The Oldest House in New York City: Meet the Wyckoff House (1652)

Most 21st-century Brooklyn public elementary schoolers have taken or will take a field trip to the Wyckoff House, a modest wooden cabin surrounded by tire shops and fast food outlets.

The oldest building in NYC by a longshot, it was also the first structure in the five boroughs to achieve historic landmark status.

Primary sources place the original occupants, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife, Grietje Van Ness-Wyckoff, in the original part of the house around 1652. A single room with a packed earth floor, unglazed windows, a large open hearth, and doors at either end, it would have been pretty tight quarters for a family of 13, as host Thijs Roes of the history series New Netherland Now notes, during his above tour of the premises.

Two parlors were added in the 18th-century, and three bedrooms in the early 19th. Typical Dutch Colonial features include an H frame structure, shingled walls, split Dutch doors, and deep, flared “spring” eaves.

Its survival is a miracle in a metropolis known for its constant flux.

In the early 20th-century, descendants of Pieter and Grietje partnered with community activists to save the home from demolition, eventually donating it to the New York City Parks Department.

A late 70s fire (possibly not the first) necessitated major renovations. (And last year, flooding from Hurricane Ida clobbered its HVAC and electrical system, putting a temporary kibosh on public visits to the interior.)

Back in 2015, Roes’ companion, architectural historian Heleen Westerhuijs, was invited to inspect the attic, where she discovered impressive original beams alongside 20th-century reinforcements.

While the directors of the homestead actively recognize the community that now surrounds it with events like an upcoming celebration of Haitian culture and Vodou, and hands on activities include urban farming and composting, the original settlers of New Netherland (aka New Amsterdam, aka New York City) remain a major focus.

Any American or Canadian with the surname Wyckoff (or one of its more than 50 variants) can and should consider it their ancestral home, as they are almost certainly descended from Pieter and Grietje. While many thousands now bear the name, Pieter was the first. Volunteer genealogist Lynn Wyckoff explains:

After the English assumed control of New Netherland, residents practicing patronymics (a naming system that utilized one’s father’s name in place of a surname) were required to adopt, or freeze, surnames that could be passed down each generation. Pieter Claesen chose the name Wykhof, which most of his descendants have spelled Wyckoff. Despite many unfounded claims over the years regarding both Pieter’s ancestry and choice of surname, there is no record of Pieter’s parentage; but there is substantial evidence that he chose the name Wykhof in recognition of a farm by the same name outside of Marienhafe, Germany where his family were likely tenants.

A handful of Wyckoff family members left comments on the New Netherland Now video, including Donald, who wrote of his visit:

It was an odd  feeling to touch the hand-hewn surface of a supporting beam cut and installed by my ancestor, hundreds of years ago.  Since I am a Wyckoff, I was allowed to see some of the “off tour” bits of the house.  I live over 3k miles away, so my feet will probably never touch the ground there again.  But I’m glad NY and a lot of wonderful people have maintained my ancestral home so well and for so many years.  Hopefully it has many hundreds of years of life remaining so that people can recall a time when Flatbush was more of a farm than a city.

If you are a Wyckoff (or one of its variants), you’re invited to keep the Wyckoff Association’s family tree up to date by sending word of births, deaths, marriages, and any pertinent genealogical details such as education, military service, profession, places of residence and the like.

Explore a collection of educational activities, lessons, and color pages related to the Wyckoff House here.

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Ayun Halliday is the author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Her family’s trips to the Wyckoff House were included in the latest, NYC museum-themed issue of her zine, the East Village Inky. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Julia Child Shows Fred Rogers How to Make a Quick & Delicious Pasta Dish (1974)

Julia Child and Fred Rogers were titans of public television, celebrated for their natural warmth, the ease with which they delivered important lessons to home viewers, and, for a certain sector of the viewing public, how readily their personalities lent themself to parody.

Child’s cooking program, The French Chef, debuted in 1963, and Roger’s much beloved children’s show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, followed five years later.

Rogers occasionally invited accomplished celebrities to join him for segments wherein they demonstrated their particular talents:

With our guest’s help, I have been able to show a wide diversity of self-expression, the extraordinary range of human potential. I want children and their families to know that there are many constructive ways to express who they are and how they feel. 

