Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer Sunday in Brooklyn

My Sunday afternoon was a summertime whirlwind of little cultural happenings in Brooklyn. I began the day with a jaunt to Fort Greene, to find the Brooklyn Urban Arts Market, sponsored and advertised by BAM. After my initial confusion as to where exactly this market was located, I eventually found my way there, on Myrtle Ave. between Grand and Emerson (exactly as the website says, only I hadn't thought to record the address... ), behind the Pratt campus. One reason I think I was so confused? This little market was very small scale. Okay, quality not quantity, but I had expected something a little larger. It was a cute little fair with local and independent vendors and artisans, featuring a lot of local clothing and jewelry. My favorite item was the t-shirt with over-sized lips silkscreened on the the front and "Besos not Bombs" silkscreened on the back. However, I ultimately decided that the market only merited a quick perusal.

Finding my friend afterwards, we decided to experience another event we'd heard rumor of: the Fort Greene Sunday flea market. Now this was impressive. Below is the what/when/where info of the market, taken from the website,

Brooklyn Flea takes place every Sunday from 10am to 5pm—rain or shine—at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on Lafayette Ave. between Clermont and Vanderbilt Ave. The Flea features 200 vendors of vintage furniture, clothing, collectibles and antiques as well as new jewelry, art and crafts by local artisans, plus delicious food.

Apparently the flea market just started happening a few months ago, in April. A write-up in the NY Daily News describes the very large-scale nature of the event and reports that 70% of the vendors hail from Brooklyn. The NY Times also has a write-up of the burgeoning flea market in April, "Scavengers on the Urban Savannah," describing how many vendors have left their traditional jobs for this kind of lifestyle, and how the day was a financial success for them. Yet I also found write-ups in both the Daily News and the Brooklyn Paper that detail how the flea market has heightened neighborhood tensions between the established communities and the influx of "hipsters," Pratt students and other more recent transplants to the neighborhood. Mike McLaughlin of the Brooklyn Paper wrote an article last month, "Flea market meeting gets heated," in which he calls the flea market "one of the biggest weekend hits since Sunday brunch itself" and describes how its large-scale nature has altered the vibe of the community, in ways not everyone likes. One reason for the dispute is that it takes place on Sunday and interferes with church attendance, while others simply are angered that it was an intrusion into the community; but as we know, development and changes of communities is the nature of NYC, for better or for worse. I have to say in this case, I think that it is for the better: the flea market had such a festive, friendly vibe to it, and was full of a diverse array of people, vendors and shoppers alike. My only purchase there: a $2 pair of earrings that I honestly think of as a steal.

And then the next event: after strolling around the Brooklyn Flea for about an hour, my friend and I decided to make it to the very last McCarren Pool party. This one was co-sponsored by Jelly NYC and Brooklyn for Barack. The party opened its doors at 2; we arrived a little past 4 pm to an enormously long line. Warned by friends in the area of the long line, my friend and I decided to wait anyway; it appeared to be moving quickly, and it was the very last event of this nature (and my friend had never been to any of the pool parties prior to this!) Sure enough, the line did move rapidly; and we convinced our other wary friends to join us in line. The pool was the most crowded I have ever seen it.

This meant less free space (and less free stuff), but we scored several free Topshop tanktops and enjoyed ourselves strolling, chatting, and hanging for a few hours. We didn't stay for the Yo La Tengo performance, as the last opening band (I'm not sure of its name) had a particularly grating sound -- but overall it was a great last time at the pool party! And a great Sunday out and about in Brooklyn.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

This Weekend: Free Activities in Brooklyn

The past few days have been a flurry of free activities for me.

Thursday evening I went to the party at Starr Space, for the Cinema 16 series, which offered a free screening of film shorts by Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, free Drambuie cocktails and slices of watermelon (also free). The space, located on Starr St. off the Jefferson L stop, is a large, open room with wood floors and high ceilings. For the screening, folding chairs were arranged in rows, and people who didn't attain seats (such as myself) stood to the sides or crowded at the back. Overall, it seemed to be a nerdy hip(ster) crowd, most of who managed to concentrate and stay silent for the film shorts.

I didn't make it until halfway through the film screening, at 9 pm, and the hour of the screening I was there for seemed to whizz by. The films were captivating in their eerie, experimental and sometimes quite humorous style. The only full clip I saw, entitled "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia," was a clever collage of claymation, authentic video footage, and edited video work that featured the dissection of a replica of Stalin's head (which contained a very real semblance to human brains). The space quickly largely cleared out after this final clip, and my friends and I remarked on how impressed we were with the space, having never previously known of it. Apparently, Starr Space regularly hosts Sunday film nights, as well as Monday figure drawing sessions, yoga, and other such cultural/hipster-type activities. Maybe I should visit Bushwick more often... *And*, I almost forgot to mention, after the film screening, the space became the host to a little dance party. And a significant amount of people were actually dancing: a nice refutation of the stereotype that "hipsters don't dance."(!)

