October 29, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The annual College Music Journal, or CMJ, festival is an event I usually try to avoid. During those five days in October I find that my usual favorite music venues are mobbed with people who have no idea how to act at a New York show (what is this youthful enthusiasm they exhibit?). I have noticed that the high energy and packed schedule of events seem to make me more tired than excited. However, when my band Corita was selected to play an official CMJ showcase and our friends Torches came east for their first New York shows this I decided that this year I would come out of my curmudgeonly shell and participate in the festival. What followed was one of the most fun, sleep deprived weeks of my entire life. Below is a recap.
While the official CMJ festival began on Tuesday, I kicked off the week a little early on Monday night to see Torches’ first-ever show in New York City. You may remember my bandmates and I met Torches in a parking lot outside of a bike shop at South by South West in March (they used to be called Torches in Trees, but they now just go by Torches). We were struck by their genuine excitement about the music they were making, the beauty of their songs and commitment to making their band a success. I was also doubly glad to see them because to get to New York on Monday they had driven straight to NYC from Minneapolis, about a 20 hour drive, after their show there on Sunday night.
Having lived in NYC for eleven years now, sometimes I forget how frenetic it can be. Showing Torches around the Lower East Side was a fantastic chance to see the city through new eyes, and update my knowledge of my hometown as we ran around testing bars, pizza places and late night dining options.
On Tuesday, running on two hours of sleep, I picked up my official CMJ badge. Looking at it I took a moment to reflect on the fact that Corita is actually working slowly, at our own pace, to establish ourselves as a band. I also made a last minute flyer to give out.
Wednesday was Corita’s showcase show at Fontana’s, a great club on the Lower East Side which also hosted our first show ever over three years ago. It is rare to find bookers and promoters who are supportive of independent music in Manhattan and who take the time to care about your band at all, but Jasper at Fontana’s has been there for us and we felt really privileged to be part of their “faves” showcase. The only wrinkle was that our bassist Aileen wasn’t there. She was stuck dealing with a situation that included tabloids, court room brawls, tears and the Walking Dead. We soldiered on as a three piece and I think pulled off a pretty rockin’ show.
To continue the CMJ madness, as soon as we finished our set and thanked our friends for coming my friend Minnie (who took the pictures of Corita here) and I ran 10 blocks north just in time to catch Torches’ second New York show, which was part of an official showcase for Rockstar Motel. Minnie was in town from Paris via Montreal to soak up as much NYC as she could in a short time.
I took a night off on Thursday and Friday got to keep the party going with the master of partying himself, Andrew W.K. as Torches were playing a show at Santos Party House.
Saturday I felt I could start to recover from the frantic week of rock and work, enjoy my friends’ company and take in more rock shows. The day started with an assessment of the state of my apartment, which resembled the fallout after an indie rock bomb explosion. In the midst of this I made apple cinnamon pancakes to fortify us all for the night of rock and roll ahead.
Saturday night brought the discovery of two new-to-me (but maybe old news to everyone else) bands: Weekend and Wild Nothing. Weekend treads heavily in early 1990s shoegaze territory, which is one of my favorite periods of music, and I heard echoes of the Stone Roses, Ride and even a little New Order in their set. Wild Nothing solidly references 1980s New Wave and I felt like I heard snippets of the Smiths, the Cure, and more New Order all evening. Because I have a tendency to listen the same music over and over, being inspired to get off my duff and find out about new bands was refreshing.
While CMJ officially finished on Saturday, Torches still had one more NYC show on Sunday night, so we were able to extend the party a little longer. At Pianos they shared the stage with The Golden Awesome, a band based in New Zealand that makes beautiful, drony, dreamy pop that is reminiscent of Stereolab or Broadcast.
