I’ve been producing a monthly stand-up comedy show at Pangea in New York City’s East Village for almost two years. My next show is this Saturday, December 23 at 9pm. $10 cover in advance, $15 at the door plus $20 minimum. Advance tickets available here: https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/78845
Thursday, December 14, 2023
|Madonna and her daughter, Mercy
I had high expectations for Madonna’s concert last night at Barclays Center after reading Mary Gabriel’s exhaustive new biography, Madonna: A Rebel Life, which confirms Madonna’s place as a cultural icon. I had lost touch with her music after Confessions on a Dance Floor and thought this might be my last chance to see her. (Is she going to keep touring when she’s 80, like Mick Jagger?)
I had heard from a fellow audience member that the 8:30pm show wouldn’t start until 10pm. It actually started at 9pm (only a half hour late), but first we were subjected to a one-hour “set” by DJ Honey Dijon. (I’m sorry, but a DJ isn’t my idea of an opening act.)
Finally, at 10:45pm, Madonna took the stage and, thank God, she delivered.
First of all, she looked amazing. It was classic Madonna: blonde hair and bustier. (Does anyone remember her Pippi Longstocking period? How about the shaved eyebrows and gold tooth? Hello?)
Secondly, I think this was her most elaborate production yet. (I’ve seen her live twice and I’ve seen several of her concerts on cable TV.) She not only hovered above the stage in a steel cage suspended from the ceiling, but at one point she literally set the stage on fire.
And yet it was also strangely intimate. She talked to the audience and even managed to crack a few jokes. (After all, this was her first show in her hometown of New York City.)
Some high points for me: “Live to Tell,” which was accompanied by photographs of people who died of AIDS, like artist Keith Haring and Christopher Flynn, her dance teacher; “Bad Girl,” on which she was accompanied on piano by her daughter, Mercy; and “Don’t Tell Me,” during which she recreated what I think is her sexiest video. (Dancing cowboys! Woof!)
In the end, I forgave her diva behavior because she put on a great show and, well, bitch, she’s Madonna.
|Barclays Center. My seat was so high up, I needed oxygen!
Monday, November 20, 2023
There are no second acts in New York real estate. Except when there are.
One such exception is Café Figaro on Bleecker Street. When I was a still going to college on Long Island, I thought it was the height of sophistication to go to the Café Figaro. I associated it with the Beat writers of the ’50s, as well as the Bleecker Street Cinema, which was down the block. I thought I was so cool ordering my spinach salad with chick peas. (Or was that at Bagel And, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, occupied the site of the original Stonewall Inn?)
Anyway, imagine my surprise to see that it was reopening.
|Cafe Figaro: It's back!
I walked into the restaurant and told the new owner my whole history with his establishment. This was at least the second time I had done this. The previous time was when I walked into the former site of the Greene Street Café (which is now a high-end stereo store) and explained to their owners that I had once worked there as a busboy and that HBO had filmed a Young Comedians special there with people like Bill Maher. (That how long ago it was. Bill Maher was still a “young comedian”!)
Anyway, the reason for all this nostalgia was that I was trying to find a copy of the CD Fearless, by Nina Hagen, for a reading of my screenplay. It’s not available on iTunes and is out of print (although you can find it on eBay for as much as $90). I have the German version on vinyl and, in a pinch, I could just play the song on YouTube, but I thought it would be nice to have a digital copy and, anyway, I needed the English version. Fortunately, a DJ friend of mine offered to burn me a copy of her Greatest Hits, which contains the song I need (“New York New York”).
Nina Hagen's Greatest Hits: I found it!
Out of curiosity, I decided to visit a few of my old record store haunts (and a few new ones) to see if I could find it. I started at Academy Records on West 18th Street, which I’d never been to. These places are like walking into a time warp, but once upon a time, before streaming and mp3s, I used to spend a lot of time browsing record stores in search of a particular record or CD.
Needless to say, they didn’t have it, but they did have some surprising selections I didn’t expect to see (Heaven 17! Human League!) along with some that are even before my time (Jimi Hendrix?!). OK, I may have been alive in the ’60s, but I was more into the Beatles at that age. Hendrix was a little too heavy for me.
My next stop was Generation Records on Thompson Street, in the heart of the Village. Same story.
