Thursday, April 29, 2010
They’re widening Christopher Columbus. The first sign was aborcide back in November. I liked the oddness of the image, metal stairs for a building’s side entrance disembodied from the building. But when you think why it is there, temporarily—so sidewalks can be removed for wider roads—discouraging pedestrian traffic and encouraging automobile traffic—I’m disgusted.
Here’s a metaphor: You can reduce your intake of fats and sugar, and also perform exercise, or you can just get bigger clothes. Either improve your health or conceal your obesity. Guess what choice is indicated by this construction scene? Democrats, once leaders in environmentalism—Al Gore won a Nobel Prize—have a state and local party funded by real estate industry bribes. Every condominium sales agent tells the prospective buyer “Easier to own a car and drive in Jersey City than Manhattan or Hoboken!” We’re a city that welcomes drivers.
A wider thoroughfare, hurray! A multi-lane highway right through a residential neighborhood, what a great idea! Make it easier for more cars to speed towards the Holland Tunnel or Exchange Place. I guess the promised but yet to materialize 16,000 new jobs from the recent abatement scheme that allowed another large finance company to move here tax-free will employee folks far away from the Light-Rail. We need more automobiles downtown?
How many young men and women have died in Iraq? During the last decade, Exxon has made record profits—not just big profits, but the biggest profits in the history of profits. Too big a picture? Cars killing pedestrians account for 25 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state of New Jersey—159 were killed in 2009, a record for our state! Murdered while crossing a street, in a state where Pedestrians have the right of way.
Easing the flow of traffic in order to accommodate more cars, what a great idea for everybody—everybody but those who walk around their town. In other words, we who live here.
Out-of-towners on the Turnpike already think of Downtown Jersey City as a Holland Tunnel short cut. We should be discouraging traffic. Jersey City has a decent bus system, a light-rail and of course, the very groovy PATH. Another lane of traffic in this urban area should be counter-intuitive. But, our corrupt officials enacted urban planning that benefits only developers and the wealthier among us. Last summer’s exposure of this corruption—not to mention a surly, uncharismatic bore of a candidate—dampened voter turnout in November and put a right-wing freak in Trenton. Christie is hell-bent on hiking bus & rail fares and making mass-transit less convenient. He is opposed to any gasoline tax and wishes to encourage more cars on the road.
In a culture of bribery, the progressives are in cahoots with the right wing. Less sidewalk, more road? Improve your health or conceal your obesity? Deciding on the latter is easier and more instantly gratifying, but the toll on quality of life and longevity is irrevocable.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
According Verdin Clock Company, the head of this clock was recently removed for safety reasons by the city. This clock is the one on Newark, about a block west of this clock that was finally fixed.
The Newark Avenue clock was the one featured in my original time-post and was never repaired. This clock was more than just not running though, the actual time-piece was involved in an accident. Hit by a truck. There’s an insurance settlement involved and I’m not clear at what stage that process is now at. The Verdin spokesperson said that within 60 days of the purchase order, the clock will be replaced but I’m not clear if the purchase order has been received or is even imminent. I can understand the safety precaution of removing the clock head. There has been some construction activity within the vicinity of late—of course there is always something going on around there, so why the recent concern? I’ve lived in this town long enough to know understanding it requires something other than reason. The plastic garbage on-top of the clock-less clock tower sort of clashes with our new street-scaped Downtown, but at least we don’t have to worry about the wrong time (or a falling clock head)!
This is the sidewalk beneath the Cherry Blossom Tree picture I posted here about two weeks ago. Those petals have fallen from the branches and now blanket the concrete. Weather is not the same as it was when I was growing up. Everyone realizes that and we all know that the weather patterns changing is due to an overly polluted planet. Even so, it’s too bad we got limited to four seasons. Even modifiers like early and late fall short. Phases, in-between-ness seem to multiply the number of seasons. There’s the blossom blooming season and now the fallen blossoms season.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
From How To Read And Why by Harold Bloom. I’ve been re-reading this great book and probably could select a quote from every page to post.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Usually it’s a Q&A and talk post film with an author and/or film scholar. Last month, for a screening of All Along the Water Front, the Q&A was particularly good. Seeing that film in Hudson County was an unforgettable and singular cinema experience. The post-film talk served as a sublime enhancement.
I’m probably game to see any Black & White film on real celluloid projected on a 50 foot screen. It’s just beautiful.
Last Friday, no scholars or lectures to be had about To Kill A Mockingbird, but volunteers had put together this interesting showcase display on the book and film, including autographed editions by Harper Lee and stills from the film, etc. It was in the lobby.
It is not just a great novel and a great film, but one of greatest novel-to-film translations in cinematic history.
