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New York City BAD BOYS: Intimate photos of Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, 1977-1982

Johnny Thunders, 1978
Johnny Thunders 1978

From interviews with William Burroughs and Richard Hell, to in-depth revelations and photographs of the people who helped shape popular culture and music, a new book from photographer Marcia Resnick, Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City BAD BOYS * 1977 - 1982 transports you back to a time when there were no rules. A time before many of Resnick’s subjects too quickly burned out like the bright lights they were.

For example, here’s an evocative excerpt (and an image) of David Byrne from Punks, Poets and Provocateurs in which Byrne “predicts the future” back in 1977. It was taken from an interview Byrne did with Traveler’s Digest in which he made a total of 46 predictions about the future. The following ten turned out to be rather unfortunately, spot-on.
David Byrne
David Byrne, late 70s, early 80s

In the future, half of us will be “mentally ill”

In the future, water will be expensive

In the future, everyone’s house will be like a little fortress

In the future, there will be mini-wars going on everywhere

In the future, people will constantly be having plastic surgery

altering their features many times during their lifetime

In the future there will be many mass suicides

In the future there will be starving people everywhere

In the future, the crippled, retarded and helpless will be killed

In the future, there will be so much going on nobody will be able to keep track of it

William Burroughs and photographer, Marcia Resnick
William Burroughs and photographer, Marcia Resnick

Resnick (who very much reminds me of a real-life punk rock version of ass-kicking journalist Lois Lane) and her lucky lens were able to capture powerful and often poignant images of the most legendary bad boy rule breakers (as well as a few girls) from the past. I spoke to Victor Bockris, the author of Punks, Poets and Provocateurs and asked him to share his thoughts on Resnick when it came her uncanny ability to capture this hedonistic period in time on film. A time that would drastically change with the arrival of the AIDS epidemic.

DM: Can you give DM’s readers any first-hand insight into Marcia’s expertise when it came to capturing the compelling and emotionally charged images that are featured in Punks, Poets and Provocateurs?

Victor Bockris: Marcia worked on this project over a period of five years so there were many sessions. What they shared in common was the way Marcia turned every session into a game of fantasy seduction. As she writes, she dressed provocatively with a girlish flair, which included a splash of Lolita. Despite the fact that punk was the first rock movement in which the girls were equal to the boys, punk rockers were particularly drawn to the Lolita Syndrome. This is not to suggest that Marcia was anything but a fine artist. It was her ability to keep her sessions on edge with displays of coy sexuality that drew from her subjects such light in the case of Josef Beuys, or dark in the case Belushi responses. I once noticed that in all the pictures the moments she intuitively captured are moments of tenderness she evoked. There’s a lot of trembling in her work. She was one of the most remarkable girls in that truly remarkable scene. And she played it to the hilt.
John Belushi, 1981
John Belushi, 1981. This was Belushi’s last photo session before his death on March 5th, 1982

Despite the notoriety of many of Resnick’s subjects, it was her ability to draw tenderness from her “bad boys” that allowed for such familiar faces such as Mick Jagger and Johnny Thunders, to be viewed freshly. Bockris’ (as well as Resnick’s) encyclopedic details of the past make for an addictive page-turning read. While reading it (something I’ve done several times already), you may also feel like the world that existed during that all too brief six-year period might disappear before your eyes if you close its pages.

The 272 pages of hedonistic gratification that is Punks, Poets and Provocateurs will be available in November. Pre-orders are happening now. Many images that were graciously provided for your perusal by Marcia Resnick (as well as a old-school interview I dug up with glam metal pioneer and NYC club promoter, Tommy Gunn) follow.
Arthur “Killer” Kane of the New York Dolls
Brian Eno
Brian Eno, 1978
H.R. of Bad Brains
More punks, poets and provocateurs after the jump…

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Move over, Naked Cowboy! There’s another New Yorker showing off his butt
01:23 pm


New York

Photo: Don Stahl
I’ve lived in or near New York City for virtually my entire life. One of the challenges of living in a city as fiercely romanticized and idealized as New York is finding that little bit of the city that hasn’t been defined to death already—it’s so easy to fall into the trap of saying, “This cupcake shop is really cool because Lou Reed used to shoot up around the corner!” And yet the city is always rapidly changing, so the dynamic you may have craved from even just ten or fifteen years ago might already be long gone, even as it shapes your current expectations.

