We had our work and one other. We didn’t have the money to go to concerts or movies or to buy new records, but we played the ones we had over and over. We listened to my Madame Butterfly as sung by Eleanor Steber. A Love Supreme. Between the Buttons. Joan Baez and Blonde on Blonde. Robert introduced me to his favorites— Vanilla Fudge, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin— and his History of Motown provided the backdrop for our nights of communal joy.
This is one of the scenes that really stuck with me from her memoir about her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s time in New York City, their relationship and determination to become artists. This passage was in the Amazon sample and one of the reasons I had to buy the book.
It struck me personally because I have been so inspired and creatively energized by New York. But my time has been different than hers. I’ve had a steady income and the freedom to go out and see as much New York as I can soak in. In doing that I keep getting inspired, my mind is changing, I have more to say but when to say it? I’m always going! The scene speaks to me for so many reasons but the most direct is that it is an inspiration and example of what you need to do if you want to get what is in your mind out.
The entire book is a celebration of the desire and dedication it takes to even attempt to be an artist. You see the fun of it, the amazing people she met, the experiences, successes and failures. When I walk around the streets here I can imagine those scenes playing out today. But that scene of her and Robert working all night to the same few records over and over, that is the work that it actually takes.
I’ve been a bit of a nomad lately. I’m in my third sublet in as many months. It’s a good one and I’ll be here for another 2 months. The best thing about it is the couple who lives here has a component stereo with a record and tape player. Patti and Katie’s song has me inspired. I could listen to the records, but I think I’ll take Patti’s example and do it my way. I’ll just let YouTube keep playing songs while I and write.
During the summer in New York the wind really gets me. About once a month, I find myself riding my bike back home at night and just full on laughing and tonight is one of those nights.
You know those days where kismet happens? You overhear some weird conversation that makes you giggle. You meet some randos that take you into their group for the night. Or just see something that makes you say WOW or WTF or even WOW-WTF! Well when I have one of those nights, and I have them often in New York and then I ride home I just LAUGH. The streets are flat, it’s easy to fly, and in the people and things I zip by I see all the unique, all the weird, all the possibility in each of those moments. Each one has the same potential of some amazing bit of nature or humanity or love like the one I just stumbled on. I see all those scenes in full color like a wall of HDTVs at Best Buy. But I’m not at Best Buy. The warm wind is on my face, things just seem like they couldn’t be any better and I just. fucking. laaaaaaaugh!
2000 pigeons with LED lights? whoa. hahahaha
Is that Erlich Bockman from Silicon Valley?’ It is. hahahaha!
And in flying down the street laughing out of joy literally at the top of my lungs because I’m alone and moving and I can, I become a mad banshee and just another weird thing that all the people I pass saw in New York City.
There is a lot there to think about but the part that really interested me is,
“How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done”
I don’t disagree that the feeling is there because it is an old axiom we all accept. “Do I have new stories to tell? New photos to create or art to make? Probably not, ho hum.”
But culture is not just the art or style we create. It is also how we communicate, what we fill our day with, and the community we create. In the last few decades technology has changed what we can imagine and how we communicate so fast we can barely keep up with it. Facebook, Twitter, Jeggings, Kickstarter, Pinterest, smartphones, iBeg (a game about being homeless to help raise awareness), Creative Commons, dubstep. All of these come with questions of how to make them part of our life. How do we best use Facebook to communicate with our loved ones? What privacy protections will we accept from social networks and our government? What is the etiquette for checking your text messages at the dinner with family or on a date? We don’t have a set of cultural norms we all agree on for using these new tools yet, but we are all working to figure out what they will be. We talk to friends about frustrations with Facebook. Ignore calls when we prefer texts. (Except from grandma who doesn’t get it.)
The everyday how-to of defining this may not be all that exciting, but in figuring out how it fits in our lives we’re asking questions, interpreting it, and building on top of it we are creating lots that is new. We aren’t making new colors. But we are using colors in ways that no one has ever seen before.
This generation has lots of new to bring to the world and a huge opportunity to shape culture. Regardless of if we’re using irony I think it’s stepping up to the plate and I only hope we realize it. The truth of that old axiom seems incongruous with the time we’re living in because it is.
The Last Waltz is one of my all time favorite films. It’s a film of The Band‘s last concert which they performed in San Francisco on Thanksgiving in 1976. It was filmed by Martin Scorsese and is regarded as one of the greatest rock films of all time.
Members of The Band have influences from rock, folk, country, gospel, and the blues. They are a conduit that took these influences and output their own beautiful amalgam that represents all of it together. Because they represent so much american musical history and music of their day, they were both influencers and the influenced at the same time. You see their effect represented in the friends they bring on stage for the show, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Dr. John, and lots more.
Last Saturday, 36 years after the original Last Waltz, a group of musicians including members of Dr. Dog, Ween, Gomez, Nada Surf, The Lonely Forest, The Submarines and The Antibalas Horns got together on Thanksgiving weekend to perform “The Complete Last Waltz” again in San Francisco. There was no way I was missing that so my friend Sara (Who finally showed me the beauty of the film after I’d been telling my parents it was boring for most of my life.) and I headed over to SF for the show. They burned through all 41 songs taking a break only once and rotating through 3 drummers. It wasn’t a perfect show but it was a great show. They never introduced the entire band, sometimes they’d miss an intro for the singer of the next song, and they adjusted the mic volume as they went. But none of that really mattered. They weren’t there to be introduced, they were there to sing these songs to a room of friends that danced and sang along with the shared connection of a day in 1976 that we all wish we could have been at. They played it loud, we sang along, and more than a show, it was a celebration.