I’m actually a late comer to the Mockingbird phenomena. I never read the book growing up. It was never assigned in school or part of any literature class. Which is sad, but on the other hand, teachers have killed George Orwell for me and John Steinbeck needed an ongoing reclamation project.
I first read only a few years ago, and saw the film the first time (and until the Jersey City screening only) a few days after reading it. In fact, I was visiting my friend in Virginia, who gave me the book to read—she loves it—and we watched the film together. I read the book on the way down on the train. Coming to it as an adult frees it of baggage some might have. It’s a really well written novel. The film is a poignant work of true beauty. Seeing it on the big screen and sharing it with an enthusiastic audience was simply incredible, a memory worth cherishing. The scene where the guilty verdict comes in and Atticus leaves the court room and the black folk in the segregated balcony stand up in respect—the Reverend nudges Scout and tells her to stand because "you're father is passing by"— well, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes and I wasn't the only one. The film was made in 1962 and is a powerful piece of work no matter the format. It is one of the greatest films ever made. But on a big screen, as it was made to be shown, the experience is on a whole other level.
Mockingbird is several novels actually: a story of child hood; a depiction of the existential interpretation of the world through a child’s eyes; a gothic southern tale; a civil rights parable and a suspenseful courtroom drama. The fact all these devices work separately and apart is remarkable. Not one false note or tone deaf sentence, and the film makers were able to translate the novel in near entirety to the screen.
An interesting controversy has risen over the years about the role Truman Capote played in shaping the original novel.
Nancy believes that Truman Capote wrote the novel. My buddy Tony believes that Capote, being such a publicity whore and ego maniac, could never have kept quiet about writing it if he did – the dang thing won a Pulitzer after all. Both are big Capote fans.
Me, not so much. I find In Cold Blood boring and pretentious. On the other hand, his early work is perfect. Breakfast At Tiffany’s – a god-awful film – contains the best sentences ever written in English. I see Capote’s hand in the first half of Mockingbird, but not the second half. The first half is essentially the world of Scout; the second half is the courtroom drama. Capote knew how to capture the mind-set world of childhood innocence, especially as that innocence slips away. The novel is cut in two tone-wise. In that sense, the film is more fluid and less abrupt.
No Air Conditioning at Loew’s, so there is only more film weekend. They’ve been doing decades—Mockingbird was the 60s. In May, will be the 70s. Sadly, all color films.
Here’s the fact, revival film theaters are few and far between. I wish Loew’s could run this program more often, every weekend. I often wish they showed a little less mainstream classic films. But , the workers are all volunteers, the budget is shoe-string and there’s no money to invest. What a fantastic space though. Maybe less is more, going is always a special evening. What a great film experience.
Mom turns 91 in June. Here she is in a session with her Occupational Physical Therapist, Charlotte. She has ankle-weights on and she’s lifting her legs. She’s had walking issues of late. She was supposed to be using a cane, a doctor recommendation. But she performs the motions easily and without discomfort.
“Canes are for old people,” she says.
I didn’t know about the prescribed walking device. She has a walker too. She lives in assisted living. When I visited, they were never in sight.
Last month, Mom took a tumble. She walks around the assisted living facility, takes a walk after breakfast, lunch and dinner. More than half the folks there cannot walk unaided. The majority either use walkers or are wheel chair bound—and Mom is one of the oldest residents.
“When that happens to me that I can’t walk anymore, put me in the ground,” Mom has declared.
She said the same thing about driving. She drove until age 89—her license got suspended because she was driving South on Route 17 North (on the shoulder) and was stopped by a police officer. She lives in the New Jersey suburbs, where there is no mass transit culture—unless you want to go to Manhattan for your 9-5.
I did some investigating, “the town has a community bus, it will take you to the mall, shopping, to church.”
“Those are for seniors.” She was 89 at the time.
Last year, she became a resident of the assisted living facility.
The tumble meant a visit to the hospital. She was banged up some, doctors feared a concussion. She stayed over night. Now, she has to use the cane. The fellow residents at the facility and all the employees have been alerted. She cannot be seen without a cane. Physical Therapy was also prescribed.
Mom has gotten obstinate. Make that, more obstinate. My sister is worried that this attitude could get her thrown out of the facility. Her refusal to use the cane could be seen as a liability. I was angry that Mom kept the cane prescription from me, and I wasn’t the only one.
Charlotte explained to me that she needs the cane for balance. There are two reasons canes become required, either for support or balance. Age has turned mom wobbly (sadly, her politics remain conservative).
With me there, Charlotte emphasized the need to use the cane. “I don’t know if you hear me or not, but you can’t just carry the cane” – she mimicked the way I’ve seen Mom carry the cane – “you have to use it when you walk.”
My mother nodded.
I spoke up, “She heard you, she doesn’t want to use the cane. She’s carrying it so people won’t yell at her since she was hospitalized.”
“Is that true?” asked Charlotte.
