Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Photo Review: David Lynch at Morrison Hotel Gallery, NYC

“I’ve got to learn more about this guy!” the college-age girl in the expensive dress exclaimed from behind her bangs.

“You know, if I was seeing this exhibit and I didn’t know who the photographer was, I would say that he was ripping off David Lynch,” the guy with the backpack to her right grinned. “I wasn’t aware that he also did photography.”

The girl looked at him quizzically.

“A lot of these look like movie stills, don’t you think?” the guy asked.

The girl looked confused. “I’ve never heard of him,” she explained.

The guy leaned in gently: maybe there was some confusion. “Blue Velvet? Did you ever see that? Wild at Heart?” He reached for an obscure one: “The Straight Story?”

No reaction.

“Eraserhead?”

The girl shook her head. “I really like his stuff, though.”

Which in a way perfectly crystallizes everything that’s wrong with the art scene in New York, 2010. The one college sophomore in town with zero awareness of who David Lynch might be, and she’s one of the few who actually had the fortune to get into last night’s invite-only opening of his photo show at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in the old CB’s Gallery Space at Bowery and Bleecker. Ten thousand film students from throughout the five boroughs would have enthusiastically paid good money to take her place.

The exhibit collects fifty characteristically stylized, noir photos – both color and black-and-white – that Lynch contributed to the new album Dark Night of the Soul, a collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, a.k.a. Sparklehorse. In a way, it makes sense that Lynch would find himself at home with Linkous’ sad, bucolic, Big Star-inflected Americana rock songs: behind the violence and the menace, Lynch’s characters long for a safe haven amid comfortable surroundings. There are plenty of both on display here. While the show is an absolute must-see for dedicated Lynch fans, it also doesn’t break any new ground: Lynch the filmmaker and Lynch the photographer are one and the same.

All the shots come in sets of three or four. The black-and-whites have an expectedly grainy Eraserhead feel. Aside from a couple of predictable down-and-out portraits, the best of these seems to be an overhead shot of a homeless woman’s shopping cart, her shadow juxtaposed with a lurid poster of a woman’s face staring to the side atop it.

The most indelibly Lynchian of these is a set of four that could have been Wild at Heart stills. Its centerpiece depicts a quartet of uniformed policemen ineptly trying to hose down a man whose lower extremities are dripping some ominous blue-green substance. A couple of neighborhood middleschool kids look on, puzzled, in the background. A close-up of the two kids adds detail, as does an absolutely classic shot of a girl flipping the bird from the backseat of a two-toned, half primer-painted 1972 Nova sedan.

Lynch indulges his lightning-in-the-eyes fixation in another foursome: headshots of a screaming man, shaking and blurry, with the last in the series being a shot of railroad cars passing in the night. His iconic child/demon creature makes an appearance, in the form of what looks like a cross between a patched-together Mayan sculpture and a twistedly cartoonish, reassembled pinata. Meanwhile, a child plays in the dirt behind it, oblivious.

Another series of four features a smiling man in what looks to be a trance amidst a shower of Christmas ornaments and then shards of glass; almost predictably, there’s also a frame of an emergency services Econoline van speeding beneath a billboard of the guy suspended in midair, blissed out as everywhere else.

Which perfectly captures the show’s appeal. The master noir filmmaker of this era (and the one before that, for that matter), Lynch’s images provoke, intrigue and induce the occasional gruesome smile. Most of these also have all the subtlety of that Econoline van – or the flying man – hitting a grimy brick wall. After dark, of course, under flickering neon light. The gallery has advertised limited edition prints of all of the photos on display here, which at their typically surprisingly affordable prices have most likely been snapped up already. But you can still look. Hours at the Bowery gallery are noon to 7 PM Tuesday through Sunday.

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July 14, 2010 Posted by | Art, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Hilly Kristal, 1931-2007

Right place, right time. A hippie who worked as a mover and then as booking agent for the Village Vanguard jazz club, Kristal opened his bar in what was then no man’s land, the lower Bowery, in 1970. He changed the name to CBGB/OMFUG in 1973. CBGB stood for Country and Bluegrass Bar: OMFUG stood for Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers (the word gourmandizer was apparently a stoner invention of his: it’s supposed to mean connoisseur). The Ramones stumbled upon the place a year later because their drummer Tommy was (and still is) a bluegrass fan. And the rest is history.

In typical New York club owner fashion, Kristal did nothing to promote the scene that sprang up there: it was a spontaneous, underground, word-of-mouth thing and he left it at that. Never particularly ambitious, Kristal let the bands who played there spread the word. Lest any of you oldtimers out there try to romanticize things, the CBGB scene, even in its prime, wasn’t much better than the music scene in New York in the present day, such that it is. Bands didn’t play CBGB because they wanted to: they played there because they couldn’t get a gig at Hurrah’s, or Gildersleeves, or Max’s. Most of the CBs acts were pariahs in the more mainstream clubs because in the late 70s and early 80s, most New York bands sounded pretty much like New Jersey or Long Island bands: everybody wanted to be Aerosmith. As Bob Gruen recounted in the documentary NYC 77, the CBGB clientele was basically just musicians coming out to see their musician friends. Your typical NY music fan didn’t go there because most of the bands who played there weren’t that popular and the club was in a scuzzy neighborhood.

As punk gained popularity, so did CBs and Kristal. A brief stab at starting a record label was a failure; however, the development of hardcore proved a boon to the club and its owner, whose Sunday afternoon hardcore matinees brought in thousands of underage kids from the suburbs to beat each other bloody, drink and puke. This was in the days before Rudy Mussolini.

In the late 80s, booking was taken over by the members of Prong, an atrocious heavy metal trio, and the acts playing the place predictably followed in that direction. As usual, Kristal remained a hands-off owner. His greatest achievement was to open CB’s 313 Gallery in 1992, which quickly became the place for acoustic music in New York: the sound and most of the acts who played there were consistently good, and for awhile the place even served pizza (the pizza ovens were still there when it closed last year). Meanwhile, the main venue went into decline, to the point where in the last couple of years before it closed, they were booking cover bands from New Jersey for Saturday night shows. The Gallery somehow managed to remain a first-class venue until perhaps the final two years.

Kristal was a shy, retiring person who let others take advantage of him: relatives meddled in his affairs, employees stole from him and it was only the licensing of the CBGB clothing line that made him a millionaire. In the battle that saw the venue finally lose its lease, he testified that for a time, it had been difficult to make the rent and there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t telling the truth. His greatest achievement? That he was there, openminded enough to let good things happen (he was a hippie, after all) and didn’t get in the way.

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments