Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Dream on May 24, 2009

Text © Robert Barry Francos

When the part of the dream starts that I remember I am sitting at a table in a darkened restaurant in a huge room. At the front of the room is an unlit stage. Sitting at the table are a few members of the Media Ecology Association, and Terence M– (one of my professors at New York University when I went for my Masters), and some friends/ex-coworkers, including Cindy.

The waitress comes over for drink orders. I try to tell her I want one drink for myself, one for Cindy, and a shot for Terry, and that I’ll treat. She is an expressionless Russian-looking woman who is in the later ‘50s or early ‘60s. I get into an argument with her about the order, and eventually tell her I’m going to get the drinks directly from the bar, so she doesn’t get the order or the tip.

The L-shaped bar in the back has a line of about 6-7 people ahead of me. It takes a while, but I finally get the three drinks on a tray, and come back to the table. Cindy has already left by that point, and Terry is leaving, not wanting his drink. I down all three, but am surprised I don’t “feel” them.

In dream logic, I realize I am wearing only boxers and a t-shirt (which is what I am wearing while having this dream). While not embarrassed, I am annoyed when I see that my clothes are not at the table, and I wonder if the waitress has taken them.

I walk over to the cloak room at the left side of the stage, and see if they are in there, but all they have is my black, puffy down jacket. After putting it on over the t-shirt, I notice that my friend Dermot is sitting on a bench at the rear of the cloakroom, reading a magazine. I say hello to him, and tell him about everything that has happened, while he is quite bemused by it all.

When I emerge from the cloakroom, there is a comedian on the still unlit stage, who keeps talking through the rest of the time I am in the room, but nobody – including myself – pays any attention to him. It is just a droning background noise.

I head back to the table, which is now an L-shaped booth. There are many MEA faces I recognize (not real-life people), and their families, including children. I think I see Thom G–, but it ends up being someone else I know, and I ask him if he had found my clothes, and he replies negatively.

Figuring it is time to see if there is a Lost and Found, I walk to an ascending staircase just before the bar, and walk up into the lobby of a hotel to which the restaurant is part.

Disgusted, I walk to the front desk, which is located near the top of the stairs. There are two male hotel employees behind the marble desk. An older one is familiar to me within the dream; either I dreamed him in an earlier part that I don’t remember, or it is just dream logic. He avoids me because of our previous encounter, and I start asking about the Lost and Found, and telling him the story of what happened.

That’s when I woke up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another Perpective on the Coolness of Fonzie

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet


At last year’s Media Ecology Association conference at Santa Clara University in California, I was having lunch with a bunch of academics I like. One of them was from Milwaukee, and she was commenting how she is now part of a growing protest in that town.

Seems the Powers That Be had decided that, much in the way Philadelphia created a statue to Rocky Balboa, Milwaukee would be well served by similarly immortalizing Arthur Fonzarelli, more commonly known by the nickname, Fonzie, or just The Fonz.

This makes little sense to me. While the Fonz was possibly the most lasting character from the series of shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s that took place in the ‘50s (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi), he still seems as strange a choice to me as Potzie or Ralph Malph. Most of the other characters of the shows, such as the Mr. & Mrs. Cunningham (homemaker and hardware store owner, respectively), Laverne and Shirley (factory workers), whichever Al (diner owner), and even Carmine (dance instructor), were basically hard working, lower middle class members of society who strove for something better. They may have been part of the sweating masses, but they were more together for it.

Fonzie was looked on as the epitome of hip, but in essence he was exactly the opposite. Yes, girls lusted for him, he could be scary (though less so as seasons wore on), and he could turn on a jukebox with his fist, but whatever coolness he had was more because of the acting of Henry Winkler, who portrayed him, than was his character.

Let me backtrack a bit. In the first season of Happy Days, when they still used Bill Haley & His Comet’s “Rock Around the Clock” as the show’s theme, I actually do believe the Fonz was cool. He wore a light-colored cloth jacket and was seen marginally as a recurring character that was more flavor than focus; he just “was”. Whatever happened, he contained his composure, and just went with it. He swaggered, but never rushed. Fonzie was comfortable in his own skin. That is part of why he became so popular so fast with the audience.

As the seasons wore on, the cloth jacket was replaced by a leather one, and his personality changed way before he decided to become a teacher around the time he changed the language of culture, by going too far and literally “jumping the shark.”

When one is truly “cool,” one does not care what other people think of them, which is the essence of coolosity. The need to show off is not present because, well, there is no need. This attitude is made pointedly in an episode of Family Guy when Stewie Griffin is trying to prove to Brian that he can get accepted by the cool kids on campus. His entire attitude is “Whatever” followed by the acknowledgement of the ultimate coolness: “Hey, I’m wearing a short sleeved shirt over a long sleeved shirt over a short sleeved shirt.” Of course, he is not truly cool because he has “played” the issue, putting on the situation, yet still nails the perceived attitude. Ironically, one episode of the show centers on a religion formed by patriarch Peter Griffin based on the coolness of the Fonz.

Back on Happy Days, as the seasons wore on with Fonzie becoming more of the focus of the show, becoming the de facto main character (as Michael J. Fox’s character did in Family Ties), he quickly lost his cool. Suddenly he was rushing places, losing his temper, needing to defend his manhood from others, and unable to admit he was “wrr-rr-rr…wrr-rr-rr…” wrong. But the biggest positing that he was no longer the cool icon was that so many episodes focused on his fear of being perceived by others as not being cool.

Coolness is something that just “is.” As soon as one is worried about others losing their perception of being seen as cool, one no longer can be considered that. For example, I have more respect for someone who goes to a punk show dressed in non-punk gear but has the attitude and dedication, than someone who is wearing a ‘hawk and leather-with-spikes. Punking out does not make someone punk any more than believing oneself is cool makes them cool.

What truly makes one cool (or even punk in the example cited above) is not focusing on perception. One has to truly let the vanity part of the ego go, and just be. When one reaches this point, and can let go of egocentricities, one can reach higher levels of true coolness. Look at Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. What made it so potent was he did not let his own ego block his energy. Fans and writers were wondering how could he possibly be accepted as the Joker after Jack “Wait’ll they get a load of me!” Nicholson. By the time Ledger gave his fearless performance, Nicholson seemed closer to Caesar Romero’s turn than Ledger’s. Ledger’s Joker, along with his deftness in Brokeback Mountain showed just how cool he was.

To sum up, the Fonz was not cool because he needed to consistently defend his coolness. With that defensiveness, he showed that he was not being himself because he was trying to portray an image rather than be himself. Hence, his credibility was lacking, and thus was not cool. I agree with my Milwaukee colleague: putting up a statue of the Fonz, as they did on August 19, 2008, does not symbolize a positive image. I say put one up of a glove on a beer bottle. That’s the true icon of what makes that city proud.

This particular blog was also "insisted upon itself" by my finding the following comic strip by Ray Billingsley, as I was sorting my files:
As a final note to all General Semanticists, my apologies for my use of the verb “to be.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Live Music in the Fall of 1983

Text © Robert Barry Francos, and display advertisements
Images from Internet


The following information is taken from printed material I found while clearing out stuff I’d collected and am now disposing. This shows what a bustling scene there was in the fall of 1983. I have picked shows from ads at my own discretion, and it is not necessarily the full listings for the space, nor an endorsement of the band (i.e., does not automatically mean I like them). Comments printed in parentheses are from the ads.

CBGB and OMFUG
Thu, Oct. 23: Macambos – The Brood (from Maine) – Headless Horsemen (w/ ex Fuzztone members) – Combo Limbo
Fri, Oct. 24: Iron Curtain – White Zombie – Rat At Rat R – New Marines (Special Guest)
Tue, Oct. 28: Golden Dawn – Jing – Vernon Reid’s Living Colour – Random Facts
Wed, Oct. 23: Giant Metal Insects – Ritual Tension – Greg Ginn – Gone
Sun, Nov. 2: CMJ’s Marathon 2-2: Beastie Boys – Crying Out Loud – Damage – Honeymoon Killers – Offbeats – Random Facts – Rat At Rat R – Ritual Tension – White Zombie

