I was in New York City from Oct. 22-31, officially for an archives conference on the 29th-31st, but I took the opportunity to make it into a much longer trip. (I got 3 days administrative leave, which meant I only had to use 4 days vacation.)
The first event was part of the CMJ Music Festival, an annual weeklong music festival that focuses on indie rock. My favorite band, The High Strung, were playing that Friday night at Union Hall in Brooklyn along with other bands on the Park The Van record label. It was a silver anniversary of sorts, my 25th show in a little more than 4 years. I’d asked them earlier in the week if I could be on the guest list, and sure enough, I was. One of the other bands I really like, Generationals, were playing when I got there – it was a mixed set in terms of quality, but the record is exceptionally good, so if you like a vintage pop sound, check them out.
The High Strung began their set with a cover of the Buzzcock’s Why Can’t I Touch It?; this is the only cover song they play, and it’s a great example of what they sound like live. The rest of the set was a little disappointing in that they only played 3 songs from their latest album, and other standards like The Luck You Got, Anything Goes, and Cored Out Apple. But as I said to one of my friends, if you want to hear more, you need to go see them play at a library, because there they play considerably more songs than during a typical club show. I got what I wanted from this show, though, when right before the last song the lead singer said, “Stasia! I just saw you, how are you?” and the girl next to me looked impressed. And that kind of recognition is all I’ve ever wanted from rock and roll.
My friend Matt and I stayed at the club for a couple more hours, chatting with various band members and fans, and on my way out I grabbed the poster for the show off the bulletin board.
The next day was slow and rainy. Jenn and I went to see the movie Whip It! and that evening Matt cooked dinner, which was followed by Scrabble and another movie, Friday the 13th. Sunday morning I left for the next leg of my trip, a visit to see my grandmother in Bethlehem, PA. It was her 79th birthday, and I got to see my brother, sister, and uncle. That evening brought a surprise event, a Russian Balaika concert that my grandmother wanted to go to. I had a wonderful time and learned a little more about my heritage. I spent most of Monday in Bethlehem – we had a late breakfast at a diner called The Oasis, and tramped through a Catholic cemetery to see the stone my grandmother had finally chosen for my grandfather. Then I was on the 3:45 bus back to New York, which arrived late due to traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel.
The next part of the trip was spent with my friend Katerina, who lives 9 stops out on the L train in Queens (just past the Brooklyn border). Even though I’d never been in that neighborhood, it felt familiar and I had no problem finding my way in the days that followed. Tuesday and Wednesday were free days; the only thing I had time to plan was a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Lisa Darms, an archivist at NYU’s Fales Library, to talk about the punk archives survey I’m putting together. Both days were also rainy, so I tried to stay indoors as much as possible. On Wednesday I went to my favorite movie theater, the Film Forum on Houston St., where Elia Kazan’s Wild River was playing (one of the few Monty Clift movies that I hadn’t seen!).
Thursday morning I had to be in Jersey City for a records management workshop by 9am. But what was supposed to be a full day’s activity ended after 3 hours (the instructor didn’t have enough material prepared), and I had lunch with a few other archivists before returning to the city. On Friday Katerina joined me at the conference, where we heard about the amazing things the Dutch are doing with the Amsterdam City Archives (essentially digitizing on demand). I also learned about the Warhol Museum’s project to catalog item-by-item the contents of Andy Warhol’s time capsules (some 600 boxes he filled with “art”).
Friday night was my next major event – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. This was night two of the benefit, and scheduled to perform were Aretha Franklin, Jeff Beck, Metallica, U2, and a host of special guests that included Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, Ray Davies, and Ozzy Osbourne. Of these, it was Jerry Lee Lewis that was my primary motivation for buying the ticket. He opened the show with Great Balls of Fire – just one song, but now I can at least say that I’ve seen him, and I will still try to see him do a regular show. After he finished the song, he stood up and with some difficulty (but clearly enjoying it) picked up the piano bench and threw it off to his side.
The best set of the night belongs to Metallica, who impressed me with their stage manner and willingness to perform other people’s songs and serve as the house band for guests. After they played Bob Seger’s Turn the Page (which was awesome), Lou Reed was their first guest, and I was quite happy to see Lou because it’d been 2 1/2 years since the last time. Sweet Jane was an expected song for him to do, and I almost tuned it out, it was unexceptional. But then, oh my, the next song started out unrecognizable, and all of a sudden I realized – White Light/White Heat! Holy sh*t! I could not believe what I was hearing and sat in my seat in complete awe of the moment, because this was a song I never thought I’d hear live, and it proved that this night was a once in a lifetime experience.
Ozzy was fun, and took a while to leave the stage, soaking up all the applause. Then Ray Davies came out to play two Kinks classics – You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night. All I can say is, the man can still jump! The first song was such a treat to hear, and took me back to the first time I heard it (likely the Van Halen cover). Metallica’s set ended with a Queen cover, and their hit Enter Sandman, a song that I remember more for its music video (back in the good old days?).
Each set change featured video footage detailing a certain part of the history of rock and roll (e.g., Jeff Beck’s set was preceded by a segment on the blues), and prior to U2’s set their was a Beatles/British Invasion tribute that led into the Velvet Underground and punk rock. Compared to the other two times I’ve seen U2, I didn’t enjoy their performance nearly as much. And also compared to James Hetfield’s humble attitude during Metallica’s set, I felt Bono was not as happy to be second string. (This could also be due to Metallica’s newly inducted status.) However, there were some fine moments. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith joined the band for Because the Night (performed twice in order to capture the best sound or delivery), and Bruce stayed on for a duet of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. U2’s next number, Mysterious Ways (one of my all-time favorite songs), was cut short by a segue into the Black Eyed Peas’ song Where Is The Love (featuring members of that band). I’m hardly a fan of BEP, but I will grudgingly admit that Fergie was not bad. Will.i.am and Fergie then stayed on for… Gimme Shelter with Mick Jagger! Another “oh my god” moment, he was the biggest surprise of the night for me. Mick then stayed on for what I think was the best duet, with Bono, Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. The show ended with an encore by U2 of Beautiful Day, over at 11:40. I thought their set could have been longer, and wonder if they weren’t allowed to play more, because the first night of the benefit lasted until 1:30am. In any case, it was a truly amazing night, and what a way to end my trip. As a side note, this concert allowed me to check off 4 more of the top 100 singers (according to Rolling Stone magazine), bringing my total to 23 out of a possible 80 who are still living.