I spent my day Friday at Coney Island, walking on the boardwalk to the very end (Brighton Beach), enjoying the sand and water and yes, even a ride. Here are some pictures I took at the beach, many from the Wonder Wheel:

Friday night I attended a friend's birthday party, and today, Saturday, so far I spent the day in Fort Greene, where I strolled through the Artisan and Green Markets in Fort Greene Park and sat down to enjoy the Fort Greene Park Literary Festival. (Also see the Flavorpill write-up.) While I did not stay long enough to hear all of the writers, I was impressed by the music of the percussion ensemble which played, Indoda Entsha, and the dancers who performed with them.

Hooray for Brooklyn in the summertime!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Weekend: Notable Upcoming Activities

Without many specific, concrete plans this weekend, and knowing that there is a plethora of exciting activity going on, I thought, why not blog about it? So, to promote these events and remind myself/keep track of what is going on, here goes my little compilation:

Thursday -, Drambuie Presents: Cinema 16
-- GBH presents Cheeky Bastard, LA Riots and more
Friday - Opening Reception, Week-Long Exhibit at Leo Kesting Gallery.
Saturday - Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival
Sunday - LAST FREE McCarren Pool Party, Featuring Yo La Tengo, sponsored by Jelly NYC.
-- FREE Brooklyn Urban Arts Market, curated/sponsored by B.A.M.

Thursday features a free screening of short films by Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer, sponsored by Drambuie and Myopenbar, at Starr Space (108 Starr Street at Knickerbocker, Bushwick)

Thursday also is the regular party at Hiro Ballroom, this week featuring LA Riots, Dave Nada, Streetlab and Wallpaper.

Friday marks the opening reception at Leo Kesting Gallery. Below is a snippet from their e-mail:

As August wraps up the summer season Leo Kesting presents the Estonia Performance Group NON GRATA from the Grace Exhibition Space gallery in East williamsburg, Bushwick. The Performance and exhibition of NON GRATA's photographs and catalogs will be presented at our Meat Packing District gallery on August 21st until the end of the month. A live performance from the group will be presented on the opening night Friday August 22 at 8:00pm

Leo Kesting Gallery is located at 812 Washington St at the corner of Gansevoort in Manhattan's Meat Packing District. A, C, E, or L train to 8th Ave and 14th Street or 1,2,3 train to 14th Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 11am until 7pm.

And a flyer for the event:

Saturday boasts a free literary festival in Fort Greene Park (DeKalb Ave & S Portland Ave), beginning at 3 pm, featuring Amiri Baraka. I found this event on Flavorpill.

Sunday marks the last free McCarren Pool Party. Doors are at 2. The headliner is Yo La Tengo, and the openers are as follows: DJ Syd B(Les Savy Fav), DJ David Cross(not in Les Savy Fav), Titus Andronicus, and Ebony Bones.

Sunday also features the BAM Brooklyn Urban Arts Market. Here is the info from the website: Aug 24, 12—8pm
Myrtle Avenue between Grand and Emerson
Music by Soul Summit Music

This summer, party and shop at the Brooklyn Urban Arts Market, a fusion of the dynamic energy of Afro-Punk and BAM with Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project's Community initiatives. The market will feature live music, visual art performances, food from Myrtle Avenue restaurants, and 50 local, DIY vendors selling fashion, art, and accessories.

DJ collective Soul Summit Music, known for their extremely popular neighborhood performances in Fort Greene Park, will be spinning all day long, providing the soundtrack to the market’s dynamism.

2 blocks from Clinton/Washington and Classon Ave G trains (along Lafayette Ave) and 5 blocks from Clinton/Washington C train stop (along Washington Ave)

Hope you/I go out and experience/enjoy some, if not all, of these events, and all the many others going on!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday Night Adventures...

I think I am 22 going on 27. I definitely had more of a 22-year-old kind of night than the average night of a 27-year-old yesterday...

So I began the night meeting my sister, her co-workers and a friend of mine at Rodeo Bar, which calls itself "NYC's Longest Running Honky Tonk" as well as "NYC's Premier Southern Roadhouse." Located at 27th St and 3rd Ave in Manhattan, the bar is a fun venue and apparently features live music performances every evening beginning at 9. After enjoying out $4 ($6?) margaritas, delicious quesadillas, and mediocre service, my friend and I said our good-byes to make it to a mediabistro networking party on the L.E.S.

