Thursday, December 3, 2009

“But they wind up wounded, not even dead.”

That’s a last line from Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland.

This is another line:

“Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge
Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain.”

I used to listen to this record over and over again – in the wee hours.

“Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
…the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be.”

The last take of Jungleland took 16 hours to record in midtown, New York. Springsteen sung with eyes closed, asleep, final take, dreaming.

When he awoke, he became the first singer simultaneously on the cover of Time and Newsweek.

* * *
“ I don’t have any reasons, I’ve left them all behind.”

~ Billy Joel, New York State of Mind.

In my FB album, New York State of Mind

Soulful words came from a four-hour TV special at Madison Square Garden. MSG IV was born two weeks before me. MSG I was built in 1890, the largest building in America, seating 5000 for a circus, a political convention or a horse show. It had a small opera house, ballroom, restaurant and rooftop cabaret.

* * *

“ Chrome wheeled, fuel-injected and steppin’ out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back”

~ Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

I am always amazed how he can still put everything on the line on stage. His showmanship is not contrived. Stakes are always high with the Boss.

* * *

My brother-in-law, a master photographer, once made a portrait of Patti Smith (ode to Robert Mapplethorpe). In Brooklyn, a friend of mine, once found a book about her on a sidewalk.

“ “If we believe in the night we trust.”

~ Because The Night,
Patti Smith

* * *

I first saw Sweet Jane sung by the Cowboy Junkies at the Commodore in Vancouver. Tonight Lou Reed sung it with Metallica. A friend just saw Lou Reed with Laurie Andersen in a New York City café.

“ “Standing on the corner,
Suitcase in my hand”

~ Sweet Jane,
Lou Reed

me@JFK off airtrain Christmas Eve

Lou never did return to Velvet Underground. After quitting this celebrity band, he earned $40 a week as a typist for his father’s accounting firm. Later in his solo career, to fulfill his label contract once, when he didn’t want to record another album, Lou made a double album of noise called Metal Machine Music. Rolling Stone said it sounded like "the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator."

"No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive," Lou Reed later said. But he did. And this album became an urban legend in music history. Some people say it started Heavy Metal. Some people say it started Punk. Some people say it started Ambient Music. Some people say it started Industrial Music. No one heard the same thing. Lester Bangs, tongue in cheek, called it the "The Greatest Album Ever Made." Billy Altman described it as "ear-wrecking electronic sludge, guaranteed to clear any room of humans in record time."

Escape from Bellevue
(a concert in the Village)

Lou did return to normal after this, which was not normal to begin with.

* * *

For a U2 concert, Lou appeared on satellite to sing Satellite of Love. This brilliant song didn’t crack the charts in 1972…there were just too many hall of fame songs that year. It’s why Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and his genius open tunings didn’t become successful until 26 years after Nick died. Heath Ledger before he died of a deadly drug mix wanted to portray Nick. Nick only sold 5000 records before he died of a drug overdose. Another musician before signing with Island insisted Nick be kept in print posthumously.

Imagine all the songs not kept.

* * *

When I see San Remo, across Central Park, in New York City, I can’t help but think of Paul Simon. How he defended Madonna in 1985, who wasn’t allowed to buy an apartment. When I see Central Park, I can’t help of think of Simon and Garfunkel concerts…the ghost of music is still there.

San Remo, Central Park

“In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
`I am leaving, I am leaving’
But the fighter still remains.”

~ Paul Simon, The Boxer

Art seems to look, forever without friends, in that Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

“I’ll take your part
When darkness comes”

* * *

It’s hard to believe the Irish poet can still sing.

SoHo gallery. Ron Woods paintings in here.

“It's just a moment
This time will pass”

~ Stuck In A Moment, U2
How The Edge sung like Bono, and how Mick Jagger took lead, I will never forget these three-voice moments.

“Only love can leave such a mark.”

~ Magnificent, U2

It’s hard to believe how this show was structured like a song circle.

* * *

Not lost on Springsteen and Patti Smith fans, Bono, a medley king, weaved words and melodies from The Promise Land and Because the Night into U2 songs. Who could imagine it in I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

“See the Bedouin fires at night”

~ Beautiful Day, U2

my friend Nicole Vienneau who disappeared saw Bedouin country

* * *

I have to admit, unexpectedly, Fergie stole the show, singing:

“ “War, Children, It’s Just A Shot Away”
“Rape, Murder, It’s Just A Shot Away”

~ Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter

She did this with U2, Will.I.Am and Mick Jagger on stage. In Montreal, at Time, our table was next to Fergie’s during the F-1.

