Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-88

Since learning of 27-year-old painter Jean-Michel Basquiat’s accidental death by drug overdose last week, what I live over and over again are not so much the hideous and hideously stu­pid circumstances surrounding his pre­mature demise, nor the fact that so much splendor has been left by someone so young. He was a vibrant painter, a complicated artist, who produced work that meant more to the viewer, to me, than met the eye. But what I missed immediately was the figure of Jean him­self, one of the most beautiful young men — with one of the most original minds — I have ever met.

[related_posts post_id_1=”713453″ /]

It began with his eyes. I saw them­ — and him — for the first time in Brooklyn, our hometown. Never before and never since have I felt someone’s eyes pierce my consciousness in such a direct and directly personal way. Looking across the room at him and he at me, I saw the largely white cocktail party in which we stood grow smaller; the sea of faces that did not look like ours became a force that made us recognize each other to a degree that made at least my side of the conversation halting, stilted, naked. Sometimes love at first sight is like that.

And it was at first sight, too, that you realized Jean lived his life as if he had nothing to lose. At that same party he replaced the tape being played — Debus­sy — with a scratched bootleg recording by the Sex Pistols. As he danced about alone, I saw him watch, from the corner of his eye, to see just how long the others would take to pretend they would not react to the spectacle of dreadlocks, paint-splattered khakis, and brown limbs. As it happened, the others didn’t react. But then again, he did not stop dancing.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717919″ /]

That image was replaced, in later years, by the image of the artist as com­modity, enfant terrible, bad black bitch, nasty lout, charming gadabout. Initially identified with a group of artists who reached “blue-chip” status through their efforts as graffiti guerrillas (Jean’s tag­line: SAMO, as in Same Old Shit), he rapidly progressed to other forms of vi­sual expression. His paintings, drawings, and sculptures challenged the European idea of the “primitive”; as a disciple of Dubuffet and Twombly, he wanted to give his heroes the black face of his history.

It became increasingly difficult then to see him across the crowded rooms where so many of his paintings — in such a short time — loomed. The images he created always resonated for me because they were the truest representation of the “Negro” from my generation. In his last show, paintings with words like Mississippi and South African diamonds appear repeatedly in reference to what was being bought, sold, and lived outside of the world of his canvases. I think the words were metaphors for his position in the world just then, too. But that degree of self-knowledge is not what many people saw. Mostly what they saw was a boy so anxious for his life to begin — accompanied by love, by trust — ­that sadly enough he wanted to buy it all.

[related_posts post_id_1=”716694″ /]

Death not only happens once, but time and again to those of us who are left to speak of the dead. But sometimes we don’t. This has become a time in which we are more and more disinclined to speak of so frequent an event, essen­tially because, as Owen Dodson once said: “The dead have become the signs of our bury hour; our living crucifixion.” ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Lives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Theater

‘Let’s Get a Rip Torn Type’

‘Let’s Get a Rip Torn Type’
March 27, 1969

If you want to laugh at an actor named Rip Torn, that’s your problem. Born Elmore Torn 37 years ago in Temple, Texas, he was nicknamed Rip around the house as a kid. Grown up, he sees no reason to change it just because it reminds some people of Tab Hunter or Rock Hudson. He knows how good he is.

Rip is also the most paranoid man I’ve ever met, so paranoid that after receiving his second “Obie” in a row for directing Michael McClure’s The Beard — the first was for the role of Marion Faye in Norman Mailer’s Deer Park — he suspected it was all because the CIA was setting him up for some sinister purpose.

“ ‘Have you seen Hud?’ Paul Newman asked me after it was released. ‘I hope you like it,’ Newman said, ‘because Hud is you.’

“I didn’t think that was too funny. I was broke as usual at the time and I thought Paul might at least have laid a percentage on me. Also, if I ever wanted to make a western, everybody would say I was doing a Newman number. But when I saw it, it wasn’t me at all. I told Paul, ‘I’m a very complicated guy — I can only get about 10 per cent of me, how come you think you can get it all?’ ”

We are in a room which, if it were together, would be his study. Books, records, beer cans, overflowing ash trays, sporting equipment, and excess furniture clutter everywhere. It is dark and needs a painting. Looking out through battered and crooked black rimmed glasses, Rip reminds me of a shy, vulnerable little boy with insensitive parents, looking for empathy.

The sign over the bell says “TORN PAGE.” He and Geraldine occupy three floors of a brownstone which they just purchased (with her money the rumor goes) in the West 20s. They have three children: Angelica, five, and four-year-old twins, Jonathan and Anthony. The house is a swept, lived-in mess geared for kids. There are crayon scrawls all over the walls, toys in every corner and underfoot.

As a young boy, Rip loved to go fishing. One day he had no bits and, when his line tangled on a rock, he pretended it was a fish — gritting his teeth, bracing himself, fighting it acting it out. A group of people across the stream started shouting encouragement: “You can get him, boy… hold on now… you can bring him in…”

“Not catching any fish isn’t so bad if you enjoy fishing,” Rip says.

At 16, he and a bunch of Texas buddies went through a season of playing the “coon game” across the tracks, hitting black cats on the head with socks full of bars of soap.

The expression “red-ass” started in Texas A and M, military college. “It gives me the red-ass,” they say in the army. Rip remembers his backside looking “like oozing plasma” from being hazed with shaved down baseball bats. Texas A and M teaches a man how to make pain. Manhood through brutality. Can you take it, boy? “End as a Man.” Rip learned fast. After two years he dropped out.

Believing firmly in Louella Parson’s vision of Hollywood, he hitched there. He had grown up with weapons and thought nothing of the unlicensed pistol in his pocket. Arriving in L..A., and mistaking it for civilization, he went to the police station to turn it in, asking them to certify that it was his so he could ship it back to Texas for safekeeping.

[related_posts post_id_1=”178427″ /]

Instead he was booked and charged with eight unsolved robberies committed with the same type weapon. He in no way resembled the suspects, but it took two days in jail to clear the matter up, and then they confiscated his pistol. That was Rip Torn’s welcome to Hollywood. It’s enough to make a guy paranoid.

The first Hollywood party goes like this. Scott Brady was starring in Light Up the Sky at the Laguna Beach Playhouse. A little man was trying to change a tire on a big car in front. Rip helped him. The guy was the set designer at the theatre and invited him backstage. There he met Scott Brady and went to his party. He got completely bombed like everybody else and passed out with an unconscious girl on top of him. It might have become a real orgy if everybody hadn’t started retching, groaning, and puking all over the place. The hors d’oeuvres, it turned out, were tainted.