In 1974, Child paid a call to the neighborhood bakery presided over by “Chef” Don Brockett  (whose later credits included a cameo as a “Friendly Psychopath” in Silence of the Lambs…)

The easy-to-prepare pasta dish she teaches Rogers – and, by extension, his “television friend” – to make takes a surprisingly optimistic view of the average pre-school palate.

Red sauce gets a hard pass, in favor of a more sophisticated blend of flavors stemming from tuna, black olives, and pimentos.

Brockett provides an assist with both the cooking and, more importantly, the child safety rules that aren’t always front and center with this celebrity guest.

Child, who had no offspring, comes off as a high-spirited, loosey-goosey, fun aunt, encouraging child viewers to toss the cooked spaghetti “fairly high” after adding butter and oil “because it’s dramatic” and talking as if they’ll be hitting the supermarket solo, a flattering notion to any tot whose refrain is “I do it mySELF!”

She wisely reframes tasks assigned to bigger, more experienced hand – boiling water, knife work – as less exciting than “the fancy business at the end”, and makes it stick by suggesting that the kids “order the grown ups to do what you want done,” a verb choice the ever-respectful Rogers likely would have avoided.

As with The French Chef, her off-the-cuff remarks are a major source of delight.

Watching his guest wipe a wooden cutting board with olive oil, Rogers observes that some of his friends “could do this very well,” to which she replies:

It’s also good for your hands ‘coz it keeps ‘em nice and soft, so rub any excess into your hands.

She shares a bit of stage set scuttlebutt regarding a letter from “some woman” who complained that the off-camera wastebasket made it appear that Child was discarding peels and stems onto the floor.

She said, “Do you think this is a nice way to show young people how to cook, to throw things on the floor!?” And I said, “Well, I have a self cleaning floor! …The self cleaning is me.”

(Rogers appears both amused and relieved when the ultimate punchline steers things back to the realm of good manners and personal responsibility.)

Transferring the slippery pre-cooked noodles from pot to serving bowl, Child reminisces about a wonderful old movie in which someone – “Charlie Chaplin or was it, I guess it was, uh, it wasn’t Mickey Rooney, maybe it was…” – eats spaghetti through a funnel.

If only the Internet had existed in 1974 so intrigued parents could have Googled their way to the Noodle Break at the Bull Pup Cafe sequence from 1918’s The Cook, starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton!

The funnel is but one of many inspired silent spaghetti gags in this surefire don’t-try-this-at-home kid-pleaser.

We learn that Child named her dish Spaghetti Marco Polo in a nod to a widely circulated theory that pasta originated in China and was introduced to Italy by the explorer, a bit of lore food writer Tori Avey of The History Kitchen finds difficult to swallow:

A common belief about pasta is that it was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo during the 13th century. In his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, there is a passage that briefly mentions his introduction to a plant that produced flour (possibly a breadfruit tree). The Chinese used this plant to create a meal similar to barley flour. The barley-like meal Polo mentioned was used to make several pasta-like dishes, including one described as lagana (lasagna). Since Polo’s original text no longer exists, the book relies heavily on retellings by various authors and experts. This, combined with the fact that pasta was already gaining popularity in other areas of Italy during the 13th-century, makes it very unlikely that Marco Polo was the first to introduce pasta to Italy.

Ah well.

We’re glad Child went with the China theory as it provides an excuse to eat spaghetti with chopsticks.

Nothing is more day-making than seeing Julia Child pop a small bundle of spaghetti directly into Fred Rogers’ mouth from the tips of her chopsticks…though after using the same implements to feed some to Chef Brockett too, she realizes that this wasn’t the best lesson in food hygiene.

In 2021, this sort of boo-boo would result in an automatic reshoot.

In the wilder, woolier 70s, a more pressing concern, at least as far as public television was concerned, was expanding little Americans’ worldview, in part by showing them how to get a commanding grip on their chopsticks. It’s never too late to learn.

Bon appétit!


There are a number of variations online, but this recipe, from, hews closely to Child’s original, while providing measurements for her eyeballed amounts.

Serves 4-6


1 lb spaghetti 

2 tablespoons butter 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 teaspoon salt black pepper 

1 6-ounce can tuna packed in oil, flaked, undrained 

2 tablespoons pimiento, diced or 2 tablespoons roasted red peppers, sliced into strips 

2 tablespoons green onions with tops, sliced 

2 tablespoons black olives, sliced 

2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped

1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded 

2 tablespoons fresh parsley or 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions. 

