Part One Best After-Hours Club El Gato Negro …

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Part One

Best After-Hours Club
El Gato Negro
(closed)
At Night All Cats Are Black.

Too bad it had to end. While it was going, nothing could touch it. If you were
a bartender, a bouncer, a promoter, DJ or night owl, there was really only one
place to go. Sizzle was a played-out coke den that rarely got repeat customers
except for the desperate; Mary Lou’s had recently been shut down. So the
market for a post-4 a.m. spot was wide open and El Gato Negro jumped in at the
perfect time. For a few idyllic months, everyone in the club scene came to a
basement space in the West Village for conversation, drinks and, dare we say
it, blow. But it goes with the territory. Nothing ever got out of hand. In fact,
one warm summer evening, the doorman carelessly left the door open for ventilation
and a black cat sauntered in. It was as though it knew the club was its home,
and it stayed the whole night, walking around, rubbing on assorted people and
making itself comfy on banquette seats.

Note to the enterprising: If you open up an after-hours, tell your friends
to be more discreet on the street. Women in Gucci dresses, guys in cowboy hats
and loud, dizzy conversation don’t belong on any quiet residential street
at 4 a.m., and certainly not in numbers. By design, the after-hours is a limited
offer, and everyone who goes holds a little piece of the party’s life,
or death as is often the case. El Gato Negro may resurface again, but if it
does and you find out about it, keep it quiet.

Best Fucked-Up Movie-Journalism Synergy
Shoot! Shoot!
Darn
that Columbine High School! Until those kids went and got offed in Colorado,
the East Coast media elite were ready to once again help Hollywood peddle more
sludge. Publicists–those watchdogs of junk–had arranged for both Brad
Pitt and Edward Norton, lead actors of the upcoming (Oct. 15) ultraviolent The
Fight Club
, to star at newsstands everywhere. Here was a chance at more
publicity. The stars would be saying nothing as usual, just Pitt showing all
his cleavage and various pit-hairs in a sleaze-chic photo spread for W,
and Norton, coyly goateed, smiling at you from the cover of Vanity Fair.
Each feature was primed to sucker punch readers into another movie they ordinarily
wouldn’t want to see.

On Madison Ave. this debacle was even more resounding than the gunshots in
Littleton. Disavowing their dependence on violence to sell tickets, the studios
pushed back The Fight Club‘s release date. Tinsel Town panicked
about its typical grossout fare, probably figuring that thanks to cable news
outlets, the public was already sufficiently entertained by Columbine’s
guts and gore. The usual exploitation could wait–a moment of obnoxious
silence like Oscar-winner James Cameron requested for the Titanic dead.
But embarrassment hit at Vanity Fair and W, because those cover
stories–no longer timed to a movie release–showed both publications
to be even more nakedly insubstantial than usual. All that Hollywood-Journalism
synergy wasted. Let’s see more.

Best Significant Arts Scene
Brooklyn
They Come From as Far Away as Queens.

Led by the gallery scene in Williamsburg, but radiating out to artist studios
in DUMBO and Red Hook, the nascent Brooklyn arts scene is off and running hard.
Like Soho in the prehistory of the art world and the East Village in the late
70s, several Brooklyn neighborhoods have been colonized by artists desperate
for space to work in and inhabit. A few restaurants, bars and galleries later
and a scene is born. Williamsburg, home to countless artists (throw a rock and
you’re bound to hit six; three good-sized stones and you might graze a
good one) and a handful of good galleries (for the sake of transparency, we’ll
mention here and now that we’re codirector of one space), is ground-zero
for a growing wave of artist immigration from as far away as Argentina, Germany
and Japan, as well as increasing attention from savvy collectors. Like new restaurants,
new galleries appear every two months or so. Serious artists, gallerists and
writers meet each other on the street; studios are visited; opinions exchanged;
booze is quaffed in the local watering holes–all the while, the fancy high-waters
and nose-ring set moon about, striking their best profiles. There is a plan
in the works for a Brooklyn Art Fair in 2000 to be held at the Brooklyn Museum.
Perhaps that will be the hinge upon which the Brooklyn scene’s major financial
fortunes will turn.

Best,
and Sauciest
,
Yankee-Mariner Brawl Moment
Safe Sex at Safeco.

The early August fisticuffs between Seattle hurler Frankie Rodriguez and Yankee
catcher Joltin’ Joe Girardi were certainly well documented by the photographers.
Rodriguez, a Brooklynite, should know better, or least know when to pull a punch.

We especially liked the shot that revealed Rodriguez delivering his last blow
to Girardi’s ass-neck, to borrow a phrase from the Jerky Boys. Odds are,
obscene phone calls are legal but fisting is not in Washington state, and many
baseball observers, including celebrity Mariners fan Peter Bagge, are wondering
if Girardi will let Sicilian revenge tendencies prevail over his membership
in the God Squad.

Best Lesson of Star Wars
You’re Not Seven Anymore
Teeter Tots.
We
swear upon the unfilled grave of our mother that we started hearing the bitching
about The Phantom Menace the same damn night that it opened. We were
six when the first movie came out–our friends who were between five and
11 looked upon Star Wars as a watershed cinematic experience in their
lives. So guess what? When they went to see the sequel, there was no magical
heat ray that engulfed the audience and made them forget all the movies they’d
seen and life experiences they’d had since 1977. So, gasp! It just wasn’t
the same as having one’s mind blown as an impressionable child who’d
never seen a huge projection of a planet blowing up before.

What we wonder is whether a bunch of 30-year-old men went out and bought all
the action figures, brought them home and attempted to play with them, but tragically
it occurred to them that they wanted to read books, discuss current events and
touch girls’ boobies.

That George Lucas, all not inventing a cure for adulthood and shit. Asshole.

