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January 16th, 2016

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

A New Flickr Album Chock-full of Hudson River and Great Gray Bridge Photos

As readers of this blog may’ve noticed, I am fond of photographing the George Washington Bridge, the Hudson River, and sunsets along the shoreline on my regular bike rides in upper Manhattan. While I post many of those photographs in my social media accounts (on my Instagram; Facebook; and Twitter accounts), in truth I take more pictures than I can reasonably share on those platforms. Not all are good, but enough are that the circumstance motivated me to start a Flickr album I’ve labeled GGB/sunsets/Hudson as a repository for the greater bulk of those photos. If you enjoy those pictures, as many friends tell me they do, I invite you to visit the Flickr album for many more views of the sort like the ones shown here..
 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127162161@N07/sets/72157663551324326

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December 5th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Philip Turner's Books & Writing; Urban Life & New York City

Appreciating Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, and the Legacy of his Writing

I spent the past couple weeks, amid so much disturbing upheaval in the world outside my reading, deeply enjoying Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel, which Random House published last June. (I had first shared about it on this blog last May.) From Kunkel’s acknowledgments at the end I’ve learned the book was commissioned by Bob Loomis*, the great editor there who, before his retirement in 2012, signed up the book, though the manuscript was evidently delivered after his departure. Mitchell grew up in a tobacco- and cotton-farming family in North Carolina (b. 1908) and, disappointing his father, moved to New York City at twenty-one, determined to become a newspaperman, even amid the Depression; he found work as a copy boy, and soon began reporting and writing, including at the Herald Tribune (where my longtime author, photojournalist Ruth Gruber later worked) and for the World-Telegram, which Mitchell joined in 1930. He began writing for The New Yorker in 1932, and joined the magazine’s staff in 1938. Kunkel’s book is a superb portrait of Mitchell’s whole life, to his death in 1996, and a rich appreciation of his writings.

While reading and really savoring the whole book, every anecdote, every chapter it covers of Mitchell’s life, I took down from a bookshelf my copy of Up in the Old Hotel, the 1992 collection that gathered Mitchell’s Profiles on true-life New York characters, and other work, which back then put Mitchell back on the map for many readers. Until then, his magazine pieces had frequently been gathered up and published between hardcovers—his first My Ears Are Bent, came out in 1938, followed by McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon (1943); Old Mr. Flood (1948); The Bottom of the Harbor (1959) and Joe Gould’s Secret (1965)—but it was more than two decades between books when, at the urging of Dan Frank of Pantheon Books, Mitchell published this full omnibus of his work, gathered from those books, and other sources. It made a big splash at the time, getting stellar reviews, and Kunkel tells us that Mitchell welcomed the spotlight that came with being remembered by so many readers, and discovered by even more. 
Mitchell back

I’ve had the book since soon after it came out—my copy’s a first edition. I was around that time editing and preparing to publish a comparable book, A Diary of Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist, by Edward Robb Ellis, a near-contemporary of Mitchell’s, who also worked at the World-Telegram, arriving there in 1947. Like Mitchell, Ellis savored writing about memorable NY characters, people like Fred Bronnenkant, riveter for more than thirty years on the Brooklyn Bridge, who had such affection for the span he regarded it as a kind of mistress**. Though Eddie was not quite the consummate stylist that I now see Mitchell was, like Mitchell, he aspired to make great work. Both men learned writing in the same milieu—the midcentury American newspaper, entirely at NY papers for Mitchell, partly true for Ellis, who before coming to the metropolis for what became the last twenty years of his career as an on-staff feature writer, had worked at papers in New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Peoria, and Chicago.*** They deployed vivid imagery, showed a fondness for lengthy list-making (a penchant embraced in more recent years by New Yorker writer John McPhee), a keen interest in what things cost back in the day, and an appreciation for character, with great skill at presenting to readers the people they encountered.

Seeing the success of Up in the Old Hotel, I recalling buying the book in hopes of imbibing some of that vibe and investing Eddie’s book with it. Though I was interested in Mitchell and his work, as happens for professional editors I got sidetracked from it, and had in fact never read it thoroughly, nor really sensed the charms of Mitchell’s writing until the past couple weeks. During the weeks I was reading the Kunkel bio, I leafed through the 700+page anthology, shown here, and now that I’ve finished the biography, I’m fully able to dive in to it. Last night, I read and enjoyed the third Profile in the anthology, about Mazie Gordon, a denizen of the Bowery, who ran a “moving-picture house” called the Venice Theatre, and who “Detective Kain [of the Oak Street police station] says that she has the roughest tongue and the softest heart in the Third Precinct.” Mitchell chronicles her working life, seated in a glassed-in booth along Park Row, selling movie tickets, and greeting her patrons, some of whom are by her own description “bums” that live in nearby flophouses. She is a key player in the street life near Chatham Square, and the piece includes many conversations she had with bums, cops, priests, and all kinds of urban operators which it seems certain Mitchell overheard. His chronicle of Mazie’s proprietorship of the theatre, and her status in the wider neighborhood, is among the most enjoyable things I’ve read this year.

