Monday, July 25, 2011

Timon of Athens

Out wandering on Sunday in Van Vorst park, I heard from the distant gazebo strangely familiar words and I wondered, is that Timon? Timon of Athens, the Shakespeare Tragedy and almost as famous a problem play as Titus?

Coincidently, I read Timon last month, which is why it was fresh in my mind. It’s summer and Sunday so the Hudson Shakespeare Company was rehearsing. This local troupe performs Shakespeare in the parks, al fresco without microphones (here’s a blog from two years ago).

I came in at the end of Act III and stayed for the rest of the rehearsal. I love the language and it was fun to hear it recited so well – that needs to be qualified, the kids are good but this was a rehearsal so there were pauses and stage directions and when a line was fumbled there was a pause and the actor gave a better delivery. Not deconstruction of text, but the actors did air out the text and allowed me to contemplate this provocative, timeless drama.

I consider Timon a near-great or at least, very good Shakespeare. Certainly an entertaining read.

Here’s a link to the Timon of Athens schedule of shows.

Timon of Athens – Timon is the ultimate misanthrope, but he didn’t start out that way. A noble office holder in the walled city of Ancient Athens, who in his younger years saved the city by his sword, is a kind hearted, generous man who says, “...there’s none can truly says he gives if he receives.” His altruism costs him his fortune, and when he goes to his friends to get some help paying the bills, they refuse his requests for money. They repay Timon's kindness by shunning the man. Not a good idea.

What happens when a good man is transformed into his opposite?

Timon, enraged, prays: “hear me, you good gods all – Th’ Athenians, both within and out that wall, and grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow to the whole race of mankind, high and low! Amen.”

As a bitter, banished hermetic vagabond, Timon finds a large stash of gold, which he uses to fund mercenaries to relentlessly attack Athens. Under siege, his servants and former friends and fellow senators implore him to save Athens once again. Timon is the most petulant character in all of literature – you can see some of him in Ahab – and like all tragic figures, he dies at the end and writes his own epitaph: “Here lie I, Timon, who, all living men did hate, Pass by and curse they fill, but pass and stay not here thy gait.”

Harold Bloom does not think too highly of this tragedy and calls it a “cross between satire and farce.” I disagree (very rare) with the great Bardolator. Timon is a moving tragedy, a gleefully nihilistic play that resonates in our in-your-face-the-good-times-are-over culture.

It was a rehearsal, most of the players were reading from the script. The play “opens” at Van Vorst on August 12th.

Here’s a link to the Timon of Athens schedule of shows.

I thought they did an effective performance. The actor playing him seemed to channel Jim Carrey from The Cable Guy or Heath Ledger as the Joker from Dark Knight. He was animated and acerbic, a very appropriate portrayal of the antic and viscous monster Timon becomes. The scenes I saw depict Timon at the height of his petulance. The lines sounded like I thought they should be delivered. The play is fresh in my mind. Having been living with Shakespeare for the past few weeks, what a delight to hear voices other than my own – or the ones in my own head – recite the bard’s language.

To freshen up the proceedings, the setting is the roaring 20s flappers & gunsels, gangster suits & Zelda dresses, Tommy Guns & gats, derbies and fedoras. Think Boardwalk Empire. That decade of plenty ended with the disillusionment of the Great Depression.

Just like the life of Timon and more than a little like our own era (hint: we’re in the disillusionment phase.)

Find out more:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pershing Field War Dead

No one can know everything about Jersey City. Vastness is not to blame, but disparity – the number of segments swirl around, co-exist but few have connections so except for an indeterminate isthmus of geography, nothing links the fragments into a cohesive whole. I never knew this existed, this veterans war memorial adjacent to Pershing Field park. A garden of memories honoring Jersey City guys who died in World War I, Korea and Vietnam. For that last one, I saw two, one resembling the black marble Washington D. C. icon and one for the “Hidden Casualties” of the Vietnam War, one assumes those J.C. boys who came home with psychic wounds to a population, government and veterans administration, all three of which were at worst scornful and at best indifferent to their needs and the all too toxic repercussions of their service to country.

WWI, Korea and Vietnam... an interesting choice of American conflicts to collect for a tribute.

All wars could be avoided, that’s the fact, that’s how history would have unfolded if you or I ran the world at any given time.

Given that, The Revolutionary War, the Civil War and World War II – I am not saying these are good wars, no wars are good – but those conflicts, given the situations at the time, war does appear to be an inevitability, the only possible means to a resolving this clash of issues. A free nation, an end to slavery and secession, ridding the world of German and Japanese fascism. Sure. Resolving those conflicts before 1776, 1861 and 1941 (or 39), would require at least different policies decades, even a century before each of those catalytic dates. Unlike the three at Pershing.

