Exploring NYC From Coney To Harlem: Fresh Art on The Streets This Summer

5 Neighborhoods That Are Popping With Murals and Street Art Right Now

Summer brings people out onto the streets. New Yorkers especially love to congregate on corners, stoops, public parks and plazas, sidewalks and on the streets to soak in the sun and the excitement of summer after its long winter season. With that in mind we want to point you to what’s new on the streets of the city when it comes to Street Art and Graffiti, scenes that are constantly reinventing themselves and moving.

Here are five destinations with fresh new murals and Street Art painted this year that you can track down and enjoy on your own in an afternoon. Take a break by sitting on a stoop or a bench and enjoy the sounds and energy of each neighborhood and have a hot dog or a slice of watermelon, a slice of pizza – maybe an Italian ice!

The Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn.

This 6 year old project spearheaded by Bushwick native Joe Ficalora continues to host international artists on walls spread on five blocks in this gentrifying neighborhood of Brooklyn. With more than a dozen freshly painted murals that were completed for this months annual block party, the cheek-to-jowl collection of murals feels like a treasure hunt of global styles all here to show off their best. While we still have the L train you can take it Jefferson et voilà!

Coney Art Walls in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

In its third year, Coney Art Walls is an initiative of Thor Equities and in a curatorial collaboration with art maven Jeffrey Deitch….This year’s edition of Coney Art Walls brings ten freshly painted murals by American and international artists to add to the collection of 30 or so murals painted during the past two editions. Here you will see an eclectic mix of 1970s era train writers to some of today’s multi-conceptualists take on the broader theme of Coney Island, its characters, its rides, its foot long hot dogs. A plethora of trains will take you there and be prepared to enjoy native graffiti in the “wild”on walls throughout the roughly 45 minutes train ride as your view rises on the elevated tracks. Take the N, Q, F, and D trains to Coney Island.

Welling Court Mural Project in Queens, NY.

The most community oriented among all of the festivals taking place in NYC, Welling Court just completed its 8th edition this month a part of Queens that feels ignored, yet now strangely is getting some high-end real estate?  With a less-structured program and a philosophy of inclusiveness the project attracts a diverse group of local, national and international artists seeking to participate and interact with these neighbors, some of them New Yorks’ newest members, in a weekend-long genuine summer block party. Located in Welling Court in Long Island City in the borough of Queens the walls spread over five blocks or so and can be accessed via the N train to 30th Ave. Take a bus to Welling Court or walk for about 15 minutes on 30th Ave towards the East River.

The L.I.S.A. Project NYC in Little Italy and The Lower East Side.

This Mural Program is the brainchild of Wayne Rada and Ray Rosa, who host artists from all over the world to come and beautify the old neighborhoods of Little Italy and parts of the Lower East Side both in Manhattan. Because its Manhattan and space and turf are contested, you’ll find the works scattered and surprisingly integrated into spots – evoking the element of “discovery” that organic Street Art and graffiti produces.

Not necessarily located on a specific set of blocks the murals are more spread out on several streets in and around Little Italy and can be reached taking a number of subways lines. We’ll advise you take the B or the D trains to Grand Street Station and make your way to Mulberry Street where you’ll enjoy large murals by Ron English and Tristan Eaton and a number of smaller pieces. As you wander, walk, stroll, or crawl through Little Italy you’re bound to discover big and small pieces that run a spectrum of Shepard Fairey, JPO, BKFoxx, KanoKid, The Drif, and Buff Monster.

Monument Art in El Barrio, Harlem.

Monument Art really concentrates on large high quality murals for El Barrio in NYC. Beginning in 2015 a dozen international artists were invited to paint for two weeks including massive murals by ROA, El Mac, Celso, Ever Siempre, Faith 47 and others others. This year German artist Case Maclaim was invited to paint one highly realistic mural on a school wall located at 310 East 113th Street. Take the 6 train to 110 Street and walk north on Lexington ave towards 113th street.

As you make your way north you’ll see some of the murals painted in 2015.

