Why Disco Doesn’t Suck

I grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Back then the neighborhood had a clear physical division: east of Broadway was primarily populated by Dominicans and other people of color, while the west of Broadway was primarily populated by whites. The neighborhood residents seemed to coexist and share public spaces such as Inwood Park without any strife I was cognizant of. I attended a catholic grade school where I had friends of varied ethnic backgrounds. I was fortunate in that my first encounter with bigotry was not until I was 12 years old (though as I got older, I certainly experienced it).

In the summer of 1979, I entered Inwood Park and saw this boldly spray-painted on a wall: “Disco Suxs!” For some reason, it rattled me. What was so bad about disco? I was a fan. It had ENERGY and you could dance to it. It made me happy. Back then, and to this day, I never understood people who severely went out of their way to slam something that was not of their taste. If you don’t like something, ignore it and move on—why deface a wall? Why troll online?

I asked my parents about it and that became our first talk about bigotry. Because they knew I loved music so much, they used the history of Motown Records as a way to explain it to me. They noted how Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music. After that talk, I never looked at or heard those records in the same way again.

Years later, on a VH1 Behind the Music episode on disco, virtuoso musician and producer, Niles Rodgers conveyed that the hate stemmed from the fact that it was the music of minorities that included people of color and the LGBTQ community. Music critic Robert Christgau noted that homophobia, and most likely racism, were the driving forces behind the anti-disco movement[1] that resulted in a preposterous disco demolition night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The way the 1960s counterculture ended at Altamont, disco ended at this event (by the way, those in attendance trashed the stadium[2]). The haters were also likely intimated by the liberating physicality of disco dancing and hastily labeled the music as vacuous.

Concurrently forceful and sensual, disco was the resurgence of Dionysian pagan culture in the 20th century. Disco is not vacuous and is indeed complex.

First and foremost, disco took significant effort to produce than say the four-piece bands found in other genres. Disco often contained an ample band, with chordal instruments, drums, percussions, horns, a string orchestra, and various classical solo instruments like the flute. The recording of complex arrangements with a large number of instruments required a team that included a conductor and mixing engineers. Disco also had extraordinary vocalists that included powerhouses such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand as well as Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Chic, France Joli, Michael Jackson, Cheryl Lynn, Sylvester, A Taste of Honey, and Barry White.

After the ridiculousness of disco demolition night, disco found a second life in early rap, notably “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang which sampled Chic’s brilliant song, “Good Times.” Disco still lives on under the sapped rubric of Dance Music. Dance music is not as beautifully produced as Disco but has had many remarkable moments over the last forty years.

If you hated Disco in the 1970s, let me encourage you to put aside your prejudices and put on a pair of headphones and embrace the genius. Let the music take you away.

www.edwinroman.com


[1] http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/pnj/pj78.php

[2] http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?c=4548

Save DC Daily!

DC Daily is a soon to be cancelled daily comic book news show available on DC Universe, a unique streaming service that includes original programming AND comic books.

My love affair with comic books began in the 1970s with the television series Wonder Woman: it was because of Lynda Carter that I picked up a comic book! I remember the first issue I ever read where Wonder Woman said things like, “Great Hera” and “Merciful Minerva.” This intrigued me because I was learning about Greek mythology in school. I read Wonder Woman to find the connections in the architecture of Paradise Island or the Greek Gods and Goddesses the Amazons worshiped. I remember once noting an inconsistency with regards to how she would sometimes use the Roman names for Greek Gods and vice-versa.

About one year after I started reading Wonder Woman, the now classic Superman: The Movie was released, and it cemented my bond with comic books. I then started to read other titles such as Action Comics, All Star Squadron, Justice League, and, without fail, The New Teen Titans. I read the first five years The New Teen Titans—stories that today’s generation appropriately lauds (and was discussed several times on DC Daily!)

When DC launched the streaming service in 2018, I enthusiastically signed up on the first day. Did I mention how much more fun it is to have ‘adult money’ to indulge in my comic book pleasures?

From day one, I was hooked on DC Daily. I loved the mix of interviews, comic book discussions, back lot tours, fan interaction, and artist showcases (they even once had a cooking show). I looked forward to seeing the articulate and thoughtful hosts. Their interaction with each other reminded me of being 15 years old and discussing comics with friends. I especially loved when John Barrowman appeared on the show—he was born the same year I was and is a fellow middle-aged fanboy (and quite hilarious, unlike the character he played on Arrow)! DC Daily was what I did every day when I got home from work: it was the thoughtful escapism I desperately needed after a long day at work and from the day’s news and events.  

