Bryan: October 2009 Archives
Remembering Roy DeCarava, 1919-2009 [Harlem Bespoke; NYTimes]
Historic wood windows on Staten Island [HDC Newsstand]
Celebrate the Poe bicentennial for Halloween with Queens Players [h/t liQcity]
Parrot Safari coming up in Brooklyn, Nov. 7 [Brooklyn Parrots]
Saturday is the last day to catch The Provenance of Beauty, a bus tour/theater outing through the South Bronx. The show is sold out, but stand-bys apparently do get in. [review @ Urban Omnibus]
About James Jackson, whose stone this is:
In just under a week the unearthed tombstone has been dusted off and, the NY Times reports, belongs to one James Jackson who died in September of 1799.
The New-York Historical Society believes that he resided at 19 East George Street (the former name of Market Street), and was a watchman and grocer. They say, "There are many fewer Jacksons than I would have expected in the directory. Chances are this is him." It's suspected he may have died from yellow fever, which was rampant in the city at the time.
The inscription on the stone, which was just 2 1/2 feet underground, reads: "Here lies the body of James Jackson, who departed this life the 22nd day of September 1799 aged 28 years native of the county of Kildare Ireland." And while the body hasn't been found yet (it may have been moved when the area was developed), parks commissioner Adrian Benepe declares: "They're going to try to unravel the mystery of James Jackson and how the headstone came to be there," as well as find his body.
Yes, it certainly sounds like yellow fever to me. Someone should have published a necrology, though, so it shouldn't be too hard to find him there. Young, poor, Irish immigrants were disproportionately represented among the dead during the yellow fever epidemics of the turn of the nineteenth century. Some thought it resulted from intemperance and a heavy meat diet, but it had more to do with living in damp, unsanitary conditions or in the marshy east side, where the mosquitoes that carried the disease were more likely to breed. (It would be another century before people understood that was the case, however.)
It does seem odd for a tombstone to turn up in a potter's field -- especially one this wordy.
A passage from Anna Alice Chapin's apocrypha-laden Greenwich Village comes to mind:
In 1795 came one of those constantly epidemics of yellow fever which used to devastate early Manhattan; and in 1797 came a worse one. Many bodies were brought from other grounds, and when the scourge of smallpox killed off two thousand persons in one short space, six hundred and sixty seven of them were laid this particular public cemetery. During one bad time the rich as well as the poor brought there, and there were nearly two thousand bodies sleeping in the Potter's Field.
People who had died from yellow fever were wrapped in great yellow sheets before they were buried,-- a curious touch of symbolism in keeping with the fantastic habit of mind which we find everywhere in the early annals of America. Mr E.N. Tailer among others can recall years later seeing the crumbling yellow folds of shrouds uncovered by breaking coffin walls, when the heavy guns placed in the Square sank weightily into the ground and crushed the trench vaults.
It would be interesting to examine, in fancy, those lost and sometimes non-existent headstones of the Field,-- that is, to try to tell a few of the tales that cling about those who were buried there. But the task is difficult, and after all, tombstones yield but cheerless reading. That the sleepers in the Potter's Field very often had not even that shelter of tombstones makes their stories the more elusive and the more melancholy.
She does go on to offer anecdotes about a few of the tombstones that were known to populate the Potter's Field before Washington Square gentrified in the 1830s.
For more on yellow fever in 1790s New York, you could do a lot worse than read the fifth chapter of this book. (Ahem.) There's some great stuff on page 204, for instance, which references both the death of large numbers of young Irish in 1795 and later epidemics (the worst that decade being 1798, when 2,000 died; around 500 died along with James Jackson in 1799), as well as the medical rationale for burying yellow fever victims out of town. One physician even lobbied hard to end the practice of Christian burial in the city, especially the vault-style burials at Trinity Church, which he believed were polluting the atmosphere above ground with pestilential miasma and generating the almost annual epidemics.
Cat over at WSP Blog got the scoop on a tombstone unearthed last Friday during the newest phase of park renovations. Boldface and links are Cat's:
Matt Kovary grew up in Greenwich Village, is working nearby and passes by the location every day. He contacted WSP Blog on Friday after walking by the Park that afternoon when he noticed that there was a large hole dug about 6 feet below the surface in the fenced-off construction area, right at the perimeter of the chain-link fence on the southern edge at Washington Square South and Sullivan Street.
According to Mr. Kovary, there were two people inside the fence, a man and a woman, poring over and dusting off what appeared to be a tombstone which he believed had been recovered from the hole. They were taking pictures of it, and, when he asked whether it was indeed a tombstone, the woman would only state that it was "sandstone," admitting she was not authorized to talk about it.
Mr. Kovary said that the artifact looked like "a tombstone, not unlike those you'd see at Trinity Church - but in much better condition." He wondered if it could have been "related to the original land owner" and questioned whether this came from a "family cemetery" from 200 years ago or more.
Although skeletons and human bones from the Park's time period as a "potter's field" (1797-1825) have been discovered as recently as last year (see WSP blog entry "The Skeletons of Washington Square Park"), there seems to be less information about - and discovery related to - private cemetery usage before the area was a New York City park.
