Tag Archives: nyc

TRACK MARKS: “False Alphabet City” by Eleanor Friedberger

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Eleanor Friedberger used to live in my neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I passed her walking down my block once. Other people I’ve passed on the street in my neighborhood include Craig Finn and Ray from Girls, which is to say I might be priced out of Brooklyn before I’m done writing this. Back when Eleanor Friedberger lived in my neighborhood, she played a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, just south of here; the vast majority of times I’ve seen her play, either as a solo act or as part of her band the Fiery Furnaces, have been in Greenpoint (here, until I get priced out) or Williamsburg (just south of here, until I get priced out). At that Music Hall of Williamsburg show, I was in the front row, and toward the end of her encore during the song “My Mistakes,” she lowered herself from the stage onto the floor, using me and the guy next to me to help herself down. Offhand, I would call that brief moment the most intimate one I’ve shared with a professional rock and roll musician, especially if that sex dream I had about Shirley Manson doesn’t count. (It doesn’t count.) That moment, combined with passing her on Calyer Street, combined with the time I saw the Fiery Furnaces play at a club a block away from my old apartment that no longer exists (before you ask: both. The club no longer exists, and the apartment no longer exists, at least in the form it did when we lived there), combined with the lyric in “Owl’s Head Park” about posing for a photo on Manhattan Avenue, has lodged Eleanor Friedberger firmly into my head as one of the New Yorkiest of indie rockers. It’s a selfish distinction; she feels like New York City to me because I know that she knows my New York City – even if most of her New York references talk about further-flung places like Coney Island, Roosevelt Island, and Owl’s Head Park, places I go maybe once a year if ever; Owl’s Head Park being someplace I went mainly because of the song.

Those New York references I shouldn’t care that much about continue with “False Alphabet City,” her new single that doesn’t appear on her new album New View. She recorded it for some kind of film-based art project (oh, New York) but it stands alone just fine, even for a New Yorker who rarely finds himself in Actual Alphabet City. The way it starts with a stuttery creep throws back to her Fiery Furnaces days; the way the guitar swings in after seconds feels like a veer away from the Furnaces’ weirdness (though their pop instincts, occasionally deployed, were not too shabby). Where it really opens it up is its New York City sentiment: “Everyone’s searching for their own letter in the false alphabet city.” She’d know better than most, having spent over a decade in the city and only recently decamped for upstate. The NYC-centric lyrics, plus the tempo and instrumentation, don’t really fit in on New View, so it makes sense that it was left off; you wouldn’t want the best song on an album to be one that sounds nothing like the rest of it.

For most of her show last night at the Bowery Ballroom, I didn’t think Eleanor Friedberger was going to perform “False Alphabet City.” She played every song on New View, and had to play some older stuff, too (impeccably chosen), which didn’t seem to leave much room for a one-off single based on an art project. But she played it, late in the show, telling the crowd it was for us. That would sound like a cheesy rock-star sentiment coming from a lot of singers, but one of the more remarkable things about Eleanor Friedberger is the way she combines real, sometimes inscrutable charisma (that voice, those mysterious bangs) with a slight hesitation – she’s not a wild dancer on stage, but when she moves with her music, it looks natural and sincere. So when she tells me and a couple hundred other people that a song is for us, I believe her, no questions asked, even if I don’t see her around anymore.

Eleanor Friedberger is out on tour in support of New View right now.

East Coast vs. West Coast: On Straight Outta Compton and Fort Tilden

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Straight Outta Compton doesn’t exactly qualify as a nontraditional biopic; in terms of structure, it mostly adheres to the rise/fall narrative with the option for an additional rise. Earlier this summer, the Brian Wilson movie Love and Mercy toyed with those boundaries with far more innovation. But even set half in the ’80s, Love and Mercy, like so many movies about popular music, was rooted in baby boomer music of the ’60s; Straight Outta Compton, in telling the mostly sanctioned story of N.W.A., actually starts in the 1986, which still counts as a novelty. True to its title, the movie roots itself in the streets of Los Angeles and surrounding environs; an early scene catching Eazy E (Jason Mitchell) in a drug raid looks positively apocalyptic. But the imagery doesn’t just come from gang violence; it’s the police battering ram tearing apart a house that makes the scene look so untenable.

As the movie skips from Eazy to a young Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., playing his dad), police harassment is a common theme, along with the recurring image of black men being slammed against car hoods for no reason. Cube and Dre are more interested in lyric-writing and DJing, respectively, than the drug trade, and E wants out, too. But even when they’ve signed up with a manager (Paul Giamatti) who looks shadier as the movie progresses but downright friendly in the context of Compton, the cops won’t leave them alone: putting them on the ground, asking what they’re doing outside a recording studio, daring them to fight back. Some of this is broad (“rap is not an art!” one cop – a middle-aged black man – spits contemptuously); it’s also feels undeniably and depressingly relevant. Pop biopics often traffic in simplistic song origins, but when Straight Outta Compton cuts hard from N.W.A. getting harassed on the streets into them performing “Fuck Tha Police,” it’s not just a pat explanation of a famous and controversial song. It makes audiences (some of whom will not have experienced racism firsthand) feel the song’s righteous frustration. To put it in my dorky white terms: it feels fucking punk rock.
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