He sold magazines on the road. “I was good at it. I’d knock on the door and say, ‘Hi.’ Then I’d just stand there — no pitch or anything — and there would be this silence. The woman might say something like, ‘Oh, I know, you’re Louie’s boy aren’t you?’ I’d say, ‘No ma’am, I’m one of the boys from the district high school.’ I’d tell her that I had only 20 minutes to win this watch. I talked faster and faster and of course she bought something. Then I’d ask if she had a friend who could help and… It was terrible.

“I got fed up. I was selling this family in Salt Lake City. They were interested in me on a truly human level — nice people. I finally said, ‘Look, you don’t want these magazines. What do you need $35 worth of magazines for?’ I walked out of their house and tried to get involved again. The next customer was a little old lady who reminded me of my grandmother. I always like to talk to old people anyway — see what’s on their minds. She made me a lemonade and I sat on her rocking chair and we talked. I decided to quit right then.

“I hitched some more; down to Mexico, I was a chauffeur in L.A. for a while, a counterman. I was a plumber and really had my hands in shit… By the time I got back home, I was in such bad shape my own mother didn’t recognize me. I hadn’t eaten in three days. ‘Lady, do you have any yard work?’ I said as a joke. She didn’t even know who I was.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”200778″ /]

***

“Hey Ripper! Good to see ya, boy. How the hell are ya?” Coming out of McGinnis’s Broadway restaurant, Rip is greeted by Pat Hingle’s Texas twang. They embrace.

Hingle was Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and is a frequent guest star on television about whom people say, “He’s a good actor… what’s his name again?” Rip and Pat Hingle have a lot in common.

They are both from Texas, and studied at the University of Texas drama school, where people in the department thought Rip had no technique. “I wasn’t phony enough. But sometimes I’d have a moment on stage that was so real it made them forget the fact that I was terrible.”

A few years later, Hingle was rehearsing in Cat and called Rip, still in Texas, to tell him they were casting the understudy to Ben Gazzara. He came right up. New on Broadway, he got a lot of funny takes: “Your name is what? Rip Torn??!! Do you know Buck Naked… Brick Wall… Chan Delier…?”

“No I don’t,” he said pleasantly. “But maybe you’ve heard of my cousin.”

“Who is that?”

“Fuck You.”

After a lot of static and perseverance, he finally read. Years later, Molly Kazan told him that his reading that day was one of the most electric moments she had ever seen on stage. That was before Rip broke his personal management contract with her husband, Elia Kazan, by saying; “I can no longer live suspended by the web of your whim.” He hasn’t had a manager since.

Hingle is on his way to read a voice-over for a television commercial. “Damn, I wish I could get me some of those,” Rip says. “You’re good at it — you do what they tell you. My trouble is I always want to read my own wav.”

“Sorry about your play,” Hingle says.

The Cuban Thing had closed the night before. Rip had the lead, although his name was listed alphabetically on the marquee. (He doesn’t believe in solo bows; “they destroy the unity of the company.”)

Two years ago, he promised Jack Gelber, who wrote and directed the play, that he would do it. He kept the promise, even though it meant turning down two film offers — which is one reason he isn’t a celebrity.

The reviews were universally rotten; “I had a premonition, but everybody is always saying I’m paranoid, so this time I asked a friend — a psychiatrist — to come opening night and protect my sanity. Afterward he told me how much he liked the play and the performances. Then I said, ‘Okay… what do you think of… these?’ I shoved the reviews at him.

“He was stunned: ‘This isn’t what I saw,’ he said. ‘These reviews have nothing to do with the play. I don’t understand.’ I said, ‘Now you know what I’ve been talking about.’ ”

“My friend was really at a loss. He said, ‘If your talent was more conventional, or if you were more conventional as a person, maybe they could take it. But the combination of the two is too much for most people.’ ”

***

The health officer at the Mexican border suddenly pulled his gun and badge on Rip. “Secret Service,” he said.

Rip flipped, he shouted, “Okay… go ahead, bust it down. Let’s go the whole route here — hub caps, engine, whatever you want. Let’s get it over with… I don’t give a shit. You ‘re not going to find anything.”

“Then why are you screaming. I’m trying to be nice and you yell at me.”

“Nice? If you’re trying to be nice, why did you pull your gun? And what the hell is this all about anyway. Every time I come across the same thing happens.” It was the third time.

“I really don’t know,” the agent said. “Maybe it’s those roles you play… all those perverts, subversives, and criminal types. You’re very convincing, you know. Anyway, somebody put you on our list.”

Paranoid? Maybe. It is a little hard to believe that all the persecution Rip feels has occurred. But there are certain men who attract bullies, whose stance puts people up-tight. He’s like a gunfighter; people feel obligated, somehow, to challenge him to a draw. Then there are the roles.

He was Tom Junior, a sadistic Southern bigot, in Sweet Bird of Youth, eventually replacing Paul Newman in the lead as Chance Wayne, an aging, desperate gigolo on the make. His Marion Faye was a true freaky, pot-smoking pimp with faggot tendencies and rumors that he was really all those things flew around the Village during the run. In series guest spots, he is typed as a hood, outlaw, and general bad guy. His Roberto, in The Cuban Thing, was considered pro-Castro.

***

[related_posts post_id_1=”715227″ /]

Pat Hingle inspects Rip’s right ear on Broadway. “It doesn’t look too bad,” he says.

“No, there’s not even a scar… Look.”

Rip’s role-playing got him into the hospital last summer. The New York Times reported it as follows: “Norman Mailer and Rip Torn, the actor and longtime friend of the author’s engaged in a perhaps overly realistic struggle before the cameras… Mr. Torn was acting out one of the several cinematic assassination attempts against Mr. Mailer, who played Norman T. Kingsley, a famous movie director contemplating a race for President.

“According to eyewitnesses, he crept up behind. Mr. Mailer and shouted, ‘Norman T. Kingsley, I have something for you.’ Then he hit him three times on the head with a child’s toy hammer. Mr. Mailer turned and grappled with his assailant as the cameras continued to grind. In the struggle, Mr. Mailer bit Mr. Torn on the ear.”

“I told Norman we shouldn’t’ contribute to the bullshit number that’s going down in the press,” Rip said. “It’s just a dumb misunderstanding. It wasn’t the bite itself that bugged me, it was the fact that anytime the human tooth gets into you, you are going to have an infection. It’s the most virulent bite of all… I told Norman that.

“ ‘Are you trying to say my bite is the most poisonous bite?’ Norman said. You know how he is; he’s always got to be number one.

“ ‘I just said the human bite is the most poisonous — but I won’t take away from you the honor of being the most virulent of all.’ Anyway, he’s still mad at me. I think he wanted it to be unexpected, but not all that unexpected, you dig?

Nobody’s role was clear. I just assumed I was to be the one to finally make an attempt on his life. I was functioning completely as an actor and I assumed he would just topple and act it out. He didn’t do that at all — he went right into reality… How about a blast?”

