Monday, March 30, 2009

Follow The Music

This post is going to be an observation of New York that is strictly my opinion. Since I've only been living here for a short time, I obviously do not have the tenure nor experience to accurately comment on this subject. Corrections are welcome, and comments are always appreciated. Again, this is personal experience and observation.

Based on what I've observed since living here, my plethora of New York City-based films, and what I know about music in New York, the center of activity has been constantly moving around the city since the 1950's. Rent is cheap in certain areas, poor aspiring musicians move to that area, and it becomes a great cultural center for music and art. So WHERE does this happen, how long does it last, and why?

Times Square

I guess the best place to start is Times Square. The commercial tourist center of the world, Times Square is probably the last place you'd go to see young artists these days. It's packed with retail stores and expensive restaurants, and while there are many shows around the area, they are usually very established people charging outrageous prices. However, it wasn't always like this.

In the 1920's, Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire were tied to Times Square and referred to it as The Tenderloin, the most desirable place to live in Manhattan. After the depression, it was a haven for gambling and strip clubs. It was considered dangerous in the 50's, and it wasn't until Rudy Guiliani started his mass cleanup in the 1990's did the area become commercialized.

Carnegie Hall, on 57th St, was a main attraction for people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. Midtown (between 14th and 59th) is still the center of New York industry and activity, but in the 1950's, there were many more seedy bars and small jazz clubs.

Greenwich Village

If you go to Greenwich Village today, home of NYU, there is still a great amount of music and cultural activity. Washington Square is always alive with street musicians. The West Village has great food and small music clubs, and there is a good deal of young aspiring students. However, it's kinda missing something nowadays. The Village at night reminds me of Beaver Ave in State College, just a lot of young kids drinking and walking the streets. Rent is expensive, though, and it kind of seems like a museum that wants to reflect what it once was.

I had this same feeling the last time I visited San Francisco. North Beach, the home of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William Burroughs, was the West Coast equivalent of Greenwich Village. In the late 50's and 1960's, they were the centers for Beatnik activity. Bob Dylan, the Mamas and the Papas, Peter Paul and Mary, Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, The Velvet Underground, Joan Baez, and many others got their start here. The Weather Underground was also based in The Village. If you visit The Village today, it is a great place for dinner. Washington Square is bustling on a nice day, and there is music everywhere. People are generally a little older though, and it seems like the Bohemian days of old are long gone.

The Lower East Side

Initially a primarily immigrant neighborhood, the gentrification of the Lower East Side happened when rent in The Village started getting very high. These days, the LES is still a pretty hip place. The rent is low, for Manhattan, and there are moderately priced bars on Ludlow St and Rivington.

The Mars Bar (2nd Ave & 1st St) is one of my favorite bars in Manhattan. The Lit Lounge has a huge basement with DJs all the time. The Cake Shop is a great bar/coffee shop with bands every night of the week.

The LES has a lot of art galleries, and is probably the easiest area to get a gig for a new band in New York. I've played in the Lower East Side several times with the Bullet Parade, and friends of mine continue to play there all the time. It's probably one of the cheapest areas to live in Manhattan, but gentrification peaked in the late 1980's, and people started moving across the bridge...

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Across the Williamsburg Bridge from the LES sits Williamsburg, the hippest place on the map. Since 2000, gentrification of Brooklyn has been spreading outward along the L Train, beginning with Williamsburg. What started as a small, mostly Hasidic population has turned into one of the biggest music centers in America. Since 2000, musicians have been erupting from this area. Acts such as TV on the Radio, Akron/Family, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear, and many others got their start in Williamsburg.

At the Mccaren Park in 2007, bands played at the pool, and there are plans for a 2009 North By Northeast festival that spans across Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Small venues like Union Pool and Death By Audio are having great shows with lots of up and coming acts.
Williamsburg has been referred to as "The Haight-Ashbury of ironic self-loathing" and is consistently called the hipster capital of the world by many people. Living in East Williamsburg, I see a lot of similar fashion and trendy stuff going on. Everyone has been pretty nice that I've met, though, and Williamsburg is a great place for the mid-twenties crowd. Bars are always packed and there is always something to do. However, in recent years the rent has skyrocketed. It is probably more expensive to live in Williamsburg than many areas of Manhattan. So what did people do? Move down to the next stop on the L Train until that area explodes. Williamsburg has been expanding in this way, down the L, until the L passes into the next Brooklyn neighborhood:

Bushwick, Brooklyn

Bushwick had previously been a pretty rough spot in Brooklyn. Lately, though, the rising rent in Williamsburg combined with the neighboring Bed-Stuy cleanup program has made Bushwick an affordable and fairly safe community. The 3rd Ward is a great artist/community space. The Surreal Estate is a loft space related to Food Not Bombs and The Freegans in Bushwick. They've had some great shows and DJs there.

Goodbye Blue Monday is an amazing space under the J Train that has bands every night, a cafe, and a huge backyard complete with another stage and great decorations. Bushwick is definitely coming into its own as a great, affordable place for artists and young, poor college grads. Across from a huge loft space is the bar King's County, the Archive Coffee shop, and a late night falafel joint. When we have to move from our apartment in East Williamsburg in May, we're looking into Bushwick. It's affordable, and very much alive.


The last area I want to hit on is Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Bed-Stuy. Birthplace of East Coast hip-hop (Notorious B.I.G., The Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Lil' Kim, Mos Def, Talib Kweli), Bed-Stuy was, up until very recently, a pretty rough patch of Brooklyn. The Spike Lee joint Do The Right Thing is set here, as well. This neighborhood is not off of the L Train, but the above-ground J, M, and Z Trains.

Starting in 2005, police have cracked down on the area, and as of 2009 it is one of the most improved areas with a decline in crime and increase in safety. The 123 Community Space is in the heart of Bed-Stuy, supporting freegans, bike-builders, sewing workshops, and food shares. The younger people moving to Bed-Stuy have a great sense of community, and there is a good incentive to get involved with the outreach programs in the neighborhood.

Though Bed-Stuy is still pretty rough, I wouldn't mind living here either. The rent is cheap, and I'd feel great getting involved in community-based activities.

Now that I have a job, I've been searching for new neighborhoods to live in. I know there are places I haven't even touched on in this post. Park Slope, DUMBO, and Greenpoint are all very worthy neighborhoods in Brooklyn, albeit very expensive. A loft space somewhere around the L Train is ideal, although I'll take whatever I can get. It's amazing to be around so many places in New York that have experienced such a cultural revolution. I just want to be a part of it today, wherever it's going on.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New York City: The Lost Romantics

Since I've been living in New York, I've delved pretty deeply into its history. I've been on a Scorsese kick, with Gangs of New York and Mean Steets. I've downloaded lots of Miles Davis, Coltrane and Monk. I've been listening to a lot of the hip hop to come out of Brooklyn, and I've been reading This Side of Paradise, which has its moments in the city.

Since watching Cassavettes' Shadows, the 1950's have emerged as this golden era of New York. Miles Davis and Coltrane are playing Carnegie Hall. NYU is starting to produce a great atmosphere of music in Greenwich Village, and the twenty-somethings are living in a glamorous utopia. Looking back, of course.

Maybe it was the movie Diner by Barry Levinson that did it. This has nothing to do with New York, and was filmed in 1982, but it is a look at 1950's Baltimore, and features Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, and Kevin Bacon in their very early years.

The whole lifestyle is just different. Marriage in your twenties, dating, dancing, etc. It's pretty great. The false innocence makes it appealing. Just the nightlife in general. I mean, check out this picture of a club in New York City from the 50's:

Real musicians making real music that they actually felt at the moment. They played it for people who felt it and danced because they were compelled to dance, not because everyone else was doing it. There were no DJs or mashups or impersonal grinding up on strangers. There was an art to it, and there was feeling. It took great effort and practice to dance in public, and if you cared to pick up a girl, you'd learn. Hard to find that in a bar nowadays. The dating scene is bleak, impersonal, and lifeless.

Woody Allen's Annie Hall or Manhattan also seem to capture the romanticism of the city. How you can step out of the bustle and enjoy the whole damn thing. That's kind of what hit me when I read Kerouac. The love of a place, rather than a person. How you could visit a place and just "dig" it. The bars, the buildings, the expensive restaurants...these aren't what make a city great. It's the view from the South Street Seaport at midnight, watching the waves break on the Manhattan Bridge. It's the graffiti on Morgan Avenue in Bushwick, the unknown artist El Camino reigning over the broken down buildings. It's the Spanish owner of the bodega on the corner, who will let us pay her back in a few days because we're her best customers. It's the feeling in your hair as you fly down the Williamsburg Bridge on a bike. It's the bartender at Mars Bar giving you shots and talking about punk rock.

