September 2, 2008
Labor Day weekend in NYC is a jamboree of color, cascading Caribbean pride, booty shaking down the Eastern Parkway, a limbo bachanal for homelands left behind brought to you by beer and liquor ads as big as the makeshift NYPD tower, alchohol ads as huge and vacuous as the cordoned off Brooklyn Museum, the best seats in the house, empty.
This is the third installment in a Travel Essay series on Summer in the City. The Hip Hop flavored series is based on the adventures I flung myself into during the summer of 2008 in New York City. I tasted music, theater, nature, bike paths, beaches, conversations with family and strangers, media conferences. The fruit of the season was ripe, and this series is my way of offering you a taste of mines
On August 3, 2008, I gotta taste of King Khan & The Shrines in their JellyNYC Pool Party at McCarren Park Pool. McCarren is legendary in hipsterdom, and hipsters give me the creeps, so I’d been hemming and hawing on going to the free concerts there practically all summer. Then, on August 3, the prospect of a Desi rocker leading an all white band got me to hop on my bike and brave Bedford Ave from Flatbush to Greenpoint, where McCarren Park Pool reigns.
It wasn’t until I saw an old episode of the Cosby Show on Jet Blue that I figured out why hipsters give me the creeps. Rudy was spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. In fact, all the Huxtable women had cleared out so that Dr. Huxtable and Theo could have a boys night in. At first, Rudy wasn’t feelin it, she was Not Happy to be away from the known comfort of her home. So Rudy peered warily at her elders from behind a stuffed animal wall she had built all around herself. And then, Grandpa and Grandma started spinning stories of their old school Hipster days, when the young black Hipster cats were giving each other some skin, and things were Beu-Tee-Full! Rudy was entranced. Grandma donned her Hipster hat, tipped it over one eye, and had Rudy up and dancing as the needle hit the old school record, and jammed.
People who take from others with no credit to true founders bug me out. Folks who take from others and condescend or ass-kiss the for-real founders of what they took, man, folks like that be creepin me out. The ghosts of Christmas past don’t like being erased. So, it was with a kind of haunted curiousity that I walked into the mouth of wanna-be hipsterdom, McCarren Park Pool.
But as soon as I got there, I remembered. Trend setters beat trend followers like scissors beat paper. I politely cut through the crowd like a hot knife on butter and positioned myself against center stage, twirling my unruly hair under King Kahn’s reign.
King Kahn is an artist who pays respects to his Rock and Soul predecessors while simultaneously paving new roads. The dude can sing. His voice is solid, gutter, and as dreamy as a gleaming, twisted, lowrider bike. His presence is flamboyant, George Clinton meets South Asian shaman, Cleopatra, Andy Warhol and Batman. At McCarren, King Kahn took the stage nearly naked, save speedos, a gold beaded cap, a black cape, and a necklace of plastic doll heads. The microphone stand his wand. King Kahn’s theatrics were imaginative and politically sharp.
In one vignette he ripped pages from a mainstream magazine, stuffing Paris Hilton shots into his mouth, tearing, eating, and spitting out this hollow idol of our day. Kicking off another vignette, an old gentleman on roller skates dropped a bag of bananas on stage. King Kahn threw them into the audience. With little home training, the audience threw them back, along with bottles of water, and other heavy objects, hurtling with no regard until King Kahn, now ducking and enraged, got clipped hard on the head and demanded to know, “who threw that?” A white kid with a loose afro proudly took credit. King Kahn switched tones, and admiringly beckoned the kid on stage. The kid clambered up, honest, and full of himself. King Kahn indicated he was going to give credit where credit was due. Turned the young man so he was facing the audience, so everyone could watch in technicolor I-was-there vividness, and King Kahn, a brown man who could easily be mistaken for Muslim or Iraqi, mashed an entire banana hard across the kid’s smug then disbelieving face.
King Kahn is effortless on stage, so good when he croons that one gets the sense he tempers his skill with sugary doses of absurdity, to help the medicine go down.
A Poem for Desi Rocker: King Kahn
in my mid-summer day dream
a desi rocker blew me a kiss
she caught it
he brought it
crooning at the helm of an all white band
aint shit like him in all the land
in my mid-summer day dream
a desi rocker can only live
as a clown
This is a photo of King Kahn at the August 3, McCarren Pool Park (photo by Jason Bergman, for JellyNYC).
And here’s a before and after for the venue, McCarren Park Pool. Originally a Works Progress Administration project, the pool closed down in the 80’s, sat there till Clear Channel pitched in for renovations and handily scored a sweetheart deal to run concerts at McCarren through the media corporation’s Live Nation concert promotion arm. The pool is slated for renovation under a Bloomberg plan, which means this may have been the last summer for the concert series at McCarren Park Pool.
Enjoy the pix. Do come back for more, the next Summer in the City installment is right around the corner. I aim to keep you hot and sunny as the chill creeps in like TLC.