the guardians

The Guardians: An Elegy
by Sarah Manguso

The Guardians opens with a story from the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press that begins, “An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the station on West 254th Street.” Sarah Manguso writes: “The train’s engineer told the police that the man was alone and that he jumped. The police officers pulled the body from the track and found no identification. The train’s 425 passengers were transferred to another train and delayed about twenty minutes.”

The Guardians is an elegy for Manguso’s friend Harris, two years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and jumped under that train. The narrative contemplates with unrelenting clarity their crowded postcollege apartment, Manguso’s fellowship year in Rome, Harris’s death and the year that followed—the year of mourning and the year of Manguso’s marriage. As Harris is revealed both to the reader and to the narrator, the book becomes a monument to their intimacy and inability to express their love to each other properly, and to the reverberating effects of Harris’s presence in and absence from Manguso’s life. There is grief in the book but also humor, as Manguso marvels at the unexpected details that constitute a friendship. The Guardians explores the insufficiency of explanation and the necessity of the imagination in making sense of anything.

The Guardians from Sarah Manguso on Vimeo.

Review Excerpts

  • The Paris Review febuary 2, 2013
    “The Thursday edition of the Riverdale Press carried a story that began An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the Riverdale station on West 254th Street.” 
  • BOOKFORUM feb/mar 2012
    “Manguso’s embrace of rhetorical failure itself constitutes an unusual and strangely affecting lament.” – Jenny Davidson
  • VOGUE DAILY february 28, 2012
    “Manguso captures with great delicacy the spinning compass of her grief.” – Megan O’Grady

No longer available:

  • ELLE – march 2012
    “Manguso sees her way artfully and with heart.”
  • DBC READS – february 28, 2012
    “The writer Sarah Manguso is a cut above.”

hard taco project

From Zachary London:

Lauren said you were trying to compile every recording Harris ever made. He played on two Hard Taco songs, both in 2007. “Girls Are So Neat” is the first HT song Harris played on. That’s Russell [Schwartz] doing the backup vocals on the later choruses. This [second] one is called, “Only a Man.”

Finally, I’m not sure if you have any use for this, but this is a song that is sort of ABOUT Harris, although he doesn’t play on it. On several occasions, Harris told me that his favorite Hard Taco songs were not the old-timey or celticky ones, but the all-out rockers. He enjoyed this song because it reminded him of one of his favorite bands, Weezer, and because he liked the idea of being personified as a criminal.

A crappy version of this song was first recorded in 1996, shortly after I met him, but the version I’m sending you was a remake from 2003.

– Zach

Hard Taco Project


With Hard Taco Project


tunebook a

ab duo

I looked at Harris’s entry on Wikipedia yesterday and discovered that someone had updated it with the following information:

In December 2008, Scrapple Records issued a recording of Jeremy Woodruff’s Tunebook A as realized by the AB Duo (Seth Meicht and Jeremy Woodruff on saxophones and flute), a work dedicated to Wulfson.

“Too Much for a Pogie” by AB Duo. “Tunebook” by Jeremy Woodruff (realized by AB Duo). “Tunebook” includes recordings of Seth Meicht and Jeremy Woodruff on saxophones and flute. Created in New York City and Berlin, Germany from July-September 2007 (Pogie) and July-November 2008 (Tunebook). “Tunebook A” is dedicated to Harris Wulfson (1974-2008).

Scrapple Records AB-Duo – AB Duo’s Pogie Tunebook (2009) is available for purchase online at bandcamp.



the wulf. — news and upcoming events

Dear all,

for the past couple of months, we have been taking time to apply for grants and start wrapping our heads around fundraising. wish us luck and do let us know of any opportunities that we may be unaware of. this effort is to keep the wulf. going strong. to be sure though, it is the amazing community of composers, performers, and listeners that have helped make the wulf. possible. our main goals are to provide better for the performers (fees, equipment and being able to invite out of town guests) and to offset the costs of the organization.

the time has come to start things up again in full force. see below a detailed list of upcoming events starting with a concert of the music of harris wulfson. nonetheless, keep an eye out at our website and for our emailings about other events that may happen spontaneously.

