Memories of Old Motels: A Remembrance of Things Past

Memories of Old Hotels: A Remembrance of Things Past

An unattached and sprawling group of independent motels spread across the country during the golden motel era, the twenty-five years or so following World War II. When I was a youngster, motel life was a glimpse of paradise. But in recent years, these off-brand motor courts have been disappearing from the landscape, displaced by boxy three-story chain hotels that cluster at freeway interchanges. Occasionally one passes by old motels that have been converted into little office parks, homes to psychic healers and vacuum-cleaner fixers, and this is always sad. The number of these old motels continues to fall. Sometimes, I fantasize that their value will dramatically increase and that they’ll be saved and really appreciated.

Music: Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge/Help Me Make it Through the Night

Memories of Old Motels:A Remembrance of Things Past

Florida Motel Nostalgia

A Pilgrimage Across the Old Highway 66

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La Symphonie Noir: A Minimalist Neo-Noir Composition

La Symphonie Noir in Five Movements

Music Audio: Phillip Glass/A Gentleman’s Honor

La Symphonie Noir: A Minimalist Neo-Noir Composition

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Andre J.: The Cover Girl Who’s Merely Himself

Andre J: The Covergirl Who’s Simply Himself

What follows is the strange tale of how a handsome black man who can also look an awful lot like a beautiful black woman, except with better legs than most and a beard, happened to end up on the November cover of French Vogue Magazine. The time was summer 2007. The man, who goes by the name of Andre J., and who was born Andre Johnson 28 years ago in Newark, who is a sometime party promoter, former perfume salesclerk at Lord & Taylor, former publicist at Patricia Field’s boutique and current downtown personage (an “It” person, as he was termed in Paper magazine), was running out of his apartment on Thompson Street in the Village for lunch.

It was a hot day, and on n this particular scorcher, Andre J. had chosen to stay cool in a neon green caftan and gold gladiator sandals. His hair, which, pulled taut, measures 24 inches in length and which he usually wears in a bouffant that gives him the appearance, as a magazine stylist recently remarked, of “a big Afro-daisy,” was dressed that day in a 1970s Wet & Wild style and covered in a enormous white turban à la Nina Simone.

This was not an unusual grab-a-sandwich ensemble, as Andre J. is quick to point out. “That’s me every day, honey,” Andre J. said on Friday, right before a party at a club called Runway to honor his election to the elite cover girl sorority, Gallic chapter. “Most people are conditioned to think of a black man looking a certain way,” Andre J. went on. “They only think of the ethnic man in XXX jeans and Timberlands, and here Andre J. comes along with a pair of hot shorts and a caftan or maybe flip-flops or cowboy boots or a high, high heel.”

And so, Andre J. was running out for a sandwich and who should he bump into but Joe McKenna, the stylist who is the secret weapon behind the success of many, many very celebrated designers? Mr. McKenna was on the phone at the time. The person on the other end was Bruce Weber, the celebrated photographer of, among other things, dreamily homoerotic calendar art for Abercrombie & Fitch. When Mr. McKenna spotted Andre J., he immediately put Mr. Weber on hold. Mr. McKenna then called out to Andre J., whom he had met before and had once suggested for a V magazine pictorial photographed by Vinoodh Matadin and Inez van Lamsweerde.

Andre,” said Mr. McKenna, “you look amazing!” Actually, he did not say it quite that way. It happens that the adjective “amazing,” pronounced with a bunch of superfluous vowels, is how fashion types, and also certain urban gay men and also one or two tuned-in heterosexual copycats, lately express their approval. Amazing has replaced “genius” and “major,” which today sound even more old-hat than “fabulous. “You look amaaaaazing,” Mr. McKenna said.

And, of course, Andre J. did. “I always do,” remarked the man who appeared in that V magazine pictorial wearing a Farrah Fawcett-style coiffure and a gold necklace that read “Legendary” and skinny, skinny Judi Rosen cigarette jeans, and who, for a time, had a day job at a boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and who has also appeared three times on Jay Leno, in cameo segments devoted to human curiosities. “I went to L.A. for a while for the sex and the fame,” said Andre J., who happened in those early years of this century to live for a time in a $60 a night motel on Sunset Strip, a situation that required him to change clothes after work each night, so as not to be mistaken on the street for a transsexual prostitute. This is perhaps the place to mention that Andre J. does not consider himself a cross dresser. Except to the extent each of us getting dressed assumes some kind of persona, his style is not drag. He is not a person in regard to whom the prefix “trans-” obtains. It is simply that Andre J., who was raised in a loving single-mother household in a housing project in Newark with the uplifting name Academy Spires, is in no sense confined by the conventions of gender. Think of him as a performance artist who rolls out his own stage every day.

