One of These Fabulous Prizes

I’m having trouble picturing any scenario that would result in someone leaving a brand new $130+ Lego Star Wars AT-AT at the curb with their trash.

And yet there it was. Thursday as I was walking home from Prospect Park, I came upon it. Of course I took it home. Some of the bags had been opened and resealed in Ziploc bags. There were two AA batteries out of the necessary 6 installed. It didn’t look like any parts were missing, and after several hours of putting it together, it turns out there weren’t.

I could very easily have been wrong; it’s entirely likely that I would have spent the necessary hours putting it together only to find that it would be incomplete somehow. But that’s life: a gift with no guarantees. New York City is a very one-man’s-trash-is-another’s-treasure town. People leave out books, furniture, appliances and more for others to peruse and take home. This time, though, I’m really tempted to go back and find out why someone would do this. Did they get frustrated really early? Was it an unwanted gift? Was it free?

Not having much room to store toys here, I’m also tempted to return it fully assembled to its previous owner. What do you think?


I’m not sure which disconcerts me more: stadium politics or stunt veep-ing.

Moving the Democratic Convention to a stadium[1] seems to be the culmination of politics as entertainment form. It’s already the case that reporters largely view politicians as celebrities, and if you don’t believe it, read this, so this kind of clinches it. Super Bowl production values at a political convention? I mean, I guess that politics is something everyone should get excited about, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.

Selecting a young female governor as a running mate to grab a potential gender vote seems, at least for a Republican, marvelously shrewd. The Machiavelli in me is thoroughly impressed, which means that the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in me just passed out at the end of his filibuster.

1.) I’m still trying to find out if this was intended to be a surprise or not. It seems like it was presented as a surprise.

New York Limbo

August is on its way down. I’ve been here almost 8 months. I’ve gotten a good job and given it up, I’ve explored the city and gone down every road that has caught my attention. I’ve seen shows and hung out with great folks. Yet I’m still not feeling it. I just don’t (yet?) see myself living here for more than a year. I haven’t warmed to New York the way I did to London. I was there for three months, the first few weeks of which were defined by an overriding desire to leave, while the remainder by abiding affection. Part of the reason I chose to try New York was its cultural resemblance to London. So far it hasn’t delivered.

I’m not saying I’m ready to bail, but I’m having a hard time right now envisioning a life here. Even if I found a really good job, I’m already getting tired of…the experience? Here is the short list of complaints:

  1. The summer heat. It’s not as bad as Arkansas, but you have to walk around in it. A lot. Plus stuffy hot subway platforms are like dirty, dirty saunas.
  2. Grocery shopping is an ordeal. Going to Target even more so.
  3. The food isn’t that great. This town loves its comfort food, so the only good stuff is the gourmet stuff, which is prohibitively expensive. Everything cheap is mostly crap. There isn’t a lot of middle ground. When I do find the best food (tastiness at a reasonable price), there is the problem of mileage. I have to cross Manhattan into Tribeca when I want some Vietnamese fried rice as good as Lily’s in LR. And Barbecue? Forget it, unless you want to go all the way up to Harlem[1] to eat at Dinosaur. Which is still only just OK.
  4. The pizza comes in two styles: generic NY slice and authentic Italian. That’s a narrow spectrum for me, coming from Little Rock’s wide spectrum of Vino’s, Damgoode Pies, US Pizza, and Shotgun Dan’s. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat at DiFara’s weekly if I could, but it’s way out in Midwood and takes an hour to prep.
  5. I don’t think I could ever play music here. Getting my amp to any gig without a vehicle is going to be either expensive or physically taxing. And even my favorite musicians, the guys who impress me most in the area, are disheartened by the impossibility of making a living as an original band in this town. Compound that with the fact that actually getting a gig here is made difficult enough by all the other people who came here to play music.

That last one reminds me. It seems like there are only 4 reasons to live in New York City:

  1. You’re very good at something and you want to do it here with all the other people who are good at something.
  2. You want to be famous for doing something you may or may not be good at.
  3. You want to be here to observe and/or interact with Groups 1 and 2.
  4. Your family is here.

