Carly & I talked to Quiet Lunch about our podcast, ‘77 Music Club, New York, and why rock and roll isn’t dying among those under 40. Check out the full interview (and more photos of me with severe resting judgmental badger face!) here.
Two weeks ago, I went to a bar where the much-hyped DJ was actually a guy who just plugged an aux cord into his iPhone, then proceeded to fist-pump his way through a Spotify playlist of select choices like a radio remix of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee.”
There’s no doubt about it: We are living in an interesting, complex time for music, one where, technically, anyone can call themselves a DJ. In 2017, mention “DJing” and you’re more likely to be met with a reference to DJ Khaled’s Snapchat, an “Oh, that guy from Netflix?” if you mention Grandmaster Flash, and a straight-up “Huh?” if you bring up Afrika Bambaataa.
DJing has always been more a part of the underground music scene than the mainstream one. Now more than ever, though, it feels even more difficult to find an actual DJ — not one titled with the misnomer — who creates music that is both innovative and true to the original form. But, if you know where to look, in the clubs of Bushwick and the Bandcamps and Soundclouds of the internet, the real DJs are still there.
Kid Ginseng is one of them. A veteran DJ and head of New York-based electro-funk label Kraftjerkz, Kid Ginseng is the samurai of the New York scene: laser focused, beyond dedicated to his creative path. He’s calm, cool, and collected behind the decks, mixing and scratching with such precision and uniqueness that you can listen to his tracks over and over again, from varying angles, and still find something new: the creativity of picking samples, the science of identifying the repetitive hook, the art of putting it all together, like painting, but with sound.
What’s most interesting about Kid Ginseng is the scope his work covers. He covers the fundamentals with funky scratching and sampling of old school hip-hop and dance records. He takes influence from Kraftwerk’s Computer World and builds layers of electronic sound out of the “Numbers” beat. He plays with turntablism, scratching records at rapid speeds with a difficult-to-master blend of technical prowess and genuine feel. He’s unafraid to experiment with the playfulness of internet culture, combining spoken word samples from guests of peak-Dad sayings or iconic movie quotes with tight, rapidfire scratching and beats. With each endeavor, he remains both authentic and unexpected at the same time.
For those looking for something fresh and fun, funky and freaky, Kid Ginseng is your best bet:
For updates, follow Kid Ginseng and Kraftjerkz on Facebook, and if you’re in the New York area, be sure to check out his upcoming appearance at Bushwick’s Bossa Nova Civic Club and come get down to the get down (you can do that legally now!).
On March 31, 1974, a young band called Television played their first gig at recently-opened Bowery dive CBGB. Not long before, they had helped Hilly Kristal put the CBGB stage together; now, they were performing in the club that they would help to immortalize. Television, comprised of Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Richard Hell (replaced by Fred Smith in 1975), and Billy Ficca, soon became the de facto house band at CBGB, appearing regularly and becoming a staple of the growing scene that would come to include the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Dead Boys, and Patti Smith, to name a few.
With their popularity growing, the logical next step would have been to record an album, but Television bided their time. They chose to hone their sound, to develop and grow as a band, so by the time they were signed to Elektra Records in 1976, they were more than ready to begin work on what would become the seminal Marquee Moon. Released in early 1977, the album is regarded as one of the greatest of the punk era, containing songs that continue to be referenced today in covers and samples.
We chose this album as the first to be covered from our show’s namesake year because of its grit, its timeliness and timelessness, and its particular way of getting under your skin and making you feel more electrically charged than you were when you began the album. In this episode, we explore how Television’s and CBGB’s beginnings are inextricably linked, dive into Marquee Moon’s darkness and dreaminess, and outline the continuation of the band’s sound, proving that their legacy still thrives today.
New York is one of those few rare places where you can read about a place in the city one minute — an old building where someone once lived, an abandoned music venue, a corner where that one special scene in a movie from decades ago was shot — then find yourself actually there the next. Buildings are not just buildings. Streets are not just streets. At least, not to some people. At least, not to me.
The Apthorp. Macdougal Street. 52 West 8th Street. 315 Bowery. The Hotel Chelsea. I could write you a long list if I wanted to, a list of places that are not just addresses and buildings and random New York streets. They’re places that mean something. They hold memories, even if they aren’t really mine. The place didn’t make the place; the people who came before me did.
