Looking For Bob Dylan On His 75th Birthday

Bob Dylan’s influence is incalculable. It might be a very long time before it can be fully assessed. Meditating on some aspects of it, as his 75th Birthday, (Tuesday, May 24), was approaching, I settled on one aspect of it-

Bob had a lot to do with taking New York City, and specifically Greenwich Village, where he lived and worked, to another level, after he moved here in 1961.

Yes, The Village had a long history of being a Bohemian haven before Bob, going back to the 19th Century, and more recently, the Beats and the Jazz Clubs certainly had begun to do just that, setting the stage for Bob and creating the environment he wanted to be in. Then, of course, the “English Invasion” piled on soon after. But, that was a long time ago. Many people who live here now, or have lived here over the past 50 years have done so in part because of what he did.

I decided to “honor” Bob on his 75th, Tuesday, by looking for what remains.

“I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes”*

Ok, Bob. I’m gonna try.

So, I headed down Seventh Avenue on the day, looking for any signs of Bob. What I found, or rather didn’t find, will make this a rather short Post.

My first stop was 161 West 4th Street, just off Sixth Avenue, where Dylan lived for 3 or so years. I actually lived a few hundred feet away for a year some years ago. It’s changed a lot since even I lived here. Now, “Tic Tac Toe,” an adult novelty emporium is downstairs, where, back in Bob’s day, a spaghetti shop was, with a used furniture store above. Looking it over from the outside, it sure doesn’t look like much else about it has changed, except the rent. I’m sure whoever is living in Bob’s former apartment on the top floor in the back now isn’t paying the 60.00 a month Dylan did!

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From there, I went looking for some of the old clubs that Bob performed at that launched him, and which became legendary in turn. First, I walked by 116 MacDougal Street where both the “Kettle of Fish” (1st Floor) and “The Gaslight Cafe”(in the basement) were. They are long gone. At 105 MacDougal, where the “Fat Black Pussycat” was, where Dylan is reputed to have written “Blown’ In The Wind,” there now stands a Mexican Restaurant. (I found another place called the “Fat Black Pussycat,” on West 3rd Street, across from the Blue Note Jazz Club.)

In fact, the only place left that I could find was “Cafe Wha?” on MacDougal and Minetta Lane, where Dylan first set foot on a New York Stage (and where Jimi Hendrix was discovered a few years later) on January 24, 1961.

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Cafe Wha? seen from Minetta Lane, where Jimi Hendrix is honored on the side door, while Dylan is barely mentioned on the poster they’re reading in the front.

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Through this door in 1961, "the coldest winter in 17 years," he later said, Dylan began his New York years.

Through this door in 1961, “the coldest winter in 17 years,” he later said, Dylan began his New York years.

Cafe Wha? had only opened in 1959, and it’s original owner only passed away in 2014. I was there last to hear Dave Fields, and it sure didn’t look to have changed a heck of a lot from what it must have looked like in ’61.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that almost all of Dylan’s all haunts are now gone- It’s, perhaps, more amazing Cafe Wha? is still here, 56 years later! NYC doesn’t give “landmark” status to clubs, so in a City where it’s quite an accomplishment to last 5 years, 56 is miraculous.

So, heading out of the Village, without having seen nary a Bob Dylan T Shirt, or anyone selling them, I came across this posted on a window-

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It caught my eye because it’s a play on the title of Dylan’s 1965 song “Positively 4th Street,” that was his first single after “Like A Rolling Stone.” It may, or may not have something to do with 4th Street. Positively 8th Street is a festival that celebrates the history of the Village. Bob Dylan is certainly a part of that- I’d say a large part of it. In this case, this year’s festival had already taken place. Fitting.

So, while his influence is incalculable, I was left with the sense that it’s moved, and moved on, like Bob himself has. I couldn’t see it walking around his old stomping grounds 56 years later, because most of the physical reminders are long gone, and that is a bit sad, but it’s here. It’s now “below the surface.” It lives on in the impact his music has had on everyone it’s touched. It lives on in all of us who were impacted enough to remember what happened where and when. And, all of us who wish him a Happy 75th Birthday. And many more.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Positively 4th Street,” by Bob Dylan and published by Bob Dylan Music Co.

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How Can You “Love” An Artist You Don’t Know?

Sounds crazy, right? Maybe it is.

Yet, it’s something I hear said all the time- “I love van Gogh.”  Or Monet, da Vinci, Beethoven, The Beatles, Frida Kahlo, David Bowie or Prince. Obviously I do it more than my fair share, too. For those of us who say such things, those people are real to us in the impact they have on our lives.

“I don’t care if I’m not in fashion
I will follow you, I will follow you”*

Unlike “internet friends,” this is a phenomena that has gone on for hundreds of years, though it feels like it’s been increasing since the middle of the 20th Century. The Arts touch people deeply. People connect to Artists (Note- when I say “Artists” or “Art” in this piece I am referring to all the creative Arts) they most likely don’t know, will never meet, and possibly lived, and died, hundreds of years ago. Sometimes, almost nothing is even known about them.

“But I wait, I’m sinkin’ in my skin
And I wait, my heart is wearin’ thin”*

Why?

It’s happened to me quite a bit in my life. Maybe a hundred times. Maybe more. Sometimes it happens in a moment, I’ve called the experience “seeing The Light.” I’ll be in a show, minding my own business, and then all of a sudden, CLICK, and everything has changed. Suddenly, I “get it.”

“Cause Im looking for somethin’ beautiful.”*

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And then it happened. Little did I know that when I crossed that line of light on the second floor at The Met Breuer on April 14, “The Light” would literally go on, and 20th Century Art would never be the same for me again. (Recreated)

It can also happen listening to music, reading a book, seeing a play. Maybe, it’s happened to you? One thing about going to The Met(TM) so often these past 14 years is that I’ve “gotten used” to experiencing it. It’s one of the reasons I now go and see any show they have up, regardless of whether I know anything about the Artist or not. (Try it yourself. There’s usually upwards of 25 shows going on at any one time. Oh? And if none of them do it for you? There’s always the permanent collection of over 2 MILLION items. Maybe something there will.) Over and over I’ll discover an Artist I’ve never even heard of, most recently, Nasreen Mohamedi, and find myself completely captivated by him or, in this case, her.

