Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wake-up call

As I wait for the election results--the last thing I saw onscreen was Sarah Silverman's act of labial genius on Conan O'Brien--I am thinking about a few things. Here's what I want to say:

The first thing, just to get it out of the way, is that I did not lift a finger in this election. But for the preceding blog post, which commented on going door-to-door for votes as though I was at the head of an army, and a few donations to the Dems and Obama, I didn't do a goddamn thing. So feel free to take anything I write with a chunk of salt.

The second thing, if you can handle all that sodium, is that I think this election, for those of us who support President Barack Obama, is about winning the right to go to sleep, get a few winks, and wake up in the morning and go right back to work. BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT GOING TO STOP FIGHTING US. By THEY, I mean people who think that laissez-faire economics works, and who oppose equal rights for gays and the right to choose for women. But I'm not going to lie to you here: I'm really thinking about economics tonight, or, how we view making money in this country.

Rick Perry, when he was running for president, said that Americans should want to get rich. John McCain, when he was getting buddy-buddy with Joe the Plumber in the 2008 election, looked into the camera during the second or third debate and said, setting up a hypothetical situation, "Joe, you're rich. Congratulations," while smiling. I'm going to guess that any conservatives reading this post will check out at this citation, but so be it: about 10 years ago, a French teacher of mine said that there isn't an equivalent of the phrase "making money" in his language. But making money, we know, is supposed to be a praiseworthy activity in the U.S.A.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with making a profit from your work. And I don't think that a political system that pretends that making money is an unacceptable human activity has a chance of being humane. But, as we embark, maybe, on the second term of a beleaguered president, as we continue in a present in which we are in great debt, and in which our everyday practices, our lifestyles, insure that we will accrue debt, and in which natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy may become more frequent, we need to band together so badly; we need to work together so well; we need to value building and sustaining community more than making money.

I'm not saying we frown on private wealth creation. I'm just saying that we can't pretend, as Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren (haven't lifted a finger; just asked my parents back in Boston if they think she'll beat Scott Brown) have articulated, that private wealth creation exists in a vacuum in which our very lives, our very futures, aren't at stake. And I'm also not saying we shoot for some kind of utopia in which every factory is carbon neutral, in which every product is recyclable or biodegradable, although wouldn't that be something. I'm saying that we do the best we can, and that we evaluate our actions in light of our supreme value: building and sustaining community.

Because shit, the shit going on in the Rockaways and Staten Island and Red Hook and all down the Jersey Shore is horrible. People are freezing, they need homes, they need jobs. I know that some Republicans, pro-choice and pro-gay rights, really do believe that their economic policies are better for job creation, and, in an imperfect world, getting people jobs is worth more than all of the progressive goals of responsible Democrats put together. But their party's policies ignore the deterioration of the environment. They ignore the need to educate young people so that they are inclined to engage the peoples of other nations, not clash with them. They ignore the fact that without an active federal government, African-Americans may never have gained civil rights.

And they're wrong about economics, too. An underregulated free market isn't just bad for our planet and our minds, but it's ultimately bad for job creation. From what I'm learning, laissez-faire economics tends to lead to financial collapse. And with the planet acting the way it is, and with natural resources dwindling the way they are, WE CAN'T AFFORD TO COLLAPSE ANYMORE. Although we probably will, because we don't learn very quickly.

Eduardo Porter, who writes for the New York Times, authored an excellent piece on what a sustainable economic policy might look like. Wanna know what it looks like? Higher taxes for everyone. Middle class, upper class, and perhaps even the working class. Yes, it's more European, and yes, it's hard to swallow if you like spending disposable income--if you like disposable income, period. But whether you sympathize with Porter or not, his articles are worth reading for the notion that we've got to do some paradigm-shifting if we're going to create a livable future for all of us.

