Archive for September 2010
[Our weekly literary section appears on Thursdays. This month, we’ve been serializing Daniel F. Levin’s account of his summer directing Fiddler on the Roof at a camp. If you missed Part One, Part Two, and Part Three, catch up before you read today’s dramatic conclusion]
PART 4: Exit the Queen
I don’t mean that the kids fell apart. They sang and acted their hearts out. But the body mics used on the four leads were making popping machine gun sounds every 20 seconds. When we cut the body mics, the band drowned out the singers. Sure I had yelled at the sound guy earlier in the week and made him promise me that he would have the mics working by the performance. But my sound guy was a 15-year-old camper with his own problems.
Beyond just the sound, our audience was quite affected, not so much by the story’s poignancy, but by the oppressive heat. We had had to tape trash bags over the windows to keep out the light for the first performance (we did two performances that night, each for half of the camp), turning the hall into a sweat lodge. I had staged the show in the round to show we were all one community, actors and audience. It also meant that I could see the faces of the audience encircling our show, each one dripping with sweat. If you take away the war-zone sound effects and the swampy heat, all you really needed was to get over the noise made by restless young campers packed in too tight. But what was I expecting? This was theater at Summer Camp. Did I really think I was going to resurrect this great American art form and pay tribute to this Bock-Harnick and Stein classic out here in the Poconos, with pre-teens?
And yet, there was greatness. I watched Tevye bounce and bop his way through “If I were a rich man,” thrusting that broom out and down better than I ever had, with the audience clapping along with him. I heard him barrel through to the finish, despite the fusillade from the sound system. I watched 8-year-old Chava forget her line during “Matchmaker,” almost cry, and then relax when her stage-sister, Hodel, finished it for her. I watched Motel finish his stage round-off to thunderous applause. I saw Tevye step into his God-light, after his third daughter goes too far, marrying a non-Jew, and wonder, “How can I turn my back on my faith, my people?… On the other hand…” His hand shot up towards the light. “No! There is no other hand!”
Tradition! And as I stepped back, I noticed the most amazing thing. Tevye, my little 11-year-old fidgeter, was running the show. He was pausing to allow time for his daughters to set up; he was guiding a confused Lazar Wolf to where she needed to be. And he was guiding the audience, that sweaty and shell-shocked but STILL engaged audience, to where they should be looking.
If it had just been this—my leads stepping up to rise above even the most infuriating technical elements, I would have said, Dayainu, it was enough. But the night had one more surprise.
Jennifer Goldstein, that little dear from the plains of Long Island, who neglected to learn her lines, never got enough snack, always had to pee, and could single-handedly destroy a rare moment of focus we had amongst the other 13 cast members, was standing on stage. After all the banished members of Anatevka have packed up their belongings and marched off to the last strands of the processional, only the Fiddler remains. There she must play her cardboard fiddle, matched with the music from our CD, before being led off by Tevye. Since we didn’t have a violin or violinist, we used the provided CD for a couple of the numbers, such as this processional. But Jennifer had come out too early. The processional music was still playing and she needed to stand there, in the center of the stage, with no set pieces to hide behind, for a number of beats before her theme would come.
A hundred times I had watched Jennifer do this, or a similar mistimed movement. I fully expected her to slouch, chew gum (which I think she managed to smuggle even for the performances) and fidget while waiting to raise the fiddle. This time, though, she didn’t. She stood there calmly. Tall. Her jaw was still. Where was the gum? Her stance was even, not shifted to one foot. She was taller than I’d ever seen her. She let the music fill the hall and we all stared at her. How could we not? She owned the stage. Then, when it was time, she lifted the fiddle, tilted her neck into it, raised the bow, and played the famous last strands of Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye came out wearily to lead her offstage. The final three repeated chords of the orchestra played as their silhouettes exited. Then the orchestra, the play, and the old Jewish life in Russia, were done.
After the shows, the kids became kids again, dumped their costumes, and ran off to play and celebrate. The counselors took their campers back to the bunks, along with the victorious cast members. Drama Dan stayed to clear out the performance hall. It was all I could do not to smash in the soundboard.
