Burning Flags Press The website of Glen E. Friedman. Renowned for both his work with musicians like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Slayer (and many, many more) as well as his groundbreaking documentation of the burgeoning skateboard phenomenon in the late `70's, Glen has been privvy to (and has summarily captured on film) some of the coolest stuff ever. He's also an incredibly insightful and nice guy to boot.
SoHo Blues - Photography by Allan Tannenbaum Allan Tannenbaum is a local photographer who has been everywhere and shot everything, from members of Blondie hanging out at the Mudd Club through the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. You could spend hours on this site, and I have.
Robert Otter Photographs Amazing vintage photographs of New York City, specifically my own neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
oboylephoto Just some intensely cool photographs of abandoned places.
The Weblog of Spumco's John K. The weblog of cartoonist John Kricfalusi, crazed mind and frantic pencil behind the original "Ren & Stimpy," as well as "The Goddamn George Liquor Show." Surreal, unapologetic, uncompromising genius.
Hey, kids! It’s almost Halloween! In years past, you may remember, I pulled together lists of seasonally-suitable songs to be creeped out by for the evening in question. Last year, I expounded in greater depth upon my choices (if you give a dang, click over to archives and click on previous Octobers). This year, frankly, has been a bit busy, so I haven’t had time to painstakingly compile a new selection of terrifying tracks. That said, I do have a couple in mind that ought to handily suffice. Amplify any of the following from your front porch for the aural benefit of prospective trick-or-treaters and I doubt you’ll be disturbed by anyone all night … except maybe the local authorities.
First up is one I’ve extolled the disquieting merits of in the past, but it quite simply has to be heard to be believed. This almost-twelve minute passage from Diamanda Galas’ Plague Mass album from 1991 ought to sufficiently get your heart-thumpin’ and your blood pumpin’, especially when Miss G starts warbling like possessed car alarm around 1:51 into the proceedings. If you can make it through the whole track, I’ll be impressed. Prepare thyselves for “This is the Law of the Plague.”
Equally versed in the art of creeping the daylights out of listeners came Coil. Even at their merriest – if such a thing can be imagined -- there was always something that sounded subtly sinister about their music. There’s precious little that is subtle, however, about the tracks featured in the clip below. “The First Five Minutes After Death” and “The Golden Section” date back to the band’s deeply chilly Horse Rotorvator album and come steeped in the gloriously morbid atmosphere of unearthly dread that is vintage Coil. KC & the Sunshine Band they were not.
The last one is an odd choice, I’ll admit, but I vividly remember the first time I heard it and being shaken to the core. I was probably about ten years old and out in Quogue for the summer. My mom had to run some evening errand or something and asked if I’d be okay by myself for about an hour (my older sister was out somewhere). I’d been in the living room, listening to a local rock station on the family stereo. I said sure, and helped my mom carry some stuff down to the car. She drove off and I turned to go back inside. Upon entering the dark house, I heard the strangest music emanating from the living room upstairs. As I got closer, the music got stranger, and I found myself unable to walk back up the stairs to where the music was playing – now augmented with discordant strings and a strange garbled voice. It sounded as if the living room had become a portal to a frightening netherworld. The song in question, it turned out, was called “Fire on High” by Electric Light Orchestra.
Now, honestly, unless you’re deeply disturbed by the thought of pasty British fellas with way too much hair (not an unreasonable reaction, now that I consider it), there isn’t much to be afraid of in the music of E.L.O., but take a listen to the opening of this track. Only the creepy intro is represented here (and then played backwards). The rest of the song, honestly, isn’t much to crow about – a sorta string-laden, prog-disco-rock pastiche that always reminds me a bit of Elton John’s “Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” But once again, imagine hearing the below for the first time as a young boy suddenly alone in a dark house. Happy Halloween.
