Walking into the Pratt Student Art Gallery, I notice a large framed print of a homeless man whose face is obscured by the metallic structure of New York City. “This is one of those pieces where you can clearly identify New York as the geography.” The picture centers the man on a signature example of objective street life.
Perpendicular to this opening piece, an incredibly close profile of a woman’s hands are captured in vivid detail. Their self-embrace is intimate. Every piece in the show has this sort of candid, subjective quality, rich with personal urban narratives. Some are warm despite the cold, and some leave us wondering what, why, and how.
Some of these pictures offer an odd distance between the subject and the viewer. There is no need to identify the subject. An old, feeble hand, decorated with golden rings and a manicure, holds an expensive bottle of prescription heart medicine.
One photo shows a woman emptying her purse on the street among pedestrians and shadowy strangers. That is not what draws my eye. The contents of her purse sprawled on the dirty sidewalk offer a glimpse into her life and culture. Chase Manhattan bank card, iTunes gift card, stamp-set “Get Healthy America” food and fitness cards, business cards and post-its, half-regurgitated out of the mouth of a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag. Perhaps she’s waiting for the bus.
A retail space under construction was once an ATM kiosk, and the last remaining proof of it remains in a window’s wax labeling, almost scraped away, much like the retail space inside. Desolation, destruction, a passive interpretation of future creations that will one day cover up the past.
“I’m only giving you views I want you to see.”
Roughly one foot from the ground, the photographer’s camera captures a letter of emotion and sincerity. The keywords “My dearest… jail… streets… dead or in jail…” stick out. This letter had so much brevity, and yet it’s cast aside, littered and left to no voice, a watery pickup of sewer streets, a dirty home for a dirty life.
A Styrofoam food container hangs motionlessly between the belly of a city trash can and the unidentified hand that releases it. More human interaction exists around it, but only to further illustrate the scene aptly captured in visual clarity. What will happen when time catches up with it, transforming the passive to active?
Ben Zucker’s exhibit “In Between Before and After” and other works are available for purchase through his Blurb page here.
Finally the first warm Saturday of the year! Time to get up out of my small hard empty bed, throw on some gym clothes and hit the jogging path. Before I left I choked down a cold pork and leek dumpling with some orange juice and grabbed my iPod and keys. I hit play. Com Truise, the band Zucker and I saw last week in Greenwich Village, made for some great running music. I took off down 18th Avenue towards Gravesend Bay and lost my self in the pure electronic soundscape. Fifteen minutes into the run I was at the water. Thirsty, I longed for a Red Fish Ale, water from the bubbler I spied at the park across the street would suffice though. I paused the music to listen to the waves hit the barrier rocks below me. I saw seagulls pick at the garbage floating amid the otherwise clear water. There were huge ships further out into the bay. I couldn’t let the moment linger much longer though, I had to keep going. Running faster and faster on the asphalt, passing families of Hassidic Jews pushing strollers, dressed head to toe in black traditional wear and Chinese families with their packs of rambunctious little kids running circles around them made for some difficult maneuvering and interesting company.
The jogging path goes for miles, I ran two of them at the most. Along it are rather unremarkable sights; running west I had the bay to my left and the Shore Parkway to my right. The occasional grassy hill gave way to unobstructed views of the highway and the surrounding neighborhood of Bay Ridge. Along the wall separating the path from the water are numerous highly detailed signs explaining how, during a severe storm, the massive pipes below said signs connect the New York City sewer system to the bay where it can dump any overflow from the system in to the water. Lovely. Just think, Coney Island beaches are all but a few miles down stream from the drains. Looks like I won’t be swimming in those I thought.
At a corner of the path there were a few benches where people were sitting. One notable character was sitting directly in the sun, wearing a black suit, reading and sweating profusely. I took a seat not too from him and looked out onto the bay. The view was calming. I could see New Jersey in the distance and the Verrazzano bridge towering above me. Taking a moment to reflect, thoughts of spending summer afternoons on the Newport cliffs gazing out onto the Atlantic filled my mind. I wished I could relive those moments now.
It was getting late and I was hungry. I jogged my way back to the foot bridge that went over the highway and made my way back up 18th Avenue. People were getting out of church, there were cars everywhere, even parked fully on the sidewalks. Further up the avenue the crowds of people got more dense. I saw an ambulance up ahead one block from me. There was a group of people standing around an old lady who had apparently fallen. I felt bad for her and wondered what happened. Closer to my apartment I saw the police pull a lady over for no apparent reason. There was no way she could have been speeding as I was easily keeping up with the traffic on foot. I figured he was probably just trying to get his quota for the day.
Back at the apartment I had some lunch and thought about going to Central Park the next day. This is a good way to start my summer in New York.
Rubblebucket, Millionyoung, and Com Truise @ Le Poisson Rouge
Greenwich Village, NY
Red Fish IPA
New York City is a ready-made home for music lovers looking to experience something new. Their scene is so eclectic, and yet it gives every band and artist a place to peacock. Greenwich Village is one of those places, a hotspot for music, and it’s there my notes began.
My bus from Boston dropped me off in the heart of Chinatown, and I waited, leaning on a newspaper kiosk at the corner of Canal and Bowery, scanning the countless passing faces for my friend, Lapre, to meet me after work. He, like me, wouldn’t pass up a show like this.
Le Poisson Rouge (The Red Fish) is a great venue. It looks like a nightclub, and its basement feels like a trendy jazz club. The tables were cleared out for standing room only, and yet, having arrived there when the doors opened, we dropped our gear at a standing bar table near the VIP lounge, and began to marinade on Red Fish IPA and colorful lights blanketing a slowly-growing audience.
