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MTA Accepting Bets On Whether There Will Be Another Sandy Within Three Years

Here’s some unsettling news: The MTA thinks there is a good chance New York will be hit by another Hurricane Sandy within the next three years–or at least a good enough chance that the transit agency is hedging its bets against the possibility that there won’t be.

The MTA is selling a $125 million catastrophe bond; it’s money that will go toward managing flood risk, and offsetting the cost of future storm damage. The bond offers high interest rates, and protection from the volatility of the stock market. The catch is investors only get to keep their money if there is not another Sandy-scale disaster before 2017.

If there is a major hurricane in the next three years, the MTA takes all, and investors will be forced to forfeit their entire stake.

Hurricanes can be expensive for organizations like the MTA–Sandy cost the transit agency an estimated $5 billion in damage–but they can bankrupt insurance companies.

Back in 1992, Hurricane Andrew created $15.5 billion dollar loss for the industry; eleven insurance companies went under as a result. It was around this time, Michael Lewis explains in his riveting history, ”

The market boomed after Katrina, and is expected to reach record levels this year.

The MTA’s bond, issued by First Mutual Transportation Assurance Company, will trigger a payout if there is storm surge at Battery Park, Sandy Hook, Rockaway Inlet, East Creak, and Kings Point–and it is the first bond of its kind that pays out in the event of a storm surge.

No word yet on whether or not the bond covers Sharknados, like the one forecasters say is currently barreling toward New York.

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Christian Scott

The New Orleans-born, fashion-forward trumpeter Christian Scott celebrates his 30th birthday with his trumpet Katrina, a custom-built instrument featuring a bell that pointed skyward in the style of Dizzy Gillespie’s iconic horn. Beyond Dizzy, Scott jumps across a range of styles and sounds, channeling everything from hip-hop to On the Corner-style funk and African rhythms. His most recent album, Christian aTunde Adjuah, represents a step towards artistic self-creation that firmly establishes him as one of the new young lions of jazz.

Sat., March 30, 10:30 p.m., 2013

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Andrew Cuomo: Sandy Worse Than Katrina. Umm . . . Nope

Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that the hurricane that ripped through the Northeast last month was worse than Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that destroyed New Orleans in 2005.

“Hurricane Katrina, in many ways, was not as impactful as Hurricane
Sandy, believe it or not,” Cuomo said. “Because of the density of New
York, the number of people affected, the number of properties affected
was much larger in Hurricane Sandy than Hurricane Katrina. This puts the
entire conversation, I believe, into focus. . . . Now Katrina had a
human toll that thankfully we have not paid in this region.”

It’s that last part that should put the “entire conversation . . . into focus.”

]
Hurricane Katrina killed 1,866 people. Just over 100 people died as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

As
the governor points out, more people — and their property — might have
been affected by Hurricane Sandy. But the human toll doesn’t compare.
The property lost or damaged is just stuff, and while it’s unfortunate
and — in some cases — life changing that it’s gone, it’s still just
that: stuff. It can be replaced.

For the vast majority of New
Yorkers — with the exception, of course, of those in the Rockaways,
Staten Island, and other areas that got the worst of the storm —
Hurricane Sandy was an inconvenience. The power went out for a few days.
We waited in line for gas. But we were alive to do it — and to help
those for whom the storm was more than just an inconvenience.

According
to the governor’s office, about 305,000 homes were damaged or destroyed
by Sandy. That’s compared with 214,700 homes damaged or destroyed
during Katrina. The number of businesses affected by Sandy is about
265,300, compared to 18,700 in Louisiana. Thanks to Sandy, there were
2.19 million power
outages. There were only about 800,000 during Katrina.

The numbers that matter most, however, are 1,866 to roughly 100.

Sure, Sandy may have impacted more people than Hurricane Katrina, but the degree to which they were impacted doesn’t even compare.

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Jonathan Franzen Hits the Stage

Tickets for House for Sale, director Daniel Fish’s gnomic adaptation of a Jonathan Franzen essay, range from $45 to $65. Is this a reasonable asking price? Certainly many shows have much higher initial offerings. Besides, it has an impeccable location—the Duke on 42nd Street—high ceilings, good square footage, and plentiful surface charms. The piece concerns Franzen’s attempts to ready his deceased mother’s Missouri house for the market, though it also sidetracks into childhood reminiscences and a self-flagellating Hurricane Katrina digression. (It lacks a built-in dishwasher, but really what do you expect for $45?)

