July 31, 2014
For our money, the second best story all summer in the Sunday New York Times Metro section — the first was quite obviously this one about pickpockets — was this one about the late Truong Dinh Tran, the infamous Vietnamese Times Square flophouse operator/babydaddy many-times-over. Tran led an illustrious life that included, variously, war profiteering, daring escapes, many, many love interests, and finally, a small empire of dilapidated NYC properties. And now that he’s dead, many, many people are claiming a right to inheritance. It is a legal mess of the grandest proportions. And it stretches all the way to Philly.
Over at City Paper, Ryan Briggs did a bit of sleuthing and found out that among Tran’s holdings is the former Frankford Chocolate Factory at 21st and Washington:
Tran bought that property for $5.75 million in 2007, subsequently announcing his vision of constructing a $100 million cultural center called “New Vietnam.” He had workers hang an enormous banner on the side of the ancient factory bearing his likeness and a peculiar mission statement in English and Vietnamese: “Welcome to Philadelphia! You are invited to live your dream and be your own boss in this city.”
And then, for years, nothing — save for someone taking that banner down after Tran took up residence on another plane. And now, even as South Philly, even that far west, experiences renewal of every stripe, the building is stuck in limbo, a part of the same legal spaghetti that is also keeping Tran’s holdings in NYC on hold. In whose possession it will land next is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure, though: It won’t be anytime soon. Think of it as a dream deferred.
Wait, that’s not how it goes, is it? No? Wait, yes? Is it? Well, shit: I guess that’s the way that it goes.
And for those of you just laying ears on this for the first time: Yes, this really does exist.
Seriously brah. You ready for a beer yet?
Back in the winter of 2011, Philly writer/comic/communications manager Nicholas Mirra fired up his blog and began to tap out a little humor piece, just for fun. He titled the resulting entry “Philly Urban Legends: The Wandering Bus.” It began:
There is a bus in Philadelphia which SEPTA does not talk about. It is not listed on the website. It has neither schedule nor route. It drives the city in a pattern known only to its driver, and perhaps not even to him. Its electronic reader board never displays a number, only “SEPTA.” People who know it call it the Zero, the Random Bus, the Wandering Bus, or just The Bus. It is not a bus for people who know where they want to go. It is a bus for departures.
The Bus has a way of showing up when you are at your lowest. You will hit a certain point, feel a disconcerting crumple in an inner place you thought solid, like a hand crushing an origami box. Just then you look up to see The Bus a block away. You always need to run for it, but just a little bit. Just enough to show you need it. It will wait.
From there, the piece goes on in an almost Haruki Murakami-esque modern fabulist style. It’s a short, fun read, with a recognizable amount of soul for anyone who’s ever marveled at the various weirdness of human experience aboard public transit in Philadelphia.
But the story didn’t end there. Since 2011 — thanks to perhaps a combination of SEO terms, and one cut-and-paste whisper down the lane giving way to another, and really, who knows how — the piece has been repurposed, uncredited, on other sites and blogs, all dedicated to either urban legendry or the paranormal. Tumblrs and blogs with names like Everything Paranormal, F Yeah Creepy Shit and so on — far-flung destinations for a piece by a local writer who, we can fairly assume, had no real interest in actually starting a “real” urban legend.
Then, yesterday, a funny thing happened: The Wandering SEPTA Bus came home. Posting on the popular Old Images Of Philadelphia Facebook page, one user put forth the following:
I hope our moderator will indulge me on this one. I’m on a page of urban legends, paranormal, etc., and this one was posted about Philadelphia. I’m 28 and lived here my whole life. My dad who I read this to is 62, and lived here his whole life. We’ve never heard of this. So it made me think what are some other lesser known urban legends in this city? And can anyone shine light on this one?
Plugging in some of the same search terms that probably populated the yarn in the first place, we quickly discovered that, yes, someone could shine a light on this one. And his name is Nicholas Mirra. We asked him if, indeed, the “legend,” such as it is, began with him. He replied in the affirmative, and when we told him how it has gotten around, he responded perhaps the only way one could:
Why, yes, Nick. We’d be glad to.
If you’ve picked up this month’s issue of Tree Ring Research — your source for all the hottest news about tree rings since 1934 — you probably already know about this: Four years ago, the remains of large seafaring vessel were found at the World Trade Center site. It was a head-scratcher indeed, but by studying pieces of wood pulled from the remains, and then studying the tree rings still apparent in those pieces of wood, researchers have sourced the boat! Well, not quite exactly, but they have been able to ascertain the boat’s original point of origin.
