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.
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.
October 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
These days have been so busy. Sometimes I am surprised about how many lives I can cram into one day of my life. As I go through my agenda I shift identities – arts professional, policy student, indie rocker, cyclist, friend, writer, cook. I’m juggling a lot and trying to accomplish even more this fall and I’m curious as to where all this running around will take me.
It’s during these time that I don’t have time to think about dressing up. I want clothes that will help me get the job done and will support me through all my metaphorical costume changes without necessitating a real one.
I want an outfit that will put a little lift into a long day of appointments. Instead of always falling back on black, I try to pick one unexpected color or pairing. Lately I’ve been relying on my rose and bright pink jeans, different colored bags, and new shoe choices to serve this purpose. How do you dress to support all of your daily identities?
September 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’d prefer not to say anything about today. Earlier this week I filled out the New York Time’s interactive map pinpointing where I was on September 11, 2001 (17 Union Square West in my freshman college dorm) and my reflections 10 years on. I chose “unmoved.” I’m not unmoved in that I don’t feel empathy for those who lost friends and loved ones that day. At the most basic, I wish that today didn’t become a big patriotic hullabaloo. I upsets me that it’s just another chance to put our hands over our hearts and say “God Bless America,” and forget about the rest of the world. I’m tired of how this day was turned into an excuse for war, a grab for power, a justification for racism, and a suppression of human rights and civil liberties in the United States and abroad.
Ten years ago I had arrived in New York an idealistic, moody activist ready for her freshman year at a liberal arts college and ready to fall in love with New York (or at least give the city a chance). September 11th didn’t change that, but it changed my focus. Before the struggle against globalization and the need to undo the injustices of colonialism seemed abstract. September 11th brought them into focus and made me think about the consequences of centuries of oppression. It also made some struggles and concerns pale in comparison.
Maybe it’s because I was in Union Square on that morning and I looked downtown and saw the smoke and heard the sirens (and breathed that scorched , chemical laden air for weeks afterwards), and remember the collective gasp that went up when the towers collapsed, but I always felt that September 11th was a tragedy centered in New York.
Ever since that morning I’ve also been both proud of certain responses in this city and ashamed of others. I remember drawing on sidewalks with chalk the night of September 11th 2001, writing, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” I remember the huge memorials of candles set up in Union Square. I remember clearly rallies every Saturday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (my neighborhood) to demand the release of immigrants detained after 9/11 that were held for months without trial. At the same time, New Yorkers raised huge opposition to bombing Afghanistan and later Iraq. Most people were speaking out against racism, even while immigration authorities were acting on it. I think the New York Time’s op-ed said it best in the piece What New York Didn’t Loose After 9/11. The larger impulse was towards helping those impacted by the tragedy, not towards revenge, but towards community, openness, and reflection. This is a stalwart city, tough, but one that stands up for its own and (in the best of cases) doesn’t discriminate between who is and who is not a New Yorker.
September 11th made me determined to love this city and stick with it through all of the challenges it posed. Ten years later here I am. Today is not one for ceremonies and listening to those in power, and it looks like I’m not alone in this. Today is time for enjoying the life I’ve built here piece by piece, despite the tragedy, despite eight years of the worst president this country has ever known, and despite my own personal roadblocks and frustrations. One of the comments on the New York Times’ map called the past ten years “a lost decade.” I disagree. This decade has been hugely significant to me personally. I went from a teenager to an adult, I struggled, I built my life, and I spoke up, even with such dreary politics and global realities as a backdrop. Today I’ll have brunch with friends, ride my bike along the waterfront and maybe drink a beer brewed right here in Brooklyn. Here’s to you, New York! To your diversity, acceptance, your resilience, and to the people of this city and the world!
August 31, 2011 § 6 Comments
These scrubbed clean, clear blue skies of late summer and early fall remind me that I moved to New York City ten years ago this week. It’s been quite a decade for New York City and for me personally. I moved here reluctantly to attend college after a dreamy year spent living in Portland, Oregon, working very little and indulging in my creative projects and wallowing in what remained of my teen angst. After growing up in Maine I was dead-set against going to college on a quaint campus and tired of small town life in general. On visits throughout high school to New York City I feel in love. It had it all: art, culture, fashion, food and excitement. It was the polar opposite of where I came from. “Who needs trees?” I said, “The nature in the parks will suit me just fine.”