Best Live Music Venue
Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey St. (Bowery)
533-2111
Take the J Train.
Bowery
Ballroom is the first local club designed specifically for the way the rock
‘n’ roll game is played in New York in ’99. As things work out,
here and now, at most big club shows only about half the people in the crowd
came for the music. The others have some sort of corporate connection, either
to the label or to some magazine, radio or apparel interest sponsoring the concert,
or else they just asked the band’s publicist to buy them a ticket because
they’re in media and want to schmooze. Bowery Ballroom has a schmoozing
room–with its own bar–big enough to hold an entire Manhattan-in-’99
guest list’s worth of synergy-crazed yahoos.

On top of that add top-notch sound, unobstructed sightlines, a bilevel auditorium
resembling Irving Plaza’s but with a cozier, more caringly detailed and
overall classier feel than that 70s relic on E. 15th St., and you’ve got
a much better place to catch nationally touring acts than New York’s had
in quite a while. Judging by recent bookings, it’s looking like a lot of
great bands see it that way, too.

Best Television Series
The Sopranos
Badda Bing Badda Boom Boom Boom.
We weren’t going to write this one after The Sopranos swept the
Emmys, figuring it would be, no pun intended, overkill. Then we woke up: The
Sopranos
could not possibly sweep the Emmys. What were we thinking?
The Sopranos was too smart and adult for the networks in the first place,
so naturally it was too smart and adult to sweep the network-dominated Emmys.
The Emmys are like the Oscars–an industry award, not an esthetic judgment.

Still, that the show got all those nominations, and won a few, is another crack
in the networks’ dike. Now we’re wondering if a p.c. anti-Sopranos
backlash is next. The Sopranos is anti-Italian. The Sopranos is
anti-black, anti-Jewish, anti-finook. (All right, we’re just guessing
at the spelling there. Fock you.) The Sopranos is degrading to women.
And Jerseyites. It glorifies violence and crime and vulgarity. It makes psychiatrists
look bad, and senior centers. The Sopranos is okay, but Oz is
really better, because it sends a better message about crime. And so on. So
we just want to go on the record: The Sopranos is probably the best tv
series made for adults in the last 20 years, with some of the best acting and
writing ever, handsomely wearing the mantle of Goodfellas and the Godfather
series, light-years ahead of the best the networks have to offer. The Sopranos
makes NYPD Blue look about as “sophisticated” and “adult”
as Blue’s Clues–just as Sex and the City, which we don’t
think is very good really, does at least make Ally McBeal look about
as “sexy” and reality-based as Sabrina.

Now a word to the finooks at HBO: Since you’re not going to start the
new series until January, why not run the first-season reruns yet again this
fall? The fans are jonesing and will gladly watch those episodes a third time
while they’re waiting for the new shit. Meanwhile you’ll capitalize
on all the new viewers you’ll get.

Best Reason to Join SAG
Free Restrooms & Hot Tips on Waiter Jobs
Not Ready for Our Closeup.
Recently
we were afforded the luxury of being asked by the New York Chapter of the Screen
Actors Guild to join their exclusive AFL-CIO union. Not being ones to turn down
a chance at a possible union gig, we gladly accepted the offer and forked over
well above a grand. What we got in return was a card with our name on it, an
enamel pin with their name on it and some useless literature about how
to find an agent and get acting jobs. Oh, and biannual dues.

We went and had headshots done, then talked to some of the SAG-affiliated agents.
We were surprised to find them even more full of shit than publishers, film
publicists or the morons of the music business. To put it in three words, we
were bummed.

Then, a few months back, while wandering around midtown, visiting the last
of the local porno houses, we found ourselves in dire need of a restroom. After
asking several restaurants if we could use their facilities and being turned
down, we almost went in our pants. Then we remembered the SAG office at 1515
Broadway (corner of 45th). We rushed into the large building, which also houses
MTV, Billboard and other corporate culture giants, and rushed up to the 44th
floor. There we were met by a nice receptionist and smiling faces. We rushed
to the restroom, did our business in an ultraclean stall and were able to wash
up at our own pace without being rushed.

Exiting the lavatory with a smile on our face, we were greeted by others, who,
like us, were unable to find work within our union. After just a few short minutes
of meaningless babble about De Niro, Lee and Scorsese, the conversation turned
to real employment, and we got some real hot tips on really cool waiting
jobs.

So we thank SAG, not for our chance to be out-of-work actors, but just for
a pot to piss in.

Best One-Person Museum Exhibition
“David Reed Paintings: Motion Pictures”

P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center
Nouveau Traditional.

Reed’s work–bright-hued, Cibachrome-crisp, seductively unscrolling
riffs on painting’s fundamentally porous character–take the Great
Tradition to new, up-to-date highs. Rarely have abstractions looked so relevant.
Reed’s canvases concern sex without depicting people, note our growing
dependence on technology and the media, and turn out to be about painting as
much as anything Caravaggio and de Kooning ever did. More than half a century
after Ezra Pound coined his newsy definition of art, “news that stays news,”
David Reed has gotten the jump on everyone for the look of painting next century.
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, “Motion Pictures”
fits Long Island City’s P.S. 1’s hypercontemporary mission to a tee.
Reed’s late June through August exhibition, like last fall’s “Inside
Out,” an impressive survey of Chinese art organized in conjunction with
the Asia Society, serves as a high-water mark for the P.S. 1-MOMA megamuseum
merger announced last February. One wishes, in fact, all P.S. 1 exhibitions
were as significant as David Reed’s. By contrast, surveys of solidly second-tier
artists like Jack Smith and Ronald Bladen have rapidly sped down the off-ramp
to Dullsville. Alex Katz’s golden-oldie survey, for its part, screamed
for more appropriate placement at a Manhattan museum or the artist’s tony
57th St. gallery, Marlborough.

