Archive for the ‘bki listens to’ Category

Book Review: Just Kids, Patti Smith

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Before I first listened to Patti Smith, I saw this album cover for the first time when I was 16, and was immediately enamored with her. I was amazed at how such a simple pose could evoke both power and elegance. It still remains one of the most anti-establishment images I’ve seen – unconventional beauty expressed in a graceful and defiant pose. Punk rock, through a patchwork of cuticles. Years later, after so many bands and fads get popular, then fade into obscurity, Patti Smith’s music still resonates, and sounds equally as urgent now as it did in the 70’s. And while I may be the last person on the L train to pick up a copy of Just Kids, reading her memoir is a great reminder that the passionate pursuit of art is a timeless endeavor.

Just Kids primarily chronicles the period of struggle before Patti Smith managed to achieve stardom. After just moving to Brooklyn, Smith has a couple of chance encounters with another struggling artist, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the two end up devoting their lives to creative pursuits and pushing each other to produce work. On a number of occasions, the starving artists are forced to choose between marshmallow cookies or buying art supplies. Despite bouts of hunger and at times, homelessness, Smith and Mapplethorpe are driven by a passionate devotion to the arts, the discipline to constantly produce, and studious examinations of contemporary and historical art/music/literature figures from Rimbaud to Warhol to Bob Dylan. Their struggles dispel the myth of the artist as inherent, creative geniuses, but instead presents the successful artist as a culmination of rigorous study and practice. Eventually, the two bohemians move from their humble apartment in Brooklyn at 45 Hall St. (one block over from Brooklyn Industries’ former offices), to the Chelsea Hotel, to a residency at CBGB’s on the Bowery, an area that was at the time littered with flaming trashcans, and a colorful cast of users, transvestites, and musicians, among others. But despite the uncertainty of success amongst the impoverished and societal castoffs decorating downtown, it’s difficult to ignore Smith and Mapplethorp’s palpable excitement from being on the cusp of a movement. It’s that feeling that still compels young people all around the world to move to New York City to this day. – Teddy, Multimedia and Graphic Designer

The National and Wye Oak at the Beacon Theater

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

We made it up to the venerable Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side last Thursday to catch The National on their final set of shows after a year and half of touring in support of 2010’s release, High Violet, an album still on heavy rotation here in the office.  The venue’s impeccable acoustics were ideal for lead singer Matt Beringer’s unique brand of indie-croon, supplemented by a string quartet, a trio of horns, and at times, Jenn Wasner, from openers Wye Oak. For a band with humble beginnings playing small clubs, it was apparent that they were thrilled at the opportunity to fully realize their artistic vision in an exceptional venue. At one point, Beringer shared a story of the band trying to make it big during a 2002 South by Southwest show, only to all accidentally play different songs at the same time.

With a giant projection screen behind them playing videos of abstract designs, snowstorms and Night of the Living Dead, the band ran through most of High Violet, a couple of songs from their two previous releases, Boxer and Alligator, and the beautiful piano ballad, Exile Villify. At the end of the encore, the band put their instruments down and beckoned the crowd to join in on a hushed sing-along to the song Vanderlyle Cry Geeks. The National have always served as a pleasant reminder that when everything around you is so loud, a subtle murmur can be the most alluring song.