Saturday, September 5, 2020
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Text © Robert
Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet
Uproar Comedy, 2020
For me, what makes Trenton Davis funny is not that he shares the name of the capital of New Jersey, but the fact that rather than just relying on jokes, he bases his material on his real life. These aren’t super long stories but rather vignettes into modern relationships and dealing with people in your life, not just strangers.
For example, he starts off his set talking about his 7-year-old daughter’s fixation with Beyonce, and an extremely funny bit about how she seems to know things beyond her age in her dreams. Of course, he also has much to say about his daughter’s mother, to whom he is no longer in an intimate relationship, which leaves many questions and doors either open or closed to others. There are a few bits of gender normative moments, but that fits into his brief forays concerning a couple of anti-Pakistani/Indian cabbies and anti-Jewish moments, though it feels like it’s more for the shock value than an actual belief. Davis doesn’t always use the shock value, so when he does, it is that much more effective.
While profanity laden in spots, it does not approach the Richard Pryor-Eddie Murphy-Bob Saget level of “fuck-poetry” as I call it. Here he uses the word as it was meant to be, as a manifestation of an emphasis or exclamation point.
While taking a strong African-American position on his life, it is still transferable and understandable to anyone else in the modern world. For example, his longest bit is about the control women have in the larger scope of defining a relationship, and about breaking up with partners.
His multiple codas deal with specific, or specific kinds of women, such as 20 year olds, Caitlyn Jenner, and especially relevant in today’s “Karen” world, racist white women. Personally, I would have liked to have heard him talk more on this last bit, but his observations are sharp, as with most of his material.
Davis is funny, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. This CD is a good example of a 45-minute set. Below is a clip of Davis that is not directly from this, but the material overlaps to give you some good idea.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet
Losing My Religion
The part of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in which I grew up, 99 percent of the population was either Italian or Jewish. Most of Bensonhurst was Italian, but my little area was more a 50-50 mix. There were two Chinese Families (both of whom owned the local Asian restaurants), two African-American domiciles, a smattering of Irish, and then the rest of us. Our grade-school teachers were all white, nearly all women, and a vast majority Jewish.
We were quite typical for that area’s Jewish Lower Middle Class. That meant on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we went to the local synagogue, the Yeshiva of Bensonhurst on 78 Street (now a private middle and high school called the Sinai Academy, geared towards the children of Russian Immigrants), and that was pretty much the only time. You needed to buy a ticket per person, and it sold out. It is not a small temple, and had an enormous balcony (where we usually sat).
The Italian kids in our elementary school (PS 128, the same as attended by the Three Stooges in their youth) got Wednesday afternoon off to attend classes for their Communion and general Catholic instruction, while we Jewish kids sat in the classroom, bored because the teacher didn’t want to do lessons to just half the class. In the mid-1960s, however, a small synagogue and shul (Jewish school) run by a Hassidic group opened up on 21 Avenue in a house a block away from the school (now the Congregation Anshei Sfard Khal Faltishen). They started sending the Jewish kids there for religious instructions. My memories of it are vague because I would just zone out. My only remembrance of it was being taught about King David.
Within our household we were “Kosher.” My aunt Elsie (my mother’s sister) was not as keen on this, so when I would go visit her for a couple of weeks during the summer, she’d make me a pile of bacon. We were Kosher in the house because of my dad, Leo. I really don’t believe my mother, Helen, cared one way or another, and she found the whole Koshering process (using salt water to drain the blood out of the meat) tiresome, but she kept it up for him. I still have and employ the big yellow mixing bowl she used but not for that purpose. When we ate outside of the house, including with my father, such as when we ate at the local Chinese restaurant or at a friend’s house, we all ate whatever we wanted.
Like many of my friends back then, our family had five sets of dishes: there was the two daily meat and dairy set, the two in the upper cabinet that were brought down for Passover week only, and then the one under the sink that only saw light when a neighbor made lasagna and shared (thank you Madeline), or on the very rare occasion when Chinese food was brought into the house. We never did the stereotypical Chinese food on Christmas thing. We also never had a tree, ever.
At the age of 11 or so, I started attending Hebrew School once a week at the Yeshiva of Bensonhurst, to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah. I was a terrible student, as I was slow to learn Hebrew and I honestly couldn’t care about the religious instruction. By the time of my Bar Mitzvah, I could read Hebrew phonetically quite well (a skill I no longer possess), but I still could not translate much. Around my house, my mother and father spoke Yiddish to each other when they did not want my older brother Richie and I to know what they were talking about, and so I never learned it other than a smattering of words or phrases, and that also applied to Hebrew School (I took Italian in Middle School and that was a failure, as well).
