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Bryan and I had the good fortune last week to be able to hear the visionary Kronos Quartet twice each during their week-long residence at NYU Abu Dhabi where we’re presently teaching. The ensemble played at NYUAD Arts Center‘s Black Box Theater five times, never once repeating a program, performing about 40 different pieces with origins in 27 different countries.

I wrote a little bit about the experience over at Electra Street (, NYUAD’s journal of the arts and humanities, for which I’m presently serving as publisher. We were lucky enough to hear world premieres that were commissioned by the quartet for its “Fifty for the Future” initiative, which is designed both to create new repertoire and new training programs for future string quartets that seek to build on Kronos’s style and vision.

Those of you who are in New York this fall will have two opportunities to catch Kronos on its fall tour.

On Wednesday, September 23, 2015, the group will play at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space as part of the 2015 International Conference on Sustainable Development hosted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The program, entitled “2°C is the Limit: Music for a Sustainable Planet,” is presently scheduled to include the following pieces:

Omar Souleyman (arr. Jacob Garchik) / La Sidounak Sayyada (I’ll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting You) +
Hamza El Din (realized by Tohru Ueda) / Escalay (Water Wheel) *
Terry Riley / One Earth, One People, One Love from Sun Rings *
Vladislav Boguinia / Rise
with special guests ÆON Singers

I heard the El Din and Riley pieces last week, so I know you’ll be in for a treat if you can attend.

And then, on October 20 at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, Kronos will be performing George Crumb’s Black Angels, the piece that inspired violinist David Harrington to found the ensemble back in 1973.

As of this writing, tickets for both shows are still available. If you manage to get to either of them, please drop us a line or, better yet, leave a comment here or send us a guest post. (We will, of course, be quite jealous!)

To whet your appetite, here’s a short concert recorded in 2013 for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. It features the current quartet’s lineup (David Harrington,violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt viola; and Sunny Yang, cello) playing three pieces: “Ahyem,” written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner of the Brooklyn rock band The National; “Lullaby,” a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots, which the group played at NYUAD; and Jacob Garchik’s arrangment of a 1930s blues song, “Last Kind Words.” Enjoy!


And I fell …

The good folks at asked me to annotate a passage from my 33 1/3 volume on Television’s Marquee Moon. Here’s what I came up with:


Previously on PWHNY.

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tv2In Martvch 1974, a band called Television — Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca — played both their very first show (at Townhouse Theater on W 44th) as well as their first gig, a few weeks later, at a dive country and bluegrass bar on the Bowery recently renamed CBGB + OMFUG. They were not a country or bluegrass band. Within months CBGB had become a mecca for new music, underground rock and roll by New York’s unsigned bands, including The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Patti Smith Group. This is where punk rock was born.

Several events this week commemorate punk’s 40th anniversary:

Thursday, March 20, 7 pm, at The Strand, 828 Broadway: Richard Hell in conversation with Bryan Waterman, marking the pbk release of Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. [open to public]

Thursday, March 20, 6pm, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections presents the GoNightclubbing Video Lounge, a multi-media installation curated by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong paying tribute to the infamous Danceteria Video Lounge, which they created in 1980. [open to public]

Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23, 11 am to 1 pm, Silver 401, NYU: “Punk and the City,” a three-day seminar as part of the annual American Comparative Literature Association meetings. Twelve presenters on a range of related topics, from Latin American punk to Pussy Riot. [registration fees apply]

so so glosSaturday, March 22, 7 pm, Great Hall at Cooper Union: Punk Turns Forty: A Plenary Sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association and the Fales Library. Part I: Brandon Stosuy, editor at Pitchfork, interviews Richard Hell; Part II: Avital Ronell moderates a panel with Vivien Goldman, Kathleen Hanna, and Tamar-kali. [Free admission at 6:30 for ACLA conference attendees and at 7:00 for the general public, as space allows]

Saturday, March 22, 10:30 pm doors, Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South: So So Glos, with Household and Arm Candy, a concert to benefit Silent Barn. [$5-$10 sliding donation; all-ages]

Sunday, March 23, 5 to 8 pm, The Panther Room at Output, 74 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Classic Album Sundays presents Television’s Marquee Moon. Presenter: Bryan Waterman, author of Marquee Moon (33 1/3 series). [Tickets: $10 at the door or online here]



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FILE - Rolling Stone Reports Death of Rock Musician Lou Reed, at 71

So it’s just about three days since Lou Reed died and I admit I’m kind of holding my breath, waiting to see if he rises from the tomb on the morning of the third day. It’s hard to imagine him as anything other than transformed into a more perfect state.