Reading Fitzgerald, I always got a lost sense of romanticism. How could I keep living through this endless bustle, day by day, working, distracting myself, staying occupied without any sense to stop and appreciate anything. The Jazz Age. Romance at its finest. The saxophone is the dominant instrument, playing on pure feeling. Not an electric guitar noodling on already-written and re-written riffs. People are passionate for each other and for life, and they seem to have some standards that keep everything relatively wholesome. I want to stop entertaining myself and start living. I want to be enraptured by everything I do from now on.

"I'm a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last; a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poached Eggs and Guests

Going back to my old cooking blog for a minute on this one:

I've been obsessed with different styles of eggs lately. Making them hard boiled, fried, over-easy, etc etc. When I looked into poached eggs though, it got a little challenging.

The idea of poaching eggs involves dropping an egg into ALMOST boiling water. The best way to do this is bringing water to a boil, then turning it down and stirring it until there are no bubbles.

Crack each egg and keep them in a small container, like a ramekin. (I used a 1/3 c measuring cup.) You want something big enough to contain the egg, but small enough to dip under the water in your pot. Now, this is the hard part:

Dip each cup under the hot water and let the egg flow out. If you're skilled, you can use a spoon to push the whites around the yolk. Make sure each egg is contained and not touching another, or they will stick.

Cover the pot and let it sit for about 3-5 minutes. Pull the eggs out with a slotted spoon and you're finished! This is probably the best and healthiest way to cook eggs, as it involves no pan-frying and is very fast.

On another note, Laz and Grub visited for two days. We ate some sushi at Yummy Village, ate falafel in Williamsburg, and just walked around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Turns out the bartender at Bushwick Country Club is from Scranton, so we got a round of shots. Living in NEPA for all that time really pays off, I guess.

Okay, much to do today. Freelancing can get distracting.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Biking Manhattan

I've been biking Manhattan every day, for kicks. I want to share this YouTube video with you, just to express the sheer thrill of riding Manhattan streets.

THIS is why I love New York.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Esperanto Cafe, AudioFanZine, and Other Great Things About New York

After yesterday's depressing article on unemployment, I want to dish out the optimism for a change.

Esperanto Cafe, located at 114 MacDougal St. in the West Village is one of my favorite 24-hour coffee joints I've been to so far. Lots of great coffee and tea, paninis, bagels, vegan cakes and pastries, this place has it all. It's a great place for reading or working. There's no wi-fi, but if you bring an ethernet cable, you can hardwire into the wall. The tables are quite small, so it's not a restaurant experience, but if you need to stop somewhere and grab a coffee or tea, I highly recommend it. Another selling point: There is a phone booth against the wall with the ethernet jacks. Inside on a shelf? A copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Today I am going to apply to Trader Joe's, and will most likely get hired. This is fine by me. I'm determined to stay in New York, and if working in a grocery store for now is my only option, then so be it. Trader Joe's has a great organic selection and a high quality standard. I am also a big fan of the local Freegan lifestyle, which consistently plunders Trader Joe's for their less than perfect produce. This may be a better job than I originally thought.

On another note, I am on the writing staff for, an online community for musical equipment and technology. I'm going to be flushing out my technical writing paper on 1-Bit Sigma-Delta encoding for the first article, followed by some more technical papers on DSP, acoustics, and Pulse Code Modulation. Finally, I can put my engineering and writing skills to a good use.

Last, I have a meeting with SIA Acoustics on Monday. I hear unpaid internships are the new entry-level position. You know, similar to how cheap is the new chic. Finally, a place to apply my knowledge of engineering, acoustics, recording, and live sound. All together at last! I doubt they will hire me right there, but maybe they'll let me sit and watch them for a few weeks and refer me to another unpaid internship. I don't expect this industry to be easy.

