Thursday, November 27, 2008

Some fun videos for Thanksgiving

Nothing deep, just enjoy!

This song truly was ahead of its time:


Early Fuzztones influence:


Lots of fun noise from a lamented band...and yes, I was there! And now I am one of a multitude that is hoping for a holiday reunion, even if for one night...

Monday, November 24, 2008

CD Reviews: Fall 2008

These are the CDs that have been reviewed at my Jersey Beat: Quiet Corner column, at JerseyBeat.com/quietcorner.html.

Due to computer issues, I had lost a bunch of reviews I had written to be published here. If you sent me a CD and it still has not been reviewed, please let me know!


Talk about international: PAT ALLEN and ANDY BUCKLE are two British musicians teaching grade school in Connecticut, who have recorded this CD, Through the Same Eyes (kef4kids.org), to help build a school in Africa (Kilimanjaro, to be precise). While the collection is all over the map, from solid rock to children’s songs (think Wiggles) to ballads, to Hall & Oats-ish soft rock, to singer-songwriter, it comes together as a cohesive effort, thanks to the blending of both their mellow voices to the central themes of encouragement, empowerment, and positivism. Now, I know that this all sounds kind of preachy and has a high possibility of a yecch factor, but yes, they do pull it off, and quite well. As for the charity aspect, hey, we did the Rock Again Racism, Rock Against Reagan, and Hands Across Your Face, so why not help these kids in Africa? I don’t know if we are the world, or if they know it’s Christmas time, but I do know that this is a solid piece of work worth listening to on its own. It’s a bit steep at $25, but think where it’s going.

This seems to be the year of all ABBA-all the time. To add to the pile is Australian band AUDIOSCAM, who have produced their own interpretation on their CD Abbattack (australiansunrecords.com). All the hits that are in the movie, on the radio, coming out of storefronts, etc., are here. But what makes this different is that it is done in a poppy hair metal milieu. Yep, guitar solos, and all. It’s kinda interesting in its own twisted way, and would be more so if I was a fan of the Swedish acronym. One song that actually comes across especially well here is “S.O.S.,” on which they put just the right sheen. “Momma Mia” seems as if Queen arranged it, so I guess that works as well. Problem is, I was sick of these songs by 1985, so it was a tough listen at times, not because of Audioscam, who do a fine job, but because, well, as I said, all ABBA-all the time. Wonder if they’ll do a similar-yet-more-fun (to me) band next time, and cover The Seekers: “It’s a long, long journey, so stay by my side…”

For those who don’t know, KEVIN AYERS is a legendary British musician who was an original member of the psychedelic Soft Machine back in the late ‘60s, playing often with the likes of Syd Barrett. The Unfairground (giganticmusic.com), which is also the name of his back-up group, is his first release in 15 years. While his voice has mellowed, as it were, he is not just “famous for what he did before,” as his songs are top notch. The psychedelia is mostly gone but there is definitely a late ‘60s-early ‘70s feel that leans more toward glam (without the over-the-top exuberance that is usually iconified by the style), but mixed with some folk and even Tex-Mex! It is often said that the quality of a musician can seen in the company they keep. Backing Kevin in various songs include the old guard like Roxy Music’s Ray Manzanera, Brit folk marvel Bridget St. John, and Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper. Some of the newer ones include Teenage Fanclub singer/guitarist Norman Blake and Frank Reader from the Trash Can Sinatras. All the cuts here are musically superb, and even Kevin’s rough voice works well within the frame.

JOHN BATDORF and MARK RODNEY were cult favorites in the early ‘70s, with their mellow folk rock output. They broke up in 1975, but got back together again recently to record Still Burnin’ (johnbatdorfmusic.com), a mostly live recording at XM Studios, which is mostly their own covers plus two brand new songs. Have to say that before this CD, I hadn’t heard of them (though my go-to-guy, Bernie Kugel, who is a ’60-‘70s musical encyclopedia, knew them right off. Of course). I can only go by what I’m hearing here, and I have to say, as much as I like folkie stuff, this was the kind of material that originally made me want to listen to the Ramones. B&R would probably fit somewhere between Seals and Croft and CSN (sans Y). After all, in one form or another, B&R had toured with the likes of America, Hall and Oats, and, well, you get the picture. Yeah, the songs are okay, with a deep view of personal growth and heartache, and I don’t mean to put that kind of musical stretch down, but they are not my cup of tea. Melanie was more ‘core than they were (I loved Melanie, to whom I lost my concert cherry, so back off). That being said, for those B&R fans out there, please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are bad. Their musicianship is tight and Batdorf still has his voice (“Burnin’” comes across as Batdorf BACKED BY Rodney more than Batdorf AND Rodney) after all these years, but to me it is just…meh, whatever. Get this if you like Kansas and Poco.

THE BUGS (myspace.com/zodiackillerrecords) is a Cali post-hardcore band that owes a lot to the Ramones and the Descendants. Their self-titled release is 11 songs in just over 13 minutes. From what I can see, there are three main topics here. In no particular order, one is drugs (e.g., “Back on the Weed,” “Meth on My Mind,” “Dopefiend”), looks at culture (e.g., “No More Emo Haircuts,” “I Wish I Was a Mexican,” and my favorite in this category, “Dave Navarro’s Goatee Fucking Sucks”), and the most outstanding one is about homosexuality (“Lesbo! Lesbo!,” “Never Went Gay,” “I’m Turning Gay,” and “Email From a She-male”). I don’t know these guys, and despite the very humorous and sophomoric tone, they seem old enough to know what they are saying. Are they homophobic or homo-core, I’m not sure, but they made me laugh. The songs are little paragraphs of statements with a grin and elbow, and can be summed up by something in the one-page booklet that thanks someone “who was supposed to play drums on this record but could not due to state issued mandatory jail time.” If you like your ‘core with a non-serious bent, well, here ya go.

CAMERA-HEAD SHARK is the kind of band that just gets better the more you listen to it. Oh, You (cameraheadshark.com) at first came across as a slightly skewed pop rock band, but oh, it is so much more. With a sharp sense of melody and harmony, layered under the off-kilter but actually quite fitting vocals, the songs have memorable hooks, and a sound that if not unique is certainly in short supply. In other words, they don’t sound like every other damn band you hear these days. Some of the better cuts here, and they are actually all worthwhile, are “Baby Midnight,” “Pack Up Your Suitcase,” “It’s So Evil,” and especially the opening “Punched” (which could have been written by They Might Be Giants) and what should be their breakout single, “Since the Stone Age.”

It is amazing how much STEVE CARLSON at times sounds like Greg Brown on Stripped Down (smokinglionmusic.com or stevecarlson.com). Mind you, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And please let me be clear that Steve’s material is really well crafted, and not reductive. From “Without You,” the opening cut, his emotion is on his sleeve in a powerful performance. Yeah, he looks like he w/could beat the crap outta ya, but there is definitely some heart in there and is not afraid to show it, evident by the one cover: the Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” It’s brave to go up against Ronnie Spector’s voice, especially as raspy as Steve’s is, but his heart definitely pulls it off. This CD, Steve’s fourth, is actually full of really strong material, like “All That I ever Wanted,’ “Happy Hour,” straight through to the finale, “Love Your Or Leave You.” If you like singer-songwriter with just a hint of western flair (sans country), check it out.

