Robot-on-the-Spot Archives

April 2, 2012

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

Cindy Sherman photo

I went to see the huge Cindy Sherman exhibit at MoMA, which I think includes pretty much everything she ever did in the style she's famous for: Cindy Sherman dressed up as a character of her own invention, photographed by Cindy Sherman. People often write things about her photographs that include phrases like "the construction of identity", "nature of representation", and "artifice of photography" (those are all in the first sentence of the MoMA wall text at the exhibit. I might have even dropped something about "gender performance" or something obnoxious ripped off from Judith Butler in the conversation I had after leaving the museum.

But the truth is, no one can express that thing about humanity and the peculiar, funny, sad, insane ways we present ourselves to the world as well as Cindy Sherman can. That's why we're all are so crazy about her and her photos.

Cindy Sherman photo

Also. Note to self after seeing this exhibit: Do everything in your power to prevent people from looking at you and thinking, "That lady looks like a Cindy Sherman photograph." If I can pull that off, everything else in life should be OK.

Cindy Sherman photo

October 26, 2011

DC High Heel Drag Queen Race

DC High Heel Drag Queen Race 2011

Last night was the first time I got to attend DC's annual High Heel Drag Queen Race, which happens the Tuesday before Halloween. It might be the only truly unusual experience I've ever had in Washington, a town I associate with smart, conservatively-dressed people who walk around the city wearing their building photo ID badges and, despite their dedication to arriving at their desks on time, wouldn't dream of crossing the street against the light (it's illegal!)

Twenty minutes after the race was over, cops were out in full force, notifying everyone that the fun was over, the brief window in which men are allowed to wear eyeliner and sequins was now closed, please put on some pants. Stern officers on motorcycles rode along the edge of the street, hustling some dawdling Divine-inspired ladies out of the gutter.

But there were loads of spectacular drag queens and thousands of people there to watch, so even if the party was short, it was a good time. The race served as a little preview of what I expect to see at New York's own Village Halloween Parade on Monday. Each year's crop of costumes seems to follow trends, and it's amazing how the same inspiration strikes so many parade-goers every year.

Here's what we can expect to see this year:

September 28, 2011

Roger Ebert at the NY Times

Roger Ebert at the NY Times

I've been watching and reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews for just about as long as I've been able to watch and read, so seeing him at the NY Times last night was one of the most exciting movie-related experiences I could have. A big reason I'm so into movies is that when I was growing up, I watched Siskel & Ebert talk about movies every week on TV. Because those two smart, thoughtful, funny guys were excited about movies, they got me excited about them, too. I don't always agree with Ebert, but he still writes about movies more compellingly than just about anyone, and I'm always interested in what he has to say.

Since Ebert got cancer and lost the ability to talk about 5 years ago, he stopped appearing on TV, but he's become unbelievably prolific in his writing. He reviews a bunch of movies every week (A.O. Scott, who interviewed him last night, said Ebert reviews at least twice as many movies each week than any one else he knows), writes a blog, an excellent Twitter feed (500,000 followers!), plus he has a new memoir out and, my personal favorite, a cookbook for rice cookers. He'll probably never speak again, but the man still has a lot to say.

A couple of things about the interview, which Ebert conducted by typing into a talking laptop:

  • He got into movie reviewing entirely by accident. The former movie critic at the Sun-Times retired, and Ebert got assigned to take over because, he claims, he was the youngest journalist and had the longest hair.
  • A.O. Scott talked about 3D and Ebert's well-publicized, unwavering contempt for it, and said that Ebert was on the record saying he thought 3D was a "disaster". Ebert immediately corrected him, via talking computer. "Abomination," he said. Preach it, Roger!
  • He told a story about the legendarily tough critic Gene Siskel about a time Siskel took his young daughters to see a movie. When they were leaving the theater, he asked his younger daughter what she thought of it. "Daddy," she said, "I didn't like it." "I've never been more proud!," he told Roger.
  • A.O. Scott asked Ebert for a few of those movies, among the hundreds of thousands he's watched, that are most special and meaningful to him. He named four, which I thought were surprisingly arty and relatively obscure, considering he's probably the best known mainstream movie critic ever:

    Ikiru, by Kurosawa. I think I watched this for a class on Japanese film when I was 20 years old, and almost definitely fell asleep. Ebert says it's a wise film about mortality and death, topics that probably don't resonate with a junior in college who still thinks Goldschlager is a very nice drink in the same way they would with someone who's survived cancer.

    Floating Weeds, by Ozu. I haven't seen it. Actually, I still haven't seen any of Ozu's movies, probably because I've heard they're lengthy, quiet studies of Japanese family life, and I always end up picking something less lengthy and quiet instead.

    2001: A Space Odyssey, by Kubrick, which Ebert said "knocked his socks off". Maybe sometime he could explain to me what happens in the last 20 minutes.

    Gates of Heaven, by Errol Morris. This is the one about pet cemeteries, definitely one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. As A.O. Scott pointed out, it's impossible to tell if Morris has compassion and respect for the people in the doc who select these cemeteries as the final resting places for their beloved pets, or if he thinks they're a bunch of lunatics that make good punchlines. Maybe both?

One other thing about Siskel & Ebert and their lasting legacy. I was out at karaoke last week, and someone performed Bloodhound Gang's "The Bad Touch", a song that's very popular at karaoke despite it being almost impossible to get through. When the line "Yes I'm Siskel, yes I'm Ebert, and you're getting two thumbs up" line came along, the lyrics displayed on the screen read: "Yes I'm Sisco, yes I'm Evil, and you're getting two thumbs up." An unintentionally surrealist lyrical reworking, there.

Whoever transcribed that line perhaps doesn't speak English as their first language, but still, it made me wonder if young people don't actually know what "Siskel & Ebert" means anymore.

Many old "Siskel & Ebert" reviews are archived, so you can watch them argue about, for example, The Big Lebowski. It's still fun to watch the two of them.

July 18, 2011

New Yorkers love women's soccer

US women's soccer fans in Germany

Despite the enthusiasm of its adoring fans (above), the US Women's Soccer team lost to Japan in yesterday's final in a really well-played but terribly unlucky match. But even if they didn't win, the ladies of US soccer got a lot of love from the sports fans. I watched the game in a crowded New Jersey beach bar, and there was as much table-pounding, high-fiving, and screaming at the TV screen as when professional men's sports are on. I defy anyone who thinks soccer is boring to watch the second half of that game and just try to refrain from pumping their fists in the air.

Also: I walked through Times Square this evening and tried to pass the W Hotel on 47th Street, but was blocked by about 15 cops who were trying (unsuccessfully) to check reporters' credentials, block rush hour traffic, and hold back swarms of people who were pushing up against inadequate barricades, all holding their phones in the air and trying to take pictures of what had to be some very important people standing outside the hotel.

Wait, that's Abby Wambach! There they were! The US Women's Soccer team in their warm-up suits, standing on the sidewalk, giving interviews, hugging teenage girls, and generally causing complete mayhem by their presence.

After being hustled across the street by some cops, who looked like they were in over their heads, I came upon two less mobbed non-Hope Solo players standing outside Starbucks, signing autographs for somewhat calmer fans. Stephanie Cox and another player who I've so far been unable to identify (possibly Lauren Cheney?) graciously posed for a picture and thanked me for watching.

US Soccer team in Times Square

Wooo! USA! Canada 2015!

February 6, 2011

The Clock: really cool video art

Christian Marclay's

I went to see Christian Marclay's video art exhibit, "The Clock" at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea. I find a lot of video art to be a ponderous, humorless, overly conceptual snore. Reading the blurb outside the screening room can be more interesting than actually watching it. But this piece is my favorite video art ever. I spent an hour and a half there on Friday night, and if I could have had a pizza delivered to the gallery, probably would have stayed all night.

The piece uses clips of movies that include a shot of a clock or watch or reference to the time, and it's constructed so that the time in the movie clip is the actual time in the real world. I watched it from 11:30 PM until about 1:15 AM, so as you might guess, saw a lot of clips of cops staking out buildings, people getting woken up by a ringing phone, people realizing they'd missed the last bus, and endless clunky 80's clock radios. And a phenomenally cool montage of clocks striking midnight, accompanied by the kinds of scary or explosive things that tend to happen in movies at the stroke of midnight.

The clips are also linked thematically. If someone picks up a ringing phone and says "Hello?", we'll cut to someone in a different movie asking to speak to Walter (there are a lot of ringing phones in "The Clock") or a series of clips of people slowing descending the stairs into a dark, scary basement. We come back to some movies over and over again as the characters watch the hours tick by. We see the same actors again and again--I caught three Steve McQueen movies in just an hour and a half, and Vincent Price appeared in a whole lot of movies with creepy old grandfather clocks in the background.

A lot of the talk about this piece is about the inescapability of time, and the audience's constant awareness of time passing, both in the movie clips and in real life. Movies use the passage of time to create tension or draw out a scene in ways that have become clichés. In the NY Times article about the exhibit, Roberta Smith says, "Moviemakers have developed endless devices to make us aware of time's passage in their films, and to hold us in thrall, or suspense, within that artificial time -- while we forget about the real kind outside the theater." But I see the piece as primarily an exploration and adoration of movies. Time provides the structure and the framework, but the medium is movies.

Trying to identify the movie clips is both fun and aggravating. It's a lot like listening to a Girl Talk album--you'll see a lot of stuff you sort of recognize, but 8 seconds later it's gone, and you'll have that tip-of-your-tongue feeling again and again that will drive you kind of nuts, but keep you wanting more.

Recognizing the movies in "The Clock" isn't necessary, but it sure is fun to watch the incredible variety of movies Marclay found and see some stuff you know. Even if you can't identify the movies, the range of time periods and styles is huge. In just a couple of minutes, he'll use Gone With the Wind, The Crow, The Awful Truth, Sid and Nancy, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gosford Park, Mildred Pierce, What Lies Beneath, Now, Voyager, and Lolita. Plus some TV: "ER", "The X-Files", and (of course!) "24". You get silent movies, foreign movies, action, horror, Woody Allen, and Beverly Hills Cop.

What about sex? Yep! Nudity? Oh, yes! No editing. Also, movies that aren't in English don't have subtitles--what you see is what you get.

My dream for when I'm enormously rich is that I'll buy a copy of "The Clock" and install it in my living room as an actual time-telling device. "What time is it?," I'll ask, look at my video art installation, see DJ Stevie Wayne announcing the next song on her late-night radio show in John Carpenter's The Fog, and go, "Oh, it's 12:35."

You can see part of "The Clock" during regular gallery hours, 10-6 Monday-Thursday, or see the entire thing from 10:00 AM on Friday until 6:00 PM on Saturday for the next two weekends. Note: there will probably be a line if you get there between 11:00 and 12:00 at night. Word seems to have gotten out that midnight is cool.

Here's a BBC TV news story about the exhibit which incorporates some of the piece and some of Marclay's other stuff.

