Wednesday, December 21, 2011

After Evictions Does Occupy Really Need to Occupy?

The first Occupy Wall Street encampment began September 17 with a few dozen protesters rolling out sleeping bags in Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan. Since then Occupy movements have sprung up in cities in every part of the United States, all securing encampments in public parks to serve as meeting places, staging grounds, and symbolic homes to this nascent, nonviolent revolution. Fast on the heels of the first tent on public space, however, was heightened police presence, posturing from myriad mayors' offices and eventually eviction of the peaceably assembled protesters.

In the national narrative Occupy survived eviction, re-occupation, and re-eviction in various cities from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Chicago to Boston to, famously, Oakland, et al, but through it all it seemed as though as long as the first encampment at Zuccotti Park - redubbed Liberty Park - stood then Occupy still had a space to thrive. Indeed, at first it seemed that the New York movement would have an easier time standing up to mayoral pressure since Liberty Park was one of New York City's many privately owned public spaces*. Eventually though, on November 16th, even this encampment proved vulnerable and in an early morning raid police cleared the park, leading to the arrest of several protesters, severe property damage - including the destruction of several laptops and several thousand books - and the arrests of many protesters and journalists.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Why Do They Occupy?

I've recently had several conversations regarding the Occupy Wall Street protests basically revolving around the question, "What are these things about?" Most people that are friends with me on Facebook or Google Plus, or who follow me on Twitter know that I've been following these goings on pretty closely (and have been plastering coverage all over all of my various social media personae.)

Full disclosure: I've never stayed overnight at the park, and I've never faced down police. I have marched with the movement several times, have brought food down to Zuccotti park on several occasions and have been an ardent supporter for quite some time. The vibe I've always gotten from marching with occupiers and hanging around the park during "off" times is very different than what gets out on a lot of broadcast news channels. There's a lot more age variation for one, and it's not just the stereotypical protester-type that shows up. Yes there are some overly idealistic college kids and there are some older lifetime protesters, but Occupy Wall Street is more complicated than these folks. Those are usually the people that give the most sensational soundbites, or tell the most familiar story which is why they tend to end up on the news. In truth, the vast majority of OWS supporters have jobs. Some have families. Some have never protested anything before. Some are even in the 1%. Their stories are varied and not easily related in a five minute montage on the evening news. If you really want to know the people in this movement just look around you. If the first person you see is not a supporter then chances are there's someone in the movement much like them.

Why do they occupy? Well, according to Twitter the reasons are more varied than their backgrounds. It's a common complaint that OWS has no singular purpose; no clear, concise list of demands. I respond by saying if the issues of the last couple decades had only resulted in a short, easy-to-read list of problems then Occupy Wall Street wouldn't have the support that it does, and wouldn't be as necessary as it is.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How Verizon Became an Occupier for One Night

This was projected onto the Verizon building from an apartment across the street. Easily visible from the Brooklyn Bridge as occupiers crossed over. Video here

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 9: Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake

Day 9: A Song That You Can Dance To

I’m going to slightly modify this one since it’s too broad as it is. There are pretty much infinity songs that I can dance to depending on what you mean by ‘dance.’ Slowdancing or slamdancing? Skanking or bootyshaking? Break? Interpretive? (OK, I can't do those last two.)

In the name of fun I’m going to assume this means bootyshaking. And not just a song that you CAN dance to. A song that you HAVE to dance to. A song whose beats conjure an irresistible urge to break-it-down. A song that, as if by magic, instantly forces feet to step and hips to shake, resulting in the inevitable busting of moves.

Now, before I get into the song I picked please feel free to peruse this Grooveshark playlist of songs that didn’t quite make the cut.

And now the main attraction:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 8: Sing With Me, Sing for the Year

Day 8: A Song to Which You Know All the Words

Searching my head for a song that fit today’s prompt was a fun exercise if only to remind me of the songs I used to have memorize. These are the songs, after all, they were played incessantly out of tape-decks, CD players, car stereos, computers and portable MP3 players at various stages of my life. Going through these tunes was like flipping through a musical biography.

Monday, November 7, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 7: Do You Remember When We Used to Sing?

Day 7: A Song That Reminds You of a Certain Event

The redundancy of these prompts is making these posts a lot less interesting. Most of the instances I noted from the last two days have not only involved a someone/somewhere, but a particular event involving that person or place. Now I’m stuck trying to find a song/moment I haven’t already addressed and then trying to find something new and interesting to say about how music works with memory. Let’s see how this goes.

