Monday, August 31, 2009
Between a good artist
And a great one
Will often lay down his tool
Then pick up an invisible club
On the mind's table
And helplessly smash the easels and
Whereas the vintage men
No longer hurts himself or anyone
And keeps on
Hey People, read here about Cory McAbee's 'Stingray Sam'... and then, find a way to get your hands on a copy. You'll be glad you did.
(For those of you not in the know, Anevay graces the screen for a split second, and her best friend in the galaxy, Willa, plays the part of 'Girl')
Sideshow Gallery, founded in 1999 to create a space to show young Williamsburg artists. Paintings, installations, readings, concerts = awesome. (pic taken from gallery website)
Speaking of art... Where else can you find a dead bird, a baby's head, a vacuum tube and an orange square, and have them be considered art?!
Williamsburg... Home to the Legion of Doom motorcycle gang, the leader/founder of which is named Lucifer. The gang is all-inclusive, friendly, and you know what? I like the fact that they're here... Those guys have HUGE parties (like the one this past weekend), and actually clean up after themselves (that's a heck of a lot more than I can say about most folks who throw parties in the 'hood...).
Where else but in the 'burg can you find such a perfect photo op?
Or, great reading found right on our fair streets? Williamsburgers seeking spirit animals (oh, yes, owl/deer/bird lovers, I'm talking to YOU), look out!
As most of the 'burg doesn't wake until 1:00 on weekends, lines for shows such as yesterday's Grizzly Bear at East River State Park are virtually non-existent (um, but only should you happen to arrive on time... It was a madhouse later in the day).
Non-permit parties can still be found, like the one above, at the bike shop next to Dokebi... (Of course, unlike the old days, it wasn't long before four- count 'em, four- cop cars arrived on the scene. Sigh...)
Speaking of parties, the Market Hotel in Bushwick hosts pretty awesome music. This past weekend, for example, one of my faves, Celebration, played... I didn't end up making it out, but the fact is, there's always so much going on that I didn't feel like I was missing anything (well, at least, not terribly...).
Finally, even though the face of Grand Street Park has changed (oh, how I miss sitting at the old park on a weekend, without a tourist in sight!), the view of the city remains the same.
In addition to the store selling my bags (seen through the store window, above), there are a number of pretty items from a variety of other designers...
Support your local designers!
Just a reminder that I'm embroidering these great shirts. So far, I've sold four, and while I've made a donation of the proceeds to Carlos Alvarez's family, I'd like to be able to send more! So please, place an order here.
For those of you not into wearing awesome t-shirts (!!!), there's a site set up to take donations. Click here for more information.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Julian Barnes: Nothing to Be Frightened Of
Barnes and I have one enormous thing in common… We’re both absolutely terrified of death, and we both have an ongoing love affair with the writer, Jules Renard. When I was a child, I, like most other people, felt immortal. As I grew older, and as my personality became more pronounced, the idea that I would be around forever didn’t lessen, but in fact, became even more prominent. Barnes quotes from Arthur Koestler, author of ‘Dialogue with Death’ – “One’s disbelief in death grows in proportion to its approach.” Well, if this is true, than I must be very far away from death, for thoughts of it are, nearly always, my last thought before bed, and every morning, without fail, I feel thankful for making it through the night. I see death written on the brow of my friends. Indeed, it has been made undeniably visible at the graves of some of my friends. Barnes writes that he often finds himself jarred awake from sleep at night screaming, “No, no, no!”
Yes, I understand perfectly how fatalist an outlook this seems, yet it’s something of a comfort to assume the end is coming… It makes me appreciate my time in this body, cognizant and healthy. It seems like Barnes feels the same way, even as he seems to mourn the loss of his youthful body (he refers more than once to the “chickeny bits” that come with age).
Barnes gives his readers a glimpse into not only the relationship with his own mortality, but how he perceives the lives and inevitable deaths of his family and friends. “This is not, by the way, ‘my autobiography’. Nor am I ‘in search of my parents’. Part of what I am doing… is trying to work out how dead they are.” Drawing from writings of Zola, Montaigne, and a multitude of others, it is Jules Renard to whom Barnes returns again and again (it has been the same for me, for many years). “It is when faced with death that we turn most bookish.”
Indeed, Barnes’ book is “bookish.” It is a somewhat dry narrative with intermittent outpourings of terror… Just enough to make his uber-rich writing, full of (at times) extraneous anecdotes, matter. In fact, I enjoyed this book immensely. Mr. Barnes, wherever you are, thanks.
(Please, for all that is good in this world, read Renard before tackling Barnes... You'll be glad you did.)
William Falkner: As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text
Smart, stream-of-consciousness fiction about the journey white-trash Mississippi family members take to bury their matriarch. Although there were moments of dry humor that I enjoyed (particularly from the inner monologues of the father of the family, Anse), what struck me about the book was its intentional lack of resolution. Falkner hammers home the fact that despite the fact that human beings continually persevere, many of us just don’t ever figure it out, and, in fact, die just as we came into this world… alone and without any true understanding of whether or not there was ever a reason for being alive. Falkner’s writing reminds me of Sartre’s battle cry for the Existentialists: “We are all condemned to freedom.”
Have fun with this one… It’ll make you feel like shit.
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
When this book came out a couple of years ago, it rocked me to the core. Didion, stalwart of dry, journalistic writing that she is, wrote the succinct The Year of Magical Thinking immediately after the death of her husband, fellow author, John Dunne.
Several days before Dunne’s death, the couple had been coping with the illness of their only daughter, Quintana, who was in a coma and on life support after her system went into septic shock. Didion writes not only about the logistics of losing her husband, and all of the emotional shock waves that occurred, but captured poignant glimpses of her daughter as she slipped back and forth between different states of health. Tragically, Quintana passed away soon after the completion of the book. Didion eventually wrote her death into the script for the one-woman stage-play in which Vanessa Redgrave played Didion. (Oh, the Dantesque comedy of it all, that Ms. Redgrave would, just a year and a half later, also learn what it means to lose a daughter…)
“This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed [the deaths], weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”
Wow. That's a tall order for one book...