Drain pasta and return to pot, stirring in butter, olive oil, and salt and pepper. 

Toss with remaining ingredients and serve, garnished with parsley or cilantro.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Grandma Moses Started Painting Seriously at Age 77, and Soon Became a Famous American Artist

As an artistic child growing up on a farm in the 1860s and early 1870s, Anna Mary Robertson (1860-1961) used ground ochre, grass, and berry juice in place of traditional art supplies. She was so little, she referred to her efforts as “lambscapes.” Her father, for whom painting was also a hobby, kept her and her brothers supplied with paper:

He liked to see us draw pictures, it was a penny a sheet and lasted longer than candy.

She left home and school at 12, serving as a full-time, live-in housekeeper for the next 15 years. She so admired the Currier & Ives prints hanging in one of the homes where she worked that her employers set her up with wax crayons and chalk, but her duties left little time for leisure activities.

Free time was in even shorter supply after she married and gave birth to ten children – five of whom survived past infancy. Her creative impulse was confined to decorating household items, quilting, and embroidering gifts for family and friends.

At the age of 77 (circa 1937), widowed, retired, and suffering from arthritis that kept her from her accustomed household tasks, she again turned to painting.

Setting up in her bedroom, she worked in oils on masonite prepped with three coats of white paint, drawing on such youthful memories as quilting bees, haying, and the annual maple sugar harvest for subject matter, again and again.

Thomas’ Pharmacy in Hoosick Falls, New York exhibited some of her output, alongside other local women’s handicrafts. It failed to attract much attention, until art collector Louis J. Caldor wandered in during a brief sojourn from Manhattan and acquired them all for an average price tag of $4.

The next year (1939), Mrs. Moses, as she was then known, was one of several “housewives” whose work was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Contemporary Unknown American Painters”.  The emphasis was definitely on the untaught outsider. In addition to occupation, the catalogue listed the non-Caucasian artists’ race…

In short order, Anna Mary Robertson Moses had a solo exhibition in the same gallery that would give Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele their first American one-person shows, Otto Kallir’s Galerie St. Etienne.

In reviewing the 1940 show, the New York Herald Tribune’s critic cited the folksy nickname (“Grandma Moses”) favored by some of the artist’s neighbors. Her wholesome rural bonafides created an unexpected sensation. The public flocked to see a table set with her homemade cakes, rolls, bread and prize-winning preserves as part of a Thanksgiving-themed meet-and-greet with the artist at Gimbels Department Store the following month.

As critic and independent curator Judith Stein observes in her essay “The White Haired Girl: A Feminist Reading”:

In general, the New York press distanced the artist from her creative identity. They commandeered her from the art world, fashioning a rich public image that brimmed with human interest…Although the artist’s family and friends addressed her as “Mother Moses” and “Grandma Moses” interchangeably, the press preferred the more familiar and endearing form of address. And “Grandma” she became, in nearly all subsequent published references. Only a few publications by-passed the new locution: a New York Times Magazine feature of April 6, 1941; a Harper’s Bazaar article; and the land­mark They Taught Themselves: American Primitive Painters of the 20th Century, by the respected dealer and curator Sidney Janis, referred to the artist as “Mother Moses,” a title that conveyed more dignity than the colloquial diminutive “Grandma.”

But “Grandma Moses” had taken hold. The avalanche of press coverage that followed had little to do with the probity of art commentary. Journalists found that the artist’s life made better copy than her art. For example, in a discussion of her debut, an Art Digest reporter gave a charming, if simplified, account of the genesis of Moses’ turn to paint­ing, recounting her desire to give the postman “a nice little Christmas gift.” Not only would the dear fellow appreciate a painting, concluded Grandma, but “it was easier to make than to bake a cake over a hot stove.” After quoting from Genauer and other favorable reviews in the New York papers, the report concluded with a folksy supposition: “To all of which Grandma Moses perhaps shakes a bewildered head and repeats, ‘Land’s Sakes’.” Flippantly deeming the artist’s achievements a marker of social change, he noted: “When Grandma takes it up then we can be sure that art, like the bobbed head, is here to stay.”

