At the Living Room at Meg Braun’s Fred’s Team cancer research fundraiser. I told you I knew how to play a D chord!
Check out my review of Lula Del Ray, a dreamy, compelling period-piece “movie” presented live via overhead projector, cardboard puppets, live actors and music. (Photo by Katherine Greenleaf)
And follow me on a trip to Staten Island’s Snug Harbor, complete with wetlands.
A busy day in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Queens Botanical Garden, and Flushing’s Chinatown on Cinco de Mayo.
Finally touched base with Staten Island on my Park Odyssey blog. It was only a matter of time.
Well, it’s finally done. The new CD from Whisperado, I’m Not the Road, is here, and we’re celebrating Friday March 9 with a big show at Parkside Lounge. I hope to see everyone there.
Meanwhile, visit whisperado.com and check out the video for “Teenage Popstar Girl” directed by Daniel Azarian, starring Mary O’Rourke, Tara Langella, and of course, Whisperado.
Here’s a photo, taken by cinematographer Milton Kam, of Whisperado at our video shoot the other day. The upcoming video, for “Teenage Popstar Girl,” is being directed by Dan Azarian. From left: Jeff Lampert (pedal steel), Jon Sobel (bass), David Mills (drums), Patrick Nielsen Hayden (guitar)
I’ve begun freelancing for The Morton Report, from celebrity biographer Andrew Morton. It’s a website of literate pop culture from both sides of the Atlantic, and I’m the New York City columnist keeping an eye on Broadway theater and related showy matters. My columns are here.
There are also some new entries at the Park Odyssey blog. So check them out too.
And everywhere you go, leave a comment!
Nineteen-inch snowfalls can’t stop the theater. I’ve seen some good shows recently—check out my reviews (and my other articles) on Blogcritics.
Snow can’t put a halt to the Park Odyssey, either, though winter does slow things down a bit. Check out the latest in my ongoing project to visit and blog about every New York City park.
And Whisperado’s still working on that long-promised first full-length album. A couple of gigs coming up.
I hope you haven’t forgotten about Whisperado! We’re still here, with a new web page (basic but functional) and two gigs coming up, one in Manhattan (to celebrate my birthday!) and one in Brooklyn. Check out the new page and come to the shows! We’ll see you there.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2010
Jon Sobel, a Manhattan-based writer and musician and Co-Executive Editor of Blogcritics Magazine, has embarked on an unprecedented adventure: visiting and blogging every New York City park. He plans to document all 1,300 green spaces within the five boroughs.
“I already spend a lot of my spare time walking around the city, especially the parks,” Sobel says. “It’s astounding how many parks there are within the city limits. So this project combines my life as a writer, with my life as a lover of the outdoors. And nobody has ever done it before.”
Why 1,300? The roster of NYC Parks goes far beyond the famous ones like Central Park, Prospect Park, and Battery Park. The five boroughs are festooned with hundreds of parks of every shape, size, design, and purpose. Looking over the Parks Department’s website and other resources, Jon identified about 1,300 properties that seem to rank as actual parks (as opposed to pure playgrounds or mere grassy strips). He’ll visit, photograph, and blog about every park that’s at least partially laid out for passive enjoyment of the outdoors.
The more than 30 parks already featured on the blog, with text and photos, include:
-> Manhattan’s oldest park, Bowling Green, where it all began…
-> Brooklyn’s cannon-decked John Paul Jones park in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge…
-> The city’s most celebrated green space, Central Park, captured in the winter snow…
-> Chinatown’s Seward Park, named for Lincoln’s Secretary of State (whose statue can be found much farther uptown in Madison Square Park)…
-> The fast-developing landscape of Governor’s Island, where preserved military housing stands side by side with cutting-edge art exhibits…
-> Gantry Plaza State Park on the Queens waterfront, where you can take in some of New York’s storied industrial history along with the sun’s rays…
-> And quite a few more.
“When I first conceived the project last year, I imagined that I could cover all the parks in one long summer season,” Sobel says. “Then I started to look into it more seriously—and upped my estimate to two years. And now that I’ve actually begun, it’s looking more and more like a multi-year exploration. But so is life, and what could be better than spending as much of life as possible outdoors, while still being right here in the greatest city in the world?”
Read the Park Odyssey blog here:
Read the introductory post here:
Contact Jon Sobel at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve now posted over 30 entries on my Park Odyssey blog, all with text and photos. Here’s a sample shot from Astoria Park in Queens. Come on over and visit now!