I had gathered up all the props and costumes, putting the ones we’d keep in boxes, the rest into trash bags, when I came to the tower that served as Anatevka’s rooftop. On it rested the only remaining prop, the cardboard fiddle, where Jennifer had left it. I tried not to feel too symbolic when I placed it lovingly into the trash bag. The show was over. Drama Dan had done what he came to do. Was it an honor for the camp? A good show that would’ve been better had it been heard? A hot, inaudible show redeemed by some incredible performances? Was it a success? A failure? It was theater, so it was a all this combined.
Will I go back next year? I’m asking myself this same question. Maybe we could do Les Misérables….with full barricades. Enter orchestra…!
Daniel F. Levin‘s latest play, Hee-Haw: It’s a Wonderful Li_e, was called a “delightful surprise” by the New York Times. His musical, To Paint the Earth, about resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, won the Richard Rogers Development Award. He recently completed work on his memoir, From Yale to Barbacking: One Man’s Remarkable Journey.
Photos: Judy Gross
Who out there actually still purchases music? Be honest. Artists work their ass off for you, and you give them album leaks and full discography torrents in return. Why not try to be a little more legal/respectful? Today, the FC brings you a breakdown of some of the best places to get your tunes online, without the guilt.
As of now, we imagine most of you are pretty well versed in Pandora, the expansive, yet somehow limited, streaming radio-shuffle. Thanks to a series of algorithms and statistics, Pandora whittles down your tastes and shoots back surprisingly apt recommendations. How could they possibly know the FC loves Brand New and Andrew Bird? Pandora is an ideal tool for the casual, but open-minded music listener who is sick of commercial radio, but doesn’t necessarily have the time to scour the internet for new music. Music fanatics who enjoy a sense of control and desire personal input, Pandora may not be for you. Their shuffle, as expansive as it may seem, often gets tripped up on the same artists/songs that you could possibly get sick of. Much like the radio.
For he/she who has a music library in his/her head, but is unable to access his/her tangible collection, the FC recommends Grooveshark. An incredible, and somehow mostly-legal site, Grooveshark is the world’s iTunes. Users can search among literally hundreds of thousands of songs, build playlists, gain recommendations, enjoy a shuffle radio feature, and upload their music all for the low price of free.99. And for a low monthly fee, you can get Grooveshark on your iPhone, enabling the music world to sit at your beck and call. Set up by three University of Florida students back in 2005, Grooveshark has taken off exceptionally, causing the library to grow and grow. Because all of the music is user added, one will see gold-mines of hard-to-find material, like a nearly complete Songs from the Black Hole, Weezer’s abandoned space rock opera that became Pinkerton. And because all of Grooveshark is only streamed, it stays alive, unlike previous user-uploaded libraries like Napster. You owe it to yourself to check out this site.
While Grooveshark succeeds in sheer size and accessibility, the Hype Machine succeeds in hipness and real-time trends. Hype Machine is an aggregate of all mp3s that are posted on blogs across the internet, for your searching and listening enjoyment. What they may lack in size of library, they make up by having the hot tracks right when they hit the scene. Searching for that new banging Kanye track, but can’t or don’t want to download it from his site? Hype Machine is your place. Check out their front page for an up-to-date list of all things hot.
Lastly, there’s Bandcamp, an excellent network for listeners and musicians alike. Building off what Myspace and Purevolume started a few years ago, Bandcamp invites artists to build profiles and post their music online for fans. Fans then can listen to the posted music on the site, purchase the music directly from the band, and even start up a conversation. Up-and-coming and established artists both enjoy the freedom-driven, hands-on feel of Bandcamp, while listeners get a rare opportunity to deal directly with their favorite groups. You’ve heard us talk about Bandcamp before, when documenting FP fave Sufjan Stevens’ foray into online distribution. Check out old FC pals Plastic Plastic and their debut EP Everyone I Love or Wish to Love Is Here for a good idea of how the site works. And for some good tunes. Got any others?
