Friday, July 31, 2009

See the Signs

All the signs we see along the street all in one place. They were removed so the new concrete could be poured for our new sidewalks. We’re streetscaping don’t you know in downtown J.C. I assume they are not being discarded, they seem like perfectly adequate street signage. Without them, chaos reigns and people are picking up after their dogs where they shouldn’t be parking. Let’s hope our city fathers were sure coordinated record keepting was done during removal so the signs are returned to their precise position. No parking in a Limited Parking zone. Stopping where you should be Not Entering. Think of the potential horror! The threat of anarchy looms. Let us hope these signs here do not become end time signs.

Make First Right

Okay, don’t we turn right? I guess make is acceptable street lingo, direction-wise. Make First Right on Erie—From Newark Ave, there is no left on Erie because on there is no Erie on the left (Not making a left on the metaphysical portion of Erie is the cooperation the sign is thanking you for; Techincally, you could make a left if you're heading East not West on Newark, but when heading East the sign is across the street). I guess they want to alleviate anxiety and any chance of confusion by assuring drivers looking to park that the Erie turn (make?) and the First right are one and the same. You can make a right on Erie, or make your first right, and you’re on Erie. Talk about a false choice. But then, how come we make right “on” Erie, but right “onto” First—which is technically the second right. If you start with the word on, wouldn’t you use onto to mean towards instead of another way of saying on, which is supposed to be “at” to begin with! Make Second Right at First. Maybe that’s more confusing. Let's move on to punctuation. Okay, it's a sign, we can forgo puncutation, even when it might alleviate termporary conufsion—closed to access lot sounds like access is an adjective not a verb—but then why put a period at the end? Why go out of your way to make this non-sentence a run-on non-sentence? Shouldn't a rule for sign writing be punctuate clearly and correctly or not at all! Maybe the purpose of this sign is to confuse so the JCPA parking lot isn’t over-used. Like many things, directions can be clearer when spoken than printed.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black Acid Co-Op

The kitchen is a make-shift laboratory. Duct tape seals the plastic tubes running into the jugs and beakers. Boxes of Sudafed are piled on the open stove door. A film of chemical corrosion and thick grime covers everything. Welcome to your neighborhood methamphetamine lab. Nobody’s home.

I keep thinking, what moment is captured in this intensively detailed reproduction? Right before a batch or speed was concocted? Right after? Are the chemists on their way to deliver their product to the dealer. Maybe it was right after the bust and this is a crime scene photo come to “life.” Are the boxes of Sudafed empty? Are they empty for the purposes of the exhibit, or because this exhibit shows a lab where a batch of crank has already been prepared? Wait, the Sudafed, the boxes aren’t open, the foil wrappers where the pills are kept inside the boxes are nowhere to be seen. Is that a clue?

Is this a before scenario, before an explosion? In the adjacent room is another former kitchen turned Meth-Lab. But the furnishings and chaotic assortment of debris are all charred. There has been a fire. A melted toilet is in the tiny bathroom. Am I now looking at the after space of the lab I just visited, or are they two separate labs?

Speed is deadly and dangerous. The labs are prone to bursting into flames. The chemicals leftover after making speed are toxic. Hazardous waste protocols must be followed when removing a Meth-Lab, which are often in cheap motels or trailer homes or the dingy house on the outskirts of town. Making the drug is a complex—although if you’re a chemist, relatively easy—process that requires an assortment of chemicals, many of them flammable yet readily available at the local hardware store.

The two side by side Meth-Labs—one in some stage of production, the other post-fire, are the core exhibits at the Black Acid Co-Op, an installation at the Deitch Projects, a Soho art gallery on Wooster Street.

I accept this as art—in fact, clever and compelling art. But I’m not sure the term gallery does this experience justice. The installation transforms the space, well, three floors of it, into a strange, unsettling environment. According to the Deitch press release: “Black Acid Co-Op is the moniker for a counter-culture enclave embedded in the metropolis. In this incarnation, the artists shift the focus from the production of illegal drugs to sites of sub-cultural groups and how they are situated in the larger urban environment. The installation will expand on the notions relating to the connection between counter-culture and industrial society resulting in a spatial collage that extends itself into a vast architectural setting.”

Before you enter, you have to sign a waiver. I’m not sure if this was a joke, or a way to subconsciously reinforce a feeling of danger. When you get to the Meth-Lab, it doesn’t seem completely safe. The reality is so precisely manifested that toxic exposure and potential injury crosses your mind.

The first “room” you enter I found the most unnerving. It is glaring white—illuminated by irritating fluorescent lights on the ceiling, and aligned with metallic white walls on which wigs are displayed. A replication of a cheap wig shop, one you might find in an inner city or a down on its luck strip mall. The wigs are displayed on what appears to be Styrofoam head mannequins—I was later told that they were not all Styrofoam, but actually sculptures, some molded with kitty litter. The disturbing part is that these are not just fake hair pieces, the wigs are gnarled, splattered with dried gobs of house paint. They looked hideous. Words fail to describe the effect this room had on me. It was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen. I didn’t take pictures. The paint and other crap on those wigs was utterly disgusting and even bloodcurdling. I still shudder thinking about it. The inhumane light in the room forced you to squint. Then you walk through a hole in the wall, literally—a broken, jagged oval busted into the wall—and enter another too bright room that resembles a typical art gallery. Nicely framed black and white photos are on the antiseptic white walls I think I was too disturbed by the wigs for this room to fully register. The people in the pictures look odd, Diane Arbus sort of, except they are not freaks, most are well-heeled, formally dressed. Other pictures were of what I later recognized as the Meth-Lab.

I called these two rooms the first rooms, but after them there is no real direction to go, you could either go up stairs, or down stairs. I went through one room that was just bamboo curtains. I think you could have taken the stairs first. The wig room and photo gallery I happened to go in first, maybe there was no real first room.

Again, the press release: “the intended use of many of the sites will feel transformed or hybridized: factories have become homes, kitchens are used as drug labs, the radical chic living room is frozen in a museum, the high-rise is carved into makeshift maze to evade the law.”

Okay, I love that word, hybridized. I went upstairs and I was not thinking of Soho, and I wasn’t thinking art—my mind was no longer reacting in a typical way of judging and interpreting a work of art with the usual mix of objective and subjective criteria. I was asking myself, where was I, what is this. If one goal is to transform space, the Black Acid Co-Op achieves that in spades. You know what you are seeing isn’t real, but you are not thinking, gallery. You are confused, trying to make sense of the kind of lives that have made what you are seeing exist.

The Meth-Lab dominates. Your mind goes back to that disturbing glare-filled chamber of horror wigs—is that a drug-induced psychosis experience? Is that your mind on drugs? Is that how a speed freak might feel—strung out and rock bottom—ugly hair on lifeless heads?

The Meth-Lab is incredible. A hundred times more realistic than the sets in The Salton Sea or Spun were, and they are good films. The Meth-Lab “rooms” leave no doubt that this is what those kitchen labs are. They are called “Hello Meth-Lab In The Sun,” and are by Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman (I am assuming they are responsible for the entire exhibition), and has been shown in this format in other parts of the country prior to this NYC debut.

The attention to detail amazes—one tube is taped to a Santa Claus mug—was the mug part of happier times before the kitchen was transformed into a toxic laboratory? The closer you looked, the more apparent the artistic skill and commitment involved becomes—the powers of observation are incredible, the unwavering accuracy and authenticity shows a singular sensibility. I’ve never been in a Meth-Lab but this encounter left me with the impression that now I had. It was like a ride in an amusement park except the transportation was so vivid you forget you are on a ride, or in an amusement park. I was reminded of the Egyptian exhibit of the inside of a Pyramid tomb that is (or used to be) at the Metropolitan Museum of art. The unsettling aspect of course is that this real life now, a ground zero of a scourge—Meth really destroys lives, it’s a destructive, highly addictive drug, induces psychosis and is a serious social problem in the Midwest, and parts of the South and West.

There is no smell in this Meth-Lab. The pungent fumes occurring during production are one way the labs get busted. What struck me is that a moment was captured—and separated from the before and after—that moment revealed desperation. The exact moment—that was for me to figure out—the setting where that moment took place was all that was given me to deduce the particulars of the scenario.

Another room was a “Crash Pad,” and sort of was just a dingy apartment, a “squat,” although it was called a “radical chic” enclave, the kind of place Yippies and Weathermen holed up before a demonstration. Okay...

Another room were utility book shelves, manuscripts and books with their covers torn off, with titles like “Life Is Absent” written in magic marker. Adjacent to the shelves is the glass jar room. Shelves of large mason jars filled with fluid and immediately you’re remembering the fetal pigs in formaldehyde ready to be dissected by students in Sophomore biology, but in these jars are a seemingly random collection of items, pages of books, postcards, pictures. Is that another manic collection by a speed freak—mania and obsessiveness are well known side effects of the amphetamine experience—or is this an archive of the mind of somebody on speed—an accelerated and dense flurry of thoughts and memories. Is this the mind itself—the fluid in the jars representing the chemical reactions in the brain when you have memories and thoughts. I was thinking about this the next day, how our brains are just assortments of organic chemicals and all our thoughts and memories are just formulas and reactions of those chemicals. Then I realize, that’s the kind of pointless concept you ponder when you are on drugs—thoughts, memories, don’t matter, are all equal—they are chemicals just like the drug you are on—the only thing that matters is your feeling of euphoria, no matter how temporary (as long as you have enough for one more bump).

There was another room that was also dark—the rooms are either too bright or too dim—of dark blue walls and a sickly red floor and the paint on the walls was peeling in huge, tatter-edged gashes. I can’t remember where this room was in relationship to the Meth-Lab or the crash pad. There are wires everywhere, strewn in the rooms, and when you go through the doorways, you feel like you are walking through a prohibited area—somewhere beyond the yellow caution tape—an abandoned building. Was the blue room a real space or the mind of the drug user? The not knowing enhances the experience.

I go down stairs, to what seems like a basement. I’m in a another way too bright environment. It’s a shop, a Chinese bodega. There are pills and other health food store looking items, Chinese letters on the labels. These products may contain more than just ginseng. In one corner is a small rack of pornographic t-shirts. I did not take a picture. They were hilarious. These were triple-X, explicit drawings of sexual acts. Where does one wear a porno t-shirt? A woman and a man enthusiastically engaged in an act of fellatio? What is the appropriate occasion for such a garment? I imagine that speed-fueled orgies are a clandestine activity, they are not commemorated with T-shirts. I went to this drug-fueled sex orgy and all I got was this lousy porno t-shirt. Are they kidding me with this store, is this sleazy Asian retail establishment somehow connected to the drug experience, a subculture. Except for the porno t-shirts, I’ve been to places like this in Chinatown. I never thought that I could score Meth. Later, went I went through the pictures I took, I googled some of the words on the labels and the poster—Shabu, Batu. Turns out, these are indeed, Asian slang terms for Ice, a highly potent smoke-able form of speed.

There was a nice, young woman there, she worked for the gallery. I talked to her, and I also spoke with the women working the front desk about the project. Intelligent, polite and more than willing to answer questions and discuss the concepts behind the installation. It’s a confusing experience, going from one room to another—nothing is marked, there was no guide-book—one being an actual Meth-Lab, another being a disturbing wig room or a bleak blue room with torn paint walls, another an Asian bodega—a mix of external and internal pieces—is this depiction one of the real world or the mind of an amphetamine user? Those glass jars, which fascinated me—was that a manic speed freak collecting something that only made sense to him or her or was it a portrayal of that drug-frenzied mind in action. “It can be both,” said the woman. She was interested in my questions. There was no supercilious attitude that I anticipated (I was in a Soho Art Gallery after all). “It’s not meant to be linear. It is really what you think it is.”

None of the other visitors seemed interest in talking to the gallery employees. That was their loss. These women (I didn’t notice any men) honestly seemed to care what you thought about what you were witnessing.

I remembered Asian newspapers on the floors of the other rooms, a connection to the bodega? The pictures in the photo-gallery—were these rich addicts free from the degradation less well off druggies go through. Were the glass jars what the down and outers in the crash pad are dreaming of?

I couldn’t shake the Black Acid Co-Op experience for a while. I didn’t mind leaving the installation. It’s creepy and disturbing. I felt disconcerted, not just because it reproduced the dark side of the drug world or presented a decayed reality that is simply unsettling—but because the exhibit—for lack of a better term—relies on you to interpret it. There were no answers given you. The relationship between the rooms you figure out, and as you do, you remember themes—more like clues—that are in these seemly disparate spaces. I’m not sure if I would say it was fun, but in terms of fascination and engagement—I’ve never had so enjoyable time being so disconcerted.