Over the course of my dozen visits to her show, I often find myself alone in a gallery. Just me and her work. I’m not alone with her, of course, but with a “real” part of her (I feel). Still, I know this is NOTHING like what it would have been like to have been in a room with her, looking at her work, watching her work, or simply talking. Yet? Her work has captivated me to the point that I’ve written about her twice in 2 months (in addition to a dozen trips to her Retrospective.)

She passed away in 1990. Like 90% of people who say they “love” such and such artist, I didn’t know Nasreen Mohamedi, or most of the other artists on my list, which is coming. All I “know” about her and her life comes from reading the one monograph currently in print about her. Yet, her work cuts right through me like an x-ray, the prefect greeting card, the perfect gift, or hearing just the right word from a loved one does.

“And you say, Look up, look up, look all around you
Can’t you see the love that surrounds
The very soul of you?

Something in me almost breaks”*

How is this possible? Those people KNOW me, and I know them.

It’s also happened with the other Artists on my list, which includes Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Elvis Costello, Frank Lloyd Wright, Morrissey, Michelangelo, Brahms, Leonardo, J.S. Bach, Charlie Chaplin, Rembrandt, R. Crumb, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Glenn Gould, John Coltrane, Shakespeare, Bela Bartok, Jimi Hendrix, Stanley Kubrick, Morton Feldman, and Richard Estes, among others1.

What’s your list look like?

I ask myself- What do they have in common…besides talent?

‘You stick your soul out risk it all
Your fearless beauty breaks your fall
Something in me knows there’s something more

And it’s so close I wanna run”*

They lived at different times over the past 500 years or so. They weren’t all the same sex, the same race, the same ethnicity, religion, or nationality. I’ve never even been to the places most of them lived or worked. I don’t know the challenges they faced on a daily basis, what they ate, if they worked out, and so much more. Some of them, like Shakespeare, have left people wondering if they even actually existed. Others, like Leonardo, Michelangelo and Bob Dylan are clouded in mystery in spite of being extraordinarily well documented during their lives. Oh well. We have their work, or what has survived of it. That says quite a bit in itself. Most people who have lived these past 500 years are gone without a trace.

Some say Music is the universal language. It’s certainly one. Most of us have seen that first hand. But I also have painters, sculptors, architects, film actors and directors on my list. That tells me that Art cuts across medium and method. It takes an intensely creative vision, along with a unique talent- and both of those things need to be backed up with an unstoppable drive.

I guess that in the end, it goes back to being human, the one thing I have in common (the ONLY thing), with everyone on that list. Though? Some of them seem “super human” to me. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, not only designed incredible buildings like the “Imperial Hotel,”  “Midway Gardens,” two buildings I would have given anything to see, and “Fallingwater,” he insisted on designing ALL the glass for the windows, ALL the furniture, AND, ALL, the dishes inside of them. How is that possible?

Because they are able to put in to a song, a poem, a building, a sculpture, a movie, a book, a photograph, or a painting or drawing things that we may know, things we may have experienced, things we may think but can’t express, things we can’t put into words (sometimes, neither do they), and in doing so, they help us to feel not as isolated among the billions living and billions now not. If an Artist from 500 or 2,000 years ago can express something you’re feeling or going through right now? There’s some comfort to be taken in that. Something to be learned from it, too.

The human condition is universal. It’s existed since Man/Garden of Eden Day 1, as seen up on the Sistine’s Ceiling done much more recently, and not a heck of a lot about it has changed since the Garden of Eden, or the Renaissance.

When people weren’t able to “Yahoo” something to look it up? They looked elsewhere for their answers. When something happened to them- good or bad, they, too, wanted ways to celebrate ir or mourn it. A few put it down in some way. On a wall, on papyrus, on a stone, on all means of other materials, including paper, canvas, marble, vinyl and celluloid. The message was more than the medium. That message has been communicating across days, weeks, months, centuries, epochs and continents.

Time Machine? Peter Blume's "Light of the World," 1932 Whitney Museum

Time Machine- Artist’s Conception? Peter Blume’s “Light of the World,” 1932, Whitney Museum

People spend their time fantasizing about “Time Machines.” Why? We are the future for all those who have passed. We know what the world is like when they could only wonder. Like “George” in H.G. Wells’ classic “Time Machine,” who always kept the Key to his Machine handy, we have the “Key” to Time Travel right now. Art from the past can take you back there anytime you look at it/experience it. As I said, the human condition is universal and not much about it has changed- what’s happening to you/us now? More than likely? It’s happened before. We have “Time Machines” right now that can show this to us any time we want.

"Too Much Is Never Enough," the motto of the NYC I love. Art/Culture is the main (only?) reason to live here, IMHO. Moma's Elevator April, 2016

“Time Machine” on West 54rd Street. Moma’s Elevator April, 2016

Millions of people “get this” possibly without even being fully aware of it happening. They connect. People look or hear and are touched, changed, moved, transformed. Don’t take my word for it, check yourself when you experience it next time. That’s why it forges such a strong connection in so many people. It touched them in a place deep inside, one of the most magical, and human, experiences in life. It’s intimate. If you happen to check the creation date, you may be surprised that someone in the past felt this, too, and can express it so that you “get it” now. That’s the magic element to great “Art”- it speaks to people over time. It begins with communicating. Some Art continues to speak across time. Some does not. In the end, it’s date of creation is secondary. You’ve been touched. I’ve been touched. Something remains inside.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenhim, NYC. Wright intended visitors take the Elevator/”Time Machiine” (inside the bump seen at the center) to the top and walk down the ramp, something every regime running the Museum since seems to have forgotten. No, that’s not his design for the glass dome- his were all circles.

I’m not alone in this. Neither are you.