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Carlos Santana Shares His Thoughts On DJ Khaled’s Sampling Of ‘Maria Maria’

It’s been nearly 20 years since Carlos Santana made us fall in love to the sound of his guitar as we learned about Maria. But the essence of the 1999 hit was recently revived by DJ Khaled just in time for the summer.

Khaled dropped “Wild Thoughts” on June 16, featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller. The new single samples heavily from Santana’s own “Maria Maria.”

The Mexican guitarist and music icon gave his thoughts on Khaled’s single in a statement to Billboard on Tuesday. 

“There is a reason that the infectious groove/theme that Wyclef [Jean] and I created on ‘Maria Maria’ still resonates today,” Santana told the site. “It speaks to the heart. DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson take that vibe and bring it to a new dimension with ‘Wild Thoughts,’ but the groove and essence of the song is still intact.”

Khaled’s new single will be a part of his upcoming album “Grateful,” which is set to be released on Friday. As “Wild Thoughts” begins climbing the charts, some fans on Twitter have pointed out that younger generations may not be aware of the single’s roots.

Selena Gomez is another artist to recently sample from a classic in her new music. The singer’s new single “Bad Liar” uses the bass line from the Talking Heads’ 1977 “Psycho Killer.”

With Santana’s blessing on “Wild Thoughts,” now all that’s left to decide is who did it best?

Watch the two videos below and decide: 

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Is The Quintessential Rom-Com Dead?

Nothing’s better than having your friends over, applying hydrating face masks, making some popcorn and popping in a good rom-com, right? 

Eh, maybe.

These days, it appears the age of romantic comedies is behind us. No longer are we dedicated to following the hijinks of a couple as they try to make it work. We don’t want to pay $15 to watch two people fall in love over the course of an hour and a half. But why?

With the 20-year anniversary of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” on June 20, it got us thinking: has there really been a rom-com in the past 10 years that’s gained the repeat-watching status of the Julia Roberts-fronted movie? Sure, we’ve had “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “13 Going On 30,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “The Holiday.” But since the mid-aughts, there really hasn’t been a romconaissance, even if indies like “What If” or “Obvious Child” have tried to give the genre a boost.

There was a reason movies like this were so successful in the ’90s. They were romantic, hopeful, endearing. The quintessential rom-com could be described using all those adjectives, pulling at our heartstrings while making us root for a dreamy pairing. “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” in particular, really played with viewers’ emotions, teasing a happy ending yet finishing with an unexpected twist. This, star Dermot Mulroney says, is the reason it earned almost $300 million worldwide. 

“It wasn’t about getting the guy, it was about her failing to break them up. And it kills people,” Mulroney told HuffPost last year.

“It took me this long to analyze why that movie stands out from the crowd of romantic comedies, it’s she’s a sad clown,” he added. “It’s a melancholy movie. You watch it and you think, ‘Oh God, she’s not going to … oh, no!’ And that’s what’s funny about it. It’s like somebody slipping on a banana peel, we love that.”

No one can deny that it’s nice to see the lead players end up together at the culmination of a movie. But what “My Best Friend’s Wedding” did was flip the script, something that’s much more common now than it was when the movie first debuted. Audiences expect a surprise ending these days ― whether it be in movie-musicals like “La La Land” or in suspenseful TV shows like “Game of Thrones” ― which might explain why the typical rom-com formula no longer works as well as it used to.

So maybe “My Best Friend’s Wedding” changed audience preferences, inspiring moviegoers to pine for the less predictable and ache only for the kinds of rom-coms that provide that perfectly surprising ending. The question is: are studios willing to make those films?

Nowadays, it’s harder to find original scripts, be it any genre in the industry. We’re living in a time of the sequel, where spinoffs and reboots own the headlines before succeeding or totally flopping at the box office, on streaming sites or premium channels. Rom-coms don’t necessarily get remade or rebooted ― new stories recycling the formula just have to fight against old faithfuls in a way that other genres don’t. One can simply rewatch a classic love story before running to see another. 

“Annie Hall.” “When Harry Met Sally.” “While You Were Sleeping.” “Sleepless in Seattle.” “What Women Want.” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” “The Wedding Planner.” “Sixteen Candles.” “You’ve Got Mail.” “Clueless.” “Love & Basketball.” “Notting Hill.” To name a few. 