But what can I say… Didion’s writing, always so steady-handed, unveiled- albeit barely perceived- a newfound fragility. The one similarity I found between the Year of Magical Thinking and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, is best summed up in Didion’s own words: “I look for resolution and find none.”
A gorgeous book, absolutely.
Uwem Akpan, Say You're One of Them
A collection of stories: of a Rwandan girl’s account of what happens between her parents- a Hutu and a Tutsi; a brother and sister dealing with their uncle’s attempt to sell them into slavery; a Muslim boy who travels on a bus with Christians through Nigeria... Each of Akpan’s short stories is a visceral, agonizing situation seen through the eyes of children, who, in life and in death, bring a sense of humanity to some of the most unspeakable scenes of the last century.
Akpan’s writing, rich, with an obvious appreciation for the nuances of various languages and the voices of the people he’s writing about, left me feeling horrified for all the groups of people affected by war and genocide. The fact that he doesn't choose one people to champion better illustrates the damages served in all conflicts.
This book left me shaking, crying, outraged and incomprehensibly sad for situations I have a hard time understanding. It also left me feeling tremendously blessed that I am healthy, happy, and, relative to most of the people on this planet, prosperous in both love and sustenance.
James Joyce, The Dead
This short story- a novella, really- is the greatest of all the stories in Joyce's book, Dubliners. Mental paralysis- a condition which affects nearly all of Joyce's characters in this book, grips Gabriel, the main protagonist in The Dead. His lack of interest in his fellow Irishmen, and an admiration for all things English, mark Gabriel's failure to relate to his family and friends. The man walks through life like a zombie, oblivious to the concerns- social and personal- of those around him.
When Gabriel sees his wife, captured in a moment of passion as she listens to a piece of music, he believes it somehow relates to him. His marriage, which has been crumbling for many years, feels renewed. He remembers some of their sweet, early moments. Yet he soon finds that the passion he witnessed was not meant for him. For the first time, as he watches his wife break down into tears over something that happened long before they met, he feels compasion for another person. He sees his wife, truly, for the first time, and understands that they had, until that moment, been like two strangers.
Joyce goes on to describe Gabriel's feelings about all of his loved ones... He ponders their ephemeral natures. The Dead, which had started with a party scene, builds into one of the most heartrending and perfect short stories ever written. It was this story that inspired me to tackle Ulysses, that giant of English literature.
Heraclitus, Fragments (Penguin Classics) (Greek Edition)
One should, if possible, end each day with at least a ray of hope. My final thoughts every night, as I’ve already mentioned, are often of death. Yet I often pick up my thin volume of Heraclitus- his words, I find, temper my melancholy. 2500 years after his death, I find solace in the few writings of his that have not been lost... appropriately called, the Fragments.
“Any day stands equal to the rest,” he writes. And “The beginning is the end.” I try to be mindful of these seemingly simple ideas. If I were a grafitti artist, I would write his words all over the walls of New York.
Each of Heraclitus’ fragments stand alone- I can just as easily concentrate on and enjoy one poignant fragment as I can the entire collection.
“After death comes nothing hoped nor imagined.” This is one of the fragments I use as a personal mantra. (I wish others would repeat these words to themselves, particularly as they try to build for themselves legacies at the expense of others...)
“Silence, healing.” This fragment comes to me at my most manic moments, calming me, reminding me to breathe.
Every morning, upon waking, I utter the following silent prayer, thankful to Heraclitus, who has given me the words:
“The sun is new again, all day.”
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Anyway, I won't go into the job title yet, or what it might entail. Let's just say it's in the arts, is aligned with my interests, and is something that I think would make me very happy. Please cross your fingers for me!
After my meeting this morning, I went to a friend's place to hang out with a little gang of people (basically the two of us and our kids). Immediately, I asked to sit at her computer, wanting nothing more than to do some research on some of the artists represented by the woman I interviewed with this morning. Hours passed...
Although I knew artist Ilya Bolotowsy's work, I hadn't realized that he had made the first abstract mural commissioned by the U.S., via the WPA program, for the Williamsburg Housing Project at Maujer and Scholes. One look at the mural, made in 1936, and it's clear that Miro was an enormous inspiration. Just a few years later, in 1940, Mondrian moved to New York, and would have a profound influence on Bolotowsky. Although Bolotowsky, as one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists, was already embracing non-objective subjects, it was really Mondrian's work that prompted the artist to eliminate all references to nature. The mural Bolotowsky made, then, is an example of some of his early work.
The mural, painted in what would eventually become the recreation room for the building, was eventually painted over and forgotten. Yet, in 1988, the mural was 'rediscovered', and subsequently, restored by Hudson + Salah Art Conservation Studios.
Above: The mural as it was found in an abandoned recreation room in the Williamsburg Housing Project. Some of the design elements are visible in the background behind the graffiti. The mural was faced then removed from the wall with pneumatic chisels, the back of the canvas cleaned off. The old wall paint was removed from the face of the original composition. The mural was lined, filled, inpainted and varnish.
Below: the completed mural
(descriptions by Hudson + Salah)
All of this has me thinking about jobs, being an unemployed artist, and the depression-era WPA Program. The FAP was the part of the WPA dedicated to visual arts, hired artists to make over 200,000 posters, paintings and murals. The program employed starving artists and provided much of the public art that is still a great source of pride for the country. In 1940, the WPA changed policy and began vocational training of the unemployed to make them ready for factory jobs. Gone were the days when it paid to be an artist...
Anyway, all of this reminds me of when Obama used to talk about starting another work program. Remember that? What happened to it? Sure, there's the Stimulus Package... money has been flying around... But where? Well, here's the website about how Obama's Recovery Act is being implemented in New York. Here's the list of Federal Grant Opportunities in NY. Some of the competitive grants even seem to go for good causes, such as this one, listed under the heading of the Department of Education: 84.384 Institute of Education Sciences; (IES) Grant Program for Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Recovery Act Program (ARRA). That mouthful of a grant must be pretty awesome to be given such a long name, don't you think?