The woman in the bodega was wearing a D.A.R.E. t-shirt. She said maybe it was her being ironic. I thought about that the next day. D.A.R.E. is an anti-drug program in schools. Speed Kills was a public awareness program I recall from my childhood and of course, we all remember, this is your brain on drugs egg in frying pan commercial. Well, public awareness campaigns have come and gone and come again. People still say yes, not no to drugs. People are still getting high and especially when it comes to Meth, lives are still destroyed. Sorry Partnership for a Drug-Free America, these ads have never and will never work. I’m not even sure they should. Drugs are a part of the human experience and I’ve always had a libertarian attitude towards the issue. Prohibition and law enforcement has never been effective against drugs. No one forces you to do drugs. On the other hand, some great works of art—works of art I love—for example—L’Absinthe by Degas, Junky by William S. Burroughs, or Heroin by Lou Reed (original Velvet Underground recording), are about the drug experience. They explore what the euphoria feels like and what the dissolute lives those experiencing the euphoria often turn out to be. It’s too far to say they glamorize drug use—the down-side of the experience are referenced—but lets face it, those and other works do not exactly discourage use. They acknowledge the fun being high can be and tend to emphasize the fun more than addiction, psychosis or criminal activity. The Black Acid Co-Op is an intense experience, and intentionally an objective, totally non-judgmental depiction of the multi-layered Meth experience and the various sub-cultures that coalesce around the drug. D.A.R.E. has been around before and during the Meth epidemic that is still ravaging parts of the country. Current drug users probably had D.A.R.E. presentations given to them in school. I can’t imagine anyone after experiencing the Black Acid Co-Op ever desiring to do Meth. That is not the intention of the installation, but it is undoubtedly one of the outcomes.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sheridan Square

We took a cab to the Village and walked around, past Sheridan Square. “A Barbaric Yankee general,” Will said, pointing at the statue at one of the park. “And in this corner—my people.” He gestured toward the longhairs and the low-lifes congregated around the benches.

From The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney

Monday, July 27, 2009

Elvis Presley: "I Believe" The Complete Gospel Masters

That Voice! Elvis Presley is not just the greatest singer to emerge from Rock & Roll, he is not just one of the greatest singers to emerge from America—and that includes Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday—he is one of the greatest singers in the history of the vocal chord. Range, expression, phrasing and particularly, strength and power—Elvis can be compared to the greatest Opera singers. I prefer his Rock & Roll, but truth be told, there is no better showcase of the absolute power, diversity and complexity of That Voice than the newly released, 4-CD box set, "I Believe" The Complete Gospel Masters.

I happened upon the Sun Sessions, quite by accident, in my youth. It was the first time I took Elvis seriously, and this uncanny record turned me into an Elvis fan for life. Elvis got under my skin. For a while I worked on a book project on Elvis; it never got off the ground but I wound up reading dozens of books as research. Elvis fascinates me. Elvis irks me. Elvis captivates me. Elvis haunts me. He is now and forever, the King of Rock & Roll.

A few weeks a year, throughout a year, every year, I just play Elvis. We call this the Elvis Jag. Why it happens, when it happens, I cannot explain. But when it happens, only Elvis matters. Only Elvis makes sense. Forget about the persona, forget about the truly awful movies (although many have some great music), forget about that gaudy jump suit. Even forget about the biography, a charismatic poor country boy with some extreme musical gifts, still half-feral when he became the biggest star of his time, eventually dropping dead while sitting on a golden toilet in Graceland at age 40, bloated, pill-addicted, isolated, grossly obese. He made a lot of great music, timeless recordings. His hits are only the tip of that amazing musical ice berg.

If you love Rock & Roll, and you don’t love Elvis, you don’t know what you love, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Gospel recordings are not mandatory. If you only have a small dose of Elvis love within you, you may even want to avoid these weird, intense and Elvis-teric recordings. I have each of the five-CD box sets that mark each decade of the King’s tenure in this life—50s, 60s & 70s. And, I have the two-CD Elvis at the Movies, which has the best songs of the films. Gospel Elvis—well, I had one on cassette. The bulk of the tracks on these discs were new me.

Soon after Sam Phillips sold the Elvis contract to RCA, Elvis began recording Gospel music and continued to do so until the Lord called him home in 1977. This new box set is really the only collection where we hear the voice throughout his career—growing deeper, richer and more powerful. He released Gospel tracks on records, movie sound tracks, TV specials, in addition to complete Gospel albums—the closest he ever came to a concept album. The complete albums and the scattered Gospel iterations are all gathered here. Most of the tracks are rare, either unreleased or not available for decades.

The Gospel recordings are the shadow career of Elvis. They are the best documentation of his incredible, once in a millennium, velvet revelation of a voice. That Voice was the core of his mega stardom. That Voice changed the way we listen to music, the way music affects our personal lives and the dominating influence pop music now has on our culture.

The Gospel recordings showcase That Voice at its most remarkable, and often in form that is more pure than his monumental Rock & Roll tracks. “How Great Thou Art,” an inspirational classic, reveals how That Voice was capable of an unbelievably astounding power. That Voice is smooth thunder. The range it travels, the length of time he holds the notes, just awe inspiring. No matter your religious beliefs, no matter your previous relationship with this song, you will exclaim, My God, That Voice! For the most part, all the tracks here have that same jaw dropping impact.

In his better known secular works, Elvis more often than not, post-Sun, worked with vocal groups, such as the Jordanaires, J.P. Sumner & the Stamps and the Blossoms. Take a listen to his classic “Suspicious Minds,” the reason that terrific recording continues to affect listeners is how well Elvis interplays with the back up singers. As much as the Gospel Masters is a tribute to his voice, it is also a tribute to how well Elvis can sing as part of the choir. With few exceptions, each track features Elvis singing in either a choir context or high-intensity interaction with back up singers.

From the release His Hand in Mine, which features the Jordanaires, the interplay is extraordinary. On, “In My Father’s House,” which is taken from John 14, often read at funerals and is about heaven, which is pretty much straight gospel—Billy Graham revival stuff, and the Jodranaires give the song a rich, full breadth. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the truly loopy croon of “I Believe in the Man in the Sky,” where the narrator is expressing his faith—God is the man in the sky—and spouting proverb type lines—“If a sparrow is all I may be.” Like all good back up singers, the Jordanaires start off repeating the lines, or just humming behind the Elvis as he sings the verse. The Jordanaires sing the choruses. Then Elvis starts doing some falsettos, stretching out notes and the Jordanaires—in distinct baritone, tenor, covering all the vocal bases—these different registers begin vocalizing different syllables, almost like unified discordance. Then the Jordanaires start singing the verses and Elvis is background singing to the background singers! Then, Elvis is singing the choruses. Switching the vocal roles back and forth occurs fluidly and induces a delightful vertigo in the listener. The vocal arrangement in this song is as complex as anything you hear played by an orchestra, a multi-layered labyrinth of voice.

From a different era, we get “Why Me Lord,” a Kris Kristofferson song from a 1974 concert. Here, the lead is sung by J.D. Sumner of the stamps, the deepest baritone I have ever heard. His testicles must be the size of basketballs. Elvis sings back up, but he leads the full choir, and while as lead his voice remains paramount, it is always within the group. Elvis revels in this rare back-up vocal role. This contemporary call & response song is elevated in this box set; the Kristofferson ditty becomes as spiritual as the better known, centuries-old standbys.

