sterling Lord. A brilliant agent, he managed to get the down-on-his-luck Kerouac $1,000 for the book that wound-up burnishing the writer, and Beat generation, into America culture.

Later on, Lord would represent, amongst many other writers Ken Kesey for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Nicholas Pileggi for Wiseguy that became the great movie Goodfellas

Born, raised, and educated in Iowa, Lord migrated to NYC as an adult to become the gold-standard for literary agents. His legacy was immense. He was the "guy-behind-the-guy," the patron and promoter of great work who recognized genius and then shared it with all of us. 

Sterling Lord has died at the age of 102 -- long-outliving some of his more famous clients who lived fast, hard and, like Kerouac, died much too young. 

What an amazing life and legacy Sterling Lord left us. RIP.