One of the many things I love about “Levenbutt,” Jeremy Levenbach’s whimsical series of Instagram city scenes—in which he appears naked, with his back to the camera—is that it captures a New York I can really relate to, whether it’s the Astor Place cube or the familiar facade of Pearl Paint on Canal Street or the bizarre, monolithic blue Ikea premises in Red Hook. (You have no idea how strong the instinct is to use the word “selfie” above—but clearly, it would be quite strange if any of them were selfies!)

I’ve known Jeremy for nearly a decade; for most of that time he has been the booker for the city’s best latenight standup showcase (when Aziz Ansari and his Human Giant collaborators were hosting it, it was called Crash Test; when Leo Allen took it over around 2008, it became Whiplash; there was also a transitional show called Cavalcade). As a regular attendee in the intimate Upright Citizens Brigade Theater most Monday nights for several years, I got to know Jeremy a little bit, and he remains one of my favorite people in New York, invariably good-natured and contributing to the city in a singular way—actually, multiple singular ways, if that makes any sense.

A little bit after we became Facebook friends, Jeremy started posting these occasional pics of himself standing naked, facing away from the camera, in some familiar NYC location. He would tag these images “Levenbutt,” and they’ve enhanced my Facebook feed for the last several years.

For me the Levenbutt pictures work precisely because they’re not sexualized; they’re absurd and deadpan. Naturally they also acquire a good deal of their impact from what one might call stunt value: “Did that guy really go into that intersection and stand there?” etc. It’s always more interesting to watch people doing something you would never do.

The other day there was a good piece about Jeremy’s “Levenbutt” project in Joanna Goddard’s blog Cup of Jo, complete with an interview that is far more thorough than anything I could muster—I recommend checking it out if this post intrigues. Here’s my favorite bit from that post, something that photographers the world over would probably instantly understand—Jeremy’s comments on how his own mental attitude affects the, ah, visual appearance of his cheeks: “The average time is about 20 to 40 seconds while I’m standing there naked. That’s when you feel really vulnerable. I do one of those 100-yard stares. I’ve noticed if I’m tense, my butt cheeks do a weird thing. I need to relax and everything kind of loosens up.”

Jeremy was kind enough to take a little time to discuss the Levenbutt project for DM.

The main thing I was curious about was whether Jeremy had in some cases used any unseen clothing on his frontal side—he insisted that well, “naked” means “naked”: “Yes, 100% naked. Generally my clothes are thrown just out of frame or stashed behind objects.”

I was especially taken with the picture in which he is standing next to the beekeeper, and asked him if he had gotten stung that day. He replied,

Nope, the beekeeper was someone I met briefly at Smorgasburg. She’s Dutch and was totally into the idea. We (photog Christian Torres) met Marleen in Queens at a public city garden that she had taken conservatorship over. I was expecting/dreading getting stung, but I didn’t get a single angry bee. Marleen said, in her accent, “My bees must like you!”

One of my favorite pics is the one of Jeremy standing in the middle of oncoming traffic. I mistakenly identified it as one of the avenues on the East Side, but two-way North-South thoroughfares without an island in the middle aren’t very common in Manhattan. It turns out it was 42nd Street near 2nd Avenue. I was glad to hear that it’s one of Jeremy’s favorites as well:

That shot was taken from the Tudor City overpass. It was the idea of my photographer, Benjamin Joseph Mistak. We planned on (and shot) at the Flatiron building, and Ben suggested we do a shot from the “place where all those people take Manhattanhenge photos.”

Photos where I’m far away from my photographer are always the scariest (and Ben was really far away up on the walkway) because to anyone who walks by, I’m not some weirdo taking a dumb art photo, I’m some lunatic that is just standing around (in the middle of traffic, in this case) naked.

There’s a black SUV in the lane that I’m standing in, it got to that shaft of light (maybe 20-30 ft from me) , before I ran back to the sidewalk. We also did that shot twice, because the first time I was standing in the middle of the street, legs on straddling the traffic lines, it looked cool, but the yellow lines were too similar in tone to my body.

Jeremy’s role as NYC’s top alt-comic impresario gives him access to some of the most successful touring comedians, a few of whom have been incorporated into the project. We’ve included a picture that includes Zach Galifianakis here, but Aziz Ansari, Bob Odenkirk, and Pete Holmes have also been roped in. Not one to stick rigorously to the core idea just because that’s what a big fancy artiste might do, Jeremy has also included whimsical artworks that are consistent with the Levenbutt project, as for instance this lovely drawing of Levenbutt perched on a giant Valkyrie by Matteo Lane or this funny appropriation of the New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest.

