Archive for October, 2008

Burning the Future: Seeing the Lights Go Off On Broadway

Friday, October 24th, 2008

The powerful new documentary Burning the Future: Coal in America explains how critical coal power is to the US economy and to Americans' energy-greedy way of life. It also focuses on the terrible effects modern mining has on the lives of people who live in Appalachian coal country. Specifically, the film documents the contamination of the water supply and its effects on human health. It also condemns mountaintop removal mining in no uncertain terms.

This modern form of coal extraction relies on heavy explosives to get the coal from the tops of mountains, rather than using large numbers of miners to burrow underground for it. There are some who defend mountaintop mining, but a quick glance at a few photos is enough to convince many that the practice should be outlawed.

The economics and science of coal and coal mining are complex, but in terms of cost to the environment it's safe to say that coal is a dirty source of energy. Most environmentalists believe the US should wean itself off coal.

However, the film raises another, related issue. One certainly sympathizes with people whose lands and water are being polluted, whose children are being sickened, by nearby coal mining operations. But enjoying a modern, comfortable way of life while living in relatively remote areas just might not be sustainable in the first place.

Two scenes in the film brought this home to me. Both occur on a trip to New York City taken by several courageous West Virginia environmental activists who have been invited to testify before a UN commission.

The final leg of the activists' journey takes place via New Jersey Transit. Sitting on the train, one of them observes that she's never been on a train before. To someone who grew up in the northeast, that's almost unbelievable. Never been on a train? Not an Amtrak, a commuter train, a subway train? Never once?

But where she comes from, you have to get everywhere by car. Simple as that. And there are far too many people in this country who have to get everywhere by car.

The second scene occurs when the leader of the activists, the admirable Maria Gunnoe, stands in Times Square, looks up at the huge, brightly lit advertisements looming everywhere, and cries out for New York to turn out these lights. Don't New Yorkers know that their incessant demand for energy is ruining the land elsewhere in the country?

It's a powerful moment. One could, of course, point out that the bright lights of Times Square are one of New York's biggest tourist attractions, and the city depends heavily on the tourist trade. But one can understand Gunnoe's reaction, and one feels in one's bones that she's – at least a little – right.

No, the bigger point the scene raises is that, however much energy might be "wasted" keeping Times Square "Times Square," city residents have smaller carbon footprints than people who live on houses with land.

People who live in houses need cars, every day. They have more rooms to heat and cool than city dwellers do. They might have the proverbial white picket fence, but inside their fences suburbanites waste huge amounts of water keeping their lawns artificially green. People who live in the suburbs or the sticks get none of the economies of scale that come with apartment living. And that was all fine when populations were smaller, gas was cheap, and the effects of our material prosperity on the planet were less well understood. I don't think it's fine any more.

In the film, one of the West Virginians worries that by the time his kids grow up, pollution may have made it impossible for them to continue living where they were brought up. I hope they can, he says.

From a family standpoint, that's sad. But in a way, I hope they can't. I'm certainly not cheering on the pollution, the destructive mining, or the continued dependence on dirty energy. Unless mining and burning coal can be made truly clean, phase it out, for the sake of the planet. But also for the sake of the planet, those country kids should move to a city. In fact, I'll go out on a limb: by the year 2040, unless your business is farming, your family ought to be living in a city.

By then, I hope it'll be really, really hard to find an American who's never been on a train.

Music Review: Indie Round-Up – Laura Vecchione, Red Wanting Blue, and More

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Laura Vecchione, Girl in the Band

Laura Vecchione’s second disc is a consummately crafted and craftily written set of tunes that straddle the borders between commercial country, country-rock, and alt/Americana. My colleague Michael Bialas detailed Laura’s devotion to and work on behalf of post-Katrina New Orleans. Notably, on this CD, she covers the traditional “Indian Red” a capella and flows it into her own “Fly Home Flag Boy.” “Magnolia” too evokes the “Crescent City moon” and “wrought iron lace and Spanish roofs.” It’s the same moon, of course, that shines over her Boston and New York City roots in “This Town” and the pillowy but catchy title track. My favorite, though, might just be the sneaky “Don’t Come Creepin’.”

Laura tried out some different styles on her previous disc; here she stretches a bit in her nicely subtle rendition of the Etta James ballad “A Lover is Forever,” while the closing number, the beautiful original “Stone By Stone,” also has a bluesy-jazz tilt to its folky bedrock.