“Please keep your mouth shut, Timothy.”
“Stop acting like you’re still 80, Mom.” It’s one of my favorite jokes.
Age is so weird. Mom is healthier than a lot of folks younger than her. She is lucid and still works—a part time job at her church’s rectory—although the forgetfulness is increasing.
But she doesn’t forget to lie about the cane.
We took a walk together around the assisted living facility. Mom was using the cane, at least when I was looking.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal
From Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
(sort of an obvious one for an obscurist like myself but what can I say, I've been listening to Highway 61 Revisited and Live 1966)
Monday, April 19, 2010
According to a 1947 Jersey Observer article available in the Jersey Room at the Jersey City Library, Main Branch: “A crowd of 12,000 saw the ceremonies at which the cornerstone of the new church was laid on September 29,1872. The First Service was held in the church on August 17th, 1873.”
St. Michael had a school attached; it closed sometime in the 1980s although surviving classmates hold a reunion annually. Also in the Jersey Room are two existing copies of Parish Priest, by Reverend Leroy E. McWilliams—co-written with Jim Bishop, a local reporter. McWilliams was the pastor at the Church from the 30s into the 50s, a hey-day of sorts for Jersey City and the book, an insightful and entertaining read, is about the life of a big city pastor during Mayor Frank Hague era. It’s a snap shot of American City Machine politics from a unique perspective – the pastor of a church.
The book is also the only place to find some information about the paintings of the Seven Sorrow of Mary’s. These images are uncommon. I can’t seem to find out if there are other churches in New Jersey with them, but I don’t know of any and it doesn’t seem that the Newark headquarters keep an icon catalog. The Seven Sorrows of Mary are a devotion especially popular in Italian culture. Unlike some other images of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, such as the Assumption, which are based on Catholic Dogma, the Seven Sorrow are taken directly from Gospel stories of Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus, and not the fun ones like getting frankincense from a Wiseman or coercing his son to make more wine for a wedding (apparently there is an even more obscure devotion, the Seven Joys of Mary).
The Seven Sorrows remind us of the sacrifice of this woman, especially the tragedy of witnessing her son’s unjust execution. You don’t have faith to appreciate that purpose, or to appreciate how these stories and images provokes reflection on the totality of motherhood. People have strength and wisdom form that reflection for centuries. I had never seen them before seeing them at the church on 9th street. Before the restoration, you could barely make them out. A thick film from decades of candle smoke as well dust and grime covered the paintings. They were obscured almost entirely. Ever since the restoration clarified the images, sharpening the colors and the scenes depicted, they’ve beguiled me. The paintings are beautiful and fascinating.
McWilliams seemed to have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which was sort of uncommon for an Irishman, or an Irish-American. The matriarchal leanings of Roman Catholic worship tend to be the domain of Latin language based countries. That might be an unfair generalization, and this was just likely the personal taste of this particular cleric, but at the time there were waves of Italian immigrants alongside the Irish immigrants and they were all coming to the same church and school. I can’t help but see this as a kind of bridging of cultures during that era.The images were installed in 1939, a hectic year of growth for the Parish.
The timing makes sense. The era of immigration was coming to an end, but that also meant in Jersey City, a major beneficiary of the massive influx of new citizens, now had established residents—raising families, paying taxes—for two or three decades at least. The depression also had ended, thanks to the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of our great Presidents.
The industrial infrastructure was being built, unions were strong, and the factories were gearing up with the Lend-Lease program as a prelude to the industrial production required by World War II. Jersey City was at or at least near the center of this boom. But, as the McWillaims points out, a side-note development had occurred. St. Michael’s was in litigation with the Erie Railroad Company. The church was suing the company for damages due to soot and other aspects of the railroad.
Eventually the company settled out of court, but only after intercession by Mayor Frank Hague. “I hope the fact that Hague could have enacted crippling ordinances against the railroad and nothing to do with the settlement.”This settlement spurred donations. In the next paragraph, McWilliams says, “I appealed to the people and the people gave.”The church was refurbished, and McWilliams – this is 1939 – transformed the “west transept” into Our Lady’s Chapel and started a weekly Novena to “Our Sorrowful Mother in August and attracted 1200 people every Friday.”
Also in 1939, “The Via Matris was also put up over the Stations of the Cross. They were reproductions in oil, of Jansens’ original work in the Cathedral at Antwerp.”
The Via Matris is of course is the Latin term for the icons. The crosses that appear in front of the lower portion of each Seven Sorrows painting are actually the top of the large, ornate Stations of the Cross McWilliams refers to.