Considered as pure prose, the essay “House for Sale” combines Franzen’s vivid, textural detail with a queasy emotional palette. In his efforts to order his mother’s estate, the narrator finds himself drinking hard, making a dubious realtor selection, and behaving oddly towards his mother’s ornaments and mementoes. He writes of denuding the house of all snapshots, observing, “if somebody had pointed out my resemblance to a conqueror burning the enemy’s churches and smashing its icons—I would have had to admit that I was relishing my ownership of the house.”

A monologue would seem the likeliest way to transform this narration into a play. Or instead, Franzen, the realtor, and various family members could have become characters in a more traditional drama. But Fish chooses to leave the essay intact, distributing its every word among five unnamed performers (Rob Campbell, Merritt Janson, Lisa Joyce, Christina Rouner, and Michael Rudko). Sometimes each says the same speech, one after the other; sometimes they trade off consecutive lines; sometimes they tag the speech to various actions—running, singing, changing clothes. Apparently, all the actors have all the text memorized, and Fish cues them by clicking on and off a sequence of color lights that dot Laura Jellinek’s set, which resembles an abstracted church basement.

Fish has a track record of delivering non-theatrical texts in highly theatrical ways. Last year, he created a performance piece based on audio of David Foster Wallace and many tennis balls, A (radically condensed and expanded) SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I’LL NEVER DO AGAIN (after David Foster Wallace). And a couple years ago he reconfigured all the lines from a black-and-white movie into a thrilling and clever two-actor suite called Tom Ryan Thinks He’s James Mason Starring in a Movie by Nicholas Ray.

Yet why Fish chose to stage this essay—and in this way—remains opaque. Individual moments, in which characters race around the stage or sing certain lines as hymns, have analogs in the text, but the decision to divide the essay among these actors doesn’t seem to have a thematic or narrative necessity. Perhaps it’s about the different identities that create the history of a family, I thought. Or possibly it’s a metaphor for the different selves Franzen conjures in the essay’s course, or the way each of us engages with narrative work, making it our own. Or, you know, maybe not.

No logic I could summon seemed entirely satisfying, nor were the actors (though very good) and the prose (also fine) remarkable enough to make that disconnect not niggle. Frustratingly, I had the feeling that Fish has very precise and reasoned arguments for his choices, he just hasn’t communicated them to the audience. About 40 minutes in, I gave up, quite a bit later than many in the crowd, who had lulled themselves to sleep just after the introduction. The project Fish constructs has a solid foundation and many tempting features, but as the play wore on (to an admittedly agreeable finish), this House wasn’t a place I felt I could buy.

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After the Storm: I’m Carolyn Parker

Like The Agronomist, director Jonathan Demme’s 2003 docu-profile of Haitian political activist Jean Dominique, I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful considers its subject’s story as its own self-sufficient context. Over the course of five years after the levees broke in New Orleans in 2005, Demme’s film follows the charming and irrepressibly resilient Carolyn Parker, the irate New Orleanian famous for saying she’d only leave her home in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward “over my dead body.”

In both The Agronomist and here, Demme looks at real people defined by their civic-mindedness and explores their politics biographically. Parker’s post–Hurricane Katrina life is thus defined by her children, her relationship with her church community, and her house. That impulse to foreground Parker’s story and almost only use secondary interview material to support or embellish her claims is both refreshing and maddening. In doing this, Demme reduces a sprawling event to experiential details. Granted, Demme is a humanist and a thoughtful filmmaker. His naturally lit extreme close-ups evoke a sense of intimacy that suggests that the perspective of a singular, extraordinary person like Parker contains a wealth of wisdom. But it’s also frustrating to watch Parker only talk about whatever she immediately thinks to say.