At the end of the day, I think I’m really just a #3. Sure there are things I’m good at, but I don’t think I’m good enough at them to make it worth my while to stay here. Especially since I don’t know what my while is worth. Plus the volumes of #2’s seem to outweigh the population of #1’s by a factor of about 20.

And this is something I’ve been mulling over lately: The New York Celebrity-City Effect. New York City is, in itself, a celebrity. Coming here is like meeting someone famous, and I’d wager that a significant portion of those #2’s are here so that they can see themselves in their minds’ eyes as having New York for their own mental movie backdrop. A quick glance at the top movies of all time shows that New York outpaces Los Angeles as a film setting by almost 2 to 1. NYC is a character all its own[2], providing backdrops for films from such diverse sources as Woody Allen and Spider-Man[3]. That’s the magic of it. But that magic seems to have less spark these days. The artistic community has been all but shoved out of Manhattan by exorbitant rents, with the exception of Harlem, but give it time. Ironically, the cleaning up of the crime here has made nearly every portion of Manhattan a haven almost exclusively for the splendidly wealthy. And Brooklyn is already well on its way down the same path.

It also seems like a lot of people (the #3’s perhaps) move here so that they can have the status of saying “I live in New York City,” to their friends back home, as though simply by relocating they’ve achieved something. Moving here isn’t any harder or easier than moving to Detroit or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Yet given the number of expatriate Arkansans here, I have to suspect that a lot of people move here for the sake of saying they’ve moved here. New York City is indeed a place of wonder, and I have to admit it does really feel like you’re advancing to a second or third act in your own personal screenplay, but a change of venue isn’t guaranteed to make your life any more or less interesting or fulfilling. At best you get to see more music and art, but when it comes to things that are really important – being creative, having friends and loved ones, enjoying life – these are things you can do anywhere.

So, I came here for the same reason mountain climbers do what they do: “because it’s there.” Now that I know what’s here…maybe I need more time to find the magic, but at this point I think I’ll most likely be back in Arkansas before the year is out. But who knows.

1.) A distance Elizabeth and I lovingly referred to as “Fayetteville” because that’s how long it takes to get there (or here from there) by train.
2.) Los Angeles is too decentralized and homogenous to have any real identity of its own to captivate an audience the way New York does.
3.) And let’s face it, Metropolis and Gotham City are essentially New York stunt doubles.

The Decline of the Tactile Music Experience

It starts with the impulse, the want. The desire to purchase music. The spark may come from a magazine, a memory, or wherever it is these miniature divine jolts come from[1]. Ooh-must-get-now.

And today there are two options for the cessation of this particular mania: download digitally or purchase physically.

For myself, the end result is currently the same. The music will live in my iPod and be played occasionally via iTunes. And yet, I find myself being drawn to Virgin Megastore[2] to seek out the packaged goods. There is a joy attached to the experience of purchasing the object. But this is music we’re dealing with. Sound. Shouldn’t the sound be the most important thing here? Shouldn’t the physical be largely irrelevant?

I feel like it should. I feel like 60 years or so ago, record companies got Americans hooked on a drug of sorts. The buying of a shiny shrink-wrapped disc is now an end to itself. We just don’t get the same jolt from clicking “Buy” on iTunes, although we do get the ameliorating bonus of instant gratification, so future generations likely will not suffer our 60-year affliction. I’ve even heard rumors that Virgin Megastore, the last great music retailer, may be ready to close up shop. Perhaps I should revel in some pre-retail-music-apocalypse excursions. Lord knows I did when Tower Records closed.

Maybe I should enjoy it while it lasts. It’s a cultural experience that is not long for this world. Sure, dusty specialty vinyl and used CD stores will be around for a long time before they metamorphose into antique malls and flea markets. By then I imagine I’ll be 70, telling my grandkids about “record stores” while admonishing them to take off their cybernetic implants and stop pronouncing OMG and LOL as if they were actual words. I won’t even bother to mention longboxes.