Jeremy’s a little worried that Instagram is going to shut down his account, but so far they’ve been a good sport about it. Here’s a little gallery of Levenbutt highlights, but you should check out the original feed for yourself, there are tons of great ones I didn’t include.

Photo: Benjamin Joseph Mistak

Photo: Benjamin Joseph Mistak

Photo: Christian Torres
More excellent Levenbutt pics after the jump…...


Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Brutal, intimate photos depict the 1980s ‘heroin epidemic’ of the East Village
06:21 pm


New York

Boy on East 5th Street (4th of July), 1984
Anyone who’s hung out on Rivington Street the last few years might be surprised to learn that the East Village was one of the scariest parts of New York just a few decades ago. Not for nothing did one police officer in the 1980s label Avenue D “the world’s largest retail drug market.”

Photographer Ken Schles, who lived in the East Village in the 1980s, once said that it was “like a war zone.” Schles witnessed firsthand the heroin epidemic and the AIDS crisis happening all around him. His photographs, many taken from his bedroom window, depict the urgency and hopelessness of a neighborhood in crisis. 

Schles’ building, where he also had his darkroom, was in disrepair from the moment he moved in in 1978; just a few years later, the landlord abandoned the building, leaving tenants to their own devices. Schles led a rent strike and worked to improve the living conditions, as drug gangs moved in on the space.

Unlike the romanticized imagery produced by some, Schles’ frank pictures offer no illusion as to what is being depicted. Schles himslf is disgusted by such idealized portraits and offers a refreshingly honest and pragmatic take on the era—as he says, “I don’t pine for the days when I’d drive down the Bowery and have to lock the doors, or having to step over the junkies or finding the door bashed in because heroin dealers decided they wanted to set up a shooting gallery. ... A lot of dysfunction has been romanticized.”

Schles’ shots, many taken from his bedroom window, provide blurred and grainy fragments, stories to which we do not know the beginning, even if we can guess at the grim ending. Eventually Schles’ fellow artists and gallery owners banded together to rebuild the neighborhood.

In 1988 Schles published Invisible City, which has recently been reissued, and late last year he came out with a follow-up, Night Walk. Together they add up to an intimate study of a neighborhood that is no longer recognizable.

Invisible City and Night Walk are on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery on 57th Street until March 14, 2015.

Couple Fucking, 1985

Embrace, 1984

Landscape with Garbage Bag, 1984

Drowned in Sorrow, 1984

Scene at a Stag Party, May 1985

Claudia Lights Cigarette, 1985
More after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘My Name is New York’: NYC through the eyes of Woody Guthrie
05:19 pm


New York
Woody Guthrie

For obvious reasons, it’s easy to think of the great American folksinger/songwriter Woody Guthrie as a lifelong hardscrabble dust bowl Okie, but the reality is, the man called New York City home for nearly three decades, from 1940 until his death in 1967.

Of course, that was at a time when lower Manhattan, especially Greenwich Village, was an urban bohemia, a haven and incubator for America’s artists and musicians. Those times are gone—I’m in NYC at least once a year, and every year, more and more of the Village looks like it’s been eaten by a strip mall. So it goes, but the character of what’s been lost there may be irreplaceable, as a startlingly rapid gentrification is eating into every once-affordable art enclave in that fabled city. I realize that the emergence of an arts district often heralds gentrification—I’ve long lived in such a neighborhood myself, and seen firsthand those kinds of changes, for better and worse—but from an outsider’s perspective, what’s been happening to NYC, especially the northern part of Brooklyn in the last several years, seems unusual and kind of alarming in speed and scope. So these photos of Woody Guthrie’s New York seem to me especially valuable documents. They’ll be part of a 3-disc audiobook set to be released in September, titled My Name is New York. A regular dead-trees edition, by Guthrie’s daughter Nora, has been available for a couple of years.

The Hotel Savoy-Plaza, 59th Street at 5th Avenue, Manhattan, at the southeast corner of Central Park. Guthrie lived here with Will Geer, an actor, activist and Communist who’d be blacklisted in the ‘50s, but would nonetheless go on to fame in the ‘70s as Grandpa on The Waltons. This is where the Apple Store is now.

Guthrie, rockin’ one out for the shoeshine guy.

Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie at Seeger’s wedding, 129 MacDougal Street, 1943. Currently an Italian restaurant, and for all I know it might have been one then, too.

Woody Guthrie in 1943, at McSorley’s Ale House, which still exists at 15 East 7th Street, Manhattan. Photo: Eric Schaal for Time Life. Used with permission from Getty Images. WGA.

31 East 21st Street, Manhattan, where Guthrie and Pete Seeger lived with sculptor Harold Ambellan in the ‘40s.

5 West 101st Street, Manhattan, right off Central Park West. Once Guthrie’s music started making him some money, he moved here, and sent for his wife and kids in Texas to join him. Frequent guests here included Alan Lomax, Lead Belly, Sonny Terry, and Burl Ives. The building is still there, but I’m assuming mere mortals can’t afford to live in it anymore.

Woody Guthrie performing in the New York City subway, 1943, a Bound for Glory publicity shot. Photo: Eric Schaal. WGA.

A Woody Guthrie paleo-selfie, from a subway photo booth, ca. 1945. WGA.

The audiobook set includes recorded interviews with, among others, Pete Seeger, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, and totally unsurprisingly, Guthrie’s famous-in-his-own-right son, musician Arlo Guthrie. It’ll also include music, naturally, by Guthrie and others. Notably, one of the tracks is a home demo of the song that gives the package its name, “My Name Is New York.” Here are Guthrie’s typewritten lyrics, and the song itself.



Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
The disappearing face of New York

During the eight years it took Jim and Karla Murray to photograph these New York storefronts, a third of them had closed down. According to the Murrays:

...the influx of big box retailers and chain stores pose a serious threat to these humble institutions, and neighborhood modernization and the anonymity it brings are replacing the unique appearance and character of what were once incredibly colourful streets.

Taken from their book The Disappearing Face of New York, these beautiful photographs of neon-lit, window-crammed, characterful storefronts document the cultural cost of the malls and online retailers that have taken business from small shopkeepers, in favor of the supposed “choice” offered by corporations. As the general Julius Agricola noted way, way back in the invasion of Britain circa 73 AD, when the invading armies brought bath houses, roads, and alike, the so-called advancement of civilisation can often disguise its inherent servitude.
More disappearing New York stores, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Even ‘The New Yorker’ agrees, most New Yorkers don’t really care about Banksy
02:40 pm


New York

Banksy cartoon
Sick burn, New Yorker!

Recently, British guerrilla artist Banksy has taken up “residency” in New York, meaning his stencils randomly pop up, only to be immediately tagged over by local graffiti artists. And then there’s been a few performance pieces he pulled, like selling his work to unwitting buyers from a streetside stall for $60 (had serious art buyers been in the know, the pieces would have gone for about $31,000). But you know what’s kind of awesome about New York? We really don’t give a shit. Sure, there’s perpetual 24/7 Banksy media coverage, but the average Joe probably gives a Banksy stencil the same attention as he would a bodega mural mourning the death of a local drug dealer.

I’ll admit, it’s almost always nice to see public art. Whether it’s your taste or not, it’s usually better than an empty lot or a crumbling wall. But it seems like the city’s sentiment was summed up nicely in The New Yorker cartoon. There’s something extra stinging about a flippant dismiss from a New Yorker. It’s like having your white grandma inform you that your twerking is sub-par, or being told by a local beat policeman that your Captain Beefheart collection consists of only his “Tragic Band” material.

Take the latest Banksy performance piece, wherein a meat truck of stuffed animals is animated to, I don’t know, show the horrors of factory farming? There’s a presumptuousness to that piece—“Hey, did you know that factory farming is really inhumane?!?” “Why no I didn’t! At least not until I saw that really earnest and heavy-handed social commentary rolling down 8th Avenue!” Plus, I saw a drag queen do something similar (but better) two years ago.

And that shit had glitter.

When so much of your hype stems from your anonymity,  it makes perfect sense that New Yorkers would be largely unimpressed. It’s a city full of anonymous people, so that whole supposedly edgy anonymity novelty just doesn’t move us. You don’t want to be seen? Awesome, ‘cos we don’t have the time to look. There’s dog shit on the sidewalk and bike messengers and taxis to dodge. There’s so, so, so much going on. Why would we pursue a coy “anonymous celebrity,” when we have tons of artists in the minor leagues, desperate to get their real names out there? It was tourists who bought those Banksy originals in Central Park, and I have to wonder, if Banksy revealed his identity, would his fans (and the media) continue to be so enthusiastic about his work?