Seems when bands focus on horror flicks, they fall into two general categories: you have the non-human monsters, such as Children of the Night and The Scared Stiffs), or the human monsters (e.g., cannibals and mass murderers), such as The Cramps and now CHESTY MALONE AND THE SLICE ‘EM UPS. Their CD, Now We’re Gonna See What Disaster Really Means (Wrecked; c/o chestymalone.com), is a fuckin’ hoot. Post-hardcore speed with a New York ‘80s style, they pound their way through 13 numbers, such as “Trouble With Cannibals” (one of my faves), “13 Killers” (what, no mention of New Yorker Albert Fish?), “Meat Factory,” “Skincrawl,” “Livereaters,” “Dotti Douchebag Sings the Blues,” and “Beavershot.” Thing is, from the first to the last, this is such a fun release, that its 30 minutes goes by so quickly. Chesty Malone, in her latest incarnation (she was the lead singer of Lady Unluck), is Jaqueline Blownapate, whose throaty voice is not so much a death rattle, as it is a body slam, using a 24-pounder. The rest of the band, which includes her partner/co-writer/guitarist Anthony Allen van Hoek, keeps up with her (or she keeps up with them…either way it works). There are a lot of cool subtle film references throughout, such as “Spiderbaby” in “Livereaters” and perhaps “The Corpse Grinders” in “Meat Factory.” I haven’t caught them live, but it’s definitely on the agenda.

The Colorado-based MICHAEL HARRISON BLUES is – of course – Michael at the center, and a bunch of studio musicians, releasing Lost in the Blues (michaelharrisonblues.com). This CD is mostly blues standards, with some originals thrown in. Gotta say, Michael’s electric blues style is right up there with Stevie Ray and Eric C, with a sharpness like a razor. And what he lacks in the vocal area with a tendency to be flat (both literally and emotionally), he certainly makes up for with his flying fingers. Some of the covers include “Mean Mistreater” (a Muddy Waters’ wailer), Robert Ross’s 1991 “White Boy Lost in the Blues,” “CCR’s “Wrote a Song,” Buster Burnett’s Jumpin’ at Shadows,” and the late and underrated Tommy Bolin’s “Sweet Burgundy” (which is vocally the weakest here). It is nice that Michael’s originals fit in pretty well with the standards. Jennifer Burnett’s vocals on the opener and closer helps, but I do have to say that as a release that is put out by Michael himself, he did an above decent job. Maybe an instrumental release next?

Rather than producing the usual concept of songs, HOLLER, WILD ROSE! uses each cut of Our Little Hymnal (blacklightrecords.com) to create a soundscape experience, which is almost a world of their own. There are multiple instruments ranging from the classic guitar/bass/drum to all different types of synthesizers. For well over an hour, they stream out sounds that all flow together. No bleep or blurps, but rather texture and waves. It is hard to imagine them playing out, as each member of this group is listed as playing numerous instruments which are all blended. The vocals are wispy, sometimes in a John Lennon-ish way, other times, more pastoral. Despite such heady music, the lyrics are actually very accessible, which helps the whole project be approachable.

When I was in high school, I had a friend named Robert Gordon (not the rockabilly singer) who introduced me to his three loves: Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, and pot. It took me a few years to appreciate Dylan, the other two not. Back then, I found arena rock really, excruciatingly dull, perhaps because I was not a lover of pot? I took chances and went to see Led Zeppelin at MSG, and was bored to sleep, literally. Now I was given the opportunity to review the new DVD by JETHRO TULL, Jack In the Green: Live in Germany, Recorded Between 1970-1993 (Aviator-Entertainment GmbH). There are 18 songs covering a few performances, the forefront of which is in 1982. Since high school and now, I have learned to value Celtic music, which is a large part of Tull’s sound (along with rock, jazz, and fusion). As the DVD started, at first I thought, oh, wow, this isn’t bad at all. Maybe Robert had something here. I mean, I still remember the main riff from “Aqualung,” but I didn’t recall anything else from that album or “Thick as a Brick,” which were quite prevalent in my high school days. Then, somewhere around the fourth of fifth song, I started looking at my watch. The quality of the DVD is excellent, with the visuals and the sound being very crisp. As the DVD went into the second show (1986), and the 10th song, I subconsciously I caught myself fiddling with the remote in my hands, feeling restless. About halfway through the ’86 shows, I started fast-forwarding a bit through the instrumentals. The ’93 part, taken from TV appearance, is nearly pure jazz, and the two songs kept my interest. The last part is from the “Beat Club,” also TV, one song from 1970, and one from 1971. While I was amazed at the sharpness of the image (with the typical German way of superimposing the full names of the band members), I was totally bored out of my mind, though it was interesting when Ian Anderson grabs his side in pain, walks off the stage, and end the song short. Of all the cuts here, the 1982 ones are the best sound, lighting, and most entertaining, showing Anderson at his best, but that’s limited for me. I think I’ll still with my “just Dylan,” though I appreciate the chance to see if I was missing something. Speaking of absence, there are no extras on this disk.

The handsome JANN KLOSE resides in the Bronx now, but throughout his life, he has lived on numerous continents, all of which has affected his music views. His latest is Reverie (janklose.com), which was recorded in New Jersey. It’s kind of hard to put a handle on Jann’s material, but it is somewhere in the theatrical jazz singer-songwriter area. His songs take you on journeys though emotions and styles, sometimes with basic guitar (by Jann)-piano-bass-drum, and on others, the lovely Jann’s voice, piano and cello. I can see this ensemble playing Carnegie (Hall, not Deli), or some of the ritzier jazz spots. Yet, the style never tries to talk over the listener’s head; I admire that. Jann’s vocal stylings are reminiscent of Sting, but with some major exceptions: first, Jann has a very beautiful and pure voice, where Sting has that nasal twang that is sorta chalk-on-blackboard; and most importantly, Jann comes off totally sincere and not focused on “self,” unlike…you know who. There are a lot of really enjoyable cuts here, such as the lush, jazzy “All These Rivers,” and the subtle “Questions of the Heart.” The instrumental “Ithaca” is pretty, and this ends on a high note, ironically, with “The Beginning.” I haven’t heard Jann play live yet, but I have met him (tremendously intelligent and nice guy). On the other hand, I have heard Sting play but have not met him, and don’t need to do either with Sting again.

EDDY & KIM LAWRENCE have released their first folkie singer-songwriter (including blues and country influenced) duo-focused cleverly named CD, My Second Wife’s First Album (snowplowrecords.com), but Eddy has been releasing solo stuff for over 20 years. Based near the northeast corner of New York State where Quebec meets Vermont (though he’s original from deep south), they recorded this on their own. Kim plays stand-up bass and adds minimal vocals, and most of the rest, such as writing, singing, and picking is by Eddy. Unlike some other DIY work, they seem to have good control of their material and recording (i.e., no over-indulgent “what will this button do to the sound?” here), thankfully. Eddy is a fine songwriter who takes his everyday life into accord, including addictions, presenting the likes of “Rescue Somebody,” “Camp Cumberland,” “Black Ice,” “Turnpike,” and “Apology.” Sometimes it gets a bit “hunh?” (like “Sammy From Massena” and “Weekend at the Muggles”), but even there the melody takes you, and his framing works. But there is a certain level of deepness that comes through when you least expect it, like on “Your Mama Likes Me,” “One Day at a Time,” “Truth or Consequences,” and “Step 8.” At a bit over an hour, this may have been able to be edited down a bit, perhaps to the next CD, but still good to hear what’s on his mind. What I like the most is that the crisp recording that makes it feel like they’re sitting in the room with the listener, all homey and comfortable. Kim seems to be good for him!

