Friday, September 26, 2014

Assumptions of monogamy

I got some big news on Tuesday night, but the timing of when I got it is a story in itself.

Tuesday night was Open Love NY, and I was leading a discussion about the myths of monogamy. I had cut out a bunch of "Dear Abby" columns from the newspaper and passed them around for people to read aloud and discuss the assumptions made about monogamous relationships. Assumptions like:

  • When you’re married, you’re not entitled to privacy or boundaries when it comes to your family.
  • If you love someone, your goal is marriage. If marriage isn’t workable, you must move on.
  • Monogamy means you can take your partner for granted.
  • Two people who love each other must be compatible in every way, with the goal of co-habitation.
  • You need to be 100% sure of love before you make a commitment. If you’re going too fast, you should slow down.
  • Being married is the only legitimate way to provide for someone in the event of death.
So of course, most of the room of 35 people were talking about the pitfalls of marriage (not monogamy per se, but the legal contract). As this discussion was going on, I got a text message because I forgot to turn my phone ringer off. It was from Agnieszka and when I read it, I couldn't help myself - I said aloud to the room, "OMG, one of my best friends is getting married this Monday!" and the entire room broke out into peals of laughter and applause. The timing of that text could not have been more perfect.

I sat between Charlie and Katie M from my women's group, with Charlie's girlfriend and my friend Jonathan sitting beside them - it was Jonathan's first OLNY meeting. After the meeting, Katie and I got some empanadas and went back to TSMC to eat and watch some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - she's making her way through Season 2.

Wednesday night Kacey took the train out to Princeton to visit me at Nearing, and we had dinner at a quiet little Italian restaurant called La Messaluna behind the Princeton Record Exchange. We started with some baked clams stuffed with some kind of cured pork, and I had a Pork Ossobuco served over a wild mushroom risotto.

Kacey, who is trying to have less meat in her diet, had the special black truffle risotto, which was prepared tableside by our server, who cut the risotto into four large quenelles and topped it with a luxurious amount of shaved black truffles.

We had to eat fast to make a 7:30 show of Anthony & Cleopatra at the McCarter Theatre, and we missed the very beginning. Kacey's friend Keith is acting in the production and got us comp tickets, along with another friend named Michelle, who we met at our seats. The play was interesting, but had a lot of flaws - it's no wonder that it's one of Shakespeare's least-performed works. My favorite part of the entire performance was probably the solo percussionist who played a variety of instruments, from a bathtub-sized Taiko drum to metal rods and hubcaps and a frame drum with ball bearings. After the play, Keith and Michelle joined us for the ride back to the city, and I dropped them in the West Village before heading home.

Monday, September 22, 2014

People's Climate March

This has been a pretty special week, capped off by yesterday's climate march when more than 400,000 people marched through New York City demanding action on climate change. It was truly an inspirational and galvanizing moment that I hope will trigger an increasing avalanche of new progress toward a cleaner, better future.

But back to the beginning - on Monday Katie M and I managed to have a lovely friend-date, although I was late getting back from work and we couldn't start as early as I would have liked. We met up at the Central Park entrance at 81st Street near AMNH but since it was already near dark by the time I could get there, we couldn't quite take the route through the park I had intended. So we walked along the bike track down to Columbus Circle and had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Sapphire that is right next-door to my hair salon. We continued walking all the way down to TSMC and watched one of my favorite movies, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." She just got a new job that started today, but since she hadn't started yet we stayed up late talking, as we usually do when we have the opportunity.

Wednesday was my Poly Women's Group meeting, and Thursday Natalia and Matt came over for pizza and to watch "Circle of Iron," the 1978 movie written by Bruce Lee before his untimely death and starring David Carradine, Christopher Lee and Eli Wallach. Kacey came over briefly to try on some dresses for a work engagement next weekend, so we paused the movie to chat with her.