Best Band Whose Name’s Half-Derived From
a Beatles Album
Hank Williams’ Lonesome Cheatin’
Hearts Club Band
Sergeant Peckerwood.

It was a Sunday night at the East Village’s 9C when we finally caught Hank
Williams’ Lonesome Cheatin’ Hearts Club Band, four guys and a chick
who pay homage to drunken old Hank Sr. We appreciate Hank as much as the next
humans–maybe slightly more–but we weren’t sure what to expect
from these Williamsburg cats. They resembled a fey indie rock version of country
music–three of them even wore matching suits along with their inevitable
cowboy hats.

Still–all Hank, all night long, using acoustic guitar, percussion, stand-up
bass, violin and sampler. And here’s what’s absolutely crucial: There
was no infernal irony or hateful kitsch informing their performance. Rather,
they delivered each song delicately, and with immense respect. A cover band
that devotes itself to mastering Hank Williams’ incredible song catalog,
and pulls it off as well as does Hank Williams’ Lonesome Cheatin’
Hearts Club Band is–and let us be quite clear about this–worth
our time
. And no: as far as we know, they’re never tempted to foul
their sets with any twee, hateful Beatles crap.

Best Unexplored Woodstock ’99 Riot Explanation

The Acts on the Bill
When In Rome, NY…
Korn,
Limp Bizkit and the Chili Peppers, but no cops inside? What the hell
did they expect? That the name of the festival guaranteed peace? Because a name
is all Woodstock ’99 and Woodstock had in common, long before the bonfires.
We’ll make it simple: There was frat rock in 1969. There were tons of dumb,
uncreative, Bermuda-shortsed bullies who drank too much and followed each other
into Neanderthal behavior. But Woodstock was a bunch of hippies! If you want
to make a fair comparison, match your Gaea-loving raver types to 60s flower
people, and the kids who are feeling today’s rap-metal to the ones
who gleefully torched villages in ‘Nam. Why no reporter could recognize
the resemblance Woodstock ’99 bore to the end of rush week at State U.
is beyond us. To claim what happened demonstrates how rock has changed, or how
Xers are different from boomers, is to insult the intelligence of anyone who
understands white American youth.

Ten years ago, fratboys were into being latter-day hippies. They ate shrooms,
wore tie-dyes and went to see the Dead–some dickhead pundit could have
claimed nothing had changed. Now meatheads are dabbling in more outcast
scenes they don’t understand, screwing it up for people who do. What else
is new? It’s called a fucking trend. If it was teen rebellion, it wouldn’t
wear a baseball cap and chant, “Show! Your! Tits!”–that’s
mainstream USA. Woodstock ’99 could have featured actual, establishment-challenging
rap and metal acts, but the promoters didn’t want a fringe party (less
money in that, as it requires good security–black kids and working-class
whiteboys mustn’t ever be allowed to get too rowdy). They wanted a jarhead
party. They got one.

Best Unreported Mets Item
Joe McIlvaine Goes Skinnydipping
Gee, M.

With the exception of a throwaway mention in Bob Klapisch’s subscription-only
ESPN “Insider” online column back in April, the sunbathing habits
of former Mets General Manager Joe McIlvaine have remained in the shade out
in Flushing Meadow. And in lieu of current GM Steve Phillips’ well-publicized
girly problems and Bobby Valentine’s backbiting, maybe it is for the better
that no one knew about McIlvaine being busted in Jensen Beach, FL, this past
April for indecent exposure.

The highly touted New York sports media pulled a Buckner on this one: The McIlvaine
skinny is that the onetime dynasty-builder donned his birthday suit al fresco
in public, thinking he was on a private beach. The locals didn’t take much
of a shine to this move, and in true Florida style, the authorities were summoned.

After calling it an honest mistake, Klapisch did tack on this line that invites
an avalanche of lampooning in any media circus: “His decision to remove
his clothes outdoors still raised eyebrows among baseball people, since he was
such an image-conscious executive while at Shea.” Let’s hope it was
only eyebrows that were being raised.

Best Black-Box Theater
Soho Rep
46 Walker St. (betw. Church St. & B’way)
941-8632
Retrieving the Black Box.

The young sort-of-working actor will find himself crammed into all sorts of
miserable performance spaces in New York. There are the theaters you’ve
got to climb five flights of steps to access, only to find that there’s
no wing space. There are also those 50-seat closets that violate all sorts of
fire codes. There are even–occasionally–parking lots.

But Soho Rep (which is technically on the cusp of Tribeca) is an actor’s
dream–huge and deep, with significant wing space upstage, good acoustics
and no blind spots in the lighting. Downstairs you’ll find a lavish greenroom
about the size of a Brooklyn one-bedroom and clean bathrooms. The theater’s
a quick block from the N train and…we could go on.

We performed at the Dog & Pony variety show at Soho Rep last month, under
the auspices of one of the several groups that rent out the theater. Soho Rep
themselves just finished their festival, and they’re taking time off in
the fall; that means other companies will get the chance to use this excellent
space.

Best Disappointing Museum Exhibition
“The American Century: Art & Culture
1900-1950″
Whitney Museum of American Art
Halftime.

Full of state-of-the-art geegaws, courtesy of the Intel Corporation, Part I
of this long-awaited and much hullabalooed show takes brilliant examples of
American art and disrespectfully sets them next to tv monitors and video projections
of, among other things, Busby Berkeley musicals and spinning covers of Vogue,
Life
and McClure’s magazines. The message delivered by the exhibition’s
abundance of bells and whistles is simple: the art by itself is not enough,
as it often gets in the way of the entertainment. New Whitney director Maxwell
Anderson turns what could have been a brilliant debut into a losing version
of Washington, DC’s Air and Space Museum. If Anderson were a football or
a basketball coach, bets would be on to see whether he’d make it past New
Year’s.

Best Revival of Hee Haw on Fox 5
McCarver & Murcer Doin’ Yankee Games
Pickin’ and Grinnin’.

After a few innings of watching Tim McCarver and Bobby Murcer broadcast Yankee
games on Fox, the question is, “Who’s got the banjo?” Not one
but two twanging Southerners settin’ on the short porch watchin’
a ballgame, fumbling pop culture references, using words like “gloaming.”
They feel like sinners when they have to read those impertinent Fox promos about
real-life traumas and veiled buggery captured on home video.

We watched the launch of the new Southern Party on C-SPAN the other day, and
know there is cause for alarm: Might the Yankees be subverted by these on-air
Rebs? Oklahoma (Murcer) and Tennessee (McCarver) make for a mean combination.
When Snuffy Smith replaces Bob Sheperd as the p.a. announcer at the Stadium,
then we’ll know this whole hillbilly-baseball thing has gone too far.

Best Local Underground Rappers
Sir Menelik and Godfather Don
Murderin’ the Rhythm.
The
albums these two Kool Keith associates delivered this year each provide a megadose
of the new-music, new-lyrics kinda hiphop that Keith talks about but hasn’t
delivered since Dr. Octagon. Sir Menelik, who as Scaramanga put out Seven
Eyes, Seven Horns
(Sun Large/Fat Beats) in late ’98, had some cameos
on that 1996 alterna-rap classic and is currently working on a Rawkus album;
Godfather Don is known for the single “Properties of Steel” and an
EP he did with Keith called “Cenobites” (Fondle ‘Em)–his
new album is called Diabolique (Sneak Tip/Hydra). Both of these guys
revive the maverick spirit of Ultramagnetic MCs by ignoring current “urban”
fashion to make hiphop music that will last. Seven Eyes, Seven Horns
and Diabolique aren’t for people who think Swizz Beats and Timbaland
ride the vanguard–but we’ll see who gets the “Platinum Edition”
reissue in about 10 years. Their writing is so dense and abstract that Menelik’s
and Don’s mic performances are halfway to bebop scat, and yet their words
are delivered with so much stylized authority that their point comes through.
The music is bugged-out, buzzing like a hive of hornets, chasing the beats over
the horizon and into the hectic, alien land where these artists roll. They’re
perhaps just the latest to step through the door that Wu-Tang kicked open, but
Sir Menelik and Godfather Don are so unique, independent-minded and skilled
it’s hard to imagine even the suffocating confines of the rap industry
circa 1992 holding them back. Every sound they make comes across like it had
to be.

Best Entertainment Lawyer
Andrew Krents, Esq.
Law Offices of Jonathan Schafrann
277 Park Ave. (betw. 47th & 48th Sts.)
702-9680
Or should we say “Entertaining”?
We first met Andy some years ago at CBGB.
At the time he was a high school student with big ambitions and an even bigger
mouth. He told us of his plans to one day become a lawyer, and we hoped like
hell that if he did, he would stay out of the street, as cars tend to speed
up around his type.

Years later, when we ran into Andy again, he was now an up-and-coming legal
eagle. He told us of the many entertainers he was working with, and all the
different kinds of cases he was handling. We were impressed. We’d imagined
he’d end up a sort of lowbrow Alan Grubman, but found him to be a high-class
version of Broadway Danny Rose.

Krents handles a full spectrum of artists, ranging from major rock acts you’d
see on television to those you’d find under a rock, like Furious George.
Besides entertainment law, which is really just yelling at label bosses and
getting your paralegal to mark up form contracts, Krents is very good at working
with all types because of his adaptable personality and disarming charm. But
don’t be fooled. A reptile is a reptile, and Andy can slime his way around
with the best of them.

Tell him we sent you, maybe he’ll knock a grand or two off our bill.

Best Jukebox
O’Connor’s
39 5th Ave. (betw. Bergen & Dean Sts.) Brooklyn, 718-783-9721
Juke City King.

In some ways, O’Connor’s is pretty much the same place it was when
we named it “Best Brooklyn Bar” in 1996. The room still has an appealing
ramshackle air about it, the lighting is still admirably dim and a bottle of
Bud still costs only two bucks. But the joint has quietly undergone a number
of recent changes, and some of these have not been for the better. The clientele,
which once leaned heavily toward the old-man demographic, is now dominated by
the twentysomething tat-and-pierce crowd, which in turn has led to the most
disheartening change of all: titular bartender Patrick O’Connor’s
self-imposed relegation to the daytime shift (as he put it at the time, “The
customers are getting younger and I’m not”).

One change, however, we can heartily applaud: the jukebox. While the tavern’s
old 45 juke was a doozy, it rarely seemed to work properly and its sound was
tinny at best. But the new CD jukebox, tended and fussed over by primetime bartender
Spike Priggen (who also installed a new sound system), now stands as the finest
juke in the city, stocked with an eclectic and remarkably tasteful mix of r&b,
punk, 60s garage pop, indie, blues and country. Not only isn’t there a
bad album on this machine–you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad song.
While Spike’s programming is often just a step sideways from what you’d
expect (he refuses to stock the machine with discs by jukebox staples Johnny
Cash and Patsy Cline, for example, “because too many people think those
are the only country artists who ever recorded”), the musical mix nonetheless
sounds classic, like a great free-form radio show with no commercials and no
DJ chatter.

Best Metal Concert
Iron Maiden at Hammerstein Ballroom
July 17
Maiden Without Tears.

We love putting the words “metal” and “concert” together.
Does it seem oxymoronic? Outdated? (See: “rock opera.”) It shouldn’t–especially
in the case of Iron Maiden.

