Saturday, August 29, 2015

How Did the Beatles Get Their Name?

Saturday Mystery from NeatORama:

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website
I must have read, in my life, a fair estimate of around 500 or 600 books on the Beatles. I have read each and every one worth reading. I will give most any Beatles book a fair chance, but if I spot more than two or three errors or obvious mistakes, I will just stop reading it and go on to another book.

(As an interesting side note, of these hundreds of actual bios, autobiographies and memoirs, I have only found a handful that did not have some kind of a mistake, error, wrong date, or omission- at least one.)

Many questions involving their fascinating history are undisputed, but many are still debated and are a bit foggy, even to this day. One of these is: how did the Beatles get their name? Okay, let's go back to Liverpool, England in the mid-1950's and do some investigating.

In 1956, John Lennon, a loud-mouthed, but talented teenager, started a group called “The Blackjacks.” This original rock "skiffle" band consisted of John and a few of his close pals. Skiffle groups were groups who played on improvised instruments, such as tea chest bass, washboards, etc.

Though this was the group's very first name, the briefly-named Blackjacks never performed under this name. Lennon soon changed his group's name to “The Quarrymen" (in honor of his current school Quarry Bank High School.) It was as The Quarrymen (sometimes spelled as Quarry Men) that John Lennon and his band actually started singing in public.

This was the band Paul McCartney watched the day he met John on July 6, 1957. This is the band Paul McCartney joined in October of 1957. On February 6, 1958, another local lad, George Harrison, also joined the Quarrymen.

The Quarrymen

It was during this late 1950's period that name changes became frequent. Once, all the members of the group showed up in different colored shirts, so they called themselves “The Rainbows.” At a talent show the boys entered in 1959, they dubbed themselves “Johnny and the Moondogs.” In May of 1960, John and Paul did two small shows by themselves and dubbed themselves “The Nerk Twins.”

In 1960, reputedly, John and his best friend at art college, Stu Sutcliffe, came up with the name “The Beatles.” The story goes that the band loved Buddy Holly and his group "the Crickets.” So the two went through several insect names and finally arrived on “Beetles".

Stu thought of “The Beetles,” but then John, who loved puns and wordplay, thought of changing the spelling to “Beatles,” as they were a beat group. As John was to later elaborate in a 1964 interview: “It was beat and beetles and when you said it, people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music.”

Ironically, Paul recalls everyone telling the band what a lousy name “Beatles" was and urging them to change it. Paul himself says he remembers John and Stu running up to him and anxiously telling him how they had thought of the name “Beatles" the previous night.

In the interim, during the first half of 1960, from officially deciding on the Beatles, the group morphed through "the Beetles,” "the Silver Beetles,” "the Beatals,” "the Silver Beets,” and "the Silver Beatles" -in no particular order. John recalled once being introduced onstage as “Long John and the Silver Beetles.”

(Historical note: in May of 1960, the group did their first tour, a brief series of gigs in Scotland. It was during this tour that the boys changed their individual names: Paul became “Paul Ramon" and George became “Carl Harrison.” John was reputed to have changed his name to “John Silver,” but he always denied this and his version seems to be correct. “I always liked my own name too much,” explained John.)

The “John invented the name Beatles" version was accepted for decades, but two other explanations were to surface after his death in 1980.

In the 1995  documentary Beatles Anthology, George explained that the Beatles came from the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One. In this film, Brando plays a character called “Johnny" and he has a motorcycle gang called "the Beetles" in it.

Beetles. Johnny. Get it? A perfectly logical fit.

This sounds good, except that the film The Wild Onewas banned in England until 1968. This would seem to discount this much-after-the-fact revisionist theory. Curiously, although George first mentions The Wild One genesis theory as early as 1975 in an official interview, he is on record many times in the '60's being asked the question about how the group got their name and he never once mentions the Brando film.

As I see time after time in studying the Beatles, one of the biggest sources of false data in the Beatles' history is the Beatles themselves. Incredibly, in his later years, George once cited the wrong date for his own birthday.

Later, an obscure beat poet named Royston Ellis came forth and claimed he had thought up the Beatles name. Ellis had spent the night hanging out with John and his friend Stu in June of 1960. The fact of this get-together is confirmed and undisputed. On the night in question, during a chat, Ellis asked John about his group's name and John replied “The Beetles.” He asked john how he spelled it and john said “B-E-E-T-L-E-S.”