Way back two days ago I mentioned a certain wedding involving a certain song about heights and a certain lifting into the air of a certain fri3nd. Well, since I was responsible for the playlist at this reception there were clearly several awesome songs played that night leading to multiple memorable moments. Not least of which (actually, most of which) being this song:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 6: Somewhere Out There, Out Where Dreams Come True

Day 6: A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere

Initially this was kind of a difficult one for me in light of yesterday's challenge. Songs that remind me of people usually remind of specific times with those people which are also rooted in specific places. As such most songs that remind me of a somewhere also remind me of a someone. As I combed my memory/song library only two instances came up that brought to mind a place that wasn't also strongly attached to a person.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 5: Remember, Remember on the 5th of November

Day 5: A Song That Reminds You of Someone

Easiest prompt yet. As soon as I saw this one I knew which song I'd pick. Of course, just diving right into that piece from the get-go wouldn't be fun, would it? No, first I need to blather on about a bunch of other songs in addition to today's selection.

Music can be a pretty powerful trigger for memory, but it can also be a pretty random one. Some associations come through significant personal events and some seem to just inexplicably happen. Whenever I encounter any song by Broken Social Scene I immediately think of a friend of mine who once randomly asked me on Facebook if I'd ever heard of them, and the only time I remember ever hearing Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To?" was when I was dancing with a girl I'd just met at Thursday's in Akron. I've danced with plenty of girls, so the reason I'd remember this so vividly escapes me. The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights", however, is a song I've heard countless times but now whenever I hear it I instantly think of a particular fri3nd and his wedding when we lifted him up into the air when this song came on. Whenever I hear "Baby Love by the Supremes I always think of my aunt who apparently used to sing it to me when I was a baby and who told me about this when I was a teenager by singing it to me again.

So which song has a connection so vivid for me that it immediately sprang to mind the instant I read "Song That Reminds You of Someone"? Well, let me start off by telling you a story.

Friday, November 4, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 4: Sad Songs Say So Much

Day 4: A Song That Makes You Sad

After lamenting yesterday that I had too many sad songs in my music library you'd think today's prompt would be easy for me, but actually it's probably even harder. See, it's actually really rare for a song to bring down my mood. A really well done sad song tends to have either a tragic soulfulness (think anything Solomon Burke has ever done) or a raw, visceral power (see: Rites of Spring) and I tend to get caught up in its purity of declaration; lost in the poetry of the lyrics. I love being moved by music and when an artist or group makes me feel something through song I can't help but fall in love with the beauty of their expression. In these cases I feel inspiration more than anything else.

When my mood is down to begin with I'll even use sad songs to bring me up as hearing someone else deal with pain brings a sense of comforting camaraderie. Perhaps this really is the reason it's so hard for me to find music that makes me sad - I use so often use my favorite sad songs therapeutically. Sometimes, in the throws of anxiety and heartache, the only proper medication is pouring two fingers of whiskey while Morrissey pleads for something he wants.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 3 - Happy Happy Joy Joy

Day 3: A song that makes you happy

Today’s prompt is a bit serendipitous since last weekend I began picking through my mp3 collection to make a playlist of upbeat songs – much like Barney’s get psyched mix.

That project taught me one thing about my happy songs: they are incredibly outnumbered by sad/angry songs. I have days upon days of music at this point and out of all that I’ll probably come up with a handful of hours of happy tunes. Though I’d wager that sort of distribution is the norm among music in general. Those negative emotions always seem to be the easiest to credibly relate to other people. Positive emotions are harder to channel without being cliché.

So, how do the happy songs do it? How are they able to elevate/change a mood?

Some do it by being deep and soulful. A warm blanket you can just wrap around your shoulders and lose yourself inside. Some do it by being cute and sweet, channeling sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs and whatnot. Other songs bring the smile with a few anthemic, major power chords and sweet solos while others just make you want to dance forever.

Though they work in different ways these songs share the ability to make those bad times seem good and good times seem great.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 2: A Bad Idea Wrapped in a Bad Song

Day 2: Your Least Favorite Song

Ugh, another category based on picking one song out of many equally deserving candidates. There are a few difficulties particular to choosing a song for least favorite song. First and foremost it’s a choice that, by definition, should be hard to think of. Most songs that I find to be truly bad are songs that I won’t listen to enough times to stick in my memory. And what does “bad” mean, anyway? Terrible execution? Horrible song writing? Overuse of cliché? General douchitude?

When I was regularly reviewing music I believed that it was better to be spectacularly incompetent than forgettably boring. Practice can make you a better player, but true creativity can’t be learned. By this definition all of the worst songs I’ve ever heard are buried in the waste bin of music history, forgotten and unrecoverable.

But we’re not necessarily talking about “bad” songs when we talk about least favorite, are we? Something can be a least favorite without necessarily being the worst. Like a completely mediocre song that becomes mystifyingly popular to the point where it’s overplayed everywhere. Such force-feeding of an otherwise inoffensive song could certainly drive it into the realm of least-favoritism.