Time - Fergie was here
(by Bell Centre, Montreal)

People danced on tables next to gigantic Belvedere vodka bottles. They sure know how to dance in Montreal.

* * *

Good ol’ John Fogarty of CCR showed up. He was once sued for sounding like himself.

When he released “The Old Man Down the Road” his former label sued him for sounding like his song “Run Through the Jungle.” Who gets sued for sounding like yourself? Tonight, he sung Fortunate Son.

“ “Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.
But when the taxman comes to the door,
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes”

~ Creedence Clearwater Revival

When he was sued, John brought his guitar to court. He defended himself successfully.

* * *
Well, no words can describe Buddy Guy. Suffice to say, he inspired Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Jeff Beck used sign language to describe what he heard this night. Buddy walked on, and walked off like a ghost…did this legend just appear?

He returned to the Cross Roads.

* * *

Sting sung Midnight Train To Georgia.

“ L.A. proved too much for the man,
So he's leavin' the life he's come to know,
He said he's goin' back to find
Ooh, what's left of his world,
The world he left behind
Not so long ago.”

I saw Sting at Live Earth with a photographer friend at Giants Stadium.

The next week she saw him at Toronto’s Downward Dog Yoga Studio.

Before long, her best friend saw him Australia.

Boy, does Sting get around.

* **

Tom Morello played the Ghost of Tom Joad.

Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest
No home no job no peace no rest

The highway is alive tonight
But nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes
I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light
Searchin' for the ghost of Tom Joad

A friend of mine knows him. After listening to so many stories, I tried once to see him in New York City. I even bought tickets – four to be exact. Then a friend fell ill on site and I missed Rage Against the Machine.

i even got stamped and sat on grass

Seeing my friends who knew Tom Morello was as close as I got

Tom Joad is a character in John Steinback’s Grapes of Wrath. Before Christmas, I will eat noodles with two friends in Toronto’s Chinatown. Tom was here.

I finally saw him play. Boy, can he play a mean guitar.

* * *

And who could forget that hallowed speech, the Boss gave for U2’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which somehow found its way to Cleveland:

Uno, dos, tres, catorce.. That translates as one, two, three, fourteen. That is the correct math for a rock and roll band. For in art and love and rock and roll, the whole had better equal much more than the sum of its parts, or else you're just rubbing two sticks together searching for fire. A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.
Bono Vox

It's embarrassing to want so much, and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens -- the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run -- whoops, I meant to leave that one out (laughter) -- the Sex Pistols, Aretha Franklin, the Clash, James Brown...the proud and public enemies it takes a nation of millions to hold back. This is music meant to take on not only the powers that be, but on a good day, the universe and God himself -- if he was listening. It's man's accountability, and U2 belongs on this list.

It was the early '80s. I went with Pete Townshend, who always wanted to catch the first whiff of those about to unseat us, to a club in London. There they were: A young Bono -- single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet; (laughter) the Edge -- what kind of name was that?; Adam and Larry. I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof.

We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish! Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command -- which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing, their greatest theme -- their search for God intact. This was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too.

Now, they're a real band; each member plays a vital part. I believe they actually practice some form of democracy -- toxic poison in a band's head. In Iraq, maybe. In rock, no! Yet they survive. They have harnessed the time bomb that exists in the heart of every great rock and roll band that usually explodes, as we see regularly from this stage. But they seemed to have innately understood the primary rule of rock band job security: "Hey, asshole, the other guy is more important than you think he is!" They are both a step forward and direct descendants of the great bands who believed rock music could shake things up in the world, who dared to have faith in their audience, who believed if they played their best it would bring out the best in you. They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you're doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all, and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They're keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.

Jenny Holzer installation for Zoo TV Tour

The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. The Edge. (applause) He is a rare and true guitar original and one of the subtlest guitar heroes of all time. He's dedicated to ensemble playing and he subsumes his guitar ego in the group. But do not be fooled. Take Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Pete Townshend -- guitarists who defined the sound of their band and their times. If you play like them, you sound like them. If you are playing those rhythmic two-note sustained fourths, drenched in echo, you are going to sound like the Edge, my son. Go back to the drawing board and chances are you won't have much luck. There are only a handful of guitar stylists who can create a world with their instruments, and he's one of them. The Edge's guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes. It is a thrilling and a heartbreaking sound that hangs over you like the unsettled sky. In the turf it stakes out, it is inherently spiritual. It is grace and it is a gift.