September 7, 2010

Electric Zoo fashion

Electric Zoo 2010

[photo from NY Times]

On Saturday I went to the gigantic all-day two-day dance music festival on Randall's Island, Electric Zoo. I expected my posse to be among the oldest people there (except for the DJs and Jon Pareles I think we were) so I was curious to see what the club kids would be wearing these days. My knowledge of rave culture is pretty out of date, so I wondered how much had changed since the mid-90's.

Nothing. Nothing had changed. Aside from the people in t-shirts and shorts that would have been dressed exactly the same way in any recent decade, the club kids looked just like club kids circa 1994. I saw face glitter. Stuffed animal backpacks. Rainbow tights. Glow sticks. Pacifiers. Freaking whistles around their necks that they would un-ironically blow! It was the same radioactive cartoon character look that everyone was wearing almost 20 years ago.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, a lot of the music at the event was a clear throwback to the early 90's. If you went to the Rush concert at Jones Beach in July, I would bet you would have seen a lot of acid-washed jeans, feathered hair, and single earring studs on display in that crowd. (They did all of the "Moving Pictures" album and I bet it was fantastic.)

I'm not judging: this is just the reality of concerts and events that refer to a specific time and place in cultural history. The rave-y dance music scene peaked over 15 years ago, and it seems like the fashion is still stuck back there.

Some of the newer-looking outfit innovations that I noticed were lots of people in pink or green or orange neon shirts or accessories or tights, which is actually a throwback to the early 80's, fun fur leg warmers, and also these weird tutu-length crinoline things, which girls would wear over their pants or tights (see photo above). I don't know what that's about.

One other observation: I know we all need to record every moment of our lives for blogs and Facebook, but many people who weren't experiencing some sort of transporting chemical enhancement seemed to spend the really great sets fiddling with their camera settings or taking pictures or video of a DJ on a distant stage. The kids who weren't doing any documenting were pogoing up and down, waving their hands (or their glow sticks) all over the place, shaking their hair around, grabbing their friends in an ecstatic hug and generally losing their minds. There's some oddly Zen-like lesson on living in the moment in there.

September 1, 2010

Heart! (on Fox News)

Nancy Wilson of Heart on Fox News

All summer, midtown has had two competing live music series on the morning shows: NBC's Today Show series, which has featured Lady Gaga, Carole King and James Taylor, and Maxwell, and Fox News' All American Summer series, which has included American Idol losers, Uncle Kracker, and Toby Keith. Rockefeller Center has been attracting massive crowds with fans often camping out on the street the night before, while the shows in front of the Fox building on 6th Ave have largely been made up of people who happened to be getting off the F train on their way to work.

But this morning, Fox scored a huge victory with Heart! Performing live! I turned onto 6th Ave and heard Nancy Wilson pounding out the riff from "Magic Man" and ran to the corner of 48th St. By far the best start to my day of the summer.

Here's the video, which includes an interview with the Wilson sisters about growing up in a Marines household (this is Fox News, after all) and the sexism they faced in the 70's and still see in music today. And they do "Magic Man" starting at 3:30. It rocks.

This performance reminds me that this is not really a family-friendly song. Those lyrics are hot! I'm a little surprised they got away with the magic man and his magic hands on "Fox & Friends", but I guess rock transcends the Culture Wars.

Also: the Wilsons like Lady Gaga and Taio Cruz's "Dynamite".

June 18, 2010

Maybe this Al Pacino is a decent actor

Al Pacino as Shylock

I went to see The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare in the Park last night, with Al Pacino as Shylock. I've heard it's been brutal trying to get tickets, and the show is still in previews (opens June 30), but I highly recommend it if you can go, it's one great production. It's like the best psychological thriller about contract law you've ever seen.

This is a tricky play--it often gets branded as anti-Semitic, what with every Christian character hurling non-stop abuse and hatred at Shylock and spitting the word "Jew" like it's a derogatory term. But it's really a play about anti-Semitism (and racism, and sexism) and this production shows all of that while staying true to the language and structure.

Characters are dressed in Victorian-era morning coats, and the set looks like a 19th century London trading company with a cool old ticker-tape machine and guys wearing visors. Shylock looks pretty much exactly like the old men who lumber along West 47th Street in the diamond district today, so I was glad they didn't go for anything too cartoonish. Pacino plays Shylock as a pragmatic, successful businessman who's sitting on an ocean of bitterness at being socially rejected from mainstream Christian society. He's not ashamed of who he is, he's just sick of living in an unfair, racist world.

It's not too hard to make Shylock a sympathetic character, but Pacino doesn't hold back on the anger and frustration that make him so bloodthirsty. The amazing thing is that he doesn't do any of the scenery chewing or hooah'ing that's made him into a caricature of himself in movies lately. Venice is basically an apartheid society, using its legal structure to keep people like Shylock down, so when he gets the chance to use the law to his advantage, he grabs on and won't let go. He wants that pound of flesh, not because he's a sadist killer, but because it's legally his.

But, of course, things don't go so well for old Shylock--the moral of the story seems to be Live by the contract, Die by the contract. Shakespeare structures the story as a rejection of rigid adherence to law and other pronouncements from on high that have little to do with people's actual lives, a theme that comes up in other plays like Measure For Measure.

The height of the action in the trial scene is really great and tense, with loads of moral ambiguity and really uncomfortable stuff about religious self-righteousness that makes Christians and Jews and pretty much everybody look like monsters. For a supposed romantic comedy, this is not at all a date play.

The play doesn't stress this too heavily, but the other big theme is how men unfairly control women's lives. Portia is the smartest person on the stage, but it's only when she's disguised as a man that anyone listens to her. She's played by Lily Rabe (daughter of Jill Clayburgh and David Rabe) and was clever and sassy without being self-righteous.

Al Pacino is the only huge star in the show, but there's also Law & Order's Jesse Martin and Mitch from "Modern Family" as the hilarious and campy comic relief.

February 16, 2010

Pizzacone: an abomination


There have been some notices recently about a new restaurant about to open in midtown called K! Pizzacone, which sells cone-shaped pizza. The pizzacone has actually already arrived in the greater NY area, by way of Brazil. Over the weekend, I went to a place in Astoria called Berry Lover, which sells frozen yogurt, gelato, and something called Cone Pizza.

In case you're interested in food trends and wonder what it's like to eat pizza in cone form, let me just tell you this. The pizzacone is a horror.

I'm not going to get too graphic here, but let me give you an idea. The Berry Lover Margherita Cone Pizza involves a hand-shaped piece of dough that is molded into a cone shape via a sort of hand-operated drill press. Then the cone is filled with a lot of shredded cheese and some sauce and placed in a cone pizza oven, a rotating rotisserie kind of machine that cooks the whole thing. Then they serve it wrapped in a little cardboard sleeve, like takeout coffee.

And it's absolutely terrible. The crust was crispy, but totally uniform and bland and way too similar to an actual ice cream cone. It was filled with low-grade, flavorless mozzarella that oozed out all over everything when I bit into it, and the cheese was edged with some pink liquid that I guess was the sauce. It tasted like like a hard, non-sweet ice cream cone filled with artificial-tomato-flavored caulk. It tasted nothing like pizza, or food.

The really counter-intuitive thing is that, as inflexible as the Italians are about which specific ingredients are permitted in pizza by a government-regulated pizza authority (e.g. buffalo mozzarella) and which ingredients are not (e.g. pineapple), it was actually an Italian company that created the pizzacone ("KonoPizza").

So much for high standards and allegiance to centuries of culinary tradition. It's like finding out your grandmother's homemade cookies were Chips Ahoy.

February 1, 2010

Doing art with Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim

Timo Sehgal at the Guggenheim

This weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Guggenheim by German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal. I saw the feature the Times did on him recently, and some of the details about his work (he never uses materials other than human beings, has no written contracts but sells his work to museums and, bizarrely, private collectors, he doesn't fly or use a cellphone) made him sound like some combination of exacting performance-art auteur and high-concept weirdo.

So I went to the show. There are other reviews out there (NY Times, WNYC) that describe in detail the experience of being at the exhibit, but I don't want to give away too much here. I didn't know what was going to happen when I went into it, and I think it's better that way. I'll just say that there is no art at all on the walls of the rotunda, and you experience the piece, called "This Progress", by walking up the long ramp of the museum where you encounter various people.

As the WNYC reviewer says (after making a Jersey Shore joke about the "situations" that the artist calls his pieces,) trying to talk about this exhibit is like "trying to reconstruct a particularly intense dinner party conversation: It was fascinating while it happened, but on the retelling can seem trite and pretentious." Interacting with the people that make up the exhibit was like being seated next to someone really friendly and interesting on a plane--you don't really know the person you're talking to and you'll almost definitely never talk to them again, but during the time you're together, you can get into some pretty cool stuff.

But what the exhibit really made me think of is those artists who surreptitiously install their own pieces in museum galleries, guerrilla-style--like Banksy or the guy at the Brooklyn Museum last year. If you can expose the arbitrary nature of what art gets into museums and what art doesn't just by hanging your painting in the Met for a few hours before it gets noticed and removed, couldn't you do the same thing in an experiential, interactive exhibit like this one?

I hope some enterprising young artists decide to go into one of those little recessed gallery areas in the Guggenheim rotunda and become another art installation by ironing some pants or jumping rope or eating Wheat Thins. You could easily circumvent the real installation by striking up a conversation with a museum-goer and talking about your cats or Boggle or one time you threw up in your brother's Darth Vader mask. It would probably be the easiest way to get your own art into a world-famous museum, and, actually, Tino Sehgal would probably love it.

Actually, the first time I started walking up the rotunda ramp, I somehow didn't get properly engaged in the interactive part of the exhibit, so my companion and I went all the way to the top with having an actual art experience, except for watching the people around us who seemed to be having a better time than we were. At the top, an older gentleman started talking to me, claiming he was a critic and not part of the exhibit. He urged me to go back to the beginning and try again, but then started talking about being open to life and experience and how one could find progress by being open to confusion, and I still can't figure out if he was part of the exhibit or just into dispensing advice in the form of rambling non-sequitur.

January 21, 2010

Gaga tears New York's face off

Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall, NYC

(photo by dionisioyang)

I had been concerned that Lady Gaga was going to cancel her show at Radio City Music Hall last night, since she was sick and had canceled her last four shows. But when I checked her Twitter page yesterday, I found this entry: "Can't wait 4 Monster Ball, ready to tear the face off my hometown 2nite."

It was on. And she did. My face = off.

What's so amazing about Lady Gaga is her ability to create such an eye-popping performance with costumes and sets that are truly dazzling, and to be doing it now, when we've all seen everything already. The stage was set with four gigantic video panels that for the best songs (productions, really) had beautiful lights and image effects that were trippily transporting in the same way that the best moments of Avatar were. The show looked like no expense was spared to make sure everyone's minds were blown, and judging from her on-stage comment that her managers ask her why she spent all her money on her show (answer: "Because my fans are sexy") it was indeed really, really expensive.

The best numbers featured Gaga hovering above the ground in a glowing light box platform thing, wearing a bodysuit covered in little lights, or antlers, or a gladiator leotard, or a dress made of thick layers of black feathers. (Or in one shocking-for-Gaga scene, pants.) Some of the numbers were of a more standard variety that I imagine Madonna's or Gwen Stefani's shows would be like, i.e. prancing around the stage in a red patent leather bikini with a bunch of studs (see photo).

But the best productions were James Cameron-level beautiful, or completely weird, like for "Paparazzi" where she wore an elaborate up-do that was connected to two big metal rings that were linked to a horizontal metal rod that two dancers moved around the stage, essentially pulling her along the floor in an elaborate sort of hair-bondage scene. Then for a brief interval it was just Gaga alone on stage at a piano, singing a fantastic bluesy, smoky, torch-song version of "Poker Face", and some other ballads.

The crowd had a lot more women and people in their 30's or older than I would have expected. I thought it was going to be a bunch of teenage girls, a lot of gay guys, and me. In reality, the crowd seemed to be mostly people over 25, almost 100% of whom were wearing some combination of feathers, leopard bodysuits, glitter, mirrors, and in one case, a full-body spacesuit covered with Christmas lights.

Somewhat disturbingly, there were some moms who apparently are not familiar with Lady Gaga's style, who brought their 10 year-old daughters dressed in wigs, high-heeled boots, and aviator sunglasses to listen to Gaga talk about blowjobs and dry-hump guys in spandex with fur covering their faces.

Anyway, another thing Gaga is good at is this: she appears to be totally genuine in her stage banter. She says a lot of stuff about following your dreams and being whoever you want to be and not letting anything hold you back, but she actually seems like she means it. When someone has made a career out of putting herself out there the way she has, I guess she knows what she's talking about when she says it's sometimes hard to be yourself, but really, it's the only way to go. I'm still not the biggest fan of all her music (except for "Bad Romance", which rules) but this was one stunner of a show that I think made everyone there want to be Gaga.

Reviews and pictures at the Daily News and the Post, good review from the Times.

November 2, 2009

Halloween highlights

Foam Monster

This year's Halloween Parade was certainly as wild as ever, but I arrived later than planned, so I stood around in the big crowded holding pen of costumed folk on 6th Ave until it started raining hard enough for one of my companion's white nylon costume to be compromised. And then bailed.

In the time I spent swarming around at the foot of the parade, Lady Gaga and Max from Where the Wild Things Are were by far the most represented, and there were (thankfully) very few unfunny political statement costumes. Here are a few highlights from the parade, and from the series of bars that I sought shelter in:

The blue foam monster in the top photo--anyone know what that is?

Lots more photos on Flickr.

October 23, 2009

Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me! at Carnegie Hall

Wait Wait's Peter Sagal and Carl Kassell

Public radio nerds descended on Carnegie Hall last night for this week's taping of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz show. It's one of the most popular shows on NPR, which makes sense: it's weirder than The Daily Show, and sometimes I think it's funnier in a loose, improvy sort of way.

I was lucky enough to go, and thought I'd share a few highlights. The live show ran for two and a half hours, and will get cut down to 45 minutes for Saturday's broadcast, so some of the really funny stuff is going to have to get cut:

  • For those of you wondering what the outgoing message that Carl Kasell records for your voicemail if you win, they played a sample. The winners get to script the message, and this one ended with Carl singing "What's New, Pussycat?" like a sonorous baritone Tom Jones.
  • The special guest for the "Not My Job" segment was Brian Williams, who's been on the show a few times. That guy is a riot. There was some immediate adversarial jabbing between host Peter Sagal and Williams over the mainstream media's Balloon Boy coverage: Williams said he was (conveniently) on vacation for the whole thing, and made some lame excuse for all the media attention like "people were concerned and really cared about that kid in the homemade UFO" or something, but Sagal went for integrity points by ripping TV news outlets. Well, NPR covered it, too, but at least they covered the media reaction, not the actual balloon.
  • Peter Sagal brought up the fight between the Obama administration and Fox News, which Williams thought was a bad fight to pick. Everyone has to work together in politics and news, he said. Making distinctions between network news and cable news is meaningless: he said the evening news is "like The Munsters." Heh. It was the weirdest comment of the night.
  • Then Brian Williams shared an anecdote from the 90's when he was a White House correspondent, about an unflattering piece he did on Bill Clinton. One night while Brian Williams was making dinner at home with his wife, he was in the process of pouring the pasta into the colander when Clinton called him, mad as hell, and started berating him mid-pasta pour. His point was that Presidents have always gone after individual reporters; his pissed-off Clinton impersonation was perfect.
  • Music Brian Williams is into lately: Deer Tick and The Republic Tigers and other stuff listed on his embarrassingly titled BriTunes page on MSNBC.
  • Williams was so funny and quick, I think everyone had to remind themselves that he has a day job as a news anchor. After he left the stage Paula Poundstone said, "What a waste of talent!"
  • Peter Sagal wrote a screenplay that ended up becoming Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

    Mind-blowing trivia: both Roger Sterling and Betty Draper from Mad Men were in Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights!

Tune in Saturday for the show.

October 16, 2009

Return of the Linky

Robots Robots Robots

For the last few months we've had some trouble with Ning, the host of our links management site, but after some retooling, Robot Linky is back in operation.

We're still trying to get the feed to work correctly so that links show up on the right side of the screen, but in the meantime, you can read, post, and share all your funny, tasteless, and salacious links through the new Linky.

September 17, 2009

Store Fronts

Phil's Stationery

Yesterday I was out looking to buy some airmail stationery, which if you're like me, is something you haven't thought about since the time in your life when friends were studying abroad in college and you hadn't quite started using email as the sole means of communication with everyone you know. These days it's not so easy to find.

So I went into Phil's Stationery on East 47th, right smack in the middle of midtown and standing between a Chinese noodle shop and a nail salon, offering office supplies and "Zerox copies", according to the sign. It looks like the kind of place that would have functional, cheap, non-wedding-invitation-oriented stationery that hardly anyone has been interested in buying for at least ten years.

They did! The employee who helped me walked past a small display of day planners and toner cartridges and randomly piled stacks of paper, dug around among the dusty boxes, then rummaged through a huge, falling-over pile of stuff on a back shelf. He pulled out a crumpled pad of airmail stationery with the price $1.89 printed right on the front sheet, and a package of airmail envelopes (the kind with a red and blue pattern along the edges) that had already been opened and half used and was yellowing with age. An unseen manager in the basement shouted back and forth with the employee through an old dumbwaiter shaft that opened onto the sales floor, and they decided on a price of $1.50. "Perfect!," I said, and bought both from a seriously elderly woman with an impressively thick (Polish?) accent.

The whole process reminded me of a great exhibit I saw the other day at the Clic Gallery on Centre Street in Soho. The exhibit is a collection of photographs by James and Karla Murray called "Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York", and features lots of oldtime store fronts from all over the city for bakeries, discount stores, record stores, diners, and barber shops, all from before the era of printed awnings that identify most street-level businesses today. There are lots of places I see all the time in there, like the Film Center Cafe, Smith's Bar & Restaurant, and Clover Delicatessen, and some that are dearly missed, like McHale's. The show is up through this weekend, and there's a book available.

The artists mention in the intro of the book that almost 1/3 of the stores have closed since they photographed them. I'd be surprised if Phil's is still hanging on this time next year.

August 13, 2009

The Bacchae, on and off-stage

Anthony Mackie in The Bacchae

Last night I saw a preview performance of The Bacchae, the non-Shakespeare play of this summer's Shakespeare in the Park season. If you're not familiar with this play, let me give you some of the more spectacular highlights. (The play is 2,500 years old, but, OK: spoiler alert.)

The Bacchae includes a posse of drunken, ecstatic, feral women who worship the god Dionysus. They're out there in the woods, orgiastically cavorting and shaking with ecstasy, tearing apart cows with their bare hands and suckling wolf cubs with their milk. There are also instances of these women rushing around and satisfying the lusts of men or something salacious like that. Then at one point, they pull a man in full drag down from a tree and eat him.

Those Greeks! They were some sick, sick, bloody-minded people! Euripides created all this stuff that would make for the greatest movie ever, and one show-stopper of a live theatrical experience. Unfortunately, because this is Greek tragedy, all the action happens off stage. Which is incredibly frustrating. What's the point of having people savagely ripped apart and eaten during wine-fueled orgies if the audience can't see it? With today's production values, Euripides could have been a Dario Argento-esque master of horror.

You're probably familiar with the crazy, blood-thirsty stuff the Bacchae get up to if you watch "True Blood", where I hear some Maenads have been making appearances. (Bacchae and maenads are both female followers of Dionysus.) Or that book The Secret History about a group of preppy kids whose Dionysian rituals lead to their downfall.

Anyway, I liked the play itself. The moral of the story is this: gods do what they want, and if you worship them or spite them, they can (and probably will) mess you up either way. And don't go out and get too wasted or you might accidentally kill your kids.

But I wanted more godlike bacchanalian mojo from Dionysus himself. He's played by Jonathan Groff, who was also in Hair last year and in Spring Awakening (and in those sexy posters.) He played his demigod character as a chilled-out, smug skater/hippie/greaser, wearing some unflattering jeans and a leather jacket. His hair was fittingly in Grecian ringlets. But I would have loved to see him go all-out Rock God, like an early 70's Robert Plant rockstar dynamo.

In last year's production of the play at Lincoln Center, Alan Cumming played Dionysus in drag, and looks like he gave a much more energetic performance:

Alan Cumming in The Bacchae

This production's Dionysus is all too happy to put the handsome Anthony Mackie (above) in drag before sending him off to the feral drunken ladies. Mackie is great in this role: he's transformed from a determined non-believer to a lovely, shyly glamorous drag queen in a purple dress and swishy strawberry blond wig. It's not every actor who would go on stage in a strappy dress and killer heels and walk around clearly enjoying his new prettiness. Considering that earlier this year, Mackie played both Tupac and a member of an Iraq bomb defusing squad this year, I'm very impressed.

In a recent interview in the Times, Mackie discusses the play and various costume changes, and sounds like he's really proud of this role: "I get to don some five-inch wedge stillettos and show girls how it really should be done." Snap!

June 15, 2009

School of Seven Bells, Rock and Roll

School of Seven Bells at Bowery Ballroom

[photos by tammylo]

I first saw the Deheza sisters when they were part of On! Air! Library! back at the now-defunct Rothko in October 2004. I liked them--dreamy, atmospheric programmed rock with some guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. They were better live than on their album (I think they only ever did one)--harder, louder, and I didn't mind the repetitive droning aspects of their music that got a little tedious when listening at home. On the album, some songs felt like they were 2-3 minutes too long, prompting one non-fan friend to make an ingenious play on their name: I! Hate! Them!

Anyway, they've since regrouped as School of Seven Bells, and have been touring like crazy for the last couple of years in support of their album Alpinisms. I got to see them Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom.