World War I happened because of a series of treaties between monarchs and after the War, what changed in Europe except the victors fomenting a toxic atmosphere that bred Fascism. Korea and Vietnam, both of which ended in stalemates, were cold war battle grounds the justifiable but misguided intention of fighting communism led to U.S. involvement; it’s pretty hard to see how the world could have been different or better if our nation did not send troops. Granted, that’s speaking as an American not as a citizen of North Korea or South Vietnam.

Futile may not be precise, but it is pretty close, in describing these three wars. Preventable at least can be agreed upon.

It’s always the old who lead us to the war, always the young to fall sang Phil Ochs and I might augment that with rich for the former and the poor or working class for the latter. True as far as it goes. Patriotism, honor, duty – some of humanity’s highest ideals – sincerely motivate someone to risk his life. That’s what angered me in this placid enclave up there by Pershing (named after the famous World War I general) Field in the Heights. Politicians – on both sides – used those genuine ideals of these young men like the greedy con-artists they are. The memorial honors those who died for these ideals; it honors those ideals. But the memorial also reminded me do not be blinded by those ideals when political leaders issue the call to War, and to hold those individuals accountable for the outcomes of the war.

Let these markers encourage skepticism and demand accountability when we hear politicians call us to war. Let them remind us to increased scrutiny and debate not just at the moment of deciding to go once more to the breach, but in advance so conflict can be avoided. the reasons for war rectified.

I am not a pacifist, although the allure of that stance increases as I live longer and see more history unfold with the same tragic result. 4,000 dead American soldiers in the Iraq War, and that piece of utter shit Powell, willingly being a servile pawn and lying to the world when he stood in front of the UN and declared Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Bin Laden. The greed of oil companies, Halliburton and the Saudi Royal family was barely concealed. Parallels to WWI, Korea and the Nam abound.

50,000 soldiers still in Iraq. When was the last time you heard a news story about Iraq? Was it good news? The J.C. names at the Pershing Field memorial shouldn’t be on tombstones, they should belong to men alive playing with their children in the park below.

How best to honor our fallen soldiers and bind our nation’s wounds? I can say demand more from our leaders or some other reminder of my anti-authoritarian sentiments, but I hate to simplify. The loss among families and friends represented with each name in this garden was and is real. You can never know everything about Jersey City, and combining these three wars in this memorial does more than just bring attention to these conflicts, it reveals disturbing historical patterns.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Live at Five

A slow news day, nothing other than the heat wave to report? The tragedy of the abducted murdered child in Brooklyn last week still fresh in the minds of the local news media making any potential child abuse story – unfortunately, no dearth of which exists in New Jersey – of feverish interest? Or has the influx of new residents to J.C. now being recognized by the media and they are responding in kind?

Yesterday, it was late afternoon and I went for a haircut on that place I go to on Barrow. Across Newark, in front of the Police Station on Erie were news trucks – 2,4,7,5,11 (where were you 9!) -- their large antennas erect, satellite dishes pointed to the sky. No one hanging around Erie seemed to know why there was such a large media presence.

In the barber shot, like everywhere else, they have the TV on, constantly. Live at Five teasers. A school bus parking lot on Newark Avenue appears on the screens. It was the story about the special needs student left on a bus in this heat – he was admitted to the hospital and is fine.

After the hair cut, I walked down Erie to see our chief of police came out, in front of cameras and microphones, right there on Erie Street.

I don’t like these TV cameras in town, they attract a bad element. What’s next, celebrity sightings!

The chief handled the press admirably. He’s a good guy. He stood in front of the Erie Street Station. Rumor is they are going to sell the building to make up revenue. Just what an up and coming city needs: fewer police and police facilities and more ugly condos! Interesting choice of setting for this rare Jersey City Live at Five photo op.

Reporters asked the usual questions about the incident. Not much could be said. The nature of the current state of the fourth estate: you could see disappointment that this story could not be further sensationalized. That’s just the way that goes though.

Why does no reporter have the brains or the balls to ask the republican congress why was job growth unprecedented in the 90s when Clinton raised the tax rate on the wealthy yet they deem Democratic proposals “job-killing tax cuts”? How come no intelligent analysis – shit, no analysis whatsoever – about the allegations surrounding the current state of the economy crystallized in the debt ceiling debate. The Live at Five gang is all too similar to the Washington Press Corps, the stuff you see at the daily news-briefings, etc.

Not everything fits into a sound bite. We the news audience people are as much to blame as those news cameras on Erie looking for a child abuse story to beat out the Live at Five competition.

In the barber shop, after the teaser about the special needs child in Jersey City found in a bus, a shark attack in Long Island story was also promised.