Torches’ final NYC shows was one of their best, though I loved being able to catch them four times during the week. Their songs contain shimmering pop riffs, memorable hooks and beautiful vocal harmonies that are driven by thoughtful lyrics. Despite hailing from sunny Los Angeles, Torches songs tend towards the dark, but there’s always a kernel of redemption in them. It’s been exciting to watch their progress as a band since we met them in March and I know they have much more in store as a band.
After their show and some celebratory pizza I waved goodbye to Torches as they prepared to drive through the night to their final show on tour in Chicago. As we promised to see each other soon I realized that one of the reasons I love being involved in indie rock, for lack of a better term, is the friendships I’ve forged over the years. It still amazes me that I can meet people who live so far from me, with very different life experiences, and bond so quickly and complicity. The music gives us a venue to share our sources of creativity and inspiration and connect around some of the things that we hold most dear to our lives.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the official video for Torches’ song “I Want Something”:
Thank you, all, for great week. Also, on a practical note, Torches are running an Indie Go Go campaign to raise money to record their new album. Check it out and give if you want to be part of seeing an inspiring, emerging band “make it.”
September 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
It’s the perfect blue skies that always remind me of that morning eleven years ago now. The skies and the air feel the same and that’s always what takes me back.
Last year was the big 10th anniversary of September 11th 2001 that also marked my ten years in New York that inspired more lengthy reflections. My feelings about the political and emotional circumstances around this day have not changed much since last year and the same feeling are echoed even further back. I’m tired of war and tired of patriotism and ready for real critical reflection, justice and peace. Searching in my old files, I found this piece I wrote about September 11 in 2003:
“On that morning language failed… In those moments of not knowing, not being able to articulate what was going on on a massive scale, I knew that never again could I believe in a narrow idea of “truth.” No singular narrative could ever capture that, or any experience. Of course, since then I’ve witnessed many attempts to manipulate these diverse and disparate narratives into one master narrative. A narrative that believes in an idea of “America” as benevolent while at the same time baying for vengeance…
Remembering September 11th is a reminder to me of how the damage done by violence of any kind is permanent. Whether that violence is an act of war, abuse, police brutality, or not having food, housing or medical care, or is emotional, physical, sexual, or psychological. These types and acts of violence are not the same, but the systems that perpetuate them are similar and inter-related… Because it continues to haunt me I know I need to oppose domination and oppression, and the acts of violence that feed them, everywhere. I feel I must do this in order for healing to be possible. Healing is possible, even though the effects of violence stay with us. I believe this because I feel everyone’s life needs to be about more than just survival.”
Reading this now I still stand behind the politics and emotions expressed in that piece. However, I think, I have found a way to heal by slowly, deliberately and stubbornly building a life in this city. I have worked hard to find health and creativity and to inspire that in others. I still struggle with how best I can help contribute to a city that’s a just and beautiful place to live for all and how I can support and engage my own creativity, but I feel my small daily contributions and actions strive towards these ideals.
My life, and New York City, is obviously so different than it was eleven years ago. I had no idea how to picture myself at 31 at that time. Being an adult seemed impossibly far away with such a looming and intense event in the foreground. Looking back today I can say that the 20 year old me who witnessed those tragic events from my 6th floor dorm room in Union Square would be pleased with the 31 year old I have become looking at two towers of light rising into the sky in remembrance and tribute from Brooklyn.
August 29, 2012 § 5 Comments
“You can live however you want in New York City,” an artist/mentor once told me when I was a teenager. She was right. I’ve lived in New York for over ten years and I keep discovering what kinds of experiences are possible in this city.
I thought I hated boats. I grew up in Maine and boating was part of my existence. While I loved exploring islands and the rocky coast, I also grew to loathe the tedium and seasickness that I felt when I traveled long distances by boat. As a result I’ve avoided myself from most things maritime since I was a teenager. However, like everything that I once thought I didn’t like, I recently reconsidered.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading Anne-So’s breathtaking accounts of re-learning to sail and then taking a trans-Atlantic journey via sailboat, but boating has been on my mind lately. When our friend C. offered to take us sailing on his father’s boat I had to jump at the chance.
