Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday Night in Battery Park City: Beth Orton at Rockefeller Park

On this gorgeous summer evening we were lucky enough to be one of hundreds in the audience by the water at Rockefeller Park in Battery City for a memorable concert by the great Beth Orton, part of the River to River Festival.

Here's a video deankeim posted of Beth singing "Walk Right by It."

She was joined for some great numbers by Sam Amidon on guitar and banjo (some vocals) and Thomas Bartlett on piano. It was a wonderful ninety-minute show in a luscious setting.

Except for the helicopter noise, it was a perfect evening.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Afternoon at the Northside Festival on the Greenpoint Waterfront: Elvis Perkins in Dearland with A.A. Bondy and ARMS at Newtown Barge Park

Somewhat jet-lagged and unused to humidity after three weeks in suburban Phoenix, where we're running for Congress in the Green Party primary on August 24, we did manage to see at least one show in The L Magazine's Northside Festival.

We took the B43 bus up to Greenpoint and walked to the Newtown Barge Terminal Playground for the afternoon performances by Elvis Perkins in Dearland, A. A. Bondy and ARMS.

Presented at the MetroPCS Stage by Consequences of Sound, the show was supposed to start at 1:30 p.m. on a hot and humid afternoon. We got there a bit early and paid our $17 at the gate.

We'd never been to this playground before; it's mostly a ballfield, we guess, across from the Greenpoint Playground for kids

by the triangle formed by Commercial, Dupont and West Streets just off the river.

It was the terminal for the Newton Creek Barge Canal back in the day when this was one of the busiest waterways in the country, with all the oil refining, shipbuilding, printing, glass and pottery making, and cast iron manufacturing around here.

There was a decent breeze from the waterfront and good shade from some giant trees, and for about half the three hours, clouds kept the sun in check so things were bearable.

The Open Space Alliance had its familiar tent, with some kind of beer for sale. We assume it was Heineken since they were listed as a sponsor of Northside, but we didn't pay attention since we don't drink.

The show started pretty much on time with ARMS, although the crowd was small, maybe 40 or so, at the beginning of ARMS's set. (We overhead one guy telling his girlfriend that "more people need to read Brooklyn Vegan.")

It's kind of weird, but we usually look around when we go to venues like this to see if we are the oldest person there; this afternoon, maybe the crowd grew to 200 and we didn't see anyone we thought was older. Maybe the parents of one of the performers or something, but we doubt it. Anyway, all three bands were talented, and even a cheap old Jewish man felt the ticket price was well worth it.

We don't pretend we can talk intelligently about the music, but we actually did know Todd Goldstein of ARMS. It seems like just a year ago all our writer friends were really excited about his old band, the Harlem Shakes, so we listened to them and enjoyed their work. They seemed to break up just as they were starting out famous. (Okay, these are probably ignorant comments but when you get old, you just don't care anymore.) Anyway, his work with ARMS seems just as literary, if that's not an insult.

Rawkblog compared Goldstein's new and old bands when it reviewed ARMS's EP, titled EP:
Harlem Shakes were a spastic, unmedicated and ADD-suffering indie-pop band, but ARMS’ stuff is more introverted, full of luminous guitar arpeggios and mournful vocals. Which is not to say the band shows no muscle – Goldstein allows himself enough guitar breakdowns to keep the songs as sweaty as they are self-aware

Besides Todd, ARMS is Tlacael Esparza on drums and Matty Fasano on bass. We especially liked "Floaters." Todd said some funny things between sets today. Before we knew it, their set was over and we felt wistful.

A.A. Bondy surprised us by being so impressive. You can sense his integrity, and that carries over into his music, which is soulful but gritty. Again, we hope it's not an insult, but Bondy also seems like the kind of musician writers like. The novelist Michael Koryta wrote about his song "How Will You Meet Your End?" in the New York Times Paper Cuts litblog:
A dark musical tale that seems to reach out from another time, this is a song I can — and do — leave on repeat for long stretches. For both “So Cold the River” and “The Cypress House,” I turned to this song often because I found its haunting lyrics and melody to be perfect tone-setters.