It's been quite a while since I last posted about Tinnitus here. It's not that it's gone away, but more that there generally isn't too much to report. No one's come up with a miracle solution or anything. At my end, I just try to behave myself and not unduly punish my ears too much, which is still much harder than ya think. Sadly true to the heavy metal maxim of my youth, when I have headphones on, it's never loud enough.
But there were a couple of instances this week relevant to the screaming tea kettle that lives in my right ear. For a start, my friend J. from The Gathering also just developed a case of it. He shot me a list of practical questions asking what methods I've used and how I deal with it. I had to respond that I've pretty much acclimated to it at this point. For a long while, I dutifully tried "remedies" like Ginko Biloba and the promisingly-named supplement "RingStop," but neither ever seemed to do very much. I visited audiologists and ear doctors. I had a battery of tests. I tried ear-candling. I'm still game to try acupuncture, but haven't gotten around to it. A colleague of mine says his mother has Tinnitus and swears by something called Lipo Flavenoid, but I haven't given that a whirl as yet either. In any case, nothing I've tried has significantly lessened the shrill ring in my ear over the last eleven years.
But, sadly, my ear problems don't begin and end with the ring. I've evidently damaged my hearing pretty severely in my left ear -- oddly the one without the ring. As a result, I find myself asking people to repeat themselves, which is a complete bummer. Believe it or not, there are certain instances when asking the person you're speaking with to repeat themselves isn't really an option. In such dilemmas, you have to think on your feet and fill in the blanks yourself, which isn't always that simple.
Last night was another example. My wife and I attended a cocktail party thrown by some fellow parents from our son Oliver's pre-kindergarten class. It's always interesting to meet some of the other parents, so Peg and I were quite looking forward to it. The shindig was held at this frankly awe-inspiring apartment on 14th Street off 6th Avenue. If you ever told me I'd covet a place at such an address, I'd have probably scoffed, but believe me -- this place was amazing (the photo at the top is one I shot of myself in their palatial bathroom -- yeah, I know, how classy!) In any case, whilst mingling about with the other parents in their airport-hangar-sized living room, I found myself really struggling to hear what people were saying to me. Worse yet, I found myself chatting simultaneously at one point with Oliver's teacher and the school's somewhat intimidating principal, Mr. H. Both of them were blathering on, and I honestly couldn't hear a damn word either of them were saying over the buzzing din of the rest of the room (let alone the ringing in my right ear, which is always, always there). I strained to make coherent sense of what they were saying, but it was largely to no avail. Given my condition, this little scenario plays out all too often, and I have to resort to a routine of smiling, nodding, laughing knowingly and making the occasional utterance of "yeah," "you're so right" or "oh, absolutely." In a word, it sucks.
We practically closed out the party. As the crowd thinned, I had an easier time making out what people were saying, but it still gave me pause. I can't imagine what impression I must have made on Mr. H. If the problem persists (which, let's face it, it probably will), there's probably a hearing aid in my future. Once again, kids, lemme say this: HEARING PROBLEMS SUCK!!! Turn it down now, and spare yourself the torment.
A friend of mine from The Gathering went to see a triumphant performance by the mighty Leslie Stuart Goddard just recently -- also known as Adam Ant -- in his native U.K. and posted a rapturous review of same yesterday, prompting me to dial-up a heady airing of Kings of the Wild Frontier (one of my favorite albums of all time) today on my walk to work. As you might remember, our Adam has had a rather difficult time in the last few years, so it's good to hear that he's back in fighting form. As such, crank it and hoist one to the dandy highwayman himself.