Consider this- Over 50,000,000 people went to the top 10 most visited Museums in 2015. That’s ONLY the top 10 out of the thousands of Museums in the world (and includes only one of NYC’s “Big 4.”) For comparison, Major League Baseball, the most attended sports league in the world, drew 73.7 million in 2014. No other sport drew even 25 million- world wide! The top FOUR Museums combined top them by themselves! Yet? Art NEVER makes either the front or the back pages of newspapers (unless someone steals something or pays a record price for something), sports “news” appears on every newscast (Did you ever wonder WHY both of these are true- WORLD WIDE?2), sports appear on countless cable & TV channels 24/7/365.

Art is important, in my opinion, for a few reasons- One, being the best of it ranks with man’s greatest achievements in any field. It’s been created by the widest range of humanity one can imagine, people both scholars, or “uneducated” or “self-taught,” geniuses and commoners. By members of both sexes, all races, creeds, and on and on, and so, stands as, perhaps, our most complete testament of the human experience. Another is that Art continues to speak to so many people in so many ways, no matter how much things “change.”

The greatest music club in the world, IMHO- NYC's Village Vanguard. Inside you are in the same space most of the greats in Jazz history performed.

The greatest music club in the world, IMHO- NYC’s Village Vanguard. Inside this physical “Time Machine,” you are in the same space where many of the greats in Jazz history made History.

I guess for me, if an Artist “speaks” to me, I try and learn more about him or her. At least I want to see more of their work and see if it speaks to me as well. Perhaps I’m seeking something of a kindred spirit. Perhaps I’m seeking answers. Interestingly, for me, I notice that Artists I loved as a teenager still speak to me. Do yours?

I feel that looking at, or experiencing, Art is a selfish experience. The Artist does all the giving. The viewer (listener, reader or concert goer) does all the “getting.” I say that even while acknowledging that many Artists say they “create for themselves,” and that it can take some “work” on the recipient’s part to understand what is being presented. Yet, it’s not a one way street.

Worlds within Worlds. The eastern half of the 1st Floor of The Strand Bookstore.

Worlds within Worlds. The eastern half of the 1st of 4 floors of The Strand Bookstore. A “Time Machine” if ever there was one.

Though many of these Artists may have passed away, they live on through their work. People respond to it for many reasons- perhaps as many as there are viewers, listeners or readers of it. They come out in droves to see it. 661,500 people who weren’t me (out of the total of 611,509) attended “Savage Beauty,” TM’s show devoted to the work of the brilliant Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen in 2011, a year after he passed away, tragically, at age 40. And  yes, quite a few left feeling they “loved” him or his work. The show was then reinstalled at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, where over 3,500 a day visited it. This is one show, one example. The results are similar for individuals attending any show, big or small, hearing any record, seeing any show, book or film. Some don’t get it, some hate it, and some like it, even Love it.

The "manual" elevator at the "New" Whitney Museum seen in 2015 shortly after it's opening.

The “manual” Elevator/”Time Machine” at the “New” Whitney Museum seen in 2015 shortly after it’s grand opening. It won’t look this new long.

One result- Many Artists are loved more now than they were when they were alive!

Think about that for a minute.

That is unspeakably S A D.

“Love,” Nighthawk? L.O.V.E.? The same Love that Shakespeare’s Romeo speaks of for Juliet? “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!”(Act 1, Sc 5).  The same Love that most of the other Artists you name probably wouldn’t feel for you? (“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” R&J Act 2, Sc2)

Something is amiss in the State of Art.

Well? I said it wasn’t a “one way street.” Many recipients of Art respond with real feeling for the Artists, though it may not always be as intense as “Beatlemania” was. I’m not telling those people what they were feeling wasn’t real.

I wonder how it would it feel to Vincent van Gogh if he were alive now? He’d be one of the biggest “stars” (whatever that “means”) in the world, mobbed anywhere he went. For someone as isolated as he was, it might well be too much for him, or any one, to bear. How would Nasreen Mohamedi, who also never sold a work, feel walking into her show right now?

The Met Breuer's "Time Machine"/elevator, May, 2016

The Met Breuer’s Elevator/”Time Machine,” May, 2016, Nasreen? 2nd Floor. Art/Culture is the main (only?) reason to live in NYC, IMHO.

All of this makes me wonder, yet again, about the incredible amount of attention being paid to, not to mention the even more incredible prices paid for, unproven Contemporary Art. With all due respect to John Waters book, “Contemporary Art Hates You,” my question is- “Do people LOVE Contemporary Art, and if so, who’s?” Looking at show attendance lists, I’m not surprised to see Ai Weiwei’s name near the top, along with Jeff Koons, Nobuyoshi Araki, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy in there as well. I, too, am taken with Ai, as a fellow New Yorker, as an Activist and as an Artist. I wrote about his work when his Passport was finally returned last year. While I admire him tremendously, and from everything I’ve seen, he seems like a very likable, even lovable guy. I wonder, however, how many people “Love” his work. Even if this isn’t the point of it, I don’t think this is splitting hairs. It’s easy for me, or others, to chalk the incredibly high prices paid at auction or in galleries for Contemporary Art to the few with excess cash looking for an “investment,” but for the mainstream Art lover to connect with them, as they do with whoever is on their lists, is something I wonder about. Much of what I see in galleries, (by others not named here), is downright hard to “Love.” I’d settle for “liking” it.

Is it "Art?" Or, just broken? Michael Brown @ Mike Weiss Gallery, 2016

Do you love me? Michael Brown recreates broken glass in steel @ Mike Weiss Gallery, 2016. One man’s junk is another man’s Art.

The last time something like this happened, Andy Warhol led a group of artists that got labelled “Pop,” and some of them, including Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, continued to innovate and speak to people, and so became established Artists, displayed in countless Museums, and also, loved. It will be interesting to see if that happens again. THAT is what some people are betting hundreds of millions of dollars on. Maybe they should have put that money into making their own “Time Machine.” Because?

Time will tell. We shall see.

