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9/11 show at Bryant Park – Accordions Around The World

Come and join us on the lawn! I’ll be playing originals and a few covers with my favorite, Marlon Cherry (percussion) and my other favorite, Ralph Denzer (trumpet).
Video by Ron Herczig.

This is the next thing coming… Come out on the lawn at Bryant Park, bring a picnic. Bring some friends to share the picnic, because it’s funner that way. There will be accordions galore from 5:30pn-7:30pm. My set is at 6:50pm. I’m excited to add to excess (although when there is no such thing as too many accordions, I guess that means that too many accordions is just the right amount). See you there!


a cake. a croissant.

I woke up and thought of the video I made the other day. I felt satisfaction. I felt satisfaction just on having made this thing that wasn’t there before. A song. A video. This feeling was there–feeling good about this new thing, and it was separate from whether this new thing would be seen by anyone. I mean, Virlana saw it, because she commissioned it and uploaded it to the Yara sites. I might send the link to Joie. But the pleasure in making this thing exists independently of whether anyone sees it.

And then, I felt pleasure noticing this pleasure. I looked at the pleasure and thought, “That’s so cool” — which is technically another pleasure.

A pleasure on top of another pleasure. That’s a double layer cake right there. What happens if you keep finding layers upon layers… you get a croissant, which is its own realm of multi-dimensional pleasure and proof that humanity may not be all bad.

This is the video. The song’s lyrics are a poem by Ukrainian poet Oksana Zabuzhko — “DESPITE IT ALL IT WAS YOU I LOVED…” translated by Wanda Phipps and Virlana Tkacz.

Here is another video I did in the winter of last year. Keeping up with the posting.. I have to be more people to do that and make the stuff to post. There is pleasure in posting. Hey! That’s another layer! Getting closer to that croissant… mmm.. croissants.

My folks don’t know I made this… shhh! My mother hates social media.


Banned Books Week: An artist residency at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

I’ll be joining fellow songwriters for Bushwick Book Club: Charlie Nieland, spiritchild, Patricia Santos and Thomas Teller in Indianapolis (not my first time!) 9/25-10/1 for an anti-censorship experiment at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. We’ll be living in the museum and writing songs all week in response to banned literature and performing the songs live at the end of the week. We talked with Chris LaFave of KVML in this interview that we’ve released as Episode 13 of The Bushwick Book Club Podcast. Take a listen! (It’s on iTunes too if you want.)


“For the good time…” A box of stationary.

I think I may be ready to drop cynicism. But maybe not, because I already feel silly and kind of embarrassed writing that sentence. Vulnerable? Exposed. Is there a draft? Seems a bit drafty in here.

I have a box of stationary from around when I first moved to New York in the late ’90s. Some of it is from Seoul, where I lived right before, and some from right after I moved to Queens sight unseen and started working as admin for Wall Street during the day so I could sing with my band, Murderizer, at night. The stationary from Seoul is embarrassingly sincere, showing a heterosexual white couple, both blonde, in between trailers on a gravel lot, embracing in torn jeans and cowboy boots. The caption is:

For the good time. Finding beautiful things to say brings dreams of happy meetings and with hesitation heart we head towards that mystical realm. Open up your heart and greet the world as it is. We can always find joy and love everyplace that our eyes land.

I remember picking these up, because from my perspective as an American, these were funny. The glaring naivete. The romance with which Koreans viewed American romance. The enthusiastic misuse of English. Words that grammatically make sense, that no one ever says. Sentiments so sincere no American would ever say to himself, much less utter in the light of day to another human being. This stationary was funny because you could laugh at Koreans and how they didn’t know anything about American culture while emulating and revering it. How bizarre.

The postcards I got in NYC also depict romance, but from old pulp romance novel covers––Barbie and Ken-like people in various formations of relationship drama––”He’s two-timing both girls, and they’re best friends!” “He knows she loves him, but she’s married… to God!” “She’s thinks he loves her; he knows it’s over!” “Mom! Stop stealing my boyfriend!”

