LOCAL COLOR — ZIPPER: CONEY ISLAND’S LAST WILD RIDE (Amy Nicholson, 2012)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Wednesday, October 30, 9:30
This past August, Amy Nicholson’s compelling, bittersweet documentary Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride opened to wide acclaim during an extended run at the IFC Center. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the 2012 DOC NYC festival, Zipper follows the fate of Eddie Miranda’s Zipper amusement park ride as a microcosm of the controversial rezoning and commercialization plans that threaten to change Coney Island forever. In her director’s statement, Nicholson, a longtime marketing creative director in New York City who has taken the film, her third documentary, all over the country, explains, “I have two ambitions for Zipper. First, to expose how and why the ‘poor people’s Riviera’ became the prize in a fight between a billionaire developer and a billionaire mayor. Second, to remind the world of Coney Island’s true character, so that other great cultural icons might be valued more for their sense of place than for their real estate.” Her next stop is Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, where she’ll take part in a Q&A following a special “Local Color” screening on October 30 at 9:30. As an added bonus, each attendee gets a free Coney Island beer. In anticipation of the Nitehawk event, Nicholson recently discussed with twi-ny the Zipper, the advertising business, the future of Coney Island, and more.
twi-ny: What was the genesis of the Zipper project?
Amy Nicholson: Believe it or not, I was looking for the Jumble in the Daily News when I came across an article about the Zipper leaving Coney Island and my heart sank. I loved that ride as a kid; it’s the quintessential crazy carnival contraption and the perfect symbol of all that’s great about a place like Coney Island. Originally I was just going to do a short homage to the Zipper, but I got sucked into the politics of why Eddie Miranda and a lot of other small operators were leaving. The more I looked into it, the bigger it got.
twi-ny: What kind of personal connection did you have with Coney Island prior to starting the project? How would you say it has changed since then?
Amy Nicholson: I have lived in New York since the late ’80s and my best friend and I would go down to Coney Island on hot summer nights and just hang out and people watch. It’s really the best place in the world to soak up that beach/carnival/melting pot atmosphere. As Joey says in the film, “Once you get the sand in your shoes....”
(Sidebar about riding the Zipper in Coney: Eddie’s Zipper was an older hydraulic model, which meant it used a lot of oil. If the temperature was hot during the day — and cooler at night — the Zipper would spin a lot more aggressively as the oil cooled. The loader, Freddie, and I made a pact to ride on the last night after the very last shot, but when he chickened out, so did I. Apparently the conditions were perfect for making the Zipper spin like crazy that day and he said there had been a lot of barfing!)
twi-ny: How would you say it has changed since the late ’80s?
Amy Nicholson: Coney Island is a really addicting place for so many reasons. I can never sum it up as well as the guys do in the last scenes of Zipper. But I can tell you for certain that’s been the biggest change. The complexion of the place is very different now and not in a good way. There are still a few of the old guard there, but the rest is either an empty lot or new construction that feels soulless. The new rides are nice, but Coney Island is well on its way to being sterilized.
twi-ny: Has anything changed in the rezoning/development fight since the film was released?
Amy Nicholson: When the film leaves off at the end of 2009, Bloomberg was just reelected to a third term. A deal was made with Thor Equities to purchase about half of their property for around $100 million, and the city leased newly created parkland to a single operator. Since then, Thor has built one retail building and Central Amusements International has brought in new rides, primarily in areas where there were rides before the fight began. There have been some nice improvements, but there are still plenty of empty lots and none of the promised affordable housing or hotels have materialized. Nor is Coney Island year-round — the reason the public was told the rezoning had to happen. We are also coming up on the one-year anniversary of Sandy, which did some horrific damage, but almost all of the rides and games survived. The final super[title] of the film that states what the resolution was after all the years of battling still stands.
twi-ny: How do you think documentaries like yours can make a difference in such battles?
Amy Nicholson: I think documentaries like mine not only serve as a record of history, but I hope they exposed the truth about how politics and the constant need for growth can change cities far too quickly and not necessarily for the better. As a regular citizen, you would have had to follow the story for six years, digging around, attending meetings, and asking questions. It’s a lot to ask for a busy public, and in the end, the public process is pretty much a joke. So on the most basic level, you can watch Zipper and see the whole story unfold in seventy-seven minutes and at least walk away with a basic understanding of why there’s an Applebee’s in Coney Island now.
twi-ny: You’ve shown the film all over the country. How do audiences in other cities react to such a New York story? Coney Island has a unique legend, but most of those people have probably never been there.
