SFJ: There’s a lot to talk about in that it mirrors the larger economy… You know, all the mergers that happened at the corporate level are now happening at the musical level. I was talking to someone who was handwringing about Spotify, a fellow musician who wrote an editorial, and when we were talking about the whole thing, he said, “You know, there’s no reason to yell at any particular party, because they all have equity in each other. It’s all one thing, and they’re completely aligned against the artist in every case.”
What we had in the ’90s was… what another very famous, huge record executive [said to me] in a very, very hilarious way. We went to his Fifth Avenue townhouse, gorgeous space, and he said—maybe I’ll give it away if I can do his accent properly—but he said [Affects accent.], “You know what this is? This right here? It’s stupid money. It’s CD money. That’s the kind of money that made dumb people feel smart.” You have the biggest fucking markup in retail history, and somehow in one winter, the music business—with Phillips leading the way—said, “Hey, that $7.99 album you love? Guess what? Your lucky day: You get to buy it for $18.99, it’s going to sound worse, and you have to buy fucking pieces of equipment.” And everyone said, “Great, I’d like to buy more of them please.” And so there was this incredible surplus of money. And then musicians like me [Frere-Jones played in the post-rock/punk-funk band Ui at the time. —ed.] get a day job doing very little at Columbia House, and go on tour, because those jobs existed.
Peter Thiel cites the fact that the Empire State Building was built in 15 months as a sign that maybe our society has stagnated. Can we build things any more? Why not?
I’ve wondered if part of the answer was the political power of Al Smith, who was appointed head of Empire State Inc, and various other elements of the former Tammany/Democratic machine that controlled New York City at the time. An argument for the efficiency of political machines?
But what if the answer was: fairness?
The Empire State Building was constructed in just 13* months, and that included the dismantling of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel that sat on the site. Paul Starrett, the builder, treated his workers rather well by the standards of the time, paying much attention to safety and paying employees on days when it was too windy to work. Daily wages were more than double the usual rate and hot meals were provided on site.
The concept is known as “efficiency wages”. Companies that compensate workers well and treat them fairly can attract better, more motivated staff. Unlike most construction projects, the Empire State Building had low staff turnover, and workers suggested productivity improvements such as building a miniature railway line to bring bricks to the site.
That’s Bartleby in the Dec 12, 2020 Economist, reviewing a book called The Art of Fairness, by David Bodanis. Starrett was not “naively generous,” the article also notes. He checked worker attendance four times a day.
I’d kind of resolved to stop reading these books that are just collections of neat anecdotes under some big umbrella, but maybe I’ll make an exception here. Another example cited: Danny Boyle used thousands of volunteers for the 2012 London Olympic Ceremonies, but he also had to keep details of the show secret:
The conventional approach would have been to make the volunteers sign a non-disclosure agreement. Instead, he asked them to keep the surprise – and trusted them to do so. They did, thanks to the grown up way he treated them.
Also in this week’s Economist, Buttonwood reports on a study in India:
The study’s main finding is that retail investors who were randomly allocated shares in successful IPOS view their good fortune as evidence of skill.
* note the revision to Thiel’s figure
Always moved by George Washington’s words on the Washington Square Arch.
Try not to think about the 20,000 anonymous people buried in what’s now Washington Square Park — history is complicated!
Strong endorse to an audio only, 1 hour 42 minute semi-memoir by Robert Caro, boiling down the central ideas of The Power Broker and the LBJ series. If you’ve read every single extant interview with Robert Caro, as I have, some of its repetitive but I loved it and loved listening to Caro’s weird New York accent.
Two details: he tells how James Rowe, an aide to FDR, told him that FDR was such a genius about politics that when he discussed it almost no one could even understand him. But Lyndon Johnson understood everything.
Caro tells that when LBJ ran for Congress the first time, he promised to bring electricity. Women had to haul water from the well with a rope. A full bucket of water was heavy. Women would become bent, a Hill Country term for stooped over. LBJ campaigned saying, if you vote for me, you won’t be bent. You won’t look at forty the way your mother looked at forty.
some pretty saucy pics on the website for the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Should there be a warning for kids?