There’s also a set of postcards where a cartoon girl sits in the mouth of a shark and says, “Wish you were here!” Or she’s underwater and says “Oops, I forgot to swim!” Or she’s floating in outerspace without a tether, and she says, “Oops, someone cut my space cord!” And these were funny because she’s so cute, and all her responses to dire circumstances are “Oops!” and “Wish you were here!”

It’s the lost astronaut one I really can’t laugh at anymore because it’s not like I’ve never felt like someone blowing in the wind. Leaving a relationship or a life or a context can make a girl feel like she’s floating in space without a tether. There’s part of me that’s always said, “It’s not having chains that’s the issue. It’s having the chains you WANT.”

I kind of still like the “Wish you were here.” Although I know it’s supposed to mean the girl is so cute and clueless she doesn’t know she’s about to be eaten by a shark, I relate to it in the sense that, even if what I’m doing and where I am looks dangerous to others and likely is dangerous, I’m still having a good time, and I wish you’d share it with me. It goes with the tombstone I’ve been writing:

Even the bad times were good.

What strikes me about all these postcards is the distancing from sincerity. I think of it now, because I rewatched “Heathers” recently, and I was surprised at how abrasive their sarcasm seemed to me now and how mean they were to each other. The violence, especially initially, was shocking––these young kids with their perfect bodies dying violent and horrible deaths. Yes, they were jerks, but they were only 17. There were few sincere expressions of grief, and the hippies were not to be trusted any more than the stodgy white male principal. Hippy was a dirty word.

I don’t think I’d ever identified it before, that this was an essence of what I grew up in and identified with––a fear of having and expressing a sincere emotion that wasn’t also followed with an underwhelmed catchy slang phrase like “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?” or “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” I do like both these phrases though because the details are so specific. I do like specificity.

And THEN, I found some of my earliest stationary. I think shoes and stationary tie as my first loves (along with food). And this Little Twin Stars set is devoid of any humor whatsoever. And you can’t even laugh *at* it. There’s nothing funny about this cute. It’s just cute.

My point is, I think I’m ready to go back to Little Twin Stars. The reason I still have those other sets of postcards is because every time I would think to send one, I could never pick it up and send it and mean it. It was too mean or too sad, or why would I want to remind my friend of a possible romantic struggle they’ve had all their life especially when the two cats she’s had for the past 15 years have just died… or why send anything that isn’t actually funny…. or kind. I no longer think meanness is funny.

This on the other hand is timeless:

Louis Armstrong is my ancestor (it’s a long story).

And this isn’t funny at all, but it’s Walter’s mother, and how can you not love Walter’s mother?? That face! It’s Walter’s face too..

Walter Kuehr’s mom, Loni Kuehr c.1939

Correspondences are records of history. You find out what people’s lives were like by reading what they wrote each other. In my case, regardless of what I was writing, what I was writing on was already telling a story.

And all of this leads me back to…. nipples. And innocence. I was putting on a shirt today, and I noticed my nipples were hard and pointing through my shirt. Somehow, that’s not something you want people to see. But it’s like, my nipples are innocent. They’re just doing what they’re doing. I don’t control these things. And I can actually control a lot of things, like I freaked out a neurologist by not showing any reflex reaction in my knees. Nothing. It wasn’t a condition, it was just that I didn’t like him. Hmmm.. so again maybe that’s actually another example of my lack of control. I was mad at him, and therefore was withholding my normal nervous system response, which I did involuntarily. My unintentional emotional response was to shut off response! Wow. They say women are complicated.

Okay, so that’s a lot of time explaining things nobody asked to hear. And I still have to get to the post office.

Did I tell you what I’m doing next week? A couple things: Singing with Jessie Kilguss and friends for the release of her gorgeous new album. The show is September 23rd at Rockwood Music Hall.

And then me and four other musicians are going to Indianapolis to live in the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library for week writing new songs about banned books for Banned Books Week. Bushwick Book Club is the band in residence for KVML’s annual Banned Books Week Artist Residency.

More on both those things soon!


“Use Me”

I’m posting this because it was satisfying on all kinds of levels to sing this song for this occasion with these people. Kurt Vonnegut was a humanist, and what always comes through in his writing for me is his compassion for the species. He feels sorry for us, because we have the capacity to love, and we want to be loved, but we fuck up. A lot. One of the ideas expressed in SIRENS OF TITAN is that the only thing humans are here to do is to love whoever there is to love. That’s it.