City Gardens, Trenton, NJ
Sat, Oct. 25: Robert Hazard
Sun, Oct. 26: Bad Brains – Dr. Know/Das Yahoos – Serial Killers
Fri, Oct 31: Halloween Party: Gene Loves Jezebel – Until December
Fri, Nov 7: Love and Rockets
Sat, Nov 22: Peter Murphy (formerly of Bauhaus)

The Ritz
Thu, Oct. 23: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Rat At Rat R ($12.50 advance/13.50 day of show)
Sat, Oct. 25: The Fall – Splatcats ($12.50/13.50)
Mon, Oct. 27: Free! See the Cro-Mags live and be in a movie! You will be admitted at 10 AM-11 AM to stay until 11 PM.
Thu, Oct. 30: Bachman Turner Overdrive ($12.50/13.50)
Fri, Oct. 31: A Halloween Spectacular: The 10th Anniversary Reunion of the Dead Boys – Smashed Gladys – Angels in Vain ($15.50/17.50)
Sat, Nov. 1: Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians – Beat Rodeo ($12.50/13.50)
Thu, Nov. 6; Fri Nov. 7: The Ramones ($12.50/13.50)
Sat, Nov. 8: The Richard Thompson Band – Guadal Canal Diary (2 shows by popular demand) ($14.50/15.50)
Sun, Nov. 9: Rock Hotel Show: Motorhead – Cro-Mags – Dark Angel ($12.50/13.50)
Thu, Nov. 13; Fri, Nov. 14: Iggy Pop ($14.50/15.50)
Sat, Nov. 29: Sam Kinison (limited seating)
Sun, Dec. 6: Slayer – Overkill

One of the interesting things to note is the prices, as listed by the Ritz. At the time, these were seen as expensive, but not compared to now, even when weighted against today’s dollar vs. then dollar. Plus there were no exorbitant ticketing service fees that ripped off the attendee, though one had to go down to the actual venue to pick the tickets up.

In the case of these shows, I must admit that I did not see any of them, though I went to shows regularly during that period. There are a few I would have liked to attended, such as the Ramones (duh), the Brood/Headless Horsemen, Greg Ginn (my ’80s West Coast bands experience is kind of limited), the Splatcats (Yod!), the Dead Boys, Richard Thompson, and Iggy; there are other bands that I would have had no interest in then or now, like the Beastie Boys (sorry Ant & Ricky), Slayer, Gene Loves Jezebel, or Peter Murphy.

Point is, there was a lot going on back then, and it was a great time to be seeing live music in the area.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musings on Broadcast Television in May 2009

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet


The 2008/09 broadcast television season is ending this month, and the collision of the new digital-only demand make a perfect storm of the best and the worst of what is out there. Due to this, I was having some random thoughts about the state of television. In no particular order:

• As a follower of Media Ecology, I found a particular point of interest in the last half hour of The Celebrity Apprentice, a show of which I’ve probably seen maybe two hours worth if you include all of its seasons. In the live finale, Donald Trump asked Clint Black whom he would fire if he had the power, and his response was, “The editor.” These two words say so much about what we know as Reality TV, but it was followed by the sounds of crickets as critics and talk shows ignored it, or missed its significance. It’s a perfect example of what Daniel J. Boorstin coined a “pseudo-event.”

• So far, since there are no other official candidates as of yet, we are being bombarded by commercials for Michael Bloomberg’s illegal run for a third term, even if his own board gave him permission. The people did not give him that, and in fact the voters have twice voted against third terms. It figures he would run though, because he has continually shown he does not care about the people of this city, except those few stockholders of corporate New York. He claims in the ad that he will fight against “special interests,” though he represents them. For example, we taxpayers paid for three stadiums in New York (one still to be built in a ruined historic neighborhood in Brooklyn), and yet we are charged exorbitant fees to attend them. When there was talk of him running for president, the first thing I said was, “Wow, just think of all the stadiums he could build across the country!” Another example of his being in bed with corporate greed was dealing with the closure of CBGB. There he was, in full photo opp mode as he stood there promoting the club, but when it came time to actually do anything for support, again, the sound of crickets. Sadly, he will probably win thanks to tall the people who believe his publicity, but I will not be one of them, as I was rightfully not twice before. Not my mayor, especially again.

