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On Prince, Bruce Springsteen, & Mourning In Public

I was happily off the clock last weekend at the Springsteen show in Brooklyn, until Bruce opened with “Purple Rain.” By the time the show hit “Backstreets” I had an idea of what I thought I wanted to say, and woke up Sunday morning and basically let the piece write itself. My debut for NPR Music.

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Bowie Tributes

  

Rounding up my work following the man’s passing:

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You’re wonderful. Give me your hands. 

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I went down to Lafayette Street last night, a thing I never would have done had the man not left us. But I heard about the tribute from a friend that lived downtown and felt the need to pay my respects. 

It is an insanely generous thing that this is being allowed, that the landlord and the neighborhood and the adjoining business owners* and the cops and the city are letting this happen. It won’t last forever, but it is happening right now, when we need it, and that is enough. 

*American Apparel did feel the need to add “Condolences to the friends and family of David Bowie” to their window right where it edges over the tribute site. Fair enough I guess. 

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David Bowie Was A New Yorker

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David Bowie never waited for the light to change before crossing.
David Bowie could finish the Friday crossword.
David Bowie wouldn’t lean on the pole during rush hour.
David Bowie ate a slice folded, walking uptown, without getting any of it on him.
David Bowie knew you never asked the cab driver if they would take you to Brooklyn, you got in and gave them the address.
David Bowie could play the Law & Order drinking game about his neighborhood.
David Bowie bitched about Time Warner.
David Bowie watched In The Papers.
David Bowie called it Sixth Avenue, called it the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and it as far as he was concerned, it was always going to be the 59th Street Bridge, no matter what meshuganah name it was given.
David Bowie sighed and moved to the end of the car when he heard, “It’s showtime!”
David Bowie knew that blueberry is not an acceptable bagel flavor.
David Bowie walked on the other side of the sidewalk when the dude with the clipboard asked him if he cared about the environment.
David Bowie took his coffee regular.
David Bowie always stopped and gave directions to lost tourists. (Except when they asked how to get to Ground Zero.)
David Bowie waited on line, not in line.
David Bowie exited the bus through the rear.
David Bowie knew that Battery Park City is not Tribeca, even if it shares a zip code.
David Bowie believed that Pizza Rat was real.

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And Then There Were None: RIP, Tommy Ramone

When the news came through last night, I poured a glass of whiskey and put on End of the Century, because I wanted to watch all of them alive and talking and and I didn’t want to have to scroll through YouTube and start curating. I just wanted to be with them for a little while.

There were no more Ramones in the world. They were all gone.

The SO sat down next to me at one point, eyes heavy, fighting sleep. I knew he was staying up with me so I didn’t stay up all night and get morose. I was already morose, however, so he might as well spare himself the pain.
“You can go to bed,” I said.
“I want to watch with you,” he said.
“I can turn it off,” I said, “I know how it ends, they all fucking DIE.”

They say that this is the curse of modern medicine, that longevity isn’t the blessing it would seem, because as you age, you lose your friends and your family and your peers and you can’t relate to the world around you. I just am not at all sure how to relate to a world without Ramones.

I am sad. I am angry. I am heartbroken. I am bereft, in the truest sense of the word. There is a hole in my heart.

The Ramones are gone and while I want to say they will never be forgotten, some days I am not so sure. I worry that people will look at bands that dress like them and think that those bands originated that style. I worry that people will listen to bands influenced by them and think that they were the originators. I worry that they will stop mattering.

Mostly, I guess, I am struggling with what will ultimately be the irrelevance of my generation, as we get older and die. When all of the people who make the art that defines you at your very core vanish, what does that mean for you?

What will be left to tether me to the planet when they all go?

