Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Afternoon in Williamsburg: Williamsburg Witches' Walk Halloween Parade on North Sixth Street

We walked over to Bedford Avenue and then on North 6th Street late this blustery afternoon for the Williamsburg Witches' Walk Halloween Parade, where we saw lots of cute costumed kids.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Afternoon on the Lower East Side: My Daily Constitution Presents Reading the Constitution at The Living Room

This afternoon we were fortunate enough to catch some of this weekend's CMJ-related "Reading the Constitution in [sic] the Lower East Side," presented by My Daily Constitution, at the cool Ludlow Street music venue The Living Room. Yesterday afternoon the reading started at our faves Gavin and Joey DeGraw's Houston Street venue The National Underground.

This stop-and-go public reading of the Constitution, with ample time for audience questions and comments, was "designed for entertainment and exchange" with Constitutional experts and scholars like some of the law professors who were there today -- Susan Herman of Brooklyn Law School, Joseph Landau of Fordham Law School, Ekow N. Yankah of Cardozo Law School -- as well as Melissa Goodman and Alexander Abdo of the ACLU's National Security Program; Philadelphia attorney Angela M. Jones; and arts and entertainment lawyer Adam Davids.

During the 1999-2000 school year, we worked as a visiting professor in the undergraduate legal studies program at Nova Southeastern University, teaching two sections each of Constitutional History I (from the colonial period to 1870), Constitutional History II (1870 to the present), and Civil and Political Liberties.

Con Law was our favorite subject at the University of Florida law school and we got to use what we learned in our jobs as staff attorney in social policy at the Center for Governmental Responsibility and as director of academic resources at Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern.

At The Living Room, we went upstairs and found a stool in the back, got our free copy of the Constitution, and followed along in the readings of Articles IV, V and VI -- which we've always thought of as the "clean-up" articles after the big three devoted to the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

But there's an incredible amount to be digested in every sentenceof the Constitution, and we got to hear interesting material about the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the Republican Form of Government Clause, the Supremacy Clause, the state admission and constitutional amendment processes, and more.

The musical talent (not to say they don't know also their Constitution) there included Amanda Thorpe, the legendary 3 Teens Kill 4, Goddess, the smart-as-a-whip Jon Sobel, the versatile Dave Mandl, and the bands Admiral Pork Brain and Greenpoint Terminal Market.

The audience was attentive and asked some interesting questions (we got to wonder aloud about the somewhat scary never-used alternate amendment process by convention), and the readers discussed contemporary issues regarding the sections read: the effect of the Supremacy Clause on California's proposed legalization of marijuana or what the Full Faith and Credit Clause means for gay marriage, etc.

It was a fascinating event, but we had papers to grade and lessons to prepare and so we left after the names of all the signers to the Constitution were read because if we let ourselves be hooked by the Bill of Rights, we knew we'd never want to leave. On our way home, we spotted Keith Richards -- in town to promote his memoir -- being photographed on Clinton Street.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Afternoon in Midwood: The Black Brooklyn Renaissance Conference at Brooklyn College

We've been able to attend a few events of the many we wanted to in the yearlong festival called Black Brooklyn Renaissance: Black Arts + Culture, 1960-2010, a program of the Brooklyn Arts Council and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, and sponsored by MetLife Foundation.

This morning we were at Brooklyn College, teaching our wonderful Borough of Manhattan Community College students in our Short Story class -- today we covered some favorite Southern-based stories, Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal," Richard Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," and Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path" -- and after we got out of Boylan Hall at noon, we headed over to the BC Library (which now has an entrance at what was LaGuardia Hall to those of us who practically lived there forty years ago) for some of today's daylong Black Brooklyn Renaissance Conference, which was presented in conjunction with the H.Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music and the Department of Africana Studies at BC.

Kay Turner, Director of the Brooklyn Arts Council's Folk Arts Program, moderated the first panel, "Historical Reflections of the Black Brooklyn Renaissance," featuring three distinguished musicians: the legendary pianist and composer Randy Weston; the renowned hard-bop trumpeter, arranger and composer Cecil Bridgewater; and Obara Wali Rahman Ndiaye, the percussionist who probably knows more about Senegalese and Old Mali drumming than anyone in the Western hemisphere.

