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Monday, September 7, 2009

Bohemian Rhapsody: Mykal Skall's Chelsea Hotel

Darkness fell over the grimy city. It wasn't raining, but it should have been, when I dodged inside the Hotel the other night looking for somewhere to sit a while. It was late, very late. There were a few people in the Lyceum, the night club attached to the hotel proper, they stood around swaying. There was a woman sitting on a big cushion on the floor, and a guy was singing and playing the guitar.
Son, can you play me a memory...

His voice suggested that it had been a long night. One of the regulars made a remark about trying to get his voice and guitar both in the same key; he didn't seem to care. I stood at the bar by the busty 2D blonde barmaid, like you do, hoping no-one would notice me. They didn't. We were at the Chelsea Hotel, so it didn't matter. After a while I got comfy, as the discussion about the merits of different guitars faltered back and forth.
...what do you see in me. Just a portrait of what I used to be....
It's really hard not to like a man who plays harmonica, even if he's very tired. His name was Mykal Skall, and he was the owner. After a while, Hotel Manager Enola Vaher came over for a chat. I asked her how she got here...

Enola Vaher: I've been in SL about 14 months; my son introduced it to me, he thought it would help me because in his opinion I was 'bored and lonely'. LOL He helped to find my way around and I met some very nice people. One of those helped me to get a job hosting in a club and I loved it! So I evolved from working in clubs to working for MNP where I met Mykal. I love working with live musicians and helping to get the music out to as many people as possible. I love managing the Hotel, I get to meet all sorts of people. Our Hotel Chelsea is full of characters, just like the RL one. I'm disabled and can't work in 1st life, so for me being able to interact socially with people in SL is a delight.
I told Enola a bit about Artsparks, and asked her who she would build a sim to, if she had the chance.
Enola Vaher: I think I'd choose Bob Dylan. He stayed in room 201 here in the hotel. I've been a fan and hoplessly in love with him since I was 16. The sim would celebrate Dylan in the early '60s, with ballads, folk music and poets. It would be very politically minded, beatnic style. I would encourage talk of disobediance and reform ... actually the Hotel Chelsea is my dream sim. It has all of these things and more. I'd have to say my favorite part is the Lyceum. While this is not a part of the Real Life Chelsea, it's an integral part of what the SL Chelsea is all about. I'm so pleased to able to work there and help make it the amazing place that it is. If I didn't work here I would be one of the regulars who hangs out there every day.

Mykal Skall, the man behind the virtual Chelsea, has been in SL over three years.
Mykal Skall: I heard about it from a few friends. The first few weeks, all I found was casinos, strip clubs and escort services. I couldn't wrap my mind around it, until someone pointed out to me that any new society is driven by money and sex... I later imported some of my art into SL and realized how great it can be to get exposure for art and music when I heard my first live streaming performance. I had been primarily playing live music in SL since then. The outlet for my art and original music was the main driving factor that kept me here, along with the joy of building.
The film "Sid & Nancy", was Mykal's introduction to the Chelsea Hotel. if you don't know their story click here. Reading more about the hotel, he was intrigued by a place that was like a vortex sucking in so many talented musicians, writers, artists and thinkers. The hotel opened its doors in 1883, not far from Washington Square. The word 'Hotel' may be misleading, we're not talking Waldorf Astoria here: a room in the Chelsea means a relatively cheap self-catering city bolthole for artists rich in talent but not much else. Creativity squared equals disorderly conduct, the hotel's lobby and public areas have always been full of art, often dangerously so. Sparks of every kind fly here. Another volatile couple who called the Chelsea home for a brief time were the impecunious Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin; this is where Thomas put the finishing touches to under Milk Wood, and indeed went fairly gentle into that good night from these very doors. You can visit Sid's virtual room, on the first floor, and Bob Dylan's room, currently threatened with 'improvements' in the real world, is also open for viewing. Mykal has filled the sim with many authentic touches, and there are lots of notecards to fill you in with both the general history of the hotel, and its current legal woes.
Mykal Skall: I stayed at the Hotel in 2008, and was amazed at its history, the incredible art on the walls, the unique sounds and smells, and the eclectic blend of extreme characters. To walk the steps and halls, in the footsteps of Thomas Wolfe, Leonard Cohen, Arthur C. Clarke, Bob Dylan, affected me forever. To later find out about the Hotel's recent troubles sickened me. I did the build myself. It took about three weeks. I had built the outside shell at a different site about a year earlier, but this is a completely new version. I really had no intention of leaving it here, or even making it a business. I simply bought the cheapest mainland in SL with the idea that if I ever opened it to the public I'd move it to a better, faster, sim. But then the Chelsea Hotel blog picked up the story, and the New York Times interviewed me, and Linden Labs made us the #1 Hot Spot in SL, our traffic went from 17 to over 20,000 in three weeks, and we were stuck here. It was a challenge to keep the outside as true-to-life as possible yet make the inside viable for SL camera angles.

