Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cloudy City

I was walking home from work on a rather regular weekday, but I noted that the clouds were awe inspiring. It hadn't rained in a few days and it appeared the weather was about to break hard. However, for that moment it was just giant columns of clouds, towers building over Harlem and New York. There was something beautiful about the impending chaos, which inspired me to take a lot of pictures.

It was beautiful, crazy, and I'm glad I was able to document it.

Clouds gathering over Harlem. 

El Barrio under clouds. 

Rather impressive display. 

Fascinated by the clouds.

A neighborhood on fire with light. 

Religion under pressure. 

Well, me, posing. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Not Chicken Soup, but Works So Good

That night, when I finished work I did not walk home. Instead I got on the special service bus and went to find the Korean restaurant. It seemed straightforward enough. The SBS bus was what I was looking for and lucky for me it was practically waiting there for me when I got off the train. I did a mild jog to get to the bus before it would disappear.

On the bus I took a moment to be terribly confused as to where to put my metro card.

But there was nowhere. Finally the driver indicated to me to sit down and I did. The rather packed bus took off and I sat there trying to figure out exactly what was happening. It dawned on me a few stops later that I was supposed to buy a special ticket for this particular bus. In the end, I had a free bus ride to the jjigae.

I got off the bus and started walking where my phone told me I should.

As I walked, I started to panic about where I was, trying to figure out if I had the right directions. Maybe this place was closed. Maybe there was not going to be any jjigae. But the ajjuma in my dream was very insistent. The walk was about three blocks, and I knew I had to be in something like the right neighborhood as I passed a lot of Asians speaking Korea, several Asian marts that looked like they were set up specifically to sell kimchi and other Asian foods, and finally, after about five minutes of walking I say the sign that said “The Mill” in Korean.

In my brain was saying sweet thanks to dream ajjuma for bringing me to the restaurant.

I sat down, surrounded mostly by foreigners and groups of Chinese students on the sidewalk outside. Inside it was packed and I didn’t want to wait. I was happy to sit outside on the chily night. An ahjussi walked over to take my order and I looked at him and asked “Hangulma kinchaneyo?”

He just stopped and stared at me for a moment.

“Excuse me, what you say?”

I repeated my question in Korean. “Is it okay if I speak Korean?”

Nay, nay, okay.”

I smiled.

And launched into my entire order in perfect rapid-fire Korean (granted with my Daegu accent). But he managed to follow along, only asking me to repeat once or twice.

I got hamul paejon, hamul jjigae, and a diet cola. The jjigae without egg, of course.

The official server for the rest of my meal was very impressed with my Korean and we exchanged several pleasantries over my meal. The food was like I dreamed it.

For a moment I almost cried over my soup, something so overwhelming, so homecoming about being able to sit and eat this food of my dream with so little fuss. I ate, burning the roof of my mouth on the insanely hot soup, but it was what I needed. I ate, I thought about Korea, about my favorite jjigae restaurant in Daegu. I thought as I ate that the soup tasted like it was made by a chef from Seoul, slightly more bitter without the extra sweetness that tends to come with food made in Daegu. I even asked before I left if the chef was from Seoul, which was confirmed.

I was amused.

Sleep was long and undisturbed that night. My body and mind were happy having had what they needed. When I woke the next morning my sore throat was gone.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Dream Ajjuma Fairy Godmother

I went back to Chicago for Riot Fest but it didn't pan out. Instead, I came back to New York and consoled myself with Nick Cave. The night of the concert I knew I was going to get sick. I had tried very hard not to get sick, but it was clear to me that it was going to happen.

And what a sick. It was my welcome-to-New-York cold.

With all the up and down back and forth, there was no way I was going to be able to make this move without getting a little ill. I can’t even remember the last time I was seriously ill, something more than just a little cold that passed quickly; this was definitely one of those colds that was not going to pass in a hurry.

Sunday I spent for the most part in bed.

Monday I was a walking zombie. I tired hard, but it was obvious to me it was going to be bad.

By Tuesday I was coughing, running fevers on and off throughout the day and was just generally in bad shape. They recommended I work from home on Wednesday. I went in on Thursday and Friday but should have asked to work from home through the rest of the week. There was nothing I couldn’t have done from a couch or a bed, but I went in anyway. My commitment was not appreciated in the office. At least, it was not interpreted in the way it would have been in Korea, where going to work dead is a sign of dedication to the job. Here, the most frequently heard comment was “You should have stayed home. No one cares, and if someone gets sick from you, you’ll never hear the end of it.”

After five days, doing nothing but going from work to home had left me with a hardcore case of cabin fever. I spent the next weekend at home.

Monday night I went to bed early. I had, in fact, been going to bed early for a week. This did not change and Monday night I went to bed early.

