Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In Five Years Time ...

We all have certain days in our lives, specific dates, where several different things happen at once -- some personal, some not -- that puts that day into sharp relief in our memories.

For me, that's January 31st, 2013.

On that day, my wife and I closed on the house that we now live in.

On that day, our favorite TV show and one of the best NYC shows of recent years, 30 Rock, aired its final episode.

On that day (okay, in the middle of that night), Ed Koch, the NYC mayor of my childhood, passed away.

None of these things have anything to do with each other except that they were endings that happened at the same time as a big new beginning (for us). Doors closing, door opening, you get the idea. Stages of life.

It's amazing to think that was five years -- half a decade -- ago. Even weirder? This blog already existed for almost six years by that time.

Time flies even when it drags. Things change. Always change. Endings and beginnings intertwine. The world never ends even as some things in it do. 

Don't get complacent. Enjoy the time we have and enjoy what you do. It's later, and earlier, than you think. 



TCM NYC Location Tours

I love old movies, and I especially love how Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has created a wonderful community for old movie fans. They have great hosts for the films, giving some interesting background info before showing the movie, and they also curate films, showing several back to back either by the same director, featuring the same actors, or by theme or genre (horror movies, crimes, movies about water).

If only MTV had done this with music they might still be showing videos.

Anyway, part of this community are location tours that you can go on in Los Angeles and here in NYC. Here's some info about how to take one and also an article about what the experience is life.

See you at the movies! Or around town ...  

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

White Light/White Heat @ 50

One of the greatest, most influential bands in history, the Velvet Underground released their super-trippy album White Light/White Heat 50 years ago today. 

This is probably the quintessential album by this quintessential NYC band, the most Velvety-Undergroundy of their four studio albums. 

The songs are decidedly noncommercial and not radio friendly, they are wildly experimental and strange. In fact, there are only six songs on the entire album and one of them, "The Gift," isn't even a song at all but an 8 minute-long short story about a guy named Waldo who mails himself to his girlfriend. Yeah, it's a weird one. But it's truly great and a landmark in the history of rock. 

Velvets frontman Lou Reed said just before his death, when White Light/White Heat came out, "No one listened to it" but it contained "the quintessence of articulated punk."

And I'm sure people will be listening to it fifty-years from now.  


Monday, January 29, 2018

Memo from NYC

My "memos" are, I realize, mostly political or sociological in nature but this one, I assure you, is not. It's about Quincy Jones, the legendary entertainment producer, whose life and career has spanned decades.

Jones is one of my personal heroes. I look at his life and wonder, "How the hell did he do it?" He was born a black man in 1930s Chicago and through talent, hard work, determination, and never giving up, became one of the most powerful men in the history of show business (as white an exclusive a business as any). He knew and worked with everyone, from Leni Reifenstahl and Frank Sinatra to Steven Speilberg and Kendrick Lamar. His career spans from the big band era of music to rap. 

What I really admire is how he's not done only one thing but lots of things in his life: he's a producer, a composer, a musician, a business man -- you name it. He ever produced movies and  TV shows (like Mad TV). 

It's an amazing, almost defies belief life and career. 

You must, must read this massive interview he did with GQ magazine, where Jones talks about all this and more. He's 84 years old and has a story about everyone and everything. He talks a little bit about his time in NYC as well -- apparently he did a lot of drugs here.

You might also want to listen to this story by comedian Artie Lange about the time he asked Quincy Jones about Frank Sintara when Jones was producing MadTV. It provides a hilarious view on Quincy's approach to life. You can't make this stuff up. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Point-Counterpoints

In this year of our Lord 2018, NYC is faced with two massive dilemmas that could have ripple effects on the city's economy and population for years, even decades, to come. 

First, will NYC aggressively try to win the bid for a second Amazon headquarters?

Second, will NYC and the state impose congestion pricing on drivers into Manhattan?

There are massive pros and cons for each proposal and I, for one, am stumped. Should we pursue either? It basically comes down to this:

Amazon headquarters 
Pros: 50,000 high-paying jobs resulting in residual benefits to small businesses and consumers in NYC.

Cons: more gentrification, more population growth, ever higher rents and home prices, more squeezing out of the middle class. 