Was checking it out because it occurred to me that TR must be the last president before you-know-who who was born in New York City.
Hearing all these points about The Al Smith Dinner.
There is something grotesque about a white-tie banquet with the wealthy and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team. On the flip side, there’s something great about the wealth and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team if the team has some common, positive values.
The Al Smith Foundation raises money for the sick, the poor, and the orphans of New York. It honors a great, cheerful, positive public figure who rose up from poverty to run for president despite religious prejudice.
The dinner is an old-fashioned truce. Swallowing the noxious flavor of eating with your opponent is how societies can function and remain peaceful.
History offers many stories about how deeply fucked up things get when someone violates the tradition of a ceremonial truce:
People who jockey for political power should have to sit there and be made to at least pretend to be humble.
IMO this is a great tradition even if only for giving us this wonderful gif of Mitt Romney ironing himself.
Through a friend from my Catholic childhood, I got to go and sit up in the rafters a couple times. McCain, who must’ve known he was about to lose, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Obama smashed too, of course.
Perhaps the two funniest candidates in American history?
Made it to the Romney/Obama one as well.
I remember a guy younger than me in the crowd was pumped, felt sure Romney was gonna win.
Watched this year’s on C-Span. Man, it was gnarly. Here are some takes:
- The #1 thing holding Donald Trump back is that he’s too sensitive. If he had a thicker skin, if he could laugh off attacks on himself, believe he could’ve won. Hillary was right about the “baited with a tweet” thing. If he had one ounce of Reagan’s ability to laugh something off Trump could’ve pulled it off.
- Al Smith’s nickname was The Happy Warrior.
Which candidate can be said to be more Happy Warrior? Thought Hillary did a good job of Happy Warrioring at the second debate, under very tough conditions:
and it worked for her!
- Much of the preliminary business of the Al Smith Dinner is talking about how much money has been raised for charity. As you listen to that, it’s hard not to be revolted by Trump’s total scumminess on charity. My perception was the room grew angrier and angrier at Trump as they heard this, and so were primed against him by the time he got up there. A politician is one thing, but a rich guy who gives nothing to charity? That sucks. That’s the complete opposite of the values of this dinner.
- For someone on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream she’s worked impossibly hard for, Hillary seems miserable. What is the lesson there? Is it campaign fatigue and going to bed every night with a knot in the pit of her stomach? Is it the regular reminders that a lot of people, probably a majority, just kind of don’t like her? There’s something real devil’s bargainy in the cruel twists that seem to meet Hillary’s ambitions.
(should admit I am 100% in the tank for Hillary. Even her soldiering on in the face of all this I admire. Will the rest of the media admit as much?)
- This event must be as close as possible to a pure nightmare for Donald. New York’s elites laughing and booing at him. In front of him and behind his back. Read anything by or about Trump: his greatest fear/source of rage is being mocked by Manhattan.
This headline would’ve appeared to Trump if he summoned the vision serpent. We are caught in a snobs vs slob death spiral. A sharp commentator points out there was a real Nelson Muntz aspect to Donald at this dinner:
Is Nelson in his way a sympathetic character? Trump’s father was a nasty piece of work, has there ever been a bully who wasn’t bullied?
- Hillary had some great jokes but she is not great at comic delivery. Then again, who’s the best over-70 year old joke deliverer? (Gotta thank Medina for asking that one). My first picks: Mel Brooks or Bill Cosby.
- Katie Dunn’s parents would only let Al Smith marry their daughter when he promised he would never become a professional actor (per Caro’s The Power Broker, p. 117). In those days you went into politics because everybody liked you.
- There’s a lot terrible about the Catholic Church, but in my experience growing up around the Catholic church I saw a lot more attention to and help for the sick, the old, the poor, the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless than I’ve seen outside of it.
In Al Smith’s day the Catholic Church provided a social welfare system for the poor and the unfortunate and the immigrant. Other churches did the same thing. Think how many hospitals are named after saints. As far as I understand it the Mormon church still does. The Catholic Church in America is in a managed decline.
What will fill the social welfare vacuum? Who will take care of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, they dying? Who should?
Sometimes it seems like the domestic political argument in America is between two answers: “the government” and “nobody/family/somebody’ll handle it/I don’t know but not the government.”
Bill Clinton and George Bush both succeeded at least in pretending to find happy compromises, “the third way,” “compassionate conservatism,” etc. For awhile I felt like Paul Ryan was doing a decent job of at least pretending, too. But man when Trump came along he went the sniveling way. Is he more dangerous and more vile than Trump?
- “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme. From The Washington Post:
It’s a horrible feeling to be laughed at and it takes dignity to rise above it. Watching him at the Al Smith dinner, in a way I almost felt bad for him. If I could give Donald Trump advice I would tell him to relax and return to being a clown version of a rich guy. It was a good job and he was well-compensated. But he doesn’t listen.
In a way DT feels like a dangerous, bitter, vile version of this guy:
- Al Smith’s father was an immigrant. Not from Ireland though, from Italy. (Ferraro = blacksmith = smith). His mother’s parents were immigrants from Ireland. A frustrating thing about this election is we couldn’t have a serious talk about immigration. How much should we have? From where? Infinite? If not infinite how do we sort out who can come?
One Beacon Street, Boston
425 Market Street, San Francisco:
11 Times Square, New York:
Along with a lot of other buildings in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Paris, London and elsewhere, they’re all 47% or so owned by the Norwegian people, in the form of their nation’s sovereign wealth fund.
They own a lot of other stuff, too. $21 mill worth of Buffalo Wild Wings, for instance.
And 1.5% of Whole Foods:
In a tiny way, every Norwegian helps Marc Maron, because they own about a million bucks worth of Stamps.com.
Thanks to The Slipper Room for helping us out. You can listen to the episode here or catch it on iTunes, Stitcher, wherever you get your podcasts.
Can’t front like I was the world’s biggest David Bowie fan in life, but reading about him after his death I’m getting more and more into the guy! From The New York Times:
After he became Ziggy Stardust, and a huge star, Mr. Bowie found refuge at the West 20th Street apartment of his publicist, Cherry Vanilla. In her memoir, “Lick Me,” she recounts how he would do brain-sizzling amounts of cocaine and drink milk for nourishment (no solid food in those years), and they’d rap about “power, symbols, communication, music, the occult, Aleister Crowley and Merlin the Magician.”
Says Cherry Vanilla:
David liked my apartment on 20th Street, and he also liked Norman Fisher’s coke, something for which he’d recently acquired an insatiable appetite and for which I had, of course, hooked him up. And since my days were winding down at Mainman, I guess David felt comfortable getting high with me and opening up about anything and everything that was on his mind. He spent many an evening, often an all-nighter, sitting in one of my canary-yellow enameled wicker chairs, doing lines, drinking milk (he never ate at all during this period), and telling me one crazy story after another — Defries and Adolf Hitler were buddies . . . Lou Reed was the devil . . .he himself was from another planet and was being held prisoner on earth — going on and on about power, symbols, communication, music, the occult, Aleister Crowley, and Merlin the Magician. I never did any of David’s coke (and, what’s more, he never offered). I just sat there, smoked my pot, sipped my Café Bustelo, and got totally into his rap. This was probably the period when I was most in love with him.
Sometimes David would busy himself with my record collection — Duke Ellington’s Live at Newport and the Ohio Players’ Skin Tightamong his favorite LPs. And occasionally he and I would have sex in my mirrored, mosquito-netted, dycro-lit, pink-satin bedroom, taking everything a bit further than we had that first time in Boston, and utilizing the many new sex toys I’d since acquired. One time, after I’d arranged for him to shop privately at the new Yves Saint Laurent boutique on Madison Avenue and get the most fabulous black wool overcoat, he came up the five flights of stairs to my apartment, and fucked me without ever taking off the coat and then left immediately to hang out with Mick Jagger. Bowie liked my bedroom so much, he even brought Claudia Lennear and Jean Millington (the other sister from Fanny) there for sex on occasion. I didn’t participate, but I got off on how much he appreciated the setting.