Republicans? Tea-Party fans? We're losing our planet here. We're losing our union. What we want does look different from what you want, but what we want is people working together for a better common future. And for people--all people--to work together, they need good educations, a good shot at entering the middle class, good health care, and full respect of their freedom and dignity by their government. So that's why we vote for Obama. That's why we fight for marriage equality, which I can't say I recognized as important as recently as 10 years ago but I sure do now, reproductive rights and equal pay for women, investments in education, and higher taxes on the wealthy, who will still have a lot even if they're paying more. Hey, if you listen to Porter, we're all going to need to be paying more in the future. I sure hope it doesn't take any more disasters for us to get there.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Game plan

In the aftermath of Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, I feel like a member of a good football team that has just been handed the ball at midfield. My team is down, and the opposing defense is ferocious, but we know what we're doing, we've been here before. Although I doubt that the other team will hold itself to the same standard, I don't want to win by playing dirty; instead, I want to win with superior play-calling and superior execution (yes, I follow the New England Patriots, and yes, congratulations to the New York Giants). When all is said and done, I want everyone watching to know which is the sounder team.  

And I think the game is now ours to win or lose.

I feel this way because I think that Ryan's ideas, which include reshaping Medicare and privatizing Social Security, are rigid and unrealistic, not to mention destructive. Once examined, I don't think they'll appeal to enough of the undecided voters whom Romney needs to win. But that's only if we do a good job of talking about those ideas, as well as talking about the presidential candidate who brought them back into the spotlight, in the next 85 days.

To do so, we need to educate ourselves. What were the broad outlines and fine points of Congressman Ryan's proposed budget? Why isn't a budget that features cuts of astounding severity a good response to our country's fiscal problems? If a voter protests that Democrats seek to spend at a time when the country is in greater debt than ever, how can we respond? Effective door-to-door canvassing requires knowledge, energy, and empathy. If we bring these qualities to our work, I think we can make headway with voters who think that Romney and Ryan's endorsed policies might improve the economy and empower our pursuit of happiness, but still aren't sure, and who have heard that Obama and the Democrats want to create a socialist state.

First, the big S. In the coming months, the nitty-gritty of policy debate may replace a lot of the name-calling we have heard almost since the inauguration, but if not, we can push back against the idea that progressivism is socialism in a number of ways. We can cite unusually persuasive sources who know better: Milos Forman, the Czech-American filmmaker, who wrote in the New York Times about episodes of censorship and brutality in his native country; Ruben Navarette, a syndicated columnist WNYC host Brian Lehrer introduced as "conservative-leaning," who said that his conservative friends "hate" it when he tells them that the President has governed as if he is "one of them." We can create metaphors and analogies that show the error in inflating Obama's social orientation (a crappy first draft: enjoying a drink a few nights a week doesn't make me an alcoholic, and instituting particular social programs doesn't make our government a malfunctioning ATM). And we can be forthright about and proud of that orientation, and of our own: we think that progressive social investment befits a democracy that seeks to equip its citizens with the tools they need to succeed.

Some people are not going to agree with us. (Remember Anthony Rapp's character in Adventures in Babysitting, the kinda rad Elisabeth Shue movie from 1987? "Ya think?") If, however, they're still willing to listen to you, then go for it: talk about the Republican weaknesses and Democratic strengths that appeal to you most. It's really important to me that President Obama has worked to end the war in Iraq, and I think there's a reason that his term has coincided with the Arab Spring, a movement that is resulting in a world in which more people are living in democracies that they have risked their lives to establish. Some voters may fear the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or what might transpire in a post-Assad Syria, but they might also feel that people who have more opportunities to pursue happiness are less threatening than people who must live with less.

In terms of the economy, well, stay tuned--that's what I've got to learn more about. I do know, as I think the majority of Americans do, that trickle-down policies (especially in combination with deregulation and a lack of oversight of the financial industry) don't work, and that they most recently haven't worked under the, ahem, watch of a Republican administration. Let's talk about how many gears Pres. Obama has shifted to help us emerge from the Great Recession, even if it feels like we're stuck in the mud sometimes. Let's talk about how his policies will give more Americans a chance to stay afloat.