Seven Sorrows sounds familiar to me but I don’t know anybody who had a devotion to them or what that devotion entailed. It’s customary to say a Hail Mary before each according to one website, and according to another there is also a special Seven Sorrows rosary, which I have actually asked a priest or two about and they were unaware of such a thing, or whether it is a special way to say the rosary or a distinct set of beads. The novena McWilliams mentions is no longer held and I have no information as to when it was discontinued. The Cathedral he mentions is Cathedral of Our Lady, which took 170 years to complete, opening in 1521 – although according to Wikipedia, a church devoted to the Blessed Virgin had been on the same site as early as the 9th century.
Abraham Janssens van Nuyssen, was born in Antwerp—either in 1567 or 1576 and died in 1632, was a Flemish Baroque painter and was considered one of the best historical and religious painters of the era, although he was over shadowed by Rubens. “In correctness of drawing Janssens excelled his great contemporary.” The Seven Sorrows are part of Mariology, which is the theology of the Virgin Mother with Christian theology. It’s pretty Catholic. The protestant denominations aren’t as obsessed with the figure of Mary, and don’t believe in Intercession. Then again, they don’t have this cool art. Four of the Seven deal with the crucifixion of her son. Only one is Mary directly mentioned in the scripture--#5, the crucifixion. In John’s Gospel, Jesus basically orders the Apostle—the only Apostle to have died, not as a martyr, but of old age—to take care of his mother, then he dies. Sorrows 4, 6 and 7 while based on Scripture regarding the execution of Jesus Christ—Mary isn’t specifically mentioned.
The crucifixion—and the resurrection for that matter—are in all of the four, but there are differences in the accounts. Mary of course appears in all four, so it is logical to conclude she was present for the entire crucifixion, even if she isn’t mentioned. So the artist—and the faithful who first started this devotion—had to ask themselves when contemplating this particular line of scripture: “what about the mother?”
(Gospel of Luke 2:34-35)
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary, his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.)
I wondered why this was a “Sorrow.” The holy day is known as The Presentation, and is the circumcision of Jesus. Joseph and Mary take their new born to the temple—I guess they came right from the manger. Simeon, an old man (and Moyle I guess), sees the infant Jesus, declares him the messiah, and thanks the Lord for letting him see this day. What is so sorrowful? It’s the parenthetical comment (at least in mine, Disolcations readers might know by know I prefer one of the original King James translation), which is prophecy—a sword shall pierce your soul—in other words, you will witness the death of your son.
2 – The Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family. (Gospel of Matthew 2:13)
And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word:
For Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.Fleeing with a newborn.
What Herod did is known as the massacre of the innocents, where he ordered all males two years or younger to be killed.
3 – The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days. (Luke 2:43)
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
This story—the only one in the Gospels depicting a Jesus as a young boy—actually goes on for several lines. Mary and Joseph searched three days in Jerusalem even going to their families before winding up at the temple, where Jesus is bedazzling the religious scholars with his scriptural knowledge. It shows a while has passed before the famous line: “How is that you sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Both the loss and the #1, presentation are also Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. That shows the two sides of the story, two ways to take it. The loss of the child the sorrow, and the finding of the child, joyful.
4 – The Meeting of Jesus and Mary along the Way of the Cross. (Luke 23:27)
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him
5 – The Crucifixion, where Mary stands at the foot of the cross. (Gospel of John 19:25-27)
Now, there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalne. When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold they son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
If you notice the first sorrow, you see two young people, a girl and a boy. The girl has red hair. In this depiction, Mary is at the foot of the cross, and she has the same color hair. Are these the same in the first picture, or a visualization of the prophecy by Simeon, that is where your soul will be pierced, seeing your son die on a cross?
6 – The Descent from the Cross, where Mary receives the dead body of Jesus in her arms. (Matthew 27:57)
And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him When the evening was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple. He went to Pilate and he begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
I thought I knew all the ones in our fair city – and we have some pretty good ones – but my buddy Ricardo kept telling me, “have you ever been to the Liberty State Park Diner?”
The answer would be no. So when our schedules finally had some mutual free time, we picked up Eddie and went to lunch. This diner is located on the Jersey City outskirts—near the inlets and marshlands at the upper corner of the Liberty State Park that forms part of the Bayonne border. It’s across the street from a still-working CSX track and the Liberty National Golf Club
You can be both a café and a diner!
Some of the windows had full decals of classic Coca-Cola, logo and curved bottle. It was like stained-glass soda, the windows mimicked the glass of a soda bottle.
Inside the atmosphere was friendly and fun. I had the feeling the actual building may originally have housed an eatery other than a diner, I was thinking of a large pizzeria or ice-cream parlor, the ambiance seemed a little more open and sunny than the traditional Jersey Diner. Or more than likely I’m totally off-base. The exterior does look like classic diner façade.
The food was great diner food. Eddy went for the burger, Ricky a massive breakfast special of eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage. I went healthy, egg white omelet and turkey sausage. Guess who regularly visits a cardiologist.
I was impressed. It was a fabulous lunch!