Congestion Pricing
Pros: reduces unbearable traffic in Manhattan, creates an MTA revenue stream for improvements to public transit.

Cons: a regressive tax on outer-borough residents who need to drive into the city.


(There's an entire site dedicated to just this very subject.) 

So what do you think? All readers are invited to comment (respectfully) in a good old-fashioned Point-Counterpoint.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Staying Power

This is an historic week, of sorts, in NYC.

History isn't always made by loud events like elections, big marches, terrorist attacks, etc., but sometimes it's just noting the passage of time, and of comings and going, that makes history.

This week there are two historic moments in NYC culture: the 30th anniversary of the Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera and the departure of editor Graydon Carter from Vanity Fair after a 25-year tenure. 

When Phantom premiered in January, 1988, it was a very different city, a very different time. So much changed here since then (as this blog has extensively chronicled), it's almost impossible to describe accurately. Yet this odd musical about a masked man haunting a Paris house, and falling in love and nurturing the talent of a young singer, has endured as the city around it has changed so dramatically. No matter what's going on in NYC at any given moment, night after night, people have gone to see this show. No other Broadway show has come close to it in longevity, even other historic long-running musicals (like Cats, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Rent, Les Miserables) haven't matched Phantom's staying power. (I was a kid when Phantom began it's run and, if it's still running 30 years from now when I'm an old man, I won't be shocked.)

To hold a job for 25-years is an achievement any way you look at it -- particularly when it's a high-profile, high-powered job in the tumultuous world of NYC media. Just look at what's going on right now, with all sorts of media types being felled nearly every day, and you realize how tenuous any gig is. And media jobs have always been unstable, due to the vicissitudes of the market, ownership, technology, financing, all sorts of reasons. But Graydon Carter has piloted the ship of Vanity Fair for a quarter of a century, with boundless success. He inherited the magazine at a time when most people didn't know what the Internet was and when magazines made fortunes through advertising. All that -- and lots more -- has changed, and yet Graydon Carter brought this historic magazine into the 21st-century and made it more relevant than ever. Now he's doing something that, as we know, it almost unprecedented in the media business (among others): leaving of his accord, at a time of his choosing, with his reputation intact and his legacy secure. That's an historic achievement as much as the accomplishment of the magazine during his editorship.

Phantom and Vanity Fair, two NYC institutions, will continue -- and hopefully make more history in the future.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Grammys in NYC

This Sunday, January 28, the Grammy Awards will be held at Madison Square Garden. It'll be the first time in 15 years that the Grammy ceremony has taken place here.

The area around MSG will be almost completely closed so, if you're going to be in the area for any reason on Sunday night, be prepared



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Weed is Coming ... Maybe

In November I blogged about how recreational marijuana is probably going to be legalized in New Jersey sometime in 2018 -- and the brand-new governor has openly declared it's a priority for his agenda. 

Until now our supposedly "progressive" Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, was against legal weed (calling it a "gateway" drug and all that crap) but now says he wants to "study" possibly legalizing it sometime in the future. Heading into a reelection this year, he doesn't want to be seen as either for or against it -- he wants to be sorta for it, sorta against it, we'll see, maybe, let's just get all the facts first, not going to say either way -- until after he's reelected. 

Call it the Curse of Cuomo. He won't take a position on an issue until it's either super-popular or he won't face any political repercussions for it. He dithers. He prevaricates. And lies.

Want to find out if legal weed is a good idea? Easy. Just call the governor of Colorado -- where weed has been legal for five years! -- and ask him how it's working out. That'll save a lot of time and money on a "study." In fact, Cuomo doesn't even have to call him because the answer is obvious -- yes, it's working! It's popular! It's making lots of money for the state! It's driving down crime! There's your answer! Study over. 

But Cuomo wants to punt the issue. And he's exactly what's wrong with lots of Democratic politicians like him today -- he doesn't want to take a hard stand on an issue, draw a line, and lead on it. He wants to wait on public opinion and try to be on both sides of an issue. Donald Trump takes hard positions -- and it put him in the White House! Why can't politicians like Cuomo?

The Curse of Cuomo also means Taxation Without Representation. Currently there are over a dozen vacant state legislative seats but Cuomo refuses to call special elections for them. So right now there are almost two million citizens of this state not getting 100% representation. This is totally un-American.