Things went along quite smoothly, and I accepted all of this Jewish culture on face value, pretty much, until I was still young, when something very subtle but ground shaking for me occurred. My father took me to the Automobile Show at the Coliseum at Columbus Circle on a lovely Spring day. It was morning when we got there and it was late afternoon when we were leaving. We were both hungry, but I knew we’d have to wait until we got home, because it was Passover, and on Passover you only eat Passover food. But my father bought us both a salted pretzel (with mustard, of course) from a street vendor. Wait, I thought, you can eat regular food on Passover? That was a thing? It took me a long time to process this, but what I realized is that being Kosher was merely arbitrary and was therefore meaningless. Keeping Kosher in the house sort of balanced the outside world eating of whatever as a yin-yang thing of centering, but this was Passover, and until that time we only ate Passover food during that period. It blew my little mind.
A couple of years after that, there was another change, again involving Passover: when the holiday came, my mother would climb up and take the Passover dishes down from the upper kitchen cabinet, and put the daily dishes in their place. Of course, living in an apartment in Brooklyn meant cockroaches were a natural part of our environment, so my mother would have to wash all the Passover dishes, and eight days later, when she switched them back, she’d have to wash all the daily dishes. At some point she had enough. “Leo,” she said, “I’m not doing this anymore. Enough!” This led to a multi-day fight that ended with my mother – all five-feet of her – standing her ground and saying, “Fine, you want it done, you do it!” And he did. That was the last year we switched dishes. In fact, they got rid of the entire two sets (leaving the one under the sink) and bought glass dishes at were used for – shock – both meat and dairy. Again, it all felt random and pointless.
|Chai ("Living" or "18")|
The day of my Bar Mitzvah, May 18, 1968, was the last day I set foot into the Yeshiva of Bensonhurst (YoB) until my mother passed away in 1981. You are supposed to attend synagogue every day for a year to say the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, when a close relative dies. The funeral itself was at a synagogue on Long Island near where she was buried, so I attended the YoB after the week of sitting Shiva. This also turned into a negative experience for me. The people attending the regular service (who were unknown to us) were dressed to the nines, showing off their new clothes in direct competition with each other. I found that crass (“Sadie! $125 at Bergmans!,” shouted across the aisles). Also, as Wikipedia explains, “In gematria (a form of Jewish numerology), the number 18 stands for ‘life,’ because the Hebrew letter that spell chai, meaning ‘living,’ adds up to 18.” So when you contribute, you donate in “chais”; for example saying “I donate two chai” means $36, “three chais” is $54, and so forth. The competition with the people there was fierce, like an auction, on how many “chai” they were going to give. The final one stood up and shouted, “I donate 12 chai! Anonymously!!” It was such a turnoff and I felt ashamed just to be there. I never went back.
At PS 128, we Jewish kids were often picked on by the bigger Christian kids. It was even worse when we got to middle school, the recently opened PS 281, which was rechristened Joseph B. Cavallaro Junior High the year after. I was even called a “Jew Bastard” by one of the Italian kids in my class (my response was, “at least I don’t bow down to one,” which got me a good solid punch to the jaw). While it was 50-50 at PS 128, here we were far outnumbered by various non-Jewish groups and races. I was running scared all the time through middle school and at Lafayette High School, which a local news outlet referred to as “The School from Hell.” No argument from me.
In 1993, thanks to my Masters’ program in Media Ecology, I had the chance to take a class on communication methodologies in Tel Aviv for a week, led by social critic and philosopher Neil Postman. I found Tel Aviv proper quite uninteresting, and often referred to it as “Miami Beach with guns,” as it seemed most males walked around with rifles around their shoulders even on casual walks, in case there was a terrorist attack (SCUD missiles had landed recently not far from where we were staying). It was very modern and very tense, with lots of glass and steel. I felt more at ease outside the city, in places like Jaffa (to which we walked a few times) and the one day we had the opportunity to spend in Jerusalem on a bus trip.
While in Jerusalem, we went to the Wailing Wall and went through the security checks as everyone did, both Jews and Arabs, and learned where not to tread. At the Wall, we were told that men had to go to the left, women to the right, and they were not allowed to mix (this is still true today). I put a request on a piece of paper, and put it into the Wall, but it felt as hollow as going to a tarot card reader at a fair, or a soothsayer with a crystal ball. I also wandered into the Cave, and found many a man praying fervently (no women allowed in such a holy place), davening and shaking back and forth. All of this misogyny and exclusion was slowly eating away at the religious part of me.