Full of quesadillas and each of us with a margarita buzz, we shared a taxi to the bar, Katra, arriving around 7:45, a little more then half way into the scheduled networking event (advertised as happening from 6:30-8:30). My friend, who works at Condé Nast, and I were nervous about networking ourselves effectively and successfully, and we entered the bar to find ourselves surrounded by a very tightly-packed crowd. A note about my professional history: I have never worked in media. My professional background is primarily in teaching, and I am looking to get into editorial and/or publishing work. The creation of this blog was, actually, inspired by a piece of advice made at a mediabistro workshop I had attended, to write blogs and to write in general. So, with my badge falsely declaring "Editorial Assistant" as my title, my friend and I worked our way through this tangled mass of media people.

Though Katra is a beautiful bar, as evidenced by its website, it is narrow for a large networking party; immediately after making our way further back in the bar, we realized it wasn't really especially full at all, just packed like a can of sardines towards the entrance. And it was rapidly clearing out. It soon became rather clear to my friend and me, at least in our experience of the evening there, that this event was really more for the teachers to network themselves; and indeed, huge discounts for registration (and free premium membership to mediabistro) to classes were offered if we registered that night. While the two workshops I took with mediabistro were very well-organized and informative, in terms of ongoing classes, I decided to take some Publishing courses at NYU instead. The credentials of the latter seem a little more notable, no? But this is not to diss mediabistro; it is an invaluable source for media connections that I hope to utilize in the future.

My networking, as well as my friend's, proved to be haphazard and not that fruitful. Ironically, one of the girls I chatted a lot with also went to Oberlin. Oh, Oberlin! If only all networks always immediately provided such a sense of connection and built-in networking. So... happily saying our goodbyes to our ill-fated networking plans, we continued our explorations of L.E.S. nightlife.

Making our first stop at Home Sweet Home, a very middle-America, rural-themed hipster dive bar (with both chandeliers and several pieces of taxidermy), we continued the night at Happy Ending: and this is where the party started. (see flyers below). I'll let the flyers speak for themselves. It was dancing, drinking madness, a crazy party for any day of the week, no less a Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hipster Obsessions

My new acquaintance/friend (the friend I was introduced to at the free McCarren Pool party on Sunday) summed it up rather well. Hailing from the UWS, he remarked on how he felt he just wasn't able to pull off hipster trends and felt out of place in his khaki and plaid (but these, if worn ironically, are hipster... Plaid, actually, is quite the hipster trend). He ruminated, "You know, I just can't pull off that cap to the side look with the big sticker on the rim." Then he told my other friend and me a story: "You know, I ask them where they buy their hats sideways and popped out like that, cos I see them in the store, and they only sell them straight forward. They tell me, 'Easy, man, you just gotta turn the cap to the side and pop the rim.' " [pause to smirk] "They didn't even get that I was making fun of them," he said. "No....!?!" my friend and I simultaneously responded, both flabbergasted and skeptical. People didn't really take that "how do you get your hat sideways ...?" kinda question seriously... did they? That's the thing about us young urban folk, hipsters or not: when to take any of us seriously?

And when to tell when someone is or isn't a hipster?...

I stumbled upon another blog the other day, "Stuff Hipsters Don't Like," in which the writer flat-out admits that while writing from an uber-critical perspective of hipsterdom (particularly Williamsburg hipsterdom), she may be one herself. Noting that a qualifying facet of being a hipster is not admitting that you are one, she dedicates her blog to insights and analyses of hipster life and culture. The blog explores the stereotypes of hipsters as people who eschew corporate jobs, don't smile, and try to refrain from making meaningful protests. Yet it seems by her obsession that possibly she is trying to be a hipster, or at least understand what she supposedly "is" because she loosely appears to be one. (Fine, I sympathize with this.) Similarly, Youtube hosts a plethora of hipster-focused videos, from the famous "Hipster Olympics"
and other satires to interviews exploring the definition of hipster.

I am ready for people to start throwing out some new terms, or being more in-depth with their labels. Within the "hipster" label are a plethora of others: the scenesters, the emo kids, the indie kids, the art kids, the fashionistas... In college (I graduated '02), the term 'hipster' wasnt yet in wide circulation, at least not yet in Oberlin, and the term we used for the kids with the skinny jeans and black-rimmed glasses were the "po-mo's," meaning the postmodern kids. These were the students seen as self-consciously intellectual; they were the chain-smokers and the music kids, and a lot of them, I believe, hailed from... you guessed it... NYC. But really, can we start differentiating with labels here?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Free Music in Williamsburg!

I went to the McCarren Pool party yesterday for the free Aesop Rock show. Arriving a little after 2:00 pm, I found my friend with another friend of his, towards the front of a very long line for the pool party. Why such a long line? Yes, there was a large, eager crowd for the show and the general pool party experience, but I think mostly the long line could be chalked up to the doors not opening immediately and a slow security checkpoint (which, yay!, unlike for the paid shows, didn't care if we brought in our own food or drinks).