“But I wait, I’m sinkin’ in my skin
And I wait, my heart is wearin’ thin
Cause I’m looking for something beautiful”*

One thing I can say right now- With all the attention that’s being given to Contemporary Art these days, which is rare historically (usually, it has had to prove itself over time to gain acceptance), and the level of it unprecedented, I hope some of that will trickle over to the other “Contemporary ArtS” that could sure use some- Writers, Musicians, Dramatists, Actors, Independent Filmmakers & Documentarians, among them, where there are many worthy Artists (I’m especially thinking of Artists who are in the middle or mature stages of important careers, to start with, like Jazz Artists Craig Taborn or Kamasi Washington, playwright Athol Fugard, composers John Adams and David Byrne, singer/songwriters Tom Waits and Tracy Bonham, (who’s song, “Something Beautiful,” is the Soundtrack for this Post), and Graphic Novelists Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware 3) who could sure use some attention and support.

Maybe even some Love.

“And I pray for it to come right in
There’ll come a day, my heart is wearin’ thin
When I fall upon something beautiful
Something beautiful, something meaningful

Something beautiful, something meaningful”*

I’ve written far too many “R.I.P.” pieces already this year. Let’s not wait till it’s too late. Use the Key to your own Time Machine right now and experience them. You have the rare power of being able to make time stand still.

No “Machine” can ever give that to you. Only being alive can.

*-The Soundtrack for this Post is “Something Beautiful” by Tracy Bonham from her 2005 album, “Blink The Brightest,” seen here in this very rare TV-with-Rabbit-Ear-Antenna to VHS dub-

Written by Tracy, Marc Copely and Greg Wells and published by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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  1. Of these, I was blessed with encountering Jaco Pastorius in person a number of times over the last 10 years of his life, I met Elvis Costello twice, and I met Richard Estes once.
  2. Morrissey asks this very question in “List of the Lost.
  3. I’ve met Mr. Ware a few times as well.

What I Learned Shopping For Clothes With Magda

Those few who actually know me know that I’m pretty much obsessed with women’s fashion (on women), probably as much as I am with Art & Music. I spent a lot of my free time the past 10 years drawing my ideas for clothes and toyed with the idea of starting a line before coming to my senses about how much money it takes to do it right (thanks to my friend Maiya’s experience, who actually did it), and especially, how “stealable” fashion ideas are. It would totally suck to come up with something new and different that some people thought was good only to have the idea stolen by a big company and not have the resources to stop them. I figured I’d need 10 great ideas so I could keep them coming. I also came to believe that fashion should be one to one, as in one of a kind items, which is total financial suicide, unless you are a brilliant tailor, too. I finally decided that if I met the right girlfriend/muse, I might design for her. In the meantime, I’ve contented myself with sharing an opinion, or twelve, when asked.

My inspiration goes back to the something the late, great record producer Joel Dorn told me. Joel is immortal for having produced many great records by the Allman Brothers (he produced their first album), Charles Mingus, Yes, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, among many others and won back to back Record of the Year Grammy Awards, during a long and illustrious career. I met him after a seminar he gave at a jazz convention in the 90’s and he befriended me because we were working with in the same circle of “Downtown” musicians, centered around the Knitting Factory. He was starting to work with the Jazz Passengers which resulted in the very good and overlooked album, “Individually Twisted.” that also featured Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello. He’d call, and we’d discuss various Downtown artists and compare notes on the scene. Most of all, as an aspiring producer, I tried to gain as much of his priceless wisdom as I could. The most indelible thing he told me was-

“Don’t make a record that’s already been made.”

That’s easy for you to say, Joel- you made some of the records that are landmarks along the road towering in front of any who dare come along later! Then I thought more about it. Frank Sinatra gets credit for making the “concept album” a thing beginning in 19551. By that I mean conceiving an album as a whole- even if it didn’t have a unifying “theme,” per se, it hangs together as a statement. That wasn’t that long ago. How many albums have been made since? Music recorded before that gets compiled into albums for marketing, but the music probably wasn’t created to be together. So, we’re talking about 150 or so years of recorded music and 60 years of albums? Still, it’s pretty daunting to try and do something all of those greats haven’t done yet. That was foremost in my mind at all times. EVEN when it came down to drawing fashion ideas. Fashion has been around much longer than recorded music. The ideas were, primarily, things I liked and wanted to see worn (even though many of them were probably impossible to wear!), BUT they also had to be things I’d never seen done.

So, short story digressed from, there I was the other day with my friend, the Fashion Guru & Blogger extraordinaire, Magdalena, from prettycripple.com. Yes, Magda is disabled. She’s in a wheelchair. (I don’t think she knows that, though, so I won’t tell her if you don’t.) We decided to spend a gloriously sunny afternoon in the Meat Packing District, which I will refrain from giving my opinion about, and say that I VERY much miss what it was back in the 1990’s and before. Magda, who hadn’t been there in a while, wanted to see which of her old fave small boutiques were still in business. I was psyched to see what we’d find. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that many of her favorites were no more, and another one, Scoop, is joining them any day.

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Magda, outside of the now demised Hogs & Heifers, right before our shopping began.

Now I am someone with very strong opinions (shocker) when it comes to women’s clothes. So, we began, and I was watching her go through the racks, we’d compare notes on what she liked. It started out normally enough. At Scoop she got a very nice, reversible hat, which immediately came in handy in the bright sun at a nice discount.

Wait. Sun? Me? Mr. Night Owl? I know. I told Magda I’d “get up early for our 2:30pm get together.”

Ok. She has an eye for a bargain that’s also practical and versatile. No news there. Finally, we wound up at a pop-up type stand a few blocks away. Then things got interesting.  To my eyes, the clothes were a bit over the top, so I didn’t look very closely. They were handmade, though, which is always nice to see, fashion should be one to one. Women are unique, right? Magda agrees.

So, she picked out a blue number and I thought it was over the top but doable. Then, she took things to another level and she lost me. She picked out this top/jacket, and I didn’t say a word.