[Life Underwater photo by RBF/FFanzeen Prod]
There are lots of double things to mention when it comes to Staten Island’s LIFE UNDERWATER (liveunderwateronline.com). First, sometimes they’re a group, as in their Live at Café Verboten, and now they are back to a duo with their self-titled release. Sometimes lead singer Jamie Glass plays guitar, and sometimes bass…oh, and sometimes she’s just Jamie (the other part of the duo is her partner, Shane, who plays great guitar), and sometimes she’s amazing novelist JD Glass (Punk Like Me, Punk & Zen, Red Lights, American Goth, and yes, I’ve read them all; there is a huge interview I did with her linked to their MySpace page, but I digress). Both these CDs are their own flavor, and are superb in their own rights. The live CD is solid straight through, as a four-piece. I like the drum sound, and the songs on there are among my favorites of Jamie’s, such as “I Fall,” “I Say Goodbye,” and especially “Lead Me On.” The band helps give it a beautiful bottom rhythm. The self-titled one is stripped down to just Jamie and Shane, who play off each other well. Once again, Jamie’s wonderful use of melody and lyrics in her songs keep the listener’s attention. All the songs here, including “The Kiss,” “Complicated,” and “What Am I Fighting For” show solid songwriting in my melody and lyric. So, basically, check out their songs on their site, get the CDs, and read the books; you won’t be disappointed.

MICHAEL LINDNER is one of those DIYers who does it all, from playing all musical parts, to engineering and recording (his “day” job), to even designing the packaging of Cocktail Napkin (alleyonemusic.com). This CD consists of 8 original instrumentals, and 4 cover songs with vocals. His own pieces are lounge-based, with a strong surf guitar influence. Many of them remind me of the kind of music playing on the soundtracks of ‘60s exploitation films, such as those by Russ Meyer. Believe me, I mean that as a major complement, as those tunes were amazing. While multi-instrumentally talented, Michael’s main axe is the bass, which he uses as the cornerstone of pieces like “Tremulux”. All of these Linder-penned songs are strong. The only weakness seems to be in the vocal tracks, which are very vanilla. He opens up with the Bararach-David tune made famous by Love, “Little Red Book”; mind you, it’s hard to follow someone like Arthur Lee, or even the Stones on “2000 Man.” He just does not have the of the blues heartfelt singing chops. Even the post-doo-wop era “Party Doll” comes off flat. But that’s just four uninteresting songs for eight pretty amazingly fun ones. Definitely the odds are good, and worth a listen.

When the press release starts off with a quote by one of my old mentors and professor, Neil Postman (from “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” I believe), I’m going to pay a little more attention. THE LOVE KILLS THEORY takes Happy Suicide, Jim (xomu.com) as a look at Huxley’s version of dystopia, which is blinding ourselves with consumerism. Rarely does this post-pop group hit the listener over the head with its message, but it is definitely a theme throughout, from specifics, like giving up smoking (“This Thing”) and computers (“Suicide Girls”), to general ownership (“The Love Kills Theory”: “Things you’re wanting become things you’re hating/What sustained you now makes you weary”), to just general cultural morass (“Dream of Sleep”). Now before you start saying, “Ya commie bastids,” it’s not that at all, but rather a request to look inside. These guys are more into the Situationalists than Lenin. The music is quite interesting, in a pop way, with an industrial/electronic influence, though I thought a few more songs would have more power if they hadn’t been electronically affected: a couple times works, but about half are processed, which is overkill. Despite the down-tone of the lyrics, it is actually a positive message (much like Postman). And the final chorus of “Dream of Sleep” is hard to get out of one’s head.

JON MACEY & STEVE GILLIGAN make up the core of Boston pop rockers FoxPass. Now they expand into their own foray with Everything Under the Sun (Actuality Records, Box 408, Arlington, MA 02476; jonandsteve.com). Here, Jon and Steve have the support of percussionist Barry Marshall (of the classic Boston ‘70s band, The Marshalls, who double-duties as producer). I had the pleasure to see Jon and Steve doing their duo stuff up in Boston last year at the Cantab, and they are amazing together. Their material could have been right off Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” but it is all their own. In pure partnership, they each wrote 5 songs apiece, and two together, and yet all are seamless. The songs of life, losing oneself and redemption are woven together through various stringed instruments (such as guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, mandocello), and both their individual and harmonious voices. Truly, I could not pick out a fave because there is not a bad cut here, and each is as impressive as the rest.

While it is safe to say that the ROBERTA PIKET TRIO is built around Roberta’s piano on Love and Beauty (robertajazz.com), it is also fair to say that Ratzo Harris’s bass and Billy Mintz’s drums are equally strong in their mostly support role. Roberta is quite the fingerer. She flits and floats around the keys like a magician as much as a musician. Frickin’ impressive, really. The trio’s sound, for those who lack familiarity with jazz, is reminiscent of some of the “Charlie Brown Christmas” flavoring, but she definitely brings something of her own. Whether it’s the hyperness of “I’m My Everything” to the ultra romantic “Love and Beauty,” the trio shine. While mostly originals, there are interesting riffs on Jimmy Webb’s (known by the Fifth Dimension, though) “Up Up and Away,” and Cole Porter’s “So In Love”. If anyone uninitiated and is looking for a chance to step into some jazz, it would behoove them to seek out this nearly an hour of beauty.

Going to a cool She Wolves show at Delancey (of coz, all She Wolves shows are great), I met some guys who do a cable access metal show. Having worked on a cable show myself (Videowave), I understand the work it entails. They presented me with their DVD, Reality Check TV Presents Collector’s Series Volume One: Real Rock Divas (realitychecktv.com). These dudes know their stuff, and they have managed to interview and record shows by some amazing talent. And yet it is all looking two-cent, which I mean as a total compliment as it is appropriate. This is the video equivalent of a fanzine, sort of what Wayne and Garth may have done if they had balls and gotten out of the basement and actually attended shows. The list of bands is long, but I’ll rattle off a few, like the Donnas (who really open themselves up), The Runaways drummer Sandy West and ace underrated guitarist Lita Ford, the overrated Bif Naked, the ultracool Lunachicks and L7, Barbee Killed Kenn, Doro Pesch, and so on. Sometimes the sound quality is questionable, and subtitles may be helpful, but I repeat, “fanzine.” I am certainly looking forward to seeing Volume Two, which hopefully will include the likes of the She Wolves, maybe the Vesties and Chesty Malone. Oh, there is so much great talent, and I expect Reality Check TV to be there!

