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Specs and the City

Holy spaces on planes, SJP on Broadway, Rock Hall inductees, Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Jeffersons, Every Mother Counts, and a playlist for the ages



"Maybe tomorrow/ When she looks down / On every green field / And every town / All of her children / And every nation / There'll be peace and good sisterhood / Crystal blue persuasion." – Tommy James




 

A Prayer for Lady Liberty


The next time you fly, take note of the silence that falls over the plane as soon as the captain pushes the aircraft back from the gate. Between tow-out and 10,000 feet, the jet becomes a holy space where every passenger makes a deal with God, whether they admit it or not. During this quiet time, I engage in intense spiritual practices: I pray for the pilot, the passengers, and the strength of every nut and bolt that holds the machinery together; I also meditate on the meaning of life. Strapped in with my noise-canceling headphones and scarf (a.k.a. security blanket), everything becomes clear to me before takeoff—the people I love, my priorities, what I need to take care of or have been putting off, old habits to let go of and new ones to start, my purpose and why I should bargain with a higher power for a safe arrival to the destination.


Sometimes these exercises blend serious desires and selfish wishes. For example, this past week on a flight from Atlanta to NYC, my plea: "God, thank for you for the many blessings of this life and for allowing me to make it to 53 years on this planet. Please let us have a safe flight, and please use me on this trip for the good of others. And one more thing: Please let me see New York again, because I want to hang out with my friends, gaze at architecture, eat bagels, and roller skate."


As we approached LaGuardia, only two or three of us on the left side of the plane put our window shades up. Airline design is trending toward a windowless experience with fuselage walls covered in video screens, but I’m a window girl who relishes watching the red clay disappear into the clouds after takeoff at ATL and return with spiky skyscrapers and glassy bays upon descent into NYC. A few rows behind me, two little girls and their mom raised their window shade in time for a spectacular view. The younger of the girls, probably about age 5, spotted the harbor and the Manhattan skyline out her window.


“New York City, New York City!” she exclaimed loudly in a melodic mash-up of “New York, New York” and “Hello, Dolly.”


The rest of the plane listened as she narrated:


“Mommy, I can’t believe it, that’s New York City!” she said.


🎶”New York City, New York City!”🎶


“LOOK! THE STATUE OF LIBERTY!!! Mommy, everyone in my class knows what the Statue of Liberty is!”


🎶”New York City, New York City!”🎶


🎶”New York City, New York City!”🎶


I felt her excitement, and I turned to see smiles on the faces of those around me. I wondered about the girl’s unbiased view of NYC and her class at school. I wanted to give her teacher a raise and make sure her school had every book in its library. This child did not see red or blue or division. She saw a symbol of America, a bronze statue of a woman with a book in her hand.


What country will our young girls grow up to inherit? What will their rights be 10 years from now? What will women's rights be one year from now?


May we strive to see the world through the eyes of a child—open, loving, and with endless possibilities. And may our children and grandchildren grow up in a world with liberty for all humans, where women's minds and bodies are their own to govern.



 



A trio of Broadway revelations


Speaking of women's rights, I saw three plays on Broadway that prove how much American society has evolved since the 1950s (read more below). These productions (each nominated for at least one 2022 Tony Award) also demonstrated Broadway's viability in a digital, post-pandemic world. While music, theatre and dance performances have struggled since the coronavirus arrived in 2020 (many tours and companies may not survive), Broadway—like sports—continues to attract spectators from all regions, political persuasions, and walks of life. Here's what I learned:


  • For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf: This is the second Broadway incarnation of Ntozake Shange's "choreopoem" which debuted at the Booth Theatre in 1976 and was adapted for the big screen by Tyler Perry in 2010 (and other productions) before being revived onstage in 2022. A series of monologues and dances, the play centers around the strength of seven Black women (one played by a Spelman grad) who overcome domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, abortion, robbery, the murder of their children, and depression. The joyous dancing and spoken-word segments were uplifting and inspiring, despite the title and subject matter. So many parallels between the 1970s and 2022 as racism continues and women's rights are now more imperiled than they were fifty years ago.





  • Meredith Wilson's The Music Man: Hugh Jackman was the draw for me on this one. He's not a great singer, but he is famous for his energy, which this production needed. The story has remained true to its prim 1957 origins (a con man shows up in a small Iowa town, falls in love with a local librarian who is waiting for her prince charming, and everyone ends up forming a marching band). It is ultra-quaint and yet suggests a parallel between today's urban/rural divide and how music has the power to be a unifying force across all types of American towns and cities if we'd only tap into it. "'Til There Was You" is a classic ballad and "Seventy-Six Trombones" sounds like it's been around for centuries. Even in these strangeness of 2022, The Music Man manages an old- fashioned patriotism without partisanship. Fast-paced, clever, never boring. A hit!