Inside the Apple adds this insight:
So do we. What a fun Halloween gift!It is well-known that the park was once a potter's field and by some estimates up to 20,000 people were buried there. (We write about the park's early history in depth in Inside the Apple.) However, what has people scratching their heads is the fact that you don't normally find a tombstone in a potter's field.The tombstone isn't so mysterious, however. Only a portion of today's park was the potter's field. As Luther Harris writes in his wonderful book, Around Washington Square:The land area [of the original square]...was about 6-1/4 acres, a respectable public space, but not a grand one. Much narrower than today's square, the potter's field was limited on the east by a strip of church cemeteries, and on the west by Minetta Creek, which ran southwest from the foot of Fifth Avenue to the corner of MacDougal and West Fourth Street. (italics added)Thus, it seems likely considering where the current excavations are happening that what's been unearthed is a tombstone from one of these church graveyards. The Scotch Presbyterian Church owned the largest cemetery and vehemently opposed the park's usurpation of their land. Perhaps this is one of their brethren? We await a full report.
Previously on AHNY.
I started reading last night and had to force myself to stop and go to sleep at a reasonable hour. It's hard to put down: a rich and personal narrative, much like Matt Wolf's documentary about Russell, and also a rich tapestry of music history. The opening sections on Iowa and California set the stage for everything to follow by offering insight into a web of musical influences that swirled about Arthur during his formative years. The rest of the book promises to be a wide-ranging history of the many downtown scenes Russell stitched together in his work and via his influence, from his first recording sessions in New York (backing Ginsberg with Bob Dylan) to the underground disco scene to his time as curator at the Kitchen to his short-lived stint playing cello with Talking Heads. This is the material I wish had been more fully represented in Wolf's Wild Combination, and I'm glad now to have Lawrence's book now as an extensive and indispensable companion piece. Plus it's the best guide I've yet encountered to the full range of downtown music in the 70s, something I'm thinking a lot about as I gear up to write about Television's Marquee Moon.
The book blurb by Swedish lush-popster Jens Lekman made me finally sit down at the computer and buy the EP Four Songs by Arthur Russell, curated by Lekman a few years back. I'm sorry I took so long to get around to it. The four songs are uniformly great renditions that showcase Russell's ability as a song-writer. Lekman and Joel Gibb (the frontman for the Canadian indie-pop ensemble Hidden Cameras) come closest to mimicking Russell's own tone and vocal style; Vera November (formerly of Electrelane, one of my favorite bands of the 2000s) and Taken by Trees (Victoria Bergsman, formerly of the Concretes) put more original stamps on their arrangements, but all the tracks are equally beautiful.
Here are two takes on Lekman's contribution. The first, directed by la Blogothèque, was named one of 2007's best videos by Pitchfork, though I missed it at the time. The setting for the video reminds me of paintings by the young Brooklyn artist Ryan Mrozowski, whose work I hope to own before it's completely out of my price range. The video is as disarmingly simple as Lekman's arrangement for African thumb piano:
The other video for Lekman's take on this song is, I think, even more intimate, thanks to repeated close-ups. And you get a better sense of the how the instrument works:
Here's the Arthur Russell original (via an unofficial fan video). His ghostly cello playing somehow makes the song a little sadder, more ethereal, even though it has a faster tempo than Lekman's cover:
If you're like me and you can't get enough of Arthur Russell -- and I seriously can't! -- you'll rejoice to learn that Chris Taylor, the multi-talented Grizzly Bear member (aren't they all?) who oversaw production on last year's phenomenal Russell compilation Love Is Overtaking Me, has just released another long-lost Russell track, "Come to Life," as part of a split single with his side project, CANT. You can find the Russell song here; the CANT track here. Or you could be a good doobie and order the 7" directly from Taylor's Terrible Records.
"Come to Life" seems an especially apt song title for this particular moment in the ongoing Arthur Russell revival. More life! And more life for Russell's extraordinary music. That's what we want.
Forget bedbugs ... Queens Crap's readers debate the great ladybug invasion of 2009! [QC]
Miss Heather's Greenpoint-based New York Shitty wins the VOICE's "best of NYC" award for neighborhood blogs [VV]
Roosevelt Islanders want the Google Trike to come before it's too late! [RI]
Boogie Downer reminds readers that Saturday is It's My Park! Day throughout NYC [BD]
Move over Meatpacking! When Madonna ruled Staten Island's North Shore ... [SIL]
Okay, that last story deserves its own YouTube link. Now that's some New York nobody else is singing:
I'll post my photos later. For now I wanted the excuse to link something our sometime commenter, The Modesto Kid, sent me a while back. It's a piece from the Architectural League of New York's blog, Urban Omnibus, about a sort-of social networking site called STACKD,
a new site that helps people in Manhattan office buildings get in touch - for business or beers. In so doing, his project connects such themes as excess capacity, the spatial and local implications of social media and the singular opportunities presented by Manhattan's built environment. What's more, STACKD just might provide a powerful tool for architects, planners, developers and even management consultants to interpret how we use space and how we can use it more flexibly and more efficiently.STACKD's developer explains some of its aims:
Clearly, resource sharing requires an open attitude and the desire to change established conventions. However, with coworking communities emerging throughout New York City, sharing resources between multiple floors may not be far behind. As we continue to work on STACKD and as it expands to other buildings, perhaps it can play a role in making the city and its use of space more legible. Architectural typologies could adapt to contemporary needs and business cycles. The first step is seeing what is happening. One of the biggest challenges with large amounts of information is making sense of it all. As visual creatures, we're equipped with sophisticated interpretative capabilities that yield insights at a glance far more readily than confronted with purely quantitative information. With the right interface and mapping capabilities we could gain a more fine-grained understanding of what kinds of activities are performed in what parts of the city.The ostensible agenda is to keep resource networking as local and efficient as possible. A worthy end, to be sure. One wonders, will social networking sites for residential towers like Gehry's (which will house almost 1000 units in its soaring 76 stories) be far behind, a possible way to ameliorate the anonymity -- even the suburbanization -- of life so far removed from the streets?
