Still Bringing The Heat

This past Sunday, I went to NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) to see a screening of Young Frankenstein, followed by a ‘conversation’ with Mel Brooks himself…all of 90 years young.

Watching the movie in a theater the size of NJPAC was fantastic. I’ve only watched Young Frankenstein (more times than I can count) at home on TV, so listening to an audience laughing and reacting to the movie was a unique experience. It made me appreciate even more the subltle nuances of Gene Wilder’s reactions, and the classic facial expressions of Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman. You just don’t get that from watching the movie in your living room.

But the real joy came during the conversation with Mel Brooks after the show, where he shared stories and memories of filming Young Frankenstein: how Marty Feldman kept on switching the shoulder of Igor’s hump until someone on the set noticed, upon which Mel thought it funny enough to write it into the script; how in the grave digging scene, an off the cuff quip from Feldman (again) led to him writing in the downpour of rain as being the only thing that could make digging up a grave worse.

Near the end of the conversation, the host read some questions that the audience got to submit for Mel to answer and there were two interactions that illustrated how quick and brilliantly funny Mel Brooks still is:

The Underwear Question

Audience Question: Mel, boxers or briefs?
Mel (without missing a beat): I’m going to give you an honest answer. Depends.
Brought down the house.

Don’t Kiss And Tell Question

Initial Audience Question: Katie asks if you would consider marrying her?
Mel: I’ll think about it. I’ll definitely think about it
Next Audience Question: Jennifer says that she is a huge fan and was wondering if she could give you a kiss?
Mel (again, without missing a beat): Oh, I’m sorry Jennifer, I’m engaged to Katie now and I don’t think that would be appropriate.
Brings down the house again.

Of course, the most popular questions were: When are “Spaceballs II” and “History of the World, Part 2” coming out?

The Sadness of the Suburban City

Over the past 20-25 years, cities around the world have been under assault from the “Starbucks Effect”. You know what that is…when you are in a city on the other side of the country or the world, and all you see are generic Starbucks Coffee shops on every corner. It makes you wonder why you even took the trip? The serendipity of discovery in a new city has yielded to the presence of the multi-national franchised brand. Years ago, going to a different city (here in the States or Internationally) enabled you to truly soak in the unique flavor and atmosphere of that region. Without a doubt, that experience is still present around the world, yet it is discernibly muted when there is a Starbucks on “every” corner, and popular brands everywhere else.

Media outlets like the NY Times have written about how a pillar of British culture, the local pub, is being impacted and becoming (gasp) an endangered species (be sure to read the reader comments). I’m heading to London later in the year, for the first time in more than 15 years, and I’m worried about what I’m going to find there. When the NY Times is writing about it, you know it’s a thing, while frequent visitors to worldwide cities know that this is just a piece of a much bigger transformation.

When I traveled to Paris and Amsterdam in 2014, what stunned me was not the prevalence of US brands in those cities (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc) but how packed they were with French and Dutch customers! I mean, here we were in Paris, the city that practically invented the sidewalk café, and yet the franchised, vapid, American Starbucks Coffee (sacrebleu!) was packed. Parisians, who have such legendary disdain for America’s lack of culture, seem ready willing and able to fully embrace these American brands (Let’s not lose sight of that irony).

This is not even an International transformation either. Today’s NYC is a shell of it’s gritty, former self. I regularly, and ironically, refer to it as “The Mall of America” due to the prevalence of so many brands and franchises that you find in the strip mall landscape of suburban America. The truly unique elements of what made NYC so special (how many folks under 25 know how big a deal CBGB’s was?) have been rapidly eroding. At least McSorley’s is still around!

The irony of all of this is that when a country, city, town, neighborhood does want to keep hold of it’s independence, keep it’s unique cutlure intact and forge it’s own path (see: Britain, Brexit), the world freaks out because of the financialization of the Global economy. To be clear, I don’t think Britain leaving the EU is the right thing to do, but my broader point is that the desire of cities, countries, and neighborhoods to keep control of their own path is up against some monumental headwinds.

Clearly, we are living in a vast multi-national world today that is much different than it was 20, even 10 years ago, and it is one that continues to evolve rapidly – train has left the station, the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak. That is something we should all welcome and embrace. But with all that is changing, let’s not lose sight of those true, unique attributes of a neighborhood that make it special!

Image and ‘motivating article’ via the NYTimes.com

Art of the Steal

After 25 years, authorities are no closer to solving the mystery of who stole $500 Mil worth of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and where said artwork is.

Back in 1990, on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day (I don’t think enough credit is given to the robbers for this brilliant tactical move. I mean, next to Christmas, is there a better time to stage a massive art heist in the heavily Irish Boston area than on the evening of St. Patty’s Day? I didn’t think so.) a couple of robbers posed as Police men and talked their way into the Gardner Museum, where they then duct taped the guards and stole a lot of very expensive artwork. The thing that has baffled authorities and art historians for years though, is that the robbers left far more valuable artwork in the museum:

They handcuffed [the guard] and another watchman in the basement, duct-taped their wrists and faces and, for 81 minutes, brazenly and clumsily cut two Rembrandts from their frames, smashed glass cases holding other works, and made off with a valuable yet oddball haul.

