Hebrew School

Only Brooklyn knows the blog?
July 29, 2008, 9:59 pm
Filed under: blogs, brooklyn | Tags: , ,

It’s been official for quite some time, and the geotags are in: Brooklyn has the country’s bloggiest neighborhood, and likely would be the bloggiest city if in fact it was a city. The contributing factors, according to the reports, are the presence of higher education institutions, young people, decent internet connectivity, and that fly in the ointment, gentrification.

The blogs of Brooklyn are so numerous and multifarious in nature that it would be hard to make a sweeping statement about them. On one end, there are real estate advertising hubs like Brownstoner, which features graphics of gaudy highrises alongside articles about “hip” things to do in the neighborhoods of said megoliths. Just make sure you go to all those “hip” places before all that large-scale development cripples the neighborhood and its unique shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. (Newsflash: Unless some truly radical rebranding has gone on, Carroll Gardens isn’t among the neighborhoods taking the hardest hits from the subprime crisis.)

At the other end of the spectrum are blogs like Prospect: A Year in the Park, a photo chronicle of the park’s beauty interjected with commentary, and vanessamarie.net, the namesake’s perusal of food and place in Brooklyn, with some cat escapades along the way. Both of these blogs are DIY, homespun and yet professional, without a team of writers, and like most blogs in the world, are personal and have no advertising.

It’s in the squishy middle that the paradoxes of this sort of neighborhood blogging become conspicuous. IMBY, a fantastic blog which meticulously documents ongoing building development in that indeterminate area dubbed by tycoons as the “South Slope,” leaves no stone, permit notice, or stop-work order unturned when s/he spies so much as a pickup truck moving in. But does the title and spirit of the blog simply indicate a desire to live in a clean, quiet, sweet neigborhood that is desirable to Ninjalist or Curbed readers?

Then there’s my own neighborhood’s Best View in Brooklyn which, while keeping a swift pulse on neighborhood events, pulls no punches in highlighting alleged crimes in the area– substantiated or not. And if it’s unbridled snitching you want, turn no further than blog-cum-forum Brooklynian, which as of today displays complaints about cat food sold at a local bodega, a can of oil left next to a building (“what is the police stations [sic] number?”), an incompetent renovation company, and a “crazy painted tree house on Prospect Pl”:

“you know the one
its on prospect place between vanderbuilt and carlton. i was walking to the gym saturday when this older black dude with a thick west indian accent was just going off on this guy who was going into the main entrance of the building above the stoop. he just unleashed this crazed diatribe that went something like ” you fucking fagot you smell like shit ya jealous fagot mother fucker ‘ im assuming crazy screaming dude lives on the ground floor in the apartment with the year round christmas lights in the window. does he own the building? man i feel sorry for anyone who rents an apartment from this dude.”

Why have an earnest conversation with that annoying neighbor when you can complain about him anonymously on the internet, casting racially-overtoned aspersions and, with a self-satisfied air, calling on the vigilance of your “better” neighbors? And what ever happened to the time-tested approach of assembling a torch-bearing mob at an unsuspecting doorstep?

Such blogs, while more mundane and less commercial in their approach, seem to fuel the fire for Brooklyn’s large-scale developers, who would like nothing better than to run the presumed “riff raff” out of the area.

But then again, who’s to say that the most benign, wide-eyed post by the most angelic Brooklynite does not fuel this same fire? Though far from innocent, I’ve blogged substantially about the cool bars, delicious foods, and cultural events of my neighborhood. Am I lending my home creedence in a media environment still plagued (yes, still) by a digital divide?

If there’s any constant in the phenomenon of Brooklyn blogging, it’s this pervasive feeling of conflicted intentions. Whether we’re talking about the “bad apple” of a developed neighborhood, or the “diamond in the rough” of the under-developed one, the propagandas of gentrification and anti-gentrification play off of one another, leveraging allegations in a manner that somehow still has brokers popping champagne corks. The forces of the former highlight the charm they destroy, while the latter highlight the charm within the ostensible desolation, in a strangely critical moment of Brook-logosphere supernova.

While I paint a grim picture, I really have no real qualms about any of the bloggers I’ve mentioned. They simply write about what they see, projecting their aspirations outward in a society run roughshod. Blogs did not cause the affordable housing crisis– they are a response to it. And as long as the crisis continues, the best bloggers will continue to use their power to end it.

Hebrew School’s Brooklyn blog reader after the jump…

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Modern Guilt

Beck, Modern Guilt (2008)

I suppose Beck might not have been under any unnecessary influence while recording his new LP, released earlier this month, considering his religious background and all, but I started to get the impression that, all things considered, nothing had helped either way.

But then I let the grass grow over it after listening to it two and a half times (well, it’s only 33 minutes long, and I happened to have it on repeat) on Thursday after my usual time with Clay Pigeon, and then listened again today.

So my suspicions on the obvious trappings of “psych”– the mellotron, the backward guitar solo, the asbsconding of Lewis Carroll’s diction, the bells, the Terry Riley-eque tweaking of the Rainbow synthesizer, the nod to “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the Fender Rhodes on delay– became outweighed by the power of the songs.