“No thanks, Ripper, I’m late.” Hingle flags a cab. “Give my love to Gerry.”

***

“I said to Gerry the other night…” Rip is just back from California where Gerry is making a film, passing through on his way to direct The Beard in London “…I said ‘I’ve done everything possible to root out my love for you, and it’s beaten me, I can’t kill it.’ ”

Rip loves to lay some out-of-sight statement on you and then stare (I always lose) until you feel paranoid yourself questioning it. “Why do you want to root it out? Is love a weakness or something?”

“Yeah… I think it is. Look baby…” I can understand why a director I called yesterday refused to say anything about him except “he’s a hostile, paranoid bastard,” and hung up. Rip looks like he wants to hit me. “…Love in this society has only been some kind of creep sentimental punkdom. You know that. We’ve all been brainwashed.”

“Don’t get involved with that dreadful man!” Gerry’s friends said when she started seeing Rip. They were in Sweet Bird at the time and, in another of those role extensions, people took him for Chance Wayne using an aging actress — Gerry is now 44 — as a ticket to stardom. They have been together nine years.

She is intensely loyal, much more disturbed about the ear incident than Rip. The first chance she had, she said to Mailer, “Hello Norman, how’s your appetite?” He didn’t answer. She continued, “Well like the movie says, you are what you eat.”

***

[related_posts post_id_1=”715221″ /]

Another rumor — Rip “ran off” with Mike McClure after The Cuban Thing closed. Rip may or may not be a hostile, belligerent, paranoid bastard, and he may or may not be one of the best actors in America, but one thing he isn’t is a faggot. I tell him about it.

“You know what that is?” I pour some wine. “Wishful thinking.” He stares me down again. “Here’s where it’s at — Eitel, the director in Deer Park, has a tough line after Marion makes a pass at him. He considers it for a while and he’s tempted but he finally says no, because that’s what the machinery wants us to be — faggots. If you’re a faggot then they’ve got you nailed. They can put you away, dismiss you. You’re a faggot. I’d like to meet the guy who told you that. Mike’s my brother, and I guess the idea of two strong cats making it together turned him on. Here’s another story that came back to me. Some big English director — I won’t mention his name — was asked, ‘Do you know Rip Torn?’ He said, ‘My dear, I’ve had him.’ And I’ve never even met the cat.”

Rip looks disgusted. His bag holding important personal papers fell off the rack of his big bike on the way over. He discovered it in front of my place. Instead of retracing his route right away, he’s lounging comfortably in my easy chair drinking wine and rapping. Julie, a small girl who has been sitting silent, listening somewhat in awe, offers to go out and look for it. He says fine, draws her a map of the route, and, although she has no driver’s license and has only driven a bike once — a small Honda at that — offers her his key. Fortunately, she has enough sense to refuse it.

The loss of the bag has put him extremely up-tight. He drinks and talks fast.

On politics: “Nixon is a motherfucker triumphant. Yeah. But you know, when he makes that victory salute — he’s got his arms up and his shoulders are around his ears — there must be some part of him that’s embarrassed about the spectacle he’s making. It’s not really a full take like ‘come on, give it to me and I’ll die for you.’ It looks more like they coached him but he really can’t make it. He’s a bad actor.”

“Then there’s Humpty Dumpty. I said to Mailer that George Wallace would chew Humpty Dumpty and Icky Dicky right up if they ever got together. He said, ‘No, they would work out a deal with him and then slowly poison him…” Rip starts to choke from laughing.

On acting: “A guy talked to me about doing a TV series when I was in L.A. last month. I told him I had already served my years soldiering for my country. Why should I sign up for five more years of bondage? Of course for that bondage you’re made a millionaire so it’s not bad bondage. There’s nothing wrong with it except that I don’t dig it. For a lot of people, though, it’s the prize.

“Some people say about me, ‘Why isn’t Rip bothered by not being a star?’ I know I can be a star, I just don’t choose to be. But I could dig it in a way; there’s a motherfucker triumphant residing in all of us. I could go for the total number.

“Once I was driving down Sunset Strip to Malibu. There are packs of cars, you know, with the lights. I decided to lead the pack. There were all these hand-tooled jobs and me — I was driving this Mickey Mouse car… That’s why Paul Newman said I’d never be a star in Hollywood. I came rolling up to his house driving a Rambler. He was appalled. He said, ‘Man, a Rambler!? Don’t you know you can’t drive that kind of car and be a star?’ I hate to say anything bad about Paul… He was so beautiful with McCarthy…”

“Writers are usually interested in me. They hope, because they dig me as an actor, that they will be the one to make me a star — give me the vehicle to ride — Like James Earl Jones and The Great White Hope. Jimmy and I are close. We’re about the same age and… he’s beautiful. I can talk about this now, because he’s mentioned it already. Years ago, I tried to have about eight or ten actors admitted into the Actors Studio. At the time there was only Sidney Poitier and Diana Sands and I said that the Studio was just a microcosm, a reflection, of the whole corrupt Broadway scene.

“They only let in one or two — its the same old shit. I wanted to break the whole color thing in the theatre. Jimmy was finally brought in as an observer. I remember talking, arguing with the powers at the Studio about him. I said, ‘This guy is a boss actor.’ They said, ‘He’ll never be a star.’ ”

Rip is by now flat-out — his intelligence, intensity, pride, paranoia, his deep bitterness. “The formation of the Actors Studio Theatre was made possible by the inclusion of Gerry and myself on the Board of Directors. Kazan went to Lincoln Center, and I knew that wasn’t the place to go. Tennessee Williams said, ‘Baby, what do you want to go to that model prison for?’ And Jimmy Baldwin said, ‘I’m not going to go there and be the nigger in the window.’ They didn’t have to tell me that, I was already on my own course of action…

“Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie came out of the Actors Studio Theatre. I played Lyle, a Southern white cracker, and I didn’t pull back on it, didn’t come on and wink at the audience and say, ‘This isn’t really me, you know.’ There were nights when I thought some cats were going to come up on stage and lay me out.

“People freak out at the truth. That’s why they kill. They’d rather kill than admit they’ve been caught up in a stale game and instead of being toughs, they are punks. They want to kill the person who brought that pain to their consciousness.

