Brokes populi: Does Bill Lee’s neighbor have a leg to stand on?

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Bill Lee, the oldest living public nuisance in America

Recently, the Times did a story on the case of Spike Lee’s dad, Bill Lee, and his dispute with a neighbor. The elder Lee is a renowned jazz musician, and has been for quite some time. He’s also been practicing his craft in his home off of Fort Greene Park for 40 years, and sometimes that means inviting some people over to jam. Which has been fine for the last 40 years, until a new neighbor moved in and eventually started making a ton of noise complaints. Lee and his wife, Susan say it’s an issue of a newcomer trying to impose on a community, the neighbor says it’s about not wanting to live next door to a jazz club. Is there any way the neighbor is right in this situation?

It’s tough for us to have that much sympathy. Even discounting the fact that this is Spike Lee’s dad, this is the exact kind of thing that makes people contemptuous of newcomers to a city. When you move somewhere, you have to be aware of your new surroundings and adapt to them. If anything, this woman should be suing the realtor who showed her the apartment, apparently without mentioning the guy who’s known to play loud jazz music next door, sometimes with a full band.

Now I will say, I can understand where the neighbor is coming from. After all, I put in plenty of time living in close quarters with the talentless wastrels that populated the McKibbin Lofts, including someone who played the same house beats over and over again for hours. We called him DJ Shitbag. But we gritted our teeth and dealt with it. After all, we moved somewhere knowing the reputation and didn’t really have any place telling people not to practice music loudly. It would have been nice if they were talented, but what can you do?

Bill Lee’s neighbor, on the other hand, not only lives next door to an actual good musician, but next door to someone who’s never had a neighbor make seventeen noise complaints to the police in a six month period. Just because you can afford to buy or rent property somewhere doesn’t mean you should. But if you go ahead and do it anyway, you’d damn well better know the history of the place you’re going and who your new neighbors are. Or are we being unreasonable in calling this woman unreasonable?

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  1. I agree, but on the other hand, it seems like a compromise could be struck. Can’t they find some kind of agreement on a time during the week and a time during the weekend after which music will not be played? It sounded like Mr. Lee’s wife was not amendable to any kind of compromise. After all, even many jazz bars and restaurants in residential areas end up agreeing to this kind of arrangement. And just because they’ve been there longer…I dunno, not sure that gives them the right to just play music loudly whenever they want without any consideration to the other people who have paid good money to live there, too, and have different standards. When a bar with music opened up near me, just because I lived here 20 years first doesn’t mean I get to say they can never ever play music.

  2. It’s everywhere now in NYC. So you moved to NYC for quiet?! Get the hell out of my city before you strangle every last breath of life out of it. The sense of entitlement is beyond audacious. Some of them could even live anywhere they want in the city but they wannabe hipsters which seems to now include living in the hood. If only I could bitch slap every last transplant that ever called 311 for a noise complaint, if only

  3. I agree with the writer of the post. Too many people try to go to the “coolest” new hood and pretend to be a hipster, but when it comes down to it, they are not cut out for the culture of the place. Instead of immersing themselves in it, they seek to change it. This man has been and is a staple musician, and, apparently, he has earned respect among his neighbors such that he has been able to play his music without complaint. They should have asked the right questions before moving in. Tough luck. Move somewhere else if you cannot hang. Go to the UES.

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