Flipron, With Breath Bated & Eyelids Unblinking: A Flipron Sampler
Flipron makes its US debut this fall with a brief tour and a 12-track sampler disc that backs up the hype that this is very likely the UK’s most inventive band. Sharp-witted, antic, and addled, their songs are more than pop curiosities; psychedelic but always under control, they show offbeat classic rock influences (circa Kinks and Bowie) mixed up with bleary folk balladry and elements from smaller islands as well, from Hawaii to Coney.
But all that is in the service of the songs and the band’s eccentric and intruiging sensibility. As vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Budd sings in the macabre-sweet “The Flatpack Bride of Possibilities,” “Each bone connected, each organ plugged in reveals another unexpected joy.” The compilation is full of unexpected pleasures, including the infectious “Gravity Calling” from their 2008 album of that name, the slinky “Big Baboon,” the arch “Mess It Up,” and the brand new single “The Coolest Names in Showbiz,” an unusually (for this band) straightforward gloss on fame: “You’re just doing what comes easily to you / Why bother? / The coolest names in showbiz love you / Why bother?”
Bother with Flipron. Anyone with a taste for new, original, boundary-stretching pop that’s just plain fun is unlikely to be disappointed.
John Lee Hooker Jr., Live in Istanbul Turkey
John Lee Hooker Jr.’s polished, contemporary blues is a far cry from the rough, elemental sounds of his legendary father. But in his own right, he’s a forceful presence, a skilled songwriter, and an honorable ambassador for the blues. He takes up that last role delightedly on his new live disc, recorded before an appreciative audience in Turkey. Like most of the tracks (except a couple of John Lee Hooker Senior covers), “Suspicion,” the BB King-style blues power ballad that opens the disc, is an effective original. The sounds range from Chicago blues-rock to soul to boogie-woogie to funk, with some clever arrangements like the tight, funny “One Eye Opened.” The songs cover topics from love (“You Make My Life Brand New”) to politics (“People Want a Change”).
When Hooker Jr. replays the standard bluesy complaints of the hard-up, he gives them a modern twist, with current idioms (“They Hatin’ on Me”) and cultural touchpoints, singing of Tiger Woods, recessions, and Ponzi schemes that promise “very large returns…but check out your bank account, because you’ve been burned.” He might not have the vocal heft or gravitas of some blues singers, but he knows how to put his entertaining story-songs across, and his band is top-notch.
Also included is an excellent, noirish animated video of one of the band’s best songs, “Extramarital Affair,” which recounts a true story of life on the road.
Whole Sky Monitor, Twisted Little Piggies
“The revolution was in your head,” shout these angry Leeds boys on this, their second disc. (The title of the album alone should give you a clue to the prevailing attitude.) “Never forget how stupid you are,” they plead. Primarily purveyors of highly focused noise, Whole Sky Monitor are not afraid to show a little soft white underbelly in the Beatle-esque “La Mouche,” but my favorite tracks are the short-and-sour numbers like the muscular “Freak Show” with its 7/4 time choruses, the chunky “My Regeneration” (get it?) and the punk-tempo “Abusive,” which clocks in at less than two minutes and suggests early Foo Fighters. I also like the dissonant jam in the uncharacteristically long “White Skin Suit.” Without much in the way of melodic hooks, these songs depend on a twin-guitar attack, rhythmic assertiveness, creeping dissonance, and pinpoint execution. All of which are here plentifully.
Originally published as “Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Flipron, John Lee Hooker Jr., Whole Sky Monitor” on Blogcritics.
FringeNYC 2010 is drawing to a close. I caught a handful of shows, mostly ones that happened to be playing at days and times when I happened to be free. Here are links to my reviews:
One of the best I saw was The Hyperbolist, a one-man puppet-non-puppet show by Joe Mazza.
Alas, the gospel of the Rev. Bill & Betty failed to ignite.
But I was happy the Amsterdam Abortion Survivor survived to tell the tale.
A welcome performance of Schiller’s Maid of Orleans, a play I’d never seen, boasted a couple of fine performances but overall it disappointed.
However, Jeff Kreisler’s Get Rich Cheating, while hitting mostly easy targets, added up to entertaining and effective satire.
And in Jen and Liz in Love, Jesse Weaver cooked up an honestly touching story of love and regret.
Though subtitled “Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago,” this concise and fascinating piece of social history by no means requires a familiarity with the Bob Fosse musical. It’s about crime in Chicago. It’s an effective portrait of the golden age of newspaper reporting. It’s a multiple character study. But more than anything it’s about the cult of celebrity. We tend to think idol-worshipping exploded in the late twentieth century, but it ran rampant in the 1920s, juiced up by the many competing newspapers that once graced major cities — and nowhere more so than in the Second City.