If you haven’t met Laura Vecchione, this is a great place to start. Links to listen and purchase are at her website.

G Tom Mac, Though Shalt Not Fall

G Tom Mac is the strange moniker for the pairing of Gerard McMann, known for the goth track “Cry Little Sister” from the film The Lost Boys, and collaborator/producer Tony Silver. Perhaps because the duo has concentrated on creating music for TV and movies, there’s a variety of moods on their new disc, but a strong thread is their appealing fusion of industrial sounds with a skilled songwriter’s feel for pop music, along with a bit of gothic bite. A good listen altogether.

The Simple Things, The Simple Things

I’m glad I didn’t read The Simple Things’ press kit before listening to their music. “Imagine McCoy Tyner, Rickie Lee Jones, and James Jamerson coming together…” Sure, imagine those people…and then think about their opposites, and you might get something like The Simple Things. What we have here is a collection of spacious chamber pieces, feather-light yet highly focused. Singer Kaitlin McGaw alternates between a controlled wail (“Eyes For Me”) and an affectless Liz Phair delivery (“The Moon Is Torn”), both effective in their own ways. The music behind her is subtle piano and organ from Michael Gallant and tasteful, precise electric bass from Raymond Ruiz, who has a penchant for bass chords. The result is a very modern but accessible sound, contemplative and easeful but rewarding careful listening as well.

The Art of Walking, The Art of Walking

This music is so unobtrusive it’s hard to find something to say about it, other than simply that I liked it. One could safely say that Brian Malvey, who is The Art of Walking, makes excellent use of the studio in creating settings for his appealingly reticent songs with their often winning melodies. But that doesn’t tell you what they sound like. Let’s leave it at this: somewhere between Death Cab for Cutie and Sufjan Stevens, you’ll perhaps find The Art of Walking, treading on soft feet.

Red Wanting Blue, These Magnificent Miles

Listen to the first couple of bars of “Gravity,” the opening song of Red Wanting Blue’s eighth (yes, eighth) album, and if you were new to the band you’d be tempted to say, “Oh, no – another Pearl Jam clone – didn’t that go out of style around the turn of the century?” You’d soon be proven wrong, though – Scott Terry’s throaty baritone turns out to be its own thing, and so is this band’s music.

Based in Athens, Ohio, the group certainly has the earnest heartland-rock sensibility that you can’t avoid when you traipse through the Midwest. (“The road’s paved the same way for sinners and saints.”) But they vary the moods well. Try to resist the elemental rock of “New Cool.” And with solid songwriting, superior musicianship, and their own slant on the basics of rock, they carve out their own niche, with crashing symbols and ringing guitars framing catchy tunes and socially conscious lyrics.

A final note: if you decide to pick up this album, consider spending the extra few bucks for the physical CD. It’s one of the more impressive artistic packages you’ll find on an indie release.

DVD Review: Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The story of Donovan's life is a fascinating journey through a period in pop music that continues to shape the creative lives of several generations. A new video biography by Hannes Rossacher makes a good case for Donovan as a kind of nexus for many of the musical and musico-social strains that began to mingle in the 1950s and touched off the most resonant and lasting explosion of popular music in our history – that of "the 60s."

Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan is an unusual biopic in that the subject himself narrates the whole way, onscreen in a series of interviews in which the interviewer is unseen and unheard. As he takes us through his life from his childhood in postwar Glasgow through the present day, it becomes clear that Donovan has a healthy opinion of himself, his work, and his influence. But whatever his true or deserved place in the pantheon of rock godhood, this film demonstrates that he was certainly centrally located.

Along with the well-known facts and high points of Donovan's career – his hit singles, his bizarre encounter with Bob Dylan in the film Don't Look Back, his collaboration with the Beatles and famous trip to India with them to visit the Maharishi, and so on – there are also amusing tales, like getting squirted with a water gun by Keith Moon and Roger Daltry while trying to perform on a TV show. There are also numerous interesting clips of promotional videos, films in which Donovan appeared, and TV appearances ranging from Pete Seeger's show in 1966 to Later…with Jools Holland three decades later. There are concert and festival clips, culminating with a 2008 all-star jam on "Season of the Witch" at New York's Cutting Room, interviews with his wife and others, a brief account of his attempt to avoid taxes by "never living anywhere," a visit to his luthier in California, and more.