At the premiere of Bmore/DC Bushwick Book Club, spearheaded by Sea Griffin, there were all these incredible, talented, creative, fearless artists who created inspired pieces for this kick-off show and the audience who came to witness these new creations and birth a new chapter of BBC with us. There were these exquisite people to love, and half of them were on stage with me playing and singing the song I had written.

I grew up in Maryland outside D.C., and I lived in Mt. Pleasant just after college. This is where I learned the blues with Howie Feinstein and gospel with Jackie Stevens. When I first began singing blues in public, I couldn’t have anyone in the audience there that I knew. It was something I had to do, but it was also so beyond whatever I knew my identity to be, that I couldn’t have anyone who knew me in another context lay eyes on me as I did this scary thing that I could not keep myself from doing.

So to be in my home town singing with all these gorgeous, sensitive and extremely fun people––well, it meant something to this girl who was brought up to… to… do anything but perform in public.

I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s like, so what, there’s a stage, you’re on it.. okay. But really, you ask any other Korean immigrant girl whose mom became a Jehovah’s Witness once they got to America, and she’ll understand what I mean. I not only did the thing I was never supposed to do, I’m still doing it.

Thank you to everyone at the beautiful BMORE/DC BBC kick-off for being there to be loved and for using me.

“Use Me” by Susan Hwang, inspired by SIRENS OF TITAN by Kurt Vonnegut

A video, a Side Dish, a song about a book. Edgar Oliver. Summer, psilocybin, songs.

Actually, there’s no psilocybin. I mean, there is. In my refrigerator. But in the title, it’s just there for alliterative effect.

There is, however, this video I just cut from the live stream footage from the latest SIDE DISH at Barbès. SIDE DISH is one of my favorite new things I started this year because it’s on a Sunday afternoon in one of my very favorite performance spaces in NYC/Brooklyn, Barbès. It’s laid back; it can be whatever it wants to be; and it ends before sundown.

This particular show was extra sweet for many reasons. It was Ralph’s last show in the western hemisphere before he heads to Far East Asia for a few months. We played the first SIDE DISH together after we became fast musical friends last winter.

Also, we got to bring friends Anthony Coleman (piano) and J Granelli (bass) to the stage with us which just added dimensions and realms to the music. It felt like an alternate reality to me. Reality shmeality. It was dreams coming true; I’ll tell you that much.

The song was written for the Bushwick Book Club event for Edgar Oliver that happened at Caveat earlier in the month. Holy. What a month.

You know it’s a good month if you start it with a nose dive into the gorgeous work of poet, playwright, actor Edgar Oliver and end it with a string of shows at Barbès with my favorite songwriters and musicians including Don Rauf, Jackson Pinks, Ralph Denzer, Anthony Coleman and J Granelli.

Also come on… Trout and Edgar Oliver.

Trout and Edgar at the BBC afterparty at my house.

Oh, and here’s this great review of the Bushwick Book Club/Edgar Oliver show from writer Maux Kelly:


Okay, so the songs from that night are out there and growing and eating snacks and making friends. Mine just learned how to ride a bicycle. My how the time flies.


The next Bushwick Book Club show – Edgar Oliver

Show is June 4th, 6:30pm doors at Caveat in the Lower East Side (21 A Clinton St.)

It’s an indulgence. But I have to remind myself that Bushwick Book Club has always been so. It was born out of an indulgence of my curiosity by Steve Trimboli, so it always feels right when BBC moves from this impulse. Undulating to a little indulgence.