It takes all four names to identify Brooklyn resident MILES BENJAMIN ANTHONY ROBINSON, which is appropriate since the music on his freshman eponymous CD (sayheyrecords.com) is just as complex. Miles is an ex-homeless junkie who has knocked around Coney Island for a while, and has settled into a musical groove that I would identify as anti-folk. His songs are dark and gloomy, sometimes nearly dirge-like, aided (and abetted) by members of TV on the Radio and Grizzly Bear, who fill in the music and some haunting harmonies. And speaking of that sorta thing, each song is overdubbed with Miles’ own voice, but not to add in harmony, but more as a counterpoint. It certainly does not add a pleasant or enhancing element, and is in fact disconcerting, which I’m guessing is the point. The songs about his life of hardship are made all the more dissonant this way. To add to this, the songs are either played slightly off-key, or off melody, I’m not certain which, making it all the more poignant. The only real issue I have is because of the double voice recording, usually with an echo, the sound is a bit muddled, making the lyrics a bit hard to make out (and no lyric sheet included). Still, I am impressed with the work, taking the risk, and doing something a bit different than the norm.

STACIE ROSE is a both a musician and humanitarian, who has a history of releasing her own quality pop material and compilations for various charitable organizations. I have reviewed some of both before, and this time I have the pleasure to pass on her new works in Shotgun Daisy (Enchanted, c/o stacierose.com). Stacie has a velvety voice, and her songs are equally as lush, looking at relationships – both positive and negative – with extremely catchy hooks, such as on “Hit Me in the Head,” “Mr. & Mrs. Happily Ever After,” and “Not Listening,” though it’s hard to pick a favorite. While they all are better than anything one can hear on mainstream radio these days, which is where a lot of this could be, Stacie needs to be careful not to overproduce her material. Producer Jeff Allen has played bass for Avril Lavigne, and it seems like he’s trying to make this sound like “Complicated.” Stacie’s material is too precious to take the chance to squander. Luckily, her voice and songs rise above it.

It is sort of an understatement to say SCRIBES OF FIRE is a metal band. Zauberer (myspace/scribesoffire) is loaded with a sound that roars, which is amazing considering they have only one (very talented) guitarist, Phil Salvagione. Backing him on rhythm is an acquaintance of mine from the Brooklyn Punk Temple/Peggy O’Neill’s days who is an equally strong bassist, Mike Delfino, and Dan Kurfirst on drums. The centerpiece is, of course, Ben Abelson on soaring vocals (and lyric writing). Now, when I say metal, I don’t mean either the death metal growl-scream that is seemingly omnipresent, or the sludgy kind that is sodden and molten; in fact this is the crisp fire that melts the metal. There are five songs here, over a span of 42 minutes. Yeah, long songs, but each one is practically a suite, broken up into sections to tell the story not only lyrically, but also musically. If you’re into intelligent headbanging rather than just the usual girls and drugs as so many metal bands are these days, than I suggest digging this up. Only negative thing I can say is that there are at least four typos in their booklet.

Hamilton, Ontario, is some ways is a mystical city. This is especially true when it comes to music. As Boston was to New York City during the mid-‘70s explosion, the Hammer was to Toronto. One of the first bands to come out of that rise was SIMPLY SAUCER, let by Edgar Breau. Despite a shoddy recording history on fan labels, mostly consisting of an album, Cyborg Revisted, put out by writer/musician Gary Pig Gold, and then by writer/local music historian Bruce “Mole” Mowat (both great guys and great writers, by the way), Simply Saucer (SS) have reformed recently, and recorded Half Human/Half Alive (sonicunyon.com). The first half of the hour-long release is a newly recorded record of their earliest material, which had not seen the studio before. The second half, recorded live, is their LP and single recently re-recorded before an audience. Now the thing that is important to remember is that SS is a band of their time, leaning more towards the Detroit MC5 sound than the New York Ramones style. The music is kinda rough and popish, with more than a hint of a synth. SS were highly experimental and thereby influential. Even with a limited recorded history, they managed to help change the face of what was cool. This is a worthwhile historical record of the music was like on the verge of revolution.

Now here is an interesting concept: STRATOSPHEERIUS is the brainchild of Joe Deninzon, and the result of his group is Headspace (stratospheerius.com). What makes them so unusual is that Joe is a classical-level violinist, who uses mostly 6- and 7-string electronic fiddles that he uses in place of a lead guitar. When Joe and southern blues guitarist Mack Price duel and play off each other, as they do on “New Material,” it’s pretty amazing. Now, one would think violin/fiddle = country, but not so here. The style is more classic R&B, rock, and jazz. Yep, one might say “Jew-Eyed Soul,” especially on cuts like the instrumental “Heavy Shtettle Part II: Heavier Shtettle.” Joe has a very sweet, high tenor voice, which actually gives this a bit of a glossy feel, and the occasional over-production also makes it kind of slick, and yet it is easy to appreciate them bringing something interesting and a concept to liven things up.

This is the first time I’ve heard JIM WHITE, though Transnormal Skiperoo (luakabop.com) is certainly not his first release. He’s known for being alt country, but other than a couple of twangy guitars here and there (mostly not, though), he comes across as pretty straightforward singer-songwriter. Anyhoo, Jim has a sort of sweet Jimmy Buffet kind of voice and tone, and the songs are, with one exception, deep and personal, either looking at his own life, foibles, and missteps, or his imaginings of those he knows. What I like about his work is that while I was not blown away by it, still I was impressed that even though it is heartfelt and layered, it is also extremely accessible. Personally, I wish it was more alt country, and perhaps his earlier releases were (MOJO called his work “Sweet hillbilly swing,” which I found very little of here). There are some standout numbers here, like the opening “A Town Called Amen,” “Take Me Away” and especially the haunting “Jailbird”. I’m curious to see where he’s going, musically, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to find out.

I love the concept of Born To Shine, Vol. 5: Seattle, WA, 01.27.07 (trixiedvd.com) DVD. Actually, as exposition, the press release says it perfectly and succinctly: “Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie brought together 14 of his favorite bands on one day to create a portrait of one of the world’s most thriving music scenes. Each band plays one song each and it is delivered here as it happened, in chronological order, in a jam packed 55 minutes.” Also, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty (Fuzagi) produced this collection, and was recorded by Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys). This is the fifth of (so far) six collections in different cities, and a wonder to behold. With this one exception, all of them are performed in condemned houses (this one was moved, as shown at the end of the DVD). The performances are quite crisp as they are performed in a living room, and the viewer can see as the sun as it goes through the day, and darkness sets through the windows. Since the 1990s, Seattle is basically viewed as the “grunge” city, but as with every other town, there are actually a full arc of styles one can see perform, and that is evident here. There’s the poppier rock sounds of Spook the Horse (who open the collection) and Harvey Danger, the anti-folk of the wonderful Tiny Vipers (aka Jesy Fortino), total psych-out instrumental Kinski (who have been known to play single songs for 45 minutes), dissonant (may have been called No Wave at one point) of the badly named Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death (and I thought When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water was a awful moniker), the rap duo Blue Scholars, post modern rockers Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, and the – yes – grundgy Minus the Bear. What is also interesting is what is sort of missing. Dave Bazan (ex-Pedro the Lion), Benjamin Gibbard, and Eddy Vedder (Pearl Jam) all sing with no back-up other than their acoustic guitar (or in Vedder’s case, an electric ukelele). There are a few previously unheard before songs by Gibbard and Bazan, for example. As a side note, it amazes me how many musicians in Seattle have beards. Not the Cobain two-day growth, but full-on bushes. I am looking forward to hearing the rest of this magnificent and yes, historically important, series.