Our favorite was the Nirvana-ish "Killed Myself When I Was Young," which appeared on NBC's Friday Night Lights. Bondy's version this afternoon managed to be low-key yet full of energy, if that's not a contradiction. Below is a performance at the Mercury Lounge a couple of years ago:

Scott McLellan, wrote this about A.A. Bondy last year in the Boston Globe:
His second album, "When the Devil’s Loose," has a lot of chaos and strife churning below calm pacing and bemused tone. The album’s first couple of songs put out a thick haze of cryptic imagery. Then the phenomenal title track tightens things with a cautionary tale tucked into a litany of disasters. A young Bob Dylan used to craft songs like "When the Devil’s Loose," but delivered them with a staccato panic.

Bondy, though, keeps his cool while observing the wreckage...Bleakness bubbles up again before the record is over, but his song "The Mercy Wheel" suggests that Bondy is giving the devil a fight.

(You can get a much more informed take on A.A. Bondy's appearance at Citizen Dick, along with a video from the show.)

During the break between acts, we noticed the guys at the Mexican food booth were watching the World Cup on TV, as were some of audience members.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland had a lot of instruments to set up. In addition to Perkins, whose 2007 debut album Ash Wednesday got a lot of great reviews, the band includes Brigham Brough (bass,vocals, saxophone), Wyndham Boylan-Garnett (organ, harmonium, trombone, guitar, vocals) and Nick Kinsey (drums, clarinet, vocals).

Perkins is simply amazing. (Of course we don't know nothin' about birthin' babies. See Colin Jones' review of this show at Death+Taxes for intelligent commentary.) Here's "Doomsday," to us his best song. As NPR noted, "Though he originally wrote the song as a waltzy "dirge," he ended up shifting the mood after discussing it with his band mates. The same joyous sound permeates the album, often serving as a hopeful contrast to its troubled origins.

We'd like to write about Elvis Perkins without mentioning his family, but obviously the lives and deaths of his parents, Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson-Perkins, play a role in his music (his mother's death on 9/11 informs "Doomsday"). As is often noted his other famous relatives include his aunt Marisa Berenson, great-grandmother Elsa Schiaparelli and great-great-uncle Bernard Berenson, but we're not sure what that has to do with anything. Our only famous relative was our great-great-uncle Dave Tarras, who tried to teach us to be a musician too but soon figured out our only ability in that area is appreciating talented musicians.

Perkins' lyrics on songs like "While You Were Sleeping" are arresting, but it's the vocals and instrumentation that make them magical.

By this time, after 4 p.m., the crowd was pretty big. The sun had been out strongly for the past hour, and we were sweaty but really enjoyed all the bands we saw in just this little slice of the Northside Festival.

By the southwest corner of the playground were the coolest breezes, and from there we left slightly early, not staying quite till the end, but hey, we're going to be 60 on our next birthday. Anyway, we're really grateful we got to see this afternoon's show.

Dumbo Books, Superstition Mountain Press and Art Pants Company Amazon Kindle Sales Figures

We thought we'd share our Amazon Kindle ebook sales figures for titles by Richard Grayson.

Here are the June sales figures for Superstition Mountain Press/Art Pants Company's ebooks on Amazon Kindle, as of June 27. They are listed by title, units sold, units refunded, net units sold, total payment:
Transactions from 06/01/2010 to 06/29/2010

Sixteen Attempts to Justify My Existence 1 0 1 0.35 USD

Those Seventies Stories 1 0 1 0.35 USD

Vampires of Northwest Arkansas 2 0 2 0.70 USD

Inside Barbara Walters 2 0 2 0.70 USD

Moon Over Moldova 1 0 1 0.35 USD

The Boy Who Could Draw Dr. King 1 0 1 0.35 USD

Heat of the Moment 2 0 2 0.70 USD

Horsing Around in Politics 1 0 1 0.35 USD

The Lost Movie Theaters of Southeastern Brooklyn 2 1 1 0.35 USD

Grand Total: 4.20 USD

Here are the May sales figures:
The Lost Movie Theaters of Southeastern Brooklyn 1 0 1
Vampires of Northwest Arkansas 2 0 2
Eating at Arby's: The South Florida Stories 1 0 1
Inside Barbara Walters 1 0 1
Those Seventies Stories 1 0 1
18 X 1969 2 0 2
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 2.80 USD