Elvis dips into some other weird things in his Gospel journey, including a folksy “Joshua Fit the Battle,” an incredibly bouncy “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and a salvation army-esque, tent revival jam of “Down by the Riverside>When the Saints Go Marching in.” In the 70s, when Elvis was experimenting with some new sounds, trying to regain stature and chart position, we hear “A Feeling in My Body,” a respectable funk number, with that era’s wah-wah guitar, fat bass beats, high-hat cymbal percussion and hot Hammond organ licks. “Shaft” was influencing a lot of the pop music when Elvis recorded this tune, a blatant, albeit failed attempt to be with it and have a hit. The King wanted to prove he too could get funky! Yet, Elvis was astute enough to see where that funk music came from. He didn’t just bring Funk to Gospel, he gives the Gospel roots back to Funk. It is one of the few “black” sounding gospel songs on this 4-disc box, sort of ironic since Elvis did so many Gospel-derived, Ray Charles songs, yet for the most part, when The King turned to Good News tunes, he generally went for the more “inspirational,” Southern Baptist sounds, the unabashedly white-bread, mainstream arrangements. Yet, they are moving, soulful and the most compelling examples of that genre ever recorded.

The first Elvis Gospel songs were recorded as part of the sessions of his Christmas Album, beginning with “I Believe.”—yes, that one: I believe in every drop of rain that falls a flower grows song. Mawkish, there’s that element, you can’t really sing this type of inspirational music without coming off as a little mawkish now and then. The attributes of that connotation are negated by the absolute sincerity of Elvis. In spite of all the weirdness of his personal life, he had a Christian world view—and he actually was a voracious reader of spiritual texts, including Kahlil Gibran, the Gnostic gospels and Saint Augustine. He contemplated spiritual ideas. The liner notes point out that he was raised and thought of himself as a member of the Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal protestant denomination. Being a musician, his deeply held belief in a personal God was expressed when he sang these songs, many of them he had grown up with. He struggled with Faith, as we all do, but he also took joy in it and took time to contemplate Christian theology. You can not sing these songs at the level of intensity he achieves without that sincerity of faith. That sincerity is infectious, and in spite of any of your subjective feelings about Christianity, the listener can not help but be inspired by the love the Faith espouses that Elvis so confidently conveys.

Elvis had a gospel-inspired hit, “Crying in the Chapel,” included here and the liner notes also point out that his only three Grammy Awards were for his Gospel albums, which probably says as much about how lame the Grammy Awards were as to the high caliber of these recordings.

Maybe this box set is for the die-hard fans and completists. I’m the former and fast becoming the latter. When it comes to Christian music, I’m more inclined towards bluegrass and country Gospel—or Dylan’s (always Dylan) Slow Train period. That I love these songs by Elvis surprises me. Several of them rock, but mostly they are highly orchestrated. They have the sound popular with the 700 Club audience. That Voice overcomes any of the material’s drawbacks or biases against the presentation.

That Voice is the Alpha & the Omega. You get That Voice. That Voice! In all its versatility, in all its glory. You’ve probably heard “How Great Thou Art,” “In the Garden,” or “Amazing Grace,” before, likely at a funeral or maybe during a bought of insomnia when those really weird televangelist shows come on the cable. I guarantee, you will forget those versions and hear these songs with fresh ears when you hear them sung by The King.

The box set includes some informal recordings of Elvis, relaxing and killing time between his professional studio recordings. The “Studio Highlights” included in other Elvis collections are certainly better. These sound like open mike affairs, voices bleeding into one another. Some were recorded in a living room, not a studio. Elvis liked to sing the old gospel tunes he remembered when he kicked back.

Elvis is even playing piano on “Nearer My God To Thee,” and his voice is all over the place, he hits high notes, goes into a falsetto, tries tenor, tries deep, giggles through a some lyrics. The cluster of voices from the Stamps and those hanging out around the piano follow Elvis. Sometimes they harmonize, sometimes they are off key. This is informal singing. It is obvious not everyone in this Glee Club is sober. The song goes on and on. You hear titters and out right laughter as they slog through the old chestnut. Not a must-have recorded moment, not an overlooked or discovered lost gem. Not the best song on the box set by any means, but revealing and enjoyable nonetheless. You hear how musical this guy was, how music was deep in his bones, inseparable from his soul. Music was at the essence of his very being. There’s a lot of tragedy in the life of Elvis, he died young from a lot of mistakes he made and the isolated lifestyle he sustained. But this strange outtake shows the unfathomable depth of his talent and the pleasure he took in singing, and quite possibly, his greatest pleasure may have been singing gospel tunes with vocal groups small and large. If you want to hear just That Voice, this is the box set to get. My next Elvis jag is coming soon. These spiritual tunes will be added to that ever expanding set list. Have faith in that, have faith in That Voice.

West Indian/Caribbean Parade & Carnival

Loudest parade ever! You could hear the blaring two blocks away and by the time you were on the sidewalk watching the parade you had to scream into someone’s ear if you wanted what you had to say to be heard.

Parade is not an adequate description of the West Indian/Caribbean Parade & Carnival that took place on Saturday. There was no marching, just revelry. Stilt walkers, mummers (that’s how they were dressed)… flamboyance exploding, everyone dancing—at least swaying and generally grooving—in amorphous swirls around each truck-bed float. The sun glared down, the weather was tropical. The dance music from each truck blended together—ska, dub, reggae sounds. Island House I guess. The volume was deafening. Men and women on the trucks shimmying and shaking and the DJ flowing patios exhortations—in between garbled rhymes, exclaiming: Jersey City! Jersey City!

Bystanders were amazed, dumfounded, involuntarily moving with the music. I felt like I was tripping.

Flags were waved and worn as apparel—Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, Bahamas—our Hemisphere’s archipelago of island nations and vibrant cultures. The flotilla of floats and revelers inched down Montgomery, bore left on Grove. At City Hall, they passed viewing stands. Bleachers were set up on both sides of the street. An M.C. announced each contingent. His amplified announcement was barely distinguishable from the music from the floats and the cheers from the crowds. You could only hear a single continuous burst of celebration consisting of a shrill multitude of sounds.

The parade started at Lincoln Park, and after passing City Hall, it dispersed into the regular traffic of Christopher Columbus. There was supposed to be a day long festival, with food, entertainment and other activities at Exchange Place, the original end-point of the parade. There was a problem with the permit. Apparently, festival permits cost about $10,000—coincidently, the approximate price of a bribe to a Jersey City official, as indicated from reportage on the scores of arrests during this week’s Hudson County-wide political corruption sting. The organizers of the West Indian/Caribbean Parade & Carnival were slow in paying last year’s bill. Then, their check bounced. Earlier this year, city government passed a new ordinance: money up front. Another snafu of some sort arose. The festival component was cancelled. Still, Montgomery Street was treated to a hot afternoon of high energy Caribbean Spectacle. We had Carnival!