Diner food is comfort food. Maybe busy being born and bred in Jersey has made it so since Diners have given me affordable comfort food all my life. Diner waiters and waitresses are generally friendly and they were genuinely sweet hearted at the liberty. The young woman had gone to the same Mets game last week that Eddy attended and they traded stories about how cold it was. At least they won that outing.
Enhancing the comfort level were the entertaining decorations of idiosyncratic Americana. One was dedicated to the Little Rascals—cute kids and the Great Depression—what’s old is new again I guess. Another wall had other Golden pop era pictures, what looked like a signed picture of Frank Sinatra—another had Desi & Lucy, all glamorous and happy. Another wall was dedicated to 9-11 memorabilia, photographs of the towers and first responders and similiar images so familiar to us all.
Besides the turkey breakfast sausage, I liked the unique statuary in the place the best. In one corner was a gigantic chef, which looked like a pizza chef to me and that made me think of what this place might have been a pizzeria in a previous incarnation and the gigantic pizza chef remained.
I dug the reduced-size Statue of Liberty, standing guard near the rest rooms with a hand-written sign: “We Now Serve Waffles!” Just what the huddled masses need in these times. Never been a big waffle guy, so I didn't bother to check if the waffle selection included Belgian or were just American. I was just happy that Waffles are now available at Liberty State Park. I'm sure somebody's prayers were answered.
Jersey City may not really be complex, but it is multi-layered. You can never know everything there is to know about Jersey City, no matter how long you’ve lived here. It’s a great diner and obviously has been there a while.
One thing there can never be too many of in New Jersey – diners. Jersey City has some great diners.
Now I know another one in that collection.
Here’s their website: www.libertyparkdiner.com which can’t seem to settle on café or diner as the official name.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Another beautiful Spring morning and the full bloom of the Cherry Blossom Tree took my breath away. We may not be Washington D.C. or Branch Brook Park, but there are some pretty nice ones aligning our streets. The flowering is peaking now. Take a moment and allow yourself to be stunned.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
One immediate result of the 60s was that by the mid-70s, every body was sick of youth. Beatlemania was over, drugs were no longer new and Nixon was driven out of office. The hippie generation hated you because they weren’t young anymore. Only a few years earlier their revolution went from Woodstock to Altamont, their politics went from Be-Ins to the Days of Rage. They woke up with a hang over and exhausted with being freaks. The older adults were so fed up with the hippie generation they expected nothing better out of you. The economy was in a tail-spin, factories closings, jobs going over seas, cities in decay. Turned out, things were even worse in Britain.
It was an ugly time. When Johnny Rotten & company intoned the truth of that moment— No Future for you!—your despair suddenly had a context of a greater despair. You felt less alone. You still were angry and sad, but those feelings were now at least vindicated.
American Idiot, Green Day’s classic concept record is the latest manifestation of Punk Rock. It is coming to the Great White Way of Broadway and that seems as it should be. Malcolm McLaren, who died last week, made that possible and it’s not because he made Punk Rock palatable. He did not. I’m not even sure you can say he made it popular. What he did was make the entire world aware of the phenomenon and by doing so, gave Punk ethos a staying paying. While the look and the publicity and the celebrity of the Sex Pistols contributed to the lasting impact of Punk, it was their one—and only one—Rock & Roll album, Never Mind The Bullocks that is why we still care. This recording is as much as a touch stone for Rock & Roll as any record prior—this includes the Sun Sessions, anything by the Beatles, Highway 61 and The Band (the brown record) and anything else that you might want to name. The classics on that album, God Save The Queen, Anarchy in the U.K., Bodies, Pretty Vacant, and Seventeen (the other songs are pretty good too)—are etched into the pantheon of Rock & Roll—etched with hydrochloric spittle, but etched nonetheless. The Sex Pistols tapped into the collective despair of the era, especially as it was felt by Brit Working Class kids. They captured the briefest of moments—it was somewhere between 1977 and 1979—when despair permeated the psyche of western civilization. As soon as you said right on, that moment had passed.
I sometimes think the secret of punk is not just honesty, but a paraphrase of that old line about show business: if you can fake honesty, you got it made. Punk started in the U.S.. The Velvet Underground, Iggy & the Stooges, and the MC5 were direct forefathers but it really began with Patti Smith, the Ramones and Television, you know, CBGBs. In a weird quirk of history, Television was actually the first band but the last of the founding trio to get a record deal. At its core, Punk was about subjective and objective truth—trying to find and celebrate that universal experience when no distinction exists between the subjective and the objective.
The world is cruel and survival is tough. Punk celebrated the idea that you can inflict more pain on yourself than the world can. That idea can be weirdly empowering, especially when you are a teenager and think you will live forever and that nothing matters outside your own personal dramas.