Demme’s respect for Parker and keen eye for anecdotal detail commend him. Still, because he has little journalistic instinct, Demme only presses Parker and her daughter Kyrah so much for reasons why they’ve stayed in the blighted ward or about how her time in a FEMA-donated trailer home. His sketch is most vague when he explains in voiceover that Parker’s St. David Catholic Church is being restored instead of St. Maurice. The latter church hosted the former’s congregants immediately after Katrina. But though Parker is apparently grateful to be able to keep Sunday services part of her weekly routine, she also says that she will always remember St. Maurice as a church that did not make her feel welcome because she’s black. So when Demme shows Parker triumphantly returning to St. David, one can’t help but wonder why saving one church over another should be treated by the director as a relatively unqualified sign of progress.

Demme makes a point of concluding I’m Carolyn Parker with a scene of Parker and her son talking about how easy it is to choose to move on. Parker argues that accepting change is in fact easier said than done, a trite but true sentiment that Demme’s film makes all the more apparent.

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FLOSSIN’ SEASON

With his five Cash Money records, Juvenile established himself as one of the best ever to do it, finishing Mannie Fresh beats with inventive flows that brought azzes to the dancefloor while collapsing the supposed conscious/street dichotomy. But for all the “Ha”s and “Solja Rag”s they made together, the New Orleans rapper has shown plenty of life after Fresh: Katrina track “Get Ya Hustle On” got all the attention, but 2006’s Reality Check banged from front to back, and Beast Mode remains one of the more slept-on releases of 2010. Tonight, Juve the Great comes to S.O.B.’s to celebrate the release of a new mixtape, Nino the Magnificent.

Thu., April 19, 10 p.m., 2012

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Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?

Like its title, Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? purports to ask a question but is only interested in forwarding its predictable agitprop answer. The crux of nonfiction directors Donald Goldmacher and Frances Causey’s outrage is American financial inequality, with corporations and their government bedmates (Obama included) cast as avaricious forces that have exploited deregulation and tax loopholes to enrich themselves and disenfranchise the working class. Given the doc’s wide-ranging scope, it’s no surprise that many of its arguments about multi-national misbehavior ring infuriatingly true. However, as with so many of its call-to-arms brethren, Heist sabotages itself by cramming in so many hot-button topics (unions, tax cuts, media bias, 401(k)s, Social Security, Hurricane Katrina, the environment) that each winds up shortchanged. As epitomized by its public-service-announcement-grade narrator’s summarizing line, “We now know what we’re up against,” the film is content to preach only to the people already likely to pay to see it. That attitude extends to Goldmacher and Causey’s reliance on a tired structural formula: Combining archival news broadcasts and photos, contemporary protest footage, talking-head interviews, and graphical and cartoon interludes, it’s a work that continues the liberal-political documentary subgenre’s own war against aesthetic maturity and inventiveness.

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Allen Toussaint

Allen Toussaint is a living piece of rock history, bridging the gap between jazz, zydeco, and country. A Katrina refugee, the 73-year-old legend moved to New York in 2005, and Joe’s Pub has been his unofficial haven. Here, he’ll be testifying solo, drawing from his seminal R&B album Southern Nights and a profound understanding of American roots music. The Bright Mississippi, his most recent solo album, was one of the best New Orleans jazz releases in years. He’s a freight train as powerful as the City of New Orleans itself, marking time with his right foot to the song of its namesake.

Sun., Nov. 20, noon; Mon., Nov. 21, 7 p.m.; Tue., Nov. 22, 7 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 23, 7 p.m., 2011

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The Play About My Dad–A Father and Daughter Are the Eye of This Hurricane Katrina

Flooding frequently threatens Boo Killebrew’s The Play About My Dad at 59E59. Not the rising waters of Hurricane Katrina, though that disaster colors most of the action, but rather the rush of tears that well in the eyes of nearly every actor in this sweet if occasionally mawkish drama.

At first, the piece seems merely a tribute to the playwright’s dad and his work in a Greenwood, Mississippi, hospital during the hurricane. At the top of the show, the actor playing Larry Killebrew (Jay Potter) steps onto the stage and announces, with an endearing awkwardness, “I am going to tell my story about Katrina.” His daughter Boo (Anna Greenfield) joins him to offer acting notes. “Could you read from this?” she asks. “But you know, like it’s you, just talking?”

