Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quote of the Day: CBGB Protesters

Today's quote is from a flier handed out in protest to people outside the new John Varvatos men's clothing store that occupies the old CBGB spot on the Bowery:
"These music and art and cultural spaces were not abandoned, dusty relics. These were places that still catered to strong and vibrant burgeoning communities. They are being ousted by people creating a false, expensive tourist version of the real culture that was here.

"New York City should not be a town just for the wealthy. But who can afford these clothes? Mr. Varvatos caters to a wealthy, male-dominated major label mainstream rock world that has no claim on the CB's legacy whatsoever."
I'm always surprised when people react to the passing of landmarks. Apathy is the mood I expect to see.

The store hosted a benefit for VH1's "Save the Music," a charity that seeks to keep music education in schools. According to the New York Post, Joan Jett, Ronnie Spector, Slash and Perry Farrell all performed and the event raised $30,000.

The Varvatos store reminds me of the dreadful Experience Music Project in Seattle, a temple to the upwardly mobile middle-aged American man's whitewashed nostalgia for rock's past, all housed in a crumpled tin foil Gehry creation. This is what we do with the past, the foreign, and the outrageous in America: we recreate it. Colonial Williamsburg turns our history into a folksy digestable theme park with roller coasters that add the thrill that butter churning demonstrations may lack. Las Vegas remakes ancient Egypt, Paris, Rome -- even New York. Now, punk's most celebrated venue has become a home for "funky," over-priced, under-designed menswear. The only way, many would have us believe, that CBGB could survive.

Like Saturday Night Live, CBGB probably should have died a long time ago. It was a time and a place, and it cannot be recreated -- neither by a hip designer nor a group of aging punks who want their hangout back. The Bowery, once New York's Skid Row, is now home to a giant two-story Whole Foods, the new New Museum, and at least one boutique hotel. There was no room for the old CBGB in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

That inevitable change is ultimately what the protesters were protesting. Can we ever stop it? Coney Island, New York's last bastion of kitsch and sleaze after Times Square was Disney-fied, is up for a "renewal." Will small organic growth always be cut short by hyper-planned, hyper-self conscious development? Is corporate sponsorship the only way to save our past?

Glenn O'Brien, known today as GQ's Style Guy, was a regular at CBGB in its heyday. O'Brien was involved in Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine when it started and hosted a downtown Manahttan cable access show in the late 70s and early 80s called TV Party. I was surprised to read what O'Brien had to say in his GQ blog about CBGB's demise and replacement by the Varvatos store:
"History is a strange thing. Spike Lee's film Summer of Sam, which takes place in about 1977, shows a punk show at CB's, and the audience is a bunch of pogoing, safety-pin-punctured leatherettes with dayglo Mohawks. Not authentic. In fact, nobody called punk rock "punk rock," and everybody then dressed kind of regular, in denim and leather with a little sharkskin and rockabilly thrown in. The full-dress caricature punks did eventually show up, a decade or so later when the place had become institutionalized and a venue for hardcore and other mutant forms of "punk." And CBGB became a sort of caricature of its former self. Sometimes death is better than lingering. What was the old punk expression? Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. But CB's was on life support for years."
He added that if Patti Smith really cared that much about the club dying, she should have given the owner a loan.

"Now I'm sure that lots of people are finding some 'sell-out' angle in this," O'Brien continues, "but I don't mind at all. Any clothing designer that uses Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper for models is okay by me."

Maybe O'Brien is right. He concludes:
"And I believe that John Varvatos is genuinely rock and roll. I mean, as genuinely as anything rock and roll can be. Because rock and roll is ultimately a pose. And despite the fact that at some point in the history of what is called punk, "poseur" was about the worst thing anyone could call you, the whole point was posing until the pose took and your dreams became authentic. Today, in the world where the Bowery is where millionaires live, authenticity is what you make of it. I wear it, therefore I am."
I never went to CBGB when I had the chance, so I won't know how faithful the Varvatos store is to the bar. I may make a visit to it this week.

The L Magazine covered it, saying:
"Yeah, yeah, it’s 'oh so shocking' and 'a classic example of the gentrification of the Bowery,' but, realistically, real estate is real estate in this city, and nothing is sacred."
True. But let's step back a moment. Are we really getting mad at someone for opening a store? Reminds me of something Ayn Rand used to say: "Don't smear the profit motive."

I may sound facetious, but I actually mean that seriously. What would punk have been without Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren? Fashion and Rock have been intertwined for decades. Is it Varvatos' high price point that bothers us? Is it the blatant commerce? Is it the opportunism?

