Sunday, July 31, 2011

Signs of the Time

Just a couple of man-made signs that I saw in NYC today. They conjured up mixed emotions in me.

Dubbing a table sexy is quite cool but, sadly, the sexiest thing about the sexy table was the sign.

Also, it was great to see a sign in the subway on the weekend announcing normal service. Sadly, it's become such a rare occurrence that it did, appropriately, make the exclamation point necessary. 

Alexander McQueen at the Met

Just came back from the Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum. This has been a surprising blockbuster exhibit, the biggest in the museum's history. Over half a million people have attended this show which ends on August 7th. The wife and I were able to get in this morning through a special member's entry time and entrance. Our membership has never felt so cheap because, on the way out, the lines were literally wrapping around the second floor with 2 hour waits. I've never seen anything like it in the twenty-odd years that I've been going to the Met. 

But enough about the hype.

Alexander McQueen was a brilliant fashion designer who, tragically, killed himself last year. I'll admit that I've never been a big fashion guy and knew nothing of McQueen's work. Yet I  can honestly say that I've never seen an exhibit quite like this. McQueen's designed clothes that seem to have been influenced by various styles and put together in totally original ways. His works are Asian, Venetian, and British -- all at the same time. Many of his clothes have a sadomasochistic theme (but not in a gross way). He designed shoes that look like they've been carved out of Chinese ivory. His work is that of a wild, brilliant imagination that is, at the same time, amazingly disciplined and intelligent.

McQueen also brought history and literature into his designs. (There are images of Jesus on them, for example.) His works have wonderfully descriptive names like Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims and Nihilism and Dante. There is also an an incredible hologram exhibit as well as, of all things, a Faberge egg. It's really a crazy, fun show and I can understand why it's become so popular.

There isn't much time left so go as quickly as you can. It's a once in a decade kind of exhibit and, sadly, is probably the last big McQueen one that will ever be staged.   

Discovering Jamaica Bay

Did you know that there's a public space in NYC that's bigger than Central Park?

Did you know that you can take a train from Times Square and end up in the wilderness?

Did you know that, amongst NYC's many wonders, we have a national park that contains over 300 species of birds?

It's called Jamaica Bay, one of those places you see on the map but don't think about much. It's just south of Kennedy Airport and is a giant salt water marsh spread over 20,000 acres spanning the southern edges of Brooklyn and Queens. The New York Times has a huge article and amazing video about this amazing natural preserve in the greatest city in the world.

Like most New Yorkers, I've never been there, but I hope to get there soon. 

Fortunately, the future of Jamaica Bay seems bright as a new generation of environmentalists and community activists are taking it upon themselves to save and preserve it. The pictures and video are amazing, seeing this wild and beautiful place with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in the background. It reminds you that as busy and sophisticated and overbuilt as NYC is, that we're still a part of nature and that we live in it. It's a reminder also that our city doesn't just build buildings and make money but also preserves its natural beauty and makes it accessible to all. 

And it's all just a subway ride away.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Robert Moses Revisionism

Recently I was sent an article about Robert Moses that attempted, awkwardly I must say, to revise and re-assess the master builder's legacy. You can read it here

Basically the argument is this: Moses did more good stuff than bad and, hey, he was a product of his times. It takes issue with The Power Broker and says that not everything in it is true.  

Well, I think this revisionism is nonsense. You should read my original review of The Power Broker here for the classic argument against the Moses legacy.

See, I grew up in the city that Moses built and I can say that the book is spot-on regarding his diminished legacy. This article lauds Moses for building bridges and, yes, he built lots of them -- with no accommodations for subway lines. Yes, he built lots of parks -- that are depressing and ugly. Yes, he built lots of public housing -- that was even more ugly and depressing. And he rammed so many highways through this town that it destroyed neighborhoods and flooded NYC with cars -- and for this, there is no counter argument.

And the "product of his times" argument holds no water with me. There were lots and lots of people at the time who told him he was wrong and who advocated for increased public transportation, for building fewer highways and building ones in ways that didn't destroy neighborhoods, for not cutting off access to the city's waterfront, and for building better public housing. Moses was not a victim of any kind of group-think: he was an arrogant, abusive man who misshaped NYC and there were lots of people telling him at the time that this was disastrous -- and he didn't listen. 

So beware the revisionists! Beware those who wish "to set the record straight." It's like people today who talk about Nixon and say, "Oh, besides that whole Watergate thing, he was a great president."  Or LBJ: "Besides that whole Vietnam thing, he was a great president."