Here are the April sales figures:
Victory Boulevard 1 1 0
Vampires of Northwest Arkansas 2 0 2
Inside Barbara Walters 1 0 1
Moon Over Moldova 1 0 1
Oh Khrushchev, My Khrushchev 1 0 1
18 X 1969 1 1 0
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 1.75 USD

Here are the March sales figures:
Autumn in Brooklyn 1 1 0
Heat of the Moment 1 0 1
The Lost Movie Theaters of Southeastern Brooklyn 2 0 2
The Boy Who Could Draw Dr. King 1 0 1
Vampires of Northwest Arkansas 5 0 5
Eating at Arby's: The South Florida Stories 1 0 1
Inside Barbara Walters 4 0 4
Moon Over Moldova 1 0 1
Those Seventies Stories 2 0 2
Sixteen Attempts to Justify My Existence 1 0 1
Diary of a Congressional Candidate 1 0 1
18 X 1969 2 1 1
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 7.00 USD

Here are the February sales figures:
Summer in Brooklyn 2 1 1
The Boy Who Could Draw Dr. King 1 0 1
Vampires of Northwest Arkansas 1 0 1
Eating at Arby's: The South Florida Stories 1 0 1
Inside Barbara Walters 3 0 3
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 3.15 USD

Here are the June sales figures for Dumbo Books' one ebook title on Amazon Kindle, as of June 27. They are listed by title, units sold, units refunded, net units sold, total payment:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 1 0 1 0.35 USD
Grand Total: 0.35 USD

Here are the May sales figures:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 1 0 1
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 0.35 USD

Here are the April sales figures:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 0 0 0
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 0.00 USD

Here are the March sales figures:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 1 0 1
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 0.35 USD

Here are the February sales figures:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 2 0 2
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 0.70 USD

Here are the January sales figures:
I Hate All of You on This L Train 1 0 1
Grand Total Cumulative Royalties: 0.35 USD

Friday, June 25, 2010

SUMMONING ALICE KEPPEL by Richard Grayson now available at Amazon Kindle Store

Richard Grayson's Summoning Alice Keppel is now available at Amazon's Kindle Store for 99¢.

Here is the promo material for the 62-page $5.99 paperback edition from Art Pants Company:
In the four whimsical and compelling tales of British and American history collected in SUMMONING ALICE KEPPEL, acclaimed short story writer Richard Grayson creates an alternative universe where King Edward VII's mistress is worshipped as a goddess; where "Old Tippecanoe," President William Henry Harrison, is upstaged by a minor actor he considers a mere nuisance; where the madness of Cold War Defense Secretary James V. Forrestal has immense weird repercussions for decades; and where a 124-year-old New Jersey man hilariously explains the true story of the building of the Panama Canal.

The stories in Summoning Alice Keppel originally appeared in the literary magazines Chouteau Review, The Mill, Yellow Brick Road and Panache in the 1970s and also previously appeared in the hardcover books With Hitler in New York, I Brake for Delmore Schwartz, I Survived Caracas Traffic and Lincoln's Doctor's Dog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Morning in Downtown Mesa: Matthew C. Whitaker on “The African American Experience in Arizona” at the Mesa Public Library

On an unseasonably cool June morning for the East Valley in June - today's high was expected to be around only 90 degrees - we drove to the main Mesa Public Library in beautiful downtown Mesa to attend what proved to be a fascinating and informative lecture on Arizona African American history by author and ASU history professor Matthew C. Whitaker.

It was part of Mesa library's celebration of Juneteenth.

Downstairs was a small exhibit, "Hallelujah: the Churches of Washington Park," which examines Mesa's first African American neighborhood and explores how its history was anchored in the neighborhood's five churches - such as Mt. Calvary Baptist -

along with some church-lady hats and other material, curated by Bruce Nelson, who worked on the entire Juneteenth program and who introduced Matthew Whitaker.

Dr. Whitaker is author of Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West, African American Icons of Sports: Triumph, Courage, and Excellence and Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster, which he co-edited and documents the consequences of apathy, racism, sexism and classism.

He is the winner of the 2006 Maricopa County Arizona NAACP Educational Leadership Award, the ASU Patricia Gurin Scholar-Activist Award, the Dan Shilling Public Scholar Award by the Arizona Humanities Council, and the Best Article of the Year Award by Journal of the West.