There are a number of reissue labels, some cheesy like K-Tel, and some are a blessing, like Rhino, which specializes in ’60-‘70s. Now there is a new label, AMERICAN BEAT (myspace.com/americanbeat), whose vision is more ’70-‘80s. I contacted them, and they sent me 25 of their products. Truly, there is stuff there I’m certainly not interested in, like the works of Billy Squire, but there is so much more that made me salivate. And that is what I will discuss here. David Johansen’s Here Comes the Night was from his early solo period (post Dolls, pre- Buster “Hot Hot Hot” Poindexter). I remember many of us mocked it at the time, but it certainly stands up after 20 years. The Simthereens’ Green Thoughts was a solid CB’s band from New York, who had a pretty dedicated following that even touched some mainstream listeners. Peter Wolf’s Long Line was one of his post-J. Geils Band that was noteworthy. Graham Parker came so close in the early ‘80s to breaking through in the States, but was considered too close in style to Eric Costello here. His The Real Macaw shows that he wasn’t reductive. Tex-Mex cult hero and should-be legend Joe Ely recorded Live Shots while on tour with the Clash. This re-release also includes his Texas Special EP. After Ian Hunter left Mott the Hoople, he released this underrated All of The Good Ones Are Taken, which produced a title song that should have been at the top of the FM charts at the time, and is still one of my favorites. The Tubes were known for two things: humor and it’s lead singer, Fee Waybill. While Remote Control doesn’t contain their one charting hit, “Sushi Girl,” it shows how much fun they were, and that they were way ahead of their time. Todd Rundgren, who also plays on the recording, produced this collection. I once insulted Joe Jackson to his face around the time of “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” but his later, jazzier stuff, such as the rerelease of Beat Crazy, is much better. What I particularly like about American Beat is when they release two-on-one-disks. Some of the noteworthy ones they sent along are Ian Hunter’s live collection Welcome to the Club and Live, Gary U.S. Bonds’ Dedication and On the Line, and especially Robert Gordon’s With Link Wray and Fresh Fish Special. This is the rockabilly material he left Tuff Darts to do, and actually started a fresh movement (which led to bands the Rockats and the Stray Cats). He covers such material as “Red Hot,” “Boppin’ the Blues,” and “The Way I Walk” (though I have to admit I like the Cramps’ version more). I hope American Beat stays around for a long time, and I thank them for sending me hours of great music.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Douglas Rushkoff at General Semantics/Media Ecology Association Dinner, 11/14/2008

Photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

On Friday, November 14, 2008, the Institute of General Semantics and the Media Ecology Association presented the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, at the Princeton Club in New York City.

Its keynote speaker was media and technology historian Douglas Rushkoff. The title of the lecture was Playing the Future: Towrads a Creative Society.

Below are some photos of the event.

Arrival: Lance Strate, Jacqueline Rudig, Douglas Rushkoff

Lance Strate's welcoming remarks

Martin Levinson's introduction

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF:


Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Theme to Remember: The Godfather

Photos from the Internet

While waiting for the extremely crowded train at 7th Avenue at 6 pm for a long, long, l-o-n-g time (and this is before the impeding service cuts), I heard someone whistle a tune. It was instantaneously recognizable, even though produced off-key, and had been first brought to the public over 35 years ago: Nino Rota’s “Speak Softly Love,” more commonly known as “The Love Theme from The Godfather” (1972).

I was living in Bensonhurst in the early 1970s, which was still heavily populated with Italians and Italian-Americans (these days it is much more diverse). A hew and cry went throughout the neighborhood, including petitions, phone calls to promote protests, and a general sense of agita in the streets. A movie that depicts Italians once again as mobsters was being made! People called out with complaints of stereotyping.

When The Godfather finally came out, within a month it was hard to walk a few blocks without hearing a car horn modeled on the first two bars of the theme. That went on for quite a while, though it did not increase with each of the two sequels: that mania had passed by then, but the theme became synonymous with New York and Italians, as much as Frankie’s cover of “New York, New York.”

[The erhu]
If one regularly travels the mismanaged subways, there is a good chance you will hear it on every imaginable instrument. I have listened to it on guitar, violin, steel drum (a lot), recorder, pan flute, flute, cello, and even the Chinese erhu, and those are just the ones I can think off in 10 seconds.

For me, the tune is not an “Italian” association per se, but for the mob. It is sort of a code “word” for gangsters of any nationality, or gangster-like behavior. If I see something suspicious, such as a storefront that has been around for a long time while never seeing anyone inside (hinting of money laundering), my friends and I will start humming in a minor tone, “De-da-da-de-de-DAH-da-de-da-DAH…”

One day I was hanging out with a friend at Tommy Calandra’s upstate New York studio, BCMK (Buffalo College of Musical Knowledge), watching someone recording. Tommy mentioned that some guys had been around asking if he wanted a partner, and was confused on why they asked that. My friend and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and I hummed the theme. Tommy, good guy that he was, had no idea what the humming was all about, so we told him. Fortunately, I’m happy to say that nothing ever came of the whole incident.

Whatever Peter Griffin thinks of the film itself, the theme certainly does not insist upon itself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Film Review: Quantum of Silence / James Bond

Photos from the Internet


James Bond = Sean Connery, and vice versa. It has felt like that has been true forever.

When the first Bond film came out, Dr. No, I saw it in the Benson Theater in Brooklyn, as the first of a double feature (as they had back then). Then I went back and saw it again the next week. When it came back a few months later as the second feature, I saw it once more. Same was true for From Russia With Love. And Goldfinger. And Thunderball (that jetpack was the envy of all us boys).

After the second Roger Moore film, we sot disheartened. By Moonraker, many of us had just given up. It was like they took something amazing and not just “jumped the shark,” but had done an Old Yeller on the franchise. George Lazenby was okay in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but truth was everyone I knew went to see Mrs. Peel/Diana Rigg. The Bond women were always spectacular, but this was the first one where we went to see “her” rather than “him.” Pierce Brosnan was only slightly better, and Timothy Dalton (who they tried to make more serious, but did not really succeed) was better than Brosnan; but Never Say Never Again was the best post-Connery Bond film, and it took Connery to come back to do it.

The only non-Connery Bond movie I’ve really enjoyed was the 1965 Casino Royale, but that wasn’t really a Bond film, and that had seven Bonds (“six of them went to a heavenly spot / one of them went to a place that’s terribly…hhhhot”). Of course, there were the offshoot Bond-inspired films, including those with Derek Flint and Matt Helm (Ann-Margret! Stella Stevens!). With the exception of the brilliantly written and superbly over-acted Get Smart, television versions like I-Spy, The Man/Girl From Uncle, and Secret Agent never really appealed to me. Of course, like Connery-Bond, The Avengers was in a class of its own.