Most importantly, DC Daily was there for me when I needed it the most: during the pandemic. I am really angry and heartbroken that the streaming service cancelled the show while the pandemic is still raging. Every time I go to Midtown Comics or JHU Comic Books alone, I always get into conversations with a stranger or staff and they are always so thoughtful and engaging. I always feel a sense of community in comic book shops—they are spaces for creative minds. I got that same feeling watching DC Daily. True, I wasn’t speaking directly with them, but that same stimulation is there.

DC Daily is not the only comic book show I watch. Variant Comics on YouTube is probably the best after DC Daily, but they are not on every day and don’t have access to things like back lot tours or many interviews with people in the industry.  

I hope that DC Universe reconsiders this cancellation. They are thoughtlessly losing a bright jewel in the crown.

P.S. Thank you to everyone on DC Daily for being a bright spot these last two very long years. I hope it not is good bye, but see you later.

edwinroman.com

Community Organizing and Voting

A Brief History of Community Organizing in the 20th Century

Community organizing seeks better responsiveness of institutions to the needs of the community by addressing and restructuring decision-making processes. Community organizers recruit residents to take on powerful institutions in their community through direct, public confrontation and action. Respected figures such as Saul Alinsky and noted organizations such as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have advanced community organizing.

Saul Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940. The IAF is a grassroots organizing network involving people in over sixty cities in the U.S. that draws together coalitions of poor and middle class people to address poverty, housing, education, public infrastructure and many other issues. However, the IAF is not necessarily about issues: its aim is to build a culture of vibrant participatory democratic practices that gradually transform political and economic power. The IAF is an organization of organizations, drawing upon religious congregations, neighborhood associations, community centers, and unions. Issues tend to be chosen and negotiated with an eye to how they might strengthen and broaden grassroots democratic relationships. The IAF has been successful at drawing people into long-term democratic practices and bridging relationships that cross lines of complex difference, creating new political relationships that concurrently work with traditional and the emerging.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), like the IAF, is also a grassroots community organization of low and moderate-income people. Started in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado, the early version of ACORN helped people obtain clothing and furniture; it campaigned for schools to provide healthy, affordable lunches and promoted Vietnam Veterans’ rights. The organization then branched out into housing and workers’ rights advocacy and has helped thousands of working-class and poor citizens obtain home loans, register to vote and fight for better wages. ACORN differed from IAF in that it engaged in electoral politics as a way of gaining power and ddi not rely on support from organizations and churches, but on door-to-door solicitation and dues paying members. ACORN did not limit itself to local issues and campaigns; and was very particular about picking winnable issues. ACORN found that it could win on issues that are not just about welfare and the poor.

As the IAF expanded, Alinsky felt that the most essential element of organizing was relational organizing. To make IAF organizations more cohesive and assertive, especially when dealing with municipal government, Alinsky encouraged face-to-face meetings. He also believed in establishing local power through individual local leaders who organized and mobilized the poor. One of ACORN’s strengths is its combination of insider and outsider tactics and strategies: activists and leaders often work both inside the system (organizing the poor) and outside the system (protests and confrontation). ACORN did not shy away from using the in-your-face confrontational protest tactics. ACORN was unapologetic about its tactics because it helped draw attention to neglected issues and built membership.

One criticism of the IAF was the lack of diversity among the organizing staff. ACORN’s organizing staff was 90% white in the 1970s and 1980s, but the organization has made considerable progress hiring and retaining organizers of color. Regarding matters of membership and possible racial issues, both organizations approached it in somewhat similar ways: they essentially ignored it. IAF’s practice of multiracial equality presupposes that common religious values creates a basis for cooperation that over time could overcome longstanding prejudices and create a mutual understanding. IAF emphasized the economic and ignored the racial fearing that raising the issue of race could disrupt and divide their organization. ACORN rarely framed issues racially; therefore, it had difficulty forming alliances or coalitions with Black organizations. ACORN also did not organize around single issues such as desegregation, police brutality or the loss of needed public services.

Interestingly, The IAF and ACORN had chapters in some of the same cities that often work on similar issues, but they never work together. Because the IAF uses religious values as a unifying force, their local chapters usually had more members than ACORN’s, but it never sought to build an amalgamated organization that could have waged national policy campaigns. Interestingly, IAF’s Baltimore affiliate, BUILD, coordinated the first successful living wage campaign, but was not able to translate that into a national movement. ACORN, on the other hand, had used its amalgamated structure to build a national living wage movement, with victories in several cities.

