Posts Tagged ‘new york’

Racist thoughts about commuting and Happy Birthday Chris Rael!

January 16, 2014

The subway train conductor breaked like my dad.  Herky jerky from a paranoia that somehow never makes you feel safe as much as irritated.  At the mercy of paranoid breaking and the congestion patterns of the morning rush hour commute, I was getting fur in my mouth.  Fur from the hood of a girl’s brand new, serious winter coat.  I looked at the label on the shoulder of the coat–“Canada Goose.”  That’s a serious coat.  In Canada, they know about serious winter and therefore, serious winter coats, but they have more personal space there, so they don’t know about eating a stranger’s fur in a crowded subway car first thing in the morning.

Koreans, on the other hand, know something about completely surrendering personal space.  They know how to pack a subway.  It’s not just that we’re smaller physically.  It’s that we’re efficient.  And we surrender individuality for the good of the whole.  The whole commute that is.  I remember morning rush hours where the car was packed so tightly you could lift your feet off the floor and still be upright.  Nobody really complained.  I don’t even remember anyone complaining that much when the businessman who was still drunk from the night before vomited on himself–kimchi vomit no less.

Well, as much as I complain about crowded trains, it does make me feel closer to people.  I guess because I’m closer to people.  And we’re all there together–gross human beings, all breathing and sweating and enduring together; we’re berated together by the other human being who lashes out at us over the loudspeaker.  He’s really had enough, and he lets us have it.  For Christ’s sake why can’t we use all available doors and move to the center of the train?  People….

I will not be taking the train tonight to play at Chris Rael’s Birthday Bash at The Bell House.  I will bring myself and my accordion via my ’94 Corolla, gifted to me by my parents in 1994.  They believed in providing their kids with an American education and a means of transportation.  They didn’t realize they were facilitating my accordion playing and singing in public.  They regretted it later, but they still let me keep the car.  And yes, it’s the one that now has a big dent on the passenger side back bumper with the tail light now hanging out at a… jaunty angle.  Look, I’m trying to be positive; it’s not natural for me.   My tail light is now… a tongue sticking out, uh playfully.  Whimsically.  Something like that.

I’m excited for the show!  I get to play and sing a little on Chris Rael’s great songs and beautiful arrangements.  I’m telling you, no one writes a good run like Chris Rael.  I get to play all kinds of fast and intricate sections in fun time signatures.  I try not to gush too much, because it might make him feel weird, but I listened and listened to that CD of “The Hand” that Bruce burned and gave to me in 1999.  I listened to it so much that by 2001, it wouldn’t play anymore.  And I don’t even like rock music.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to be playing tonight.  Happy Birthday, Chris!

The Frontier Room
Chris Rael’s Birthday BashChris Rael's Birthday Bash
Church Of Betty, Johnny Society, Low Cut Connie, Blueberry
Thu, January 16, 2014
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House
149 7th St,
Brooklyn, New York
ph: (718) 643-6510


Marathons, the flow and songs about Orson Welles

November 7, 2013

I’m mostly against marathons.  It’s nothing personal against running or runners; I’m against anything that impedes traffic.  I like to say that I’m pro-flow.  I was looking on the marathon website last Friday to see what the route and timing was, but they made this very hard to find.  There was all this essential information on security measures, baggage options, where the cheering zones are.. “How to Run in 2013”  “How to Qualify for 2014″…   They forgot “How to Avoid.”  I might be a marathon Grinch.

This past week, we had our first Bushwick Book Club show of the fall.  The book was My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Orson Welles and Henry Jaglom.  It was a good show.  There were 12 songs in all from 12 different songwriters (myself included).  I hosted the show, but I didn’t gather my thoughts enough before the show to express what I wanted to about Orson.  What I did manage to express was that I loved the language that he used.  I loved his voice in my head.  I loved his stories.