Monday night I dreamed of an ajjuma.

The ajjuma in my dreams was very clear with me. We spoke in Korean.

Hamulsoondobjigae piriyohada.”


“You need to eat Korean seafood stew. You have to eat it. It will heal you.”

We talked on and off in my dream for hours in Korean. She was making the jjigae as we were talking. She was explaining to me the healing powers of jjigae.

“You see, it is the pepper. The pepper in jjigae will kill bacteria on contact. It is designed to kill things. So if you eat jjigae, it will kill what is making you sick. You must eat kimchi, too. You need to eat them both.”

The dream was very real. The ajjuma reminded me of an ajjuma from Seomun Chijang, who used to sell me ho-dok and dok-bo-ki back in the day when I ate carbs. She was very convincing.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Laid Bare

There is something about this year for music, as almost all the music I have seen has been stripped-down bare concerts that I dreamt of in my forlorn youth when I listened to musicians. Mark Lanegan was a good example, just Mark and the guitar. Nick and the piano. Maybe it’s not just the music; maybe it is just a year to deconstruct and be torn down. I see it everywhere, experience it in all the major experiences. Like Tori.

Of course Tori.

The shame and hilarity of my Tori Amos concert is that I completely forgot a had a Tori Amos concert to go to until literally the day of the Tori Amos concert when I realized I had two tickets and no dates. I asked around in the office but no one wanted to come, so eventually decided I’d rescue some poor Tori fan off the street if I had to.

I went, got some food, and headed over to the theater, where a cute redhead stood next to me and started to smoke.

We started to talk and I asked her where she was from (somewhere in Iowa). She wanted to see Tori, but her boyfriend had ditched at the last minute leaving her, like me with an extra ticket.

“Where are your seats?” I asked.

“Nose bleeds. I mean, I’ll have a better view of mars, but it’s Tori, so it’s worth it.”

“Want to upgrade?”

She looked at me. I had borrowed a pen from her a minute earlier. I showed her what I had written on the ticket.

Free to a good Tori fan.

“Are you shitting me?”




“Can I give you anything?”

“You can buy me a drink.”

And so it was settled that my date would be a cute redhead who would buy me a drink. That worked out. My tickets were so close to Tori I could practically feel her hands running over me instead of the piano. What was more, though, was the concert, because the tour for Unrepentant Geraldines had very little music from Unrepentant Geralidnes. Apparently in the midst of her midlife crisis, she wanted to prove to her daughter and everyone else that she still had it. So for the tour she packed only a Bosendorfer and her fabulous self. For each city she played a different set, and for each city she specially selected covers for the famed lizard lounge of the 97 Choir Girls tour. It was Tori the way Tori was meant to be viewed: bare and raw, just her and the piano.

Like Nick.

Like Mark.

All of the legends that I love, that are warm to my heart, have spent the year baring themselves nd their souls to audiences that care to listen.

Perhaps it is a sign, maybe the beginning of a movement.

The power of it, this naked performance, though, has had an impact, even if I remain unsure exactly how I am seeing this manifested day to day. I’ve also come to feel laid bare in my performance, but in being so exposed feel more like myself than I have in a year.

Perhaps that is the message.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Nick Cave and a Piano

The lights dim and the audience claps.

Directors take the stage and explain how the evening will go. Mr. Cave will come on stage. He will take questions and requests. He will have about 90 minutes to sit there with him as he answers questions and describes his process.

The directors would also answer some questions.

Interns were issued into the audience to take questions and requests from us.

And then Nick Cave came onto the stage and sat down at the piano. Which was really all any of us needed.

At first there were a smattering of questions, mostly from the directors thanking him for the film, etc. Asking him how he was, his experience with New York, etc. We mostly ignored him.

Nick Cave played with the keys on the piano. And then launched into "The Weeping Song."

The audience was transfixed. Nick Cave completely stripped down to nothing but his voice and the piano is an absolute experience. The lyrics and key changes are pasted to lyrics cards that are tagged to a black poster board. Nick selects the board and places it on the piano to keep him on point as he moves there.

There are a number of questions.

Some uninteresting: “What’s it like being a performer?” which he basically refuses to answer.

Some, too pointed and too personal “What kind of music do your boys like?” “I’ve promised my boys I will not discuss their lives in public.”

Most of the questions would have been in some way answered by the film, but there were still a few that were interesting and allowed for a kind of insight into Cave that were fascinating.

One related to the construction of a song and the life of the song to which the response was fascinating. For Cave some songs have certainly evolved over time, developing and changing, like "No More Shall We Part," which has gone from lighter to darker over the years in different ways. The songs themselves feel like the decide who they are, and just like anyone else, over time, on stage, as they are played, they grow different. I found this a fascinating perspective and one that made me even more interested in Cave’s live performances to see the difference in songs as they progress over the years. I can imagine that many others feel this way as well.

