Shadow’s NY Times Story Included in ‘Best of 2015’

The piece I wrote as part of the New York Times “Walking New York” feature last spring is included in the Times feature: “2015: Our Best Visual Stories and Graphics.” The feature is published in today’s online edition.

To find my piece, click here, scroll down to the “Walking New York” story and search “Kovler”. Or, even simpler, click here, to read it (it’s a short piece) on this blog. I wrote this one under my given name, Allen Kovler vs. my penname, Allen Shadow.
Times_Best_2015

Shadow in Online Edition of The NY Times

Just to clarify, my story appears in the online version of the “Walking New York” Magazine feature in The Times, and doesn’t appear in the print edition. If you’re looking, click here and search “Kovler” in your browser to find it quickly.

NYT_Kovler

 

Shadow Published in New York Times

The New York Times published a piece I wrote as part of their Walking New York feature for this Sunday’s Magazine. In addition to a number of prominent writers, others were invited to submit a story of about 600 characters, and mine was one of few that made the cut.
NYT_Kovler
I wrote about a boyhood adventure along the Grand Concourse, in the Bronx:

The Grand Concourse, Near Tremont
By Allen Kovler (aka Allen Shadow)

At 13, my friend Sammy and I would hike up the Grand Concourse all the way to Mosholu Parkway on a hot, sunny Saturday, equipped as if on an explorer-worthy trek, cargo pants pockets stuffed with sundries, Army canteens smacking our hips as we marveled at the sights: the bric-a-brac stores on Burnside, the Loews Paradise, the bustle of Fordham Road, the eerie tranquility of Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage, the home for the blind. Exhausted, we’d mount a bus back, hanging from the windows, still thrilled.

‘Finding Robert Frank Online’ and Beyond

The other day The New York Times covered the announcement of a treasure trove of images from the work of Robert Frank, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. The National Gallery of Art has released a comprehensive archive of Frank’s work, including contact sheets and work prints, much of it never before seen by the public. It all comes in advance of Frank’s 90th birthday, in November.

As The Times says in it’s Lens Blog:

The cover image for the U.S. edition of The Americans, Robert Frank’s epochal book, spoke volumes about the state of the nation in the mid-1950s. The tightly-cropped photo shows passengers in the windows of a New Orleans trolley assuming their place in the social order of the Jim Crow South — progressing from a black woman in the rear to white children and adults up front (slide 4).

The contact sheet that contained the image showed that Mr. Frank had photographed the city from multiple perspectives, but he ultimately selected the frame that most dramatically and symbolically captured New Orleans’ racial hierarchy. Learning this photo’s backstory would be impossible without the ability to view Mr. Frank’s contact sheet. Now, such important archival material, typically reserved for scholars and curators, is just a click away.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book The Americans.

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of The Americans. The 1959 edition raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But The Americans, like Kerouac’s own masterwork, On the Road, opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (Zabriskie Point, 1970), Louis Malle (Atlantic City, 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by The Americans, Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book Democracy in America helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget once described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe The Americans. Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

I was surprised and pleased when I discovered Frank himself had linked the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.

Has Al-Qaida Been Reinvigorated?

In the lead story in today’s New York Times, senior terrorism correspondent Eric Schmitt — who recently wished me luck with my 9/11-launched novel “Hell City” — writes:

The attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has set off a new debate here and across the Middle East about whether Al Qaeda has been reinvigorated amid the chaos of the Arab Spring or instead merely lives on as a kind of useful boogeyman, scapegoat or foil.

There’s a great debate going on in Washington and the Middle East over whether al-Qaida (I use the AP-style spelling) is operational or whether newer insurgent groups are simply deploying its terrifying brand. That’s kind of where the term al-Qaida 2.0 comes from.

One thing is certain: there is no shortage of entrenched, sophisticated insurgent groups, the Haqqani clan in the Af-Pak region being one of the most dangerous. They have been responsible for most of the attacks on embassies in the region and many attacks on our troupes. It’s possible they are behind the recent deadly bombing in Kabul, another protestation over the Youtube-posted film under the name of “Innocence of Muslims,” although so far a branch of the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami has claimed responsibility.