It was from Philly.
By comparing the wood’s ring patterns with the historical record, researchers at Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab led by Dr Martin-Benito found that the ship was built in a Philadelphia shipyard around 1773. Most importantly, the rings matched samples from Independence Hall—the building where the founding fathers signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
While historians still don’t know how the boat wound up as landfill in lower Manhattan however many years later, as Philadelphians, we can definitely hazard a guess: New York City is where we send all the shit we don’t feel like dealing with anymore.
Consider “Blue Moon”: Would you call that “less distinct?”
Everyone cares about music, everyone has an opinion about it, and yet very people have the writerly skills to communicate well about music, without delving into a hazy, romanticized world of florid adjectives. It’s what makes music criticism in the popular press so hard.
On the other hand, there is this whole other wing of talking-about-music that is much more formal and professionalized: The academic discipline of musicology. It’s what I myself do. Musicology traditionally focussed on classical music, but for quite some time now, a lot of us have worked on popular music as well. The kind of musical knowledge I accumulate as a musicologist is very specialized, targeted at research and teaching, and in no way better or worse than the knowledge accumulated by your average obsessive fan. Take my students, for example. They might know an incredible amount of detail about certain things, much more so than me, but that’s fine — the two approaches work together well. For instance, next spring I’m teaching a new class at the University of Delaware called “From Hip-Hop to Soul.” It’s a large lecture class, and there will hopefully be people in that room who know a whole hell of a lot more about hip-hop than I do, especially individual scenes and artists. But, I can bring to the table a lot of history and context -— chances are, the students aren’t going to parse the world of early ’50s R&B vocal groups as much as I can -— as well as methodological tools they might not have. Many an average fan is not always aware of the close relationship of disco to hip-hop in the ’70s (or even that there was hip-hop in the ’70s), and so in addition to providing more historical detail, I can get them to hopefully think about why, ideologically speaking, that disco/hip hop connection became so clouded at various moments in history.
Which is all to say, nothing angers a musicologist more than when somebody tries to wield this formalized academic knowledge simply to be a jerk about it. As in the case of this weird review in the Delco Times of the WXPN’s Xponential Music Festival, written by their science columnist Alex Rose. Rose somehow ended up at the music festival (after apparently taking a six year break from listening to music?), and came up with this thesis: “Individual pop tracks objectively sound less distinct from one another than they used to.” (more…)
July 30, 2014
>>> Featuring a 100-person army doing battle in West Philly’s bucolic Clark Park, tonight’s performance of Henry IV: Your Prince And Mine promises to be quite unlike any Shakespeare production you’ve ever seen. A collab between Shakespeare in Clark Park and Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, the event is free, begins at 7pm, happens every night between today and Sunday, and is going to be totally wild. You should probably go.
>>> Elsewhere: Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden at the Susquehanna Bank Center, for those of you feeling some kind of way; and Writers Night In America at Jose Pistola’s.
Regular readers will know of our long-term affection for Hennessy Youngman aka once and hopefully future Philadelphian artist/rapper/soothsayer Jayson Musson. To enter the world of Hennessy Youngman is to find oneself on a plane where wrong is rightly right and that which is right is plain, though possibly complicated. Which is to say: Man, I just don’t know. What we have not remarked upon very much is the Hennessy Youngman Twitter presence which daily offers more of the same and then some. Noting how Henny’s tweets are powerful reflections of our life and times, artist Greg Allen has begun to do paintings of some of these tweets, and ‘lo, they are kind of sublime. And kind of heavy, too, when you think about it. From Allen’s artist’s statement:
The series of monochrome tweet paintings, of which @TheRealHennessy Tweets, Moby is an outstanding example, presents the viewer with a strangely puzzling juxtaposition of a minimalist canvas and painted words. Although this can be interpreted as a reference to postmodern linguistic theory, the work also points to two quintessentially American features: hard-edge abstraction and popular humor. Cleverly subverting the clean and serious language of abstract painting, the tweets’ amalgamation of low and high culture characterizes @TheRealHennessy Tweet’s most iconic work. This intelligent fusion of conceptual strategies with popular cultural references, which has been the driving force throughout @TheRealHennessy Tweet’s influential practice, is perfectly merged in @TheRealHennessy Tweets, Moby. Wittingly parodying the uncomplicated jokes from vernacular literature, the artist has found a way of incorporating a difficult subject-matter – humor – into a deeply serious artistic practice.