Now, all of this has to be held down by something. The deep sureness of Adam Clayton's bass and the rhythms of Larry Mullen's elegant drumming hold the band down while propelling it forward. It's in U2's great rhythm section that the band finds its sexuality and its dangerousness. Listen to "Desire," "She Moves in Mysterious Ways," [sic] the pulse of "With or Without You." Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom -- the one below the earth and below the belt -- that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without.

Joshua Tree - San Francisco
(where U2 performed Where the Streets Have No Name in the street)

Now Adam always strikes me as the professorial one, the sophisticated member. He creates not only the musical but physical stability on his side of the stage. The tone and depth of his bass playing has allowed the band to move from rock to dance music and beyond. One of the first things I noticed about U2 was that underneath the guitar and the bass, they have these very modern rhythms going on. Rather than a straight 2 and 4, Larry often plays with a lot of syncopation, and that connects the band to modern dance textures. The drums often sounded high and tight and he was swinging down there, and this gave the band a unique profile and allowed their rock textures to soar above on a bed of his rhythm.

Now Larry, of course, besides being an incredible drummer, bears the burden of being the band's requisite "good-looking member," (laughter) something we somehow overlooked in the E Street Band. (laughter) We have to settle for "charismatic." Girls love on Larry Mullen! I have a female assistant that would like to sit on Larry's drum stool. A male one, too. We all have our crosses to bear.

Bono...where do I begin? Jeans designer, soon-to-be World Bank operator, just plain operator, seller of the Brooklyn Bridge -- oh hold up, he played under the Brooklyn Bridge, that's right. Soon-to-be mastermind operator of the Bono burger franchise, where more than one million stories will be told by a crazy Irishman. Now I realize that it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it, but don't quit your day job yet, my friend. You're pretty good at it, and a sound this big needs somebody to ride herd over it.

And ride herd over it he does. His voice, big-hearted and open, thoroughly decent no matter how hard he tries. Now he's a great frontman. Against the odds, he is not your mom's standard skinny, ex-junkie archetype. He has the physique of a rugby player...well, an ex-rugby player. Shaman, shyster, one of the greatest and most endearingly naked messianic complexes in rock and roll. (laughter) God bless you, man! It takes one to know one, of course.


You see, every good Irish and Italian-Irish front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus. So hold the McDonald arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross -- there's no getting out of it. He is gifted with an operatic voice and a beautiful falsetto rare among strong rock singers. But most important, his is a voice shot through with self-doubt. That's what makes that big sound work. It is this element of Bono's talent -- along with his beautiful lyric writing -- that gives the often-celestial music of U2 its fragility and its realness. It is the questioning, the constant questioning in Bono's voice, where the band stakes its claim to its humanity and declares its commonality with us.

Now Bono's voice often sounds like it's shouting not over top of the band but from deep within it. "Here we are, Lord, this mess, in your image." He delivers all of this with great drama and an occasional smirk that says, "Kiss me, I'm Irish." He's one of the great front men of the past twenty years. He is also one of the only musicians to devote his personal faith and the ideals of his band into the real world in a way that remains true to rock's earliest implications of freedom and connection and the possibility of something better.

So close so far away

Now the band's beautiful songwriting -- "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "One," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Beautiful Day" -- reminds us of the stakes that the band always plays for. It's an incredible songbook. In their music you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless he's in your heart? In your desire? In your feet? I believe this is a big part of what's kept their band together all of these years.

See, bands get formed by accident, but they don't survive by accident. It takes will, intent, a sense of shared purpose, and a tolerance for your friends' fallibilities...and they of yours. And that only evens the odds. U2 has not only evened the odds but they've beaten them by continuing to do their finest work and remaining at the top of their game and the charts for 25 years. I feel a great affinity for these guys as people as well as musicians.

Well...there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things -- I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years (laughter) and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys!

Oh, my God! They sold out!

Now...what I know about the iPod is this: It is a device that plays music. Of course their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily. Smart. Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. (laughter) You can see my problem. Woe is me.