Patti Smith, a Symbolist Poet, took Punk concepts towards mysticism—the protagonist in the song Horses, a rape and stabbing victim, escapes into the land of 1,000 dances, a kind of Sufi escapism. The Ramones narrowed their world—Queens was the Universe and all the laws of the Universe were determined by the junk pop culture of the 60s. Teen Love was the only salvation. On their self-titled first album, The Ramones tell us “I just want to sniff some glue, I just want to have something to do,” then the only thing they can find to do is her—“Hey Little Girl, I want to be your Boyfriend, what can I say?”
The simple chord changes, the often fast and aggressive tempos all freshened up Rock & Roll, made it fun again, made it relevant to young people (at least young white people) again. It also turned Rock & Roll into an art form. It always was of course but Punk ensured that it became undeniably performance and conceptual art. The fact that Punk was born in downtown Manhattan, a hot-bed of artists and artistic ideas for about century, made that fate inevitable. Patti, the Ramones and Television were able to make both great music and interesting art, that is they were able to make statements that were musical, yet also conceptual. Other bands around the same time or soon there after chimed in. A thousand flowers bloomed, many wilting almost immediately. Something was happening here and the rest of the world was Mr. Jones.
The look, sound and attitude of Punk have been present in some form or another for decades. It is easy to not realize how truly new and fresh—and thanks to the Sex Pistols, shocking—Punk was in 1977. All ages may have been diggin on Star Wars that Summer in movie theaters. The generation gap may have been fading away as the 60s generation finally accepted adult responsibilities and folded away their Freak Flag. Then, we had guys with dyed hair and singers spitting on the crowd.
The aging hippies became incensed that with Punk, a very different freak flag was flying. The older generation was sickened, throwing up their hands with the attitude that here was more of the same. What the conceptual art approach to Rock & Roll expressed was the fact that given the state of the world at the time, this particular edition of teenage alienation resonated on a universal scale. Everyone was too alienated to admit to the pervasive alienation.
If indeed there was “no future,” why the hell would you want to pogo to that idea? Why do you want to do sex, drugs and rock & roll to such a nihilistic idea?
Why? Because it is now and we are young and you are not. It was what we had. All the hippies had left us was a Drug Culture (and several really awesome LPs).
It is the age-hold conflict of generations, but what made it maddening was that the older baby boomers showed their hypocrisy. After going through so much crap for their hair and music, they turned into their parents when it came to your hair and your music.
As much as I love Patti and the Ramones—and the Clash for that matter—it’s really the Sex Pistols, when all is said and done, that epitomized Punk. For that we have to thank, Malcolm McLaren. Many Punk Albums are as good as Never Mind the Bullocks, but none are better. McLaren was not the first to see Rock & Roll as Art, or at least, as conceptual art. But the way he realized that concept is why Punk ethos reverberated over the decades. He is why we have Punk artists today.
The Sex Pistols were pure Nihilism, Only Europeans could achieve such purity. “We Believe in Nothing, Lebowski!”
The Sex Pistols is the sound of destruction for its own sake.. Vandalism was rampant in the 70s, a sure sign of social despair. McLaren understood the Sex Pistols had their audience, and he figured out a way to make a lot of money off that audience. He took the alienation of the Ramones (not to mention Iggy and Alice Cooper) and applied a decadent, Old World veneer, but also saw pop culture more comprehensively than the CBGB’s scene makers. A fashion designer by trade, McLaren took that Ramones look—skinny ripped jeans and leather jackets—and tricked it out with a Post-Mod, British sense of fashion statement. The Pistols looked great in photographs. Torn clothes, the safety pins, the dye hair—all the motifs you still see today—that was because of the Sex Pistols. Look at the photographs of pre-1977 New York Punks, they don’t look any different than other kids of the era. Then look at the post-Sex Pistol pictures, the audiences is coifed out—spiky Mohawks, purple hair, the body piercing—and that was the Punk look in New York and Los Angeles and Seattle and Minneapolis. New York understood the music, maybe even some of the anger and because of Patti Smith and Jim Carroll (probably due to Lou Reed), knew literature. But fashion and media and celebrity culture—McLaren brought all that to Punk and Punk to all that.
The original punks didn’t care how they dressed—as long as it wasn’t bell bottoms or earth shoes. McLaren knew the look had to be as deliberate as the sound. Young people loved it simply because it gave them something of their own.
In 1978, the Sex Pistols embarked on their famed U.S. tour, which was covered by news outlets. At the time there was very little celebrity or show business news so it was the mainstream press. Music news rarely was covered beyond Random Notes in Rolling Stone. It is telling that the Sex Pistols were the first punk rockers on the cover of that magazine—even though the Ramones and Patti Smith had already been around for three or four years prior. On the U.S. Tour, it was not just their so called outrageous behavior—which with the perspective of time just seem like young celebrities being egocentric, something we’re all used to these days—but their concerts depicted as riots. Police were being called in. Johnny Rotten spits on audiences. Audiences spit back.