Image from worldarchitecturenews.com
Grieve has the photos of the week. Outside the Mars Bar. Is this in response to recent visits from Drew, Penn, or the guy in the pink sweater?
Lamentations notwithstanding, it's hard to imagine another neighborhood in Manhattan where this mural could go up ... complete with bloodstained sidewalk. Other than the EV/LES, are other neighborhoods in Manhattan facing this kind of identity crisis right now? Do people walk around saying, "The Upper East Side is over!"? Are residents of the sidestreets off Times Square as unhappy about the changes there as LESers are about their 'hood?
I wonder when the first death knell sounded for the EV. Any ideas?
Previously. And recommended.
Writes NYDP's Brian Dubé :
The small house is on the roof of 132 West 4th Street. The exquisite Greek Revival rowhouse was built in 1839 and was renovated in 1917 by Josephine Wright Chapman, one of the first successful women architects in America. The exterior was left largely intact, with the addition of casement windows to the parlor floor and a sloped studio window to the attic level, where in the same year, actor John Barrymore rented an apartment.The playwright Paul Rudnick rented the apartment in the late 80s and later wrote about it in the New Yorker:
Barrymore had taken up residence in 1917, just before he began performing his legendary Hamlet uptown. His film career at that point was limited to locally shot silent movies, including an early take on "Moby-Dick," which may have been the source of the ship's wheel. Barrymore had remodelled the apartment as a Gothic retreat, christening it the Alchemist's Corner. He had installed all the false beams, monastery-inspired ironwork, and stained glass, which made his lair resemble a stage set for an Agatha Christie whodunnit in summer stock. The rooftop had been his masterpiece, and had at one time included a garden, with cedar trees, a slate walkway, and a reflecting pool. Tons of soil had to be hoisted up by pulley, and eventually caused a collapse into the rooms below. Of Barrymore's vision only the cottage remained; he'd likened it to a roost overlooking the spires of Paris.Read the rest of Dubé's post here; Rudnick's piece here.
Apparently you need to catch the glimpse of Alchemist's Corner while you can get it; it seems the new NYU law building going up on the ruins of the Provincetown Playhouse will eclipse it.
The queen of food porn takes a trip to Woodside, Queens. [TGWAE]
Brooklyn by Bike plans a street vendor odyssey for Sunday (rain date the 25th). [BbB]
Bronx Bohemian is back, with the long-awaited second part of an interview with Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan. [BB]
The lowdown on the Uptown Salon: "This month marks the first anniversary of Harlem's Uptown Salon, a showcase and forum for the discussion of creative work, and an organization that seeks to foster a tightly knit artistic community in Harlem and the Upper West Side." (tonight!) [Free NYC]
Count us among those who're glad that Walking Is Transportation, our favorite Staten Island blog, is back. Here's a lovely meditation on writing and waterfronts. [WIT]
New Brighton painter Bill Murphy's heroic Along Arthur Kill (watercolor on paper, 54 x 62, 2007-08). Information: aburninglight.com [painting via Walking Is Transportation]
The last time I checked our official Cambridge Companion page I was delighted to see that we officially have a cover. Even more delighted to see that they used the painting we recommended, by the Czech painter T. F. Simon:
The volume's due out in March. We just received proofs and think it looks pretty fantastic.
Some other highlights of the week ... via Stupefaction, a preview for a new film exploring the idea of "downtown" in the late 70s and early 80s. Narrated by Debbie Harry, Downtown Calling seems to have a special interest in exploring hip hop and underground dance. It premieres later this month in Austin.
Friends from LA are in town for a few days playing some shows. I caught them last night at Mercury Lounge and they're playing again at Union Hall in Brooklyn tomorrow. Not a lot of huge NYC content in this entry, if it weren't for the lovely and talented Sara Lov, the member of this tour I know best, who has a sweet little song called "New York":
Sara, who formerly fronted the band Devics, plays her set backed by a turntable that plays the instrumental tracks to her songs while she sings. I thought the trick worked quite well. Another LA band, Sea Wolf, headlines: friends of friends, they play perfectly pleasant indie rock. They had a nice crowd last night. My daughters have listened to them for the last few years and I took one of them, the 8th grader, to yesterday's sound check, since the show was 21+. Thanks to Sara and Tim for being so sweet to her while we were there.
And now? I think I'm going to go check out the much written about lobster rolls at Luke's. They're half the price of my favorites, at Ed's. I wonder if they'll only be half as good? Half the lobster? I'll report back.