Eventually, even as Larry and the other characters—an elderly woman, a stranded family, two EMTs—begin to enact their experiences in the storm, a different narrative strain emerges. Though Larry and Boo (or at least their actor avatars) may seem tender toward each other, Larry abandoned his family when Boo was a teenager. Before Katrina descended, they hadn’t spoken in more than two years.

The play twines disaster tales with the tentative reconciliation of the playwright and her father, also weaving in a fairly unnecessary thread of magical realism involving time travel. Nevertheless, director Lee Sunday Evans keeps the action grounded, though she, like Killebrew, can’t resist an opportunity to tweak the heartstrings. Yet if the play does tend toward the lachrymose, a torrent that left more than 1,500 people dead likely deserves a few tears.

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Brian Wilson’s Songs

I have one tattoo: the five-note melody line to “God Only Knows,” splayed conspicuously across my right shoulder. I’ve worn it long enough that I often have the luxury of forgetting its presence, the proximity of something so beautiful.

One afternoon in May, I have a handful of minutes to interview Brian Wilson, the brilliant, troubled recluse who wrote that Beach Boys opus and so many more. But as he waits politely for my questions, it seems far more urgent to explain why I have his notes printed on my body—how they honor his act of kindness many years ago, one that changed my family forever. I will stutter onward, because I have waited six years to thank him.

My parents are very much the modest, proud working class of rock lyrics. They live in Northern California and were devoted public school teachers; my father led his district’s underfunded bilingual language department, teaching English to impoverished Mexican immigrants. He used rock music—
especially his lifelong favorites, the Beach Boys—as a crucial part of his program, often transforming stodgy school assemblies into sing-along spectacles. His wide-eyed students learned Chuck Berry and English sentence construction in equal measure and flocked to him for further rock tutelage long after leaving his classroom.

Music also served as his great bond to his only child. Hours of shared guitar and trumpet practice in the living room, interspersed with listening sessions fueled by his John Peel–worthy scholarship, kept us close—especially when he suffered a near-fatal brain tumor in 1993. We passed the months of sterile hospital hours comparing ’60s rock trivia with forced levity. He would emerge from those surgeries in full remission, although the altered alchemy of his brain left him susceptible to fits of severe depression.

For decades, he also worked as a singer/songwriter; he’d toured the West Coast festival circuit and self-released albums of his sweet folk rock (including one that inexplicably featured Tommy Lee). Around 2003, he had been signed to an independent label and received radio airplay across America, and his artistic goals seemed realized. But the label’s actions eventually turned dishonorable—and in the fall of 2005, he only had a few weeks left in his contract, which was triggering
the very worst of his depression.

“If this attempt fails, too, I’m done,” he said tearfully as I listened silently down a phone line. “I lose. I won’t try again.”

Our talks had evolved into this dismal
routine, and these comments had become repetitive but no less distressing. His misery, and the artless reality of failed dreams, was frightening. I wasn’t ready yet to view my parents as unrealized, much less as defeated.

One October evening, I had a response for my father. The day before, I had read about a Hurricane Katrina relief challenge under way on Brian Wilson’s website. The premise: Donate to the national relief effort, and in return, Wilson would make a personal phone call—a noble, bizarre invitation from a deeply sheltered musician. Perhaps he’d been buoyed by the recent completion of Smile, his long-delayed “teenage symphony to God” that prompted his late-’60s nervous breakdown.

I suggested to my father that he participate—in this nadir, he needed a resilient artistic spirit, a few words of encouragement. He’d identified with Wilson all his life, having grown up in a Southern California town neighboring the Beach Boys’ Hawthorne, and shared his isolation of having a father disapproving of his creative accomplishments. We submitted a donation and, as requested by Wilson’s coordinator, specified times spanning 20 hours over two weeks. He called me every evening to inform me chipperly that Brian hadn’t called yet, but he certainly would tomorrow.

But time passed, and our spectacular plan became a failure—my father had been let down by both his record label and his hero. He tried to shield me from his sharp disappointment, but his blue period was palpably worse than ever. And the latest letdown had been triggered by my idea.

Miles away, in my college radio station’s workroom, I investigated. According to a triumphant press release from the Wilson camp, he had completed all calls. I sent a missive to the only e-mail address I had, writing abrasively, tripping over my fingers’ furious pace as I demanded an explanation; in coda, I belittled Brian and the program organizers’ professionalism. It served a bitter resignation of my futility, and that which I’d caused my dad to feel more deeply.