And the wardrobe… just seeing the extravagant hippie-wear Donovan used to don for his concerts and videos is nearly worth the price of admission.

Disc 1 is the three-hour documentary itself. The latter part is decidedly less interesting than the earlier sections, but it's hard to imagine how this could have been avoided, considering when the high points of Donovan's career occurred. (Halfway through the film, it's still 1968.) It's in those earlier sections that Rossacher, aided mightily by Donovan himself, makes the case for the artist's central significance. As he worked on his early hits – produced with legendary producer Micky Most – Donovan collaborated with many legends and legends-to-be. Backing him up on the famous recording of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" are Jimmie Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones, soon to become three quarters of Led Zeppelin. Elsewhere we see him befriending Brian Jones. There's Donovan in India, teaching the Beatles finger-style guitar. Here he is recording his later hit "Barabajagal" with Jeff Beck's band backing him up.

A brief montage of famous films that have prominently featured Donovan's songs attests to his continuing significance for creators and audiences today. (The most recent major example is the use of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in the film Zodiac.) More obscure are the clips found on Disc 2, which, like the film, will be of interest to Donovan fans, completists, and students of the 60s.

Sound and video quality are excellent, even on the old clips. Latter-day Donovan remains hale and hearty. His stage style is winning, but, lifted out of the feel-good flower-power milieu that spawned his biggest hits, a little short of mesmerizing, so don't expect to be blown away by awesome live performances. But Disc 2 is packed with extras – not just videos and concert clips and TV appearances, but extended versions of some of the film's sequences, private moments, a family photo album, and, most valuable, several really nice unreleased songs in video form.

You get a lot of bang for your buck with this two-disc set. It provides a close look at Donovan's life, music, and, maybe even more interesting, his times. I recommend it highly not just for Donovan fans but for all fans of 60s music and anyone interested in the period.

Theater Review (NYC): The Pumpkin Pie Show

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I wanted to see The Pumpkin Pie Show because it's the long-running product of the fevered brain of Clay McLeod Chapman, who wrote the script of the remarkable musical Hostage Song. While the two shows couldn't be much more different in mood and presentation, both dig for the gory innards of the human soul.

Hostage Song was a drama with rock music about two Western hostages in Iraq crawling towards a twisted kind of redemption, blindfolded the entire time. Pumpkin Pie is a series of stories written by Chapman and performed by Hanna Cheek (who was so good in Hostage Song) and Chapman himself. Stories are what they are called, and although they are for the most part monologues, stories is perhaps the best word. Each of the tales marries the narrative movement of a short story with the distinct first-person voice of a dramatic monologue.

At each show the two actors perform a different half dozen or so out of a total of fourteen stories they've honed over the past ten years. At the outset, actors and audience don't know which we're going to get, so each show is different. But the tales (at least the six I saw) have in common a strong element of the macabre, and usually a good dose of humor too.

The cast, Cheek especially, are good at transforming themselves into a variety of twisted characters – an overly attached mom, a drunk bridesmaid, a creepy guy who lives under a pier – and the unrelatedness of the tales gives the evening something of the air of an exercise session. But the tales cast their spells effectively, plunging the audience into Chapman's often disturbing, sometimes sickening, and occasionally touching theme park of weirdness. We overuse the roller coaster analogy – for adventure movies and the like – but The Pumpkin Pie Show really is like a thrill ride, full of creepy delights, alternately tickling your brain and turning your stomach. You must be this tall to enter.


Thursdays through Saturdays through Nov. 1 at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC, with a special expanded performance on Halloween night. Get tickets online or call 212-868-4444.

MuchAdo About WhisperAdo

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

The long-awaited new CD from Whisperado has begun stirring towards existence. Meaning, we’ve started recording basic tracks, up at Scott Miller’s studio in the wilds of New Jersey. Your favorite songs from our shows will be on the new disc… and meanwhile, of course, you can still buy a copy of our first EP, Some Other Place. Get it at iTunes in the form of high quality MP3s, at Cruxy if you want to download actual WAVs (plus PDFs of the CD artwork), or for a physical copy, we recommend CD Baby. Your purchase will help fund the new disc. Onward!

Theater Review (NYC): To Barcelona! by Michael Niederman

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

It's 1937. Three idealistic New York City workers (and card-carrying Communists) have traveled to the French-Spanish border. They're about to cross into Spain to join up with the government in its doomed struggle against Franco's fascist revolution.

