The Fifth Universal New Yorker Caption: “Almost Positive You’re in the Wrong Panel, My Guy”

Unlocked in Sept. 2019. Explained now.

As a society, we’ve accepted there is such a thing as a universal New Yorker cartoon caption — a gag line that can work with any New Yorker cartoon. It’s an elusive thing. I’d be willing to wager the dream of discovering a new universal New Yorker caption is kicking around somewhere in the brain-pan of anyone who frequently submits to the magazine’s weekly Caption Contest

Up to now-ish, we as a society have also accepted four New Yorker captions as “universal.” The first was unlocked by Chris Lavoie, back in 2006: “Christ, what an asshole!” The pace of discovery really ramped up within the last decade. Cory Arcangel unlocked “What a misunderstanding!” in 2011, and Frank Chimero has unlocked two: “Everyone was apparently very bored at work that day” (2015) and “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” (2016). What are you gonna do, argue that any of these can’t serve the purpose every New Yorker caption is supposed to serve? Popular sentiment is right. All four work, every time. 
I’ve been submitting to the caption contest on and off since 2016, and in 2019 I unlocked a fifth universal New Yorker caption: “Almost positive you’re in the wrong panel, my guy.”

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I Ran a DIY Space for Like Six Years, AMA

Framed photo by Jeanette Moses (Blood, Sweat & Beers) of a thing that happened in my old loft space

Last week, the DIY performance space I started back in 2013 opened its doors to the public for the first time since before the Covid pandemic. I haven’t been directly involved in managing the space in quite some time — I handed over operations to a friend in early 2019 — but I’ve been more or less kept in the loop since then, and from my perspective, reopening after a year and a half was one more improbable hat trick in a long series of hat tricks that have sustained the space in a city that can’t not change noticeably over the course of any given year.

The fact that a show space like this has survived for eight years now is, frankly, insane. In NYC, as in many cities, there’s always demand for DIY spaces. There’s always more talent than there are venues for it. Someone is always aiming to circumvent other ostensible cultural gatekeepers and put on performances or exhibits on their own terms. There’s always an audience that cherishes spaces that are not driven by profit and feel less rigid than your typical small club. But the lifespan of a DIY space is usually not long — I’d consider three years an exceptional run.

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Introducing: Advice to Young Musicians (The Series)

“Hey! Are you interested in any of these upcoming dates? The club has a full PA and backline!”

I’ve been playing in rock bands since I was a teenager, and while the realities of being a gigging musician have taken loads of wild turns over that time, one truism has held throughout: When you’re a young musician, you hear a lot of advice on how to be successful in the music business from people who are not successful in the music business.

Sometimes it’s well-intentioned. Sometimes that advice springs from the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Sometimes that advice had produced real results, but in a radically different landscape than later generations of musicians have lived in. And sometimes there’s a darker subtext — a hint of bitterness, sometimes directed outwardly, sometimes inwardly. Sometimes a person’s takeaway from years of trying to hit it big is that anyone who did hit it big had an unfair advantage. Sometimes the takeaway is more self-flagellating: That the speaker’s apparent lack of success was ultimately their own fault for simply not pushing hard enough, for not sacrificing and suffering a little more or a little longer. No matter what part of a person’s psychology misguided music career advice comes from, a musician trying to pay their dues finds that it comes often, and it often comes loudly.

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Cryptonet Theory: Where the “Advanced” People Hang Out, When They Can

Aw man, you don’t even know where this thing is gonna take you

One afternoon some years back, I was texting with my friend Andrew about our reliance on social media for informing our IRL social and cultural lives. Neither of us was thrilled about it. “There must be this set of people who are so advanced and so fascinating, they’re not even on the internet. And we need to get to that level,” he wrote. “Like, somewhere Bjork and David Lynch are stepping into a party in a mountain lodge that is only accessible by blimp, and they’re saying hello to Batman, who is real. How did they know where to find the blimp? How did they know where they were going? They’ve transcended the internet, and I don’t know where they’ve ended up instead.”

“Oh, sure,” I texted back absentmindedly. “The cryptonet.”

My phone rang almost immediately. It was Andrew. I picked up. “Please tell me you just came up with that right now,” he said.

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Video: Brian LaRue Performing on Live at Main Drag

Video from summer 2020, posted in July 2021

Right around the Fourth of July, 2020, I appeared on an episode of Live at Main Drag, the webseries filmed at Main Drag Music in Williamsburg, playing three songs by Shelter Dogs solo, on a guitar that is not mine. Musicians around North Brooklyn and adjacent areas of Queens know Main Drag as the music shop that’ll provide what you need without necessitating a trip into Manhattan — they’ve been around forever. The shop has employed several friends and acquaintances of mine over the years, including Jamie Frey, host of Live at Main Drag and frontman of NO ICE, my personal favorite NYC band that isn’t famous yet. This episode was a blast: Olivia Russin and Stuart Solomon of The Regrets were on, playing some of their songs. Olivia is one of my favorite lyricists and singers on the scene in this city, as well. Jamie and keyboardist Sean Spada (also of NO ICE, also a deeply enjoyable solo artist, also at one point or another of too many other bands to list) serve as the series’ house band.

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Product Review: Żywiec Session IPA

BYO tomato plants. And if you think I’m trying to turn “influencer,” you’re def on the wrong path.

I lived for about six and a half years on the outskirts of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (New York City’s Little Poland), and for the last two and a half years I’ve lived in Ridgewood, Queens (NYC’s other Little Poland). In that time, I’ve become devoted to Polish beers, which you can find in almost any bodega or deli around these parts, regardless of the ethnic background of the store’s owners. Most frequently, you’ll see the brands Żywiec, Tyskie, Lech, Okocim, Tatra, Żubr, Hevelius, Warka, Łomża, and Boss. According to the counter guy at the Polish deli near my place, they all come from the same distributor: “All from the same guy,” he said grimly, “and he can do what he wants, because he controls everything. Everything.”

I’m not complaining — they’re all fine by me, and they’re all cheap. Can’t go wrong with a 500mL bottle (1 pt., 0.9 fl. oz.) that goes for around $2 a pop. You’ve got your pale lagers, around 5-6% ABV, and also your assorted porters with around 9% ABV, and sometimes the stronger beers cost less than the weaker beers. It’s a good neighborhood perk, I think.

I was introduced to Polish beers years before I lived around here. On a trip through Poland and the Czech Republic, when I was 23, I realized something about so many of these Central European lagers: “Oh. This is what those American macrobrews are trying to be, except this actually tastes like lager, and it has a head, kind of.” There really is a more robust flavor and body in these lagers than in their milder American cousins — you can taste the malt or the wheat more clearly, and pair well with food (all varieties). 

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In Appreciation of the Fourth of July, the Greatest of the Cookout Holidays

Friendly reminder YOU DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO THIS IS YOU DON’T WANT TO.

There are a lot of positive, cool things about the Covid vaccine becoming widely available here in NYC, and one of them is the timing. If you’re a reasonably social person, losing a social summer is a gigantic bum-out. Two in a row would have been brutal. I and a lot of my friends were able to get 100% vaxxed during the spring, and thank god for that. 

Now we can have a full-on Fourth of July again, and I personally am extremely here for it.

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday, mostly because it’s the best holiday. I very often like to root for the underdog, and to some people — also maybe in a commercial sense — the Fourth might be something of an underdog. However, those people are wrong, and I’d rather not allow commerce into this discussion — it’s done enough damage to holidays (all varieties). The Fourth is objectively and measurably the best holiday. If you disagree with me, gaze into your heart and ask yourself whether your disagreement is rooted in some kind of sentimental attachment to anything else.

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On the Three-Part Creative Cycle: A Suggestion

Collage by Mabel. Screenshot from Chaos: The Magazine for Non Believers, Vol. 2

During the first few months of the Covid pandemic in 2020, there was a lot of chatter about how we all can “use this time.” The presumption was that “sheltering in place,” staying at or close to home, our social lives on indefinite pause, our professional lives disrupted, surrounded by temporarily shuttered shops and restaurants, possibly out of work entirely, would give us time to focus on personal priorities. Things we’d neglected for too long, whether they be passion projects or mental health or whatever. Sounds cool on paper, but so many of us started freaking out anew and doubting our capabilities, because we just… never seemed to find the time we were supposed to use. Who doesn’t have a “pandemic project” they dropped entirely? 