@ the wulf. 1026 s santa fe ave #203

upcoming events:

10.04.09 8:00 pm **Note change of date from 10.02.09
in memoriam harris wulfson.

friends of harris present his music: LiveScore, Durations, lookatmeiamafish, Hell. performed by eric km clark, april guthrie, orin hildestad, danny holt, mark so, cassia streb, christine tavolacci, brian walsh, and michael winter. (followed by a grill out with doctor hildestad as chef.)

-the wulf

See this article from Signal To Noise magazine about Harris and LiveScore. Or click the image below for the larger version.

i don’t wanna grow up from dave sollors

“I’ve been meaning to share this song I recorded last month while thinking of Harris” – Dave

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up by Tom Waits.



looking for harris by steve forman

Steve Forman, a friend and colleague of Harris wrote:

As it happens I was just starting work on a chamber orchestra piece here when I got the news. I knew that the piece would be inevitably about Harris in some way, and assumed that the logic in that would reveal itself to me as the work took shape as is often the case. But it never did and the piece was extremely difficult to finish because I simply didn’t understand what I was doing. It was clearly not biographical (I didn’t know much about Harris’ past), it had nothing to do with any of the folk music traditions we were both interested in (though it easily could have I suppose.) And it has nothing to the work Harris was doing as an experimental composer. Nevertheless it’s sincere; the reason it was so difficult for me to grasp what the piece was about is because it is an expression of my own inability to fathom what will forever be impossible for me to understand. Like everyone else, I feel privileged to have known Harris, however briefly, and I accept the situation as we all must. But I’ll never sort it out.

The piece, “Looking for Harris“, will be premiered in Glasgow at Oran Mor on Monday, September 29th by the Scottish Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Peter Cynfryn Jones.

Steve kindly shares his midi demo:



metropolitan klezmer

metropolitan klezmer

Metropolitan Klezmer between sets at Tonic, early 1999: Debby Karpel, Ismail Butera, Michael Hess, Steve Elson, Pam Fleming, Eve Sicular, Dave Hofstra and Harris Wulfson in the wine cellar on the Lower East Side. photo by Dennis Kleiman

Metropolitan Klezmer‘s Eve Sicular has kindly allowed me to share some music tracks from two CDs on which Harris played:

Yiddish For Travelers, 1997
Harris performs as guest violinist on tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12, and 13 (5 & 6 below)


Mosaic Persuasion, 2000
Harris performs as guest violinist on tracks 9 and 15


With Metropolitan Klezmer


Remembering Harris 7.31.08
Our dear musician comrade and friend, Harris Wulfson, died suddenly last week. We remember him fondly, for his sweetness with the violin and all else. His intellect and humor were tremendous yet unassuming. He had a great smile, endless enthusiasm, and an easy sense of irony. And he just loved music.

Harris had a deep devotion to Yidishkayt, and also applied his talents to his many other interests, such as bluegrass, funk, rap, new and electronic music of types I am at a loss to describe. He could play le jazz hot as well as Irish tunes, Yiddish swing or Bulgarian 11/4, and imbue it all with gorgeous, fun spirit. His gifts could also be heard through mandolin, accordion, guitar, and however else he expressed his natural musicality.

Many of our New York-area fans may remember Harris as our genial guest artist and outstanding soloist on Metropolitan Klezmer shows at Tonic, Makor, Fez, Cornelia Street Cafe, and others; he also appeared as a guest Klezbian on occasion (I will soon post pictures just found again from Harris on an outdoor Isle of Klezbos show in front of St Mark’s Church in 1999). We even created a New Year’s Eve klezmer band once at Caravan of Dreams. His most recent public performance with us was at Nuyorican Poets Cafe last year, a special Isle of Klezbos show; we also enjoyed performing together for recent weddings in Manhattan and verdant settings upstate. If memory serves, he also performed in our accordionist Ismail Butera’s project Sharqija, playing Music of the Silk Road.

Harris had a special ear for music of Eastern Europe, and called certain parts of that region the Klez Belt (as one of his friends posted this week). Anyone who has listened to our first two CDs Yiddish For Travelers and Mosaic Persuasion has heard Harris’ violin stylings on several tracks where he was a featured guest. It was a joy to mix studio sessions he had recorded, every take was a fresh delight. In the MP cover art, he is the soulful young fiddler in the red shirt all the way to the right side of the Metropolitan Klezmer band photo. This 1999 picture is by Dennis Kleiman.

