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.
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.”