October 2008

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Thumbnail image for Jackie_Kennedy_husband_01.jpgTHIS DAY IN NEW YORK CITY HISTORY

Forty years ago today Jacqueline Kennedy, the most famous widow in the world and resident of 1040 Fifth Avenue, married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. She was not quite forty years old; he was born in either 1900 or 1906, but no one knows for sure.

I made this discovery at the gym this morning, along with an even bigger discovery: NY1 has a daily feature called “This Day in New York City History”! I promise we won’t mine it too often to fill our own feature, but NYC history buffs may want to bookmark the page.

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Blown-Up Flowers


Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Poppy (1927)

My wife and I are in Albuquerque for the weekend, attending this year’s American Studies Association Convention. Yesterday we were in Santa Fe and had the opportunity to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is currently showing an exhibition entitled “Georgia O’Keeffe and the Camera: The Art of Identity.” The exhibition runs through February 1, 2009. The exhibition brings together selections of O’Keeffe’s work from the museum’s permanent collection and photographs of the artist taken by Alfred Stieglitz, Arnold Newman, John Loengard, and others.

A number of quotations from O’Keeffe about her work were displayed on the walls along with the art and the photographs. I was particularly struck by this one:

I’ll tell you how I happened to make the blown-up flowers. In the
twenties, huge buildings sometimes seemed to be going up overnight in
New York. At that time I saw a painting by Fantin-Latour, a still-life
with flowers I found very beautiful, but I realized that were I to
paint the same flowers so small, no one would look at them because I
was unknown. So I thought I’ll make them big like the huge buildings
going up. People will be startled; they’ll have to look at them — and
they did.

The quotation was taken from an interview with O’Keeffe in The Artist’s Voice (1960), conducted by Katherine Kuh. The museum’s website has a page devoted to O’Keeffe’s New York years (1918-1929).

In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, candidates for the U.S. presidency, spoke at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. The foundation — named for the four-term Governor of New York and candidate for the presidency in 1928, an Irish kid from the Lower East Side — hosts the white-tie dinner as a fundraiser for Catholic Charities. In election years since 1960, candidates have often, but not always, been invited to speak.

This year, McCain went first. He set the bar high — in a meta way, even — but I think he was bested by The One. See what you think:

As a bonus: McCain finally makes it to Letterman’s show. Verdict: More cranky than funny, certainly not as good as his performance at the dinner.

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columbus_landing.jpgThe first recorded celebration of “Columbus Day” took place in New York City on October 12, 1792, three hundred years to the day after Columbus first reached the Caribbean. The ceremony was organized by the Society of St. Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, and included the dedication of a monument, a 14-foot “portable monumental obelisk” that was illuminated and made to simulate black marble. It depicted scenes from Columbus’s life. The New York Times ran a piece about this monument on August 4, 1889, describing it in some detail, though even then its whereabouts were unknown.

One hundred years later, a statue of Columbus by the Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo was erected in Columbus Circle, which would become the point at which distances to and from New York City are officially measured.

In the same year, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation urging Americans to celebrate “Columbus Day,” and communities across the country responded with plays, pageants, and other festivities. The following year saw the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, remembered for its famous “White City” and for Frederick Jackson Turner’s address to the American Historical Society on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” [Click here for a virtual tour from the Crossroads site at the University of Virginia and here for the University of Illinois’s digital exhibition.]

In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that every October 12 would be a federal holiday known as “Columbus Day.” President Richard Nixon changed the official date of the holiday to the second Monday in October (which happens, incidentally, to be Canada’s Thanksgiving Day).

In 1992, the insights of multiculturalism led to both introspection and protests around the holidaty. An editorial in the New York Times noted that “today, in New York City, Spain officially commemorates the 500th anniversary by observing a ‘Day of Respect for Native American Cultures.'” The editorial concluded, however, that “it is as unfair to burden Columbus with all the depredations that followed his voyage as it is to credit him alone with the development of the Western Hemisphere. It is enough that a long and different time ago, he opened the way.”


Above BBar and Grill, 4th and Bowery, 12 October 2008.