With the help of a RL hotel resident I got amazingly perfect textures of the hotel. He is now a SL resident also. My favorite part of the build is the inner staircase. Just like in the RL Hotel, the walls are crowded with some of the most incredible art you will ever see. We don't know how many people walked - or even fell to their death - on those steps, but it feels like all of their ghosts are still here. Several RL residents and past residents, authors, and musicians, visit or stay at the SL hotel. That's one of the coolest things. The virtual version has gathered a group of regulars with a very similar mindset to those who frequented the RL hotel over the years.Thirza Ember: Tell me about your best moment so far.
Mykal Skall: Our "unofficial grand opening"! I had done the build, it had hit the blogs, and I had a call from the NewYork Times all within a few weeks. The reporter wanted to interview me on the phone, I told them they should do it right, and visit the hotel in SL. I had no plans, nor any idea how to run a venue, but I didn't want the place empty when the reporter showed up. A few hours before his arrival, I contacted Skylar Smythe, she's associated with some of SL's best spoken word artists. I told her what was happening and asked if she could gather a few people for a poetry read so that it looked like something was going on at the hotel. By the time I got the reporter logged into SL, the sim was so full that we couldn't even get him in. We had to ask for volunteers to leave so that he could take the tour! It was incredible. You can see for yourself the machinima of the event.
We plan on having regularly scheduled poetry and spoken word events like "Art in the Streets" an event to showcase original artists, with musicians playing in the streets. Recently I played at our first ever "Rocking the Chelsea Rooftop" show, we have some other pretty off-the-wall ideas, but I don't want to let too many cats out of the bag at once. We keep the creative flow very loose and improvisational. What you won't find is any musicians playing to backing tracks. It's one of our few rules, we we cater to the "singer/songwriter" crowd, and don't allow "karaoke" type performers. What we have found by wandering in, are half dressed men suspended in the fireplace, a large flock of chicken-headed avatars dancing in the Lyceum, and some of the most incredible talent in SL performing within our walls. So stop in, any time, you never know what your unique experience will be.
Thirza Ember: I love the David Combs circular painting of the lobby, (see below) it captures the spirit of the place. So many famous writers, musicians and painters are connected one way or another with the Chelsea. If you were given a sim and allowed to celebrate just one of those famous names, who would you pick?
Mykal Skall: I wouldn't pick one of the famous artists, musicians, or painters, I'd pick the person who for decades made it possible for those people to thrive here at the Chelsea Hotel: Mr. Stanley Bard. Mr. Bard ran the hotel throughout its most tumultuous and creative years, and now thanks to greedyshareholders he's been ousted and that creativity is in danger of being stifled forever. I'd build the sim just like my current build only larger and more detailed as a tribute to what the hotel would be in RL if he were still in charge. Mr. Bard is no spring chicken, and I hope for two things: That he sticks around long enough to see the Hotel reinstated to its previous glory under the management of his son, and that he somehow finds out about my small attempt to preserve the hotel virtually and bring awareness to his plight. I don't know if he has any clue what I've done, but it would mean so much to me to find out some day that he did.

Eccomi a New York, al Chelsea Hotel ... forse l'hai sentito nominare? Io no; ero all'oscuro di questo vero gioiello artistico newyorkese prima di capitare nella versione virtuale su sim Lanestris. Costruito in real nel 1883, si tratta di una residence frequentatissima da artisti, poeti, romanzieri e musicisti famosi e meno famosi, monolocali scarafaggiatissimi, dove regna l'estro non l'igiene. In RL l'elenco degli inquilini chelseani durante il ventesimo secolo è ricco quanto eclettico: Andy Warhol, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Edith Piaf, Thomas Wolfe, Francesco Clemente, Janis Joplin, e Sid Vicious, per nominare solo alcuni dei più famosi. L'albergo ha una storia un po' scabrosa, spesso ha presentato un aspetto disordinato, l'androne sopraffollato di tele stumenti musicali sculture e il detrito del processo artistico. Qui nella figura si vede un quadro del 'vero' atrio dell'albergo, di David Combs. Stanley Bard è stato per decenni il benigno amministratore del caos meraviglioso al Chelsea, permettendo agli inquilini di usare il tetto come giardino e studio artistico, perdonandogli anche l'affitto quando i tempi erano difficili, offrendo una mano in generale a quelli che ne avevano bisogno. Al Chelsea regnava un senso di protesta, di poesia, di confusione creativa che a sua volta attirava come in un vortice altri grandi talenti, alcuni divenuti famosissimi, alcuni ancora sconosciuti ma comunque grandi a modo loro. Di recente alcuni investitori hanno tentato di prendere in mano l'albergo, sfrattando residenti facendo delle ristrutturazioni alle camere 'storiche' tra i quali quella di Bob Dylan, troppo lunga e litigiosa la faccenda da raccontare qui. Poi molto più ... edificante la cronaca del Chelsea Hotel in SL; ti consiglio di leggermi fino in fondo oggi, se hai mai provato sconforto davanti alle sfide finanziarie-artistiche di Second Life. Ho conosciuto l'owner e builder in questi giorni, Mykal Skall, simpatico pittore e cantautore, residente nel metaverso da oltre tre anni. Ci siamo visti nel Lyceum Club che fa parte del suo build, e dove suona quasi tutte le sere la sua chitarra e l'armonica. A me piace l'armonica, l'ho scoperto questa settimana. Harmonicas rock. Gli ho chiesto come e perché The Chelsea Hotel in Second Life.
Mykal Skall: Ho conosciuto l'albergo tramite il film Sid & Nancy, una tristissima RL vicenda vissuta (e cinematizzata) nel Chelsea. L'edificio ha una storia così ricca e affascinante ho voluto approfondire. Essendo io artista e poeta, anche se soltanto al livello 'amatoriale', l'idea dell'albergo e i suoi ospiti divenne per me un simbolo di new York più significativo della Statue of Liberty o il Empire State Building. Infine nel 2008 ho avuto modo di visitare l'hotel e di conoscere anche alcuni residenti, e devo dire che il luogo mi ha colpito molto. Si sentiva la presenza di tutti quei grandi che hanno influenzato me e tanti come me... Thomas Wolfe, Leonard Cohen, Arthur C. Clarke, e Bob Dylan. Sapere che la creatività e la libertà di espressione di chi frequenta attualmente l'albergo sia minacciata mi ha spinto a creare una versione virtuale per sensibilizzare il pubblico a quello che sta succedendo. Da un po' di tempo importo i miei quadri in SL, ma non intendevo mettere su una business in Second Life, infatti ho comprato il land meno costoso sul Mainland e in un paio di settimane ho costruito l'albergo. La parte più difficile è stato replicare un esterno realistico che possa accomodare interni 'vivibili' dal punto di vista dell'avatar, anzi dalle Linden camera angles. Per il build ci ho messo circa tre settimane, e ho avuto la grandissima fortuna di ottenere, tramite residenti dell'Hotel RL, delle textures autentiche. Il Lyceum è un'invenzione mia, per dare un posto per le serate musicali, ma il resto è molto vicino alla realtà. Sono particolarmente fiero del giardino sul tetto, dove teniamo feste, e dove in real gli artisti lavoravano si esibivano e... cercavano l'ispirazione a modo loro. Inoltre le scale mi piacciono moltissimo. La tromba delle scale è una vera e propria galleria, questa ringhiera è esattamente come quella vera, e mi piace pensare a tutte le persone che hanno camminato - o addiritura sono cadute - per queste scale di marmo. Ho voluto ricreare la stanza di Sid e Nancy, e la camera di Bob Dylan, ma ci sono anche altre camere prenotabili. Ho avuto il privilegio di ospitare nella versione SL alcuni dei personaggi veri che hanno vissuto in quella reale, è stato una degli aspetti più belli della mia esperienza metaversale. Ma la parte più straordinaria è stato quando alcuni blog hanno saputo della mia iniziativa, in particolare il blog della Chelsea Hotel - mi ha contattato un reporter del New York Times - mi voleva fare un'intervista! io ho proposto un'incontro inworld, il reporter ha accettato, e ho subito pensato che l'albergo virtuale senza 'ospiti' avrebbe un'aspetto triste... non avevo mai organizzato un evento in Second Life, non sapevo come fare, ho contattato la brava Skylar Smythe, lei conosce molti poeti e scrittori di spicco in Second Life e real, e in pochissimo tempo ha messo insieme una serata indimenticabile... c'erano talmente tanti avatar sul sim che ho dovuto chiedere alcuni di uscire per poter far entrare il reporter e fargli fare il giro dell'albergo. Abbiamo fatto una bellissima machinima per ricordare l'occasione. Linden labs ci ha messo numero uno tra i loro Hot Spots. E da allora, l'albergo è divenuto famoso. Continuiamo ad organizzare serate di musica, di poesia, ma anche molti incontri meno formali, momenti in cui tutto è possibile, regna il caos della fantasia libera. Ci sono state serate in cui ho trovato nel Lyceum un gruppo di avatar tutti con la testa di pollo, in un'altra occasione, nel cammino c'erano degli uomini mezzi nudi sospesi in mezz'aria... tutto è possibile. Prossimamente faremo delle feste 'in strada' - arte e musica disposta davanti all'albergo. E ci sono sempre eventi nuovi, basta associarsi al gruppo per saperne di più.
Se dovessi fare un'altro sim, un Arts Park per un solo personaggio, non sceglierei nessuno dei grandi qui sopre nominati. Sceglierei proprio Mr Stanley Bard. Lui non è né scrittore, né pittore né musicista, ma senza di lui l'Hotel Chelsea non avrebbe mai potuto nutrire e dare rifugio tutti questi grandi talenti. Su un sim con più disponibilità di prim e meno lag, rifarei su scala molto più ampia l'albergo, aggiungendo molti elementi di come era l'albergo all'apogeo della sua storia. Io desidero due cose, che l'albergo real possa tornare sotto la direzione del Sig. Bard, e del suo figlio David Bard, e secondo, mi piacerebbe che potessero venire a sapere di questo mio tributo alla loro opera d'arte... il Chelsea Hotel.

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