The show started for Com Truise, and the club was quarter full. I could tell right off (but was surprised) that he was the opening act. I’m familiar with his work, and recognize it as the night begins. He breaks into something new that flows with his style of heavy percussion and synth waves. This is future electronic music. He improvises on the machines, even though it is an orchestrated piece. Lapre compares it to a modem and a drum, and I laugh.
He grooves to his own music as he plays on stage, and on occasion he looks back at the wall, covered with visualizations. A song plays with reverberating alarms, and dissipates to a rolling thunder of applause. A set of hieroglyphs flash on the massive screen, and I try to grasp what they mean. A sun rises over a polygon mountain. A pair of Italian women talk under the music at a table in front of us, smiling and laughing with big Italian smiles.
I’ve heard this one before. He is in his groove now, and more people have filled the club. A couple people dance by themselves as the heavy song and vibrant visuals coat us listeners in an odd, electronic fog. I seldom consider how prepared these guys are, especially when they run into something at 150BPM and they tap-tap-tap away on music machines, turning knobs and blending track after track. He made it look easy.
A quick intermission allowed me to meet Com Truise after the show and simply thank him for the great show. He was chatting with a couple that met him before I did, so there was an awkward standby moment in front of them as I waited for my chance to interrupt. “Hey man, great show, I’m glad I came out for it.” He was happy to hear it, thanked me, and we shook hands before I made my way back into the club. The next act, Millionyoung, was setting up, and it was only 10pm. I ordered another Red Fish IPA.
Millionyoung was a discovery that resonated with me ever after. They explode from the start in bursts of electro indie flavors comparable to Animal Collective. They open with a track that reverbs harmonic vocals and melodic, beat-infused guitar rock. There is an atmospheric quality in the results, something apt for beach-side parties. They certainly know how to get a crowd moving and cheering. There is energy brewing in their music, and it bubbles over in vocals sweetened by reverberating delays. They use it well, and my head bangs.
If Cut Copy heard this last song, they’d probably go along with the groove. Their sequences of synth, pop, and rock highlight an ambient quality in their vocals. A lady sits alone between us and the Italians, drinking a glass of Vodka neat, and she bobs her head to the beat. The band comes together in a cavalcade of sounds, and despite the odd delay, the vocals really make it great.
We applauded as they collected their things and left the stage. I found them after the show and talked with them briefly, mentioning I traveled from Boston to see the show. They were flattered, and I gave them my card in case there was a chance to see them play in Boston. I had no idea they were playing the following night at Brighton Music Hall, but it wouldn’t have been the same kind of show. I shook their hands and thanked them for the great show, and made my way back into the club. Another Red Fish IPA, and I sit in wait for the final act of the night.
The club was full as Rubblebucket took to the stage. They completely blew the top off any preconception I had. They explore the space around us with harmonic energy. The horns and natural melody in their music bring everything together in a funky groove. They’re beats are uplifting, juxtaposed against afro-like themes and eye-closing harmonies. The crowd was clapping and jamming along, and so was I. The Italians left their table to join the dancing masses, and the lady alone grooves even harder than before in the barstool in front of us. Someone threw a bra on-stage, and everyone was chanting “Happy Holidays!” between songs. The trumpet player did a stage-dive, and everyone was loving it.
I want to know what this song is; it has a happy groove to it, slow but in step with a confident satisfaction. I smile as the vocals take on a jazzy instrumentation, ushering in a breakdown revival of ska and funk. The singer has a great voice that reminds me of Bjork and Sister Nancy. Her melody inspires a state of jam that feels like it could go on for much longer. Thankfully, I think I found the right track, and posted a video for it below.
The show was over late, and Lapre and I were well-off with our drinks before the night came to a close. He had to get up in a few hours to go to work in Manhattan, and yet that didn’t seem to bother him. In the closing notes of the night, I remember the long train ride home, and the pit stop for munchies, handing over my few remaining dollars to impatient ethic men wearing uniforms and hats.
Sitting at Lapre’s kitchen counter, we ate snails from their shells and chased them with sweets, while sipping Glenmorangie scotch and rehashing the night’s encounters. I told Lapre about my conversations with the artists I talked to, and he helped me conceptualize the sounds we heard in words that made sense – it’s a hard thing to do when you’ve never heard music like this before. I only hope for your sake, you get what I mean.
On Super Bowl Sunday, my brother, his girlfriend, PK and those two girlfriends from my last visit took me out bowling. Melody Lanes. You couldn’t ask for a more convincing epitome of dive-y bowling alleys. It was fitting; there was only one other group playing on the ten-odd lanes, and we chose to hug their company by using the two lanes beside them. Two portly women and a convincingly gay man had been playing long before we got there. They were the regulars, and they welcomed us. U2 was on the jukebox, signing “where the streets have no name,” and the woman in red sang, “Where the balls have no game.” Whether or not that was a taunt for the men to man up, or a simple play on bowling lingo, I’ll never know.
You know what Brooklyn is like sometimes? It’s like a sunny, satisfying day, and you’re walking down the street, saying hello to all the friendly shop-keepers who give you deals on deals when business is good, and somewhere in a window, music from the 1940’s is playing. Brooklyn is also like a leaky underpass ahead with drops of water falling through the cracks. As hard as you try, perhaps you’re sure of passing through it without getting wet, a single, cold, dirty drop happens to find its way onto the back of your neck, and trickles down your spine, giving you that odd, awkward shudder you tried to avoid.