No one asked about the closing of the Erie Street Cop shop. The chief talked for about ten minutes, including the brief Q&A. Then the media packed up their vans and drove out of town. Nothing else happens here other than child neglect, either real or potential.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Destination: Union City

I’m still a little intimidated by the Jitney Buses to take a decent picture, but that is not preventing me from taking the buses.

Also known as the tiny buses, shuttle buses and roach-coaches, these are the small buses – they look like the kind casinos use – that travel up and down Newark Avenue and cost $1.50.

Where do they go?

Turns out they go all the way to Fort Lee and a street called Bergenline Avenue, considered a major cultural district.

So, I decided to explore and after talking with some friends and acquaintances, I decided on a course. I would go see Union City and that portion of Bergenline Avenue. A diner was recommended me on 32nd Street, the Four Star diner. It was a nice day so the plan of action was Jitney there, and walk to 49th Street where I would pick the Light Rail up and return to Jersey City.

It’s the local version of the Northwest Passage.

The Four Star was classic American Diner; large windows, chrome facade, red accents inside and out. I had a great lunch, an egg white omelet with turkey sausage and ice tea. Probably better than the J.C. diner, up there with the best of what the Garden State offers. Just a great diner. Five stars for the Four Star!

Union City was so cool. Really enjoyable North Jersey city. A faded industrial past is noticeable, but the present is tropical day glo.

Narrow sidewalks, mainly independent businesses selling all sorts of stuff. Small shops. Mom and Pop. Except for a Dunkin Donuts, no chain stores. What a pleasant relief!

Very Spanish city. Make that Mucho. I was told that in the 50s and 60s, Cuban émigrés began to locate here but more recently, there’s been a “Cuban Flight,” as the second and third generations of those immigrants did like so many groups before, achieve economic success and move away from their urban roots. What has replaced them are émigrés from other Hispanic nations. There is some truth to this but how much truth is questionable. The fact though is that it seemed no single Spanish group dominated. I’m not saying that that is better than our fair city, but it was a refreshing change of vibe for an afternoon at least.

Viva Hispania Diaspora!

Jewelry stores named after saints. Zena, what kind of store is that? Food from various countries – I noticed a lot of Peruvian restaurants… a Columbia Pizzeria (?) that also served Tex-Mex and Mexican; it looked great but I had no Zantac with me. I know, I know, yet I go to a diner. What can I say, I like diners and I don’t like to challenge my dormant ulcer.

Celia Cruz way – famed Cuban singer, how cool is that.

The city is fun, funky and friendly. I’m sure the impression by some would be, it’s not even like we’re in America. That’s balderdash. No Spanish Nation has a city with representatives from such a diverse selection of countries. Even Miami is unable to make such a claim. I would suggest only in America can there be folks from so many different Spanish speaking nations together in one community. Also, American flags predominated by far, although I wonder how much of this proliferation was due to Independence Day only a couple of weeks earlier. Ponce De Leon Bank. A multitude of Hispanic cultures call Union City home, but this was one of the examples of a tribute to somebody from the true Mother land, Spain.

The Light Rail Station beckons. It is believed to be the only underground station on the transit route.

Coles Street Louie & Friends

"Louie needs some paint, he’s getting too much sun."

Pete owns All Iron Works on Cole Street. He repairs and molds metal. The company’s main work is fences, but Pete creates works of art out of pieces of scrap metal.

"If there is more art, the world can be better and people will treat each other better," he told me on this sunny afternoon.

I walk by here all the time and have blogged (here and here) about his art in the past.

Today was the first time I met the maestro welder, who was applying a fresh coat of silver sun block on Louie. I asked the metal man’s name. Pete than showed me his workshop and office.

Inside were other examples of his work, ornamental patterns, stain glass frames, a butterfly trapped in a spider web across from an approaching arachnid, a phoenix taking flight. Imaginative, well executed work. All made with scrap metal, stuff that would be thrown away from buildings and other construciton sites. Scraps he finds, scraps left over from other jobs.

A long garage, wide garage houses the company. The front has become a local attraction of sorts, with metal bats and pumpkin headed man reminiscent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The man with the jack-o-lantern skull, he’s Eddie.

"Louie was getting lonely," says Pete, "so I made him a friend. First I made him the bats, then I made him Eddie."

"I believe that the more art there is the better world will be."

Blues Halted at Creative Grove

I was planning to give blogs about Creative Grove a rest. I only blog about music that impresses me.

I love the Blues, Howlin Wolf (an appreciation is here) has long held a top rotation spot in my personal listening habits and, alongside Whitman and Dylan, he’s a major American Artist. Out of all the bars by which I judge musicians, I may hold blues the highest.

