Ben Kweller slumped down and sat on the stoop of his new home in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. It was late afternoon, and the long-haired 20-year-old had just completed a frantic session with contractors to discuss renovations to the building. “I’ve never been this stressed out in my whole life ,” Mr. Kweller said.
Six years ago, Mr. Kweller experienced a wholly different brand of stress. As the front man for the pubescent grunge band Radish, Mr. Kweller found himself at the center of an intense, high-stakes bidding war among record-label executives, who considered the precocious Texas native the natural heir to Kurt Cobain. Radish eventually signed with Mercury Records for more than $1 million, and Mr. Kweller was memorably profiled in The New Yorker –but the band never took off. After one underachieving album, Restraining Bolt , Radish broke up.
Still, the hefty record deal left Mr. Kweller reasonably flush. He kept playing music, but he also invested in the stock market, obsessing over the tickers scrolling across his television screen. More recently, he ventured into the precarious world of New York City
real estate, buying a four-story Federal-style brownstone four stops in on the Brooklyn-bound F train. With help from his girlfriend, Liz Smith (not the Liz Smith), Mr. Kweller was beginning the unlikely transformation from teenage rock star to landlord.
“It’s going to take a month and a half to renovate everything,” Mr. Kweller said, giving a visitor a tour of his new property the other day. The rocker’s hair was no longer bleached blond, as in his Radish days, but his face was still boyish; even up close, he could still pass for a 16-year-old.
Walking into a bedroom, Mr. Kweller yanked at a strip of linoleum, revealing moldy yet promising hardwood below. “We’re going to pull up this flooring, because underneath there’s these beautiful floors,” he said.
Mr. Kweller and Ms. Smith, a designer of women’s accessories, hope to have the building’s two rental units ready by September. “It’s definitely a little scary to think that somebody in their 40’s is going to be paying a 20-year-old kid rent,” Mr. Kweller said. Later, he and Liz–already Carroll Gardens residents for the past two years–plan to get started on overhauling their own unit.
“Check out where my studio’s going to be,” Mr. Kweller said, hopping down a brittle set of wooden stairs leading to the basement. “We’re gonna take back the basement a foot and a half. Soundproof it. We’re going to tear down these walls to make a bigger room.”
Like a lot of new homeowners, Mr. Kweller acknowledged that buying property and hunting for contractors often left him feeling alternately helpless and exhausted. “Negotiating a record deal is a lot easier, because you don’t do all the talking,” he said. “But here, I don’t even have a manager. It’s just me. You feel very alone …. It’s crazy.”
During negotiations, Mr. Kweller sought help from elders like his friend Bryce Goggin, a record producer for such bands as Pavement and Spacehog and the owner of several buildings in Park Slope and Fort Greene. “I think that musicians have to multitask these days,” Mr. Goggin said in a phone interview.
Mr. Kweller continues to make music; lately, he’s been recording a solo album. But now it was clear that there would be other things on his mind. “When there’s a water leak, I don’t call anybody,” Mr. Kweller said. “I’m going to have to deal with it.”
Small World, After All
This fall, Doubleday books will publish The Crusader , a sweeping debut novel about a 13th-century Spanish nobleman, written by a promising new writer named Michael Eisner. No, not that Michael Eisner.
This Michael Eisner is a 35-year-old attorney turned novelist and Upper West Side resident who is quite familiar with the confusion his four-syllable name produces. Recently, Mr. Eisner found himself being ushered to a fantastic and suddenly available table at the restaurant AZ, only to have the hostess shoot her colleagues a thumbs-down sign when she discovered her dinner guest was not related to the Walt Disney Company C.E.O. There was the senior partner at Morrison & Foerster–the law firm in L.A. where Mr. Eisner once worked–who commented on Mr. Eisner’s “striking” resemblance to his “father.” The more Mr. Eisner insisted there was no connection, the more impressed the partner became, thinking Mr. Eisner was trying to coolly distance himself from his progenitor.
This sort of thing happens again and again. “That’s kind of the burden of having that name,” the author Mr. Eisner said the other day. “People get really excited. They see dollar signs or something. And then they’re always disappointed.”
As the writer Michael Eisner takes his turn in the limelight, steps will be taken to avoid a mix-up. When The Crusader is published in October, the name on the cover will be Michael Alexander Eisner. “Doubleday wanted to avoid distraction,” Mr. Eisner said. Over in Great Britain, however, it will be published under plain old Michael Eisner. “They don’t seem to care about Michael Eisner in England,” the author said.
Of course, there is also the chance that the two Michael Eisners will cross paths some time in the future. The Crusader ‘s film rights are for sale, and the book is generating some interest in Hollywood. Mr. Eisner’s literary agent, Luke Janklow, would not confirm if Disney was among the suitors, but he didn’t deny it, either.
Mr. Eisner the author sounded pretty laid-back about the possibility. “To say that this is one of my ambitions would be false. But it would be kind of amusing, my namesake …. ” his voice trailed off. “My guess is, he probably has more important things to worry about.”
– Rebecca Traister
In 1992, a brown-eyed whiz kid from New York named Michael Hauben coined the term “netizen” to describe particularly conscientious members of the global e-village. In 1997, two years out of Columbia University, Mr. Hauben co-authored (with his mother, Ronda) Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, in which he envisioned the 21st-century Internet as a “grand intellectual and social commune.” ComputerWorld magazine called Netizens a “must-read.”
By 2000, however, the Internet’s and Mr. Hauben’s fortunes had turned, and he was working as a help-desk guy at a grocery-shopping dot-com. On June 23, 2001, he was unemployed and job-hunting again, posting a notice on his own Web site looking for a job that required “technical ability and working with people and not just computer screens.”
Four days later, Mr. Hauben, 28, threw himself off the 15th-floor fire escape of his parents’ Upper West Side apartment.
Those who knew Mr. Hauben described a young man whose early passion for the Internet and its democracy of ideas was soured by the Net’s growing reliance on profits. “The pollution of the Internet by all the commercialization and privatization really pained Michael,” said Mr. Hauben’s father, Jay.
Michael–who’d bought his first computer, a Timex Sinclair 1000 with 2K of memory, at age 8–had been online since the early 1980’s. He was active on Usenet, the freewheeling network of news groups and bulletin boards that was a precursor to the World Wide Web. Like a lot of early devotees, Mr. Hauben was turned off by those who considered the Web a money-making device.
“The Net is the vehicle for the distribution of people’s ideas, thoughts and yearnings,” Mr. Hauben once wrote. “I do not need a computer to order flowers from FTD or clothes from the Gap.”
Mr. Hauben was also a member of the city’s rave community, but his dancing days ended in 1998, after he was struck by a taxi cab. He later lost a job he loved at a museum, and his credit-card debt grew immense. Those who knew him said he grew increasingly withdrawn.
“He needed introductions to eligible women,” Jay Hauben said at his son’s funeral. “He needed to be invited to dinner more.”
As tragic as his death was, Mr. Hauben may prove to have a lasting legacy.
“The notion of citizenship in this community outside physical space is going to become more important, and it will be tracked back to Michael,” said David Farber, a professor of telecommunications at the University of Pennsylvania and a revered Internet elder. “Even if the Internet turns into a glorified TV with a big ‘BUY’ button, there’ll be an underground operating as if they’re under attack, and they will remember and reclaim terms like ‘netizen.'”