Urban sophisticates were besotted with the plainspoken, octogenarian farm widow who was scandalized by the “extortion prices” they paid for her work in the Galerie St. Etienne. As Tom Arthur writes in a blog devoted to New York State historical markers:

New Yorkers found that, once wartime gasoline rationing ended, Eagle Bridge made a nice excursion destination for a weekend trip. Local residents were usually willing to talk to outsiders about their local celebrity and give directions to her farm. There they would meet the artist, who was a delight to talk to, and either buy or order paintings from her. Songwriter/impresario Cole Porter became a regular customer, ordering several paintings every year to give to friends around Christmas. 

In the two-and-a half decades between picking her paintbrush back up and her death at the age of 101, she produced over 1600 images, always starting with the sky and moving downward to depict tidy fields, well kept houses, and tiny, hard working figures coming together as a community. In the above documentary she alludes to other artists known to depicting “trouble”… such as livestock busting out of their enclosures.

She preferred to document scenes in which everyone was seen to be behaving.

Remarkably, MoMA exhibited Grandma Moses’ work at the same time as Picasso’s Guernica.

In a land and in a life where a woman can grow old with fearlessness and beauty, it is not strange that she should become an artist at the end. – poet Archibald MacLeish


Read Judith Stein’s fascinating essay in its entirety here.

See more of Grandma Moses’ work here, and her portrait on TIME magazine in 1953.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Sir Ian McKellen’s 1979 Master Class on Macbeth’s Final Monologue

If only we could have had a teacher as insightful as Sir Ian McKellen explain some Shakespeare to us at an impressionable age.

Above, a 38-year-old McKellen breaks down Macbeth’s famous final soliloquy as part of a 1978 master class in Acting Shakespeare.

He makes it clear early on that relying on Iambic pentameter to convey the meaning of the verse will not cut it.

Instead, he calls upon actors to apply the power of their intellect to every line, analyzing metaphors and imagery, while also noting punctuation, word choice, and of course, the events leading up to the speech.

In this way, he says, “the actor is the playwright and the character simultaneously.”

McKellen was, at the time, deeply immersed in Macbeth, playing the title role opposite Judi Dench in a bare bones Royal Shakespeare Company production that opened in the company’s Stratford studio before transferring to the West End. As McKellen recalled in a longer meditation on the trickiness of staging this particular tragedy:

It was beautifully done on the cheap in The Other Place, the old tin hut along from the main theatre. John Napier‘s entire set cost £200 and the costumes were a ragbag of second-hand clothes. My uniform jacket had buttons embossed with ‘Birmingham Fire Service’; my long, leather coat didn’t fit, nor did Banquo‘s so we had to wear them slung over the shoulder; Judi Dench, as Lady Macbeth, wore a dyed tea-towel on her head. Somehow it was magic: and black magic, too. A priest used to sit on the front row, whenever he could scrounge a ticket, holding out his crucifix to protect the cast from the evil we were raising.

The New York Times raved about the production, declaring McKellen “the best equipped British actor of his generations:”

Mr. McKellen’s Macbeth is witty; not merely the horror but the absurdity of his actions strikes him from the outset, and he can regard his downfall as an inexorable joke. His wife pulls him along a road that he would travel anyway and he can allow himself scruples, knowing that she will be there to mop them up. Once her prosaic, limited ambition is achieved, she is of no more use to him and he shrugs her off; “she would have died hereafter” is a moment of exasperation that dares our laughter.

What fuels him most is envy, reaching incredulously forward (“The seed of Banquo kings?”) and backward to color the despair of “Duncan is in his grave.” The words, and the mind behind them, are rancid, and it is this mood that takes possession of his last scenes. Everything disgusts him, and his only reason for fighting to the death is that the thought of subjection is the most disgusting of all.

McKellen begins his examination of the text by noting how “she would have died hereafter” sets up the final soliloquy’s preoccupation with time, and its passage.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

McKellen makes a true meal of  “out, out, brief candle”,  relating it to Lady Macbeth’s final appearance, the fools proceeding to their dusty death earlier in the monologue, and Elizabethan stage lighting.

He speculates that Shakespeare’s description of life as a “poor player” was a deliberate attempt by the playwright to give the actor an interpretive hook they could relate to. In performance, the theatrical metaphor should remind the audience that they’re watching a pretense even as they’re invested in the character’s fate.