Friday was Josh's 31st birthday at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria. I wanted to get him some records from the Princeton Record Exchange so I got my work done quickly and rushed out to dig through the bins for about 45 minutes. I found several things so I rushed home to clean them before heading out to the party. I can't remember all the albums that ended up in his bag, but here's what I can remember:
  • Charlie Parker - Live Sessions
  • The Police - Ghost in the Machine
  • Sting - Nothing Like the Sun
  • Styx - Pieces of Eight
  • Eurythmics - Be Yourself Tonight
  • Steve Winwood - Back in the High Life
  • Dire Straights - Brothers in Arms
  • Def Leppard - Pyromania

Saturday was Babuska Zoya's 90th birthday party at the Pirosmani restaurant in Brooklyn, a Georgian cuisine place that is a family favorite for big celebrations. The party started at 2 pm, so probably for the first time ever in Puck's company, I felt under-dressed because everyone was wearing such nice, sparkly evening clothes and I was wearing a sundress. Puck neglected to impress upon me what a big milestone birthday this was going to be, but I did bring flowers and even managed to pick Zoya's favorite blooms for the bouquet (Puck's sister was surprised I knew them). I don't know Zoya all that well, but when I imagine her in my mind's eye, I could sense somehow which flowers she would like. Sometimes I can be very intuitive; other times I'm a complete dunderhead.

The meal started with cold appetizers and salads, slices of smoked fish and cold chicken in a walnut sauce. There was a Georgian-style pizza, which was like a melted cheese stuffed pizza, potatoes and mushrooms, kebab wrapped in a pastry shell, a lamb pot pie, a baked chicken liver dish and all topped off with an enormous meringue birthday cake.

After more than four hours of feasting, toasting, singing and dancing were done, Puck and I were both pretty worn out, so we begged off the rest of the evening's activities with all the out of town guests. We stopped by Nordstrom Rack to buy them a new pair of shoes and then headed back to TSMC to shower, relax, listen to some music and finish reading "Matilda" before turning in early for the march the in morning.

The next morning we got a bit of a late start. We had breakfast at the Evergreen across the street (thankfully it was open - they keep mystery hours) and then separated to take our respective places in the march lineup. I went up to 85th Street to meet up with Nearing, where Katie and Lillian found me. Even my CEO cut short his vacation and made it to the march, which was inspiring in and of itself. We stood with the people from Unilever (a Nearing customer) and Ben & Jerry's for two hours until the moment of silence, then the three of us started walking down to the front of the parade, passing all the many groups along the way. I also ran into Alex (Puck's brother-in-law who was at the dinner the day before) twice - once he passed us, and then we caught up and passed him.

We couldn't find Puck but we managed to make it far enough south so that the march was actually moving past Columbus Circle, where it turned on Central Park South and then down Sixth Avenue. Since it passed less than a block from TSMC, we stopped for a break and so I could drop some of my stuff. As we were preparing to go back out to the march, we ran into Puck as they were stepping off the elevator - they had the same idea because their phone had died. So we marched the rest of the way all together, down to 42nd and Seventh Avenue, where people were dispersing because it was too crowded to get to the end.

I actually saw Jennifer (from Poly Cocktails) in front of us, but I wasn't sure enough that it was her to get her attention. I later found out it was her by FB messaging her. I wish I'd taken a chance and gotten her attention - I don't know why I'm so shy about doing things like that. Seriously, what's the point of marching if we can't connect with the people around us?

From Times Square, Katie and Lillian headed back to Brooklyn and Puck and I went down to Zoya's place to pick up some groceries and had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We came back up to TSMC and they left to catch their MegaBus (which unfortunately they missed, but managed to get home via another bus to Trenton and a train ride from there, with the help of a kind stranger). Meanwhile, I hosted Katie M at TSMC to watch "The Day After Tomorrow," an appropriate cap to a day dedicated to the urgency of acting on climate change.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top 20 albums

After an unusually quiet week last week I had a exciting and stimulating weekend filled with music, performances and friends. Friday night was my company's annual picnic, but since Puck couldn't make it this year, I didn't stick around for very long. I bid on a few silent auction items, but didn't win anything, and I didn't do the drawing this year (which resulted in a free hair cut and color appointment for Puck two years ago).

Saturday started out cloudy and cool, so I walked over to Ess-a-Bagel for brunch and then took the subway down to The Rack to pick up another dress on which I had alterations done. I walked through the Greenmarket in Union Square and picked up some cider and pickles before heading home for a nap before it was time to meet Kristina to try the Hedwig lottery. Kristina was very optimistic going in, and I was the third name picked! Our tickets were fifth row orchestra left, and a few seats in from the aisle.

We came back to TSMC to chat for the 90 minutes before the show and then headed back down at 7. Such are the advantages of living three blocks from the theater! The show was fun and the music was great, but I had some trouble following the plot as it was difficult to hear some of the dialogue. But it was a solid rock show and I'm glad I got to see it. We went out for dinner at John's Shanghai afterward - our usual adventuresome choices of soup dumplings and beef tongue and tripe in chili oil (Kristina's first time eating beef tongue).

Sunday Liz invited me to Union Square for Diana Oh's "My Lingerie Play" performance that consists of about 30 women wearing undergarments standing in a line on their soapboxes and holding up signs denouncing rape culture and supporting female sexual empowerment. Kacey, Becker and Storm were also there to document the event. Liz performed in a cute (and modest) yellow polka-dot nightgown. I could only stay for about half an hour before I had to leave for Williamsburg to attend Classic Album Sundays, which featured one of my all time favorite albums this month, Jeff Buckley's "Grace."

As a special bonus, the event featured Gary Lucas, the co-writer and guitarist for the first two tracks, "Mojo Pin" and "Grace," who signed my vinyl copy of the album and performed after the listening session with singer Caroline Cotto. They did live acoustic renditions of the two songs from the album, and Gary performed a few additional compositions of his own on guitar. It was such a privilege to listen to the artist that contributed to such an important work as "Grace." Since of course Buckley perished in a swimming accident after recording this singular debut album, this is about as close as we can get to an authentic performance of this work.

CAS this month inspired me to think about making a list of my top all-time favorite/most influential albums. Also, it's been fueled by all the lists of movies and books that have been making the rounds on Facebook recently. So for my album list, I wanted to include those that are more than just a bunch of hits (e.g. Michael Jackson's Thriller) and lean more toward albums that are constructed as a coherent work with an overarching theme, both musically and topically. Not every album on the list is like that, but when it came to choosing one over another, I put more weight on albums that met this criteria. I also tried to limit it to one album per artist (which is why there's only one Beatles album).

So my Top 20, in ascending order, looks like this - it's a pretty even mix from my old and new lives. Comments about each are below the list.

20.  Bridge Across Forever – Transatlantic
19.  Weather Systems – Anathema
18.  Deadwing – Porcupine Tree
17.  Very – Pet Shop Boys
16.  Talk – Yes
15.  Rain – Joe Jackson
14.  Hotel California – The Eagles
13.  Purple Rain – Prince
12.  Paramore – Paramore
11.  Remain in Light – Talking Heads
10. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
9.  Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morisette
8.  Ten – Pearl Jam
7.  Synchronicity – The Police
6.  The Beekeeper – Tori Amos
5.  The Joshua Tree – U2
4.  Avalon – Roxy Music
3.  Disintegration – The Cure
2.  Grace – Jeff Buckley
1.  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club – Beatles

20. Transatlantic is kind of an All-Star progressive rock supergroup, featuring big names in the Third Wave of Prog: Neal Morse (keyboards/vocals, Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (guitarist/vocals, Flower Kings), Mike Portnoy (drummer, Dream Theater), and Pete Trewevas (bassist, Marillion). I love all of these bands, but this album that blends the elements of Spock's Beard, Flower Kings, Dream Theater and Marillion is my favorite complete work among all of them.

19. I discovered Anathema from their label's sampler CD. K-Scope is the same label as Porcupine Tree and lead singer/solo artist Steven Wilson. Here's a great song-by-song review of this remarkable album.

18. The hardest thing to pick is a favorite album from your favorite band, but this one is probably the album I would give to anyone as an introduction to this awesome British prog rock band.

17. I've been a fan of the Pet Shop Boys since they released their first album "Please" in 1986, the year I graduated from high school (yes, I'm that old, biologically speaking). Over the years my interest has waxed and waned, but this album (regrettably, I lost the original pressing in the fire that included an EP called "Relentless" that is out of print and quite valuable as a rarity) has always stuck with me as the group's most fully realized work. Read a great track-by-track review written for the album's 20th anniversary last year.

16. The only Yes album I owned for the longest time was "90125" and that was pretty much all I knew about this timeless prog-rock band. But when I met Tara, she changed that completely by introducing me to "The Yes Album," "The Ladder" and this album that came right after 90125 but didn't do as well commercially. The final 15-minute song is what really sets this album apart, spanning three distinct movements like an symphonic tone poem that echos the rest of the songs on the album.

15. Most people only know piano man Joe Jackson from his 80s hit, "Steppin' Out." But this more recent offering from 2008 is a terrific work that evokes life in New York with irresistible musical hooks.