So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau -- or as I refer to him, "the American Paul McGuinness" -- and I say, "Did you see that iPod thing?" And he says, "Yes." And he says, "And I hear they didn't take any money." And I said, "They didn't take any money?!" And he says, "No." I said, "Smart, wily Irish guys." (laughter) Anybody...anybody...can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money...that's smart. That's wily. I say, "Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: A red, white, and blue iPod signed by Bruce "the Boss" Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don't take it!" (laughter)

At any any rate, after that evening, for the next month or so, I hear emanating from my lovely 14-year-old son's room, day after day, down the hall calling out in a voice that has recently dropped very low: Uno, dos, tres, catorce. The correct math for rock and roll. Thank you, boys.


This band...this band has carried their faith in the great inspirational and resurrective power of rock and roll. It never faltered, only a little bit. They believed in themselves, but more importantly, they believed in "you, too." Thank you Bono, the Edge, Adam, and Larry. Please welcome U2 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

* * *

In the house, were Stevie, Smokey, Aretha, and the original Soul Man.


I missed Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Friends, James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Little Richard. But I’ll be sure to catch ‘em next time. I am sure they taught their children well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sharing Bread

There are a lot of people who can only talk about a business. They can’t even generate $1.

There are so many people who know how to charge people for comments and time. They can’t even produce one thing – not even inspiration.

Even more so, the words “honest business” would be hard to apply to any company.

The word "company" comes from Latin, symbolizing people being such good friends that you would share bread with them. Con = together. Panis = bread. To go along with one and share bread. To accompany.

More than one month has passed since I heard a woman’s story that humbled me.

I can’t stop thinking about it.

Salon - A French concept of a conversation in a room to elevate minds - outlook, knowledge, and understanding.

I didn’t know her story going into a Salon where I was a keynote speaker. So was she.

I was about to give a speech about Arts Patronage – how it is possible online for people to commission work from people who inspire them. Paying something beyond $0.99 to an Artist. Commissioning an inspired project.

I wish for a photo of an eagle flying over the Lagoon in Stanley Park of Vancouver. I will pledge $...obo. A birthday gift for...

For that Salon, in Halifax, we launched a prototype to register desired gifts--works of art, or projects--online.

Next in Vancouver, we are launching an online food gifting service for Starving Artists and Causes.

We are preparing for New York where people one day will go to an inspired music café to leave a gift for someone to pick up.

Someone you know left a gift for you @ .... click here for details. There might be $20 cash for your music or dinner.

Sound impressive?

* * *

I was looking into her shadow

I was humbled by another story. By a woman. By a farmer from the country. By someone ditched by her husband. By someone ditched by her business partner, who left behind $167,000 in spoiled product (she mortaged everything and had $2000 left). By someone who turned down a $64,000 a year job as a chef. By someone who helped Artists. By someone who was turned down by a midwifery school for being too old. By someone who travels more than an hour to St. Lawrence market on Saturdays to sell cheese. By someone who wasn’t bankable. By a Mennonite.

She cussed a few times during her speech – her words simple, authentic and humorous. For people in the city.

Online and offline she got people to pre-pay for cheese yet to be made. She got people to subscribe. She generated $250,000 in subscriptions. Her business now generates more than $1 million in revenue at a profit of $150,000. She donated $15,000 to Doctors Without Borders.


As a business reporter many moons ago, and as an advisor to investors for many ventures…I can honestly say, I have never seen this before.

She did exactly what I was trying to do for inspired Art, but with cheese. For $200, you got a $250 voucher for any cheese she made in the next five years.

I want to note company shareholders are also called subscribers. She changed the meaning of subscription. She sold “futures.” Investors were consumers.

550 subscribers generated $250,000 to fund cheese next spring from five different milks.

In some ways, she was also selling prepaid Art. She saw her cheese-making as Art.

I don’t often say give it up for a business model. But today I do. I first heard it on October 8, 2009. One month later, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

She cast more than one shadow

It’s not even just the business model of Obamaesque public financing. It’s not even the economic efficiencies she created. This is a model for local produce, local foodies and local business.

She called it Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). In the crowd, randomly some of her customers were even there.

Chevalier n. ~ a distinguished cheese expert. A designation awarded by Confrérie des Chevaliers du Taste Fromage in France. An equivalent to a wine sommelier.