Amy Nicholson: The film speaks to people everywhere because there has been such an increase in development like this where cities decide to proactively stimulate economic growth with developer incentives. The easiest way to do that is to change the zoning. Right now, Los Angeles is doing exactly what New York did with a huge zoning overhaul. It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that small businesses everywhere are being displaced by chains.
And then there are the sweetest older people everywhere we go who attend the screenings and they just want to relive a little bit of their Brooklyn childhood. When we get compliments on how well we captured the feeling of the place, that’s when I think we’ve been successful. That’s the best.
twi-ny: You’ve spent a lot of years in advertising. What kind of impact do you think that has on your filmmaking style, as well as the film’s promotion?
Amy Nicholson: Well, in this case it gave me a fairly keen understanding of the attempted branding of both Coney Island and Brooklyn. (In the case of Brooklyn, the city has been far too successful!) It definitely gave me the radar to know when I was being sold something. I could feel it in the interviews, and twice I found “talking points” left behind in the rooms we were in. As far as how it applies to the marketing of the film, I can’t take all the credit. Coney Island was the most amazing place visually. And I had help. That best friend who I went to Coney with on hot summer nights is also an amazing designer. We just did our best attempt to bring it to life.
twi-ny: You’ve previously made Beauty School and Muskrat Lovely. Do you have any plans yet for your next film?
Amy Nicholson: I have to recover financially from this one first (we could not get funding), but I have a few ideas rolling around in my head. Stay tuned....
When Hilly Kristal, owner and founder of CBGB — Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers — passed away in 2007 at the age of seventy-five, a year after closing the club following a highly publicized rent dispute, Wives bass player Mary Zadroga posted an online tribute, writing, “When I first met him and started working with him, I was so scared and intimidated. I loved his voice, though, his deep, low baritone voice. He took good care of us, touring, practicing in CB’s basement, and coming up with all kinds of crazy schemes and plans for us. . . . We lost touch over the past eight years, but I would stop by, now and then, with the kids. Last time I saw him, he called my five-year-old a little monster (which she was), and he had that lovely smile on his face when he said it.” Kristal managed the Wives, which recently reunited the original lineup, with Sue Horwitz singing, for its twentieth anniversary, from 1996 to 1999. Zadroga will be playing this year’s CBGB Festival with one of her other bands, the fast and furious Futurex (which stands for Future Ex Wives), with Susan Horowitz on guitar and vocals and Paul Andrew on drums. They’ll be at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn on Friday night, along with other bands and crew members that have CBGB connections, including Drugstore and Brunch of the Living Dead. Zadroga, who has also been in such groups as Jane Lee Hooker, Celebrated Cherry Sisters, and Browniehead, recently discussed the seminal punk-rock club with twi-ny.
twi-ny: How did you feel when you first heard that CBGB was closing?
Mary Zadroga: Even though CBs was well past its prime, I felt nostalgic and sad. The floodgates were open once CBs was gone, of EV clubs disappearing. Hilly was sick by then, and I was worried it would do him in.
twi-ny: When you were in the Wives during the late ’90s, Hilly was your manager. What was that experience like? Was the Hilly who ran CBGB different from the Hilly who managed the band?
Mary Zadroga: He wasn’t nearly as grouchy with us. He liked our music, and us three as people: drummer Tracy Almazan, singer Zu Leika (Horwitz had moved on), and me. He sounded kind of addled sometimes, but he really wasn’t. Just round about how he got things done.
twi-ny: Who are some of the groups you either saw or played with at CBGB?
Mary Zadroga: New Bomb Turks, Iron Prostate, Wig Hat, Lunachicks, Sex Pod, Patti Smith, Tub, Molotov Cocktail, Ff, 7 Seconds . . . I don’t know, I have a terrible memory. Lots of bands: Helldorado, the Lone Wolves, Sea Monkeys, Rats of Unusual Size, Maul Girls, Sisters Grimm.
twi-ny: What is your favorite CBGB memory?
Mary Zadroga: My favorite memory was of Joan Jett standing right in front of me while we were playing. I remember she was bald? I may be way off on that one.
twi-ny: How about your least favorite?
Mary Zadroga: The years of calling [CBGB booker] Louise [Parnassa Staley] to get a show. It was nuts. “Call me back in five.” “Call me next Tuesday.” “Call me after four.” Then, finally, we’d get a show! I was like a pit bull; I very literally would call exactly when she said.
twi-ny: Futurex will be playing Hank’s Saloon on October 11 as part of the CBGB Festival, with other CBGB survivors. How did that come about?
