It's tough to perform under pressure. That'll be the gist, I bet, of Friday's national education conference on "High Stakes Testing: What Are the Effects?" Presenters include Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who failed the high-stakes test of being the U.S. Congress' lone left dissenter by voting against Clinton's impeachment. If you go to this conference, please ask for me why, again, if there's an education crisis, and yet it's somehow necessary to pay people who don't seem to teach very well, why it's also necessary to pay people who don't teach at all. Full-time school administrators in NYC 2000 are like failed, former firefighters standing around at a three-alarmer, yapping about exactly where the hoses should be pointed. Grab a bucket or find another line of work already. (3/31, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., at Columbia Teacher's College, 525 W. 120th St., betw. B'way & Amsterdam Ave., 678-3000. Opening session at Horace Mann Auditorium.)
I'd say that Giuliani had that one right if the Mayor's recent actions didn't make it seem dangerous to support him in any way whatsoever. So just take it from someone who spent enough time in various vice principals' offices to know: Vice principals don't do shit. Teach or get off the public dole. Administrators' complaining about school funding is almost as bad as artists whining about arts grants so Giuliani can make them media stars. That's exactly what Hans Haacke's Sanitation amounts to. I can't imagine I'll see anything sillier on April 1 than the crowd of news professionals I encountered at the press preview for the Whitney Biennial. The way they gathered around that wildly unchallenging, blatantly opportunist installation, you'd think it was an open bar.
The exhibition as a whole is something of a snooze if you've been out to P.S. 1 or the New Museum lately, and a decent, surprisingly conventional survey if you haven't. There's a lot of gimmicky stuff with visual punchlines, all examples of the trendy sort of artistic low comedy that the Brooklyn Museum's "Sensation" summarized so well. Lisa Yuskavage's nymphettes are something I'm always happy to see (or is that just a banana in my pocket?), and John Currin's painting Stanford After Brunch, of happy housewives with Phillies and martinis rendered in the lushest oils, is similarly difficult to forget. As for the conceptual stuff, I vote yes on Joseph Grigely's collages of fragments from handwritten conversations. The artist is deaf, and the things people "said" to him, caringly preserved and posted out of context, are weirdly inspiring. "Gavin can put his fist in his mouth," is one good one, and "Sorry to make fun of your authority in front of your students," moved me, too. (Through 6/4, at 945 Madison Ave. at 75th St., 570-3676.)
We can't discuss fine art and foolishness without a plug for New York Press' arsenal of illustrative talent. Seriously now?you look around, you read comics, you see biennials?tell me, who can mess with our squad? You have no answer. You're holding this paper in your hands, you're with it, you know that any decent illustrations in other New York publications are by artists whose work appeared here first. That's probably why you're going to the show of artwork by 24 New York Press contributing artists that opens at CB's Gallery on Wednesday. Some of you are probably even cool enough to go to the opening night party (3/29, 6 p.m.), walk up to the artist whose stuff you like best and say something slick like, "I want to hire you to contribute to this outrageously overfunded website I work for," or even, "May I buy you a drink?" (3/29-4/21, 313 Bowery at Bleecker St., 677-0455.)
"Children, teach your parents well"?now that's art with a message, maaan. And it's sure to be delivered at Madison Square Garden Monday and Tuesday nights, when CSN&Y's re-re-reunion tour blazes through town. It's incredible that Neil Young got as far as he did on the high-stakes integrity test faced by 60s rock icons facing their 60s, and was quite naturally inevitable that he'd finally blow it. Or maybe he'll bail mid-tour again. Maybe he'll change the words of "Ohio" to "Diallo." (4/3-4, 7th Ave. at 32nd St., 307-7171, $30.50-$201.)
Lou Reed bravely bore the liberal rock star's burden by refusing to play Vienna this year. As one typically trenchant New York Press letter writer pointed out, if Lou has a problem performing in places represented by elected fascists, why does he play here? The horrendous poetry on his forthcoming album Ecstasy suggests that the dude is just out of it, clueless and doddering. But like ol' Neil he still can play. At least Reed won't be attempting any four-part harmonies at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. (4/1, 74 Leonard St., betw. Church St. & B'way, 219-3055, $30.)
Then there's a chance this week to see a liberal almost as old as Neil Young and Lou Reed put together! Heimytown correspondent Andrey Slivka has the scoop: "Tuesday at the New-York Historical Society is an event called 'In Conversation: Jacques Barzun,' in which that legendary Columbia intellectual?shriveled by now at the age of 92 like an old dollop of sausage?will discuss his new book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Cultural Triumph and Defeat, 1500 to the Present with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Barzun has, like other great old liberal humanists, been reduced to complaining about cultural decline, thus providing the ideological ammunition for right-wing polemicists like Rudy Giuliani. Booklist says that in his new book Barzun sees our cultural 'threads unraveling,' so that 'No new ideas inspire fresh or meaningful patterns,' that 'Absurdity pervades the arts,' that 'empty slogans dominate politics' and that 'violence replaces thought.' Ask Clintonite court intellectual Schlesinger about those last two; otherwise, attend this event to see one of New York's last remaining 20th-century intellectual giants, even if he's wrong on this one." (4/4, 6 p.m., 2 W. 77th St. at Central Park W., free but you need reservations, for which you have to call 873-3400 and press zero.)
Speaking of fresh and meaningful patterns, the hiphop event of the week is Bahamadia's show, Thursday at the Knitting Factory, with opening acts Spontaneous, Mountain Brothers and Scienz of Life. The Kim Deal to Lil' Kim's Madonna, 'Dia is not a great female MC but rather a great MC, period. And, as this is one of those Spontaneous Skool productions, you can count on the opening acts being tight and on time. (3/30, address above, $12.) The underground rap CD of the week is Hip Hop 101. Despite the laughably wack title, this compilation of singles released as part of Tommy Boy's keep-up-with-Rawkus vinyl series "Black Label" is worth picking up. With new tracks from Jigmastas, De La Soul with Camp Lo, Defari, Talib Kweli with Tony Touch, Medina Green and others, it's a sorta re-staking of Tommy Boy's claim to the vanguard. And on Sunday night, the fine hiphop video show "Freak It Wit Da Fellaz" will air its tribute to Big Pun. (4/2, midnight, on Manhattan Public Access channel 57. That's RCN channel 109, but fuck RCN?the worst Internet "service provider" in New York. Buncha asswipes is what they got over there at RCN.)
Back to our parade of fools, there will be an actual one of those down 5th Ave. on Saturday. I'm talking about Joey Skaggs' 15th-annual Coronation of the King of Fools celebration. Contestants include Rudy, Hillary and John Rocker, all of whom will be represented by lookalikes. The Rudy one will be flinging elephant poo, and the Rocker, it's promised, will be shouting racial epithets, so you don't want to miss this. There's also a Homeless Blues Band and a concession booth selling surplus Y2K supplies, like Spam. (4/1, noon...please don't make me spell it out for you.)
On a similar note, the Center for Book Arts is advertising an "Edible Book and Tea Auction." The press release says, "There will be a pasta book made from lasagne, a tea holder book made from sugar cookies, a wrap sandwich and cheese book... At 5:30 p.m. the works will be photographed, auctioned, and eaten." Watch The Daily News fall for this one. Center for Book Arts: comedians!
Then there's this, so much more subtle: "New York's Second Annual Tartan Day Celebration will be held in Central Park on Saturday, April 1 at 11 a.m., celebrating Scottish Independence Day... The festivities will feature a procession of traditional Scottish bagpipers, country dancers and a troop of Airedale Terriers, followed by a brief ceremony with Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, community leaders and dignitaries at the Band Shell at 11:45 a.m... 68th St. and East Drive." Too close to call, isn't it? Note how the description puts an image in your head every bit foolish enough to approach the boundary between Real Foolish and Too Foolish to Be Real?and even pushes against it a little with that "dignitaries" bit?and then just stops short. Masterful. Tartans: comedians.
Movie events this week include the New York premiere of the Steve Yeagers documentary about John Waters, Divine Trash, at Anthology Film Archives. Winner of a 1998 Sundance award for Best Documentary, and featuring interviews with Buscemi, Jarmusch, Hartley, Mekas and Waters himself, it looks okay. (Opens Fri., 3/31, 32 2nd Ave. at 2nd St., 505-5110.) Hollywood is offering lovable John Cusack in what promises to be a complete and total butchering of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. (Opens Fri., see "Movie Clock" for theaters and times.) The definitive novel about the record-collector mentality and the challenges it poses to adult relationships, Hornby's book (like his aptly named soccer-fan memoir, Fever Pitch) is at the same time a passionate, eloquent defense of a life spent immersed in pop culture. It looks from the preview like the studio said, "Too English," and just gutted it of any trace of style. Cinema Classics, as if to make up for the sin, celebrates Fool's Day with a midnight showing of Tod Browning's Freaks. (4/1, 332 E. 11th St., betw. 1st & 2nd Aves., 971-1015, $5.)