In any event, this blog needs another picture of an “indie” musician playing at the Grove Street open air plaza like it needs a hole in its head.

A live music performance at Creative Grove is uncommon, and I was looking forward to just hanging with friends and neighbors and listening to some open air entertainment without intent to blog on a splendid July Friday afternoon.

By the second song or the Ladell Mclin Trio (website here) though, all I could think of us, this cat can play guitar. He channeled the complexity of a Hendrix but eschewed the indulgent feedback pastiche that I feel weakened this master’s most well-known work. Ladell’s playing was subtle and intricate supported by the gutbucket foundation laid forth by the drummer and bass. I may even emitted a hoop or oh yeah.

I got out the Nikon, this band was blog-worthy. Then, I leaned forward, excited to take in the proceedings.

The next song’s melody line was based around Tail Dragger, the Howlin classic. Swampy back beat. The groove was laid down and its momentum grew with each new, stinging note on the guitar. The trio pushed the set to next level. Anticipation doubled.

Then somebody with a clip board – always a bad sign – comes up to Ladell. Audience members and the usual Creative Grove vendors murmured to each other.

Ladell stops singing, looking for guidance from Creative Grove organizes. He stops playing the guitar, then the bass player and drummer cease. They put down their instruments. No more music for us.

The buzz-kill clarion call familiar to all live music lovers in our fair city had once again been heard: Noise Complaint!

As the kids like to text: WTF!

The other day at Groove on Grove, mid-set the organizer came on the stage asked everybody to get closer because they had to lower the sound. Half the audience left and unless you were on the stage the music could barely be heard.

As more music, and better music, increases so do efforts to stop that music, maybe it’s just to turn it down but the question is how loud is too loud, when is loud too loud and if the turning down has the same result as ending our joyful noise, what indeed is the difference?

It happens in other parts of the city and I’m sure the complaints are often justified but at the Grove Street open air pavilion, some of the residents at Grove Point are intent on stopping fun and ending music.

The scuttlebutt is this: One or two GP residents have a decibel meter and when the music goes above the legal level they inform an event’s organizer that they will call the police.

Since the permit situation is already precarious in J.C., nobody wants to challenge the assertion.

Of course, both Creative Grove and Groove on Grove are not exactly late night events. Ladell’s Set was at 6:30 in the afternoon. The music must be above a certain sound level just to be audible above the din of buses, trucks and other vehicles as well as the constant stream of commuters the PATH spews. It is not a library and far from the placid setting its name – Grove – implies.

Urban noise is a real issue and everyone deserves quiet. Years ago I had a tenant, who has since moved out, who blasted his crappy music. Other tenants complained, so it wasn’t just myself asking the landlord to get him to turn it down. You feel like a real tool, a crabby senior citizen, when you complain, but what are you going to do when some inconsiderate yahoo blasts House loud enough to make your windows rattle at 1:00 AM on a weekday?

Ladell's band didn’t seem overly loud to me – you could still hold a conversation with the person next to you. In the context of all the other sound typical of this public space at this time of day – late afternoon – the noise complaint seems about another issue on the part of the individual issuing the complaint than decibel level.

Something else is going on. For now, the complaints are obviously given more credence than the rights of event organizers at Grove. Is the Grove Street Pavilion a public space or the private patio of Grove Pointe?

After the music was stopped, this was the topic of discussion as the would-be audience dispersed. It’s a fair question, one the city has to yet to adequately answer.

Does somebody who owns or rents a living space alongside a subway stop and public space have a right to absolute quiet at 6:30 PM on a Summer afternoon?

Well, these are the issues that rising to the surface again in our fair city. Jersey City has a conservative past, Mayor Hague was famous for “banning” Rock & Roll and there were always problems with Roosevelt Stadium when it had concerts and in more recent times, there’s problems with permits for dancing and stuff. But this new generation has different expectations of government and are eager to upset the status quo.

The city is promoting itself, at least downtown, as some new enclave for Gen Y, trying to make Newark Avenue and its environs an arts and cultural center. Creative Grove and Groove on Grove have been important components of that objective, as have the 58 Gallery yet all three have been hindered by complaints of noise and threatened with legal consequences.

How long can the city continue to promote itself as art friendly while simultaneously stifling art events?

Uta Hauser, chief organizer of Creative Grove and an ever-stalwart promoter of the arts in town, is currently on vacation in Germany, her native land. The complainer called Uta in Germany, who then called the people covering for her, who then forced Ladell to stop his set. So, yes, the noise complaints against the sound levels of music have reached international incident proportions. The music lost.

Ladell was cooking and sounded great and I can’t wait to catch a gig by his trio somewhere music is welcomed and appreciated.