Mary Zadroga: Jme Gorman [guitarist for Brunch of the Living Dead] and his wife, Ellen, have been booking nights there for years. They both worked at CBs. Jme was sound and knew Wives. These Hank’s nights are amazingly good, a local underbelly of the scene, older bands. It’s interesting to see it dressed up as a CBs Festival night.
Are there any other venues out there that come close to capturing the spirit of CBs, or is that just impossible?
Mary Zadroga: CBs by far had the best sound system, and you could record your set and get a decent tape out of it. There were so many places to play: Spiral, Brownies (loved Brownies!), Space at Chase, Acme, Continental, Nightingale (my favorite!), then later 269 and Otto’s. . . . I never played Lakeside or Banjo Jim’s but loved going there. Um, now I don’t know great places to play. Wives just had a reunion at Delancey and that was decent. Fontana’s . . . Arlene’s . . . Nothing compares to CBs. Well, you know which does? With layout, and sound, and overall great vibe? The Shrine up in Harlem. It isn’t punk or rock n roll; it is more blues, soul, reggae, but that club has it going on.
For nearly fifteen years, unpredictable Detroit band Electric Six has been having a blast, playing wild and crazy live shows and releasing such intoxicating albums as Danger! High Voltage, Señor Smoke, the splendidly titled I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being the Master, and Heartbeats and Brainwaves. Although they’ve gone through numerous personnel changes, Tyler Spencer, aka Dick Valentine, has always been front and center, the group’s primary songwriter and lead vocalist. On their new record, the galloping Mustang (Metropolis, October 8), Valentine, guitarists Da Ve and Johnny Na$hinal, bassist Smorgasbord, drummer Percussion World, and keyboardist Tait Nucleus? take listeners on a rollicking journey through multiple genres, from the opening blast of “Nom de Plume” to the yearning ballad “Iron Dragon” to the Nick Cave/Roxy Music-like finale, “Cheryl vs. Darryl.” Electric Six brought its “Save the World, Save the World” tour to the Bell House this past Wednesday and will next be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29 with My Jerusalem and Les Sans Culottes. While in town, Valentine discussed with twi-ny the new record, Adam Levine, and the misspelling on the cover of Mustang.
twi-ny: Mustang explodes out of the speakers in a burst of heavy metal, punk, funk, hard rock, prog rock, black metal, disco, dance pop, and other styles. What is your songwriting process like? Do you set out to tackle specific genres in advance?
Dick Valentine: We just knew that having just done a synth and drum machine record for our previous studio release, we wanted to have a lot of guitars on this album. And live drums on every track. I have to say of all the albums we’ve done, this was the one where I came with the least amount of concrete ideas and finished songs on my end, so the rest of the guys, especially John Nash, really stepped up and got it done.
twi-ny: On “Adam Levine,” you tell the Maroon 5 frontman and “The Voice” coach to “burn in hell, motherfucker”; tell us, how do you really feel about him? Are personalities like Adam Levine good or bad for the music industry?
Dick Valentine: This song is not actually about Adam Levine. . . . That’s a popular misconception. It’s about feeling awful and then feeling worse because you know it will just continue. I’ve never met him, but he seems like a fine example of a human being. A human being who grew up in Beverly Hills. As far as his impact on the music industry, you’d have to ask Donny Osmond because that’s where this shit started.
twi-ny: In the past, you’ve said that your songs are “about absolutely nothing,” so should we not read any political metaphors into “Late Night Obama Food,” especially when you say, “We are starving, but we’re eating more than we ever did before”?
Dick Valentine: Yeah, that’s right.
twi-ny: Going back to “I Buy the Drugs” for a moment, what actually happens if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 900, Los Angeles, CA 90212?
Dick Valentine: I have heard it has something to do with FOX broadcasting. That was not intentional, but that makes sense as I believe that ZIP Code does in fact cover Century City and Westwood.
twi-ny: In “Gimme the Eyes,” you say, “When you come to New York see what your money buys.” You played the Bell House on September 25 and will be at Bowery Ballroom on September 29; what do you spend your money on when you’re here in the city?
Dick Valentine: Diapers. In a Park Slope parent way, not in a David Vitter way.
twi-ny: We can’t let you go without asking about the cover of Mustang; what was your initial reaction when you saw that the band’s name was misspelled on the back of the woman’s jean jacket?