On October 12 and 13, 1982, the Clash opened for The Who at Shea Stadium. The Clash were touring support of their album Combat Rock. “Right away when we heard we were going to play there we thought
about the Beatles at Shea,” guitarist Mick Jones told the Associated Press.
“Everybody knew about it.” The band played fourteen songs in the rain:

London Calling
Police On My Back
The Guns of Brixton
Tommy Gun
Magnificent 7
Armagideon Time
Rock The Casbah
Train In Vain
Career Opportunities
Spanish Bombs
English Civil War
Should I Stay Or Should I Go
I Fought The Law

I didn’t see the Shea Stadium shows, but I did see the band about a month earlier at Pier 84. It was an amazing show, and when the rain began to fall — hard — at the end of the show, it seemed only to energize the band. There’s an account of that gig online here, along with descriptions of existing bootlegs of the show.

Meanwhile, the second Shea Stadium show has just been released on CD.  According to Rolling Stone‘s review of the album, “the album captures a rousing, crystalline-sounding Clash show.” You can find out more about The Clash Live at Shea Stadium via this YouTube video:

The New York Groove

Watching the premiere of Life on Mars got me reminiscing about New York in the Seventies. And then today I gave a brief talk at a College of Arts and Science admissions open house, which I preceded with the opening slides from Bryan’s and my Writing New York class. I substituted a version of “Sidewalks of New York” performed by Duke Ellington for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “New York, New York,” which we usually play over the slides, but I still played Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” at the conclusion of the slide show.

Do you remember that song? It was from Frehley’s “solo” album, released in October 1978. Frehley was the lead guitarist for the band KISS, and each member of the quartet released a solo album that fall.

Here’s a video of the song from the KISS tour that followed the release of the solo albums and the group album Dynasty in 1979:

If you prefer you can watch the same video, backed by the studio recording:

Okay, I confess: I saw three KISS shows during the late Seventies and played a parody of “Calling Dr. Love” in our senior show with a band that we called “Sweet Pig.” (The rewritten song was named for our eleventh-grade physics teacher: “Calling Dr. Rome.”)

In the premiere episode of the new series Life on Mars, which we previewed in yesterday’s post, the time-warped protagonist, Detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara) makes references to The Wizard of Oz. He tells a sympathetic but disbelieving policewoman (Gretchen Mol) that he’s going to “follow the yellow brick road,” hoping he’ll find the end and a way out of what he believes is a dream.

If you missed the episode, click on the continuation link below to see how Sam first realizes that something is amiss …

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Life on Mars

The American transplant of the British series Life on Mars premieres tonight on ABC. The title of the series refers to the David Bowie song, which was playing on NYPD detective Sam Tyler’s iPod, when he is hit by a car and suddenly transported back thirty-five years to 1973. When Tyler (Jason O’Mara) wakes up, the song is playing on an 8-track. Tyler returns to his station to find people whom he doesn’t know: Chief Detective Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel), Detective Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos), Detective Chris Skelton (Jonathan Murphy of October Road); Chief Detective Gene Hunt (Harvey Keitel), and policewoman Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol), who becomes his 1973 love interest. His present-day (2008) love interest is played by Lisa Bonet, and the series mixes past and present through dream sequences. According to the Los Angeles Times, the opening episode “closely follows the model, not only in plot and dialogue but often in specific shots.” The series, originally set in Los Angeles, was drastically reconceived after David E. Kelly dropped out and turned the series over to the producers of October Road and Alias. Only O’Mara returns from the cast that appeared in the pilot.

During a recent walking tour to Brooklyn Bridge, my Modernist New York class came across a scene from the series being filmed near the Brooklyn Heights Esplanade:


[Photos by Ian Rahman]

It was a kick to see the cars and clothes of my pre-teenage days. I’ll be watching the pilot just to see Harvey Keitel do his thing. After that, we’ll see: perhaps I’ll add it to my TiVo’s Season Pass list, where it can join Mad Men (set in New York in the 1960s) and replace New Amsterdam, another show that evoked New York’s past, but was cancelled by Fox last spring.

Meanwhile, here’s a preview of the series from the Los Angeles Times:

And a

blast from the past — Bowie as Ziggy:


I’ll be in Germany for the next week. No, I’m not part of the young artist set abandoning New York for Berlin. I have a conference in Dresden but will spend a couple days in the world’s new arts capital too. I won’t likely be blogging while I’m there, so have fun while I’m away!

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