Whoa, but grants don't stop at the federal level. There is also something called the NY State Innovation Economy Matching Grants Program, in which funds will be parceled to "strategic technology areas that have been identified as crucial to the expansion of the State's economy." Among these areas are listed: renewable energy, clean tech and smart grid; nanotechnology; stem cell, biomedical and life sciences; advanced manufacturing; broadband; information technology and cyber security. Many of these areas seem great, but I'm interested in seeing who will be the recipients of the grants...
All this leaves me wondering what happened to the work program Obama once spoke of. Not that I'm missing out on receiving any of the benefits from Obama's stimulus... Why, I think it's pretty cool that I received something in the mail letting me know that I'm eligible for an increase in a Pell Grant. And I love that I've been receiving an extra $25 a week along with my unemployment (an emergency check, they call it). Believe me, I'm not knocking it... I NEED it! But I haven't seen much inthe way of work from the government... I was told at the unemployment office that I'm "too specialized." Apparently, one whom has worked in marketing, bartending, art-making, writing, editing, design, museums, galleries, and finance (among other things), is too specialized. Go figure...
I think back about the WPA, which employed millions of people, and left behind not only wide ribbons of highways and public buildings built by all who were able to work, as well as many established arts, theater and literacy programs that had been started by some of the country's most talented minds. There was something for each person, according to his (or in the rare case, her) expertise. Even if one had no known skills and was given a job in manual labor, it wasn't too terrible... A rule of the program stated that workers couldn't work longer than 30 hours a week. Not a bad policy for families, right? Granted, not that many women were employed by the program, but hey, the program was started in 1935, after all. (The government believed one parent should work while one stayed home with the children... As a single mom who has struggled, this no longer sounds like such a rotten idea... I'm only sort of kidding.)
Opponents of the WPA program sarcastically referred to it as the "Whistle, Piss and Argue Gang," as well as "We Piddle Along." These names referenced the fact that jobs were given to anyone who needed, well, a job, but mostly that workers were still paid even if a project was put on hold by the government. Um, maybe I'm crazy, but this just sounds like insurance- if a job was to suddenly end, a worker would still be able to put food on the table for his/her family. But apparently this was a problem? (I guess the opposition wanted jobs to go to the folks who didn't need them... Sort of how our government currently pays many private contracting firms rather than public/state workers.)
OK, this post is all over the place... I started off talking about how I had met with a women about a potential job, to Ilya Bolotowsky's long forgotten about mural, to the WPA, to the questions I have about the current state of governmental affairs.
I'm super excited about the possible job, and can't wait to see what comes of it. In the meanwhile, I'll continue to study up on some artists... Who knows, perhaps my studies will supply me with even more ramblings for the blog!
In Memory of Carlos Alvarez
By Jonathan Toubin
Sunday night, hundreds crowded into a balmy Glasslands Gallery to pay tribute to Carlos Alvarez who tragically passed away the weekend before at the all-too-young age of 29. A wide assortment of friends and acquaintances danced and sweated for eight straight hours while an unprecedented assemblage of DJs, both behind the booth and on the dance-floor, did their thing. There were rookies, veterans and retired dance party lords of all yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s parties big and small: Fine Wine, Steve from Shout!, Josh Styles, Michael Rafalwich, Mr. Robinson, White Shoes, Jumpy, Das Booty, J Stratcher, $mall Change, Lone Wolf and Jason Andrews to name a few… We were all there. This epic quantity and quality of New York DJs wasn’t only due to the fact that Carlos was a friend to many, or a fellow DJ under the pseudonym “Paw,” or even that he was one of the only folks in town who knew everyone’s repertoire’s well enough to make a reasonably informed and plausible request. Nope. We were all also there because he happened to be the most exciting, prolific and beloved dancer any of us have ever known.
And perhaps you knew him, too. If you’ve turned up at any of the last decade or so’s local rock and/or soul dance parties with some amount of frequency, from Shout! in the late 1990s all the way up to my New York Night Train Soul Clap and Dance-Off today, you would instantly recognize his wide grin and wide vocabulary of James Brown-inspired mid-’60s spins, slides and turns hovering above the gliding blur below his knees. As someone who plays records for hundreds of dancers every week all around the world, I can assure you that Carlos Alvarez remains my absolute favorite I’ve ever witnessed in his divine combination of style, soul and electricity. But don’t take my word for it; not so many years before Joe Strummer’s death, the Clash’s frontman bowed down to his hands and knees to kiss Carlos’ feet, proclaiming the teenager the best dancer he’d ever witnessed in his entire life. Carlos was the real deal.
Enrolling in martial arts hip-hop dance classes over the years, Carlos continued to broaden his horizons and brought new outside elements into his dance-floor laboratory. Like a greatest of soul 45s, his dancing hit you so hard with such immediacy that you didn’t always notice the creativity and excellent craftsmanship behind his art as you were too busy getting lost in it, bobbing your head along with it, and feeling its force. And, despite his obvious over-abundant talents, Carlos was one of those rare virtuosic dancers who wasn’t an ego only concerned with himself, but a kindhearted person and team player who was all about the party and everyone’s participation. He danced with the entire room, following, leading, complimenting, teaching. Far from intimidating, to be on the floor with Carlos was an exhilarating experience rivaling that of playing records for him.
And any and all of the DJs present Sunday night will tell you it wasn’t a party until Carlos exploded onto the floor. His ability to transform even the blandest of nights into an ecstatic riot with both his thrilling footwork and sparkling spirit is evidence of what every good DJ already knows: the dancer both fuels and accelerates the night. The DJ merely steers. Carlos didn’t only get the party started but twisted, stomped, and hollered until the last record faded out into tomorrow, at which point, like an athlete at the end of the game, shirt soaked through and through, breathing heavily, he’d casually chat with remaining dancers, DJs and club employees.