During a recent WNYC segment on New Yorkers' experiences hosting visitors from abroad, Lehrer responded to a caller's story by commenting that "people are people on planet Earth." Horrible acts of violence notwithstanding, I agree. I think that all of us want better lives for ourselves and our families, and in this era, with this President, we've got a better chance of persuading unconvinced Americans that they stand to do and feel better if more of their fellow citizens stand the same. We have reason and compassion and energy on our side. And we've been here before. So let's go.

That football metaphor? It's simple: We're the Patriots, and we're about to run the two-minute drill. Romney and Ryan? They're the Jets. Sorry, New York, you can't have it all.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Becoming a New Yorker, one moment at a time

Last night, I had dinner at my friends Steve and Naama's apartment off Park Avenue in Manhattan. I arrived when they were still getting ready, and asked to use the bathroom just after Steve had gotten out of the shower. "It's pretty hot in there," Naama said. "That's okay, I'm from Brooklyn," I responded. This after a week that saw temperatures in the upper 90s, with the mysterious RealFeel hitting 100 on the day I cleaned my apartment, mostly sans A/C.

Right after dismissing Naama's concern, I paused. I'm from Boston, and I have consistently wavered in my mental migration to Gotham since moving here in 2005. I'm a Celtics fan who loves Lou Reed's "NYC Man," and I think it's Reed's literary, Jewish sensibility, both as a solo artist and with the Velvets, that has drawn me here, like an antique phonogram  that sucks up its listeners. I'd like to think that coming here made me part of the ever-evolving soundtrack of New York, but being here, I know that it takes constant work to get into the groove, as Madonna sang, and I agree with this quote from Jane Jacobs' book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, that appeared at the top of the April/May 2011 issue of the Williamsburg Greenpoint News and Arts: "Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody." I feel like New York gives when it gets.

The last time I made a transformative step towards a New York identity was, ironically, in Penn Station, before boarding a train to visit family in Boston. This was last winter, when Linsanity had infected the city.  My friend Larry, who went to high school in the Bronx, told me that New York was crazy for the Knicks during the Patrick Ewing / John Starks era, and his history lesson helped me feel the excitement when Lin's subtle, persistent style was confounding opponents in the Garden. For some of my friends and me, Lin's Harvard education validated the tweedy, Woody Allenish side of our fandom, and that didn't hurt, either.

In the station, near the escalators underneath the information board, a heavyish, middle-aged guy wearing a blue No. 17 jersey walked towards me. "Nice jersey!" I said. "Thanks," he replied, not pausing as he passed. I texted my friends in triumph.

While brightening at the sight of Lin's jersey was an initiation into the big, whooshy spirit of the city--think the montage before each episode of SNL--claiming Brooklyn as my home while walking into my friends' steamy bathroom was an identification with the Sweathogs of Welcome Back Kotter, a dip into the second city blues, a reference to a mundanity that, as a recent transplant to a gentrifying part of a culturally burgeoning borough, I haven't often experienced. I guess sweeping and mopping in the RealFelt heat will inspire all sorts of delusions. But the city's best point guard is now a G train ride away. Anything can happen.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Not so pretty in the Citi

While walking to the E train underneath Court Square last Wednesday morning, I saw three people spreading the word about an Occupy protest at the enormous Citigroup building in Long Island City. One man handed out handbills claiming that the bank made 4 billion dollars and paid no taxes (presumably in 2011), and someone else held up a sign advertising free bagels. I was impressed by the confidence and carriage of the organizers: they spoke up into the teeth of the commute, and they dressed as if they were headed for office jobs. I later found out that one of the three, Jolie Terrazas, is a doctoral student in Industrial Organizational Psychology at CUNY, as well as a part-time researcher in its office of Institutional Research and Assessment. I didn’t see it, but she told me that she brandished another sign asserting that the Occupiers had jobs.

