Bicycles + Rats + Murder Spa

A rat’s tail is a long bone surrounded by tendons and skin. It’s an extension of the vertebral column, both a heat-loss organ and a balancing tool. When a rat is crushed by a car, the tail is the only body part that doesn’t immediately submit to entropy. The body and skin become as black as the tarmac but the tail holds its shape.

You’ll have to imagine the embedded rats of the East Village. The photos are gross. 

Fourteen cyclists have been killed in New York in 2019, which is more than all of those killed in 2018. A few days ago, one block from our apartment, a cop ran a cyclist off the path and almost crushed his CitiBike. The explanation was some nonsense about the guy running a red light, which cyclists do every five seconds. Cops need soft targets to fill the books—fare jumpers and CitiBikers fit the new quota.

Pigeons also get crushed by cars but I’ve never found a way to be interested in pigeons. I love birds, especially those who fight the police, but my life in New York has trained me to experience pigeons as visual noise. They’re just a greyish border.

According to a report released by the Department of Transportation in May, there are 480 lane miles of protected bike lanes in New York City. These lanes are demarcated with green paint that is refractive and slightly adhesive. It smells like glue and flowers and onions and iron. A representative from the DOT told me, “We use a chemical called MMA—methyl methacrylate—which allows it to stay longer than thermoplastic. The color we use is actually called NYC Green!”

If you use a bicycle with any frequency in New York, you will discover two things. The streets are occupied primarily by cars with TLC plates and delivery guys riding e-bikes. That’s the app economy on the ground, Seamless orders and Lyft rides filling the streets. (In 2018, Lyft bought Motivate, the parent company of CitiBike, so there’s more app work.) If you look at retail store closings in the US, the 2019 death toll is beating 2018 again, and a chunk of that is down to Amazon, which is not not an app. The app economy is what you see when you go outside, no matter what you think of smartphones.

Regular bozos like me could ride e-bikes until April, when CitBike took them out of circulation because of brake problems. This pugnacious blog post seems to want CitiBike gone, in general, and tells us that the electric CitBikes will not return until September. Maybe that’s for the best.

Two riders have told me, off the record, that people in low-income neighborhoods don’t like CitiBike any more than Streetsblog. Reasoning is, the docks just take away parking spaces and the people checking out CitiBikes aren’t from the neighborhood. Over on Avenue D, the dock is on the sidewalk, not the street.

Last night, we put on our helmets and rode down to the Max Fish Basement at judicious speed. You will be hearing more about murder spa, a category of music that means a lot to me. Heidi’s daughter, Piper, coined the phrase when she walked in on me listening to Tim Hecker’s Love Streams. “It’s like a spa, but you’re gonna get killed.”

The first act we saw was a duo called KRK, which is Matthew Ostrowski on laptop and George Cremaschi on double bass. Their work falls within the scope of murder spa, which usually involves sustained tones—often a drone—and non-tonal noise. I keep using this dorky term as a way of keeping myself honest. I am extremely susceptible to music like this; using murder spa as a term reminds me of this weakness, and of the weakness inherent in the approach itself. It is insanely easy to set up a droning element with looping hardware (or software) and then throw some Rice Krispies vibe on top. That I like it and that it can be made with little effort doesn’t prevent murder spa from being sublime. I’m just trying to track the last ten years and figure out how we all got lost in the haze.

KRK were pretty great. Cremaschi put clothespins on his strings and twisted his tuning pegs while playing. There was some sort of electronic interface that allowed him to feedback and morph the signal of his bass. Ostrowski used a motion-sensing controller that made his laptop into a kind of theremin for crunching and bending samples. It had that elastic, not overly stressed feel of improv—it was OK to hear the knob turns, the stops and starts.

I was there mostly to see my friend Greg Fox play in a trio with Grey McMurray and M. Geddes Gengras. They call themselves 6G Network, or 6️⃣🌀 Network. They were completely fantastic and only vaguely connected to murder spa. Grey sang, and I can never figure out if vocals are truly murder.

Ged—that is what people call him—played modular synth and keyboards and acted as a de facto tempo setter. His sequences were consonant and simple, and then Greg came in, rolling his barrels of green paint over the top. Grey was in a sort of liminal library limbo, whooping and scaling the vocal range and looping it in the new Boomerang pedal (which is so small).

When Grey started bringing his guitar into it, and Ged’s bass range kicked in, the whole thing took on an ecstatic raspberry logic, rounded perimeter edges and a big cloud rising up from the center towards the summit. It made me think of European records form the Seventies with hand-drawn covers and song titles like “For Ekran,” not that I have any records like that. The area where rock and improv come together without pretension or limit, that’s where it landed.

Greg is literally the best, and Grey is unlike anybody playing now. He’s sort of like the hot priest from Fleabag if he put out records on FMP and did exorcisms to pay the rent. I couldn’t see Ged but his grid kept everyone in the black. People don’t write about their friends enough.

Here is my 2019 playlist. If it resists you, just click the Spotify logo in the upper right hand corner and it will open in your Spotify app.