Dick Valentine: We were elated.
Since 2005, dancer and choreographer Megan V. Sprenger and her MVworks company have been exploring the relationship between audience and performer, individuality and personal identity, and the making of connections in today’s world, drawing on inspiration from such visual artists as Gregory Crewdson and Jacob Landau and such mathematicians as Blaise Pascal and Fibonacci. In her first evening-length piece, 2007’s quietly affecting No where, Sprenger incorporated Pascal’s triangle both thematically and structurally, built around three woman dancers moving within a confined space. Two years later, Sprenger went in a different direction with the immersive, explosive . . . within us., in which four dancers interacted with the audience members first by speaking with them, then charging around them in a flurry of energy. Sprenger, who has also choreographed and performed such solo pieces as One-Shot, While Waiting, and Direction Lost, will be holding the world premiere of her third evening-length piece, Flutter, this week at the Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, examining abstract and non-narrative methods of storytelling through movement and sound. Between preparing for that and working in public relations, the always amiable and charming Sprenger took time out to discuss her creative process and more with twi-ny.
twi-ny: For Flutter, you developed movements that were very particular to the unique personalities of each of the four performers. You’ve worked with Tara O’Con since 2007, while Donna Cicchesi, Michael Ingle, and Anna Adams Stark are new to MVworks. What was that process like, especially because you are much more familiar with one of the dancers than the others?
Megan V. Sprenger: One of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of making this work has been getting to know all of the dancers better. Regardless of how long I’ve known or worked with each of them, the process of making their “mini movement biographies” was the same. Each of the dancers was asked to improvise for a set amount of time that varied slightly per rehearsal. This process resulted in hours of footage that I culled down into four-to-five-minute solos that became the base for the work.
twi-ny: In most of your pieces, including Flutter, the dancers perform to silence or to avant-garde soundscapes, never to more traditional songs or music. Is that something you consciously set out to do with each new dance? How would you describe the role of music/sound in your creative process?
Megan V. Sprenger: Working with original sound is a critical part of my process. Jason Sebastian and I have worked together since 2007, and with each process we begin by discussing the inspiration and tone of the work and then decide what we think might be the best general direction for the composition. It’s true that both No where and …within us. utilized more of an environmental soundscape; however, for this work we decided that we wanted something more melodic and the result is a composition that is much more instrumental than what you might expect.
twi-ny: For many years you worked in the marketing department of Dance Theater Workshop and then New York Live Arts, specifically promoting dance. You’re now at a company that handles much more than just dance. What has that experience been like?
Megan V. Sprenger: What I love most about working at Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors is how much I am learning about other artistic fields such as music, visual art, and architecture. It has been extremely rewarding to see how what I know about dance is transferable and at the same time to be learning more about other genres.
twi-ny: In 2006, 2008, and 2010 you performed solo pieces, and in 2011 you participated in Bill T. Jones’s Continuous Replay at New York Live Arts. Are you getting the urge to get back on stage yourself? Might you be working on something you will perform in?
Megan V. Sprenger: I haven’t decided what will be next for me artistically. Making work for yourself can be a tricky business, though I love performing and I do miss it. Who knows, a short solo for myself isn’t out of the question.
twi-ny: You’ve now been involved in the New York City dance world for ten years. What are some of the most important changes you’ve noticed over the last decade? One thing that strikes me is how the internet has come into play; for example, people can go to your website and follow the progress of Flutter, as you’ve posted videos of a number of rehearsals going back nearly a year.
Megan V. Sprenger: Over the past ten years the internet has definitely played an increased role in the dance industry. In particular, crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub and video sharing websites like Vimeo and YouTube have changed the way dances are made, promoted, and shared. I would also add that popular culture interest in dance through television shows like So You Think You Can Dance have significantly shifted how dance is viewed and appreciated across the country.
twi-ny: In your free time, if you have any, do you try to keep up with what’s going on in the dance world, or do you prefer to see other types of art and live performance?
Megan V. Sprenger: I try to see as many dance performances as possible. That’s honestly one of the things I miss most about working at New York Live Arts, where I was constantly exposed to new work and artistic voices.
twi-ny: Are there any companies that you consider a must-see?
Megan V. Sprenger: Must-sees? That’s a really hard question. I suppose I would just encourage people to try something new. I vary rarely regret going to a show that I know very little about or created by an artist I am not familiar with.