When I got to the protest around 5:30—the action lasted from 8am-8pm, and took place near the birch trees where Thompson Avenue meets Jackson—I saw about 20 attendees. A saxophonist played “I Wish I Were a Rich Man,” two people wore cardboard houses that may have been in states of foreclosure, and others spoke with journalists and each other. Ken Gale, a solar power advocate and co-host of Eco-Logic, an environmental show on WBAI that airs every other Tuesday at 8pm, noticed my notebook and soon started telling me about the fight to implement commercial net-metering in New York. Approved by then-Governor David Patterson in 2008, commercial net-metering allows businesses that install solar panels on their buildings to profit from the excess energy those panels generate, energy that goes back into the grid for everyone’s use. According to Gale, “old school” employees at ConEd and other utility companies opposed the policy, and there remains an anti-solar bias at ConEd. But he also reports that young employees are changing the culture of the company.

Reflecting on our conversation, I remembered that Occupy is like a human library. Within the context of protesting—or even just questioning—the latitude and largesse afforded the financial industry and the ways it exploits the less powerful, anyone can learn about a host of important issues.

Terrazas said that the 10 or so people who came out of the Citigroup building to speak with protesters were "generally receptive," and that interactions with police, of whom I counted nine, were "friendly." She also told me that Alexis Goldstein, a former employee of Morgan Stanley who gave a speech earlier in the evening, noted that she heard her colleagues in finance encourage one another to “rip your client’s face off,” i.e., tell them that a particular investment is great when it is actually “crap.” For her part, Terrazas thinks it’s wrong that banks receive zero interest loans and then lend money to consumers at high rates.

Occupy Astoria LIC has been meeting weekly since December and focuses on outreach and education. According to member Nick Levis, the organization has about 100 members and includes several working groups. “Look, we’re not monsters, we’re employed,” Levis said. “This is what people want to hear. I wish we didn’t have jobs, [because] we could do this each day.” Levis went on to compare the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s, which he claims resulted in prison time for 1,000 executives, with the financial collapse that began in 2008. Instead of “sweetheart settlements,” he proposes “law enforcement.” Doesn’t sound so monstrous to me.

Throughout July, Occupy Astoria LIC is hosting a free Tuesday night documentary series at the Church of the Redeemer on Crescent St, with Food, Inc. scheduled on the 10th,  Wikirebels—The Story of WikiLeaks on the 17th, and The American Ruling Class on the 24th. Visit www.OccupyAstoriaLIC.org for more information.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rock, paper, edges, art

“Tearing paper makes it sculptural,” says Sasha Ascher, the curator and one of two artists-in-residence at the Oak Street Gallery in Greenpoint. This phenomenon, along with a formative perception of the edge between tree and sky, informs the way Ascher eschews straight-bordered work in favor of the irregularity of tears, and her interest in the excavation of self manifests in a partially eviscerated notebook, its exposed pages painted light taupe, light brown, and robin’s egg blue. In Oak Street’s first show, which opened last Sunday as part of the Northside Art festival, Ascher is displaying an unfurled scroll, darkened with charcoal, that resembles the body of a Chinese dragon, and strips of paper that evoke vistas of a forest, an ocean, and a lake. Another small piece depicts two vase-like shapes, perhaps wrapped in shawls, with disembodied faces floating on top.

Ascher’s thin materials and jagged edges contrast with Oak Street owner Stephen George Balamut’s three mostly smooth, abstract sculptures of Italian marble, which both allude to and resist identification as fleshy, human shapes. Balamut, who cites Constantin Brancusi as an influence and sculpts without an object in mind, said the contrast in the artists’ media is counterbalanced by their creation of three-dimensional forms. The rock and paper “may have different personalities, but they look good together,” Balamut said.