Since this is a love letter from a DJ to his favorite dancer and not an obituary, I will stick to my field of expertise and refrain from eulogizing this infinitely multidimensional person on any other level. But, without overstepping my bounds, let’s just say that Carlos Alvarez was hands down a very kind wonderful person who was many things to many people well beyond what could be conveyed here or perhaps imagined. My Carlos, and perhaps your Carlos, Carlos the soul dancer, taught each and every one of us in the room Sunday, and perhaps you too, to live and to dance with all of the passion and energy in your entire body and soul. I hope that we don’t soon forget him and his shining example. New York and its dance floors will never be the same without him.
Click here to see the article in the NY Press.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Calling all voyeurs and exhibitionists! Internet pioneer Josh Harris has spent his life implementing his unique vision of the future, where technology and media dictate human social interaction and define our personal identity. At the turn of the millenium, Harris launched an art experiment called Quiet: We Live in Public. He created an artificial society in an underground bunker in the heart of New York City. More than 100 artists moved in and lived in pods under 24-hour surveillance in what was essentially a human terrarium. They defecated, had sex, shared a transparent communal shower—all on camera. On January 1, 2000, after 30 days, the project was busted by FEMA as a “millennial cult.” Undeterred, Harris struck again, this time as his own subject. Rigging his loft with 32 motion-controlled cameras, he convinced his girlfriend to allow him to record streaming video of every moment of their lives from the toilet to the bedroom. The project backfired, his relationship imploded, and Harris went broke. Mentally unhinged, he fled to an apple farm in upstate New York. Sundance award winner Ondi Timoner (#_5_ won the Grand Jury Prize in 2004) chronicled Harris for a decade, culling through thousands of hours of Harris’s own footage and coupling it with rousing vérité of her own. The result is a fascinating, sexy, yet cautionary, tale where we all become Big Brother.
The film opens tonight at the IFC Film Center. Although the film will be showing through September 4th, tonight is the night to catch the Q & A sessions after the screenings. Click here for more film and ticket information, and check out the trailer, below (and look for the briefest glimpse of Carlos!):
I hold the Lion's Paw
Whenever I dance.
I know the ecstasy of the falcon's wings
When they make love against the sky.
And the sun and moon
Sometimes argue over
Who will tuck me in at night.
If you think I am having more fun
Than anyone on this planet
You are absolutely correct.
Is willing to share all his secrets
About how to befriend God.
Indeed, dear ones,
Hafiz is so very willing
To share all his secrets
About how to know the
I hold the Lion's Paw whenever I dance.
Babble, an online publication for parents that was started by Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman, both of Nerve Media, has featured one of my designs in one of the blogs on their site. The blog, called Droolicious: Modern Design for Modern Parents, is hosted by Amanda Hill. Thanks, Amanda, for the following write-up:
I know what you might be thinking? Did she just post a onesie featuring a set of brass knuckles? And yes, yes I did. Because apparently nothing says Brooklyn like a set of brass knuckles on a onesie. The onesie is available in sizes 6 months, 12 months and 18 months. Make sure you indicate the size you want when you order it, because you know you want to! Who doesn’t want a tough little brass knuckles onesie?
See the entire post here.
Six years later, and I'm nearly done. And this time, I mean it. Sure, I've said this before... Dozens of times. I've finished what I thought were final drafts, only to have my editor suggest a couple of small changes that have led to two more years of work. But THIS TIME... Yes, I truly see the end. You know the scene in the film FIGHT CLUB, when Edward Norton kicks his own ass? Well, that's sort of what writing a book is like. Each character has just enough of my terrible, wicked, or wonderful attributes to make me feel an empathetic surge to continue wanting to write (oh, the ego, a wonderful thing), and yet they each have become their own Brad Pitt- breathing, fighting, living beings, so foreign to me, that it really means I need to take a step back to still recognize them as my own creations (and here enters the libido!).
Right now I'm going through the book, chapter by chapter, to make sure I've answered all the questions the book poses, and just to make sure I don't go off on too many tangents (for those of you who know me, you'll know that this is a problem... a daily struggle... See?! I'm doing it now!). After I'm done, I'm going to send it off, once again, to my editor, a wonderful women who's advice I've come to appreciate very much.
Who knows... Perhaps this time, she'll think it's nearly done, too. If not, then in a year, you'll hear me say once again that I've reached the finish. But for now, I mean it when I say that the damn thing is nearly completed. My goal is to get the book published. But even now, so far into the writing process, I feel like a goddamn Super Woman. It's an amazing feeling.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Tonight I put Anevay to bed, but ten minutes later she came out crying her little heart out. "Carlos," was all she could say. Turns out all the feelings my daughter has been keeping a lid on, came out tonight. In my girl's arms, she held a stuffed cat that Carlos gave her. "I remember that he gave it to me, but I can't remember when," she said. Not being able to remember the full memory made her feel worse. I told her that some of my memories are vague, too, and that's what memories are- our brains discriminate between them for reasons we often don't truly understand. I tried to fill her in with as many details of when Carlos gave her the cat... I could see her sweet little self trying to pull the memories inside- to make them her own. I hope she was successful- they are kind thoughts of one of the many times her friend was good to her.
Anyway, I'm not up for going into the whole discussion Anevay and I had... I will say that my girl doesn't believe that he's dead. She looked around my bedroom and said, "I think he's here, and everywhere." I told her she might be right. Most of the things we covered in our talk were Anevay's most private thoughts about Carlos, and she doesn't want to publically share them. She did say, however, that she'd appreciate if I'd post a picture of what she calls, "Carlos' cat."
So here you have it... Carlos' cat. Anevay hopes you like him. She's renamed him Carlos, and plans on sewing a little felt heart into his chest tomorrow morning.
Michael Lo just sent me an email and asked if I might post the following. It's definitely worth a read, if you have a few minutes. Thanks so much, Michael, for sharing some of your memories:
They say dynamite comes in small packages. Carlos Alvarez was nothing short of human dynamite. Only he was dynamite in reverse – never destructive, only constructive.