According to Ellis, he thought of the changing of the spelling to "B-E-A-T-L-E-S" because he was a "beat" poet, beatniks were the rage at the time, and John and Stu fancied themselves part of "the beat scene.”

When John wrote a 1961 comical article for a local paper about how he came up with the name “Beatles,” he jokingly said, “It came in a vision- a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them 'from this day on you are Beatles with an a’.”

Even this explanation gives rise to debate, because Royston Ellis further claims that the night he gave John and Stu the name Beatles, he heated them a chicken pie for dinner, and the pie caught fire in the oven. Thus, Ellis was "the man on a flaming pie.”

Royston Ellis with the Beatles in 1963

Now, John Lennon was well-known to put actual autobiographical occurrences into his songs and his writings throughout his career. Could Royston Ellis actually be the guy who thought of the name the Beatles?

The band went to Hamburg, Germany, to do several months of shows in August of 1960. It was there that they "officially and forever" changed their name to the Beatles.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention one final Beatles name-derivation theory. John's wife, Yoko Ono, claims that john actually thought of the name completely alone, without anyone else's help. According to Yoko, John literally "had a vision of the man on a flaming pie" and that he, alone, thought of the name from this alleged incident.

Which theory do you believe?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

DEVO becomes public art, streets of Akron, Ohio are overrun with Booji Boys

from Dangerous Minds:
DEVO becomes public art, streets of Akron, Ohio are overrun with Booji Boys


On Saturday August 15, 2015, Akron Ohio’s finest post-rubber export DEVO were honored in their hometown with the dedication of a piece of public art. The iconic 1978 Janet Macoska photo of the band in full stage uniform in front of the late, lamented hot dog stand Chili Dog Mac was colorized, enlarged to life size, and placed over that onetime landmark’s former facade next to the Akron Civic Theatre. This dedication is the first part of a planned renovation of that entire block, which has become a bit rundown and suffered vacancies despite having an anchor in the popular theater.

The event was a stone hoot. DEVO’s bassist/co-mastermind Jerry Casale and photographer Macoska were present, free chili dogs were available to all assembled, and the event began with a surreal and hilarious stunt, the Running of the Booji Boys. A couple dozen revelers in identical Booji Boy masks and blue jumpsuits danced in the middle of South Main St while a DJ pumped out DEVO music. The masks, not incidentally, are recreations by Akron’s SikRik Masks. DM has told you about them before. (All photos are by Ron Kretsch except where noted.)











Rick “SikRik” Fisher of SikRik Masks, in a sea of his handiwork. Photo courtesy Fisher.


Following this wonderful bit of insanity, we were treated to reminiscences from Casale and Macoska, a longtime music photojournalist who’s been honored with a retrospective at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (to which, ironically and bafflingly, DEVO themselves have yet to even be nominated, let alone admitted), and her work has been the subject of the books Jews Rock: A Celebration of Rock and Roll’s Jewish Heritage, It’s Always Rock and Roll, and the brand-spankin’ new All Access Cleveland. She spoke first:

Hello spuds! I’ve got to say that when we did these photos, the guys from DEVO and myself, we were all just starting out. I was 23, you guys [addressing Casale] were probably about the same age, and this was true collaboration, this is when there’s no barriers between artists and we had fun… “Iconic,” I’m not sure how it turned out that way, but I’m so thrilled, 37 years later, to see this have another life, and to pay tribute to our Akron hometown band, international superstars DEVO!

Casale, possibly the most fan-friendly major figure in pop music history, and certainly among the most thoughtful, reminisced at edifying length about the circumstances that colluded to produce the familiar photo.

This photograph by Janet was taken on a break from filming at the Akron Civic, when we were filming the video to “Satisfaction.” That’s why we have the guitars and gear and everything straight off the stage. We were filming a mock performance as one scene from the video, and we had just returned from Germany, from just recording our first record with Brian Eno as producer. We were back and we were on a break preparing to go to California, to move there to kind of police our label Warner Brothers Records, our domestic label—you had to be in proximity back then when there was a real record business. And we got a desperate call from Virgin Records, which was our European label, that our song “Satisfaction” was getting airplay, and they needed a video. They offered us fiiiiive thoooouuusand doooollars, [crowd laughter] which was actually, in ‘78, a big hunk of money for a starving band. And we were still starving, we were still a cult band, nothing had happened yet…

