Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alternatives To The Scandalously Spawned, Scandalously Named Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Center: Protest & Locally Nurtured Concerts

The kleptocratic story of how the Forest City Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov “Barclays” Center Brooklyn basketball arena was spawned and inflicted through to its imminent completion is an ugly one.  And then there's the name. . . The arena could have been named after any corporation ponying up some advertising dollars. .   and whatever name the arena, squeezed into its Brownstone Brooklyn location ultimately brandished, it was likely to be deemed an irksome synonym for ignominy.  Nevertheless, the demon gods overseeing the project’s incubation managed to short-cut more directly to ensure that result: This public-paid-for piece of Brooklyn sports the name of “Barclays,” the bank whose association with the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal appropriately evokes the arrogant primacy our society puts on having the interests of the 1% supersede those of the 99%.

There Are Alternatives!

It's good to know that there are alternatives when the onslaught of publicity for the arena makes it seem almost obligatory for every citizen to celebrate the arrival of this first slice of the Forest City Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov mega-monopoly conceptualized as "Atlantic Yards," nominally 22 newly-bequeathed acres but actually a monolithic total of 30+ developer-controlled contiguous acres.  No, Not so . .  There are clearly superior alternatives to feeling obligated to join the celebration or start attending arena events: The arena’s arrival can be protested, and in preference to the arena’s plans for what sounds like some overgrown concert performance confections there are enticing homegrown local alternatives that offer the more intimate embrace of time spent with performers who may actually be more moral and truer to their roots.
Protesting the Arena Crime Scene

First, with respect to the protests: The initial opportunity comes up with a series of protesting events coinciding with the arena’s unveiling, emphasizing that the arena is a “Crime Scene.”  The events will run from a Wednesday, September 26th showing of the “Battle For Brooklyn” documentary, and a 7:00 PM  Thursday evening candlelight vigil through to Saturday, September 29.  Subsidy collector Ratner and his kindred spirit Mikhail Prokhorov, a politically-favored Russian oligarch, will want that weekend’s publicity to focus instead on the Jay-Z concert unveiling the arena at 8:00 PM, Friday, September 28th.  Jay-Z has been rewarded for his promotion of the arena and sell-out of the community with a 1% partnership interest in the developer’s deal.

More about the events at this website and this Facebook invitation page and as written about by Norman Oder at Atlantic Yards Report here:  Friday, September 07, 2012, "It's a Crime!" New web site targets Atlantic Yards failures, announces vigil, protests geared to arena opening weekend and Wednesday, September 12, 2012, An Occupy protest coming in response to Jay-Z's comments, but will it be just before his Sept. 28 concert?, and Tuesday, September 18, 2012, Atlantic Yards protesters list demands: new plan, reformed oversight, more developers, environmental review, new regulations.

Mr. Oder takes issue with whether Atlantic Yards can be technically described as a “crime,” suggesting that, more accurately, it is just part of the culture of cheating,” the rubric under which Mr. Oder has been running a series of articles summing up how the mega-project has, across the board, been based upon strategies of deception and bad faith.  But denying the crime here overlooks how the government, itself, was used as an instrument of theft which is, after all, the definition of “kleptocracy,” where a politically connected elite steal from the less advantaged.

Those keeping careful score as to what defines a “crime” will tell you that in these situations the real crime isn't what is technically illegal, it is what gets redefined as legal in order to permit such behavior.  To give just two examples: That kind of redefining is what happened when the state and federal constitutional prohibitions on seizing private property for private benefit (including constitutional protections recently voted upon by New Yorkers) were rewritten out of existence by state agency skulduggery supported by judicial fiat (meaning that property that neighbor and senator Charles Schumer clearly knew wasn’t “blighted” was pretextually deemed to be so by collusive government officials so it could be taken by Ratner).  And that kind of scrapping of laws on the books is what happened when the MTA decided that it didn’t have to comply with recently enacted public authority reform legislation designed to prohibit its rigged deal with Ratner because it was sure no one was going to make them follow the law.

Alternative Concert Going

As for alternative concert going, (if you want to be distracted from such serious subjects by entertainment) about this time every year I have started publicizing the upcoming concert roster for First Acoustics concerts. (See: Wednesday, September 28, 2011, Getting Near to Holly Near: Performing This Saturday at First Acoustics (with John Bucchino and special guest Linda Tillery)- Plus Notes on Empire and Wednesday, February 25, 2009, Adding Something Off Topic: A Few Notes.)

This year’s season will premier Saturday (September 22nd at 8:00 PM) with Roosevelt Dime (fast banjo, thumping washtub, blaring brass- "Steamboat Soul") on a double bill with Honor Finnegan (a Bluesy soloist). . . I think I'm going to love Saturday night.

Here is the complete season line-up through to the culminating June 1st concert, (All dates are Saturday evenings at 8:00p.m. except for December 9 which is a Sunday afternoon at 3:00):
    •    September 22, 2012: ROOSEVELT DIME with Honor Finnegan

    •    October 6, 2012: BUSKIN & BATTEAU and FREEBO

    •    October 27, 2012:  RED MOLLY with Union Street Preservation Society

    •    November 3, 2012: SUZIE VINNICK with Friction Farm

    •    November 17, 2012: ANNA DAGMAR, ANTHONY DA COSTA and CAITLIN CANTY

    •    December 9, 2012 (This is the one on Sunday at 3:00 PM): BROOKLYN WOMEN OF SONG (Meg Braun, Jean Rohe and Carolann Solebello)

    •    March 23, 2013: BARNABY BRIGHT and DENI BONET

    •    April 20, 2013: SPUYTEN DUYVIL with Karyn Oliver

    •    May 18, 2013: PESKY J. NIXON with Kara Kulpa

    •    June 1, 2013: JONI MITCHELL'S BLUE: A 40th Anniversary Celebration
Based on my own past year's prior attendance of First Acoustics concerts, I especially, especially recommend the harmonies of Red Molly, and probably my favorite song that they perform is “May I Suggest” by Susan Warner.  Attending, you should have an opportunity to have the performers personally sign purchased copies of the group’s CDs.  Each of the Red Molly performers also has individual solo performance CDs.

You never know exactly what surprises might be in store: The last time I heard Red Molly they were on a First Acoustics double bill with the absolutely superb Pat Wicter.  Pat Wictor sang with Abbie Gardner, one of the Red Molly trio, A Little Love Is Gonna Do a song Mr. Wictor wrote that in my estimation is worthy of addition to the Great American Songbook canon.

Once when I had occasion to talk with Pat Wictor he told me that he considered it important to sing other people’s songs, to sing the classics, and to sing songs from the American Songbook; “It’s the only way you learn.” he told me.  Listening to his “A Little Love Is Gonna Do” I believe exactly what he said.  You see, First Acoustics is kind of environment where you might wind up having these kinds of thoughtful exchanges with the performers.

Speaking of learning by singing the classics, Abbie Gardner, Wictor’s singing partner for “A Little Love Is Gonna Do,” has a solo album of American Songbook classics, My Craziest Dream.”  The album wasn’t there for me to pick up the night I heard Red Molly but I found it later on emusic.  It includes Milton Ager’s “Happy Feet,” a song I cherish which ought to be performed more.  The album was done working with Ms. Gardner’s father, pianist Herb Gardner, and those with a Noticing New York sensibility may want to note that it includes a song written and performed by Mr. Gardner that fills a critical NYC gap, a rollicking anthem in praise of the borough of Staten Island.

Everybody Ought To Know, But Do They?

Last year when I covered the First Acoustics line-up I gave special attention to Sloan Wainwright, and in that regard I noted that she is pedigreed via familial interrelationship with, it seems, an entire universe of famous musical performers, including not only the constellation of those who are Wainwrights, but also the McGarrigle Sisters and the Roche Sisters.  It turns out that her web of relations also connect her to singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, who with improbable incongruity was one of the first performers announced to be performing at the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Center.

Cohen’s Everybody Knows,” one of his very most famous songs, has an inherent relevance to the “Barclays” Center saga, including lines like, “Everybody knows the fight was fixed- The poor stay poor, the rich get rich-That's how it goes-Everybody knows.”  Everybody ought to know, but is Mr. Cohen among those who actually do?

It might be suspected that Mr. Cohen did not know the history of corruption and government malfeasance when he signed on for his gig at the “Barclays” Center and, in fact, last May after the announcement, Develop Don’t Destroy wrote an open letter to Barbra Streisand and Leonard Cohen respecting their scheduled performances at the arena, holding open the possibility that “as artists with a history of philanthropy, social justice and civil liberty advocacy, and protest lyrics” Streisand’s and Cohen’s acceptance of performance dates at the arena might mean that they had yet “to learn about the history behind the venue” with which they were associating themselves.

Streisand and Cohen have yet to respond to DDDB’s letter.  I have reached out independently to Mr. Cohen for a Noticing New York article on the subject and have similarly received no response.  I reached out through the obvious official channels first.  Because of Cohen’s Everybody Knows special relevance to the “Barclays” Center saga I also reached out to Sharon Robinson with whom he co-wrote that song, including when I was in her home town of Los Angeles.  I received no response.  Mr. Cohen’s multiple familial connections to the musical universe afford other possible opportunities to elicit a response that I have begun to follow up on.   I have received no response.

I don’t know what Mr. Cohen and Ms. Streisand may ultimately do with respect to performances at the “Barclays” Center.  Their ducking of the issues presented to them make it seem somewhat more likely that they and/or their booking staff may have considered and discounted the issues of disreputation associated with the arena prior to signing commitments.

Some say that since the arena has arrived it somehow must now be accepted as a fact of life.  I don’t think so.  There may come a time when a sufficient aging of the sins may be curative or ameliorative.  Perhaps some will shun the arena permanently, but it does seem that, no matter what, there should be a period of time when performers and potential patrons alike would pledge out of conscience to eschew the arena. . . perhaps for five years, or maybe the biblical seven years, as in seven lean years?

To make sure that during those seven years the agents booking performers into gigs don't inadvertently book them into a place like the "Barclays" Center, principled performers can start including a clause in their engagement contracts protecting themselves.  Clauses that protect the principles and reputation of the performers have, to date, been referred to as "reverse morals" clauses.  Perhaps in the future they will be better known as "Barclays Center" clauses.

Not everyone will stay away from the arena, and I am not even suggesting pursuing obtaining such a pledge from performers who obviously give little apparent thought to matters of conscience.  Still, mightn’t such a pledge and a persisting consciousness of the arena’s history have just enough negative effect on the arena’s financial health, on Ratner’s and Prokhorov’s ability to pay off their bonds and to make their presumed profit, enough negative effect on Barclay’s promotion of its disreputable name to start settling some of the scores that need to be settled?

In the meantime, as we give the "Barclays" Center a wide berth, we will have more intimate venues for entertainment that are superior anyway, like First Acoustics . . . .

What?  You say I did not address an alternative for sports fans?  Well, I have consistently suggested it is better to get out and enjoy some exercise than to be a voyeur to the questionable business of professional sports.  (And that sets aside the fact that Brownstone Brooklyn was the wrong place into which to squeeze an outsized sports venue and that it was wrong to use it to spearhead and distract attention from an eminent domain-abusing land grab of vast proportions.)  For more of my thoughts on the travails of sports start with these articles on sports fandom.

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