The Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel – and me

Long ago, back in 1841, the first subway/underground train tunnel ANYWHERE was built in Brooklyn. Walt Whitman even wrote about it. But it was closed up in the 1860s as part of a real estate scam, and most historians considered it destroyed. For about 130 years no one could find it.

Til 1982, when a Pratt civil engineering student named Bob Diamond DID find it, by determined research and by crawling under a manhole cover on Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn. And on Saturday, I and a crew of about 25 people got to explore it, as part of a documentary shoot organized by Jerry Kolber and Trey Nelson, about Bob Diamond and the tunnel.

Here’s the pix! Google “atlantic ave tunnel” for the background. It’s pretty wild.

Our manhole cover:

Going in, 25 feet down:

Seeing the tunnel:

Tunnel wall (stone on bottom is mica schist mined from the building of 3rd ave in Manhattan; cuz it’s in Brooklyn, part of Long Island, there’s no rock to tunnel thru; just sand and terminal moraine – debris. Google it! Roof is a brick barrel vault.)

Weird-ass stuff I saw down there:

Bob Diamond explaining it all to us:

A rare sighting:

And no, the tunnel’s not on any tours, or open to the public. Check the pix and check This Week in New York pix on for more!


Scotland Yard Gospel Choir; Golden Dogs, Willowz, Electric Six, new york, 11/17/07

Friday night. Six bands; two venues.

Knitting Factory:

Used to Be Women

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir

Uncle Monk

Bowery Ballroom

Golden Dogs


Electric Six

Raisinets and Red Bull. As good for dinner as they are for breakfast!

Too many bands; too little time:

Somehow my husband got tix to see Scotland Yard Gospel Choir at nyc’s Knitting Factory at 8pm while I had got tix to see the Electric Six at nyc’s Bowery Ballroom at 9pm.

No problem. Knitting Factory show 8-10pm w/him and the inimitable Millerman; Bowery 10pm-whenever w/my pal Monique. And a few too many energy drinks.

Knitting Factory: first up, Used to Be Women. who used to be in Chelsea, Michigan, near Ann Arbor, in 1999. A perfectly fine bar band with a skinny skinny singer whose stage manner was marked by some kind of killer hand that kept waving in the air, threatening, perhaps, to choke him. Apparently without his volition. Nice American rockers. Cute bassist.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir came highly touted by the husband. He’d seen them at CMJ 2007 and brought back a CD, marked by the gorgeous work of Sally Timms of the Mekons, some sweet Brit pop references, and a more than passing resemblance to early Housemartins (get that ref, o hipsters?) and manchester soul.

In person, sans Timms, they were lotsa fun, kinda goofy, and very loose and appealing, if not absolutely galvanizing. Some fine work on “Aspidistra” and the heartbreaking “In Hospital”; though all four kids are from Chicago, they are mystifyingly British in locution.

Third up was a kindly bearded fellow lurking in the shadows. Uncle Monk, who played bluegrass on a mandolin, w/only one partner.

That figure was actually. . . . Tommy Ramone. Yes, the drummer and probably only, surviving Ramone. He’s now resolutely bluegrass and somewhat reminiscent of . . . a Jerry Garcia fan. O tempora, O mores.

On to the balcony at Bowery, where I got there in time for the Golden Dogs, a loud rockin’ band with a head-tossing female keyboard player, a tall, tall lead with what was apparently some kind of furred wolfskin guitar strap, and an affinity for loud, raucous, 70s ROCK. They reminded me of Golden Earring. Hmm. and their name. . . holy shit, could I have seen a tribute band?!?!!? Their finale, a celebratory, booming, irony-free, nearly note-for-note rendition of Paul McCartney’s “1985” was oddly satisfying.

Then down to stage front left, for the Willowz,

two willowy and wiry guitar godlings w/long silky hair, a Los Angeles pedigree, a mystifying semi-troll-like female guitarist of tremendous chops, and some SERIOUS CHORDAGE, dude. These guys were busting out some serious massive licks and large chunks of glorious led zep/neil young/stoner guitar freakdom. i know none of their songs but who could not enjoy this fest? Alas, the beauteous lead

had a poor chemical mix and from the heights of Mordor descended into a tripping, flailing, missed-the-guitar-entirely-on-that-twirl stagger off the stage.
The other guitarist, a mysterious girl w/a dirndl skirt, Cousin It hair that completely obscured her face, and MASSIVE searing licks mined from some quarry of deep 70s guitar gunk, was jaw-droppingly amazing on her solo. .Seriously. Throwbacks, yes. Way fun throwbacks – hell yes.

the Electric Six came out to “Showtime”

and put one on. These guys seriously rocked out. Total perfect deadpan tongue-in-cheek lyrics. So totally deadpan that not all of their masses of devoted screaming fans may have gotten the jokes.