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I watched. If she had asked me, I’d have said, “No.” But, she was in a zone. She didn’t have to ask. Buying clothes is as much what you’re going to wear with something and I don’t know her whole, amazing wardrobe, only what I’ve seen her wear, and what she wears on her Blog. And, what she was wearing right then. There you see the final result.

She fell in love with it. I fought back my initial reaction and tried to see it through her eyes. This is where going to see a wide variety of Art, or listening to a wide range of Music pays off- you fight off your initial reactions and try to keep an open mind long enough so you can learn something about it. I can’t tell you how many times this has made a big difference for me. Many of my favorite Artists, Composers and Musicians got to me through this process.

Standing there, it was now happening unconsciously. Automatically.

Magda wound up buying the piece, which she had immediately loved, (and another), and we left. She wore it out. We parted and I was left thinking about the experience. I woke up today still thinking about it. I see the similarity with how I’ve come to love so much Art & Music.

There are Artists, and people, who are so good at what they do, and/or have a vision, that you have to trust them. You have to, at least, give them the benefit of the doubt. You have to see where they’re going with it, as they say. Try and see it through their eyes. Along the way you may learn, too.

Magda has her own style. I’ve known a lot of entertainers, Musicians and Artists who did as well. They were themselves 24/7. My last Post was about one, who I didn’t know. It comes out of their pores. They dressed “differently” than most. They thought differently than most. That’s part of the process of being that creative, and part of what makes them special, and certainly unique.

Magda has that.

When I was working in Music Production, one of the things I loved was listening to all the tapes people would send in trying to get work as a musician, singer or recording engineer. I was the first person at the company to make a point of listening to every single tape sent in (about 500 a years) and I created a database logging details and notes about each one. To my amazement, I would find producers sitting at my desk going through my database. The first thing I learned from doing it? There are A LOT of talented people in New York! (And the world, too, of course.) The second was to keep an open mind. While I was looking for expertise in specific styles or in a range of styles, I never knew what was going to come on next. I’d continually come across someone….”different.” I also got good at spotting people with talent. As in good enough to get signed talent. One, went on to sign one of the biggest recording contracts a new artist had ever singed at the time. You could hear that coming on her tape. When someone asked me who was good at this or that? It was my job on the line when I recommended someone. If they came in and sucked? Ok, they wouldn’t get called back. End of their story. Possibly end of my JOB. Big money (our client’s) was riding on those calls. I stayed over 5 years, working on over 2,800 recording sessions, until I left on my own.

I told Magda that I thought she could be a “celebrity.” She laughed. I didn’t mean it as a compliment, and I certainly didn’t mean to say it as I could help her do it, or to put pressure on her- she’s a busy lady. Celebrity is a meaningless word to me. I don’t understand our celebrity culture. Most of the celebrities I’ve actually known, though, were incredibly down to earth people. I meant it as she has that “thing” that sets her apart, BESIDES the fact that she’s in a wheelchair. She has “It,” as they say. As I said in my post about Matthias Buchinger, disabled people are the most overlooked segment of our society, IMHO. Magda could very well BE that person who breaks through because even out and about? People are immediately drawn to her. Maybe it’s her style, or that she’s a beautiful girl, or both, or maybe because she doesn’t act at all like she’s in a wheelchair- Nothing stops her. Not cobblestone streets, not bad pavement, crowds, nothing. One time we went to a concert at Terminal 5, getting there after the lights went down. She maneuvered through a packed standing crowd in the dark(!)- from the back, though the entire room to the front where the disabled area is without bothering anyone! I could barely keep up with her. She just deals and does what she needs to do. Never, ever complains, or utters an exasperated word, well, besides “Where’s my favorite Thai place? What’s  happened to this area?”

Besides all of this, the girl has a sense of style unto herself, as you can see above, and on her site, (where you will also see publications and other media starting to pick up on her), and yes, all the while, be entertained.

Ok. So, she laughed at me. I’m not ashamed. I was a talent guy, I trust my gut, and I think I’m right! So? Sorry, Magda. I’m going viral with it-

HEY! TELEVISION/CABLE NETWORKS? STOP with the dysfunctional people you shove down our throats on these so called “reality shows!!!!” How about putting someone on who’s disabled but MORE FUNCTIONAL than most of the rest of us? Someone who’s interesting, smart, sharp as a tack, funny as all get out, real, has her own sense of style, is easy on the eyes, and is more entertaining that about ANYONE who’s on reality tv or has a talk show right now???? Beyond inspiring the disabled and anyone dealing with difficulties, she is an inspiration for all of us.

Magda is more than “only” a “Role Model,” which she most certainly is. She’s a “Roll Model!”

Sorry. I digressed, again. But? I mean what I said.

So…What did I learn…

It’s one thing to help someone buy clothes and give them your opinion. It’s absolutely pointless to try and do it with someone who’s a force of nature.

Water seeks it’s own level. The winds blow where they will. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

Magda KNOWS.

Hey? If it ain’t broken? Don’t fix it. And? “Don’t make a record that’s already been made!” Meaning, be yourself- everyone else is taken.

So, the message to myself is- At such times? Shut up. Stay out of the way, and don’t get rolled over!

Some day soon, people are going to write about Magda. I thought I’d be first.

The soundtrack for this Post is “To Me You Are A Work Of Art,” by Morrissey. Thank you, Morrissey! If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met Magda, and made a friend.

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  1. Woody Guthrie made, perhaps, the first concept album with is collection of Dust Bowl Ballads about 15 years prior, but that was a one time thing.

The Miracle Also Known As Prince

I’ve written about Prince twice since he passed. The first time was a spontaneous reaction to the news, a kind of “I can’t believe it” experience that I’m sure many others had. The second consisted of my notes made while listening to his final performance online before it was pulled. During this time since his tragic passing I’ve been listening to his music pretty much non-stop, and as the dust surrounding his passing still fills the air, some clarity begins to emerge on the scope of Prince, the Artist, what he accomplished and left us.

That clarity is that it’s becoming clear that we only have part of the picture.