This morning, as I was blearily walking to work up Fifth Avenue, I looked up. It’s something New Yorkers don’t normally do, I’m told, but I tend to – maybe blame Antony Gormley. In any case, in doing so, I happened to spy four or five large birds of prey, replete with relatively massive wingspans, circling over West 22nd Street. Hawks? Condors? Turkey Vultures? Pterodactyls? Maybe they’re the mysteriously squawky buzzards from Union Square! Regardless, as I continued north into Madison Square, they seemed to follow me overhead, soaring around the stately Flatiron Building, occasionally flapping their huge wings. I was awestruck. I mean, I guess big birds in New York City aren’t that big a deal, but I don’t imagine you see a whole pack of them out at once like this. I stopped in the middle of that traffic island and watched them glide over the rooftops. I looked around to see if anyone else was noticing, but everyone seemed to have their eyes focused downward. In moments, the birds swooped behind the golden spire of the New York Life Insurance Company building and were gone. And suddenly, I was late for work.
I snapped the photo below with my crappy iPhone and it really doesn’t do the sight justice at all (click on it to enlarge, and get out your magnifying glass). I know they just look like tiny specks in the picture, but try to imagine the scale. And don’t forget to look up.
Quite a while back, I wrote an earnest little post about the apparent closing of a local, neighborhood newsstand. I feared the worst. I speculated that financial hardship or some tyrannical legal stipulation had forced them out of business. As it happened, the brothers that run the stand had to fly home to India for a couple of weeks to attend to some family matters. They returned shortly afterwards and business resumed as normal. So, yeah, I blew the whistle on that one a little too soon.
I’m sincerely hoping I’m doing the same in this post about another neighborhood fixture. About seven or eight years ago, I befriended a homeless gentleman named Al who spends large amounts of time perched just to the south of my local deli. Though he seemingly relies on whatever small change people are willing to give him, Al is not an aggressive panhandler by any stretch. A polite and gentle soul, Al is counted as a friend by many people in my neck of the woods. It’s not at all uncommon to see three or four people regularly stopping to check in with him, see how he’s doing and just generally shoot the breeze.
I can’t say I know that much about him beyond a few details. Evidently, he grew up somewhere out on Long Island. I believe he used to work in the stationery store that formerly operated on 10th Street between University and Broadway, but fell on hard times after it closed some years ago. Ever since, he’s been homeless. I usually see him on my way home from work. He always asks how I’m doing --triggering my all-too-easily-riled penchant for whining and complaining about my lot in life – until I realize who I’m talking to. I always try to give Al a buck or two if I can, and I’ve given him the odd sweatshirt, baseball cap and t-shirt on occasion. For a while this summer, he sported one of my old Sisters of Mercy shirts from back in the day … making him an unlikely hit with the few remaining neighborhood Goths.
I don’t know where he goes when he leaves that familiar perch on University Place. I know he’s not a big fan of homeless shelters, for a variety of scary reasons. Sometimes when I see Al, he’s sporting fresh bruises. It’s hard not to worry about him.
In any case, it’s especially hard not to worry about Al these days as for the last few weeks, he’s been missing. I haven’t seen him outside the deli or around the neighborhood. The local merchants and doormen who also know him haven’t spotted him. No one seems to have heard or know anything about his whereabouts. It’s hard not to imagine the worst.
Everybody seems to have a New York City story, in much the same way seemingly every New Yorker has a 9/11 story. Everyone from E.B. White through Michael Stipe have put pen to paper to wax rhapsodic about what a heartless bitchcake the great C of NY can be. Whether you’ve grown up here or whether you spent one crazy summer here, the city has a way of making an indelible impression on you. And whether it’s the city’s history or its reputation or its myriad stereotypes, something about New York City seems to conjure in everyone it touches the need to write about it in floridly histrionic ways. I mean, no one’s ever written a caustic, tear-stained paean about leaving New Haven or St. Louis or San Diego.
In any case, one Christopher Solomon wrote a melancholy little piece for the New York Times’ City Room blog last week about just that. Solomon writes with palpable pathos about his two years in NYC and how his heart was broken by both the woman he followed here and by the city itself. By no means is his story unique, but hey – he got a piece in the Times, and that’s no small feat, so kudos to him.