I first met him in 1998, and I should note that I wasn’t living in NYC at the time, but rather in the hinterlands of the Lehigh Valley, PA. I had a band that was booked to play at the old Cooler on 14th St. with the Mooney Suzuki. After the show, I struck up a rap with the Mooneys’ then-bassist, Joao Ribas (then calling himself Johnny,) an 18-year-old kid from Newark, NJ. Joao took enough of a shine to me and an interest in my musical tastes to invite me to come and be his guest DJ at a party called Shag, hosted by drag queen celeb Mistress Formika, in the basement of the old Vain on 1st Ave. We spun mostly all old heavy soul and raw funk cuts, and the queens actually dug it, as did the straight crowd. When I think back to it now, we really got away with murder, musically speaking!
At some point in the evening, Joao introduced me to his friend from the neighborhood in Jersey, a compact, intense-looking Puerto Rican kid named Carlos. I shook Carlos’ hand, but he didn’t say much – he seemed shy and/or aloof, and so I let it drop. I assumed he was just Joao’s tag-along anyway. As the night progressed, however, the little Puerto Rican kid emerged from his shell, if not in a verbal sense then at least in a kinetic one. At one point, I looked over, and this kid was just getting DOWN! I mean, commanding attention, and mind you, this is in a room full of barely clad drag queens! Carlos was dressed in a simple black blazer and white dress shirt and he stole the show away from these 6’2” dudes in ripped fishnets. As the night wore on into the wee hours, the crowd began to dwindle, as did the overall energy level of those that remained, but not for Carlos – he remained committed to supporting the music by dancing on the floor speakers! By 2am, what people were left were mostly sitting down but instead of cozying up, they had all eyes on Carlos. They’d be pointing and whistling, cheering him on. Carlos himself had his eyes shut, oblivious, simply enjoying himself, dance partner or no. He literally didn’t stop until we played the last record and the lights came on. As we shuffled out of the bar at around 3:30am, Carlos suddenly became talkative. He started ruminating on the New York soul scene and how basically, there was none, and how it was up to us – me, Joao and him – to keep the flame alive. I just laughed and said “oh yeah?” but I have to admit, his enthusiasm was infectious. That was my first time spinning that kind of music in NYC and the experience was so positive, largely due to Carlos, that I knew I wanted to keep doing it, when and wherever possible.
My next DJ engagement was the biggie: the old Shout! party at Bar 13. This Sunday night hang attracted so many people over its ten-year run that it was inevitable that you were going to meet scores of like-minded individuals to hang, rap and dance with. And it was a real music lover’s club – hundreds of people would gather there and communally sweat it up on the dancefloor, eventually losing all pretense of fancy dress and styling, to a cornucopia of sounds provided by the roster of Djs that eventually became regulars there, myself included. The Djs there provided so many different styles and genres – `60s garage , soul, funk, vintage rock, Latin boogaloo, freakbeat, you name it – yet all tied together by a common thread. A super-hip mixed bag of music you weren’t going to hear anywhere else, for people who knew where it was at. I discovered it in `98 and started turning up there regularly, meeting up with Joao and Carlos. Eventually, Joao and myself began DJing there.
At Shout! it became a rite of passage for the fellows in attendance to really strut it up on the dancefloor. It was a very congenial competition, as we were all serving the same purpose of igniting the dancefloor, but there were clearly guys there who made it a point to outdo all the others. But when Carlos hit the floor, all bets were off. No one could outdo him. His first time on the floor was like the parting of the Red Sea, I remember it so vividly. He slid out onto the floor like he was on ice skates, and from there, all eyes were on him. His footwork recalled some of James Brown’s most fiery moves from his TAMI Show performance. Mouths were agape at first, but within minutes there were cheering and whistling. They fellows trying to outdo each other all threw in the collective towel. No one could outdo the boy wonder that would earn the nickname “Buttershoes.”
Within a few short months, Carlos became Shout!’s official mascot. People expected to see him there every week. If they didn’t, the energy in the room seemed noticeably stiff as people buzzed about with inquiries as to his whereabouts. They had no reason to worry though – Carlos never did miss a week. If he was not on the scene, he would be eventually, and the room would immediately light up, the party could officially start. If no one happened to be dancing yet, Carlos would use the opportunity to full-slide across the floor and it would be like sounding the gun – BANG! – and within minutes, the crowd would take his lead and join him on the floor. Which was what was so great about him – he could outdo everybody there with his moves but he never let that make him appear unapproachable or superior. Indeed, just the opposite – when he hit the floor, it was an invitation. Come out and join me, let’s everybody do this together, it’s easy
and it’s liberating, let me show you the way.
I discovered that Carlos had a few favorite records when he was at Shout! and so when I was the DJ there, I always worked these tracks into my set at the appropriate time to set the stage for Carlos’ floor magic. In particular, he connected with Arthur Conley’s “Funky Street,” which was his initial rallying cry, with those staccato handclaps on the verses allowing him the chance to hold his hands aloft while he clapped, galvanizing the whole room to do join him. I swear there were a few times where that room sounded like it could have had a thundering herd of horses in it when that clapping part came on. He also really had a thing for some other tracks: “Mini Skirt” by Otis Goodwin, “Ain’t Nothing But A House Party” by the Showstoppers, “Any Dance’ll Do” by the Rascals, and “I Just Can’t Stop Dancing” by Archie Bell and the Drells, which was basically his theme song. But the one record that I always will associate with Carlos will be a funky instrumental called “Broad Street,” an obscure B-side to a track called “Keem-O-Sabe” by a faceless Philly studio group called the Electric Indian. Carlos really let loose on this track, particularly during the middle drum break, which gave the audience plenty of room to cheer and whistle as Carlos would be breaking it down at an astonishing breakneck speed, arms and legs akimbo, sweat projectile spraying everyone in proximity to him. “Broad Street” was presumably a reference to the main drag in Philly, but there was also one around the corner from Carlos’ Newark home, and so the association became even more appropriate.