Suddenly, there was Daniel Craig. He was sort of a peripheral actor to me before this; but someone chose him out to fill the shoes of Bond, and for the first time in a very long time, the shoes fit.

I always saw Bond as a bit of an anti-hero, killing without guilt when he had to, and participating in some free love when he wanted to. He was also quite human as portrayed by Connery, sometimes showing sheer terror, as when Goldfinger was about to slice off his crokies, or anger when Jill Masterson gets gold-plated. When Craig’s Bond is poisoned in Casino Royale, the fear is palpable. When Vesper dies and he believes she betrayed him, he coldly states, “The bitch is dead now” (taken from the last line of the Ian Fleming novel on which the film is based). All Roger Moore did to show emotion was raise his eyebrows. Now that’s “great” emoting.

Daniel Craig is doing for James Bond what Christian Bale did for the character of Batman (though to many of his fans, including me, arguably there hasn’t been a “true” Batman before him): revamping a watered down, hackneyed media character, and remodeling him into a mench, with faults.

Last night I saw Quantum of Solace, the newest and 22nd (sweet zombie Jesus!) Bond release. As expected, Craig was dead on. With the barest movements of his face, he can convey whatever emotion is needed. He bleeds and gets dirty, and you still can read his inner monolog by his face. Whoever picked Dame Judi as M also really hit the mark. After all, does anyone expect her not to be great in any role? She shines, managing to be one of the few actors in the film who can command the screen as much as Craig.

As the “Bond Girls,” unsurprisingly both are stunning, but I found Olga Kurylenko (as Camille Montes) pretty wooden (except for the fire scene), and Gemma Arterton (as Strawberry Fields…Dr. Evil may have said, “Really? That’s the best name you’ve got?”) is just not given enough to do.


Writers Paul Haggis (who also wrote some A-level screenplays including Million Dollar Baby, In the Land of Elah, and co-’d Casino Royale) and Neal Purvis (who penned some of the later Bond films, along with co-d Casino Royale) tell a tale that is a bit on the confusing side thanks to much left unexplained or thrown out disjointed names and situations (perhaps it would have been easier had I re-watched Casino Royale just before?). There are also a few nicks taken out of the Bond canon, which I found jarring, such as the lack of Q and his gadgets, and there was no “Bond…James Bond.” Also, the only time there was any real connection to earlier incarnations was the Bond theme at the end (with the gun barrel), and either a rip-off or homage to Goldfinger, I haven’t quite figured out yet which. A lot of comments I’ve read compared this to the Bourne films, but to me it was more reminiscent of The Transporter, especially the racing around the European countryside. But there are also some major defects in the writing of the story, like a parachute holding two people opening 30 feet above the ground and not even any bones broken. Ain’t gonna happen, m’friend, even with the suspension of disbelief.

Though there are no gadgets, the Media Ecologist in me has to say that there are some interesting technologies shown in the film, such as face recognition via cell phone, and especially an iPhone type of finger-use that, unfortunately, was done too fast to appreciate all the nook-and-crannies of the software.

The biggest disappointment and flaw in QoS was in the direction by the inconsistent Marc Forster. Yeah, he made Neverland and The Kite Runner, but he also made the way overrated Monsters Ball and Stranger Than Fiction. QoS is a mess from a directorial perspective. The meat-and-potatoes action sequences are all shot way too close to tell what the hell is going on (is that Bond’s car going over the cliff? The people chasing him? Bond’s boat getting rammed? The people chasing him?). I know Eisenstein said that editing is action, but this is cut too fast to comprehend. Just as the too close shot is about to give enough info to know who is in the vehicle, it’s cut to something else equally indiscernible. The whole skylight shot that worked so well in the televisions ads is lost in the theater.

So, to summarize, great cast, okay writers, bad direction. And yet, I look forward to number 23. Anyone know when it’s due?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Remembering Neil Postman

Live FFoto © Robert Barry Francos
Other photos from the Internet


The weekend-long symposium Creating the Future: Conscious Time-Binding for a Better Tomorrow, run by the Institute of General Semantics (GS) and the Media Ecology Association (MEA) has just ended as I start to write this, on Sunday evening, November 16.

[Neil Postman at Sacks Lodge, 1991]

After Alfred Korzybski – father of GS – the most referenced name was that of the late social critic and, I’m proud to say my professor, Dr. Neil Postman. In fact, I heard Neil – the father Media Ecology (ME) – mentioned even more than Marshall McLuhan.

When I was about to start my post-graduate studies at New York University towards a Masters in ME, a friend who had graduated with a Communications BA warned me, “He’s more conservative than you may expect.” Actually, I had no expectations; in fact, at the time I had not read any of his works. But this blog is more about the man rather than the works. Anyone can (and should) have a relationship with his books; I’m lucky enough to have had one with the person.

My classes began in September of 1990, thanks to an earned scholarship benefit plan at my place of employment at the time. A month after starting, I attended the ME Department's 35th weekend conference, held at a rustic, cold water retreat called Sacks Lodge, in Saugerties, NY. It was for the department’s Masters and Ph.D. students, alumni, professors, and special guests and speakers only (and their spouses; children were also a common site).

It was there I was first introduced to Neil Postman. Before the opening session on Friday night, he sat of to the side of the small stage in the recreation building, where the lectures and events were held. In his hands were a yellow-page lined legal pad and pen, and a cigarette aflame. He smoked often, since childhood, and his gravely voice and cough confirmed that. He sat there, deep in thought, writing his conference introduction. He always wrote longhand, and he always just before the opening remarks. Neil was not a man who spoke off the cuff.

The talks were funny, sharp, and filled with “fun facts,” such as what countries were represented at the conference, and how many from each place. He was charming, with an easy smile and intelligence. He looked a bit like television host Gene Rayburn, something he pointed out once in one of these introductions. When in discussions, he was also ready to challenge your beliefs, whether he agreed with you or not. He lived his core belief, that the question was usually more important than the answer.

During that first conference, as I didn’t yet know any of the people who would become colleagues, I took (film) pictures of all the lectures, which annoyed many people. If I were to have a Native American name, it would probably be He Who Blinds (though I tend to take the pictures during the first minute only, which tends to be introductory comments). After we returned to the city and I had them developed, I turned the photos in to the Department, as I would continue to do each year. They were put on a board and posted in the Department’s office by my advisor / professor / and friend, Janet Sternberg (who was also Postman’s assistant for a while). The second year, I received an “Oh, THAT guy again” look from some. A couple of years later, Neil started introducing me to people by saying, “This is Robert; he’s the Department’s official photographer.” As Neil accepted me, so I was received by the Department. I continued to take the photos at every year's conference until they stopped holding them well after the Millennium. When the MEA was formed, I continued my duties with them (and still do).

On Saturday nights at these conferences, we had a Jeopardy-like game called the Media Ecology Bowl. There were three tables with a buzzer on each, and three chairs at each table. The right hand table was for the Masters students, the middle one for the Ph.D.s, and the left one for the alumni. He would not allow the faculty to play because he did not want to take the chance of the department embarrassing itself, he would half joke. There were a series of questions which were both academic and common culture-based, and after every few, the participants would change. In theory, the alumni should win, the Ph.D.s come in second, and the Masters last.