1.) The amygdala?
2.) Please understand this is only a place I go when I need to find something specific that I know they will have. The vast majority of my CD shopping is still adventure-based and/or bargain-oriented. Usually at Downtown Music Gallery, Ear Wax, or the various record shops in the Village.

Writings Abound

I’ve got two music reviews in the Arkansas Times this week, as well as two blog entries over at The Deli, a New York music magazine. The Deli is starting me on blog entries before assigning me stuff for their print version. I wrote short bits on Beau Jennings and Shannon McArdle.

For the Times, I reviewed the new CDs by Isaac Alexander and Hayes Carll. It was weird to review Hayes. He and I played together once at Hendrix College in a theatre production my freshman year. It was called “Unchanging Love,” an old-timey tale with lots of songs. Hayes and I were the musicians, sitting off to the side of the stage with our guitars, cranking out the tunes. I’m glad to see he’s doing well with his music career; he was a nice guy. As a music nerd I heartily applaud his choice of producer on the record, Brad Jones. I think I’m one of the only people in the world with a copy of Brad’s only solo CD, Gilt Flake.

Death of a Man, Birth of a Legend

I’ve often wondered why artists are so often under-appreciated during their lifetimes and only after death do they become truly legendary. For example, I’m betting there has been and will continue to be an appreciable spike in the sales of Isaac Hayes’s music this week.

I think the answer is that once an artist dies, then their story is finally written. The book is closed. Only after death can sense be made of their lives and a solid narrative arc constructed without fear of any unexpected alteration. The artist becomes a known and agreed-upon quantity, and their piece of the cultural puzzle is affixed to its proper place, forever.

Isaac Hayes (1942-2008)

One of the coolest individuals this planet has ever known died today. In addition to his role as Chef on South Park and as composer of the theme to “Shaft,” Isaac Hayes was also a hit maker for Stax Records in Memphis, writing Sam and Dave’s two biggest hits, “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “Soul Man,” among many, many others. He was also one of the first soul musicians to approach the album as an art form rather than as a compilation of singles with “Hot Buttered Soul” and the double-album “Black Moses.” In addition to his film work in “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and “Hustle and Flow” (not to mention the MST3K-worthy “Truck Turner”) he had recently completed filming the movie “Soul Men” with Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac.

He collapsed today in his home. He was 65 years old.

I got the chance to meet him last summer in L.A. at the Hollywood Bowl. I now seriously regret not taking advantage of a mutual friend’s access to hang out more with this legendary gentleman.

I’d also like to clear up something about his departure from South Park. Isaac had suffered a stroke at the time, and his management had requested he be released from his contract. It was not Isaac’s decision, it was theirs.

Go download “Walk on By” (the 12 minute version) and find out what a master composer, arranger, and vocalist Isaac Hayes was. There aren’t many people left in the world who can truly be considered “legendary.” Now there’s one less.

The Up Series

At Amy’s behest, I recently completed watching all 7 installments of Michael Apted’s Up series. It’s a novel use of film. It started in 1964 with interviews of various young British kids, and then repeated the process every 7 years. The next installment is due in 2011.

To be able to watch someone grow up and find their way through life, to see how they change and yet don’t, is fascinating. In a way it’s a precursor to reality TV shows, but only on the surface. The Up series is a sociological document, not voyeuristic crap. It’s available on Netflix, and most of the installments are on the free instant streaming service. Check it out.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking a ton of pictures and not linking to them, so here are some recent highlights:

Crying Hello Kitty
Waldorf-Astoria lobby
hat man
The Unisphere and Towers
round the corner from my place
McCarren Park Pool
Catholic Jazz band
saint on a boat
holy pole
Jewish Elvis
Jackson Pollock closeup

The Chain of Academia

I know has done well when my brain returns to it weeks later as I drift off to sleep. Here is the gist of a recent ponderable:

Sociology is just applied Psychology
Psychology is just applied Biology
Biology is just applied Chemistry
Chemistry is just applied Physics
Physics is just applied Mathematics

It left me wondering where the Arts fit in, if at all. Are literature, art, or even philosophy merely applied sociology? Perhaps they aren’t involved at all since they’re not SCIENCE.