Speaking of Carlos’ home, around this time (late `98, early `99) I began giving Carlos a lift to Shout! Where I lived in PA was right off of the I-78 corridor, which goes straight on through to Newark, NJ, and I had a car and was on my way into the city anyway, so it was no big deal for me to pick Carlos up on my way in. Which led to me learning a hell of a lot more about the kid than I, or anyone, probably realized was there. Just through the few times I visited his house, I developed an actual friendship with him, rather than just the nightlife-based acquaintance I had previously. It’s worth noting that around this time, Carlos started expanding into a flashier dress style as well, as we all did. A lot of the Shout! regulars at the time were still very much under the influence of a kind of “Mod” mindset and it was no secret that dudes rocked their best pimped-out peacock feathers when they went over there. I went for velvet blazers and scarves. Carlos went for red belts and shoes. Now I was living in a cushy suburb and safely in my car. Carlos was a kid who dared walk around Newark’s mean streets wearing shiny red shoes. Which just goes to show what kind of guts he had even back then.
At home, however, his new dress sense wasn’t quite so appreciated and in fact was a source of consternation for his mother. One time around the holidays I went to pick him up earlier than usual because I wanted to beat holiday shoppers’ traffic. He came down to let me in to his apartment, a humbly appointed second-floor crib in a remote corner of Newark. Before he opened the door to his apartment, he said “do me a favor, compliment my mom on the Christmas tree.” I would have anyway – it was a nicely, if a little garishly, decorated tree. But seeing as how he made point of this being such a dear issue, I offered my respects to his mother in my best lumbering Spanish. I was rewarded with a bowl of some rice and beans concoction she prepared earlier as result. It was great – I can still taste it. A very spicy dish, with Spanish peanuts and hot sauce, if I’m not mistaken. It was a Spanish dish, not an Asian one, yet curiously, Carlos chose to eat it with chopsticks. He had a special pair of chopsticks made out of brass-tipped wood with ornate designs on them. I admired them while he was eating, and when he finished, he washed them and gave them to me. I refused, of course, but he insisted, saying “you’re a great friend and my favorite DJ, you give me something to do every weekend.” I still have the chopsticks.
I recall sitting on his bed waiting for him to get ready for Shout! and taking in his sparsely decorated bedroom. It was quite a revelation. Carlos loved the Beatles! Now this is hardly a revolutionary band for someone to be partial to, but for an 18-year-old Puerto Rican kind in Newark, one could safely assume it was a bit of an anomaly. I only knew him as “Carlos the soul dancer,” but he had half a dozen newspaper clippings up on his bedroom wall about the Beatles, particularly John Lennon, who he idolized. He liked Bowie a lot too. Even more intriguing than that though was his bookshelf – Carlos was a reader! Again, our discussions previously had all been about fairly trivial topics but upon me perusing his book collection, he would duck out of his closet, half-dressed, and take random books off the shelf and stick them in my hands asking “did you ever read this?” I hadn’t, and so he said “keep them, you have to read them, they’ll blow
your mind.” The books had titles like Cannibals and Kings and The Roots of Evil. I still have those as well, although sadly, I never got around to reading them while Carlos was alive. Finally Carlos emerged from his closet and we were ready to go. Upon stepping out into the living room, Carlos’ mom let out an audible gasp and covered her mouth before repeating “los zapatos!” and pointing at Carlos’ fire-engine-red loafers. She must have though he was going to killed…or that he was off to a gay club, whichever was worse. Carlos tried to calm her down but she refused to let him leave the house. I took it upon myself to explain to her in my best diplomatic voice and broken Spanish that I was going to look out for her son, and that he was in good company and nothing was going to happen. As I was wearing a cravat, a velvet blazer, a medallion and eye makeup as well as carrying a six-inch ebony-handled Milano switchblade in my pocket, I don’t
know that I made a very convincing argument.
Carlos came to visit me in Pennsylvania a couple of times. He was one of my only New York-area friends to ever do so. One time he took a Greyhound out, and we had plans to go out to Silk City in Philly that night, where I was DJing. It just so happened that Carlos had been in touch with a young lady in Philly that he had major designs on and wanted to get to hang with her that night. I went over the club before he did because I had to get set up, and besides he wanted to take his time getting ready and make a grand entrance when he knew this particular girl would be on the scene. So I got set up and started DJing, steadily a crowd streamed in, and suddenly there was Carlos, wearing three bandanas and his recently longer hair teased out with some kind of gel, collar on his sort leather jacket turned up. He gave me a nod, and I spun “Broad Street.”
You should have seen Buttershoes do his thing. If his moves took New York by surprise then they absolutely stunned Philly. During the drum break, Carlos broke into a how-low-can-you-go type floorspin, literally resembling a toy top, just a spinning blur, anchored only by his gaudy white patent leather cowboy boots. Suffice to say, he and the girl had something to talk about after that. A moment of hilarity ensued later that evening when all of us and a couple of other folks wound up over at the notorious Melrose Diner, a strictly working-class blue-collar greasy spoon in South Philly. Carlos, still a vegetarian, ordered a soy latte. The 50-something weatherbeaten bottle-blonde waitress just started at him slackjawed and everyone within earshot, including all the rest of us, erupted into whooping laughter. A soy latte. At the Melrose Diner. Tee-hee. Poor Carlos didn’t realize that they probably though he was ordering Chinese food.
Another time he came out to visit me, I took him record shopping at a place out by where I was that sold tons of rare 45s for $.50 a pop. He spent $10 and walked off with a load of singles, half on my suggestion and half on the suggestion of Kym Fuller, otherwise known as DJ “Miss Shingaling,” who accompanied Carlos on this particular trip. Rumor has it Kym took his virginity that weekend in my living room, although that will never be confirmed. On this particular trip, Carlos continued to amaze me further. I took him and Kym over to a friend of mine’s house at the time, an Irish chick. Upon meeting her, Carlos volunteered to demonstrate his ability to do an Irish jig. I’d never seen an Irish jig before, so for all I know, he could have been totally bullshitting me, but my friend knew, and she confirmed that he had it right. Just where does a kid from Newark who’s just out of high school learn an Irish jig?? He also was familiar with her piano, a Laffargue. I’m a musician, and I’d never heard of Laffargue. But he did. And he proceeded to lay out the details about it for his audience. In an attempt to disprove this as some Cliff Klavon bullshit, I Googled “Laffargue” when I got back to work that Monday – he had been right about everything. The third time he amazed me that weekend was when I took him and Kym out for breakfast and I sat with amazement and a twinge of envy as this little skinny guy put away linebacker-sized portions of home fries – two orders! It didn’t matter – Carlos would burn off every calorie and more that night at Shout!