Two nights later, I discovered a response from Brian Wilson’s wife, Melinda. With a verbosity to rival mine, and shreds of text highlighted in red, she called my letter “nasty,” insisted that her husband had indeed tried to call, and declared that my behavior had marred his sincere attempt to help in a national crisis.

In that horrible moment, the whole series of events felt hopeless, and I felt culpable. Brian hadn’t called, and I’d added a poisonous dimension to his charitable efforts. And though he didn’t know about this exchange, my father was no better for it.

So I wrote back to Melinda, raw in my exhaustion. What did it matter, anyway? I retracted my tone and explained my concern for my father—that, I would not apologize for. And then I began walking home, letting myself sob messily in defeat. I called my parents, selfishly wanting consolation. My father interrupted my unintelligible wail.

“Brian Wilson just called!”

Confetti should have rained from the ceiling after the phone rang—innocuously, twice. Instead, my father gasped and greeted his caller. Brian began a clearly rehearsed monologue about the fundraising challenge and its triumph, then offered to answer a question, if my father had one—and his rapid, monotone delivery suggested that this hard-won chat was rapidly concluding. Which, to my father, was no deterrent— his unstoppable charisma, muted by his brain tumor, had returned. In seconds, he shifted the conversation fluidly into his work as a public schoolteacher with disadvantaged children who had been displaced much like those affected by Katrina. With no objective, he chattered on amiably as Brian listened mutely—God, I wish I’d heard that nervy monologue. And then Brian cleared his throat and they just . . . talked. Casually, openly, for half an hour.

My father later recalled that Brian’s most striking aspect was his childlike enthusiasm, comparable to that of his students. It was in that tone that Brian held his receiver away from his mouth, eagerly asking his wife if he could hear my father’s music (“Can I listen to it? Can I?”). Melinda took the phone and warmly provided a mailing address, breaking staunch policy.

After a few more minutes, they said farewell—and my father hung up and vaulted around our small house, howling with disbelieving joy.

He and I stayed on the line for hours that evening. I shut my eyes and basked in the tone of his voice—a euphoria I had not heard in years.

I cannot imagine my father today without the resonance of this encounter. I still see it daily; my mother and I agree that it was the moment that caused a seismic shift in his outlook—not because anything changed spectacularly in his life (my father did send Brian his music, though there’s no way of knowing if he ever heard it), but because he seems genuinely at peace. He is no longer haunted by his unreached musical goals; he distills his love into charitable musical work. I don’t believe he could have reached that realization without Wilson’s kind outreach; he needed to be inspired again, by someone who truly understood the perils of artistry, to continue living bravely in uncertainty, as he had before.

Rock fans revere Wilson, but they also must confront him individually, because he once surrendered wholly to his creativity and exposed the terrifying prospect of being ruined by it. He wrote some of the most beautiful music in history, and suffered personally in its pursuit—and he still fights those mental battles daily. And he took time to direct my father from a similar path.

I clutch the phone. I tell Brian Wilson
much of this, breathlessly. He seems startled yet gracious. And when I tell him that I have his gorgeous song—my father’s favorite, and my own, too—branded on my body, a mark as indelible as his actions, he sounds the happiest he will in our entire interview. “All right!” he says. Which it is, and in one day, what he made it all.

Brian Wilson plays the Wellmont Theatre on June 9 and Highline Ballroom June 11 through 13

Q: You told the Evening Standard earlier this month that you may retire from touring next year. Are you still considering that?

Yeah, I probably will, yeah. I dunno, I’m just getting older. If it feels good, I’ll probably keep going for another two or three years.

Do you have a relationship with the other members right now?

No, I don’t. Not really, no. I’m not really interested in them.

So you don’t have plans to reunite [the band] for the 50th anniversary?

Right. No.

How do the original studio sessions of Smile (coming out this year) differ from the Smile album you recorded in 2004?

They’re not quite as good. They’re just little bits, fragments, shorter pieces, 20-second pieces and 30-second pieces.

What song in your career left you feeling most satisfied after you had written it?
“God Only Knows.” It’s just a good love song. I like it.