Upon entering, the three of us immediately snatched up our free copies of Spin magazine, of which there were many strategically scattered throughout the pool for product promotion. The party, sponsored by Jelly NYC, featured a slew of free product promotions and events, including beach balls and artsy stickers and such from Le Sports Sac and a photo booth and items from Topshop.

(Above: the LeSports Sac tent, featuring artistic give-aways and displaying artsy LeSports paraphernalia.)
(Above: me with free LeSports Sac beachballs...)

(Above: the line for the Topshop booths. It seemed to stay at least this long the entire time.)

I have to say, in terms of the event set-up, I am much more impressed with the free Jelly NYC shows than the shows that cost $$. The free shows also feature the slip n' slide to be enjoyed by party/pool-goers of all ages and dodgeball (sponsored by Saucony -- which also gave away squirt guns to the crowd - throughly enjoyed and used), which the other shows do not. For awhile, we wandered through the crowd, people-watching the variety of hipsters and children running around/meandering/lounging, and obtaining our share of free things. We decided to find a place to settle for awhile, and after scoring free (with purchase of drinks) towels from Fuze, the three of us moseyed towards the front of the stage area, behind where a crowd was gathered to watch the opening bands, Chin Chin and Panther.

(Above, a crowd gathers to watch Chin Chin perform.)

Not being familiar with either of the opening bands, I have to say I was more impressed with Chin Chin, with their violin (viola?) onstage and their general sound than with Panther, although they each had their share of an enthusiastic audience. We decided to leave at 6:00 pm, although Aesop Rock had not come on yet, feeling like we had already had a thorough dose of the McCarren Pool party. Carrying my LeSports beachball with me like a dork, I continued with my festive weekend dose of the neighborhood. Regarding the pool parties: though Jelly recommends getting there early to ensure admittance, the pool is expansive enough that I tend to think a later arrival is preferable, should the headlining band be your main (or at least a central) objective. In retrospect, I wish we had stuck around for Aesop Rock, but 6 hours of the McCarren pool party experience strikes me as a little much. Secondly, the last free Jelly show (ever!) at McCarren Pool is next Sunday: Yo La Tengo. FYI.

I had dinner at Peter's, a newer diner on Bedford Avenue, not because the venue or ambiance particularly struck me, but because they had an outdoor garden in the back. My dinner, three vegetable "sides" (mac & cheese, sweet potatoes, and spinach), was mediocre but hit the spot, especially the sweet potatoes portion of the meal. Apparently, this Peter's is a homage to an old butcher shop in the area, and gets middling reviews: Peter's ( guide).

Eventually, I found myself at Zebulon, which features free music shows beginning at 9 pm every night. Well, they decided not to start until 10 last night. (Possibly the opening band didn't show? The calendar seems to confirm this, as there was no band called Unicornicopia which played, so I may never know if their sound lives up to their name!) The avant-garde show featured a group called Unbroken, comprised of a drummer, a saxophonist and a bassist. At times the songs sounded more like conceptual noise and at others they produced a a jazzy, jam-band style groove. A review of the band on All About Jazz gives a favorable analysis of their sound and compares the saxophonist to John Coltrane. If avant-garde jazz appeals to you, it may be worth checking out; or at least come to a free show at Zebulon! This is one of the venues that will feature free shows long after summertime has passed... which I still am not ready to admit may be ending soon...

Friday, August 15, 2008

"Beautiful Losers": Counter-Culture Marketing to Mainstream?

According to Sidetrack Films, which released the movie "Beautiful Losers," it is:

"... a feature documentary film celebrating the independent and D.I.Y. spirit that unified a loose-knit group of American artists who emerged from the underground youth subcultures of skateboarding, graffiti, punk rock and hip-hop. This documentary tells the story of how a group of outsiders with little or no formal training and almost no conception or interest of the inner workings of the art world ended up having an incredible impact on the worlds of art, fashion, music, film and pop culture." (

I watched the movie, "Beautiful Losers" at the NYC IFC Center tonight. Having first heard of the movie when I received an oversized (8 1/2" x 11") flyer while at the Black Keys' performance at the McCarren Pool Party the other night, I was skeptical about a film so purportedly hip and slickly marketed to the hipster audience. Subsequently, I read a critical review about the movie on, "The art world's Pepsi Generation," which issued a harsh critique of its reliance on sponsorship by Nike, as well as a reflection on the general price of success for artists. The article asserts: What does this large-scale commercial dependence of counter-culture on mainstream corporations say about the emerging contradictory nature of contemporary counter-culture, except that it has become diluted and may eventually extinguish itself by this dependence? Thus expecting that the movie would itself be this diluted, commercialized and mass-marketed product, I was anxious to see what I would think for myself.