Michael Niederman has written this new play rather like an old-fashioned melodrama. Emotionally charged, suspenseful, and tackling big issues, its style and structure are well suited to the subject. Indeed, Niederman sets the tone with a lengthy story by the excitable Albert (Gregory Lay) about an inspiring performance he attended of a play by Clifford Odets. Yet at first we think we're hearing about a union meeting; only as Albert's description unfolds do we realize he's been under the spell of the theater. This effect has a magic of its own.

In a rustic inn (beautifully designed by Blair Mielnik) the three friends get drunk and disorderly as they shore up their courage to enter Spain the following day. As they alternate between reinforcing each others' resolve and arguing passionately, their differing revolutionary shadings become clear.  To Barcelona Press Photo 14 Albert has the most fiery personality, but he prefers revolution from within the system. The steadier but more radical Leonard (the charismatic Alex Emanuel, who calls to mind a young Ronald Reagan) believes violent overthrow is needed. Meek Carl (Marty Keiser) has a more conflicted soul.

The arrival of a mysterious American stranger – another useful theatrical cliche – further exposes their rifts. Is he a fellow-traveler, or some kind of spy?

Act I frolics along like a roller coaster. Despite the serious subject matter, it's very funny. Lay is especially brilliant as Albert – brash, loud, so excitable he literally collapses. His volatility gives a few scares to the Waitress, a relatively small but key role played by Anna Gutto, who was good in the recent Sa Ka La and shows enormous depth here, speaking only in French while trying to communicate with three scruffy and unpredictable Americans who don't speak a word of it.

Act II shows us the edgy Albert and the vulnerable Carl on their own. Here the role of Carl expands into the play's second really meaty one. He's a Hungarian immigrant struggling mightily between his socialist ideals and his simple desire for a family and a decent life in his adopted United States. The stranger, Marion Welch (an effective Eric Rice) with his influence on Carl becomes the engine of the plot. To Barcelona Press Photo 10 As the new day dawns, will Carl join his friends as they head off, very likely to their deaths on a battlefield in a strange land?

The long scene between Marion and Carl is the one section that didn't quite work for me. The intensity and cunning with which Marion pushes and plays Carl feels like it's contrived for dramatic effect. Nevertheless, like the rest of the play, the scene is acted very well; Keiser is especially impressive and touching, and we do eventually learn what Marion is up to (and it rings true).

According to the program notes, Niederman aimed with this play to honor his own grandfather and the thousands of other Americans who illegally went to Spain to fight against Franco. They viewed their struggle, and we can view that point in history, as a crucial moment at which Fascism might, conceivably, have been stopped before the nightmares to follow became inevitable. With this old-fashioned, powerful play, it's safe to say that the playwright has achieved his goal.


To Barcelona! runs through Oct. 26 at the Workshop Theater, 312 W. 36 St., NYC. Tickets are $18.00 ($12.00 students/seniors) at Theatermania or call 212-352-3101.  Photo credits: Erica Parise.

Moments of Redemption

Monday, October 13th, 2008

A couple of things happened today that helped, a little, to restore my faith in America as a fit place for humans.

It wasn't the polls, which continued to show Barack Obama ahead in the popular vote and (more importantly) on the electoral map. It wasn't the Wall Street rebound; after all, stocks were due for a bounce after a huge wave of panic selling.

No, I'm talking about little things. Little things that mean a lot.

First, there was a telling moment at an Obama rally in Ohio. "Now, my opponent…" the candidate began. "Boo!" called out some of the crowd. "Now, we don't need that," said Obama, hushing them quickly. "We need you to vote." And the crowd responded with a cheer. Here, in a couple of seconds, was a partisan crowd being reminded of, then drawing upon, their better natures. Primed to grab for the bait, instead they rejected the option to answer in kind the vitriol that's been flaring up at some of McCain and Palin's recent events.

Second was something the economist and journalist Paul Krugman said during an interview on NPR after winning this year's Nobel Prize in Economics. Asked who should have foreseen the severity of the economic crisis, he answered, "I should have." He went on to say that a lot of people should have, and singled out Alan Greenspan for ignoring warnings. But Krugman first pointed the finger at himself.