As I said in an earlier blog, at the burial of the mother of a good friend, I started talking to the rabbi-for-hire who would do the ceremony. At some point, he asked me, what was my sect, and I told him somewhere between reform and conservative (probably more to the latter in those confused days). He grimaced and snarled, “No such thing, you’re either Orthodox or you’re not really a Jew.” I turned from the hole in the ground to face him, stuck my finger in his face, and said, “Whether you believe that or not, we would have both been in the same gas chamber, so don't you dare tell me I'm not a Jew.”
Jews have always been viewed as “Other” by the larger majority Christian and Muslim world, and have been persecuted for it. This is my connection to being a Jew. Whether I believe in the religion or not, it is part of my literal genetics, and I am willing to accept that. As for the religion, I refer to myself as either an agnostic, or secular Jew. We go to friends on Passover and have them over for Purim suppers. At night I say thanks as acknowledging what has happened to me during the day as a sign of appreciation of the events that have occurred (e.g., “thank you for me just catching the bus…”).
While, again, I didn’t really quite have the words for it and it would take me decades to figure it out, I realized that I was proud of my heritage but my religion meant little to me. My paternal grandparents had been kicked out of Hungary in 1910, and my maternal grandparents were forced from Prussia around the same time. I felt and feel no connection to these sites, so my being a Jew became part of my identity in a sense of culture, rather than religion. I’m proud to be a Jew. I love Israel and believe it has a right to exist (though I’m not always a fan of its government) as a homeland for the Jews (and others), as I have experienced transgenerational separateness from the land in which my family came.
I have felt a lot of pressure from religious groups through my life. When I was a first-year undergraduate at Kingsborough Community College in 1974, I was targeted by the Jews for Jesus for me to “gabba gabba one of us” join their cult. At Queens College in the late 1970s, we were inundated by a sect of Hassidism that would grab men (again, can’t touch women because they might be having their “filthy” periods) and make them do their tefillin prayers in a van (again from Wikipedia, tefillin, “or phylacteries, is a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls inscribed with verses from the Torah”). During the summer of 1977, when I worked at the Baskin-Robbins on Seventh Avenue South (a block south of the Stonewall in the West Village), there was a constant flow of young faces asking me if I had “accepted Jesus as my personal savior” (I’m sure they were there trying to “save the gays”). Over the years, there have also been subway preachers who ignored the “Jesus is Love” route and went straight for the “You’re going to Hell” line of religiosity. I often challenged them. I came to see the anti-science of religion in the late 1980s when my apartment was visited by a couple of Jehovah Witnesses. They handed me a little blue book “disproving” evolution using this argument: a computer’s molecules are simple, and a monkey’s molecules are complex. If a monkey can turn those complex molecules into an even more complex human, why can’t a simple calculator turn into a supercomputer? I laughed in their faces, and said, “A calculator doesn’t reproduce so there is no margin for mutation” (never mind that evolution takes millions of years, and calculators have only been around for a few dozen at that point). They were baffled by this, and tried to change the subject.
Now I am comfortable disassociating myself from religious beliefs. Recently, an online Orthodox Rabbi said I should be reading the Torah with the commentaries from beginning to end, and with an open mind. My reply was, “That is the exact wording used by Christians (about the New Testament) and Muslims (the Koran) who try to tell someone why they should believe their god without proof.”
When it is time for me to pass on from this world, I am comfortable knowing that, well, that’s it, it is over. I joke about my mother and father sitting at a bar in heaven with their friends Ralph (and eventually Audrey), waiting for us to join them. It’s a lovely thought, and to me the imagery is sublime, but I believe the reality is when the brain no longer functions, the person is at a permanent rest.