While organizations such as unions have historically played an effective role in representing everyday citizens, those organizations now have weaker organizing power. What we have left are community-based organizations. The IAF and ACORN both sought broad-based constituencies that spanned race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and geography. But in this political atmosphere, can they survive?

The Mid to Late 2000s

In 2007, ACORN had field offices in 100 cities and 260,000 members, mostly from minority communities. ACORN helped register more than 1.6 million voters nationally between 2004 and 2008. In 2004, it initiated a successful ballot measure raising Florida’s minimum wage. But by 2008, Republicans were accusing ACORN of voter fraud, even though prosecutors across the country failed to find any evidence. Let us be clear that ACORN was indeed contributory in getting Barack Obama elected.

In 2009, workers at ACORN were secretly recorded by conservative hacks Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe. The videos were heavily edited to create a misleading impression of their activities.

In September of 2009, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to ban the ACORN from receiving federal funding. Here’s how the Democratic leadership voted on the “De-fund ACORN” amendment (A “yes” is a vote to de-fund”):

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: did not vote.
  • Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen: Yes
  • Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: Yes
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn: No
  • Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip John Lewis: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Maxine Waters: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip John S. Tanner: did not vote
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Ed Pastor: Yes
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Jan Schakowsky: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Crowley: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Diana DeGette: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip GK Butterfield: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra: No
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair George Miller: Yes
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair Rosa DeLauro: Yes
  • Organization, Study, and Review Chairman Michael Capuano: No

In December of 2009, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on ACORN activities, commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee. It noted that ACORN has not been found to violate any federal regulations in the past five years. The report’s other findings included that there were no instances of voter fraud by people who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees, and no instances where ACORN violated terms of federal funding in the last 5 years. In fact, the CRS found that O’Keefe and Giles may have violated Maryland and California laws banning the recording of face-to-face conversations without consent of both parties.

Postmortem Denouement

I can’t help but wonder how could an organization that had become a force across the country, mobilizing low- wage minority workers and Democratic voters, be pushed to its downfall by its beneficiaries? Alinsky wrote, in the afterword of his Reveille for Radicals (on page 225), “A political idiot knows that most major issues are national, and in some areas international, in scope. They cannot be coped with on the local community level.” He also warned against jumping directly to a national organization while skipping “the organization of the parts” (page 226). Is this what happened to ACORN? Were they not firmly rooted in the communities they worked in? If they were, would politicians have been less inclined to throw them under the bus?

Speaking of politicians, I want to single out Debbie Wasserman Schultz as one glaring example of what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

In 2011, she missed 62 votes of Congress. In December 2015, Wasserman Schultz was one of 24 co-sponsors of H.R. 4018, authored by GOP Congressman Dennis A. Ross, which would delay the implementation of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. Wasserman Schultz was among a dozen Florida representatives who cosponsored the legislation that would delay the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules by two years. The fees for these loans, over the course of a year, can add up as high as the equivalent of a 300% APR.

The following year, during the 2016 presidential primary, Wasserman Schultz only scheduled six debates, significantly fewer than in previous election cycles (and half as many as the Republicans counterparts). Some of Wasserman Schultz’s actions that the media covered during the primaries included:

  • halting the Sanders’ campaign’s access to DNC databases;
  • defending the superdelegate system used in the Democratic primaries;
  • rescinding a prior ban on corporate donations;
  • and accusing Sanders supporters of violence at the Nevada Convention.

The following story from Politico is an advisable read: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774

The right wing’s efforts to demonize ACORN had made the organization a discomfiture to Democratic leadership, and it was far easier to throw ACORN under the bus than it would be to stand up for fundamental fair play and justice, and actually investigate the charges before deciding what the appropriate response might be. After the debacle of the 2016 election, as well as later this year, Democrats like Wasserman Schultz will wish they hadn’t been so cavalier especially if the GOP continues to prevent those who put them into office from voting.

Edwin Roman

https://edwinroman.com/index.html

Marginalized Voices in Museums

I am currently working on a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. This blog entry was originally submitted as an assignment in the Fall 2019 semester.