Big-budget films ― think superheroes, action ― are what every company is after, and it appears those flicks in the mid-range are no longer important in the grand scheme of things. With so many people watching content in the comfort of their own homes, studios are looking to bet more on big-budget projects in hopes they’ll lure fans to the theaters. Again, not many people are wasting their hard-earned dollars on a movie theater ticket, unless it’s something worth seeing on the big screen, or in 3D and IMAX.

Take 2011’s “Something Borrowed” for instance: Warner Bros. spent $35 million on production, but the film only earned $60 million worldwide. Compare that to 1990’s “Pretty Woman,” which was made on a budget of $14 million but grossed over $463 million. As of late, flicks like “Just Go With It” (2011) and “Trainwreck” (2015) have made solid returns at the box office, but not one has landed in the top 10 highest-grossing romantic comedies since 2009’s “The Proposal,” which earned over $317 million worldwide. 

And although the late Garry Marshall had success with his holiday-themed rom-coms like “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011) ― thanks to some serious star power ― his most recent try, “Mother’s Day,” had a production budget of $25 million and only grossed $32 million worldwide. (”Valentine’s Day” earned $184 million more than that.)

Let’s also call out the rom-com mainstays who left the genre in the dust without finding ample replacements. Actors like Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts moved on from rom-coms, leaving Katherine Heigl to step in ― and that didn’t help anyone. Plus, Matthew McConaughey ― the category’s it guy ― started taking on grittier, well-rounded roles, and even won an Oscar. But did anyone fill his shoes? No. Because it appears young Hollywood isn’t interested in this area of filmmaking, but are more so looking to work with the top writers and directors in the industry. Just look at Rachel McAdams, who pretty much carved a path in the rom-com genre ― “The Notebook,” “Mean Girls,” “The Vow,” “About Time,” (let’s leave out “Aloha”) ― only to follow it up with critically acclaimed movies or box-office gold like “Spotlight,” “Southpaw” and “Doctor Strange.”

She sensed the shift early on in her career, telling Radio Free in 2005, “Most of the roles out there for women are the ingenue, the girlfriend, the daddy’s girl … you know, it’s all pretty sweet and straightforward. So I’m just really looking for roles whether they’re so-called ‘attractive people’ or not. I’m more concerned with the depth of the role and the uniqueness of the character.”

You can’t blame McAdams, it’s just, who’s willing to take on the task for the sake of rom-com history? (Again, no more Heigl, please.) Yes, studios aren’t making films that fit in this genre anymore, but actors don’t necessarily want to star in them, either. And let’s face it, A-list actors always help. 

With the help of team players like Roberts, Ryan, Mulroney and McConaughey, rom-coms made a mark. But as viewers, studios and actors grow smarter, the draw of the rom-com dims. And that, my face-mask-wearing friends, is no fun. 

You can be highbrow. You can be lowbrow. But can you ever just be brow? Welcome to Middlebrow, a weekly examination of pop culture. Read more here.

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Kalief Browder’s Brother Is Running For Mayor Of New York City

Akeem Browder still grieves over the deaths of both his younger brother Kalief and his mother Venida ― but he is carrying on their legacy and fighting for change by running for mayor of New York City.

Browder confirmed to HuffPost on Monday that he is officially throwing his name into the ring ― along with several other candidates ― and competing against incumbent NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio. Browder, 34, believes he is equipped and more ready than he’ll ever be for the campaign. 

“I lost my mother, I lost my brother,” he told HuffPost. “I have nothing left to lose.” 

Kalief Browder died by suicide in 2015 at the age of 22 just two years after he was released from Rikers Island. He was jailed there for three years, nearly two of which he spent in solitary confinement, for allegedly stealing a backpack and was both unable to make the $3,000 bail and unwilling to take a plea deal. He experienced brutal beatings from both inmates and guards all of which is documented in stories and interviews of those who spoke to him before his death. Browder’s mother, Venida, who had been one of Kalief’s biggest supporters, passed away in 2016 at the age of 63 from a “broken heart” after suffering from complications of a heart attack.