No matter. The lead, a baby–faced showman and spotlight ‘ho who could get a bit annoying,

absolutely delivered the goods, even sliding off stage to cuddle and croon to the crazed New Jersey girls in front of us.

No matter. Electric Six were so fine and frenzied live, with great versions of “High Voltage” (my companion asked: “is this their radio song?”), a smashing “I Buy the Drugs” finale, and a four-song encore, with one song from each of their albums, in chrono order.

The only one I knew was “Gay Bar,” thanks to I Got My Reasons blog and Kelly, but it was freakin’ great. And some extended patter about political hemp led to the encore finale, which has something to do with Mexico – and featured the very, very cute guitarist.

whew. Next up was Saturday. And that was pretty great, too.

Exfoliation. A new york story.

Last Thursday night I’m at dinner w/a bunch of my college friends. We are NYC gals, we like spas, we’ve basically got very decent lives and no complaints.

This one girl, C.C., has a major banking job, major bucks, loves the good life, loves the fancy wine and all of that. She’s brilliant and funny – she appeared in and was one of the producers of Lewis Lapham’s movie, the excellent and overlooked American Ruling Class (Lapham is the former editor of Harper’s mag.) She’s also pretty wild.

So we’re talking w/CeeCee about spas and the conversation goes like this:

C.C.: “Oh, I can’t go to Janet Sartin [fancy nyc skincare spot] anymore. They won’t see me.”

us: “Why? what did you do there?” (unspoken: what did you do there this time?)

C.C.: “Well, I sent her a homeless guy to be exfoliated.”

us: “you did WHAT?!?”

C.C. “Well. . . there was this homeless guy, and no matter how many showers he took, I was just, you know . . . there was still that smell. It gets in the skin. So I called up Janet and told her I was sending someone for a full-body exfoliation.”

us: “So HOW do you know this guy!?”

Turns out he was a street artist she met who lived on Pier 63, and she liked his found object sculpture, and she wanted to help him out. He’d been on the streets for a coupla years and was pretty gritty. So she took him to get cleaned up.

At one of the most expensive European skincare salons in Manhattan.

C.C. “Well, she called me, and you know that accent she has, and Janet said, ‘It took three hours! and we had to use sandpaper, on the elbows! What are you doing to me?!?!’ and  after that I just can’t get an appt there.”

me: “Um, so how was the guy afterward?”

C.C.: “Oh he looked wonderful! Twenty years younger! He felt great and that smell was gone. He’s living in a store now.”

My pal Alice and I looked at each other and had a vision of going over to St. Peter’s Church, or St. Bart’s, or one of Manhattan’s soup kitchens, and handing out gift certificates for spas, to the homeless guys. Maybe we can get C.C. to produce a new reality series: “Wellesley Eye for the Homeless Guy.”

yeah, it’s kinda stupid. yes, the homeless need a lot more help than that, yes, it’s superficial. But seriously, a little human touch and kind physical care – there’s really not a lot wrong with that. everybody deserves to feel really good once in awhile. and that smell . . . would be gone!

Fiery Furnaces @ Hiro Ballroom, November 3, 2007

iery furnaces at Hiro Ballroom, November 4, 2007
Category: Music Saturday night, Hiro Ballroom: The Fiery Furnaces played the last show on their U.S. tour promoting Widow City, their latest album.

Unfortunately, they weren’t at their best. Without percussionist extraordinaire Michael Goodman in the onstage mix, their intricate lyrics lost some of their off-rhythm pacing, odd accents, and surprising phrasing. It’s hard to describe, but Goodman’s fantastic percussion kit and skill with offbeat beats added the perfect note of musical strangeness to Widow City’s undeniably odd, Brechtian story lyrics.

Matt seemed to be in a rather awful mood, specifically cuz the sound kinda sucked at points. After 60 minutes, Eleanor started taking requests, handing Matt a folded piece of paper from an audience member. Which didn’t please Matt much; he handed her back the opening bars of a song to which she clearly did not know the words.

Still, by concert’s end all seemed quiet on the sibling front. And on the audience front as well; as we left, I heard the same comment at least twice: “They were interesting, but then I got bored. . . .”

Hope they get Michael back; the Fierys are not a boring band. But this one was, alas, a rather – uncharacteristically – dull show.