Perhaps we Banksy-shruggers just don’t “get it”—I never claimed to be cultured. But I really do think that his brand of “spectacle” simply doesn’t translate very well to our fair city. Below, you can see his venture into short film, wherein Syrian rebels shoot down Dumbo the elephant with a rocket launcher, shrieking “Allahu Akbar!”. It’s ironic, it’s political, it’s vague, it’s Banksy. It’s a another brand in a heavily branded city, and we have shit to do.

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
NY State Highways now have ‘Texting Zones’
02:36 pm

Current Events

New York
Texting Zones

This is brilliant! Hopefully California—and everywhere else—will soon follow.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today continued the state’s efforts to reduce distracted driving by unveiling special “Texting Zones” along the New York State Thruway and State Highways that will give motorists a pull-off area to park and use their mobile devices. Existing Park-n-Ride facilities, rest stops, and parking areas along the Thruway and Highways will dual-function as Texting Zones, and signage will be placed along the highway to inform drivers where the Zones are located. A total of 298 signs will be located along major highways across the state, notifying motorists to 91 Texting Zone locations.

There are also going to be tougher penalties in the state of New York if you’re caught on your cell phone or texting. I’m assuming ticket fines will be sky-high. THEY SHOULD BE.

You can read about the new texting zones (where they’ll be located) and regulations at

Below, I posted this video a while ago on DM, but it never gets old. A man gets sweet, sweet revenge on a texting fool.

Via The World’s Best Ever

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Old New York crime photographs superimposed on their present day locations
12:31 pm


New York

The past inhabits the present in Marc A. Hermann’s composite images of crime scene photographs overlaid on their present day locations.

Above: 497 Dean Street, Brooklyn. A distraught Edna Egbert battles the police on the ledge of her home.
427 1/2 Hicks Street, Brooklyn. Gangster Salvatore Santoro met a violent death on January 31, 1957.
923 44th Street, Brooklyn. Gangster Frankie Yale dead after a car crash, July 1, 1928.
More then and now crime pix, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Painters Painting’: The definitive documentary on the New York Art Scene 1940-70
07:29 pm


New York
Pop Art
Emile de Antonio

Jasper Johns’ ‘Three Flags,’ 1958
Painters Painting is a definitive documentary history of the New York Art Scene 1940-1970. Directed by Emile de Antonio, the film focuses on American art movements from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. De Antonio was a Marxist film-maker who was once described as “…the most important political filmmaker in the United States during the Cold War.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, De Antonio established his reputation with a series of political documentaries including Point of Order (1964) on the Senate Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954; Rush to Judgment 91967) investigating the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination; Millhouse: A White Comedy (1971) which followed Richard Nixon’s political career; and as co-director, Underground (1976) on the Weathermen.

De Antonio claimed he was able to make Painters Painting (1972) as he knew all of the artists involved:

“I was probably the only filmmaker in the world who could [have made Painters Painting] because I knew all those people, from the time that they were poor, and unsuccessful and had no money. I knew Warhol and Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and Stella before they ever sold a painting, and so it was interesting to [make this film].”

His close relationship with these artists allowed some incredibly candid interviews from the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Barnett Newman, Hans Hofmann, Jules Olitski, Philip Pavia, Larry Poons, Robert Motherwell, and Kenneth Noland. Though, as ever, Andy Warhol deflected questions, claiming Brigid Berlin painted his pictures—though he had previously claimed everything he knew about painting he had learned from “De.”

With thanks to Christopher Mooney!

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Iggy Pop takes a trip around New York’s Lower East Side

Iggy Pop takes a stroll around New York’s Lower East-Side, in May1993.

As Iggy explains it: he likes living in New York because he is a ‘high-strung, suggestible person,’ and the city gives him a structure in which he can operate. Los Angeles, on the other hand, made him crazy because there was no center.

Iggy highlights some his favorite things to Dutch film-maker Bram Van Splunteren, as he gives a guided tour of the neighborhood. The graffiti, the people, the vibrancy, the food, the street signs, the artists and his personal belief that no one will tell you to shut-up for making any noise—which means Iggy can make as much noise as he likes.

It’s a fun trip, and closes with Iggy talking about Rap, Ice-T, why cops made him fearful and angry, and why he listens to Bob Dylan.