So in the midst of picnicking ladybugs and alligator kings and such, up comes a segment featuring none other than a young Jesse Jackson. I was stunned. And moved. I watched it two or three times in a row:
What exactly would prevent this segment from airing today? That medallion? (Just kidding.) Actually, I think it would be the W word. What a shame. It's a reminder that the show's creators aggressively aimed, in the beginning, to foster self-esteem among kids living in urban poverty. I didn't recognize this agenda as a child, of course, living in the rural southern reaches of the Rocky Mountatins. To me, Sesame Street was my key representation of a far-off place called The City, where people of all races lived and got along and played on tire swings at the termination of dead end streets.
Here's another clip that shows where the Sesame Street version came from. Turns out it was already a little softened:
Critics commonly treat the play as a brief for Revolutionary republicanism: an attack on British "luxury" as effeminizing and a plea for young Americans to cultivate homespun virtues, fashion, and entertainment. In making such arguments, the play would seem divided against itself, since the theater itself was taken by some old-guard republicans to be one of the chief European vices that needed to be stamped out.
During the Revolution, the Continental Congress outlawed all "shews, plays, and other expensive diversions." New York's major theater troupe, the American Company, most of whom were natives of Great Britain, left for the British West Indies, where they stayed for eight years, waiting out the war. The British, who eventually came to occupy New York City for the duration of the Revolution, continued to sponsor amateur theatricals (with British soldiers staging plays of their own). When the American Company returned following the evacuation of the British, the New York City council denounced them for performing "while so great a part of this city still lies in ruins, and many of the citizens continue to be pressed with the distresses brought on them in consequence of the late war." Tyler, whose native Boston would not legalize the theater until 1794, was treading a thin line in writing for the stage.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that The Contrast is so preoccupied with theater conventions themselves. The play mines the idea of theatrum mundi--"all the world's a stage," in Shakespeare's formulation--to its fullest comic potential in a series of situations in which the play comments on the conventions of the theater itself and draws extended comparisons of society to stage acting. The most exemplary of these moments involves the prototypical "Stage Yankee," Jonathan, a country bumpkin from Massachusetts in town as an attendant to the Revolutionary War officer Colonel Manly.
Jonathan explores the city in company with two local servants, Jessamy and Jenny, while Manly finds himself caught up in a seduction plot involving his sister, Charlotte, and then falls in love himself with Maria, a novel-reading sentimentalist who's become dissatisfied with Billy Dimple, the affected fool her father wants her to marry. While the romance plots and subplots unfold among the upper-class characters, the unsophisticated Jonathan -- played to full comic effect at the Metropolitan by Brad Frazier -- accidentally finds himself in New York's John Street Theater, the very theater in which The Contrast premiered. Jonathan mistakes the playhouse, though, for a church -- unwitting commentary on similarities between stage and pulpit -- and when the curtain goes up, he assumes he's somehow peeping on the family living next door. When Jessamy and Jenny ask him later for details about what he saw, his confusion is apparent: "Why, I vow they were pretty much like other families," he says of the people he saw on stage. "[T]here was a poor, good-natured, curse of a husband, and a sad rantipole of a wife." He goes on to offer details that would make it clear to Jonathan's audiences, on stage and off, that he was describing a performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's extraordinarily popular play, The School for Scandal (1777), along with John O'Keefe's The Poor Soldier (1783), both British imports. The actor who originally played Jonathan even winds up commenting on what would have been his prior performance in the latter, in some stuttered lines about "Darby Wagall," a conflation of role and actor.
Though audiences today need program notes or footnotes to make sense of some of these references, Tyler's initial audience would not have, which is precisely the point and the source of Tyler's humor. The inside joke does depend, however, on the audience's refusal to suspend its disbelief, or to differentiate between the theater and real life--on its ability, that is, to see the actor and his character on stage at the same time. (At the Metropolitan, director Alex Roe has his actors interact directly with audience members, making plain that they are implicated in the play's social satire.) The line between stage and "real life" has been stretched precariously thin; this idea would become a staple in theatrical representations of New York over the coming century.
Jonathan's experience at the theater helps us see one of the many "contrasts" the play stages: between a sophisticated theater audience (represented on stage by Dimple, Jessamy, and Jenny) and a bumbling rube, Jonathan, the intellectual and cultural victim of the theater's ignorant opponents. What does it mean, then, that the play aligns its own knowing audience--the people who understand the jokes--with derided characters like Dimple and Jessamy, who go to the theater only to turn their backs on the performers and watch elite women in the boxes "play the fine woman to perfection"?
To the extent that Jonathan represents audience members he is a rather poor and unsophisticated one here and elsewhere. Jonathan continually misreads the city, assuming that Jessamy is a member of congress, that a theater and a brothel are both churches, that the theater's stage is a neighbor's house, and that a prostitute is a deacon's daughter. But Jonathan does get something fundamentally right about the theater's relationship to life: that the theater is like life in some ways. If his peep into the "neighbor's household" convinces him that Sheridan's characters are essentially like any other family, the observation implies that most members of society are caught up in various kinds of performance themselves. The Contrast's opening scene makes much the same point, in Charlotte Manly's account of a walk on the Battery, at the bottom of Broadway, before an audience of admiring soldiers and beaux. Broadway, which ran close to the sites of both the John Street and the Park Theatres, from very early on was the site of fashionable promenades, becoming a contested territory in the nineteenth century as multiple social groups wanted to display their taste. Tyler, poking fun at such pretension, makes visible something that would remain a part of New York's characterization as a city all the way to the present: the popular conflation of the city with the theater itself.