  • Neil Simon's Plaza Suite: Not a musical, but thoroughly entertaining. This is a Gen Xer's fantasy night on Broadway: 150 minutes of our married friends Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick performing the physical comedy that endeared us to her and to him when we were all teens in the early 1980s. The laughs come easily and the chemistry is spicy-sweet like a cinnamon hot chocolate. Simon's original material, set in pre-Me Too 1968 (the movie appeared in 1971), is cringeworthy in its treatment of women, but that's precisely the point of this revival...if we don't know how far we've come, how will we muster the strength to keep moving forward when so many forces are meant to drag us backward?




 

The best of my week: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Jeffersons, Every Mother Counts, and a playlist for the ages


  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame began in 1983 as a construct of record companies and Rolling Stone magazine. It found a permanent home in Cleveland, Ohio as both a museum and an elite club of musicians voted upon by their fellow players, critics, and industry types. Recording artists are eligible for induction 25 years after their first recording was released, and the Hall is slowly beginning to diversify its classes of inductees by gender, age, style, and era. Induction is a popularity contest that no one cares about until their favorite artists make it in. This year, Gen X is vindicated by inductees Eurythmics and Duran Duran. Their inclusion is especially meaningful for women music journalists who believed in these acts when other critics dismissed their androgynous stage clothes and eyeliner as detractions from the music (though, strangely, did not have the same problem with David Bowie). Now, four decades after hits such as "Sweet Dreams" and "Rio" debuted, the music has stood the test of time and is enjoying a second life on streaming platforms. Hoping to book a ticket to Los Angeles for the ceremony later this year.




  • King Pleasure: This new Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition in Chelsea is the most immersive NYC view into the artist's work yet. I wrote my 11th grade English term paper about Basquiat in 1986 (he died in 1988) and have seen many shows since then. Check out the video preview below featuring the King Pleasure curators, Basquiat's sisters.





  • The Jeffersons: After a long walk through Central Park with a friend, I ended up on the Upper East Side lunching beside the famous apartment building which served as the exterior location for the 1970s hit TV show The Jeffersons. I probably saw it when I lived in NYC in the early 1990s, but to see it again now made me grateful for all the Norman Lear shows that we watched every week as children and the slices of American life they represented.


  • Every Mother Counts: In New York, I also attended a Mother's Day luncheon for Every Mother Counts, an incredible organization founded by Christy Turlington Burns that aims to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all women. I have supported the organization since Christy founded it in 2010 a few years after suffering a life-threatening post-partum hemorrhage during the birth of her first child. The abortion debate currently raging around us after the Supreme Court draft leak is a vital one, and although I have personal opinions about the issue, you can be sure if it is legislated, I'll vote for candidates who support a woman's right to choose what's best for her own body. That being said, we are not paying enough attention to the current crisis facing pregnant mothers in the United States and especially here in Georgia, where our state ranks among the worst places to give birth in the country. These numbers reflect lack of access to health care in rural areas and discriminatory practices against women of color. No matter which side of the abortion issue you choose, we can all agree that women need better healthcare before, during and after pregnancy. Learn more at Every Mother Counts.




Aimee Brill, Jennie Joseph, and Chanel Porchia-Albert at the MPower Luncheon in New York City on May 6, 2022. Photo by Tory Williams


  • WCBS-FM and a playlist for the ages: When I worked for Turner Broadcasting on 5th Avenue in the early 1990s, my cubicle shared a wall with that of a senior administrative assistant who played a transistor radio on her desk all day long. It was tuned to WCBS-FM, "New York's Greatest Hits." The station was strict about the 100 classic oldies allowed on its airwaves. Here's what the list sounded like in 1992 as I swept into the office each morning in floral dresses from the Gap and burgundy Doc Marten platform brogues. Tommy James & The Shondells' "Crystal Blue Persuasion" played at 3:30 in the afternoon, when the sun was behind the buildings and my cubicle mate's boss smoked his after-lunch cigarettes (yes, in the office). Even now, every time I hear the song, I'm back at my desk typing letters on typewriters, answering the phone nonstop and making rudimentary spreadsheets in Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS. "Crystal Blue Persuasion" was a bright spot in my day and pushed me to keep following my NYC dreams. James had been looking for a song title that expressed a combination of the "peace and love" of the psychedelic era with his newfound Christian beliefs when he wrote the song in 1969. An American Songwriter story credited the inspiration for the song to a fan from Atlanta, who wrote a poem for Tommy James titled "Crystal Persuasion." Although James has struggled with addiction and his faith over the years, the song remains a rosy view of how God (and yes, I changed the lyrics to "she" above) might view the earth from above. ("It's a new vibration!")


  • In homage to the WCBS-FM sound and the beautiful views of earth we see when flying, I'm sharing one of my favorite Spotify playlists here to add a peaceful groove to your week. Enjoy!