Five months before the Metropolitan Museum opened its exhibition, Harlem on my Mind, in January of 1969, Thomas P. F. Hoving, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City, noted:

“To me Harlem on My Mind is a discussion. It is a confrontation. It is education. It is a dialogue. And today we better have these things. Today there is a growing gap between people, and particularly between black people and white people. And this despite the efforts to do otherwise. There is little communication. Harlem on My Mind will change that.” [i]

There was no meaningful dialogue. Instead, Harlem residents were excluded from the planning process and artwork by Harlem artist was curiously excluded. The museum instead decided to use oversized photo-murals to display images of African-American people. The exhibition set off protests that fostered activism from the African-American art community that looked to address the patently patronizing discrimination[ii].

The same year the Harlem on My Mind exhibition opened, two museums took root that stemmed from this era of vibrant activism. El Museo del Barrio was founded in Spanish Harlem and was first located in a public school storage room. It focused on the Puerto Rican art from the diaspora that settled in the neighborhood (“El Barrio” is Spanish for the neighborhood). One of the first shows, “The Art of Needlework” was dedicated to the crocheting techniques of Puerto Rican women[iii]. Meanwhile, downtown, The Leslie-Lohman Museum, the only art museum in the world to exhibit artwork that conveys the LGBTQ experience, started to take root when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman, who had been collecting art for several years, mounted their first exhibit of gay art in their SoHo loft on Prince Street in New York City[iv].

El Museo del Barrio’s founder, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, was part of a coalition of artists pursuing representation in New York museums. Unlike most museums in New York City at the time, El Museo was founded without assistance from wealthy patrons. It filed as nonprofit organization in 1971[v]. Similarly, after that first loft show in 1969, Leslie and Lohman opened a commercial art gallery devoted to gay art, but it closed in the early 1980s with the arrival of the AIDS epidemic[vi]. The pair then rescued the work of artists dying from AIDS from their families who wanted to destroy it. In 1987, the Leslie and Lohman applied for nonprofit status to establish a foundation to preserve their collection of gay artwork and continue exhibitions. The IRS actually objected to the word “gay” in the foundation’s title and hindered the nonprofit application until 1990[vii].

El Museo moved to its current location in 1977, on the ground floor of the city-owned Heckscher Building, on 5th Avenue and East 104th Street. Meanwhile, the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation’s first location was in a basement at 127B Prince Street in New York City. In 2006, the Foundation moved into a ground floor gallery at 26 Wooster Street in SoHo. Both museums were founded under a similar premise, but fifty years later, only one of these museums has upheld its innovative mission.

In August 2019, The New Yorker wrote an article titled “The Battle Over the Soul of El Museo del Barrio[viii]” noting that during the annual Museum Mile festival (of which El Museo was one of the founding members) a group of protesters distributed flyers that read “El Museo Fue del Barrio” (The Museum was from the neighborhood). The protesters read from a printed statement, called the Mirror Manifesto[ix], that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto notes:

“If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.”

This is distinct from Latin America and should not be confused. For too long, this ambiguity has rendered Latinx artists invisible. Latinx artists continue to be marginalized, underrepresented, and erased. El Museo has shamelessly latched on to this ambiguity and forfeited its original mission. It has done very little as an institution to foster and cultivate Latinx Art.

The museum has failed to launch a studio residency program, it has failed to create an environment where intellectual work for us, by us, can be incubated. It has failed to cultivate diverse board members that represent the Latinx community. It has failed to expand board members beyond funding/development needs, or made sure to its boards’ institutional actions, partnerships, and programs correspond with its mission.”

How did El Museo get here?

During its first two decades in existence, El Museo’s mission was clearly defined as an institution that researched and displayed the cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican diaspora that lived in Spanish Harlem. By the late 1980s, Spanish Harlem was longer a Puerto Rican enclave; immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic had moved into the neighborhood. El Museo, with some struggle, reflected this[x]. However, in 2002, El Museo appointed its first non-Puerto Rican director, Julián Zugazagoitia, a Mexican who was previously at the Guggenheim. That same year, an exhibit devoted to Mexico’s most famous artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera was mounted[xi]. For many in El Barrio, elite Latin-American art was overshadowing the El Museo’s grassroots mission. These concerns were fully realized in 2019 when The New York Times reported that El Museo announced that its annual gala would honor Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, a wealthy German art collector known for her connections to the European far-right and Steve Bannon who once complained that Pope Francis is too liberal. After considerable backlash, she was uninvited[xii]. Two weeks after that faux pas, El Museo was inundated with complaints over a planned exhibit devoted to Chilean filmmaker and artist, Alejandro Jodorowsky. In the early 1970s, Jodorowsky said that a rape scene he performed for one of his films was real and not staged (something he later recanted). The exhibit was cancelled[xiii].