The boat was moored at City Island, a small island off the Bronx that feels like a New England town: seafood shacks, clapboard covered houses, and the air full of wheeling gulls. C’s Dad reviewed safety and protocol aboard and soon we were hoisting sails and settling in for an afternoon on the water. When we cut the engine and were propelled by nothing more than the wind and could hear the waves slapping against the side of the boat I felt like I was in a space connected to my memories growing up, the place where I am from and the where I am now. Looking back to the Manhattan skyline from across the glittering water, I felt like we weren’t just floating off an island off the Bronx, but in a space that was all its own. That’s why realized I needed to rethink my feelings about boats: they are a world apart, no matter where their port of call.
July 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
While I am still in France, when I come home I will go directly upstate to Liberty View Farm to celebrate a wedding. It is the same farm we visited earlier this spring for another lovely celebration. This spring was the definitive kick off of wedding season for us. For the record, we are not getting married, but our friends sure are! Our refrigerator door currently has six wedding announcements for this year alone!
The best part of it is, though, that we are looking forward to all of them and each celebration will be unique and reflective of our friends who are getting married. That was especially true in late May when we piled into a rental car with a bunch of friends and headed upstate to the aforementioned Liberty View Farm for the marriage of R. and S.
Liberty View Farm is not far from Poughkeepsie and New Paltz, but sits nestled in a valley surrounded by apple orchards, making it feel serene and otherworldly. It is a working farm that grows apples, eggs and edible landscapes and also hosts weddings and events in a down home, relaxed environment that feels personal, elegant and comfortable.
I admit I’m a little short on ideas when it comes to new outfits for farm weddings, but I think this gingham and lace dress that I bought from Brooklyn Industries for a farm wedding last year does pretty well, don’t you? And besides, it matches the beehives!
June 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’m really excited to tell you about a great, new project that I’m involved in. The Brooklyn Museum, my favorite museum in the world, has launched GO, a community-curated, open studio event. During GO, Brooklyn-based artists are asked to open their studios to the community on September 8–9, 2012. Community members registered as voters will visit studios and nominate artists for inclusion in a group exhibition to open at the Museum on Target First Saturday, December 1, 2012.
GO brings together so many of my favorite things: contemporary art, the Brooklyn art scene, social media, and the cultural life of the borough. Knowing that Brooklyn is a huge borough with 71 square miles and 67 different neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Museum is working with 22 neighborhood coordinators to help get the word out. I’m serving as a neighborhood coordinator for my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, Sunset Park. If you see a redhead taking up posters or distributing GO postcards along 5th avenue or down in the industrial waterfront, that just might be me! You can meet the different coordinators, learn about art highlights in different neighborhoods, and learn more about the GO project on the very lively GO tumblr.
If you are artist with a studio in Brooklyn you have until June 29 to register to participate in the open studio weekend. You can find out more and register on the GO website. If you don’t have a studio, but want to go see art in Brooklyn on September 8th and 9th, mark your calendar! Registration for voters opens August 1st.
February 16, 2012 § 8 Comments
Imagine a place, not far from every day life, where you can let down your guard and truly be yourself. Imagine a place where you can dwell in a liminal space where you can give into your whims and be cocooned in warmth, friendship and peace. This place exists, on the map as well as in the imagination, in a tradition my friends and I have come to call “Chalet Weekend.”
The place is a rental chalet that sleeps twelve in the storied town of Woodstock, New York. Woodstock has been a place of escape and a home to artists and counter cultural visionaries for over 100 years. The chalet on Happy Cat Lane is quirky in layout, with lots of impractical architectural details and exposed wood. Most importantly there is a fireplace and two huge, seductively soft couches, an open kitchen and comfortable beds. It’s on a quiet dirt road not far from the artist’s colony Byrdcliffe, which itself offers another kind of retreat from the world.
