Category Archives: Songs/Songwriters

New York/Slogan and a Song

We’re all a bit jumpy here in New York since the discovery of an SUV in Times Square with a makeshift bomb in it, though it was a fairly crude device that had very little chance of working in the way it was intended. The ease with which something like this can be placed is unnerving, but the fact that people (a t-shirt vendor for one) responded alertly was gratifying.

In this morning’s New York Times there is an article about the phrase “If you see something, Say something,” which has become ubiquitous on ads in the subway system. The slogan was penned by Allen Kay of  Korey Kay & Partners on assignment from the Transit Authority. It’s meant as an unintimidating prod, post 9/11, to stay watchful for potential terrorism. For many, however, the phrase, which has seeped into the consciousness of the city and beyond, is one more sign of a growing paranoia that is eating at our souls and our sense of confidence as a society.

Not long ago I wrote a song based on the phrase, played it once at Jack Hardy’s songwriters’ exchange, but have never recorded it. This morning, after reading the article, I pulled out a cheap microphone, fired up Garageband, and the result can be listened to here:

if you see something say something

the man in the coat looks uncomfortably hot
he prays from a book he rocks back and forth
the train rumbles through the rock blasted earth
eyes shift in sockets there’s a bulge in a pocket
ipods play private reveries

roll on roll on subterranean train
through the blind tunnel of fate
roll on roll on with a fearful freight
if you see something say something
before it’s too late

school kids swarm in and swing from the poles
a mariachi band plays besame mucho
a family from somewhere not anywhere near here
clings to their map of the world underground
ipods play private reveries

down in the glare air conditioned hades
fire and brimstone in an unattended package
each sudden lurch and with each random search
eyes pry deeper into unattended musings
ipods play private reveries

© Brian Rose

New York/Jack Hardy

Jack hardy (with Mandolin) and Brian Rose (yellow shirt) on stage at Folk City, the legendary folk club (late ’70s)

Jack Hardy, the songwriter, came over to my studio today to have me scan some old snapshots–some had me in them. I’ve known Jack since 1977 when I arrived in New York. I was an early participate in the songwriters exchange that Jack started and still hosts in his apartment on Houston Street. The photo above was taken while performing Jack’s “Drinking Song.”

Brian Rose and Suzanne Vega (early ’80s) — photo by Theodore Lee

There were so few pictures taken of us in those days, so one can’t really complain about the quality. I was a reluctant photographer when hanging out with my songwriter friends, not wanting to be the designated picture taker at every event. In retrospect, I should have done more. Recently, I was asked for a photograph of me and Suzanne Vega–somehow I didn’t have a single one. Well here’s one.

Amsterdam/Spymaster


Berlin, 1989 (4×5 film)

I read this morning in the New York Times that former East German spymaster Markus Wolf died yesterday, 17 years to the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wolf epitomized the romantic image of the Cold War spy, especially as portrayed in John Le Carré’s novels. While the Cold War was commonly seen as an epic battle between good and evil, Wolf occupied the shadowy realm of moral ambiguity. He and his counterparts in the West played a game, albeit a dangerous one, of spy vs. spy. Huge bureaucracies on both sides of the Iron Curtain jockeyed for advantage using shreds of information–the fact and fiction culled from wiretaps, satellite photographs, and undercover agents.

It is important today to remember that despite all the detail of information gathered and analyzed, the CIA and other intelligence agencies failed to foresee the end of the Cold War before it all unraveled in 1989 with the opening of the Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. The spies got it wrong then, just as they got it wrong recently in the runup to the war in Iraq. In the end, the intricacies of the game tend to obscure clear facts on the ground, and the prism of politics distorts and corrupts.


Lenin bust at the Soviet embassy, Berlin, 1990 (4×5 film)

When I photographed the landscape of the Iron Curtain back in the ’80s I sensed that the Cold War was reaching its denouement, though I had no idea that it would end so quickly. Over the course of a lifetime one has moments of prescience that are often not acted upon and go wasted. This was one time I seized the moment and stayed with it as history unfolded.

My photographs of the Iron Curtain can be found here. (website)
A song I wrote about spies at the end of the Cold War can be listened to
here. (mp3)
And another about the fall of the Soviet Union is here. (mp3)