Ten years before, rock and roll criticism in major newspapers and magazines was begrudgingly done by the staff jazz critic, itself a relatively new position. By the late 70s, popular music critic was close to a masthead mainstay as society at large seem to agree that the Beatles were beloved and Dylan sang poetry. But comparing James Taylor to Stephen Foster—or even name-checking what you could recall from a bygone Intro to European Lit Class for an article on Patti Smith—was a far cry from the Dadaistic performance pieces put on by drug-crazed, ill tempered working-class brits who showed disdain for everything—America, the paying crowd, musicianship. They were a runaway train. A car wreck. McLaren created this, set it in motion upon America and it was like the Mirror-Mirror version of the Beatles in 64.
Alienation was a social concern back then. It hardly seems mentioned these days. The Punks reveled in the alienation the rest of society either scoffed at or fretted about. The Sex Pistols were simply outside the scope of aesthetic references of mainstream journalists. They were scorned and feared, their music, their look, their every gesture was met with derision. What the critics and reporters at the time could not grasp at all was how well the band thrived on all that derision. The more we hate them, the more outrageous they act.
Showing an artist gratitude with applause was seen by some Punks as an out-dated 60s ideal. One of the weirdest bands from the New York scene was Teen Age Jesus & The Jerks, headed by Lydia Lunch. The songs were purposely without melody or anything resembling music, the lyrics lacked imagery. They revived Dada, as if that was a good thing. It was music that made you want to punch out the person making it. I had the misfortune of seeing them two or three times. They would be the first act on a line up of punk acts like the Erasures or Student Teachers, some of whom were really good although forgotten today even as foot notes. The whole point—the entertainment—was to boo the band off stage. Lunch and the audience would shout curses at each other. People bought tickets just to boo an Electric Dylan in 1966, so it’s not like there was no precedent.
Antagonism as a Punk Rock audience experience didn’t start with the Sex Pistols, but with their adrenaline saturated performance, the acerbic charisma of J.R. and of course, Sid Vicious and his death-wish demeanor, the Sex Pistols perfected it. Most of America was ready to buy a ticket to see the spectacle, and likely to boo. Mutual antagonism between the audience and the artist was intrinsic to McLaren’s Rock & Roll project.
And of course, the spitting. The spitting was big news. I don’t think there was spitting at CBGB’s before McLaren encourage that behavior. I just remember it being a major point—Johnny Rotten spits on audience, audience spits on Johnny Rotten—in the news coverage of the Pistol’s tour. An act so banal and vile, just a basic gesture, it seemed to get the most press, until the band broke up after Johnny Rotten walked off the stage at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and a year later, Sid stabbed his girlfriend to death before over dosing from drugs. Think about that, Vicious died in 1979. The U.S. tour was in 1978. The record was released in 1977. A two year run—and the meaning of which is still being discussed—and the music is still being listened to.
I think the last authentic Punk record was Jim Carroll’s Catholic Boy, which came out in 1980. By then Patti Smith had begun her prolonged hiatus, Television disbanded, New Wave hit. Bands like the Clash, Blondie and the Talking Heads moved far beyond Punk Rock before themselves disbanding. The Los Angeles punk movement, which produced some great music, it self petered out by the mid-80s. Only the Ramones soldiered on, putting out great but ignored records throughout the Reagan era and into the early 90s. There were hardcore bands in the 80s like Husker Do and the Minute Men that are of note, but never gained much traction. I like some of their stuff, but I can’t say I play them much these days. Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam and all them northwest Grunge Bands revived the punk sensibility in the 90s. Green Day has staked out new territory. All those bands have improved on the original idea. Many of their tracks deserve to be cited alongside Never Mind The Bullocks, which means they deserve to be listed along with best Rock & Roll has to offer.
Now, it is easy to say the Ramones were the first—and they were—but the Ramones never made the social impact of the Sex Pistols. I’m not sure if this three decade continuum of Punk-inspired Rock & Roll would have taken place if it was just the Ramones. In the great documentary on the Ramones, End of the Century, the Ramones say that the Pistols ill-fated, highly publicized tour of the U.S., turned off promoters, venues and the press against Punk just at the moment the Ramones were ready to hit the big time. It’s a valid point but since the Pistols were basically inspired by the Ramones, you can’t quite blame the Brits for holding back the Yanks. The Brits were able to get a degree of exposure that it seems the New Yorkers never tried for, although the reality was that McLaren strived towards debacle, rather than success. The U.S. Sex Pistols tour was legendary near-rioting by the audience, the band acting with disdain for everything in their path before they walked out on their touring contract. Punk as it existed could not survive this debacle. While some of the style of punk remained, musicians looked for other genre monikers to rally around. A page had turned, a fad had faded. Even by 1980, a skinny kid with bright orange hair screaming obscenities and of course, spitting, was a parody of itself. Despair had to look for another form of expression.
But Never Mind The Bullocks survives. The Sex Pistols, we later found out, were as contrived as 1the Monkeys. It may have been anti-matter, Euro Show Biz, but it was show-biz nonetheless, wallowing in as opposed to concealing its cynicism. McLaren did the contriving, and the confrontational aspects of Punk would have made the papers. There would have been publicity and public outcry no matter what. But the fact he came up with a great record to boot makes the Sex Pistols one of the most unique tales in all of Rock & Roll.
The Sex Pistols came out of this guy’s head—a trust-fund impresario with a supremely insightful take on the zeitgeist of British culture and politics of the moment. He took some working class kids and formed the most famous Rock & Roll project in the history of conceptual art. Much to the chagrin of New York Punk originators, the self-destruction, the dyed hair and Mohawks, the chains on the leather jacket, the safety pins and the spitting—things so identified with the Punk were all started by the British, mainly by McLaren.
McLaren knew that the nihilism at the core of what the Sex Pistols expressed had to be more than an act. Never Mind the Bullocks is a heart-felt record—and when Johnny Rotten screamed, “God Save the Queen, She Ain’t No Human being, she Made you a Moron,” it was shocking, a nation was appalled. But it wasn’t just shock for the sake of shock, it was a an honest criticism of the state of England and it went right to the core of the culture—the monarch herself! The fact the Queen has outlived McLaren underscores his quixotic effort. That Britain has long re-embraced the sovereign ruler in the wake of the Princess Diane death can be attributed somewhat to the Pistols. Look at England before the Pistols, and after and one is compelled to think the nation did in some regard, heeded the clarion call. England has never gone back to being a country where the youth grow up to feel there is “no future.”
And what is weird is that the Sex Pistols eventually became embraced by the left and the right, cheered by Thatcherites and Billy Bragg!
McLaren came up the Sex Pistol, conceived of their sound, songs and look, then let the fates take their course. The fates were not kind. The fact that one of the souvenirs of the project is also a classic Rock & Roll album is why the whole saga still fascinates. It’s easy to make fun of Punk. It soon was a parody of itself anyway. But the attitude and the genre of music remains with us today. McLaren brought a genuine expression of Alienation and Nihilism into pop culture and for a short amount of time, shocked much of the world. For my generation it was a shock of recognition. The world felt the same despair that I felt and all you had to do was play the Sex Pistols to prove it. I don’t feel despair anymore, but I haven’t forgotten it. When I heard about McLaren dying, I remembered a time when despair could still shock.
Monday, April 12, 2010
58 Gallery was included in this previous blog.
The garage next store to the space had a lot of cool stuff in it. The space itself, according to John, previously belonged to a Glazier, back in the industrial days of Jersey City, before being reclaimed for the art scene. A large plastic carton was filled with tubes of acrylics. Most everything was a name your price deal, but according to John, everyone was welcomed to take the paint, although a donation was suggested.
My doorknob needs are currently filled, but I was impressed with the doorknob selection. You rarely see this assortment of doorknobs at a garage sale. But you know, I might have been tempted if I had my door with me, to get the perfect match. I couldn’t tell if some of the pieces were actual antiques or merely finished with faux rust and tarnish.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Less than a month ago, a foot and half of snow
This Sunday feels more like early Summer
than early Spring
Only buds on the branches, no leaves yet.
Duck Pond, Duck Pond
It’s across from what was
T&W Ice Cream—they made it there, sold it there
Long closed, now a bank, some other kind of development.
Duck Pond, Duck Pond
Real Estate section euphemism
But Everybody needs a park
Not just in the city, even in a town
That seems like a park
To you now that you’ve escaped.
Everybody needs respite
A semblance of placidity.
This book might help her career
Or could lead to a career
Easter Sunday with nothing to do
And no one to love
Lay on the towel
In the dirt, dream of beach
Mallards & Geese
Too many you have to tap dance
Around the shit
Just enough today, just enough to watch them float
Most of the families have children
Some come in three generations.
The clock is fixed. It’s about time. Okay we all saw that coming and quite frankly writing it makes me hate myself but luckily I’ve already gotten over that. Please pay attention to the times shown on the clock. There are two different times. The clock at Grove Street is finally working. You may recall earlier in the week, there were some unforeseen problems the last time the Verdin Clock Company tech came by to fix the faux 19th century clock. The delay is now over. Time is fixed. The other clock, the one Newark, that instigated this whole blog saga—click here—well, that clock was rammed by a truck, accidentally, and an insurance settlement must be agreed upon before repairs can proceed.