Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mi Poetry Casa Es Su Poetry Casa

My essay on the band Spiritualized ("Can You Hear Me Now? Spiritualized on Transcendence, The Ache and Rock n Roll Redemption") was published at Mockingbird. Please take a look!

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Mi Poetry Casa Es Su Poetry Casa:
A Visit To POETS HOUSE in Lower Manhattan

10 River Terrace

Awhile back in 2007 I was at a poetry reading at McNally Jackson bookstore in SoHo given by the poet, Mark Doty. During the Q&A session an audience member asked Doty why he didn’t write political poetry. Doty paused and thoughtfully replied that political poems, by their very nature, have an end conclusion known well before the first word was written. His process of writing a poem, he explained, was one of discovery. So, in the context of political poetry, how can you discover when you already know where the poem will lead you?

I thought about this as I headed to Poets House in downtown Manhattan to find a change of scenery in which to finish a handful of creative non-fiction essays I had on my plate. I brought my camera along with my writing supplies because I had a nagging sense that by following the West Side Highway’s “... faultless ribbons / of blank road ahead...” down to Poets House that my journey would “...promise, like / poems, to end elsewhere.” (1)

The stairs to the library of Poets House

I need to take a step back, first. Poetry has long been considered the red-headed stepchild of the arts. There’s no Koonsian money in the game; a published poem might get you a couple copies of the journal in which it is found or a single Benjamin. I got $200 from the Academy of American Poets once and I’m pretty sure that’s the biggest payday I’ll ever receive from my craft. Sure, later on in your career you could maybe swing a MacArthur Grant out of it and a university teaching gig, but that’s some real rarefied air there. No doubt about it, poetry is a labor of love.

And that’s why the simple existence of Poets House (its latest incarnation, opened in 2009, is 11,000 square feet of exhibit, teaching and library space) is so, well, I guess... comforting is the word. For someone used to reading in makeshift spaces and finding, even in the best bookstores, the poetry section limited to just the usual row of heavy hitters, the stunningly designed and stalwart sight of Poets House on the water of the Hudson River has a way of properly asserting the legitimacy of the art form in which it houses. It gives poetry a stable home in the uproar of New York City.

Getting to Poets House in Battery Park City required me to travel through the World Trade Center area and past the Freedom Tower. It’s not a section of Manhattan I travel through too often. The wounds of the open space there are too raw to visit often, so it’s something I generally avoid.

On this particular trip, I took the 2/3 to Fulton Street and walked west along Vessey. What struck me, more than anything else, was the sense of perpetual construction. Temporary construction projects were themselves in a process of construction. A pedestrian footbridge, while totally functional, was still somehow evolving. This idea manifested itself in a multiplicity of scrims that then created scrims upon themselves. It was something inadvertent yet beautiful at the same time, much like a spandrel in an archway. Unlike a spandrel, which by its nature is static, these overlays of scrim are in perpetual motion both due to the movement of the viewer as well as construction one sees behind it (itself covered in scrim, no less).

You’ll reach Poets House if you continue to walk west to the Hudson River, reaching a small road called River Terrace. In various incarnations Poets House has been around for decades, but only recently moved into their current space in 2009. My friend and fellow Left Bank Books regular Gary Shapiro has covered Poets House for both the New York Sun and the Wall Street Journal, so feel free to check out his articles for more of a comprehensive backstory, which is quite fascinating.

The beauty of Poets House, to me at least, is the combination of the audacious mission - to house over 50,000 volumes of poetry browsable by anyone - in a stunning LEED certified modern building with views of the Hudson. There is no admission, no membership fees required. Mi poetry casa es su poetry casa.

What does 50,000 volumes of poetry look like? Well, I figured I try to see if they had any gaps, any “gotcha” moments where I looked for a volume and could’t find it. I lost at that game. For instance, Campbell McGrath’s first volume of poetry, Capitalism? Despite having a tiny, tiny run on Wesleyan University Press, Poetry House had it. What about a contemporary poet who already has his poems impressively collected (1959-2009) by FSG - would Poets House just punt and settle for that volume? Well, no. As you can see, Fred Seidel, the Ducati-driving, Carlyle-concierge-calling poet in question here has his early work like Final Solutions standing side by side with his later volumes, like Ooga Booga. A great title, by the way, for someone whom many consider to be the boogey-man of contemporary poetry. (2)

Another fun aspect of Poets House is tracking down different editions of volumes you already have. Here’s an edition of Lowell’s For the Union Dead I’ve never seen before. The poems don’t change, of course, but holding something with historical weight, rather than a paperback reissue, can slightly alter the reading experience, I find.

