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Stew’s Review of Stephen Holden’s Review of Alice Tully Show in New York Times

It’s no doubt the height of bad taste if not idiocy to take issue with a completely positive review such as the one Stephen Holden so graciously penned in the NYTimes today of my Alice Tully Hall show last Friday. I’ll probably regret it the moment I click “send.” But immediate regret is half the fun of email, is it not?

Let me start by saying how much we all appreciate the great review.

But here are my thoughts:

Just because I’m a Black artist who explores identity doesn’t mean I’m having an identity crisis. Although if white people keep telling me I’m having one it may come to pass (no pun intended) heh heh…

Nor does being Black mean that everything I write is autobiographical. Like many artists, I play with the audience’s expectations of autobiography in my work (see Passing Strange) but that doesn’t mean my work is purely autobiographical. Just as I play with identity a lot in my work but there’s no ongoing “crisis.” You saw my waistline: there’s the crisis.

Embarrassingly enough, and for the record, my sense of my own identity has been pretty much set in stone since I was about 17. That is when I decided to be an artist for the rest of my life, screw SATs, college degrees, job security and, most significantly, cable. Which is why the part in today’s Times about how that guy onstage at Tully last Friday “minutely gauges how people perceive him in various settings, then adjusts his behavior accordingly” describes a person nobody who knows me would ever recognize. I only adjust my behavior for gun wielding policemen and the IRS.

Mr. Holden goes on to write: “Flatbush Avenue on Sunday” was a idyllic snapshot of Brooklyn on one of those perfect days when “all the dreadlocked people in their finery … came out to play.” In this harmonious moment he feels completely at home.”

Now if we’ve been buying into the whole identity crisis suffering/alienated black guy narrative of this very nice review we are forced to conclude from this observation that Black Brooklyn is the antidote to the Black artist’s (non-existent) identity crisis. But the song celebrates “Puerto Ricans, Jews and Dominicans too” who also came out to play on that fine day. Yes, I feel quite comfy within Brooklyn’s multicultural panorama. But that song is not about feeling at home in Brooklyn. It’s about feeling relieved that my show closed and that I didn’t have to work on Broadway anymore.

Last nitpick I swear: I actually live in Berlin. I just work in New York.

Thank you Mr. Holden for a really great review. Despite my totally out-of-line-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-taking-issue-with-a-positive-review-in-the-New-York-Times pre-coffee ramble, I was thrilled by your generous review. I’m still shocked every time we get a review in any newspaper especially one as prestigious as yours. I always operate under the assumption that no one knows what we’re doing. And our record sales would prove this to be for the most part true.

I’d like to give a shout out to my amazing band that deserved way more column space than me: Eisa Davis, Rebecca Jones and De’Adre Aziza, Jon Spurney, Christian Gibbs and Christian Cassan from the Passing Strange ensemble, the amazing string quartet known as ETHEL, The Horn Problem led by Mike McGinnis who just smoked from top to bottom, the Grammy Award winning Marty Beller on the drums, the absurdly tasteful music-man about town Joe Mcginty of Loser’s Lounge and Circuit Parade fame and of course my esteemed collaborator Heidi Rodewald.

I really felt we were a team up there and probably more than ever this show was about music and little more.

Love and Thanks,