They've moved up in the world of New York venues, and they've really jumped ahead in their sound. Those same gorgeous harmonized voices from gorgeous twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra, on top of some searing guitars with tons of effects, tight keyboard melody lines, and some big big beats. They sound like the harder early Lush tunes (think "De-Luxe" and the louder version of "Thoughtforms") with some noodly MBV-style shredding. And then Orbital or Underworld's drums programmer doing some kick-ass electro-techno beats.

Their album doesn't always sound like it, but School of Seven Bells live are an abstract-rock party band, something less blowsy than dream pop. Dream Rock? They also had cool video at the show, including one visual effect that I still can't figure out, which involved a bright light creating a shadow of the band on a white backdrop, then smaller and smaller versions of that same shadow image moving in flashes up the screen. It was pretty wild.

Their first album is out on Ghostly International, the Michigan label that also has Matthew Dear and some other dancy stuff. The next one will be big, I bet.

Here are some more photos of the show from Time Out, and some videos, which are OK, but they're a lot better live.

May 18, 2009

Who's Older?™: Rock legends at Radio City

Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Today's edition of Who's Older?™ takes you to the Leonard Cohen concert at Radio City last Saturday night. Cushie used her advanced-level detective skills to get on the pre-sale list and got to go to the show, and while there, saw and heard about all kinds of celebrities, including Kirsten Dunst, Pierce Brosnan, Bjork, Bette Midler and Martha Stewart waiting in an epic bathroom line.

Also attending the show was Leonard Cohen's old pal Lou Reed. But exactly how old are we talking here?

To play, guess which of these two grandfatherly singer/songwriters is older, then click on their names to find out if you're right.

Who's Older, Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed?

Even if it's tricky to tell which is older, it's pretty obvious which of the two dyes his hair.

Here's a great anecdote about the first time these two met, taken from a book of rock star reminiscences called Yakety Yak:

In 1966 I borrowed some money from a friend in Montreal and came down to the great empire, America, to try to make my way. I had written a few books and I couldn’t make a living.

In New York I found this huge explosion of things and I was interested in this enlightened community being promoted in the east side of New York and I would go down there but I couldn’t locate it. I walked into a club called the Dome and I saw someone singing there who looked like she inhabited a Nazi poster; it was Nico, the perfect Aryan ice queen. And there was a very handsome young man playing for her; he turned out to be Jackson Browne.

I just stood there and said forget the new society, this is the woman I’ve been looking for. I followed her all around New York. She led me to Max’s Kansas City.

I met Lou Reed there and he said something very kind to me which made me feel at home. I had no particular clout in that scene. Lou came over and introduced himself and said, "I love your book." I never knew anybody knew my books because they only sold a few thousand copies in America.

Nico eventually told me, "Look, I like young boys. You’re just too old for me."

Lou Reed recounted their meeting too, while he introdruced him at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction:

"I first met Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel," Reed said. "We were talking and - I thought it was sweet of him - he said: "You wrote a song called I'll Be Your Mirror and it made me want to keep writing songs.'"

Sounds like they're still friends. Lou Reed may have a lot more albums than Leonard Cohen, but I bet Leonard Cohen has made more money, if only because of "Hallelujah", aka the most grossly overused song in movie/TV soundtracks. Lou Reed has "Satellite of Love" in Adventureland, but Leonard Cohen has "Hallelujah" in Watchmen and Shrek.

But at this point, Leonard Cohen probably needs the money more: a couple of years ago he won a lawsuit against his former manager for $9 million that she stole from him, but actually never got any of his money back.

So if you go to his show on this tour [schedule], I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you buy a t-shirt or some stickers at the merch table.

May 4, 2009

Midgets vs. Mascots

Midgets vs. Mascots

Last night I watched the weirdest movie I've seen so far this year at one of the last screenings of the Tribeca Film Festival. It's titled Midgets vs. Mascots, and plays like an especially surreal competitive reality show--more offensive than "Little People, Big World", but mostly less shocking than the really nasty scenes from the first few episodes of "Rock of Love Bus".

The premise of the movie is this: a successful little person, who during his career transitioned from mascot to porn star, dies, and leaves his estate to whichever team wins of a series of 30 challenges. One team is midgets. One team is mascots. Both teams end up getting really porny.

As you would guess, the humor centers on fart jokes, sex jokes, porn jokes, puke jokes, and poop jokes, and slurs based on race, gender, body size, penis size, and horniness. It's quantity, not quality. Too many jokes depended on shock value and nothing else, so sometimes it was pretty jaw-dropping and funny, but often it was unimaginative and not that funny. But it won third place in the film festival's Audience Awards! People love schlock.

But the reality show style was absolutely perfect, complete with trash-talking scenes on each of the teams' tour buses, the competing coaches secretly getting busy, and escalating gross-out depravity. Some of the challenges were inspired, including Drinking a Gallon of Milk, Making a Movie Trailer in 30 Minutes, Tetherball, and Getting Someone to Punch You in the Face After the Fewest Insults.

Plus the cast. In addition to the primary cast members Bunny, Gator, Spartan Man, and Taco, we've got Gary Coleman as the lead little person, the little actor from In Bruges, Jason "Jay" Mewes, and Scottie Pippin.

The movie website has some NSFW clips, some interviews that discuss Gary Coleman's sort of sweet rants about the movie and a claim that he threatened to kill the cast, and audience comments such as "Love the racial offensiveness" and "I liked the booger dialogue."

March 17, 2009

Another holiday for non-New Yorkers

Leprechauns in Times Square

I experienced St. Patrick's Day a little more intimately than usual this year because my office is now located right in the eye of the parade storm. While walking around on 48th St and watching crowds of people celebrating the aspects of Irish culture that involve drinking in public before 10am, I realized that some of the most popular and well-known events that happen in New York City are attended almost exclusively by people who do not live in New York City.

There's New Year's Eve in Times Square, the tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, and the St. Patrick's Day parade down 5th Avenue. Today's parade is probably the least disruptive of the three--at least I can more or less continue my regular life while it's going on, and it has its charms, like the clusters of old guys standing around in kilts drinking beer and smoking cigars while sets of bagpipes are strapped to their torsos.

But mostly it's a bunch of drunk kids in "Who's Your Paddy?" t-shirts. Here are a few photos:

Girls on 5th Ave wearing said t-shirts

Girls at St Patrick's Day parade

Marching band in headdresses

Men in a marching band at St Patrick's Day parade

Dudes ignoring the parade to hang out near the port-a-potties instead

drinking on the street at St Patrick's Day parade

Hasidic man doing his best to ignore everything

Hasidic guy at St Patrick's Day parade

Deli that put a more direct message on its sidewalk sign than its usual list of breakfast specials

Beer sign at St Patrick's Day parade

After the parade was over, the crowds around Rockefeller Center thinned out. Because everyone had moved to the other part of New York that out-of-towners love, Times Square!

Irish pot leaf hat on 47th St

Green hat at St Patrick's Day parade

All 7 or 8 of the Irish bars I passed in Hell's Kitchen were packed, especially those with signs out front declaring they were "St. Patrick's Day Party Headquarters", sponsored by Heineken.

Which says everything you need to know about St. Patrick's Day in New York. Heineken: Yeah, it's Dutch, but it's close enough because the bottle is green.

March 9, 2009

Hell's Kitchen guy wants your kidney

Kidney ad

Amidst all the street flyers around Hell's Kitchen offering to paint your apartment, clip your dog's nails, teach you Russian, or fix your computer, one enterprising guy has printed up a series of small yellow flyers and posted them all over 9th Avenue. He wants a kidney. [see a larger image]

These optimistic flyers are absolutely everywhere in the neighborhood--outside every bodega, the bike shop, the liquor store, and the Mexican bakery. Only 3 or 4 days in the hospital, and you might even be compensated for your organ. Sweet! And completely illegal!

I sent the photo to the Post--I hope they follow up with this "very sick guy" to see if he gets any takers.

February 23, 2009

Pretending to be famous at the Oscars

Oscars tickets

Oscars wooo!

It was a better show than usual this year, largely because of Hugh Jackman's natural showmanship and unstoppable appeal and charm and talent and handsomeness. Plus Ben Kingsley! And Beyoncé and her red glittery hips! [video] Woo!

If you watched the red carpet interviews and saw the event on TV, you pretty much saw everything there was to see. So here are just a few notes about being there and the whole crazy experience:

  • My buddy Shemrock and I arrived at the Kodak Theater later than planned, on account of the unwavering persecution of pedestrians in LA (see below.) So we had limited mingling time at the pre-show cocktail party. But we did walk the red carpet along with Kate Winslet, Penélope Cruz, Alicia Keys, and Taraji Nelson. I said hi to a very sweetly giddy Dev Patel and told him I dug him in "Skins", like a BBC America nerd.
  • Even when your hotel is only a couple of blocks away, you cannot walk to the Oscars. It might be simpler for everyone involved if you could walk up to the security check point and show your ticket and ID, but instead you have to wait in a really long line of cars, show a special car pass to a series of cops, get your car checked for explosives, and have a valet take it and park it in a huge garage and then get it for you again afterwards. Shemrock figured out that LA must be at the mercy of an all-powerful valet union that calls all the shots in the city.
  • It's true that the academy is largely made up of very elderly people. They were everywhere. The ones sitting next to me momentarily got excited about Eva Marie Saint, and spent the rest of the evening complaining about how long the show was.
  • During commercial breaks, Hugh Jackman kept the crowd entertained. Part way through, he read a note that his wife had passed up to him from out in the audience, which said, "Show's going great, dear. I'm hungry." So he got a plate of cookies, ran out into the audience and gave cookies to his wife, Sam Mendes, and some guy who looked like DJ Qualls.
  • We also got to see a little montage video of various celebrities talking about the Best Picture nominees. You can watch it here. There's Robert Evans, Michael Stipe, Flea, Mike Bloomberg, Mike Nichols, Hugh Hefner, Sarah Silverman, Mickey Rooney, Graydon Carter, Joe Torre, Spike Jonze, and the French guy from Man on Wire.
  • Oddest moment: The guys in front of me at the valet pick-up had their car pulled around. It was a hearse.
  • Funniest moment: Shemrock and I were approaching the theater, driving down Hollywood Blvd through screaming crowds of people behind barricades on the sidewalks who were there to see all the famous people driving by. Shem rolls down the windows and shouts, "I was in The Dark Knight!"

Luckily, I was too busy getting ready to go to the Oscars this year to get into a betting pool, because I would have gotten destroyed. Departures? Did anyone get that one right? Here are all the winners.

January 21, 2009

Our President is Black!

I am unable to say anything new or even very witty about what I experienced yesterday. But here's a picture of some very happy people (who may be Young Jeezy fans).

Yes he is.jpg

And here's Obama giving the inaugural address.

Let's get to work.jpg

November 3, 2008

Halloween Parade pics

Blue stick figure guy, Halloween parade

[photo by Camarolf]

Halloween fell on a Friday this year, and it was a warm night, so the Village Halloween Parade was especially popular. Some sponsored floats pulled out at the last minute, which just made more room for the tens of thousands of marchers, and a reported 2 million spectators lining 6th Avenue.

Among all the demonic Sarah Palins, Jokers, and Joe the Plumbers, there were many inspired costumes. A few photographic highlights:

And one of my favorites: white pointy-headed guys covered in inflated rubber gloves. There is probably an underlying concept here that I'm not understanding, but I still love it.

rubber gloves guys, Halloween Parade

[photo by Efreet69]

Many more photos are up on Flickr.

October 13, 2008

NYC club security

Santos Party House

[photo of Santos Party House by down by the hipster]

A quick comparison of two clubs in New York.

Cielo: I went two Fridays ago to see Nick Warren. Arrived at 11:00, line is already stretching down the block. Bouncers use a handheld scanner to verify my driver's license while I'm still standing out on the street. Once inside the building, the barcode on my ticket is scanned by another handheld reader, and more bouncers examine every purse, wallet, pocket, Altoids box, and lipgloss applicator very closely. They look carefully between every bill in every wallet. Everything is taking forever. A female bouncer puts her hands actually inside of my underwear. They appear to have drug testing equipment and every so often some of the kids trying to get in are abruptly escorted out.

Once I regain some sense of personal boundaries and get inside, there are some regular club kids dancing, and also a whole lot of guys in striped shirts and ties getting Grey Goose bottle service. The bar is a chaotic, heaving nightmare. Nick Warren is OK, but overall it's a stressful downer. Maybe Cielo should just hire El Al's elite security staff to work the door more efficiently. I used to like this place, too (at least on weeknights.)

Santos Party House: I went here last Saturday to see Z-Trip. Walked down an empty Lafayette Street at 11:30, right through the door, paid in cash, and was on the dance floor about 15 seconds after approaching the club. Didn't even get carded. The crowd was mixed in every way, everyone's dancing, and there's good beer on tap for $7. No line at the bathroom. A fun, completely easy night.

Maybe it's just that Cielo has been around since 2002 and the owners have seen many clubs get raided, and Santos is new enough that it hasn't yet (it opened in the Spring.) But when getting inside a club feels like intake processing at a federal detention center, that is not a good club.

September 22, 2008

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

[photo by 12th St David. they're all pretty fuzzy, but that's what you would expect, right?]

Here's who I thought would be at the My Bloody Valentine show tonight: guys I dated in college who live in the tri-state area, provided they could find a babysitter on a Monday night.

Here's who was actually there: Many iterations of the guys that you may have known in the early 90's at your college radio station who smoked weed and listened to MBV, and also a number of people who looked exactly like the untenured professors in my English department. Brown corduroy jackets and everything. Almost none of these people were dancing, and several, I swear to God, were gazing at their shoes. Plus maybe 3 or 4 girls.

This show was a sold-out sausagefest, but then again, I was pretty disdainful toward MBV all through college (indiepop fan), only later realizing that those dope-smoking radio DJs were onto something. And there we all were, 15 years later, packed into Roseland and bobbing our crinkly heads.

I was a little worried the music might be a self-indulgent, feedback-heavy Jazz Odyssey freakout, the kind of unstructured guitar-band reverb drone that is the reason why I don't go to Sonic Youth shows. But actually, My Bloody Valentine was incredibly tight. They rocked. Each song was clearly delineated as an individual song, with those beautiful, catchy pop melodies floating through swampy layers of guitar sludge. As my concert companion said, the band was a whole lot tighter than the Dandy Warhols, who he had seen a week or so earlier. (The Dandy Warhols are like 12 or 13 years old now, not much younger than MBV, which is weird.)

It's hard for a short person to see very much at crowded shows like this one, but when I caught glimpses of the band, they were keeping themselves mostly obscured in a hazy, saturated murk of lights. Pink, Loveless-cover colored lights. Kevin Shields appears to be turning into Robert Smith.

A tight set of catchy songs like this reminded me that My Bloody Valentine, with all their multitracked guitars and loops and fuzzed-out vocals, is ultimately a really disciplined rock band with some great hooks. They kept the set to songs that ran only about as long as they did on the albums, with no interminable solos or repetitive wanderings. Until the very end.

At the end, they changed direction completely and went into a eardrum-liquidating monotonous droning distortion loop that sounded like an airplane taking off. For 20 minutes. Or maybe longer--that's when I left. "That was the loudest thing I have ever heard," said the concert companion. I had to get out of there, but I was glad they had separated that element of their show from the more mainstream-rock part, because I only really want to hear actual songs, and my ears hurt. Still, an amazing show.

Here's the Times review of their show on Sunday at All Tomorrow's Parties up in the Catskills, with a good, quick history of the band. Here's their video for "Soon" from 1990.

June 17, 2008

In honor of OTB


Last weekend our city saw a dramatic, last-minute state takeover of New York's Off-Track Betting industry, which saved it from getting shut down. Thank you, Governor!

In honor of city's 68 betting outlets and 1,500 employees, I decided to exercise my hard-won wagering liberties and head to my local OTB to play some ponies.

The short version: it was pretty fun. The other people there were helpful and friendly, if not exactly interested in making small-talk. I made a bunch of bets and came out ahead by $5.25, and the OTB was overall not as depressing a place to spend a half-hour as you might think.

Having no idea how betting on horse races works, I completely relied on the guidance and patience of the staff at the OTB near my office. I learned a couple things from the very nice woman who got me set up: it's easiest to just tell the staff person at a betting window what races and horses you want to bet on rather than fill out a complicated lottery-ticket style card. You can bet on as many horses as you want in any given race, right up until about a minute before the race starts. There are television screens around the room that post details and odds for all the upcoming races at each of about 10 tracks.

screens at the OTB

About the atmosphere: I was the only woman in there, apart from 1 or 2 staff people. The rest of the 50 or 60 patrons represented a cross-section of male New Yorkers: all ages, races, nationalities, a few different languages, guys in baseball caps and jeans and guys in expensive-looking suits. Some were in and out in 10 minutes, some made themselves at home.

Between races, there was a lot of milling around, scrutiny of the Daily News racing charts, and conversations that went like this:

"I hate Delaware Park, it's just an awful track. I play that track, and if I had played the triple, I would have won $400. Instead I pick favorites who don't pay. Am I right?"

"Of course you're right. You're always right."

"Delaware sucks. It's a terrible track."

A nice Danny Glover look-alike who I sat next to compared picks with me, and we both won a bunch of cash on a horse non-ironically named Price of Freedom. He said he comes in there pretty regularly, but is also "trying to keep my marriage", so has to be careful. I asked him if he was glad the state kept all the parlors from closing, and he said he would have been relieved to see them close. No matter what had happened, you would still be able to bet online, he said, or call in bets, but the OTB outlets make it almost too easy to play too much.

Other guys were more openly enthusiastic that the outlets are still open, and one dude loudly thanked a teller at a window for making it through the negotiations and staying in business.

The OTB website has a lot of information about how to bet, how odds work (I have no idea what the mathematical basis is for this stuff, but if you're going to go to an OTB, just print out the odds page and bring it with you for reference) and the daily race schedules.

Betting on horses at an OTB reminded me a lot of playing craps at a casino: you can either figure out how to play the complicated way, like some of the serious players in there are doing, or just do it the simple way. You can make bets on sequences of horses or across a series of races, or you can play the easy way and just bet on a horse or two to win, then make some cash, then go to the nearest bar and feel secure in your fiscal responsibility because you are essentially drinking for free. Perfect!

UPDATE: It looks like the Daily News was at my local OTB yesterday, too. They interviewed a diverse bunch of players (including a retired Navy vet, a guy known as "Johnny Mac", and a preacher) who were generally not too excited about the 21% of their winnings that the state collects. I contributed $1 yesterday, part of the estimated additional $9 million the state will collect every year.

June 2, 2008

Get saved with Slim Cessna's Auto Club

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Mercury Lounge, June 1, 2008

[from a video by lzplksk]

Last night I went to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Mercury Lounge with a friend who came from another city just to see them. From the little I knew about them, I was expecting a country-gospel influenced rock band, but their live show is more like a 1936 rockabilly pentecostal tent revival, the kind that has snake handling. It was fantastic.

You can walk into a Slim Cessna show and be Jewish or agnostic or a lapsed Catholic or whatever, but you're probably going to come out a member of the Church of God. It's as close to a religious experience as a lot of people in our generation are going to get on a typical day, at least at a rock show. The six members from Denver may look like the bad guys in a Flannery O'Connor story, but they seem like real sweethearts. The band has an album called "Always Say Please & Thank You", which I don't think they mean ironically.

They've got a lot of songs about damnation, but it seems like there are an equal number about Jesus and salvation, too. They're like a gospel band that is totally aware that you've got to do a lot of sinning before you can be redeemed.

The band includes all the standard rockabilly elements you would expect (upright bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo) but there are some surprises too, like a double-neck guitar with a Jesus and Mary hologram. They also yodel.

There are a bunch of pics on Flickr of last night's show and Friday's show in Greenpoint. A few good short videos are up there, too, which give you a little taste of their energetic fervor. Lots more on YouTube.

There are some free downloads available on the band website, and a list of the remaining tour dates for the next week or so.

Also: I was just thinking about Bo Diddley last night--Slim Cessna's rhythmic, reverb-y guitars and dark lyrics reminded me of him. Here's the Times obituary.

May 15, 2008

Our awesome justice system

jury duty

Jury duty is an aspect of public life that many people think about only in terms of what strategy will get them out of it. You can try claiming you don't believe in the justice system, saying you're racist, saying your brother-in-law is a cop--everybody has theories about what to say during voir dire so that you don't get picked for a case.

This is totally the wrong approach. The chances are low that you'll get to put away Uma Thurman's stalker, but there are still lots of good things about serving on a jury. Once you get past the boring part of sitting around waiting to get selected, it's sort of cool:

  • For today's TV-loving juror, court rooms have been turned into entertainment venues. Everything that happens in there really is just like what you see on "Law & Order" and "Judge Judy". You'll almost definitely get to hear "all rise" every time you enter or leave the room, lots of objections (often vehement), deal with crotchety old world-weary judges, and maybe even get a few tears from emotional witnesses.
  • If you're dealing with a civil case, you get the opportunity to feel like you're leveling the playing field of our unfair world just a little bit by making corporate America/greedy doctors/unscrupulous landlords/corrupt nail salon owners/your oppressor of choice pay up, big time. This is incredibly gratifying.
  • During deliberation, you get to re-enact your favorite scenes from 12 Angry Men and either coolly persuade dissenters to come over to your rational way of thinking, or play the insane crabby jackass who holds out and almost ruins the whole trial. Not that you would actually change the outcome of the verdict through manufactured drama, but for anyone who enjoys playing devil's advocate, it's kind of fun.
  • Getting a whole jury to agree on a dollar amount for a civil case award is tricky, but everyone loves throwing around other people's money. Why stop at 50 grand? Let's give 100! No, 200! It's like you're on Oprah's show where you compete to give away a million dollars, but you don't ever get eliminated and, as far as I can tell, you can pick whatever huge number you want.
  • And let's be honest here, you get a legitimate reason not to go to work for a few days. Some days the judge will probably release you hours earlier than you would ever be able to leave work, and you should feel no obligation to go into work or use this time productively at all. As long as you're not self-employed, it's not a bad deal.

So go ahead, send in that juror questionnaire! It's not as bad as you think.

November 5, 2007

WGA Strikes!

WGA writers on strike at Rockefeller Center

The first picket lines for the Writers Guild of America strike went up this morning at Rockefeller Center, where about 30 writers peacefully gathered near the skating rink with signs and the giant inflatable rat. Many of the writers out there probably work for some popular shows, but of course, I have no idea who they are or what they look like.

With the exception of Tina Fey.

Tina Fey on the picket lines

The strike is the result of unsuccessful negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. So how does that work when one person is a writer but also an executive producer? Wouldn't that make someone like Tina Fey both union and management? Maybe. But she's a producer who's out there on the lines with the proletariat, because she's awesome.

The Times has a good piece on the vast disparities in income among the 12,000 WGA members. Almost half of the West coast members are unemployed, while writers for shows like "Grey's Anatomy" take home $5 million a year. The WGA site has a schedule of all the picket locations in the LA area.

November 1, 2007


Halloween Parade crowd

photo by dietrich

Is any crowd as enthusiastic as the crowd at the Village Halloween Parade? This year's parade was incredibly popular and crowded, but as always, lots of fun.

After years of self-delusion, I can finally admit that everybody in the entire world takes better pictures than I do. Here are some of the neatest, funniest, or freakiest costumes seen at the Village Halloween Parade last night:

A few themes that ran through this year's parade:

  • Last year there were a lot of MySpace page costumes, this year I saw a Facebook page costume, and no MySpace. This is probably a good sign for youth culture and the world in general.
  • Larry Craig, everywhere [NSFW]
  • Bald guys who realized this was the one chance they had to dress as Britney Spears
  • A TON of robots. Think I saw more robots than any other costume.

NY1's George Whipple was on the spot, in a military costume. Note to self: Optimize chances of meeting George Whipple by dressing as him for next year's parade.

[tx Jess]

September 25, 2007

Terrence Howard is in here somewhere

Fighting shoot in Hell's Kitchen

Yesterday afternoon I happened to see a film shoot going on in Ramon Aponte Park on 47th St in Hell's Kitchen. The trailers parked on 9th Avenue had the names "Luis" and "Dito" on the doors. I figure there's probably only one Dito in the movie world, and that's Dito Montiel, whose first movie, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, came out last year.

Sure enough, yesterday's movie shoot was for his next movie, Fighting, which stars Terrence Howard, Luis Guzman, and a guy named Channing Tatum, who also appeared in Guide, that Amanda Bynes movie where she pretends to be a boy, and Anne Hathaway's good-girl-image-incinerating, straight-to-video Havoc. Fighting seems to be about underground fight clubs.

Anyway, I saw Terrence Howard walking around inside the park waiting for the scene to start, but he was mostly obscured by the crew and all the equipment. I ran and picked up a pack of baby wipes to try to get onto the set by declaring "Mr. Howard needs me to get these to him right away!," but no dice. So I had to settle for the shot above.

You can see the tracks laid for some kind of dolly shot here.

September 6, 2007


Here's my advice: Even if you are traveling and assume you're oceans away from Michael Cera, make sure you look your best. You never know when you're going to run into him.

Michael and me

Michael was very gracious.

And now we're getting married.

Good luck with the UK movie opening, Michael, and don't be a stranger.

June 29, 2007

Joan Jett kicks ass

Joan Jett at River Rocks

[photo by classicgrrrl79]

Last night Joan Jett & the Blackhearts played River Rocks at Pier 54. Joan was as wiry and fiesty as ever, wearing a black vinyl top that probably would have fit her in 1980 when her first solo album came out.

And of course, they rocked. In addition to a handful of songs from her new album, Sinner, the band played literally every single Joan Jett & the Blackhearts song I have ever heard. Hearing all their hits together like that, I realized how many of their biggest songs were actually covers: "I Love Rock 'n Roll" (The Arrows), "Do You Wanna Touch Me" (Gary Glitter), "Light of Day" (Bruce Springsteen), "Crimson and Clover" (Tommy James).

But one of her best songs, "Bad Reputation", is one that she wrote. Though it was actually never released as a single, I suspect that "Bad Reputation" has had somewhat of a resurgence in popular culture recently because it's the track used in the opening credits of "Freaks and Geeks", the beloved but short-lived TV show from the '90's that I also bet has enjoyed newfound popularity because of the wild success of The 40 Year Old Virgin and more recently Knocked Up, which were created by the almost all the same people that did the TV show. I couldn't help thinking that the biggest reason that Joan Jett played "Bad Reputation" as the very first song of her set last night was, weirdly enough, Judd Apatow.

"Bad Reputation" was also used in a promo for TLC's "American Chopper" earlier this year.

June 5, 2007

Celebrities of the MTA

In the 50th Street C/E subway station:

Robbie Williams, MTA Superintendent

Must be part of his post-rehab personal development plan.

Earlier: reports of Robbie Williams' staggering and not really credible daily intake of legal substances that prompted him to check into rehab--prescription anti-depressants, "36 super-strength double espresso coffees, 60 Silk Cut cigarettes and around 20 cans of energy drink Red Bull."

May 8, 2007

Long way down

This flyer was taped to a lamppost on 9th Avenue, advertising an upcoming show at local cruddy fake-Irish bar Mean Fiddler in a couple weeks.

Chris Barron flyer

Guy from the Spin Doctors, using his 1993 Rolling Stone cover to promote his latest tour. Flyer is taped up next to an ad for a man with a van, and a flyer for a craft fair at a middle school.

[tx Cushie]

November 1, 2006

Halloween Parade


Last night's Village Halloween Parade was as insanely popular and wild as ever. I didn't get to the staging area at Broome and 6th Avenue until about 7:45, and for much of this back-end of the parade, it felt like there were more people marching in the parade than watching from the sidelines. As well it should be--what other major parade can you march in just by showing up?

We posted some photos on Flickr:

See lots of other photos on Gothamist, and parade set-up shots from earlier in the evening.

And did anyone else happen to catch George Whipple on NY1, who Emily suspects was drunk, interviewing Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS? We love you, George Whipple! He's briefly included in the NY1 video clip of the parade, which is really good.

Also: a day late, Rockefeller Plaza is dressed up as a cranberry bog. Publicity stunt for Ocean Spray or public health service for New Yorkers prone to UTIs?

September 5, 2006

West Indian Day Carnival

West Indian Day festival

(photo by George K on Flickr)

Yesterday's annual West Indian-American Day Carnival along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn brought huge crowds, tons of curried goat, rice and peas, and ginger beer, and enough elaborate costumes to keep the lucrative sequin, feather, bead, and face paint industries in the black for another year.

The parade is New York's biggest cultural event of the year (bigger than the Macy's Thanksgiving parade)--over 3 million people usually attend. It was my first time, and as a friend said, this parade puts all other city street festivals to shame. The costumes are amazing, but the sheer number of people is what really sets it apart. In between the endless formations of women in bikinis and headdresses were lots of tractor-trailers with scaffolding built up to hold several levels of hundreds of partiers and stacks of speakers with chest-cavity-rattling bass, and these trucks were surrounded by thousands of people waving flags and singing and dancing. The Jamaican and the Haitian trucks both looked like they were surrounded by the city's entire population from their respective countries. Great picture of an enthusiastic Jamaican crowd.

See tons of photos on Flickr.

The Daily News coverage focused on the positive, featuring quotes from excited people who came from all over to watch the parade. "I love it," said Michelle Stebila, a 28-year-old waitress from Raleigh, N.C., who was visiting the parade - and Big Apple - for the first time. "Now I want to move here. I love the vibe that is here."

But the Post's article includes a disturbingly long rundown of everybody who got shot or stabbed before and during parade celebrations.

Courtney Clementson, 23, was shot around 3 a.m. and Jordian Brooks, 11, was struck in the thigh by a stray bullet. Earlier, a 17-year-old boy was shot in the arm and another man was hit by a stray bullet.

At 4 p.m., a man in his 20s was stabbed in the neck at Nostrand Avenue and Eastern Parkway. Five minutes later, a man was shot in the leg on Troy Avenue. At 6 p.m., a 15-year-old was stabbed after he intervened in a dispute between his brother and the suspect.

There were cops absolutely everywhere at the parade, but I guess in all the excitement a lot of attacks happen anyway.

August 27, 2006

Talib Kweli Puts on a Show

talib kweli

Note: Most of the links in this post go to pages with auto-playing soundtracks. Turn down your speakers if you're at work, etc.

On Saturday, Talib Kweli performed for free at City Hall Park as part of the J&R Music Festival.

Talib has the potential to be one of the best MCs ever, so his name alone was enough to get me down there, but his long-time friend and collaborator, Jean Grae, was slated to appear, too, which turned this into a don't-miss event.

What made the show really remarkable, though, was the slew of unannounced guests who took the stage. The special appearances began with DJ Hi-Tek (Talib's collaborator on the excellent Reflection Eternal project), continued with the Phil Da Agony, Ras Kass, and some other underground stars, but then got crazy when and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas took the stage. let loose with an extended freestyle, supplying his own reverb effects while Taboo stared at us menacingly [video]. But even B.E.P. had to step aside for the final guest, Common, whose arrival in his trademark earth tones and green slouch cap spontaneously taught the underground hip-hop heads in the crowd to be multi-orgasmic. Thank God Mos Def didn't show up...people would have started engaging in carnal acts with each other right there.

I took a bunch of pictures and shot some murky video, so if you're interested...

Here's a video slideshow. (The backing track is "Eternalists", from Kweli and Hi-Tek's Reflection Eternal.)

Here's some other stuff:

August 18, 2006

Gnarls Barkley and Peeping Tom, SummerStage

Gnarls Barkley at SummerStage
(photo by Dan Dickinson)

Last night was the end of this year's SummerStage concert series, and also the final show of Gnarls Barkley's summer tour. With all the hype they've gotten since the spring, and their non-stop touring schedule since then, I was a little concerned they would already be burned out. They totally weren't at all. Their costumes were from School of Rock (Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse in short pants and red kneesocks) and they raised their goblet.

They did every song on the album except for "Online", as well as covers of The Greenhornes and The Doors, with pure energy and style. Cee-Lo Green is an unstoppably awesome front man--genuine, charming, funny, and soulful. He asked the crowd several times if we could dig it. We could. Danger Mouse stayed up on a raised platform, busy with his keyboards and other machines, but laughed with everyone else at Cee-Lo's banter and got down to the music now and then.

The crowd was a weird mix of slack-jawed scenesters, enthusiastic crinkly-faced music fans, and a lot of teenagers. I saw several sets of braces in my immediate vicinity. Gnarls Barkley have been such a sensation this summer, I guess it's not surprising that they attract a wide spectrum of people, but it was still sort of strange to see so many white high school kids grooving with grown-up rock fans to what is essentially radio-friendly gospel and soul.

The opening band was Peeping Tom, which is Mike Patton from Faith No More's new band. Mike Patton is as much of a maniac as ever, and still likes to do his crazy vocal stylings, screeches, yowls, grunts, and chants--my concert companion described him as a heavy metal human beatbox. A lot of the crowd went absolutely nuts for this band (the crinkly-faced rock fans) while the teenagers stood around looking like they had no idea what was going on. Mike Patton still has the same spasmic energy as he's always had, and at one point grew frustrated with the weak response he was getting from the audience, telling us we were a "Starbucks crowd". That got people all riled up, and he seemed pleased. When he yelled "Central Park, middle fingers in the air!" we happily obeyed.

Rahzel, the beatbox from The Roots, is also in the band, and performed an incredible solo interlude. He introduced himself, for all the people who only knew him as "a black guy in a white suit", then performed a scratched-up version of Busta Rhymes' "Touch It" using only his mouth and a mic. It was the coolest part of the night.

The band's, or supergroup's, DJ is Danny Elfman-loving turntablist Mike Relm.

July 30, 2006

May you be in heaven half an hour...

Tomorrow morning Sidney Lumet's new movie Before the Devil Knows You're Dead will be shooting in Hell's Kitchen, on 45th between 9th and 10th Aves. Looks like the trailers are going to be on 46th.

The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as thieving brothers, and also features Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei. The plot summary on IMDb suggests that a heist-gone-wrong is at the center of the movie.

We're totally guessing here, but we bet that one of the brothers is the younger, more foolhardy one whose love for his wife gets in the way of the job, and one is the older, more controlling one who might have a dangerous, maniacal streak seething just below the surface.

Hopefully Sidney Lumet is back on form for this movie, after this year's Find Me Guilty: Vin Diesel With Hair!, which was probably pretty good, but I don't think many people saw.

April 22, 2006

Thank Heaven

Since I consider myself something of a snack specialist, I thought that the best place to learn about cutting-edge snack innovations would be at the recent snack food manufacturers' trade show, SNAXPO™.

I was wrong. Screw conferences. You want to study snacks? Wait until a 7-Eleven opens on your street.

Now, I grew up with a choice between Store 24 and Cumberland Farms, in an area where convenience stores could only be successful by a) selling gasoline or b) supplying a parking lot for teenagers to hang out in and pay homeless men to buy wine coolers for them. So when the 7-Eleven opened on 42nd Street, I thought, how could a store that gives away free coffee with every breakfast sandwich possibly succeed in an enormous retail space in one of the highest-rent areas in Manhattan?

After I returned from SNAXPO™, still unable to bend my fingers due to salt consumption, I decided to investigate for myself. And that is when I realized that 7-Eleven is SNACK NIRVANA. For one thing, not only does the store stock the most creative brand extensions around, it also employs some of New York's most knowledgeable and aggressive salespeople.

Emily: What is this....some new kind of Tic-Tac? Tic-Tac BOLD™?
Clerk: Yes! They're very good!
Emily: Hm...they look neat - but I don't really like Tic-Tacs.
Clerk: Oh, these are much better than regular Tic-Tac.
Emily: Really?
Clerk: Oh yes! Much better! But we still have the old kind, too.
Emily: Ok, I'll take one of each. And those Chile Picante Corn Nuts.

Besides Tic-Tac BOLD™, which comes in a pleasing squeezable container updated for the 21st century, my 7-Eleven is currently featuring:

Seven flavors and shapes of Cheez-its™, including Fiesta Cheddar Nacho™ and Twisterz Cheddar and More Cheddar™ (don't bother; they're really just regular Cheez-its™ with a coating of Kraft Mac and Cheese powder)

so many cheezits

A wide assortment of my favorite candy ever, Laffy Taffy™, in bold flavors such as "Sparkle Jerry Cherry", which is not only approximately two feet long, but ALSO has a sparkly sugar coating

so much laffy taffy

and Heineken Mini-Kegs for $19.99.

the bounty of 7-Eleven

But 7-Eleven's boldest, most daring product - I dare say, even more creative than Burger King's Chicken Fries, which are designed to fit in your car's cupholder - is almost too much to comprehend.

"Why waste all this space on our hot dog roller grill," 7-Eleven marketing executives must have said to themselves, "When we could appeal to people who want hot, cylindrical foods other than hot dogs? And what do Americans love more than hot dogs? Pizza!"

And so, the 7-Eleven Twista™ was born. (Not, of course, to be confused with the Cheez-it Twisterz™ mentioned above)

the greatest snack food in the universe

While the Twista™ and its roller-grill companion snack the Taquito still appear to be in the pilot phase, I applaud 7-Eleven's ingenuity. I can only hope that these are but the first of many snack foods, like the Chicken Fry, that are tailored with our unique American cultural tastes* and habits** in mind.

*By which I mean, salt and fat
**By which I mean, laziness and gluttony

March 28, 2006

Guess They'll Be Looking for a New "Platnium" Sponsor Next Year

poor signage

January 9, 2006

Robot-on-the-Spot: Robots in Brooklyn!

If you're walking down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn - look out! You may see some robots on the loose.

Robots in brooklyn
More robots in brooklyn

The robots are part of a display by Bennett Robot Works (aka artist Gordon Bennett) called "40 Robots" - a collection crafted from found industrial materials like used car parts, cameras, radios, and fire alarms. It looks like they've been up there since October, but I just noticed them a few weeks ago.

At first I was intrigued, then charmed. Now I stop and visit with my robot friends every time I walk past. My favorite is Detecto, but I am also partial to Captain.

The best thing about these robots is that they are for sale, and I imagine they make excellent gifts! In fact, you probably wouldn't even have to wait until someone's birthday. You could probably get one for me them right now, and they would be totally happy, I bet.

October 30, 2005

Under Some Circumstances, NYC Commuters Would Vote for Geena Davis

Geena Davis for President
Fix the escalators

September 22, 2005

Röyksopp and Annie

I went to Webster Hall last night to see Röyksopp and Annie on what I wish they were calling their Monsters of Norwegian Rock tour. Annie makes some catchy synthed-out little pop numbers, and the admiration she's attracted from even the most po-faced critics (like Pitchfork, who ranked "Heartbeat" the best single of 2004) seems to have built her a nice little fanbase of hip young things over here. A straight-laced guy in my office in his mid-30's was walking around singing "Heartbeat" the other day, for crying out loud. I personally prefer "Chewing Gum", her collaboration with Richard X (see video here.)

Anyway, Annie performs live with two Finnish guys, one on guitar and one very enthusiastic porcine-looking guy with a mini-pompadour going bonkers on his keyboards and other beats-and-synths machines. Annie herself is very sweet, but doesn't seem to have worked out what to do on stage yet besides stand there and sing and occasionally point at the audience--I was hoping for a more energetic performance of such mind-arrestingly catchy songs.

The two guys in Röyksopp put in a lot more effort--they were both gotten up like Ralf and Florian from the Man Machine album, had a gigantic inflatable cassette tape with RöYKSOPP written on it in marker filling the stage behind them, and they both grooved vigorously but stiffly, in true Scandinavian style, to their music.

Pitchfork described their first album Melody A.M. as "house for people who don't actually like house," but also as the work of master pop craftsmen. I think it's like the best possible culmination of a thousand downtempo electronic compilation CDs. The new album, The Understanding, is probably better--the beats are a little harder and you can actually dance to most of it.

Live, these guys were just awesome. They didn't say much other than various combinations of "Thank you!" and "New York!" and "Good evening!", but they really got into the music, which has beautiful lush melodies and slamming basslines, they did live drumming (on electronic drums) and sang through a vocodor, and gave as energetic and rocking a show as one could expect from two men with super-slicked hair named Svein and Torbjorn who were dressed up like Kraftwerk.

August 31, 2005

Robot-on-the-Spot: Kool Keith/Ultramagnetic MC's Reunion

Last night, Amy and I endured an incredibly long wait and some terrible opening acts and witnessed something neither of us thought we would live to see: the live, on-stage reunion of Kool Keith and his Ultramagnetic ex-cohorts, most notably Ced Gee. Can you even believe it.

Sure they only did about six songs (about one song per hour of waiting, it turned out), and the old-school C-list all-stars that crowded on stage with them obscured some of the best views, but it was clear that Keith was happy to be back performing in New York, even if the small crowd wasn't exactly hopping and he didn't always seem to notice that Ced was up there with him.

Keith's on-stage banter was easily as entertaining as his musical performance, and if you've ever wondered if he's as crazy -- like, clinically -- as people always say he is, his disjointed and sporadic but somehow peppy rambling left no doubt. You never had a sense of what he was going to say next, as when everyone else on stage was talking about how O.G. they were and how fake everyone else is, and Keith comes out with, "Those motherfuckers go home over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey and pet their white poodles." 10 second pause. "They pet their white poodles."

You get the impression that as much as Ced and their manager and everybody else would love to get back in the studio and cut another record with Keith, he would be impossible to work with. Keith is the pilot of his own spaceship, and we were just lucky to be there as he flew past.

Photos of varying quality
Video of Keith performing Blue Flowers*

*Crappy Nokia format. Sorry. Quicktime should play it. Transcode it and send it back to us, if you want.

August 22, 2005

A Helpful Current Events Quiz from Ämy's Röböt

In these uncertain times™ of rapidly shifting priorities, Amy's Robot is proud to introduce a new feature: a pop quiz to test your knowledge of important happenings around the globe.

We present...

World Event, or Mötley Crüe Concert?™

Question 1: Iraqis rioting for improved public services, or "Shout at the Devil"?

a)Iraqi riot

b)Shout at the Devil

Question 2: World Youth Day, or "Home Sweet Home"?

a) Home Sweet Home

b)candles at world youth day

3) Metal detectors in Sudan, or New England?

a) land mine detection

b) Vermont metal detector

Click below for the answers

Continue reading "A Helpful Current Events Quiz from Ämy's Röböt" »

July 15, 2005

The Departed on 46th Street

Following in the footsteps of Al Pacino and Jonathan Demme, trendy filmmaker Martin Scorsese is shooting some scenes of his next blatant Oscar bid on 46th Street today. The Departed is a remake of Hong Kong gangster movie Internal Affairs, about a cop (Leo) who goes undercover with a gang, and a gangster (Matt Damon) who goes undercover with the cops, and their efforts to sniff each other out. Watching these two clean-cut all-American vanilla boys play tough-guy gangsters, and tough-guy cops pretending to be gangsters, should be fun. See some set photos (that I did not take) here, including some of Jack Nicholson covered in blood.

Interestingly, Scorsese is setting the movie in Boston, but due to New York's generous 15% tax credit for filming here, opted to shoot most of the movie in New York and try to make it look like Boston. I guess that will mean moving out everybody who isn't white and closing up all businesses at 11. I'm not sure what this says about New York's cache as a movie location, real or otherwise, but Toronto might be a little nervous about its future as the go-to cheap stand-in for New York.