A lot’s been said online and in print in the last couple days by a lot of people, many of whom knew Lou Reed the person or the vast corpus of Lou Reed’s work better than I do. I especially appreciated remembrances by Robert Christgau and Dave Hickey at Spin; our friend Caryn Rose, who came as close as anyone has to tapping into the vein of my own personal connection to Reed’s work; Sacha Frere-Jones. I laughed at Handsome Dick Manitoba’s account of Lou’s last public appearance and then was happy to find footage of the same event. (As a friend pointed out to me, it’s kind of great that pretty much the last lines Lou uttered to an audience through a mic were “Hey!! Shut! Up!”) I was really pleased to find a 1976 Voice essay by James Wolcott, one of my favorite on-the-scene writers from the period. I returned to Rob Sheffield’s appreciation of The Blue Mask, one of my favorite Reed records, on its 30th anniversary. I grieved in community with radio audiences via WFMU (10/27/13 show) and East Village Radio. I thought about the first time I listened to “Rock n Roll” and resonated with that heady mix of New York, rhythm guitar, and radio that really did feel like salvation to a perpetual outsider.

I was really moved when, in the middle of the night after Reed died, a recent student of mine — someone who’d been in my Andy Warhol seminar last semester — sent me a condolence email. I don’t have any stories about accidentally running into Reed on the street or meeting him at somebody’s party, but the music sits with me about as deep as anyone’s. Aside from my own private listening, which spans more than two decades at this point, my intimacy with Reed’s work really deepened in the classroom over the last dozen years. In 2002, the first honors thesis I advised at NYU, by Nicholas Taylor, was on Warhol and the Velvets (find a trimmed-down version of it here), even though my field of specialization was still, at that point, the eighteenth century. Cyrus and I taught The Velvet Underground and Nico for a decade in our Writing New York class, and I got to cover things with thicker strokes in the Downtown Scenes class that spun out of that WNY unit. I’ve read dozens of student papers analyzing Reed’s lyrics, screened documentary footage, and assigned accounts the Velvets’ history, from the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and Warhol’s a: a novel and Popism to gossipy biographical accounts by Legs McNeil and Bockris and Malanga to the astute criticism of Ellen Willis and the temper tantrums of Lester Bangs. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the many faces and phases — and hairstyles — Reed went through and had occasion to consider his vast influence. Imagine! Without Reed (well, and Warhol, too) we wouldn’t have had David Bowie’s entire 70s corpus. It just wouldn’t have happened the same way. And sure, Reed owed an awful lot to Dylan, and to Jackie Curtis too, for that matter, but that influence folded back upon itself, the same way the Stones later said they were influenced by the Velvets. Once I was even moved to write a monologue in the voice of Rachel, Lou’s longtime lover, a former Club 82 drag queen whose story I became fascinated with while working on my Television book.

One of the big challenges to teaching The Velvet Underground and Nico is getting students to hear what’s radical about it. After all, most of what we call punk, post-punk, college rock, alternative, or indie is so indebted to the Velvets — and so many of those sounds have been so thoroughly disseminated throughout global pop culture by this point — that it’s sometimes hard to peel back those layers of influence and listen to the record fresh. To illustrate my point that the Velvets weren’t mainstream — and still aren’t by many standards — I used to tell a story in lecture about the days when I would write in a bar at the South Street Seaport, just before the Fulton Fish Market closed. The fish guys would come in on Friday mornings when their shifts ended for the week and start ordering beers around 8 am. They’d rhapsodize about the olden days, when their pops worked the market, and they’d request an awful lot of Sinatra from the bartender, who usually indulged. One morning she was playing the Velvets’ first record instead, and part way through “Black Angel’s Death Song” one of them finally had had enough. “What is this shit?” he shouted. The bartender replied, maybe a little defensively: “It’s the Velvet Underground. You don’t know them? This is classic rock!” To which the fish guy replied: “The Velvet Underground isn’t classic rock! It’s East Village junkie music! And it should stay in the East Village!”

I’ve been slightly horrified by the onslaught of Lou Reed listicles over the last couple days, as if any one list could identify his twenty best songs or snippets from his lyrics. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that aside from obligatory inclusion of “Satellite of Love,” “Walk On the Wild Side,” “Coney Island Baby,” and “Street Hassle,” any consensus in these lists breaks down. It’s clear which writers haven’t listened to anything later than New York (1989) and which know the Velvets much better than even the 70s solo records. There’s hardly any mention of the “New York Trilogy” — New York, Songs for Drella (1990), and Magic and Loss (1992) — as such. (I have to admit my own knowledge of Reed’s music tapers off after Drella, and one of the pleasures of the last few days has been listening to some of the later records: Magic and Loss, especially, but also Set the Twilight Reeling (1996) and Ecstasy (2000), which is the record Christgau says he’d been playing since he heard Lou was ailing late last week.) What’s clear about all this is that we’re dealing with one of the most prolific artists of the last 50 years, someone whose output, musically and lyrically, competes with the likes of Irving Berlin or even Dylan. We simply won’t have a handle on it or its impact for a long, long time. So many of these songs are songs that could be — and should be — kept a live for a long, long time, not just in Reed’s recordings, but in other people’s voices as well.