I realize quoting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 can be a little high school-ish but I’m a real softie sometimes so just indulge me for a second. Specifically I’m thinking about the end of the poem where the subject is given eternal life, “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Even after repeated readings it still gets me. Same with Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. “I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence; / I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know how it is. / Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt...” Shakespeare's audacious vision for his poem's readership and Whitman’s personal call to the reader of the poem are but two small examples of how artists grapple with establishing permanence in a world that is anything but.

In that context, it’s reassuring to know that poetry, and poets, have such a grand spaced reserved for them in lower Manhattan for decades to come. There will be change in New York, no doubt, but Poets House will still be there on River Terrace. While 2069, the last year of Poets House's free lease in the current location, doesn’t stretch out to infinity, it's close enough for me.

(1) The section of the poem I’m quoting by a terrifyingly talented friend isn’t published anywhere other than my college’s lit mag in 2006. I think he wrote it when he was 19. It is one of the favorite pieces of art I’ve ever read. I dedicated a poem to him about weight lifting, in case you are interested (probably not).

(2) Short aside here. Needless to say by seeking out these specific poets and their work it’s clear they both mean a good deal to me. Specifically McGrath, who when confronted by unsolicited email to an non-public email address by someone he didn’t know (read: me) got back to that person remarking upon and praising/encouraging their work. It meant a great deal to me, so you should know that Campbell McGrath, aside from being US Poet Laureate one day (my prediction) is one solid, solid dude.

(3) Shout-outs to people who have been championing my writing recently, including my family, Ashley  (who got in touch through Twitter!) and my buddy Sammy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Stormy Monday

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Golfer: You better come in until this blows over.
Bishop: So what do you think?
Carl: I'd keep playing. I don't think the heavy stuff will come down for a while.
Bishop: You're right. Anyway, the good Lord would never disrupt the best game of my life.

Occasionally the spirit catches me and I want to do one of those pith-helmeted anthropological expeditions, taking pictures of The Moment or How We Live Today precipitated by some momentous event.

Well, Hurricane Sandy is about to descend upon Manhattan and besides an impulse to stock up on cheeseburgers from Village Den, I figured this would be a good time to haul ass riki-tik around the West Village and see if I could find some thread of a story on how New Yorkers act in the hours before a gnar-gnar hurricane goes wheels down.

I figured going into things that I'd see a lot of boarded up businesses and zero pedestrians as people prepare for meteorological eschaton. So I wasn't surprised when I saw my local purveyor of whimsical vittles, Cafe Cluny, ceased its slinging of concupiscent curds and decamped to pastures unknown. To paraphrase Sam Shepard's play, True West, "There's going to be a general lack of preciousness in the West Village tomorrow morning. Many many bewildered breakfast faces."

But as New Yorkers, we laugh in the face of good judgement (Close a bar at 3:30am? Fuck that! Empty a refrigerator and use it for additional closet space? Why the hell not!) so it became increasingly apparent that I had underestimated our collective desire to be out of our apartments in the hours prior to landfall, and later in my Caspar David Freidrich-esque wonderings, our collective stupidity. Really underestimated that last one.

First things somewhat first, though. There were a ton of people out. Like, you had the whole dude-with-malfunctioning-umbrella-cover-photo-for-The-Dayton-Daily-News walking in some sort of "lurchy half-stumble of a vaudeville inebriate" (h/t DFW) but you had like, regular people out doing regular people things.

People such as my good friend Vince, hanging out my favorite cafe. Hadn't seen the dude in a good three weeks and there he is, drinking his coffee, eating his muffin. So I had a good rap session with my brother from another materfamilias and set plans for the next week.

Y'all had peeps shopping, WITH AWESOME BAGS. And you also had bros running. I saw a lot of bros running.

Speaking of general cardiovascular development, Equinox, the gym chain that puts the (toned) ass in aspirational fitness, opened its eucalyptus scented doors to any and all who did not want to let a Hurricane get in the way of a good NO2-addled pump. Zoom lens affording a interesting look into the second floor.

But as I finished my tour de whimsy I peddled over to the Hudson River Park. And things got weird. Like, David Lynch's Blue Velvet weird. You know, like the Lynchian intersection of real and surreal weird. Of banal and brain-scrambling.