As time went on, the scene progressed, and with it Carlos. We soon would find that we didn’t want the party to end at 4am when Shout! was over, so we found ourselves at an afterparty spot called the Ridge St. Art Space, where no art was ever produced and/or displayed, but they did have Djs and a steady crew of people hanging out, doing their drugs of choice very openly – which may have had something to do with the place having no official bathroom. Ridge St., as it eventually just came to be known, also had a tire swing in the middle of the space, which of course Carlos made full use of, often jumping off into the waiting arms of his increasing fan club. One night, I rolled over to Ridge St. only to find Buttershoes himself perched on a stool in the doorway. I was like “what’s up?” and he responds “I’m working!” It was a riot – no one “worked” at Ridge St., no one got paid. Even the bartenders, when there were bartenders, got paid
I moved back to New York in 2000, and, it appeared, so did Carlos. He somehow managed to secure himself a room living with a bunch of artists on Eckford St. in Greenpoint. How the hell did he get the funds together to do that? He suddenly was an artist’s assistant, maybe. Or a women’s hairdresser, maybe. Or a fashion consultant, maybe. No one knew but Carlos. He was still a Shout! regular at this time but by now he was nobody’s “kid brother” anymore, he was totally legit and a law unto himself. Around this time, I became involved in playing music a lot and eventually went on tour for two months in 2001. When I returned, it was just after 9/11 and the city was a ghost town. Even Shout! was lower key. I didn’t see Carlos around for awhile, but certainly not for reasons due to any kind of falling out. Rather, we just started living lives that people ten years apart often do. I was trying to get serious with music and not hanging out so much. Carlos meanwhile was in his prime – he had just moved to a desirable neighborhood and everybody wanted to hang with him, including a whole new crew that I wasn’t familiar with. I still saw him around, but he was getting pretty far out, and dressing the part as well. One day I ran into him on Bedford Ave. wearing a red turban and gold chains.
Although I didn’t see him around as much after awhile, he was still always there, somehow, woven into the tapestry of local legend. Carlos was making a film, Carlos was doing a magazine photo shoot, Carlos won a tricycle race in Red Hook, Carlos was seen wearing a full panda bear costume in Bushwick. I didn’t recognize him as the same “Buttershoes” I knew from back in the day, but it was at least comforting to know he was still kicking around, somewhere.
Eventually, within the last two years, I got word of the fact that Carlos was now a DJ. Now the cynic in me would normally say “of course – who ISN’T a DJ these days?” But for Carlos to be one made absolute sense – he was always connected to the music, he had a true reverence for it for as long as I’ve known him, it only made sense for him to take the next step and get involved in promoting it himself. He certainly didn’t have an enviable collection, and often played very obvious cuts that, in another DJ’s hands would seem absolutely laughable or just like an “oldies” radio station. But with Carlos doing it, you suddenly saw the possibilities. Normally I would say “someone spinning ‘Rockin’ Robin’??? It’s a great song, but come on! A DJ resorting to that has got to suck.” But when Carlos is spinning it, and a new crowd of 20-somethings is totally going wild for it, you think “what was I thinking? That is a great song! Who cares if it’s a moldy oldie? It’s still a great song and it’s totally driving the dancefloor nuts.” Not only did Carlos not suck as a DJ, but he brought the whole theme that was so central to the Shout! vibe back into focus – it’s all about having a good time, to music that’s not what they’re currently playing on Top 40 radio. In the mindset of someone obsessed with record collector snobbery, it’s easy to forget that. If you’re rocking a 2008 dancefloor with music that was recorded 50 years ago, that alone is a revolutionary act.
I finally came into regular contact with Carlos again when he started up his night with Mr. Fine Wine at the Legion Bar in Williamsburg. It was like 1998 all over again. Carlos had lost any pretense of bizarre dress and weird mannerisms and was right back to being an exuberant, healthy-looking clean-cut kid in a black blazer. It was incredible. I recall him teasing me in `99 at Shout! when I failed to match him in fancy footwork floor skills. He would jibe at me “come on, old man, you can do better than that!” My bitter riposte was “wait until you’re my age, we’ll see if you still have those moves.” Well, when Carlos was dancing at Legion, he was the same age as I was when I said that. And I can attest to the fact that he did indeed still have the moves, and then some. Carlos’ scene with Fine Wine at Legion was so impressive that I asked to be a part of it, and they happily agreed to book me to spin there with them in June of 2009.
My last conversation with Carlos was unfortunately via email, when he contacted me a week before I was due to spin with him to tell me the night had been canceled – possibly forever.
My last words to him, ever, were in my response: “Ah well, stay the course, man – nothing’s forever.”
Carlos was indeed dynamite, and that dynamite had much too short of a fuse. The comfort of knowing I may eventually run into him has been neatly dashed, and too many promises went unfulfilled.
One can only take solace in the fact that, in his short 29 years, Carlos seemed to live life to the fullest. Physically, intellectually, spiritually. Learn from this lesson. Savor each day. A life not lived richly is not worth living at all. I’ve always believed that it’s not the person who has the most things that dies richest, it’s the person who has the best stories. In that regard, Carlos may have died richer than any of us could hope to be. And they must be covering the floor with talcum powder in heaven waiting for his arrival.
If this missive seems a little long – good. People should continue to share stories about Carlos as often as possible, and the longer, the better. I, and am sure everyone who came in contact with him, always miss him.
Take it easy, soul brother.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I'm emailing you from my work email because, my crackberry is acting up. I read all the postings about your friend Carlos Alvarez and saw the video of him dancing. He lived his life to the fullest and he is loved by so many people. One can only wish they could live a life as rich as his; even though I didn't know him personally, only knowing of him from our short conversation and reading everyone's postings I feel inspired by him.
