Archive for August 28, 2014
The Cole Haan woman is the new Marlboro man.
I saw these advertisements after reading a few paragraphs of My Life As A Dog for the Bushwick Book Club show that happened last week. These were passages talking about America and walking out in nature. The main character, a young boy in 1950’s Sweden, is imagining himself as an American and all the romance that entails. He imagines himself “walking into the American wilderness..” He eats “the fruits of nature and drink(s) from rippling streams and springs and rivers.” He walks with a wolf/dog/super-human and realizes “his is also not wholly dog nor human being. We are the best of both–one for all and all for one.” That is the dream–one of the most romantic notions of America. The frontier. The return to the basic essence of people as inhabitants of the planet. A connection to nature and our purer, primal selves. The frontier is abundance, with you as a natural participant in, recipient of that abundance. That land of milk and honey that is yours as your human birthright. And of course, that’s in contrast with reality. Especially reality now. Everyone longs to be epic, fighting big battles of good and evil instead of just the battle of will power against Doritoes and reality TV where we indulge our inner voyeurs by watching people treat each other horribly. We give in to our smaller natures by watching other people flagrantly give in to their smaller natures.
I’m trying to think of all the least epic things — doritoes, cubicle walls, tourists, emails, email blasts, xboxes, plastic forks, walmart, airconditioning, flourescent lighting, fat mirrors in the elevators, cheetos. I don’t know… These are all arguable. I really tend to think that packaged snack foods in general though are anti-epic. And fastfood chains. They take most of the food out of the food and then package it in mass quantities for us to eat and become addicted to. What a racket. What an easy trick on us humans who need nourishment so bad that we’ll take it in these depleted forms that kill us in the end. Sometimes there seems no end to the depth of human patheticness. So here we are..
And the Cole Haan ads reflect this. They know what they’re doing. They want you to associate their shoes with epicness, with something beyond the day-to-day pathetic tedium, mediocrity, mundanity that makes us feel unconnected in the end. Mostly unconnected. From each other, and from ourselves, and certainly from anything epic. But the ads, they show a young, lithe blonde woman in the wilderness. There are mountains behind her. Maybe they are the American Rockies. She’s on a road. She’s going places. She’s walking. Maybe she’ll hitch hike. But right now it’s just her and the elements. It’s just her, living her life, at peace with the unknown, ready to accept whatever the gods put before her on that road.
But these are pricey shoes. You can’t get a pair of flats that aren’t at least a hundred dollars. A pair of boots can cost half a month’s rent. And how long would your $500 boots last you in the Rockies? And if you could afford those boots, you probably wouldn’t be walking on that road. You would be driving your SUV. Or you would have your driver drive you. Or you would have that boyfriend who bought you those boots drive you. And if you paid for them yourself, you might have had to spend way too long in over air-conditioned environments, away from any natural light. You might be very short on vitamin D from your lack of sunlight and short on melatonin from your lack of complete darkness. You might be very short on sleep in general because people want you to work all the time. Everyday. For most of the week so that all that time you spend making money for rent doesn’t leave you much time to enjoy the apartment you’re paying rent for. So those boots of that brand that is supposed to connect you to the eternal grandness inside you can only be bought by submitting to the most mundane, but painful, robbery of that grandness inside you.
What a trick these Cole Haan people are pulling–telling us we need $300 dollar shoes to feel connected to the earth and nature, when we already are the earth and nature. We’d probably feel more connected to the earth and nature without any shoes at all. We could all probably use more time in our bare feet.
Well, maybe soon we’ll all be spending more time in nature anyway, because there are the garbage patches in the ocean and then there’s the global warming, and it’s going to cause coastal flooding and flooding of major urban areas so we’ll be homeless and in nature a lot more, what’s left that we can stand on that is.
Oh, I just thought of another similarity between the Cole Haan woman and the Marlboro man. The Marlboro man used the rugged American frontier to sell cigarettes that kill you. And the Cole Haan woman uses that same romantic frontier to sell consumerism that kills you.
Jesus. Why does advertising keep wanting us all to have cancer?
I don’t see the point in that.
Incomplete list of non-epic things:
I was talking with Leslie the other night about how I don’t tend to post things from the lower clouds. I mean, my last post was from cloud 9, but generally speaking I won’t speak online if I’m not at least coming from cloud 7. Yesterday, I got to Cloud -5, which included sitting on a train that wouldn’t move after I had already waited 30 minutes for it when I was dead tired at the end of the day. It sat with the doors open on the platform where a folk singer played and played, making me feel like I was at that eternal open mic in hell. I cried.
But you know, it never ceases to amaze me how all things exist at once. There I was crying in hell, but then there’s this great thing that exists now that is the product of some of my very favorite people coming together to make something. Here’s the new music video for “Girl Pool,” a song I wrote for our Vonnegut-Cat’s Cradle Bushwick Book Club show a while back. The recording features Matt Menold on guitar (who I miss a lot), Mark Ospovat on bass (who I miss a lot), Adam Amram on drums (yay!) and Julie and Leslie on vocal harmonies (sweet and powerful mix). Oh, also Cecil Scheib on trombone! He’s the best.
The video is made by my dear friend and talented filmmaker, Deborah Magocsi. And the cast of course includes adorable people I know from many different worlds. And they all came together and got in the water with me. It was a beautiful experience.
People come together for weddings. And funerals. The making of this video felt like I married myself, and all these loved ones came out to witness and celebrate. Or maybe it was a funeral too. A funeral of one of my old selves, and the moving on to a different place. Well, now I want to do it again. More wedding/funeral/choreographed dance numbers, please.
Speaking of songs about books, there’s also a SHOW next week at City Winery with the founders of BBC Malmo. TICKETS are on sale now! You can get them here: http://www.citywinery.com/newyork/bushwickbookclub082014.html
Wednesday, August 20th, musical nerdery reaches new heights as we present our first international collaboration of songs about books at City Winery. The founder of Bushwick Book Club Malmo (our Swedish Chapter) will be in New York to present new songs and performance inspired by Reidar Jonsson’s My Life As A Dog.
The night will feature original music and performances by:
Sunny Sanam – performance artist, actor
Julie Lamendola – Ching Ching
Sam James – The Wowz
Charlie Nieland – www.hervanishedgrace.com
Christy Davis – GOLD
Casey Holford – www.caseyholford.com
Early Riser – Heidi Vanderlee, Kiri Oliver https://www.facebook.com/earlyriserrr
Susan Hwang – www.susanhwanglalala.com
Jessie Kilguss – jessiekilguss.com
Hilary Downes – hilaryedownes.com
Pierre de Gaillande – www.pierredegaillande.com/
Pearl Rhein – pearlrhein.com
Sweet Soubrette – sweetsoubrette.com
Hosted by Susan Hwang with the founders of Bushwick Book Club Malmo – Kristian Carlsson and Thomas Teller,http://bushwick.se/
August 20th, 8pm
155 Varick St.
New York, NY 10013
Ph: 212 608-0555
Hi. I’m writing to you from Cloud 9. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be up here. I’m not going to stay. I don’t think they let you. You get booted in time, so you can find another way up. But it’s nice to make it here today. I got here with the help of Amrams and Dr. Vella. It’s a pretty potent combination and one that I couldn’t have planned, but glad I fell into.
You know that David Amram has this monthly residency at Cornelia Street… I saw it for the first time in May after I had moved onto Hart Street. Actually, the day I moved in. Adam moved me to the apartment
and then said he was playing with his dad later on Cornelia Street if I wanted to go. I was dead beat, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the show. I was charmed and amazed and moved. David Amram can freestyle. There’s almost nothing more exciting, right? It’s like the Cirque du Soleil equivalent of verbal acrobatics. He’s got all the plates spinning; he’s contorted and balanced and is hanging in impossibly beautiful positions in mid air. Will he fall? Will it all come down? How can this sustain itself? But instead the contortions continue and now chainsaws are being juggled and then midgets are being balanced on chins, and then he dismounts and lands perfectly on the ground. It’s like that but with words and singing while playing piano with a 4 piece band.
That night in May, Mr. Amram improvised music to accompany a recited poem. He followed the story and added drama in whichever way tickled his fingertips, and because of his natural playfulness and musical agility, the accompaniment was as much the story as the words. It was one of those things I saw and then knew I could do. There actually aren’t that many things like that. I mean most things, a lot of things I see, and I think, ‘That looks really hard’ or ‘Not for me in this lifetime.’ Like when I see really good guitar players… really good musicians, any instrument, actually, I kind of know I’m never going to get to that level. I’m not a virtuoso, not even close, on any instrument. Honestly, I don’t think it’s in my make-up. I may not have the head space or the ear or the coordination or the discipline or the, what is that called… talent. As I explained once, I don’t have any chops. Maybe one chop on a good day, but plural, never.
But when I saw the poem accompanied by David’s improvisations, I just knew that was something I could do. So I asked Adam if he thought I could tell a story at the next show. And he said yes. And so I had to have a story.
But it was intimidating, as that process often is.. All weekend, I was “writing.” Which requires all kinds of breaks, like going to pick up my keyboard and eating Chinese food. There’s lots of time needed for staring off into space. Suffice to say, it wasn’t exactly flowing. I thought I could do this. What the hell?
So the whole weekend, and I’m still confused.. nothing’s clear about the story I want to tell. Usually it’s pretty obvious to me what I want to say and how I want to say it, but all of a sudden, I’m spewing out things and all kinds of tangents that I’m not sure are interesting… I’m really wishing I had an editor. And I mean, this has to be good.. if I’m bad, they might regret letting me do this, and I’ll never be allowed to do anything again ever. That would be really sad for me. Very regrettable. Why did I say I wanted to do this again?
Monday comes, and things are STILL murky. I can’t do anything but focus on this, but I can’t seem to focus on this… I’ve got to go to Dr. Vella’s in Queens later… I’m running late. He’s running late.. I tell Dr. Vella about my dilemma. He says he’ll fix me. He’s a chiropractor, but he’s really not like any chiropractor you’ve ever met. He just touches little spots on your back and neck and tail bone and then lets you lie face down for a while and then comes back and touches your feet and has you move your head left and right. And he can check your system to see what it’s compatible with. I swear, my body never talks to me, but it will talk to Dr. Vella and tell him things. Answer questions. Pretty remarkable. I never knew my feet had so much to say. Apparently, sugar alcohols are all kryptonite to me. Who knew.
I leave Dr. Vella’s with that open, mushy liquid feeling… a little vulnerable, but not bad at all… I work on the piece on train. I have dread. I thought maybe I shouldn’t do the show, but the pendulum said I wouldn’t regret it, so I said fine, I’m coming. I’m writing stuff out by hand, because it’s not like I have a printer. I’m cutting and re-wording… which sections stay, which sections go? I’m still writing as the show starts.. I don’t know if this is going to work. I imagine calling out for the hook to pull me off stage if I get terribly boring. Can I just carry my own exit hook with me to extract myself out of failing performance situations? Is that allowed?
But as I start talking (telling the story of the time I dyed my hair blonde and then had to go to my brother’s medical school graduation dinner, so bought a wig to wear so as not to offend my Korean relatives and spirits of my ancestors), I was flanked by Amrams. I was in their attention. It was intense. I had known this before from playing with Adam. He locks into you, and then whatever you do, he’s already with you; he’s already there. Now I see where he gets that. It’s like their whole nervous system takes you in, connects with yours. You can see it in their eyes, but really it’s their whole being. And the great thing is, they respond to you with their own creativity and skill. Which is huge. I mean, their creativity and skill are huge. Formidable, really.
So things went where I had no idea they would go. Some of the parts I doubted the most ended up being the most fun. The audience responded in ways I hadn’t anticipated which changed what I did, which affected the band, which affected me and then the audience… whoa… we were on this ride. I was out there on this wave with two Amrams in the Cornelia Street Cafe. You didn’t even know there was ocean in that basement, did you.
I’ve never actually been surfing in my life, but I can’t imagine it could be more thrilling than that.
I jumped off the stage like I was just delivered to shore. The rest of that night, I kept thinking, gosh, my parents came to this country. We had no idea what we were in for. But look, last night happened. I did a scary thing that ended up with me surfing with Amrams in a historic venue in New York City. What a thrill. Thanks mom and dad for being brave enough to come to this country even though I now can only speak Korean like a three-year-old, and it caused you much heartache because your kids did exactly what you told them not to do–art.
Last night will not be written about except for here. I don’t think it was recorded. The memory may please some of the people who were there for a little while. Certainly, any enjoyment or expansiveness of a shared moment like that does something good to you and adds some measure of joy and connectedness to your store of joy and connectedness. I think there’s that. I don’t think any time spent in pleasure and sharing is time wasted. However, even with the transience of last night’s moment, I count that moment. I mark it in bold, for myself, because I walked through some dread and uncertainty to arrive on a stage with incredible people, and we created something. We made something. Really the whole room made something, because we were informing and affecting each other the whole time. And me there, who came to this country as a toddler, with parents who never wanted me to sing in public, I got to share that stage and be a part of an American culture of music and performance. My parents never wanted this, but isn’t it great. I’m really happy about it. Sometimes the best things are the things you never could have imagined. I’m glad for all these moments that don’t last, past and future, doing what my folks never ever imagined, but what makes me happiest.
Look, Amrams have a penchant for musical multi-tasking. My theory is, you throw an Amram any two things, and he/she will play them at once:
David Amram on flutes (an Egyptian song):
And Adam on drums and trumpet in my room. That’s me singing along like an idiot (albeit a happy idiot):
See that space, that space between the 2 Amrams? That’s where I was standing, talking about my hair. And.. the obligatory selfie in front of Cornelia Street Cafe. David Amram said, “That was a great story! Does your mom know you’re telling that story? I bet she would really like that.” Well, he obviously doesn’t know my mother, but I called her today and mentioned it. She was silent mostly in response. I asked her if she remembered that time with the wig. She said, of course. How could she forget? I asked, what was it that you said when I took off that wig? She said, “Aygo chamna.” I asked what exactly that translates into. I know what it means for me, but I wondered what the exact words were. She said it translates into “Oh my god. So awful.” Oh, I now have the next album title…Share