But Solomon’s piece is really only half the story. The other side fidgets angrily in the comments section. While Solomon may have taken a minor pot shot at the city the scorned him, the city actively bites back and lets him know it. True to form, most of the comments are scathingly unsympathetic. Solomon’s basically reduced to a dilettante crybaby with dubious writing skills by “real” New Yorkers and bitter pedants.
At the end of it, I don’t know which side I sympathize with. I was born and raised here in Manhattan and am capable of being as insufferably precious and self-righteous about it as many of poor Christopher Solomon’s disdainful detractors. By the same token, I don’t claim to own New York City. I may live here, but the city could happily go on without me. In fact, given the spiraling costs required to live here (much less feed, house and educate your children if you’re foolhardy enough to procreate here), I have grave doubts about being able to stay in my home town. Moreover, with the passing of each year, more and more of what I’ve loved about this city has eroded or vanished completely. That doesn’t mean I want to leave, but if I had to leave, I could take some small solace in that fact.
But, as Christopher himself has doubtlessly learned by this point, NYC has no time for whiny sob stories.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I love old footage of New York City. And it’s not just that I’m romanticizing my youth. Sure, I love looking at images of the Manhattan I grew up in during the 70’s, 80’s and beyond, but I’m as equally captivated by pictures of Manhattan that predate my 43 years here. For example, I loved that photo in my last post. It’s 105 years old, but I could still immediately recognize the topography. I’m captivated by the idea that many of the buildings and landmarks that surround us as we go about our busy little lives here have stood for generations before us and will ideally be standing long after we’re gone.
In any case, Jeremiah Moss made an excellent find today and posted a great entry about some films posted by the Anthology Film Archives that capture New York in some of its previous incarnations. Jeremiah chose to concentrate on an admittedly haunting, silent black and white clip of Astor Place shot presumably sometime in the early 60s (it’s hard to pinpoint). From the same collection, though, I was hooked in by another mysterious clip. Dubbed “W 8th Street, Heading West,” this short, 16mm film details just that – a casual stroll down an unusually busy West 8th Street – from 5th Avenue to 6th Avenue on the north side of the street -- probably on a Summer day during the early-to-mid 1970s.
I’ve written about my own associations with the strip in question many times here. As a teenager, I was a regular visitor to West 8th Street, frequently giving my patronage to its once-thriving array of record shops and rock curio emporiums. Most of those spots are long gone now and the street has gone through several transformations since. In more recent years, West 8th Street has struggled to climb out of a period of decline and transform itself into a new restaurant destination (with varying degrees of success). While watching this clip, it’s striking to see how much has changed … and how much has remained the same.
To see more clips from the vaults of the Anthology Film Archives, click here.
Yesterday, my dad very thoughtfully sent me an e-card for my birthday from MoMa featuring the above photo. According to the card, the image was captured in 1905 by a pair of maverick shutterbugs named Underwood and Underwood. Titled, "Above Fifth Avenue, Looking North," this gelatin silver print captures a construction surveyor of some kind blithely thwarting death as he casually goes about his work.
Then, I thought, hang on a minute, he's not looking north! That's clearly the rear of the Flatiron Building just down the road, which would mean our boy is obviously looking west!
I was all ready to fire off a snotty, incredulous note to the MoMa and the Underwood estate and flex my insufferable knowitall chops. And then, I realized, the title of the print refers to the perspective of the photographer and not of the subject.
So, yeah, I'm a bozo. But still .... cool shot, right?
“Daddy, are you going to be taller tomorrow,” asked Charlotte, my 6-year-old, last night as I was tucking her into bed. “No,” I laughed, “just a little older.” “Well,” she continued, “I put something very special for you under your pillow for the holiday.” “It’s not a holiday,” I smiled, “it’s just my birthday.” Charlotte looked back up at me with her big, luminous brown eyes and corrected me. “It’s a holiday to me!”
Under my pillow were two hand-drawn birthday cards from Charlotte and her little brother Oliver, rife with smiley faces. Nothing like having two adoring little kids to take the visceral sting out of turning 43.