New York has not ceased to amaze and surprise me, but moving here was not an easy transition. I got sick immediately from the polluted air, the noise from the construction outside of my window seemed to bore into my skull, and then September 11th happened. The events of that day and what followed completely reshaped what I expected from the city, academic, activism, and work. I really can’t talk about 10 years in New York without talking about September 11th and all that came after, but this post really isn’t about September 11th. Let’s suffice it to say this morning the public radio station replayed reporting from that morning and I had to sit down and cry.
I didn’t think I would stay in New York very long after graduation. I decided that I would give it two years after I got my diploma, but when I started working in museums and arts organizations I kept pushing that timeline back, until finally I gave up and decided to stay here. I felt like my friendships and the adult life I’ve been able to construct were too hard won to walk away from. I’ve lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn since 2002 and slowly the borough worked its charms on me and I feel like it’s an important part of my identity. I also discovered another great thing about New York: its proximity to Europe. Flights to Europe from New York are plentiful and can be cheap if you know how to search.
But looking back over these past ten years I’ve wrote a lot about New York and I wanted to share a little bit of those thoughts to chart how my relationship to the city has changed and evolved.
“You always choose the most challenging position you can think of!” my mother chided me when I moved to New York City to go to college. “Of course you picked the biggest, toughest, most of expensive city in the US, you couldn’t imagine less!” she reminded me when I lamented how difficult my new NYC life was. And it was difficult.
In October of 2002 I wrote, “New York is bad posture and holding my breath. Too many aches and tight, sore shoulders and no one to work them out.”
At the brink of the (still ongoing) war against Iraq in 2003 I wrote, “I need to write something about how it feels to be in New York right now – the subway stations full of national guard, machine guns ready. How is it constricting my thoughts and hopes and playing on my fear?”
But the city still entranced me, “For me the magic of New York isn’t in Manhattan, it’s in the strange faraway feeling places in the outer boroughs that you can still take the subway train to. A collision of urban and beach, crashing waves and a $5 ride on the Wonder Wheel. Vacant lots in gentrified neighborhoods, cracking streets, rusting hunks of abandoned junk, weeds in the middle of poshness. It shows the gaps in the idea of glittery concrete and steel and shows that cities have a force that cannot be regulated.”
Full of Brooklyn pride, I wrote a love letter to Brooklyn for the last issue of my zine Indulgence, which I put out in 2008. “If Brooklyn were not attached to the rest of New York it would still be among the largest cities in the United States. I’ve been living here for six years. That doesn’t make me a local, but it means I have grown to appreciate my borough through all my early-to mid-to late twenties ups and downs. Brooklyn is my immediate reality and my basis of comparison. Brooklyn feels at times just as much like a small town, an industrial landscape, and even, suburban.”
I think it is E.B. White who describes New York best, so I’m going to leave you with his words. My mother gave me Here is New York for Christmas after I’d been living here for 4 years. I was struck by how this little book, written about New York in the Forites, captures the New York I experience every day.
The opening: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”
And the closing:
“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.
All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”
Thank you, Mr. White. And here’s to another ten years.
August 28, 2011 § 4 Comments
So how did I survive New York’s biggest storm in decades? Just fine, thank you. I’m really not one to buy into weather related hype, but I’ll admit as I read the storm reports rolling out on Twitter (yes, this is how I get my up to the minute news these days) I began to get a little jumpy. I spent some time pouring over the map of evacuation zones the Office of Emergency Management put out. I read up on hurricane tips offered by everyone from the mayors office to my electric company. Fortunately, I don’t live in an evacuation zone, but actually on the second highest hill in Brooklyn. My apartment building is a solidly constructed brick building from 1931 that has withstood many a storm. So, I figured, a little rain, a little wind, big deal. In fact, I think the Fucked in Park Slope blog captured my kind of storm prep the best with this entry and chart.
Honestly, I think that the NYC government did a pretty decent job of informing everyone. They had a plan, they were organized and they got the word out. I thin they got a little hysterical, sure. I think their move to evacuate all of the Rockaways was a little bit much and that they were making up for their complete lack of planning with this past winter’s big snow storm. But I followed directions, filled up my water bottles and filled the bathtub with water in case we lost electricity and thus water pressure. We never lost electricity. Heck, because my windows are west facing I even kept them open during more of the storm and no rain blew in.
