Thursday, July 26, 2012

We're Lost In Music

We Are Family, The Greatest Dancer, Like A Virgin, Notorious, Let's Dance, I Need Your Love, Good Times, I'm Coming Up, Upside Down... What do all these great dance hits have in common? They were written and produced by the incomparable Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, back in the days of Disco.
I hated Disco when I was growing up. I thought it was tacky and stupid. Of course, now I love it, but then I turned up my nose at it. However, as soon as I heard the unmistakable sound of Chic, I thought:  this is good. This is good Disco. A funky, classy, robust, pared down sound (no tacky oingo boingos) that made me want to get down. It boils down to this: the fantastic baselines of Bernard Edwards (may he rest in peace) and the urgent, buoyant, contagious signature rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers. Plus excellent arrangements (listen to that piano in We Are Family, or the horns in I'm Coming Up or I Want Your Love) and the cool female voices. The best Disco music in the history of the cosmos. Period.
Rodgers is one of the greatest producers of hit songs ever.
Chic is chic.
Yesterday, the free concert by Nile Rodgers and The Chic Corporation, as it is now called, at Lincoln Center Out Of Doors was the most delightful concert I've ever attended. There was no drama to get in, as is increasingly the case in other free Summer concerts in the city like the ever annoying Summerstage  and the perpetually mobbed series in Prospect Park. This was a breeze.  I've seen the Stones, U2, Pink Floyd, Springsteen and many others. They have been awesome, but this was sheer joy. 
Mr. Rodgers showed up, amiably taking pictures of the crowd before the show, clearly happy to be there, impeccable in a white suit and dreadlocks, with his backup band all in white. Remarkably humble, he seemed to me, perhaps a sign of the consummate musician that he is, more of a session magician than a star performer. He delivered absolute dancing heaven.
At one point, he stopped playing to let us know, as he pointed to a tall round building in the back of us, that there many of his greatest hits were composed, with Madonna, with David Bowie and with his musical partner Mr. Edwards, one of the greatest electric bass players of all time. He let us know that Chic was NEVER a cover band. They wrote and arranged many amazing hits sung by Diana Ross, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge and many others. But we knew that. Or we should have guessed by the ineffable elegance of most of them. The odd man out is Like A Virgin, which seems to have been composed by Minnie Mouse. Still, it does have its catchy hook.
Rodgers was charming, easy going and youthful looking, even as he confessed about bouts of ill health and taking a walk with a member of Duran Duran on the beach at Ibiza recently, both almost crippled and coughing. He said if he had known he would last so long, he would have taken better care of himself. I can only imagine how Chic partied.
The audience was a great mix of young and old, black and white, lucky tourists and people who got down to dance to those amazing tunes. Had you never known what the hell is Chic, you would still recognize all of them incredible dance tunes. In contrast to some of the pop crap we hear today, these songs deserve to be monster hits. Their influential riffs and baselines have been appropriated by countless artists.
Chic has been nominated four times to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's about time it gets in.

Monday, July 16, 2012

McCarren Pool

Only in New York does going to a public pool feel like entering a maximum security prison, but that is the fun to be had on an adventurous outing to our brand spanking renewed McCarren pool in the edges of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Those who are dying to splash around in a sea of hipsters should probably relegate themselves to weekends. I went on a tranquil Tuesday morning and although hipsters were in attendance (to their credit, you can still tell them apart in a bathing suit), so was everybody else. Old Polish men, Hispanic families, Black families, non-descript white people and everything in between. It was a breeze to get in and the pool was relatively empty. There is a lap swimming section that is delightfully devoid of splashers, but you have to swim laps.
I strongly recommend to visit on a weekday, unless you are a type A personality or you love milling about in interminable lines.
As you approach the entrance, which is peppered with policemen, park rangers and security personnel, you are asked to show the contents of your bag and to produce a sturdy lock. If you have no sturdy lock (none of that wee luggage bullshit), you will be turned away, because the city will not countenance anyone whining about stolen property.
The list of rules is what I assume you have to sign in to when you are welcomed into Alcatraz and short of a cavity search: you can't bring anything with you. No bags, no valuables, no electronics, no arms, no food, no beach chairs, no radio, no nothing. You can bring a hat, a book and sunscreen inside your towel, which you are asked to shake out in front of guards as you exit towards the pool area, after you shower. I loved feeling like a convicted felon as I went for a swim. I'm not kidding. It's what makes this place great.
My eyes get moist at a benevolent administration that spends 50 million dollars in a pool and recreation center that gives FREE access to ALL people. They also give free lunches to kids during the Summer. They have free swim lessons. They have free exercise programs. This is democracy in action. Of course this is also where things may get a tad hairy, but I support cities taking these kinds of gambles and showing people that everybody can enjoy these kinds of programs by consenting to adhere to civilized behavior. Mexico City now has a bike program. I'm sure everybody thought the bikes wouldn't last a day, but if I'm not mistaken, the incidence of bike looting has been negligible if not nil. Our beloved paternalistic mayor Bloomberg and the parks commissioner are betting that with enough police to surround Sing Sing, New Yorkers will be able to enjoy a splash at McCarren pool in peace. I think it will happen. It did the day I went.
So there I was, parking my ass in the hot, hard concrete, another lovely nod to the urban outdoors, swimming in the brisk blue waters and looking at all that humanity, thinking "this is truly delightful".
After my swim, I walked many blocks until I found Pies'n Thighs and I ate three pieces of heavenly fried chicken and cheese grits with a biscuit and I was extremely happy, bordering on ecstatic. I regret foregoing the banana cream pie. When I got home, I read that a floating turd had been found bobbing around in the pool day before and the pool was evacuated for a couple of hours. Was this the reason for the absence of mobs? Perhaps. Oh, well. Let's have some faith. 

Now Showing At A Theater Near You

Take your pick: beefcake soft-porn a la Norma Rae with Magic Mike or the poverty porn of Beasts of The Southern Wild. 

Monday, July 09, 2012

Crocodile Rock

I was crossing a placid, shallow creek that leads to the ocean in Playa Buena Vista, Costa Rica, and when I got ashore, I saw my friends in the other side gesturing with horror.  No more than ten feet from me a rocky shape moved in the water. Our friend Petra, a confident German, ran into the creek and shooed it with her foot. It was a crocodile, about 3 meters (10 feet) long. I was totally calm, safe and sound on the other side. I even made the international gesture for WTF? to Petra.
I never saw it as I crossed. Nothing moved as I crossed. But when it swam away, running away from Petra's foot, thrashing its tail and pushing his head above water, it was awesome and terrifying. And huge. The more I thought about the idea of me having waded only feet away from him, who according to Petra, was coming from where I was, creeped on me up to a slow, extended freak out. The rest of the group would not cross the creek after that.
Petra said crocodiles are shy. I'm lucky he wasn't hungry. I thought Petra had experience, being the manager of our hotel and used to living in the jungle for years. Later on I asked her how long she'd been in Costa Rica and she said 4 months.
I'm so happy I didn't know that then.
I'm relieved that none of us saw the beast as I was crossing, because I don't know if thrashing about like a maniac trying to reach the other side would have been appetizing to him. What does one do? Remain still as with bears, or run for dear life?
Here I was, depleting the world's reserves of DEET, trying not to be eaten alive by insects (I wasn't), only to find that I was close to being a special enchilada dinner for a crocodile. If you don't believe me, here's proof:

Fearless Petra Shooing Croc Away. 

Check out those teeth!