The movie, a slow-paced, very straightforward documentary from the perspectives of prominent artists who were a fundamental part of Alleged Gallery's emerging success in the 1990's, featured very honest, thoughtful interviews with the artists and beautiful, fascinating - and inspiring - coverage of their artwork and the artists at work and/or play. With the exception of a brief feature of Nike street shoes, there was no strong sense of Nike product/company promotion. The only mention, in fact, of the artists' attitudes towards doing corporate commercial work was one artist, Geoff McFetridge, who was commissioned by Pepsi and discussed his feelings on the matter: he remarked that, although he listened and nodded his head to what the company envisioned for their commercials, he steadfastly continued with his own vision, anxious of how it would be received but determined not to sacrifice his artistic integrity. McFetridge's commercials were a hit, and the artist concluded that such a transition to mainstream advertising is not selling out but rather a maturation and evolution of the artists and the media. While this does not sit entirely soundly with me, I have to sympathize with the artists in their search to find a platform to produce this film and show such counter-culture coverage in a way that it is both accessible and enticing to a wide audience. As Andrew O'Hehir points out in the review, most of the artists featured in the movie continue to steer clear of such commercial work in their artistic pursuits.

Even harsher than the review featured in is the movie review in NY Times, "Keeping It Real, Totally, Y'know, Back in the Day," which very succinctly concludes with its opinion that the film, a tribute to the glory days of the Alleged Gallery in the LES in the 90's, basically is a testament to the decline of NYC counterculture, which has - this review claims - been co-opted by mainstream corporate culture. A quick browsing of the movie's website reveals a very clear taste of how Nike is marketing itself as a herald of counter-culture. From its graffiti-tagged street shoes to the company's hosting of D.I.Y. workshops in the LES, targeted to the general public but also specifically to the local youth, Nike very clearly is employing the movie to achieve a higher counter-culture street cred. Nike, a company traditionally loathed by a significant portion of liberal-minded people for its sweatshop labor practices, even announces on the website that it will auction off the shoes and donate the money to charity.

I haven't yet found any statement by the artists regarding Nike's sponsorship. One of the D.I.Y. artists of the movie, going by the tag 4 Am, has posted a blog on the movie's release last Friday (Aug. 8th) and the afterparty at Lit (the seedy, indie/hipster bar in the East Village). 4 Am, the blog, primarily features photos of the release at the IFC Center and drunken revelry at the Lit afterparty. This blog's profile gives no further information except for the 4 Am gmail account: the minimalism of the blog so far is perhaps a testament of the artists' reliance on larger media and organizations to promote them.

An ironic conclusion to this is that I skimmed over Wikipedia's entry on "Hipster" this evening, "Hipster (contemporary subculture)," which not only co-intricates hipsters and subculture by definition but continues to define hipsters as generally liberal- and independent-minded people who specifically try to avoid buying from large companies like Nike (and the Gap) with sweatshop labor practices. This Wikipedia article acknowledges the tension between the hipster as a counter-cultural, D.I.Y. liberal-minded individual who purchases vintage, rides bikes, makes art, and buys/farms organic on the one extreme, and the hipster who, on the other extreme, is a vapid superficial consumer whose main goal is to be stylish and ironic without espousing any specific belief (the Adbusters article cited in the latter construction of the hipster). Yet what the film reveals and Andrew O'Hehir points out in "The art world's Pepsi Generation," unfortunately sometimes the very liberal counter-cultural ethos coincides and depends on mainstream corporations and media. That counter-culture is co-opted into the mainstream is not news to me, but that the counter-culture is itself implicated in this mainstream aesthetic appropriation is what strikes me as problematic.

Hip(ster) Semi-Stasis

Perusing over blogs last night, I came across the Gawker article, "Lawsuits: Racist Hipsters Schooled by Ex-American Apparel Employee," yet one more example confirming the stereotype, and even the ideal for some, that hipsters tend to be both white and racist. This example also further condemns the general mindset of American Apparel, where sexuality - and some might say sexual exploitation - is a fundamental part of the company's ethos. "Living On The Edge At American Apparel" an article published in June 2005 in Businessweek, examines the controversy surrounding Dov Charney, the CEO of American Apparel.

Charney, whose company has become a hipster empire for its stylish, sexy, unlabeled American-made sweatshop-free clothes, considers himself a bohemian, free-spirited individual unconstrained by traditional corporate policies, including not to have sexual relations with employees. He argues that as long as the activity is consensual, it is unproblematic and private. Similar to Charney's risque attitude towards sexuality in the workplace, he considers offensive and crude language just par for the course. A 2006 NBC article, "Sexy marketing or sexual harrassment?", details Charny's responses on deposition video, in which he claims that derogatory language is generally welcome at the workplace and the term "slut" is often endearing rather than offensive. As Businessweek concludes, Charney's primary obstacle in his search for worldwide commercial success may ultimately be himself.

From the 2005 Businessweek article:

Charney's attitude perhaps embodies the epitome of the prevailing hipster attitude: to embrace one's personal beliefs with complete disregard to what is considered professional or PC. And thus he still reins successful in the commercial and hipster spheres, with ads featuring images of scantily clad, sexualized young adults parading all over the media, both in print and online.

Interestingly, the Gawker article on hipster racism links to a New York Times article about Vice Magazine with an eerily similar title to the Businessweek article on American Apparel: "The Edge of Hip: Vice, the Brand." This 2003 NY Times article discusses the Vice construction of the hipster as an upper-class, dirty, Pabst-Blue-Ribbon-chugging, college-educated kid, probably living in Williamsburg, who achieves rebel status and street cred by assuming a working-class image and borrowing from its lifestyle. Vice, which unabashedly voices its un-PC opinions, promotes a brash form of counterculture that simply argues, according to the article, that the current generation is immune to the sting of ethnic slurs and considers it all a part of our contemporary cultural posturing.

And these articles, written from 2-5 years ago, all still ring true today. Perhaps that Adbusters article scathingly denouncing hipsters as vapid cultural consumers and regurgitators, was really on to something after all - at least, unfortunately, in some spheres of our culture.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Xanadu": The Musical

Before I saw "Xanadu" saw last night, I knew very little about it, only that it was a Broadway show and featured Whoopi Goldberg. I also had a vague idea that Xanadu stood for some kind of utopian idea and/or place, similar to Shangri-La. Unsure of what to expect once in the theater (Helen Hayes Theater, apparently once called Little Theater for its diminutive size) and seeing the modest stage featuring additional audience seats, I found that the unassuming size was more than compensated for with the set and costume design. I found that I got into the performance more than I had expected, and I was surrounded by an even more enthusiastic audience.

The performance, a fun, 80's-theme spectacle, focuses on Sonny Malone, a down-on-his-luck artist, and the Greek Muses who help him or are otherwise peripherally involved. Whoopi Goldberg plays one of the two matronly Olympian Muses; these two Muses develop their own plan to curse the Muse Clio into falling in love with him (which Muses are forbidden to do) so that they, and not she, might have the opportunity to enter Xanadu. What is Xanadu, the one Muse asks the other? Something so special it cannot be talked about, says the other. And thus mystified, the prospect of entering Xanadu is that much more enticing. They break into a spirited song entitled "Evil Woman," rejoicing over their evil intentions, and they finish with a cackle (to which the audience responds wildly).

The show primarily follows Clio - masquerading as an Australian rollerskating mortal named Kira - and Sonny, as she works to help him regain his inspiration, and the artistic and romantic developments that ensue. The plot is interspersed with songs, rollerskating, and jive-talking dramatics. Clio, or Kira to Sonny, finds herself in a torment as she realizes she has done several things forbidden to Muses: she has fallen in love, and she has made her own artwork. She has helped Sonny to fulfill his dream of opening up his fantasized meeting place for arts and athletics: a roller disco, and she decides that now is when she must flee. I won't spoil the plot any further, except to remind you that the show is a comedy and not a tragedy, if you wonder what happens next.

I have subsequently learned that the Broadway show is loosely based off the 1980 movie, Xanadu. The term Xanadu, it turns out, is borrowed from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan, or A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment." In the poem, Xanadu is the Chinese province where Khan situates his pleasure garden. In the show, Xanadu simply means "true love and the ability to create and share art."

An enjoyable musical comedy with substantial flair, from the costumes and the rollerskating, to the sarcastic remarks made by Whoopi and company, "Xanadu" was impressive for what it was. I learned furthermore that the movie basis of the show was a horrendous failure until it eventually regained an audience and became an 80's cult classic. From "Xana-don't," as the movie became dubbed, to the Broadway adaptation, the show is non-stop campy fun. As New York Magazine puts it, it is "Springtime for 'Xanadu' ."

"Xanadu" plays until September 7. The official site is here: Xanadu on Broadway.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Book Reviews: What I have been reading lately...

Infidel Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is an incredible memoir that details one woman's departure and escape from Somalia and Islam. She gives a very articulate, dry-eyed account of life as a woman in Muslim culture, and the difficulty to transgress her upbringing, which she slowly manages to do.

Her story is an amazing feat: from a Muslim woman with no voice in her own life to a woman who transformed herself into a very well-educated, leading political voice, she has overcome many obstacles and made not only a name for herself but for her cause as well (to enlighten both the West and Muslims of the religion's fundamentally oppressive nature, as she tells it).

Wonderful Tonight: An Autobiography Wonderful Tonight: An Autobiography by Pattie Boyd

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is a fascinating rock 'n roll memoir from the perspective of a woman who helped inspire the music. Pattie Boyd, originally famous as a model, became the muse and wife for both George Harrison of the Beatles and Eric Clapton, and she very matter-of-factly details her crazy rock-'n-roll life with both of them.