N.B.: I took the top photo at my first Ramones show in Central Park in 1980. Those great Dr. Pepper Central Park Music Festival shows that cost $5, buy your tickets at Korvettes. I went to 12 of those shows that summer. It 1980, and I felt like I had MISSED EVERYTHING, and yet now I look at 1980 and think that I didn’t do too badly, you know? I shot it with an INSTAMATIC and later when I could finally take photography and get into a darkroom, I juryrigged a negative sleeve to fit the Instamatic negatives inside a 35mm frame, so I could blow it up and print it so I had something larger to put on my wall, because it was not like there were Ramones posters to buy in mass quantities. (I had not yet discovered record fairs.) It is not pretty or fancy, but it is a fine relic to have.

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More Lou

I wrote another essay on Lou’s passing for Billboard.com:

For a New York music fan, Lou was of us and for us. Part of the city died today when he did.

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Saying Goodbye to Uncle Lou

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Bottom Line, 1983. My first Lou show. Photo by me.

Back in the early 80s, I was lost in the back alleys of Amsterdam on a dark, foggy night. I opened the door to a bar, just to find my bearings and take a break. The interior was dark and smoky and I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. Then, the jukebox kicked into “Vicious” and I relaxed, knowing without a doubt that this place would be just fine.

Variations on this scene have been repeated in Germany and Boston, Tel Aviv and Atlanta, and of course, right here in New York fuckin’ City. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, we are different here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says, different is okay here. Lou Reed on the jukebox says ‘home’.

Lou is tied into my life in so many ways I can’t begin to unravel the thread to find its origin, although I spent the better part of the afternoon trying to run it down. I blame Rock Scene and FM radio and CREEM and Lester’s ongoing battle and even Rolling Stone for dragging me into his work. I would hear things, I would read things, and I would go and track them down to try to find out more. I would buy records just to see how they sounded. I would find books just to see if I could understand them. I would go look at art to see how it felt.

Lou connected me to the Velvets and the Velvets connected me to Andy Warhol and that connected me to SO MANY THINGS. People all over the world today were quoting “Walk On The Wild Side” as it was the only song they knew and I imagine that very few of them experienced that song the way I did, as this gateway into everything Warholian. I wanted to know everything about the song. I wanted to understand it. This was an immensely powerful thing to a highly impressionable 13 year old kid. His music opened this enormous doorway to art and literature and life and the enormous, ever lovin’ greater outside world. Once I got there there were people who could and did help me, but I never would have gotten to that place otherwise.

Lou took me to Burroughs and Delmore Schwartz and Ginsberg and made me re-read Walt Whitman and got me to the New York poets at about the same time Patti did. These people got me to poetry readings, to buy or borrow or check out books of poetry out of the library. (And God love the librarians who paid attention to what I checked out and made knowing suggestions.) Even if I didn’t like it, I was exposed to so much art and opinion and artistry that I was full to overflowing at how much there was to watch and read and experience and think about. It emboldened me. It gave me an anchor to hold onto, a grounded conviction that the world was so much bigger and worth waiting for that made it easier to survive the list of typical and non-typical high school torment (getting shoved into the lockers: standard; getting pushed out of a moving school bus, kind of out of the ordinary). It might sound odd that something so dark and visceral and other could be such a lifeline to someone who had more privilege than most who underwent similar tortures, but it was. Every time I ventured in and listened to another song or found another record, the glowing bubble of hope that was fed by all of this art would blossom even bigger and brighter than it did the last time.

I think it is hard to explain what it was like to listen to things that no one else listened to, in the days before the internet. If there were five people in my high school of 2,000 who even knew who the Velvet Underground were, that would seem like an awful lot. (I am being generous here. I know of two, guess at a third based on running into him a year after graduation, and am adding two because there had to be a couple others. It wasn’t like we were getting together on this subject, in fact, quite the opposite.) If people did know anything about Lou Reed, it generally revolved around him being described using a pejorative slang term that begins with F and ends with T. (The drugs didn’t even figure into it; Keith Richards did heroin, so that wouldn’t stick.) If you were a guy who liked Lou, there was guilt by association; if you were a girl, it was even worse. But that first Velvets album held the keys to the motherfucking kingdom, and that was everything. (It still does, if you need or want it badly enough.)