Tyler's play shows how manners or politeness help institutionalize divisions based on class, sex, and race. For Tyler, social theatricality poses a problem, to be sure, but most particularly when members of the servant class seek to climb above their stations. We are to understand it as dangerous, for instance, when Jessamy recites Lord Chesterfield's advice (from his oft-reprinted if controversial Letters to His Son) on how to behave in polite society. Even Jonathan, whose rural simplicity is sometimes understood as "native worth," is marked as an outsider to metropolitan manners and, in the process, kept in a lower-class position. Two virtues, as it were, for the price of one. At the same time, Manly's ability to perform his role as a natural aristocrat and to appear artless and sincere while doing so offers just one example of the cultural work such a play could perform in the name of patriotism. The Contrast's conclusion--the promise of a wedding between New England and New York landed gentry, all done by Federal authority and isolationist rhetoric--leaves those who can't comprehend theatrical and social cues (or who can't afford to pay to learn them) out in the cold.
Much of what I've just written seems positively sterile in the face of the vibrant, humorous staging of the play at the Metropolitan. This production keeps its emphasis on the satire of urban social mores in ways that make the play seem incredibly contemporary rather than a period piece. (In fact, I couldn't stop comparing it to the TV teen drama Gossip Girl in its relentless satirization of New York's moneyed classes, whether they be openly vacuous or self-righteously unmaterialistic and moral.) The decision to have the cast appear in tanktops and rather plain skirts and pants (with the exception of the clownish Jonathan, who appears in pajama pants) calls attention to the play's critique of fashion in ways that quaint period clothing simply could not have done. But the biggest surprise for me, having read and taught the play a dozen times, was how thoroughly unprepared I was for the play's rich and constant humor. Cold War critics, this production suggests, were completely snookered by Colonel Manly's patriotic platitudes. He seemed boring or priggish, sure, but no one really talked about him as the object of Tyler's satire in the same way Tyler was clearly sending up the Anglophile fops and coquettes, Dimple and Charlotte, or the class-climbing servants, Jessamy and Jenny. But in this production -- and I suspect in the original as well -- Manly and his sentimental counterpart Maria are shown to be as much the objects of Tyler's satire as anyone else in the play. Manly's declamations (as delivered by Rob Skolits) are meant to ring hollow and self-serving -- to the point of hilarity, given his inability to see his own blind devotion to republican cliche. Maria Silverman's performance as Maria leaves no doubt (from her first entrance singing a popular tune about a stoic Indian chief -- her model of manly behavior) that Tyler was lampooning her rather than making her a virtuous alternative to the foolish, fashion-obsessed Charlotte, played pitch-perfect by Metropolitan veteran Amanda Jones.
The Metropolitan's cast and director have unlocked a hilarious streak in this play too long overlooked by literary scholars. They've changed the way I will read and teach it in the future. This is a rare opportunity to see a piece of American and New York City theater history brought to new life in a way that doesn't feel stuffy and dated. I can't recommend enough that you get out and see it before it ends November 1.
More on The Contrast and New York history at Inside the Apple.
I'll have more to write about the play and its significance -- and about this staging -- later. For now I'll just say that the folks at Metropolitan have found much more humor in the play than I've ever read there, having taught it a dozen times and written about it in my contribution to our forthcoming Companion. Lines I never noticed before are side-splitting. The main performances are outstanding. So mind the main chance: get out an see it. It's a rare treat to have the opportunity.
If you're inclined to listen to me ramble about it, I'll be talking with the audience following the matinee this Sunday. Info on tickets here.
Saturday, Oct. 10
NYU Tisch Performance Studies, 721 Broadway (at Waverly Pl.), Suite 612, NYC
9:30 - Coffee
10:00a-10:30 Keynote - Tim Lawrence, author of Hold on To Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene
10:30-11:30 Panel 1: Musical Variations
Chair: Sukhdev Sandhu
Peter Zummo: "Pop and the Multi-Pentatonic, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Whole Steps and Minor Thirds"
Elodie Lauten: "Lesser-known Relationships: In the Singing Tractors Nexus, a Sense of Freedom and Exploration"
Ryan Dohoney: "The Experimental Assemblages of Arthur Russell and Julius Eastman"
11:45-1:15 Panel 2: Arthur Russell: Recording and Legacy
Chair: Peter Gordon
With Mustafa Ahmed, Bob Blank, Joyce Bowden, Gary Lucas, Bill Ruyle, Peter Zummo.
2:00-3:15 Panel 3: Arthur Russell and the World
Chair: Simon Reynolds
Joyce Bowden: "Impermanence and Non-Duality: Buddhist influence in the music of Arthur Russell"
James Thomas: "I'm Sorry, But This Is How I Learn" (Theme: repetition and language in Russell's collaborations)
Ernie Brooks: "Arthur Russell: Creativity and the Business of Music, Resolving a Pursuit of the Ineffable with the Need for Recognition in Worldly Terms"
Daniel Portland: "I Touched You on the Arm: Cruising as Epistemology in the Life and Work of Arthur Russell
3:30-5:00 Wild Combination screening and Q&A with Matt Wolf
5:00-6:30 Panel 4: Remembering Arthur Russell
Chair: Steve Knutson
With Alan Abrams, Ernie Brooks, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Elodie Lauten, Tom Lee
6:30-6:45 Wrap-up ¾ Sukhdev Sandhu
7:00-9:00 Solo and duo performances of Arthur Russell music plus book launch
Reception & book launch at Housing Works Café, 126 Crosby Street, NYC, with performances by Mira Billotte, Alex Waterman, Nick Hallett, Rachel Henry, Peter Gordon, Peter Zummo, Joyce Bowden, Steven Hall and others. Tim Lawrence will read from his new biography of Arthur Russell, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene. $10 admission to benefit Housing Works, a nonprofit AIDS-service organization.
