Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In 1973 Stevie Wonder released one of his greatest songs: "Living for the City." It's a heart-wrenching ballad about a young black man from Mississippi who comes to NYC to escape his hard upbringing, only to find it replicated in the big city. As the chorus goes, this kid is "living just enough, just enough for the city."
Struggle seems to be the defining characteristic of life in NYC. Life here is tough -- in so many ways.
Whether it's metaphorically struggling to pay the rent or get and keep a job, or literally struggling to walk the streets and navigate the public transportation system, just getting through an ordinary day in NYC can often seem like a marathon made up of many sprints. Stevie Wonder hit upon an essential truth in his song that the young man of his song -- and so many others in this city -- are doing "just enough" to survive here.
This may be the city where dreams are made, where teaming millions with sweeping ambitions congregate, where fortunes are made, fame is gained, and legends are forged, but, for most of us, just getting here and staying here is a triumph.
Living in NYC is so hard, getting to that "just enough" is so tough, why then do we stay?
Because so many of New Yorkers, like yours truly, just "can't quit" this town. There's no sense to it, no rhyme or understandable reason, no train of logic that doesn't have many swerves and detours to explain why so many of us stay here, spend a fortune to live in no space, and put up with noise, garbage, crowds, etc. etc. etc. but ... we stay. Why?
Perhaps this article and this radio segment can provide some perspective. They provide good reasons why so many New Yorkers stay when logic and budgets should send us elsewhere. But, like Stevie, they hit upon another essential truth: for many of us, it's "just enough" to survive in NYC that makes staying here worth it, and most of us would rather do so than thrive anywhere else.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Back in the late 1980s, when I was a kid and started watching "Saturday Night Live", Jan Hooks was part of the cast. It was, in retrospect, one of the great periods for SNL. Along with Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Mike Meyers, and Victoria Jackson, this was the time of such memorable recurring sketches as "Wayne's World", "Sprockets", "Church Lady", the first President Bush, Caveman Lawyers, and lots more. Hooks and Nora Dunn had a recurring sketch, the Sweeney Sisters, about two over-the-hill, over-the-top lounge singers which was very funny.
But Jan Hooks stood out as the best female impersonator in the history of SNL. There simply wasn't one female person of note that she didn't impersonate and totally nail: Tammy Faye Bakker, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Sinead O'Connor, Diane Sawyer and, as you can see here, Kathie Lee Gifford. Jan Hooks just dissolved into whoever she was imitating and, sometimes, she seemed more real and believable than the real people. You never got the sense that Jan Hooks was trying to be funny -- she just was funny, naturally, and made it seem totally effortless. She was amazingly talented.
Jan Hooks never had a huge career after SNL -- she was on some sitcoms and did guest roles here and there. It's too bad, because she was as good as any man who came out of that show. It was harder, then, for female comedians to brake out but she paved the way for people like Kristen Wiig and Sarah Silverman who came afterwards. But Jan Hooks was a memorable talent and her death at age 57 is very sad.
But I'll always remember the laughter she gave me as a kid back on those dark Saturday nights in front of the TV. Thank you, Jan.