On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself standing on a random sidewalk, perhaps insignificant to 80 percent of the world, still, closing my eyes, trying to cull memories that are built on second-hand information from my brain. And then I open them and stare at another luxury development and wonder where exactly it is I am doing and what exactly it is I’m doing there. I try to place the people back into the picture and start to wonder why it’s becoming more and more difficult to feel even a tiny bit of spark of inspiration, a tiny bit of understanding of what things were like before this very moment.
These are supposed to be haunted streets, haunted with our ancestors’ spirits, those living and dead, those related to us not by blood, but by spirit. The dreamers and artists and thinkers and poets. These are supposed to be haunted streets, but it’s getting harder to feel their spirits, harder to close my eyes and truly feel, harder to summon energy of a time I can’t help but think I’ve missed out on.
Joan Didion once wrote, “I am trying to place myself in history. I have been looking all my life for history and have yet to find it.” I came to New York to be a part of history. To revisit history. To make my own history. But history is quickly being renovated or torn down or overshadowed by high rise buildings that may sparkle in the sunset but still sit empty, homes to nothing more than investments, at the end of the day.
I wonder if anyone in the future will feel the same way I feel now. I wonder if the places that are significant to me now, the places that I will tell stories of, will mean anything years from now, or if they’ll all be whitewashed beyond recognition, the way CBGBs is now a men’s clothing store and the Palladium is now an NYU dorm and Pearl Paint now houses $16,000 a month condos. Will it still feel the same? Will anyone care?
The city giveth and the city taketh away. The only constant about New York is that it’s always changing. Maybe I sound very young and very romantic and very naive, but I know this. I have known this. I have known that, in so many ways, this city is better — I know that I should be grateful, that I should be acknowledging how wonderful it is that crime rate is down and I don’t have to push a dead hobo from my doorway when I leave for work in the morning or worry too too much about getting mugged on the subway — but I can’t help but wonder if better is always actually better. Or, if it is, who is it really better for?
This usually happens right around the time I notice how goddamn quiet it is, how homogenized things are beginning to look, how alone with my thoughts I am. I live in New York. Isn’t it supposed to be dirty? Isn’t it supposed to be loud? Aren’t I supposed to be making calls to 311 every other day, while knowing in the back of my mind that this is what I signed up for? Because, really, this is what I signed up for. I signed up for the scary and the tough and the gritty and the unpleasant and the bad that’s supposed to make the good all the sweeter in the end.
I still believe that New York is the greatest city in the world, still believe in its infinite possibilities. I wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I have if I didn’t. But New York doesn’t feel like a city for the very young very often anymore. Is cleaning things up really making this city better? Do we need another brunch place that specializes in vegan avocado toast or a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks or, as I saw recently, scrawled on the window of what was once an Urban Outfitters (I know) whose doors had been shut to make way for new businesses, another fucking bank? Do we need another bucolic residential development or another new high rise that only a handful of people can afford to live in?
I’ve been searching for history, but it feels like it’s slipping away from me.
It wasn’t lost on many during Tuesday night’s Lampedusa: Concert for Refugees benefit that a series of concerts to raise awareness and funds for the current refugee crisis was in full swing just as the presidential election drew increasingly nearer.
In an election season where refugees have become such politicized figures, where they’ve been distilled down to talking points and memes and likened to a bowl of Skittles, the Emmylou Harris-helmed benefit was a humbling reminder that, above everything else, refugees are just people.
They’re just people. Men, women, and children, and in the current refugee crisis, 65 million of them around the world have been displaced from their homes. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a humanitarian one.
“You can start from a place of fear and suspicion, or you can start from a place of love and compassion,” Joey Ryan, one half of indie-folk duo the Milk Carton Kids said. “We’re all doing this to hopefully promote the latter.”
People behind the slew of Facebook comments that litter the event’s posts might want to question their decisions to boycott the concert series for political reasons. It wasn’t a political event. It was a momentary relief from the negativity and ugliness that has flooded the news cycle. There was no mention of either candidate, save for a brief comedic song from Nancy and Beth (actresses Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt’s musical alter egos). There were no accusations of who’s right and wrong in a political war over immigration, no damning critiques of anyone involved in either political party.
The musicians held back from proselytizing; any remarks about the refugee crisis were brief and told in personal anecdotes. The Milk Carton Kids shared that their family histories are marked with immigration stories, that there were stark differences between the lives of distant relatives who made it in America and those who were turned away. Harris told a short story about meeting a former child refugee who came to America on the back of a train and is now a college graduate working with refugee services to give others the same kind of help he received.
It wasn’t a night about politics. It was a night about music, and the way it can unite people, especially when it’s for a good cause.