I used to hate on upstate New York, but now I’ve completely fallen under the spell of its gauzy light and rural charm. After the hectic grind of city life it feels a little bit like cheating to escape to the quiet woods for a few days. For me there is nothing better to combat the winter blues than a fire, cooking huge meals, celebrating birthdays and getting so absorbed in my friends and the present moment everything else just falls away.
Where do you go to escape the daily grind?
For the practicalities: you can find plenty of amazing homes for rent upstate (or anywhere) on Home Away, Air BNB, or VRBO (which is connected to Home Away). The cheapest car rentals in New York City tend to be from All Car Rent-a- Car and there is also the affordable and convenient Adirondack Trailways bus. My three stops in Woodstock always are: Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Bread Alone bakery (amazing organic bagels, pastries, bread, sandwiches and coffee), and Woodstock Meats, a butcher shop with artisanal meats and cheeses and chalet essentials like firewood.
January 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
I’ll return to the escapism of the tropics in a moment, but I couldn’t help but note that it has been a year and a few days since I started a new job in DUMBO (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Brooklyn. The neighborhood is wedged between the river, the BQE, the Navy Yard and old factories. It is home to galleries, arts organizations, fancy boutiques and a growing number of condos, yet still retains its quiet, cobbled, industrial feel. From my desk I have a view of the East River and use my iPhone to document the changing of the weather, seasons, clouds, light and sky. I’ve become an astute observer of light on smoke stacks and passing ferries, barges and tugs on the river. Enjoy my little window on New York City. There is a full set on Flickr.
January 11, 2012 § 6 Comments
I used to wear my avoidance of sport as a badge of nerd culture pride. In high school after I quite the field hockey team I was allowed to take an “individualized athletic program” where I could practice the sport of my choosing for 3 hours a week. That amount of time seems like nothing now, but as a teenager it seemed like torture. I came from a place where long legged, blonde haired, soccer and lacrosse playing girls ruled the school. The rest of us just didn’t count quite as much. I wanted nothing to do with this culture. So the activities I chose to complete my sport requirement for high school graduation: horseback riding, modern dance, and roller skating.
I know the classic New Year’s resolution is to “loose weight and exercise.” As you know if you read this blog regularly, last year I lost 20 pounds and became a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. I don’t need (or want) to keep loosing, but I want to maintain and find a “new normal” for the level of activity that I do. While I’ve practiced different sports intermittently for a long time: ballet, yoga, biking and swimming, I was never consistent about exercise. I’d do something for awhile and then stop, but I know I need to stay consistent to keep the weight off (I also need to keep tracking food as most of my weight gain or loss came from changing the way I ate).
Activities that I like both have some skill to them, so they get better with practice, but are open to anyone. I also like when they can be practiced independently, but have the potential to be social. The high school nerd in me still hates the idea of sport, so I have to trick myself into doing something that’s fun (ballet! swimming!), or useful (biking! It gets you places!).
Low and behold, in my determination to exercise regularly, I’ve come across a few classes in the New York-area I absolutely love, as well as some helpful resources I want to share in case you too have a resolution to get out there and get in shape.
I had the time of my life in the adult beginner ballet class at Mark Morris‘ studio in downtown Brooklyn, which I took with four other friends. It’s extremely motivating to know you are practicing at a school with some of the best modern dancers, and they also have life music in every class! Now that I am done with grad school I can’t wait to go back.
The class that changed my relationship to fitness was my friend Emily Kramer’s Spirit Boxing workshops. Open to women and trans people, these classes combine boxing conditioning with yoga stretching and centering. I found myself engaged on a physical, emotional, and intellectual level and felt supported, despite how out of shape I was. This class showed me I could do things I never thought possible, like run around Prospect Park and learn how to throw effective punches.