UPDATE: The New York Times profiled Varvatos today. The designer said:
“No, we don’t sell $10 shirts and we aren’t punk, but I don’t feel like I have to make excuses for bringing a fashion store to the Bowery. If some other tenant — like a bank or a deli, you name it — had taken over the space, would they have preserved the walls? Would they stage free monthly concerts? The decision to move into CBGB’s wasn’t about ringing the cash register.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Maybe Ferris Bueller Took A Day Off Because His Teacher Was Trying to Preach Intelligent Design

Ben Stein, known best as one of Ferris Bueller's teachers, has a new "documentary" film opening today called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

It's former Nixon speechwriters like Ben Stein who make former Nixon speechwriters like Pat Buchanan look bad. Can you believe some people thought Stein might actually be Deep Throat?

Anyway, Stein, who has had a strangely successful showbiz career that flies in the face of his neocon credentials, has hosted and co-written a movie that seeks to promote -- and paint as rebellious -- "intelligent design." The movie's "Big Science" coinage is an embarrassing attempt to assign a negative connotation to centuries of progress in the name of a few years of neoconservative "intelligent design" mumbo jumbo. Sloppy rhetoric that uses tactics learned from 60s liberals to try to gain equal time with sound science. It's the work of imbeciles with ulterior motives. One wonders if they are merely out to discredit religion in general and Christianity specifically.

In a review, Reason Magazine calls Expelled a "Silly, duplicitous film."

Reason's science and technology columnist Ronald Bailey writes:
"Instead of evaluating this evidence, Stein spends most of the movie asking various proponents of evolutionary theory, including Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Michael Ruse, and Daniel Dennett, for their religious views. Neither the producers nor Stein understand that offering critiques of a theory with which they disagree is not the same as proving their own theory."
That's interesting. It reminds me of Terry Eagleton's review of Dawkins' God Delusion in the London Review of Books from October 2006, which said:
"Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster. These days, theology is the queen of the sciences in a rather less august sense of the word than in its medieval heyday."
Ultimately, morons like Ben Stein are Dawkins' straw man. But for the Ben Steins of the world to try to take advantage of that is bizarre.

The atheist argument doesn't need the goofiness of religion's nut jobs to be powerful. So why do ornery atheists venture so far outside their own bailiwick? Science alone will do.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Why Don't Liberals Talk This Way?

The word pusillanimous is Wordsmith.org's word of the day today, and who used it better than that eloquent font of conservative wisdom, the disgraced former Vice President Spiro Agnew:
"Ultraliberalism today translates into a whimpering isolationism in foreign policy, a mulish obstructionism in domestic policy, and a pusillanimous pussyfooting on the critical issue of law and order."
According to Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations, Agnew said that at an Illinois Republican meeting in 1970.

Pusillanimous, according to Wordsmith.org, is derived from the Latin pusillus, meaning weak or very small, and animus, meaning spirit or mind. It means "Lacking courage; timid."

Mr. Agnew starred in my Quote of the Day back in February 2007 for his "effete corps of impudent snobs" comment (refering to the media). He was full of fun turns of phrase like that, but they all came from one of the two Nixon White House speech writers, William Safire and Patrick Buchanan.

It was Buchanan who wrote the "pusillanimous pussyfooting" speech, according to the September 19, 1996 New York Times obituary for Agnew. (Safire was responsible for the "nattering nabobs of negativism" speech.) Ironically, Buchanan has been known for his conservative isolationism.

As a side note, the Wikipedia entry for Agnew says that comedian Dave Berry has pointed out that the "Spiro Agnew" is an anagram for "Grow A Penis."


Monday, April 07, 2008

My Favorite Tidbit From EmilyPost.com

The shiniest gem of wisdom to be found at emilypost.com, "etiquette's home on the web," is this, in the holiday section:
Was photocopying your butt ever a good idea?

People who drink too much at office parties are taking the risk of seriously harming their professional careers. The chemistry you had and acted on with Jennifer at the holiday office party may seem less than romantic in the clear, sober office environment. And management may think twice about trusting you with their biggest client after your drunken Karaoke rendition of “Be My Baby.” The safest way to avoid any embarrassing situations is to stay in control and limit your drinking.
Thank you, Peter Post; you've inherited a heavy mantle. You wear it with proper panache.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Business Cards

"Look at the that off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my god: it's even got a watermark."


Saturday, April 05, 2008

From a fashion presentation in SoHo for Cuyo, a new Japanese streetwear brand.