This band is armed with three guitarists and a song list that’s two decades
long. The Maiden formula hasn’t changed: staggeringly intricate harmonies,
a wailing tenor lead vocalist, virtuosic bass, concept albums and idiotic stage
sets that have over the course of the years included Egyptian tombs, medieval
battlefields and the captain’s quarters of a scarred old galleon. Sometimes,
just for the hell of it, Maiden uses all of these motifs, one after the other,
in a two-hour period, and makes up its own gargantuan myth: The Metal Concert.
Iron Maiden “stripped down” at the Mercury Lounge? Never. Maiden at
the Museum of Natural History? Maybe.

We took our seats in the balcony at the Hammerstein, fully expecting a walk
down memory lane and a couple of laughs. The show had been sold out for months.
We were with Jeff, an old, old friend of our late brother Joshua. Maybe we expected
a good cry.

Jump to midway through the set. The band segues into “Phantom of the Opera,”
a deep, deep cut. The concert reaches critical mass. The floor is a seething
phalanx of obese young men, and everyone in the balcony, the older crowd, is
kneeling. Just completely blown away. We’re breathing through our
mouth. We look over our shoulder and notice, without surprise, that Flipper
is slouched in the row right behind ours. He is, as usual, sporting cutoffs,
tennies and a head full of split ends. The joint between his lips has fizzled
out. He looks at us mournfully. We hadn’t seen him since 1985, when Maiden
was on the Powerslave tour.

From this far away, the guys in the band look the same as they always have.
Scraggly hair, ill-fitting jeans, puffy white sneakers. Maybe a little thicker
around the middle, who knows? The singer still behaves like the Samsonite simian,
loping all over the stage, vibrato-ing and bellowing like he’s the alpha
male, back in season, and we all know it. Every note, every perfectly timed
unison bass, guitar and vocal run says: Take that. Even the new songs, the ones
that the crowd can’t sing along to, sound like someone dancing on a grave.
Even Jeff, whose metal bullshit meter has a hair trigger, thinks Maiden, ca.
1999, is awesome.

One more thing: Iron Maiden never changed its logo. Never softened its razory
edges or streamlined it in any way. We notice this when some helpful soul furls
a bedsheet banner off the balcony. Unfortunately, it’s hung upside down
and backwards.

Best Film Book of the Summer
Seven,
by Richard Dyer
Auteur! Auteur!
After writing White, an important, monumental (and ignored) study of
the predominance and invisibility of racial power in modern culture, British
film critic Richard Dyer returns with Seven. As part of the BFI Modern
Classics series, this is virtually a postscript to White; Dyer uses David
Fincher’s 1995 killer thriller to extend his critique of social position–the
“highest point of aspiration”–relentlessly perpetrated in Western
art. Applying his usual trenchant perception and scholarly interpretation, Dyer
makes more of Seven than it deserves yet that only makes it the summer’s
most readable film book.

Will Dyer prove that Fincher, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker and photographer
Darius Khondji have made a great art work or just a resonant piece of pop exploitation?
That’s the book’s moral and esthetic suspense plot–abstract,
detailed and about as good as non-auteurist film criticism can be. Superb descriptive
chapters on the movie’s sound design and photography are vivid, almost
convincing artistic defenses. Dyer’s rational taste kicks in with the summary:
“Religion and culture provide the grandeur of a perception of sin and despair,
and there is a funny kind of consolation in this, but neither provides hope,
salvation or cure. We are left with the more modest possibilities of human goodness.”
Accepting Seven‘s modest (at best) achievement comes from Dyer’s
structuralist, sociological frame of mind. Like Morgan Freeman in Seven,
Dyer becomes the detective with a conscience, turning forensics into literature.

Best Party
Bang the Party
726-1322
Bang-Shang-a-Lang.
Promoters
Lorie Caval and longtime NYPress stalwart E-Man started Bang the Party
(BTP) at Chrystie St.’s 205 Club, and when it began, the only other real
competition was Sunday’s “Body & Soul.” But we liked Bang
better. It was smaller, sweatier and definitely funky. We’d get there at
11 and stay until four, dancing all night long until our tank top was transparent
with sweat. After 205, the party moved to the yuppie-laden Bar 13. The rhythmless
nonbelievers didn’t stop the dancers from crowding out the two-steppers
and bringing more soul to that tired strip of University Pl. than it had ever
seen.

For many months since, Bang the Party has held court the first Friday of each
month at Baktun on W. 14th St. Here, E-Man and his guests spin the deepest,
funkiest house music around. Lately, new initiates have been inducted into the
Bang tribe, an ever-growing nomadic family of dancers, musicians, house heads
and just plain freaks. Everyone smiles and acts courteously, which is an anomaly
in this city.

But the funkiest of the funk gets laid down at Frank’s Lounge in Brooklyn.
Every Friday of the month (except the first, of course), E-Man and a revolving
cast of guest DJs crowd into Frank’s tiny booth to spin the stuff they
won’t understand in Manhattan. The dancers dance harder, the sweat is stanker
and the vibes are the deepest at about 3 in the morning when E-Man and friends
have whipped the crowd into an ecstatic trance. For lots of dancers, it’s
therapy, and a weekly trip to Bang is far more effective than a 50-minute hour
on anyone’s couch.

Best Victim of Rock-Critics’ Misunderstanding
Elliott Smith
Mr. Misery.
He’s
not much of victim. His major-label debut, XO, sold well and made all
the critics’ year-end lists. But damn near every article on Elliott Smith
missed the story, and it’s one that, if reported, would have earned him
a lot more listeners. Here it is: Elliott Smith is that one-per-decade guy.
He can write, sing, play and perform as well as anybody out there, and nobody
out there his age brings the whole package like he does. Seeing Smith, last
fall, get that just-another-troubadour treatment made us sad. Only the Times
Ben Ratliff focused on the music, naming George Harrison and Elvis Costello
as Smith’s singer-songwriter peers. Everyone else wrote about how Smith’s
lyrics seem melancholy, his demeanor depressed. Elliott is morose. Elliott is
a drinker. Elliott is a recovering addict. Elliott didn’t win the Oscar
he was nominated for. Elliott wears black. Hey, interviewers–ever consider
that maybe the reason he didn’t seem all that cheery is that he spends
most of his life making beautiful, life-affirming music, but at the moment he
was forced to hang out with you?

