Monday, February 25, 2013

Between Songs: Hellos to Connie, Goodbyes to Judith, Michele and the Living Theater

It was a lovely week of theater and friends.  Some of us met to hear the stories of a long lost pop singer, who never quite made it.  In between, we said goodbye to a few friends and embraced some new ones. 

Brennan invited us to the Rattlestick Theater deep in the West Village to see my old Vassar buddy Howard Fishman sang about Connie Converse and her world of music, in between a struggle just to find a space where her voice could just fit in.  She never seemed to find that space.  Instead Fishman recalled, she sent goodbye notes and drove off in her VW bug never to be seen from again. We've all felt like we couldn't fit in at some point in our lives, Fishman confessed in his final soliloquy. 

Sometimes setbacks are just too much.  Dad and I talked about those we've known who've suffered Alzheimer's after setback after setback, tragedy and loss.  A mother loses a son to suicide; a newly watches her husband do himself in after two days of marriage.  Sometimes the pain is just too much. And the mind, the body can't shake it.  My students who work in emergency rooms, in hospitals, in hospices, and clinics.  We talk about this.  Yet how we shake out the pain? People take different approaches.  I try to ride and dance, to sing and listen to as much music as I can.  Still buzzing about all the dancing at the living theater, from a week prior, I enjoyed talking Judith Malina on Friday. 

Cars were parked in the bike lane on my way over the theater.

"Don't forget about the person you've never met," she explained to me. Don't forget the person out there suffering she implored me. 

Probably the most lovely octogenarian I've never met, we talked about the living theater, dancing, the police, invisible and ways the whole of life is a stage.   I told how much I had loved dancing in her theater and watching her in her plays such as Maudie and Jane, with Monica Hunken.   "She is a wonderful actress," she told me, referring to Hunken.  Her theater is closing and she is moving away.I thanked Malina for helping New York have a revolutionary space where marching bands collide with disaster relieve efforts, stories, plays, jail support, and revolutionary theater.

The next morning, Dodi and I went to Kensington Stables, greeting horses and new friends.

Throughout the day, I romped around the city, seeing buddies, napping, going on bike rides, and walking through the community gardens for a goodbye walk in honor of  Neil Smith. A brilliant critical geographer, Smith's writing helped me see New York's neighborhoods and their conflicts, in a richer, global context I had never imagined when I first started thinking about these neighborhoods fifteen years ago.  Smith helped us see a dialectic in the streets, parks, and riots of the East Village.  This was the same dialectic Donna Schaper talked about the next day with a comma rather than a period at Judson. There are other ways of looking at things than with periods and absolutely.

Early Saturday, my friend Malav dropped an email reminding us the walking tour was still on:
This is a friendly reminder that we are kicking off our radical walking tour of the Lower East Side in memory of Neil's tours this afternoon. We'll begin at 2:30pm at Astor Place; make a stop at Vazacs’s Horseshoe Bar (108 Avenue B, a favorite stop on many of Neil's tours) around 5pm; and finally, we will move to Bluestockings at 7pm for a salon and cozy gathering, where we will read some of Neil's field notes and share our Neil-inflected stories and memories. 
We are meeting rain or shine, and hope to see you there!
Radical Walking Tour of the Lower East Side... in memory of Neil Smith and his walking tours
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Rain or shine!

2:30 pm — Meet at the Astor Place Cube at the intersection of Astor Place/8th Street/Lafayette Street - across from the Astor Place 6 Train, Close to the N/R 8th Street stop. 
5:00 pm — Vazacs’s Horseshoe Bar, 108 Avenue B (at E. 7th Street). 

7:00 pm — Join us at Bluestockings Bookstore for a Neil Smith Salon with friends, students & comrades of Neil, 172 Allen Street (between Stanton and Rivington). 

Tonight’s salon celebrates the life of Neil Smith (1954-2012), renowned radical geographer, condemner of the capitalist city, powerful agitator for the small and large cause, and gentle teacher, friend, comrade to many. We honor his memory by exploring Neil’s more curious and ruminative side by reading from his field notes, stories, and ephemera. Notebooks will be uncreased, words will be interpreted, mystique will be revealed – many dating back to Neil’s first days in the United States. 

It poured on the way over to the tour. I rode past the Elizabeth Street Sculpture garden.

edenpictures' photostream

Photos by Michael Natale,

And the lovely rain drops sparkled in the streets and memories.  It made it all the richer for the large group on hand at the Astor Place Cube.  Throughout our tour, a few talked about the Smith's revolution walking tours during his seminars.   I recalled garden heroes including my friend Francoise Cachelin, a veteran of the French resistance, who saw the radical potential of a community garden. We talked about crickets, resistance, reclaiming streets, gardens saved, unsaved, new gardens, and those vacant lots we need to turn into new community gardens.

 My first garden tour in 1999, with reclaim the streets.
Our final stop was ave a where we created our own garden photo by Michael Natale,
Francoise Cachelin

Sunday, we ran through the streets, to Judson, from West Village to East.

Josh played tunes and danced at Living Theater...

 helping us send off the Living Theater and the Michele Hardstey, the legendary singer, drum player, and organizer who formed Rude Mechanical all those years ago in 2004, played with Hungry March Band, and commuted between Brooklyn and Western Mass while performing with Apocalypse Five and Dime and Occupying Wall Street.  She reminded me that Bartelby the Scrivener would have been an occupier, helping connect the OWS library with a distinct kind of s struggle, with deep roots. She brought her ukulele to salons on the roof at Christine over the summers and helped connect music and politics, singing Billy Holiday songs while romping around New York from her days in Reclaim the Streets. She'll be spending more time away from town now.  But we're glad she graced us with her music and its connections with cultural resistance over the years.

Jim Eigo wrote about a dialog between generations of activists we've seen in the last few months of AIDS activism with the loss of Spencer Cox and the nomination of How to Survive a Plague, a film about his activism, for an academy award.  

Friends dropped by to watch the awards, while AIDS activists chimed in from a live blog.
I didn't imagine How to Survive would win. Friends dropped by as we watched the Oscars.  Others live blogged as they waited and posted  pressing readings of this history.  Waves of appreciation rolled through me watching "Silence = Death" roll across the screen. 

Friends dropped by and the words 'Silence=Death' flashed across the screen before Ben Affleck announced the  winner. 

Finding Searching for Sugerman, another amazing story about a musician lost and found, won, unlike Colleen Converse.

After it was done, Babs walked out to sing "Memories."  Jay Blotcher reminded us: "Thank you Barbra for making us all stop for a minute to count our blessings and to take stock of the richness of our lives... and to think about those who have left us."  The music in the movies still move me.

So do the stories and what they mean to us.  "It was never about the Oscar" noted Greg Gonsalves. " What was amazing about these past few months is how we all came together again, first around the filming of How to Survive a Plague, then the film's release, through the agony of Spencer's death. We've suffered so much loss, but no one could have predicted that this family writ large was still out there, this band of activists from coast to coast, that has survived to support each other once again."

Thanks so Michel, Judith, Fancoise, Connie Converse, Spencer and all the heroes and unsung heroes out there through the years. Towards the end of the night, someone posted an Adele song capturing the sentiment of the night.  It felt good to think of her and all of them.

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