June 28, 2005

Dead Marlon's Stuff

Marlon Brando's store cards

Today ADM and I visited Christie's, to check out the items from Marlon Brando's personal property that are being auctioned tomorrow. Most of the items were the same regular, everyday items that you or I might own. Look! There's Marlon Brando's bongos! His garden furniture set! His VHS copy of Less Than Zero! His Price Club card!

There were, however, a number of items that were legitimately valuable, such as vast correspondence from lots of famous people. A letter from Hunter S. Thompson requesting an interview, and urging Brando to read Hell's Angels, since he appears in it. A letter from Mario Puzo asking Brando to consider starring in the film adaptation of The Godfather--he (oddly) says that Brando is the only actor who could bring the "quiet force and irony" needed for the character. The black velvet jersey he wore in Superman. A vast library, many volumes containing cryptic but funny margin notes.

Also up for auction are Brando's two white Lexuses. One is expected to go for a mere $4,000! ADM and I hope to buy both of them, and drive around in a mini-caravan, basking in Marlon's residual loopy celebrity. Here is a photo of one of them.

Many lots are expected to go for around $300. So go get your collection of James Baldwin hardcovers formerly owned by Marlon Brando tomorrow at noon!

June 7, 2005

Like wearing a wedding dress isn't humiliating enough


New reality show Bridezillas, which starts on WE this weekend, examines the American phenomenon of nice, regular, unassuming people turning into self-obsessed, hyper-demanding, tantrum-throwing terrors in the days leading up to their weddings.

To promote the show, WE held a wacky and mortifying publicity stunt this morning right smack in the middle of Times Square, in which a whole herd of ladies in wedding dresses all crowded around a giant wedding cake, then dove in, tearing into it with their hands and faces, looking for a check for $50,000 buried somewhere in the cake.

Since we strongly support any stunt that adds further humiliation to the experience of appearing in public on a hot day wearing a big ugly poofy bridal gown, we took some pictures.

It was pretty sick.

[tx Cushie for notification]

April 25, 2005

Out Hud at Bowery Ballroom

Since I've become a crinkly-faced old bag, I don't go to rock shows anywhere near as often as I did when I was in my energetic mid-20's. But I did go to the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night to see Out Hud, a band from Brooklyn that has been getting loads of positive press about their recent second album Let Us Never Speak of It Again.

Despite their unfortunate name, really stupid song titles, and a deeply hideous album cover, Out Hud is a fantastic band with big thumping beats, butt-slamming bass, two female singers (one of whom is the gorgeous and beguiling Phyllis Forbes [center of this picture] who I am a little in love with,) lots of noodly prog-rocky keyboards, and a cello. Their music is very funky, but crisp and tight too, sort of like if your favorite New Order songs were being covered by Chic.

But their best quality is that they are one of those bands who appear to be having so much fun playing their music that you wish you could be a member too. A few other bands share this quality, and since I'm talking about it, I'm going to make a short list of the bands that most look like they are having super-human fun when they perform their music. Note that this is not a ranking in terms of quality of music, and it's based on my totally subjective observation of their onstage cavorting either at shows or in videos.

1. The B-52's
Their music is not my favorite, but listen to "Butterbean" or "Junebug", and you know beyond any doubt that the members of The B-52's are having much more fun in their lives than you are.

2. Scissor Sisters
The music of Scissor Sisters, and their whole concept, gets old pretty fast. Sure, I love hearing "Take Your Mama" piped in at CVS as much as anyone, but it's not like I'm going to listen to their album while I'm cleaning the bathroom. Regardless, the charm of the band is their flamboyant and campy excitement about their music. Watching them perform, you can't help but love them, despite everything.

3. 1984-era Van Halen
This is based entirely on the videos for "Panama", "Hot for Teacher", and "Jump".

4. Out Hud
At one point during the show the whole band was jumping up and down and generally looking like their lives are filled with a euphoric joy, the likes of which you may never experience. Unfortunately, it looks the New York show was the last one of this tour, so hopefully you can catch them the next time around.

5. Orbital
Their bobbing heads with those little flashlight hats that they wear at shows, coupled with the frequent pumping of their fists in the air, gets the Hartnoll brothers on the list, especially when you consider that they are pushing 40.

You can add to the list in the comments.

December 30, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: This Bud's For You

Amy's Robot operatives have discovered an intriguing new development in the Bud vs. Miller controversy.

miller happy hour

We won't identify this bar, lest their Miller distributor shuts them down.

November 1, 2004

Halloween Parade


We're big fans of the Village Halloween Parade, despite the increasing corporate presence, but this year we finally learned our lesson after battling through crowds of onlookers and standing on our tiptoes to try to see over all their heads to catch a quick glimpse of the weirdos parading down the street. The best place to see the parade is from within. Plus, despite concerns that we would revert to the frightening police state that this city turned into during the RNC, anyone who wants to join the parade is still free to do so, just by showing up. You don't even have to get fingerprinted or tattooed with a bar code. Here are a few pictures of some notable costumes:

[tx Agent 0019]

Speaking of Lynndie, here's a site dedicated to the latest prank photograph craze, "Doing a Lynndie".

October 11, 2004

Robot-on-the-set: Parker Posey in Hell's Kitchen


We've been noticing some film production activity in the fine and picturesque neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen lately (stop by any time, Jonathan Demme!), but with the magical technology of digital cameras, these celebrity sightings can now be shared with you. On Friday afternoon, a small-looking movie featuring our old favorite Jackie O impersonator Parker Posey was shooting directly in front of the 9th Avenue Amy's Bread (the Official Rosemary Twist Provider of Amy's Robot.) Here are some shots of Parker taken from a discreet distance across the street. The film was likely Adam & Steve, and the scene appears to include the co-star/director/writer Craig Chester.

One disturbing element of this movie: Parker's boyfriend in it is played by Chris Kattan. Guess his career hasn't exactly taken off after getting kicked out of The Frogs for allegedly snorting too much cocaine to get his lines straight. Get it?

Here are some photos:

September 26, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: The World Cheesecake Eating Championship

cheesecake contest winner Eric Booker

Forget Takeru Kobayashi and his lame hot dog eating record. The real champions are the ones who spend a hot Sunday afternoon shoving cheesecake into their faces at Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue Festival. As fans of both competitive and amateur eating, Amy's Robot congratulates 2004 World Cheesecake eating champion, Eric "Badlands" Booker, who ate over one and a half cheesecakes (that's seven pounds of sweet dairy goodness) in six minutes. Eric, who in his spare time is an amateur rapper and conductor on the 7 train line, also took the cannoli title last week at the San Gennaro feast, eating 16.5 cannoli in six minutes.

Competitive eating has enjoyed quite the renaissance lately, thanks to the tireless work of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. With a keen understanding of the gluttony that makes our country great, the IFOCE is making an effort to standardize rules and regulations in this fast-growing sport. The organization is also dedicated to making competitive eating as safe as possible, believing that "speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present."

Of course, even that emergency medical technician can't always prevent the occasional accident. People, I'm here to tell you that you haven't lived until you've seen a a grown man eat cheesecake with his fingers

cheesecake contest goldstein

and then barf it down the front of his shirt.

cheesecake contest loser

If you're still interested in competitive eating, you should certainly subscribe to "Gurgitator", the IFOCE's newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all the latest competitions and rankings. And gentlemen looking for romance - the IFOCE's second highest ranking eater is the lovely and tiny Sonya Thomas. I'd suggest visiting your bank's loan officer before taking her to dinner, because this 105-pound cutie just might eat 11 pounds of cheesecake, 5 pounds of chicken wings, 65 hardboiled eggs, 23 pulled pork sandwiches, and 43 soft tacos. Sexy!

Update: Ordering information for our hero Badlands Booker's competitive-eating themed hip-hop album, "Hungry and Focused" is here. You can also listen to clips from the album.

August 22, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: Meow Mix Cafe

The good thing about carrying your digital camera around is that if you should happen to pass by the newly-opened Meow Mix Cafe, you can get your picture taken with Mr. Meow.

Now, I'll admit, when I heard about this new restaurant where doting cat owners can bring their feline friends to dine (but only if the cats are on leashes, a helpful staffer informed me), my first thought was, "That's the lamest thing I've ever heard."

It turns out my first impression was not entirely correct. The cafe isn't just an opportunity for cat-fetishists to dress their pets in bonnets and take them out for kitty tea parties. It's actually just a temporary store selling Meow Mix products with a few tables in the back. Lunch for you and your cat requires only a $2 donation, and all those proceeds are donated to the ASPCA.

Meow Mix always comes through with a good marketing gimmick, from their soul-destroying trademark jingle to the premiere of Meow TV on the Oxygen network last year to, most delightfully, CEO Richard Thompson's stunt in the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village apartment complex this past February. The complex's owner, MetLife, had offered a $150 reward to any employee who turned in illegal cat owners in an effort to boot rent-controlled tenants out and convert their homes into luxury housing. Thompson responded by parking the Meow-Mix Mobile(tm) in Stuyvesant Oval, giving away free cat food, and offering $160 to workers who refused to give up cat owners.

So Meow Mix, you go open your kitty cafes wherever you wish. I'm a sucker for a socially responsible business.

July 21, 2004

Robot-On-The-Spot: Brooklyn Target Opening

All of New York's hipsterati, including Amy's Robot, turned out last night for the star-studded opening of the long-awaited Brooklyn Target. Those living outside the city may not think this a newsworthy event, but when you have limited access to stores where one can buy a cute top, an economy sized box of cereal, and stylish trashcans all at one time (and for under $10 total) -- well, let's just say New Yorkers are pretty damn excited. We've already heard of people planning pre-shopping Target Brunches for this Sunday, when the store officially opens.

But on to the party! Besides luminaries from the 'bot, who was there?

  • Isaac Mizrahi
  • Chloe Sevigny (whose brother, Paul, was the dj)
  • A presumably intoxicated Sandra Bernhardt [pic]
  • Freaks from Coney Island
  • and just to prove how high profile this event was:
    Lizzie Grubman [pic]

I've already written in this space about my love for Target's advertising, and the efffective way the company delivers what their audience wants. Drinking beer from Brooklyn Brewery and eating nachos while shopping with our fellow New Yorkers (at a 10% discount, no less!) - well, it doesn't get much better than that.

That is, until the DSW opens across the mall.

July 16, 2004

Robot-on-the-Spot: Bacanovic Sentencing

bacanovic sentencing
We were too sleepy to make it down to the federal courthouse for Martha's sentencing this morning, but due to some serendipity, we were around (with a camera) when her broker Peter Bacanovic made his post-sentencing perp walk. Unlike Martha, he didn't hold a "presser" on the courthouse steps to explain himself and urge people to buy his magazine. Instead, he walked swiftly to the maroon SUV parked in the red zone and sped off.

Here are our photos of the event. (Including the money shot.)

Bacanovic, by the way, received roughly the same sentence as Martha, but with a smaller fine.

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