Why hasn’t the Leslie-Lohman Museum encountered similar issues? Both institutions started with the same idea: a museum for the marginalized by the marginalized. While both institutions engage the public in comparable ways, the Leslie-Lohman Museum still has not experienced the full growing pains: El Museo was granted nonprofit status nearly twenty years before Leslie-Lohman and it was only in 2011 that the State Board of Regents finally granted a Certificate of Museum Status[xiv]. However, the Leslie-Lohman museum does publish a quarterly journal, The Archive, while El Museo does not (El Museo’s early research should have been published in a peer-reviewed journal).

Perhaps the one significant thing that distinguishes El Museo from Leslie-Lohman has to do with its very specific geographical connection. The Mexican, Central American, and Dominican immigrants who moved into the neighborhood thirty years ago, as well as most of the Puerto Ricans, are now being forced out via gentrification[xv].  The New Yorker article noted that the board includes only one member who lives in the neighborhood. The article also noted that El Museo’s founder, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, now resides in Highland Park, New Jersey. Interestingly, the Brooklyn Museum has recently explored the impacts of gentrification[xvi]. El Museo needs to do the same starting inside its own doors.

Regardless of who lives in the neighborhood, El Museo’s leadership should not lose sight of the museum’s mission. I would be the first to object if the Leslie-Lohman Museum decided to one day display the work of LGBTQ allies—regardless of their good intentions, they will never understand and properly convey the experience of being LGBTQ, the museum’s mission. The Mirror Manifesto protestors are right, the museum leadership has been gentrified and operating under a disguised blanketed term, “Latin American,” that solely considers the virtue of surname without considering the Latinx communities, and their art, fostered by diaspora (regardless of whether it is from Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Central America). And while I certainly think that everyone should experience the work of artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their work comes from a different PLACE that has little to do with Spanish Harlem, or the Latinx communities now living (and creating) in New York City and the United States.

Given the direction that El Museo is currently navigating, it is not hard to imagine that they will one day have an exhibit called “Spanish Harlem on My Mind.”


[i] “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind (1969)” Author(s): Bridget R. Cooks American Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 5-39

[ii] “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind (1969)” Author(s): Bridget R. Cooks American Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 5-39

[iii] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004. https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[iv] https://www.leslielohman.org/about

[v] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004. https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[vi] https://rainbowsudan.wordpress.com/tag/leslie-lohman-gallery-the-ultimate-gay-portfolio/

[vii] https://rainbowsudan.wordpress.com/tag/artistic-outlaws-leslie-and-lohman-have-fought-to-preserve-gay-art-for-three-decades/

[viii] Osorio, Camila “The Battle Over the Soul of El Museo del Barrio” The New Yorker August 13, 2019

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-battle-over-the-soul-of-el-museo-del-barrio

[ix] https://elmuseodelosbarrios.home.blog/mirror-manifesto/

[x] Palacios, Nicholle Lamartina “Latino Art in NYC: A Short History of El Museo del Barrio” Huffington Post https://www.huffpost.com/entry/latino-art-in-nyc-a-histo_b_6305488

[xi] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004. https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[xii] Moynihan, Colin “El Museo del Barrio Drops Plan to Honor German Socialite” The New York Times January 10, 2019.

[xiii] Moynihan, Colin “El Museo del Barrio Cancels Jodorowsky Show” The New York Times January 28, 2019.

[xiv] http://columbiajournal.org/get-real-the-leslie-lohman-museum-protects-an-artistic-legacy/

[xv] Chiusano, Mark “Is rezoning in East Harlem a Trojan horse for gentrification?” AM New York August 28, 2017

[xvi] Davis, Ben “Activism Pays Off, as Brooklyn Museum Embraces Anti-Gentrification Forum”

Edwin Roman

https://edwinroman.com/index.html

Edwin Roman: The Year in Pictures 2019

Last year I noted that 2018 was not a very productive year with regards to photography largely stemming from health issues. 2019 was not much better, but for different reasons. In the fall, I started a Master’s degree in Museum Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. And just before I started at CUNY SPS, I spent time working on the two photography books I self-published in November. The first book, 21st Century Coney Island, is a collection of photographs taken over the course of three years starting in the summer of 2016 and up to August 2019. Proceeds of this book will be donated to Habit for Humanity of Puerto Rico. The second book, A New Yorker in New Mexico, collects photographs from two trips, one in 2012 and another in 2018. Proceeds of this book will donated to the While they Wait fund.