Friday, July 24, 2009

J.C. Spire

Displayed in the lobby of City Hall. Plaque reads: "Original Copper Ornament, City Hall Roof, circa 1894. One of three Surviving 1979 Fire." Jersey City Government may not be able to inspire these days, but at least in the past it could spire.

7/24/2009 Quote

“We’re probably going to want to upgrade but right now money is just a little tight.”

Overhead cell-phone conversation

Helen Cantrell: Rotunda Dreaming

I’m guessing that artists have been featured at the John W. Meagher Rotunda Gallery in City Hall (2nd floor) for years. My excuse for going now and not before is that now, I have a blog! It’s an old building and has that civic administrative feel, so going there is always an interesting experience, and I rarely have a reason to go there. I like the counter-point to the art in this space. Paintings are indicative of civilization and civilizations need government to sustain them. Maybe there are better places to display art, but on the other hand a lot of people pass through the Rotunda so a better cross section see the work than say, at an “art gallery,” where visitors are there specifically for the work or to have a planned for aesthetic experience. Unplanned aesthetic experiences might just be the most aesthetic! Or, something…

Apparently, the city-sponsored showcase features artists who are all Jersey City residents and they change on a monthly basis. Through July is Helen Cantrell. A bio found on the web says she’s “Inspired by “abstract expressionist” painters like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline and more “realist” modern art like Richard Diebenkorn, Gerhard Richter.”

Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Okay, I don’t remember enough from the scant art history classes I took about a hundred years ago to authoritatively name drop, but the work had a compelling blend of the actual and the abstract. While the images are impressionistic, the colors used were expressionistic, in other words, not the colors one finds in reality of the images depicted. They are deep, emotional colors, vivid yet echoing primitive tones. Her oil paintings, on canvas or board, were on display. I particularly was moved by “Two Girls, Beach,” and “Large Jersey City, Yellow Sky.” The colors—like shadowy, ruddy burgundy on the skin of the kids playing on the beach or the dense royal blue of the smokestacks in the J.C. skyline—express a feeling the artist has. She captures the emotional essence of a moment—right before the essence evaporates, right before the moment ends. You might expect a tension between the real moment and surreal hues, but I picked up on the dreamlike mood induced by the innovative use of color in what otherwise is a universally familiar image. Maybe this life is a dream after all... for a moment, anyway... many moments seem that way, don’t they…


Detective DiNardo Wake

A rain, cold for July, grimly fell. Police and firemen gathered under the canopy at the entrance of McLaughlin Funeral home. They were here with hundreds of others to pay their respects at the wake for Detective Marc Anthony DiNardo. His funeral was held the next day.

I didn’t know this man, except by sight. He was one of the cops you see around. His picture in the paper looked familiar. I’m pretty sure I talked to him once or twice. Not anything in depth, just a hello or good morning or a comment about the weather, an exchange of pleasantries. You do that sort of thing in Jersey City with familiar faces in the neighborhood, those extras in the movie of your life, especially the police. Unlike say, Los Angeles or New York City—or the suburbs—the police do not just cruise around in their squad cars. Maybe that’s one reason there are so few reports of police brutality or racial incidents here. Our cops walk the neighborhood. They are friendly and approachable. You interact with them. You get to see their decency.

The shooting made the news, a friend of mine from another part of the country called me, “what is happening in Jersey City?” News Vans appeared in the city the day the shooting occurred, broadcasters gathered footage and interviewed locals for days.

One thing that is happening is that people are sad. Tuesday morning he died. “I recognized him,” a buddy told me. “I was talking to him just the other day at the St. Anthony Feast. I didn’t know him, I was just talking to him there.”

I was getting a sandwich at the Bodega. “He used to come in here,” said the gal behind the counter.

“My business partner knew him,” said the guy she was talking to. “He grew up in Jersey City.”

“Messed up,” another friend of my said, later in the day. “My husband knew him.”

One, two, three, degrees of separation. You don’t have to be part of city government to know somebody who knows someone, it’s a small city. This new fissure in the fabric of our community is easily felt.

Detective DiNardo died the day before his 38th birthday. He was the husband and father of three young children. Born and raised in Jersey City, graduated St. Peter’s College in 1996, was the son of a retired Jersey City police lieutenant, Paul DiNardo. According to news reports, he was assigned to the Emergency Services Unit, which responds to hostage-takings and other police emergencies, two years ago. He and other officers in the unit rescued a young woman in the Hackensack River near the Wittpenn Bridge in June.

He was the 38th Jersey City police officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s 180 year history. One can only imagine how those close to him feel to have him taken away so violently and suddenly. For the rest of us, we lost a law officer who had a college degree, knew the community, and was part of the community. He was the kind of cop a city needs, the kind of cop a city prizes.

The incident unfolded just before dawn at a building on Reed Street. The assailant, by all accounts, a pathological criminal with a long arrest record, was armed with a pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun that had retractable stock and a sling lined with slotted shells—a weapon reported stolen in South Carolina two years ago. The man and his girlfriend went to a red Ford that the police were staking out—it had been used in an armed robbery of a van at a Jersey City oil-change garage a few weeks earlier. In the course of that crime, the van driver had been shot in the stomach and was released from the hospital only a couple of days prior to the Reed Street incident.

The woman saw the officers and started running, the man raised the shotgun and fired—blowing apart the windshield of the cruiser, grazing one of the policemen in the leg and shredding the passenger seat. As the suspects ran into the Reed Street building, the man continued firing at the officers. Backup was called in. Jersey City officers, Hudson County sheriff’s deputies and Port Authority Police Officers arrived. They sorrounded the building. Then, dressed in riot gear, some of the law enforcement front-liners headed up stairways and down halls, banging on doors to evacuate the building. Those blue uniformed extras in our movie were suddenly thrust into a violent action movie, where the bullets were all too real and every moment mattered.

At apartment 3D, into which the suspects had fled, Officer Michael Camacho stood in front of Detective DiNardo, who was holding a shot gun. Officer Camacho held a four-foot battering ram. Behind them was Officer Frank Molina, carrying a ballistic shield. According to J.C. Deputy Chief, Peter Nalbach, when the battering ram hit the door, the assailant fired rapid volleys from his high-powered shot gun. The police officers were hit. They went down.

The police returned fire and a violent psychopathic criminal will cause no one harm again. No bystanders were injured during this bloody siege, which took about 90 minutes.

Detective DiNardo was shot in the face and arrived at the Jersey City Medical Center in full cardiac arrest and remained unconscious. Officer Camacho, 25, sustained shotgun blasts to the neck—although still in critical condition and unable to speak, he is reportedly improving. Officer Malino, 35, was shot in the back but was protected by a bullet proof vest. He has been released from the hospital.

On the morning of Detective DiNardo’s wake there were even more News Vans in Jersey City. There was another breaking story to cover. More than 40 people were arrested on corruption charges, including the Deputy Mayor, Councilmen, Housing Inspectors and an Assemblyman from Jersey City. One man gave his life as part of his duty; politicians, whose duties include supervising the police department, used their office for illegal monetary gain. They were arrested on a day Detective DiNardo was remembered. An irony they all can be ashamed of.

Blue Bodega

I’m told Los Muchachos means ‘the boys’ in Spanish. Within the last two weeks or so, the exterior of this Monmouth Street Bodega was re-painted, to this dark shade of blue (Royal blue? Navy Blue? Better check with Siperstein.) I’ve always liked this shade of blue. They upgraded the place. The inside was refurbished. The selection of household items and beverages as good as any Bodega within a five block radius! Love the look! Love the feel!

“My son said painting the outside would help business and it has,” the proprietor told me. “My mother picked the color.”

There can never be too many Blue Bodegas in our Bodega Republic.

Pino Party

Pino’s Restaurant serves Italian and Spanish food, located on the triangle on Coles—Newark & First complete the isosceles. Every summer, Pino’s hold a party, this summer it was the restaurant’s 30th anniversary. I don’t know the original location but the establishment has not been located on this triangle for all of its three decades. There used to be a fruit fly infested produce bodega there.. That closed and there was construction to upgrade the building. The plan was for a new restaurant. They even had a marquee. The place looked fancy, Gourmet Italian. It was on the verge of opening and stayed on that verge for a couple of years, an extraordinary length of time at least. I think I remember seeing furnishings in the window. The debut seemed near. Dave, a freelance construction guy who has been working gigs in the neighborhood for at least a decade, told me that there had been a violent falling out between the partners—one actually shot the other dead in the street—that’s what he told me. Somebody else told me the story was true. The building got upgraded then lay fallow for so long. Eventually the unused marquee was taken down and Pino’s opened. Every Summer there's a Saturday party with Spanish Bands. Folks danced up a storm this year. The cats sustained an exhilarating groove.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Big House

In 1965, according to the Fire Chief, three fire stations were consolidated into the Big House, west of Brunswick. He was sitting outside joking around with the other firemen on duty.

“The best part is seeing you guys here,” I said. “Means nothing bad is happening.”

“Oh, we just came back from two medical calls. We’re probably going to get another one any minute.”

Dothan on Jersey

Stoop sales are a common custom in the Jersey City Summer. Jessica was selling the usual knick knacks, garage sale items from people who live in a dwelling without a garage. The banner strung above the table—most stoop sales have no banner—stated all proceeds go to Covenant Hospice in Dothan, Alabama.

“I’m feeling nostalgic, they took care of both my parents.”

Hospice provides end of life care. Covenant has the tagline, “adding life to days.” I told her my mom just celebrated her 90th birthday. But I was interested in the Dothan part.

“I’ve lived in Alabama. Our family still has a house there.”

Politicians and the news media like to play up regional differences. The reality is, our personal connections unite us all. Named after an Ancient City mentioned in the Book of Genesis—it’s where Judah sold his brother, Joseph, into slavery—Dothan is in Southeastern Alabama, 20 miles from Georgia and 18 miles from Florida, and at least for a Summer Afternoon, on Jersey Avenue in Jersey City.

Honor The Dead By Helping The Living

This old war memorial was on the side of the Big House station. The saying at the base of the memorial grabbed me—“Honor the Dead By Helping the Living.” May it always be so.

Italian Street Festival: Tradition Lives

The Italian Street Festival is only a month away. The weeks preceding this annual Jersey City event—a three-day fund raiser for Holy Rosary Church held on 6th Street between Monmouth and Brunswick—are always hectic ones for Carmine Colassurdo, owner of the Gold Coast Fitness Gym on Newark Avenue. Booths, vendors, entertainment—there’s a list as long as your arm of people and things to coordinate. As usual, he’s on the organizing committee and takes an active role in making sure everything and everyone is ready. The Italian Street Festival is Jersey City’s longest continuously running street fair. The “Feast” is in Carmine's blood. He tells me, “It’s about keeping tradition alive.”

This year the 97th Festival takes place. A neighborhood block part attended by residents city-wide as well as returning former residents, the festival features an enticing array of Italian food favorites—sausage & peppers, zeppole, pizza, rice balls. Beer, wine, and mixed drinks are available. Bands play on the portable stage. There are games of skill and chance with stuffed toys and other objects for prizes. There are 50/50 raffles. There are rides and activities for children. Vendors sell religious items, t-shirts, toys, jewelry. Special masses, novenas, processions and other spiritual activities are held for the faithful. Red, green and white—the colors of the Italian flag—are seen everywhere. The tradition is alive and well and celebrated by thousands of residents, regardless of ethnicity.

The Colassurdo family—with the help of many friends—gave Jersey City the Feast, a local event embodying Italian-American Culture, the Immigrant Experience, Catholic Theology and the History of the United States. Carmine is third generation Jersey City. His family—basically his Great Uncle Mike and Great Grandfather Modesto—organized the first Festival—known then and still called by many, the “Feast”—in 1912. The Feast was the American version of an annual festival held in their home village in Italy for centuries.

Great Uncle Mike came to the U.S. in the late 1890s, one of millions of immigrants to be processed through Ellis Island. He settled in the first place he arrived at on the mainland of the United States, Jersey City. Great Uncle Mike came from Morrone Del Sannio, a small village in the Province of Camobasso, located in the mountainous Molise region of southern Italy. Like the majority of Italian immigrants during this period in U.S. History, he was a descendent of rural peasants—generations of whom endured poverty, oppression, famine, natural disasters and war. American cities were more often than not, the first cities these individuals ever saw, much less called home.

Immigrants from one area of their home country often clustered together in the New World. Italian Village was the neighborhood located on the blocks between Coles & Brunswick Street and from Christopher Columbus to 8th Street (give or take a few blocks). Holy Rosary, founded in 1885 and believed to be New Jersey’s oldest Italian Parish, was the church these new immigrant families attended. Alongside immigrants from Sicily and Naples, Italian Village contained a colony of piasanos (Italian for ‘countrymen’) from the small Camobasso village of Morrone Del Sannio. Like other newly arrived Italians, they found jobs as stone masons, construction laborers, and line-workers in the dozens of factories popping up on the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River. Great Uncle Mike, who passed away in 1940, was a small businessman servicing the community. He operated grocery stores and cafes and eventually, the Colassurdo Tavern, on 3rd and Colgate, which lasted through the late 1940s.

Life may have been better in America, but it still meant long hours of hard work and for a while at least, being strangers in a strange land. But, the newly arrived were determined to keep some aspects of their past, like family, faith and community, an integral part of their present. In 1902, Great Uncle Mike convinced his fellow piasanos from Morrone Del Sannio to join him in forming the Maria S.S. (“santissima”) Dell'Assunta Society, which means Mary Most Holy of the Assumption Society. The Society was based on a similar organization in Morrone that was centuries old. The purpose of the fraternity—membership was exclusively male—was to promote Devotion to the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ in the incarnation of Her Assumption and perform charitable work for the community. They sent money back to the impoverished hometown of its members.

Catholic Devotions, although generally sanctioned and recognized by Roman Catholic authorities, consist of prayers that are outside official liturgy. Unlike attending Sunday Mass, Devotions are not a mandatory part of the catechism. They are an outgrowth, and personal expression, of deeply felt faith. The Assumption of Mary is a corner stone of Roman Catholic belief in the ultimate sacredness of Mary. This highly mystical concept dates back to the earliest years of Christianity. Mary, the Blessed Mother, was born without sin, meaning Original Sin, which is the sin of Adam & Eve that everyone has and is wiped away by Baptism. The Assumption of Mary is the belief that Mary was assumed into Heaven, body and soul. The mystical core of this tenet of faith is that God, the creator of all, has complete power over the physical and the non-physical, earth and heaven.

The Feast of the Assumption was declared a Holy Day of Obligation by Pope Pius XII. There is a great misunderstanding, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, about papal declarations—they are not all “Infallible.” The Infallibility Doctrine, which was declared possible by Vatican I in 1870, means that when the Pope declares something Infallible “ex Cathedra”—from the seat or throne of the Church—he cannot be in error. Since 1870, a Pope has only used his Infallibility option once—on November 1, 1950, when Pope Pius XII issued the Munificentissimus Deus, which recognized that the Blessed Mother "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” It is the only declaration by a Pope—any Pope, Encyclicals included—accepted by Catholics as Infallible.

Although Catholic theologians point to several passages in the Old and New Testaments from which the idea of Assumption is derived, it is the only Holy Day of Obligation (the days other than the Sabbath when Roman Catholics are obligated to attend Mass) not specifically found in the Gospels, but based solely on Church teachings and Dogma. The Assumption is recognized and celebrated by Russian and Greek Orthodox churches, Lutherans, some Anglican ministries and a few other Protestant denominations. It is also a National Holiday in dozens of countries throughout Europe and South America, as well as the Philippines and Russia. Why it falls on August 15th is unclear, but likely the actual date corresponds to pre-Christian, summer celebrations in Pagan Europe.

Many in the rank and file of the church celebrated the Feast of the Assumption centuries before Pope Pius XII elevated August 15th to a Holy Day. The Devotion was not a mandate from the clergical authorities, but a populous movement. Jersey City’s Assumption Society began nearly half a century before the Pope’s Infallible declaration and had been a Society among the devout peasants of Morrone del Sannio for more than 400 years.

Father Mario Colavita, pastor of S. Maria Maggiore (Mary Magdalene) in present day Morrone del Sannio, wrote to Carmine, “The Mother of God Mary most holy so venerated in Morrone in the image of Our Lady of the Assumption is a wood carved statue from the year 1600. She is the protector of our people who as always accompanied them in all situations most especially in the new social and physical environment that your great grand father found in America.”

“Our Lady of the Assumption was the patroness of that town,” says Carmine. “They prayed to her for centuries. The villagers believed she protected them against earth quakes and famines.”

The Society was always affiliated with Holy Rosary Parish, but acted as a separate entity. When the Society initiated the street festival honoring the Assumption—five years before the U.S. entered World War I—they were carrying on another tradition from Morrone Del Sannio. The Feast raised funds for the Society, but more importantly, it was a community-wide celebration in honor of the Devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption. Originally, the festival ran for nine days, the 9th day always being August 15th. This is called Novena—the number nine in Latin—which is often part of a Devotion. The faithful participate in nine days of prayer, and usually daily mass attendance, when they are fulfilling a Novena. The food, the music, the games—they were all part of the celebration—but the culmination of the Novena was the procession on the 9th day. A life-sized statute of Mary, like the one in Morrone Del Sannio, was held aloft by men of the parish. Followed by hundreds of Holy Rosary Parishioners, the Statue was carried up and down the streets of Italian Village where families would give donations and/or drape ribbons on the icon, paying tribute and giving thanks to their sacred Patroness.

Carmine’s Grandfather, Modesto, a stone mason, immigrated to Jersey City in 1910 and of course, became a member of the Society and helped his older brother organize the first Festival two years later. Every August since, the Festival has been held. World War I, World II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, 911, Afghanistan, the Iraq War; the roaring 20s, the Great Depression, the conformist 50s, the psychedelic 60s, the urban decay of the 70s & 80s, Clinton-era revitalization, the dawn of the 21st Century. Ten decades of Italian Americans celebrating their culture and sharing it with all their friends and neighbors.

Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, keeping this Tradition alive was the Colassurdo family, including Carmine’s Father, Michael (named of course after Great Uncle Mike), who was born in 1922 and of course Carmine, who is 47 years old. “I was always there as a kid,” says Carmine. “I remember just having fun and having a good time and when it was closing, grabbing a broom and sweeping the sidewalk, helping my father clean up. It was just what our family did.”

A mutual friend of ours, Mary Anne, also Italian-American, also born and bred in Jersey City, tells me, “being at the Feast are some of my earliest memories. I was probably still in diapers when I went to my first one. I go every year.”

By the 60s, the Maria S.S. Dell'Assunta Society essentially became a Society in name only and with the passing of Modesto in 1973, its activities gradually faded away. The festival was still popular but had been taken over by Holy Rosary. The second generation of Italian Immigrants, whose parents originated from places in Italy other than Morrone Del Sannio, increased their influence on the annual event. In addition to honoring Our Lady of the Assumption, they made the festival a dual Devotional affair, also honoring Saint Rocco, whose feast day, conveniently, is August 16th. Saint Rocco, who lived in the 14th century, is venerated by Catholics as the protector against contagious diseases. He is usually depicted with an open sore on his left leg—few images of saints expose any afflictions—and with a dog.