Pretty I standard, I guess. Stupidity knows no bounders. But this was just the opening salvo as people let their freak flags fly.

I don't know. I really don't. But it's nutty moments like this that make me glad I'm drinking from Denny's never ending coffee cup of American life. That I'm getting grandslammed into the rudy-tuti-fresh-n-fruiti embrace of American weird. That I can simultaneously wikipedia Kazakhstan's GDP and listen to Tony Robbins on mp3. Just that strange bestriding both-sides-of-the-aisle like a Colossus aspect. Like seeing the above. A Jason mask with swim goggles. Kinda normal, but really, kinda not. This makes my heart swell like watching Gary Busey and Christopher Walken high-five. It's that good.

But maybe we're not really that weird. Maybe some people were out there to do something practical, like picking up a ten foot tall tree branch. To defeat Master Spliter-sized rats coming from the ocean swells. Yeah, something like that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hear. Ye.

A profile of the band, Vassals

All photography and video taken on August 22nd by Dan (the guy writing this, too)
Listen to Vassals' songs on their Bandcamp page and check them out on Facebook
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(Vassals tearing it up on the third night of their August residency at Pianos)

I’m self-consciously aware that I shouldn’t begin this essay about a band, not my own, with the first personal pronoun because it’s just in bad taste and an insult to quote un quote objective music writing, but I really don’t see any way to square this circle w/r/t my personal connection and history with the band, Vassals, so I’m just going to have to capitulate and go with it (the personal pronoun issue) since this is a blog and whose archetypical structure is predicated upon an uber-promotion of the subjective and also that this story has a beginning that kinda demands I start off with the word, “I.”

So, I tell friends and acquaintances that if you’re in the West Village, you’re likely to find me in two (once three) locations: the restaurant Tremont sitting at the bar reading a book, eating a burger and probably talking up whomever is next to me or Cafe Minerva just next door, where I’m tipping back black tea, reading different books than the ones at Tremont but mostly just engaging in a good ol’ bull session with my favorite guys in the place - Bill, Ian, Jeff (in absentia) and Shay Spence. 

I got to know Shay through our mutual love/appreciation/fascination/knowledge of music and Shay knows its history down cold and we can usually trade back and forth factoids on the 1960s soul music Pandora usually promotes on the Minerva sound system around the 9-10pm hour. I would stand and talk to Shay so much in Minerva that people would look at me and motion to me for their checks. Not joking.

I knew Shay spent some time at Berklee but it wasn’t until a matter of months ago that he let me in on his own musical pursuits with a band called Vassals (and this was AFTER I sent along my shitty demo his way first. Talk about modesty, man, his stuff is killer and he didn’t even force it on me right away).

Shay tuning up before the show

Anyway, I was sitting at table 12 (yes - I know the place that well) when Shay slipped the bands’ website to me and after giving a good listen under a pair of still-serviceable 10 year old Bose headphones, I came up from my auditory retreat with the very eloquent synopsis of “Holy Shit!”

We'll get to the tunes, but let's give a little history first. Vassals formed a little over a year ago in Brooklyn featuring Shay Spence on bass and vocals, Jeff Fettig on guitar and Jon Smith on drums. The backstory is pretty interesting, so rather than give it the short shrift I'll let Shay explain: 

Jeff and I were roommates while he was finishing Berklee and I was dropping out. We didn't really play music together then, and he moved to New York while myself and the rest of our roommates moved to Los Angeles, September 2009. I move to New York a year later and met Jon, who had become a good buddy and engineering partner of Jeff's. In January '11, Jeff left New York for a month to travel; I sublet his room in Bushwick to demo some new songs (in addition to having a great protools setup, Jeff also has a penchant for impulse buying various instruments. My demos from that month feature Jeff's banjo, mandolin, xylophone, pump organ, multiple accordions, and a very out of tune fender rhodes). When he returned, I showed Jeff what I had been working on. He dug it, got Jon to come over, and we began arranging my chamber-pop little songs into three-peice bangers. I don't know why we became such a loud band, maybe we were a little weary of the singer/songwriter & ensemble aesthetic that was trending in the musical circles (i.e. Bon Iver) and maybe it was just so damn cold that winter, and so damn hot that following summer, and rent was so damn high, and we kind of rediscovered our teenaged angst together. 