Lately I’ve been hitting up the Punk Rope class at the Greenpoint Y with my bandmate M. There’s classes in different parts of the country, but Tim and Shawna, the punk rope originators, run a high energy class with a new theme, sound track, and special exercises and drills every week. They call it “recess meets bootcamp” and I think that’s accurate! It’s so fun to jump to punk songs I don’t even notice how much I’m sweating. Plus, they got me to do sprinting drills, something I have not done since middle school!
I also want to add that what is so great about Tim and Shawna of Punk Rope and Emily of Spirit Boxing is that they are all activists dedicated to promoting health and fitness for kids who may not learn the value of exercise and healthy eating at school or home for many reasons. Learning from these teachers is inspiring on a deeper level.
Finally, for learning to train on your own (and getting over fear and inertia) I found the site Stumptuous.com to be really helpful. While it’s geared towards women interested in lifting weights it’s got great advice for anyone who wants to pump iron, do it safely, and is dubious of gym culture.
What are your New Years resolutions? What have you found is the exercise for you?
I’ll also leave you with a little extra inspiration:
November 27, 2011 § 2 Comments
One afternoon the other week my office was dismissed early from work due to unfounded fears that the Occupy Wallstreet movement was planning to shut down the NYC subway system. Now for my French readers the shutting down of a part of the city’s transit system due to a strike or a protest is a regular occurrence that provokes some grumbling, some shrugs, and, usually, begrudging support. In New York, however, it seemed to be provoke a lot of fear and confusion. As one of my Facebook friends smartly commented, “Don’t the protesters know that the 1% does not take the subway? They take taxis, sheesh” (or have private cars).
This got me to thinking about my (largely unexpressed) thoughts on the Occupy movement. First and foremost, this fall I’m far too occupied to participate, unfortunately. In this terrible economy I made the decision to go back to university for my master’s degree and continue to work full time. When I began in the fall of 2009 I had the vain hope that by the time I finished the economy would be improved and I would be able to find a leadership position in an arts organization that pays a living wage. Still waiting on that one. However, this leaves me very little time for anything that is not work, school or a pressing concern related to my life or one of the many projects I have going.
But more seriously and to the point: what do I think of the Occupy movement? And isn’t contesting the policies that large corporations, banks, lobbyists and the US government supported that got us into this economic mess more important than my selfish concerns? In short, yes, they are, but…
Overall, I support the Occupy Wallstreet movement wholeheartedly. I think that their biggest victory has been to move forward and reframe the political and media discourse in the United States and world-wide. The movement has brought critique of the United States’ unequal, inefficient and unethical economic, labor and education policies to a mainstream audience. It has brought a more progressive tone to debates around the role of government in the economy and private life, which is a real relief after the rise of the Tea Party movement last year.
For me personally it is very heartening to see this style of protest come back in the United States after it the anti-globalization and anti-war movements (both of which I participated in) were squashed by Bush and the general post-9/11 political climate. It’s also disgusting (and sadly unsurprising) to see how power continues to react when threatened, whether those are police on a California college campus or on the streets of New York.
However, as a student (soon to be graduate!) of public policy, the Occupy Wallstreet movement has not articulated any concrete list of policy goals. This is a strength, because it allows the movement to appeal to a broad range of people. After all, if you are claiming to represent the 99 percent (or even the 95% or the 90%) that is a huge range of people and opinions. However, this is also a weakness because it prevents the movement from gaining political support in a way that laws can be enacted and policies can be changed.
The Occupy movement has also gained much attention because it is led and fueled by young people. It has captured the imagination of highly educated people who have found no gainful employment due to the economy and have every right to be frustrated. Of course, organized labor, activists of all stripes, veterans and a diverse crowd has also joined in the movement. Many people involved in their early twenties are coming of age politically through their participation. I remember the feeling of being 19 to 22 and protesting, feeling like it could radically shift the way the world was organized. I do not write this condescendingly when I saw that protest is a right of passage and an inalienable right. However, many “occupiers” did not experience the way the Bush administration squashed opposition to the war in Iraq or debate around any number of his policies. I feel in many ways the institutional memory between US protest movements is short (or nonexistent) and the Occupy protestors are learning lessons that those protesting for years, between the 1950s and the 2000s, had to learn again and again.