And finally, Village Music World (a.k.a. Village Revival Records) on Bleecker Street, where I was shocked to actually find a copy of Nina Hagen’s Greatest Hits on CD, which I was tempted to buy but didn’t because my friend would never let me hear the end of it. (“You spent $22 on a CD after I offered to burn it for you?!”)
Just for the hell of it, I decided to walk further west on Bleecker Street to see if one of my other hangouts, Golden Discs, was still there. It wasn’t. It had been replaced by a store that sold Lotto tickets and some other nondescript business.
Around the corner, on Jones Street, I thought I’d look for another beloved record store, Record Runner, and, much to my surprise, I found it! They didn’t have Nina Hagen, either, but I was encouraged to see two young men entering the store after I left.
Record Runner: Still there!
There used to be tons of record stores in the Village: Sounds, Free Being, Rebel Rebel, Vinylmania and, of course, Bleecker Bob’s1. Flipping through bins of vinyl (or plastic) was a sign that you were a real music fan. Entire books and movies have been written about this! (OK, one: High Fidelity.)
Nowadays, I feel like a historian, regaling unsuspecting store owners with tales of my illustrious past.
But somebody has to.
Sunday, October 29, 2023
The sudden death of actor Matthew Perry at age 54 has made me more upset than I would have thought possible. It’s kept me awake all night and made me come to the decision to come out of the closet about something that has caused me some degree of shame: I’m a closet Friends fan.
I feel the need to say this publicly because I’ve often made fun of those tourists taking selfies outside the Friends house on Bedford and Grove Streets. But consider this: People from all over the world travel to a house that was just used for an exterior shot on a show that was filmed in Los Angeles—20 years after it went off the air!
I think that says something beyond our country’s obsession with celebrity. I think it says the show touched them on a deep, emotional level.
Now, I can’t claim to be a fan of the show in the same way that I’m a fan of, say, Seinfeld. Seinfeld is more misanthropic, for lack of a better word, and that seems to be closer to my personality than Friends, which seems to have a higher opinion of the human race.
But I have to say that, on the occasions when I’ve left my TV on after Seinfeld, I’ve been surprised by how well-written and well-acted the show is.
In fact, I’d have to say that the cast of Friends may be one of the best ensembles in sitcom history, a rare instance where it was the group that was the star, rather than any individual actor. And the show itself, it must be said, is one of TV’s greatest sitcoms.
And why is that? Why is this show so popular and why has there been such an outpouring of grief for Perry, who stood out even among this group of talented actors?
I think it’s because the show was about the importance of friendship itself, how no matter what may be happening in your life, you always have your friends to fall back on.
I think Perry’s passing will be a marker in the lives of Gen Xers, the moment when they lost their innocence and confronted their own mortality.
There’s something so tragic about it (although I suppose every passing is tragic to some extent). This man brought joy to so many people and yet was in personal pain because of his drug and alcohol addiction. (If you read his memoir, you know what I’m talking about.) As someone who gets physically ill after two drinks, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can drink so much. But I can certainly understand being in pain and wanting to be able to “fix” it with something like alcohol.
Why does this happen to so many artists (or is it just that we hear about it more often because they’re artists)?
I’m reminded of Whitney Houston, whose documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me?, I’ve watched countless times. I always think, this woman had everything. She was beautiful, rich, famous and had one of the best voices in the history of pop music. And yet she destroyed her voice (and thus her life) with drugs.
Or Amy Winehouse, another great singer who literally drank herself to death.
And now we have Matthew Perry, who was such a gifted comic actor.
Could his death be any more tragic?
No, it can’t.
Thursday, October 26, 2023
I wasn’t planning to see Morrissey at the United Palace theater. I’d already seen him four times (twice with The Smiths and twice as a solo artist) and, to be honest, I’ve kind of lost touch with his music. (He’s very prolific!). But I won a free ticket from WDRE and I was pleasantly surprised.
His voice was strong and his band was tight! I don’t normally think of Morrissey as a rocker, but I have to say: he rocked!
The audience greeted him with a standing ovation and remained standing for the entire show.
One of the great things about a Morrissey concert are the videos before and slides during the show. They’re like an encyclopedia of his influences and cultural heroes. Some of the ones I recognized were Visage, Sinead O’Connor (her “Nothing Compares 2 U” video got applause!), Siouxsee and the Banshees, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Brigitte Bardot, To Sir, with Love, Judy Garland, Lypsinka, Steve McQueen, Oscar Wilde, the New York Dolls, Lillian Hellman and Gertrude Stein.
