This Bridge Is for Saxophonists, and Other News


On the Shelf

Sonny Rollins on the Williamsburg Bridge in the sixties.


  • The Williamsburg Bridge is a fine name for a bridge, especially when one half of that bridge ends in Williamsburg. But not every Williamsburg Bridge has given a safe harbor to one of the greatest jazz musicians in history—and say one had? Shouldn’t we name it after the saxophonist, and not the neighborhood? The neighborhood has had a good run; it’s time for a change. Amanda Petrusich has the story of Sonny Rollins’s secret tenure on the bridge, where the tenor player loved to practice, hiding in plain sight: “In 1961, a story by Ralph Berton appeared in Metronome, a trade rag … Berton had come across Rollins playing atop the Williamsburg Bridge, which crosses the East River and connects North Brooklyn to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He filed a short dispatch about the encounter. In an effort to keep Rollins’s practice space private, Berton changed the location to the Brooklyn Bridge, and gave Rollins the somewhat ridiculous sobriquet ‘Buster Jones’ … Almost every day between the summer of 1959 and the end of 1961, Rollins—who was born in Harlem, and at the time lived in an apartment at 400 Grand Street, just a few blocks from the entrance to the bridge—walked out and stationed himself adjacent to the subway tracks, playing as cars full of commuters rattled past.”
  • Michael Hofmann reminds us that Elizabeth Bishop is essentially a fugitive figure, unstuck in time: “At Vassar, she was ‘the Bish,’ had an early, nay, prophetic taste for tweed, was recorded in the 1930 yearbook as ‘Bishop of the barbarous hair.’ There was something out of place or out of time about her, or both; attributable perhaps, partly, to spending her earliest years in Nova Scotia, and having three grandparents who were Canadian. A singer of hymns and a student of the harpsichord, her favorite poets George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Baudelaire—was she more seventeenth-century, or nineteenth? … Since her death in 1979, Bishop has been so universally and I think often falsely or sentimentally championed by us, we don’t see the contrariness or the heroic effort of living against her time and culture; we like to think of her in San Francisco, blithely passing a joint to Thom Gunn or accepting one from him, and generally letting it hang out after all, all or some.”

  • Christian Lorentzen knows the end of the world is coming, for popular culture tells us so, has always told us so, will not stop telling us so. But who can afford it? he wonders. “The sold-out Survival Condos in the Atlas missile silo in Kansas, kitted out for off-grid living for up to five years and equipped with simulated high-rise views, were priced between $1.5 million and $3 million. (A second residential silo is now said to be under construction.) For those who want to remain in the light but get around without fear of snipers or rioters, Alpine Armoring offers quasi-military upgrades for popular sedans and SUVs. The famine-minded can invest in the Harvest Right freeze dryer for as little as $2,245, and make their bananas and scrambled eggs last a quarter of a century. By that time I doubt the apocalypse will have transpired but the very real twin forces of climate change and automation will have rearranged the world. The future belongs to robots that can surf.”