• Also, I’ve had enough already with all the commercials for cable. Wonder where all high fees go each month? No commercial break, especially in daytime, passes without one of these better-get-it-or-else-if-you-want-television fear tactics. I just don’t want to see that bland guy in the blue sweater against the red walls in the background drone on, the whinny red headed guy with the beard, the three spinning hip-hop stooges, the gawd-awful Caribbean rap one, the one with the three women singing where the leader had bad make-up and looks like a clown-face, or the singing and conga-line dancing puppets, or any of the others. I now have to sit with the remote in my hand, ready to change the channel whenever these abominations come on.

• Who is that high-pitched Nathan Thurm look-alike guy who seems to be trying to hoodwink people on so many repeated infomercials? I turned on the television recently during the middle of the night when I had trouble sleeping and that half-hour ad was on four broadcast channels concurrently. Are really that many gullible or desperate people out there?

• Then there is Billy Mays, that guy with the beard who sells cleaning products by screaming. I’ve seen him interviewed on some infotainment show, and he was talking normally. Is he trying to replicate the guy who used to hock Crazy Eddie? Well, he doesn’t have the shtick or the personality. Talk normally or shut the hell up!

• For some reason, I do like the woman with tons of make-up who sells Progressive car insurance. Did you know actor Stephanie Courtney’s character has a name? It is Flo. Some of these ads are amusing, but it’s Flo who makes it interesting.

• A new show I like is The Big Bang Theory. While this season seems to be too focused on Sheldon’s neuroses and his companions’ fear of him rather than the group’s friendship, the show is still sharply written. I am hoping it does not become the Sheldon show, ignoring the other great characters, including some of the minor ones, like Leonard's rival from the comic store, the group’s competitor with the bad lisp, and especially Wallowitz’s unseen but definitely heard mother. BBT won me over when the foursome all dressed up as the Flash for a Halloween party, and Sheldon consequently went as the Doppler Effect. Also, they all have great comic genre t-shirts (though they are starting to repeat some of them). Some of my favorite moments from the season have included Penny’s shock when she uses a Star Trek metaphor, and when she matches Sheldon’s idiosyncratic door rapping rhythm back at him (both solo and in tandem). I am sorry they got rid of Sara Rule, though I realize in the story’s arc it was necessary.

• While I still like the original CSI (i.e., Vegas), I find Laurence Fishburne, though a fine actor, has really been slowing down the pace to a David Caruso drip. He’s a new CSI, yet he is already the authority on everything, going on solo cases, which makes no sense. That being said, there was an exceptional episode recently revolving around a “Solar Quest” convention (filling in for Star Trek. While they never mentioned any of the real characters or actors from the original show, during some fantasy sequences and the use of memorabilia, it was always obvious which particular episodes to which they were referring, even to a ST fan like me who is not a Trekker.

• Speaking of which, I recently turned on The View because Leonard Nimoy was going to be on to promote the new film, Star Trek. Seems a staff member of the show named Dave is a huge fan of all things Trek, but especially the original series. When Nimoy came on, he turned to him and said, fingers splayed, “Live long and prosper, Dave.” Dave, who gave the Hebraic-based sign back, was clearly in tears. It was a very nice and touching moment. By the way, did Nimoy get new teeth recently? His speech had a hard “shh” tone, like talking through some kind of dentures.

• Am I the only person who watches Reaper? The show has consistently been humorous, and a cast that keeps getting stronger. Yes, it is occasionally sophomoric, but it also has some thoughtful moments and themes. The introduction of Jenny Wade’s demon character, Nina, was a pleasant addition this year. I hope they don’t cancel it, when they keep all the other ‘tween romance bullshit on. This really is the only show on the CW I can stand.

• I am fully willing to admit that I didn’t appreciate Arrested Development, though I respected its work; however, the new animated show, Sit Down, Shut Up is just terrible. Hopefully, Cleveland will be better (I’m guessing it will fall somewhere between the exceedingly sharp Family Guy and the lukewarm American Dad).