“LeRoi Jones was talking to me about my Lyle. He started laughing. He realized he was talking about me to me, but I wasn’t there you see. And all of a sudden he saw that I was there and it kind of embarrassed him. ‘You punky cracker,’ he said to me. LeRoi is hip enough to know that I wouldn’t have been able to do that if that was where I’m really at. I’m not saying it didn’t cause me tremendous pain — it did…”

[related_posts post_id_1=”419403″ /]

About Norman Mailer: (They have made up.) “He’s beautiful; he’s such a beautiful cat… I really love him. One time we got blasted at Casey’s bar after a performance of Deer Park, and he asked me — he caught me completely off guard. ‘You have an older brother?’ I said, ‘You, you are!’ ”

About himself: “In the American sexual/political ethic, they nail cats that speak the truth as fags, or some other sexual aberration. Then they can dismiss the truth on that level. I’m willing to lay the book of my life out to any of those bullshit artists… Let’s face it; the words I say can sign my death warrant. But I’ve done it so many times, why shouldn’t I do it now? The Confederacy has won. The United States is the South. The South has risen again and they control the military, the Congress… they control the country. And their aim is to control the world. Their axis is our South, South Africa, Rhodesia, Spain, Germany — and an awful lot of people in between… are you going to print all of this? I mean these are tough things to say…

“At least people will know I’m still alive. Terry Southern told me a funny story. He worked on the screenplay for a movie called The Cincinnati Kid. The producers were sitting around trying to cast one of the roles, a bad-ass type. Somebody said, ‘What we need is a Rip Torn type.’ Terry said, ‘Well, don’t think I’m trying to be weird or anything, but why don’t we get Rip Torn?’ They looked at him like he was some kind of nut. I guess they figured I was in jail or dead or something.”

***

Julie comes back without the bag. “This sort of thing happens to me every time I’m about to leave the country,” Rip says, draining the last of the half gallon of wine which was full when we started.

I realize I’ve crossed from role to reality myself; by now I consider Rip a friend rather than a subject. He is as large as life and my life is larger since meeting him.

Maybe it’s the wine, but I feel close enough to tell him this: “Look, man, if you’re a loser it’s your own fault. Your bag with all your identification and papers falls off your bike and instead of going back to look for it, you sit here drinking wine complaining for an hour. Then you send Julie out for it; you should have gone yourself. You even offer to let her use your bike. That chick can’t drive a bike. She doesn’t even have a driver’s license. She’d have cracked it up and then you would have been more paranoid than ever.”

Rip stretched out on the couch, listening to my little lecture. He starts to raise the left corner of his mouth in a sardonic smile and then laughs out loud. “I don’t give a fuck,” he says.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Lives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

“Thanks Man!” Remembering Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

My most prized possession is a small tan poster that hangs on my wall just feet from my bed. It’s a drawing of a long-bearded man with a hat emblazoned with the word “JOHN” in all-caps. But beside him reads “THANKS MAN! Scott” in scribbled handwriting.

It was given to me by Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit, after his solo show on October 14, 2014, at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He was performing under his Owl John moniker, and had just come off the stage, sweaty and multiple whiskeys deep, making a point to talk to every fan that came up to him. I held back at first, too nervous to approach my favorite lyricist of all time. Never mind the fact that I had interviewed him a few weeks prior. I couldn’t move a muscle.

[related_posts post_id_1=”588011″ /]

Finally swallowing the lumps in my throat, I mentioned that it had, in fact, been my voice on the phone. Before I could finish my sentence, his face lit up and he gave me a giant hug, thanking me profusely, mentioning that he could tell that I “gave a shit.” After a minute or two, I encouraged him to talk to the others in the growing line behind me. He told me to meet him backstage for some wine.

I was dumbfounded. One of my favorite musicians wanted to hang out with me? I couldn’t believe it.

We ended up over at Mission Dolores for a few more drinks and I remember almost feeling let down by how normal he was. The guy who had written The Midnight Organ Fight — still my favorite album of all time — just wanted to talk about burritos and his girlfriend. But more importantly, at some point in our mutual drunken haze, he told me to keep pursuing writing, saying that my piece on him was one of his favorites.

At that point in my life, I was very recently unemployed, and had yet to be paid a single cent for my words. Scott Hutchison gave me the confidence to keep pushing to make it as a writer, no matter how difficult and scary it seemed then. Without him, I doubt I’d be writing these words today.

I interviewed Scott twice more over the next few years, most recently about the tenth anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight, which hit the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg in late February of this year. In that conversation, I asked him the same question I had asked him twice before, one that I designed especially with him in mind almost a decade earlier: “How do you manage to sing these ultra-personal songs night after night in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people?”

This time Scott gave me a variation of the answer he’d given me before: “Who is the protagonist? It’s not me. It’s going to be them. It’s their life. They projected their lives to these songs and that makes me very proud that a song can be specific, yet universal enough that it can allow people to walk into their own experience. Yes, they’re singing these lyrics that are personal to me, but they are not considering my life too much.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”577211″ /]

That is why every tribute written about Scott’s passing feels so deeply intimate; his brutally honest and strikingly heartfelt lyrics soundtracked our lives, got us through our worst breakups, and pulled us out of our lowest lows when we needed something, anything, to grasp on to. It’s why it’s nearly impossible to write about Frightened Rabbit without first mentioning some random memory we associate with their music.

And Scott’s been there for me for years. He was there when my freshman year roommate first played me “My Backwards Walk” in the dorms. He was there when my friend Jenna died, and our mutual friend Travis and I listened to “Poke” in silence while driving back from a concert a couple of weeks after the funeral. He was there when my friend Elli left Berkeley to study abroad in Scotland for a year, and I’d play “Scottish Winds” each time I knew she was tuning in to my college radio show. He was there when I was terrified and left my native Bay Area and moved to the East Coast, listening to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” on the flight to calm me down. He was there when I was broken up with for the first time in New York, using his “All is not lost” refrain on “State Hospital” to get me through it.

He was there for me then, and I know he’ll be there for me in the future. He’ll be there for all of us in the future.

I’ll never hear his voice again on the other end of a phone call, never again get a sweaty hug from one of the few musicians I felt like I could call a friend. But some kid experiencing his or her first heartbreak will find The Midnight Organ Fight and it’ll show them that they’re not alone. Because, for as personal and specific as Hutchison’s lyrics were, they are universal and applicable to all of us, no matter what we’re going through.

In his song, “Head Rolls Off,” Scott sang, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.” He made colossal changes to my personal world, influencing my career and life in ways I didn’t think possible for a musician from halfway across the world. And for that, all I can say is “THANKS MAN!”

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operated 24/7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Boyd Jarvis: Remembering the Architect of House Music

Boyd Jarvis, who died after a two-year battle with cancer on February 16 at age 59, was one of the key architects of post-disco New York dance music. When I interviewed him five years ago, he was both genial and at pains to take credit for his innovations. It’s easy to understand why. Working with two synths — a Yamaha CS-15 and a Prophet 600 — Jarvis created “The Music Got Me” in November of 1982. Credited to Visual and issued the following year on Prelude, its plangent feel and simple patterns are a clear precedent for the Windy City’s recombinant cheapo disco, and it precedes the first Chicago house records by a year.

A synthesizer and organ player, as well as a radio and club DJ, Jarvis was a native of East Orange, New Jersey. He began hitting New York clubs as an early-Seventies teen, when there was little separation musically between the nascent disco and hip-hop scenes, and he cited Larry Levan, Tee Scott, Nicky Siano, Grandmaster Flowers, and Pete “DJ” Jones as favorite DJs.

Jarvis himself first got on the decks at outdoor parties in Fort Greene in 1977: “I was dragging my two huge Vox speakers. I had two Garrard turntables, [on which] you can really blend, but you can’t be doing any rugged scratching, and a McIntosh power amp. I would bring that shit out to the park. Right there at the corner, Fort Greene and Adelphi, plug up and had a little party, man, outside.”

Jarvis was an early regular at the Paradise Garage, which opened in Soho in 1977. “The entire room was designed to be a big huge speaker,” he remembered. But the recording studio interested him far more than the DJ booth. He began purchasing equipment, including, around 1981, a Yamaha CS-15 monophonic synthesizer. “I was intrigued by the ability to shape and create sounds,” he said. “Synthesizers can do some amazing things. I’ve created water. I’ve created wind. I’ve created chimpanzees jumping from tree to tree. I didn’t have any drum machine at that time. I created an artificial kick drum with the synthesizer and I played it with my finger. The snare was also artificial. I created that using white noise. You can make a combination of white noise and a tone and you can create a damn good kick drum.”

It was at the Garage that Jarvis first met Timmy Regisford. When Jarvis took his CS-15 to accompany another DJ, Derrick Davidson, at the NYC club Melons, Jarvis recalled, “Timmy happened to come down and heard me doing it and said, ‘Yo, what do you think about you doing my audition for WBLS with me?’ That was it, man. That started my whole career.”

With Jarvis adding keyboard lines and effects to the records Regisford spun, the duo would stay on the station until 1986. “We were so young and so naïve to be able to have that position and not knowing the power in that position,” he said. WBLS DJ program director Frankie Crocker had enough faith in Regisford and Jarvis that nothing held their creativity in check. “It was carte blanche. Wednesday was the day everybody came up to ’BLS to get their record played. Frankie had the chicken line. Anybody who came to get their records played — you’d better bring a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or Frankie will not be playing your shit.”

Regisford, credited as co-producer on “The Music Got Me,” became Jarvis’s primary musical partner of the decade. “When I made ‘The Music Got Me,’ we didn’t even call anything house,” Jarvis said. “We call it club music or dance music. Most of that stuff was done straight to reel [-to-reel tape] in Timmy’s bedroom. I said, ‘What are we going to call this stuff?’ and he said, ‘Shit, let’s call this ‘bedroom music.’ ”

Jarvis was never too hot on early Chicago house — “I don’t know about the ‘jack, jack, jack your body’-type shit. It wasn’t too hard. It was too country for me.” The DJ classics he made with Regisford — including Circuit’s “Release the Tension” (4th & Broadway, 1984), Boyd Jarvis & Timmy Regisford’s “Battle of the Beats” (Next Plateau, 1985), and Colonel Abrams’ “You Got Me Running” (Echovolt, 1984) — had a far more professional sheen.

Billie’s “Nobody’s Business” (Fleetwood, 1986) may be his greatest record. Jarvis met the singer — real name Robin Williams — after leaving Studio 54. “Billie was kind of cute,” he said. “I was really trying to get some pussy. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s happening, baby?’ You know, that little spiel: ‘I am a producer and I make music.’ She said, ‘I can sing.’ I said, ‘Sing me a song.’ ‘The only song I know right now is a Billie Holiday song.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you come to my house? I got this track.’ I noticed that she had this little high range and I said [to] scream, [laughs] and she did.” A refurbished version of the Jazz Age standard “ ’Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do,” the track became a monster at the Paradise Garage, one of Levan’s all-timers, even though the club closed a year after the record’s release.

Following the success of “Nobody’s Business,” Jarvis had gotten heavily into cocaine; he entered rehab in the early Nineties. It was then that he found out his old assistant engineer Freedom Williams had issued a record, “Get Dumb (Free Your Body),” as the Crew featuring Freedom Williams — an early run for what would become C+C Music Factory — that heavily sampled “The Music Got Me.” “I don’t realize how bad it was until I was in Jersey one night at a club, and they played the record and I was excited. And then I started hearing the orchestra is coming and went up to the DJ, and he said ‘Yo, this is Freedom’s new record!’ I took them to court.”

The verdict, in Jarvis’s favor, set a sampling-law precedent. The judge’s opinion dismissed C+C producer Robert Clivillés’ statement that “Get Dumb” took a chunk of Jarvis’s track that was “mere background lasting for only a few seconds toward the end of plaintiff’s recording” as being “so untrue that I must question how defendant’s counsel could have allowed this statement to be submitted to the court in a sworn affidavit.”

Jarvis worked with big artists (he played keyboards on Jellybean’s 1984 single “Sidewalk Talk” and on Herbie Hancock’s 1988 single “Beat Wise”) as well as his clubland confreres. One memorable later gig was his late-Nineties residency at the Tribeca club Vinyl. “There was lots of drugs flowing in Vinyl,” he recalled. “I used to stash my boss’s drugs underneath the turntables. You had BTS, those little gangster white boys from Brooklyn coming in. They robbed the ravers. It was crazy: K-holes all over the place, bro. I have never seen such hilarious shit as these kids overdoing it with those drugs, that special K shit.”

In 2016, Jarvis was diagnosed with cancer; that October, a number of his colleagues — including Regisford, Francois K, Joe Claussell, and host Barbara Tucker — held a fundraiser at Brooklyn’s Output. Another colleague, Paul Simpson — who co-produced Serious Intention’s equally sparse and impactful “You Don’t Know” in 1984 — told Red Bull Music Academy in 2016, “Boyd Jarvis invented house…. When Boyd was doing it, the sound didn’t have a name.” Bedroom music, house — whatever you called it, it was Jarvis who first gave it shape. 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Fats Domino: Born to Please

Everyone who knew Fats Domino, who died at 89 on October 24 just outside the New Orleans he loved, reports that he was shy —painfully, perhaps pathologically shy. By the standards of Fifties rock ’n’ roll, this is tantamount to calling him a Martian. Chuck Berry? Little Richard? Jerry Lee Lewis? Bo Diddley? Etta James? Shy? Nah. Buddy Holly or Sam Cooke? Careerist visionaries who remembered their manners. Arguably Carl Perkins, who, like Domino, needed to get loaded to perform.

I’ve left one candidate unmentioned, however: mama’s boy Elvis Presley. Elvis got over it as Domino never did. But before he patented his politeness-with-a-sneer, there was definitely some shy in him. And what else did Elvis and Fats have in common? Simple — they were the biggest hitmakers of Fifties rock ’n’ roll by far. Of course Berry and the rest tried to please, and did. But for Fats and Elvis, pleasing the audience was a more urgent matter. Try to imagine Chuck Berry or even Carl Perkins singing “Let me be your teddy bear” like Elvis — or covering the decades-old Guy Lombardo smash “What’s the Reason (I’m Not Pleasing You)” like Fats.