This time, the pleasure to give-in to is Edgar Oliver. He’s an East Village art/theater/literature treasure that if you haven’t heard of yet, you have the pleasure of coming to know now. His written work is not the easiest to get a hold of (I didn’t find any listed in the NYPL stacks) but you can start with enjoying this playlist:

AND we’ve got a tremendous line up of NYC and Brooklyn talent responding to Edgar in song and art, including fellow East Village art/theater/literary treasure, PENNY ARCADE hosting. In addition to Edgar being there to watch the show and of course give a reading in his singular (I would say inimitable, but we all try to imitate it) voice, we have performances from these most creative of NY’s creatives (the cream of the creatives?):

Penny Arcade (hosting)
Adira Amram
Ralph Denzer
Bob Holman
Rachelle Garniez
Susan Hwang
Charlie Nieland
Don Rauf
Lianne Smith
Jason Trachtenburg

TICKETS are $20 at the door /$15 advanced purchase / $10 live stream


March 17, 2022

CONFESSION:  I didn’t care about your grandmother.  She was old.  She was 85 or something, and she was sick for a long time, and she was a shell of herself––never the same after your grandfather died.  It was a relief to her and to everyone else when she finally let go.  And you told me about it because it was your grandmother, and she loved you and she pressed your forehead when you had chicken pox, and she taught you how to play badminton.

But see, that’s why losing Barbara, who was 87 years old is not at all like losing a grandmother.  And that’s why it makes me so upset.  It is losing a peer.  The last time I spoke with her was mid February when I was preparing for a show.  I needed someone to sing the hit from 1867 made popular by one of the first transmale vaudeville sensations, Ella Wesner, for a tap dance/performance piece by Stephanie Larriere for Bushwick Book Club’s show celebrating Hugh Ryan’s WHEN BROOKYN WAS QUEER at The Bureau of General Services Queer Division. I called Barbara to see if she would sing it.  She said she’d love to do it, but AJ was in town, and she wanted to spend his last night in town with him.   So she went through her entire rolodex of superstar, super talented students from the cabaret, downtown, Joe’s Pub music scene, suggesting those she thought would be good for the piece. She went through the *entire* list.

She’s not someone one would ever consider “at the end of her life” even though she was 87.  She was making art.  She was helping other people with their art.  She was writing.  Her FB posts buoyed many far and wide through these past 2 and a half years, why?  Because she knew how to share what she was going through with other people.  Why?  Because that’s what she did.  She communicated.  She connected.  She supported.  She expressed.  She was herself––thank god––and made herself available to others…. to the world… to beauty… to love.  I think that’s how we’re supposed to live life.

So yeah, it’s upsetting that she’s no longer here.  She was so good at loving.  And she was still active with it.  And right now, I figure, we need more people who are really good at it, who can not only continue to do it, but teach us all how… remind us, be a guide to us.  No one ever gave me a manual for living life.  My parents tried, but a) my Korean sucks and b) I don’t listen.

Barbara not only gave me an example of top notch, doctorate level, ninja master level loving, she helped me find my voice.  My voice.  It’s something I’ve been reaching for since I was in elementary school when I asked Mr. Buras, my 6th grade music teacher, how I could get those high notes.  He had no good answer.  I had to wait like 25 years to meet Barbara who worked with me with patience and without judgement.  With her keen observation and way of connecting to a person with innate knowing, experience in artistry, passion and compassion, she helped me to find my voice.  It’s not the perfect voice (if there is such a thing)––not even by a long shot.  But it’s mine.  It’s one of the few things about myself I’m so very happy to have.  That and I don’t have to shave my legs.  But the skin I was just born with.  The voice I had to find.  I had to listen for and allow.  Barbara gave me the space and the guidance for this to happen.  A voice means a lot as a woman.  And as an Asian woman.  What with ancestral guilt and shame and centuries telling you to be quiet, be accommodating, be polite, be perfect or be invisible.  My imperfect voice is still mine.  And Barbara, as my vocal sensei, taught me how to use it, to know it, to wield it. Remember when she would have you shape the sound into a sword pointing up out of your head?  That was so cool.

This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s kind of everything.  And I still need her.  Did anyone else notice she would kiss you full on the lips whenever she greeted you at the door?  Is that a 1950’s thing?

I know there’s a war in Ukraine.  I know there was an earthquake in Japan yesterday.  I know that there’s systemic racism and sexism and queerphobia and white supremacy engrained in Christianity in America and all manner of people treating each other horribly.  Domestic violence.  What about that.  Global warming.  Don’t get me started.  But see, that’s all the more reason we need Barbara here now.  I tried to tell the angels that.