So use your time wisely, and I wish you all the best of health, a long and fruitful life, and when I go, I am content to know I won’t think about anything.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Text © Robert
Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet
Arms of Kismet
Ballast and Bromides
This group is definitely a child of the modern era. Members of the band recorded their parts where they lived, in Virginia, Maryland and Kent, UK, and it was all put together in a studio in VA. They all circle around singer-songwriter Mark Doyon who literally takes the listener on a journey. The overriding theme of the song collection is traveling and transportation, from “Cali, USA” (“Specious Claims”) to “Zanzibar,” to Canada in “True North.” Within the songs is a sense of longing and confusion about what is going on in the world today, and the off-centeredness of our lives. News flashes, and views from below the Mason-Dixon, as Doyon sees and questions the state of the State of the Union, as well as the world. The songs are filled with electronic sounds without being too much electronica-based, giving us a pop-rock with intelligent lyrics, such as “Now I awaken in the house of the Lord / And I’m standing at the altar / And as I get my marching orders / Don’t let me falter” (from “Found”) and “Stumble to the subway / Newspaper in hand / I’m scanning the headlines / But there’s nothing all that grand / Just someone’s losses / And someone’s gains…” (from “Be There”). Doyon has a fine tenor, John Lennon-ish voice (especially on “Soul in a Sling”), that mixes art with pop, and gets his message across seamlessly, without needing to rely on dissonance and noise, despite the electronics.
#Kicking and Screaming
Truly, I do not understand why this band is not played on the radio more, which spins the likes of Rupert Holmes and Stephen Bishop nearly constantly. Audioscam’s music is catchy, non-threatening, and fine at a party of MOR-minded company. The Australian band has been around for a bit over 10 years now, at least, and they have nailed their sound. The harmonies with drummer Brian Pitcher’s high-end vocals, and Wayne Macintosh’s guitar up front is some fun near pop (not Top 10 pop, but perhaps from around 1975). As I implied earlier, this band is definitely radio-friendly, and they should be played on Adult Contemporary MOR stations more. This is closer to an EP than an LP, but that’s what many of Audioscam’s releases tend to be, and I’m cool with that.
What, you’re saying you miss the Fillmore sound, East or West? Well, this East Coast band has just what you’re looking for, but more. Not that drudgey, druggy, overly oppressive sound like Blue Cheer as rock’n’roll turned to rock, but a more pre-progressive sound with just a bit of pop left in and without the pretentions of the likes of ELP. Guitar fronted with Roger Diller taking lead and vocalist Thom Gencarelli backing him up on rhythm, they switch on an off on wah bars, but mostly it’s straightforward, and for that I’m grateful. Vic Marcado is the main rhythm section on drums, with various bassists filling in. The song lyrics are smart (no surprise to me at all), and not just about sex and love (though there are the likes of the ballad “Stop My Heart” where Thom shows off some keyboard chops) or whining songs, they are life and the world around us. Even a little a bit of philosophy, such as the catchy opener “Either/Or.” There is little to chant along with, as this is a bit more “adult” than that, but you might find more than one of the melodies and choruses getting stuck in your head as Thom lays it out. That’s not to say there isn’t some really well done harmonies, such as with “Secrets of the World” and “More Than I Love.” This fits somewhere after Sgt. Pepper’s and before Woodstock. It’s a nice, clean sound. Lyric sheet included.
The Dark Marbles
Back to the Garage!
Yod Crewsy is a Buffalo, NY musical legend, with his feet firmly in the garage past of bands like the Splatcats. His recent group is the Dark Marbles, who have been around for a while now. His latest release is 21 songs covering 1 hr and 17 minutes, with balls-to-walls covers of great garage sounds, from old to (relatively) recent. Most of them are his interpretations of the songs, making them his own. There’s some poppish fun like Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” which is slower and with more wah-wah and echo, for example. Another is a dark, bass-ey and smoking vocal on the Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Rollin’ Stone,” which is rich in minor chords and vocal overdubs. Of course, there are some garage classics, all with an original zing, such as the Electric Prunes’ “Too Much Too Dream Last Night,” the Standells’ “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” and one of my all-time faves, the Bad Seeds’ “Taste of the Same.” There are also some nice and odd choices, such as the Only Ones’ “Another Girl, Another Planet,” the Plimsouls’ “Oldest Story in the World,” the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” Billy Burnette’s dark-made-darker “Are You With Me Baby?” in which Yod takes out the rockabilly motif, and a slippery version of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action” that falls in the middle of the original band’s two version. All the cuts are interesting visions of Yod’s readings that are worth a listen.
