Dirty Reggae

I’ve been listening to some old-school reggae lately: The Ethiopians’ “Reggae Hit the Town,” Dave & Ansel Collins’ “Double Barrel,” Niney the Observer’s “Blood & Fire,” Jacob Miller’s “Tenement Yard,” and Althia & Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking.” In fact, I fancy myself a bit of a Jamaicophile. I love everything about the country, culture, and people – with the exception, of course, of the corruption, misogyny, and homophobia.

Which brings me to another song I’ve been listening to a lot lately: Max Romeo’s “Wet Dream.” I’ve heard the song countless times, but I guess I never really paid attention to the lyrics:

Every night me go to sleep, me have wet dreams
Every night me go to sleep, me have wet dreams

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

You in your small corner, I stand in mine
Throw all the punch you want to, I can take them all

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

Look how you’re big and fat, like a big, big shot
Give the crumpet to Big Foot Joe, give the fanny to me

Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down
Lie down girl let me push it up, push it up, lie down

The song, released in 1968, immediately caused controversy and was banned from the radio in England. Years later, Romeo tried to claim it was innocent, that he was only singing about a leaky roof. With an explanation like that, it sounds to me like he’s angling for a job in the Trump administration.

But let’s break it down, shall we? First of all, the title and opening stanza is clearly about involuntary nocturnal emissions, which are commonly referred to as “wet dreams.” Romeo was already 24 at the time, so I’m not sure why he would be singing about an embarrassing moment that most males experience only during adolescence.

But as we skip along into the second stanza, we discover that his solution for the problem is to get a girl to “lie down,” so he can “push it up.” Now don’t get hung up on the directions here. Jamaicans tend to have a different take on these things. For example, if the patio is too hot on a summer afternoon for the children’s bare feet, an American might ask you to wet down the patio whereas a Jamaican would likely ask you to wet up the patio.

So, in asking her to “lie down” so he can “push it up,” I think it’s clear that Romeo is suggesting that this girl engage in sexual intercourse with him, as a cure for his wet dreams. Which technically makes sense, because scratching tends to relieve the itch, so to speak. And, for what it’s worth, if he can leverage his persistent wet dreams as a means of convincing someone to have sex with him, then the man deserves some credit, for that’s a very unorthodox angle of seduction.

But then things get a bit, well, rapey. Romeo sings about how this girl is fighting back, throwing punches. Clearly the seduction did not work. And if a woman is indeed throwing punches as a man tries to engage in intimate relations with her, then his sexual advances constitute rape. And, no, my friend, that ain’t cool.

On top of that, the song goes on to insult and mock this girl, calling her big and fat (though, honestly, now I’m starting to feel guilty for assuming that “big” and “fat” are insults). And then, as if that weren’t enough, he suggest what seems to be a ménage à trois, encouraging the girl to let “Big Foot Joe” have vaginal intercourse with her while he penetrates her “fanny.” And, yes, overlooking the semen-stained sheets, rape, misogyny, and a threesome with Big Foot Joe, the English censors ended up banning the song because it references anal sex.

Still, I gotta say, I really like the song. And yet I’m struggling to come to terms with its lyrics. Is this a case in which, like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the author is merely portraying someone with flaws, or is this more like The Birth of a Nation, in which the author is intentionally celebrating and promoting these flaws?

Only Big Foot Joe may know for sure.

There is a Swine in Spanish Harlem

Vendy Plaza at La Marqueta is a weekly food festival in Spanish Harlem.

Vendy Plaza at La Marqueta is a weekly food festival in Spanish Harlem.

Well, I’m sure you can find a rose as well, but I’m talking about La Marqueta here. And specifically Vendy Plaza, a delightfully swine-centric event.

Vendy Plaza is located beneath the elevated tracks along Park Avenue between 115th and 116th Streets.

Vendy Plaza is located beneath the elevated tracks along the Park Avenue median between 115th and 116th Streets.

La Marqueta is a market under the Metro-North elevated rail line along the median of Park Avenue between 111th and 116th Streets in Spanish Harlem. It originated in the 1930s, as an informal gathering place for pushcart vendors – sort of an early Smorgasburg. By the 50s and 60s, it had become a thriving market with five enclosed buildings housing a variety of vendors. But things have been tough in Spanish Harlem, and today only one of those buildings remains functional.

Hope is on the horizon, though. The New York City Economic Development Council is trying to resurrect the market and create a centerpiece for the community. And, in doing so, they may have even found a way to bring tourists to the area as well.

Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ along with a local microbrew.

Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ along with a local microbrew.

Building on the success of El Boarrio at the Urban Garden Center this past fall, this summer they’ve created Vendy Plaza, a Sunday food fest complete with live music. It’s run by the folks behind the Vendy Awards, which recognize the best in the city’s food truck scene.

Every Sunday from now through Sept. 6, visitors can enjoy a variety of artisanal edibles and a rotating selection of New York’s best microbrews (they even set up a wine kiosk last time I was there) to the sound of a local band. It runs from 12-6 PM, though it’s best to arrive early as the best food – and the band – don’t necessarily last until the end.

Unless you already live in Spanish Harlem, your best is to take the 6 train to 116th and Lex and walk over to Park. While El Boarrio was located under the tracks just north of 116th Street, in the Urban Garden Center (which, incidentally, might be a good place to find a rose in Spanish Harlem), Vendy Plaza is an open space under the tracks south of 116th, running down to 115th Street. You can’t miss it. Just follow the music.

Pretty amazing cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.

Pretty amazing cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen.

I’ve been twice already and enjoyed pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon from Walking Dog BBQ as well as some incredible roast pig. I also sampled some jerk goat but the purveyor was very apologetic because he had run out of food, as it was late in the day and this was his first time participating. I’ve also had some incredible cookies from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen and good beer, too.

There’s certainly nowhere near as many vendors as you’ll find at Smorgasburg or even Madison Square Eats, but Vendy Plaza has been growing each week. And while I’m delighted by the amount of pork options available, as one would expect in Spanish Harlem, there are also vendors serving up fare from Central America and Southeast Asia as well.

As for the band, they are exactly what you’d expect from Spanish Harlem: horns, percussion, questionable outfits, and plenty of chatter amid the chaos between songs. But it really adds to the experience, and is something the other food festivals around the city could learn from.

Pig is the local flavor in Spanish Harlem, and the offerings at Vendy Plaza are delicious.

Pig is prevalent in Spanish Harlem, and the vendors at Vendy Plaza offer up some fine swine.

Jazz & Colors at the Met

Marika Hughes and Friends played in front of Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Marika Hughes and Friends performed in front of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware during Jazz & Colors at the Met.

Jazz & Colors is the kind of thing that makes New York City worth it. And it’s also the kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense to someone who doesn’t love New York City.

Jazz & Colors is an event that places multiple jazz bands in various locations and has them play the same set. Sounds simple, right? Or perhaps confusing? The best way to explain it is in the execution.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met's modern art collection.

Saxophonist JD Allen and his band performed among the Met’s Modern Art collection.

It originated in Central Park, to showcase the fall foliage (the “colors”). A dozen of the park’s most scenic spots were selected. An assortment of jazz bands were recruited, each being assigned a particular spot. And they were handed a set list, the same set list, and a timetable. In effect, they were all performing the same concert but in different locations. So people could experience the same songs performed by different bands in different settings, surrounded by the mix of colors of the fall foliage.

And that’s really what jazz is all about, isn’t it? Individuality and collaboration, novelty and familiarity. A jazz musician works in concert with others to offer his own interpretation. And no jazz band, let alone jazz musician, plays the same song the same way. As such, the audience becomes part of the experience – a one-off that they share with the musicians performing. And the natural beauty of autumn in Central Park makes it all the more special.

Despite the success of the first two Jazz & Colors events in Central Park, the third one never materialized. I’m not sure who is to blame – the organizers (it was never well promoted) or the Parks Department (or Central Park Conservancy), which seems to have an affinity for more mainstream (as in corporate-sponsored) events. But it was a shame. Criminal.

Jazz & Colors: The Full Spectrum Edition
Then this happened. Jazz & Colors failed to materialize this past fall, but suddenly it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this spring. And instead of fall foliage as the backdrop, the jazz would have world-class artworks – including a few masterpieces – as the “colors.” Brilliant.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met's Arms & Armor collection.

The Jovan Alexandre Trio dazzled visitors in the Met’s Arms & Armor collection.

And it was. There was still the logistical challenge of getting from one spot to the next, from one band to the other, without missing that much of a song. The gallery locations were a lot closer than the locations in the park were. However, you could hear the music between the spots in the park, while the galleries made that more difficult. It’s also a little easier to sit down on the grass than the floor of a museum as stuffy as the Met (though many did plop themselves down without a care).

As always, some of the acts were better than others. But many of them – like JD Allen, Kimberly Thompson, and the Jovan Alexandre Trio – were quite good. In fact, my friend said she’d be interested in seeing a few of them play in a club, which I imagine is part of the attraction for the bands.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met's Melanesia gallery.

Drummer Kimberly Thompson and her band performed in front of Indonesian ancestral carvings in the Met’s Melanesia gallery.

Hopefully there was enough of an attraction for the Met as well. I have been undertaking a disturbingly well-planned tour of the museum since becoming a member at the end of last year. It’s taken me months, but I’ve seen nearly every gallery (at around 2 million square feet, it’s the largest museum in the United States). So I had no problem zipping past masterpieces to catch the next number. But I imagine others, newcomers to the museum, were a little more attentive to the artwork and hopefully opted to at least come back for another visit or even become a member.

If so, then we might see more of Jazz & Colors at the Met. Perhaps it will even become a regular occurrence. Though I’d still love to see it back in Central Park for the fall. And if that fails, what about the High Line? Prospect Park? Or even Randall’s Island?

Jazz & Colors is such a beautiful concept that I can’t imagine it going away. But that’s the nature of jazz, isn’t it? Sure, there are recordings – delightful ones, at that. But you really have to be there. It’s in the moment. And Jazz & Colors is one of those quintessential New York moments.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met's Modern Art mezzanine.

JD Allen and his band best captured the spirit of Jazz & Colors with their performance in the Met’s Modern Art mezzanine.

Additional images of Jazz & Colors at the Met can be seen here.

Tasty Eats & Artistic Treats

MSEfall14Do you remember me blathering on about Madison Square Eats? Well the mini-food fest in the heart of New York City is back this September. You can get your grub on from 11 AM to 9 PM daily through Oct. 2. It’s located just off Madison Square Park, where Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 25th Street meet.

Brooklyn is Abuzz
Photoville has set up shop on Pier 5 in the waterfront Brooklyn Bridge Park. This celebration of the art of photography will be open from 4 to 10 PM on Thursdays and Fridays and 12 to 8 PM on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 28. They’ll also have a Smorgasburg Beer Garden on site, so you can take a break from looking at all those amazing images and enjoy the picture-perfect view of the lower Manhattan skyline across the river.

The DUMBO Arts Festival is back as well. There’s so much to see and experience, and it’s a great excuse to wander around DUMBO. Exhibits, performances, and public displays will be held at various locations around the neighborhood from Sept. 26-28. It’s one of those events that reminds you why you love to live in New York City.

The annual Atlantic Antic will also be on Sept. 28. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, it’s the largest and most eclectic street festival in the city. Extending along Atlantic Avenue from the Barclays Center to the waterfront, there will be plenty of food and fun for the entire family from 12 to 6 PM.

Feeling Horny
Did you know there is a Festival of New Trumpet Music? Well, there is, and it sounds awesome. Running through Sept. 28, it will feature a number of concerts at various New York City venues. You can find details here.

And speaking of obscure celebrations of brass instruments, be sure to check out the Honk Festival. Running from Oct. 13-18, it’s billed as the 8th annual convergence of brass and percussion ensemble musicians from the US and Europe. Like the aforementioned FONT, HONK features concerts in various venues around the city.

At Madison Square Eats you can get a personal pie from Roberta's, one of the finest in the city, starting at $9.

At Madison Square Eats you can get a delicious personal pie from Roberta’s, one of the finest in the city, starting at $9. Great food at reasonable prices!

 

Thought of the Day: Yesterday

MamaPerryI’m confused. I saw a video clip the other day of Katy Perry singing the Beatles’ classic Yesterday.

Frankly, it doesn’t sound as bad as the infernal wailing she uses when singing some of her own songs. And I understand there has been a lot of backlash regarding her alterations to the lyrics.

But that’s not what confuses me. It’s the outfit she wore. Does she think Mama Cass sang that song? It was a Beatles tribute, not a Mamas & Papas tribute, right?