As cheesy as it may sound my Mom always wanted me to learn how to dance all the Latin dances when I was young, but instead I choose to learn how to fight. After years of fighting all I got so far is a couple of concussions and a few dislocations, I'm again facing surgery on my left shoulder for the second time in three years. Your friend Carlos has inspired me to try my luck at dancing, as my Mom said to me on my visit in San Antonio "You already know how to fight, now you should learn how to dance." Thanks for sharing your friend Carlos to me, I truly appreciate it.
If this shirt makes sense to you, click here to make a purchase. $10.00 from each sale will be donated to the family of Carlos.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
SummerStarz 2009 Forum Reception for the NYC 33rd Council District raceCome support Ken Diamondstone, the only Democratic candidate for City Council in Brooklyn's 33rd District who isn't screaming for an even larger cop presence in the 'hood. Or, if you don't yet know for whom you'll be voting, come with a set of ears and an open mind.
Date: Thursday, August 27, 2009
Location: East River State Park, Kent Ave & N 8th St.
Time: 6 pm
A great family series by Town Square. Arts/crafts by the Greenpoint Toy Center at 6 pm, live performance by NY’s Finest Jazz Ensemble, and Babe at sunset. Hotdogs & popcorn while supplies last for the evening. ALL FREE! (email@example.com/www.townsquareinc.com)
Location: 110 Kent Ave (N 8th), by the East River State Park
Time: 6-7 pm
A Town Square event. Free, non-partisan. All seven Democratic candidates have been invited. It will be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Outside at the East River State Park, Town Square’s SummerStarz series will be presenting live music and movies. Inside at the Forum Reception, you will have the opportunity to ask the candidates your questions in your own words, engage in personal dialogues, make that direct eye contact and, hopefully, receive answers that will shape your decisions at the voting booths this September. RSVPs are appreciated but not necessary.
Ted Hefko plays every Saturday with the Ted Hefko Trio at the Antique Garage, 41 Mercer Street, New York, NY, as well as every Thursday with Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires at The National Underground, 159 E. Houston.
Please check out Ted's website for more information.
Also, read this interview about a few shows Ted will be playing back home in Madison.
Jason is coming out with a new album soon, but until then, please click here to enjoy his last project.
In an email from Jason:
If you go to the link below you can download it for free. I just really want to get it out there. So please take, share and enjoy. If you really want to pay for it that's fine just go to itunes and search Jason Ewald. But there is no need.
I love, love, LOVE that the kids I once knew have grown up to become even more creative and musically-minded adults. I look forward to supporting their new endeavors, and hope you will, too.
(pics by Daria Sullivan)
Over $3500 was raised Sunday night at the Glasslands benefit to go to Carlo's family. What a great show of support, from the soul DJs who participated, to the folks who threw the event, and to us, Carlos' friends, who danced the night away...
Yet, there's still more we can do more!
Go to this site to make a donation.
Please, take a moment to read the following, sent to me from Steve Pestana.
Go to my store and buy my embroidered goods! The above two items are among my most recent sales. If you're in Williamsburg, you can stop in at 1:46 Watch Repair & Designer Collective, at 146 N. 7th, between Bedford and Berry Streets. They carry some of my bags...
Hey all, I plan on entering a big project to be considered for the 2010 West Prize. Read below, artists, for more info:
The West Prize was launched in 2008 with the mission to find exciting new artists and adding them to the West Collection. In its inaugural year, the West annual acquisition budget of $125,000 was offered to ten artists. The flood of applications was unbelievable! In fact, 3,600 artists applied from 73 countries. West Collection curator Paige West had the job to go through all applicants and narrow the field down to ten innovative artists, but there were hundreds of fitting applicants in the application pool. The hope is that artists will continue to apply until they are acquired through the West Prize.
The West Prize will again award the 10 finalists $10,000 each from the acquisition funds, which is used to add their work to the West Collection. The application deadline is November 1, 2009 and artists must be 18 years or older and can live anywhere in the world. All artworks submitted for consideration for the acquisition award must be valued at less than $10,000. One of the 10 artists will win the balance of the purse, or $25,000 in cash, as a stipend for concentrating solely on art for the next year. Additionally, a 10 Catalog will again been produced to document the 2009 winners. There is no fee to apply to the West Prize.
Applications for the 2nd Annual West Prize will be accepted only through our website.
Applications will be accepted from April 30th - November 1st, 2009.
For more info, click on the 2010 West Prize.
Monday, August 24, 2009
It's been a couple (maybe a few?) years since I've seen Celebration (at the Bowery Ballroom, with Trail of Dead). I LOVE them. And I've been wanting to see Light Asylum...
Saturday August 29th @ MARKET HOTEL
:: “A Concert in Loving Observance of Michael Jackson’s 51st Birthday”
:::: Sam Mickens’ Ecstatic Showband & Revue
::::::: Light Asylum
:: dj Vakashi Sensei (from Philly) between sets| MARKET HOTEL |
1142 Myrtle Ave @ Bdwy | Bushwick, Bklyn
JMZ-Myrtle, L-Jefferson, G-Myrtle/Willoughby | 8pm | all ages | $9
(between Roebling St. & Driggs Ave.)
Click here for more info, which I found posted on Greenpointers.
We're celebrating our grand opening party this Friday the 28th and Saturday the 29th by throwing a free food party with seven signature dishes between 6pm to 9pm on both days. There'll also be DJs spinning deep house and a live VJ mixing his video projections, and an extra bar set up in the back yard!
Thanks to Briana at Unemployed Brooklyn for sending emails and posting about the event. Briana happens to be one of the most savvy unemployed ladies I know- her blog is a fantastic resource. Check it out, here! Briana helped me out a great deal by writing about my loft sale- she also put me in touch with the folks at Brokelyn and Greenpointers, two more great resources for us jobless Brooklyners- both sites also posted about my sale. Thanks to all!
For more information about the 405 Club Picnic, check out their website.