I think what I feel is important to note is that in the United States we live in an economic and governmental that is incapable of radical change. It was set up that way and that has only become more entrenched. Do I think this is right? No, I think it’s an incredible inefficient, undemocratic system, but I also think that to retain any sense of democracy it will only change gradually. This is again why I am grateful for Occupy Wallstreet for re-framing political debate, which Nicholas Kristoff wrote about eloquently in the New York Times.
To shift the conversation in the media and the mind of the general public away from “Will their camp be cleared again? Will the protest movement survive the winter? Who are these hippes?” it is high time that Occupy Wallstreet (even though it is leaderless, I know) put forth some policy alternatives for debate and discussion. This may mean that less than 99% of people support what they are trying to accomplish, but it will also increase their changes of having a lasting impact on our policy and not just our political imagination. It’s also important for the movement to grasp some political and economic realities of the political process in the US. Paul Krugman and Adam Davidson have a few important points to consider.
These economic times have produced a lot of uncertainty, a lot of hardship, and a lot of anger. It’s important to have a public place to go with those feelings and to find a place of hope and inspiration. However, it’s also important to construct sustainable survival strategies, to help people in small ways every day, to promote equity throughout society, and to think about economic and personal innovation despite the system we live in. That’s the role I’ve carved out for myself working in education and the arts. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what works for me. It’s small, it’s quiet, but I believe in it and that’s what I will continue to push for, day-in, day-out.
November 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
It started with a tweet, “When I am I going to see Corita play?” It seemed like a simple enough question, except that the author of the tweet was Michel, of the indie band MiLK & Fruit Juice and he lives in France. Unfortunately Corita did not have (and still does not have) any plans to play a show in France. Or anywhere else outside of New York. So I wrote back, “I don’t know, when are you coming to New York? I’ll set up a show.” Then I got a better idea, “Why don’t you play a solo show with us?” When Michel told me he was coming to NYC in September I wasted no time in booking a venue. However, I knew the other members of MiLK & Fruit Juice could not come to NYC and that being on stage alone in a new city is intimidating, and so I volunteered to be the backing band.
First of all, let me explain why I love MiLK & Fruit Juice: Michel writes catchy, dreamy songs that are full of heart. Some of them sound a bit twee, with with accents of toy instruments and excellent backing vocals from Marjorie and Sabine, but there’s also a twist of sadness, irony and realism. I am delighted to have met someone all the way across the Atlantic that shares so many of the same musical interests and passions as me. While that may seem like a small thing in this Internet age, when you meet in person, it still seems pretty magical.
On a rainy night in September at Spike Hill in Williamsburg the Pale Lights, MiLK & Fruit Juice and Corita shared the stage. Michel and I had one practice together under our belt and I was playing drums and singing back up on five of his songs. The day of the show I listened to the songs from his well-crafted album I’m Cold Handed Because I Have No Heart to Pump The Blood Through My Fingers on repeat. That night Michel debuted a beautiful, vintage Silvertone guitar he had found at Rivington guitars. I got to break out of my usual role as a guitar player and play drums, with drum sticks that Lisa Goldstein of the Pale Lights loaned to me for Michel’s set. Apparently I kept the fact that I play drums secret from my friends, but I actually took drum lessons for several years in middle school! I never really graduated beyond a 4/4 rock beat though. In any event, it was really fun (and a little nerve wracking) to be on stage playing drums supporting a friend whose music I love and who lives so far away. Anne, who co-runs the label MonsterK7 in Montreal and Paris, took these beautiful photos and video, and Sabine was kind enough to share with me. Enjoy and if you like Michel’s music perhaps you will set up a show for him in your town! Or at least buy his record.