Portrait of Iggy Pop by Karen Bones.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Disco will never die! Two hour film of the Paradise Garage closing party, 1987

More disco/dance gold dust. It’s Friday after all, so let’s get funky!

A lot of people are wondering if this will be the “Summer Of Disco”, from Vice magazine to the Guardian newspaper

Of course, the obvious answer to this general query is that EVERY summer is the “Summer Of Disco”! As the foundation of practically all forms of modern dance music and its symbiotic “club culture”, disco is just too embedded in the DNA of popular musical consciousness to undergo some kind of cool-by-association, short-term revival. Regardless of the fact that there are countless artists still producing amazing disco-influenced work (even beyond Daft Punk and their sphere), you might as well as if there’s going to be a pop music revival or a reggae revival. The short answer is: there is no need for a revival, as disco never really went away.

The Paradise Garage is testament to this fact, as it kept on repping all that was “disco”, even as the genre changed and mutated through freestyle, electro and house during the early to mid 80s.

The Garage was one of the first ever “super” clubs, and Larry Levan essentially laid down the template for the superstar dj. The sound and visuals in this film may be less than excellent, but there is no doubting its historical importance. The club’s closing party was always going to be fraught with emotion, and if you were there (or even if not) you can now relive it, in all its washed out, VHS glory.

And, at the very least, you are guaranteed NOT to hear “Get Lucky”:



Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Nick Cave, Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch & J. G. Thirlwell: The Immaculate Consumptive

A gathering by accident, design and hair-spray: The Immaculate Consumptive was an all too brief collaboration (3 days, 3 gigs) between Lydia Lunch (gtr. voc.), Nick Cave (pn. voc.), J. G. Thirlwell (aka Clint Ruin, Foetus) (drm., sax., voc.) and Marc Almond (voc.)

The 4 musicians met in London—Lunch had been filming Like Dawn To Dust, with Vivienne Dick; while Cave had been collaborating with Thirlwell (on the track “Wings Off Flies” for the debut Bad Seeds album From Her To Eternity), and both had worked with Almond, who was resting from Soft Cell, and working on Marc and The Mambas.

The party traveled to New York, where they were followed and interviewed by the N.M.E. Lunch had a Halloween event organized for October 30th and 31st—though The Immaculate Consumptive’s first gig was actually in Washington, on October 27th, where Thirlwell broke the piano, and ended with 2 nights later with Cave seemingly bored by the chaos of proceedings.

This is some of the archival material of those 3 gloriously chaotic days together. The cable access interviewer is Merle Ginsberg, known to many of you from her role as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.


The Immaculate Consumptive - “Love Amongst The Ruined”

The Immaculate Consumptive - “Misery Loves Company”


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Decoration’: A new opera by Mikael Karlsson and David Flodén

I wish I was in New York tomorrow, not just for St. Paddy’s but to see the premiere of a new opera Decoration by Mikael Karlsson and David Flodén.

Mikael Karlsson is the most brilliant and exciting young composer of his generation, whose work ranges from Classical and the Avant-Garde, to Film Scores and Pop.

Earlier this month, Mikael told Have a Voice the story behind his opera Decoration:

‘I co-wrote the story with David Flodén. He’s a good friend of mine, and neither of us are librettists, but we just like to hang out. We got drunk, had a lot of fun and just started talking. He said “Why don’t we write an opera?” So we did, and we decided that we would only write when drunk so we couldn’t control it. We didn’t want to know what we were going to write, because then, why write it? The process has to be fun, and this way, it was.

‘And so the story has changed a lot, and it was always about whether to lie or not. The title refers to the way that we pretend that there’s meaning, the way that we pretend that love conquers all, or that it has meaning or that it matters. And the truth is that the conflict is between devotion or belief on the one hand, which helps us live, and science and the cold facts, that this little shit hole that we’re in is going to burn up in a couple of million years, so no matter how we live our lives, it’s not gonna matter. But we can’t live knowing that, so we decorate our lives by lying a little.

‘I tell myself that my friendships to other people really matter, and it feels like they do, I know they don’t. On a personal level they do, but to the universe they don’t, so the story is about that.