"Pecorino Toscano originates in Italy ( pecora is “sheep” in Italian). It's a pressed, cooked cheese with a natural rind whose history dates back more than 2,500 years. The Monforte Toscano, which has been aged six months, has a rustic, mottled rind that brings to mind an artifact just unearthed. Its paste is a pale straw colour, with warm tea tones near the rind. It exudes a pastoral well-being that engages the senses before you even take a bite. The texture is dense with some crumble, but remains moist. The flavours are soft and have an earthy depth, a sour cream richness and a subtle, sweet complexity with a bit of meatiness at the rind."

Her name is Ruth Klahsen from Monforte Cheese. Before this, she cooked for a theater in Stratford, earning $32,000 a year plus benefits. She turned down a 100% pay raise to start her business. That’s double pay. And for all her staff too. Before this, she could cook duck confit for $5.95 for Artists to eat well. “I felt like my art was helping their art. And if you double my salary if f—cks it all up (crowd laughs)…it messes it up because it means the confit of duck is $12.95.”

PS To be my own devil's advocate, Ruth really gave me a chance to contrast our business with hers. She creates an asset (cheese)…something tangible and tactile, that a buyer can taste. It’s also inspiring. Our business has less up front cost. But in our model, Art is harder to imagine, harder to taste, less tangible or tactile, arguably, less stable to make. But Art does have the potential to create more inspiring stories. To make things beautiful. It’s key for us to highlight these stories. Stories like Ruth's.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The (Un)Conventional

Convention is a comfort zone.

Convention is status quo.

Convention is recognizable. It's familiar.

Sometimes convention is only a probability.

* * *

Everytime i come to New York, i ponder the wisdom of convention.

So many new successful acts, concepts and ventures lack convention. Some new things might invent a new way of fusing convention. But for the most part, the lack of convention is what resonates.

In life, i often get advice - business or personal. But i often wonder if i accept it, is it because i like it, i am comfortable with it, or if someone less entrepreneural requires it.

I always wonder, will it even work?

The proof is not in the pudding. Magic works more often than convention.

More often than not, convention doesn't apply to everything or everyone. Convention doesn't work. It's merely a language we understand.

* * *

I see when convention works. It stabilizes, it communicates, it carries logic, it applies in theory. But convention doesn't stand out. Convention is stale.

It's statistical, to think, it might work, in this situation. But convention is not a guarantee. Not even in a game of baseball where there's a fixed set of rules. You can't always count on it. The unconventional needs to help a team win.

* * *

The loudest voices in life often carry the sound of convention. It makes what is unconventional truly refreshing. I think we felt this with Obama.

Voices of convention can also sometimes be voices of discrimination. When what people understand is the only way - it doesn't work for people who are different.

Convention might be made to rule. But rules might not apply to you and I. Rules apply to the rulers. People like them.

Voices often say things only applicable to them.

* * *

Convention is copied. Copying something already done. Something someone else did. Something you once did.

At its best, it can only be trendy, with an exciting new interpretation...perhaps you perform convention better than before...well, maybe now you're bordering on an unconventional cover song.

In a technology business, i often get sent links to read. It is amazing how this once formed one third of my inbox as a CEO. I've had to tell people i dont read links of what someone else has already done. I used to...but it never helped.

In my life, convention has never worked.

It's the unconventional that breaks through. It starts to get dangerous for me with investors and customers. They only understand convention. Convention means less risk to them.

But as someone who steers a ship to go somewhere new, i know deep in my heart, convention only causes a new venture to stay put. It brings nothing new, or exciting, to fans we depend on for success. It's stagant. It might not even be fully functional.

But when money is at stake, so much convention is expected to minimize a dire sense of risk. Music labels start to like formula. Reality shows start to grow like weeds.

* * *
Convention is lazy. Convention avoids what may be true, what may need to be done. Convention is what someone else says is your self-help.

The unfortunate thing is that not everyone benefits from convention and it's hard to measure who does. It's a format off-the rack, tailored for specific types of people.

i argue criminals are more successful than authorities who base things on convention. Criminals are forced to be unconventional to survive. Successful criminals aren't caught when authorities think conventionally. They have to think outside the box.

* * *

Some people are more privileged in the status quo to bear more fruit from convention. Some people are more resourced for conventions. Some people are more accepted with conventions.

But convention doesnt make you think, it keeps the status quo. Convention keeps you where you are.

In New York, there is always something new someone didn't think of, something that works, that makes you say, Cool.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tom's Diner, Will Travel

If you’ve ever wondered where a song can go, this story might amaze you.

I will soon be in Tom's Diner in New York City.