What follows isn’t a listicle, I promise. It’s just a collection of clips I’ve enjoyed the most over the last couple days, in roughly chronological order. Some I’d seen before, many times. Some were new to me. Do you have favorites that aren’t here? Lemme know in the comments.

Lou Reed, “Your Love,” 1962 demo recorded while he was a Syracuse student.

Warhol’s 1966 film, The Velvet Underground and Nico: A Symphony of Sound.

The Velvet Underground, “What Goes On?” Live, 1969, set to a montage of Warhol footage.

lou reed paris 72

Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico in Paris, 1972. Reed sings “Berlin” a few minutes in. (Embedding disabled on YouTube) ht Tim Wager

“Sweet Jane,” live in Paris, 1974.

“Street Hassle,” 1978, set to Warhol film, including Lou’s Screen Test.

“Coney Island Baby” and “White Light/White Heat,” with Robert Quine, in New Jersey, 1984.

The tail end of the video for “I Love You Suzanne,” also 1984, in which Mr. Reed really cuts the rug. ht Michael Daddino and Caryn Rose.

Patti Smith inducts the Velvets into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1996.

Lou Reed and John Cale, performing “Small Town,” from Songs for Drella.

“Cremation (Ashes to Ashes),” from Magic and Loss, 1992. ht Jody Rosen

“Sweet Jane,” from the closing credits of Berlin, dir. Julian Schnabel, 2007.


From Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise:

[John] Cage’s definitive refutation of Beethoven came in the form of an epic, almost daylong performance of Erik Satie’s piano piece Vexations. The original score is only a page long and would normally take just a minute or two to play, but at the top appears this instruction: “In order to play this motif 840 times, one would have to prepare oneself in advance, and in the utmost silence, through serious immobilities.” Cage took this sentence at face value, and, on September 9 and 10, 1963, at the Pocket Theatre in New York, he presented Vexations complete. A team of twelve pianists played from 6:00 p.m. until 12:40 p.m. the following day. The New York Times responded by sending a gang of eight critics to cover the event, one of whom ended up performing. In the audience for part of the time was Andy Warhol, who remembered the experience when he made an eight-hour film of the Empire State Building the following year.

Cage was the fifth pianist to perform; John Cale was the fourth.

Previously. And.

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Dinosaur, “Kiss Me Again,” 12-inch, side A, 1978. Composed by Arthur Russell. Remix by Jimmy Simpson.

The personnel for this record blows my mind:

Arthur Russell (cello, organ)
David Byrne (guitar)
Sammy Figueroa (percussion)
Frank Owens (piano)
Henry Flynt (violin)
Peter Gordon (sax)
Larry Saltzman (guitar)
Peter Zummo (trombone)
Myrian Valle (vocals)

The Henry Flynt finale is an especially rewarding touch, & it’s kind of thrilling to hear him — and Byrne — on the same record as Russell, Gordon, & Zummo.

See Tim Lawrence’s richly detailed Hold On to Your Dreams, pp. 130-37, for an account of this record’s origins. Find a download link here.

Previously. And.

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It’s a question I find myself asking every summer. Here’s this year’s answer:

Cyrus and I are both away this week with limited ability to post. If you want to get a leg up on something, though, I’m re-reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City over the next couple weeks and am toying with the idea of an online discussion. Sound like something you’d be into?

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We’ve decided to make our guest playlists a regular feature of the blog, and to kick off that series — or to continue the one we ran leading up to the release of our 33 1/3 volumes — we turn to an alum of a prototype for our Writing New York course. In the fall of 2001, one of the first two courses I taught at NYU was a small honors seminar called “New York Writing,” which contained a decent amount of material that would eventually wind up in the course Cyrus and I would launch together a couple years later.

Nicholas Taylor is an editor and writer from Long Island, now living in Seattle. I advised his undergraduate thesis at NYU on Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and the downtown 1960s NYC scene. He has also written on music and culture for Pop Matters, the Park Slope Reader, New York Spirit, and Cinemit. Find out more here.

Lou Reed is the James Joyce of New York. It seems he has made it his life’s work to understand this place that defies understanding, to provide snapshots of meaning in a place that often feels both meaningless and too full of meaning. From what brings outsiders to the city to the challenges and enticements encountered there, Reed’s work covers the gamut of the NYC experience.

“Smalltown,” by Lou Reed and John Cale, from Songs for Drella (1990). This tale of Andy Warhol’s odyssey from Pittsburgh to New York beautifully captures what draws creative misfits from all over the world to New York. Here he focuses not so much on the greatness of the city but rather on the suffocating dreariness of the small towns that people leave. “I hate being odd in a small town / if they stare let them stare in New York City / at this pink eyed painting albino / how far can my fantasy go?”