For the opening, Ascher also hung gorgeous strands of pearly fabric, dyed two shades of indigo near the ends, from scaffolding that surrounds a neighboring building; they swayed invitingly in the breeze. Oak Street Gallery, at number 84 west of Franklin, is now open by appointment. Email oakst.g@gmail.com to schedule a visit. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thank f*ck for Pulp

I loved Rob Sheffield’s excellent review (excellent in terms of the writing, excellent in terms of the rating—in fact, Sheffield’s very first line is “Well, that was excellent”) of Pulp’s show at Radio City Music Hall on April 10th. Timely as always, I’d like to share some impressions from the concert, which differ from Sheffield’s but also arrive at what I think is his premise and conclusion: Pulp are wonderful.

For me, the show wasn’t outstanding. Although my views are changing, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a skeptic of the quality of Different Class, which has made me something of a willful outcast in the Pulp fan universe, like a guy selling Marxist newspapers on a Saturday in Soho. (Although I’ve found a sympathizer in Owen Hatherley, a British journalist whose book Uncommon, a self-described “Essay on Pulp,” is paperback manna from heaven.) The set list was heavy on material from DC, and I know that being irritated at “I Spy” and bored by “Pencil Skirt” says more about me than the music. I feel less biased in claiming that some songs sounded patchy. But one definition of “patchy” is “of inconsistent or irregular quality, texture, etc; not uniform.” That’s pretty much how Pulp have described their métier for most of their career: the sleevenotes to 1985’s Freaks, the opening line of 1995’s “Misshapes,” and Jarvis’s apologetic request at Radio City that Sheffield quotes in his review: “Please forgive our slightly shabby, secondhand kind of glamour.” Like anyone wasn’t going to do that.

Furthermore, while watching this group of arty, self-proclaimed misfits disarm a roomful of New Yorkers, it occurred to me that one of the things people love about Pulp is that they are patchy. Their body of work, which includes moments that are lovely, ghastly, stunning, underwhelming, and overwrought, shows us that we can make art, music, and love while still being our messy, unfinished selves. How many pop bands have done the same? Other than Belle and Sebastian, I can’t think of any.

In Pulp: Truth and Beauty, a biography by Mark Sturdy, the author quotes Jarvis speaking to the crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995, saying something similar to what he told us in New York almost 17 years later: “If you want something to happen enough, then it actually will happen, OK? And I believe that. In fact, that’s why we’re stood on this stage after 15 years. So, if a lanky get like me can do it, and us lot, than you can do it too.” Gotta hand it to Mr. Sturdy: the truth of those words, along with the beauty of Pulp’s music, produce a happiness that is rare and an example that is everlasting. Now if they would only play “My Legendary Girlfriend” next time around…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Looking for the spirit of MCA

I’ve never listened to Paul’s Boutique (for shame, je sais), but when my friend Kristen summoned a posse to head down to the eponymous storefront on the LES after MCA passed away on Friday, I knew that’s where I needed to be. Voyaging by bike, I rode down Kent Avenue and up South 4th to the entrance to the bridge. With the Beasties’ Gotham-grown contribution to global culture on my mind, the clatter of a passing train was the sweetest cacophony, the loveliest hop. I felt so happy to be a New Yorker in the memorial night.

But on the LES, there wasn’t a memorial to be found. In the first place, I couldn’t find Paul’s Boutique itself. Walked up and down Rivington, then up and down Stanton, but no luck. I did find an old synagogue with a stone, six-paneled Star of David that looked like the eye of a sleeping Transformer, but that was about it.

When I met Kristen at Iggy’s on Ludlow, we marveled that the bar’s speakers weren’t blaring Beastie music: shouldn’t this have been the neighborhood’s own Michael Jackson moment? Out on the streets, I heard nary a mention (nor beat, sample, or verse) of the Beasties or MCA. Where was the sense of history? The calling to mourn? It just seemed like pleasure as usual, although K did tell me that two candles were burning outside the elusive landmark.  