I want to go there, sit by a window pane, and re-write this song. Mirror it, for November, today, 28 years later. Write what I see. Write what I hear. Wonder what I will read in the New York Post.

This well-traveled place was first memorialized in a song that made music history.

Suzanna Vega's Tom's Diner was written on Broadway at 112th Street, in Tom's Restaurant, a Columbia University hangout in New York City.

Faraway, in my small Ontario town, north of Toronto, there's a place of the same name. This song never leaves me.

Somehow unlike any other song, Tom's Diner was reincarnated many times, in many forms, and later started a digital music revolution.

Vega sat by a window in Tom's to write this song. She was inspired by a photographer who said he could see his entire life through a window pane, in the third person.

Vega actually forgot what year she wrote it (she thought 1982)...but words she sung of "a story of an actor who had died while he was drinking," gave a clue, and so did "turning to the horoscope / and looking for the funnies."

In 1981-82, only the New York Post had a horoscopes, comics and prominently covered a story of an actor who had died.

William Holden won an Oscar in 1954 for his best actor performance in Sunset Boulevard

He was drunk, slipped on a carpet, banged his head on a night table, and bled to death on November 12, 1981. He was discovered November 16. His story was in Tom's Diner on November 18.

The "bells of the cathedral," Vega heard from Tom's Diner, refer to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Gothic architecture, 1892
(redesigned many times)

Amsterdam @ 112th

Tom's Diner was first released in a magazine of all places: A January 1984 analog insert inside Fast Folk Musical Magazine. What format i don't know.

Vega wrote Tom's Diner for piano but sung it a cappella because she couldn't play piano yet. The song was then re-released in 1987 on her platinum album Solitude Standing.

I bought this in cassette tape - in days when female vocalists were coming to the forefront

Before this, she performed Tom's Diner at the Prince's Trust concert, without instruments in 1986, to confront her stage fright. She vowed if this song was poorly received, she would walk off stage and never sing it again live. She took a chance against her fear, and it worked.

If there's good karma to extend a song's life, Tom's Diner is the poster child.

Tom's Diner would later become the "Mother of the MP3"...Karlheinz Brandenburg used it to develop the MP3:

"I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm...somewhere down the corridor, a radio was playing `Tom's Diner.' I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice."

The digital music inventor tested Tom's Diner repeatedly to refine the scheme, "making sure it did not adversely affect the subtlety of Vega's voice."

Then in 1990, this song fell into the secretive hands of two underground DJs in England known as DNA. They put the beats of Soul II Soul behind it, to remix it, for underground performances.This was done without permission.

Instead of being sued, DNA was offered compensation to release this underground remix which became a major hit, selling 3 million copies. Money was exchanged clandestine by suitcase via intermediaries. The identity of DNA was not initially publicly known. Two music men from Bath thought they would face legal consequences if identified.

Later REM and Billy Bragg covered it in their one-off band Bingo Hand Job.

Sometimes i think the inspiration of this song will transfer eternally from one creative force to another.

Vega, a Spanish Harlem and later Upper West Side resident, was once a regular at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village, where Lady Gaga says she used to work as a teenager. Lady Gaga was born five years after Tom's Diner.

Tom's Restaurant is in a building owned by Columbia University, and also houses NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Tom's has been operated by the Greek-American Minasizoulis family since the 1950s. Most of the world knows Tom's via Seinfeld's fictional Monk's Cafe (exterior). "Tom" was deleted from Seinfeld to avoid paying royalties.

Early Seinfeld episodes showed the word "Tom's."

Tom's Diner, Will Travel, was written in a web cafe in Toronto on College Street, @$10/day, east of Ossington. Next to me, a man says he is about to take a bus to New York. On a computer, he finds a room, for $22 on the Upper West Side. A "dormitory bunk."

Today Al Gore was signing books at Barnes and Noble

A man surnamed Noble jumped from the 10th floor of an NYU library.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some people say rap is a sin. I say hear where it' s been.

A dj once asked if i made beats. Only once, words, feats, in defeat.

I was in SF, saw MC Sniper projected on a screen in a Korean bar on Taylor, just north of Kearny.

And this is what i wrote for my brother who died in March. Rap, its legacy after death, inspired him. A rap for someone who lived, while he lived.