Best Showbiz Up-And-Comer
Jesus
Oh Baby Baby Jesus.

Our redneck relatives were totally baffled by all the how-dee-do over the sexual
escapades of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Because anybody familiar with Baptist
and Pentecostal and Holiness churches–not prissy liberal pricks who’ve
never stepped into a service–knows that preachers are like musicians; they
dog around. They drink. And, when they get on a mic in a church and the whole
house opens up their hearts, some sort of strange magic happens and the room
gets open like it would if an extraordinary musical experience were going down.
People really do react to it physically. The Holy Ghost–at least
what it feels like to be filled with the Holy Ghost–is very, very real.

We saw a great Christian rapper get shafted by KRS-ONE on MTV’s The
Cut
. The man clearly had skills–the melody and the metaphors, and a
real nice way of jump-cutting between English and Spanish. The song was 100
percent Jesus–unapologetic. He was testifying. And he was rocking
the fucking house. KRS-ONE gave him a low number, and subsequently he lost to
some chumpy folksinger.

Now, check it out: Christian rappers, Christian rock bands, even pastors whose
tone and sensibility lay a little closer to Chuck D than to Benny Hinn–they’re
proliferating like a motherfucker. The basis of soul music was gospel music–listen
to a Sam Cooke record and you can pick out the parts where the word “Jesus”
was replaced by “Baby.” Something big is brewing out there. Think
about it: 2000 years of Christianity. That’s a lot of momentum right there.
And basically it’s a pretty simple religion. It says: You’re human.
You fuck up. You do things that end up making you unhappy. Now, all you have
to do is believe in this one guy, and God will forgive you. Dig: “For God
so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes
in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We could get into
a big boring argument about what everlasting life means, we could give a fuck
about the pie-in-the-sky scenario. When we hear music that gets into us and
opens us up–the Beatles, Duke Ellington, hell, the fucking new Britney
Spears single–that feeling, that rush of an invincible feeling, that’s
everlasting life to us.

Now, Christ is anathema to y’all New York hipsters (Jah Ras Tafari and
the Buddha are curiously exempt from religious prejudice), but that’s okay.
One day you might realize that Christianity does not equal Puritanism, and that
letting a bunch of assbackwards conservatives have sole possession over the
interpretation of one of the most beautiful pieces of literature in history
(read the Psalms of David, the Book of Revelations and the Song of Solomon and
then we dare you to disagree with us) is dumber than, say, handing Shakespeare
over to the Idaho militiamen and letting them interpret what they will out of
it. We think that in the next century, music and Jesus are going to combine
forces and something beautiful, undeniable and absolutely huge will come out
of it. You just wait. You’ll see.

Best Bore
Radiohead
ZZZ-Rock.
We
don’t believe anybody actually likes this band, but boy oh boy does everybody
and their mom pretend to or what? Maybe it’s because the Radiohead guy’s
got that weird lazy eye, and it’s cool to like bands with ugly people in
them. Maybe it’s because people feel like they should like classical music,
or big ol’ pompous smart guy music in general, but they don’t, and
Radiohead is like the same thing–you know, all long and epic-like and nonrepetitive
and stuff–but with guitars instead of like bassoons and stuff. Maybe it’s
because they have three guitar players, and the memory of Skynyrd strikes
a chord deep in the deep deep of anybody’s sentimental core. Plus, Skynyrd’s
drummer was named “Artimus.” But we digress. Maybe people like Radiohead
’cause of that GUNK-GUNK! GUNKGUNK! sound that the guy with all the hair
in his face makes on his guitar just before the chorus of “Creep.”
Anyway, we’re not the people who know the answers–we’re the people
that ask the questions. But this much we can tell you: There’s no stupider
band name ever than “Radiohead.” It’s like, a guy, but his head–it’s
a radio!

And the lyrical content is dumber than a mime on a yoga retreat. Like, fake
plastic trees are bogus, dude! Call the karma police!

Best Subway Singer
James Johnson
Underground Music.

The first time we ever heard James Johnson sing, he transformed a corner of
Penn Station into a smoky blues bar. Dripping sweat while playing acoustic guitar
and singing music made famous by Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, or r&b versions
of folk songs like “If I Had a Hammer,” Johnson took us back to our
childhood.

A conscientious objector to the hiphop revolution, the Louisiana-born, New
York-bred Johnson once told us, “Music should be beautiful. Music should
never be about destruction and hate, and that’s what rap music is.”
We saw Johnson working the 7th Ave. line last month.

Best New Sitcom
Futurama
Future Tents.
Because, among other things, it only seems lowbrow. Like in this scene:
Former pizza delivery boy Fry, transported cryogenically to the 31st century,
tries out the professor’s new smelloscope (which allows you to smell distant
planets) as spaceship captain Leela looks on. Fry: “As long as you don’t
make me smell Uranus.” Leela: “I don’t get it.” Professor:
“I’m sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed that planet in 2020 to stop
that stupid joke once and for all.” Fry: “Oh. What’s it called
now?” Professor: “Urectum.”

Not for nothing, showrunner David X. (“the X stands for Xamuel”)
Cohen’s a Harvard grad with a masters in computer science.