Where, can you guess, was the spirit of the Beasties alive and well? You got it—Hello, Brooklyn. At the Smorgasburg on the East River on the following afternoon, I heard some wacky vocals and party beats coming from the Brooklyn Salsa Company booth. I couldn’t make a positive ID at first, but like a post-jalapeno burn, there was soon no denying that these were the legends.

Turns out salsa slinger Nick had been representin’ from his rugged red boombox all day long. “It’s pretty funky stuff to play at 11 in the morning,” he said. “I’ll be dreaming it tonight,” averred Cassandra, who was working next door at quinoa/falafel mash-up artists Saucy by Nature; “Can’t stop won’t stop,” chipped in Kem, her partner and a fellow fan. Cassandra also reported that Paul’s Boutique was “her childhood on a disc.”

As some vendors began packing up their nosh, Nick searched Youtube for the one song he didn’t have on his playlist. When he found it, across the river from that curiously quiet former capital of Beastiania, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” boomed in the ‘Burg. Couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chocolate Alchemy

Yo! Been a while, as I’ve written before. I feel compelled to mention yet another vocation in which I possess a lack of skill: chocolate alchemy. That’s right: when I want chocolate, but convince myself that it’s the wrong time of day or find none in the house, I put on my alchemist’s robe and try to make magic happen. My not-so-magical ingredients are oatmeal, soymilk, honey, peanut butter, and bananas or apples. Mixed together, I figure they have a whirlpudlian chance of evoking chocolate on the palette…which they sometimes sort of do. When they don’t, it’s like they’re working anyway, because sooner or later some cocoa verité will take place in my kitchen. Regarde la preuve:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Ziggy Stardust

This past year, I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (which is a hell of a long album title for 1972) about 18 years after I first got into it, and I mean got into it: a friend of mine said that reading Hemingway in high school opened doors to art for him, whereas for me, it was listening to Five Years, Soul Love, Moonage Daydream, and the rest: songs that, as Allen Ginsberg described the effect of Beatles tunes, went right through my skull.

Such transport, I sensed then and know now, was due to the influence of my mother’s Parisian and North African background, which made it easy to identify with Bowie’s cosmopolitan music and style. Special shout-out to my Aunt Gabi, who is a thin, short-haired blonde given to wearing high-waisted pants and the occasional beret, and used to smoke cigarettes on the balcony of her apartment near Place de la Nation.

As I’ve listened, I’ve heard three things. The first is Bowie’s confidence. Already on Five Years, he sounds like he knows he’s good, a star who’s arrived. He must be confident because he drops some of the shittiest lyrics in his catalogue. After creating a tableau of urban confusion, Bowie focuses in on a love interest with the line, “I think I saw you in an ice cream parlor / drinking milkshakes cold and long.” I didn’t mind those adjectives as a kid, but I wouldn’t criticize anyone who chortles at them today. In the next cut, Soul Love, Bowie explains that “All I have is my love of love / but love is not loving”; again, not necessarily so bad, but certainly open to mockery. The great Lester Bangs despised the opening line of the last track, Rock and Roll Suicide, rightfully asking what in the hell “Time takes a cigarette / puts it in your mouth” means, and the rest of the image doesn’t get any better: “You pull on a fing-a, then anotha fing-a, then your cigarette…”?!? But I don’t think Bowie-as-Ziggy minds, because, as Rob Sheffield might write, he knows he’s got the kids on his side. After all, “cold and long” milkshakes are appealing to sweets-loving nine-year-olds and coiffed teenage lovers alike, audiences that Bowie would later address in songs like Drive-in Saturday and Panic in Detroit on Aladdin Sane. So the throwaway lyrics serve to endear him to a young listenership that would grow up with him throughout the seventies.