One more thing: The United Palace theater, like the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn (where I saw Billy Idol) is one of the architectural wonders of New York.
|Nosebleed seat again (but it was free)! And another amazing theater!
|A shirtless Steve McQueen
|Moz and Oscar Wilde
|The New York Dolls
|Moz and Lillian Hellman
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
A year ago I wrote to Billy Idol’s website asking when he’d be performing in New York and got no response. After flying across the country in May to see him (and other musicians) perform at the Cruel World festival in Pasadena, he announced a tour. Tonight he performed at the Kings Theatre, a spectacular theater in Brooklyn, NY, and I saw him again. (I won a free ticket from the “new music” internet radio station WDARE, the successor to WLIR and WDRE.)
As he did in Pasadena, he performed all his hits, but I’m particularly glad he sang “Bitter Taste,” from his latest EP, The Roadside (which he didn’t sing in Pasadena). I’m still wondering why that song isn’t getting more airplay. I think it’s one of his best. And “Hot in the City: New York!” (which sounds like “New Yoke” when he says it) sounds a lot better than “Hot in the City: Pasadena!” He even did the same joke in New York as he did in Pasadena about having to do the same amount of promotion for an EP as for an album.
Idol has accumulated an impressive song catalogue (no one-hit wonder he) and he knows how to work an audience, as well. And his guitarist, Steve Stevens, is an amazing musician who is at least as responsible for Idol’s (and this concert's) success as Idol himself.
Billy Idol is now a grandfather, as he reveals during the concert. But let me assure you: this old punk has still got it!
Friday, May 26, 2023
Looking for a job can be one of the most dehumanizing experiences there are. (I should know. I’ve been looking for a job for the past four months.) Want ads for jobs that don’t exist, recruiters who call you and then disappear, having to go through a phone interview and a Zoom interview just to get an in-person interview and then having to compete with who know how many other people. It’s enough to make even the most well-adjusted person crazy.
And it’s even more dehumanizing when there’s a holiday weekend approaching and everyone who has a job is heading to the Hamptons or Fire Island and no hiring managers are in their office to look at your resume, anyway.
My advice is to take advantage of the things you do have control over. Here are some of the things that have worked for me.
1. Exercise. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a gym membership, use it. Exercise releases endorphins and you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment when you’re done. If you can’t afford a gym membership, maybe you can afford to invest in some weights. I have some weights at home and I’ve designed an exercise routine I can do at home that’s almost as good as going to a gym. If you can’t afford a gym membership or weights, take a walk. I like to walk to Hudson River Park. Walking clears my head (I often get writing ideas while I’m walking) and parks are perhaps the only quiet place in the city (as long as someone’s not playing music which, incidentally, is illegal in parks). But you absolutely must get out of your apartment.
2. Clean your apartment. For me, a messy apartment is like a messy life. Cleaning your apartment will give you a sense of control and coming home to a clean apartment will be much better for you, psychologically, than coming home to an apartment with dishes piled up in the sink and a bed with all your sheets and blankets curled up in a pile. (Confession: My sheets are blankets usually are curled up in a pile, but I did vacuum today and that made me feel much better.)
3. To the extent that you’re able, continue to do the things that bring you joy. I like the theater but, obviously, I can’t afford $150 for a Broadway show right now. Fortunately, a lot of Broadway shows are available on PBS. (One of my favorites, Anything Goes, is on tonight at 9pm!) I also like to read and if you can’t afford to buy books (books are expensive!), go to the library. Yes, it’s true, a lot of the books I want to read often aren’t available, but a lot of books are available as e-books, so you can read them on your phone. (As a writer, I feel a little guilty doing this, but I literally don’t have room in my apartment for any more books.)
Remember: you are more than your job. (Most of the accomplishments I’m proudest of have nothing to do with my job.) And stop trying to analyze why you didn’t get a job after your interview and just move on to the next one. (It’s difficult, I know.)
And here’s a little secret: Holiday weekends are one of the best times to be in the city. Most of those Hamptons and Fire Island people will have left and those places will actually be more crowded.
But don’t tell anyone I told you.