Same thing with Moses: "Oh yeah, he destroyed neighborhoods, flooded the city with cars, built ugly and depressing public parks and housing, and starved badly needed public transportation of money, all of which still plagues us to this day but really, the good outweighs the bad." 

Ha! Please. Revisionism is a feeble attempt to make bad people and bad decisions look less bad. To somehow portray a negative legacy as a good one. It's an Orwellian exercise, like trying to make two plus two equal five. And it reminds me of that old joke: "Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Hollywood on the Hudson

Increasingly, New York City is turning into one giant movie and TV set. According to this article, there are now 23 prime time TV series being filmed in our fair city. Can you believe that? I didn't even there were 23 scripted shows left on prime time TV!

And here's where it gets weird: you'd think that all the shows and movies being shot here are set in NYC. But they're not! The Good Wife shoots here but is set in Chicago. The Oscar-winning Scorsese movie The Departed was mostly filmed here but was set in Boston. And believe this if you can but the mini-series of Mildred Pierce was shot here and New York was made to substitute for Los Angeles. Haha! Take that LA!

Increasingly, shows like Friends and Seinfeld that were set in NYC but shot in LA are a thing of the past. And that's a great thing too because nothing drove me more crazy than seeing movies and TV shows set in NYC but that looked and felt nothing like the real city. There's a great and very weird show on FX called Louie about the moron comic Louie CK that's set in NYC and it is the most realistic, NYC-feeling show I've seen since Law and Order

While it's great that so many productions are set here, the only problem is that they're taking up a lot of space in a city that has little to spare. Streets and sidewalks get blocked off and people are inconvenienced. But if, in these hard times, its pushing cash into the economy than we can't complain.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Media Meltdown!

Well, not really, I just liked the catchy title.

Actually, there's some very good news about the news in NYC. Too whit:

1. The Murdoch scandal continues to grow and grow, now with former News Corp. executives saying that James Murdoch lied before the British Parliament. The longer this scandal goes on, and the worse it gets, the more damage it does to News. Corp (which owns The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal). Hopefully that means that Murdoch will lose control of both newspapers and that'll be a great thing for real journalism in NYC.

2. And talking about legitimate journalism, The New York Times is back! Okay, so it never went away, but two years ago it was in dire financial shape, on the verge of going out of business. But some smart moves by the paper's leaders, including the new pay wall, have apparently born financial fruit. Now the paper of record is moving towards a brighter future and this is great news for real journalism.

3. Breaking news! Fortune magazine has just published a blistering expose on its leading competitor Forbes, revealing that the magazine is in dreadful financial shape. Forbes is run by Steve Forbes, the loathsome Republican son of closeted homosexual Steve Forbes, and is a leading proponent of mean-spirited trickle-down economics. It seems that those champions of fiscal discipline aren't very good at it themselves.

4. But not all is well in the NYC media universe. Rock radio in NYC is basically dead. Last week, WRXP dumped its alternative rock format and became another boring adult contemporary station. Now there is no place to hear great bands like Foo Fighters, the Pixies, or Nine Inch Nails. The only thing left really is the classic rock station Q104.3 but that's all old stuff, not new, cutting edge music. While this might be a great victory for doctors offices and retail stores in the Tri-State area, it's loss for those who love interesting music.

So not all news is bad news -- or good. It's just the way of the world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bloomberg Blues

Mike Bloomberg has been mayor of NYC for almost a decade. That's a long time. He's been mayor so long that it can truly be called an era. And there's two-and-a-half years to go!

But exhaustion as set in. 

Mayor Mike appears to be just going through the motions now in his bought-and-paid-for third term. Remember how incredibly important it was for him to serve again that the city council flouted the public will and voted to let him run again? Well, now that he has t his extra term, what exactly has he done with it? Mike seems tired of the job that he paid more than $200 million to get. And even his strongest allies, the press, and many of his past supporters seem to be getting bored with him. As for the rest of us regular folks: we're like hostages in solitary confinement, marking the days off on the wall, waiting for that blessed day when Mike will be Mayor no more. 

This is a vampire mayoralty now, dead but still walking around, sucking every one's metaphorical blood out in order to survive. 

Yet make no mistake about it: we're still living in Bloomberg's NYC. His money and power remain, even if his public support does not. He has squeezed middle class NYC to the breaking point, the poor are truly poorer and the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. But it has never been a better time to be rich in NYC. After all, they have a mayor who caters to their every whim, their every desire. The rest of us shlubs? We're just trying to survive.

Government Is the Solution

At least when it comes to the Bronx that is. Read this.

Howard Stern's First Day on 92.3 K-Rock (November 18, 1985)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

NYC Makes History Today

Today is the day when the rubber hits the road. 