It was really sweet that all of my far-away friends reached out with their support and well-wishes. New York truly is a global city that many hold in their hearts. Since I moved here 10 years ago (to the week!) I’ve experienced September 11th, several huge blizzards, two tornadoes, and an earth quake (which I didn’t feel). I missed the black out of 2003 because I was in Oregon for the summer. I’ve also experienced so many personal trials and tribulations that come with negotiating life in a huge metropolis. New York is a stalwart city and it passes that on to its residents. To live here and not loose your mind I think you need to develop a sense of resolve, calm and willingness to be ready for anything.
August 15, 2011 § 2 Comments
There was a New York City that I dreamed of when I was growing up. It was a mixture of Greenwich Village during the Beatnik era and the Lower East Side of the 1980′s. It was full of punks, dreamers, activists and artists. The dangers that might have been lurking there were more aesthetic than real. Poverty and hunger were stylish accouterments. All who were there possessed the ability to transform the urban environment. While obviously this political, arty urban paradise existed only in my imagination some lived it in all its gritty, dangerous, complicated, hungry reality. Patty Smith lucidly captures it in her recent book Just Kids. Gary Indiana’s new compilation out from MIT Press, Last Seen Entering the Biltmore, collects his poems, prose, short plays and works of art from the late 70′s to the present, chronicling through his artistic production his time in this environment after he made the decision to “not to do anything he didn’t want to do” and to become a writer. Last Seen Entering the Biltmore captures Indiana’s sense of absurd and also his strong artistic integrity. I wrote a full review for NYFA’s online magazine for artists, NYFA Current, and would be honored if you checked it out here.
July 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Why do artists need to get away to create? Does creativity really flow better in a rural idyll where one could shut out the outside world if one so chose? Does modern life really hamper creativity and the ability to produce as an artist? Over 100 years ago Byrdcliffe was founded in Woodstock, New York to test out these ideas as a utopian Arts and Crafts community. The Arts and Crafts movement believed that industrialization and urbanization was compromising peoples ability to live and create and put a great value on the handmade and the skill of the craftsman.
The Byrdcliffe campus certainly seems the embodiment of the Utopia Project. It is transporting: a series of arts and crafts cabins from the turn of the century connected by dirt roads and trails. A stream runs through it and light filters through the birch trees. After I finished working I spent the afternoon hiking up the nearby Overlook mountain to explore the ruins of an old hotel and to look with awe over the Hudson Valley stretching out below me. I used to think that the golden, soft quality of light in Hudson River School paintings was a whole lot of Romantic bullshit. However, the more time I spend in the Hudson Valley, the more I see that painters like Asher B. Durand and Thomas Cole were actually capturing the quality of light that they observed.
I cooked dinner in the communal kitchen the residence where I had given a room for the night and spent the evening eating and talking about art, politics and building a creative life with some of the resident artists. I felt privileged to be able to be able to step into the world of actually living as a resident artist for a night. Byrdcliffe is like an artists summer camp where there are few rules besides respecting the quiet and focus of others. As a child I never liked summer camp, but I found myself reluctant to leave Byrdcliffe. I think that’s because it combines the fun, peace and isolation of camp with the focus and autonomy of adulthood.
Just invoking the name “Woodstock” brings up a whole trope of myths in American culture. To an outsider like me I wondered how the region around Woodstock, which is sleepy and rural and mountainous, was host to such an important cultural event back in the 1960′s. Places like Byrdcliffe help provide an answer. Byrdcliffe was founded in 1902 as an experiment in utopian, artistic, arts and crafts living, supported by a wealthy Englishman. It has grown into a nonprofit arts services organization that now provides acts as a touchstone for artists throughout the Woodstock region offering exhibitions, performances, and many professional development opportunities. In addition to those who participate in the residency program, artists can also rent cabins and studios for the summer.
As I become more deeply a New Yorker I savor more wholly the opportunities to get out of the city and to immerse myself in rural experiences. Byrdcliffe provides a place for retreat from the pressing concerns of modern, urban life, which is what the Arts and Crafts Movement focused on. There one can concentrate on creativity and artistic exploration in the midst of small town life and natural beauty. In what I think is becoming a resounding theme of my visits to Northeast artist residencies: I can’t wait to go back.