The photographs I am sharing here have not been published anywhere online or in print. They were taken between February and August of 2019. I hope you enjoy this collection.

A Garden Stroll
The first picture of 2019. Taken at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Cherished Time.
People watching in Chinatown on Allen Street.
West Side Weather Vane
As seen near Broadway and 100th Street.
Sole Glamper
This was taken on Governors Island. I wanted to take more pictures of this woman,
but she noticed me. I wish she had not, because she was quite interesting.
End of The Line
A detail from the now defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. This park is just wonderful. I recommend you visit—even if you don’t have a car, you can still get there via the Path train and then the Light Rail.
Stand Out
Even before I color splashed this photograph, this guy’s sneakers stood out!
This was taken on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Two Benches
People watching at Tallman State Park upstate. In the distance you can see the new Cuomo Bridge that replaces the Tappan Zee. I understand that when it is fully completed will have a pedestrian path—maybe I can get some photos next year!
Cold Bench
A chilly day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Big Hairy Pussy
Perhaps the person who wrote this has a large cat…?
This was taken in the East Village.
Rockland Bench
As seen at Rockland State Park. Yes, I photographed a number of park benches this year.
Smoking
I was out one day on a photo safari and was standing on Morningside Drive photographing the Manhattan Valley landscape and happen to notice these two young men below me on the steps smoking some weed.
Save Us
As seen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
C
From my last day out with my camera in 2019.
An architectural detail from a building on 6th Avenue.
Tallman View
Another trip up to Tallman State Park. In the distance is the Cuomo Bridge that replaces the Tappan Zee. Pretty soon the trees are going to grow higher and block the view completely.
Framing
As seen on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Colorful Sunset
An outtake from my book, 21st Century Coney Island. I didn’t use this picture because I choose a different and smaller square size for the book.
Drummer Boy
As seen at Washington Square Park.
Scooted
As seen in the West Village.
Baby Birds
This was taken inside a restroom at Rockland State Park. This picture reminds me of one I took in 2017 of a little turtle in this same park who was burying her eggs on shore.
Iron Floral
As seen at Riverside Park.
Stone Cold
As seen outside of the Brooklyn Museum on a chilly day!
To Trains
Another photograph from the now defunct Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. This building is still quite elegant.
Time Out
This young man was taking a break after making a delivery. This was taken in Chinatown.
Anchor Up.
As seen from a ferry en route to Governors Island.
Manhattan
What I love about this picture is that there is not a construction crane in sight!
Happy Text
As seen in Bryant Park.
Roar
As seen outside of the Brooklyn Museum.
Good Night Coney Island
I used a different photograph of this young man on the back of my book,
21st Century Coney Island.
Crane Operation
As seen from the ferry en route to Governors Island.
Let Us Have Peace
As seen at Riverside Park, Grant’s Tomb.
Isn’t this what we all want?

Thank you for stopping by.

See more of my artwork at edwinroman.com.

The Music Video as Art: Dark Ballet by Madonna

Since the video became a ubiquitous part of popular music nearly forty years ago, it has sometimes struggled as an art form. The marriage has not always been harmonious: sometimes you have great songs with mediocre videos and vice versa. What I have always appreciated about it, when it does approach art, is that a story or message can be conveyed without the constraint of a script, spoken word, or even the lyrics of the song.

Madonna, who rose to prominence during the early years of the music video, has produced a stunning body of work in both video and song. However, in the last decade, this has not been case; she seemed more occupied with cannibalizing younger recording artists and profitable touring than producing thoughtful work. Mercifully, she has returned to peak form with “Dark Ballet.”

The song and video are essentially a pop version of the opera by Tchaikovsky, The Maid of Orleans, which tells the story of Joan of Arc. Interestingly, this is not Madonna’s first time exploring Joan of Arc in her work: in her last album, Rebel Heart, she had a song titled “Joan of Arc.” In my review, I noted it as the most irritating song because she was essentially complaining about being famous and I questioned what that had to do with Joan of Arc.