Best Metal Band
Starr
Red Starr.
Adorned
head to toe in red leather, these 90s youth are a throwback to our favorite
era of metal, the Crüe years. Not since Tommy Lee, his penis and company
has a band been so sincere about a genre so silly. Sure there was Ratt, Twisted
Sister, even Poison, but none of them had the flair, style and honesty of Crüe
until Starr.

Led on vocals by Zane Fix, Starr plays the kind of heavy metal that even your
mother would enjoy. Poppy, energetic, melodic and just plain fun. Zane and the
rest of his band (Luke Luv, Kenny Max and Niki Shea) stumble across the stage
in platforms that are too high for them to crawl in, which just makes them all
the more charming. And the songs. We love their songs. “L-U-V in NYC,”
“Sexy Child,” “Little Superstar” and our personal favorite,
“Homework.”

And they have Kaz. Not Kaz the NYPress cartoonist, but Kaz, Fix’s
girlfriend, the band’s costume designer. Not only does she design their
red leather outfits, which look 10 times better than the Romantics’ sissy
outfits ever did, she sews them together herself. And for the icing on the cake,
she’s made red leather armbands with a star on them that look as fashionable
as any Third Reich accessory ever did.

While we would like to keep Starr our secret, seeing them at CBGB and other
local dives, we are aware they belong onstage at the Garden and at the next
Ozzfest. They’re sincere in what they do, preferring us to call them “bubblegum”
or “pop-metal.” But we know what they really are: Two fingers in the
air heavy fucking metal! Viva Starr!

Best Movie Perk
An

Iron Giant
View-Master
See It Tank in 3-D!
One day–maybe soon–you’ll find these at Sotheby’s or a lucky
flea market. Warner Bros. sent them out to media friends to advertise their
summer animated feature The Iron Giant, but the souvenir is a delight
in itself. The redesign improves on the original View-Master, that sharp-edged
brown thing with box-like lenses similar to the clunky tv screens of the 50s
and 60s. A timelessly cool toy, the View-Master gives three-dimensional peeks
at the images included on a disc of doubled slides (one for each eye). You pull
down a lever on the right as if voting for the next vision (subjects ranged
from the Seven Wonders of the World to the 1964 New York World’s Fair).

An instant collector’s item, the Iron Giant View-Master boasts
altogether new, faux-50s lines, circular lenses and a nose bridge with eyepieces
shaped to resemble catlike eyeglass frames. Its body is made of light plastic,
cinnamon-candy colored, with a bright orange lever sticking out from the right
like a psychedelic stop signal. When you click it, the slide-wheel offers 3-D
images of The Iron Giant‘s poster and pages from its website. Old-time
gimmickry meets newfangled technology. Forget the usual t-shirt and baseball
cap inducements; this is ingenious–as all toys should be.

Best Downtown Dance Performance
Dream Analysis
Wet Dream.
Unlike some artsy, talent-free choreographers (Hi, John Jasperse), Mark Dendy
possesses the wit and craft to back up his high-concept ideas. Dream Analysis–which
ran last season at Dance Theater Workshop–is the type of work that reaffirms
that the dance world isn’t really being run by bristly, bunioned
feminist crones. The piece focuses on a young man who’s torn between dreams:
He wants to be both Judy Garland and Nijinksy. By the end of the performance,
the hall’s full of wet seats from the audience’s laughing, crying
and generally ecstatic excreting. Dendy’s reportedly trying to get the
show produced off-Broadway, and we wish him success in doing so.

Best Eminem Ambush
Dennis the Phantom Menace
.
Tax Day, 1999. The front row of the stage-left section of Hammerstein Ballroom’s
mezzanine is taped off and empty during the opening acts’ sets. Every other
spot in the place is occupied by a modern-day beastie boy or girl, enthralled
by Eminem’s brainy decadence, his “scrawny and ornery” wigger
style.

The VIPs show up halfway through the white rapper’s show. They don’t
fit in. All five are significantly older, classier and blacker than the bulk
of the audience. It’s three guys–freshly shaved heads, silk shirts
draped over football-player shoulders, diamond stud earrings–and two fine-boned
beauties who look like they’d sooner wipe their noses on their top-shelf
designer wear than let some man call them a bitch. They’re vibing and flexing
African-American aristocratic power, sipping champagne and red cocktails and
raising eyebrows at each other over the suburban-brat scene around them.

Then, during Eminem’s a cappella freestyle, something happens. The first
couplet has something about spraying Puffy with mace, and surprised giggles
escape the cool cats. Then there’s some shit dissing Master P–it’s
all piling up in rapid-fire, obnoxious rhyme. Eminem is rapping about fucking
with every powerbrokering playa in the industry–even his mentor, Dr. Dre–and
the specifics are so colorfully outlandish (imagine a Calvin and Hobbes
fantasy about whupping Batman) that it’s impossible for anyone familiar
with the self-serious rap game to not picture them and laugh. Soon the VIPs
aren’t even trying to hold back–they’re guffawing at Eminem
as much as with him, but they’re doing it hard enough that it’d be
difficult to argue he hasn’t won them over. It’s not respect he’s
eliciting–Eminem will never get that–more like a grownup view of the
jealous awe strictly-brought-up, middle-class black kids experience when they
first witness the kind of antics their white peers get away with at home. Plus
maybe a pang of residual awe underneath.

During the very next number, someone in the balcony above spills an entire
cup of suds on the jiggy five. The men, furious, with bald domes dripping Budweiser,
try to head upstairs for a confrontation, but a security guard who looks like
a Steppenwolf roadie blocks their path. A minute later the front row of the
mezzanine is empty again.

Best Overrated Art Gallery
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise Corp.
436 W. 15th St.
(betw. 9th & 10th Aves.)
627-5258
Drink Too Much, Puke on Painting, Call It Art.