Well, alright then. The last one left in the series can be yours for $1800.
Previously: Scope This Mixtape: Hennessy Youngman’s CVS BANGERS
If you were pickin’ up what highly regarded sonic freakzoids Animal Collective were puttin’ down when they DJ’ed at The Dolphin earlier this summer, well, you’re in luck: Today, the group announced that Philly will be part of a three-city/three-month DJ residency, with various members of the group appearing monthly, again at The Dolphin. The dates/breakdown is as follows:
Animal Collective DJ Set Tour Dates:
08/02 Miami, FL – Grand Central $
09/10 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin ^
09/12 Brooklyn Office – Brooklyn, NY ^
09/13 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall %
10/02 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin %
10/03 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl %
10/05 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall %
11/12 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall %
11/13 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin %
11/14 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl %
$ DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Deakin and Avey Tare
^ DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Geologist and Deakin
% DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Geologist, Deakin, and Avey Tare
For a little bit of the otherworldly disco you’re in for, ecoutez:
We’re surprised it’s taken as long as it has for the various and sundry potential 2015 mayoral candidates to wake up and start making like City Councilman (and likely mayoral candidate) Jim Kenney: Each day, scan the news, see what’s around, and if you can, write a strongly worded Letter To Whoever about it. But as 2015 draws nearer, it finally looks like the Philly Politicization of Everything is about to take hold. On deck today: Senator and very, very likely mayoral candidate Anthony Williams. Seeing and feeling your (frankly quite bougie and silly) rage over the Philly’s many pop-up beer gardens being threatened by fun-crushing Pennsyltucky GOPers, Williams has penned a strong Letter To Whoever in which he outlines the many positives of beer gardens as well as their natural compatriots, food trucks:
Anthony Williams letter to LCB 7-25-14
LOL at the line about how most beer garden lots “would otherwise attract criminal activity.” Williams, you’re a natural. We’ll see you in the ring! [h/t PlanPhilly]
Previously: Corny PA State Reps Want To Take Away Your Precious Beer Gardens, Smash Them With This Petition At Once!
It has occurred to us, over these last years, that the Old People we are getting now are not nearly as good as the Old People we used to have. Think of it: Who has proved — and of course we are totally generalizing here — more spineless, more lost in their own garbled rhetoric and sad in their sweatpants as the Baby Boomers? Though they showed great promise in the beginning, that promise fizzled out quickly and today, for every Baby Boomer who’s a decent human being, there’s at least a half-dozen others buying gold off of Fox News infomercials and acting like Mexicans are the Ebola virus.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In another golden age of the American mind — one sadly now lost forever — the more chronologically advanced among us were supposed to take the long view and offer sage advice, not panic and whine. Old People, you will forgive the term, were supposed to be more like Reese Palley. Go ahead, click on the link, we’ll wait, and you’ll fall in love.
Palley, who currently has a Philadelphia mailing address but who is most likely chilling hard in Key West as we speak, was educated at The New School for Social Research and The London School of Economics in the years after WWII. If you know your literature, this was as amazing a climate for American arts and letters as we have ever had. For the next 30 years, he opened his widely influential Objet d’Art Galleries in Atlantic City, Soho, Paris, San Francisco and Palm Beach. After he did that, he circumnavigated the globe aboard his 46′ sailing vessel, called Unlikely. Along the way, he’s penned six books, been published widely elsewhere, and has generally ruled at life. He is a living Wes Anderson movie with much bigger balls.
And today, at 93, Palley is back in the news, telling the currently ailing Atlantic City their business much better than they seem to know it themselves — a task at which he has excelled since the 1970s. Back then, when AC first began to make moves towards legalizing gambling, his Objet d’Art Gallery there was going strong. And he saw gambling in AC for exactly what it was even then: “The mistake the politicians made, he said, was that they saw casino gambling as social experiment, a means of lifting the city’s residents out of poverty. Instead, he said, they should have moved the residents out of the city and turned the whole town into a tourist destination.”