But what I missed saying was that he was in a basic way just like us.  His goal always was to make stuff.  And he did.  He created until his last breath.  He had a heart attack while writing a script.  He died with a typewriter in his lap.  What you hear about is what he didn’t make towards the end of his life, and it’s true, he was working on getting funding to make King Lear and The Dreamers.  It’s true that many projects were stalled or incomplete because of lack of funds and whatever ways he couldn’t find around real or perceived difficulties.  But it doesn’t mean he didn’t continue to create.  He wrote and made smaller films.  He painted.  He acted.  He never stopped being who he was.  He never stopped being an artist.  He did it by hook or by crook or by funding his own projects with money made from hawking cheap wine.  He did it come hell or high water or talk show spot on Merv Griffin.

I can relate to this.  My parents never explained this to me.  I think it’s something they couldn’t’ explain because it was something they didn’t know.  In their minds, creating was an indulgence and potentially bad for you, like eating candy or having sex with prostitutes.  They didn’t know that for some people, it’s a need—a fundamental aspect of being.  It’s as basic as whether you’re left or right handed.  Or whether you have a genetic predisposition to diabetes or alcoholism.  It’s like being gay or straight.  I make things, because I was born this way.  You can’t brainwash me or cure me of this with a Christian reform camp or even maternal bullying from my Korean JW mom (which is pretty formidable).  My parents tried to get me to stop, because they thought it was detrimental to my physical well-being and survival in society.  They have their reasons.  During the Korean War and afterwards, being a musician may well have been a death sentence.  This is likely why my father’s dying words to me were “Don’t hang around musicians… They cannot function in society.”  Well it’s too late…  I was born this way.

I think for some people it is a choice, and depending on circumstance, that urge to make things can be nurtured or neglected, and either way, they will be fine.  Some people have no desire at all to make anything but money.  There are all kinds of urges.  My people, we make things.  Sometimes we get outside notice for it, sometimes money.  Sometimes we don’t.  But whether or not you get money or attention from what you make doesn’t have anything to do with that basic inner orientation to make.  They are separate.  One doesn’t have more value than the other, but it’s just separate I think.

That said, I was thrilled with all the new songs from the Bushwick Book Club show last week.  The conversations, whether you liked Orson or whether he irked you, inspired all the songwriters to express something that hadn’t been said before.  Something they hadn’t said before.  And I marveled at the colors each musician chose to present their reflection of or response to Orson.  I marveled at how truth finds its own specific path out of each performer.  The flavor of each artist, each person, each song.  You can hear them here:

It’s hard to assign a value to the things we make, but they are valuable.  Just ask the Gurlitt’s, the Rosenbergs, The Monuments Men (sounds so Marvel Universe).  All those paintings, stolen, the effort made to recover them..  Those 1,400 works taken from Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment in Munich recently, of which could include works by Matisse, Courbet, Max Liebermann, Marc Chagall…  This is a big deal, because we value the representation of truth as shown on each canvas.  These artists were great because people found value in the way the truth came out of them.  That’s my interpretation.  The way truth comes out of you is so important that you can be sent to Siberia for it.  Just ask Shevchenko (exiled from Ukraine in 1847 for an unflattering poem about the Emperor and his wife).  And these nine exiled poets .  And Dante (exiled from Florence for supporting the Holy Roman Emperor over the Papacy), Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Salman Rushdie…  Don’t tell me it’s not important the way the truth comes out of you.

Also this—the maltese falcon made of resin that Humphrey Bogart carried  in scenes from the movie has a starting price of half a million dollars.  I’m using this as proof that people still care about stories.  A prop used in the making of a piece of art is a valuable thing to some people.  I’m using this to support my argument that stories and art are essential to us as humans—integral to our existence in ways I’m not able to articulate or even fully comprehend most likely.

I’m collecting proof to counter evidence to the contrary, like the woeful lack of funding from the government and the fact that it’s increasingly rare to make a living wage being a band/musician in New York City.  If you need stories of the glorious golden days, talk to my dear friend and super-drummer Steve Rubin.  I can’t hear any more of these stories myself, because I’ll get unhelpfully sad and teeteringly close to bitter, but the stories are fascinating… this mythical time when animals talked, there was a chimera on every corner and you could earn a living as a house band playing music to people who would come out and dance.  I also recommend talking to drummer Paula Spiro for tales of playing music in a very different, long gone New York.  Just like Orson said–“It’s terrible for older people to say that, because they always say things were better, but they really were.”

And if that’s true, that means right now is the Golden Age of something… so there’s that.

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