Here’s the first paragraph of the 1940 profile, titled ‘Mazie’:

“A bossy, yellow-haired blonde named Mazie P. Gordon is a celebrity on the Bowery in the nickel-a-drink saloons and in the all-night restaurants which specialize in pig snouts and cabbage at a dime a platter, she is known by her first name. She makes a round of these establishments practically every night, and drunken bums sometimes come up behind her, slap her on the back, and call her sweetheart. This never annoys her. She has a wry but genuine fondness for bums and is undoubtedly acquainted with more of them than any person in the city. Each day she gives them between five and fifteen dollars in small change….’In my time, I’ve been as free with my dimes and as old John D himself,’ she says. Mazie has presided for twenty-one years over the ticket cage of the Venice Theatre.”

Now that I’m finished with the biography, I’ve also sought out reviews of it, such as a good one by John Williams in the NY Times, and a very insightful essay by Janet Malcolm in the NY Review of Books; she was a colleague of Mitchell’s at The New Yorker. Kunkel wrote an earlier biography of Harold Ross, founding editor of The New Yorker, who hired Mitchell for the magazine, after his several-year audition as a contributing writer. I’ve never met Kunkel, but I’m glad to say I feel connected to him anyway. As it happens, he reviewed Edward Robb Ellis’s A Diary of Century when it was published in 1995, with an Introduction by Pete Hamill, concluding his review in the Washington Post with the praise that Ellis’s diary of an Everyman, “produc[ed] something akin to Copland’s glorious ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.'” I’ll find a way to share this blog post with him, so I can belatedly let him know how glad I am that he enjoyed Eddie Ellis’s book, and I can tell him I felt the same for his superb book on Joseph Mitchell.

* Among Bob Loomis’s authors was William Styron; the courtly editor helped me enlist Styron’s aid in a championing a book I edited in 1999, about an arguably innocent inmate on Virginia’s Death Row. I wrote about that episode in my editorial career in an essay for the BN Review called “William Styron: A Promise Kept.”

**Ellis’s beguiling entry on Frank Bronnenkant is found on pgs 173-75 of A Diary of the Century (Kodansha America, 1995; republished by me at Union Square Press in 2008). Clicking on this link will take you to all my blog posts about Edward Robb Ellis, which includes one that examines the legacy of notorious faker Joe Gould, the subject of Mitchell’s last published Profile, the recently discovered photographer, Vivian Maier, and Ellis, in a 2014 piece I titled “Vivian Maier Was the Real Deal, the Ultra-Opposite of Joe Gould.” The relevance here is that Ellis—whose book was drawn from his diary, a journal he began keeping at age 16, and which he stayed with until 89, the longest-kept such record in the history of American letters—and the secretly great and prolific street photographer Maier did each create a magnum opus, while Gould never did, though Mitchell did believe for a time that he really was writing a seminal work, “The Oral History of our Times.” And yet Mitchell, even after publishing two long profiles of Gould (‘Professor Seagull,’ ’42, rather credulous) and (‘Joe Gould’s Secret,’ ’64, not credulous any longer) did not rebuke Gould. He generously concluded that Gould, some writings by whom he had actually read in the 1940s, had perhaps at least been writing in his mind, as Mitchell did with an uncompleted memoir and novel he never published.

*** For her part, Ruth Gruber, before and after WWII, wrote for the Herald Tribune and the NY Post. Unlike Mitchell and Ellis, she oscillated in and out of journalism, working for a time in the federal government during the FDR Administration, as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes’ special representative to Alaska. Ruth is, so far as I know, the eldest surviving member of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. This post is about a 104th birthday gathering with her this past October.

 

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November 1st, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Discovering The Pines at Mercury Lounge, Opening for Israel Nash

I delighted in that most welcome of live music-going experiences on Oct 22. Going to hear roots rocker Israel Nash for the first time—an artist whose recordings I’d heard and enjoyed for several months—I encountered an opening act whose sound instantly captivated me, which I immediately adored. They are called The Pines. I urge you to listen to them, and go hear them live if they’re playing in your area on their current tour, which will take them to Winnipeg, Canada, as well as to North Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Iowa, the latter two being their home states. I was fortunate to arrive an hour early for Nash’s set, and so walked in to the Mercury Lounge just as The Pines were beginning their first song. Playing keys, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar, the trio had a gentle and disarming stage presence that was somehow emphasized by the fact they were all seated. My ears quickened to a lush and ravishing interplay of voices and instruments. I was evidently not the only stunned listener, nor the only person new to their sound, as, unusual at this venue, no one in the darkened music room spoke while they performed. It was easily the most hushed and attentive crowd I’ve ever been a part of at this usually noisy club. Their songs sounded as if they were either traditional ballads reworked by them, or originals that sounded like they emerged from the soil of the upper Midwest. One song, “Are You Ready for the Fair?”, reminded me of Greg Brown, a folksinger I’ve enjoyed for years.  Later, I got a copy of their CD “Pasture” and saw that that song is indeed written by Brown. And on The Pines’ website, I see that Benson Ramsey, who often takes lead vocals, while playing lead and slide guitar, and Alex Ramsey, who plays piano and organ, are sons of Bo Ramsey, Brown’s longtime producer and sideman. Greg Brown, it should be noted, is married to the great country singer Iris Dement.

Click here to see a video of their song “Cry, Cry, Crow” from their album “Dark So Gold.”

After The Pines finished their set, and before Israel Nash and his band took the stage, I introduced myself to Benson Ramsey, and his bandmate Dave Huckfelt. I told them how much I’d enjoyed discovering their music, and that I would be eager to write about them, and let others know of their music. Here are pictures from the show, including some of Israel Nash, who also played a great set, and who I appreciated for having invited The Pines to open for him. I was glad I had the chance to hear both of these bands, and that I had a meet up at Mercury Lounge with a new friend, Garrett Johnson, a Canadian music lover who like me is a member of the CBCRadio 3 music community. I’m glad he was in town and could join me to hear Israel Nash.

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October 21st, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Book Biz; Publishing & Bookselling; Urban Life & New York City

“Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” from Blog to Book

Hooray for NYC writer Jeremiah Moss, proprietor of the blog “Vanishing New York,” who will be writing a book inspired by his blog for a HarperCollins imprint. H/t to Publishersmarketplace.com for reporting the news in their daily deals email. Subscription is required for viewing the book industry site, but here’s a quick screenshot of the item.  

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October 5th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

Storify Post on “Money, Wheels, and Random Legs” at Firecat Projects, w/Highlights from a Week in Chicago

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September 18th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Art, Photography, Design; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

“Money, Wheels, and Random Legs” Exhibit at Chicago’s Firecat Projects

I’m excited to be traveling to Chicago next week where paintings by my wife, artist Kyle Gallup, will be part of a three-person show at Firecat Projects, with fellow NYC artists Oriane Stender and Melissa Stern. Watch this space for more coverage, as I’ll be blogging from the opening on Sept 25 and during our week in the Windy City. Here you can view “Pink Planet,” one of the paintings in the exhibit, with the rest shown at Kyle’s updated website.

More details on the show:

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August 24th, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; Urban Life & New York City

Twilight Cruise on the Hudson and NY Harbor

My sister Pamela and her good friend Billy visited NY the past couple days, and last evening she took us on a Classic Harbor Line cruise in NY harbor with an AIA-certified guide, Scott Cook, who spoke very knowledgeably about NY buildings and the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and NJ waterfronts. It was far superior to NY’s more well-known and trafficked Circle Line!  The docent Cook, one of six architecture professionals who work these cruises for Classic Harbor, was very good, a fluent speaker, quick to deliver interesting information on individual buildings, their locations, the architects responsible for them, and details of their design and especially their ‘green’ features. He described NY’s waterfront as our “sixth borough,” an idea that really appeals to me, and he broached urban issues, from climate change to how the Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park are permitting high-rise development in exchange for resources for upkeep of these newly created public spaces. 3 Lounge

The docents have to be quick because the boats of Classic Harbor are so-called ‘motor yachts,’ and they cruise at quite good speed. The vessel we sailed on was the Manhattan II, nicely appointed with teak and mahogany and lots of clean, clear wrap-around glass. Inside was a lounge with many comfortable seats at wide tables, quite a roomy space. The copy on the brochure and map they handed out (pictured below) suggests that these NY Harbor cruises are the least crowded of all the lines offering these boat rides, and I believe it—nothing at all like being on the subway, an unfortunately apt comparison for the ride I took a couple years ago on the Circle Line. Out on deck there’s some bench seating, and enough room to walk and stand comfortably, though carefully, leaning on rails and holding on to pieces of the ship. The captain was a rather young mariner, who helmed the yacht very ably, coming to a floating rest a number of times, near the Statue of Liberty, the shore of Governors Island, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and Battery Park City.  Figured in to the price of a ticket is a free drink, so Kyle and I welcomed the discovery that Yuengling’s light beer is very drinkable!

A coincidental sidelight made me eager to go on this tour: when I was executive editor with Times Books at Random House in the late ’90s, I acquired, edited, and published the 4th Edition of the AIA Guide to New York City, an essential handbook that has been published continuously since 1967, with a new edition out roughly every decade. The edition I published—by architect and pithy writer about buildings and public spaces Norval White—included entries on more than 5,000 of the metropolis’s buildings in all five boroughs, a book I still treasure.

I hope at some point to take Classic Harbor Line’s cruise that circumnavigates all of Manhattan, a three-hour trip, twice the duration of the trip we took Sunday night. Given my personal interest in the GWB, aka The Great Gray Bridge, and The Little Red Lighthouse, I’m sure I will enjoy that tour even more. Here are lots more of my pictures, with commentary in the captions, though it’s a dead certainty I’ll come nowhere recalling most of the buildings and architects that Scott Cook named, but the day was so clear with abundant light, I think you’ll be able to appreciate many of the views and buildings anyway.

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August 22nd, 2015

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Ducks on the Hudson

Looking south with a flock of ducks from Hudson Beach w/a view of the west side of Manhattan and downtown w/NJ shore on the far right.

Source: Philip Turner

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