Apr 26, 2011

Hope Lives

Hope as a concept, a feeling, a way of living and perceiving the world feels quaint, strange, and weirdly distant much of the time. And yet it's what drives change in the world.

I thought about this after seeing Love Hate Love, a powerful documentary that had its world premiere at the tenth annual TriBeCa Film Festival lastnight. The work, directed by Don Hardy and Dana Nachman, seeks to counter society's intrinsic pessimism with the idea of something bigger, larger, and more ultimately more important. The movie is a fantastic depiction of vision over visibility in action, viewed across three different lives and experiences. The TriBeCa Film Festival website wraps up the story nicely:
After Steve and Liz Alderman lost their 25-year-old son Peter in the World Trade Center, they took the money they were awarded as compensation and started a series of mental health clinics in Uganda, for those who have been victims of war crimes, child soldier enlistment, and more. After Esther Hyman lost her sister Miriam in the mass transit attacks in London on 7/7/05, she founded an eye care clinic in India in her sister’s name. And Australian Ben Tullipan lost his legs and suffered from massive burns in a bombing in Bali in 2002, after which he made a remarkable recovery.
In a world of cynicism, doubt, anger, vengeance, and fear, the idea of hope stands as a shy, if powerful presence that can change the entire center of gravity.

I remember the first time I went to Ground Zero. I'd been there many times in the past, when the World Trade Center was still in existence. I had a ticket broker friend who worked on one of the floors of the second tower. We'd lost touch over the years but I thought of him that awful day in 2001. When I went down to the site, a mere two months after the attacks, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. Tourists were gawking and taking pictures. People were softly crying. The air was thick with silence and grief.

In the ensuing months, that grief turned to rage, to hatred, to cries of vengeance. Whether you literally lost someone that day or not didn't matter. It was Old Testament eye-for-an-eye justice America wanted. Love Hate Love takes this bloodlust -the tender open wound that weeps from an injury fear created - and flips it inside out. All the people in the film suffered some kind of loss: Esther Hyman lost her sister Miriam in the July 2005 London bus bombings, Ben Tullipan lost his legs in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, and the Aldermans lost their son Peter in the 9/11 attacks. All have turned their grief into something positive. They didn't give in to fear or to hatred.

So while Love Hate Love could be just another Peter Pan-style exercise in feel-good-ism, it's ultimately much more. Through interviews, photos, and recollections from friends and family, we are given a sense of these peoples' monumental loss, and how that colors their day-to-day lives. Hardy and Nachman widen their scope, choosing not to focus on sadness, and in doing that, allow viewers to see how grief, turned inside out, actually looks. And what an awesome sight: small children whose eyesight has been restored. A boy with no legs who learns to accept his "different-ness" and runs around a mini-putt course. A teenaged boy in Uganda who slowly learns to deal with his experiences as a child soldier, drawing his past experiences in colorful, vibrant hues. It could all come off as so trite, so inconsequential. But it doesn't, and it isn't, thanks in large part to the skillful weaving of respective narratives, and the singularly non-political stance taken by the filmmakers. This is a film that refuses to point fingers; instead, it lends hands and opens hearts.

At the post-film Q&A session hosted by film writer and journalist Marshall Fine, the participants, all seated onstage with Executive Producer Sean Penn, seemed amazed, delighted, and deeply moved to be part of the project, and perhaps, a larger movement that the film represents. Esther Hyman fretted that she'd come off "too English" in the film, and she and Liz Alderman both bonded over birthdays (of Esther's sister "Mim" and Liz's son "Pete" respectively) being the most difficult days for them. Each updated the audience with advances on their respective efforts, with the Aldermans talking about the expansion of their mental health care facilities in Eastern Africa, Hyman discussing her eye care center in India, and Tullipan sharing the news that one of the young boys featured in the film whom he speaks with has since gotten out of his wheelchair and is learning to walk with prosthetics.


Whenever I'm in the financial area of Manhattan now, I look to the rising buildings, and I remember that time, ten years ago. I remember all that has happened as a result of it. Giving in to pessimism, as Penn said lastnight, is so easy. Holding on to hope is important -but believing in it, and living it, with a palpable sense of change, is hard. "Be the change you want to see in the world." Love Hate Love shows that, despite, or sometimes because of the odds, it can -and should -be done.

Hope: not so quaint after all.

Poster and middle photo courtesy of KTF Films.
Bottom photo from my Flickr photostream.

Apr 23, 2011

Thank You, Ken

I'm shocked and saddened to learn tonight about the death of one of my favorite food personalities, Canadian host Ken Kostick.




I interviewed Ken along with his TV partner Mary Jo Eustace two years ago, as they were preparing for another season of He Said, She Said (related Mary Jo-centric blog here). Their salty banter and biting commentary made for a lively interview, and I'll never forget Ken's kindness toward me, and the immediate interest he took in my own cooking endeavors. I'll always remember us trading tips about spicing and roasting. He made me feel truly at ease.

His death is a big loss not only to Canadian food TV but to the worldwide market, and to every budding chef. Thank you, Mr. Kostick. You will be missed.

On Bill The Quill


Today marks the anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 1616 (and, some might argue, his birth in 1564).

Much has been written, of course, about the playwright who left an indelible mark on drama and culture. It's impossible to imagine life without him; like Andy Warhol (more on him in a future post), his influence is felt everywhere. Amidst the volumes of academia and the wide-eyed worship, I frequently feel as if the human -the regular, ordinary, beer-swilling, bum-pinching Bill -gets lost.

Filmmaker Anna Cohen seeks to find him, with this wonderful stop-motion animation video, Shakespearean Tragedy (A Comedy), that reminds us that Shakespeare probably suffered from something that afflicts writers everywhere. Hey, we all know Romeo And Juliet was inspired by various poems and stories, but it's fun to see the figures come to life on the blank pages before him, and I love the contemporary touches.

I never enjoyed reading Shakespeare myself; when I'd have to do for high school or university, I'd go to the library and borrow the RSC audio or video performances. There's something about hearing those words aloud, in all their rhythmic, dancing, shimmying glory, that makes them -and their creator -feel more alive.

The clever thing about this video is that there's no dialogue -it's entirely visual. What would Bill say? What should he say? It's refreshing to see a figure held in such high regard by so many has been rendered more human, even in clay.

Apr 20, 2011

Winning!


I didn't know a thing about Win Win when I walked into the cinema to see it lastnight. I only knew it had award-winning actor Paul Giamatti as the lead, and it's been popular with cinema-going New Yorkers who's tried to get tickets, only to find screenings have sold out.

Lastnight wasn't too crowded with people, but the film itself is chalk-full of ideas -and that corny old concept of heart. Except that in writer/director Thomas McCarthy's capable hands, it isn't corny. He takes what could've easily been a very sentimental, schmaltzy concept and delivers with panache, subtlety, and a genuine human feeling for the characters and situations depicted.

Win Win is about a small-town lawyer who makes a morally heinous decision out of sheer financial desperation, and is forced to live with its consequences. McCarthy gently, if skillfully, weaves together twin themes of survival and family (and the connection therein) by offering an unflinchingly look at good, everyday people who say and do ugly, everyday things. The connection Giamatti's character, Mike, shares with the young, sullen Kyle (Alex Schaffer) grows more complex, and yet clearer, with every scene. Mike doesn't see his younger self in Kyle, so much as his current one; struggling against tough odds to find his place, he lashes out, does dumb things, and ultimately comes to understand the power of unconditional love and acceptance as a powerful agent for personal transformation.


The concept of "winning" is laced throughout the work: Kyle's winning a wrestling match Mike and his friends are coaching, Mike winning in court, both of them winning against the odds. Mike ultimately wins in the end, and Kyle ultimately wins in the end (and Mike's family, who play a major role throughout the film, win too) - but that win comes with huge compromises. Mike does the very thing he said he wouldn't do for income; Kyle is estranged from his mother (even if that's probably a plus), and Mike's family is placed with the twin challenges of him not being there much, and taking care of both a newcomer and his relative. Winning? Hell yes. No one said life was perfect -but it is always full of possibilities for growth, even (or especially) through the lean times.

I thought about this concept of "winning" riding home on the subway, amidst squeaky breaks and the inevitable announcements from desperate people looking for spare change. Who's really "winning" in this land of plenty? The notion is, for me (and I write this as a totally uncompetitive person), more about doing "whatever the f*ck it takes" (to quote a line from the movie) and less about demolishing your opponent; it's about your rise, not another's descent. It's about understanding what losing is, too. You can't understand the sweet taste of a win without knowing the acrid, bitter taste of loss. I had the good fortune of recently winning a few sets of tickets to various cultural happenings around New York, which has been cheering. I didn't necessarily have to "beat" anyone to do it -it was random luck-of-the-draw -but there's always a victor, and its opposite. One doesn't -can't -exist without the other.


McCarthy deftly demonstrates this in a short scene in Win Win, where he shows Mike's friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) sitting glumly outside what was once his house, where his ex-wife now lives with a local handyman.
"It's MY house!" he barks at Mike over the phone, after his friend chides him for his obsession. Oh, but it's hard to let go of the old and the comfortable, even that world has turned hideous and strange.

Living in New York is teaching me to embrace winning and losing, and to understand there's more to both (and its respective outcomes) than meets the eye. Some days are all about one, some days, the other, and that's probably how it should be, though it's sometimes hard to accept. Will we play dirty? Throw our opponent against the floor with reckless fury? Allow our reactions to rule our better sense? Walking away from Win Win, it occurred to me that it's how we wrestle with winning and losing -and our ideas around both - in our daily lives that matters. Acceptance exists, as Win Win reminded me, it's just a question of embracing it -and understanding that living that win is probably a whole lot different than we could've ever imagined.

Apr 16, 2011

I Love This.


Musician Son Lux played (le) poisson rouge here in New York Friday night. He was opening for Yoni Wolf of Why?. I came across the announcement on the poisson'sTwitter feed yesterday afternoon, quite by accident. After listening to a selection of Lux's work, I'm starting to wonder if it was grand design.

After a bit of investigation, I was immediately struck by how much Lux's music took me back to my new-music-loving youth, namely the first albums of Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, and Orbital. Ryan Lott -the man behind Son Lux - has done remixing and production work for bands like Beirut and Anathallo, and studied piano and composition at the Indiana University School Of Music. His debut album, At War With Walls And Mazes, was one of the most acclaimed of 2008. There's something about a well-put-together electronic piece that has the power to reach straight into the heart the way any symphony can. Son Lux gets this.

But it's not symphonies that have been on my mind. Lately I've been madly looking around for contemporary music that has that unique mix of well-crafted tunes, modern approach, and heart... great big weeping, bleeding, operatic heart. The music of Son Lux has this in droves. In a wider sense, it's good to see the extent to which the whole "electronic-music-isn't-real-music"-argument has faded; there used to be an old-fashioned attitude that, because musicians like Son Lux don't have the guitar or piano as their main instrument, they musn't be "real" artists. For me, artists like Brian Eno, Kraftwerk (and a myriad of DJs including Afrika Bambaataa and Howie B.) were instrumental in shattering that stuffy, inert attitude. Electronic isn't just dance -though that's important and vital too - but can be, and is, so much more. It's nice to see mainstream culture accept these artists with open arms. Even straight-laced NPR (whose All Songs Considered bestowed the Best New Artist title in 2008) is streaming the entire new Lux album online.


I didn't make it to the show Friday night -but I'm not surprised it sold out. This is fantastically trippy, orchestral electronica with more than a hint of its ambient forbears - but it's also rooted firmly in the here and now. I love his embrace of old beats, older harmonies, and very fresh approach to composing and arranging. His work pulls on every heart string, gently, persistently, with great skill and care, moving from the careful tenacity of a cat's swishing to the hard grooves of stilettos on linoleum. Lott/Lux is totally comfortable throwing the sounds of violins, flutes, and clarinets right in with processed beats and synthesizers, and making it sound natural, good, and... fun.

Please Mister Lux, please... play NY again soon. Promise I'll be there, swooning in the front row, and quite possibly in tears.

Apr 14, 2011

Like We Invented It



The rain started in light spurts when I got off the subway Tuesday night. Fast-gathering clouds leaned down on an glassy towers and old concrete masses alike with bullying persistence. People glanced up nervously at the sky as they scurried along the sidewalks like nervous beetles. I'd just turned on Peter Gabriel's beautiful cover of Elbow's "Mirrorball" on my iPod and was wondering if anyone could hear the magnificent genius that was ringing, bell-like, in my ears. The track is taken from his gorgeously poetic album of covers, Scratch My Back, released in February through Virgin Music. The album contains a myriad of thoughtful, sometimes surprising cover versions, including Lou Reed's sigh-worthy "The Power Of The Heart" (his proposal to now-wife Laurie Anderson), Paul Simon's "Boy In The Bubble", as well as David Bowie's much-loved "Heroes". The album is fast becoming a favorite on my iPod. It's a million miles away from the noisy, posturing, abrasive world of modern pop. It's not exactly get-up-and-boogie music, but rather, sit-down-and-shut-up music -and I like that. I wish more of that genre existed.

Far from being the bleeping, bloopy, busy electro-pop sound Gabriel became known for in the 1980s, Scratch My Back features minimalist production, a quality that immediately caught my attention. It's very dramatic for its lack of instrumentation, and its careful consideration of orchestration in the way of what to put, and where. "Mirrorball" is a stand-out for its phenomenal string arrangements from Guy Garvey that, to quote Gabriel himself, "use all the colours of the orchestra to provide the heart, passion, intensity and groove" that lay dormant, if vibrantly alive, within the Elbow original. It does sound like Stravinsky -and Eno, and opera, prayer, incantation, invocation, moan and shudder, all at once. Upon first listen, walking through the ever-dampening, rapidly-darkening street in a New York borough, I wanted to weep, laugh, run, and stand still, all at once. Gabriel's knowing, intimate delivery offers a beautiful, world-weary understanding of life and its variance. This begs for a video made in New York, complete with the huge, white flash of light and earth-shaking eruption of thunder that greeted its end the evening I listened to it.

A dramatic, magical end for a beautiful piece of art. New York was listening in.

Everything has changed. Indeed.

Apr 11, 2011

"What Do You Want?"

It was beautiful in New York today.

The sun was shining, the sky was a lustrous blue, it was mild. The rain that had been threatened all weekend didn't materialize. People were happy to welcome the spring weather, walking around in loose t-shirts and perhaps-too-soon rubber sandals. I got off work and decided I'd make a trip back to Strand Books. Poetry was calling, along with a general desire to walk around Manhattan on a gorgeous Monday afternoon and observe, reflect, walk, and breathe. The rhythm of street life -of peddlers, poets, con artists, lovers, dreamers, stragglers, strugglers, tired parents, scared tourists, oblivious locals, obnoxious students - all co-mingle here with a natural harmony that is both breathtaking and choking. Get out of the way!, I wanted to shout every few steps, if you want to yap with your boyfriend, don't try to walk at the same time! Surely it's a sign of becoming a local, though I still get shocked looks whenever I say "thank you" in a store. Habits from home die hard.

I entered Strand Books and immediately knew what I wanted. I'd seen Patti Smith: Complete when it was first released in 2006, but I couldn't afford it. Now, five years later, in a place where Patti figuratively welcomed me to the city my first night, I couldn't afford not to. Did they have a used copy? Yes, just one -but where? I looked, high and low. Nothing. Was the computer lying? I checked again, and there it was, snugly tucked in on a high shelf; even standing spider-like on the edge of a cart, it was just out of my grasp.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that short people hate asking for help from a tall person. But... I swallowed my vertical-challenge pride. I didn't look at it until I got it home, to my bedside, my bathtub, reading in barefoot with a glass of wine and a sharpie.

Poetry, music, prose, drawing -these things are keeping me sane, even as they drive me to more and more questions. Art isn't and should never be a baggy La-Z-Boy of comfy, feet-up vanity and smug self-congratulations. I keep wondering in what order I should place all the things I've seen and heard these last two weeks: the faces, the floors, the pieces of gum on the sidewalks, the squeaky rails of the subway, the boomboomboom of a hip-hop boy's earbuds -and if I'll ever do all of them justice. My iPod has been a vital tool in attempting to make sense of these moments, giving them themes, names, direction, and momentum. Recent playlists have reflected this tornado of anxious confusion, with a selection of tunes, both new and old, urban and urbane, soft and abrasive, uber-cool and super-gauche.


Bizarrely, this tune has become a mainstay on my iPod since -and even as -I moved. What I love about the above performance (from Brazil this past Sunday night) is that you can't actually see the band; you can only hear them. Maybe it was the rain. Or maybe it was on-purpose. either way, there was a forced listening at work, an experience of the quiet-but-awesome marriage between sound, ideas, and art in a way many bands of that caliber wouldn't attempt in such a mondo-stadium context. The slick glammy sheen of the original has been stripped away for a world-weariness and a nose-to-the-grindstone grittiness, even with those gorgeously swooping, theatrical guitars. The audience is clearly confused: where are they? what is this? I don't get it! But... who cares? Should mass art always be digestible? Should life always be full of answers and no questions? Should we be spoon-fed everything our entire lives -even (or especially) the meaningful stuff?

To quote a favorite poet whose posthumous work I recently picked up in Strand Books, "poetry is what happens when nothing else can." That "nothing else" can be so many things -for me, it's the striving to understand everything, all the time, it's the "what ifs" that don't get (and won't be) answered, ever. And so the possibilities -of the streets, the subway, the stains, the sleepless nights and somnambulant days -is louder, softer, harder and more real than any slick glamorous picture people have of the Big Apple, and more beautiful to anyone with two eyes and a beating heart. It is those questions, singing loud, a little more weary but every bit wiser, confusing the masses, and maybe, just maybe, inspiring a few of us along the way, that is the real poetry. Viva love, viva life, viva... New York.

Noise And Motion

Trying to write about a litany of amazing experiences is like trying to file spaghetti bolognese by ingredient -after it's cooked and on your plate.

Friday night I attended Monodramas at the New York City Opera. Then I had a great meal, met some great people, and walked through a curiously-quiet Times Square. Saturday I went to the legendary Strand Books, and later explored the Lower East Side with a local friend. Today I heard another friend sing at a favorite spot on the Upper West Side, and on the way there, chatted about the wonders of Bukowski with a fellow commuter.

Together these things seem unremarkable, but... trying to put them into some kind of order, and sense, parsing out their colors, textures, sounds, meanings, the small spaces of light between the blocks of firm monolithical EVENTS... is hard. Such efforts demand a certain commitment of time and energy and availability of mind and spirit and fingers, to sit, think, contemplate, and type. Time isn't always on my side.

New York is swallowing me up, and I'm enjoying being in the throes of its guts, thrown this way and that, against hardship, wellship, friendship and relationship. I want to sit down and try to make sense of all this, slowly, carefully, and against the grain of everything New York demands. I love the fast rhythm, but I like the slow numbers too, and I have to mind the splinters and dirt while I'm at it. Never mind the glam, here's bare feet, dry hands, red eyes and low voice. Add a glass of red, Sinatra on the stereo, and a room with a view -or at least access to a great, busy street - and I'll truly feel I have arrived. Until then, I'm on input mode.


Apr 6, 2011

More Ghosts

It was surreal to attend a movie about Dave Grohl's band that was built on the ashes of Nirvana on the very day that marked 17 years since Kurt Cobain's passing.

April 5th, 1994 is a day burned into my memory, not because I was such a huge Nirvana fan, so much as I became a kind of spiritual godmother to the reams of younger people I knew who loved him, and who came to me that day in tears. Grunge hit when I was in high school, and I grew to love the dirty, loud sounds of Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and most especially Pearl Jam. I appreciated Nirvana's loud, abrasive stance, but didn't warm to them immediately. I never felt an urge to see them live, much less to buy their album, but I like the spirit of what they were doing. Grunge was my generation's punk, and it was the alarm bell for a wider world in my narrow, grayishly polite suburban world.

"Heart-Shaped Box" was always a more deeply affecting song for me than "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which seemed too clever and bratty for its own good. Instead of a stream-of-consciousness rant that riffed on teen experiences and peevish observations, I preferred the tortured, life-lived wariness of a scarily romantic, co-dependent love gone sour on itself:
Meat-eating orchids forgive no one just yet
Cut myself on angel hair and baby's breath
Broken hymen of Your Highness - I'm left black
Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back
There's something awfully frightening -and thrilling -about that song, which kind of sums up the public perception of Cobain himself in some sad way.