Randy Weston, a Bed-Stuy native, established himself in the 1960s as a leading jazz modernist and a pioneer in the fusion of jazz and West African music, and he's just published his autobiography, African Rhythms, with Duke University Press. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to hear him speak -- this panel was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., while we were teaching -- but here he is being interviewed at the Schomburg Library and talking about the Brooklyn music scene back in the day:

We did get to hear some of Cecil Bridgewater's talk about the 1970s and his experiences learning from the elders and the importance of that passing on of tradition, about the music scene in Brooklyn in the 1970s, particularly about the legendary arts and cultural center The East, about which he told some interesting tales.

Wali Obara Rahman Ndiaye, the director and master drummer of Brooklyn's African Ballet Theater whom we first knew as Wali King, became emotional a few times during his affecting reminiscences about the Brooklyn scene during the 1970s as well, and the two-way traffic between New York and Africa that flourished during that time (he gave credit to Alex Haley's Roots for some of that, and anyone alive at the time -- we were teaching mostly African-American students at Long Island University then -- knows how that work affected all of us). In some ways, the seeds of the Black Brooklyn Renaissance began long ago across the Atlantic.

After a short break, Ray Allen, BC professor of music and director of American Studies, introduced keynote speaker Greg Tate, longtime Village Voice writer and cultural critic extraordinaire, who's published just about everywhere and whose work we've always found incredibly lively and thought-provoking. Greg Tate didn't disappoint in his talk, Refractions from the Renaissance: An Exploded View of Brooklyn Culture, 1980-2010.

He began by noting that he was giving a view of Brooklyn -- the BK, Crooklyn -- from a resident of Sugar Hill, Harlem, but his address was an encyclopedic account of African-American culture in Brooklyn, over the past thirty years. Starting with the political actions resulting from the mob killings of Willie Turks (1982), Michael Griffith (1986), and Yusef Hawkins (1989), culminating in the December 12 Movement and the Day of Outrage and police riot on the Brooklyn Bridge -- Greg Tate evoked the tremendous amount of talent, energy and innovation coming from 1980s Fort Greene and other neighborhoods, mostly in music but also in visual art, film, and cultural and political life, not least in the seminal days of hip-hop.

Our scribbled notes in the program are basically a litany of very proper nouns: the Rev. Al Sharpton, Sonny Carson, Alton Maddox, "Brooklyn is in the house," Basquiat, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, conscious rap, "Burn the Flag," Vernon Reed, the Black Rock Coalition (Greg Tate himself is a founder), Spike Lee of course, Thulani Davis, Black Men Versus Crack, Clinton Hill, Michael Cooper, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Barry Michael Cooper, "Giuliani gentrification," Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, GAZ, Ol' Dirty Bastard, KRS-One (Park Slope!), Geechee goddess Tamar-kali (Midwood!), Saul Williams, James Spooner, Afro-Punk (movie, festival, movement), "mythical Black Brooklyn as Left Bank Paris," "Straight Outta Brooklyn," "Just Another Girl on the IRT," "She's Gotta Have It," Kerry Washington, TV on the Radio (Williamsburg!), etc. etc.

Wow. Greg Tate's talk left us breathless. We wish we could have stayed for more -- the Afro-Caribbean Drumming and Uprocking BK Style with Frisner Augustin, Jose Ortiz, and the Dynasty Rockers; panels on Ceremony and Festival Traditions with Ray Allen, Dale Byam, Michael Manswell and Ivan Jackson; and The New Hybridity in Dance and Music with Kyra Gaunt, Fred Ho, Baraka de Soleil, Joseph Schloss and Neil Clarke; and the evening Brooklyn Jazz performance with the New Cookers: Kenyatta Beasley, Keith Loftis and Anthony Wonsey -- but work was calling us back to Williamsburg. We're grateful to have seen what we could of the Black Brooklyn Renaissance Conference and look forward to seeing more on video.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Afternoon on the Lower East Side: Adult Themes and La Sera at AAM CMJ Assembly Showcase at Arlene's Grocery