This year it’s, hands down, Gavin Brown; the only gallery with a built-in
bar and a noxious bar scene. Get ready to overhear conversations like this:
Um, doesn’t that guy look like Jamiroquai? Or: I heard Bowie
was here last week.
Being there is like hearing a symphony of nails grate
across a blackboard. And what about that pretentious name?

Best Summer Film Festival
Newport International Film Festival
Green Screen.

In Newport, RI, of all places, kinda off the beaten path (no direct flights
from Cannes or to Telluride), but the June 5 weekend brought excellent weather
to a spot quiet and cozy enough for you to actually think about the movies rather
than the biz. Among the fare was George Hickenlooper’s film version of
the Orson Welles script The Big Brass Ring (starring William Hurt, who
won the Festival Jury’s lone acting prize) and Rory Kennedy’s documentary
American Hollow. An assortment of panels offered heated (yet air-conditioned)
debate on the state of cinema. In between movies you could tour Newport itself–a
place of special interest to filmgoers who remember how the credit sequence
for Reversal of Fortune featured aerial shots of the area’s grand
estates. Hourly tours take you there, visiting robber baron haunts as well as
the backgrounds to that Jeremy Irons-Glenn Close melodrama. And in the evenings,
the festival’s parties mixed local enthusiasts and filmmakers at several
of Newport’s historic summer cottages (mansions to you outsiders)–including
a big clambake on closing night.

This film festival is the only one in the country featuring greenery as a respite.
It’s a breezy place to take in choice indies and grand remnants of American
social history–just a couple of hours away by a New York train.

Best New Animal Attraction in the Bronx
Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo
Fordham Rd. (Bronx River Pkwy.), the Bronx
718-367-1010
No, Not Fordham’s Freshmen.

There’s more to the Bronx than the Yankees and inner-city despair. The
Bronx Zoo’s come up with a winner of a exhibit: the Congo Gorilla Forest
opened in June to rave reviews from simian lovers all around New York.

What’s it all about? The new exhibit’s a 6.5-acre habitat that contains
the largest breeding group of lowland gorillas in North America. If you want
to visit on the cheap, stop by on Wednesdays when admission to the zoo is free.
Otherwise the freight’s $7.75 for adults, $4 for seniors and children between
two and 12. And the new gorilla exhibit’s so popular that it costs an extra
three bucks to get in.

But it’s worth the coin. First you watch a short film about the African
low-mountain ecosystem. Then the film ends, the screen rises and–whoa!–gorillas
behind glass, staring their human cousins down! (If you have toddlers, by the
way, be prepared–this gambit always stimulates a mad rush toward the window.
Sometimes the animals are on the wrong side of the glass.) After the screening
room business, you walk down a long corridor and check out the gorillas hanging
out in their big, happy families.

The exhibit gets crowded, and the wait to get in can be more than an hour.
But if you come early, around 10 a.m., or after 4 p.m., you’ll usually
wait no longer than 15 minutes.

Best DIY Record Label
Vital Music
DIY Still Rules.

In an era when even “independent” labels are attached to the tentacles
of some multinational corporation somewhere along the way, it is ultra-refreshing
to see the local Vital Music Records still cranking out releases after a decade
now. Formed in 1989 by Tom Cassar, bass player of the Sea Monkeys, the label
got its first boost with the awesome collection of 7-inch 45s they released
to combat the crap Sub Pop was pushing from Seattle at the time. Vital released
singles from locals like Karen Black, the Lunachicks, Ween, Alice Donut, Iron
Prostate (pre-Furious George Tabb), Mr. T. Experience and many more. The records
sold like crazy, and this gave Tom and company the money they needed to continue
to do bigger and better things.

One of these was a version of Tommy condensed to seven minutes–the
whole rock opera in seven minutes, a blazing medley of all the songs performed
by more than 12 bands in less time than it takes to listen to “Baba O’Riley.”
And things didn’t slow down after that. Vital went on to release more than
50 records, and they now distribute independent releases from all over the world.
With 5000-plus releases in their catalog (which can be yours for free by calling
777-5021 or writing to P.O. Box 210, NYC 10276-0210) there is quite literally
something for everyone there.

For remaining truly independent and not sucking the ass of any corporations,
no way no how, we salute this Do It Yourself record label. We also enjoy the
monthly rock shows at Vital’s offices, with performances by acts they either
record or distribute. Call them for info on that, too. Or just call them to
tell them they rule.

Best Gallery Exhibitions
Christian Schumann at Postmasters
Inka Essenhigh at Jeffrey Deitch
Alex Ross at Mary Boone
Bright Lights.

All exhibitions of newly rejuvenated, tack-smart, art world-reforming painting,
the work of these three accomplished young artists puts the final lie to the
inane, retrograde desire of certain conceptual and/or multiculti-minded folks
to consign painting to the trashbin of history (imagine!). Willing to
take previously politicized postmodernism at face value, this troika of artists
spearheads what is today a fearless new movement in painting. Ready for anything,
Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross pump style and painterliness for all they’re
worth, eschewing grand narratives and mincing ironies in the same breath, while
shamelessly getting at projects that engage meaning. Each in his or her inimitable
way–Schumann via wacky victims and perps, Essenhigh through disporting,
acid-colored mugwumps and Ross through the endless suggestion served up by his
green biomorphic figures–at once take on figuration and abstraction, pop
culture and the canon, the painterly concerns of Duccio and the conceptual strategies
of Duchamp. Together with other painters like Karen Davie, Lisa Yuskavage, John
Currin, Lisa Ruyter and Michael Bevilacqua, Schumann, Essenhigh and Ross represent
at least the beginning of a new beginning (if not a dawning in their own right).
In a word, the work of these three painters deserves the art world’s ultimate
compliment: Their efforts might easily turn out to be the most “radical”
development of the decade.


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