Fun with Highways: Christopher Street, New York

The West Village is an odd place. Streets cross one another at odd angles, leading to situations where numbered streets intersect, and small triangular slivers of park space emerge. One such location is the park where Christopher Street, Grove Street, West 4th, and 7th Avenue all meet.

It’s a sliver of a park, but it includes the Christopher Street subway stop for the 1 IRT, a stop I have found most useful in recent years. And this angular collision of roads also has another significance.

On the northern side of Christopher Street is the Stonewall Inn. The riots 50 years ago turned from a notorious Mafia-run bar for the most outcast members of the queer community to perhaps the sacred site in the world for the LGBTQ community and members of sexual minorities.


Stonewall Inn
, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots, New York City, USA On the Window: „We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine“ (Source: David Carter: Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, St. Martin’s Press, 2004, ISBN 0-312-34269-1, S. 143)

As people converge on lower Manhattan for New York Pride and World Pride – and we gather ourselves here in San Francisco, it’s worth looking back at what happened 50 years ago.

The age of the clientele ranged between the upper teens and early thirties, and the racial mix was evenly distributed among white, black, and Hispanic patrons.[57][59] Because of its even mix of people, its location, and the attraction of dancing, the Stonewall Inn was known by many as “the gay bar in the city”.[60] Police raids on gay bars were frequent—occurring on average once a month for each bar. Many bars kept extra liquor in a secret panel behind the bar, or in a car down the block, to facilitate resuming business as quickly as possible if alcohol was seized.[8][10] Bar management usually knew about raids beforehand due to police tip-offs, and raids occurred early enough in the evening that business could commence after the police had finished.[61] During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, and customers were lined up and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested; others were allowed to leave. Some of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested.[61] The period immediately before June 28, 1969, was marked by frequent raids of local bars—including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on the Tuesday before the riots[62]—and the closing of the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star, and two other clubs in Greenwich Village.[63][64]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots#Stonewall_Inn

What is notable is what the offenses were. The issues were not so much sexual practices as traditional gender norms. Women without at least three pieces of feminine clothing, men in drag were the targets. And khas vishalom they might even be dancing! It was all about control and conformity. I look back at it with a mixture of bewilderment, pity, disgust, and even contempt for people who were frightened and upset by these behaviors that they would criminalize it violently. And lest we get too smug, violence continues to this date in the United States, most notably the murders transgender women of color. And the attack on conformity is something to be celebrated rather than resisted – indeed that was part of what attracted to this world decades before I knew that I myself was a member of its motley lot.

Many are using the occasion of the 50th anniversary to remind everyone that Stonewall was a riot, a moment of fighting back, rather than simply a large parade. But the parades and celebrations are great, too, as a reminder of what has changed. Indeed, one of the most criticized elements of Pride in this decade of the 21st century is just how commercial and “corporate” it has become. Sure, it’s tacky at times and easy to be cynical about some corporations’ motives. But the point is that mainstream businesses want to be seen as being on the side of the LGBTQ community, the “right” side, and the “profitable” side. One day it will be those who were so frightened by and bothered by these expressions of love and individual identity that they must respond with violence and law who will be pushed to the margins. And push them we shall, but it a way that still preserves their dignity and individuality, lest we end up making similar mistakes.

Tiananmen Square Anniversaries

Ten years ago, I frequently traveling to China for work, and found myself in Beijing during the week of the twentieth anniversary of the protests and massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. As the thirtieth anniversary is upon us, it seems a good opportunity to look back at that experience.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is a YUGE space, mostly empty. It is bounded on the north by the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City. On one side is the Palace of the Republic, the seat of the Chinese government, on the other is another imposing government building that I’m pretty sure was the culture ministry. To the south, before several temples, is the imposing tomb of Mao Zedong.

In front of the Forbidden City
Chilling out in front of Palace of the Republic
Gearing up for Expo 2010

What was most notable was how ordinary things were, just a mixture of Beijingers and tourists wandering about like any other day. Indeed the most subversive thing I saw during that visit was my own photo with our mascot in front of Mao’s portrait.

