Wednesday, September 28, 2005

After school special

I went to go eat dinner with a bunch of law school buddies last night, over at someone's studio near Lincoln Center. The baked ziti was good, the wine was free-flowing. We were sitting around his living room and somebody pointed out what was on the bottom shelf of the coffee table - a plastic baggie, a lighter, a small box of blunts...

"Stems and seeds, stems and seeds," someone was saying. Mentally I was trying to remember what that meant, because I knew I had heard that before, but I wasn't quite - OH MY GOD. MARIJUANA.

I had never been in the same room as it before. It lay there limply - there wasn't much left. Everyone started talking about this apparently epic night last week, when they returned from a solid six hours of boozing to get high and watch movies. Two people started comparing dealers. "Do you know Andres?" "Do you know Turkey?" Somebody mentioned some other drug they had ingested that night. They talked about pot dates.

I was shocked. I didn't say anything about my narcotically-virginal self, or how I had to ask my parents what pot smelled like. I didn't say anything about how when I first moved here I would nearly break into a run to get away from the dealers in Washington Square Park, who walk up to you with a smooth yet insistent whisper, "Smoke? Smoke?" At dinner we somehow avoided comparative drugs stories, which I was grateful for, but it was a very odd night. The whole time I was preparing some kind of Nancy Reagan/Just Say No quip to avoid the issue.

I'm going to school with a bunch of casual potheads... maybe it will be that much easier to make law review. I don't know. It was weird and funny and kind of sad. Mostly shocking.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Yorker Festival 2005

Oh, beloved, dusty blog of mine. How I neglect you. Can you forgive me for these ten-day bouts of silence? Can you? Good. Thanks. Sorry.

This weekend was the New Yorker Festival, what has become my favorite event in the Manhattan calendar. The first time I went was in 2003 - L and I saw Michael Cunningham, Jhumpa Lahiri (be still my heart), Dave Eggers, and others giving readings across town. It was an amazing night - hopping on trains to get from one venue to the next, getting lost downtown, stealing a flyer advertising the festival that I had framed and hung on my wall, and finally seeing my fellow New Yorker compatriots. I didn't get to go to any events last year because of work obligations, but this weekend L and I have been out at full force.

Last night we saw two readings over at the Directors Guild. First up was Michael Chabon and Stephen King. Chabon read the first chapter of his upcoming novel, a Jewish hard-boiled crime fiction/noir type deal. It did not keep my interest - I actually fell asleep at the reading, which was embarassing. But with Stephen King I was back on board - I've always loved his books, and he read an excerpt that was suspenseful and scary. He is so down to earth and unpretentious about his craft.

Next up was Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen. Zadie read a chunk of her new novel and decked it out with a variety of accents (her native English, American, Jamaican, Nigerian). It was awesome, very funny and winsome, and she was surprisingly pretty. Very tall, and she walked very purposefully up to the podium. Her voice was deeper and more rugged than I thought it would be. Jonathan Franzen read part of his latest New Yorker essay, "My Bird Problem," encompassing his passion for birding, global warming, and the collapse of his marriage. He was incredibly droll and tentative, almost embarassed by his presence. I loved this essay so much - it was one that I read aloud to James while we were driving through Tennessee or Mississippi - and to hear the author recite it, knowing what was ahead, was wonderful. Although I think I read it just as well as he did. I felt such affection and affinity with him - he reminded me of me in a way, with his smarts and neuroses and use of humor as an attempt to bind the two (sorry for the ego there). During the questions and answers, the two were an utterly charming pair - Franzen had no patience for foolish questions and deflected them well. They talked about the challenges of writing, the struggle to find the right tone, fiction versus non-, and their feelings about poetry ("Sometimes we worry that the novel will become like poetry in a few years," Franzen said. He talked about how much work it took to slog through the typical New Yorker poem - he is so right). It was chilly in the auditorium, and Jonathan gave Zadie his blazer to wear. It was very titillating for the crowd, in an odd way, seeing these two people we loved getting along so well. He loved her generosity and affection for her characters, too. The best question of the night was from a young woman who talked bout how Jonathan's work doesn't provide answers to the big questions, but does at least try to illuminate the arguments. She said reading him was like not knowing math and doing the homework with somebody who didn't know math either - you weren't sure about things, but at least you knew someone understood you.

