The Original Funky Drummer

Photo by Benjamin Franzen/NYT

Clyde Stubblefield, at 67, may be the most sampled drummer in recording history. He was the man responsible for the great pulse behind James Brown. The solo from Funky Drummer has appeared in perhaps hundreds of songs, mostly hip-hop, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Now he’d like a little compensation for his unique, danceable groove. Read the NYT story here. Everybody knows the groove, but here it is, in case you need a refresher.

Sanibel Island

Just returned from a week in sunny Sanibel Island, Florida. Got a chance to see our money’s worth of wildlife, including a few alligators, some flamingos, sand sharks, pileated woodpeckers, pelicans, and dolphins.

Cranes, Atlantic Yards (Prospect Heights)

Barclays Stadium construction is moving right along.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Anniversary (Village)

This Friday, March 25 is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the city’s worst fire which claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, primarily young immigrant women, many just teenagers. I’ve written about this before because I’ve participated in artist Ruth Sergel’s annual chalking art project, Chalk, which asks volunteers to write the names of the deceased in front of the brownstones, tenements, and other buildings where these women lived at the time of their deaths. All week long, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is sponsoring events commemorating the fire. An HBO movie is set to be broadcast. A parade will take place at 11am by the site of the fire on Washington and Greene, now NYU’s Brown Building. Books, lectures, union talks, and on an on. A big deal, especially at a time when unions are being mightily threatened by Republicans all across the U.S. My good friend LuLu LoLo has also been performing excerpts from her solo show, Soliloquy for a Seamstress. In her one act play, LuLu dramatizes the tragedy through the life of Sara Saracino, a young seamstress who grew up not far from LuLu’s home in East Harlem. In three scenes, she plays Sara’s mother, Sara from the time she learns of the fire breaking out to the moment she jumps, and an William Gunn Shepherd, The World reporter who broadcast news of the unfolding fire. Some photos from her performance in front of the NYU Brown Building on Saturday follow.


Katz Studio (SoHo)

Above, a Munch and a Katz. Below, a couch, flowers, and a Katz.


Coney Island


The Earthquake, the Tsunami, the Meltdown, and the Remaining 50

Like most people, I’ve been saddened and depressed by the horrible events in northeast Japan. I am grateful that nobody I know was living in the affected areas, especially my brother whose family was in Tokyo, but is now in Osaka (another 500 km from Fukushima) to wait out the nuclear dangers. Being half-Japanese, I think I understand the Japanese government’s unwillingness to admit how bad things really are. In Japan, typically doctors don’t tell the patient how sick he is. If he has cancer and has 6 months to a year to live, they just don’t tell him that. They believe it kills the spirit. I’m somewhat torn about this approach, and my father, who was a doctor, was as well. My feeling from viewing the horrific scenes of destruction, is that most likely 15-25,000 people or more may be dead, that the effect on the economy will last years, and that cleanup after the world’s second-worst (hopefully) disaster may take a decade and might require permanently isolating Fukushima off from the rest of Japan. I would love to be proven wrong.

Between the Times’ Lede coverage and a very informative (and calm) official NHK feed, I’ve been overdosing on the latest developments, worried sick about my brother and whether a radioactive plume might head toward Tokyo. The photograph which most moved me of the utter desolation was this one, taken by a photojournalist at Asashi Shimbun, Toshiyuki Tsunenari. It’s of a woman weeping in Natori.

This photograph reminded me of another, taken 74 years earlier in Shanghai:

This baby, too, is a victim, but by Japanese bombing of Shanghai in 1937. I’m not trying to make a judgment here, just comparing the similar feeling of two photographs separated by three-quarters of a century.

Lastly, I’d like to refer readers to an interesting piece I read in the Times, a story about the 50 (now 100) TEPCO workers at the Daichi Nuclear Power Plant who are in charge of trying to prevent meltdown. The safety of Japan, Asia, and the world is in their hands. They are making the ultimate sacrifice.

And now this, after a phone call this morning with my brother in Osaka, it appears that most people are calm in Tokyo, with the usual spectrum of trauma reactions of denial, anger, and mild panic. Fuel seems to be one of the biggest things in short supply. Aside from the rolling blackouts, most people are working as if nothing happened, but trucks and taxis are having trouble finding gas and deliveries of goods are falling off. One of my brother’s friends drove around for 3 hours in Tokyo looking for diapers for his baby, only to have his car run out of gas. Up north, of course, there are next to no supplies, so, in comparison, Tokyo has it very easy.