Thanks to a mix of social networking, online streaming, and significant but needed and legitimate ads, one can find almost any song desired and beyond through a multitude of sites, including those above. The expanse and connectivity of the internet has enabled music fans to gobble up all the tunage they ever wanted, but at what cost? Established artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have no problem giving their music away for free, but lesser known bands and labels need that money to survive. Major companies have learned of the benefits of online advertising, and have begun to do so on revered music sites. Although quite indirectly, that money keeps the entire cycle going, while direct downloading of torrents or the like, does not. Next time a big Verizon V stares you in the face, say thanks for the jams. Too much? Disagree? Tell us off.
(Our Weekly-ish Wednesday Countdown)
It’s no secret that, here at Frontier Psychiatrist, we’re really into guys named Jonathan. True, we don’t count any No-H Johns (or NHJs for short) among our staff or contributors, but we count many among our favorite contributors to the culture at large. For example, Brooklyn’s top NHJ, Jonathan Ames, is responsible for our favorite television comedy, a series quite loosely based on the lives of three FP staffers. NHJ Jonathan Hamm has won numerous FP Emmys (Femmys?) if not actual ones. And our current #1 NHJ, Jonathan Franzen, supplied the first entry on the FP staff book club list with his psyche-altering new novel Freedom (book club discussions are held over Jack Roses and 25th Hours, of course).
None of the Jonnies above, however, inhabit the world of music, a world which represents our proverbial wheelhouse here at Frontier Psychiatrist. Lest you think we’ve forgotten our stated mission, we bring you our top 5 NHJs in pop music.
5. Jon Brion
Brion has released albums both solo and with his band The Bats (not to be confused with our favorite Kiwi band of the same name), but his most significant work has come as a producer. The list of bands assisted by Brion includes FP favorites Of Montreal, Spoon, and Punch Brothers. If that weren’t enough, he acted on co-producer on Kanye West’s Late Registration and Graduation, two records which we understand were fairly popular. Oh, and he also scored the films Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others. Um…what exactly have we done?
(Rumor is Brion lent his “h” to Mary Lynn Rajskub, his former love interest. Rajskub employed the “h” in her role as C(h)loe O’Brien on the TV hit 24.)
Punch Brothers – “Rye Whiskey” (produced by Jon Brion)
Of Montreal – “Like A Tourist” (produced by Jon Brion)
4. Jonathon Fisk
This guy’s not a musician. He’s just some dude who beat up Spoon frontman Britt Daniel in middle school. Luckily for us, Daniel took these lemons and made a Tom Collins, turning his run-ins with Fisk into this author’s personal favorite Spoon-tune:
(Fisk gave his “h” to Britt Daniel as a peace offering; Daniel has since used the “h” to make himself extra (h)hhhhot.)
Spoon – “Jonathon Fisk”
3. Jonathan Richman
Despite what the good people at Urban Outfitters may have believed when they were printing all those Ramones t-shirts, Richman and his band The Modern Lovers invented punk rock in the United States. We’ve celebrated Richman’s work before, so we won’t bore you further here. Just enjoy the songs:
(Richman lost his “h” when a pretty young lady broke his (h)/eart.)
2. Jonathan “Jonny” Greenwood
As songwriter/lead guitarist/Ondes Martenot-ist for Radiohead, it’s safe to say that Jonny Greenwood (along with partner-in-crime Thom Yorke) has done as much as anyone to shape the development of popular music over the last decade. He’s also recorded with Pavement, served as composer-in-residence for the BBC, and scored the P.T. Anderson film There Will Be Blood. What a badass.
(Greenwood lent his “h” to the film (H)arry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which he performed as a fictional rock guitarist. He hoped the addition of the consonant would make the film more intelligible to American viewers confused by British accents.)
Radiohead – “Subterranean Homesick Alien”
Radiohead – “A Wolf at the Door”
Pavement featuring Jonny Greenwood (harmonica) – “Platform Blues”
Speaking of bad-asses, we give you Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. Whoever you are, Q-Tip is cooler than you. It turns out that good things do occasionally come out of Queens:
(Q-Tip generously gave his “h” to Tribe cohort Phife Dawg, who apparently couldn’t come up with the necessary “f”s to spell his first name correctly. 3 guesses where the “f”s went.)