The B side of 1957’s No. 5 “Blue Monday,” “What’s the Reason (I’m Not Pleasing You),” didn’t quite go Top 40. But over an eight-year span between 1955 and 1962, 35 other tracks Domino cut in New Orleans for the Los Angeles–based Imperial label did, all produced by legendary bandleader Dave Bartholomew and engineered by legendary studio owner Cosimo Matassa, with legendary drummer Earl Palmer pitching in early. Elvis was up over fifty Top 40 records by 1962, but unless you count balladeering imposter Pat Boone, the next nearest was Ricky Nelson, who launched his singing career in 1957 by covering the then-current Fats hit “I’m Walkin’.” Fats was the only black rock ’n’ roller who was a full-fledged pop star, and he did it without discernible commercial calculation — he played what he liked.

This is hardly to claim that Antoine Domino didn’t want to make money from his music. The youngest of eight children, he was born in 1928 to a deeply country, Creole-speaking family recently resettled in New Orleans’s undeveloped Lower Ninth Ward. Because he was shy, he quit school in fourth grade for a succession of low-paying jobs, the last and best in a mattress factory. But there were many semi-professional musicians in his sizable extended family, and even before he’d quit school a brother-in-law had taught him to play boogie-woogie piano, which he took to. By fifteen or so he was entertaining the customers at house parties his sister put on, and after the war, music became a second job for him. Soon enough arrived his break. On December 10, 1949, Bartholomew and Domino transformed Champion Jack Dupree’s “The Junker’s Blues” into “The Fat Man,” where Domino’s pounding, unusually steady left hand proved a prophetic intimation of the unrelenting beat that would come to define rock.

“The Fat Man” was the first of a long string of r&b hits for Domino, but it was more than five years before his “Ain’t That a Shame” would reach the pop charts in 1955, breaking a month before Berry’s “Maybellene” and a full eight months before Elvis’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Of course it was Presley who broke open the teen market where Fats would thrive — it wasn’t until the summer of 1956 that “I’m in Love Again” established Domino once and for all. But that song was so infectious that it is mere cynicism to believe it wouldn’t have been a hit regardless. Working in tandem, Domino, Bartholomew, Palmer, and Imperial’s Lew Chudd — who among other things made Domino sound younger by mastering his records to lift the key half a tone — came up with a simplification of the ingratiating Big Easy groove that had to be good for at least a healthy fad. “Whapping out triplets in the right hand and thumping left-hand power chords instead of walking basses,” as Ned Sublette put it, Domino had achieved a minimalist boogie-woogie and straight-ahead second line that moved his hometown crowd, and it was ready for export.

Domino obviously didn’t approach the technical mastery of the decade-older New Orleans piano prodigy Professor Longhair or the decade-younger James Booker. Nor was he as adaptable as the decade-younger studio whizzes Huey Smith and Dr. John. But while the piano was his anchor, his hits weren’t instrumentals. He was a singer, and if Peter Guralnick was right to observe fondly that he had “great charm but little charisma,” that was exactly the point. Domino’s voice was warm, rolling, deeply relaxed, and strikingly legible given its high drawl quotient — a remarkably unremarkable instrument that was the very definition of affability. Moreover, this affability extended to his material. “Blue Monday” is a class-conscious plaint that presages the many living-for-the-weekend larks rock ’n’ roll would make its own, “I’m Walkin’ ” bemoans his loneliness at a double-time pace that sounds very much like fun, and “I Want to Walk You Home” gave a faraway bassist the idea of calling one of his raucous tunes “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Fats covered country songs as if he was born to them, which he was, and pop standards as if he’d loved them since childhood, which he had. And then there’s what Cosimo Matassa once told Domino biographer Rick Coleman: “Fats made things his own. Even on little frothy tunes whipped up in the studio, the phrasing and delivery was always Fats. It’s an amazing singularity I think most artists would die for.”

Instead, Fats Domino lived for it. As a genuine pop star, he spent years headlining the package tours that brought interracial consciousness to teen America in the late Fifties. Sometimes he was the soul of geniality and sometimes he wasn’t so affable about it — for good reasons like holding out for full integration and bad ones like epic drunks or the lure of New Orleans. And like almost every other Fifties rocker, he couldn’t adjust to the Sixties or what followed. Inevitably, the hits stopped coming.

Loving bling as much as any rapper, Fats still wanted to make money from his music, so kept performing. As always, he comforted himself by cooking on the road, and combatted his shyness by drinking on the road. He played Vegas and lost big at the tables. He embraced the oldies circuit. He played Vegas and cut down on his gambling. He toured Europe. He toured with Rick Nelson. He lost two guitarists to heroin. He accepted the honors and TV specials that came his way. But as he aged, hanging in there got harder for this shy man. When Katrina hit in 2005, the rumor that he’d died in his flooded Ninth Ward house served as a needed reminder that he was still with us. In fact, he’d been rescued early, and brought with his wife to live with one of their eight children. He didn’t disappear — even released a pretty good Katrina charity album. But he remained a shy man until he went gentle into an unusually private night.

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Pioneering New York Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam Dies At 65

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African American woman to serve as a judge on New York’s highest court, was found dead in the Hudson River on Wednesday afternoon, hours after she had been reported missing from her Harlem home. Abdus-Salaam was thought to be struggling with depression, and authorities believe she took her own life, police sources told the Times on Thursday. Those close to her disagree.

“I could not imagine her doing anything to herself to harm herself,” a neighbor told the Daily News. “She’s not that type of person. . . . I’d like to know what happened.”

The reasons behind Abdus-Salaam’s disappearance and death have plagued her friends and peers. She was a pioneer and a leading voice in the legal community, and issued landmark opinions on corporate issues, personal injury suits, and criminal cases. Her devotion to fairness and dignity, apparent in her public service and consideration for the everyday issues facing the city, was celebrated. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her to the New York Court of Appeals in 2013, praised her “unshakable moral compass.”

Abdus-Salaam began her legal career as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services in 1977. In the ’80s, she worked as an assistant attorney general in the New York State Department of Law and served as general counsel for the New York City Office of Labor Services. She began her judicial career after being elected to the Civil Court of the City of New York in 1991. She served as a Manhattan Supreme Court judge for fifteen years before being appointed to the state’s appellate court by then-governor David Patterson in 2009.

Born Sheila Turner, she took her first husband’s surname, Abdus-Salaam, and used it throughout her career. She later divorced him and married James Hatcher, the son of Andrew Hatcher, a press officer for John F. Kennedy. That marriage also ended in divorce, and in 2016, she wed Gregory A. Jacobs, a Christian minister.