10:00-late Dance party with Arthur's Landing at Public Assembly
Play It Loud presents Arthur's Landing (with Jerry Harrison) at Public Assembly at 70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Live dance music! $10 admission to benefit Gods Love We Deliver.
Alan J. Abrams is an independent producer, director, and writer with film credits including The Rook, Paradise Falls, Charles Bukowski's, 900 Pounds, and Larry Brown's Leaving Town. During more than 20 years in the industry has also produced Tibet, A Culture In Exile with Richard Gere and Professor Robert Thurman. His editorial credits include Academy Award nominees Never Cry Wolf, Blue Velvet, and The Mosquito Coast.
Mustafa Ahmed is a multi-faceted percussionist. Since the 1980's he has performed in concert throughout the United States and Europe with an eclectic group of composers, vocalists, musicians and dancers. He currently performs and records with the critically acclaimed gospel choir Total Praise, the jazz group The Phibes and Arthur's Landing. www.myspace.com/drumsongcollaborations www.myspace.com/thisisthephibes
Bob Blank has been part of the New York music scene since 1973, and from 1976 till 1987 owned and operated Blank Tapes Recording Studios, where he produced or engineered 19 gold records for artists as diverse as Sting and Instant Funk. Bob's music production company, Blank Productions, makes music for TV and film, and has provided music for shows as diverse as American Idol and Dance Your Ass Off. Bob also dances, and he and his partner Martha Estevez have been US Over 45 Latin Champions twice. He was also a principal dancer in the Nicole Kidman film The Stepford Wives.
Joyce Bowden feels lucky to have known Arthur and to have worked with him in the 1980's. Arthur was an unflinching mentor and wonderful friend. Working at Circle Sound in Raleigh, NC, turns out to be to be one aspect of a continuous connection. Recent musical involvement includes Arthur's Landing as well as the Goodnight Graces and Recent Memory (both on Moon Caravan Records). www.mooncaravan.com www.myspace.com/goodnightgraces www.myspace.com/recentmemory
Ernie Brooks is a bass player and songwriter. A member of Boston band Modern Lovers, he met Arthur Russell at one the group's last concerts in spring of 1974. Ernie collaborated with Arthur in various projects, including bands Flying Hearts and Necessaries. He currently plays in ensembles with Gary Lucas, Peter Zummo, and Rhys Chatham, and performs as much of Arthur's work as possible in the band/collective Arthur's Landing.
Ryan Dohoney is a music historian specializing in American music and culture since 1945. He received his PhD in musicology from Columbia University in 2009. He is currently at work two book projects; a critical history of the life and music of Morton Feldman and a study of the downtown music scene glimpsed through the work Julius Eastman and his collaborators.
Peter Gordon is a composer, musician and producer known for the Love of Life Orchestra (which featured Russell in the original lineup) as well as for music for performance and media. Gordon met Arthur Russell in 1975 and they developed a friendship through shared musical interests. Gordon's performances and recordings with Russell include Instrumentals, "Clean on Your Bean", "Tell You Today", "Kiss Me Again", and the legendary John Hammond sessions. Gordon and Russell co-wrote the LOLO track "That Hat". Gordon is Associate Professor of Music at Bloomfield College. www.petergordon.com www.myspace.com/pglolo
Steven Hall was born in Scotland in 1957 and wore a kilt and played the bagpipes when he was a boy--he moved the the US at age 15--went to NYC where he met Allen Ginsberg and Arthur Russell at age 18--the rest is a blur... www.myspace.com/arthurslanding www.myspace.com/recentmemory
Nick Hallett is a New York-based composer, singer, and curator working across a broad range of disciplines and genres. His music has seen recent performances at Joe's Pub, New Museum of Contemporary Art, The Stone, and ISSUE Project Room. He is composing the music for a theater collaboration with the artist Shana Moulton, playing at The Kitchen in April 2010.
Steve Knutson is the founder of Audika Records. A longtime admirer of Arthur Russell's work, and a music veteran of over 25 years, Steve Knutson, through his collaboration with Tom Lee has worked to bring the wide breadth of Arthur's musical imagination back to those that remember him, and introduce his music to a new audience.
Elodie Lauten, daughter of jazz composer Errol Parker, was born and educated in Paris. Moving to New York City, she graduated from NYU with a Master's in composition. She developed into a full-fledged composer with Lincoln Center credits, chamber and symphonic commissions, several operas, and 29 releases on more than 15 major and independent labels. She is on the faculty at the New York City College of Technology.