Really enjoyed this AV Club thing about Columbia House:
SFJ: Scattered through many musician interviews and oral histories, you hear a lot of stories of people early on who really did have no other way of getting music, and how important it was to them. And, even as a kid in Fort Greene [in Brooklyn], I subscribed to Columbia House because I wasn’t allowed to go buy things on my own yet. I would wait and wait for my ELO record. One of the most disappointing moments of my life was [when] I came back from vacation knowing that Kiss’ Alive II was going to be in my mailbox, and for some reason the son-of-a-bitch mailman, as if he didn’t know what he was doing, folded the fucking thing in half and put it through the slot.
All: [Rousing chorus of everyone groaning and saying, “Nooooooo!”]
Once, back when I lived in New York, I went down to Coney Island to have a look around. On Surf Avenue, there was a man with glasses, maybe sixty but energetic, and good-humored, standing behind a table, handing out fliers about some neighborhood development thing or another. He was opposed to it. I got to talking to this guy, and he brought up Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, and the various destruction he’d done to Coney Island. To this man, Fred Trump was both laughable and a villain.
Some time after that I looked up Fred Trump’s obituary in The New York Times. He died in 1999. It’s a great obituary, written by Tracie Rozhon:
Frederick Christ (pronounced Krist) Trump was born in New York City in 1905. From World War II until the 1980’s, Mr. Trump would tell friends and acquaintances that he was of Swedish origin, although both his parents were born in Germany. John Walter, his nephew and the family historian, explained, ”He had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn’t a good thing to be German in those days.”
His father was a barber who arrived from Kallstadt, Germany, in 1885 and joined the Alaska gold rush. By the turn of the century, he owned the White Horse Restaurant and Inn in White Horse, Alaska, while also supplying food and lumber to the miners.
Fred Trump started a construction business at fifteen. With the money he made he paid for his kid brother to go to college and get a Ph.D.
”He made a great contribution; he filled a very big hole in the market,” Mr. LeFrak recalled. ”We took Queens; he did more in Brooklyn. He was a great builder who rallied to the cause like we did; he built housing for the returning veterans. I guess you could say we’re the last of the old dinosaurs.”
Fred Trump married a Scottish immigrant. When he died they’d been married 63 years.
His estate has been estimated by the family at $250 million to $300 million, but Mr. Trump did not believe in displays of wealth — with one exception. For decades, he insisted on a Cadillac, always navy blue, always gleaming, and always replaced every three years, its ”FCT” license plate announcing its owner wherever he went.
Fred Trump was frugal:
Mr. Trump was a demon for controlling costs. Besides collecting unused nails, Mr. Gordon said, Mr. Trump often performed the exterminating chores in his buildings by himself. ”He became an expert,” Mr. Gordon said.
When it was time to order the thousands of gallons of disinfectant necessary for his thousands of apartments, Mr. Trump gathered samples of all the available floor cleaners on his desk. ”Then he sent them out to a lab and found out what was in them and had it mixed himself,” Donald Trump recalled. ”What had cost $2 a bottle, he got mixed for 50 cents.”
What the guy on Coney Island didn’t like was the destruction of Steeplechase Park, told here by Wikipedia:
After acquiring the site in 1965, Fred Trump intended to build a low-cost housing development. Trump was unable to get a change to the zoning of the area, which required “amusements” only (largely due to the efforts of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce), and decided to demolish the park in 1966 before it could obtain landmark status. Trump held a “demolition party,” at which invited guests threw bricks through the Park’s facade. Trump bulldozed the majority of the park, save for a few rides and concessions stands, among them the Parachute Jump, that were along the boardwalk.
The housing development never happened though, and Coney Island is a bit of a wasteland.
The story of the demolition party is also told in this book:
This book is incredibly poignant. Charles Denson is a good writer, and his book is very personal. Some it is about how his memories of the park were tied up with his longing for his disappearing father.