September air, sunny and chilly, makes me remember being 15: jockeying for friends, limitless possibilities, hormones. This year I realized that biking in New York is a lot like high school. (For one thing, the boys are always showing off.) The hierarchy of a city street is as mysterious, delicate, and deadly important as the rules of those echoing, locker-lined hallways.
You might think that in the hierarchy, bikes get respect from pedestrians. If you do, just try to bike across 30th street at 6:30 pm. This is when everyone is walking to their home-bound trains, crossing against the red, and they have all decided to ignore the bikes—10th grade girls who’ve secretly agreed that you get the silent treatment.
There you are, sailing along toward Sixth Avenue, green lights ahead. The stream of office casual in the crosswalk doesn’t thin. You tentatively try your bell; they continue to check their cell phones. You call, “Excuse me!” but they don’t slow down, instead looking innocently in their purses for lip gloss. You’ve no choice but to stop, helplessly, and watch them go somewhere impossibly cool. I’ve lived this before in student council meetings. Cruel, cruel pedestrians.
Then there is the high school flirtation of the girl bike and the truck driver. I apologize for this luck-of-the-gender situation, but it is a necessity of survival. When I was a high school junior, I drove to school with two other girls, and at one point in the drive we had to cross three lanes of rush hour traffic in something like 200 feet. I learned to flirt on those three lanes: the smile and apologetic wave, the blown kiss if we got really stuck.
It’s the same wave and eyelash-y smile I now give to a FreshDirect truck that has the light and most of the street, to make sure I’m noticed and therefore not mown down. It’s a strategy that has gotten me safely to school, then and now.
If you get a ticket on a bike, you have been caught doing something that everyone is doing. You will probably feel resentment that you haven’t felt since being caught ditching senior year. Yes, I KNOW I should walk my bike on that lovely downhill stretch from Riverside Park to the river. But no one else dismounts, and I ride so slowly! One day a traffic cop hid around the corner to pick us off and make her quota. An older man on a mountain bike had already been busted.
My reaction was right out of The Breakfast Club—Molly Ringwald style: I didn’t see the sign! When did that sign get there? I have a perfect record! Would this go on my record? Right after me coasted a Judd Nelson on a Cannondale, wisecracking, trying to charm his way out of it. She was impassive. Finally we all sat balanced on our bikes, arms crossed, watching our tickets get written and silently agreeing with each other: this was BS.
Getting in trouble together is a great feeling. I wasn’t cool enough to get in any real trouble in the 90’s.
Last week I was crossing Manhattan on Reade Street. A truck was parked, full of pipes, maybe 20 feet long, and as I approached a worker unloaded one. Suddenly, oblivious to me, he swung the pipe across the road, about to clothesline me. I ducked and swerved—right into a sedan passing me on the right. I knocked his door with my handlebar and skidded safely away.
The car sped on; I turned back to confront the construction worker about safe pipe-unloading practice. I was mortified to find that I was sobbing. I refused his kind offer of a bottle of water, insisting helplessly, “I WILL BE FINE! BUT UNLOAD THEM PARALLEL!” That moment—heart hammering, stuck between dangerous choices, trying to look tough while crying—was more like high school than anything else I go through in New York City.
Teenage conflict always felt like life and death, but bike dynamics really are. Every time I see a ghost bike tied to a signpost, whitewashed in memory of a cyclist killed in traffic, I remember how complicated it is to survive the space between cars and pedestrians, how undefined our piece of the city can be. Like adolescents, we ride carefully between definitions, between parked cars and traffic. We declare ourselves present, but we’re not yet sure of our place.
Micaela Blei is a teacher and writer who lives in Brooklyn. She has written for Frontier Cyclist about Bike Nostalgia on Fire Island, Bike Anthropology and a poem about bike commuting in New York. She rides a KHS Flite 220 Flatbar.
[Frontier Psychiatrist is busy dealing with (other people’s) psychiatric issues this week. Today, we offer a special bicycle edition of our weekly advice column.]