Sunday, May 21, 2023
Today I attended the Cruel World festival at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, a festival of ’80s bands. The scheduled lineup included Animotion, Berlin, The Vapors, Modern English, Gang of Four, ABC, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, Echo & the Bunnymen, Billy Idol, Love and Rockets, The Human League, Iggy Pop and Siouxsie. This was the most star-studded lineup since Live Aid, especially if you like ‘80s bands, as I do. (Adam Ant canceled but was replaced by Squeeze, who have to be the best understudy since Liza Minelli filled in for Gwen Verdon in Chicago!)
Pundits like August Brown at the Los Angeles Times made the usual old-people jokes (“If you’re a gently graying Anglophile who still can squeeze into leather pants, you’ve likely already bought your tickets.”), but there’s something to be said for nostalgia. In the ‘80s, I was in my twenties, I was in a band that played at CBGB and I even tried my hand at deejaying. I like to say that I have every record that came out in the ’80s, and that’s only a slight exaggeration. And now concert promoters have put together “nostalgia concerts” for every decade (’80s, ’90s, ’00s etc.), so take that, millennials and Gen Zers! On the other hand, some bands do themselves no favors by showing videos of themselves when they were in their twenties, while their middle-aged selves are performing onstage.
Unfortunately, the concert was cut short due to “severe weather” (although it wasn’t raining and I didn’t see any lightning), so Iggy Pop’s set was cut short and Siouxsie didn’t get to perform at all. (There were also several sound outages during Pop’s aborted set.)
I thought it never rained in southern California. Oh, well…
|Old punks never die, they just move to LA.
|70,000 people attended.
|Gang of Four
|The concert was cut short due to "severe weather."
Sunday, February 26, 2023
This is the story of how I tried to buy two pillowcases at Bed Bath & Beyond and how it turned into an all-day ordeal. But it’s also a story of how the entire retail landscape has changed (and not for the better) and how that’s a metaphor for the economy in general.
In case you haven’t been following the news, Bed Bath & Beyond recently filed for bankruptcy and I think I know why. First, they spent God knows how many millions of dollars to renovate their Chelsea flagship store, which was an unnavigable warren of dead ends and the source of one of my favorite jokes. (“I just spent three hours at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not shopping, trying to get out.”)
That was a good thing.
The bad thing is that there’s now no merchandise in the store. No merchandise and no sales help.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
Where there used to be an entire wall of sheets and pillowcases arranged by price and color, there’s now a wall of high-priced comforters and nary a sheet or pillowcase in sight. So rather than an array of $20 pillowcase sets, as I’m accustomed to finding, you now find one set of $80 pillowcases.
That’s the other thing that’s happened. There’s no merchandise and what little merchandise they do have is overpriced.
I asked if they had any Wamsutta pillowcases (Bed Bath & Beyond’s house brand) and they said no, and they wouldn’t be getting them in until June.
It’s February! I’m supposed to wait four months for pillowcases?!
And, by the way, it’s still as impossible to find your way out of the store as it was before the redesign (which is not entirely a bad thing because it means I can still do my joke).
Since there are a Marshalls and a TJ Maxx in the same building, I decided to try my luck there.
Woe unto the person who decides to enter either of these hellholes!
They’re both a hodgepodge of low-quality merchandise thrown together in no particular order. I had a flashback to the bargain basement establishments my parents used to drag me to. You know, the kind with bad lighting?
Needless to say, I hightailed it out of there without buying anything.
And what’s the difference between Marshalls and TJ Maxx, anyway? Why do we need both of them?
After I regained my composure, I attempted to do a Google search on my phone for “pillowcases near me.” (Why are there 200 kinds of anything you try to do a search for on Google?)
The closest thing I could find in my price range was Target. I saw that the Tribeca location had exactly one set of blue cotton pillowcases for under $20, so I rushed down there.
Target is another sort of bargain basement hodgepodge, and they also had barely any sales help. (They even make you check out your own purchases. If I wanted to work here, I'd apply for a job!)
But I did find my one set of blue cotton pillowcases for under $20, so I felt like my day had not been a total waste.
So why is this a metaphor for the economy in general?
Because the retail marketplace mirrors our economy at large, which is to say there’s a high end and a low end, but no middle.
Beyond that, there’s the sheer contempt with which the people in charge of these establishments hold their customers (hence the lack of sales help).
The whole atmosphere seems to say, “We only care about maximizing profits for our shareholders, and if you don’t like it, you can go someplace else.”