I started to think of my bro fightin his fourth stage in a hospital bed – and wrote…

Yellow Rap
They say in rap
You die
They say in rap
You live
They say in rap
You return
They say in rap
We rap
Until we find
That other place
Only one life to live
One bullet left
My feet don't matter
My legs don't quit
My heart be rappin
Cause MLK be clappin
That we aint hazy
Cause we aint lazy
We be real
To be the deal
To fight the power
In our finest hour
No time to waste
No time to haste
My eyes be wide open
My truth be dopin
More than the power
That keeps me hopin
Aint got no fluff
We be the stuff
No need to sell
No tales to tell
So no more dippin
Into those who be trippin
We got no time for that
In this Yellow Rap
One bullet left
- 30 -

He died before turning 30.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Alice Underground (Espirit D'Escalier)

Her blog before she died in New York, was called Wit of the Staircase.

The title derives from the French espirit d'escalier...the perfect witty response one thinks up after the conversation is over.

from her blog

Her lover and soul mate of 12 years, before he died, had exhibited at Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in three Whitney Museum Biennials.

He designed Beck's album cover for Sea of Change.
His paint strokes looked like graphics.

His work was exhibited posthumously at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Together, they were the IT couple of New York's Lowest East Side. They socialized with the likes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi and Emily Watson. They hung out at the Bowery Hotel, the Beatrice Inn and Bungalow 8.

They moved from their New York Broome Street apartment to a bungalow in Los Angeles where she had a two picture deal with Fox Searchlight and directed a pilot for Oxygen. They then returned to New York where she took her life.

They were described as "alarmingly brilliant."

"They were like two parts of the same person — very, very bonded," said one New York writer. "You could talk to them about the history of electricity or politics. Both were really scholarly in a pop sense."

They returned to New York where he wanted to speak “freely” to “exceptional people” and launch their work.

“They were remarkable people,” said a former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “I can’t think of one without the other. It was flattering to be in their presence. You felt good that they liked you.”

He was 35, she was 40, in the last year of their lives.

They lived in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, a special place in New York history. Sam Shepherd produced his first plays here. Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan danced here. Allen Ginsberg and WH Auden read poetry here. Andy Warhol hung out here. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet was once on St. Mark's arts committee. Frank Lloyd Wright drew plans for two towers at St. Mark's.

In the courtyard, she and he would often have discourse to change the frontier of what we understood. They drank Manhattans with Pastor Frank Morales. "They were a dynamic force, and I'm sure their brilliance circulated between them symbiotically," said one notable art gallery curator.

note the grass

Their 3 bedroom apartment was in the rectory of St. Mark's.

Frank Morales pays a visit to rectory. He's often considered a leader of New York's squatter's movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

He collaborated with her 40-minute animation called The History of Glamour, shown at the prestigious Whitney Museum Year 2000, biennial exhibition.

"The History of Glamour is a semi-autobiographical satire about the rise of a young female indie-rock’s a cautionary tale about the emptiness of fame and the corrupting influence of ambition."

She was a notable blogger, aspiring screenwriter, and critically acclaimed pioneering game designer. Her blogs sometimes chronicled discontinued perfumes and Kate Moss. She was dubbed "Silicon Alley’s dream girl” by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and People. "Her confidence was contagious. It was `punk.'" ~ Vanity Fair.

She could do no wrong until the end.

In Hollywood, no one gets to be Warhol, not even Warhol. “She seemed a bit naïve about Hollywood,” said Sex Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren (whom Blake had been working on a portrait of when he died). “She went in hoping people would listen to her, but in Hollywood you’re the one who has to listen.”

~ Vanity Fair

After returning to New York, she was working on her chef d'oeuvre - her life's cornerstone work - when she killed herself on July 10. It was called Alice Underground.

He was a graphic designer for Rockstar Games. He found her lying prone, by a suicide note, pills and a champagne glass. He had eaten a late lunch at 3pm with her that day. No one ever saw them fight. Her note said, "I love all of you." He was inconsolable. Up to 10 people took shifts for one week on suicide watch. He was "blanketed." Then on July 17, a day before her funeral, he took a train to Brooklyn en route to see a friend. Instead, he went to Rockaway Beach - a place where New Yorkers go surfing in the Atlantic Ocean - where his mother was born.

"American Ruins" - from his video Wincester

He took off all his clothes, folded them neatly, leaving his wallet and a note behind. He walked into the sea. A woman saw him and called 911. A fishing boat picked him out of the water in Jersey five days later. Before this he had purchased a flight to Germany.