As I said regarding Miles Davis, I’m not going to get into whether he did drugs (his lawyer says he didn’t, that “no one ever saw him high.” Then again, who’s going to invite their lawyer if they’re about to do drugs?), or his personal life, but looking at the rest, I think as time goes on people are going to, sadly, look back at Prince with absolute wonder.

HOW was it possible he was great at so many things?

As a Songwriter- He released about 45 albums thus far. We all have favorites, the hits therein are voluminous. Then there are the album tracks, which I wonder how many have listened to, the B-Sides, etc. As great as they are, to think they tell the whole story of Prince’s legacy, or that we have even heard Prince’s “greatest” music may be a bit shortsighted, though, in my opinion. I (manually) counted 1,286 songs he composed listed here. I sure haven’t heard close to all of them. I have 75% of his albums. But, even if I had every single one of them I still won’t have heard all of what he’s written and released. Why? Because there are (many) songs he wrote for, or gave to, other artists, there are songs he released only through his own New Power Generation Music Club (NPGMC), songs he released only online, and on and on. He once mentioned that only the hard core fans have found and heard some of the gems buried in the deep cuts. And then? How many classics are among the unreleased tracks sitting in his vault? In 2009, he told Tavis Smiley that the number of “finished” and unreleased tracks in his vault was “a thousand.”  That was SIX years ago! Their final number may equal, or surpass, the number of released songs.

I remember the day Jimi Hendrix died in 1970. Even though he was only 27, not 58, when he died, the shock was absolutely seismic and similar. To this day, worthwhile albums of previously unreleased music Jimi made during the approximately 8 years of his musically active life (3+ when he was recording under his own name) are being released by his estate. Prince performed live from January 5, 1979 through April 14, 2016- over 36 years. I’m sure he recorded before January, 1979, and he created Paisley Park, a state of the art recording facility, where rumor has it he worked for 154 hours straight shortly before he passed. I bet that wasn’t the first time he did that. Being brilliant is part of it. The rest is working your butt off. So? How much material is going to be seeing the light of day indefinitely into the future? Consider this- there are already more Prince bootlegs than there are of any other artist, with the possible exceptions of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and ?. Take a look at this list. One company, Sabotage Records, alone, has released over 450 bootleg CD’s! And this was in spite of the fact that Prince didn’t allow photography or recording at his shows (My take is that he, the perfectionist, needed to control what the public saw and heard that much, and wanted it to be perfect. And? He didn’t like being ripped off.) Since Prince is now no longer alive, I wonder what will happen to his archive. Perhaps, he left instructions regarding if/how it should be released, or not. For an Artist who fought Warner Brothers so hard for his creative freedom, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t make arrangements in case of his passing. As I write this, they, apparently, have yet to be found. If he didn’t, it will more than likely be up to whoever the court gives control over his estate to decide what to do with it. While I for one would love to hear what else Prince created, if it does get released, like the ongoing Hendrix material, it will be tinged with the sense that it probably won’t reach us as the Artist envisioned it, IF they wanted it to reach us at all.

This is what I meant by saying there is only “some clarity” of the scope of what Prince accomplished. We have the work he wanted us to have while he was alive. Assessing even that is no easy task. 1,800 songs is a lot of listening. I could think of worse ways of spending your time. (Like never hearing Prince, for one.) He said repeatedly that all he wanted to do was play music. Well, he also liked girls, and was very, very spiritual (religious?) and a deep thinker who loved intellectual dialogue. Still, he reminds me of a lot of musicians I knew- a studio rat, as we used to call them. They lived in the studio and would spend as much of their life there as they could. Prince was the ultimate studio rat. He built his own so he could have access to it all the time.

We may have only begun to see the fruits of that.

Then, think about some other things, while you’re at it-

First, as a guitarist- To my ears, he was one of the greatest guitarists since Hendrix. I think he was underrated. Eddie Vedder, apparently, thinks he was the greatest. 1 “Greatest” is impossible to prove, and meaningless, I think. I prefer “one of the greatest,” and leave it at that. The classic rock term “Guitar God” certainly fit him and he wore it with the same kind of style and panache that Hendrix did. But, how good was he? To get the opinion of someone who really knows, (since I was a bassist and producer before I wrote for a national music mag for 4 years), I asked a man who IS a Guitar God right now, and someone who is also a world class multi-instrumentalist, who’s boundless talent makes him the closest I’ve come to meeting an actual “peer” of Prince’s- NYC Blues Hall of Famer, Dave Fields (continually blowing minds over at davefields.com and on tour world-wide) about Prince’s guitar playing. Dave, who has been playing guitar since he was 13, told me- “I know I’m going to get in trouble for this but being that I’m a guitarist through and through… I was less excited about his guitar playing. His solos were firey but most importantly his rhythm playing was truly divine.” Ok. So, let’s say Prince was an extremely talented guitarist, but while many lived their musical lives focused solely on becoming a “Guitar God?”

Not Prince. He was a complete musician.

He played “a thousand” instruments (according to what he famously told Dick Clark on his first TV appearance at 19), and he played them well enough to RECORD WITH PRINCE! Yeah, I know what I did there, but listen to his records. Listen to the level of musicianship on all of them. Yes. Actual musicianship- people actually playing instruments. Yup, it’s feeling like it’s becoming a lost Art now. In fact, when Warner Brothers signed him they had only heard a demo on which the teenaged Prince was playing all the instruments and doing all the signing. They didn’t believe it, so they went to a studio and had Prince recreate a track for them, doing it all, until they were finally convinced! So, after he signed, Prince was good enough on many instruments to play on his records. If you don’t think that’s a big deal? His bands always consisted of top musicians. One, songwriter & producer, Jimmy Jam, said after Prince passed, “He out-talented everyone by so much.” On Prince being a perfectionist to the 9’s, Mr. Jam said, “As a boss, he was very demanding, but you never minded that because he was never more demanding on you than he was on himself…He made everybody better at what they did. He’d take [Terry Lewis’] bass and play it and then say ‘play it more like this,’ and then he’d hand the bass back to Terry [who would] play it like Prince, but you’d realize he taught you something, and you’re the bass player!” I asked Mr. Fields about being a multi-instrumentalist, and how he, and perhaps Prince, got to be so good at more than one instrument. “If you can play what you hear, you’re ready to play on records!” Dave Grohl, who also played all the instruments on the Foo Fighters Demo that got them their record contract, and who Prince covered during his unforgettable Super Bowl performance, calls him the greatest musician he ever heard, here.