Sudden Death Records
D.O.A. have been going strong since hardcore began and are arguably the Canadian band in this genre. I’ve seen them twice in the last 10 years, and they blew me away both times. If you’re looking for the definition of Canadian punk, you really don’t need to go much further (though exploring is good). D.O.A. leans heavily on the side of the political, and the nastier the government, especially in the US, the sharper the band gets lyrically and musically. “Fuck Ronnie” has become “Fucked Up Trump,” for example. D.O.A. has found that sweet spot that so many bands try for and fail, falling on either side of the equation: singer Joey “Shithead” Keithley is the driving vocal force, but there is just enough harmonious chanting to involve the listener if they so choose. Many bands lose power by being too sing-along, like Green Day, and others just slam at you. D.O.A. keeps it balanced, with such examples as “Wait for Tomorrow” and “Just Got Back From the USA.” They sound so much bigger than their power trio affords, but having seen them, it’s not just studio magic, they really are that strong. My only quibble is because the songs are meaningful, I would have liked a lyric sheet, even though they’re clearer than most hardcore bands I’ve heard. The songs are usually under three minutes, and sharper than a razor, even their one cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My,” which they’ve added a whole lotta umph and made their own. Not a clinker here.
Golden Hits of the Shangs
Back in the early ‘70s, before even Teenage Head, the Hamilton/Toronto scene were visited by a band called Simply Saucer, who took what would now be called art/psych/proto-punk and gave it an early voice. From the band came multi-instrumentalist/multi-dimensional David Byers to form the Shangs’ with other musical innovator Ed O’Neill in 1989. Well, in 2019, they recorded this long player of their songs. The vocals, overall, have kind of a soft, almost childlike Jan and Dean harmony through a strong reverb or muted filter, with soft, almost ambient music behind them through the use of both standard instruments and electronica. The music, itself, I would almost equate to the sounds of being in a forest and listening to the raindrops rebounding off the petals, only it’s electronic. It’s actually quite lovely, if you are looking for something to wind down with or have on in the background, like those totally cool ambient records you could buy in the 1960s that usually had a woman in a bikini on the cover against a plain, one-color background. Many of the songs are dedicated to obscurity, such as the tap dancing child in the 1975 film The Day of the Locust, the late and underrated actor Carol Wayne, the sad ending of Elizabeth Hartman in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue (the song “Patch of Blue” here is one of my faves on the disc), misunderstood singer Claudine Longet (I have about a half dozen of her LPs, just sayin’), and tragic silent actor Peggy Entwistle. This is solid art rock, set at the pace of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Somnambulist,” though a bit more dissonant and surprisingly upbeat, in an ambient way. The songs tend to be over 4 minutes long, and can take you away to another outlook. You may not be moshing to this, but you may find yourself getting an aural massage.
I’m not sure if this is Mark Doyon’s post Arms of Kismet group, or a side project, but he definitely picks up where he left off, but with some interesting touches, especially with using Adam “Ditch” Kurtz’s steel guitar to punch up “Grand Mal.” The vocals are reverbed with some nice overdubbed mostly self-harmonies, such as on the excellent “Brownout,” a strong cut, which (like “Grand Mal”) discusses working under stressful situations, in this case as an EMT. “Soar in Place” is a decent song, but uses a bit more electronica than I care for, but that’s just me. My fave cut is the finale, “When They Make the Movie,” a romantic ballad that looks at an imagined film made on the singer’s relationship. Overall, it’s a very pleasant listen.
Monday, August 10, 2020
Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2020
Images from the Internet
Eat Around It
Anthony Davis is a Los Angeles-based comedian originally from the Deep South, as his drawl attests. He’s a big ol’ bushy bearded lumberjack type guy, and is he okay? Well, that’s what this review is all about.
Apparently there is also a basketball player with the same name that I never heard of (I kid you not, as I don’t follow sports), and that’s how the comedian Davis’ riff starts, in a pretty funny social media call-out.
Davis’ humor relies on a dual asset: one is what he knows and the other is just a little bit of shock humor, but nothing too outrageous, even with a hint of incest humor (well, he is from the Deep South, as I said), though not behavior, for those who are triggered by that sort of thing.
His three basic points of attack are his weight and food, his wife, and mind-altering substances, sometimes combining all three. I was amused by a lot of it, such as when he says his wife describes him as looking like “a fat serial killer,” and he responds that what does the fat have to do with that? And there’s a funny bit about making mac’n’cheese while stoned.
His discussing of his family history including dating back to the civil war is actually quite amusing, especially discussing his elderly aunt. There’s also other topics ranging from porn to the particularly funny snakes in church.
Now for the quick analysis: there are some great stories and some bits (like that mac’n’cheese one) that are worth retelling to friends, though generally he isn’t a “quote” comedian, like Carlin, David Brenner, or Eddie Murphy, who are eminently quotable for one liners (e.g., “Goonie-goo-goo”). However, as I said, his stories are enjoyable and made me smile quite often, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him live or more recordings of his performances; to me, in the long run, that is successful. Good work.