“Dark Ballet” is told from Joan of Arc’s point of view. In the brilliant bridge of the song, set to a pulsating electronic arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker, Madonna speaks:

“I will not denounce the things that I have said
I will not renounce my faith in my sweet Lord
He has chosen me to fight against the English
And I’m not afraid at all to die ’cause I believe him
God is on my side and I’ll be his bride
I am not afraid ’cause I have faith in him
You can cut my hair and throw me in a jail cell
Say that I’m a witch and burn me at the stake
It’s all a big mistake
Don’t you know to doubt him is a sin?
I won’t give in”

The video is book ended by quotes, with one by Joan of Arc and another by queer poet and activist Mykki Blanco, who was cast as Joan of Arc in the video. Madonna is surprisingly absent except for a very brief cameo. Blanco gives us some incredible acting here. I also can’t heap enough praise on the cinematography, production, and direction by Emmanuel Adjei (he is one to watch).

And while the song and video is about Joan of Arc, it feels as if Madonna and Adjei are also addressing the toxic mix of bigotry and religion that pervades the world: too many people use religion to justify their prejudices and fears.  

Madonna’s pop version of the opera The Maid of Orleans is “Dark Ballet.”

www.edwinroman.com

New York City Is Surrounded By Water

Sometimes living in New York City can be overwhelming. Believe it or not, there are oases in the concrete jungle. I rarely share them, but when I do it is when I bring a close friend to experience it. Many of them are near water. I remember once bringing a friend to one of my secret places near the water and he noted how amazing it was to find this peaceful place surrounded by such overwhelming noise.

I experienced great peace and inspiration on the days I took these photographs. I hope they make you feel the same way too.


“Mist to mist, drops to drops. For water thou art, and unto water shalt thou return.” ― Kamand Kojouri


edwinroman.com

Book Review: Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo

I love cats, art, comic books, science fiction, film, Alfred Hitchcock, documentaries, illustration, photography, architecture, music,humor, and food television shows. I love it when two of my favorite things meet— such as cats and science fiction.

Over the years, I have had numerous conversations with friends regarding science fiction franchises. I have always favored Star Trek above all because of the extensive story of Starfleet via decades of films and television series. Cats have appeared on Star Trek, in two episodes of the original series (on the episode “Assignment: Earth” I loved that Isis the Cat broke through Spock’s cool logic) as well Data’s cat, Spot, on The Next Generation who appeared in several episodes (my favorite moment between them was in TNG’s first Film, Generations, when Data finds that Spot survived the ship’s brutal crash). I named one of my cats Seven after the character from Voyager.

My second favorite science fiction franchise is Alien. Yes, there have been several missteps since the second film, but I appreciate the various visions that have been brought to the overall story. Only one cat has made an appearance so far: Jonesy, the Nostromo cat.  He appeared in the first Alien film and its follow-up, Aliens. And let’s face it, he is the only cat the franchise will ever need because he had a ton of personality! I am not the only one who thought Jonesy was a personality—not long after I got on Facebook, I found a that Jonesy has a presence there! More recently, is the brilliantly graphic novel by illustrator Rory Lucey, Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo.

Jonesy is a graphic novel in the tradition of Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, in that there is no dialog. The story is told from the point of view of Jonesy, so why would there be a need for words? The novel faithfully follows the first Alien film, but adds some details that we may not have seen in the film. For example, when the Nostromo crew is first awoken from their cryostasis sleep, Jonesy, in a bit of foreshadowing, gives Ripley a preview of the facehugger. Similarly, we see what Jonesy is doing while the crew is out investigating LV-426.

As scary as Alien is, this book is really funny—and it is because of Jonesy! Cats are funny and Lucey brilliantly captures that. My favorite moment is near the end of the book when Ripley is trying to eject the alien off the shuttle and Jonesy is in the cryostasis tube licking himself!

The illustrations are terrific and Lucey shows that he has lived with a cat (he dedicates the book to his wife Emily and his own orange feline, Caesar). He beautifully conveys with watercolors all the crazy and funny things cats do.

French author, Colette, once said, “There are no ordinary cats.” Lucey upholds this with his truly wonderful and entertaining book. A MUST for fans of the Alien franchise!

www.edwinroman.com

Frida in Brooklyn

I visited the Brooklyn Museum on the opening day of the wonderful and timely exhibition, “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving.” I naively thought that I could beat the crowds: after all, I had arrived at admissions at 12 noon, exactly one hour after the museum opened. Instead, I was surprisingly told I would have to wait until 2:30pm to enter the exhibition (in the meantime, I was able to enter and explore the rest of the museum)! My first recommendation is to buy tickets in advance. I checked the website and noticed that weekend shows for the next several weeks are already sold out.

My second recommendation is to put away your phone! Visitors are told that photography is not allowed, but that didn’t stop quite a few rude people from taking out their phones and ruining the experience for others. If you are one of those people who just can’t help themselves, consider this for a moment: when you snap a picture of a painting, that you can probably find online via a museum website, how often do you go back and look it? How often do you study it? Why ruin a rare moment of seeing a painting in person by fumbling with your phone? And if you are snapping a picture on your phone for posting on social media, the exhibition has two interesting displays to do just that before you enter the actual exhibition.

The exhibition is presented thematically, using paintings by Kahlo and peers, photographs, and Mexican ceramics to explore Kahlo’s identity. Clothing and make-up are central to this: for example, Kahlo used native clothing to express her Mexican nationalism. It was surprising to see that she loved using perfume and Revlon products (Revlon is the major supporter of this show). Many of these items had been stored in Casa Azul, the home, Kahlo shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

One of the most absorbing, and heartbreaking, pieces of art was a lithograph depicting Kahlo’s miscarriage. It was as powerful as the “Henry Ford Hospital” painting, which explores the same subject. I absolutely adored the home movies that were shown, which I saw twice! Among my favorite pieces were the photographs, many of which I had never seen before. Standouts were those by Gisele Freund, known for her documentary photography and portraits of writers and artists.

The major problem with this exhibition is how some of the artwork is displayed, most notably the photographs. Many are presented in groups of four, with two of the four well below eye range. This means that if two people stand in front of the four pictures, others have to wait to properly study and contemplate them (as well as contend with the impolite people who insist on taking pictures). With the crowds, this simply does not work. The first two rooms were rather small with one wasted on a second ticket checkpoint. Yes, there were two checkpoints to get into the exhibition: one at the door and one in front of a wall, projecting images of Kahlo. A wall. Interesting.

It has been over sixty years since Kahlo has passed away, but she still continues to fascinate. This exhibition is worth seeing—but only if you can go during a weekday, with minimal crowds. Each piece is worth quiet contemplation. The exhibition notes how much she loved New York City—the world is here and that is what she embraced and probably why we embrace here today. She is a voice from Mexico’s past conveying the need for more bridges and less walls.

www.edwinroman.com

A Motherfucking Mistake

Let me preface this blog entry by conveying that it is absolutely acceptable to criticize ideas, politicians, and anyone you support. Similarly, one should be open to criticism and should be constantly reexamining their own beliefs. Without this, there is no growth.

Yesterday Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), when speaking to supporters at an event on the night of her swearing in, said:

    “when your son looks at you and says ‘mama, look you won, bullies don’t win.’ And I say ‘baby, they don’t’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

Dropping the motherfucker bomb was a colossal mistake.

I have been known to drop fuck bombs often, but I don’t do that at work (unless I am in a private conversation with a close colleague). I have two voices: my professional voice and my personal / artistic voice, the one that has no problem saying the word fuck. I also don’t have a problem with women dropping fuck bombs. I have been a fan of Madonna for over thirty years and can’t think of any other entertainer, male or female, who has dropped more fuck bombs. But note, she is an entertainer, not a politician.

I have come to realize, in my middle age, that the overuse of swear words is just a lazy way of expressing yourself or the individual simply does not have a good command of the language—something Trump demonstrates everyday whether in front of the camera or on Twitter. In essence, what Tlaib did what stoop down to Trump’s level. She also gave him what he wanted.

Trump and other conservatives will now use Tlaib’s motherfucker bomb as an endless talking point to steer the conversation away from the real pressing issues. And of course, the bigots are going to endlessly EMPHASIZE the fact that she is a Muslim. The rules for a politician of color are not the same; Obama would never have been elected if his credentials were as paper thin as Trump’s.

Earlier today, I commented on a Twitter posting that supported Tlaib that this was a mistake and people responded with comments that she conveyed what we were thinking. One person responded that intelligent people swear more and that I should Google the studies. How do you explain Trump? Also, some additional context is needed beyond that overshared article and meme. One ridiculous post actually said that no one should criticize Tlaib because Trump sat there smiling while Kanye dropped the fuck bomb in the Oval Office. Again, Kanye, like Trump, is an entertainer. The most vexing were the ones that tried to justify her behavior by saying that Trump does it. No. I agree with the line of thought that we cannot normalize Trump’s lack of decorum, which Tlaib did by acting like him.

Our politicians are not entertainers and should be held to a higher standard. Speaking eloquence is not required, but expletives are always inexcusable. The most scandalous thing I want the politicians I support to do is to wear a tan suit.

edwinroman.com