The Upper East Side, land of small fluffy dogs, Gossip Girl and grown women who wear headbands, is about to get just little bit cooler. In celebration of the Guggenheim's 50th anniversary, the museum's storied white rotunda is playing host to a slew of Brooklyn's emerging and established musical and literary talents with a monthly series of concerts, "It Came From Brooklyn." The events (there will be five in all, starting in August and ending in December) are produced by Sam Brumbaugh and Bronwyn Keenan, and are essentially that of a hipster's wet dream. We recently chatted with Sam about the upcoming festivities.
So tell me, how did you and Bronwyn conceive of "It Came From Brooklyn"?
The artsier areas of Brooklyn have been taking a lot of crap as being these centers of pointless hipsterdom. I got sort of sick of that because the kids are coming through! So are the writers. They have been for a decade now, and it keeps coming. The Antlers, DJ Rupture, Blank Dogs, Rachel Sherman's new novel Living Room, the NYRB release of L.J. Davis' A Meaningful Life, Woods, Javelin, Mountains, Growing, and the more recognizable artists like Yeasayer, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Jonathan Lethem, Grizzly Bear, The National, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jonathan Safran Foer, TV on The Radio, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective. On and on... it's a real scene. So, the title references Peter Guralnick's book about Elvis and the rock 'n' roll scene in the '50s, "It Came From Memphis."
Why Brooklyn? Why the Guggenheim? And why now?
When I first lived in North Williamsburg in the early nineties, there was Mugg's Ale House and the Turkey's Nest. But they didn't want you in the Turkey's Nest if they didn't know you. There were really no galleries, clubs, places to see someone read. You'd get on the L, head downtown. Brooklyn now is downtown. People are very aware of this in New York City. But not so much anywhere else. Whine as you will (I do) about gentrification and overbuilding, but there have been great changes in Brooklyn. The music-art-lit scene is the best evidence of this, and we wanted to bring what's been happening there to a broader kind of stage. The museum has a national, even international scope. I mean, Brooklyn has never had problems with self-confidence, but now there's a lot to show off.
This Friday's lineup (The Walkmen, High Places, Colson Whitehead, etc.) is really quite amazing -- how did the "curating" process come together?
Bronwyn and I wanted each show to be a good night out in one place -- to have some cabaret style dimension. From the beginning, I had the idea of the Brooklyn Steppers marching in and up the ramps to kick off the first show. It's a spirited way to get the series going. The Walkmen are playing with a horn section, which sound-wise, nicely bookends with the Steppers. Colson Whitehead is reading Whitman, and Whitman reads very musically. Like hymns.
Are there other big events that you've been to around the city that inspired this series?
No. That's why we wanted to to do it. I mean, I think more than anything else, the space itself inspired the series. The Rotunda is obviously just an astonishingly beautiful place to view any kind of show. The ramps winding up around the stage, the rising circular sense of space that encompasses both the audience and the performer. Frank Lloyd Wright designed it as a social space, and Bronwyn and I were looking for ways to activate the space a bit more.
As someone who grew up in both Brooklyn and on the Upper East Side, I fully appreciate this coming together of the two NY regions -- but it is not an obvious combination. Any reservations about bringing the two together?
I never understood the big deal there. It's the same city. Also, I mean, The Walkmen are intelligent, well dressed young men. The High Places consist of a lithography instructor and a classically trained bassoonist. None of that seems very removed from life on the Upper East Side. Not that it matters. I mean, sure, there's real distinctions between the two places, but it's also more about art and a museum.
Can you give us any hints about any folks who'll be playing/reading/performing at upcoming "It Came From Brooklyn"s?
Well the September 25 show is Julian Plenti (aka Paul banks of Interpol). One of the guys from Ratatat is playing with him. Rivka Galchen is reading Jane Bowles, Hampton Fancher is reading Henry Miller, and I'm in You is supporting. The MC is Eugene Mirman.
It Came From Brooklyn
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Ave.
8 p.m. $45.
August 14th's Lineup: The Walkmen, High Places, The Brooklyn Steppers Marching Band; With readings by Colson Whitehead and Leo Allen as the MC.
September 25th's Lineup: Julian Plenti (aka Paul Banks of Interpol), I'm In You; With readings by Rivka Galchen and Hampton Fancher and Eugene Mirman as the MC.