So we got busy and Mark [Mothersbaugh] and I quickly came up with an idea and fleshed it out. I filled in all the storyboards with a shot list and a description, he put the drawings in. We called Chuck Statler, who had moved to Minneapolis—he had done our film with us in 1976, “The Truth About De-evolution,” that kind of put us on the art crowd map because it went to the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and we thought “let’s keep the team together, let’s keep doing this,” and we brought him in from Minneapolis to produce. It was crazy. Everything was do-it-yourself, no permits, this-and-that. And we came out here on a break, with Janet, on the street, while we were changing camera angles and stuff, and started shooting and having fun just coming up with things to do around here. And of course Chuck Kozelski, Chili Dog Mac, was a MUST, we all said “we have to take pictures in front of Chili Dog Mac!” That day, the filming produced a wealth of photographs in a lot of locations here on this street, but this one out of all of them became the one that kind of stood the test of time, because it’s so incongruent that these five guys that looked like they got plunked down from another planet, from a spaceship, stuck on the street in font of this populist hot dog joint.


L-R: Bob “Bob 2” Casale (RIP 2014), Jerry Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob “Bob 1” Mothersbaugh, Alan Myers (RIP 2013)


Photographer Janet Macoska with Jerry Casale


Takes guts to draw comparisons to your young self on a good day four decades ago…


After the ceremony and audience Q&A, the assembled mob of fans took turns posing for photos with the life-sized artwork, and Casale joined in on that action as well. Later that afternoon and evening, the annual DEVO convention/fan gathering DEVOtional was being held a quick hop up I-77 at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, and Casale made his seemingly annual appearance there, as well, signing memorabilia and taking more questions. (His Q&A was brutally frank and pretty amazing, though regrettably I can’t reproduce it here, as the organizers of the event only permitted recording on the condition that said recordings not be publicly shared, a condition I’m perfectly happy to honor.) But before his Q&A, Casale joined the Georgia DEVO tribute act DEVOMATIX onstage for their encore, and to the surprise and delight of a full house of assembled DEVOtees, he sang the songs “Beautiful World” and “Be Stiff” with the band. At age 67, the man is still a spry and engaging performer.







Seems fitting to end this one of my all time favorite DEVO clips—VERY old film of the band performing “Satisfaction” in 1977. The differences between this early version and the one you know are HUGE.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Food for thought
Can We Ban “Busy”?

from Tue/Night
Over a leisurely lunch of pasta and prosciutto, I was talking to a dear friend about how much I had enjoyed reading over the summer. My friend, a successful entrepreneur, paused and looked at me thoughtfully. Then he shook his head, looked down and said he would love to read but, unfortunately, just didn’t have time. Specifically he said he was “too busy.”

I smiled.

Our lunch lasted an hour and a half. Afterwards we strolled to browse menus at nearby restaurants, evaluating spots for a family dinner he was planning later in the week. He then met a friend of mine about joining a social club neither of us thought he would actually join. By the time he returned to work it would be 4:30pm, nearly four hours after he had left to meet me for lunch.

My friend was making decisions about how to spend his day. They were active choices. The decision was, simply, not to read.

We all have the same 24 hours in our day. Most of us are choosing how to spend it.

If you have young children, a brutal commute or juggle several jobs to make ends meet, you are exempt from everything I write in this piece. You are truly busy.

But many of the urban professionals I see throughout the day are not “too busy” to do anything they want if that task, like reading, requires a few minutes, or even 15 minutes, a day.

I often chat with people about meditation. Most people say they “don’t have time.” And so, I inquire.

“Do you work out?”

“Yes,” they often say.

Maybe they take 90-minute yoga classes twice a week. With travel time and showering, that’s four hours a week. It’s worthwhile, of course, but a choice. If you want to conserve time you could take an online class for half an hour or even an hour with similar benefits, saving travel and class time.

Could the yoga and fitness folks shave off three minutes of improving their bodies to meditate, thereby improving their minds?

It’s a choice not to.

It’s important to realize that our lives, and our time, are under our control. You may feel very “busy” at work. When I helped to run my start-up, I certainly did.

But I took meetings I didn’t need to take: 90 wasted minutes each time. I answered emails I didn’t need to answer: hours wasted each day.

I created “busy” to avoid the thoughtful, strategic work that required more of me. There’s a word for this: busywork. I was busy with busywork. What an ironic thing to boast about!

Feeling busy is not something to brag about. Ask the most important people in the world how they are, and they’ll almost never say, “busy.” It’s not a complaint you’re likely to hear from President Obama or Rupert Murdoch. They are, by most people’s definition, pretty busy. They’re consistently making high-level strategic decisions, about a variety of topics, with a large impact.

What are they doing differently?

Two things. One, they aim to project an image that things are under control – they’ve hired excellent staff, implemented thoughtful processes, and spend time only on topics that require their attention. Two, they are actually trying to do this. Is that not something to strive for?

To me, “busy” sounds weak. If you’re reading this article, you’ve lived enough days to have a sense of what you can expect to accomplish in 24 hours. Why not establish reasonable goals for your actions each day and then head directly towards them? With this approach, you should feel great all day. Not rushed but strategic and methodical.

“Busy” is an indication you’re not planning your days well, don’t have a truthful understanding of your work speed, or that your affairs are bigger than you are. Maybe you’re not good at delegating, not confident enough to say no, or simply in over your head. This may be true, and it’s happened to all of us, but should be an admission, not a goal. When people say they’re busy I picture a small car going up a big hill, making lots of noise. The image does not instill confidence.

I don’t understand why it’s cool to say you’re busy. Cool should be managing your affairs so well you have extra capacity. Cool is having time to hold the door open for the person behind you, with a smile, or to help someone with a suitcase struggling up stairs.

In Buddhism, busyness is equated with laziness. It’s a sign you’re keeping yourself preoccupied with things no longer essential. Sogyal Rinpoche writes about “active laziness” – filling our lives with unimportant tasks so we feel full of responsibilities or, as he calls them, irresponsibilites..

There are two problems with this. One, we’ve lost touch with the magic of enjoying quiet, peaceful moments during the day. Second, much of our busyness is the result of taking on projects we don’t need to be part of and maintaining habits that no longer serve us.

My hope is that we start thinking mindfully about how we spend our time. Why do we feel so busy? Are the things that make us feel “busy” really necessary?

I suspect if you look at every action you take and consider each one an active choice you could eliminate a huge number of them or do them in half the time. At my start-up I took on partnerships and industry boards that weren’t essential to the company. I spent more time doing than evaluating what or why I was doing. On a personal level, do you need to answer every email or check Facebook or Instagram more than a few times a week? If you say running is your meditation, have you thought about sitting quietly for five minutes rather than running each day for thirty?

If we act mindfully each day, and reconsider each of our daily habits, we could become far less “busy.” Starting today we can stop boasting of busy-ness and begin to thoughtfully put our time and energy exactly where we want it to be.

If you do this, I’m going to wager a bet. If you’ve always wanted to read, I believe you’ll find five minutes to read each day. Next week you may find 10. And I suspect you’ll start smiling more, realizing that your life is far more under control than you realized.

So, when someone asks how you are, you might answer, “good,” and then pause and perhaps even smile, because you have that one second to spare, and also because you mean it.

thanks, Tara, and Ian.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The secret history of jaywalking: The disturbing reason it was outlawed — and why we should lift the ban

from Salon: by RAVI MANGLA

Tensions between cars & pedestrians aren't new, but pedestrians are working to make jaywalking the rule of the road

“Jaywalk.” The word seems better suited to a dance craze than criminal infraction. The jitterbug, the lindy hop, the jaywalk. Some trace the origins of the term to Syracuse, New York; others to Kansas City (home briefly to a bar called Jaywalkers). One of the earliest references to the practice is in an article in the Chicago Tribune: “chauffeurs assert with some bitterness that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jay walking” (April 7, 1909). The quote reflects a mind-set of entitlement among the motorist class, a readiness to allocate blame to the lowest tier of traveler. In early America “jay” was a pejorative used to denote a rube or rustic, someone unacquainted with the niceties of urban refinement. To be called a jay was to have called into question your very sense of belonging, your right to exist within the city proper.

* * *

Before the proliferation of automobiles streets were shared by all manner of traveler. Crosswalks had not yet been established (the first one wouldn’t appear until 1911) and pedestrians had just as much right to the road as streetcars and carriages. Cars, in their earliest incarnation, were seen as interlopers, an unwelcome addition to the urban milieu. Traffic fatalities were not looked upon kindly by the general public. Angry mobs were wont to drag offending drivers (kicking and screaming, one would presume) from the comfort of their cars. According to the Detroit News, upwards of 60 percent of automobile-related fatalities in the 1920s were children under the age of 9. “One gruesome Detroit article described an Italian family whose 18-month-old son was hit and wedged in the wheel well of a car. As the hysterical father and police pried out the child’s dead body, the mother went into the house and committed suicide.”