Dear Frontier Cyclist,
I know you’re supposed to change gears if you’re biking up a hill. Do you switch to higher or lower gears? I’ve tried to experiment, but no matter which gear I choose, I’m exhausted. And if pedaling uphill is easier in a higher (lower?) gear, why don’t you just stay in that gear all the time?
-Confused in Carroll Gardens
The higher the gear, the harder to pedal. So, when you hit a hill, shift to a lower gear. Which gear you choose depends on: (a) the steepness of the hill (b) the particulars of your bike, and (c) your aerobic and anaerobic fitness level. Good rule of thumb: Find a gear low enough in which you can push the pedals at a constant rate, but not so low that your feet spin out of control like a physics-defying cartoon character suspended in mid-air after he’s run off the edge of a cliff.
Your question raises a larger question. Why have gears at all? The typical child’s bikes has no gears, perhaps to keep the tykes focused on balance, traffic, bullies on bikes, packs of wild dogs. And let’s face it, few kids are serious enough riders to need gears. But what about grown-ups who don’t aspire to be the next Lance Armstrong?
In recent years, many American adult bikers have abandoned gears altogether, particularly urban cyclists, commuters, beach cruisers, and hipsters. (Yes, these categories overlap). Their rationale matches yours: Ride a bike with a gear that feels comfortable for most situations and save yourself the time and aggravation of shifting. In most flat urban environments (e.g. New York, Chicago, any American city that is not San Francisco), a reasonably fit person can handle most inclines with a single gear.
Bikes with a single gear come in three basic flavors: Single-Speed, Single-Speed with Coaster Brakes, and Fixed-Gear. Let’s skip the technical details and get straight to the effects on you as a rider.
Single Speed – You can pedal backwards and must rely on the hand brakes to stop. My first urban bike was a single speed.
Single Speed with Coaster Brakes – You cannot pedal backwards. Push backward on the pedals to slow down or stop. Your bike may also have handbrakes, a.k.a. the belt and suspender approach. Many beach cruisers have coaster brakes. So do many kids’ bikes.
Fixed-gear bike, a.k.a. Track Bike, a.k.a. Fixie – You cannot pedal backwards. Also, the pedals move on their own accord and you ride them in the way that you “ride” a moving horse, i.e. with some control but more or less at the pleasure of the horse. If you want to slow down, you can fight the resistance with your legs. You can also squeeze the hand brakes. (PS. Like bareback horse riders who snub saddles, fixie purists frown upon bikes with hand-brakes. PPS. My bike has brakes.). Typically, fixed-gear riders prefer a stiffer (i.e. higher) gear than your basic single-speed bike, the equivalent of riding in top gear on a multi-speed bike. Thus, they are the bike of choice for messengers and people who ride like messengers, or wish to seem so.
Why would anyone do something so foolish, dangerous, and inconvenient as ride a fixed-gear, much less one without brakes? Enthusiasts, including yours truly, say that a fixie gives you a more natural correlation between the effort you expend and the speed at which you travel. Thus, you are more in tune with the bike, the road, and, perhaps, to borrow from Thomas Berry, more intimate with nature.
Others suspect this posturing is nonsense and that fixies are the bicycle equivalent of mustaches, fedoras, cheap beer from Middle America, retro bands, skee ball, bowling, and other faux-stalgiac fascinations that hipsters love. Furthermore, since fixies are often decked out in a variety of colors and styles, and ridden by people in carefully constructed costumes, they are the velocipedal equivalent of plumage; bright feathers to intimidate competitors and attract the opposite sex.
Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He wrote the first 10 volumes of Frontier Cyclist, then delegated to his cycling superiors. He recently wrote about Ra Ra Riot and The Old Ceremony. He rides a fixed-gear converted from a vintage racing bike known as Zeus. He does not have a deity complex.
Rice noodles are a beautiful canvas for spicy, boldly-flavored sauces of Southeast Asia. Alone, the noodles taste bland, but add a bright sauce and they are the perfect delivery system for the hot, the sour, the salty, and the sweet. Some folks are scared of rice noodles since they are a two-step process: they are softened in water, drained and then added to the wok for noodle stir-fries. Most failed rice noodle dishes come from under- or over-cooking the noodles in the initial soaking step. If they are undercooked, the noodles will end up stiff and wooden. If they are overcooked, they will be pasty and gummy by the time they leave the wok.
