New York/Hamilton

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Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

Although I tend to keep politics in the background on this blog, there are times when the background and the foreground collapse into one another and it becomes impossible to separate them. So, I’d like to address the question of the appropriateness of the cast of Hamilton confronting the Vice President elect — who was attending the show — with a statement expressing their concerns about the incoming Trump administration.

Let me share a story from 1967 when I was 13 years old.

President Lyndon Johnson was in Williamsburg, Virginia to address a group of Washington journalists of the Gridiron Club. It was a roast much like the White House Correspondents Dinner, and there were the usual rhetorical jabs directed at the President amid the clubby conviviality between the press and the powers-at-be. I performed at the event as a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps, and I remember vividly how the jokey bonhomie that evening clashed with the reality outside of constant protests against a never-ending war, and Walter Cronkite intoning the latest daily casualty figures on the evening news.

The next morning Johnson attended the Bruton Parish Church, an Episcopalian church presided over by the Reverend Cotesworth Pinkney Lewis, an eloquent, sometimes melodramatic, speaker
stepsofchurchoriginally from Birmingham, Alabama. I was there with my parents as Lewis mounted the pulpit high above the congregation and directed his sermon at the President of the United States sitting just below. His remarks were respectful in tone, but the message was blunt: “there is a rather general consensus that what we are doing in Vietnam is wrong.” Lewis asked why the war continued to drag on and why there did not seem to be a concerted effort to end it.

Johnson, of course, was a captive audience to Lewis’s criticism, ambushed, some said in a house of worship, and Reverend Lewis came under fierce criticism in the national media. The governor of Virginia and the local vestry felt the need to apologize for his breech of protocol. But as far as I know, Lewis never apologized. A year later Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term. James Jones, President Johnson’s chief of staff wrote years later in the Times: “Mr. Johnson had begun to doubt our ability to prosecute the war to any clear-cut victory.” Precisely the criticism made by Reverend Lewis at Bruton Parish.

As a young teenager I considered Lewis something of a pompous ass, in love with hearing himself speak from on high, delivering well-tuned platitudes that soothed the earnest complacency of those filling the pews below. But Lewis broke from his habitual cautiousness that day, his conscience aroused, he seized what he knew was a once in a lifetime moment, and challenged the President of the United States on the prosecution of the war in Vietnam. Lewis’s church was not a safe space that day.

So, when I see the cast of Hamilton stand up and respectfully challenge Mike Pence in the sanctuary of a Broadway theater, I think back to that day in Virginia in 1967. Sometimes it is necessary to disturb the normally observed conventions, to break the fourth wall when the opportunity presents itself, and confront those whose words and actions promote intolerance and threaten our principles and our rights. May there be no safe spaces over the next four years for Mike Pence or Donald Trump.

Reverend Lewis closed his 1967 sermon to Lyndon Johnson with these words:

“The years ahead will be painful. Customs which seem an essential part of life may have to be given up. Opinions we have held tenaciously may be proven false. Physical and emotional landmarks may be swept aside. We may be compelled to think new thoughts and walk in new paths. Emerging young men and women who will gradually take over must have more understanding than we have had. Necessity will compel them to rise to greater heights than we have known. The future looks terrible; but with guidance from God (as in every strategic juncture of history) He will infuse the essential factor into the equation – something we could never suspect as a possibility – to make the future glorious.”

New York/Lower East Side

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Chrystie and Stanton Street — © Brian Rose

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Chrystie Street — © Brian Rose

Post election New York. Despite the shocking result — Trump mustered barely 10% in Manhattan where his fraudulent antics have been known for decades — beauty is still to be found in the ordinary. The morning sun glints off of aluminum studs stacked upright in a construction supply business. Hearts pop colorfully (maybe cheerfully) from the doorway of a bar as a figure darts by. Two pictures, less than 30 seconds apart.