No Cuomo isn't as bad as Trump but still ... is someone like Cuomo really the alternative? Let's hope not! 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Macaulay Culkin and Me

So color me surprised when I checked my daily podcast downloads this morning and saw that Macaulay Culkin was featured on the latest episode of WTF with Marc Maron.

For those of you under thirty, allow me to provide some background: back in the early 1990s, Macaulay (or Mac as he's generally known by) was the biggest child movie star in the world and perhaps the biggest one since Shirley Temple. In 1990 he was in a Christmas movie called Home Alone and it was one of the biggest hits of that decade. It made him a movie star -- for a while -- and he appeared in the movie's successful sequel a couple years later plus another successful movie called My Girl. Then he made a bunch of other movies that most people didn't see. And then, by the late 1990s, he vanished.

Until the early 2000s when he came back -- sort of. He did an off-Broadway play and some indie movies. Then ... he vanished again. And, since then, he's basically been absent from popular culture. 

What's Mac been doing? That's what he talks about in this podcast episode. It seems that he just lives on his movie money and travels and hangs out. He talks about his complicated family life and the fall-out with his father who used to manage his career. It's a fascinating, if somewhat sad, story.

And, bizarrely, yours truly, yes Mr NYC himself (i.e. ME) is a small, very small, part of Mac's story.

Back in the late 1980s, as a young child, I was a student at the School of American Ballet (SAB). I was one of small cadre of boy students. I was there for about four years and appeared in the New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center for three years. My last year there, and the last time I was in The Nutcracker, Mac had just joined SAB and we were in the same Nutcracker cast. We "worked" together for about three months. We didn't become friends (I found him annoying, he was always running around, seemed completely unable to focus) but we muddled through. I strongly remember his very large family hanging around as well as his father who, later on, he had an epic falling out with. They all seemed very noisy. 

After that Nutcracker year, I left SAB and didn't give this kid (like the others) a second thought. So, as you might imagine, it shocked me when, a couple years later, he popped up in this movie Home Alone (I didn't realize he acted and danced) and overnight became a sensation. It was a surreal, fun-house experience to see this. And, this morning, listening to this podcast, it was  equally surreal to hear him talk about his time in The Nutcracker of which I was a part.

I certainly hope Mac is happy and wish him well. I'm also so glad that I never got into show business and walked away from the mentally and emotionally punishing world of of child performing. It's not a surprise that he hasn't had a normal life when he certainly didn't have a normal child hood. It'd be interesting to talk with him again and, who knows, maybe I will. 

But it's strange when a small part of your childhood literally pops up one morning on your phone. 

Oh the times we live in. 


Don Imus Retires

Actually, he's been fired. 

The longtime morning radio host has been told that his contract on WABC 77 AM radio won't be renewed. On March 29, according to his Twitter, "the party's over." 

Some party. The Imus show is "un-listenable." Imus is barely audible, his blithers on about nonsense, he's well-known to be a racist, and he's ... just ... so ... boring. College radio is more entertaining. As his rival Howard Stern once said, "You can't listen to it! I defy you!" 

The most amazing thing is that someone so untalented lasted so long on the number one radio market in the country. How he did it I don't know. We should all be so lucky. 

This is truly a great city. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Better than a Cuckoo Clock

If there's one silver lining to living in troubled times, it's that great (or at least interesting) art seems to flourish in its wake. Think of the Renaissance: the Protestant Reformation was tearing the Christian world apart, there were constant wars and invasions -- and yet the greatest art ever was produced (Orson Welles had a great speech about this very subject in The Third Man). 

Living in this awful age of Trump has similarly led to an explosion of art and now you can go see it: in Tribeca there's a new exhibit of Trump-era inspired art called One Year of Resistance. As you might imagine, it's a critique of the current gasbag presidency but one that also offers a glimmer of hope for a better future.

See it now. You can say you were present at the creations

P.S. Here's the classic quote from The Third Man

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." 



Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Women's March in NYC 2.0

Last year I wrote a short post about the remarkable Women's March in NYC and around the country -- and how it signaled the start of the Resistance and the beginning of the end of the Trump Presidency.

What a difference a year makes.

Today, the Trump presidency is circling the drain, the Republican party is falling apart, and the progress of women's and progressive rights is stronger than ever -- and another Women's March happening today.

Justice takes time -- but it always wins in the end.

See you next year! 

Onwards. 


Friday, January 19, 2018

NYC & Crime - It's Complicated

The popular imagination holds that NYC has always been some sort of crime-ridden miasma that only recently cleaned up its act. 

Book, movies, TV shows, documentaries -- whatever -- have perpetuated the belief that criminals are lurking behind every corner of this city; that crime is just a part of the price that New Yorkers pay for living here; that we accept, even celebrate, the city as a place where outlaws thrive.

"Fear City" the media called it. Crime and NYC went hand-in-hand, apparently.

Actually, this isn't true. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

The truth is that for over a hundred years, from roughly the 1860s until the 1960s, crime in NYC was below average than other cities in the country (crime statistics don't go back much farther than then). NYC was actually a very safe city for more than century until the 1960s when the crime rate spiked dramatically, continuing until roughly the mid-1990s. Since then, of course, crime rates have plunged and NYC is, once again, one of the safest big cities in America. The late 20th century era of high crime in NYC was actually an aberration; an exception, not the rule.

So what happened? Why was crime so low for so long, why it go up so far so fast, and why did it fall again so dramatically? 

Lots of theories -- social, political, economic, etc. -- have been proffered and abound but the honest answer is no one knows.

Apparently, according to research, there are no clear, identifiable reasons for this bizarro bell-curve of crime. Whatever anyone tells you about why crime in NYC rose and fell like it did is either wrong or incomplete. No one wants to admit it but the reasons for the biggest societal changes in NYC in the last half-century -- one that led to decades of "white flight" followed by decades of gentrification -- are unknown, unknowable, and impossible to conclude definitavely. The only thing we know is that we don't know.

So whenever you hear fear mongers try to convince you that NYC is just one election, one policy change, one-thing-or-another away from the return to high crime, tell them they have no idea what they're talking about. That's one thing we know for sure.   


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trash! I Love Trash! Gimme More Trash!!!!

"Oh, I love trash! Anything dirty or dingy or dusty! Anything ragged or rotten or rusty! Yes, I love trash!" -- Oscar the Grouch, Sesame Street

Oh, Oscar, you so crazy.

Perhaps it's fitting that NYC produced both Oscar the Grouch and Donald Trump, America's trashiest president ever. There's a symbiosis, a yin and yang, between NYC and trash. We're a city of 8.5 million people so we produce a lot it (our trash even makes it to the White House!). But there's something else, a deeper bond, between the world's greatest city and the world's grossest substance.

Trash, after all ... is us! 

We create it! Trash wouldn't exist but for us. It's the de trop of existence, the layer of our lives that we're forever producing and peeling away. To be human is to generate refuse and effluvia, to discharge those things that are no longer useful or wanted -- and how quickly things that are so precious and close to us become something to be shunned. That's what trash essentially is -- that which is shunned.

And I'm not just talking about the literal objects that we toss into cans. Trash is something more. We call stuff we just don't like or find offensive and gross "trash" or "trashy." How interesting, too, that things we so often compare to trash has to do with, you know, sex.

Is sex trashy? Dirty -- like trash? (As Woody Allen said, only if you're doing it right!) But what it comes down to is that sex is something society feels should be, for the most part, shunned. Not to be seen. Not to be talked about. Not to be promoted or encouraged. To be handled with care -- like a very full garbage can. "Behind closed doors," etc. -- another sort of garbage can.

That's why, back in 1974, when pornographer Al Goldstein premiered his cable show "Midnight Blue", he did something revolutionary. He put a show -- one that reveled in sex and everything tasteless -- onto the TV screens of the greatest city in the world. He said, loudly and unashamedly, "Look at it! Look at the trash! You'll love it!"

And love it New Yorkers did -- "Midnight Blue" stayed on the air until 2002, nearly 30 years, airing on Channel 35 (Channel J) every Friday night. It was weekly trash, brilliantly produced, and people couldn't stop watching. There was nothing like it before and, in this Internet age, nothing like it now. (Trash was so much smarter then.)