Despite many publications, government agencies, and public figures referring to her as the nation’s first Muslim woman to serve as a judge, Abdus-Salaam never made reference to her religious faith. It’s unclear if she considered claims that she was Muslim to be erroneous, as she never publicly corrected them. (The discrepancy appears to have first been brought up by Equality for Her editorial director Najma Sharif, who tweeted her findings Wednesday.)

Born in Washington, D.C., to a working-class family with seven children, Abdus-Salaam attended public schools in the nation’s capital and later traveled to New York. She became a longtime resident of Harlem and received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and was classmates with future U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at Columbia Law school. As a child, she researched her heritage and discovered that her great-grandfather was a slave.

“My grandfather, who died when I was in high school, grew up on a farm in Arrington, Virginia. And in researching that history, I discovered that I am the great-granddaughter of slaves,” Abdus-Salaam said in a 2014 interview with the Impact of Knowledge.

“That’s important, because this great-granddaughter of slaves is the first African American woman on the highest court of the state of New York,” she tells her interviewer. “I’m the first in the 166-year history of that court. So all the way from Arrington, Virginia, where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court in the state of New York, is amazing and huge. And it tells you and me what it is to know who we are and what we can do.”

Categories
ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Style THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Fab 5 Freddy Remembers Glenn O’Brien, Downtown Icon

I cannot stress enough how influential Glenn O’Brien was on my life. I went to Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn for about two semesters in the Seventies, and around that time I started reading Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. I became a huge fan of this column in the back: “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat.” Glenn would write about all kinds of music, from punk to disco to funk to reggae to dancehall reggae, and I would read his column and then I would go and get those records. And I would hear exactly what Glenn was writing about. At the time, I had a weekly college radio show focused on Caribbean music. We called it The People’s Beat, and had an idea to reach out to Glenn O’Brien: Maybe he would come and do an interview. And Glenn O’Brien responded yes.

We set up a date, and Glenn came to Brooklyn. We interviewed him at the station, and when I was walking him back to the train, I told him some of my ideas about how I was envisioning myself being an artist, how I saw these connections between graffiti and pop art. Glenn was totally encouraging. He told me that in a couple of months he was going to do a public access TV show on cable called Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, and he wanted to interview me on it. Now, at the time in New York, cable was a luxury. For the outer boroughs — Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx — cable was something that other people had.

Two months later, I get a call from Glenn to come on his show. It was going to happen. So I show up at this funky little bar on 23rd Street in Manhattan called the Blarney Stone. There were all these cool new-wave, punk-rock folks, and we walked across the street to the studio, which was no bigger than your average living room. And it was very low-tech, very lo-fi; the video cameras we used were actually black-and-white. Glenn had explained he wanted his show to be like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark, which was like a very sexy cocktail hour on TV. At the beginning of each show, he would say, “TV Party is the television show that’s a cocktail party but which could be a political party.” You can see tons of it on YouTube. At the taping of the first show, which I also appeared on, the guy who was supposed to work the camera didn’t show, and Glenn was like, “Fred, man that camera!” And that began a change in my life.

Glenn O'Brien and Fab 5 Freddy

This is where I met Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie. David Byrne. The B-52’s. Filmmakers, writers, poets, other painters, photographers. It was amazing. It led me to meet Charlie Ahearn and pitch an idea to him for a movie that connected all this rap and graffiti stuff: Wild Style. And the downtown scene connected to the new culture of graffiti/street art, rapping, breakdancing, and DJ’ing now known as hip-hop.

At almost the same time, Glenn was working on another movie, New York Beat (a/k/a Downtown 81). Glenn wanted it to center on a cool downtown guy, and in the end he chose Jean-Michel Basquiat, who I was very close with. Everyone in that film was friends, and a lot of the movie mirrors actual things that were happening around us. That’s why that film feels so much like a documentary at times. It felt so real. We walked those streets every day. All of that really started the wheels turning on a journey for me. The key players on our scene definitely wanted to make a big impact on culture. Cool is subjective, but confidence — the courage to be different and go against the grain — was a trait among leaders of the scene like Glenn. That’s what was going on with those in our creative circle. Glenn totally understood what our mission was and what we were trying to do. He had such an impact on me, on New York, and on culture at large.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives

The Visionary: Trisha Brown Redefined Dance With Wit and Daring

Trisha Brown died at the age of eighty on Saturday, March 18, but I had been mourning her for several years, ever since illness started ravaging her brilliant mind in 2011. When I began to write dance reviews for the Village Voice in the rebellious Sixties, she — one of the founding members of the boldly iconoclastic Judson Dance Theater and among the smart-as-a-whip improvisers in the Grand Union during the Seventies — taught me that if an artist said he or she was making a dance, I’d better consider it as such. In 1971, I was among those at the Whitney Museum watching her and her dancers strap themselves into harnesses and walk on two of the gallery’s white walls (Walking on the Wall), altering our perception of gravity. Then we lay down and looked at the ceiling, while she read us the names of places that we could be imagining in the world overhead (Skymap).

At the time, Brown was also experimenting with movement and form unattached to ropes or pulleys. The structure of her 1971 Accumulation was that of an old kids’ game, but with gestures rather than words: movement 1, movements 1,2; 1,2,3; 1,2,3,4; and so on. Some years later, she redefined virtuosity by performing the solo Accumulation With Talking Plus Watermotor, in which she switched back and forth between telling two stories while also moving between the gestural, in-place Accumulation and the explosively careering Watermotor.

Few geniuses have been as playful as Trisha in their art-making. When she worked her way into creating pieces for the proscenium stage instead of for lofts and public spaces, when she called upon artist friends for décor and costumes, when she finally allowed the audience to hear music rather than heavy breathing and the squeak of bare feet against the floor, she did so in very original ways. Her 1979 Glacial Decoy, for example, was performed in front of huge black-and-white projections of photos by Robert Rauschenberg, which slid across the back wall, four always visible. During the final section, the four dancers, wearing billowing white dresses (also by Rauschenberg), used more horizontal space than any given stage displayed. Periodically, a dancer would have to disappear into the wings and reappear when the pattern traveled the opposite way. And who but Brown would contest a stage’s persistent frontal image by creating, in 1994, a solo that she performed with her back to the audience and named If You Couldn’t See Me? Or recruit a local marching band to make a trip down the street outside the theater where her 1990 Foray Forêt was being danced?

Brown grew up in a forest in Aberdeen, Washington, between ocean and mountains. “Nothing about her dancing or her choreography,” I once wrote, “thrusts itself at you head on. It’s like something glimpsed between trees, influenced by tides.” When Trisha danced, movement flowed through her body, trickling here, spurting there, diverting into new channels. When she bolted into the air, it was as if a hand had plucked her up by the back and her feet had just gone along. And her choreography might set the dancers of her company glancing off or slipping past one another, intersecting in unforeseen ways. It wasn’t an idle choice for her to label her dances of the early Eighties “unstable molecular structures.”