Harris was also the person who first set us up with a website, which he could casually encode in a few minutes during early dot com days. His own creative adventures took him in so many directions, he leaves remarkable memories for us all. He was also a deeply principled, dapper, occasionally yet adorably spacey mentsh who was constantly open to learning.

To learn more about Harris, and hear his very moving and innovative original compositions, here is his own website. (He attended graduate studies at Cal Arts as well as CUNY; one email to me included a p.s. reading: “Dr. Harris eventually.”)

He has left us much too soon, but we are grateful for having known him. It is still very hard to believe he will not be here to play with us next time. We miss him deeply and send his family wishes for strength and peace. May his memory continue for a blessing.

All best,
~Eve for Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos

a curry for lea – by elissa altman

I don’t know if it’s possible to be sick with grief, but maybe that’s what this impalpable scourge is. Take one heaping dose of unparalleled sadness, blend it with a few tablespoons of ennui, and you’ll feel like dreck. Trust me. I can promise you that.

By Elissa Altman, 2012 James Beard Award winner and founder of

I’m sick.
My nose feels like it weighs 87 pounds.
My head is pounding.
My body is aching.
My eyes are burning.
I think I may have a fever.

I never get sick. I really don’t. I spent last winter working in a hermetically-sealed petri dish surrounded by a pile of fluish people, and I never had so much as a sniffle. All my colleagues were hacking and coughing, and I was fine. But I’m sick now, and nothing is making me feel better.

I don’t know if it’s possible to be sick with grief, but maybe that’s what this impalpable scourge is. Take one heaping dose of unparalleled sadness, blend it with a few tablespoons of ennui, and you’ll feel like dreck. Trust me. I can promise you that.

My cousin Harris Wulfson died a few weeks ago, suddenly, unexpectedly, violently, tragically. He was 34 years old, a brilliant polymath who could play every musical instrument he laid his hands on (including the Tabla, the Bodhran, the Balalaika, and the Cymbalon). He would quote Ayn Rand and Doctor Suess, Tom Waits and Frederich Nietzsche, Nixon and Hegels, and Myron Floren, often in the same sentence. Children loved him. Women loved him. Men loved him. Animals loved him.

I loved him.

He sang klezmer tunes in perfect Litvakian Yiddish, and bluegrass like Del McCoury. He played the mandolin like Bill Monroe and the violin like Stephane Grappelli. When our highly musical family would get together, we would all grab an instrument, and he’d lead us like we were the Jewish Cowsills. When he played fiddle with the band, King Wilkie, the boys all stayed in his tiny Brooklyn apartment, and he showed them the sights he thought appropriate for a pack of modern bluegrass musicians up from the south; I’m not sure, but I think it may have involved taking them for a schvitz at the Russian Baths, although that part could be apocryphal. After he performed with the all-woman klezmer band, The Isle of Klezbos, he was made an honorary Klezbian. His remarkable, infectious, unbridled joy was always acutely balanced with an undercurrent of deep introspection: when he spent a summer studying Yiddish in Krakow, he insisted on celebrating his birthday at Auschwitz, the ghosts of a million lost souls wafting around him, singing him Happy Birthday. A peculiar, slightly disturbing thing to do, perhaps, but to Harris, it was perfectly logical, and he was pretty clear that it seemed the right place to be at the time.

Last year, he came to hear me read one night, down in Manhattan’s East Village, and he was a million miles away. We went for dinner to a local Tibetan restaurant near St. Mark’s Place; I was worried that he was okay, and I told him so.

“Stop asking me that,” he said, annoyed. And then he proceeded to order the hottest, most incendiary vegetarian curry on the menu. I think he might have ordered Yak Butter Tea, too. But as his face turned red and his nose began to run, he said that the curry was making him feel better.

One of the last times I saw Harris, he said “I want to cook with you. I want you to teach me.”

“What do you like to eat?” I asked, staring at this man who, at times, was so gangly and thin that I often thought he’d gone days without eating much.

“Curry,” he said. “Vegetarian or vegan curry.”

He was very matter-of-fact about it. He liked making breakfast, but these days, he was swapping tofu for eggs. Meat was pretty much a thing of the past for him. He said that he also liked making dinner, but he was just not compelled to cook anything that had eyes and a thought process (even a tenuous one). He liked pondering the fact that you could pull something out of the ground, or off a tree, growing and alive two seconds before, and that it might just be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten. He liked the fact that it wasn’t, he said, “prefabricated.” It was real food. And it didn’t involve any pain, on anyone’s part. There was no moral or ethical decision behind it.


“But you’re not a vegetarian,” I said, remembering the burgers we had had together at Annie’s in Aspen, many years ago. I remembered buying him enormous jars of herring in cream sauce, which he would happily consume while sitting on my back deck, eating the fish straight from the container with a silver salad fork.

“There’s this woman I really like,” he said, cutting me off. “And she’s a vegetarian.”

“I see,” I said.

He went on: she lived in this great house in Brooklyn, filled with great people who were always coming and going, stopping and eating. She had a spectacular kitchen built of dark, warm wood; it opened out onto a thriving, ancient vegetable and fruit garden that had nourished scores of people, for years. It seemed, the way he described it, that it was a kind of sanctuary, where people showed up, and, as the late, great Laurie Colwin once said, you fed them and took care of them before sending them back out into the crazy, dangerous, unruly world.

“It sounds like a commune,” I said.

“Don’t kid yourself,” he responded, “it is. It’s the best place, filled with the best people.”

Most of Harris’s friends were vegetarians. But more important, Lea was a vegetarian, and he loved her. He wanted me to teach him how to make curry for her. Maybe with a little bit of spice.

“You know, it’s the greatest act of love there is for someone–cooking for them,” I said.

“I know that,” he responded softly. He smiled shyly, like a child, and stared at his feet.

I never did get to teach Harris how to make a simple curry, or to cook together with him in Lea’s kitchen–the center of his universe, the place where life was great, and kind, and safe. And, in my own moments of peace and reason, I wonder why he was so bent on learning how to make this particular dish. But then, I think back to a time a few years ago when I was sick–honestly sick, not just summer cold sick–with some uncategorizable illness involving a lot of physical, breathtaking, mind-numbing pain, the cause of which was, and still is, a mystery. The only thing that made me feel remotely good was curry. When my doctor, an Iranian woman, asked me if there was anything that made me feel better, I told her.

“Is it strange?” I asked.

“No,” she responded. “Curry almost always contains turmeric, which is an ancient, well-known cure for colicky babies– It is also known to calm, to soothe, to ease hurt; it is hugely comforting.”

Maybe that’s why Harris loved it so much, and maybe that’s why he wanted to learn to make it for this woman he adored. I’ll never know for sure. But when we returned home after the funeral was over, after we sat shiva, and after Lea and his friends and his sister and brother-in-law and parents and grandmother and cousins were left looking into this great, vast void created by his absence, it was all I was hungry for.

Even now, it’s all I can seem to eat.


A Curry for Lea
Serves 4

  • 2 medium yellow squash, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into chunks
  • 1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 12 fresh or dried curry leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 2 dried red chiles
  • 2 tablespoons fresh, minced ginger
  • 1 small onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon prepared curry powder
  • 1 15-ounce can coconut milk
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 block tofu, drained and cubed
  • chopped fresh cilantro, to taste
  1. Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Set a steamer over the pot, and lightly steam the squash, zucchini and cauliflower until just soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a straight-sided, large skillet, heat the oil over a medium high flame until it begins to shimmer. Add the curry leaves (carefully; they will pop and crackle) and the chiles. Stir well.
  3. Lower the flame to medium, add the ginger, onions, and garlic, and cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the coriander and turmeric, and stir to combine well. Add the tomatoes, curry powder, coconut milk, and water, and bring back up to a burbling simmer. Stir well, lower the heat, and cover for 8-10 minutes until the flavors begin to meld.
  4. Add the tofu cubes and the steamed vegetables, and continue to cook, stirring well, for another 5 minutes.

Serve over rice or quinoa, topped with a handful of fresh cilantro.

Originally for the Huffington Post