How did Goldstein do it? How did this man take the trashy underbelly of NYC, televise it, and make it (gulp) nearly respectable? This podcast from the Rialto Report tells the whole exhaustive story of Al Goldstein, his life and career, and the saga of "Midnight Blue." It's a fascinating, only in NYC, only of its time, story. (If you want to know more about the life of Goldstein, check out my short blog post from 2013 shortly after his death.) 

Trash takes talent. Goldstein's show wouldn't have lasted as long as it did if he didn't produce it well.

And handling the literal trash of NYC takes talent too. In fact, no less a person than Alec Baldwin (the more sane and sympathetic version of Donald Trump) is interested in the trash of NYC -- he devotes an entire podcast episode of his show Here's the Thing to the subject of how NYC's trash is produced and handled. We all know NYC has lots of trash but how it churns through our city is something almost none of us know about -- until now. Again, this podcast takes the subject of trash and forces us to look (or, in this case, listen to) it, because trash is, as always, part of who we are. 

Look at trash. Understand trash. Respect trash. Love trash. Love that which is shunned and discarded -- because trash is all of us. 


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Memo from NYC

Courtesy of my six-year old kid:




Monday, January 15, 2018

MLK at Riverside Church: Beyond Vietnam

This is a special Martin Luther King day: fifty years ago this March he was tragically assassinated. While King is remembered most as an activist who championed civil rights for fellow blacks, his remit was even bigger: a human rights and a peace activist, a man who wanted not only rights but also peace and human dignity for all. He saw the world with compassion mixed with clarity and logic.

In 1967, less than a year before he died, King gave this speech here in NYC called "Beyond Vietnam." A supporter of then President Lyndon Johnson (particularly in the 1964 election) who had been responsible for the Civil Rights Act, King broke with Johnson and support for the war. King saw, clearly as always, that this war a mistake and, as always, he had the courage to say so, even at the risk of alienating the president. This was one the most consequential speeches of King's career, and it turned out to be one of his last. On this MLK day, his vision and wisdom is more needed than ever.

 

Update: if you want to know more about Martin Luther King's relationship to NYC, there's a photo exhibit all about it at the Museum of the City of New York.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Interview: Catherine Gigante-Brown & the NYC Writing Life

Writing and NYC go hand-in-hand. Not for nothing, this is the city that people move to in order to succeed as writers. Not for nothing, this is where the publishing business is centered. Not for nothing, tons of novels and short stories are set here. Not for nothing, many of our greatest writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald and JD Salinger, are either from here or have lived here for a time.

There is an alchemy between this city and the written word, a frisson between life here and the desire to write about it. (See how I used just used some big fancy word? That means I'm a big fancy NYC writer!) That said, it's never been easy to actually make a living as a writer in NYC. 

And that's what makes Catherine Gigante-Brown such an interesting person: she's written everything! She is not only a successful writer who has lived her whole life in NYC but she is truly the consummate writer: novelist, interviewer, poet, speechwriter, scriptwriter, ghostwriter, copy editor/proofreader -- to be cliche, you name it, she's written it. She has worked in nearly every literary form. It's an amazing, versatile achievement. Cathy was kind enough to tell Mr NYC about her long career, how she made it as a freelancer writer -- and yes, about her work as an writer in the gone-but-not-forgetten glory days of the adult film business.

If you're an aspiring writer, either in NYC or anywhere, you'll want to read what Cathy has to say! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you built a career as a freelance writer.

I’m a rarity these days—someone who was born and bred and still lives in Brooklyn. I grew up in Bay Ridge and have lived all over the borough … in Brighton Beach, Gravesend and now in Windsor Terrace with my husband and son. Probably the best advice my mom ever gave me was to learn how to type—she said no matter what, I could always get a job if I had solid typing skills. She was right. For a short time after college, I worked as an editor but the pay was low. I doubled my salary by becoming an administrative assistant and doing my own writing on the side—mostly poetry and short stories. When I was “terminated,” I took advantage of Unemployment and focused on freelancing full time. My pieces have appeared in publications like Essence, Time Out, New York, The New York Daily News and online at The Huffington Post and Ravishly. I have a bunch of short stories in collections and also have an essay in Riverdale Avenue Books’ anthology #Me Too—the ebook is free.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I think I read that, once upon a time, you wrote scripts for adult movies. If so, please tell us all (or something) about that!