Boy, do I love Franzen. I want to be like him (in a limited way) and I want to write like him. His essays inspire me to make this blog (and the rest of my writing) something I can be proud of.

Today L and I went to see David Remnick (another lit-hero of mine) interview John Updike. It was interesting, but it was still listening to an old man ramble for 90 minutes. I can only take so much. He talked about his influences, how he got started, his own ambiguity to New York. He said people who live here travel in very narrow routes, which makes sense. He actually saw the towers fall on September 11th, and he said the way the collapsed in on themselves and shimmied it down - it was like "a silk dress falling off a woman." Beautiful. He said to write at least an hour day if you want to make it. He was very smart and spry and erudite. I think in hindsight my appreciation for that conversation will grow.

So that's my New Yorker festival. I love it so much. If anyone is interested, they're blogging the hell out of it over at Beatrice. To be among other readers is such a delight. I love this city.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Concert review: Coldplay

Tonight L and I went to the Coldplay concert at Madison Square Garden. It was so good I couldn’t stand it. Clapping my hands and shifting my weight back and forth was not enough to physically express my happiness. But I’m not one of those guys who raises their arms over their heads and just soaks it all in like Jesus at a Def Leppard concert. So I just clapped and swayed and wooed like most other people.

They had an amazing light board behind them. They opened with “Square One” and immediately the board lit up in white behind them with a string of four numbers running along with it. What will happen when it reaches zero, I absently wondered as the band’s silhouettes crossed the screen. Well, let me tell you: the clock flattens to 0000, the chorus of the song kicks in and the lights on the lightboard and around the stage explode with color – the whole place is lit up and moving, green, red, blue, bursting from the stage out to us, the band may not even exist anymore, it’s just this kinetic explosion of sight and sound that announces to 15,000 people that something is happening. And that set the tone for the rest of the two-hour set. Most of the music was from the new album, which I loved for the total rock-arena anthem tracks, where we used hand gestures to follow the notes up the scale and sing along to them like this: “Bup be doo be doo boo dee boo boo” (that’s the opening line from “Talk”). Except for a few of their glacially paced, funeral dirge, evolution-is-passing-you-by ballads, I was in hog heaven.

Not to mention the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow and precocious wee Apple were sitting about 50 feet from us, and that when Chris Martin ventured into the audience he ended up about 35 feet from us, and that basically I couldn’t have asked for better seats or a better companion or a better experience. And do I regret spending 35 dollars I don’t have on a concert t-shirt that I’m almost afraid to wear? No, I do not. Not for the music, not for the emotion, not for the sight of the whitest crowd in Manhattan dancing poorly and without shame on a Tuesday night.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Women we love: Kelly Clarkson

I've been thinking a lot about a certain American Idol winner lately. There has been a spate of articles about how Kelly Clarkson has improbably become Cool, riding the wave of her new Avril-esque hits, "Since U Been Gone" and "Behind These Hazel Eyes." (Such awesome titles! Obviously only total squares and poindexters write out "you," and who doesn't love those people who can't just say they have brown eyes or green eyes, no no - those bitches are hazel.) Kelly Clarkson has always had a certain appeal to me, from the sharp consonants of her name to her humble origins as a reality show contestant. I remember watching the show and rooting for her from her first throaty renditions of Aretha Franklin numbers. Not only was she talented, but she seemed sweet and self-effacing, and not that dumb for a pop singer. Then she had her simpering Simon Cowell ballads, and that wretched movie, which made the nation uncomfortable. And now, an album later, she's gone blonde and Hollywood and is sweeping up VMAs, hopping around the stage all wet and sopping and prancing to the beat of her own song in bare feet.

The best thing, though, is her songs - they are catchy and she has a great range, starting low on the verses and swooping up on the choruses, then riding a crest of adlibs back to her gospelish roots before the song shudders to a finish, spent and breathless. The bridges of her songs are always the best, always, with their attitude and vocal altitude and clear, declarative sentences. Swallow me then spit me out. Shut your mouth I just can't take it. Her two songs are a bit contradictory, sure, but the woman remains the same. And that's what we - me and the rest of America and the recently-converted musico-cultural elite - love.