Vassals performing "A Curse" at Pianos on the Lower East Side in Manhattan

Early on in “A Curse,” one of the songs from Vassals’ EP released in 2011, Shay sings, “Every block’s newspaper box says Fall will be here soon,” a line, when you repeat it to yourself, reveals a striking cadence of near iambic hexameter with internal rhyme. Now, usually a line of iambic hexameter seeks its concluding couplet, though none can be found here. 

For a piece of poetry this lack of conclusion would be problematic, but for a song like this it makes sense, a tipped hand to the notion that these songs often stand on a sonic and structural precipice, their short three minutes climbing in intensity and then plateauing, only to repeat the process again until you are led to a cliff and pushed over into a chorus that acts as a tension-releasing free fall, which finally lands you at the bottom of a Sisyphean trailhead where you repeat the journey again.

Musically, it is probably easy to peg Vassals’ songs as an update of the Pixies’ quiet/loud binary opposition (and when you listen live - they are LOUD), but so much more can be found here in terms of the songs’ restraint, craftsmanship and lyrical dexterity. From start to finish, Vassals’ songs often grow in intensity from buoyant initial verses to bruising choruses, though upon close listening underneath a structure of pop melody remains. Even in the caustic, feedback-drenched choruses there is that insulating force of hummable melodies, channelling the charged energy of the songs like those overhead power lines carrying electricity across the country. 

The payoff, then, to the musical restraint of Shay’s songs is that the pop tendencies never become sentimental or cloying. Instead, they, the pop tendencies, are intertwined helix-like with the intensity of the music and a darker touch of lyrics. Note how in their latest single, “Informers,” the interations choruses throughout the song go from a sweetly sung “off to bed, dear,” to a harsher “come to me, dear” and finally, in the last moments of the song, “on my knees, dear,” is sung with painful fervor.

At the end of the third night of their Pianos August residency I turned around from the front row with my camera  and saw the crowd behind me had basically quadrupled in size since the beginning of the set. While there are always a few stragglers to any given show I highly doubt 75% of the final crowd happened to be stuck waiting for a delayed F train before the first song commence. It doesn’t take too much cognitive horsepower, then, to figure out that a good portion of the crowd was drawn in from Pianos' larger, siphoned-off bar area during Vassals’ set through the sounds coming off from the stage, resulting in a large mass that resembles, interestingly, the final overwhelming seconds of a Vassals song. 

You’ll hopefully have to make you own conclusion as you listen to the music, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you are drawn in, too. 

On a sidenote, I've FINALLY joined Twitter so you can follow me @KudosKudlow where 30% of my output will be pop culture theories (DuckTales was Reagan-era propaganda is a favorite invention of mine - the lucky dime was so representative of anti-progressive tax policy) and 40% will be focused on finding links between high literature and not so high stuff (Shakespeare invented the bromance, the link between Chaucer and Dumb and Dumber (fart jokes, basically)), etc. And... I don't know what the other 30% will be yet.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Somewhere, in the Act

Once young professional adults have enough discretionary coin to play around with, their instinctual desire to spend that money kicks in and, more often than not, deposits that money into a budgetary well they call “travel.” More than just a repository for monies left after rent and food, this category of travel becomes some sort of upperwardly-mobile badge of self identity. People “love to travel,” they “enjoy traveling” or taking it up a self-actualization notch, “work to live and live to travel.”

There are few things I object with in the above, namely the nomadic impulse that I really don’t understand, but also the common usage of the word travel. It’s a verb, definition-wise, employed to explain the process of getting from expensive city A to expensive city B, but people more commonly use it as a substitute definition for the destination experience rather than the journey itself.

Let me explain. How often have you heard people complaining about airports or the traffic experienced on your way “out east”? (1). What about the common suggestion to take a Klonopin and carafe of Cotes-du-Rhone in your upper-class seat to pass out and consequently, cut down on the conscious time you have in the air? If people REALLY loved to travel they’d be basking in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-95 or pleading with the pilot to do a couple more circles around SFO before they go wheels down.

I recently wrapped up a multi-pronged vacation that included a few nights in Cold Spring, NY. More on this town I’ve come to love in a separate post.

Thinking about the trip in advance I decided to purposely concentrate on and document the journey itself, rather than the destination.