New York/Untapped Cities

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Screen capture of Untapped Cities website

An article and portfolio of my photographs from WTC on Untapped Cities, a web journal about New York City.

WTC is book about the Twin Towers, their presence and absence, and the rebuilding of the city after September 11.

It is also a tribute to New Yorkers and all who carry a piece of the great city with them. It is a book that commemorates rather than exploits, a book that preserves memories, both painful and hopeful, and celebrates, however cautiously, the resilience of this city in the face of adversity.

Purchase WTC here.

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New York/Bob Dylan

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Close up of Folk City 20th anniversary flyer (1979)
4-11-61 Robert Dylan

In many respects, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in literature is an affirmation of what those in my songwriter circle have been doing for decades – crafting songs in which music and lyrics interlock in poetic balance. Is it literature, or something else? Certainly, Dylan’s lyrics were not meant to stand alone on the page, though many of his lines and phrases have become as familiar as Shakespeare or the Bible.

My old friend, the songwriter Jack Hardy, now deceased, would have probably sneered at Dylan’s Nobel accolade – after all, in Jack’s demimonde of folk music, Dylan was a sellout. He was/is a pop star of tremendous fame and fortune. That makes him a problematic figure to some, but I see his hyper success, to a great extent, as a product of the 60s, when songwriters and rock bands burst onto the scene promoted by an expanding record industry and the rich diversity of free form radio. He tapped into the cultural revolution of the moment – as did the Beatles – and his songs were disruptive and catalytic, both in social and aesthetic terms.

It’s harder now. There are a million more opportunities to get one’s work out there, which is a good thing, but the method of distribution is atomized, and audiences break down into smaller and smaller niches. The shared experience of a stunning new song crackling across the airwaves such as “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Tangled up in Blue” is largely a thing of the past. We now rely on youtube videos, streaming music, or other electronic forms of connective tissue.

For many songwriters that also means doing it the old fashioned way, playing to people directly, making tours of small clubs and even living rooms. And in fact, the kind of song that Bob Dylan mastered was the outgrowth of an oral tradition deeply rooted in western culture, cross-pollinated by influences from the African diaspora in North America. Jack Hardy would have called it the bardic tradition (minus the lyres and leprechauns, please), and he was right. The kind of song that Dylan cultivated and ultimately transcended was based on an ancient means of lyrical communication that pre-dates what we think of now as literature.

So, I’d like to think that the Nobel committee has recognized one of the greatest and most complex artists of our time not so much for extending the boundaries of literature, but for reconnecting us to the roots of literature itself.

Cleveland/Hingetown

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Mural by Joe Lanzilotta, Hingetown, Cleveland, Ohio — © Brian Rose

Passing through Cleveland on the way to Oberlin, Ohio we stopped in an area called Hingetown west of the city’s Warehouse District. Had a great coffee at Rising Star Coffee Roasters in an old firehouse. Across the street was a mural by Cleveland artist Joe Lanzilotta.

New York/Bard College

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The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College — © Brian Rose

We traveled Upstate to visit colleges last weekend — my son is a high school senior — and he is looking at various options. We stopped briefly at Bard, a couple hours up the Hudson from New York City, and walked around Frank Gehry’s auditorium with its billowing metallic sheathing. The grey silvery material melded with a lowering sky as if threatening to fly off in the wind.

New York/Book Launch

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WTC book launch, the Great Hall, Cooper Union

The launch of WTC took place at Cooper Union in the Great Hall, the famous room where Abraham Lincoln gave his “right makes might” speech. It was an honor to present my book there as an alumnus of Cooper, and it seemed the right place for a book so interwoven with the history of New York.

Sean Corcoran of the Museum of the City of New York gave an introduction, and I then walked the audience through the book, reading excerpts from the text. Afterwards, we adjourned to the lobby for refreshments, and I signed books with my son, Brendan, helping make sales. Thanks everyone who made this possible, my Kickstarter backers, friends and family, New Yorkers.

WTC is available here.