Dr. Whitaker had just come from a meeting at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, where he is president of the board of directors. The Phoenix-based institution is the largest African-American museum and cultural center in Arizona.

The speaker began by talking about his own background as a Phoenix native whose family on both sides goes back in the Valley since the 1930s and 1940s, and as he told the small crowd (maybe 20 people), people of African descent have been in Arizona since 1539 when the slave Estevanico was part of the Spanish exploration and opening up of the Sonoran Desert to non-natives.

He went on to discuss the movement of African Americans into what became Arizona from the colonial years to the big influx during the decades surrounding the Civil War, including the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Huachuca,

which nearly a century later during World War II housed tens of thousands of black male and female military and medical personnel, making it the third largest community in Arizona after Phoenix and Tucson.

Dr. Whitaker discussed the lives of early pioneers such as Benjamin McLendon, a slave who fled from Georgia, made his way west in 1862 - an amazing feat - who became prosperous from raising cattle and being a member of the party that discovered the gold-mining district in the southern Bradshaw Mountains. He enjoyed a freedom unknown to blacks east of the Mississippi.

Another pioneer Dr. Whitaker spotlighted was Mary Green, a domestic, who in 1868 was the first African American to take up residence in the Valley of the Sun, and who later opened a wares stand, selling various sundries, and whose granddaughter Helen Mason founded Arizona's now-venerable Black Theatre Troupe. As he pointed out in an early article on black Phoenicians, they "were not simply passive, insignificant residents of the Phoenix area. African-Americans in Phoenix displayed agency and resilience [as] struggling participants in a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchial system."

Examples from elsewhere in the state Dr. Whitaker discussed were Elizabeth Hudson Smith, owner/operator of the Vernetta Hotel in Wickenburg from 1905 to 1935, who made her fortune in gold, cattle, and other forms entrepreneurship; and the prominent Dees cattle ranching family out of Yuma, still an important supplier of beef.

Dr. Whitaker then turned to the subject of black churches in Arizona, the subject of the exhibit downstairs, and their crucial role in the community as the only place African Americans really were in total control; thus they took on functions that were economic and political as well as spiritual, and of course were vital during the struggle for civil rights. Among Phoenix churches discussed were Tanner AME Church,

which dates back to the 19th century, and First Institutional Baptist Church, which also has an incredibly rich history.

Dr. Whitaker's lecture then went over the civil rights movement in Arizona and Phoenix in particular, probably mentioning only the highlights of a subject he's probably the leading expert in - among them the work of Lincoln Ragsdale, who with his wife Eleanor, was probably the Southwest's leading advocate for equality;

and Phillips v. Phoenix Union High Schools, the 1953 case that desegregated Phoenix schools a year before Brown v. Board of Education.

There was a lot more, including fascinating answers by Dr. Whitaker to the questions of an enthusiastic audience (one couple had driven up all the way from Tucson), but we've only touched the surface here and if you're interested in more, as we are, you should check out Race Work and Dr. Whitaker's forthcoming book from the University of Oklahoma Press, Facing the Rising Sun: A History of African Americans in Arizona. We plan to, but for today, we're grateful to Dr. Whitaker and to the Mesa Public Library for today's lecture.

A second presentation in Mesa's Juneteenth commemoration will take place at the Washington Park Community Center on June 26. Dr. Edward Dawson of the Communication/Arts Department at South Mountain Community College will speak about the importance of African American churches in the community at the Washington Activity Center located at 44 E. Fifth St in Mesa.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

FILM, EYEBALLS, BRAIN reviews "Life As We Show It: Writing on Film" edited by Brian Pera and Masha Tupitsyn

Film, Eyeballs, Brain has published a review by Benito Vergara of Life As We Show It: Writing on Film, edited by Brian Pera and Masha Tupitsyn:
Organized, kind of, around the provocative question “if movie-watching has become in itself a primary source of experiencing the world, what kind of movies are our lives imitating?”, Life as We Show It features pieces that use “films and the culture that comes with it, as an ingredient for narrative impetus,” as coeditor Masha Tupitsyn puts it.