Except you can’t. If everyone’s doing it, there’s no place else to go.
So old farts like me, who like to actually see what they’re buying before they pay for it, are left holding the self-checkout bag.
So I guess I’ll be (reluctantly) buying my sheets and pillowcases at Target from now on.
Or at least until June.
Sunday, February 12, 2023
The Super Bowl may be the most American institution we have because it embodies two core American values: gluttony and violence.
Everything about the Super Bowl is absurd, if you looked at it objectively. From the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” to the Air Force flyover to the game itself, it’s almost an object lesson in self-parody.
Let’s start with the national anthem and aforementioned flyover.
What’s that all about? Are we pledging allegiance to the Super Bowl? Is there some connection between football and our armed forces? The implication is that football is somehow tied to our national identity and if you don’t like football, you’re somehow unpatriotic.
Then there’s the game itself.
Let’s talk about what we’re really watching: a bunch of 300-pound men throwing themselves at each other and trying to cause as much damage as possible without actually killing someone. (I suppose that’s what all that padding and helmets are for.)
But a few weeks ago, the nation watched a football player go into cardiac arrest on prime time television.
For a brief moment, it seemed as if the powers that be might actually stop to consider the dangers inherent in this sport. But I knew from the outset that nothing would actually change. There’s too much money involved!
Which leads us to the other feature of the Super Bowl and the main reason why people like me (who don’t give a shit about football) might actually consider watching: the commercials.
Here’s yet another example of what makes this game so American. It’s all about selling people shit they don’t need and can’t afford.
But, hey, at least the commercials often feature celebrities because we are, after all, a celebrity-obsessed culture. So even if you don’t care about football, we can still bond over our mutual love/hate relationship with celebrities.
Then there’s the half-time show, another exercise in excess but, again, at least it gives non-fans like me another excuse to watch.
Last night I caught part of a documentary about the making of the last half-time show. There was lots of backslapping and self-congratulation to go around. You’d think they’d just cured cancer. (OK, even I would have to admit that the logistics of organizing all those people, sets, and special effects is some kind of accomplishment, but give me a break!)
Oh, and I almost forgot the gluttony part.
How ironic is it that we celebrate an athletic event by gorging ourselves on pizza and chicken wings? And then we act like we’re the ones winning even though we're sitting on our couches stuffing food down our throats!
So, yes, I will probably be watching today’s Super Bowl.
But only for the material.
Thursday, February 9, 2023
According to a recent Gallup poll, half of Americans say their finances are worse off now than a year ago.1 That’s despite record-low unemployment, massive job growth and declining inflation.
But if you’re a temp, freelancer or contract worker, like I am, you might be one of those people. That’s because if you’re a temp, freelancer or contract worker, you have no job security (not that any job is really “secure,” as thousands of tech workers—and others—recently found out). On top of that, you probably have no health insurance and, chances are, you can’t afford any, even with the so-called Affordable Care Act.
Furthermore, while inflation may be declining in some areas, it’s increasing in others. When the price of eggs at my local deli went down to $7 from $9, I was so excited I took a picture of it. But then the next day, The New York Times announced that it was increasing the price of its daily newspaper from $3 to $4.
You can’t win!
My salary peaked in 2015 and has actually been decreasing since then. And that’s not accounting for inflation, which, even if it was only 4% per year (and it was much higher last year), would mean that prices have gone up 32% in the last eight years!
Then there are things like natural disasters (which have increased since the advent of climate change) and medical emergencies, which can wipe out a family’s savings (assuming they have any) in one fell swoop. We’ve now had over 40 years of trickle-down economics and, guess what, folks: it hasn’t worked.
Our so-called “safety net” isn’t always enough to sustain people until they can find another job and some people don’t even qualify for that safety net.
Meanwhile, technologies like ChatGPT are set to further erode the job market, and retirement for many people (including myself) is nothing more than a pipe dream.
This is why it’s so frustrating when I keep reading and hearing people (I’m looking at you, Jerome Powell) say that low unemployment and high wages are bad. It’s as if the Fed is actively trying to make things worse.
It’s even more frustrating that we live in an age of social media, where everyone pretends that everything is great all the time.
Well, I have news for you, people: it’s not.1 https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/08/biden-touts-economy-wins-half-of-americans-say-finances-are-worse-off.html