Now, Browder said he is ready for political office and and running on the Green Party ticket. He said that he plans to be a strong competitor of De Blasio, especially on issues of criminal justice, saying that he disagrees with many of the laws De Blasio has introduced during his time in office. He thinks De Blasio’s 10-year plan to shut down Rikers Island is “lip-service” ― Browder believes the process can be completed in three years instead. As a candidate, Browder said he also takes issue with DeBlasio’s stances on immigration, education and poverty around the city. 

“It’s not a personal vendetta why I’m running for mayor but if we’re having someone represent the people, it better be someone who isn’t far removed from the people and better understands the people so they can better their lives,” Browder said. “Do what’s right by the people or get out of office, get out of the way of people who want to try and make a change.” 

As mayor, Browder said he plans to prioritize issues of criminal justice, such as identifying better ways to decrease criminalization, increase resources to inmates with mental illnesses and finding more effective ways for re-entry. He also plans to focus on homelessness and better managing the city’s public spending to allocate funds to those most in need. 

“I’ve been homeless before,” he said. “We as New Yorkers still criminalize and monopolize the homeless. To me that’s pathetic and I want to make a change, not just with the homeless but those who come from jail. There’s very little thought put into how we appropriate funds for people coming home and re-entering society.” 

Browder, who said he is a long-time activist, has been involved in several grassroots political projects. He helped to create the New York chapter for Black Lives Matter and the Shut Down Rikers campaign, and sits on an independent New-York based commission around criminal justice. He also helped to establish the Kalief Browder foundation in his brother’s memory. 

Ultimately, it’s Browder life experiences, struggles and successes that he believes make him best-suited to be mayor.   

“These candidates are far removed from the problems we face in New York,” he said. “They don’t understand what we go through. It takes someone who has been impacted by the law and justice system and has the info, knowledge and drive to reel it back in and put it back into the right channels.” 

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There Was A Fancy Masquerade Ball For Dogs And It Did Not Disappoint

There were no fashion faux paws here.

Some of Washington, D.C.’s most dapper dogs strutted their stuff for the 30th Annual Bark Ball on Saturday night while raising money for a local animal welfare organization (and taking the doggone cutest pictures).

The black-tie gala, which benefited the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA), featured a masquerade theme that allowed guests to bring their canine companions as their dinner dates.

Not a group to disappoint, the dogs were seen wearing their finest coats — as well as adorable bow ties, tutus, hats and at least one mask.

Insider photos posted to social media showed guests of all shapes, sizes, and breeds.

By the end of the night, an event spokesperson, reached by HuffPost, boasted that they had raised more than $700,000. They also received a record-breaking 1,200 guests, which included former Sens. Bob (R-Kan.) and Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

That money raised will go towards helping “protect animals, support families, and advocate for positive change to create a world where all animals can thrive,” the animal welfare group said.

I guess humans know how to throw a good ball after all.

For more photos, check out the following slideshow or scroll down for more adorable shots posted on social media!

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Bill Cosby Isn’t The Exception, He’s The Rule

After 52 hours of deliberations, the jury in the criminal case brought against Bill Cosby by Andrea Constand was unable to reach a unanimous consensus. On Saturday morning, Judge Steven O’Neill declared a mistrial.

Constand says that, in 2004, Cosby tricked her into taking three blue pills that incapacitated her and proceeded to sexually assault her. In December 2015, nearly 10 years after settling a civil suit with Constand in 2006 for an undisclosed sum, Cosby was charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault. 

Although Cosby wasn’t acquitted, and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said that he planned to retry the case, a mistrial is unquestionably a win for the 79-year-old actor and comedian. A retrial will take time ― and it means that Constand will have to testify about her trauma again.

Journalist Dana DiFilippo tweeted a video of Cosby supporters celebrating after the mistrial was announced:  

Before the Cosby trial began, justice felt somewhat inevitable. Because in a situation like this one, it just feels like it should be.

A man is publicly accused of sexually assaulting nearly 60 women over the course of decades. The stories are explicit, horrifying and similar. Many of them involve drugging and brutal rape. Together, they paint a picture of a serial and methodical sexual predator who used his celebrity to exploit women. 

As far as the court of public opinion is concerned, Bill Cosby’s guilt was all but decided in late 2014, when the floodgates opened and women’s stories began pouring out on what felt like a near-daily basis. And it felt like, for the first time, people were listening. 

Of course, this was before the country had collectively propped up a man who bragged about grabbing women’s pussies without consent to our highest office. It was before more than 15 women had publicly accused a candidate for President of the United States of sexual assault with little to no tangible impact on his support.

In the cases of both Cosby and Trump, we’re reminded that women are viewed as unreliable narrators of their own experiences, and that powerful men who are accused of perpetrating sexual violence ― even by more than a dozen women ― are assumed to be victims. 

Barbara Bowman, one Cosby’s alleged victims who has been telling her story publicly since 2006, wrote about this phenomenon in an op-ed for The Washington Post in November 2014, after a Hannibal Burress joke about Cosby seemingly woke people up to the reality of his past: 

Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it? Why was I, a victim of sexual assault, further wronged by victim blaming when I came forward? The women victimized by Bill Cosby have been talking about his crimes for more than a decade. Why didn’t our stories go viral?

Two and a half years later, their stories have gone viral. But the legal outcome remains uncertain. 

The lack of a guilty verdict in this case speaks to the challenges that any alleged victim of sexual assault faces when seeking recourse through the criminal justice system. 

There are the statutes of limitations that prevent victims who wait to speak out from seeking criminal charges. There’s the lack of sensitivity training in some police departments. There’s the backlog of rape kits. There’s the difficult-to-prosecute “he said, she said” nature of many sex crimes. There are the questions victims of sexual assault know that they’ll likely be asked: “Why didn’t you report it sooner?” “Why did you talk to him after?” “Were you drinking?” “What were you wearing?” “Were you maybe kind of asking for it?”

Not only are sexual assaults underreported, but according to RAINN, just 7 out of every 1,000 rapists will see a felony conviction. That statistic doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Cosby may have had significantly more money and fame and press coverage than most alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and rape. It would be easy to assume that his celebrity is what protected him, that Andrea Constand would have gotten justice if her rapist were anyone else besides “America’s Dad.” But statistically, she wouldn’t have. In many ways, his situation was the exception but at the end of the day, he’s the rule. 

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Wonder Woman Inspires Crazy Sword-In-The-Dress Memes

Wonder Woman knows that a sword tucked carefully down the back of a dress can come in handy. Now apparently lots of other women are imagining what that honed steel could do.

Women and girls are popping up for photos on social media with some facsimile of Diana Prince’s handy-dandy sword — known as the “God killer” — slipped down the back of their dresses. They’re mostly posing in gowns a bit like the dress Wonder Woman wore in the scene when she attends a party with the sword where she can grab it quickly.

Photos are being posted at #WWGotYourBack, making the point that a good weapon can help a clever girl — and that women can have each other’s backs.

Lots of posers on social media get close to the Diana Prince vibe. Others aren’t quite so relaxed around sharpened edges that could slice skin, so they’ve gone the safety route — with wooden or plastic swords, light sabers, even pool noodles, or just a tattoo.

A post shared by Meredith Mattimoe (@mairzy_doatsy) on

#wonderwoman showing us how to be a pretty princess and a force to be reckoned with. #WWgotyourback challenge: accepted!

A post shared by Hayley Kohler (@hayleykohler) on

I’m not obsessed. We’re obsessed. #wonderwoman #Idomyownstunts #wwgotyourback

A post shared by Katherine Anne Abruzzese (@katastrophelady) on

A post shared by Keely does Cosplay (@overcastcosplay) on

 Some wags made fun of the utter ridiculousness of actually wearing a sword a la Wonder Woman — so they stuck even larger things down their back — like a bow, giant sabers, and …

 

Take that.

 

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Neil Young Quits Legendary Bridge School Concert For ‘Personal Reasons’

Rock legend Neil Young announced he’s no longer sponsoring the Bridge School Benefit Concert in California, a legendary annual event that has featured some of the biggest names in music for three decades.

Young, 71, said he is dropping the concert for “personal reasons,” and did not elaborate. This year’s concert, which usually takes place in October, has been canceled. It’s unclear if it might return in the future.

The Bridge School, located in Hillsborough, teaches children with serious speech and physical disabilities. Young’s sons, Ben, with ex-wife Pegi Young, and Zeke, with the late actress Carrie Snodgress, both have cerebral palsy. Pegi Young co-founded the school to help Ben and other children, and she and Neil Young launched the annual concerts in 1986 to raise funds to keep it operating.

Young split with his wife in 2014 after 36 years of marriage, after he began a relationship with actress and activist Daryl Hannah. The upheaval immediately sparked speculation about the future of the concert.

Young also may have health concerns. He backed out of inducting Pearl Jam into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year due to an undisclosed illness. He said in December that he wasn’t going to tour in 2017, but will perform at the annual Farm Aid benefit in September.

Young said he’ll continue to raise funds for the school. “For personal reasons beginning this year I will no longer be hosting The Bridge School Concert,” he said in a statement on the school’s website.

“Of course, I love the students most of all because the light in their eyes tells me we have been doing the right thing. We have earned millions of dollars and the school is stable financially.”

He thanked the artists, who have “been so generous with their time and great performances.” He thanked his ex-wife for “coming up with the idea and pursuing it with such great dedication, working for the kids like our child Ben, young children with disabilities who needed more than our education system offered.” He thanked the Bridge School Community and those who attend the concerts, “bringing their love.”

Finally, he thanked “my incredible son Ben Young for being there at my side throughout these many Bridge School years. I love you. buddy.”

The two-day all-acoustic concerts have featured some of modern history’s best musicians.

Headliners have included Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, Tom Petty, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, the Cowboy Junkies, Patti Smith, Axl Rose, The WHO, Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Jack White, Nora Jones, Steve Martin, and Tom Waits. All but one of the concerts were held at Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View.

Children from the school always sat along the back of the stage during the performances, and several musicians, especially Young, would often turn to sing to them.

Here’s Young full statement:

After thirty years of hosting the Bridge School Concerts, I would like to say thanks to everyone involved. Of course, I love the students most of all because the light in their eyes tells me we have been doing the right thing for the last thirty years. We have earned millions of dollars and the school is stable financially, able to go forward although we still need an endowment and would welcome one.

Thanks to Pegi Young for coming up with the idea and pursuing it with such great dedication, working for the kids like our child Ben, young children with disabilities who needed more than our education system offered. Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation go to the artists who have been so generous with their time and great performances. Certainly, my love and appreciation go to Executive Director Vicki Casella, who has given 100% to skillfully support and guide the school over the years. Thank you to our wonderful staff, made up of the finest educators I have ever known. I would also like to thank the Board of Directors for their dedicated efforts on behalf of our students and Bridge School mission.

My long-time friends, manager Elliot Roberts and agent Marsha Vlasic have been putting these concerts together and gathering the incredible artist line ups year after year. Thanks to you both and to Frank Gironda for all the work you’ve put into the event. I would also like to thank Tim Foster and the crews he has ably led while handling production of the concerts and making everything so easy for us. Great job Tim.

The Bridge School Concerts would never have been possible without Bill Graham and BGP, as well as Another Planet Productions. Thanks to Jerry Pompili and all the people who worked for these production organizations and made our wonderful concerts so easy for everyone.

To the Bridge School Community, the folks who attend the concerts year after year bringing their wonderful enthusiasm and love, I say thanks and lots of love to every one of you. You are the soul that kept everything happening for all these years. I know the concerts have become part of the Bay Area Landscape and we were all there together. I appreciate being part of it.

Although I will continue in fund raising efforts, for personal reasons beginning this year I will no longer be hosting The Bridge School Concert. I wish everyone the best as the school heads into the future. My heart is with each and every child we have had the honor to serve and those we will continue to serve, and your parents, siblings, and extended families. Thanks to you all for the honor of serving such a great mission. Thanks to my incredible son Ben Young for being there at my side throughout these many Bridge School years. I love you buddy. The Bridge School would not have been possible without you.

Neil Young

 

 CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the surnames of Eddie Vedder and Tom Waits.

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Did Bob Dylan Really Plagiarize SparkNotes In His Nobel Lecture?

This month, American bard Bob Dylan finally delivered his Nobel lecture, many months after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The lecture, traditionally given days before the award ceremony in December, must be delivered by those who accept the award within six months. Dylan slipped in his assignment just under the deadline.

Now, however, another Nobel controversy has arisen for the singer-songwriter: Numerous outlets have reported that he may have plagiarized from SparkNotes during a long passage on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick in his long-awaited lecture. 

The discovery stems from a line in which Dylan appears to directly quote Moby Dick. “A Quaker pacifist priest, who is actually a bloodthirsty businessman, tells Flask, ‘Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness,’” said Dylan. One problem: that line never appears in the actual novel.

Writer Ben Greenman noted in a blog that the quote appeared to have been fabricated. Then, Andrea Pitzer tracked down a similar quote, not in the book itself but on an entry about Moby Dick on the website SparkNotes ― a website that, like the iconic CliffsNotes, provides summaries, character descriptions and thematic breakdowns of books for students to use during study (or use to skip the reading altogether). In a Slate piece, Pitzer documents over a dozen other instances in which Dylan’s discussion of the classic book closely mirrors language found in SparkNotes.

This may seem to fall in a gray area of plagiarism ― most of the matching snippets Pitzer lists consist of phrases or pacing choices in Dylan’s summary of the book, not full sentences or passages. There’s a good chance that it was at least inadvertent: In preparing his speech, he consulted SparkNotes to brush up on his Melville, then had their framing and word choices floating in his head when he sat down to write. 

Some scholars defended his cribbing from SparkNotes to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, suggesting that it was simply an artistic allusion and even a mocking wink at the Nobel committee. “His lecture is … meant to be a post-modern work of art,” said Alex Lubet, a music professor at the University of Minnesota. 

Maybe it was simple plagiarism. Maybe it was a brilliant, paradigm-shifting artistic web of allusion. Or maybe, and perhaps most disappointingly, Dylan was just being lazy. “He’s on the road all the time. He just turned 76,” pointed out David Yaffe, a Syracuse University professor of humanities, to the Star-Tribune. “You could see him wanting to take a few shortcuts.”

Sure, sure ― except Dylan took an extra six months on his assignment only to turn in one that was hastily cobbled together with the aid of SparkNotes. Would the professors defending the musical icon for taking such “shortcuts” have similar patience for a student who cited SparkNotes instead of the assigned text because they were overwhelmed with classwork? Perhaps ― none of my literature professors were ever impressed by such an excuse.

Stephen Fallon, John J. Cavanaugh Professor of the Humanities at the University of Notre Dame, told HuffPost, “If a student borrowed [from SparkNotes] as Dylan does here, I’d be concerned about plagiarism, but I might give Dylan a pass as he’s not implicitly claiming as his own the ideas of someone else.” Still, “the fact that he clearly turned to SparkNotes raises doubts and also the question of why he didn’t at least skim the novel again before devoting a good chunk of a Nobel lecture to it.” (Editor’s Note: Stephen Fallon is the father of this post’s author.)

Any use of SparkNotes’s interpretations, as opposed to simple plot summary, would be more troubling, he added.

The Nobel Prize in Literature often goes to writers with many decades under their belt and a host of obligations, but this typically does not preclude them from crafting an original, erudite lecture. If Dylan was incapable of doing so ― even while taking advantage of his full six-month window to compose it ― he had the option of turning down the prize. Others, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, have done so in the past. 

Instead, it seems Dylan relied on sloppy shortcuts and the work of others to turn in a musically worded but less than original piece. He’s been accused of outright plagiarism before, but more meaningfully perhaps is that he’s been accused before of creating art that simply echoes or copies others’ work without acknowledging where his originality begins and ends. In 2011, questions were raised about an exhibition of his paintings at Gagosian Gallery, which were presented as “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.” According to The New York Times, some critics pointed out that several of the paintings seemed to be copied from photo, reproducing the work of photographers in paint without altering the framing, perspective or composition.

Dylan typically gets out of these dust-ups easily enough, as scholars and fans are willing to assume that his every move was a conscious artistic choice ― a work of collage or allusion, rather than simply a borrowed piece of work passed off as original. Reading SparkNotes for a work rather than referencing the book itself points to something else, though. Dylan may be a great songwriter, a brilliant artist, and a cultural icon, but his Nobel lecture shows signs of an intellectual laziness that wouldn’t be accepted from a freshman English literature student. What a shame.

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Much Ado…

Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Julius Caesar” with the man himself looking uncannily like Donald Trump has caused a stir. So much so in fact that some of the corporate sponsors have decided to withdraw financial support. These include Bank of America and Delta Airlines with the latter stating “No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ does not reflect Delta’s values.” I wonder what on earth this means. So let’s dig a little further into why a play written more than 400 years ago could create such a reaction.

To begin with, Shakespeare can rightly be called the most contemporary of all playwrights. His characters describe psychological types and states of mind that even Freud thought were extraordinary. His plays can be staged in any number of ways from period costumes to modern dress, from demure Elizabethan backdrop to the Fascist brutalism of the1930s. His ideas are so vast and his understanding of our humanness so all consuming that his plays can fit any age and any approach. Somehow he always provides the opportunity for the essence of his drama to survive and shine no matter how radical the treatment. He was a careful politician in his time when a careless word or action could lead to terrible reprisals. His only slip was a re-staging of “Richard II” specially requested by the Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s erstwhile favorite who was about to fall from power and end up on the block. “Richard II” is about a sovereign who looses his crown and staging it at a time of possible national insurrection by Essex was an unwise move.

Then there is Shakespeare’s political handling of the character of Julius Caesar. This had nothing to do with government but with management of his actors. Why is the play called “Julius Caesar” when our eponymous hero has only five percent of the lines and is killed in Act 3, Scene 1? Compare this to Brutus at 28 percent of the lines, Cassius 20 percent and Mark Antony 13 percent. Shakespeare had a dilemma with this play. He had written three great parts, parts that actors everywhere still fight over from Orson Welles and Marlon Brando to Ralph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh. He could easily have called the play “Brutus” or even “Mark Antony” but if he had, the fall-out from his star actors would have meant company internecine warfare. So the compromise was to call it “Julius Caesar” to whom he gives some of the best one-liners of all time:

‘I am constant as the northern star,’ ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once,’ ‘Let me have men about me that are fat.’

He obviously revered Caesar and made him a sympathetic character following his historic source material in Plutarch, even down to showing that he had lost his hearing in one ear.

Portraying Caesar as Trump is probably well within contemporary performance practice, but maybe a little cheap and obvious. It’s certainly not something to get fired up about. We live in an open society; there is the First Amendment, which applies as well to theatre directors and we are mature experienced adults who can deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous stage performances. Well, can’t we? If you are intent on getting offended, then watch Bill Maher or John Oliver on HBO delivering their own style of political commentary. (I believe that such commentary is really important in a free society.)

If you really wanted to create a sensation with a Trumpian figure in Shakespearean form then you could conceive of a new “Macbeth” with King Duncan recast as Hillary, or better still a white Othello surrounded by an all black cast with those blonde curls taking us from victorious battles (signifying the election perhaps) to the murderous bedchamber scene about which we can only imagine. Now that might be really nicely provocative and stir up some really great discussion and debate. But getting upset about a small character in a big play looking like the President, well really, get over it and get some courage because we are going to need it for the next few years.

In keeping with that thought, I offer some lines inspired by but not written by Shakespeare—the result of a Shakespearean improvisation competition between my son and me. (He won.)

Fear not this temporal King whose pride is ripe as autumn’s berries.
Think not upon your vaunted ambition to lie upon his smoking image
For it will change and when ‘tis done a lighter place will smile upon our offerings
And make them bright as a child’s glad laughter,
So now think your way through and bring your honest courage to this our noble charge.

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