Pamela Harris

Posts in the Music Category

A Blog Opera June 15, 2013

This morning was hectic hectic hectic

by eight a.m. we hit the greenmarket and I wrap

three birthday presents for a seven year old who I love very much and

then we have to cook and eat and clean up what we ate and shower

shower you're getting bread and I'll shower first before we head out

Okay Joe says but be quick since I don't want to be late and I thought

if I had an axe an axe an axe had a nice sharp axe I

might swing it am I ever late?

We drive over the Williamsburg Bridge

Joe is driving and I am in the passenger seat not aware I'm --

How's your brake? he asks Your brake brake brake?

I'm slamming my foot on my imaginary brake every time a

motherfuuuu-oh my God - the truck the taxi it's veering into our -

I'm going to die

close my eye

s oh my

I see a sign

it says Take Turns Meandering

that's a weird sign for the Long Island Expressway

and I realize it says Take Turns Merging

a sign a sign a sign!

I swing my feet and pfffft I'm good

The Saint February 28, 2013

(photo by Mark Ackermann)

After I moved to New York and got a job with the ex-Rockette, I had to look for a new job one year later when her business closed. I had no savings and started applying for anything that had 'entry level' in the title. My favorite place to job hunt was a bank of phone booths in back of the Time Life Building on 6th Ave. and every day I'd put on my one suit and matching shoes and hoof it on over. The phones were private yet thick in the hustle and I had enough room to open the New York Times or Village Voice and make notes. I had a dream forming in my head: I wanted to wear high heels and hear them clack clack clack across a marble floor in a skyscraper where I hurried to my windowed office because my job was important yet creative, like maybe a photo editor at Life Magazine. At the time I was taking a lot of photos, but I was overwhelmed with still being new to New York. Less than a year out of art school, when to paint or even what to paint was white noise with no discerning sound.

I interviewed with a headhunter, with a belt maker, with a salesman who sold boxes, then saw something for a 'creative type' at a pre-press house in Hell's Kitchen. I got an interview and met with the secretary, a 30-something curvy blond with soft eyes that held hurt. She told me the company was owned by a Brit named Mike, a genius she whispered, a man transforming the way images were reproduced. Moments later Mike entered, a chipper 50 y.o. who never stopped moving. The way his secretary looked at him told me they were sleeping together. The wedding ring on his finger told me it was an affair.

The company prepared print material for advertisers and books (back then it was mostly still done by hand) and after Mike gave me the tour we walked back to where I entered. Here, an alcove held a very clean table with three computer terminals on it. Mike looked at the terminals lovingly, as if they were his children, then turned and stared at me for a long moment. "Have you ever heard of Scitex?" It sounded like a bra company and no, I hadn't heard of it. "We're -- I'm funded by them. I'm creating imaging software that will revolutionize the way pictures are created and reproduced."

I didn't know much about what he was talking about , but since I needed a job asap I smiled, wide, hoping I didn't look stupid. "I'm looking for a few new employees I can teach the basics to, then you'll find your own level and see where you fit. I don't manage. I want you to manage yourselves." It was a perfect Lord of the Flies opportunity and without asking me a single question he offered me a job. I must have looked surprised. He grinned. "I read people extremely well. You'll fit fine."

Print images are made up of thousands of dots. Depending on size, shape and placement, the dots create the image as well as effect color and tone. Three of us had been hired and within a few weeks we learned all the stations of Mike's cross. That's how we saw it, since not once was he in front of the computers. Instead he was always furrowed with his secretary, her office door closed, though from my seat I could see them gesturing anxiously through a window.

The other hires weren't interested in managing the work flow or dealing with the sales guy so I was organizing and distributing the work and handling the long term projects. The day I started a new Garfield cartoon book came in and I learned how to cut rubylith, work the darkroom, make films for printing, check color and fix color. I worked on watch ads, crappy catalogues, Chanel print ads and learned to dot etch, burn and dodge to soften lines, take elements out of film and put elements back into film. It was a sweet job since I had no boss, lots of freedom, liked my co-workers and loved cutting cartoons. As long as jobs came in and went out on schedule, the sales guy and Mike loved me.