Yet Pattie Boyd, while illuminating the two musicians' artistic, free-spirited and often disheveled personalities and lives, also tells her own story. She begins with her childhood, a very unorthodox life that makes sense as a precursor for her life to come, and ends with her life living, finally, on her own as a single woman. Her story, both enticing and engrossing, tells of crazy adventures, tumultuous times, self-sacrifice, soul-searching and fun along the way.

For supplementary information, visit her website: Pattie Boyd.

"Patti Smith: Dream of Life," a Haunting, Beautiful Video Collage

This movie,, ostensibly a documentary or "rockumentary," is a layered, nuanced film that hits the audience like an epic poem of words, images, and song. While the film may give little substantively on Patti Smith's amazing achievements and incredible life journey, it does reveal the surfaces, chronologically overlapped and mis-mashed of an amazing, trailblazing woman and her life. The film, apparently in the making for 12 years, is a performance piece that, in the free-spirited, artistic tradition of Patti Smith, refuses to play by the rules or conform to expectations. The result is a fantastic collage of her amiable, profoundly unique personality over the years.

Patti Smith tells the camera how bizarre it is having people come up to you and ask how it feels to be a rock icon, and that this label always makes her think of Mt. Rushmore. It is this quality of humility, warmth and humor that the film conveys, along with her deeply entrenched spiritual and musical sense of self.

I recommend learning more about Patti Smith and sitting back to appreciate her amazing accomplishments as a female rock-poet goddess. The film is now showing at Film Forum.

Two insightful reviews about the film that I recommend: Jesus died for somebody's sins ... but not hers ( and "Patti Smith: Dream of Life," Godmother of Punk, Celebrator of Life (

Sunday, August 10, 2008

This Week In Music, Featuring Radiohead

This past week has been a whirlwind of music shows for me. Calling me a music junkie or a concert-going addict may not be too far off. "That's what summer's for," say my roommates. My conclusion: outdoor music shows and festivals are definitely an essential highlight of the summer.

So, the week started off with seeing The National headlining at Central Park Summerstage on Monday, with Plants and Animals and Yeasayer opening for them. The ironic part about my attendance of this show was that my friend and I sat outside of the Summerstage venue itself for the first two opening acts and opted instead to sit on my picnic blanket on the bare hill to the side. There we sat sharing a bottle of wine and mellowly enjoying the music and each other's company before deciding to make our way into the heart of the show and the crowd.

Yeasayer was in fact the highlight for me musically with its soaring vocals and sweeping sounds. I appreciated hearing them while relaxing with my (plastic) glass of wine in hand and sitting next to my friend, away from the energized crowd. After polishing off the wine, we were buoyed and ready to stand and immerse ourselves in a sea of people and sound. The National put on a strong show, with a range of both mellow and rocking tunes. To cap off the show, my friend and I had made it towards the front of the stage, where for most of the set, we were standing by the VIP section and remarkably near the actress Julia Stiles. (And in cool NYC style, she was left generally undisturbed by the crowd.)

Next show: the McCarren Park Pool Party on Thursday, with The Black Keys headlining, opened by Tapes 'n Tapes. This show did not strike me as quite so spectacular. I am not so familiar with Tapes 'n Tapes and was not so impressed, either. The Black Keys, whose album I enjoy, had a good sound live, but neither the sound nor the performance especially stood out.

I was forcibly reminded how derivative the Black Keys' sound is, though I still enjoy their kind of acoustic fusion and "blues-rock" sound. Further disappointed by the scarcity of food and amenities at McCarren Pool, where there is no re-entry, my friend and I mutually agreed to leave early.

And the clincher, headlining performance of the week: Radiohead at the All Points West Festival at Liberty State Park. The entire experience was memorable. The venue, a gorgeous sprawling lawn with three stages, food courts and "beer gardens," reminded me strongly of the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. While my friend and I spent the first few hours there yesterday scoping out different bands (Animal Collective and Sia), and alternating our time in various lines (all just a tad excruciatingly slow), we settled down to a prime spot for the opening of Radiohead.

Radiohead's performance was nothing short of extraordinary. Thom Yorke was in top form. The sound and the lighting were incredible; they could not have been more perfectly arranged or aligned. Adding further to the beauty of their stage setup and lighting was the panoramic view of the NYC skyline surrounding the show. The overall experience was breathtaking. Radiohead played songs from both later and earlier albums, alternating between frenetic songs with intense, fluorescent lighting and very lo-fi songs with muted lighting and video projections. The band seemed to cast a spell on the crowd; we were mesmerized, entranced by the energy of the music. Thom Yorke told the audience, "We love you too," at one point, in response to the cheering of the crowd. And they showed their love to us, too, prolonging and heightening the show and the magic with two encore sets for us.