It included the Rembrandts, Vermeer’s “Concert,” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” Degas sketches, a bronze-plated eagle, and a Shang dynasty vase secured to a table by a bulky metal device that by itself probably took 10 minutes to pull apart. Left behind were prizes like a Titian, some Sargents, Raphaels and Whistlers, and, inches from the Degas works, a Pietà sketch by Michelangelo

Many theories and scenarios have been investigated, including one theory that James “Whitey” Bulger was behind the heist. However, as the years have gone by and potential suspects have died off, it could be many years before these lost masterpieces are ever found.

Densely Populated

An interesting infographic that shows how big a city would be need to be to house the world’s population, if that city was as densely populated as NYC, San Francisco, Paris, etc. According to the infographic, Paris is a more densely populated city than NYC, which kind of surprised me.

On a more practical note, managing the logistics of transportation and traffic for 6.9 billion people in one city is probably a challenge that would explode a few minds.

via Swiss Miss

Bienville Legacy Motorcycle

Is this beautiful or what?

This is a concept prototype design of a Bienville Legacy Motorcycle. But what’s even more interesting is the story behind the design and the desire of one individual to address what he believed was a critical deficiency in America today: The decline of industrial design and craftsmanship.

This prototype was designed by JT Nesbitt of New Orleans, who in motorcycle circles, is considered one of the top designers in that space. He designed the amazingly awesome Confederate Wraith motorcycle. He had a motorcycle studio in New Orleans until it was wiped out back in 2005 when Katrina hit. Fast forward to 2012, when the aforementioned individual walked into Nesbitt’s studio and said “What would you do if you could do anything?”

And from that simple question and a blank check, Nesbitt designed the above prototype motorcycle that, according to the story, brought one man to tears.

“I think we’re at the beginning now of what could be another Renaissance,” says Jim [Jacoby]. “You have more money sitting on the sidelines through private equity and venture capital and in business profits than has ever existed. My goal is to lead through example and inspiration, and say, ‘Let’s believe in great craftsmen first, and put that money to work with them.’ And the byproduct will create all kinds of other business opportunities.”

Not only is the bike an industrial design of unmatched beauty, it is designed to perform as well. It has a 350HP engine and only weighs 350lbs. Think about that for a second. That much power on a bike that light.

The bigger picture point here is that as everyone from coast to coast is obsessed about digital this and app that, some amazingly talented industrial designers are struggling to find the support and resources needed to drive true, game changing innovation that will have positive cascading impacts across the economy.

I know I’m not doing the story justice so take a listen to part one and two of the story on Marketplace – they are definitely worth a listen.

via Marketplace

Where No One Lives

Really interesting map based on 2010 census that details areas of the United States where there are no people living.

A Block is the smallest area unit used by the U.S. Census Bureau for tabulating statistics. As of the 2010 census, the United States consists of 11,078,300 Census Blocks. Of them, 4,871,270 blocks totaling 4.61 million square kilometers were reported to have no population living inside them. Despite having a population of more than 310 million people, 47 percent of the USA remains unoccupied.

via mapsbynik

Bohemian Rhapsody

Clayton Patterson has lived in the Lower East Side of NYC for the past 35 years and has run his Clayton Gallery over that same period of time. He created the Tattoo Society of NYC. He was the one who recorded all the mayhem during the Tomkin’s Square Park riots of 1988 – something that was not at all commonplace in the era before mobile technology. He is the epitome of what people describe as a ‘downtown bohemian’ from the hey day of downtown NYC scene in the 1970s. He was and is an agent of the underground creative scene that made downtown NYC, well, downtown NYC. But the NYC he once knew and loved has disappeared and he has recently decided to move to (of all places) Austria:

If the notion of a New York fixture like Mr. Patterson moving to a chalet in the Alps struck some in his circle as unfathomably strange, it nonetheless possessed a certain logic. There exists in Bad Ischl (Austria), Mr. Patterson contends, a creative community of artists, writers, tattoo designers and musicians that “is very much alive.” Then, too, he happens to be big in Austria — unlike in New York. “They love me over there,” he said. “They think of me as America’s No. 1 underground photographer.”

Still, as the news of his retreat leaked out, the downtown avant-garde shuddered with amazement and despair. “Clayton is the neighborhood — or what’s left of it,” said Ron Kolm, a poet, editor and bookseller who once worked at the Strand with Patti Smith. “I guess I always figured that he’d be the last one standing, surrounded by tall buildings. This really is the end of an era.”

CBGB goes away. Grey’s Papaya goes away. The Knitting Factory goes away. The story goes on and on. Yes, nothing lasts forever but maybe it is true that the real downtown vibe of NYC has also moved to Brooklyn.

Coverage of “12 Years A Slave” From 1853

Even back in 1853, the NY Times was rocking it with some great investigative journalism. The paper gave Solomon Northup’s now famous story a good deal of attention not long after he was rescued and released from the cotton plantation down in Louisiana.

The original article from the NY Times goes into a lot of detail on his ordeal, while Smithsonian magazine has a nice little summary of the whole write up.

After reading through the original story in the old NY Times, no doubt that the folks who produced the Oscar winning “12 Years A Slave” did a great job bringing the story to life!

via Smithsonian

McSorley’s

An article from yesterday’s NY Times titled Comfort From the Cold Winds about the one and only McSorley’s brought a little tear to my eye. It also reminded me that I need to get back there soon. It has been way way too long, my old Irish friend.

Beyond the greatness of the bar, it’s beer, and it’s unrivaled atmosphere, McSorley’s great little secret has always been it’s food. After several lights or darks with your oldest drinking buddies (or the newest ones you just met after being thrust down at one of those scarred wooden tables), bellying up for the McSorley’s burger & steak fries would make the same meal at Five Guys or Smashburger seem downright partisan. I’m not saying it’s the greatest meal you will ever have, but paired with the atmosphere, it is tough to beat.

Whenever I knew there was a “McSorley’s Virgin” in the mix, I would always push the Mustard and Saltines hard. The presentation of the Mustard was always something to behold. It was just slopped into a extra beer mug, filled halfway, with a flat wooden spoon and crusted mustard on the lip of the mug. Hardly sanitary but it just fits so well sitting there in the middle of the ancient, spilled upon wooden table. Having the mustard for the first time was a true initiation into the wonder and old time history of the bar, as the article so eloquently puts it:

Go easy with that tub of yellow mustard. It’s full of Colman’s, and a heaping spoonful of this British staple can unleash a saloon brawl on your tongue.

One last McSorley’s memory to share: I was there many moons ago with several friends from my undergraduate days at Syracuse. I think that visit to McSorley’s was part of a bachelor party. As can only be done at McSorley’s, we ended up sharing a table with some intimidating looking, leather clad bikers. Several fists full of lights and darks later, one friend of mine was going toe to toe in a drinking contest with the biker dude introduced to us as “Porkchop”. It was just a beautiful scene.

And Now For Something Completely The Same

Saw this bit in the NY Times today about how the remaining members of Monty Python are planning a reunion tour of some sort. Seems it has been in some form of discussion for a few months now.

While I think this is interesting news, something tells me it won’t be nearly as funny as the originals when they were much much younger.

But it’s not about the art. It’s about the money.

You will not find a bigger Python fan than yours truly. However, I am skeptical that revisiting their classic bits as ~70 year old men will enhance their legacy. How will they be able to top the comic timing of The Dead Parrot Sketch, Ministry of Silly Walks, Spam Spam Spam Eggs and Spam, and numerous others? And not to mention their masterpiece Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail.

I hope they prove me wrong. I really believe that comedy and movies from folks like Python should be left to let live based on the brilliance of their original work. Because as time goes by, you may see something in everyday life that reminds you of one of their skits (Like when you meet a person named Arthur Wilson. Or you see a postcard with Mount Kilimanjaro on it. Or you see a can of Spam.) and all you can do is smile.

The Breaking Bad Economy

As the wonderful show Breaking Bad winds down this evening, the folks most sad about it’s departure won’t be the millions watching it on AMC and Netflix. It will be the fine people of Alberquerque, NM, where the epic series is set.

Breaking Bad’ became such a phenomenon that it helped in other areas such as tourism,” says Nick Maniatis, director of the New Mexico State Film Office. “You wouldn’t think that would be the case for a show about meth. But it was shot so beautifully. They did such a great job showing different areas of our state.”

The show’s cinematography has been so exceptionally well done over these six years, it has impacted the local Alberquerque tourism. There are now at least three city tours of Albequerque that takes tourists around specific spots featured in the show. On top of that, it has spurned a cottage industry around all things “Heisenberg Blues (Yo!)”. A local candy shop has created Breaking Bad Candy – crunchy candy styled like blue meth – while a local donut shop – Rebel Donut – has created Blue Sky donuts styled with blue icing and the aforementioned Breaking Bad Candy.

As the wise Dr. Seuss once said: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

via NYTimes.com

The Needle In the Haystack

For 77 years, researchers and historians have been fascinated by the disappearance of Emelia Earhart’s plane, which disappeared (crashed) during her attempt to fly around the world back in 1937. It was reported today on Discover News that researchers may have found the remains of her plane based on some ‘sonar anomalies’ that they observed when researching the area that has been narrowed down as the site via evidence collected over the years. The image above shows the area they have been researching along with the different items that have been detailed over the years. The Discover News site has a slideshow with more details.

I remember watching Leonard Nemoy’s “In Search Of…” as a kid and seeing the episode about her story. What an awesome discovery if this is it.

via Discovery News