Working in the adult film industry was a lot of fun. I found the people very upfront, brave and honest. Many of them are still close friends today. It all started with a nasty letter I wrote to Bob Rimmer in the late 1980s about the many inconsistencies in his adult video review books. He agreed and asked me to be his editor. This led to us collaborating on porn star Jerry Butler’s biography Raw Talent. By then, I had written a few erotic short stories and poems and even tried my hand at screenplays. Soon after Raw Talent came out, director Paul Thomas bought my script The Swap. PT and I worked together for several years, me writing “couples films” for Vivid Video. The softcore versions air on the Playboy Channel and other cable networks. As “Ariel Hart,” I loved the freedom of writing adult scripts. PT let me explore topics like the complexities of relationships and infertility. I think my favorite project was the four-part Passages series which followed two female college roommates. In many ways I miss the creativity and the camaraderie of the adult world. But the industry changed and didn’t use scripts like mine anymore. So, I prostituted myself and began working as a corporate communications consultant for a Fortune 500 company. 

As I said, you seem to be the consummate writer: fiction writer, journalist, scriptwriter, proofreader/copyeditor, speeches. What kind of writing do you enjoy the most and what is the most challenging?

I think to survive as a freelance journalist, you have to do all different kinds of writing. This way, you have a lot to offer and it doesn’t get boring for you—it exercises your creative muscles. I’ll write anything a client pays me to write. I’ve done speeches for CEOs and phone sex scripts for gay porn star Jeff Stryker. I most enjoy working on novels and writing profiles like the ones I’ve done for Industry. The most challenging is probably helping a client write a book. I’ve worked on about seven so far. You have to focus on capturing their “voice” and leave your ego at the door—it’s about them; not you. One of my clients calls my expertise in this area “that Cathy magic.” 

What advice would you give to a freelance writing trying to start a career today? Is it possible to make a living at it, particularly in NYC?

Don’t do it! Seriously, it’s difficult to make a living as a freelance writer today. One of the reasons is that so many people give it away for free on the Internet. Lots of online publications expect you to write for no pay or just for a byline. A byline is cool, but it doesn’t pay your Con Ed bill. Writing is a skill, a craft. You wouldn’t expect a plumber to fix your sink for free. Why would you expect someone to write for nothing? That being said, to be successful, it’s important to know things like HTML so you can post your work. I also suggest having a diverse skill set and writing about a variety of topics as well as specializing in one or two. My clients range from universities to attorneys, artists, real estate and digital marketing firms, and everything in between.

I see that you've also done interviews. Who are some of the most famous or interesting people you've interviewed and what did they reveal?


I was fortunate to do a lot of rap artist interviews for a men’s magazine called Portfolio. (Think Playboy, but in basic black.) I got to talk to people like Luke Campbell from 2 Live Crew, who was so bright and down to earth. I was surprised to learn how involved Luke was with the youth in Liberty City where he grew up and that he established a sports program for them. I also interviewed Naughty by Nature. Vin Rock was a dream but Treach spent the entire first half of the interview fishing around down the front of his pants, trying to intimidate me. It was only after I asked him about his Tupac Shakur tattoo that he got serious. He ended up giving me a really insightful interview about how much Tupac meant to him. Big Daddy Kane was also memorable, a big flirt.

I love interviewing people who personally fascinate me, “behind the scenes” people whose names might not ring a bell. Like Mark Stewart, who lives around the corner from me. Mark is a great guy, a talented musician and has been Paul Simon’s musical director for a couple of decades. Comedian Eugene Mirman was nice enough to give me a telephone interview when he was on a train from New York City to Boston.

You're a lifelong Brooklynite and wrote a novel about Depression-era Brooklyn, The El. Tell us a little bit about the book and how Brooklyn has changed over the years.