Mea culpas are far too rare in American society.  In Japan, businessmen who fail at their jobs tend to apologize and resign.  In America, they get golden parachutes and rarely admit personal responsibility. In America, candidates' economic advisers take purely partisan lines and won't admit that an opposing point might have any validity whatsoever.

Paul Krugman did something different today, something more honorable.  It was a very little thing.  But like the Obama crowd's sudden veer towards positivity, it was a bright spot in a difficult and dark time.

Humanity rears its mild, non-hate-filled head. Twice in one day!  Imagine that.

NOTE: Discussion of this post is ongoing at Blogcritics.

Laura Vecchione and Chris Trapper

Friday, October 10th, 2008

More live music: again at the Living Room last night for Laura Vecchione‘s CD release show. Laura’s first CD made my “Best of 2006″ list, and now she’s touring the country Laura Vecchione, Living Room, 9 Oct 2008
and shopping a brand new disc which, if last night’s show was any indication, is superb. (More on the CD in a future post.)

I complain that some of my favorite artists rarely if ever come to NYC. That’s because some of them are relatively obscure and tend to live in places like Texas and Oklahoma.

Still, I wouldn’t trade NYC for any of those places. So often I go out to see a band or a singer-songwriter and discover that somebody else really great Chris Trapper, Living Room, 9 Oct 2008 just happens to be playing that same night at the same club, or just around the corner. Last night we arrived for Laura’s show and found that Chris Trapper was playing right after her.

Elisa introduced me to Chris’s music (with the Push Stars) not long ago and I was hooked. So we stayed for his solo set. I laughed, I cried. (Seriously – some of his songs are very sweet and sad, and one of them was so sweet and sad it made me tear up.) If you’re not familiar with Chris Trapper’s music, what are you doing here? Go listen.

Malcolm Holcombe and More

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Live Music

Our live music treasure hunt continued on Saturday at the Living Room, where we heard Malcolm Holcombe, a gravelly-voiced, almost scarily intense singer-songwriter from North Carolina. Elisa described him as “transformational” in that he pulls you completely into the world of the song he’s singing, and that’s a rare thing. Malcolm Holcombe He attacks his guitar like he’s kneading a recalcitrant loaf of bread, then turns around and picks with hushed sensitivity; with vocals like Tom Waits and songs recalling John Hiatt, he’s a force of music not to be missed. Here’s a recent profile on Holcombe in the Wall Street Journal.

Last night was our monthly Whisperado’s Mud Room event at Kenny’s Castaways. It was an especially special night of specialness because it brought together Whisperado (my original band, with David Mills and Patrick Nielsen Hayden), my old musical friend Jon Kolleeny, my upstate buddy John Scarpulla on whose debut CD I recently played bass, and the latest project in which I have become involved, a new Byrds tribute band called Eight Miles High, led by the indefatigable Roy Goldberg. A bleeping good time was had by all. My only problem was that since I was singing in two different bands over the course of the night, I needed to avoid the drying effects of alcohol consumption. Someone needs to invent an alcoholic beverage that doesn’t dehydrate the body. Perhaps it’s time for a Manhattan Project along these lines. Maybe DARPA should get involved. The economy needs the boost, doesn’t it?

Book Review: Capote in Kansas – A Ghost Story by Kim Powers

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Capote in Kansas is newly available in paperback, and I jumped at the chance to read it because it's about Truman Capote, one of my favorite writers, and his friendship with Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the novel, Kim Powers starts with some basic facts and incidents in the lives of the two great writers and constructs a fictional, fantastical tale of what might have transpired between them during Capote's last days. Unfortunately, what might have been a lovely and haunting story collapses under the double-team pressure of mawkishness and bad writing.

It's well known that the two writers spent summers together as children, and that in her masterwork To Kill a Mockingbird Lee based the character Dill Harris on Capote. What may be a little less well known is that Lee accompanied Truman when he traveled to Kansas to research the horrendous Clutter murders for his groundbreaking true-crime book, In Cold Blood. Combining facts, speculation, and his own inventions, Powers weaves a tale of ghostly visitations, strange obsessions, long-nursed grudges, long distance communication, and the secret dreams and nightmares of great but frustrated writers.