Anyone watching her at work, as I did in a theater in Angers, France, in 1989, and in her company’s bright studio in far-west Manhattan in 1996, would have been amazed by the ways in which she and her superb dancers labored together on choreography. In Angers, the dancers working on the gorgeous Foray Forêt already knew a number of phrases and could respond to Trisha’s suggestions for one of them to jump, say, from the middle of one phrase to a move near the end of another, while a dancer nearby could briefly drop into unison with that person, then break away into something else. It was like seeing someone assemble a building out of flying bricks. In New York, Trisha might get up and improvise something startling, ask the dancers to show her what she had done, and then pick the version she liked best.

In 1986, she choreographed Lina Wertmüller’s production of Bizet’s opera Carmen for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. That experience, she later told me, had whetted her appetite for collaborating not just with composers as adventurous as she, but with dead ones. She taught herself baroque polyphonic composition and, undaunted, set her 55-minute M.O. (1995) to the thematically linked keyboard canons and fugues of J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering. The dancers didn’t mirror melodies; they created analogous structures.

Choreographing and directing Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo in 1998 for the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels, she bravely costumed dancers and singers alike and mingled them. I would love to have seen how she and her company members (as familiar with the music as she) persuaded singers to venture into new realms. How did she, four years later, interweave three of her dancers and the splendid British baritone Simon Keenlyside in Franz Schubert’s mournful song cycle, Winterreise? He sang leaning back onto dancers’ upraised feet; he sang an entire aria lying on the bed into which they had formed themselves.

The marvel of Trisha Brown has always been, for me, the wit and ebullience with which she tackled both new ideas and familiar art, without ever ceding her essential values. Every project she tackled nudged our brains awake. In how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume… (2005), sensors attached to the dancers triggered both the score and the projected motion capture images. In the 2007 I love my robots, two remotely controlled wooden poles moved among the dancers, rocking in bowls on small, wheeled platforms.

Two final works from 2011 give a clue to this astonishing dance artist who messed with our eyes and taught us to see space and time differently. In Les Yeux et l’ame (excerpted from her choreography for Rameau’s Pigmalion), her patterns were elaborately laid out, as if the dance were an eighteenth-century garden with a breeze wanting to muss it. As for I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them they’re yours (2011), you can imagine it, right?

Her death leaves many bereaved, not least her still-busy company. The visual artists, lighting designers, costume designers, dancers, singers, and stagehands who adored collaborating with her will mourn. So will all of us around the world who’ve been illumined by her work.

 

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

RIP Peter Kwong, Who Chronicled Chinatown, Drugs, and Race For The Voice

Peter Kwong, professor at the City University of New York, pioneer in Asian American studies, author of numerous books about Chinatowns, Chinese immigration, and Chinese politics, died last week at the age of 75. For more than a decade beginning in the 1980s, Kwong was also a frequent contributor to the Village Voice, often writing with his wife Dusanka Miscevic, herself a China scholar. Unfortunately, with the exception of a smart and devastating book review from 2000, most of that work predates the Voice’s publication online, and isn’t publicly available.

That’s a shame, because Kwong’s work for the Voice was brilliant. If you’re willing to bear with the images from the Voice archive, inexpertly reproduced below, you can read two of his most compelling pieces for the paper: an investigation of the growing control of the heroin trade by Chinese organized crime, and an argument that contemporary media reports fundamentally misunderstood the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 as a “Black vs. White” phenomenon, when in fact what had happened was “the first multiractial class riot in American history.”

First, from the July 17, 1990 issue, “The Year of the Horse”:

 

 

 

 

 

And then, from the June 9, 1992 issue, “The First Multicultural Riots”:

 

 

 

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

In Memoriam: Tommy Page

As we were going to press with the March 8 issue, we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of our colleague Tommy Page, who passed away suddenly sometime before the morning of March 4.

Tommy had just joined the Village Voice in January as vice president of music partnerships, having previously served as the publisher of Billboard and worked for Pandora and Cumulus. Before that, he’d enjoyed a long — and in many ways, remarkable — career in the music industry, first as a singer, with a number one song to his credit, 1990’s “I’ll Be Your Everything,” which he wrote with Jordan Knight and Danny Wood of New Kids on the Block, and later as an executive at Warner Bros. Records, where he worked in both a&r and promotion with a range of artists, from Alanis Morissette and Josh Groban to Michael Bublé and Green Day. Through it all, Tommy continued to make music and perform, recording studio albums and touring.

I didn’t know Tommy before he got to the Voice, but he’d known some members of our team — Suzan Gursoy, Diana Ruiz, Shelly Rapoport, Donna Delmas, and Joe Levy among them — for years. The people we knew in common, both inside and outside the Voice, spoke in nothing less than glowing terms about him. It didn’t take long for me to understand why: He was smart, enthusiastic, funny, and down-to-earth in a manner uncommon amongst those who have even grazed up against pop stardom, let alone experienced it at the level Tommy did.

Not long after Tommy started working with us, a contingent of staffers attended the funeral of longtime Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett at a church in Brownsville, Brooklyn. We all traveled there by car, but after the service, Tommy, Joe, Nick Pinto, and I decided to take the subway back to our offices in the financial district. I remember talking with Tommy for most of that 45-minute ride. We discussed music, of course, and the gospel rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” that we’d just seen lead the recession from the chapel. We talked about the people he’d met as a teenager in the mid-1980s, when he’d sneak into downtown clubs like AREA, the Palladium, and Nell’s. We discussed his decision, a decade later, to get a business degree, and how the Palladium had been demolished to make way for an NYU dorm. We talked about New Jersey, where Tommy was from and still lived, and how different it felt to come into the city by train now, with all the new construction in Lower Manhattan. We talked about our kids — my wife and I had just had our second; he and his partner, Charlie, had three — and how to avoid hurting your back if you find yourself carrying two at the same time.

We talked about many things, all now fixed in my memory. Most of them were relatively ordinary. Nevertheless, I remember walking away from the conversation sort of amazed. Tommy was an impressive guy. He had achieved so much so young, and I wondered what it was within him that had allowed him to forge ahead and carve out this whole other career for himself behind the scenes — and so successfully, too. Certainly, it was something rare. On top of it all, he never stopped making records and playing shows, these days in Asia, where he maintained an enormous following. I don’t know what it was that propelled him to do so much where so many others faltered — and I don’t know if it matters. But I wish I’d had an opportunity to talk to him more.

Our thoughts right now are with Charlie, Tommy and Charlie’s children, and the rest of their family and close circle of friends. Tommy will be missed.