We had some precious free time this afternoon in our hectic work schedule and our campaign for Congress (we're on the ballot in Arizona's Sixth Congressional District, where early voting began last week, and where we were today endorsed by the Arizona Is Too Damn Hot Party), and we were lucky enough to catch the bands Adult Themes and La Sera at the Advanced Alternative Media (AAM) CMJ Assembly

showcase at Arlene's Grocery, a really nice venue on Stanton Street on the Lower East Side.

The time was good for us and the price -- free -- was even better for someone like us, who normally doesn't get to CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival events. (As an attorney, we need to note that this was an unofficial one.)

Adult Themes, a Brooklyn-based band featuring Eleanor Logan, Thomas Martin and Jeff Ottenbacher,

came on soon after 2 p.m. to a small crowd downstairs, but it grew as they played wonderfully aggressive, quirky, dissonant songs like "High Above" and "1000 Eyes."

It was a nice set: noisy and busy but at times simply bouncy young pop music. We especially liked "Slow Decay."

La Sera, from L.A., performed an astonishing set which had the room, and us, pretty impressed. Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls/All Saints Day fame, has such a lush, vivid sound, and joined by Brady Hall and Jennifer Prince, approached the hypnotic on songs like "Never Come Around" and "Left This World."

It may just be senile dementia, but we thought of Dusty Springfield in a song like "Sleeptalking."

La Sera will be at Shea Stadium tonight, and we'd go back to see them again if not for work. Katy said that last they night they played on a yacht and got to see Kim Kardashian. If Kim got to see La Sera, she was luckier than usual.

We had to leave, so we didn't get to see the rest of the bands at AAM CMJ Assembly: True Womanhood, Kitten (who we've heard good stuff about), and Chapel Club. But we're grateful we were able to catch La Sera and Adult Themes at Arlene's Grocery along with the crowd of around thirty or forty younger, cooler, more knowledgeable and better dressed people.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Afternoon in East Flatbush: Halloween Harvest at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum

We were back in the old neighborhood this afternoon at one of the oldest houses in the United States for the Halloween Harvest in Old Brooklyn festival at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum, which we grew up knowing as the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, a dilapidated place where the roof with a TV antenna was caving in and some old lady recluse lived.

Through hard work over the decades, the farmhouse has now been restored to some of its colonial glory.

We took the L train from Williamsburg to Rockaway Parkway, the B6 bus down Flatlands Avenue to Ralph Avenue, and then the B47, the Ralph Avenue bus we took every schoolday from September 1962 to June 1965 from the wooded triangle by Avenue T to Meyer Levin Junior High School 285 on Beverly Road. Today we got off a block earlier, at Clarendon Road, right in front of a deli that was the deli where we and our friends Eugene, Arnie, Billy, Jerry and Steve -- the Sultans -- used to get these delicious roast beef heroes with tomato slices and mustard. We walked across the street to M. Fidler Wyckoff House Park and paid our $8 admission.

In front of the house, John Carlin and the Kids Music Underground were performing some of their cool catchy songs.

There was apple cider pressing, apple dipping, face painting, treat-bag making, popcorn popping in an open-air hearth, pumpkin picking and decorating, and a spooky house tour for the kids.

We took the 2 p.m. tour of the house with a knowledgeable docent who told its fascinating history since 1652. Only a small part of the seventeenth-century house survives, the one room where Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife raised their eleven children.

Out back there was a really nice peaceful spot.

With our hectic fall schedule, we haven't had much time to do anything but work. But ever since we returned to live in Brooklyn a few years ago, we've been wanting to see the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. Forty years ago, in 1970, Helen Berman, the mom of our friends Rona and Sandy, was on the local community board that was trying to do something about the historic property, and when we left New York to move to Florida ten years later, not much had been accomplished. Luckily things happened soon after that, and we were thrilled to see the beauty and fun of the place today.