By the close of the 1920s, automobiles had claimed the lives of more than 250,000 children and adults in the United States. In New York City, temporary memorials were erected in Central Park to commemorate the dead, as if casualties of combat. Automobile drivers were uniformly painted as villains in newspaper editorials, a menace to civic well-being. Cartoons depicted them in full reaper regalia, armed with sharpened scythes. The phrase “jay driver” prefigures its more common counterpart, appearing in print as early as 1905. (A 1907 headline in the Albuquerque Evening Citizen reads “Jay Drivers Imperil Life Each Hour in Albuquerque.”) The growing tension between motorists and pedestrians had larger class implications. While motorists tended to be men of means, the pedestrians they sought to displace were largely working-class. Andrew Mellon, during his tenure as secretary of the treasury, instituted a landmark tax reduction strategy, lowering the top marginal rate from 77 percent to 24 percent. The combination of lower taxes, flourishing markets and weakened unions led to prodigious levels of inequality. The chasm between rich and poor reached its pinnacle in 1928, with 23.9 percent of all pretax income channeled to the top 1 percent of families. Even with improved methods of production, automobiles were still out of reach for millions of Americans. As James J. Flink writes in “The Automobile Age,” “The automobile trade journals were agreed in 1923 that ‘illiterate, immigrant, Negro and other families’ were ‘obviously outside’ the market for motorcars.”

In 1923, Cincinnati residents pursued an ordinance that would require motorists to outfit their cars with mechanical devices called governors. The governors would switch off car engines if vehicles exceeded speeds of 25 miles per hour. Local automobile dealers mobilized to strike down the measure. Over the next decade the auto industry pursued aggressive action to take sole possession of public roads and, in turn, reshape the conversation around cars. The American Automobile Association, or AAA, sponsored safety campaigns in schools, educating students on the dangers of crossing the street in unmarked zones. Boy Scouts handed out cards to pedestrians, warning them against the practice of jaywalking. Mock trials were conducted in public settings to shame or ridicule offenders. The National Automobile Chamber of Commerce persuaded politicians and journalists to shill for their cause. The Packard Motor Car Co. went so far as to construct tombstones engraved with the name Mr. J. Walker. In Buffalo, beachgoers were treated to a public performance by the National Safety Council, in which a jaywalker was arrested, handcuffed and fitted with a sandwich board that read “I am a jaywalker,” and then ushered into a police wagon plastered with anti-pedestrian slogans. (“Hell is paved with good intentions, but why crowd the place? Don’t jaywalk.”) By the 1930s, jaywalking had been adopted as common law in most major municipalities. The term was near ubiquitous, and opposition to the automobile had softened to scarcely a whisper.

* * *

In Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, a young woman named Raquel Nelson was stepping off the bus with her two children. They had been shopping at the grocery store and it was late in the evening. The nearest crosswalk was three-tenths of a mile from the bus stop, so she—like many of the regular passengers—attempted to cross the busy road. She and her children were struck by an onrushing van, and her 4-year-old son was killed. The driver, it was later discovered, had alcohol and painkillers in his system. He had two previous hit-and-runs on his record and was visually impaired in his left eye. The driver pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene of the accident and served six months in prison. Nelson, soon after the funeral was held for her son, was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and crossing a roadway in an inappropriate manner—in other words, jaywalking. These charges, in collaboration, carried a penalty of up to three years in prison. In the end, Nelson was sentenced to 12 months of probation, for doing nothing more than trying to get her children home.

Modern attitudes toward jaywalking can be traced to “broken windows” policies implemented in larger cities like New York and Boston. In 1998, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani instituted a citywide crackdown on the practice of jaywalking. The fine for walking outside of designated crosswalks was raised from a token $2 fine to a heftier $50 penalty. This past year, under the stewardship of Mayor Bill de Blasio, that fine was once again raised, this time to $250. However, just like stop-and-frisk before it, the clampdown on jaywalking has disproportionately targeted people of color. The Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department revealed that 95 percent of those cited for jaywalking are black. In Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, that figure is 89 percent, even with a populace that is primarily white. A female English professor at Arizona State University was forcefully pinned to the ground by campus police after crossing the street to avoid sidewalk construction. Instances like these fail at maintaining even the guise of upholding public safety. So the question becomes, who is being served and who exactly is being protected?

