Society & Culture / Sounds / Vintage

An Interview With Steampunk Musician Noam Berg

20131222-081008.jpgLast week, I fondled a Tommy Gun and met Noam Berg at Museum of the American Gangster. Not exactly in that order but I couldn’t help but notice the dapper young man dressed in a sharp tweed ensemble typing on a laptop during the guided tour. He had an air of mystery and looked like he stepped off of the set of Sherlock Holmes so naturally I had to learn more about him. His name is Noam Berg and he is a Steampunk enthusiast and musician that also goes by the alias Painless Parker.

In case you’re not familiar with the term Steampunk, it is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. The popularity of which inspired an interest in Neo Victorian fashions accented by or accessorized with futuristic technology. Still unclear? Here’s an example: If “Great Expectations” were a Steampunk novel, Ms. Havisham would have used Inspector Gadget goggles as a tracking device to find Compeyson and brought him back to Satis House in a steam powered airship.

Unfortunately, Noam did not have any clockwork devices visible but I’m certain he had a pocket watch hidden somewhere. I decided to interview “Painless Parker” to give Luna Luna readers an idea of what is in the head of a peace loving, Mandolin playing Steampunker that gives tours about crime and murder.

How long have you been working at Museum of the American Gangster?

I started work in early October of 2013. I have some friends who work there that told me they were hiring, so I gave it a shot, and they took me on. I came in with no special knowledge about gangsters or prohibition, but I’ve learned a great deal since then.

Do you perform regularly as Painless Parker?
I play shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn every now and again. Lately I spend more time busking, either in the subway or at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.

How did you get involved in Steampunk and why does it appeal to you?
Like most people, I found out one day that a bunch of things that I like (Victorian fashion, old-world craftsmanship, anachronistic technology, tweed) had a collective name: Steampunk. My girlfriend got me into the movement itself, and I started going to local events with people in New York. To me, the appeal of Steampunk is the fascination with the 19th century without the nostalgia. We’re not interested in bringing back that time period. It was full of sexism, racism, poverty, and all manner of unpleasantness. Steampunk instead is interested in incorporating the good bits into modern life. Manners and good grooming, craftsmanship, DIY science and the like. Steampunk is about hacking the 19th century. What’s not to like?

Do you feel like you were born in the wrong time?
No way. I love the 21st century. I love having fast internet, good medicine, efficient air travel and all that good stuff. There’s a computer with an interactive map in my pocket, for chrissake! Being Jewish has never been an obstacle in my life, which it certainly was for my grandparents growing up in Queens. I’m not at all nostalgic for days gone by, but I do think there are good things about previous eras that ought to make a comeback. I don’t want to go back to then, I want to bring the good parts of then into the now. The world is always changing, there’s no reason we can’t change our present with what we’ve learned from the past.

20131222-081122.jpgOn To Proust:

1. Your Favorite Fairytale
Trickle down economics. If only ’twere true…

2. Your favorite fabric
Tweed, hands down. I want a suit in Navy blue herringbone tweed.

3.The Vice you secretly admire
The vices I admire, I do quite openly. I’d probably go with gluttony, especially when it comes to drink.

4. The Virtue you find overrated
Chastity. Life is too short!

5. Three animals you would choose for your personal totem pole Koala, Japanese Snow Monkey, Bear.

6. If I were a Greek Goddess/God I’d be the God of…
I’d be the God of Bad Puns.

7. Inspiration comes from
Keeping your eyes open, always observing, always paying attention to details and being receptive.

8. If you could spend two weeks on vacation with a deceased celebrity it would be…
Peter O’Toole. He just died so he probably doesn’t smell too bad yet. I hope the vacation is somewhere snowy.

9. The most ideal scenery for making love would be…
A log cabin with a roaring fireplace and lots of blankets.

10. People scare me when they…
Pride themselves on ignorance. Whenever people are staunchly anti-education, I get nervous.

11. If I were the subject of a reality show people would see a lot of…
Noodling on the mandolin and inappropriate scratching.

12. I am offended by…
Clip-on neckwear. Unless you’re a small child.

13. If I could choose one word I’d like others to use to describe my legacy it would be…

14. Power is…
Meaningfully impacting the lives of others, for better or for worse.

15. If an extraterrestrial asked you to show them around NYC where would you take them first?
A homeless shelter. The fact so many people have nothing in the cultural/financial capital of the world says it all about us as a species.

16. I’m kinda obsessed with…
Terrariums. Little mini-habitats in glass jars, what’s not to love? Also, vacuum tubes.

17. Violence is…
Deplorable, rarely necessary, but oh so satisfying. Thank goodness for punching bags and Nerf guns.

18. The fictional villain I have the most compassion for is
The butler in the Aristocats. He kinda got screwed over.

19. The music I listen to when I am feeling triumphant is…
AC/DC or Django Reinhardt, depending on the day.

20. The music I listen to when I’m in a dark mood is…
Miles Davis, it soothes my nerves.

21. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Friendliness—a genuine and honest interest in other people and their lives.

22. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
When they think I’m good-lookin’.

23. Which living person do you most admire?
Probably a toss-up between Steve Wozniak and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both Amazing spokespeople for geekdom, both working to make the world better.

24. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I might have said Thoreau when I was younger, but I don’t really identify with anyone historical, as such. Maybe Nero’s horse.

25. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Procrastination. More about that later.

26. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Selfishness and callousness. People who genuinely don’t care about the suffering of others or anything but their own personal gain, are where a good majority of the evil in our world comes from.

27. What are your favorite names?
Bartleby, Cornelius, Isambard, Celeste, Esmerelda, Isadora.

28. What is your most treasured possession?
My mandolin, which I’ve dubbed “Little Sadie”.

29. What are your favorite colors? Crimson Red and Chocolate Brown.

30. What is your motto?
Everything in moderation…including moderation.

Images: Babs Daniels


Tayannah McQuillar is a writer and the Founder of Demimonde Public Relations ( @demimondepr

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