Foo Fighters: Back And Forth doesn't shy away from the Nirvana legacy, but fully embraces it like a long-lost lover. Grohl reminisces on life as a suburban Seattle-ite, his love for punk, his influences, and his love of a band unit. Cobain's stumbles and setbacks aren't shied away from but, refreshingly, aren't exploited either. The look on Grohl's face as he haltingly names Courtney Love and adds, awkwardly, "his... wife" was bittersweet, if thunderously sad for the bad blood it implied. Overall, I would've liked more 90s-formative-stuff from the doc; I suspect some Foo fans don't understand or appreciate the huge shadow Nirvana casts on Grohl's creative output, and to my I-remember-when head, that's pretty key to getting what he does now. Alas, much of it was left out in favor of more Foo-centric material, though the most important event wasn't shown at all. And that had nothing to do with the choices of Oscar-winning director James Moll.

Owing to a technical glitch (or perhaps grand design), the screening blipped when the tortured singer/songwriter's overdose in Rome was portrayed. All we heard was Grohl, saying over and over again, "I don't know" and a shot of the Rome American Hospital and a cop in uniform standing outside. It was like something out of the Emergency Broadcast Network, or Derek Jarman, or William Burroughs (or all of the above). By the time the screening returned (it was being shown on a satellite signal from L.A.), Cobain's passing had already happened. A whole, wholly significant chunk of the film had been inadvertently excised. In a way, I was relieved, but in another way, it felt like a robbery, not only for me, for but the entire audience in the cinema, many of whom would've been toddlers at the time of the actual event. The effect of that glitch stayed with me the rest of the night, even as the meteoric rise of the Foos was shown in all its gritty, rocking glory.

"I don't know." It was a perfect metaphor for Cobain's life, and indeed, for the struggle so many artists -hell, people -endure pursuing some nameless, formless sort of creative immortality. I left the theater after the screening and walked by the Chelsea Hotel, located just down from the cinema. Ghosts really are everywhere in New York. Even if they aren't apparent, their presence is palpable. Their struggle in life pervades the energy of the city, particularly the creative energy. Forget the well-known figures; it's all the stragglers, the strugglers, the mad, bad, broke ones I notice.

Struggle is a funny thing; it only looks good in retrospect. I thought about Just Kids and about all the artists and poets and lovers and dreamers and... me. Moving slowly down Seventh Avenue, I could feel a million New York ghosts by my side, holding my hand and asking me to look around, take deep breaths, take it step by step. I thought about the woman I'd spotted in the Chelsea lobby, slowly making her way to the door with a walker. I wondered how long she'd lived at the hotel. I wondered how many paintings, drawings, novels, letters, songs, dreams, and rejections she lived with. I wondered if she'd felt as scared, alone, directionless, confused and overwhelmed as I do now.

Ghosts -in a cinema or hotel room, on a dark street, in the creak of a floorboard or the rattles of a window pane -offer mischief, but also hope. Because within the unpredictable is the limitless. Ghosts know this. Maybe I should trust that spirit a bit more. Maybe that should be my new way of remembering April 5th: the Day Of I-Don't-Know, the Day Of Ghosts, the Day That's Every Day. Maybe.

Apr 4, 2011

"Sometimes I Feel So Happy"

At this time last week, I was on a bus racing towards the Canadian/American border, luggage in tow and pie-eyed with worry, anxiety, sadness, and excitement. It was a strange feeling, to zoom by all the familiar sights -first the CN Tower (bathed in red in honour of the city's various charity efforts for Japan), then the low-slung buildings and depressing box malls of the suburbs, and finally the vast vineyards of Niagara. I wasn't sentimental so much as impatient, though I kept telling myself it was a long journey ahead - both literally, on the damn bumpy bus, and figuratively, in the oh-my-gawd-what-am-I-doing? sense.

What lit my resolve through that long, dark ride was the thought that I was seeing Patti Smith soon. Looking back on it six nights later, it feels like a beautiful illusion. Did I really ride 11 hours, sleep barely 2, haul 3 suitcases up 4 flights of stairs, madly clean for 4 hours, rest for (maybe) 1, and then run out the door 7 (or so) subway stops to (le poisson rouge)? Yes. And hallelujah.

To Japan With Love was announced a week before my departure. It featured Cibo Matto, Antony (Hegarty), Patti Smith, and Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono band, which included son Sean Lennon. I knew precious little about Yoko, but she's always been a woman for whom I have a deep and abiding respect. It can't be easy to live with the musty old you-broke-up-The-Beatles moniker for decades, much less the 'Shrieking Weirdo Artist' one (tho I suspect she'd like that). I made sure to leave early and line up outside the Bleecker Street club for a prime spot, and soon began chatting with enthusiastic New Yorkers who not only knew Yoko's work well, but who were big fans and admirers. One Japanese fan even identified a club across the street - Kenny's Castaways - as being a spot where she'd played an important gig in 1974. Everything -and everyone -has a story, especially here in New York.

After 2+ hours of a cold, impatient wait, I wound up being stuck behind one of New York's tallest and most obnoxious (oh, and gassiest) photographers. I managed to angle next to a group of cool women with similarly-small builds but gigantic oodles of rock-and-roll enthusiasm (one of whom's husband kindly provided the photos), and they provided me with good intros to both Cibo Matto, who were on first, and Yoko Ono, who came on later. It was a refreshingly diverse crowd, with nary a hipster or glamazon to be found (though Sean Lennon's bass-playing model-girlfriend definitely threw some good pouts). I kept pinching myself that I was standing there, though the coughing jags provided painful, regular reminders. A constant was my wish that my health could've been better to more fully enjoy the splendor of what was unfolding before me.

Still, the coughing took a definite backseat when Patti came on. With her long, grey-streaked hair, bright eyes, broad smile, thick socks and big army boots, she looked utterly glamorous, strong, defiant, and beautiful. Her voice was like caramel: rich, deep, solid, the sort you want to swim in through a cold, rainy evening. She and her band (which included original members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, along with Tony Shanahan, as well as her daughter on piano and son on guitar) held the room's rapt attention as they launched into slower hits, as Patti gently, elegantly reminded the audience about the purpose of the evening. She showed her annoyance with that obnoxious photographer in front of me, as her eyes flashed with anger after he kept madly snapping past the fourth song. During an angry, passionate, spit-inducing performance of "Pissing In A River" (one of my all-time favorites), Patti folded her hands, bowed her grand head, and went... somewhere else. Somewhere very deep within herself physically, occupying a private space within a public context, showing herself to be both deeply theatrical and deeply veneered, all at once. Captivating.

As the soft, meandering guitar-rich intro for "Beneath The Southern Cross" was played, I let out a huge, audible sigh, clasping my hands together and shutting my eyes: "Oh to be / not anyone / gone / this maze of being / skin..." When I opened them, Patti Smith was looking at me and smiling. I still recall that look almost a week later. We held that gaze for a while and something in me said, don't look away. Maybe it was a test. Maybe not. Later on, I exchanged a smile with Yoko, who beamed a huge, broad grin right in my direction. When Lou Reed came onstage to play a loud, fantastically raucous version of "Leave Me Alone", us small ladies upfront couldn't help but rock out - and it was apparent Lou liked the input. He kept extending the song, one, two, three times, a false ending, a stare with the Plastic Ono Band's drummer, and then... more. He looked directly at me and... yep, smiled. The spirit was infectious.

Another memorable moment came when Antony and Yoko sang "I Love You, Earth" -another song that continued past its original ending, as Antony's beautiful, eerily ethereal voice floated above the din, the sweat, and the feedback. He towered over the elfish, clearly-awed Yoko, as the two exchanged the words of the chorus, acapella: "I love you... / I love you / I love you... / I love you / I love you... earth." At the song's eventual end, Antony remarked, "that's a fucking punk rock lyric." Hell yeah. Hallelujah. A warm fuzzy goodness enveloped the room as a result and I'll never forget the embrace he and Ono exchanged before they left the stage.

But that look from Patti -that smile, from someone I hold as a hero -quietly whispers to me a week on. It breaths an inspiration not yet discovered, an energy not yet channeled, a path barely begun but already so, so hard. It soothes all the bitter tears of homesickness, the sleepless nights of worry, the crying out for community and the sentimentality over small acts of kindness from strangers. Seeing her majestic goddess-like energy, coupled with a casual, comfortable, confident unpretentiousness, still feels like a dream. But it was real. And hearing her - being mere feet from her - my first night in New York was the best landing-gift I could've possibly asked for.

All photos by Jon Rosenbaum.