So, we have Prince the songwriter. Prince the guitarist. Prince the musician. Phew…We’re done right? Ha.

Mr. Jam touches on Prince, the Band Leader. Before you downplay that, think about this. Prince had bands that consisted of 4 pieces and bands consisting of upwards of 20. Those are two totally different animals to rehearse, let alone choreograph for, which Prince did, something rarely mentioned. And, what about those ever interesting setlists? One “curse” of being a star for that long is that people expect to hear you play your hits and that can get tiring and boredom can set in. Sometimes, Prince didn’t play them. Looking over his set lists, something that is a frequent topic of conversation among his concert goers, as I said in reviewing his final concert, I get the distinct feeling he was out to please himself/play what he felt like playing. But, of course he played his many hits more often than not. If you listen to concerts from different points over the course of 35 years, you’ll quickly see that he continually rearranged (how a piece of music is adapted for performance) even the biggest of his hits, to keep them fresh for the audience, and for himself and his band. (I don’t recall hearing a lot of complaining about the new versions. Only when he didn’t play his hits.) Regardless, and on every tour he gave (almost continually over 35 years), he choreographed everything, he ran everything, and it was all done, in the finest James Brown2 tradition, on a dime.

I saw James Brown twice, once, indelibly, in the 1960’s at the Apollo Theater, in his prime. I think even “The Godfather of Soul” would admire this-

Ok. So, NOW we’re done?

Um? No. You saw it, but I haven’t even mentioned it, yet. Prince was one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen. That includes in the movies. That includes on stage. You name it.

Done, now?

Not quite. Very few have talked about his flexibility as a vocalist.

Music changed a lot between 1979 and 2016. Yet, when you listen to him sing, from any period, it doesn’t sound dated like a lot of music from the 1980’s does. In fact, to my ears at least, I can’t put a date on it. Part of that is because as a Producer (and no one ever mentions what a great producer he was), he is continually creating so many new sounds that no one else was using, his music doesn’t have any dated elements to it because he never fell back on cliched sounds, like so many others have. And? It’s always, instantly identifiable who’s singing. No one else sounds like Prince. He’s obviously influenced by the entire legacy of 20th century singers- in R&B, Jazz, Rock, Soul, you name it. He’s taken all of that while creating his own sound and style. Listen to the range of his voice. Listen to the power of it, even from what I heard on his final concert. It was great to hear him sing without a band so you can actually appreciate how great a singer Prince was. It is the strength of his voice during that last show that stays with me, even on a non-professional recording.

In what might be the greatest compliment I’ve ever (yes, ever) heard, Miles Davis called Prince “The New Duke Ellington of Our Time” in his autobiography. Miles is Mount Everest for me, and there are very few who’s opinion, which was very rarely given, carries more weight with me, and Duke is commonly considered the greatest composer and bandleader in jazz history. I try and not think about this, but for me, Prince was, also, the culmination of the entire history of popular music going back to Buddy Bolden and the birth of jazz. Miles’ comment is, also, revealing to me. It means that Prince got to be Prince because his eyes and ears were open. He heard and saw what those who had come before him did. He went to school on it better than most people who go to an actual school do on whatever they’re studying. He studied all of it. He learned a heck of a lot of it. Then, he made it his own- he created his own sound, his own style, and (also under appreciated, I think), his own look, his own fashion. Yes, Prince’s contribution to fashion, especially men’s fashion, is never discussed and one of the most overlooked aspects of his talentS.

He got there out of his love and RESPECT for what had come before that he loved, and he loved it so much he worked incessantly, right up to the moment he passed to be it. He was giving back to all who influenced him by continuing their legacy.

At the moment, he seems to be the last one in that glorious line. Was he the last great musician? I sure hope he’s not. Prince believed in nurturing new talent. He promoted Esperanza Spalding, among others, so we shall see. He also promoted great Artists from before him that he felt deserved more attention, including Chaka Khan, Larry Graham (of Sly & The Family Stone, and Graham Central Station) and Maceo Parker, James Brown’s great alto saxophonist. Dave Fields summed this up telling me, “It’s in that mutli-instrumentalist way that part of me identified with… I’ve used his vision as a blue print for my own career.” Pretty high praise coming from someone as talented as Dave Fields. It also gives an indication of something else to add to the list- his influence. It’s already incalculable.

But, as a musician who tried to sing and play at the same time and knows how hard that is, Prince was singing, and was virtually the only soloist, for ALL of his live concerts, which would run over 2 hours (AND THEN there would be the inevitable “Aftershow,” which would go for who know how long!) So? Live, in concert- He was playing at an extraordinarily high level. He was dancing as well as any musician ever has, sometimes while holding a guitar, and he choreographed his shows. He was leading a band of up to 20 pieces in a show involving split second timing for up to 2 and a half hours. He was performing (mostly) his own music. He was virtually the sole lead singer throughout. Night after Night after Night. He was recording and producing his own records and the records of others.

My first question is- HOW do you get to be THAT good at ANY TWO of those things? Getting there at one gets you a career.

My second question is- WHO ELSE is/was THAT good at any 4 of those things?

Oh!

I left out the groundbreaking Artist Prince was. “Purple Rain” was the shot over everyone’s bow, taking things to another level, when it came out, even after his classic “1999” two years before. 30 years later, I see it going to go down as one of the greatest musicals we have. (Also not mentioned was that though he didn’t direct “Purple Rain,” Prince directed 3 films, one of which, “Sign o’ the Times,” I consider a classic.) But, he never stood still. With every album, we got something new. Maybe the crowds didn’t follow him at every turn, but that never swayed him. The music is still there waiting for them to find it. He knew (and often said) that he was about the music, and that his devoted listeners would listen to everything he did, and show up at his concerts. Maybe his “changes” weren’t as “different” as Miles Davis’ albums were, but they were different enough to show he was continuing to grow and not standing still. And? As I listen to them now? They don’t sound dated! In fact?