There, during Prohibition, a crop of female killers became celebrities. Maurine Watkins, a talented greenhorn reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covered the trials, filing incisive and sarcastic reports that made her a popular correspondent. Disgusted by the way all-male juries kept acquitting glamorous female criminals, Watkins then wrote a successful play based on her reporting. The stage play Chicago established her career (though she never again matched its success). Two movie versions followed. The first was silent; the second starred Ginger Rogers but bastardized the story to comply with the morality code of the 1940s, which didn’t allow characters to commit bad behavior and get away with it.
Not until after Watkins had died, though, did the Bob Fosse musical come about. Its current Broadway production has become the longest-running revival in Broadway’s history, and between that, the tours, and the Best Picture-winning 2002 movie version of the musical, an awful lot of people know the story, however obscure the original play may be today. But you need not know it at all to get a lot out of this book.
Perry neatly tracks the stories that splashed across the front pages of the Chicago papers in 1924. “Beautiful” Beulah Annan, immortalized in the play as Roxie Hart, and sophisticated Belva Gaertner, the inspiration for the character of Velma, were only the most glamorous of a number of female prisoners who had murdered men, usually lovers or husbands. Perry’s account of their crimes and their trials shines a light on the attitudes of the time, so different from now. Women weren’t thought fit to serve on juries — they couldn’t be objective enough. And they weren’t tough enough to be trial lawyers, though the book also profiles a trailblazing young attorney named Helen Cirese who successfully represented the unglamorous convict Sabella Nitti.
For similar reasons, many people believed women couldn’t commit crimes unless something — drink, passion, the loose living that was blamed for so many problems at the time — had led them astray. “Violence, after all, was an unnatural act for a woman. A normal woman couldn’t decide to commit murder or plot a killing…The violent woman was by definition mentally diseased, irreparably defective.” Beulah had been “lured into the world of jazz and liquor, had broken her marriage vows, like so many young married women forced by financial necessity to work outside the home.” A “respectable lady [like Belva Gaertner] who shot her husband or boyfriend…didn’t scare men: She was a romantic figure, a representation of how much women in general, with their overflowing emotions, loved and needed their men.”
Maurine Watkins, intelligent, moral, and religious, couldn’t accept this, and crusaded in print for the women she believed guilty to get what they deserved. But, though the string of acquittals had been broken in another case, both Beulah and Belva got off despite strong evidence against them. In the process, even their lawyers became celebrities. Hearst’s sensationalizing papers, according to Perry, “sought to mold news to their liking, which meant the commonplace blown up bigger and better than in any of their competitors.” The “commonplace blown up”…just like today’s reality shows. Tens of thousands of strangers swarmed upon the funeral of Wanda Stopa, another beautiful killer who’d avoided trial by committing suicide — “group madness, a sight so incredible, it stayed with the reporter for years.” It led Watkins from Chicago to Chicago, “a deeply cynical satire of the celebrity mania that she saw as the dominant feature of twentieth-century urban life.” Perry’s analysis of the play’s genesis sums up both its theme and, to a degree, that of this book:
From her experiences as a reporter in Chicago, she’d determined that human imperfections, individual and collective, had become monstrous. Real life had become farce…traditional comedy and farce…comedy and tragedy…were all one and the same in a superficial modern world of mass communication and overpopulated, spirit-crushing cities, a world that produced anonymous men and women seized by insecurity and a frantic desire for money, status, and attention.
We know how straight-laced society reacts. From Mae West’s 1927 conviction for doing a “kootchie dance,” through Jim Morrison’s 1969 arrest in Miami for exposing himself, to the bizarre excoriation of Janet Jackson for her “wardrobe malfunction,” America has always been an uncomfortable mix of the puritanical and the freewheeling and licentious.
Maurine never wanted her play made into a musical. Perry isn’t sure why, but he makes a convincing case against a commonly supposed reason: that she’d become a born-again Christian and ashamed of having sensationalized the lurid stories she’d reported on. Maurine Watkins was religious all her life; she was never “born again.” And she hadn’t sensationalized and glamorized the murderesses; to the contrary, she’d tried her hardest to turn the tide against Beulah and Belva. This book, among its other accomplishments, restores and buttresses the reputation of Maurine Watkins, who for a brief shining moment was the top crime reporter of her day, and then turned her experiences into a bitter, cynical, but eternally fresh and powerful piece of our culture.
Originally published as “Book Review: The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry” at Blogcritics.