I can’t tell you - seriously, I can’t - how many times I’ve stood on the train platforms at my hometown station. The trip to high school started here; besuited I’ve made way way to New York as, what the pointy-headed economists call, a knowledge worker. But toting a camera forces you to reexamine your staid points-of-view as you search for inspiration. It’s hard to do this in a place where function, usually, trumps form, but I was struck by the absolute abundance of straight lines, so many that I lost count. Also, the kid peeking his head around the support pole is pretty precious.

No pictures of Penn Station as I was hoofing it, double-time, to make my connection in Grand Central. But I did take a few shots while in my cab over to 42nd street (had to make a stop in the West Village). I call cabs “urban chariots,” even though the people I’m with when I say the phrase give me a real great jaw-dropping gape that gives me a wicked case of the howling fantods. How amazing is it that usually within 15 seconds after raising your hand you’re in someone else’s car who has to take you WHEREVER you want to go and will usually violate several traffic laws to do so tute-de-suite while you watch TELEVISION in a seat with air-conditioning? Absolutely mind-blowing, the urban chariots are.

It’s a tough get a good shot when you’re going several miles above the city speed limit, but this one, taken in the flower district, interested me in its ability to capture the reflection of the moving cab in which I was currently sitting.

Judging by the abundance of iPhones and DSLRs pressed to people’s faces, it’s pretty clear Grand Central is a popular spot for photography. Most people (and hey - myself included) are fascinated by the constant movement of the terminal as well as its Beaux-Arts Main Concourse. That said, I wanted to find a person - not a thing - in stasis to be a counterweight to all the motion around me. I’m not sure why he was getting a portrait done, but the moment still fascinated me nonetheless.

Take Metro North just an hour north along the Hudson and you’re deposited in Cold Spring, NY - a pulchritudinous country hamlet that retains a warm country town feel with a healthy dose sophisticated restaurants and cultural opportunities nearby (I saw a REALLY good regional theater troupe put on Romeo & Juliet my last night there).

Like I said, it’s a small town.

The main drag is - wait for it - Main Street. Practically a 1:1 antique shop to regular business shop ratio. If this was in Maine, it’d probably be a setting for a Stephen King novel (in a good way!)

Before I even checked into the Pig Hill Inn, the only B&B in town worth visiting, I made two very important purchases: a few trail maps from Hudson Valley Outfitters and Red Velvet ice cream from The Scoop. Vacation priorities.

Lastly, my lovely accommodations for the week. Pig Hill Inn.

In a later post I’ll have some photos of mansion ruins I took in the woods/mountains surrounding the area and - more interestingly - photos of the mansions back in the 1920s, which I’m pretty sure is an online exclusive.

(1) The expression usually is employed when referring to Westhampton, Bridgehampton, Amagansett, etc. It’s a phrase that tries to shield the speaker from a self-conscious awareness of the perceived sense of ladder-climbing embedded in the speaker’s reference to those towns through a shield of false modesty by declining to name the towns, though this false modesty is only recognized by those who understand the phrase, which results in an ever-tightening circle within which those who know, know - completely subverting the perceived intentions of using the phrase “out east.” I fucking despise the phrase.

(2) I, myself, don’t fly much because I can’t comprehend the very concept of flight. If you think about it for a good hot second, the airplane was invented maybe a good decade after the invention of the modern bicycle. You know those massive big-wheel penny farthings? People were still riding those freakish things like fifteen years before we started flying. How the hell did this happen? A basic rule in my life is that if I can’t wrap my head around something, I don’t want to engage in it. Consequently my American Express membership rewards points go to Brooks Brothers gift certificates and not airplane trips.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

West Village Remix Culture

Lawrence Lessig, a Law Professor at Harvard and basically the most vocal critic of our antiquated trademark laws,  introduced a concept awhile back called the remix culture. Borrowing from computer terms, he stated the ideal culture is one of "Read/Write" access, where people are free to borrow (or remix) a given piece of art in order to create something completely new.

His term came to mind when I saw a theme of remixed graffiti near my West Village apartment. The images were remixed to create something entirely new.

I have no idea what compelled someone to reference the 1991 Phoebe Cates movie outside my apartment on 12th street, but I digress. The truly fascinating thing is that someone came along and tweaked the image to create something entirely new. The red pen is a nice touch.

Walking a little east and then north on Hudson revealed an entire row of the Kate Moss Supreme ads that are about as ubiquitous right now in downtown Manhattan as a MacBook Pro in a West Village coffee shop. I'm mildly obsessed with the ads since the 38 year old Kate still looks like the coolest woman on the planet. Cigarette in hand, her trademark leopard print coat and completely disaffected look. I'm in love.

Someone though, decided to change the ads up a bit, and the whole theme caught on with everyone else. What was once an image of hipster chic has been recreated as something ironic and parodic.

With just an addition of a sticker the Moss image has gone from chic to ironic and now to menacing.

Back towards Greenwich Street, the ad was in various states of decay. Some natural.

And some intentional.

I know it's an economic term, but I think it can be applied to aesthetics too. This is what creative destruction is all about.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lay Your Hands (On These Bags)

Hudson Sutler, Quality Purveyors of Sensible Merchandise 
Find Hudson Sutler on Facebook

Grant Hewit of Hudson Sutler

I spend a lot of time thinking about people and things that "get it." It's a hard concept to explain, but you can feel it when someone is picking up what you're putting down. Like that girl that sends you a package of beef jerky and beer from Thanks, Bro - she gets it. The person who sends a handwritten thank you note instead of an email. Yeah, they get it too.

Well, my buddy Grant Hewit gets it too.

I've known Grant since high school and I'm proud to say we went to Delbarton School together. Grant was always a solid dude in many ways and it's no surprise that he's found something special in the new company he's founded, Hudson Sutler.

Hudson Sutler specializes in high quality, American-made duffel bags in multiple sizes. All bags feature nickel hardware, rustproof resin zippers, plaid interiors and interior zippers.

I really dig the red white and blue combination here

I really can't overemphasize enough how just "perfect" these bags are. They're the right size, the right colors, the right amount of details. They're instant classics.

Grant and I met up last Friday at the Australian to catch up on old times and talk about his new venture. I took some photos of the gear in action and also posed some questions to Grant. We also made friends with Erin at the Australian and she was gracious enough to model some of the gear too. Thanks Erin!

In front of the bar or behind it - you look cool with a Hudson Sutler
Dan: Tell me about the inspiration behind Hudson Sutler.

Grant: Hudson Sutler was really born from an appreciation of well made, timeless American classic "staples". Think Brooks Brothers trailblazing the button down collar, Levi brothers putting denim jeans on the map, (I'd love to be able to speak to Budweiser here, but for some reason I just can't get over the InBev buyout....and yes I'm aware Claudio del Vecchio is as American as Snooki's tan is real) Even flip-flops are an American staple, I'm not sure who invented them, but I'm pretty certain Rainbows perfected them. Unfortunately many of these items are no longer actually made here, but to me they're still very much "American Inspired." So with Hudson Sutler, we wanted to take a bit of a counter approach, take an item that's derived from elsewhere (Duffel bags are named for a town in Belgium funny enough) that have had some American-ization and take it a step further by producing them here in the US of A. Our very early design concepts had the bags more similar both in look, and feel, as authentic US Military issue duffel bags, which probably helps explain our name a bit as well. In our eyes, the heavy cotton canvas, can take a beating and still look very classic commuter and weekender bag is one of the American "staples" that's really lost out in the wake of all these rolling bags and hard shell, 76 compartment rolling offices you can find in a SkyMall catalog. We really wanted to go back to the archives, when things were made with pride and care and frankly, it showed. We wanted to bring back that staple the every guy should have. A bag that fits what you need (not everything you own), and looks good doing it.

Grant and a Hudson Sutler bag: two great things made in America

Dan: Awesome. One of the details I really love is the plaid interior/lining; it brings the bag a step up. Where did that idea come from? 

Grant: It's funny, early on in our design process it wasn't something we discussed really. Our aim was to make a very classic looking bag, but still make it distinctive. We toyed around with some other ideas, like waxed cotton interiors and eventually that conversation evolved into cotton shirting material. In some of our original designs we had them as contrast color, solid liners and it just didn't look as we wanted, so we made a prototype with an American flag style fabric liner. (I actually carry that prototype around pretty much daily.) At that point we had a number of fabric swatches that we really thought would work well paired with certain bag exterior/handle combos. If you could have seen my apartment at that time you would have thought I was a hoarder who had a thing for blackwatch plaid and gingham fabrics. I guess the plaid liners to us were about taking a classic staple and putting our touch of personality on it.

Here's a closeup shot of the plaid interior as well as the interior pocket

Dan: Wow - waxed cotton is interesting and I never thought about going that route. Perhaps something to think about for the exterior at some point... Anyway - before we hit our lightning round - why go with the oversized zippers... what's the story behind that? 

Grant: Certainly for the exterior, the only issue being that the treatment of waxed cotton does rub off on other fabrics in certain we were concerned about using waxed cotton for the exterior of a bag that's intended for everyday use. Ahhh, I forgot to mention the resin zippers. We went with the thick resin zipper for three reasons. First and foremost, they're not brass or metal of any kind, and thus won't rust when you (expectantly) bring these bags everywhere you go. I've had bags in the past that did it all, and in the end succumbed to that nasty greenish staining that metal zippers cause when they get wet too many times. With using resin, we removed that problem and we expect these bags to last as long as you need them too without finding their way out of your daily use just because the zipper got rusty. Secondly, the thick style zipper is far more durable than its thinner counterpart whose teeth are more likely to break and/or get jammed. With the thick zipper those frustrating "stuck zipper" moments become something of the past, and good riddance. Lastly, but most certainly not least, the thick resin zippers to us just have a much better feel and look to them. We chose contrast colors to give the bag some more character and when you look closely, all the stitching on the bag is with contrast stitching. So while the choice is very practical, there is an element of just flat vanity included. It just looks good....which is pretty much how I feel about most classic American things.

White zippers are cool

Dan: Alright awesome. So let's move into something I call the lightning round I'm gonna toss you a question or a scenario and you hit me up with an answer and a quick explanation. 

Imagine you live in a world where you must choose either to have croakies or mid calf socks - but NOT both. Which one do you choose?

Grant: Gotta go mid calf socks. I love croakies and all, but nothing is more amazing than old videos of guys in the 70s working out in short shorts, handle bar mustaches and mid calf socks with the 2 stripes up top. Nothing.

Dan: Can't argue with that, that would be my pick too. Alright, I know that you have one of the greatest 1980's movies, Rad, on DVD, even though technically it is only available as VHS. What's it like having like one of the two copies of Rad on DVD?

Grant: As a gift I can honestly say I've bragged more about getting Rad on DVD than I have anything in my life. Knowing Rad in general is pretty solid 80s street cred, but knowing its not on DVD makes you practically part of Cru's Crew.

Dan: If Hudson Sutler had a theme song, what would it be? Must be from the 70s or 80s. 

Grant: Lay your Hands on me by Bon Jovi. Not sure it reflects our brand, but its just plain awesome. (Also in the running: Badlands by Bruce Springsteen)

Dan: It's been a dinger of a night out and you want to get something to eat at 3am. You have the option of IHop, Denny's, Friendly's or White Castle. (Imagine these restaurants all operate in NYC) 

Grant: Being that I can't remember the last time I went to IHOP, Denny's or White Castle, I guess Friendly's takes this out of default. I'd prefer to just answer Cluck U Chicken though.

Dan: Ahhhh can't believe I left Cluck-U off the list! Good catch Grant. OK, lastly who's your pick for 2012 college lacrosse (Princeton excluded) 

Grant: If the Tigers are out (which clearly is my pick) I'd gotta give a nod to my guy Bill Tierney at Denver. (Although part of me would like to see the boys at Maryland walk with some hardware. Its been a long time...)

Dan: That's it from my end - make sure you check out Hudson Sutler!

Ladies look great with a Hudson Sutler bag too

Monday, December 5, 2011

How to Sling Your Loved Ink

I thought of writing about the different types (archetypes?) of literary tote bags out there on the interwebs but found I was already beaten to the punch by the likes of flavorpill and vol 1 brooklyn.

Vol 1 even did the whole, 'what this bag says about you' in the vein of Lauren Leto's cyno-reductionist Judging a Book By Its Lover mini-festo. (Note: read my pal Zack's profile of Lauren)

From Vol 1 Brooklyn:
The Paris Review tote: You really want to impress somebody by letting them know you read The Paris Review.  (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.)
The N+1 tote: You probably mention in conversation that when you receive a new issue of N+1, you skip straight to the Marco Roth piece.

Shit. I was going to namedrop n+1! (though I go straight to the 'Intellectual Situation,' personally). If Vol 1 scrubbed that corner of the literary universe, what else is out there for me to talk about? How can I get a seat at the literary tote bag table?

I find my ways.

Check it - the ingenious crafters over at Etsy always come through in the clutch.

Need to profess you love of Pride & Prejudice (& Flowers?)

Mr. Darcy to Lizzy Bennet! Love it! From Brookish's Etsy page. 

Maybe you find that too sentimental and want to push your luv of modernism on the L train?

Well, 250Union's Etsy page has got you covered if you've got a jones for Joyce.

But what if Ulysses is a tad too heavy for you cause you're really just more into visceral experiences like getting drunk and writing over-hyped (whoooops) poems about chicks on your 'typer'?

Then buy this Bukowski tote at polymer's Etsy page.

Remember how Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory (1997) compulsively bought copies of Catcher in the Rye whenever he saw a copy for sale?

He'd probably OCD over the above bag, too. From imissyoualready

OK. So everything I mentioned is very author-specific. What if you just want to say you like books, but also enjoy a particular song from Sir-Mix-A-Lot's 1992 album, Mack Daddy?

Feel free to pack away War and Peace or William Vollmann's Imperial or something with this tote from PamelaFugateDesigns. Maybe just carry your groceries in it. Who cares? The bag is awesome. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Dave Kusworth is Cooler Than You

Dave Kusworth

My friend and bandmate Mike has been instrumental in the development of my rock 'n roll knowledge. He was the first person to introduce me to Johnny Thunders, Jesse Malin and Paul Westerberg's solo stuff. Mike's kinda like that cooler older brother with that killer vinyl collection and who'll let you constantly bum his menthols and never give you shit about about it.

Another one of those bands he introduced me to was the Jacobites, led by Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth, who tragically wrote the best rock music in the vein of the Faces, the Stones and Neil Young ten years after those bands enjoyed the apex of their commercial success with a general audience.

Dave Kusworth (left) and Nikki Sudden (RIP Nikki)

I was immediately hooked on Kusworth's songs and especially his look. He just looked so fucking cool in that strange paradoxical melding of devil-may-care attitude with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism. Here's AllMusic describing Kusworth's solo release, Wives, Weddings and Roses: A tear-stained meeting of Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," and Neil Young's "Down by the River" wrapped in scarves, bound up in leather pants, and shrouded by cigarette smoke.


Kusworth is influenced by Keith Richards in his looks as well as the music he creates, no doubt. In fact I've seen some pictures of Kusworth on the web mistakenly tagged as Keith Richards. That said, Kusworth lands more solidly on the "tragic Byronic romantic hero" end of the rock spectrum. How tragically under appreciated is Kusworth? Dude doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

Can't remember where I got this - if it's your pic let me know

A major component to Kusworth's look are his myriad of scarves that he wraps around his head (Lord Byron rocked head scarves too). Here's an email conversation between Mike and I on the subject of Kusworth's scarves:
Dan: Where do you think Kusworth gets all his scarves from?
Mike: You can get that type of scarf from girls you've had meaningful but doomed relationships with, so that every time you wear it, you can still smell her perfume and remember the time you got stuck in a downpour walking with her by the old church yard.
Dan: Haha, the line is so thin between Romantics and Goths. If it were midnight at the church graveyard it would be Goth.
Mike: Yeah this happens definitely during the day. The streets at night are no place for a British dandy.
Dan: ...carrying a copy of Rimbauld's collected poems.
Mike: ...while mentally comparing love and flowers
Dan: ...while holding an umbrella to shield you from the sun so as not to alter your visage's deathly pallor
Mike: Haha, I bet he was terrible at sports
Dan: Exactly, in high school instead of playing sports he wrote poetry underneath the bleachers while smoking clove cigarettes, pining after the popular girls in English class he couldn't muster the courage to talk to.   

Awesome photo of Kusworth (right) from this Flickr page

Of course though, image is nothing without good music to back it up. This is one of Kusworth's more recent tunes, "It Comes and it Goes." There's barely 100 views of this video. That's criminal! It's one of the best rock songs I've ever listened to!

It's acoustic and electric; heartfelt and cocky; loving and forlorn; new yet timeless. In other words, it's a great rock 'n roll song.

Here's another from the Jacobites era with Nikki Sudden:

"So she waits there on the stairs at four o'clock / I'll buy her some roses but I'm scared of what it costs / And then she promises she'll buy me everything / but all I want for her is to pin her heart to me"

Isn't that what the best songs and poems are about, whether it's Andrew Marvell or Keith Richards writing them? Wanting someone to pin their heart to you, to tether their dreams to your own?

I think so.