But what about a song that's boring, cliche, overplayed, douchey AND sports a general ideology that's completely irresponsible bordering on dangerous? What about a song that epitomizes a mindset that's as poisonous as it is cathartic and has led to ten years of disastrous decisions? Is that worth least-favorite status?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge Day 1 - One Song to Rule Them All

So it’s November, and that means National Novel Writing Month. Instead of writing a novel I’ve decided to blog the 30-Day Song Challenge. I’ll not likely approach 50,000 words, so it’s not a direct replacement, but this is a little more interesting to me, and is more along the lines of the kind of writing I want to practice right now.

So, without further ado…

Day 1: Your Favorite Song

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marching on Wall Street

So for several weeks I've been on the fence regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. I hadn't heard much about it at the beginning and as time went on it just seemed to be a haphazard gathering of various idealists of the kind that happen all the time in New York. The mass arrests and pepper-spraying of peaceful marchers made me sit up and take notice, but information about the group itself was still sketchy. The so-called statement of purpose they sent out a week or so ago seemed to confirm all of my fears that the movement didn't have the focus to go anywhere and was doomed to burn itself out sooner rather than later.

In the last week, however, my opinion has changed. As I've read more and more about the group and how it has spread to cities across the country, and as I've seen videos of the occupiers (some - gasp - in button-up shirts! with kids!) speaking clearly about their grievances I've come to realize that it doesn't matter that they lack focus. It's their drive that is key. As their message spreads and is picked up by activists in cities around America, and as labor unions and professional organizers like begin to coordinate efforts with them, I started to believe that Occupy Wall Street could become a true engine for positive change.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Obligatory Ten Year Post

So today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. You can tell because for the last several weeks almost every news outlet has been airing retrospectives and today Twitter, Facebook, and most TV station were filled with tributes to fallen heroes/loved ones. And I've spent today trying to run away from all of it.

Not to say that all of my actions have been based around hiding from remembrance ceremonies for the event that is, in my lifetime, the single event most worth remembering. I would have gone to watch football today if it were any other Sunday, I would have drank beer and enjoyed cheap bar food like I have on countless Sundays past. Today, though, what was normally simply entertainment for me became welcome respite from a world that I don't feel I was ready to face.

Over the last ten years I have not shied away from 9/11 analyses or emotional recounts of the events of that day. In fact I've tried quite hard make some sort of sense of what happened, and of everything that's happened since. As today crept closer, though, I've become much more thoughtful and have replayed my own memories of September 11, 2001 several times over. I won't go into what impact it possibly could have had on an 18 year-old kid in Cleveland, Ohio - because writing it seems far, far harder to me than thinking/talking it. I will say that, as today crept closer, it became obvious to me that I would not be able to handle the volume of reliving that today would entail.

It's funny. Ten years is only significant because, through evolutionary chance, human beings come equipped with ten digits and so was born our system of math and, in large part, our conception of the passage of time. But because of this evolutionary trick I can't fathom even attempting to read anything of the New York Times' coverage of the last ten years, and even NPR's snapshot of the music community's shocked reaction was too much for me to work through. I almost lost it several times reading through Brooklyn Ink's fantastic pieces highlighting the after-effects of 9/11, and before today's football game, in the middle of a fairly busy bar, it was all I could do to keep from crying during a pregame tribute to those that died.

I like to think of myself as someone that doesn't run from my emotions. Even if I don't tend to publicly express them I always try to face them. What makes these particular emotions so frightening is my certainty that I cannot handle them. I have no idea how to deal with them. In some ways my emotions today are stronger than they were then because in 2001 all I had to deal with was immediate fear for my family in New York, and immediate sadness for everyone that died. Ten years on I've had to come to terms with just how deep those deaths were felt, and how easy it would have been for one of them to be me or someone I love.

I wrote this in 2001, a few months after the event. It's quite an idealistic piece written by a kid who still believed the ideas of teenagers could change the world. What strikes me as I read it now, though, is how much I wish I could still interact with 9/11 in such a directly reactive way. A non-introspective, progressive way. I wish, today, I could look at it and feel some sense of agency, of action.

Today, however, all I feel is powerlessness and deep, deep sorrow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Godspeed, Atlantis

I haven't watched a shuttle launch since I was a kid. My memories are a bit clouded now. We took time out of class when I was in elementary school, gathering in the cafeteria as a teacher wheeled a clunky CRT television set into the room. I recall crowding around with my friends; the lot of us holding our breath as the boosters ignited and the shuttle pushed for orbit.

There's a lot I don't remember about that launch. The year it happened. The name of the shuttle.

But when I watched Atlantis' engines light for the last time my memories of how I felt that afternoon came roaring back. The same adrenaline-fueled giddiness I felt when I was 6 (or 7, or whenever that was) poured over me again at 28.