The evening began unassuming and intimate, with each musician sitting and playing in-the-round style, taking turns singing lead while others occasionally joined in, at times performing songs as an ensemble. They referred to it as a good old-fashioned guitar pull, as if they were just friends jamming together and not some of the most seminal names in rock and roll. But casual as they tried to be, each musician gave performances that were met with thunderous applause, reminders of just how much they could do with such sparse fanfare.
Harris hushed the crowd with a soft performance of “Making Believe,” joking afterwards that she was just beginning to realize how many sad songs fill her library. Buddy Miller lightened the mood with fiery guitar work and an electrifying rendition of “Gasoline and Matches” with Harris. Steve Earle reminded the audience that everyone, especially New Yorkers, came from somewhere else with “City of Immigrants,” and the Milk Carton Kids stunned the crowd with a Simon and Garfunkel-esque cover of Harris’s “Michelangelo.” Robert Plant’s take on the ancient folk song “Little Maggie” began simply and quickly crescendoed into a lush roar of sound from all of the musicians on stage.
While the night’s political points had existed mainly in quiet undertones, in the subtle, yet pointed set list choices, its purpose was well made towards the end of the evening when special guest Joan Baez took the stage. Baez taught an entire generation of musicians that music could not just sound good, but it could do good, Harris explained. That work was, in a way, part of the reason why they were all gathered together on stage, part of the reason why Baez was nominated for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that morning.
Before a passionate, poignant performance of “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” the First Lady of activist songwriting mused that maybe people were looking at the refugee crisis the wrong way.
“My father was an immigrant from Mexico and ended up becoming the co-inventor of the x-ray microscope,” she explained. “We shouldn’t be thinking about what immigrants are taking from us, but what gifts they can bring.”
Upcoming Tour Dates:
October 19 — Philadelphia, PA — Merriam Theater
October 21 — Washington, DC — Lisner Auditorium
To learn more about the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Global Education Initiative, visithttp://jrsusa.org.
Featured image: Ben Stas for the Boston Globe
“The Dealer,” the first single from Stevie Nicks’s first album in three years, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault, a collection of old demos and one-offs revisited years later, was released on this day in 2014. I typically save my essays or short thoughts for bigger things and more significant anniversaries, but this song holds a special spot in my heart that I had to share a little something.
I cannot listen to “The Dealer” without thinking about my first real year in New York, without remembering those terrifying months after graduation — the ones that bled into each other so much that I lost track of time and hadn’t even realized a year had passed and I was in the city not as a student, but as an adult. I cannot listen to it without thinking about living in my first real apartment, suddenly feeling like I’m right back in that overpriced closet-sized room without a closet where I could touch both walls while sitting on my bed. I cannot listen to it without thinking about all those evenings walking through Soho at golden hour with it on repeat on my way home from work, all those mornings running to it on repeat by the East River at 6:30 a.m. while most of the city slept. My feet still remember those steps, the exact buildings I would pass at exact points in the song.
“The Dealer” made me feel electrified and excited and magical. It made me feel so alive and free and so young, but in the best possible way. I was the mistress of my fate. It made me feel like New York was my own enchanted, charmed playground, like some golden-hued, filtered alternate reality full of infinite possibilities — it was 2014 and I was listening to new Stevie Nicks, new Stevie Nicks that sounded like old Stevie Nicks, so what year was it, really?
I can’t listen to “The Dealer” without remembering that serendipitous time when I started writing my best pieces, when those pieces led me to finding my best friend, the girl whose first message to me told me, without being cheesy, to “Rock on, ancient queen.”
I can’t listen to it without thinking of the accompanying 24 Karat Gold Polaroid gallery, how I thought I was going to throw up when I got a press invite to opening night — Me? I thought. Little me? Won’t people ask where my parents are? I can’t listen to it without remembering how long I shopped for the perfect dress, how my hands shook the whole day in anticipation, how the crisp air felt on my bare shoulders as I walked from the train to the gallery, how I felt like I was floating the whole evening. I didn’t touch the open bar, but I was drunk — drunk on that feeling when you know you’re in the presence of magic. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I started to type out my review on my phone about five minutes after I left, how the words just poured out effortlessly because I was so inspired. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I let it repeat again and again and again on the way home, feeling exhausted but too wired to sleep, feeling a little bit like I had finally found the closest thing possible to a time machine.
This is why I love music. Yes, I love the technical aspects — the melodies and harmonies, the chords, the guitar solos; yes, I love excellent songwriting. But the feel, and the way music can be so closely tied to memories — like a soundtrack to your life — is what really gets me.