Mao and “mao”

There was almost no mention of the anniversary in any media. The big story around town seemed to be the preparations for Expro 2010 in Shanghai. One English-language newspaper had an article about the “last of the 1989 hooligans” being released from prison, but that was about it. My colleagues, who are younger and would have been small children at the time, barely even knew about it except as rumors. One did check out a video via internet tunneling and was shocked to know that her country could have done something like that – but she did accept that it was true.

It’s hard to say if my experience of young Chinese encountering Tiananmen Square as we know it is at all representative, as my friends and colleagues tended to be more educated, cosmopolitan, and a bit jaded. Indeed, one young woman from the more conservative countryside whom I befriended in Suzhou on that same trip seemed to be less cynical and more toeing the party line about respect for authority (and reverence for Mao). I suspect things are even tighter and more controlled now, given the current Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping. Only time will tell how the country comes to reckon with this particular chapter of its past.

Happy 2nd Gotcha Day, Sam Sam!

It’s been exactly two years since Sam Sam made the long trip from southern California to come live with us at CatSynth HQ!  And not a day goes by that we are not grateful to have her in our lives.  I’m pretty sure she feels the same way.

Sam Sam checking out the next studio setup

Samantha, or “little Sam Sam”, had a complicated life.  She started out (as far as we know) in the suburbs south of San Francisco, and then moved with her human to the high desert north of Los Angeles – we like to joke that she lived “out in back of Palmdale where the turkey farmers run” in tribute to one of our musical heroes, Frank Zappa.

When her human passed away, she then went to live with his sister, also in southern California.  Unfortunately, the sister’s health was declining and another cat bullied Sam Sam, so this was not a happy chapter for her.  As her new human was preparing to go into assisted living, Sam Sam needed a new home.

In December of 2016, I was still deeply grieving after Luna’s death – and also reeling for the shock and horror of the election.  I hadn’t yet prepared to welcome another cat into my life, but when a friend and bandmate reached out to me that he needed to find a new home for a sweet cat whose human was headed to assisted living – and then shared her adorable photos, I said yes.  How could I not?

At first, Sam Sam was exceedingly shy and skittish, spending most of her time hiding under the bed, coming out only for food, water, and the litter box.  She was mostly silent but occasionally emitted these tiny squeaks.  As she adjusted to her new home, her personality blossomed.  She’s quite friendly, vocal, outgoing, and quite a ham.

Sam Sam scratch-n-roll

And she has no trouble demanding exactly what she wants from her humans.

“I want food nooooowww!”

We close with this episode of CatSynth TV featuring Sam Sam is all her adorableness.

Please join me in wishing Sam Sam a very happy Gotcha Day!

Remembering Luna, Two Years Later

Even with so much happening in our own lives and in the world at large, we pause it all on this night to remember our beloved Luna, who passed away two years ago on October 31.

There is a both a poetic beauty and a cruel irony in the fact that she left us on Hallowe’en.  It was the day every year that she was the star of cat-blogging world, hosting the annual Hallowe’en edition of Weekend Cat Blogging and being the most beautiful of beautiful black cats.

As we begin the yahrzeit, we light our memorial candle, and pay special respects to her memorial.

There was a moment of explosive grief as I told her, wherever and however she is, that I miss her so much.  After that, a calmer sadness settled in as I sip a glass of bourbon, play “Dollar Days” from David Bowie’s Blackstar, and assemble this post.

Luna closeup portrait

She was a work of art, and fit in perfectly with aesthetics and design of CatSynth HQ.

But she was also extremely sweet and loving.

Please join me in remembering our sweet little girl, who left us way too soon.  She will always be missed, never forgotten.

Luna’s 13th Gotcha Day (in memoriam)

June 10 was Luna’s Gotcha Day.  For many years, it was one of the most joyous days of the calendar.  Since her passing in 2016, it has been challenging and melancholy. There is rarely a day when I don’t think about my special little girl and soulmate of almost 12 years.

Grief is a nonlinear process. The memories of her life, and of her loss, have mostly been integrated.  I can casually see pictures on a regular basis of her and remain in the moment, but scrolling back through them in a deliberate process this morning brings some tears.  CatSynth HQ is very much Sam Sam’s now, and we respect her territory (and spoil her rotten while doing so).  Yet even she sometimes seems to sense a presence of a former kitty in some of the corners and crevices that defy cleaning.

There is so much I miss about Luna.  Her beauty and elegance, her shy but sweet nature.

And she was fiercely territorial, especially when it came to me.  She did not like to share, but she made me feel very loved.  She could sit patiently while I made weird sounds in the studio.  And despite being a “strictly indoor” cat, she loved going outside on the patio after we moved to San Francisco.

Regular readers know I am not at all religious.  And I don’t have a particular notion of an afterlife.  But I do like to sometimes think about Luna taking her place among those I have lost over the years, mostly human friends and family.  The visualization is of them all standing and waiting patiently, a little black cat in front of the much taller people.  I also take comfort in the Rainbow Bridge, and in the community of cat bloggers who have loved and lost over these many years.

I do not expect that the grief will ever disappear entirely.  And that’s ok.  We continue.

#KSW45 and CatSynth: A Personal History

As Kearny Street Workshop gets ready to celebrate its 45th anniversary, we at CatSynth look back in the many ways our histories have intertwined in the past decade, from a shy outsider writing reviews to becoming Board President!

In August 2009, I attended a guided tour of the Present Tense Biennial, an exhibition co-curated by the Chinese Cultural Center and an intriguing-sounding organization named Kearny Street Workshop – it seemed an apt name for organization hosting an exhibition on Kearny Street.  I wrote an article about it which was seen by the folks at KSW including then-executive-director Ellen Oh, who invited me to cover their flagship program APAture the next month.

I did go to several of the APAture programs, including the opening night and visual-arts showcase and the music showcase, writing more articles, making new friends, and probably drinking a bit too much.  This was an entirely new community quite apart from the experimental-music and jazz circles in which I traveled, or the other contemporary visual artists I was meeting.  I went on to attend KSW’s rollicking SF Thomassons Performance Tour in January 2010, and also befriend Truong Tran (himself a former executive director) at the opening of his first solo exhibition Lost and Found.

It was during these and other events that I became more acquainted with the history of the organization beyond the art and artists it was currently supporting.  I learned about the Asian American movement, about the history of the neighborhood from which KSW derived its name and about the fall of the I Hotel.  Kearny Street Workshop was not simply an arts organization, or eventhe “oldest organization in the U.S. focused on Asian American artists”, but a multi-generational group dedicated to local activism and community through the arts.  I became a regular donor and continued to attend events, including A Sensory Feast, and continued to write and share reports.  But in many ways, I was still an outsider looking in.

That all changed in 2013 when APAture returned after a four-year break and I was a performing artist for the opening night.

I performed an experimental electronic set with tabletop and modular synths and a dotara (Indian folk stringed instrument) for a large and diverse audience.  I felt more connected to the KSW community, but that was about to become even more so as then program director (and later executive director) TJ Basa invited me to get more deeply involved, recruiting me to join program committees, including the ever-popular Dumpling Wars.  This led to joining the board of directors in 2014.

During this time, KSW was in a process of rebuilding from its board down to its individual programs and partnerships, and returning to its activist and community-focused routes.  Under TJ and new programming manager (now Artistic Director) Jason Bayani we began to focus programming in this direction, including the resurgent APAture festival (which I performed at again that year).

[2014 Kearny Street Workshop / Antoine Duong]

Later that year, I became Board President and Chair as we grew the board into its strongest and most active team in many years.  It was quite an unexpected turn that I would never have anticipated when I first started attending events five years earlier.  KSW became a family, and I was now about as much an “insider” as one could be.  I learned a lot about individual and institutional fundraising, forging relationships with other groups, and the herding of cats that is a small and scrappy but ambitious arts non-profit.  But I still found joy in participating directly in events and writing reviews, including for last year’s APAture festival.  It coincided with the launch of CatSynth TV, and we featured the opening night and book-arts showcase in two of our early episodes.

Tomorrow night is our 45th Anniversary Gala, to be held at the Chinese Cultural Center, where I first encountered KSW nine years earlier.  In a way, it is coming full circle.  But instead of writing a review, I am writing a speech to recognize the 45 years and multiple generations of history.  If you are in San Francisco tomorrow evening and wish to join us, there are still a few tickets available for the general program.

 

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Sam Sam’s First Gotcha Day!

It was one year ago today that Sam Sam came to live at CatSynth HQ, and we are wishing her a very happy first Gotcha Day (adoption anniversary)!

A year ago I was still in the early part of my grieving process for Luna, who had passed away just a little over a month earlier.  Getting another cat was always the plan, but not quite so soon.  But our friends Michael de la Cuesta (of Vacuum Tree Head) and Karen de la Cuesta told me about this sweet cat they needed to rehome – her longtime human had passed away a year earlier, and she needed to leave her current home in southern California.  I, of course, said yes.  So on December 7, 2016, she made the journey north to San Francisco and stepped in HQ for the first time.  Not surprisingly, “Sam Sam” was a bit shy and skittish at first, spending most of her time under the bed, sneaking out periodically for food, water, and the litter box.  But bit by bit she came out her shell and blossomed into a wonderful companion.  She is quite talkative and outgoing now – even a bit sassy at times 😸

She delights many with her unique markings and quirky antics.

Happy Gotcha Day, Sam Sam!  We are so glad you came to live with us, and we hope to spend many years together 💕

Remembering Luna, One Year Later

Luna with her beautiful green eyes.

It’s been a year since Luna passed away. And so today we mark her yahrzeit, or anniversary of death. Over the past year, the grieving process has continued in its complicated and chaotic pattern, sometimes raw and at the surface, sometimes just a fond memory now tinged with melancholy. Perhaps if one plots the grief over the course of a year. it will trend downwards, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of deep loss and sadness.

Farewell to Luna

We began observing the yahrzeit at sundown yesterday. After repeated heatwaves and the worst fires and air quality that I have experienced in California, the skies and air suddenly became chilly, crisp, and damp, signaling the real arrival of autumn. The palpable chill in the air brought memories of Luna’s last week back into focus and set the tone for the evening. We switched on the memorial candle – I only use electrical candles for this purpose. A glass or two of red wine, some comfort food, and David Bowie on the stereo. The songs “Dollar Days” from Blackstar and “Prettiest Star” from Alladin Sane are particularly tied to Luna’s passing, along with the chill.

Sam Sam seemed to sense my state – exacerbated by an unusually stressful workday on top of everything else – and provided a lot of extra comfort last night, breaking her night-time wanderings around HQ to come and lay on my chest and purr. She does this most days, but not as long or as deep. Indeed, her presence has been a great source of love and comfort as I continue to move forward. I will always miss Luna, but my current and future cats need me in the present.

CatSynth 10th Anniversary!

10

On July 19, we hit a major milestone: 10 years since our first post. And we celebrate as always with some stats:

2,982 Posts
14,031 Comments
4.7 comments per post
1088 Cat-and-synth pics, videos, etc.
430 Reviews, gig-reports, and related posts

In some ways, the blog activity has declined a bit since it’s height in the early 2010s. Much of the activity has moved over to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And more recently, we are looking to the future via our mobile apps – there is much more coming there in the not-too-distant future. Additionally, I find myself balancing time spent writing blog articles with an increasingly busy schedule of musical performances and such. All good things in their own way.

We are a bit late to celebrate this year due to some major personal and medical priorities on my part (all of which are going well, but also beyond the scope of this forum). It isn’t the first time our blog anniversary has gotten caught up in other things. Last year we missed the 9th anniversary entirely as we coped with Luna’s cancer diagnosis. And our first anniversary came amidst a major downtime for the site that took a week or so to fix.

As always, here is the photo of Luna that started it all on July 19, 2006.

Luna_Keyboard_resized_c

Luna hasn’t aged all that much, retaining her youthful appearance. And that beanbag chair is still a favorite of hers. It’s where she hangs out in the studio, and over the years we have taken major photos of her with it.

The studio has certainly gotten more crowded over time.

Please join us in celebrating 10 years of CatSynth, and looking forward to many more!

Happy 11th Gotcha Day Luna!

Today marks Luna’s 11th Gotcha Day (adoption anniversary) since I first brought her home from the Santa Cruz County animal shelter on June 10, 2005. She has come to be the queen of her home in the years since.

This Gotcha Day is a particularly sweet one, considering all that has happened over the past year. It was about one month after her previous anniversary that we saw the first signs of her cancer and got the formal diagnosis soon after. She was given only months at best with aggressive treatment. But with love, attention and the best medical care available, she is still with us a year later and thriving!

And she is still the star of CatSynth.

We are looking forward to a weekend of celebration and treats.

Please join me in wishing Luna a very happy Gotcha Day!