Thanks for the memories, NASA, and the wonder.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 4th 2011 - In Which We Eat

In Ohio my friends and I ate a lot. I don't mean that we ate unnecessarily large portions though, being from the Midwest, that was also true. I mean we spent a lot of time and effort cooking for each other. Pot lucks were frequent in the year before I left and they're something I really miss. Even before I could properly cook these communal meals were something I always looked forward to if only for the warm, easy social aspects of food. For whatever reason - proximity of great restaurants? difficulty in taking cooked food on the subway? - these exhibitions of communal cookery have not been as frequent since I moved to New York.

So it was that on July 4th it was the food and the company, more than the fireworks which were an afterthought for me, that I really enjoyed.

Of course, since one of the hosts was Asian, these pictures are not entirely accurate representations of the evening. By the end it seemed like we'd hardly eaten anything the platters of food were still stacked high. Higher still were our spirits because, really, what's better than great food with great company?

Here's to more nights like this one.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 2 2011 - That 'Nature' Thing

Sitting on the Long Meadow in Prospect Park at the tail end of a 7-hour extravaganza of greenery, food, drinks and overlapping circles of friends I breathed deeply of summer air that actually smelled, to me, like summer. The smell of leaves and warm grass; a contrast to the overheated concrete and car exhaust that's the New York norm. I get lost pretty much 100% of the time I go to this park and this day was no exception with my exit taking an even more roundabout, circuitous path than my entrance. As I walked through the paths in the late evening stumbling upon random clearings and piece of mind I caught myself thinking that, with frequent enough visits, the stillness and calm in this park could possibly be enough to balance the chaos that is the rest of this city.

Later that night I saw Bridesmaids and laughed a lot.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mission: Accomplished

At the beginning of the year I established several goals for myself and lately I've been eyeing one in particular. The first attempt, earlier this week, was an abject failure. As was the second. And the third.

But this morning I can say with pride that I've completed a task I promised myself I'd take on before fall:

I've successfully poached an egg.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


So I was in Stuyvesant Square Park today writing a new blog entry and when I was on my way out I passed a small group of high school students. They were clustered around one of the tables, just talking and laughing. No drinking, no added excitement, just happy to waste some time on a nice night with some nice company.

I was jealous.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Numbers and Letters/Admiral Fallow at Mercury Lounge 3/20/11

When it comes to live music there are some bands that just 'get it'. Whether through superior musicianship, arrangement, sheer power of performance or some mix of all three a band will usually reveal early on if it's going to throw down with hot pyromantic fire or deliver something far more tepid and forgettable. There's a certain purity of sound, a clarity of mission, a transformative, magnetic rightness that drips like sweat from every pore.

On March 20 the Mercury Lounge was lucky enough to hose two such acts. Arriving freshly from the marathon of the SXSW music festival both Numbers and Letters and Admiral Fallow turned in wonderfully beautiful sets. The former spoke in tones of brooding, bluesy Americana while the latter delivered disarmingly accented Scottish folk.

The slow pace and frequent repetition of Numbers and Letters is not usually something I enjoy but frontwoman Katie Hasty made me a believer from the moment she opened her mouth. It wasn't her affable Midwestern charm that changed my mind (though the fact that she gave away home-made cookies didn't hurt) but more the unwavering conviction with which she sang. In front of the band's simple yet well-played melodies she projected absolutely everything she had in her. She reached down deep and poured emotion not just from her lips but from her heart, her guts, the tips of her fingers and the soles of her feet. At one point the band faded back leaving her alone, supported only by her guitar and microphone stand; a devastating elemental force of yearning and heartbreak capturing every ear in the room. She even skillfully tackled Tom Waits' Chocolate Jesus.

Lesser groups would be worried about following such a performance. Thankfully Admiral Fallow is no lesser group. The Scots took the stage loose and smiling before launching into a set of pure, humble excellence. Lush, rolling melodies joined driving rhythms to push wave after wave of unassuming yet poignant snapshots of everyday life. Minute details were thrown into sharp relief as perfect expressions of jubilation, hope and yearning swirled together with six players on stage effortlessly moving as one. Each note, each strum, each breath was by itself only gently moving, but taken as a whole the music was tangible, thick, and wildly evocative. The group ran through it's entire catalog (including an Elbow cover) in its set + encore displaying a wide breadth of feeling that had every face smiling, every toe tapping and, occasionally, every eye watering.

And then, the next night, they did it again at The Way Station in Brooklyn. In a much more low key atmosphere, in front of a smaller yet similarly devoted crowd, on a Monday night two days before they were to head back to the UK Admiral Fallow came through once again with an achingly personal performance - lightened by frontman Louis Abbott's self-effacing charm. The venue was far more low-key and homey than at Mercury and the group, eschewing most of its drum kit and the lion's share of its amplification, proved that while greatness doesn't necessarily require volume it always, always, always demands passion. Thankfully it seems that passion is something this group is always able and willing to give.