Born in France, Saint Rocco went on a pilgrimage to Rome while the plague was ravaging Italy. He devoted himself to caring for the plague victims, curing them with prayer and the sign of the cross in numerous cities and villages of Italy. He soon contracted the plague—one symptom was an open sore. He took refuge in a cave, where he slept on leaves and drank water from a stream. Miraculously, a dog owned by a lord in a nearby castle, brought Saint Rocco food. Eventually, the lord of this castle followed his dog into the woods and discovered Saint Rocco and brought him to his castle where the saint gradually recuperated. More than other Catholics, Italians, especially those from Southern Italy, venerated this saint. They brought that Devotion to the United States.

“Villages tended to have their own patron saint, and there were some Italians who venerated Saint Rocco in Jersey City and their Devotion became part of the Feast,” says Carmine. No one is sure of the year, but there seems to have been no objection to adding the beloved Saint Rocco to Jersey City’s annual summer street fair.

The Statue of Saint Rocco, like the Statue of Our Lady—which was donated by Modesto and the Society in the 40s and recently restored—has a procession during the Feast. Both statues can be viewed year-round in Holy Rosary church.

When he was in his 30s, and a father himself, Carmine, a practicing Catholic and parishioner of Holy Rosary all his life, and with his thriving downtown Fitness Center, also now a successful businessmen in Jersey City, decided to get more involved with the Feast. He joined the festival organization committee. Putting on a street festival requires arranging food and other vendors and entertainment, making sure signs and banners are printed in time. There is promotion to be done—convincing store owners to hang the signs in their windows and the local media to publicize the event. It’s a collaborative endeavor; everyone involved in making the Feast happen is a volunteer. They spend countless hours of their free time doing this work. In addition to all the food and fun for the non-parishioners, special masses, novenas—still an integral part of the overall celebration—must also be organized. The procession traverses only a few blocks, not every street in the old Italian Village neighborhood. The festival only runs three days, not the Novena nine of yore. Nonetheless, arranging the secular and the sacred components of the Feast is a strenuous enterprise.

Carmine joined in the work with gusto, some summers taking more of a leadership role than other summers. While he is too modest to admit it, since his first adult involvement about a decade ago, a new energy has been injected into the Feast. He initiated the recruitment of select outside vendors as well as more professional entertainers. Compared to the 80s and 90s, the Italian Street Festival is now more lively and enjoyable and for the parish, more profitable. A large part of the credit is due to Carmine’s enthusiastic participation.

As his involvement increased, Carmine began to think about the other facets of the history behind the Feast. He fondly remembered stories his relatives traded about the old days of the Society. Carmine desired to pass the traditions down to his children and keep them alive for his vast extended family. An Aunt told him he had a distant cousin in Jersey City he might want to contact, Phil Fuscillio. They had only met a few times, but now when they talked, they had a kindred notion: reviving tradition. The two of them decided to resurrect the Maria S.S. Dell'Assunta Society, this time as a 21st Century-styled, non-profit corporation.

For the last several years, Feast attendees, whether or not they are aware of it, visit two Maria S.S. Dell'Assunta Society Booths, “The Wines of Camobasso Tasting Booth,” and “the Vintage Photo Gallery.” In addition to going to Holy Rosary, a portion of the proceeds from the two booths are used to maintain the Society. And, besides some local charitable work and support of Parish activities—they paid for the restoration of the Assumption statue in Holy Rosary—the 21st century Society has revived another activity first began by Great Uncle Mike, sending money back to the village of Morrone Del Sannio. In 2003, there was an earthquake in the Mountains of Camobasso that severely damaged the Morrone church. Society-raised funds aided reconstruction. In a letter thanking Carmine, Father Colvatia wrote: “I thank you from the heart for the collection you have taken and will use it to bring the church of the Magdalene up to date. I thank you also from the heart for the many initiatives you have taken up, in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption.”

The circle is complete. That circle continues today. The bond between the people of Jersey City and the people of Morrone Del Sannio is once again tangible. Tradition may be about acknowledging the past, but to endure the passage of time, tradition must be renewed and made relevant. Carmine has a saying about the Feast, “Tradition lives...”

Next month, all of Jersey City again joins this living Tradition.

Agitator Unicorn

I’m glad to live in a time when graffiti artists have their own websites. I ran across this painting of a unicorn on a fence. Okay, maybe it’s not graffiti. They probably had permission. The picture is witty and playful. It’s nice to see. Apparently, the unicorn is the work of the Agitators. A visit to their website ( reveals some interesting ideas. Their “mission” reads: “AGITATORS is a collective of vibrant individuals setting out to engage the Jersey City community as a creative asset. We share the happy burden of art making through collective action.” I’m not sure exactly what that means—is the asset the collective or the community? Inexact dichotomies aside, there is a compelling theme throughout their website, “We Will Save Beauty.” Finally, artists not too cool to mention beauty. That aspiration must be commended.

Chill Out

Only a few years ago, Chill Out was ghetto slang. Now it’s an advertising slogan for automotive air conditioning repair & installation. In fact, it’s now hackneyed and out of date even for that purpose, everywhere but along the back streets of Jersey City.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rik Mercaldi Set/Groove on Grove

The power rock trio reborn! Some of the bands at this summer’s edition of Groove on Grove have been more Grove than Groove, but these cats – “Rik Mercaldi Set” – can really play. A blend of a Punk Band & a Jam Band, high-energy and aggressive but when it came to the bridges and the break downs, some complex musical dialog going on between the guitarist, Mercaldi and the bass player, Paul Blomstrom and Mike Roze on drums. They sustained a momentum that handled exploration. Very Cream-ish. I emerged out of the Path station returning from the Manhattan side after a frustrating and grueling (it’s the economy stupid) day at the day job at about mid-set, where Roze sang “It’s Too Late,” the great Jim Carroll song. Back in the day, I loved this record, Catholic Boy—the last great New York Punk album. “It’s too late to fall in love with Sharon Tate!” Who the heck remembers the Jim Carroll Band? They had me at hello, but the remaining set was kicking, all originals by Mercaldi. Couldn’t quite get a handle on the lyrics—one was called “Happy Pill”—but they cooked and rocked hard, with subtlety, musical craftsmanship and intelligence. Even the power pop of one tune didn’t tarry or over do it bombast-wise. I’m thinking, early Who. Sure wish I caught the whole set. Visit:

How Green Was My Valley

The movies at Bryant Park on Summer Mondays begin at dusk. I usually walk through there about six or seven, although this was like 5:30. I’ve never seen more than maybe a hundred folks or so at this time, but on Monday almost the entire lawn was occupied. The film? How Green Was My Valley by John Ford. I’m not that familiar with it, but am a devotee to his Westerns. John Ford can still bring out the crowds. This Academy Award winning Film, according to Wikipedia, “chronicles a socio-economic way of life passing and the family unit disintegrating.” Maybe film technique was not the only relevant attraction her. Of course, it was free.