The El (Volossal Publishing) was born from the stories my dad told me about growing up in Borough Park in the 1930s. Many of my relatives inspired the characters. It’s about the challenges faced by a close-knit Italian American family and the ogre who threatens to destroy them. Readers loved the Paradisos so much that they encouraged me to write a sequel. I did. The Bells of Brooklyn was released in May 2017. It takes place about 10 years after The El, just after the end of World War II. It’s a story about rebirth,

forgiveness, hope and redemption. The Bells… has gotten a wonderful response so far. Vinnie Corbo, my publisher, tells me that trilogies do really well, so there might be third book in the series in a few years. In between those two books, Volossal came out with my novel Different Drummer, which is about a female singing drummer in 1979 New York City, desperately trying to “make it. I’m working with director Susan Einhorn and two composers to turn Different Drummer into a musical. It’s very exciting. My next book is a young adult novel set in mid-1970s Brooklyn. I just finished the first draft and it should be out in a year or so. So far, all of my novels have been set in Brooklyn. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Brooklyn evolved from being very working class to being gentrified. It’s weird that I have no desire to write about the present—you can just pick up the newspaper to see what’s going on—and I guess I do enough of that in my nonfiction work. But I’m really interested in looking at the past and exploring how it shapes the future. 

If the musical happens and when the next book comes out, let us know!  

Finally, please tell us something we might not know about writing, NYC or life in general.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not so much about the writing but the rewriting. It’s important to get it out, to write it down. Don’t worry if it’s perfect or pretty. You can polish it in the rewrites. Also, it’s important to write the truth, even if it isn’t flattering. Jerry Butler taught me that—he wrote a lot of harsh things about himself in Raw Talent, and when I asked him why, he said, “Because it was true.” I think if you write honestly, people will respect you for it. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, I wrote about it to try and get my head around it. Ravishly published a lot of those essays. I was surprised that so many women related to them and thanked me for writing them. We’re all in this world together. Reaching out, sharing, grieving together, learning, can only help us grow. It’s almost a cliché but I truly believe the saying: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” As a breast cancer survivor, it’s all small stuff.  

We're glad you survived and are so happy you were able to share your experience with the world. 

Thanks Cathy! Keep on writing! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mae Brussell: Son of Sam and the Birth of Conspiracy Theories

One of the truly scary things about President Trump -- besides him being racist, sexist, gross, and a liar -- is that he apparently believes in wild conspiracy theories. He believes in the "deep state" that is somehow trying to undermine his presidency; he believed, during the 2016 Republican primaries, that Senator Ted Cruz's father was somehow involved in the Kennedy Assassination; he believes that massive voter fraud cost him the popular vote in the election. Trump is a Black Helicopter/New World Order/Illuminati-type nut job who, simply put, believes things that just aren't true. He's nuts. And he's the most powerful man in the world!

How did we get here? 

Well, believing in crazy conspiracy theories is nothing new in American life. There are media people (Art Bell, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, the entirety of Fox News) who have for years peddled insane conspiracy theories to the public in order to goose up ratings and profits. What's horrifying about Trump is that he's the first to do so to win votes to the world's highest office. But literally the mother of all conspiracy theorist, the one who started it all, was a woman named Mae Brussell

An otherwise undistinguished housewife from Southern California, Brussell became unhinged by the JFK Assassination of November 22, 1963. She read over all 26 volumes of the Warren Commission and, by 1971, she was hosting a radio show in Southern California that was all about unwrapping government conspiracies.

Her timing, it goes without saying, was fortuitous. A few genuine conspiracies were about to hit. In 1971 the Pentagon Papers were released, shedding light on government lies about Vietnam. In 1972, the Watergate Scandal broke, leading to the first presidential resignation in history in 1974. In 1975 the Church Committee revealed decades of CIA "black bag jobs" and sordid operations that only heightened the people's distrust of their government. And, in this fetid environment, conspiracy fetishists like Brussell thrived.   

And it hit close to home. 

From 1976 to 1977, a serial killed dubbed Son of Sam terrorized NYC. He was eventually caught on August 10, 1977. Five days later Brussell offered her own conspiracies about what caused David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam to murder people: in short, Son of Sam was, in fact, part of a program of government assassinations, a "test tube baby out on the streets", who was practicing new and better ways to kill people for nefarious government ends. And she does the usual conspiracy theorist things: she talks about how many things attributed to Son of Sam were "impossible", how isn't it suspicious that there other slayings around the same time as Son of Sam, and on and on and on. You should listen to the whole thing here. It's off the wall! 

