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10 August 2009

Happily Ending Aftermath

Here are notes on the installment of the Happy Ending Music & Reading Series which I curated last week at Joe’s Pub. They’re accompanied by an edited set of pictures. (There are a ton more photos here on Flickr.) You can read the basic info on what you missed right here — bios of the participants and such. The good news it was sold out! That several people dressed up! That we scared at least one participant’s grandmother! That one of the guests revealed a nude photo of themselves live on stage! (I won’t tell who. Something secrets are for those who came.)

More rabbinical commentary in line with the full-sized photos after the jump.

Some of the participants meet backstage. Left to right: Arone Dyer, Colin Stetson, me (with seared tuna), and Brandon Stosuy.

Apparently my deepest wish is to be mistaken for a mime.

Scratch that. My deepest wish is to be mistaken for a drunken clown.

Colin Stetson provided an opening invocation, sans introduction, all the better to put the audience in the frame of mind that this reading would not be like all other readings. Watching him play is like watching a great athlete. His music leaves him exhausted, breathless. A number of audience members told me that his brief, six minute piece was the highlight of the night.

Next Happy Ending’s founder, Amanda Stern, got up to tell the audience why she had decided to turn the night over to me. She is very funny. But still, she’ll probably be upset if she ever sees that this is the picture of her I selected. (Despite appearances she’s not telling the audience to go fuck themselves.)

The two Aron(e)s of Buke & Gass followed. That’s Arone Dyer on the left, she of soaring voice & giggly charm. Instrument maker Aron Sanchez is on the right, pictured with his Gass (that is pronounced “gace” as Arone corrected me on stage). One numerologically and alphabetologically notable fact that, as of the night before the reading, Buke & Gass had 666 MySpace friends and that their Top Friends included the bands Big A Little A and Zs.

Rachel Cohen combined two passages from her book A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists focusing on interactions between the artists Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp and the poet Marianne Moore. She punctuated her reading with some passages from a book of Cornell’s actual letters. Cornell & Duchamp came up several times throughout the night, providing a nice through line. But the particular value of Cohen’s reading was how she talks about artists — not as audiences perceive them or as critics analyze them, but in the way artists understand themselves and each other as peers.

In introducing her, I read a passage from an interview with a musician I’ve worked with in the past, cellist Erik Friedlander. In it he cuts right to the heart of how artistic scenes actually function.

    “Little communities of like-minded musicians have a ‘scene’ but then these little scenes morph as musicians from other scenes join in, other players leave on tour, poeple move out of town or new amazing players show up, close friendships lose momentum and breakup, older players reach out to younger musicians for fresh ideas or to have their own ideas fulfilled by players who won’t question their authority. It’s a mad, sane, exuberant, inspiring and troubling community of very talented people.”

Cohen nails this dynamic, cold.


I introduced Brandon Stosuy (left) as my oldest contiguous friend. I’ve known him since high school when he published the zine White Bread and I worked on my own zine project, Jaboni Youth. I’m not sure if I set the audience expectations for Brandon’s reading very low or very high when I shared that, the previous week, he masterminded an opening at the Chinatown gallery Dispatch during which he got a tattoo of a Mayan looking bird; a dude played blazing black metal guitar solos; and a mutual friend peed on a bunch of candy which was then eaten by a famous artist who participated in the show.

In any event, Brandon presented some passages from his in-progress oral history on American black metal. People were delighted and confused when he was joined on stage by my west coast friend Matt Luem (right) whose eight months pregnant wife had kindly granted him leave to reprise his role as a black metal auteur, having memorized passages from Brandon’s oral history. The reading came with musical accompaniment via laptop.

Writer, professor, and cultural investigator Lawrence Weschler — known to friends & acquaintances as “Ren” — brought his seniority into sharp focus with a series of quirky, free associative observations and set-pieces framed by the phrase “And that reminds me…” It was a risky presentation, one that only someone with a deep well of experience, anecdotes, and insight could pull off. His riffs touched upon the artists Robert Irwin, Marcel Duchamp, and Joseph Cornell; the results of his own childhood Rorschach test; and the dangers of being a passenger in Irwin’s car.

I introduced Weschler with a quote from his book about Irwin, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of The Thing One Sees, in which he refers to the artist as “A man who got hooked on his own curiosity and decided to live it.” I think of this, also, as a perfect description of Ren’s life & career. And, in this way, he closed out the night providing inspiration to us all.

Pictured here backstage after the show, left to right, are Rachel, Amanda & Matt.

Unfortunately we ran out of time and Buke & Gass were unable to present their second set which was to include their rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop.” In the interest of completion, here is a YouTube of Lauper’s original, followed by a second song that will give you a sense of the afterparty which followed. And so until next time, good night.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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  1. On 2009-8-10 k-sky said:

    Luem looks amazing. And you’re a handsome drunken clown.

  2. On 2009-9-19 Amanda said:

    “But still, she’ll probably be upset if she ever sees that this is the picture of her I selected.”

    You are correct. You are evil.

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