Below the MLK Expressway, Staten Island

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gowanus on the Riviera

Or vice versa. A Buick Riviera (guessing around '64 or '65) on the Gowanus Expressway. And some other vehicles.

What happened to our cars?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Erasing the View

The Apple billboard on the BQE. Beyond a highrise development on the north end of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Dinner with Wally

To be clear, it wasn't dinner and I never spoke to the man. But, for the second time in my life, Wallace Shawn walked into a cafe I was sitting in.
Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Perhaps, not as unexpectedly this time, since his name was on the program I had just been handed. (He hadn't been announced in advance, they informed us, because he had a 7 a.m. shoot for The Good Wife and wasn't sure he'd be able to make the event.) The venue was a performance space at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on W. 37th St., made over as a cafe for an evening "salon": Music by Mozart, Berio, John Cage, and readings Beckett poems and excerpts from Cage's "Composition as Process" ("32 Questions") by Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg (short story writer and Shawn's wife).

I'd just noticed Shawn's name on the program when I looked up to see him entering the room with Deborah Eisenberg, surveying it with that mildly stunned expression that has become his trademark. It recalled a scene in a Warsaw cafe, the Nowy Świat ("New World), where I'd gone for coffee and cakes with my students from the college. Perhaps a bit bored, I'd glanced towards the door and noticed Shawn standing there, surrounded by some artsy Polish types. At that point, I'd seen him in My Dinner with Andre, and that was about it. What was he doing in Warsaw? He looked around--the same expresssion. Before I could explain to my students who he was, he left, along with his entourage.

Flash forward to 2015, Shawn and Eisenberg sit one table away from us. Almost as close to me as Andre Gregory was to him in the movie. I maintain decorum: no celebrity hounding. Though I was dying to say, "Excuse, Mr. Shawn. Do you remember walking into a a cafe in Warsaw in 1990? Oh, you do? What was it that made you leave? I've been wondering about that for 25 years."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Egg-Beaters on the S.I.E.

Is music just sounds?

Then what does it communicate?

Is a truck passing by music?

If I can see it, do I have to hear it too?

If while I see it I can't hear it, but hear something else, say an egg-beater, because I'm inside looking out, does the truck communicate or the egg-beater, which communicates?

Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?

- John Cage, from "Composition as  Process" (just a few of the 32 questions he asks in the essay).

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Nothing if not timely, BTB catches up on the devastating fire at the Marly Supply Company lumberyard in Greenpoint in early January. The Daily News story provides some amazing photographs of the event, which necessitated shutting down the BQE for some hours.
(Source: New York Daily News)
How many thousands of times have I driven by the Marly sign? It's a favorite, with its mix of language, typography, and iconography (the backhoe and rearing horse). I photographed/posted it one rainy night in December (see below).

I just assumed the Chinese characters meant Marly. I was driving by the sign about a week ago with a friend who reads Chinese. She looked at the sign and laughed: "Oh, it says 'horse power.'"

I am glad to know it. And glad it is still there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not the End

(Photo: BTB)
Longtime BTB readers may remember a post from 2011, "This is the End." A mash-up of BQE photographs from the 7-train and the Mekons song "Cockermouth." Well since then, the Mekons documentary has been released (Revenge of the Mekons) and Dave Mandl's series of photographs of every dead-end street in Brooklyn has come out via Places journal. Read about it and see many of the images here.  Here are two from that series:
(Gowanus. Photo: Dave Mandl)
(Windsor Terrace. Photo: Dave Mandl)
BTW: Mandl hosts an excellent program on WFMU called World of Echo with Dave Mandl.

Monday, March 30, 2015

45 Limit

Michael Brown, songwriter and pianist for the Left Banke, died on March 19th. There have been a couple nice tributes on WFMU this past week, including Bob Brainen's show on Saturday morning.
I was reminded of a driving moment from last fall--remember fall? Heading up to RI on a sunny Saturday morning in October. The Hutchinson Parkway curving through Westchester County, listening to Bob Brainen's singles-only show on WFMU. With just a few minutes left in the show, he said: "We're gonna go to one of the great moments in Western Civilization right now..." And the sounds of the Left Banke's "Pretty Ballerina," from December 1966, came up, on an original 45, surface noise and all:

"I had a date with a pretty ballerina/Her hair so brilliant that it hurt my eyes..."

The second verse ends with two lines that are as sad and cryptic as any in pop music:

"Somewhere a mountain is moving/Afraid it's moving without me."

(You can hear it here. Thanks to Jeff Peter for introducing me to the Left Banke.)