“Orphans,” the opening track, represents Beck’s penchant for modest self-examination here, with no small amount of credit due to Cat Power. “Chemtrails” is blissed and undertempo, an earnest song with a lot of plagal cadences, which seems to question humanity (and forward guitars) much the way ’60s psych did, if sometimes with a painful moralism. (See, now maybe that’s L. Ron sneaking in? Chan, stay away!) Glitchier tracks like “Replica” point to where co-producer Danger Mouse keeps alive the tendency towards those intricacies, which I enjoy, but darned if his approach didn’t seem a little heavy-handed throughout. This implicates Beck as well.

“Gamma Ray” vs. Loie Fuller

No one quite gets the Jews hora-ing

…at Celebrate Brooklyn better than Golem, do they?

Golem played fantastically this past Sunday in Prospect Park, part of a JDub Celebrate Brooklyn that included Soulico, DeLeon, and Sway Machinery, with Michael Showalter hosting. Jon Langford of the Mekons sat in on guitar and vocals, and then the Hungry March Band sat in on everything else.

Silence, static, and cloven hooves

Pardon my silence these last couple of weeks. Hebrew School (the band) has been gearing up for a launch phase, with details to be disclosed in due course. Other news:

Last Friday in Prospect Park, as part of Celebrate Brooklyn, the Metropolis Ensemble performed an electro-symphonic version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, followed by Deerhoof.

The Metropolis Ensemble’s offering was somewhat underwhelming to me– mechanistic in its delivery, with production values favoring form over content. In retrospect I now understand why Starbucks, a major sponsor of Celebrate Brooklyn, is closing six midtown branches. You go for the climate and enlivening substance, but lose a little bit of your soul.

Chastened by the hype that has surrounded Deerhoof, I had mainly stayed away, assuming them to be the provenance of the most superficial of our scrawny podunkster emigres. Wrong. Well-worn and unheard material was shaken around and dangled onstage like Michael Jackson’s baby, sharply degraded into crafty noise events, and then hewn back (sometimes roughly, sometimes seamlessly) into the contours of Satomi Matsuzaki’s vocal cords. Best show I’ve seen so far this summer (except for your show, of course).

WNYC has the concert up for listening here.

Because I wanted your Jewish 8-tracks

Tooling around Park Slope yard sale remnants on a Sunday afternoon a month or so ago, I spied an 8-track cassette of Martha and the Vandella’s Dance Party. That’s the one with “Dancing in the Street” on it. I admired the beauty of the format and the way the faded artwork had been pasted just so. I began to think of the ephemeral nature of audio formats, this particular one being larger in dimension than my 80-gig iPod, though much lighter and made of plastic.

I bought a fifteen dollar 8-track player on ebay and hatched a scheme to see what other 8-tracks I could find– or, better yet, play. With a view toward the most interesting audio being the most discarded and overlooked, I imagined my pathological music hoarding instinct and the 8-track as perfect bedfellows. While a boon for record companies and manufacturers at the time, the 8-track’s success was followed closely by that of the cassette tape, which quickly eclipsed the former as it was jettisoned. And so I sought out the underdog not for a hazy nostalgia, but more to find the silver lining in a cloud.

While I’d heard that posting a plea in one’s status update on facebook.com often yielded surprising results (i.e., getting only what you ask for, etc.), this did not do the trick. I felt abused. Why couldn’t my collection of high school and college classmates, who were practically my friends before, come through for me with a pile of degraded retro crap? The system had broken down.

Panicked and suddenly encumbered by 15 or so pounds of quality GE parts, I had given up, but Jill prevailed in a day with a quick post to Freecycle Brooklyn. A few more emails, a bike trip to Cobble Hill and an exchange of pleasantries with a friendly stranger– ending with the delightedly exclamatory remark, “You’re taking them all?“– and we had our haul.

71 8-tracks. Click the picture for greater detail.

Along the way we found a few more. Of note, Cher’s eponymous third album, originally released in 1966, a lot of Barbra, a lot of Neil. The Captain and Tennille seem to be the archetypal 8-track act as the lion’s share of their career is concurrent with the medium’s life and death.

Volume 2 of Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar’s famed duets.

Sadly, I can’t exactly get the sound quality out of these tapes that an audiophilia nervosa patient might expect, but what I can get– hissing, whirring pitch shifts, bleeding of songs into one another– is sheer bliss.

* * *

Check out the music page today for a song written in the language of love, which is all you need.


Janis Ian plays this Saturday

Janis Ian will be playing this Saturday, July 5 on Governor’s Island at 1:30pm.

Her performance is part of the Folks on the Island festival taking place there, as well as an increasingly wide array of music and arts events that have been occurring on the island.

It’s great to see an artist like Ian continue to create music and take the stage. You may not share her musical aesthetic– I much prefer her ’60s and ’70s output to her latter-day folk efforts– but it’s hard not to be impressed by a counterculture icon who went from Billboard-charting teen stardom, to performing eight years later on the very first episode of Saturday Night Live with George Carlin, to outspoken defiance of the RIAA over music downloads well before iTunes and the decline of digital rights management. Janis Ian started her own label, Rude Girl, in 1992.

Here’s my earlier post on Janis Ian’s first record. Nine months later, it’s still in heavy rotation. I can’t say that about many records.