‘So our main character, her name is SHE – it’s very impractical – we wanted her to have a neutral name because she’s not about the beauty of the name, for instance. She’s a woman, and an astrophysicist. She treats her scientific belief and conviction as if it were a religion. So she’s maniacal about it, she truly believes that science is all that matters. She refuses to cope with any other belief, so she becomes very lonely. She’s diagnosed with an MS-like disease that slowly starts to destroy her body, and she’s losing control over it. And to a scientist, that should be great news, because you’re only a brain, you know? You can be a martyr for science by giving your body, saying that “this doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t, ideas are all that matters.” So at first, she’s being brave, and she thinks, “I can live like this, I can prove that ideas are what I am.” And I like that idea; it’s very brave of her.

‘In the second Act, as she’s slowly deteriorating, she changes her mind, and she wishes that she would have listened to some of the lies – to some of the love. But it might be too late, and it turns out that she’s losing her mind also. So she talks to the universe as if it’s a god, and it goes on from there. The central question is, should you be honest when nothing matters? And if nothing matters, why should honesty matter? If nothing matters, truth doesn’t matter. Then what are you going to do?

‘It’s a very strange story, and I like that it has logical loops and holes in it. We have an aria about dimensions also, so the idea of wormholes comes into the story, where something makes sense to a limit, and then you slip into another logic where it no longer makes sense over here. I hope that there are mistakes in it, because then the listener will have to figure something out. That’s what I love about David Lynch, noise music, anything that’s really gritty, distorted or fucked up – that you have to make sense of it, it’s not presenting itself to you. Then it’s interesting – then it’s trusting its audience that they’re not kids. That they’re grownups who can deal with problems. So we’re giving them a problem, and I hope we’re giving them an interesting enough one that they’re willing to solve it for us.

Decoration the new opera by Mikael Karlsson and David Flodén, featuring performances by Rebecca Ringle, Margreth Fredheim, Jason Cox and Raehann Bryce-Davis, premieres March 17th, 14.30h, at Manhattan School of Music, Greenfield Hall, 120 Claremont Ave. (@122nd St.), New York, New York 10027.

Directed by Caren France. Music Direction and piano by Scott Rednour and Mila Henry conducts the piece.

If you are interested in modern Classical Music, then definitely go see Mikael Karlsson and David Flodén’s Decoration.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

From Opera and the Avant-Garde to Pop: The Musical World of Mikael Karlsson

‘Day Comes Apart’: Abby Fischer performs a song cycle by Mikael Karlsson & Rob Stephenson


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Stop that shit’: the people of Harlem weigh in on the so-called ‘Harlem Shake’ craze

The Real Harlem Shake
The actual Shake in action in the Bronx…
First, the good news: The “Harlem Shake” viral video meme is likely winding down pretty soon—at least we hope.

And as the excellent video below shows, lots of Harlem residents emphatically disapprove of the way that thousands have mindlessly helped appropriate the name of a community dance into some dopey shit.

If you’re not familiar with the meme, here’s the rundown. Last spring, Brooklyn producer Harry Rodrigues a.k.a. Baauer released “Harlem Shake,” a hugely catchy downtempo party track that very clearly samples a rapper saying that he does said dance. YouTube comedian Filthy Frank used the tune in a very silly costumed dance video that launched literally thousands of similarly silly copycats, full of mostly costumed people (many, notably, in white-collar office settings) flailing their limbs and humping the air.

Cue the analysis. The Fader contextualizes the details of the phenomenon, and The Gadfly has even framed its sociological potential as communal silly fun.

But of course it goes deeper. As writer Tamara Palmer eloquently put it in her article on the dance in The Root:

Popular culture is infamous for borrowing—and sometimes outright stealing—elements from a subculture and transforming them into something completely stripped of its origins. But it is still surprising to see how the current viral video craze called the Harlem Shake has managed to almost completely supplant a vibrant form of African-American dance that was born and bloomed in Harlem.

On the face of it, there’s absolutely zero wrong with limb-flailing and air-humping. But that’s not what the 30-year-old dance known as the Harlem Shake is about. Like most dance crazes cultivated by (and appropriated from) African-American communities, it requires a modicum of skill and, dare we say, pride.

Harlem itself is pretty unequivocal.

After the jump: want to know what the real Harlem Shake looks like? Check out this “shake cypher” video for some real context…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
From Opera and the Avant-Garde to Pop: The Musical World of Mikael Karlsson

There are those who are late developers. Paul Gauguin was in his mid-thirties before he quit his job as a stock-broker and gave up his middle class life to paint pictures; Augustus John was twenty-eight when one summer, he dived into the sea, hit his head and emerged from the waters a genius; Mikael Karlsson was twenty-one when he decided to quit his job at the liquor store and become a composer.