Interestingly, Brussell was a left-wing conspiracy theorist and, today, the most potent conspiracy theorists are on the right. I say, crazy and crazy. People like Brusell preyed on people's fears and made people (like the Son of Sam's victims) feel even more pain. And now this type of mindset is running the country! 

So, the more things change, the more they stay the same or, to put it simply, the crazier things get, the crazy stays the same.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Terry Gross & Alison Steele -- Radio Birds of a Feather

Perhaps my favorite radio show/podcast is NPR's Fresh Air, the daily hour-long interview show hosted by Terry Gross. It's been on the air almost as long as I've been alive (so a lonnnggg time) and is a radio institution. Gross is an amazing interviewer and she's interviewed nearly every famous and important person alive. 

It's also one of the longest running shows ever hosted by a woman and, in this #MeToo era, that's certainly significant. 

In this (also very long) interview with New York magazine, Terry Gross talks about her career, her show, and her interviewing style. But what I loved most of all is that she gives a shout-out to Mr NYC favorite, Alison Steele the Nightbird, the deceased legendary overnight DJ and subject of one one Mr NYC's most popular blog posts ever.

Gross says, about the early days of her career, ""... I'd only heard one woman on the radio, Alison Steele, the Nightbird." Gross doesn't say if Steele was inspiration (and the interviewer is probably too young even to know who Alison Steele was) but it's awesome to see Alison Steele (who's been dead for more than twenty-years) get this kind of tribute. Steele never had the fame or success of Gross but she was the forerunner, the inspiration, and, in this time, more important than ever before.   

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

David Bowie's Last Five Years in NYC

Rock icon David Bowie lived in NYC for the last twenty-something years of his life. Some of that time was spent in seclusion as he dealt with poor health. However, during the last five years of his life, he produced two albums and a musical and cemented his already considerable legacy. This HBO documentary is about the his final productive years in NYC and is a portrait of how an artist, even a very sick one, managed to create something memorable.  


Friday, January 5, 2018

Ta-Nehisi Coats on WTF

Listen to this great conversation between podcaster Marc Maron and acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A brilliant essayist and social commentator, Coates give a unique and refreshing insight on how racial politics is a constant in the black American experience. 

Coates also talks about life in NYC and how coming here from Baltimore as an aspiring writer was a harrowing yet ultimately rewarding ordeal. He even gives hints as to where he (used to) write in NYC.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Winter Storm Grayson

You should read this ...

... touching tribute to the recently deceased Village Voice photographer Robin Holland.

What I like about it is that it's a simple appreciation of someone who was good at her job and contributed, through her work, to the culture of our city. She wasn't famous and didn't need to be -- her work spoke for itself and life was better for it.

These are the kinds of New Yorkers were should venerate more often -- the people who make it, in ways large and small, a better place. 

NYC: Forever Forward

When Bill De Blasio was sworn in for his second term as mayor this week, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Tish James were also sworn in for second terms -- and unofficially began (if their speeches were any indication) campaigns for mayor in 2021.

Never too early to start working towards the future. 

NYC is the greatest city in the world for many reasons but, one of them, is that we're forever thinking and planning for the future. And this, obviously, includes politicians. 

The future is always Over There, a horizon that's forever just out of reach but that also, paradoxically, falling behind us as a new horizon arrives in its place. 

It's always been this way. Think back to the year 1957. Why? Well, that's when a young lawyer named John Lindsay started planning his run for Congress, an election he'd later win on his way to becoming mayor in 1966. 

It's also the same year that two New York baseball teams, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, left NYC for the West Coast -- clearing the way for the establishment of the Mets and transforming the baseball culture of this city forever. 

It's also the year when a prominent black leader named Malcolm X held a rally against police violence, more than 60 years before Black Lives Matter. 

In the world outside NYC, it was the same year when 13 American soldiers were injured in a training exercise on the other side of the world -- in a country few people knew about called Vietnam.

To sum up: the seeds of NYC, America, and the world in the 1960s was created in the 1950s. The future, after all, is always being formed in the past. 

And in NYC, that's still the case -- today, and forever after. 

Just remember, you heard (or read) about it here first.