"Think it's shady?" Another new hire was a girl named Martha, a chain-smoking beauty who dressed like a boy who had a boyfriend who dressed like a girl. She was at my desk watching Mike frantically gesture with the secretary who was trying to calm him down. Martha was from a wealthy Main Line family and her father ran a top Fortune 500 company, something almost no-one knew. (I found out when she asked me to finish a project for her. Her father was being honored by a museum, a museum opening a wing with his name on it and she had to leave work for the ceremony.) Martha and I were the same age, both art school grads new to New York, and though she had a boyfriend and best friend neither of us knew many people and spent a lot of time alone. Her best friend Jeff was gay and single and would come and meet us for lunch, and in short time we were all becoming friends.

Jeff was a member of a gay club called The Saint, a giant club in the old Fillmore East. I had never been -- I had barely been anywhere -- and one night he asked us to go dancing with him. Martha and I dressed up in chains and lace, I put on pointy leopard print shoes and ate a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then close to midnight we met Jeff.

We entered the Saint and walked passed what looked like standard ticket windows for a theater or concert hall. We then went through a large set of doors to the dance floor. Disco was pounding, but it wasn't like anything I had heard on the radio. Nor was the dance floor like anything I had ever seen: it was huge, bigger than a skating rink, and it was covered by a massive dome. In the center of the dome was a pole that held a sci-fi looking contraption filled with lights and it slowly moved up and down projecting stars and swirls and blasts of color onto the top of the dome. Hundreds of men, mostly shirtless, many in leather, danced packed in.

We worked our way to the corner of the dance floor and danced for a while, then I left to check the rest of the club out. I had been to a couple of dinky discos outside of New York, but this - this was out there. Off the dance floor it was dark and made my way to the bathroom, figuring I'd freshen up a little. Right when I entered I saw three bear-like men near the sinks, wearing leather vests and chaps. One held a small metal gadget to his nose and was inhaling a popper, one was laughing, and the third was giving a blow job to the guy laughing. I tried to look casual, like I see this on the subway all the time, and nonchalantly walked to the first stall. In it two men were jerking off. Looking unfazed I walked to the next stall. It was filled with cocaine and cocks and for some reason I nodded hello, my face a blend of boredom mixed with did we go to Hebrew school together? I suddenly acted like I forgot something and strolled on out.

I roamed through the club to a metal spiral staircase and climbed up. This floor had an industrial staircase to the side and I climbed that. Up here it was dark, the music was pounding and I stepped onto a landing to adjust my eyes. Around me I could make out chunky benches that in the dark looked like blocks. I suddenly remembered an art history class about ziggurats, which is what they looked like, but carpeted.

The dome on the dance floor opened and light shot up through the club. I glanced around to better see where I was. Everywhere around me men were fucking and sucking and man handling each other with a practical determination of getting down to business. This wasn't romance or urgent release and I didn't even see lust. One guy saw me and smiled, friendly, kind of like 'welcome' then turned back to the four-way he was part of. I stood there looking around awed, my cool gone. I was still frigid then and sex was complicated, but around me it was as uncomplicated as sex could get. No hang ups, no cares, no anything. This was fucking, straight up, as far as I could see.

The dome closed, the lights dimmed and I headed back downstairs. I found Martha and Jeff and we danced till the next morning. I was heavier on my feet, stomping them into the dance floor, being a part of something that was so foreign to me yet felt like home. Some time later I went to work one morning and couldn't get into the office: Mike had driven the business into hell, absconded with the funding and left the country to avoid arrest. The secretary was devastated, positive he was going to leave his wife, desperate since he had been paying for her apartment. Martha and I looked for new jobs and kept going to the Saint. I found another club, Area, and started going there. A lot of artists seemed to be at Area and I got a glimpse of the art world. It gave me the same feeling The Saint did, of being foreign yet so familiar, so right. I lived in a shit hole and was broke, but New York was starting to feel like home.