They seem to get better with age.

Ok. So? I haven’t answered why Prince was SO great at so many things. Talent, dedication & a LOVE of music, having something you’re dying to express combined with work, work, work, work gets you a lot of the way there. You’re born with some of the other part. As for the rest? The closest I’ve been able to come is…to admit it.

Prince was a Miracle.

I have a feeling that IF what’s in the vault gets released one day (and no, of course, I haven’t heard it yet) that it, too, won’t sound dated, will contain both “hits” and new classics, and people will marvel, once again, at Prince3

I also have a feeling that that is going to continue for many, many years to come.

I’m glad I was living at the same time he was, and I got to experience him in person a few times that I’ll never forget.  I Wish U Heaven,” Prince.

The soundtrack for this Post is “I Wish U Heaven,” by Prince Rogers Nelson from “Lovesexy.” Listen to it now and tell me if it sounds like it was recorded in 1988 to you-

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  1. A large music magazine, who will remain nameless, has Prince at #33 on their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Times. Guitar maker Gibson.com has him at #14 (“Often overlooked as one of the all-time great guitarists.”) Time Mag has him at #10. I care not for such lists.
  2. Prince said that his father put him on stage with James Brown when he was 10.
  3. I’m not addressing it here, but I want to make it clear that Prince was much more than a Musician. By all accounts, he was a whole person, who’s intelligence, spirituality, sense of humor and humanity touched many. Being that he was such a private person, as was his right, the scope of what he did socially, as a humanitarian or a philanthropist is not known well enough to comment on, though that he was all of those things is known. I hope that we get a fuller picture of that, too. Our sense of loss will only grow, accordingly.

“The Goddess of Line” (For Nasreen Mohamedi)

The Line is True

Perfect

Without Beginning

Without End

It sings the song of Essence

It Frees the Mind

To go where it might

Without Boundaries

Or constraint.

Whether One

Or Many

They Journey

Through their lives

Freed from Time

Freed from Place

Perusuing the Purity of Your Intention

They are all that remain.

The Brush has been set down

The Color has been sent away.

The Pen paints Black

Lines

On White.

The basic form

That doesn’t exist in Nature

Like yours Do,

Oh, Goddess of Line.

Bold

Subtle

Sure

Ordered

Singular

Or In Concert

They Flowed

From your Mind’s Eye

Through Your Hand

From Your Pen

To the Infinite

To That Place where…

We live without form

Or Any constraints.

The Truth Lives without time

or confinement

Free…To Be

What it is.

© April 28, 2016.

Detail from "Untitled" ca. 1980 by Nasreen Mohamedi (Graphite on Paper)

A Detail from “Untitled” ca. 1980 by Nasreen Mohamedi (Graphite on Paper)

This is Part Two of my Post on Nasreen Mohamedi. Part One is here.

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This Post was created by and originally Posted on www.nighthawknyc.com.

…And Here’s How It Looked Monday Evening

I told you someone was going to be busy!

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The Day Before “The First Monday In May,” 2016

“We know what you’all been thinking nude is the brand new yawn
Everybody’s just drinking inhibitions just gone
You don’t need to be rude
You don’t need to be wild
Whatever you do: don’t compromise and done with style
The gold standard crazy amazing
Upper echelon of groove
The gold standard crazy amazing
Turn it up let you body move”*

Here’s how the world famous 5th Avenue facade of The Met (TM) looks right now in preparation for it’s big close up- Monday’s “Manus X Machina” Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala Benefit, perhaps fashion’s biggest night of the year in this country when a who’s who of “stars” and “big names” will be walking through these tents and up the landmark stairs dressed to (hopefully) impress.

IMG_4396PNH

T-Manus and counting…It feels like the night before the Space Shuttle was about to blast off, here at The “Cape.”

Even though I’ve written about TM more than just about anything else this past year, and been there 3 times this week alone, of course, I’m not invited, so this is as close as I’m gonna get. Come Monday night? I’d never be able to get even THIS close.

DSC_0516PNH

DSC_0513PNEFNH

DSC_0517PNEFNH

The view behind the grey awning, and under the canopy going up to the front door. Remember celebrities- No sitting is permitted on the stairs between those banisters! Oh, and have your bags ready to speed the security bag check.

DSC_0522PNH

Someone’s gonna be busy over the next 24 hours! Inside the Great Hall, no signs of the impending festivities, yet. Yes, the flower arrangements are always beautiful.

I predicted in this Blog that 1,000,000 visitors would attend “Manus X Machina.” 2015’s “China: Through The Looking Glass” drew 817,000. Apple is sponsoring the show. Taylor Swift is involved. 1M would be great for TM. They took on a large expense with the new (and so far superb) Met Breuer, so I really hope it happens. I’ll be more interested in how good the show is. Andrew Bolton and the Met’s Costume Institute are “The Gold Standard” for fashion shows now, and they’ve raised the bar pretty high.

I’m excited for another chance to answer the eternal question- “Is Fashion Art?” Though I believe the female form is, I haven’t decided about Fashion. I do know that I really love looking at it and trying to decide.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, it’s time for this year’s “First Monday In May,” If you’re wondering what it’s all about, here’s a peak at what went into it last year-

Ok. It’s time for me to grab my Armani Exchange Tuxedo, It’s time to party!

“24 carrot hashtag, put Ur phone in Ur bag, ain’t nobody got 2
tell U put Ur hands in the air, say “Ow!
The gold standard, crazy amazing, upper echelon groove
The gold standard, crazy amazing, turn it up, let Ur body move””*

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “The Gold Standard” By Prince from his excellent 2014 album, “Art Official Age,” published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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