One year that I was participating, the Masters students were just on fire. We were way ahead of everyone. One of the questions (which were never written by Neil) was “Which film had the line, ‘Go ahead, make my day’?” The alums buzzed before us, and said, Dirty Harry. Neil said, “Right.” I immediately said out loud, “Wrong. It was the CHARACTER Dirty Harry who said it, but it wasn’t said in the FILM Dirty Harry. It was in a sequel, Sudden Impact. I argued about it for a while, but I didn’t win, of course. He gave it to them because they were behind. A few questions later, we had to name the location which a certain person was born. We won the buzz. The second of the three names was Mel Gibson, so of course I said New York State. And of course, his card had Australia as the wrong answer. I argued about it, and again, I didn’t win. Either way, we wiped up both the Ph.D.s and the alumni by a large score. Postman was not pleased, but kept his humor. The next year, as he read the rules, he looked at me and with a big smile, said, “Anyone who argues with the judges ruling will have his team automatically disqualified.” I didn’t participate anymore, but it actually made it easier for me because not only was the pressure off, but also I could concentrate on taking the photos.

I rarely saw what my friend called Neil’s “conservative” side. Once was at the conference that was held around a month after 9/11. One of the speakers gave a presentation that asked for patience and negotiation, rather than responding with troop action. When she was finished, Neil, who had served in Korea, stood up and asked her, seriously this time, “How many people have to die before it’s okay to respond with troops?” The lunch that followed was definitely filled with conversations about that exchange.

Meanwhile, back in 1990, before our Bowl exchange, the first class I had was the intro class, What is Media Ecology? About mid-way through the year, Postman substituted for the class’s professor, Terence Moran (whose specialties include propaganda and Egyptology) who had to go to a black-tie dinner (Moran came to explain this to us dressed in his tux). The timing was perfect because we had just finished reading Neil’s arguably most popular work, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). This gave the class the opportunity to ask the author questions directly, and we jumped at the chance. My classmates did not all agree with what he was positing in the book, but he graciously and humorously fielded our multitude of questions, and even doubts. Sometimes he would start his response with “You know, you’re crazy,” while he had a big smile on his face. No one took it personally, because it wasn’t threatening.

Years later I was having lunch with Neil, and reminded him of that day. I told him how I was nervous about saying something stupid/crazy, and that I thought he had handled the occasional derision well. He told me something that surprised me: as much as he loved getting published, it had its downside in that once in the public eye, the author was locked into that idea. Even as the years change and ideas change – perhaps to the point of being in contrast with what was in the book – these old ideas are still ascribed. Because he had written them, he felt duty bound to defend his statements years later.

The summer of 1991, before Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992) book came out, I took a weeklong summer class abroad in Israel, studying the modern communications systems there (newspapers, radio, television, etc.). It was based in Tel Aviv, and they let me bring my partner, who is also an academic. Postman was leading the class, so we both to know him a bit better. The class was amazing, and it was the first time either my partner or I had ever been there. I would have liked to see more of the countryside, since except for a one-day excursion to the Knesset and to the old city of Jerusalem, we were Tel Aviv locked. For those who don’t know, Tel Aviv is very similar to Miami Beach, except many adult men walk around with loaded rifles slung over their shoulders…just in case. My partner and I walked along the beach that had recently been shelled by Iraqi scud missiles, rowed on a Mediterranean tributary, and saw the market in Yaffa (once its own city, now basically an older suburb of Tel Aviv).

The place the class stayed (and held many of the lectures) was a hostel, where every breakfast consisted of a hard-boiled egg and potato, or oatmeal. The professors stayed downtown at a major hotel. Once the day got started, it was always interesting. Thanks to Postman’s visibility, we talked to many influential people, such as editors of the two major newspapers (Maariv and the Yedioth Ahronoth), radio news show producers and hosts, and even a high-ranking Minister in the parliament.

The winter term after we came back from Israel, I took a class on the newly published Technopoly, led by Postman, and ably assisted by Sternberg. I remember that the class actually didn’t impress me much at the time, but through the years, things that Neil was talking about came back, and I have had so many a-ha moments because of it.

On the last day of class, Postman gave a lecture called “How to Live Your Life,” which was both hysterically funny, and extremely pithy. These ways incorporated such things from the wise (e.g., “never work past 8 pm,” “avoid multiple and simultaneous changes in your personal life”) to the bizarre (e.g., “do not become a jogger,” “if you are a man, get married as soon as possible; if you are a woman, you need not be in a hurry,” “Do not go to live in California” – note that Neil, a world traveler, remained New York biased). At the comment to “avoid whenever possible reading anything written after 1900” (actually based on a “nugget” by scholar Christine Nystrom), a woman in the room said, “If you do that, you will discount 90 percent of the printed words of women.” Without missing a beat, Neil said, “Okay, 1920.” Remember, his last book was Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999). You can find a version of this lecture retold by Janet Sternberg: findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6405/is_/ai_n29261967

When I heard that Neil was ill in 2002, like many of his other students, collegues and fans, I was concerned. The last time I saw him was at the Media Ecology Association's 5th Anniversary celebration. He was extremely frail, with an oxygen tube attached to his nose. He was kind and gracious as always, accompanied by his wife, Shelley (who has appeared at many functions since his passing, including this weekend’s symposium). He was genuinely moved by the love in that room for him. A special video that was created for Neil for this occasion is below.

When Neil Postman passed away, I took the day off from work to go to his funeral, on Wednesday, October 8, 2003, held at Parkside Chapel, Forest Hills, Queens, where he lived (he was, however, born and raised in Brooklyn). Many tears and even some sobbing went on that day. But there were also some great stories told, which brought smiles. A highlight was Postman’s son, Andrew, who read an amazing eulogy for him, which can be found here: web.archive.org/web/20031202113958/http://www.rememberingneilpostman.com/000072.html.

While Amusing Ourselves is Neil’s most popular, my favorite is The Disappearance of Childhood (1982), which has the oft-quoted opening line, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” For a Postman “reader” there is a collection of his articles and pieces of his longer works, Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (1992). Unfortunately, his later works are not included here (hopefully there will be an updated reissue). This is also a good source of some of Postman's writings: www.bigbrother.net/~mugwump/Postman/

Not only will Neil’s legacy live on in his works, but in the hearts of those who knew him. I am grateful to be considered in that extremely long list.

* * *

This is a video that was produced for the Media Ecology Association's 5th Anniversary, which includes footage of Neil Postman.
Yes, that is me at 2:15

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book Reading/Signing: Brian Cogan's Encyclopedia of Punk


Live FFotos © Robert Barry Francos (to come soon)

On Wednesday, November 12, I had the opportunity to see author Brian Cogan do an in-store reading from his new book, The Encyclopedia of Punk (Sterling Publishing). It was held in Brooklyn (Brian’s present turf), at the Park Slope Barnes & Noble. It goes for $24.95, and is honkin’ huge and freakin’ heavy.

This is the second reading of this book I’ve been to, the first was for an earlier version (held at Firebird Books, also in Brooklyn), then titled The Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture that was more geared towards academia, which was unsurprising since Brian is a Professor at Malloy College on Long Island. What was surprising was the $85 cost. And yes, I bought a copy, thanks to a gift certificate from a previous job. At that earlier reading, Brian’s band, In-Crowd performed. Oh, did I forget to mention that Brian is the drummer of this Staten Island based punk band (SIHC!) for the last couple of decades?