The reality is that when your life is upended, and you’re anxious as balls all of the time, you’re not in a good place for mental focus. Most of us didn’t have the disposable income to feel comfortable and secure just sitting around and creating things indefinitely. Daily living through a pandemic is very time-consuming.

So when my friend Oliver Ignatius (the producer/engineer behind the board for the upcoming EP by my band, Shelter Dogs) asked me to write something timely Chaos: The Magazine for Non Believers — the journal he and his wife and collaborator Bernadette Higgins launched in 2020 — I pitched the essay I’m reposting below. In a nutshell, I argued the circumstances of the pandemic presented an opportunity to freedive into the psyche — and that it was more helpful to think of the moment as part of a longer creative process, rather than a space in which we should push ourselves to bring a project fully into fruition. It tied back to my old personal model for the creative process, a cycle of three distinct phases: media input, lived experience, and creative output. That framework is really the evergreen point and purpose of an essay like this. It’s kind of one of my secret recipes for keeping away from creative burnout and never running out of ideas to develop when the chance arises. Read it below the jump.

Also, do check out Chaos. It’s branded as a music journal, but it covers arts and culture far beyond music. Article topics include ketamine therapy, street-level BLM activism, the state of Hong Kong society — a lot of ground covered. And the artwork is diverse and inspired.

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I Was a Teenaged Ska Kid: A Mostly Unapologetic Confession

Tools of the trade.

In 2017, my former colleague Brian Slattery (author, Spaceman Blues, Lost Everything, and more) invited me to contribute a “long personal essay” to the journal the New Haven Review, where he’s a long-time editor. Because it is essentially unthinkable for an obscure writer to be asked explicitly to turn out something both long and personal and to get paid for it, I immediately said yes. I threw Brian some possible topics, and he chose a journey through my brief but intense ska phase around the turn of the millennium. At that time, I had been a teenager, ripe for the Connecticut ska scene while it was at or near its peak regional popularity. Like a lot of teen stories, this one had a rapid-fire narrative arc, where I fell into the ska scene, the life cycle of an entire band of mine played out, and the scene seemed to cave in on itself, all within the span of two and a half years or so. Fifteen years later, those memories remained exceptionally vivid, almost tangible. It was a blast getting it all out on the page, even the head-smackingly embarrassing parts, even the parts where I was obliged to back up and contextualize things for the subset of the audience that had missed that cultural moment entirely. The New Haven Review is primarily a print journal (although back issues are available as downloadable .pdfs — you can find the Winter 2017 edition, where this essay first appeared, way down on this page at Issue 016), and this is the first time it’s been reposted in full on an actual website. It appears in its entirety, in very lightly edited form vs. the original 2017 version, right after the jump. (cw: mansplaining, alt-splaining, detailed descriptions of incredibly simple things, discussion of psychosexual dynamics of local/regional music scenes. All generalizations about various countercultural strains are my own and should not be interpreted as statements of historical fact.)

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ICYMI: The Band I’m In Is Called Shelter Dogs

Photo by Jeanette Moses

I’m the primary singer, guitarist and songwriter in the garage rock/powerpop band Shelter Dogs, and that isn’t new. But in the time since this blog went on hiatus, Shelter Dogs came out of its own hiatus, and we’ve been up to quite a bit since then. Let’s catch up a bit.

I’ve been in Shelter Dogs since before this band was even called Shelter Dogs. One of the main reasons I moved to Brooklyn back in 2010 was to shop around an album an earlier lineup of this band had recorded. (Incidentally, that album to date has never been released, but I have some ideas on how to rectify that. Anyway.) We haven’t always been particularly active. That changed in 2018, when I rebooted Shelter Dogs with an entirely new (except for me) lineup, and we started hitting clubs and DIY spots on the reg. We released an EP called Crashing a Party With Shelter Dogs in the spring of 2019, on the excellent and prolific garage/punk/psych cassette label King Pizza Records. You should hear it.

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