I wanted a leather jacket because of Lou. I painted my fingernails black because of Lou. I tried rocking Ray-ban aviators because of Lou. (I just look stupid.) I can’t say that I moved to New York City because of Lou; my family lived 40 minutes away by train and there was, quite honestly, nowhere else I could have possibly gone after my teenage years were spent immersed in everything I had immersed myself in. Once I got here, though, Lou did, however, make me feel like I knew my way around the joint, if that makes sense. Whether it was real, imagined, or some combination of youthful arrogance and just plain wanting to belong more than anything else, it didn’t matter; for all intents and purposes, “Lou sent me” was my calling card.

The darkness on these records was an air valve on a pressure cooker. They gave me an outlet and a name to my own fledgling darkness, the nameless fog I tried to keep under wraps. The music helped me navigate its depths without getting sucked into it or pulled under. The songs offered explanations, it offered comfort–they were always there to go back to. Lou showed me how to find the beauty in the dark. He showed me how to get through to the other side, or at least that there was an other side. He showed me that there was a way to live with it. The fact that we are saying goodbye to him at 71 and not at 31 is proof of all of this. May his journey thrive.

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I also wrote about Lou for Billboard.com.

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Memories of Bleecker Bob’s

Bleecker Bob’s closed today, and like the end of CBGB’s, I find myself lamenting the end of a place I hadn’t been to in years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need or want the Village to be turned into more of an NYU-blanded mall than it already is, and I genuinely miss the days that I could wander the streets and find odd mom and pop shops who carried interesting things.

But I always had a conflicted relationship with Bleecker Bob’s. An older music-loving friend introduced me to the existence of Bob’s, and showed me ‘the circuit’ of record hunting in the Village. But I never had a positive experience in Bob’s. There were absolutely times that he was the only one that had what I needed and yet I would almost always get sneered at when purchasing. I mean, I get it, and I am one of the biggest musical snobs I know, but I’m not doing that to someone who is PAYING ME MONEY.

I don’t remember the Bleecker Street location; my acquaintance began with the McDougal Street store, when it was next to the Capezio store. I would come there to buy bootlegs. I would go there to buy copies of the NME and Sounds and Melody Maker. When I was a junior and senior in high school I would tell my mom I was going to the theater or the museum or something (and most of the time I was actually doing that, just later) and get there a little before 10am, waiting on line for the gate to open so I could buy the UK singles that were just out that week. Bob used to pay someone to courier them back every week. That was an amazing thing. That was the equivalent to a leaked prerelease torrent. People would be fiercely jealous of my ability to take a train and walk a few blocks and get this music.

But I never liked going there. I can remember taking out-of-town friends there who wanted to buy a copy of “My Generation” on Brunswick and I knew Bob had it for $75. He wouldn’t take the fucking thing off the wall for them to look at until they had taken the money out of their pocket and showed it to him. I mean, I get it, you don’t want to take an expensive single off the wall and show it to looky-lous and maybe he’d had too many that day, but your average Joe or Josephine doesn’t walk in off the street asking for that particular item.

He had the first real copy of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby…” with the picture sleeve and I was delighted when I found it at a record fair (RIP Rockages if you want to get all RIP about things music-related) and didn’t have to pay Bob. He had Piece de Resistance for $125 and I would stand there and stare at it and calculate numbers in my head. I certainly didn’t have the ovaries to try to bargain with him. (I eventually got it at one of those 8th Street stores that were upstairs for $75, which was STILL a lot of goddamn money).

I remember going to see the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization at the 8th Street Playhouse and Bob appeared on the screen in an interview and the entire place exploded in BOOOOS. In that context I understand the badge of honor element but seriously, it is no wonder that I spent most of my money at record fairs and that place downstairs on Cornelia Street or Bleecker St. Records.