* * *

The criminalization of jaywalking may be in part justified if crosswalks were in fact safer, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Crosswalks that aren’t supported by traffic lights or stop signs are no safer than unmarked zones. One study published in Transportation Research Board of the National Academies found that the risk of injury inside the painted lines was the same as it was outside of them. On roadways with multiple lanes and high-volume traffic the crosswalk proved the more precarious option. A safety study conducted by NYU Langone Medical Center was even more decisive in its findings: Of those injured, 44 percent had used a crosswalk with the traffic signal on their side, while 23 percent had been struck crossing mid-block. In what can only be attributed to dreadful luck, 6 percent had been injured while on the sidewalk.

To compound the issue, most crosswalk buttons are nonoperational. Only 9 percent of buttons in New York City, the Department of Transportation estimates, are responsive to user commands. The remaining 91 percent, which are set to fixed timers, serve as placebos for Type A personalities or germ-laden playthings for restive children. In car-centric cities like Dallas, the number of functioning buttons is even lower. Many of these buttons worked at one point but have been deactivated to improve efficiency and flow. Explanations of this sort are par for the course. Efficiency has been the mantra of the urban planning profession for the better part of 60 years. However, by prioritizing efficiency above all other ideals, such as equity and livability, we strip pedestrians of their personal agency and demote non-drivers to the status of second-class citizens.

* * *

Recent years have seen an uptick in pedestrian advocacy. The global recession exposed sprawl for what it is: a blatant cash grab and misappropriation of resources. For the first time auto usage is down in the United States, and suburbanites are returning to the city in large numbers. Younger generations seem especially keen to escape the isolationism and uniformity of suburbia. With this migration is a renewed desire for walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. And while cities have been generally receptive to these entreaties, modern planning still begins and ends with the automobile. Until the scales of power and privilege are balanced, cars will continue to exercise their dominion over city roads.

20’s Plenty for Us, a not-for-profit organization founded in England, advocates for a 20 mph speed limit on urban and residential streets. Campaigners maintain that reduced speed limits would allow pedestrians and cyclists safer access to roadways and dramatically lower the number of traffic collisions. Moreover, pedestrians struck by a vehicle traveling less than 23 mph have a 90 percent chance of surviving the accident (compared to only 25 percent when met by a car traveling over 50 mph). The organization presently has 250 chapters operating across the United Kingdom. Pedestrian organizations with similar aims have blossomed around the United States, but few have the means and resources to expand their influence beyond the local level.

In New York City, the pedestrian plaza has experienced an unlikely renaissance, with Times Square serving as the highest-profile example. Despite the initial resistance from area businesses (and taxicab drivers), the pedestrianization of the iconic square is now viewed as an unqualified success. Foot traffic has increased, injuries and noise pollution have plummeted, and three-fourths of Manhattanites surveyed, many of whom stood in opposition to the project, now approve of the changes. Several more streets (including a pocket of 33rd Street, near Penn Station) plan to launch pilot programs over the coming year.

* * *

For the past four months, in my hometown of Rochester, New York, I have been lobbying to convert a popular side street into a shared space. The street in question—Gibbs (for the odd reader familiar with downtown Rochester)—is a one-way thoroughfare, anchored by a renowned music conservatory and century-old concert hall. The narrow street, easily accessible on foot (or via transit), links two larger and more lively roads, East and Main. At this point, I have met with school administrators, city planners, urban activists and architects, and have made disappointingly little headway.

Shared spaces are the democratic alternative to the autocracy of the pedestrian plaza. They seek to restore the natural order of the road by granting equal access to all modes of transportation. By eliminating traditional demarcations, shared spaces promote open communication and cooperation between drivers and pedestrians. Describe this concept in a meeting and watch the frown form on the face of your interlocutor. (You may as well be stomping on the table and chanting “anarchy.”) Despite clear evidence of its safety and efficacy (see: Europe), the approach struggles to gain traction on this side of the pond, especially in smaller and midsize cities where the car is king.