The production’s success inspired director Trevor Nunn to film it. McKellen recalled that everyone was already so well acquainted with the material, it took just two weeks to get it in the can:

The claustrophobia of the stage production was exactly captured. Trevor had used a similar technique with Antony and Cleopatra on the box. No one else should ever be allowed to televise Shakespeare…There is so much I was proud of: discovering how to play a soliloquy direct into the eyes of everyone in the audience; making them laugh at Macbeth’s gallows humor; working alongside Judi Dench’s finest performance.

For more expert advice from McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley and other notables, watch the RSC’s 9-part Playing Shakespeare series here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most recently of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Give Yourself a 3000-Year-Old Hairstyle Using Iron Age Tools

There was a period in the late 20th-century when having hair long enough to sit on was considered something of an accomplishment.

Judging by the long hair pins unearthed from Austria’s Hallstatt burial site, extreme length was an early Iron Age hair goal, too, possibly because a coronet of thick braids made it easier to balance a basket on your head or keep your veil securely fastened.

Morgan Donner, whose YouTube channel documents her attempts to recreate historical garments and hairstyles, committed to trying various Hallstatt looks after reading archeologogist Karina Grömer‘s 2005 article Experimente zur Haar- und Schleiertracht in der Hallstattzeit (Experiments on hairstyles and veils in the Hallstatt period.)

Gromer, the vice-head of the Vienna Natural History Museum‘s Department of Prehistory, published precise diagrams showing the position of the hair ornaments in relation to the occupants of various graves.

For example, the skeleton in grave 45, below, was discovered with “10 bronze needles to the left of and below the skull, (and) parts of a bronze spiral roll in the neck area.”

Although no hair fibers survive, researchers cross-referencing the pins’ position against figural representations from period artifacts, have made a pretty educated guess as to the sort of hair do this individual may have sported in life, or more accurately, given the context, death.

As to the “bronze spiral roll” – which Donner persists in referring to as a spiral “doobly doo” – it functioned much like a modern day elastic band, preventing the braid from unravelling.

Donner twists hers from wire, after arranging to have replica hairpins custom made to historically accurate dimensions. (The manufacturer, perhaps misunderstanding her interest in history, coated them with an antiquing agent that had to be removed with “brass cleaner and a bit of rubbing.”

Most of the styles are variants on a bun. All withstand the “shake test” and would look right at home in a bridal magazine.

Star Wars fans will be gratified to find not one, but two iconic Princess Leia looks.

Our favorites were the braided loops and double buns meant to be sported beneath a veil.

“The braids do kind of act nicely as an anchor point for the veil to sit on,” Donner reports, “Not a lot of modern application per se for this particular style but it’s cute. It’s fun.”

Either would give you some serious Medieval Festival street cred, even if you have to resort to extensions.

Donner’s video gets a lot of love in the comments from a number of archaeology professionals, including a funerary archaeologist who praises the way she deals with the “inherent issues of preservation bias.”

The final nine minutes contain a DIY tutorial for those who’d like to make their own hairpins, as well as the spiral “doobly doo”.

If you’re of a less crafty bent, a jewelry designer in Finland is selling replicas based on the grave finds of Hallstatt culture on Etsy.

Watch a playlist of Donner’s historical hair experiments and tutorials, though a peek at her Instagram reveals that she got a buzzcut last fall, currently grown out to pixie-ish length.

Download Grömer’s illustrated article on Hallstatt period hairstyles and veils for free (in German) here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Heart’s Nancy Wilson Teaches You How to Play the Notoriously Difficult Opening to “Crazy On You”

You can slide up, pull off and hammer like a beast, but be forewarned. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep pace with Heart’s Nancy Wilson, as she demonstrates how to play the introduction to 1975’s “Crazy On You,” one of the greatest – and trickiest – opening guitar solos in rock history.

“I really wanted people to know right up front what I could do,” Wilson revealed in a 1999 interview with Acoustic Guitar:

It was the same thing as sitting in the Bandwagon music store and playing (Paul Simon’s) Anji. It was like, “Check me out, I know some stuff.”

As hard rocking female musicians in the 70s and 80s, Wilson and her bandmate/sister, lead vocalist- and songwriter, Ann found themselves having to prove themselves constantly.

As Ann recently explained to The Guardian

Back then, especially in the 70s, there was no filter on how women were sexualized – hyper-sexualized – in order to sell their images. Now at least it looks like women have control over their own filters. Back then, they didn’t. It was just like: “Hey, here’s a sexy chick. We know how we can sell her.”