Maybe Stevie Nicks fans were onto something when they started Night of 1,000 Stevies 25 years ago in a small club in New York’s Meatpacking District. This year’s not even halfway over, and already we’ve seen countless tribute parties in the wake of the deaths of beloved icons. Why wait until someone is gone to celebrate their life? Why don’t we honor the people we love once a year, every year, while they’re still alive and kicking?
Every year, more than 1,000 people flood Irving Plaza to do just that: attend a six hour long party honoring and celebrating the life and music of Stevie Nicks. It’s campy. It’s strange. It’s fun. “It’s a Noah’s Arc of Stevie love,” co-creator Chi Chi Valenti told Rolling Stone last year.
That’s what it really is, above everything else: something that brings together people from all walks of life — middle-aged suburban moms, drag queens, Brooklyn hipsters, fans for more than 30 years, fans for only two or three — and from all over the country (one girl flew in from Florida) for one night because they all can find one common ground: a love of Stevie Nicks. The menagerie of people couldn’t be more different, and, yet, Stevie Nicks brings them together. Maybe she really is a witch, because that’s a pretty powerful thing to do.
“Thank you all for coming out to celebrate the queen of everything!” Valenti exclaimed midway through the night. Sure, it’s a great way to psych up a crowd who had already spent the better part of the evening “Yas queen”-ing, but if you think for a second, “queen of everything” isn’t really such a hyperbole. The original selfie queen? Check.Queen of rock and roll? Check. Aesthetic queen? Check. As Richard S. from Albany said, “she created a brand for herself before that was even a thing.”
Night of 1,000 Stevies is not for the faint of heart or the shy. It’s a karaoke party, drag show, and dance club all rolled into one, then put on steroids. The costumes on display are outrageous. All the hits are played, of course, but rest assured that this isn’t the type of audience you want to hit with “Edge of Seventeen” six times in one night. No, the crowd is loud as they enthusiastically shout out all the words to remixes of deep album cuts and demos.
It’s the kind of place where people are quick to tell you the connection they feel with Stevie Nicks, a favorite memory or favorite song, but have a more difficult time distilling why they love the singer in the first place into a simple sentence. “She’s just… totally unique,” many said.
“Her voice is the best female rock voice of all time, but lyrically — everything hits you in the heart,” Richard S. said. “But it’s abstract, so everyone can relate to it and can take what they want from it.”
His friend Ryan nodded and added: “She doesn’t play victim in her songs, which is kind of rare. Even when she’s heartbroken, she’s always kind of in charge. She’s not crying and complaining. She says ‘I miss that, that hurt me,’ but she moves on, and she’s damn strong.”
That’s something that brings a lot of people to Night of 1,000 Stevies in the first place. Despite being given an ever-increasing amount of access into celebrities’ lives, it’s becoming harder to find celebrities today who are so comfortable being vulnerable in front of millions of people. It’s harder to find celebrities who go through intensely testing trials and come out on the other side even stronger. It’s harder to find celebrities who have managed to stay relevant for more than 40 years without ever having to reinvent themselves.
Night of 1,000 Stevies isn’t just a celebration of music. It’s a celebration of what it means to be an artist, a celebration of what it means to be brave, a celebration of what it feels like to throw away inhibitions and be yourself, even if it’s just for a few hours.
When I considered going to the event for the first time last year, I felt a little embarrassed. It all seemed so over-the-top that I wondered how it would look if I went. Would all the people there in their detailed costumes think I was an amateur for just showing up in a black chiffon-y dress? Would all the people seeing my Instagrams think I was a crazy fangirl? I searched for reasons to justify it: “Well, what if Stevie makes a surprise appearance this year like she’s hinted at before?” “Oh, it’s just a fun way to drink and dance and listen to my favorite music.”
It’s okay to admit that you’re going to a party full of fans who are just as excited and full of love for something as you because you want to have that experience. You don’t need an excuse. Maybe we’re all so wrapped up in this idea that we are supposed to be jaded and blasé, this internal monologue repeatedly telling us don’t care too much; find your chill.
Here’s the thing: sometimes, it’s kind of cool to not be chill about something. It’s cool to care about things — really care about them. It’s cool to meet other people who care about the same things as you. And it’s pretty close to magical to be surrounded by 1,000 of them on a Friday night in New York, a city with more than 8 million strangers bustling through it every day. You don’t need an excuse for that. Go dance to the music you love. Go sing at the top of your lungs. Blame it on your wild heart.