And that is the kind of magic I live for.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cultural Implications of a Mid-20's NYC Life

What does it mean - if anything - to be in my mid-20's and living in NYC?? To partake of many of the cultural events and institutions of the city? Does that classify me as hipster, does it mean I am more inclined to have a certain affinity for culture, money, hustle-and-bustle, nightlife, challenge? Yes, I have chosen to live in this urban jungle come playground, to root myself here over the past five years and develop friendships and networks, despite my lack of economic security over the years.

Yet again, for the umpteenth time, I am without a full-time job and will, at the end of the month, again be without health insurance. I plan on continuing to live here for some time, despite my rekindled appreciation for smaller, mellower cities, and despite the glaring state of our economic situation that is predicted to decline far more before it improves. What do these decisions say about what kind of person I am? My actions may suggest nothing less than an addiction perhaps, a love-hate relationship I have grown dependent on, to the hectic anything-is-possible vibe of NYC.

A recent article pointed out to me by a friend in Adbusters really sparked my inner-dialog about this relationship between culture and identity. Entitled "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization," the piece is a scathing account of how youth culture has been commercialized, commodified and stripped of any meaning or cultural optimism. The article claims that the hipster image is so bleak at its core that no one will admit to actually being one (a phenomenon which I have acutely observed myself) and yet everyone has a similar white-washed image and even lifestyle, from the American Apparel look to the drinking of cheap beer and - yes - blogging.

To say that every remotely hipster generality is necessarily destructive and devoid of meaning is an oversimplification and stereotype that fails to acknowledge the diversity of this "hipster" culture and the varying lifestyles, political bents, education and general level of consciousness of the people who may be categorized as hipsters. As one commenter pointed out, the label of hipster, first and foremost, is about image; yes, it may be affiliated with an interest/involvement in the arts and some level of has sparked a serious commotion and even controversy among the readers, and a glaring question is whether the writer is himself a so-called hipster, which seems to be the case. While I think the article is too inflammatory and reductive, it does give a thoughtful critical analysis of a certain youth culture that while purportedly not mainstream, also feeds into and depends on mass media, cultural appropriation and homogenization. And I will realize and admit that I am not excluded from these trends, yet while remaining conscious that culture and counter-culture are inextricablysocio-political consciousness, and it may have influenced a certain sector of society to look infuriatingly similar, but to believe that anyone who can be labeled hipster is devoid of a meaningful ethos is downright wrong and defeatist.

So I will admit that I have some qualities that may be considered hipster: I live in Williamsburg, I will drink cheap beer from time to time, I blog, I see a lot of live music shows, I even - yes - dress in a sort of hipster fashion much of the time. This doesn't mean I am a brainwashed zombie who desperately feels the need to fit in. I love fashion, and I don't feel constrained to fit or follow a certain image. Likewise, I love dancing and am not afraid to let loose on the dance floor. I blog to hone my writing skills and impart my cultural reflections; sure, it may be a hipster quality, but it's also me. I was hardly a hipster when I was in elementary school, yet my habits were similar: I drew and wrote constantly, I was always dancing and singing at home, and I loved to play outdoors. I was much more shy and more of a loner then, and I didn't drink, but I was always artsy and free-spirited. I think I still remain too free-spirited to really be a hipster, but I do not agree that the label necessarily merits such scathing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Bay Area Excursion

Last week, I flew to San Francisco for a week in northern California. The trip revolved primarily around family: the primary motivating factor for it was a family reunion on behalf of my grandmother, who will be turning 80 this September. My aunt, who lives in Berkeley with her husband and two young boys, hosted much of the family and events at her place. Others stayed in a hotel, while my immediate family and I stayed in another house we rented for the week. Besides, the cozy, family-oriented vibe of the week, the trip included a lot of other highlights: regular immersions in my aunt's jacuzzi, very tranquil strolls around Berkeley and Oakland, a night out at Bay Wolf restaurant in Oakland and an after-dinner treat to the spa, hikes around Tilden Park, and a day trip around San Francisco. Overall, the week away was memorable for its mellowness, the beauty of the area, and having lots of family and chow-down time.

The big birthday bash dinner with the extended family (including lots of children!) was held at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club. The venue, a quiet casual semi-private suite of rooms, was a short walk within the campus and featured access to sprawling lawns (the primary attraction for the kids). After much play, drink, food, picture-taking and posing, the whirlwind feature event of our family weekend came to an end. The rest of the weekend included much of the same: eating, merry-making, picture-taking and -posing, and lots of catch up with the family.

Having just gone off in succession this past month to smaller cities - Chicago, and the Bay Area - I've promised myself that I must, if not yet move to a smaller, quainter city, visit such cities more often.