• Someone should bring back The Uncle Floyd Show, already.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Theater Review: Lost, by Arnold Schulman

Text © Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet
Further info about this production is at the bottom


Previously, the tele/play Lost has only been staged once since its inception in 1956, and that was on live television, directed by Arthur Penn. Written by renowned author, playwright, and screenplay writer Arnold Schulman (A Hole in the Head, The Night They Raided Minskey’s, Funny Lady, to name just a few), this production is now being re-introduced by the Haberdasher Theatre Company and produced by Arthur’s son, Peter.

Back when live television was new, live dramatic shows were written by the likes of Schulman and Paddy Chayefsky (Marty, Network). The medium was untested and lines of tradition were not yet drawn, so possibilities were endless. One of the proofs of this openness was the avant-garde Lost, which is both ideal for a small, independent troupe, and yet it must have been a tough direct, though Patrick Sherrer did a magnificent job.

Set in 1950, Lost is about a man named Walter Uhlan, who has not necessarily become unstuck in time, but lost in his own skin. Roaming about New York City in 28 locations, projected brilliantly on a black, stark set using mostly plastic milk crates as the only props, Walter is both trying to find out who he is and why he is repeatedly drawn to particular locales, but also innately finding it freeing from a life he does not understand, and on some level wishes to escape. He is in almost constant motion, going here and there, but not knowing why or what draws him.

[Lee Solomon as Walter and Keri Taylor as Arlene in the foreground]
The entire hour-long play takes place in one day, as Walter and the ensemble of 11 flow, sometimes in slow motion, like eddies that sometimes flow around him and other times changing his direction. Each of the cast, with the exception of Solomon, plays more than one character.

An interesting theme of the piece is that as a bookend between some events, characters who have or had a relationship with Walter talk to the audience in a monolog and explain parts of his history, filling in the pieces slowly but surely, such as his wife and her best friend, his father, father-in-law, next door neighbor as a kid, and even a jazz singer/B-girl who tries to help him this strange day.

A central motif of Lost is not a new one, which is how one can be truly lonely in a city of multi-millions, but it is done exceedingly well without being overwhelming, thanks in part to the writing, and also to the interpretation by the cast and crew.

Lee Solomon, a member of a number of online and live sketch comedy troupes, shines as Walter, giving him many layers of complexity, as the character truly needs. At one moment his Walter just wants to be left alone, huddled in a corner, the next racing to a location – be it landmark or even a different city – in a state of near mania. Lee plays him both weak and strong, effectively bouncing between the emotions and never losing the audience.

As Arlene, one of the two main female leads, Keri Taylor portrays the jazz singer and possible prostitute (a strong step on live television in the 1950s) who is at first as hard as nails, then slowly melts when she begins to realize that as strong as Walter is, there is a vulnerability to him. It was pretty obvious Keri was relishing the role, which made the audience’s viewing all the more enjoyable.

Another strong character – though I wish she had been more flushed out – was Walter’s wife, Mildred, played convincingly by Lauren Kelston. Lauren’s character is hurt and confused by what her life has been, being married to someone she was pushing towards her own desires of status (i.e., as being the wife of someone successful). I’m not sure if it was in the original play or this company’s interpretation, but there seemed to be an implied relationship with her best friend, which was a nice, subtle touch.

Bill Bria has a double-dip role as a somber doctor who talks to Walter, helping to put a piece into the puzzle of his life, and also does the announcing by giving both an intro and an outro to the piece. This is quite a different role than the last time I saw him in Michael Weems’s Onward, Forward, just exemplifying what I suspected: the man has a nice range.

There are lots I’d like to discuss about the ending and its meaning here, but I try not to give too many plot points – especially the conclusion – so suffice it to say that this play is a thought-provoking production, and the cast, director, and production crew did a heartfelt charge on a deserving and complex piece.

[Peter Schulman]
After the show, writer Arnold Schulman was scheduled to give a talk about the play, but due to an illness, was unable to attend. In his place however, his son Peter Schulman, who is an academic man of letters, gave a joyous, off-the-cuff and behind-the-scenes story of how he came across the text (among many) in his dad’s attic, and pursued getting it produced. He also told tales of Arnold’s life, his own growing up with a famous dad and the company Arnold kept, and even some stories about his father’s experiences in Hollywood (both good and bad). Peter is a good speaker who kept everyone mesmerized (including the cast who sat among the audience and were as fascinated as we were).