Henry Flynt February 22, 2013

A friend of mine sent me a link to an artist he discovered named Henry Flynt. I never heard of the guy and looking around I found this invite from 1961 inviting people to hear music at Yoko Ono's house. The list of people performing is incredible, but what's more fascinating is how they all must have known each other. This is why I love technology: what museums used to do - show me 'x' across a room from 'y' in a way that lets me make associations - is now what the internet does. I can research almost anything and surf my way into far out ideas and connections. Granted, online content is still fueled by humans, but hopefully science is working hard to change that.

A Real Simulation February 7, 2013

(photo is from Area's photobooth)

I love seeing patterns on the street. Not in the design sense (I do, but that's not what this post is about) but in the people sense.

I've always seen patterns and started noting them a few years ago when the tranny hookers at Christopher Street and Hudson began to look like they had just gotten the baby to sleep and were dashing out to pick up a jug of laundry detergent. They'd be wearing gray collegiate sweatshirts that read Dartmouth or Yale, beat up pale pink sweat pants, and their hair was haphazardly tied up in a scrunchie. The kicker was they wore no make-up. I loved it, found it conceptually fascinating, and then poof! Make-up and size 12 stiletto's were back on the corner.

Then it was blind people. I saw them everywhere, for three days. Then people missing a limb; an arm, one leg, a hand. I'd see them all over town so it wasn't like there was a prosthetic convention going on in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to see is a tourist window shopping around the corner on Prince St., say - maybe their bag or coat caught my eye - then six hours later I'll see them in Chelsea. Sticking with tourists, I've had a week where all I saw were tourist couples arguing loudly. No-one swears like the French and I don't need to speak it to know that.

Occasionally the patterns show me things. This summer I was walking through Tribeca late at night and passed a woman outside Nobu wearing a micro mini paired with red-soled 8-inch heels. This isn't unusual to see since it's everywhere, all the time. This night though it hit me that she couldn't run if she had to. 8-inch heels and cobblestone streets don't mix well and if she was chased she'd surely be caught. Maybe New York is getting safer.

The pattern I see now is a broader one, not yet defined. It mostly involves people in their late 20's to mid-30's and it has to do with a desire for an '80's kind of decadence. Desire is the key word, since what really seems to be desired is a simulated decadence, a decadence that's safe and without an edge. Granted, I'm talking about a sliver of this age group: the sliver with money. Interestingly, in the actual 1980's this group made a bundle of money on Wall St. With this new faux '80's sliver, their parents - youth of the '80's? - make the money and support them.

What fascinates me is how accepting and even hopeful this group seems to be about being part of the status quo, the mass appeal. Even the hipsters, moneyed or not, seem eager to define their personalities through fashion that advertises brands from the 1970's, or their clothes co-op an entire ethos and lifestyle of a past generation -- any generation -- except their own. Their clothing choices isn't political: it's as if commercialism and identity have happily merged. The individual is no more.

Over the last five or so years a private club scene has blossomed here. The application process to join paints a picture of exclusivity, one where artists and creative types romp freely, yet this isn't the clientele and members know it. Anyone can join these clubs, something also known by members. The decor is simulated chic, the art offends or excites no-one, and even the personality of the crowd has a consistently homogenized tone. (Soho House is the one private club I've been to that has personality, plus they throw fun parties and from what I hear have a great breakfast scene.) These clubs do reach out to creatives with free memberships, but the comps I know are home watching Netflix or getting ready to take the dog out. (The art world has been turned inside out and culturally neutered, too, but that's a longer discussion.)

In the east village I'm seeing '80's hairstyles and dye jobs; fur is back on the street; drugs are being sold openly; there's a pile of new shows and movies in production that take place in the '80's; and music, even some EDM has hints of a Flock of Seagulls. All this isn't the point I'm writing about. What is, or what congealed all of this and turned an intuitive 'is it the '80's?' cog inside me was a company called Reviv.