The most important thing is for Japan and foreign teams to quickly tackle cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools. As the article referenced above says, this task requires nothing short of heroism. The odds of another Chernobyl are low, but the risk of deadly radioactive contamination locally is real. It will probably take another week or two, provided nothing unexpected happens (like another earthquake or tsunami), to establish uninterrupted water cooling. Only then, will we be able to assess the real radioactive damage. I pray that Japanese leadership remains coolheaded, creative, and accepting of foreign expertise. And I pray that this horrible, horrible nightmare ends soon.

Dead Flowers (Prospect Heights)


Five Years

Near the end of a French movie, L’Homme de Sa Vie, there’s a scene where a man visits his dying father in the hospital in Paris. He has not seen his father in over twenty years because his father threw him out of the house when he discovered his teenage son was gay. When the son enters the hospital room after embracing his mother, all we see is his face as he circles the bed and all we hear is the sound of labored breaths, his father’s. About forty-five seconds pass as you watch the son breathing in sync with his father, his expressions transforming rapidly from horror to compassion to grief, the breaths’ slow progressions mimicking the reckoning of lost time. Then you see the room from above, the bird’s eye view: the son lying in the fetal position next to his motionless father. I began to cry as I watched this on my laptop, and when I looked up, I noticed that it was one-fifteen in the morning on March 6th, which would be 3:15pm in Tokyo, which was about the time my father died five years ago. I’d selected this movie fairly arbitrarily, mostly based on the reviews and the praise of its cinematography (also because it was free to stream with my Amazon Prime membership). There was very little mentioned about its gay subject matter and nothing explicit about the end, so the ending was a total surprise and, it turns out, pure coincidence.

Five years ago, my father had been in a coma for over nine months. I’d flown to Tokyo to see him in the nursing home several times and on this trip, my brother and I had agreed that his “vegetative state” was pointless and undignified. Papa, we were certain, would not have wanted to “go on” for so long. This was around the time of the Schiavo case, when a family’s private anguish over euthanasia became a political debate, the intersection of God, power of attorney, and the economics of the healthcare system. When does life stop being a life? Like a fetus, a person in a vegetative state can’t communicate anything. There may be brainwaves, but unlikely any type of cognition. My father, indeed, by this time had been reduced to a breathing corpse. Early on, occasionally I experienced slight hints of squeezebacks when I gripped his hand, but now there were none, and though his eyes were open, they stared motionless into space. Still, I played music for him, Beethoven and Bach usually. The morning of March 6th, I’d played a Woody Allen CD, a monologue which I thought the real Akio Takeuchi would appreciate, a piece called Down South about the KKK. Then I put on Samuel Barber’s Adagio, which to me is a work about longing and loss. It was my last visit; later that day I’d board a flight back to New York, which likely meant that the next time I’d see him would be at his funeral. This trip had been for about ten days, with each day including a two-hour visit where I mostly played music for him and tried to tell him what was happening in my life, an exercise which seemed about as pointless as talking to a fish. On the last day, however, I forced myself to say a lot more, how I felt about him, that though I had a lot of conflicted feelings, I still loved him and was very sad that I would never hear his stories anymore. As it neared time to leave, I gripped his cold, limp hand and said goodbye several times, as if rehearsing for some grand finale. I pressed my head on the pillow next to him and kissed his cheek and told him I loved him and when I looked up from the bed, I noticed a video camera pointed at our faces, a video camera which was likely providing a live feed to the nurses’ station. Then I said my final goodbye and squeezed his hand very firmly and when I was loosening my grip on his hand, I noticed his eyes roll away and a tear slip out of one of them. Shocked at the possibility that he’d heard and understood me, I lingered awkwardly for a few minutes. Then I left.

It was noonish, the sky which had been mostly sunny, was now mostly overcast. In ninety minutes I was on a bus to Narita, a light rain falling on the windows as Tokyo receded in the grey gloom. When I presented myself at the airline counter to get my boarding pass, the agent handed me a note: Call your brother. A few minutes later, at a green public phone, I learned that my father had died while I was on the bus.

There are two sets of photographs in this posting. The ones above this text I took while walking to the nursing home to visit my father; the ones below were taken after I’d said goodbye and was returning to the train station. I feel the first set expresses a kind of hope, while the second set seems resigned to death. Finally, in black and white, as befits Buddhist funeral custom, are two shots from the wake which began the moment I saw my father again, at the funeral home a few hours later.

While the grief has long ended, the sense of loss continues. Papa, my father, was certainly the first and most important man of my life.



Pulse Art 2011 (Chelsea)


Mannequin (Upper East Side)


Reflections (Chelsea)


Reflections on the Street (Chelsea)


Katz Studio (Chelsea)