It's rich material to work with, but lazy writing and sloppy thinking sabotage Powers' efforts. What is one to make of a paragraph like this, which begins with a pleasing poetic image but then explodes into an incomprehensible mess:

[The p]hotos [were] so gruesome she had tried to turn their reality into vague, abstract shapes: turn pools of blood into fluid circles on a field of black and white, turn bodies and faces into geometry, not people whose names she now knew, who had been spared no dignity in death – and no further dignity as she and Truman bore witness to the last, and most intimate, moment of their lives.

Powers also has an annoying habit of trying to draw cheap dramatic effect from piling on one-sentence paragraphs:

     The coroner had to admit he had never been shot to death, so couldn't honestly describe how it felt.
     And that's what Truman wanted: honesty.
     That thing in death, their deaths, that he had never had in his life.

It this were a story about fictional characters, I might have been able to overlook some of its stylistic failings; one can forgive flawed writing when it's employed in the service of a ripping yarn. But Powers is writing about two monumental figures of 20th century American prose, and while we don't demand that a writer giving us a version of such people should be able to match their abilities, we should at least be reminded of why we love their work – and reminded by evocation, not sad comparison.

A Visit to Fort Totten

Monday, October 6th, 2008

New York City Parks Department tours kick ass.

A few weeks ago we had a special bus tour of Fresh Kills, the huge Staten Island landfill, now closed, capped, and being planted in preparation for eventual conversion to parkland, but not generally open to the public at this point. This weekend, another Urban Park Ranger took us through the old fort at Fort Totten, a Civil War-era granite fortress on the Willets Point peninsula on the north coast of Queens.

A short distance across the water from Fort Totten, on a spit of land jutting south from the Bronx and now in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge, is Fort Schuyler, which dates from the 1830s and is now the SUNY Maritime College. The two forts were built to defend against a British naval attack on New York City from the east via Long Island Sound.

In the War of 1812 the British had burned Washington, DC, not New York. But the former New Amsterdam was too important a mercantile center to risk leaving vulnerable. During the Civil War the North feared a British alliance with the Confederacy. Hence the sense of urgency. Fort Totten was hastily built – as far as it went – in 1862.

New York City's basic character – tolerant, money-centered, socially and ethnically polyglot – hasn't changed since the 1600s. It's still the financial nerve center of the nation, for one thing. That makes it target number one. The feared British attack never came, but Osama bin Laden took up the gauntlet in 2001, with nightmarish results.


Old Fort Totten Archways
Archways at Fort Totten are made of huge granite blocks quarried in Maine. The white "drippy" stuff is limestone. The floor is made from the same bluestone as you can still see on some sidewalks in neighborhoods like Park Slope, Brooklyn.

We bounced back from that. But today Wall Street has dug itself another grave, this time by outsmarting itself with smart-ass credit tricks. (Good thing we rebuilt DC after the War of 1812 so the Feds could bail out the financial firms in 2008.) New York will climb out of this hole too, of course – we always do. Four centuries of history say so.

So old Fort Totten was never used. In fact, it was never finished. Though it was a state-of-the-art fort at the time, military technology was changing very fast. The invention of rifled cannons made even the thick granite walls of a fortress like Fort Totten penetrable. Like a 21st century electronic device, Fort Totten was out of date before it could even go online.


Fort Totten Officers' Club
The old Officers' Club, almost completely restored, is now the home of the Bayside Historical Society.

However, the site became extremely important for defense and research. Underwater mine technology, for example, was developed there. (Mines were deployed off Fort Totten only once – during the Spanish-American War.) During World War II, Fort Totten became the headquarters of the Anti-Aircraft Command of the Eastern Defense Command, and later the HQ of the North Atlantic region of the Air Transport Command. During the Cold War, it became headquarters for more than half the country's Nike missile sites.


House at Fort Totten House
This old house… not so restored.

Today an Army Reserve Command remains, and the Fire/EMS department uses part of the site for training, but much of it is a park. Some of the buildings, like the Officers' Club, which dates from 1870, have been restored to glorious condition, but on the whole the site has that tumbledown, half-abandoned feel of a left-behind presidio. It has grand officers' houses, humbler dwellings, a chapel, and named streets, and people are working and playing there, but no one really lives there anymore, so it feels half-abandoned.

Over time, if will and budget allow, Fort Totten Park will be fully repurposed for recreation. But in the meantime it stands as a half-ghostly monument to the culture and achievements of the United States Military, and at the same time a demonstration of the way the human animal will instinctively repopulate and re-use a patch of land whose old function has passed.