I’ve known Brian for many years, more as an academic, though. We were attending New York University together as Masters students going toward a degree in Media Ecology. I stopped when I earned my Masters degree; Brian went on to the Ph.D. Yet, even though academia brought us together, it was camaraderie about music, comics and general culture that kept us connected.

One of the first things one will notice about Brian, when one meets him, is his sense of self-depreciating humor, and this reading was no exception. The audience was filled, many being veterans on the punk scene (especially the Staten Island contingent), and including friends, bandmates, musicians, and family, such as Brian’s patient wife, (she sat behind me), Brian’s parents (who were to my right), goddaugther, and brother (who is also a musician).

[Some of the cool people in the room]

After reading a few short passages, Brian did the right thing by just opening up the floor to questions, which resulting in some good Q&A (e.g., what makes one a sell-out?), and some comments and stories that flew back and forth both to and from the audience. If this is how Brian conducts a classroom, the students must be enjoying themselves while they learn.

Looking at the book, one cannot help but notice some similarities in the shape to another book, Punk: The Definitive Record of a Revolution, by Stephen Colesgrave & Chris Sullivan. The big difference is that Brian’s EoP is more U.S. focused, and P:TDRofAR, which has Sid on the cover, is more (and heavily) British leaning, though both blend the other countries (EOP is certainly more international). The Brit book is somewhat linear, and Brian’s book, which is much thicker, has tons more photos, and is a fun, alphabetical reference.

While I am looking forward to reading this extremely weighty book, I am sort of sorry that my photos did not make it into the second edition (six of which were in the first). Oh, well, I’m not going to let that get in the way of enjoying it. Also, Brian has made it clear that no list is comprehensive, and if he has missed anyone important, or if there are errors, he is totally open to suggestions for the next edition. Meanwhile, Brian is hard at work on his next book, an Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal.

After having Brian sign a book for me, I did something very un-blank-generation-punk, I paid for the book. Full price, too. Then a bunch of us went down to a local bar, and kicked back. With apologies to Josh Highland (see the comments on my blog dated October 20, 2008), I had my first beer of the year (and probably my last), which was way overpriced at $4 for a bottle of Bud. I talked with a bunch of people including Brian and a member of the band Spanking Charlene, and after about an hour, headed home to some real and cheaper food.

I’ll see Brian again this weekend at a General Semantics Society (in partnership with the Media Ecology Association) conference held at Fordham University in Manhattan. But that’s a telling for another day.

Taken on the ride home

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Theater Review: The View From Here

Photos from the Internet

Little Hibiscus Productions is a theater troupe founded and run by Sara Towber, and their latest staging is Margaret Dulaney’s comedy, The View From Here. It is currently mounted at the Sage Theatre (more info on both at the bottom).

As one enters the intimate theater, Sara – or rather her character, Maple – is prone on the couch, the centerpiece of the living room set. She is staring straight ahead toward the audience, in a still, stiff way. Wafting over the speakers are ‘80s hits, such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” which is appropriate since the story takes place in mid-1980s suburban Kentucky.

Jennifer Laine Williams plays Fern Shaw

The play truly kicks in with the arrival of Fern, the central character, energetically and engagingly played by Jennifer Laine Williams. From the start, she embodies the title of the piece, watching her neighbors through the windows and doors via a pair of binoculars. She explains, through a well delivered and impassioned, lengthy expositional opening monolog, about the onset of her agoraphobia, and how she has not left her house in years. Jennifer plays Fern with a dignity that is touching, rather than playing her just for laughs or pity. She ably holds up the play, willing to go the extra effort to humanize Fern, and yet still be willing to throw herself around the room.

Sara Towber plays Maple

Maple, it seems, is her sister, and is having some problems of her own, being that she has just separated from a husband who wants her to be a bit more of, well, someone else. Her current catatonia is certainly the calm before the storm. She has wider ranges of moods of the other characters in the play, from stunned, to scared, angry, loving, and as a caretaker. Sara plays her with dignity and humanity. The audience never wants to laugh at her, but rather with her situation and the way it is playing out.

Lexi Windsor plays Carla

Soon to arrive is Carla, hyperly portrayed by Lexi Windsor. Carla is the personification of the period, with loud clothes, big hair, spatula-level make-up, and a fascination for all things lurid that one might find on Donahue or in the tabloids. She’s sort of like Flo from the Alice sit-com, but I would like to point out that while the language-mangling character of Carla could easily be made into a caricature, Lexi ably keeps her humanity to the forefront, and the over-the-top-ness to a minimum (unlike Flo).

Timothy Goodwin plays "Arnold"

Last to arrive to this four-person party is “Arnold” (you’ll have to see the play to get quotation reference), a golf-obsessed neighbor and possible love interest whose wife just walked out on him (taking the microwave!), leaving him with an infant child. Timothy Goodwin, who plays Arnold, gets to have a lone, short-and-sad end-of-act moment. As this is another character that can easily be played for merely a comic or pathos relief, Timothy brings grace to him.

The play is certainly well written, with strong characters, a nice mix of humorous styles and some dramatic moments, but in less talented hands, it could also have been a mess of clichés and melodrama. Fortunately, under the direction of Scott C. Embler and a talented cast, the story plays out as a group of people who have either developed relationships or are in the process of doing so, rather than a group of individuals who are cartoons.

Despite Maple’s moping about at the beginning, this is a very physical production. There is nearly always motion going on somewhere, whether it is Arnold hitting golf balls into an unlidded baby sippy cup (a very nice touch), or a mortified Fern throwing herself over, under, and into various set pieces. There seems to always be someone answering the phone (Fern and Maple’s mom is an unseen regular character), getting locked in a bathroom, or handling appropriately dated magazines.

There are a lot of cultural hitching posts for the time frame throughout the play, such as mentions of Donahue, a dog-barking machine (I actually know someone who had one), and even some of the Jane Fonda Workout Tape. The set itself is timeless, though (with the exception of the dial phone), though many of the outfits worn by the characters feel time appropriate, especially those worn by Carla, as mentioned previously.

This play is in two parts with an intermission, and a number of acts to break up each half. The two-hour length goes by very quickly, helped by the snappy dialog and near constant motion. It was an extremely fun evening and it is quite easy to recommend this production.

The Sage Theatre is on the second floor at 711 Seventh Avenue, which is between 47 and 48 Street, in the heart of New York’s Theater District. Reservations can be made at 212-868-4444.

Here is the mission statement of Little Hibiscus Productions:
Little Hibiscus Productions purpose is to create a New York City based performing arts ensemble dedicated to creating, developing and staging, affordable quality plays and programs and with a commitment to provide opportunities for the collaboration of new and established playwrights, local actors, directors, designers, as well as industry professionals to express themselves artistically, build lasting creative relationships, to be seen and heard and to work together to develop and perform programs that are topical and relevant to the communities they represent with an emphasis on women playwrights.
www.littlehibiscus.com
Inquiries should be directed to Sara Towber at (917) 689-6685 or via email at s_towber@yahoo.com