14. One of the pure concept albums on this list, "Hotel California" tells the familiar story of the new kid in town seeking fame and fortune, being seduced by the perils and perks of rock stardom. It's a uberstatement on celebrity excess drawn with such skill it becomes a surreal grotesque. One of the top all-time sellers in music history as well.

13. "Purple Rain" is arguably the best movie soundtrack of all time. It's too bad the movie is so awful. I wish someone would remake the movie and just use the stage performances to tell a different story that doesn't require the rest of the cast or the plot. Prince is pure energy on stage.

12. Paramore's self-titled latest album is a musical tour-de-force, and a breakup album reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" (a near miss for this list). The band lost its original rhythm section and emerged with its most mature and consistent work, punctuated by short confessional interstials performed on ukelele by lead singer Haley Williams.

11. This was one of the key milestones in last year's musical renaissance for me ("How Mischa got her groove back" - April 25, 2013). It's one of only a handful of albums I have actually purchased on both CD and vinyl (#s 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 12 and 13 are most of the others).

10. This is actually the first and only Pink Floyd album I've ever owned. It covers the same theme as #14 - perhaps even more intensely and subtly.

9. "Jagged Little Pill" has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful debut albums ever made. This hugely influential album has a knack for bringing listeners into the center of the storm of the singer's anger. Listen to that bass line in "Hand in My Pocket" - it's one of my favorite moments on this unrelenting album.

8. One of the vanguards of the 90s grunge movement following the path blazed by Nirvana, this rousing debut by Pearl Jam is inspired by Eddie Vedder reflecting on his own life. When he was a teenager, his mother told him that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, and that his biological father had died years before.

7. One of my all-time favorite bands, and one of only three artists that I've owned every commercially released album they've ever made (Paramore and Taylor Swift are the other two), "Synchronicity" marks the apex of a journey that started with the post-punk reggae beats of "Fall Out" and "Roxanne." What's more notable is that after this album and becoming the biggest rock band in the world, the trio concluded it had exhausted the artistic possibilities and they walked away. But they proved that a rock band could pursue challenging, defiantly non-commercial musical ideas and still thrill an awful lot of people.

6. I'm a recently acquired Tori Amos fan, so I didn't grow up on her edgy, angry phase that most of her longtime fans enjoy. This lush, lyrical album was my introduction to her music, and remains a standard for showcasing diverse musical styles on a single cohesive work.

5. "The Joshua Tree" is U2's vision quest of sorts when they outgrew their scrappy underdog image that fueled their early crusading albums like "War" and "The Unforgettable Fire." With this album, U2 redirected its crusade from outrage at external forces to confronting the existential void inside the human spirit.

4. Still the best make-out album for my money, this album recasts the pop song as a realm of lush, never-ending tactile pleasures. Roxy Music's final offering is one of the most sumptuous listening experiences to come out of the 1980s - hypnotically, gorgeously languid and striking for its depth. Listening to my rare, out-of-print Super Audio CD multi-channel copy of the album brings these qualities to even greater depths, although the analog record has its own unique charms.

3. From #4's sounds of love we come to The Cure's paean to loss, possibly the most deliciously depressing album by any singer who didn't commit suicide (e.g. Joy Division). The Cure mastered the formula pioneered by The Smiths of the gloomy lead singer backed by an incongruously breezy band playing catchy, pop-friendly tunes. Despite the overwhelmingly gloomy tone, almost every song is instantly hummable and a perfect balance of pain and musical joy.

2. "Grace" stands alone in 90s rock. It's a showcase for an unforgettably poised singing voice, locating a fertile ground between classic rock and post-grunge. Buckley took the outbursts of Nirvana and surrounded them with the elegant, yearning melodies reminiscent of the late Beatles. Lost to a swimming accident in 1997 at the age of 30, we can only speculate how much more this singular talent could have influenced the musical universe. With only this one full album completed before his untimely death, Buckley showed several generations that profoundly new rock music doesn't have to reject wholesale what came before.

1. This album was probably the first rock album I ever heard as a child because before I actually started collecting music I listened to library records. Most of the records in my local library were classical recordings, and this was probably one of the few popular titles available to check out. Of course the psychedelic cover proved irresistible for my young eyes. Certainly it's hard to listen to this album now with fresh ears, shed of the "All Time Best" estimations and the endless accolades that have attached, like barnacles, to it and encounter it on your own terms. But if you can do it, there's nothing more creative and satisfying in rock music - from its iconic and innovative gatefold jacket to its haunting leadout groove after the final track, "A Day in the Life."