Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Classic Rock

by Paul Edmunds

There are some things they won't tell you about New York. Firstly, you'll need a five-sided spanner if you want to open up a fire hydrant for a summer shower. Secondly, if you go near a park in the summer, you will hear a saxophone. Something they will tell you though, wherever you go, is that youth is wasted on the young.

In order not to waste what there is left of my youth (not much, actually), we headed to the Met, largely, I will tell you, to see 'Big Bambu', this season's installation by New Jersey-based Mike and Doug Starn. I mean, what's not to like? A large sprawling bamboo structure atop a stuffy old museum? Made by guys with tattoos and named after an album by Cheech and Chong?

Big Bambu

The thing is, that was the less attractive part of our visit. We kind of got hung up on the Classical antiquities. Honestly. Hell, I learned about this in high school, in Art History and Latin (yes, I know, but it's not that surprising is it?), in History of Art at art school as well as in 'Classical Civilisation' which was most often taken by Fine Art students because it overlapped with History of Art. I really didn't pay much attention, it was just something to be got through.

In a later part of my receding youth I wandered the halls of the Louvre several times, which is not short of such antiquities either. It was vaguely interesting, I guess.

A Roman sculpture yesterday

So it was with great surprise that I felt myself so drawn to 2000 year old marble busts, lapidry, wall painting, and work in glass and gold. It felt like a glimpse into a world where artisanship was raised to supreme artistry, where patronage of the arts was quite the norm. It's well accepted that this was a society at its peak, and what remains is an invaluable record of such a society's cultural production. Oh, and Western society pretty much based its philosophy and law on theirs too.

The Starn ploy is brilliant. Draw crowds of people up through the museum (where many of them are led blankly by an iPhone held aloft) into this edgy, fresh construction on the rooftop where they can all feel important. Or as a woman I would call a 'kugel' back home, said into her phone as she walked past me with a glass of something bubbly: 'I am in heaven!'. The thing is, after all the extraordinary craftsmanship downstairs, and that glimpse into a society where life revolved around cultural production, the arts and philosophy, the bamboo construction looked kind of messy.

On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago we went out to listen to some music with a guy who knows about these things. After a very long pizza we set off on foot for The Living Room, passing by the Bowery Ballroom. Our host started begging the doorman there to let us have a peak inside, in the hope of catching whoever may have been playing. The doorman was almost too eager to let us in, as if to say, 'You asked for it'.

Onstage were rock 'n roll histrionics of the most dramatic and cliched sort. We caught the band in the midst of their grand apopleptic finale. While the bass player windmilled like Pete Townsend, the drummer beat up a storm and the androgynous lead singer slunk off stage, the guitarist somehow managed to climb up onto the venue's gallery where he began humping his guitar against the railings. With dramatic flair the singer reappeared wrapped in a large banner covered in pictures of himself. His face emerged jawa-style and he introduced the band, leaving himself for last:'Justin Fuckin' Stanter'.

We left there speechless with laughter and excitement, but able to appreciate with the benefit of our advanced years the self-belief and serious intentions of everyone there, as well as the shallow, unchecked energy of youth. The Living Room was an entirely different story. The Jim Campilongo Electric Trio were talented, funny and quite literally mind-warping, playing all styles of music but playing none of it straight (thanks to TONY for that description). It's hard to explain.

I got a little sad there, lamenting the fact that it doesn't really pay enough for anyone to be that good at home, and it doesn't pay enough to have that kind of sound system in a venue a little larger than a lounge. It's nothing like Ancient Rome. But then I remembered, some things don't change anywhere, at any time. Just the other day in a chichi little basement Mexican restaurant, I heard the Gypsy Kings.

1 comment:

  1. Paul, good to read of your visits to the many unusual place, events, activities that make NY the greatest city on earth. I visit often but can never hear enough about the art and creative centre of the world. Pity about the cherry blossoms this year. They were spectacular last year.