Returning from L. A. to Thompson Street in the Village, he got jobs as a party host at Lotus on Tuesdays and Hiro on Sundays and continued to write in the journal he has kept for years. “Journaling” as he calls it, is a key to understanding the “positivity and optimism” that Andre J. says is what draws people to him, and also a way for him to “write things that I need to say that I can’t say to anyone, but that, if I put them on paper, go into the universe for the universe to hear.” The universe was apparently picking up the Andre J. signal on that afternoon last summer, because Mr. McKenna said to Mr. Weber, as Andre J. tells it, “You have to see Andre and shoot him.” At the time, Andre J. smiled politely, and remained inwardly less positive. “This is New York City, honey,” he said. “Everybody will tell you everything.” Then he went and got lunch.

To the surprise of Andre J., the next thing that happened, after an interval of several weeks, was that an assistant to Mr. Weber called Andre and said, “Bruce would like to set up some time with you.” Andre J. went to that meeting in a caftan over a pair of black jeweled panties, and Mr. Weber took three Polaroid pictures and Andre left and soon thereafter received another call, from the assistant again, to say that Mr. Weber would like Andre J. to come to Montauk to be photographed for French Vogue. “I did not know what to say,” Andre J. said. “Actually, I did know what to say. I said, Yes.

And so it was that Andre J., found his way to Mr. Weber’s compound by bus. “The night before, honey, I prayed and I journaled,” he said. “Discretion and decorum is always important to Andre J., but when I got there and I saw Carolyn Murphy and Carine Roitfeld,” he added, referring to, respectively, the model and the editor of French Vogue, “I almost wanted to faint.” He did not faint. He kept his composure. “I wanted to experience that beautiful day in pure bliss,” he said, “So I did not impose my own thoughts or views.” This is just as well since Ms. Roitfeld has strong style views of her own, including her conclusion that the pictures Mr. Weber shot of Andre J. seemed, as she said this week, “the more fresh” of the various images they captured.

Months went by and Andre J. was coming home from church one Sunday when a friend called out to give him the news that he was on the cover of French Vogue. I said, “This is not funny, don’t play with me.” “Then my friend said, ‘Google.’ And I went home and Googled and, you know what? There I was, honey, right where my heroes like Madonna and Mario Testino and Steven Klein can see me. Anything you love you can sell, honey, and I sold it. Andre J. is a part of history.”

Andre J.: The Covergirl Who’s Simply Herself

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The American Snapshot, 1888–1978

These snapshots chronicle the evolution of snapshot photography from 1888, when George Eastman first introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, through the 1970s. During this time it became possible for anyone to be a photographer, and snapshots not only had a profound impact on American life and memory, but they also influenced fine art photography. Organized chronologically, the photographs presented here focus upon the changes in culture and technology that enabled and determined the look of snapshots. They show the influence of popular imagery, as well as the use of recurring poses, viewpoints, framing, camera tricks, and subject matter, noting how they shift over time. The snapshot photography is presented chronologically, rather than concentrating on a particular thematic subject matter. Some say that this particular procedure marks a new approach to the genre. The exhibition is drawn from the collection of Robert E. Jackson and from recent gifts Mr. Jackson made to The National Gallery of Art.

The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978

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Old Lady High Lavender Gay

A Small Memorial to Fred W. McDarrah (1926-2007)

Veteran Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah died in his sleep at home in Greenwich Village early last Tuesday morning at the age of 81. Over a 50-year span, McDarrah documented the rise of the Beat Generation, the city’s postmodern art movement, its off-off-Broadway actors, troubadours, politicians, agitators and social protests.

Fred captured Jack Kerouac frolicking with women at a New Year’s bash in 1958, Andy Warhol adjusting a movie-camera lens in his silver-covered factory, and Bob Dylan offering a salute of recognition outside Sheridan Square near the Voices old office. Not just a social reporter, McDarrah was a great photo-journalist. He photographed the still-smoldering ruins of the Weather Underground bomb factory on W. 12th Street.

For years, McDarrah was the Village Voice’s only photographer and, for decades, he ran the Voice’s photo department. He helped train dozens of young photographers, including James Hamilton, Sylvia Plachy, Robin Holland and Marc Asnin. His mailbox was simply marked “McPhoto.”

The Photography of Fred McDarrah

Music Audio: Going to a Town

The Photography of Fred W. McDarrah: The Village Voice

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