A close friend spent the New Year at a fancy hotel in South Beach and one afternoon around the pool he noticed men and a couple of women sporting colored arm bands. Some had more than one arm band on. He asked his date what they were and she told him they had seen 'the doctor.' The doctor?

My friend wanted to better understand what she meant so his date took him upstairs to a lavish suite. Inside it had been turned into a spa, or more appropriately, a med-spa, called Reviv. Every bed and chair had a (mostly male) 30-something hooked up to an IV. Hot nurses tended them while a doctor casually roamed the room. Each client was receiving a personally tailored infusion, a doctor-concocted blend of saline and multivitamins and medications - some were getting oxygen - for whatever ailed them. All ailments were gotten by partying too hard.

Run by an ex ER doctor who threw around terms like 'Hydrating therapy' and 'MegaBoost' and 'UltraVive,' this was the womb you went to if you drank too much or snorted too much cocaine or needed to sober up so you could start drinking again. This struck me as real decadence, nothing simulated about it.

My friend isn't much of a partier and back down at the pool his date called over some of the armband wearers. This crew -- all trust funders -- ignored my friend and spoke to his date of how they wanted to start their own Reviv and make it global. My friend listened quietly, since he recently helped build a global brand which he sold for a huge chunk (and now heads another global brand). It was like this crew was playing at business, acting out what they'd do knowing full on they never would. And it wasn't because they didn't have to; talking about it was satisfying enough. Fantasy success has a built in safety net -- you never have to lose or fight for something. What struck my friend was that this crew showed no desire to go for the real thing. Simulation is sufficient.

I find it all disturbing. I know that change, ultimately, is good and I love when I see signs that we're moving into the future. Right now I can't understand or find purpose in how this sliver moves our evolution forward. Sometimes we gotta go back to move forward, so I'm hoping this sliver is the equivalent of an algae bloom, one that will eventually block its own sunlight and cut itself off at the legs.

The Williamsburg Bridge January 3, 2013

Photo by Charles Dharapak

Joe is an excellent driver. Years ago he was a paramedic in the Bronx and often drove the ambulance, and though that's not proof of good driving skills he had a lot of opportunities to hone his skills behind the wheel.

We often drive to Long Island to visit his family, which means going over the Williamsburg Bridge. The lanes are narrow, the cars are fast and while hurtling over it Joe will sometimes glance over and say "How's that brake working?" I don't even realize I'm slamming my foot on an imaginary brake, making a racket while my shoe hits the floor mat. "Not very well" I'll answer, braking the whole time.

A lot of crazy thoughts go through my head on any given day and writing or drawing means I have buckets to dump them in. When I was a kid I just had me. At ten I became obsessed with quicksand and though we didn't have it in Danvers, Massachusetts nor were we geologically capable of having it, I knew it was out there in the woods behind my house. I'd run through the trees looking for snakes and pheasants and I’d suddenly freeze, positive the rock in front of me would give way if I put my foot on it. I knew the ground around it would cave in and I'd disappear, sucked down by natural causes. I could stand there for hours, my heart pounding, unsure of how I'd get home. Eventually my dog would come by, or Mr. Bellevue, our neighbor, would come through picking up trash, and I'd follow them out, stepping where they did.

At the same time I went through a white food phase that had been going on for a year. I would only eat white food, which meant no crusts on my marshmallow sandwiches. My mother was an great cook who put effort into each meal and she had zero tolerance for my food fetishes. I shed more tears over those crusts: she wouldn't cut them off, but since crusts were brown I wouldn't eat anything they touched. What made it worse was I had just come from a triangle shaped food only phase and she insisted on cutting my marshmallow sandwich into square quarters, not diagonal halves. There was a brief tube food phase -- mustard spread on baloney that I’d roll into a tube and eat like a jackrabbit, bite bite biting through. This ended when she slammed a plate of spaghetti in front of me and insisted the spaghetti was hollow and therefore a tube. It wasn't, but when I scraped the sauce off and saw all that non-tube whiteness, I found nirvana.

