After listening to ‘Philip Glass: Taxi Driver’ the other night I came across another tale of another man driving a cab in New York during the same 1970s period (in fact Glass gets a brief cameo). Broadcaster and author Michael Goldfarb recalls his days trying to make it as an actor while working shifts and shifting gears across five brilliant episode of Trip Sheets. At the time of writing you can hear the first in the series here. This is from the Guardian’s review:
We began with the thrill of his moving to New York to become an actor, the grubby glamour of him driving a cab in a New York that was just about to create Taxi Driver and Taxi (the last written by a cab driver who drove for the same firm as Goldfarb). In the first two episodes of Trip Sheets we met Philip Roth, Philip Glass, Peter Brook, Harvey Keitel… But as Goldfarb’s youthful innocence and self-belief changed, so did the essays, moving from “I had that Warhol in the back of my cab once, I did” anecdotes into more difficult areas. Goldfarb drove a young woman and her newborn child to a burnt-out Bronx and wondered how and, more importantly, why it got like that.
The final episode was on how New York, and New York cabbing, has changed. “If all else fails, I can always move back to New York and drive a cab,” he thinks, but instead goes over and sits in the back as a passenger. “The city is just too different,” he concludes.
As an added bonus, below is the trailer for Taxi Driver, which never gets old even though the world it depicts is long gone.
I’m a huge fan of the StoryCorps podcast, and slowly I’ve learnt more about the project. This TED Talk by the founder of StoryCorps, Dave Isay, is inspiring. I’ve downloaded the app, and intend to leave my cynicism at the door and interview some of the people closest to me in the near future, before it’s too late:
Over the next 15 years, I made many more radio documentaries, working to shine a light on people who are rarely heard from in the media. Over and over again, I’d see how this simple act of being interviewed could mean so much to people, particularly those who had been told that their stories didn’t matter. I could literally see people’s back straighten as they started to speak into the microphone.
In 1998, I made a documentary about the last flophouse hotels on the Bowery in Manhattan. Guys stayed up in these cheap hotels for decades. They lived in cubicles the size of prison cells covered with chicken wire so you couldn’t jump from one room into the next. Later, I wrote a book on the men with the photographer Harvey Wang. I remember walking into a flophouse with an early version of the book and showing one of the guys his page. He stood there staring at it in silence, then he grabbed the book out of my hand and started running down the long, narrow hallway holding it over his head shouting, “I exist! I exist.”
In many ways, “I exist” became the clarion call for StoryCorps, this crazy idea that I had a dozen years ago. The thought was to take documentary work and turn it on its head. Traditionally, broadcast documentary has been about recording interviews to create a work of art or entertainment or education that is seen or heard by a whole lot of people, but I wanted to try something where the interview itself was the purpose of this work, and see if we could give many, many, many people the chance to be listened to in this way. So in Grand Central Terminal 11 years ago, we built a booth where anyone can come to honor someone else by interviewing them about their life. You come to this booth and you’re met by a facilitator who brings you inside. You sit across from, say, your grandfather for close to an hour and you listen and you talk. Many people think of it as, if this was to be our last conversation, what would I want to ask of and say to this person who means so much to me? At the end of the session, you walk away with a copy of the interview and another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so that your great-great-great-grandkids can someday get to know your grandfather through his voice and story.
Be sure to also listen to the documentary mentioned in the quote above, ‘The Sunshine Hotel’, an audio documentary produced by David Isay and Stacy Abramson for Sound Portraits, which won the Prix Italia, Europe’s oldest and most prestigious broadcasting award, in 1999. Listen to The Sunshine Hotel here.
This article, about a photograph taken in São Paulo in 1960, is wonderful. Photographer and writer Teju Cole explains how ‘‘Men on a Rooftop,’’ by the Swiss photographer René Burri (1933–2014), became an obsession:
I’m not sure when my interest in ‘‘Men on a Rooftop’’ became an obsession. Through the years it gained a hold on my imagination until it came to stand as one of the handful of pictures that truly convey the oneiric possibilities of street photography. The celebrated Iranian photojournalist Abbas, who knew Burri well (they were both members of Magnum Photos), described ‘‘Men on a Rooftop’’ to me as ‘‘vintage René: superb form, no political or social dimension.’’ Abbas zeros in on the formal perfection of the image, but I’m not sure I agree that it lacks a social dimension. To me, it literally portrays the levels of social stratification and the enormous gap between those above and those below.
A great photo comes about through a combination of readiness, chance and mystery. Gabriel García-Márquez, once asked whom the best reader of ‘‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’’ was, responded with a story: ‘‘A Russian friend met a lady, a very old lady, who was copying the whole book out by hand, right to the last line. My friend asked her why she was doing it, and the lady replied, ‘Because I want to find out who is really mad, the author or me, and the only way to find out is to rewrite the book.’ I find it hard to imagine a better reader than that lady.’’ Like the lady in García-Márquez’s story, I thought some act of repetition would clarify things. And so I went to São Paulo in March, looking for René Burri.
Philip Glass revisits his parallel lives in 1970s New York – driving a taxicab through threatening twilight streets while emerging as a composer in Manhattan’s downtown arts scene.
The Philip Glass Ensemble formed in 1968 and performed in lofts, museums, art galleries and, eventually, concert halls. Two of Glass’s early pieces – the long form Music In Twelve Parts and the opera Einstein on the Beach – secured his reputation as a leading voice in new music.
But America’s soon-to-be most successful contemporary composer continued to earn a living by driving a taxi until he was 42.
“I would show up around 3pm to get a car and hopefully be out driving by 4. I wanted to get back to the garage by 1 or 2am before the bars closed, as that wasn’t a good time to be driving. I’d come home and write music until 6 in the morning.”
Glass’s new musical language – consisting of driving rhythms, gradually evolving repetitive patterns and amplified voice, organs and saxophones – reflected the urgency of the city surrounding him. New York, on the brink of financial collapse, was crime-ridden and perilous. Driving a cab offered more than a window on this gritty, late night world. Almost every other month, according to Glass, a driver colleague was murdered. Glass escaped altercations with gangs and robbers in his cab.
One of the most successful films at the time was Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver starring Robert DeNiro. Glass couldn’t bring himself to watch it until years later. He says, “I was a taxi driver. On my night off, I was not going to go watch a movie called Taxi Driver.”
The Venera 7 was the first spacecraft to successfully land on another planet and transmit data back to Earth. It set off from Earth on 17 August 1970, and it landed on 15 December 1970. And it’s still there now, branded CCCP for all eternity to represent the Soviet Union, which of course no longer exists. If ever there was a metaphor to check human hubris, this surely is it.
In 1923, the Bauhaus was preparing for its first exhibition, where Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, would extol the benefits of industrial mass production. To publicize the events, the Bauhaus mailed out beautiful postcards.
Sixteen Bauhaus teachers and students designed postcards illustrating the German school’s ideas about art and technology. The downsized posters are full of sharp geometric drawings in black, red, yellow, and blue. Some look like rough sketches of architectural renderings, others like Cubist faces. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired 20 of these mini adverts, from a Weimar family who inherited the unsent cards from a relative who attended the original show. Juliet Kinchin, curator of MoMA’s Architecture and Design department, says the set of Postkarte fur die Bauhaus Ausstellung Weimar 1923 neatly encapsulate the ideas from the Bauhaus movement.