And, as Rob Sheffield has written—see the excellent penultimate paragraph in his chapter on Bowie in Talking to Girls about Duran Duran—in the case of Ziggy Stardust, it’s the lyrics, towards the end of Rock and Roll Suicide, that ennoble the entire album. Lou Reed once said he hoped that listening to the Velvet Underground’s catalogue would “make you feel less alone.” It’s hard to remain isolated in the face of Bowie’s screamed insistence that “You’re not alone! You’re wonderful!” with the Spiders chanting “One-da-full” in the background. The artist is at his best here, because rather than setting himself up as someone for his fans to worship, he’s speaking, genuinely, to the common humanity of each and every one. Taken in the context of an outlandish decade, it’s a rare moment when the Starman is on terra cognita. (I have to give Mr. Sheffield full credit for that line—his sentence, “Even at his most out-there space-trippy, he’s making the case for earth,” has been in my brain for at least half a year.)
Speaking of earthiness, the second thing I noticed while listening to Ziggy, which other writers have also mentioned in one way or another, is that Bowie bolsters his self-creation as a crossdressing, alien star by identifying with the working class. The gritty little Star, nestled between the handsome balladry of Lady Stardust and the fast lane junket of Hang on to Yourself, depicts the lives of a group of regular, maybe hard knock young men. “Tony went to fight in Belfast / Rudi stayed at home to starve / (Ooh Wah Ooh) I could make it all worthwhile as a rock and roll star.” The kids in Starman, a kind of fantasy update of the Reed-penned Rock and Roll, could come from all walks of life, but by addressing them collectively, Bowie makes it seem like he is singing for everyone. And for all the lyrical references to stardom, the album cover portrays Bowie standing alone outside a nondescript London building. The sign reading “K.West,” with its epic resonance, may be above his head, but the cardboard boxes and garbage bag by his feet are just as constitutive. Ziggy may look scrawny and sound shrill, but the character’s origin in the street makes him built to last.

The third thing about the album is that its fixation on stardom, its glam and alien imagery, and its slighter kind of rock—sure, the Spiders could rip, but they don’t rip as heavy on Ziggy as they do on The Man Who Sold the World, two albums earlier—accommodated my fear of romantic and personal failure in high school. (Yep, it’s a blog.) Identifying with someone like Bowie first, and Morrissey later, helped me deny the fact that I wasn’t the academic superstar I thought I was; that girls, who liked me in middle school, had turned their attention to more athletic peers and upperclassmen; and that, for the most part, I was just an insecure little kid. At the time, bands like the Stones and Zeppelin didn’t jibe with my psyche—I needed remote, self-absorbed frontmen, not lusty dudes who sang and played about getting it on. But obviously I missed something (Exhibit A: All the Young Dudes, the 1972 chestnut that Bowie gave to Ian Hunter), ‘cause Bowie and the Spiders were probably getting it on every night. Mozza, not so much.

C'est la vie. On the occasion of the dude’s recent 65th birthday, I would just like to say once and for all that I love David Bowie. Seeing photograph #22 of him in this flavorpill piece, which depicts him walking down the aisle of a grocery store in Chinatown, wearing a straw-colored cowboy hat, a thin t-shirt, grey jeans, and a backpack, makes me think of the song Move On off of Lodger. Sings Bowie, in a gallant tone:

Sometimes I feel
The need to move on
So I pack a bag
And move on
And move on
Well I might take a train
Or sail at dawn
Might take a girl
When I move on
When I move on

The lyrics go on to mention Africa, Russia, Japan, and Cyprus, as Bowie admits, “I’m just a travelling man.” In the diversity of his seventies catalogue (’69 to ’80 to be precise, and Let’s Dance, commercial though it may be, is both good and relevant enough to merit inclusion here), he does something that the Stones and Zeppelin, at least in their work that I know, don’t, and that’s aggressively travel. Go places. Experience, describe, and embody different parts of the world, different influences. That’s why Bowie slakes a thirst for global, sophisticated pop like no other superstar can. Growing up outside Boston with Paris on the brain, this quality of his oeuvre, which is both contrapuntal to and inclusive of the Ziggy period, was also—well hello there Ric Ocasek, thanks for giving me my first autograph back in 1980something—just what I needed. It feels good to experience the fact that I still do.