People treated him like he was crazy. Crazy like a fox. Now, as AC tries turn the tides of a failing gambling industry and re-invent itself even as the city itself is lowered to junk bond status, Palley offers the best advice we’ve heard thus far: For Atlantic City to have a future, it will have to embrace the past it so callously tore down in the ’70s. And it’s here that we suggest you take a fresh look at Louis Malle’s classic film of the tear-down era, Atlantic City, which featured another of great Old Guys, Burt Lancaster. The film basically predicts a running line of ever-increasing desperation, unrelenting in this Babylon by the sea that does not know what to with itself:
But we digress. What does Palley recommend for the dying-not-doing AC?
“The stupidity is mind-boggling [...] There’s no chance of building additional tourist attractions in a dying city that’s whistling past the graveyard. They used up all their God-given chances. [...] If you want to rebuild the city, bring back the 1920s. Legalize marijuana and prostitution.”
In other words, be who, in your heart of hearts, you really are, Atlantic City. It’s worked for Reese Palley, so why shouldn’t it work for you?
Consider the urban possum: They hang out on rooftops, mess about with compost heaps, are hairy/have hairy children hanging all over them, are sociable, “construct large spherical nests,” and eat lots of ruffage. Um, yep, that describes pretty much everyone we know who’s moved to Kensington over the last decade or so. So it’s fitting that artist Jason Killinger has rendered Kenny The Possum for the second year running now in anticipation of this year’s Kensington Picnic. Featuring performances from Strapping Fieldhands, Birds Of Maya, Fursaxa, Laura Baird, Mary Lattimore, Randall of Nazareth, Spacin’ and Hohlraum (Joel Winter of Pearls and Brass & Sean McGuinness of Pissed Jeans), Kenz Picnic II will be held on Saturday, August 9th, 12PM – 8PM, in the lot of Liberty Vintage Motorcycles at Frankford Ave. near Susquehanna. Kenny might not be there during the night, but you can bet that he’ll be there later, after everyone leaves.
When the Please Touch Museum began to eye up its new location in Memorial Hall in the mid-2000s, it was a different, pre-recession world; but by the time they opened up in their new location there in 2008, they found themselves with a bill for $88M in the opening throes of the worst economic downturn of our time. From there, it’s been a steep downhill roll, and as this Bloomberg News piece points out, these days, things are looking pretty dire indeed, and it all traces back to that move:
After the 38-year-old institution skipped debt payments totaling $3.6 million since September, the bond trustee last month threatened to sell furnishings and exhibits ranging from original Lincoln Logs to a keyboard that plays as children jump on it. The museum’s plight stems from selling $60 million in tax-free debt in 2006 to outfit a larger facility with the expectation that fundraising would cover the payments.
[...]Philadelphia leases the domed National Historic Landmark building, the only major structure remaining from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, to the museum, bond documents show. As a result, the options of the bond trustee, U.S. Bank National Association, may be limited to selling items such as 1970s-era Fisher-Price wooden playhouses and a boat that children sit in and rock with a steering wheel.
That would be… metaphoric on a grand scale, no? Meanwhile, as the PTM tries with all its might to restructure, the buzzards are circling. “I don’t think they can avoid Chapter 11,” says one analyst. “I don’t see any other path.”
July 29, 2014
Starting today and running through August 3rd, Data Garden — a Philly record label/organization dedicated to the intersection of electronic music and, well, plants — will be in residence at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art Splash summer program. There, Data Garden will present programming including workshops, installation art and a performance inspired by Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians. But at the center of it all is a guy (we’ll call him a guy) named Carl. Carl The Snake Plant. Carl is a musician.
And the WXPN Key blog caught up with him for what had to be one of the more smack-worthy conversations of the year: “’Me and Lieutenant Dan, we like to travel around and go to all the music festivals and all,’ [he] said in character.”
Some kinda slow Pixar metamorphosis happening here and it’s making me uncomfortable.
We’re just lookin’ out for ya, girl.
Based here in Philly, Decoded Love is a new online dating site that emphasizes the power of offline meeting — which makes sense to anyone who’s ever used an online dating site. So what it does is outfits its members with cards bearing a QR code that links to a profile. The idea is: You meet someone, you say what’s up, you give them a card. In a perfect world, they scan your QR code, and you begin a fulfilling relationship. In the real world, they look at you incredulously, thinking, “What the fuck is this QR code garbage?,” and everyone goes back to their miserable lives in which we cannot recall a time when people met and fucked without the aid of a smartphone or computer.