In the note, he wrote, he wanted to be with her.

an actress anonymously left this in my notebook before she left a boutique bar celebrating the wrap of her tv series

His memorial was held on her birthday - October 26. Coincidentally, today (two years ago).

Her genius, her masterpiece, will never be seen, with all of its sophisticated visual style. It is Alice Underground.

"It would have revealed the real depth of her talent," said one producer.

So many things in life we don't see.

* * *

His digital paintings married animation, film and computer art.

He was the iPhone paint brush before there even was one. "You could experience a video as you would a painting. It's poetic, abstract, very rich work," said one curator.

"His first solo shows, in New York and Los Angeles in 1999, blew everybody away." ~ Vanity Fair

“I think I have invented a new, more poetic kind of pop art that blends elements of pop and noir.”

* * *
Her dream ended with Beck. From this point onward, no one knows what really happened. She claimed Beck originally agreed to be in Alice Underground - a film about a rock star kidnapped by two girls. Then the Church of Scientology, she believed, asked him not to participate, and conspired to crush its prospects in Hollywood. Her screenplay was well-received by Fox Searchlight, then Paramount, and then shelved. They believed they were being harassed and followed by Scientologists in Los Angeles. It's partly why they moved to New York. The internet has been rife with theories on how two wildly successful and popular artists were driven to suicide.

I often wonder if they saw St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery as an artist sanctuary or more so, a safe harbor from persecution. In the end, the demons got to her. And he lost his true love here.

Before she died, she referenced Kafka in a July 5 blog: “When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours?”

He found her shortly after 7pm and police cars arrived 10 minutes later, at St. Mark's north entrance.

* * *
Their apartment overlooked a beautiful garden but is also allegedly haunted by Harry Houdini and Edgar Allan Poe. Today the church is 210 years old, on the exact spot where a Dutch man buried below previously erected a family chapel in 1660. Six generations of his family are buried here. She helped organized a July 3 fundraiser, successfully generating $12,000 to repair St. Mark's facade, a week before she died. Oddly, she didn't invite Frank Morales and the couple didn't show up.

The rectory overlooking the garden

1795 cornerstone

In some sad tragic irony, author Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) is working on a screenplay for director Gus Van Zandt about them. Her life and his life have been approved for a movie posthumously.

* * *

I stayed away from St. Mark's that year - waiting for a sign. In the village, i was reading a book called The Mole People. People started stopping me to say they had read the book too.

Then one December night, an actress from Law&Order sat next to me at a music cafe and said she had read it too. A playright said, he had written a play about mole people. I asked him, "what's it called?"

He replied, "Alice Underground."

No shit, i replied.

This most recent trip, i sponsored an Artist who went about town separately. On Tuesday, he told me, "I found this really neat open mike. It's in an underground theater. A lot of talented people perform."

I then asked him, what's it called. He replied, "St. Mark's."

He actually went somewhere down the street near the church. On Tuesdays, at Under St. Mark's Theater (94 St. Mark's Place), there's a 100-person underground theater for Penny's Open Mike.

It's underground, but I wonder if I can find Alice?

Penny's Open Mike - on night of Obama's election win

* * *

Nearby at the church...
"The Poetry Project burns like red hot coal in New York's snow."

-Allen Ginsberg

Founded in 1966, the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, via three weekly readings and performances, has seen hundreds of poets, writers and performers, including Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, John Cage, Sam Shepard, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, and Michael Ondaatje. It is staffed completely by poets.

I don't know too much about Danspace Project - a reputable dance initiative...but it's here too. You can't go wrong if Martha and Isadora were here.

* * *
St. Marks - 131 East 10th (@ 2nd Avenue)

Two days ago, i explained some of the old history of New Amsterdam to a man visiting from Amsterdam. New York was first Dutch, then British, then American. He asked if i knew of a place that had a sculpture of a famous Dutch man inside a New York building. He had seen it before. I didn't know the answer. Tonight i find out, it is here at St. Mark's in 1660, Peter Stuyvesant built a chapel on land he bought in 1651. He is still buried beneath.

* * *

Many stories have been written of delusions and paranoia that talents like they--like we--can face. I don't know how to end this other than to say, You can't get better, if you think you are worse or better than you actually are.

PS this blog, if truly an esprit d'escalier, was designed to get you to perform...

"The answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete, till afterwards it suddenly comes to you...when it is too late." ~ Theresa Duncan on espirit d'escalier.