She was game.  She was up for something.  She was up for something everyday into her 87th year.  Who does that??  I hope it’s me.  I hope I do that.  I want to be up for something until the day I die––having too much fun to flag down death, so that if it wants me, it’ll have to come and get me.

Also, I didn’t mean to insult your grandmother.  I know she was very special.  I’m in pain, and I don’t always know what to do with emotions.


Dame Darcy unapologetically yours

The next Bushwick Book Club show is for the work of Dame Darcy with an emphasis on Meat Cake Bible perhaps, but really it’s a celebration of all things Darcy, because she is a celebration of what it means to be all you are, whatever you want to be at the same time, when and how you like it. In her case, it means being an artist, musician, performer, animator, filmmaker, illustrator, painter, doll maker, world maker, storyteller, witch, mermaid, pirate.

December 15th, we’ll have our event with 15 different musicians, songwriters, comedians and one chef who will respond to Darcy’s work. Darcy herself will be there and performing with us. It’s the final BBC show of 2021 and also our first fundraiser. We just achieved 501(c)(3) status this year. It’s happening at one of my favorite places that happens to have the best Ukrainian food in the East Village – The Ukrainian National Home at 140 East 2nd Ave. between 9th St. and St. Marks.

Here’s the flyer designed by the stupendous Scott MX Turner. And I’ll also include a video that Darcy made of my performance of “Cutting” written in response to Meat Cake Bible from a few years ago. I’ll be performing the song again live on the 15th. Lusterlit released it on vinyl not too long ago. The single had “Cutting” on one side and Charlie’s rocking “Waxwolf” on the other. I think you can still order the ’45! But also listen to it digitally on Bandcamp.



Is it boring to talk about the weather? Is it mundane to mention the seasons? I don’t know, sometimes boring is great. Sometimes boring is just what you need, and it takes a lot for me to say that, with my general stance since I was born being that everything should be fun all the time. But I’m thinking now that there’s fun even in boredom. See those threads of fun in the fabric of boredom? What a trick.

It’s been kinda an explosion of extroversion. I was not exactly ready for it, but I think I did okay. Remember that first “party” where it was everybody’s first time in a room with other people, and you were all trying to remember how to socialize? Everyone felt conversationally clumsy. I was all thumbs. My friend Virlana said she was having trouble discerning whether she had just spoken a thought aloud or not. Boy, was it thrilling just to feel that awkward. With people.

Ooo. I’m just realizing that you need people for awkwardness at all. I mean, you can’t feel awkward alone. Can you? So “social awkwardness” is redundant. There might not be such a thing as solitary awkwardness. At least I hope not.

Other thrilling (and somewhat awkward) things in my book:

Released this video for Yara Arts with lyrics from Serhiy Zhadan’s poem “Psalm to Aviation #58.” And thanks “Ukrainian Weekly” for covering the release event in this article by Olena Jennings!

And Lila Eaton, the daughter of my best friend from freshman year at college, was here with her TRUMPET and learned the parts *that day* to perform at the release with me and Marlon! Omg. Trumpet dreams do come true.

Lila Eaton on trumpet and Susan Hwang on accordion at the video release event for "Psalm to Aviation 58" based on the poem by Serhiy Zhadan.  The release event included live performances from Susan Hwang with Marlon Cherry on percussion and Lila Eaton on trumpet.
Susan Hwang on accordion. Lila Eaton on trumpet. Marlon Cherry on percussion and backing vocals (not pictured). Photo by Bob Krasner.
Marlon Cherry and me performing the first part of the release event outside on the stoop! Photo by Bob Krasner

Journalist and photographer Bob Krasner also covered Bushwick Book Club‘s first in-person and live streamed event for AM New York. It was a creative feast and a much needed, heartening gathering of artists, musicians and author. I would describe that show for Brandy Schillace’s Mr. Humble & Dr. Butcher as spectacular and deeply satisfying, and Bob’s article really caught the moment and all the layers of meaning in the article and photos.

Okay THEN… Bushwick Book Club presented our first stage at the Porchstomp music festival on Governor’s Island. Here’s some of the documenting I was able to do:

© Susan Hwang 2017. Photo: Carrie Jordan, ShotsByCarrieLou.com. Site design by Billkwando@yahoo.com