NY Times obituary of Timothy Dowd, the detective in charge of finding Son Of Sam:
Ms. Begg said in an interview on Monday that her father had disdained television dramas about the police because they were unrealistic about police work — all except one, she said: “Columbo.” That series, especially popular in the 1970s, starred Peter Falk as an untidy, seemingly distracted detective in Los Angeles who solved cases by poking around in a practiced but random fashion and stumbling in the direction of a solution.
“That’s how it’s done,” she said her father explained to her.
In the biggest case of his career, when he finally came face to face with the killer, Inspector Dowd said he knew he would be able to discuss the crimes with him.
“I told him we had never abused him or criticized him in the press, and he agreed,” Inspector Dowd said at the time.
And Mr. Berkowitz’s first words to him?
“Inspector, you finally got me. I guess this is the end of the trail.”
Once Mayor Tom Menino of Boston came to speak at my high school. He was a terrible speaker, had a bad speech impediment. He said that when he was a kid he told his teacher, a nun, that he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up, so he could build bridges. The nun told him he wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer. So, he said, he became the mayor to build bridges between communities.
(photo by Jim Rogash, Getty Images, swiped from here)
2) This video is all over my Facebook. I have a tale of New York City street harassment.
One day in 2009 I was walking around looking for apartments with a real estate broker. The broker was an extremely attractive woman, the girlfriend of a friend. It was a really hot day, she was wearing like a bare-armed shirt thing under a jacket and she took the jacket off.
The catcalls and stuff yelled at her was INSANE. Like, at least ten dudes said something, most of it muttered after she walked past.
Now, being a self-absorbed dude, my reaction to this was fascination but also like “am I supposed to do something about this?” Like, “I’m walking with this woman, and presumably it could be my girlfriend or my sister or something, am I supposed to like beat up all these dudes? Because that would take a long time and also would by no means be a guaranteed victory.” She rolled with it as though it was no more significant than the squawk of pigeons but man.
Anyway, now I have successfully made this story about me.
Contra Joyce Carol Oates:
this was in Union Square and literally Washington Square Park and the heart of the West Village, also mostly white dudes.
I defer to Mero on this one:
Alert reader Tia in Manhattan writes:
Very excited for your new podcast. Are you following the Central Park Bear Mystery?
Tia, thanks for writing. Of course I am.
So, a dead bear was found in Central Park. Here are the facts we know, all from the NY Times:
- The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the results of a necropsy showed that the cause of death was “blunt force injuries consistent with a motor vehicle collision.”
- After revealing the results of the necropsy, Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the state conservation department, said that the agency still did not know where the bear had come from, only that it was “likely not the park.”
- The Central Park Conservancy, which runs Central Park and provided preliminary information on Monday, had nothing to add on Tuesday. And a spokesman for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo, said it was no longer involved and did not wish to comment.
- The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which has been dealing with a surging black bear population, had nothing to say.
- Calls were made to a retired Bronx homicide commander, Vernon Gerberth. “It wouldn’t be a police matter,” he said, “unless the bear was killed by a person, or if somebody was keeping it as a pet and brought it to the park. People are crazy.”
- Dr. Lana Ciarniello, a bear expert in Canada, said that most bear experts in the United States were attending a conference in Greece and would be hard to reach for comment. She could not make the trip, so she was able to offer her thoughts on the mystery.
- She also said that the bear’s gender might have some relevance: “From a biological standpoint, it’s highly unusual for a female bear cub to be so far from her mother. Mother bears make male bear cubs disperse far from her home range to prevent inbreeding, so it would be less unusual if this were a male bear cub.”
- While there was a bear foot found on a lawn in Queens in 2011, bears have not regularly been seen in New York City for decades.
- An entry in the 1916 edition of Valentine’s Manual of Old New York contains an account of bear hunting on Pearl Street from 1678.
Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys The Great Debates! Available here:
as wonderful as
Look, I don’t want to turn this into another Astor Place riots, but I think there’s a healthy American vs. UK rivalry to start here.