In her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine (Algonquin Young Readers, August 2013, $16.95), Sara Farizan details the dangerous love between two seventeen-year-old Tehran girls who must keep their relationship secret from everyone. The story is narrated by Sahar, who has wanted to marry Nasrin since they were six, but same-sex relationships are punishable by death in Iran. “It’s difficult, hiding my feelings for her. Tehran isn’t exactly safe for two girls in love with each other,” Sahar explains at the beginning of the book. “We are always around each other, so I don’t think anyone will suspect that Nasrin and I are in love. She worries, though, all the time. I tell her no one will know, that I will protect her, but when we kiss I can feel her tense. She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung years ago in Mashhad.” When Nasrin’s family arranges for her to marry a doctor, Sahar considers taking extreme measures to continue their secret love.
In the book, Farizan, a gay woman born in Massachusetts to Iranian immigrant parents, explores the very serious subjects of homosexuality, gender identity, gender reassignment surgery, and other aspects of LGBTQ life in Iran with tenderness, intelligence, and humor. On September 10, Farizan will be at McNally Jackson with fellow novelists Hollis Seamon (Somebody Up There Hates You) and Amy Herrick (The Time Fetch) celebrating the launch of Algonquin Young Readers, with each of the writers reading from their works, speaking with AYR editor and publisher Elise Howard, and participating in an audience Q&A, followed by a signing. But first, Farizan took part in an exclusive twi-ny talk, discussing the book, her influences, her family’s reaction when she came out to them, and more.
twi-ny: If You Could Be Mine is a deeply intimate story about two very different girls. Would you say there are parts of you in each of them, or do you most closely identify with one of them?
Sara Farizan: I suppose I am more like Sahar but to be honest they are both really nothing like me. They are both a lot braver than I am; I’m a big scaredy cat. I think I know people that have elements of Nasrin’s personality, but I created them pretty much from scratch.
twi-ny: Sahar and Nasrin have to hide their love from their parents. You’ve stated that your own coming out to your family was very difficult. How is your relationship with them now, especially with the publication of the book, which explores some very complex themes that are rarely dealt with in YA novels and are often not discussed between parents and children?
Sara Farizan: My parents have been amazing and I am so lucky to have them in my life. I came out to them about ten years ago and it wasn’t always easy but they have never treated me differently and truly love me unconditionally. My mom is a big champion of the book and loves the idea that it might help other families discuss these issues. Dad still hasn’t read the book because I think he’s a little scared but he Googles me a lot, which I find adorable. I give them a lot of credit and am so proud of the growth they have shown in just ten years.
twi-ny: You’ve traveled to your parents’ home country of Iran several times, including to research the book. How does the gay community over there deal with the apparent contradiction that the government openly supports gender reassignment surgery but outlaws homosexuality?
Sara Farizan: Well, I can’t speak for the whole community because it’s a country of 70 million people, but there are a lot of groups that have to deal with things privately. I think there is a huge distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation and everyone has their own opinion. I imagine it must be frustrating for both groups because the two have a tendency to get blended together.
twi-ny: What books and authors, either YA or adult, served as influences while you were writing If You Could Be Mine?
Sara Farizan: My mentor, Chris Lynch, is amazing and lovely. I read books by Deborah Ellis, Marjane Satrapi, Khaled Hosseini, Julie Ann Peters, Cris Beam, and many others.
twi-ny: How long did the research/writing process take?
Sara Farizan: It took me about two and a half years with all the research and finishing a final draft.
twi-ny: Your undergraduate degree is in film and media studies. Iran has a rich yet complex cinema history, with such directors as Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarostami, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf making often controversial films that sometimes get banned and can get them arrested. Did any specific Iranian films play a role in your research?
Sara Farizan: I’ve grown up watching a lot of Iranian films and they have kind of informed me about many issues that I may not have been privy to in my Western bubble. Some favorites include Children of Heaven, Santoori, Leila, No One Knows about Persian Cats, and the documentaries Be Like Others and The Iran Job.
twi-ny: On September 10, you, Amy Herrick, and Hollis Seamon will be featured at a launch party at McNally Jackson for the Algonquin Young Readers imprint. What’s it like to be part of this launch? What are you personal expectations for the event?
Sara Farizan: It is so surreal and I still can’t really believe it. I keep thinking someone is going to call me and say, “Actually we've made a mistake.” I love Algonquin Young Readers and I don’t want to ever disappoint them. I hope it will be a special evening and I hope people see how much passion we put into our novels.