“Rock and Roll,” by Lou Reed, from the live album Rock and Roll Animal (1974). The more optimistic version of the coming to New York story. Jenny isn’t persecuted and shunned like the gay Warhol in the Rust Belt; rather, she’s suffering from your more run of the mill suburban ennui. Here, New York, as the source of the rock and roll music she hears on the radio, is her Emerald City, the shining jewel on the horizon that promises something better. She’s not seeking home so much as heaven. “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station / she couldn’t believe what she heard at all / she started dancin’ to that fine fine music / you know her life was saved by rock and roll.”

“Sheltered Life,” by the Velvet Underground, demo recording from the Peel Slowly and See box set (1995). Another version of Jenny and Andy, this time more whimsical and innocent, romanticizing all the experiences one can have in the big city. As a fellow Long Island to New York transplant, I know exactly where he’s coming from. “Never walked about on the streets at night / never got into an uptown fight / never smoked a hookah, never saw a rug / couldn’t even squash a beetle bug. . . . I know it’s true, / guess I’ve lived a sheltered life.”

“I’m Waiting for the Man,” by the Velvet Underground and Nico, from The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967). . This is where the sheltered life starts to not look so bad. In this reinterpretation of the classic flâneur narrative, Reed pulls back the curtain, taking us on a voyeuristic tour of the city’s seedier side. Notice how the song’s rhythm mimics the subway train this neophyte would surely have taken up to Harlem to score drugs. “I’m waiting for my man / twenty-six dollars in my hand / up to Lexington, 125 / feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive.”

“Walk on the Wild Side,” by Lou Reed, from Transformer (1972). In his quintessential song, Reed paints a portrait of the Warhol Factory scene as a bunch of Jenny’s and Andy’s—they’re drawn the city by the desire for freedom and excitement, which they get, though they also experience a lot that’s not in the brochure, as it were. Reed positions the city’s allure as a siren song, enticing outcasts from all over the world, though the they may not like what they actually find. “Candy came from out on the Island / in the backroom she was everybody’s darling / but she never lost her head / even when she was giving head / she said, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.”

“Street Hassle,” by Lou Reed, from Street Hassle (1978). Reed comes full circle. He’s no longer focused on why out-of-towners come to New York, but rather just on what happens to them once they’re there. Even though this song is gruesome, the elegiac beauty of the music makes me think this is no morality tale. Instead of passing judgment of these denizens of the night, Reed finds the grace and drama of all the ways of life New York offers—even the ones most of us would probably rather avoid. “But why don’t you grab your old lady by the feet / and just lay her out in the darkest street / and by morning, she’s just another hit and run / you know, some people got no choice / and they can never even find a voice to talk with that they can even call their own.”

What’s on your NYC playlist?

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Sometime soon we’ll make a return to regular NYC lit and culture blogging. This week we’re still caught up in launching our 33 1/3 volumes on Some Girls and Marquee Moon.

Tuesday morning we’ll be live on This is the Modern World with Trouble, which runs from 9 am to noon on WFMU. Our conversation with Trouble will happen sometime around 10:30 and last for a half hour or 45 minutes.

Tuesday evening we’ll be reading at Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Here’s their Facebook RSVP for the event.

Then, on Thursday evening, we’re pleased to have a launch party at 285 Kent in Williamsburg, presented by Pellytwins. The lineup:

|| Real Estate
|||| Widowspeak
|||||| Vacation


| 285 KENT AVE |
285 Kent Ave @ South 1st | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L-Bedford, G-Metropolitan, JM-Marcy | 6/30 | 8pm | $10 | all ages

Facebook RSVP for Thurday’s show.

Although we’ve had our head in 1970s NYC for the last year or so, we’ve been really keen on launching the books with a live music event that celebrates the sounds of our own moment. We hope these give you an idea why we’re so excited about these particular acts:

Be there.

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Launch party!

We’ve finalized the plans for our launch events next week, and you’re invited.

Tuesday, as previously announced, we’ll be at Word in Greenpoint, with a slightly different take on Marquee Moon, Some Girls, and NYC in the 70s than the one we delivered at McNally Jackson last week.

We’d previously announced a tentative release party for Sunday the 26th, but we’ve pushed it back slightly to Thursday the 30th.

We’re pleased to announce venue and lineup:

|| Real Estate

|||| Widowspeak

|||||| Vacation

| 285 KENT AVE |
285 Kent Ave @ South 1st | Williamsburg, Brooklyn
L-Bedford, G-Metropolitan, JM-Marcy | 6/30 | 8pm | $10 | all ages

The bands will be on stage. You’ll find us in the back w/ a stack of books.

Presented by Pellytwins & Todd P || special thanks to Molly Hamilton, Michael Stasiak, and Jenn Pelly for help w/ lineup

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