Tim Lawrence is the author of Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92, new out from Duke. His first book, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-79, was also published by Duke. He runs the Music Culture: Theory and Practice degree at the University of East London and is a member of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research. www.timlawrence.info www.uel.ac.uk/ccsr/
Tom Lee is an elementary school teacher. He met Arthur Russell in the summer of 1978 and lives in the East Village, NYC apartment that he shared with Arthur since 1980. He is honored to be a participant in the enduring appreciation of Arthur's musical legacy through the film, book, and articles and of course the songs that serve to remind him of a very special time in their lives together.
Gary Lucas is a guitarist, Grammy-nominated songwriter, composer and recording artist with over 20 acclaimed solo albums to date. He has been called "The Thinking Man's Guitar Hero" (The New Yorker), and tours the world relentlessly both solo and with a variety of ensembles including his longtime band Gods and Monsters. He is responsible for bringing Arthur Russell to the attention of both Rough Trade Records and Upside Records and getting him signed to both labels. www.garylucas.com
Daniel Portland is a conceptual artist and writer. He holds a master's
degree in arts politics from NYU and his research interests include queer time and space. http://www.ohrenoir.blogspot.com
London-born but New York-based, Simon Reynolds is a freelance journalist and author. His books include Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture, Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews, and Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. He operates a number of blogs clustered around http://blissout.blogspot.com/
Bill Ruyle has been a percussionist/composer/collaborator for new music, dance, and theater in NYC and abroad since 1974. He has performed with the ensembles of Peter Zummo, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Bill Obrecht, Scott Johnson, Phillip Johnston, "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Bob Een, Naaz Hosseini, The Feetwarmers, The Manhattan Marimba Quartet, Last Forever with Dick Connette, Newband, Counter)induction, Arthur's Landing, Compton Maddux and the Dirt Simple Band, and The Hudson Valley Philharmonic. He first met Arthur Russell while studying at the Manhattan School of Music.
Sukhdev Sandhu is the author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined A City (2003) and I'll Get My Coat (2005). His latest book, Night Haunts: A Journey Through The London Night (2007), has been developed as a series of site-specific performances and soundworks in collaboration with Scanner. He is the Chief Film Critic for the London Daily Telegraph, and Director of Asian/Pacific/American Studies at NYU.
James Merle Thomas is a San Francisco-based curator, writer, and researcher. He is currently completing his PhD in contemporary aesthetics and politics at Stanford University. His most recent curatorial project, "I'm Sorry, But This is How I Learn" explores the relationships between repetition and pedagogy in art and performance, and is touring Europe and the United States throughout 2009-2010 (Kunstverein, Munich; Artist's Space, New York City).
Matt Wolf is a filmmaker in New York. His documentary Wild Combination about Arthur Russell was released theatrically and on DVD by Plexifilm and is currently airing on the Sundance Channel. He is finishing a documentary in collaboration with New York City Ballet Dancers about the landmark 1958 ballet Opus Jazz by Jerome Robbins for PBS Great Performances.
Peter Zummo is a musician focusing on the trombone, a composer of works and processes for interactive ensemble, and a band-leader, engineer, and producer. His work is informed by four decades of performing for other composers and band-leaders. He also collaborates with artists in theatre, dance, poetry, film and television.
The conference organizers Peter Gordon (Bloomfield College), Tim Lawrence (University of East London), and Sukhdev Sandhu (New York University) would like to thank Toriono Gandy (technical director) and Kit Fitzgerald (video documentation) for their help. They would also like to acknowledge the English Department at NYU, Bloomfield College, the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of London, the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU, the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at NYU, the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture at NYU, and the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis for their help in sponsorship and space to support the conference. Thanks also go to the New Media Department at Concordia College, New York, as well as the Creative Arts and Technology Division at Bloomfield College for additional assistance. This brochure has been printed by Categrafica at Bloomfield College.
You're hereby invited to a Bike Bash at 8 Mile Creek (240 Mulberry St., near Prince), sponsored by my awesome local bicycle shop, Bicycle Habitat, the evening of Thursday the 8th.
I'll be one of five finalists reading original odes to our bicycles, all competing to win a new Trek Soho S. The audience will vote on our performances -- so I need friends to be there! The party lasts from 6 to 9; happy hour is in effect until 10. The first 50 attendees get a free drink! The readings will take place around 7 or 7:30. The event will be held in "The Creek Bar," downstairs.
The bike I've written a poem for is my recently retired crappy red Schwinn. I rode it hard and it served me well. I've written about it lovingly before. I'd publish my poem here but that would spoil the surprise, so turn out and lend me a push! (If you turn out and help me win, I promise to post the poem here.)
We want to take special notice this week of a rapidly approaching conference co-organized by our colleague Sukhdev Sandhu, also to be held at NYU: Kiss Me Again: The Life and Legacy of Arthur Russell. The conference will take place primarily at 721 Broadway, Ste. 612 -- Tisch Performance Studies -- with other events happening at Housing Works Cafe, Public Assembly, and Bar 169.
Russell lived and worked in New York from the early 1970s to his AIDS-related death in 1992. He was instrumental to a range of music scenes downtown, from his work as a curator at the Kitchen, to his recording of underground dance music under the names Loose Joints and Dinosaur L, to his performance with vocals and cello in the ghostly compositions known as the World of Echo. Although his work and influence was far-reaching, only recently has he begun to receive widespread public recognition, including the release of many long-lost songs and new interest in his biography by Matt Wolf, Tim Lawrence, and others.