I support his right to be the crabby old record guy and hire other crabby old record guys and a lot of people liked the ritual of him being so obnoxious, and would just laugh at him. I don’t like the store going away because it was just there, this place I would walk by and flip the bird to whenever I walked by. But I would go in and buy a magazine and check the stacks and then I’d get a slice at that pizza place on the corner (it wasn’t bad) or some felafel from Mamoun’s and go sit in Washington Square Park and read my magazine or look at my purchases and eat and enjoy the air and the scene, just digging the fact that I was hanging out in Greenwich Village. I miss that too, but I’m not 18 or 22 or, hell, 32 anymore either.

Vaya con dios.

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For Adam Yauch. I am so tired of writing these.

This is obnoxious and obscene and don’t let your kids listen to it. Or if you’re a kid listening to it, just don’t tell your parents.

This was their first single. I heard it on WNYU, which is where I first heard of the Beastie Boys. I may or may not have seen them play as a hardcore band, back in the 80s I once tried to figure it out but never could. I do know that I took my life into my hands going out to the Capitol Theater in Passaic to see them, back when they had the go-go dancers in the cages, and scalped tickets in front of the Garden when they opened for Madonna on the Like A Virgin tour. (Really, I wanted to see Madonna, but the Beasties just made it more interesting.)

Somehow I found myself in the middle of the crowd at Lollapalooza 96 in the middle of their set, very close to the front, and if you have ever been there you know what that was like: it was insane. Jumping, singing, arm waving, very very male. I gave up my front row seat at the 98 Tibetan Freedom Concert to my friend Kathy, who was wearing her Beastie Boys socks that day, because she deserved it more than I did.

The genius of making a record by prank calling Carvel and asking to talk to Cookie Puss will only make sense to a certain generation, and that generation of people is right now walking around their offices with red eyes and remembering the first time they heard a bunch of white Jewish kids rapping. They were our age. Everyone I knew knew someone who knew them. Everyone I knew knew someone who dated them. Everyone I knew knew someone who smoked pot with them.

And then, they grew up at about the same time we did, at about the same time we started feeling uncomfortable with the lyrics, when we got to the point where we couldn’t have kept listening if they kept going in the same direction. They still managed to be bad ass and full of conviction. They taught a generation of kids who probably couldn’t have found Tibet on a map to care about something beyond their own front yards.

They were New York and they were ours and they still are right now. We’re just missing one. Fuck cancer. Fuck this shit.

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On Levon Helm, and The Band

I cut this exact ad out of the New York Times one Sunday, and hung it on my bedroom wall. I couldn’t go into the city to see it, but went down to Ridgeway Cinemas one Saturday afternoon to see it, all on my own.

When it was done — before it was done, even — I had gone out to the pay phone to call home and ask if I could stay to see it again. It wasn’t because I thought it was amazing (although I certainly did think that), it was because it was so enormous, so mind-blowing, so more-than-I-ever-thought to my 14 year old brain that I couldn’t possibly take it all in at once, so I stopped trying and told myself, “Don’t worry, it’s a movie, you can just see it again.”

I came back, later, I saw it at midnight movies, I dragged friends, I used it as a litmus test in relationships. I kicked myself, continually, for not having had been old enough to have seen the Band live, which was obviously not something that was within my control. I made up for it by devouring everything I could find about them. They schooled me. They grounded me.

How could this not fail to completely blow your mind? I’m surprised I left the theater at all that day.

The last time I saw Levon Helm, he was playing drums in a band that was supporting Hubert Sumlin. I didn’t know he was going to be part of the band, and from where I was sitting initially, I couldn’t see the drummer–but I didn’t need to. His style was unmistakable, his touch on the sonic thumbprint couldn’t be anyone else.

So much music. So much great music. So much great music that meant so much, did so much, extended so far, changed so very much. Thank you, Levon Helm.

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