Consider this: it was the Kabul bombing, taken together with the other attacks across some 40 cities in the Middle East and North Africa, that led the U.S-led coalition to curtail operations with Afghan security forces, the very core of what remains of our mission in Afghanistan. Talk about decimation. Man, what do we have left?

Image

So, the idea that organized, sophisticated insurgency, jihad, has somehow been defanged in the Middle East and beyond is simply nuts. The entire region is on fire and is coming apart at the seams.

Which brings me to the plot of “Hell City.” As the protagonist, counterterrorism commander Jack Oldham, believes: “Al-Qaida isn’t dead — yet!” What Jack believes is that we can’t go to sleep on the “new gen” al-Qaida as he and his comrades call it, which is why they track American-born insurgents and their connections to various groups in Af-Pak and Yemen. Among them, by the way, is a fictionalized version of the Haqqani tribe. Can the reconstituted Qaida pull off another “big one” in New York? Well, that’s what reading (click for Kindle page) is all about.

Honeyboy’s Grammy: A Moment for a Great American Voice

The legendary bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards received a lifetime achievement award at last night’s Grammy Awards ceremonies. One of the last of the first generation bluesmen, Honeyboy was a close pal of Robert Johnson and a contemporary of Charley Patton and other blues pioneers.

The 94-year-old Honeyboy was instrumental in establishing a unique American voice, one that was born of slavery and struggle, spirit and magic. It’s a rich history that begat rock and roll and even rap. Artists from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to Jay Z emanate from those underpinnings, and many more contemporary artists have paid homage to this field of music from which they came.

If the blues seems like a quaint, dusty, irrelevant music genre, give a listen to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Johnson and Honeyboy. Listen long in the dark with your eyes closed and go on a journey to the center of the American music universe. And when you turn the lights on, read a copy of the late Robert Palmer’s “Deep Blues,” a thorough primer on the music and its handprints on American culture.

Dave "Honeyboy" Edwards, left, and Allen Shadow.

I got a chance to talk with Honeyboy after one of the many blues concerts I’ve promoted over the years that have included the likes of Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, James Cotton, Earl King, Little Milton, Odetta, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Honeyboy was as charming as he was informative, happy to tell stories of Johnson and the early days. I considered it an honor and was pleased to see this giant of American music recognized last night.
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PR Artillery Needed in Obama’s War Room

The elephants in President Obama’s war room are so faint on the media radar-screen as to be nonexistent. What pachyderms, you say?

How about, while the Republicans hammer the press on Barry’s warrior meter — including the Christmas Day debacle and his battle terminology – the administration has failed to remind the public that it helped take out some 30 al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen just weeks before Abdulmutallab took a bathroom break over Detroit.

Not to mention the dozens of successful drone hits in the outlaw hills of the ‘stans during the president’s scant time in office. According the Washington policy group The New America Foundation, as reported in the New York Times:

More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.

Obama’s stealthy war strategy keeps the left in the dark, and opens him to jabs from the right.

Furthermore, the president should court the moderate Muslim community, which is beginning to get ink stateside, albeit buried in the noise of political skirmishes, airport jitters and bloated bank bonuses.

As Tom Friedman revealed a week ago, the battle against terrorism requires meaningful participation from moderate Muslims.

…no laws or walls we put up will ever be sufficient to protect us unless the Arab and Muslim societies from whence these suicide bombers emerge erect political, religious and moral restraints as well — starting by shaming suicide bombers and naming their actions “murder,” not “martyrdom.”

I keep saying: It takes a village. The father (of Abdulmutallab), Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, saw himself as part of a global community, based on shared values, and that is why he rang the alarm bell. Bless him for that. Unless more Muslim parents, spiritual leaders, political leaders — the village — are ready to publicly denounce suicide bombing against innocent civilians — theirs and ours — this behavior will not stop.

In fact, national newscasts included American-flag-waving Muslims speaking out against terrorism outside the courthouse during Abdulmutallab’s arraignment.

Obama should meet with prominent Muslim groups asking for their help in taking back their proud religion and way of life. He should take to the podium and call for the heads of Saudi Arabia, Jordon and other moderate Middle East states to speak out and take a leadership role.

If I were his PR man, that’s what I’d tell him.

Allen Shadow (aka Allen Kovler) is a veteran PR man, accredited by the Public Relations Society of America.
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