Rochester has taken tentative steps to retrofit its infrastructure, adding a network of dedicated bicycle lanes and sharrow markings. The Inner Loop, an underused freeway from our industrial past, which has acted as a garrote around the neck of the city’s poor, has been partially entombed beneath a layer of gravel (with plans to build a city street and cycling track on the burial site). While bulldozers continued their task of erasing the Loop, the city quietly greenlit a $157 million overhaul of a highway interchange in the Rochester suburb of Gates. For a little context, the highway redesign comes in at seven and a half times the cost of the long overdue Inner Loop revisal. The two projects may not be in direct opposition of one another, but they do send mixed signals about the priorities of local leadership. In a city hemorrhaging wealth, we can’t afford to hedge our bets.

Attempts to lure young talent to our snowy shores tend to focus exclusively on job creation (with corporate tax credits handed out like Sunday coupons). But as much as young people need jobs, they also yearn for livable neighborhoods with vibrant street life. The car-dependent cities of our past risk becoming fossils in the future. (How can street life be expected to unfold when everyone is just passing through?) The revival of cities like Rochester will depend less on the breadth of their highways than the state of their streets. And the first step involves returning to pedestrians what was wrongfully taken from them, so that jaywalking is no longer a provocation but the rule of the road.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Good Monday Advice

From CBC Radio farewell program "Wire Tap"

How to Age Gracefully

People of all ages offer words of wisdom to their younger counterparts

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Welcome to Dismaland: A First Look at Banksy’s New Art Exhibition Housed Inside a Dystopian Theme Park

the official website of DismalLand

and this from from Colossal

WESTON-SUPER-MARE — Inside the walls of a derelict seaside swimming resort in Weston-super-Mare, UK, mysterious construction over the last month—including a dingy looking Disney-like castle and a gargantuan rainbow-colored pinwheel tangled in plastic—suggested something big was afoot. Suspicion and anticipation surrounding the unusual activity attributed to fabled artist and provocateur Banksy has reached a Willy Wonka-esque fervor. Well, if Banksy’s your bag, continue fervoring. If not, there’s more than a few reasons to continue reading.

The spectacle has since been revealed to be a pop-up art exhibition in the form of an apocalyptic theme park titled Dismaland (“The UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”) that will be open to the public for five weeks.

The event has all the hallmark details of a traditional Banksy event from a shroud of ultimate secrecy (the event area was plastered in notices designating it as filming location for a movie titled Gray Fox) to general themes of apocalypse, anti-consumerism, and anti-corporate messages. However there’s one major deviation: the emphasis of Dismalanded is largely on other artists’ work instead of Banksy himself.

So just what’s hidden inside the walls of this derelict seaside resort? A demented assortment of bizarre and macabre artworks from no less than 50 artists from around the world including Damien Hirst, Bill Barminski, Caitlin Cherry, Polly Morgan, Josh Keyes, Mike Ross, David Shrigley, Bäst, and Espo. In addition, Banksy is showing 10 artworks of his own.

Dismaland also has artworks by numerous artists featured here on Colossal over the last few years including pieces by Escif, Maskull Lasserre, Kate McDowell, Paco Pomet, Dietrich Wegner, Michael Beitz, Brock Davis, Ronit Baranga, and others. From the event’s official brochure:
Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism. Instead of a burger stall, we have a museum. In place of a gift shop we have a library, well, we have a gift shop as well.

Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus—a bemusement park. A theme park who’s big theme is: theme parks should have bigger themes…

This event contains adult themes, distressing imagery, extended use of strobe lighting, smoke effects and swearing. The following items are strictly prohibited: knives, spraycans, illegal drugs, and lawyers from the Walt Disney corporation.

In addition to art there are a few rides, completely impossible fair games, interactive artworks, random live performances and unexpected spectacles happening throughout the day. The entire exhibition is staffed by morose Dismaland employees who seem completely uninterested in being helpful or informative. Getting in requires an uncomfortably awkward NSA-esque screening, and even trying to find the exit required a near herculean effort.

I had the honor of helping curate a particularly fun part of Dismaland: a program of 24 short films shown on a massive outdoor cinema that will play on a loop day and night. Films include shorts by Santiago Grasso & Patricio Plaza, Kirsten Lepore, The Mercadantes, Ze Frank, Adrien M. & Claire B., Black Sheep Films, and Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared.

Dismaland is open to the public from August 22 through September 27th, 2015 and information about pre-booked and at-the-gate tickets is available here. There’s also a series of events including a show by Pussy Riot and Massive Attack on September 25th.

I think it goes without saying, but if you have the means, get to the UK.

I would love to go see this! - GEF