A list of facts gleaned from David Owen's March 31, 2008 New Yorker article "Penny Dreadful":
  • Pre-1982 pennies are worth 2.5 cents: they are 95% copper.
  • Post-1982 pennies are 97.5% zinc. They cost 1.7 cents to make.
  • Nickels are 75% copper and cost almost ten cents to make.
  • The U.S. Mint makes 7 billion pennies per year. At 1.7 cents per penny, we have "an annual penny deficit of about fifty million dollars—a condition known in the coin world as negative seigniorage.”
  • "Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage."
  • "The 'dollars' mentioned in Article I of the Constitution were actually [Spanish] eight-real coins, also known as pieces of eight." The importation of British currency to the Colonies was against the law.
  • The first Lincoln penny, made in 1909, was the first American coin with an actual person on it. Its predecessors, like the Indian-head cent before it, didn't depict real people.
  • The Lincoln penny was made of bronze.
  • To save precious copper during WWII, the Mint considered making pennies out of Bakeklite, a resin plastic invented in the U.S. by Leo Baekeland in 1909.
  • Instead of Bakelite, the Mint made pennies from galvanized steel in 1943. They rusted.
  • In 1944, pennies were made from the copper from spent ammunition shell casings.
  • In 1974, the Mint made 1.5 million pennies out of aluminum. Most were destroyed, and it is now illegal to own one.
  • In 1965, "The price of silver had risen so high that some bank employees were asking to be paid in change, and Congress passed a law that required the Mint to stop using silver in almost all coins."
  • A dollar coin costs 20 cents to make.
  • "The 2006 nickel, which features a likeness of Jefferson and was sculpted by Donna Weaver, is the first circulating U.S. coin to have a forward-facing portrait; it is considered by coin aficionados to be an engraving tour de force."
  • American coins typically last 30 years.
  • "Accurately comparing monetary values (and bread loaves) across decades is impossible, but by almost any economic measure a 1940 penny had more purchasing power than a modern quarter does; in 1940, then, consumers got by, quite contentedly, without the equivalent of our penny, nickel, or dime. "

99 Cents

This is image, with the following caption, appears on the website for the 25-year-old California-based chain 99¢ Only Stores:
Renowned photographer Andreas Gursky describes his famous "99 Cent" photo as aisles of brightly packaged merchandise fused into a perfectly ordered whole. This 11 by 7 foot photo has been displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art, as well as museums in Paris, London, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It was taken in 1999 at the 99¢ Only Stores located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. This photograph recently sold for over $1,999,999!
I love the giddy holy crap who knew this was art?! We're rich!! tone.

And why not? Gursky spotted something grand and colorful and orderly, an almost Atomic Age symbol of America's power, and captured it in a way that did not belittle it or mock it with irony. It looks like a near-future fantasy world in which food has been replaced by over-packaged pills instead of fresh-grown food. The gift of a great -- or at least a good -- photographer is to take a mundane scene and make us look at it anew. This is more than just crisp focus and giant-sized printing.

"He has embraced the gaudy blandishments of advertising without abandoning the keen observations of documentary photography," reads a the text for a 2001 MoMA solo exhibition.

What the proprietors of the 99¢ Only Stores do with it is interesting. The image at the top of this article is not only cut off in the manner of a wide-screen movie adjusted to fit a television set, it's also framed in gold, as if to signal that this is in fact art. That's a very practical solution -- how else would we know, given all the other similar images on the website? A fuller version (the original is the one above) appears on the homepage, but it isn't called out as art. And so it comes full-circle, returning to the state of advertising once again.

Henry Alford referenced both the photograph and the chain in a recent New York Times article called "How to Survive in New York on 99 Cents", which includes the following pea soup recipe:
Slice and sauté an onion. Add 3 cups chicken stock, a 1-pound bag of frozen peas, 1/3 cup oats, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, some salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Purée in blender.
Alford says it's excellent. He served it for a dinner party in which the entire menu was prepared from 99 cent food. Of course, he went to 21 99 cent stores in three days to do it ("12 in Harlem and Washington Heights, 4 in Chinatown and 1 in Spanish Harlem").

An accompanying article called "5 Cooks, $40, 5 Dishes, 3 Desserts" challenged Le Bernardin executive chef Eric Ripert to come up with a full meal from ingredients procured at Jack's 99-Cent-Store.

So how did it go?
“Not very good,” he said, after half a blanketed pig. “It tastes all right, but I don’t know what it is,” he said of the crabcakes. The tortelloni were “good, but a little bit Olive Garden.”

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

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