Friday, December 19, 2008

A Jolly Good Meet

It seems a good time to offer some seasonal thoughts.

Who’s a jolly good fellow and a wonderfully apt personage to run into in the dusk of a Prospect Park evening at this time of year? I’ll give you a hint: He’s especially busy this time of year, from the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade to right up to Christmas; And he has his roots in religion and cheerily encourages us to aspire to a better life. . . .

. . . Did you guess?

Yes, it’s the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping! As we said, this is his busy time of year, from Black Friday through Christmas, the Reverend does a phenomenal number of interviews about the alternative ways people can reinvent how they celebrate Christmas. From Reverend Billy’s website (the Christmas Revolution! Page):

“If we could change Christmas, we could change the whole year.”

“Christmas is supposed to shake us up!”

Quotes from the film What Would Jesus Buy?

When we caught up with the Reverend he was on a bicycle, not in his signature white suit, and his famous golden pompadour was hidden under a sensibly safe bike helmet. We did a lap with Billy and talked.

Among other things, the Reverend has been involved in important fights against over-scale and over-commercialized development that destroy this city and other communities. He is part of the community opposition to the proposals for Coney Island’s death-by-redevelopment and we caught sight of him at the May rally calling for a “time out” on the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment’s blight-inducing demolition of Brooklyn neighborhoods (Saturday, May 03, 2008, Not a done deal: “Time Out” rally met with “Build It Now” counter-protest). This past summer the Reverend and his lovely wife, Savitri D., officiated at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade as King Neptune and Queen Mermaid. Reverend Billy has also been involved opposing the effort to “privatize” part of Union Square by putting a Danny Meyer restaurant in the Union Square Pavilion at the north end of the park.

During our chat Billy took a call about an upcoming interview he will be doing with a Texas radio program and he talked about appropriate music. His web site has downloadable songs, sung by his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir and the Not Buying It Band! One of those songs is an energetic anti-development song, “Push Back,” which has lines like “this town ain’t no super-mall.” The song has different verses about different development issues. (An on-line music video of “Push Back” is also available.) Reverend Billy even has a new television series.

We asked Billy whether “Push Back” had a verse about the Rudin/St. Vincent’s real estate deal where part of the Greenwich Village Historic District is proposed to be sold off for a big dense project for the purpose of putting a lot of money in the developing entities’ pockets. It was on our mind because the Landmarks Preservation Commission had another meeting on it this week. (The LPC was having a lot of problems with the proposed design because a big, dense project looks rather, well. . big and dense.) No, said the Reverend, the song doesn’t mention Rudin/St. Vincent’s; he said it may be time to write some new verses to add to the song. So watch for possible updates.

A caveat about the Reverend’s songs: His website contains the following disclaimer:

WARNING: Stop Shopping Gospel Music has been known to induce fits of subversive singing inside subway cars, bus shelters, automobile interiors and food co-op shopping aisles.

Be warned then, if you sing the songs you might need a lawyer. . . Billy’s lawyer, beloved by him, is Norman Siegel. Mr. Siegel defended Billy’s his free speech rights when charges were brought against him for reciting the first amendment in Union Square with a megaphone. It was during a demonstration for Critical Mass, the monthly bicycle rally over which the police tend to get much too riled. The Reverend was charged with two counts of second-degree harassment, a violation. Mr. Siegel, excellently qualified and highly suited to the position, is running for Public Advocate.*

* (This and other upcoming important city elections have been enormously complicated by Bloomberg’s inexcusably arrogant term limit extensions. We are faced with a domino disruption effect: Because of the term limit extensions, Marty Markowitz is now an extra person running for the postion of Brooklyn Borough President- he deserves to be defeated-; City Council Member Bill de Blasio, who was running for the BP position and would have been a good replacement for Markowitz, has shifted over and become another candidate running for Public Advocate. Bill de Blasio and Norman Siegel, though now running against each other for Public Advocate, have both been involved in the good fight against the term limits extension now in the courts. Meanwhile, fund rasing, campaign finance regulation and tactics for a slew of elections including for Mayor and City Comptroller are in disarray in a way that could potentially give Bloomberg and his allies another unfair edge unless that advantage is sufficiently countered by the public backlash against Bloomberg’s power-usurping.)

You can catch Reverend Billy this Sunday. (See his events page.) But you’ll have a conflict if you were looking forward to another seasonal event with music. Sunday is also the Develop Don’t Destroy’s Annual Holiday Party at Feddy’s Bar, now a long-standing tradition. (If Forest City Ratner doesn’t give up the ghost on Atlantic Yards-- that would be the Ghost of a Pataki Christmas Gift Past-- the tradition could go on for decades.) Our favorite carol of the DDDB evening is “Silver Bails” playing on Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver’s inappropriate approval of AY.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.- A happy, merry and musically complete holiday season to all.

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