Another question related to the music that he wished he had written. This tossed him back to his childhood, not that his family life was bad or haunted, but that the city he lived in was one that made it feel like there was no future. This was something I could certainly relate to.

The album that defined those years and made him feel like there was more to life was one by Leonard Cohen. Songs of Love and Hate. We were treated with a Nick Cave cover of "Avalanche" which was absolutely perfect.

The entire thing was a mix of Nick Cave and ballads; he owned the piano and we were happy to let him guide us through a tour of songs. The audience yelled out all sorts of things, but Cave played really only what he wanted to play. It was perfect.

The show ended with a final question, which was why Nick Cave was giving away one of his typewriters (a prize theoretically being sent off to some twitter person that wasn’t actually there.” The exchange was pretty amusing.

Girl “Why would you give away something of such value, that is clearly so important to you?” (The typewriter was featured prominently in the film.)

Cave: “To be honest when they asked me for it I didn’t know they were giving the fucking thing away. So, no, you can’t have it.”

In the end, when the director asked Cave to pick the best of the “Twitter questions” he just negated the entire thing and declared the typewriter belong to the girl who asked about it, and so she walked out with the most coveted and beautiful of blue typewriters.

The rest of us got to go home with our memories. It was worth it.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

20,000 Days on Earth

The thing about Nick Cave is everything.

The voice, the lankly thin rock star body, the hair, the voice. The voice.

The lyrical storytelling, amazing music, and life story that makes for a movie are really only icing on the cake. And what a life story.

20,000 Days on Earth ends up being more than a documentary about a rock star. This film is all about documenting the things that haunt the artist. Cave in particular, but it would resonate with any artist. The need to create, how every waking moment is part and parcel of the next moment of creativity.

The film doesn’t make Nick Cave out to be a god, or a misunderstood genius; he does not appear as a good man or a bad man. He doesn’t come out as a tortured genius, but rather someone who needs to create. Nick Cave’s well-documented life story shows that he was lucky to have survived himself, his own sort of delusional madness, his self-medication, the pains of being so far outside of a place that losing your mind in sex, drugs, and rock and roll seem like a good thing. Fortunately, there is a lot of creative genius in there, and somehow that, more than anything else, pushed him to survive.

The film looks at the space of a few months while reflecting on his past, his present and his future. The music mostly comes from the creation of the album Push the Sky Away, which as his most recent is also one of his most haunting at times. A slow, quiet album that thrums and pulses under the surface, entirely opposite of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, which is upfront with the loud, screaming, jangly abrasiveness of the human story. I love both these albums, as I do nearly everything else Cave has done, but this was a prefect album for the film.

Cave, just turning 57, is still as dynamic as ever, and in his reflective mode there is something that is personal, and yet superhuman about him. The film was brilliant, and watching it, knowing that Cave was sitting somewhere nearby watching it, made it even more wonderful. Following though, was what made the ticket price worth it.

The film wrapped, giving the audience a moment to breathe, before a giant piano was wheeled onto stage, with two chairs.

The chairs were for the director. The piano was for Nick.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Trapped In New York

The move to New York had been keeping me for the most part in my apartment. Even a short trip back to Chicago for Riot Fest was unsuccessful as it was too cold and I was not feeling well enough to go. I passed on my tickets and spent most of my weekend in a warm bed.

However, the lingering amount of time in my apartment was beginning to drain me, and mostly it was lack of funds keeping me in. Then I remembered Nick Cave.

Actually, I might have forgotten Nick Cave entirely had not one of the fellows that I currently work with turned out to be a Nick Cave fan and chose to remind me about the Town Hall that I had not purchased tickets for.


Of course, at this point, all tickets were secondhand and I went through a very long (10 minute) debate about whether or not I should by tickets. Which of course, ended in me buying a ticket because I convinced myself that money or no money I needed Nick Cave. Also what are credit cards for if not abuse?

This particular event would be different from my last Nick Cave experience in Australia, and would also make up for having to sell my Nick Cave concert tickets for Montreal. The week leading up built a high level of excitement for the event.

The event itself was going to be different because the first part would be watching the movie 20,000 Days on Earth with Nick Cave in the theater. I didn't care that he wasn’t sitting next to me, I was happy to know that he was going to be in the theater with me. After we watched Nick’s movie (I feel for the amount of time he spends in my dreams we are on a first name basis now) he was going to sing to me (and I guess to the other 200 people in the theater, but mostly to me).

I was okay with that. It would be at least a nice way to spend my first real weekend in New York.