Today is the day when dreams become reality.

Today is the day when our city becomes a little freer and a little more fair.

Today is the wedding day for a lot of New Yorkers.

For today in New York, marriage equality becomes legal.

It's hard to believe that only twenty some-odd years ago, it was virtually impossible to pass any kind of anti-discrimination or partner-benefits bill through any kind of legislative body. If you ever saw Tony Kushner's Angels in America (set in NYC in 1985), the closeted Roy Cohn makes this, now happily outdated rant about what it means to be labeled a homosexual in America: 

"Like all labels they tell you one thing, and one thing only: Where does an individual so identified fit into the food chain, the pecking order? Not ideology or sexual taste, but something much simpler: clout. Not who I fuck or who fucks me, but who will come to the phone when I call, who owes me favors. This is what a label refers to. Now to someone who does not understand this, a homosexual is what I am because I have sex with men, but really this is wrong. A homosexual is somebody who, in 15 years of trying cannot get a pissant anti-discrimination bill through the city council. A homosexual is somebody who knows nobody and who nobody knows. Who has zero clout."

And that's what marriage equality was and is really all about. Who has the power? For years, decades, centuries, the power lay in the hands of those who wanted to deny larges swaths of people their full civil rights and their full human dignity. And as the vicious battle and close vote to legalize marriage equality shows, there are still lots and lots of people who want to deny people their full civil rights and human dignity. So while, like many New Yorkers, I celebrate this historic day where gay New Yorkers can now love and marry like the rest of us, let's not forget: there are still lots of people out there who want to strip them of their rights and dignity, who want to go back to the bad old days. 

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance so let's never stop the fight. But for today, NYC, let's celebrate!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Wartime Consigliere

Some of you might have heard the name Joel Klein. For nine years, he was the NYC Schools Chancellor and one of Mayor Bloomberg's most stalwart defenders.

Then, last year, he resigned and took a position with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

As you probably know, News Corp. is in a bit of a sticky situation, what with its newspaper reporters hacking the phones of celebrities, soldiers, and dead girls. So who's now responsible for saving News Corp. and old Rupert's hiny from this mess? 

Our city's former Schools Chancellor himself, Joel Klein!

Call him a wartime Consigliere, just like out of the Godfather movies. His job to "contain" the damage and strategize how News Corp. can survive. If someone the company does survive, then Joel Klein may very well become Rupe's successor. If not ...

Well, I can only think of that great line from The Godfather: "Goddammit, if I had a wartime consigliere, a Sicilian, I wouldn't be in this mess!" We shall see if that is true.   

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Scandal City!

This seems to be the summer of scandal: Anthony Weiner! DSK! Rupert Murdoch!

And they all seem to be happening here in NYC -- well, the Murdoch thing may be coming to NYC and he does live here (even if the crimes were committed in England).

You must read this great James Wolcott piece from Vanity Fair about the DSK situation. We writes about how this scandal is a made for the media, made for NYC spectacle. He also illustrates how this scandal says a lot about the culture of modern day, Bloomberg NYC. Rather succintly, Wolcott brilliantly explains how totally bizarre and outlandish our city's media/economic/social environment has gotten:

"... So much of the populist outrage in the press reeked of bad faith ... The same press that indulges in a storm-the-palace fit over D.S.K.’s V.I.P. treatment lavishes worshipful attention on ultra-wealth, revels in extravagance, fawns over preening moguls (complicit for decades with the dirigible inflation of Donald Trump’s ego and acumen), paints Paris Hilton’s toenails a lovely coral, and fetishizes the sky-high price of square-footage in Manhattan, elevating real-estate porn into Byzantine splendor. Manhattan under Mayor Bloomberg has become a billionaire’s playpen, the middle class has become pressed duck, and class warfare is conducted in fits of pique and facile comparisons, like a retired boxer throwing left jabs in his sleep."

NYC in the 21st century is a schizophrenic place: we love/hate money, power and celebrity, we love pointing out how awful and out of touch thse people are while, at the same time, wishing we all could be like them.

There really is no class or cultural warfare anymore. Instead, in NYC today, there is a class and cultural identity crises. As people's economic status becomes more and more insecure, as the cost of living escalates, middle class New Yorkers both despise the rich while desperately wanting (and still holding out hope) that, somewhere down the line, they may join their ranks. After all, in this age, anyone can be famous and, if they find the right hustle, get a big pay day. And then they'll go from peons to penthouses. 