Let’s all observe Women’s History Month by insisting that every bonehead who ever dismissed these pioneering women as a ‘chick band’ pay close attention to Nancy’s intricate “hybrid picking”.

“Crazy On You” finds her picking a rhythm on the A-string while using her bare fingers to pull off notes on the B and G strings.

And by her own admission, she tends never to play it the same way twice (“which makes it real easy, right?”)

While we’re at it, how about we celebrate Heart’s 50th anniversary by introducing the next generation to “Crazy On You”?

The times have changed in significant ways, but the emotions that inspired the song will strike close to home for many young people, as per Ann’s description on the Professor of Rock’s YouTube channel:

I wrote the words about the state of the world, and the stress effect it was having on me. Back then, we thought the world was really messed up, right? Because the Vietnam War was going on and we were choosing to, but staying out of our own country…we were homesick. Crime was rising, gas was expensive, gas shortage, all this horrible stuff. We had no idea what was going to happen in later years so it seemed to be, at that time, y’know, this is the end of the world. This close to the apocalypse. It’s very very stressful when you’re in your 20’s and you don’t see a good future.

If you’re committed to learning Nancy Wilson’s guitar intro to “Crazy On You,” we recommend Shutup & Play’s video tutorial and tabs.

via Laughing Squid

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch a Very Nervous, 23-Year-Old David Byrne and Talking Heads Performing Live in NYC (1976)

“This is a person who is profoundly uncomfortable addressing an audience and yet puts himself in that position,” David Byrne told Studio 360’s Kurt Anderson in 2019, as they watched some of the above footage of his 23-year-old self fronting a live Talking Heads’ performance back in 1976.

Everything was pretty new back in that Bicentennial year.

Talking Heads had formed the year before, when Byrne and drummer Chris Frantz, who’d been bandmates at the Rhode Island College of Design, moved to New York City with Frantz’s girlfriend, bassist Tina Weymouth.

The venue hosting this live performance, New York City’s legendary experimental art space, The Kitchen, was slightly less wet behind the ears, having opened its doors in 1971. (Some 30 years later, elder statesman Byrne was the guest of honor at its annual spring gala.)

However you define it – New Wave, no wave, post-punk art pop – the band’s sound was also fresh, though Byrne suggests, in the interview with Anderson, there was nothing new about his youthful cockiness:

…like a lot of bands, artists, everything else, any period really, you tend to think that, um, the pervasive stuff around you is crap and you and your friends are…we’re doing the real stuff. 

And optimistically, one might think, since we’re doing the real stuff and it has real soul and passion, and it’s of its moment, it represents its moment, and so immodestly, you think, “Of course! Things are just going to fall into your lap because you’re doing something that has some truth to it. Uh…that certainly doesn’t always happen.

It happened comparatively quickly for Talking Heads.

Several of the songs they performed as a trio that March night at the Kitchen made it onto Talking Heads: 77, the debut studio album recorded barely a year later, by which time a fourth member, Jerry Harrison, had joined on keyboards and guitar.

Of particular note above is Psycho Killer, which earned the band both notoriety, owing to the coincidental timing of 1976 and 1977’s Son of Sam murders, and their first Billboard Hot 100 spot.

“This song was written a long time ago,” the young Byrne stutters into the microphone at the Kitchen, then apologizes for fiddling with his clothes and equipment.

(“It’s all good!” Frantz calls out encouragingly from behind his drum kit.)

According to the liner notes of Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, Byrne began work on the song in college:

When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad. Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.

Fans may note a disparity in the lyrics between this performance and recorded versions of the song. Here, the second verse goes:

Listen to me, now I’ve passed the test

I think I’m cute, I think I’m the best

Skirt tight, don’t like that style

Don’t criticize what I know is worthwhile

Psycho Killer stayed on the shelf for David Byrne’s American Utopia, the Broadway show recently filmed by Spike Lee. But it gave a far more polished Byrne an excellent opener for Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense.

The uncomfortable young frontman dressed like a “proletariat everyman,” who the Kitchen’s press release described as “a cross between Ralph Nader, Lou Reed, and Tony Perkins.” And he has since managed to acquire some impressive performance chops over the course of a still flourishing career.

This is your chance to catch him at that awkward age when, as Byrne told Kirk Anderson, he performed “because he had to”:

There was this means of communication that was being a performer and writing songs and singing them (that) was a way of, kind of being present to other people – not just girls, but other people in general.