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The Great Hall, Cooper Union

New York/2,000 Books

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Storage closet in Chelsea — © Brian Rose

This is what 2,000 books looks like when stacked nine boxes high. 169 boxes in all. Your first thought when they arrive is — what have I done?! — and then they fit exactly as determined weeks ago when they were on a container ship slowly making their way to New York. So, no surprises.

The moment of truth is here. Please join me for the book launch in Cooper Union’s Great Hall. I will be doing a slide talk, taking questions, and there will be a reception afterwards with books available for purchase and signing. See you there!

WTC Book Launch
September 8, 6:30pm

The Great Hall
Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street
New York City

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New York/WTC Launch

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Save the date — September 8th — for the launch of WTC! Books are in the port of New York and should arrive soon.

WTC Book Launch
The Great Hall at Cooper Union
7 East 7th Street
New York, NY

6:30pm (until about 8pm)
Slide talk and book signing afterwards
Light refreshments served

WTC/Advance Copies

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This is it folks. Advance copies of WTC have arrived from the printer, and — what can I say — the book is stunning. The original design for the cover had the letters WTC dissolving into a close-up of the skin of one of the Twin Towers, symbolic of their disappearance and ghostly presence. But we decided to go with silver reflective letters that almost float above the matte background. The effect is stronger, more iconic. It is simple, elegant, and I think, powerful.

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The spine and endpapers are a cool blue, taken from wedge of sky seen between the Twin Towers in one of the images. The photographs and text blocks are a consistent scale with white borders throughout except for the bleed images that break up the different sections. This is a book to be read — both the writing and the imagery.

I am very proud of WTC. It is the third in a trilogy of books about New York City. It is the culmination of a lifetime of observing the urban landscape and architecture, the center stage for human endeavor. It is a story both personal and shared — this great city and the tragedy that befell it 15 years ago. It is an attempt to honor and commemorate even in this moment of public vulgarity and corrosive discourse.

The official release of WTC is September 8th. I will be providing more information about the launch later. In the meantime, the book can be pre-ordered on my website.

New York/F&Gs

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WTC folded and gathered pages — © Brian Rose

It may look a little sloppy, but the loose pages shown in the photo above are actual offset printed pages for my forthcoming book, WTC. These are the so-called F&Gs (folded and gathered) straight off the press and air freighted from Hong Kong to New York for approval.

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WTC folded and gathered pages — © Brian Rose

The quality of the printing is stunning, and I am expecting to receive a small number of bound books in the next couple of weeks. The rest of the books will be shipped by boat and should arrive by the end of August, in time for the book launch on September 8th. More information on that soon.

New York/Baseball

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Hitting tunnel, Elizabeth, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

My son is a 17-year-old baseball player just finishing up his junior year of high school. If you have survived the move from the little league diamond to the full-sized diamond, you’re already in an elite group. The fact is, most human beings cannot throw the ball the 127 feet distance from home to second base, or third to first base. Try it sometime. And if you have survived middle school baseball and ended up on your high school varsity team, you are in the approximately 8 percent of little leaguers still playing the game.

Many people can dabble in other sports a good while — just about everyone can shoot a little basketball and play pick-up in the park. And softball is a great amateur sport played by millions. But baseball — hardball — is an activity performed by a vanishingly small group of athletes who can run and throw, and most importantly, hit a fastball arriving a few inches in front of you at upwards of 90 miles per hour. If you think you might be able to do that, try it sometime.

The reality is, however, that most of the high school players are not superior athletes, and only some of them make it on a so-called travel team. Travel teams are clubs that play the summer and fall circuit of tournaments, and individual players often attend showcases and college camps in hopes of being seen by a scout or coach who will offer them a scholarship or help them get drafted into Major League Baseball. Not all travel team players make it to the next level, but there are many opportunities to continue playing baseball in college — some that come with scholarships — though many offers are from academically prestigious schools competing with one another to get the best of the rest. Those schools may not provide athletic scholarships, but they can greatly smooth the admissions process if they want you.