We have met the real scandal and he is us.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Memo from NYC

Dear Rupert Murdoch,

Watching your pathetic testimony to the British Parliament yesterday, I could only smile and think "the bastard's finally getting what he deserves." To paraphrase Christopher Walken from that classic scene in True Romance: smarts, don't it? Getting humiliated. Screws you all up. You get that pain shootin' through your brain, your eyes fill up with water. That ain't any kind of fun. But what the world has to offer you, Rupert, that's as good as it's gonna get. And it won't ever get that good again.

Your criminal reporters in England hacked the phone of a murdered girl. Think about that. Your company basically re-victimized someone who was already dead as well as her whole family. How can you live with yourself?

Your company hacked the phones of soldiers, 9/11 victims, thousands of people both famous and not, rich and not, powerful and not. Shameful -- and illegal.

And finally the chickens are coming home to roost. Your misdeeds and those of your company are finally, truly, being repudiated by the world you've tried to control. Call yourself Rupert the Repudiated you scumbag. 

For the last thirty-plus years, Rupert, you and your sleazy "news" outlets have been dedicated to pandering to the lowest common denominator, whipping up fear and hatred and phony outrage, promoting the careers of horrible politicians while trying to destroy good ones, using the guise of "investigative journalism" and "the pursuit of truth" as an excuse to smear people you don't like, misusing the great freedom of the press this and other countries provide, and helping to make the world a meaner, more cynical place.

In this country your loathsome Fox News spews lies and reactionary propaganda that's both disgusting and, with regards to President Obama, outright racist.

Here in this town, you took The New York Post -- founded 200 years ago by Alexander Hamilton of all people! -- and turned it into a vile tabloid that nobody but morons read.

You're really nothing better than a pornographer, Rupert. Actually, you're worse -- because you're just an out and out criminal.

I can't explain the joy I'm feeling at watching you squirm and watching your company circle the drain. Hopefully you'll be forced out of News Corp, your company destroyed, you and your  henchmen (and women) will go to jail -- and Fox News will go off the air and you'll lose ownership of the Post.  

Obviously, it probably won't work out quite like that because you'll probably buy your way out of this. But Rupert, you'll never have the same power in NYC or anywhere else that you did -- and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Murdoch Testimony: Pleads Ignorance of His Own Empire's Blackmail, Bribe...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mr NYC in Lake Tahoe

Yours truly just returned from a lovely weekend in a lovely place where I've never been before -- Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

It's probably best known as the place where the Corleones lived in Godfather II. But anyway ... 

Located in the beautiful snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is a huge, 22-mile fresh water lake that falls between the Nevada and California border, and it is one of the single most beautiful spots I've ever seen in the United States. The lake is the second deepest in the country and, when you dip your toe in, it is COLD. However, there are lots of beaches on which to relax on and, at this time of the year, the air is refreshingly cool. 

We were there for a wedding so it wasn't a long trip.  A great deal of the lake is inaccessible unless you're staying at a resort, are a member of one of the beach clubs, or are staying at a private estate. But there are some state parks where you can go and get close to the water. If you go, you must get to Sand Harbor State Park. This has some of the best, most jaw-dropping views of the lake and mountains you can possibly find. Also, there is a Hidden Beach where families like to go to frolic and it is very nice.

A few notes: to get to Lake Tahoe, you must fly to Reno. It's kind of a pain to get there since there are no direct flights from NYC. Also, to get to the lake, you must drive up a 17-mile, twisting road up the mountains and, for the inexperienced driver, it can be a bit scary (think when Jack Nicholson and family are driving up to the hotel in The Shining and you get the idea). But once you're there, you're in a little bit of heaven.

So thumbs up to Lake Tahoe. This New Yorker was impressed.      

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review: "Jerusalem"

"I will not cease from Mental Flight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land."  

The great poet William Blake wrote those words more than 200 years ago. For the British, it has become a rallying song, a sort of "America, the Beautiful", a call to make the sceptered isle the sort of city upon a hill that Ronald Reagan liked to talked about here. It is sung at political rallies and "football" games in the UK, the Brits calling their fellow countrymen to make their country great.

Needless to say, for the amazing new play "Jerusalem" on Broadway, it is a deeply ironic title.

Set in a grungy trailer park in contemporary England -- ravaged by three decades of Thatcherism and New Labour policies -- the play centers on an aging rebel named Johnny "Rooster" Byron. Rooster is a man who time and life has passed by, and he has repeatedly refused to vacate and move his trailer from the park that is to be demolished -- in order for some developers to build more of the luxury housing that has been encroaching upon the area. 

When the play starts, the morning after a wild party thrown outside Rooster's trailer, two cops come by and inform Rooster that he has 24 hours to leave. As the day wears on, Rooster continues to go about his life as though nothing is going to happen to him -- he drinks, smokes weed, and makes lots and lots of noise to bother his new, unwanted neighbors. At various times, he tells wild and unbelievable stories about himself and his daredevil days. Meanwhile, the young and desolate teenagers who live nearby come by and hang out with Rooster -- to buy weed and figure our their sad lives. Also, Rooster has to confront his ex-wife and the son he is alienated from, as well as some old friends who are trying to bring Rooster to his senses and get him to leave.

While Rooster's ordeal is the overarching story, "Jerusalem" is really a play of many subplots: there is the young man who is also leaving soon -- for Australia; there is the young girl who lusts after him; there is Ginger, one of Roosters "mates", who wants nothing more than to be like Rooster; and there is a missing girl named Phaedra, who Rooster is protecting from a violent and sexually aggressive stepfather. All of these interesting, dimensional characters add up to make "Jerusalem" a very funny and emotionally violent play. 

Written by a British playwright named Jez Butterworth (who recently wrote the movie Fair Game), "Jerusalem" is about the kind of people you rarely see on stage. You almost never see three-hour plays about angry middle aged men but this one does it with style. Mark Rylance plays Rooster and his performance has been rightly hailed as one of the most amazing Broadway has seen in years. It's up there with Brando in "Streetcar", it's that good (Rylance recently won a Tony for the role). The supporting cast is of young, mostly unknown British actors whose performances show a joy and exuberance that is enthralling. Best of all, while this play is an angry blast of social criticism -- against a Britain that is letting the young fall behind, that (like NYC) is being sold to the highest bidder and crushing everyone else, that is failing in every way of being Blake's Jerusalem -- it is never preachy, never didactic. It does what all great drama does: it shows, never tells.  

"Jerusalem" is the kind of play that makes theater great, that makes the kind of statement about the human condition and packs the kind of emotional wallop that only great theater can make. This is not a play for tourists or the casual theatergoer -- "Jerusalem" is a play for all those that love great drama about people and the crazy, conflicted world we all live in.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Judy Garland - I Happen To Like New York (Judy Garland, Robert Goulet & ...

For the Love of Media

You're not anybody in this town unless you make a list. 

It's proof that you are either wealthy, famous, or powerful. It makes you important. We desperately want to have a clear, definitive, and quantifiable number of people that we can designate as the "movers and shakers" who shape the world the rest of us anonymous shlubs live in.

Hence the Observer's Media Power Couples list: these are the various lovebirds in NYC who work hard at various levels of TV, radio, magazines, books, and all things digital to push out the stuff that we the media consumers consume. Oh yes, they is important. They is the most important people in town. They're so much better than the rest of us.

And then they're not making hot media, they're making hot love!

Naturally I'm not envious of these people at all. Come to think of it, as someone who also works in media, I've very lucky to have a life partner who does not. And, of course, Mr NYC would never want to make any kind of list whatsoever. Of course not! I would hate being put on any kind of list like this.

Unless, of course, I am.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

List of NYC Movies

If you love movies set in NYC and want to add some to your Netflix queue, then click here for the most comprehensive list I could find of movies set in our fair city. There's roughly a hundred years worth of flicks on here, including some that will be coming out in the next year or so. Some good, some are bad, some great, some are truly awful, but all of them have a great setting.

WTF with Marc Maron

If you love comedy and happen to suffer from Sunday night insomnia, then switch on WNYC AM 820 at 11 PM Sunday night. Here you can listen to brilliant comedian (and former Astoria resident) Marc Maron interview the biggest names in comedy like Conan O'Brien, Judd Apatow, and Louis C.K on his show WTF (I have no idea what that stands for *wink wink*). 

WTF began a podcast and has proven so popular that public radio came callin'. New technology meets the old, I guess.

If, on the other hand, you're actually able to fall asleep on Sunday nights, then you can hit the WNYC website and listen to it later. And it's definitely worth it.

Lower East Side Blues

Quite often on this blog, I bemoan the disappearance of old NYC. How the gritty, unique soul of this city is being ripped out and sanitized. Case in point: this article about the closure of Mars Bar, the diviest of divey dive bars on the Lower East Side, a now-gone vestige of the time when that part of Manhattan could be called "funky." Like CBGBs before it -- where a condo and retail stores now sit -- doubtless Mars Bar will be eradicated and replaced with something equally boring.

In 21st century NYC, they took all the dive bars and they put them in a dive bar museum.

Derek Jeter Joins 3000-Hit Club In Style