Mikael Karlsson: ‘It was very late, it wasn’t until twenty-one when I dropped out of Law School. I’d always been playing piano and drawing, but I didn’t have much to say.

‘Three years into Law School, I realized I really hated it. I wasn’t performing well. So, I dropped out of Law School and found a piano teacher. I didn’t tell my parents that I had dropped out. For a year, I worked in a liquor store to pay for piano lessons, and then I started to bang things out on the piano and record them.

‘Two years later, I realized finally that here was a medium with which I had something to say with. Before then, I had pretty much succumbed to the idea that I wasn’t going to do anything artistic. It wasn’t in the cards for me, even though I had an urge. But I didn’t feel the confidence to do it until I was twenty-one and I was grown-up.’

Mikael Karlsson was born in Sweden in 1975. When he started playing the piano in the mid-1990s, it was more than apparent he had an incredible affinity with music. But without any academic grounding in music, Mikael was unable to enter any of Sweden’s music schools. He, therefore, decided to move to New York

Mikael Karlsson: ‘I’ve lived in New York since January 8th, 2000. I moved here to study. In Sweden admission to music school is centralized and as I was very much outside of that system, I would have not been admitted because I had no background in music.

‘On the other hand here in New York, you kind of pay-your-way into it. So I went to the cheapest possible stage school that would allow me to enter. I went to Queen’s College. What I loved about it was that it was easy to get in, and you could get a lot out of it. I spent 5 years doing that, getting my Masters here.’

Karlsson earned a masters degree in composition from the Aaron Copland School of Music and graduated Summa Cum Laude with departmental honors in June of 2005.

Mikael Karlsson: ‘When I graduated, I realized that the musicians I kept collaborating with lived here. So, I needed to stay.’

Since graduating, Mikael has produced an incredible array of work: writing and releasing albums; contributing tracks to the films of Bruce LaBruce; composing music for the Cedars Lake Dance Company; collaborating with designer and film-maker Anna Österlund; scoring and producing for Black Sun productions; writing music for video games; working with Lydia Lunch;  and composing an opera.

Karlsson wears his success lightly. He delights more in other’s good fortune, rather than his own achievements. He makes his life seem like a series of happy accidents, rather than the product of his incredible talent and dedicated hard work, which make him so productive, so successful and such a brilliant composer.

If this weren’t enough, Mikael has the looks of pop star and a wicked sense of humor, which sparkled throughout our interview.

Paul Gallagher: How did you first start composing?

Mikael Karlsson: ‘My friend Niklas showed me how to sequence things on a computer, and I had been writing these little musical sketches, and now I was finally able to hear them.

‘I remember spending an evening programming pieces I had written but never heard performed on his computer, and when I played it back, it was one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had. I was just sitting in my apartment on the floor listening to it over-and-over-and-over again.

‘Finally hearing that there was something there mattered to me. It was a very different feeling. I finally felt content pouring out of me, and it made me curious. It made me wonder what the hell I was saying?

‘I was just exploring where music can go, and in a non-experimental way at first, because I wanted to figure out what the language was. I didn’t know any music theory, but it was now possible for me to replicate something that I heard. So, like any artist at the start, I learnt through copying. Eventually I accumulated a palette of what music I seemed to prefer, and my own language started growing out of that.’

Paul Gallagher: What was your early music like?

Mikael Karlsson: ‘My early pieces were very romantic, and there’s something of that even now, and there’s also that Scandinavian darkness that doesn’t seem to want to leave.

‘None of my pieces are about me. It’s not like I’m expressing something that’s just about me, I’m watching where the music want to go, and that’s what keeps it fresh, that’s how I keep wanting to do more.

‘I’m interested in seeing where elements of Classical music can fit into Pop music, and where Experimental music can fit into more conventional classical music. Such combinations became more interesting as I went along and I became able to do things.

‘Because I was very insecure about what I had made, I hardly allowed anyone to listen to it. But when I did, they seemed to be affected by it, and that was a fantastic kick for someone who had spent twenty-years refusing to go there.’
Mikael Karlsson has made a special sampler of his music for Dangerous Minds readers, which you can download here or click on the image below.
Find out more about Mikael Karlsson here.
Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘Danach’: A film by Anna Österlund featuring music by Mikael Karlsson and Black Sun Productions

More from Mikael Karlsson, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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