aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Norman Foster: The Mozart of Modernism
My friends agree it’s a thrilling addition to midtown Manhattan. Knowing I’m an architecture fan, they took my to see it:
In the nineteen-twenties, William Randolph Hearst commissioned Joseph Urban to design his company’s first headquarters: six stories of megalomaniacal pomp on Eighth Avenue between Fifty-sixth and Fifty-seventh Streets. Despite its low height, everything about the yellowish stone structure suggests grandiosity, especially the monumental fluted columns that stretch higher than the building itself, giving it the look of a base for a much taller structure. (Hearst and Urban had planned to add a tower, but they never did.) The Hearst Corporation long ago outgrew this zany palazzo, dispatching most of its employees to rented space nearby. When the company decided to gather its operations under one roof, its executives smartly concluded that Urban’s building was too much fun to give up. Hearst hired Foster to build something on top of it, and in October, 2001, he unveiled a scheme to add forty stories to the original headquarters. It was the first major construction project to be announced in New York after September 11th.
As with all Foster designs, the Hearst tower is sleek, refined, and filled with new technology. It looks nothing like the Jazz Age confection on which it sits. The addition is sheathed in glass and stainless steel-a shiny missile shooting out of Urban’s stone launching pad. The tower’s most prominent feature is the brash geometric pattern of its glass and steel, which the architect calls a “diagrid”: a diagonal grid of supporting trusses, covering the faÃƒÂ§ade with a series of four-story-high triangles. These make up much of the building’s supporting structure, and they do it with impressive economy: the pattern uses twenty per cent less steel than a conventional skyscraper frame would require.
Foster’s brilliance can be seen in the way that he exploits this engineering trick for aesthetic pleasure. The triangles are the playful opposites of the dark Xs that slash the faÃƒÂ§ade of the John Hancock Center, in Chicago. They give the building a jubilantly jagged shape. Foster started with a box, then sliced off the corners and ran triangles up and down the sides, pulling them in and out-a gargantuan exercise in nip and tuck. The result resembles a many-faceted diamond. The corners of the shaft slant in and out as the tower rises, and the whole form shimmers.
Altar your thinking, church rulez!
More NY Theater fun. This one first appeared at the 2004 New York Musical Theater Festival:
They croon, they flirt, they glide and hop and bop in perfect synchronicity. Oh, and they also praise the Lord.
The boy band is dead, it is said, victim of the fickle hearts of teenage girls. Thus the arrival Off Broadway of ”Altar Boyz,” a sweetly satirical show about a Christian pop group made up of five potential Teen People cover boys, raises a thorny question: Is the musical theater where pop music goes to die?
Let’s table that one for now, actually. The talented actors impersonating the honey-voiced, swivel-hipped believers in “Altar Boyz” would certainly be able to convince you otherwise, for one thing. Their ebullient performances ensure that this smoothly executed show, which might have been a quick-fizzling joke, is an enjoyably silly diversion. [...]
Staking no claims to artistic significance, it makes a nice sound, looks pretty (if you like pretty boys) and sends you home with a smile.
Devout Christians are not the target audience here, unless they share the show’s authors’ view that there is something absurd about proselytizing for religion through pop music. True fans of Christian rock and pop could reasonably take offense at the sly parodies cooked up by the skilled songwriters Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, with winking choruses like, “Girl, you make me want to wait.” [And sly lyric refrains like “God put it in me” and “Get the hell out of here."]
But the material is delivered with such a light touch that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the catchier tunes had won a following among the young faithful. The songs’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics come wrapped in smoothly funky synthesizer riffs, and they are sung with a sincerity that softens the sting.
I’d like to think there’s an audience for this show in Atlanta. Of the five actors, two graduated from Brigham Young University and the lead thanks God in his playbill bio. It’s good wholesome 21st century American fun. Here’s an opening night video sampler.
On the way home from Pizza at Otto’s we ran across a crowd gathering under the Washington Square arch. My friend saw the boomboxes and reccognized it as Phil Kline’s massive mobile concert, Unsilent Night:
Every year since 1992 I’ve presented Unsilent Night, an outdoor ambient music piece for an INFINITE number of boom box tape players. It’s like a Christmas carolling party except that we don’t sing, but rather carry boom boxes, each playing a separate tape which is part of the piece. In effect, we become a city block long stereo system!
In 2005 the New York event will happen on Sunday December 18th. We will meet at the Arch in Washington Square at 6:45 pm, begin at 7 pm and proceed eastward to Tompkins Square Park, where the piece will end around 8 o’clock.
It would be really cool if you could join us and bring a boom box. The more tapes we run, the bigger and more amazing the sound will be. This past Christmas we had 100 boomboxes and over 500 people total, it was really spectacular… If you’d like to do it, please email me at so I will know how many tapes to make. If you’d like to do it but don’t have a boombox, I have several dozen and you can grab one...and if you want to come and just listen, that’s cool, too. Help us make a BIG (and joyful) noise.
If you live outside of New York and would like to arrange a performance in your area, email to the above address for details. In 2004 Unsilent Night was presented in Philadelphia, Tallahassee, San Diego, San Francisco, Vancouver and Middlesborough, England, in addition to New York. 2005 will see the additions of Sydney, Australia, Tucson, Arizona and Whitehorse, Yukon.
I wonder if that might work in my little town…
Hope in Ohio
A key part of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and special rights for couples living together violates the U.S. Constitution, a local judge has ruled.
The year-old state amendment strips rights from domestic-violence victims who are not married to their batterers and leaves married victims with greater protections, Domestic Relations Judge James Celebrezze found. That violates the equal-protection clause of the federal Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the judge declared.
Celebrezze’s Nov. 28 opinion by itself does not nullify the disputed part of the state amendment. But it may force the Ohio Supreme Court - and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court - to decide whether Celebrezze’s ruling is right. If it is, half of the amendment would be gutted.
Declaring war on O’Reilly’s War
Look, I put up a “Christmas tree,” rather than a “holiday tree,” and I’m sure Mr. O’Reilly is right that political correctness leads to absurd contortions this time of year. But when you’ve seen what real war does, you don’t lightly use the word to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings. And does it really make sense to offer 58 segments on political correctness and zero on genocide?
Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I’ve spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O’Reilly - demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money. And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards - so today, I’m taking my own advice.
Like the fundamentalist Islamic preachers, Mr. O’Reilly is a talented showman, and my sense is that his ranting is a calculated performance. The couple of times I’ve been on his show, he was mild mannered and amiable until the camera light went on - and then he burst into aggrieved indignation, because he knew it made good theater.
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