Remember the scene in Birth of the Beatles where all the fans show up at the Cavern Club to protest the firing of Pete Best and the hiring of Ringo Starr? (You all remember that, right? You’re all about 50 like me, right?) Ringo refuses to be intimidated and amid the boos he just starts bashing the snare drum faster and faster until he wins the crowd over. The rest is history.
That’s what’s happening at WNYC right now.
In December 2017, Leonard Lopate was fired from the city’s dominant public radio station. After 30-plus years of discussing the city’s cultural life at an absurdly high level, Lopate was disappeared by station management like an Argentinian rebel during Operation Condor. No explanation was offered and because his firing occurred at the same time as that of fellow longtime host Jonathan Schwartz and the weird non-renewal of John Hockenberry (who was given a lavish going away party even as accusations of sexual harassment swirled), it was assumed that Lopate was somehow also accused of improprieties.
With Lopate gone, the noon to 2 show was a disaster. A revolving cast of guests hosts did the best they could for 9 months, but the trials of even informed, good interviewers revealed just how hard it is to sound smart for two hours. Duarte Geraldino, Matt Katz and Rebecca Carroll showed particular promise, but even people who are really strong in other on-air roles, like Jonathan Capehart and Jenna Flanagan, struggled to fill two hours of thoughtful chat on wildly varied topics with huge ego guests. During a brutal year of firings and investigations and on-air self-policing and Brian Lehrer declaring his disgust for his gender, a key slot in the middle of WNYC’s day seemed to have no direction. Lopate’s fans, many of whom joined Facebook groups or signed a change.org petition demanding his reinstatement, were like the Pete Best partisans, enjoying WNYC’s struggle to find a suitable replacement.
And then this week, Ringo showed up.
“All Of It with Alison Stewart” launched on Monday and one week in, it’s exactly the breath of fresh air the station—and the city—needs. Stewart is a Jersey girl (her mother taught science at the high school my daughter attends) who got her break on MTV and went on to host or co-host all over the place and write two excellent, substantive books. She’s had precisely the blend of pop culture, high culture and hard news experience that befits a show like this.
Best of all, the show’s theme music.
The irresistible groove of the opening theme shot me directly back to the paralyzing winter storm of January 1994 and Luscious Jackson’s stunning debut album Natural Ingredients. “Citysong” is a bouncy, loving ode to gritty New York, from a record that came out on the day Rudy Giuliani became mayor and started cleaning up all the grit the song romanticizes. It’s perfect.
And its composer, Jill Cuniff, opened her first ever solo art show at 185 Allen St. last night and it’s as good as the song. “Lyric + Word Paintings” may be Cuniff’s first show, but she told Fine Art Globe, “I’ve been painting and creating art since I was 14.” It shows.
So often, when a creator well known in one form shows off talent in another, he or she tries to put distance between the two. Cuniff embraces the enormous affection fans retain for her groundbreaking band. Her works are bright water colors with tons of pink, orange and yellow, and they incorporate the lyrics from her best known songs (including Citysong) in a way that makes the words feel as vital as they did 25 years ago.
Luscious Jackson saw its peak in the mid-90s with appearances on Saturday Night Live and a single, “Naked Eye,” that reached the charts. But even after the usual indie rock trajectory—solo projects, breakup, reform, other bands—a core of Luscious Jackson fans remains in tact. And many of them packed into the garage door studio at 185 Allen St. to meet Cuniff and see her paintings. While a DJ spun, Cuniff, rocking black top, black pants and great white boots, hugged a few and chatted with all the hundred or so attendees. As the red dots indicating “sold painting” started to accumulate next to various works—Ladyfingers was $1250, Mood Swing was $2250 and Naked Eye was a bargain at $500—an anticipatory vibe began to build. Then the founder, songwriter, bassist and singer strapped on an acoustic guitar and belted out “Warm Sound,” a lush gem from her 2007 solo record, City Beach.
She asked if anyone had any questions and a superfan called Jared asked about her painting process.
“It is a process. Basically, it’s the same way I wrote songs — it poured out. Sometimes I’d use crayons, other times … ” she pointed to a large and gorgeous work called Stardust, “… it’s watercolor on linen.”
Someone else asked what she listens to as she paints.
“Jazz or funk or Frank Ocean. Anything. But never my own music.”
You have until Sunday to see the show.