So how do you know it’s the perfect soak? The noodles should not be limp or sticky. When you hook one with the end of your finger and lift up, it should bend easily, but still have a decent amount of body to it. If it is hanging like, well, a wet noodle, you’ve gone too far. I find it is best to boil a pot of water, turn off the heat, add the noodles to soak and start testing after five minutes. Make a few batches and you’ll get it. Practice makes perfect.
The Hundred in the Hands recently released their eponymous debut, which is now streaming in its entirety for free on Spinner. In lieu of a regular review and because we love lists, here are our Top 10 reasons to enjoy this record:
10. They are a duo.
Two-man bands are all the rage this year, with acts like Sleigh Bells and Chromeo. (For recent ad hoc duos featured on FP, see: Jay-Z and Eminem, the late Ali Farka Touré’s and Toumani Diabaté and Nas and Damien Marley, and Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek).
The duo arrangement saves overhead, spurs creativity, focuses audience attention, and minimizes tension (or at least reduces the number of voting members). Of course, the two-person group is nothing new in pop music, dating back decades to the Everly Brothers and Simon and Garfunkel, whose music got an indie second life thanks to Sufjan Stevens and All Delighted People, which appropriates “Sound of Silence.” In the band’s beloved 1980s, dynamic duos included the Pet Shop Boys and The Eurythmics, whose “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” informs “Pigeons,” one of the album’s liveliest tracks (see #4)
9. They love the 80’s.
Try not to rewind 25-30 years when you hear their Four on the Floor drumbeats, synth sounds, electronic hand claps, and the mildly distorted guitar tones that borrow from The Police (“Lovesick), The Edge (“Commotion”) and Pink Floyd circa The Wall (“Dead Ending”), technically released in 1979: a good year. Finally, The Hundred in the Hands reminds us of eponymous efforts from neo-80’s acts like The Postal Service and the xx. Take that, VH1.
8. They love the 90’s.
7. They like the night life, baby.
This moody music is best served after midnight. Several songs on Hundred in the Hands reference the moon and the dawn. And if you missed these hints, see the video for “Pigeons” (#4 below).
6. They fulfill our self-fulfilling prophecy.
Like economists, weathermen, and gamblers, we like to see our predictions pan out. We’ve touted Hundred of the Hands, highlighted their videos and are pleased that the album bears out our sentiment. Sometimes, as in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, the reality matches the hype
5. They are ‘Killing It.’
‘Killing it’ is a favorite saying at FP to describe a feat of effortless excellence. On Hundred in the Hands, the phrase gets its own chorus: “We were killing it, isn’t it awesome?” Royalties, please.
4. They like birds
We like songs about birds (e.g. Blackbird, Three Little Birds). And Andrew Bird. And bird watchers like Franzen. And like the members of The Hundred in the Hands, we are New Yorkers . Thus we like -or at least endure- pigeons.
3. They cause a commotion
2. Jason Friedman
Duos leave no room for slackers. Co-architect of the band’s sound, Jason Friedman provides guitar and programs the drums, leaving a sonic backdrop for…
1. Eleanore Everdell
Lead singer and keyboardist Eleanore Evedell is the epitome of elegance. On both lead and backing vocals, her breathy, whispery, chanty Ice Queen persona matches the frostiness of the music. On a few songs, like the waltzy “The Beach” and “Gold Blood,” she lets her voice rip. Also, her accented annunciation lends an ESL polish to words like “A-gi-tat-ed” and makes “Last City” sound like “La Cité.” (Take that, Nico; take that, Bjork). And when Ellie sings “I’m a wolf and I’m frantic in love,” we shudder in our shoes. Alexis Krauss, get jealous.
The Hundred in the Hands is on tour this fall, with shows this week in Boston (Wed. Sept. 29), New Jersey (Thu. Sept. 30), and New York (Friday Oct. 1).