Oh yeah, on a completely unrelated note. My favorite web comic for the last few years, and until I find something better, is Intelligent, kinda nerdy, a bit romantic, and sometimes philosophical. This one has it all. Lately, I've been a fan of another comic, however. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is spontaneous, hilarious, and sometimes wrong on all sorts of levels. I want to post one from this week that I feel is pretty relevant to a recent blog entry I had:

(click to enlarge)

Alright kids, hang in there. Summer is right around the corner. That's what the old man with no teeth at the Mars Bar told me the other night. "Fuck groundhogs, I can feel summer coming!" In this post-snowfall New York day, it is a glorious 35 degrees and I'm getting a job today. The 3rd Ward has some great stuff going on this weekend, and I might get some visitors from Penn State.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Job Forecast for College Seniors: Grimmer Than Ever,8599,1882979,00.html?cnn=yes

By Laura Fitzpatrick Wednesday, Mar. 04, 2009

"Smith College's career office sent its jittery job-hunting seniors a letter last month with a reassuring message: "there ARE jobs, and you can find employment." Unfortunately, there are far fewer jobs than anticipated, according to a report out today from the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE). The companies surveyed in the group's spring update are planning to hire 22% fewer grads from the Class of 2009 than they hired from the Class of 2008, a big letdown from the group's projections in October that hiring would hold steady. Some 44% of companies in the survey conducted last month said they plan to hire fewer new grads, and another 22% said they do not plan to hire at all this spring, more than double last year's figure. "If you were a student and were out there [interviewing] in the fall, you probably had a decent chance of getting a job," says Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at NACE. "But frankly, the spring does not look good."

Job prospects for college grads, which had been on the rise since 2004, dropped in virtually every sector this year. The most dramatic decline was, not surprisingly, in finance, which hemorrhaged 71% of expected job openings. Less expected but equally troubling is the 37% decline in hiring for professional services, which include accounting and engineering. "Poor hiring estimates from this area speak to the depth of the recession in the college labor market for the Class of 2009," the report says. (See TIME's special report on paying for colleges.)

Government is essentially the only industry planning to hire more new grads this year than last, as the new Administration expands and as a graying workforce retires. (The only other sector with plans to increase hiring — that of distribution, transportation and utilities — had too few respondents for the projection to mean much.) The uptick in government recruiting is obvious to students. Last year, notes Dorothy Kerr, executive manager of Rutgers University's career services, there were just 15 government and nonprofit employers at the annual Big East Career Day in Manhattan's Madison Square Garden; others were kept out to make room for 135 private sector employers. This year, just 80 private companies signed up for the March 13 event, where 30 federal agencies will be on hand accepting resumes. "The good news is, the federal government is definitely hiring," Kerr says. Still, according to the NACE report, the projected increase is less than 6%. (See 25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.)

Not only are fewer companies hiring, but more of those with openings are offering internships instead of full-time spots. Only a third of on-campus recruiters this year are looking to sign both full-time employees and interns, the report found, down from an average of two-thirds for the classes of 2007 and 2008. And 16% of employers will be hiring only interns, nearly double the percentage that did so last year. "I explain to [the students] it's like taking another course, and paying to take that course," says Middlebury's executive director of career services, Jaye Roseborough. (Read "How to Know When the Economy Is Looking Up".)

Experts say more college grads may also seek employment in fields that require comparatively little education. "Even if you're surviving by being a coffee barista, it's still better than just staying home," says Koc. "With the job market as difficult as it is, I don't think that students have much of a choice." (See the top 10 financial-crisis buzzwords.)

Still, serving lattes for minimum wage plus tips is a painful prospect to the average college student, who graduates $21,000 in the red. Tuition costs could also be one reason why graduate schools, traditionally a refuge in tough economic times, have seen uneven application numbers this year. Lance Choy, director of the career development center at Stanford, notes that grad schools were a popular backup a few years ago during the dot-com bust, but applications are flat this year. "Who needs more debt when the job market is looking rather grim?" he says.

Meanwhile, schools are pulling out the stops to help their students to beat out the competition. Counselors everywhere are encouraging students to turn to their alumni networks for help. The University of Maryland has conducted workshops with an emphasis on networking. The career office shared by Haverford and Bryn Mawr recently gave each senior 50 business cards listing their names and majors. (Read "Businesses Bucking the Recession.)

But students who have already managed to snag an offer might want to keep their business cards handy. According to NACE, as many as 8% of employers will be forced to rescind at least some of the offers they made this fall. "In this economy, we don't even use the terminology 'sewn up' anymore," says Roseborough. More like coming apart at the seams."

This is my last month in New York. If I can't get a job by the end of March, I'm going to be forced to move.

Don't graduate from college, kids.