The biggest Dylan fan I know says: “every time Dylan does something, ten years later it’s revealed to be genius.” Is the same true of the Coen Bros?
Even if I didn’t really like one of their movies, they are so good I assume that I’m wrong. I liked this one though, even though it was so so sad.
Listen to Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and Oscar Isaac sing 500 Miles. Best I can tell they all did their own singing.
Who wrote “500 Miles”?
This song is usually attributed to Hedy West, who put together “fragments of a melody she had heard her uncle sing to her back in Georgia.”
Her father, Don West, was a southern poet and coal mine labor organizer in the 1930s; his bitter experiences included seeing a close friend machine-gunned on the street by company goons in the presence of a young daughter.
What is the meaning of this movie?
I’ll tell you one message I felt strongly: “pursuing great art requires great sacrifice. It’s tragic if the art falls short. You don’t get the sacrifice back. Maybe the sacrifice itself is still noble but it’s an awfully lonesome road.”
Also this could be seen as a movie about a man being punished by God for abandoning a cat.
This was a movie where the hero literally does NOT save the cat.
The two best units of art that emerged from Jewish Minnesota have to be the Coen Brothers and Bob Dylan, right? Both deeply fascinated with “the old, weird, America.” Is there anything to that?
What would Minnesotan F. Scott Fitzgerald make of this movie?
I saw it just around the corner from where F. Scott Fitzgerald died.
Will the movie revive interest in The Clancy Brothers?
Why is Justin Timberlake so good at playing lame characters?
Is it because he has moved in his life so far beyond the idea of coolness?
Consider this testimonial by Joe Jonas. Timberlake, who at least in his choices appears very smart, was at an equivalent point of fame and self-awareness TEN YEARS AGO.
How the fuck is some guy in a magazine or a newspaper supposed to review a movie like this?? Obviously everything you’d think of the Coen Brothers already thought of times 1000!!
That’s what I thought as I walked out.
Sometimes Anthony Lane cheeses me off but his review of this movie helped me think about it.
Reading, as one does, about Robert Murray, once owner of the most shipping tonnage in New York, until he retired to a 29-acre farm on Manhattan which he called Inclenberg but everyone else called – and still calls – Murray Hill.
Mrs. Murray is sometimes credited with delaying the British as they pursued the haggard Continental army across Manhattan after being nearly destroyed at the Battle of Brooklyn. Supposedly she offered them tea and cakes and her feminine charm. David McCullough in 1776 counters: “she may have been extremely charming, but she was also a woman in her fifties and the mother of twelve children.”
In Murray Hill today is Sniffen Court, an alley off 36th Street built in 1863-4. Here’s some good photos.
And this curious bit from Curbed:
Right on 36th Street, 1 Sniffen Court has been owned by the Amateur Comedy Club since 1884, and the building is registered as a legitimate theater. Additional research shows that the amateur theater group was a private one, operated strictly by and for the amusement of its own members and social circle with no public performances. The group dramatically broke their private character during World War I, when it became a dramatic theater company for the entertainment and benefit of military service members.
Here’s the Amateur Comedy Club website. One hopes they provide welcome relief from the excessive professionalism of other comedy clubs.
from Edward Robb Ellis’ The Epic Of New York City
A delicacy of the day was orange butter, made according to this recipe: “Take new cream two gallons, beat it up to a thicknesse, then add half a pint of orange-flower-water, and as much red wine, and so being become the thicknesse of butter it has both the colour and smell of butter.” Drunkenness was common.
Is an under-visited place. Pittsburgh Office told us about it awhile ago
H.P. Lovecraft referred to the “strange and disturbing paintings of Nicholas Roerich” in his Antarctic horror story At the Mountains of Madness.
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow – Thomas Cole, 1836Posted: August 24, 2012
go over to the Met and see it big.
Cole learned the rudiments of his profession from a wandering portrait painter named Stein
The fourth-highest peak in the Catskills is named after Thomas Cole: