Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spaces: the place

The theme for the weekend is space, and not the kind that's above us. Two events this weekend reminded me anew that real estate pretty much dictates all in this fair city, and having the right kind of shelter for your home, studio, gallery, venue, etc. is two thirds or more of the battle.

502 is/was, to say the least, the right kind of space. My friends and sometime bandmates Aron Wahl (who drew the awesomeness you see above) and Andrew Wan moved there after college in (I think) 2000. Most people in the city are stuck with one sort of apartment or another, but 502, on Warren St in Boerum Hill, can only really be described as a carriage house. You walk through this front building off the street and then you come out into this beautiful, spacious courtyard and a whole freestanding building completely insulated from the street.

I can't remember for sure whether Aron & Co. moved into 502 with the express purpose of rehearsing, recording and performing music there, but all those activities began quickly and have been going strong ever since. I'm sure everyone has their own unique memories of the space, but mine are at least a little singular since I have been not only a spectator but a participant in the soundmaking that has gone on constantly in the basement.

I first performed there as a member of the band Bat Eats Plastic; the house show archive tells me it was in August of '02. I remember I was underrehearsed and dropped my drumsticks out of nervousness. (I still do that at almost every show, but back then my recovery time was a lot slower!) Then I was at the party in what was most likely the same year where a basement hang among instruments morphed inevitably into a drum jam. That was first time that I, and I'm pretty sure Aron, met Nadav Havusha, who was later to become a core member of Aa.

It's hard to imagine that anyone reading this *isn't* familiar with Aa, but if not, I'd venture this: simultaneously the most experimental and universal band in Brooklyn; drumful and utterly, blissfully guitarless. There's an inherent bias here, but having moved nearer and further from the band over the years--I was an auxiliary member for some of '04 and a full-timer from late '05 to late '06--I've witnessed the power of the endeavor from all angles. Last night--at the last show at 502 before Aron, fellow Aa-er John Atkinson and their housemates were unceremoniously evicted for reasons completely beyond their control--it was as a spectator. Sometimes when you leave a band it's hard to watch that band later, without you; you just wish you were playing. I've definitely experienced that w/ Aa before, though last night I felt like I was finally getting to the point where those emotions were outweighed by genuine appreciation. It's impossible to overstate how much the project has evolved over the years. For this outdoor performance, it was glorious, like some kind of advanced jungle tribe busting out an elaborate nature ritual. Aa can often give off that sensation, but amid the greenery in the 502 backyard, it was at its purest: this band is and always has been completely off the (urban, rock) grid.

And not to take away from the immense creativity at work in the project, but 502 has so much to do with that. In short, it was the most precious kind of incubator. Anyone who has ever played music in NYC could tell you that writing songs and booking shows is a snap; the real challenge is *finding a place to practice*. The luxury of walking downstairs and having your equipment set up exactly as you left it is completely alien to most local bands. In our five or so years of existence, STATS has barely glimpsed this utopian dream. For Aa at 502, it was simply the way things were for six-plus years. Talk about getting kicked out of the womb...

I wish 'em the very best, and RIP to that phenomenal pad where I spent so many hours, I remember the first time I brought a garbage bag full of pots, pans and other detritus down to the basement for my first rehearsal as Aa's resident junk percussionist; recording some off-the-top-of-my-head woodblock parts in Aron's room for what would later become "Thumper"; extended pseudo-stand-up comedy delirium seshes that punctuated nearly every rehearsal (Sinbad, Cave Job, etc. etc. etc.); spilling my guts to A, N and J pre- and postpractice when life got rocky; walking around upstairs in my playing uniform (T-shirt and boxers) because I was too lazy to get re-dressed; and weirdest of all, the time I almost self-asphyxiated in the basement when I laughed and swallowed at the same time and just straight up couldn't breathe for several harrowing moments. Anyway, I'm sure my memories of the place (and of amazing hangs w/ the aforementioned dudes plus Emily, Andrew, Sean, Judd, Mike, Nick, Ezra, Bobula and many more) pale in comparison to those of the residents. Godspeed, 502. Keep glued to The Green Lodge for John's way-intense insider view.


On a happier spatial note, WORK is back. Owned and operated by Walker Waugh--cousin to Kyle Waugh, one of my oldest and dearest Kansas City compatriots--WORK is a cozy and remarkable structure, literally (as the URL indicates) a red tin shack on the Red Hook waterfront that doubles as a DIY gallery. Perhaps now I should say that it quadruples, since it's recently involved into not only a home for Walker (I hear he's building a loft out back) but a shrine for his late girlfriend, artist and WORK co-founder Emily Driscoll.

I only hung out with her a few times, but it was enough to learn that she was as cool and kind a person as you'd ever want to know. She died in a hit-and-run accident--just around the corner from the gallery--last November.

I have never seen Walker in low spirits and--having not attended the funeral or, regrettably, made a condolence call--I still haven't. On Friday, Laal and I dropped by WORK to check out the opening of the second show since Emily's death, "Cloud" by Frank Jackson and Rebecca Suss. Beautiful paintings, but more importantly, Walker seemed as infectiously enthusiastic about life and art as ever. On a shelf near the entrance, catalogs of Emily's work were for sale, privately pressed up by her parents and with an intro by Friday's b-day boy, Walker's bro and a great guy, Pete L'Official. Another Waugh, Nick, was tending bar; Nick's sister-in-law, Britney--expecting a baby!--was outside; and people were generally hanging out, trading greetings and ideas, enjoying the warm weather and priceless waterfront vibe. Given her original vision of the space, there is no way that Emily would not have been exceedingly proud of how things had panned out.

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