Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Yorkers for De Blasio: Our City

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lovin' it, leavin' it

Last week there was an interesting discussion on WNYC by writers who love NYC -- and have left it. 

Why would they do that?

Listen here.

The Transforming City

In six days we New Yorkers will be going to the polls to elect a new mayor and a whole slew of new public officials. We will be deciding how our city is governed for the next four years -- and, like all politicians, they are promising a great transformation of the city's economy, schools, and transportation, housing, etc. -- while all the while being "fiscally responsible."

But the transformation is already taking place on a literal level. In the next four years, things both noticeable and unnoticeable will literally be changing the shape of this town.

New subway cars are coming that will look like big accordions without doors separating the cars. 

New water tunnels are being constructed that will change the delivery of water to our taps, with sewers and tunnels creating a whole new subterranean city. 

Just today, the city approved the construction a new mall on Staten Island that will be centered around a gigantic ferris wheel.

And One World Trade Center is nearing completion as the tallest building in NYC. Recently the elusive graffiti artist Banksy published an editorial calling it "vanilla" and something that would be built in Canada. However you feel about it, this building will be dominating the NYC skyline for decades to come. 

So the face and innards of our city is changing. We are constantly being reincarnated.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New York City Man: A Lou Reed Tribute

Lou Reed is dead.

After 71 years of agitation, defying expectations, spitting in the face of politeness and conformity, producing music that influenced musicians who went on to influence other musicians, Lou Reed did something rather conventional -- he died. But even that he did in a cool way -- on his Twitter page, he left a simple message and image: The Door.

Show's over. He's outta here.

The easy way to sum up Lou Reed's legacy is to rattle off the number of good, great, and holy songs that he composed and performed -- both with the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist -- over his decades-long career: "Sunday Morning", "All Tomorrow's Parties", "I'll Be Your Mirror", "Venus in Furs", "Pale Blue Eyes", "Sweet Jane", "Rock'n'Roll", "Perfect Day", "Walk on the Wild Side", "Sally Can't Dance", "Dirty Boulevard" -- the list is endless, and I know I've forgotten a couple dozen or two.

Most of these songs weren't hits in their day but people still listen to them and re-discover them all the time. I remember back in college in the 1990s, when I discovered his music, being amazed at how fresh sounding it was -- and most of it was over thirty-years old.

He did things with music and lyrics that no one else did -- and few have dared to do since.

"Heroin" is about the experience of doing heroin. That's it. Nothing more. It's just about what it's like shooting up and how "it makes me feel like I'm a man." And, original that he was, Lou Reed used words like "nullify ("nullify my life") in the lyrics. How brilliant -- and risky -- to write a nearly 7-minute song about doing drugs while using highfalutin words to boot.

Another song isn't really a song at all. Called "The Gift", it's a bizarre short-story set to music about a young man who literally ships himself in the mail to his girlfriend. Its ending is, to say the least, interesting.

Lou Reed only had one Top 40 hit in his lifetime -- "Walk on the Wide Side -- and it's probably the only Top 40 song ever about transvestites and to talk literally about "giving head."

And when he formed the Velvet Underground in the mid-sixties, Lou Reed and his band mates did something that few bands in the hyper-macho, testosterone-drenched, girl-chasing, boys club of rock'n'roll had ever done, then or since -- they hired a woman, Maureen "Mo" Tucker, to be the drummer.   

Lou Reed endlessly innovated. He released a two-album deal called "Metal Machine Music" that was just guitar feedback. No one, not even Reed, has ever listened to all of it but it was original, to say the least. Late in his career, Reed produced an album called "The Raven" based on the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. And he collaborated with everyone from David Bowie to Suzanne Vega to Metallica.

His influence is unbelievable. U2 and REM and many more have all claimed Lou Reed as an inspiration and have covered his songs. As the tributes poured in after his death, everyone from Nikki Six to LL Cool J to Weezer to Miley Cyrus hailed him. By being a musical iconoclast, by ignoring the mainstream and pursuing his own unique vision, Lou Reed's appeal became universal.

It's often said that not many people bought a Velvet Underground album but those who did all started bands. 

Yet Lou Reed's influence went beyond the musical. He was a revolutionary -- literally. The playwright Vaclev Havel was a huge VU fan who found freedom and a call to dissent in the music during the age of Communist oppression. Havel would eventually work to overthrow Communism in Eastern Europe and, when he became president of the Czech Republic in the 1990s, he called it the Velvet Revolution. (The 2006 play Rock'n'Roll by Tom Stoppard is largely about this.) 
Even the Vatican -- the  Vatican! that 2000 year old institution of conformity! -- Tweeted out a tribute to Lou Reed. God, apparently, is a fan, and now He has him all to himself.      

Of course, Lou Reed wasn't just a great musician -- he was also a great New Yorker. Like Woody Allen, he was one the artistic geniuses of this city, its spirit infusing his music. One of his great albums is simply called "New York", an album dedicated to the crazy life of his beloved town. One of his best late career songs is the jazzy tune "New York City Man", another is the soulful "Coney Island Baby", and many of his songs are peppered with illusions to the city -- particularly St Marks Place (like in "Sally Can't Dance"). If Woody Allen's New York is a city of museums, beautiful apartments, fancy restaurants, old movie houses, and yuppies, Lou Reed's New York is a city of the downtown scene and the underground (velvet and otherwise), of dive bars and back alleys, parties that go on all night in cheap apartments, kinky sex and misunderstood artists (and kinky sex with misunderstood artists), addiction and redemption, loving everything in life except the bourgeois. His New York City was the naughty place that years of gentrification have been washing clean but that people like us will never forget, thanks to Lou Reed.  

If you've read this blog over the years, you know how much I loved Lou Reed's music. This blog, for better or worse, wouldn't exist without him. If you like this blog, credit him; if you hate it, blame him. As I try to do in each post, I try to capture that spirit and psyche of NYC on this blog, and Lou Reed was doing that in music (and, of course, doing it WAY better) decades earlier. 
So now Lou Reed is gone and our city is a little poorer for it. But we won't forget him and his legacy is enduring. 

Farewell, bard of New York. As you take your last walk on the wide, may your trail be lined with heavenly wine and roses, into an eternal perfect day.  

Or as Lou Reed once was sang, "I'm a New York City man, blink your eyes and I'll be gone ..."