It wasn’t the taste of white food I obsessed over. White food was quiet. White food was a blank page. White food let me find my courage and not cave in. My father would make me a marshmallow sandwich or spaghetti and butter to calm her down and he was also the one who dealt with my quicksand obsession. For a whole summer he tried to appeal logically, then one Saturday afternoon a Western came on the television. In it, a cowboy got stuck in quicksand and my father walked me through the process of how to get out of it: lay flat, don't struggle and no matter what hold on to your horse.

Ten years ago I was positive I had worms. This followed a period where I was sure my hair was falling out. Before that, right after I quit smoking cigarettes it was "Do I have bird shit on me?" This coincided with being sure I was growing a mustache, to the point where I bought a mustache bleaching kit. I bleached, nothing changed and I had to concede that maybe, just maybe, I didn't have a mustache. Worms, though? I could have worms. When I felt one of these tics sinking its teeth in my flesh I'd ask my friend Bill "Quick question -- do I look bald to you?"

"No,” he’d say, “but your mustache is getting bushy."

When I quit drinking and drugs I started dealing with my shit and a lot of the noise in my head got loud enough to actually hear. It meant I could question it, which let it start to ebb. Once in a while when I'm stressed I hear new crazy thoughts, and in the car going over the Williamsburg Bridge it hit me that though I was afraid of crashing, what I was really doing was narrating my impending death. And had been doing so for a few weeks. I hope this elevator doesn't fall when I get on it and I hope my shirt doesn't light on fire as I stir a stew on the stove. Plugging in a charger I hope I don't get electrocuted and when it's raining I hope ball lightening doesn't roll around my living room. I hope a plane doesn't careen through the roof in the bedroom and I hope an axe doesn't fall from the wall and chop me up. We don't have an axe on the wall; I've never seen ball lightening; and the only time I've gotten an electric jolt was when I grabbed an electric fence on purpose to see what it'd feel like. I'm stressed because I'm finishing a new project and am gearing up to take it out and I want to control all that I'm powerless over. That's what this is.

What helps is to let it go through me and hug it along. In the car late at night when I'm hitting my friend the invisible brake, we listen to WFUV and I actually enjoy the ride thanks to Vin Scelsa's radio show 'Idiot's Delight' and Marshall Crenshaw's 'The Bottomless Pit.' Hearing the Ramones segue to Iron Butterfly or The Chemical Brothers followed by a band I don't know (Hundred Waters) always roots me back to earth. Music soothes the beast inside, no matter how hairy or wicked it be.

After The Gold Rush December 3, 2012

The first album I ever bought was Déjá Vü by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I bought it at Lechmere, in the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, Mass., and I barely left the store before going back in to buy Eat A Peach by The Allman Bros. In a bin nearby was Black Sabbath's Master of Reality and I wanted it so badly I tried to cram it down my pants, under my coat. At 80 pounds the record was wider than I was and it took a week of saving quarters and another trip to Lechmere before I could scream along to Sweet Leaf and Into the Void.

Déjá Vü made me want to hear more Neil Young and I bought Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After the Goldrush and Harvest. After the Goldrush I bought on vinyl, cassette, CD, vinyl again and then as an mp3. Same with Harvest, minus the cassette. I listen to everything from punk to pop and change songs on my Shuffle weekly, yet I always leave something from one of those albums. It's not nostalgia I hear when I listen to him; his music shows me what I know but didn't know I knew.

On Tuesday I went to see Neil Young play at Madison Square Garden, first time ever. My entertainment lawyer has become a close friend and her law firm has a box there. The box is far back from the stage, behind the sound board, which means the band is far away but the sound is perfect. Neil Young came out on stage and kibbutzed around a bit, then he casually hit a note on his guitar. It was a gutteral plang, beautiful and raucous. It was what I grew up with and pure today. What surprised me the most was how rock and roll his sound was. It was like hearing him for the very first time.