Setlist for The Kitchen, March 13, 1976:

00:00 – Introduction/soundcheck

02:13 – The Girls Want To Be With the Girls (Featured on More Songs About Buildings and Food in 1978)

06:05 – Psycho Killer (Featured on Talking Heads: 77 in 1977, with different lyrics)

The lyrics of the 2nd verse of Psycho Killer is different from the recorded version!

10:55 – I Feel It In My Heart (Featured on the deluxe version of Talking Heads: 77, with different lyrics)

15:28 – I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That (Featured on the deluxe version of Talking Heads: 77)

18:15 – Information about the recording

19:00 – Stay Hungry (Featured on More Songs About Buildings and Food)

24:35 – I Want To Live (Featured on compilations such as Sand in the Vaseline, 1992 and Bonus Rarities & Outtakes, 2006)

29:48 – Tentative Decisions (Featured on Talking Heads: 77)

32:55 – No Compassion (assumed, video ends before song starts)

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The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Organized Chaos!: Watch 33 Videos Showing How Saturday Night Live Gets Made Each Week

Who do you think of when you think of Saturday Night Live?

The original cast? 

Creator Lorne Michaels?

Whoever hosted last week’s episode?

What about the guy who makes and holds the cue cards?

Wally Feresten is just one of the backstage heroes to be celebrated in Creating Saturday Night Live, a fascinating look at how the long-running television sketch show comes together every week.

Like many of those interviewed Feresten is more or less of a lifer, having come aboard in 1990 at the age of 25.

He estimates that he and his team of 8 run through some 1000 14” x 22” cards cards per show. Teleprompters would save trees, but the possibility of technical issues during the live broadcast presents too big of a risk.

This means that any last minute changes, including those made mid-broadcast, must be handled in a very hands on way, with corrections written in all caps over carefully applied white painter’s tape or, worst case scenario, on brand new cards.

(After a show wraps, its cards enjoy a second act as dropcloths for the next week’s painted sets.)

Nearly every sketch requires three sets of cue cards, so that the cast, who are rarely off book due to the frequent changes, can steal glances to the left, right and center.

As the department head, Feresten is partnered with each week’s guest host, whose lines are the only ones to be written in black. Betty White, who hosted in 2010 at the age of 88, thanked him in her 2011 autobiography.

Surely that’s worth his work-related arthritic shoulder, and the recurrent nightmares in which he arrives at Studio 8H just five minutes before showtime to find that all 1000 cue cards are blank.

Costumes have always been one of Saturday Night Live’s flashiest pleasures, running the gamut from Coneheads and a rapping Cup o’Soup to an immaculate recreation of the white pantsuit in which Vice President Kamala Harris delivered her victory speech a scant 3 hours before the show aired.

“A costume has a job,” wardrobe supervisor Dale Richards explains:

It has to tell a story before (the actors) open their mouth…as soon as it comes on camera, it should give you so much backstory.

And it has to cleave to some sort of reality and truthfulness, even in a sketch as outlandish as 2017’s Henrietta & the Fugitive, starring host Ryan Gosling as a detective in a film noir style romance. The gag is that the dame is a chicken (cast member Aidy Bryant.)

Richards cites actress Bette Davis as the inspiration for the chicken’s look:

Because you’re not going to believe it if the detective couldn’t actually fall in love with her. She has to be very feminine, so we gave her Bette Davis bangs and long eyelashes and a beautiful bonnet, so the underpinnings were very much like an actress in a movie, although she did have a chicken costume on.

The number of quick costume changes each performer must make during the live broadcast helps determine the sketches’ running order.

Some of the breakneck transformations are handled by Richards’ sister, Donna, who once beat the clock by piggybacking host Jennifer Lopez across the studio floor to the changing area where a well-coordinated crew swished her out of her opening monologue’s skintight dress and skyscraper heels and into her first costume.

That’s one example of the sort of traffic the 4-person crane camera crew must battle as they hurtle across the studio to each new set. Camera operator John Pinto commands from atop the crane’s counterbalanced arm.

Those swooping crane shots of the musical guests, opening monologue and goodnights (see below) are a Saturday Night Live tradition, a part of its iconic look since the beginning.

Get to know other backstage workers and how they contribute to this weekly high wire act in a 33 episode Creating Saturday Night playlist, all on display below:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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