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Basket of balls, Elizabeth, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

My son is on a travel team, the New York Gothams (really cool name), based in Manhattan, though a number of players come from the other boroughs. When you play the travel team circuit you quickly realize, to some consternation, that the system is rigged. Many of the teams are essentially all star teams with players recruited from all over the country. They only come together to play the tournaments, and many of the players have already committed to big time college programs.

The tournaments are run by various different organizations, many of them non-profit, but the biggest is Perfect Game, which sponsors tournaments and showcases. They are at the center of a money-driven baseball industry that starts with increasingly younger players that feeds into college ball and the MLB. They are not evil, certainly — their events are well-run and enjoyable — but they have upped the ante, in  general, creating a highly pressurized and competitive environment around youth baseball. Some have blamed them for the increase in injuries to young pitchers who push the limits of their bodies in hopes of hitting the magic number of 90mph, which will virtually guarantee a college scholarship. I would look more to the coaches and parents myself for the source of the problem, and I think that Perfect Game understands they are in a unique position to help mitigate the situation.

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Behind the bleachers, Elizabeth, New Jersey — © Brian Rose

These photographs were taken at two different Perfect Game events, a showcase in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and a tournament just a few miles away on Staten Island. The venues, particularly in the Northeast, are not always glamorous. The field in Elizabeth, set in the heart of an industrial landscape of oil refineries and container docklands, had a funky charm. The multi-field complex on Staten Island was scruffy, looked like they ran out of money, and said that’s good enough. Play ball!

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Richmond County Baseball complex, Staten Island, New York — © Brian Rose

New York/The Bronx

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White Plaiins Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

In the midst of running my Kickstarter campaign — which was successful despite a nail biting finish — I traveled up to the Bronx to see my son play baseball with his school team. New York City has decent quality baseball despite horrible conditions, fields that would be considered unplayable elsewhere. And they are often in out of the way places where space is at less of a premium. I got off the 6 train and joined a crowd of people waiting for the Bx39. It’s moments like this when the pocket camera comes out and I snap a few pictures, usually one right after another, and then I’m done. So, here are two such pictures. Thin slices of urban tissue, waiting for a bus.

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White Plains Road, The Bronx — © Brian Rose

New York/Finish Line

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Today is the last day of my Kickstarter campaign, and  the big news (at least for me) is that I have decided to print 2,000 copies of WTC instead of the 1,000 originally planned. Time and Space on the Lower East Side is sold out, and Metamorphosis is down to the last 200 copies. So, it made sense to print more this time. There are serious financial reasons for and against bumping the print run up to 2,000 — it costs more upfront, but gives me a much lower per unit cost. And the larger number of books require more storage space.

Everything is happening fast, and yesterday, the final proofs came in from the printer for approval. Above is the cover — front, back, and spine — and in the upper right are thread samples for the sewn binding. The letters WTC are reflective silver.

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Most of the pages were already approved several weeks ago, but several needed to be tweaked for color or density. The image above is a particularly difficult one because it is a back-lit scene, almost monochromatic, and any change shows in the neutral tones. The print at the top right is my reference C print, and the other two are proofs from the printer.

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Each of my books in this series — a New York trilogy — come in either the trade edition or limited edition. The limited book comes with an 8×10 inch print tipped in on the inside of the back cover, and it is housed in a slipcover box. For WTC I chose a dark grey linen slipcover with reflective silver lettering. The three books in their slipcovers can be seen above. The magenta one is Time and Space on the Lower East Side, and the middle one in a Kraft paper slipcover is Metamorphosis, Meatpacking District 1985 + 2013.


The slipcover for WTC is really beautiful.

We are on target for a September 8th release of WTC. There will be more information about it later, but the plan is a slide talk and book signing in New York at Cooper Union in the Great Hall.

Don’t forget my Kickstarter campaign — last day!!