The daylong conference on Saturday, beginning at 10 am, will feature Mustapha Ahmed, Bob Blank, Joyce Bowden, Ernie Brooks, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Steve Knutson, Elodie Lauten, Tim Lawrence, Tom Lee, Gary Lucas, Simon Reynolds, Will Socolov, Peter Zummo & others, including a screening of the recent Arthur Russell documentary Wild Combination (filmmaker Matt Wolf will be on hand for Q&A). I can't praise this movie enough and really encourage anyone who hasn't yet been exposed to Russell to take advantage of this screening. (The movie's also readily available on DVD.) The prior evening (Friday) at 9 pm Steven Hall and Joyce Bowden will perform Arthur Russell songs at Bar 169.
Saturday evening, from 7 to 10, Housing Works Cafe will host more performances of Russell's music -- by Mira Billotte, Joyce Bowden, Peter Gordon, Steven Hall, Nick Hallett, Rachel Henry, Alex Waterman, Peter Zummo and others -- along with a booklaunch for Tim Lawrence's Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92, which will be officially released by Duke University Press next month. From 10 pm to 4 am, Public Assembly (70 N. 6th St. in Williamsburg) will host a dance party, with a $10 donation at the door to benefit the AIDS charity God's Love We Deliver.
If you can make it to the 4:05 mark in this song and not spend the rest of the day smiling, I'd suggest you've got some work to do. Then again, who among us doesn't?
For the full Lost New York program click here.
The session titles below link to extended descriptions of each session.
All sessions are free and open to the public.
FRIDAY, 2 OCT
4:00 PM -- OPENING PLENARY: RECLAIMING THE DUTCH (Fales Library, 70 Wash Sq South, 3rd floor)
Joanne van der Woude (Harvard University)
Elizabeth Bradley (New York Public Library)
Lytle Shaw (New York University)
5:30 - 6:30 PM -- RECEPTION AND EXHIBITION OPENING: "LOST NEW YORK" (Fales Library Gallery)
SATURDAY, 3 OCT. (13-19 University Place, room 102)
9:00 AM: Coffee and tea
9:15 AM - 10:45 AM: FROM ADRIAEN VAN DER DONCK TO RICHARD HELL: REFLECTIONS ON CURATING "LOST NEW YORK"
John Easterbrook (New York University)
Kristen Doyle Highland (New York University)
Jane Greenway Carr (New York University)
John Melillo (New York University)
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM: MORNING KEYNOTE ADDRESS: DAPHNE BROOKS ON MOMS MABLEY
Daphne Brooks (Princeton University)
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM Lunch
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM: BLOGGING THE APOCALYPSE: NEW MEDIA, NEW GENRES, AND THE LITERATURE OF A LOST CITY
Sukhdev Sandhu (New York University), moderator
Ephemeral New York
Flaming Pablum: Vanishing Downtown
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM: AFTERNOON KEYNOTE CONVERSATION: DAVID FREELAND AND MARSHALL BERMAN IN DIALOGUE
Marshall Berman (City College of New York and Graduate Center of the City University of New York)
David Freeland (independent writer, New York City)
Conference sponsored by the Department of English and Humanities Initiative at New York University. Organized by Cyrus R. K. Patell and Bryan Waterman.
We're pleased to have, as our final keynote session at the conference, two writers whose work we much admire, and who offer, we think, complementary approaches to the conference theme.
Marshall Berman, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has an extraordinary track record commentating on -- helping us to read, really -- New York's changing landscape, particularly in the twentieth century and beyond. His classic exploration of modernity, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, with its final chapters on New York in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, has provided many, including the documentarian Ric Burns, with a template for narrating the city's post-war history, especially the conflict in the 1960s between Robert Moses and downtown residents and preservationists led by the Village activist Jane Jacobs. (Berman's appearances as a talking head in the late episodes of Burns's New York are among that series' highlights.) Widely regarded as an urbanist and political theorist, Berman is at once a careful critic of New York's ever-changing landscape and a relentless optimist about the possibilities for creative living this and other cities afford their inhabitants. His recent work includes Adventures in Marxism, On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square, and, as co-editor with Brian Berger, New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomburg. Click here for an interview with Berman in the aftermath of 9/11, in which he considers the city's changes in the late 20th century and the impact of the World Trade Center's rise and fall.
David Freeland is a freelance journalist and historian of popular entertainment, whose writing includes Ladies of Soul (two chapters of which center on New York performers Maxine Brown and Timi Yuro) and the recently published Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan's Lost Places of Leisure. In that book Freeland leads readers through a series of locations in which forgotten forms of popular nightlife entertainment are still visible to careful observers, from the 1893 Chinese Theater, to Tin Pan Alley, to Horn and Hardart's orignal Times Square automat. Freeland models for readers a practice of careful observation of our many-layered urban environments; as he peels those layers back he makes it possible for us to regain cultural memory of a lost city and its anonymous inhabitants. Freeland maintains a blog related to the themes of his recent work -- which coincides neatly with our conference topic -- at gothamlostandfound.com. His writing appears regularly in NY Press and elsewhere.
On Saturday afternoon each speaker will offer us an inroad into his recent writing before engaging in dialogue with one another and the audience.