One or two essays are almost full-blown academic papers that are explicitly engaged with film history and theory; some have little to do with even cinema at all. Sometimes knowledge of the film being discussed is (probably) crucial to appreciate the piece (and therefore, my non-appreciation); sometimes it’s not. Creative nonfiction, a screenplay, poetry: it sounds like a fairly open-ended Call for Papers — both to its advantage and disadvantage — and the fragmentary, journal-entry nature of some of the pieces only helps to underscore the looseness of the collection. (Granted, the fragments do mimic the way in which cinema seeps into our dreams and flickers at the edges of our everyday consciousness: in half-remembered scenes, in random bits of dialogue.) But one person’s “fluid and limber” is another person’s “disorganized”. Eye of the beholder and all, no pun intended.

On the other hand, the more substantial pieces are really well-crafted: Kevin Killian, on seeing one of his students in a porn video; Wayne Koestenbaum, on Elizabeth Taylor (but then, it’s Wayne Koestenbaum we’re talking about here, whose capacity to meld sometimes stunning critical acuity with campy hilarity is probably second to none); Veronica Gonzalez, on Herzog (barely), tourism and marriage; Tupitsyn, on the bodies of Ralph Macchio and Jamie Lee Curtis; Richard Grayson’s “The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County”, on the ephemeral life of suburban theaters; and Myriam Gurba watching Kids and remembering herown traumatic adolescence.

Best piece, hands down: Dodie Bellamy’s “Phone Home”, a piece prompted by Spielberg’s E.T. What follows is a heartbreaking, almost obsessive examination of the film (and crucially, the DVD extras) as a way of working through her grief.

A good chunk of the book (sorry, I don’t have my copy in front of me, and it may even be more than half) deals with love and sex — limiting at first glance, but actually superbly appropriate. For what other medium lets us sate our scopophilia so easily, letting us hungrily consume (and vice-versa) the larger-than-life objects of our desire, with strangers in the dark?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Afternoon in Bushwick: ASPCA, NYPD Shut Down and Make Arrests in Bizarre "Hamster Water Park" 'Art' Project at Maria Hernandez Park

It was a normal summer Sunday afternoon at beautiful Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick.

At first the scene looked quite wholesome to us.

People were enjoying the day doing regular things like playing basketball,




and soccer,

as well as skateboarding

and flying kites
and riding bicycles.

Others were strolling (sometimes with kids in strollers) and sedentary types were sitting on benches shooting the humid breeze.

People were drinking cold water and eating ices and lying on the grass and splashing in water spray and just chilling out.

Everything was perfect until we came across what turned out to be an outlandishly weird scene.

A "Hamster Water Park."

We'd never heard of such a thing, but it turned out to be a bizarre "art performance" project, part of Bushwick Open Studios.

This was the alleged rationale:

Seeing a need in the Bushwick hamster community for “smaller” water parks “where dogs can’t eat us” and “we can’t get stuck in any drains,” business man/entertainer/waterslide enthusiast Hank Schwarzkopf opens Hamster Water Park. The Sunday of BOS weekend will be the park’s grand opening. Admission free for all hamsters, children will be provided with pellets to feed the furry animals through the gates.

We observed the weird goings-on involving rodents, an oddly-shaped apparatus and innocent children lured there by a sinister and insistent figure.

Now, as a boy growing up in Flatlands, we had a pet hamster. Our youngest brother named him Mr. Schwartz, after a man our Grandpa Nat and Grandpa Herb played pinochle with. Mr. Schwartz was a terrific pet. We'd hear his squeaky wheel night and day until that sad Yom Kippur when the squeaky wheel (we never greased it) stopped turning. Mr. Schwartz died of unknown causes, though our middle brother said the poor creature caught our youngest brother's cold. Anyway, we've always been extremely sensitive to any mistreatment of hamsters.

After documenting the perverse activities, we quite naturally notified authorities about these unnatural acts. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals (ASPCA) immediately sent over a van to Maria Hernandez Park, parking just outside on Knickerbocker Avenue.

Following a brief look at the Hamster Water Park, the ASPCA people called the NYPD. Two officers from the 83rd Precinct also came swiftly.

They asked us not to take pics as they shut down the "art project." The "artists" in charge of it were charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty and 3 counts of endangering the welfare of a minor.

Each count carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. A police spokeswoman refused to comment whether the "artists" had, as rumored by some in the park, been previously involved in cockfighting or rodent neglect. She did say that the "artists" were sent to Rikers Island in lieu of $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond bail.

The hamsters were released on their own recognizance.