When he finished his presentation and Q&A period, I had the opportunity to talk to Peter privately about one of Arnold’s earlier works, A Hole in the Head. He had explained during his presentation that it was written for Jewish characters, but when put on the screen, it starred Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson, and was made “Italian,” instead (which is ironic, since Robinson was Jewish). I told Peter that though I hadn’t seen the film in many years, my memory of it as a kid was that it was about Jews, rather than Italians, which seemingly brought some satisfaction to Peter. We definitely shared a landsman moment.

[Bill Bria]
On the way out, I stopped off to give a greeting to Bill Bria, as we have been communicating through Facebook about The Hays Office period of film gatekeeping, which is a topic in which we both are interested. Bill also gave me his own interesting incites about the experience of working on this piece, including that the original intro was Rod Serling-ish, but they decided not to do it that way as it would have been too easy.

After the show, I walked down to O’Flannery’s bar on 46 Street and caught some of the set by one of my favorite local singer-songwriters, Randy Stern, and picked up his new CD, which will be reviewed at my column in Jersey Beat.

The Looking Glass Theatre, 422 West 57th Street (between 9th and 10th Ave.)
www.haberdashertheatre.com/
Haberdasher Theatre's Mission: Haberdasher Theatre champions free expression and creative thought and strives to serve our patrons by presenting edgy and inventive theatre that will reawaken the ardor for live theatre, both as an art form and a source of entertainment. Haberdasher Theatre also serves as a launching pad for new and mid-career artists, including playwrights, actors, and musicians, who wish to share new, interesting and thoughtful works of art
.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thoughts on my 54th Birthday

Text and photo © Robert Barry Francos

Yes, it is strange thinking of myself as 54. I look around at people on the news, like Scully, the captain of the airplane that landed in the Hudson; he is around the same age as me, and he is all gray, and to me looks much older. Seems most people in the news who are my age do, so I guess I should be grateful, but I also find it kind of scary. After all, Obama is the first president who is younger than me (well, physically, anyway…when it comes to maturity, nearly anyone my age is older than the second Bush).

They say one is as old as one feels, but physically, I have felt older than my age for a long time, thanks to the stiffness in my back due to arthritis I’ve had since I was 19. My cousin told me part of my lack of skills as an athlete is because my parents didn’t take me to little league or anything like that. That may be true in part, but I know I was enrolled in Tai Kwon Do when my arthritis hit, my first awareness coming when we were running backwards. It hurt my ankles and my knees like crazy. A podiatrist told me it was because of flat feet, and I bought those very expensive corrective Frankenstein shoes. After wearing them, it hurt even more. It took until I was in my mid-20s to have my ankylosing spondilitis correctly diagnosed. It makes me stiff and awkward, and in significant pain for a number of years, not to mention helping me have this wonderfully bad posture resulting from a curvature in the spine, indicative of my arthritis. Not fun, but could be a lot worse: as said in a song written by Jersey Beat publisher Jim Testa, despite being older, it beats the alternative.

The only time in my life I was concerned about my age was when I turned 20. The idea of not being a teenager anymore freaked me out. This happened at around 11:45 at night, the day before my birthday. I fretted from 11:45 PM to 12:10 AM, the time of my birth. Then, when the moment passed and it was over, well, it was over. Never worried about it again. Even with growing older, as my hair turned salt-and-peppery, it didn’t bother me much. Some friends of mine, of both genders, who have turned gray, have taken to dying their hair. I’ve fleetingly thought about it, but never seriously. I’m grateful to have all my hair, and as for the color, I look at it as, hey, I’ve lived long enough for my hair to turn gray. Lots of people I’ve known never grew old enough for that to happen. I’m grateful to have lived long enough for that.

One of the aspects of getting older that has had some effect on me is gaining weight. When I graduated from undergrad college, I weighed 115 lbs. Yeah, I was too thin, but I felt good at that weight. As I’ve gotten older, especially since my 40s, I’ve gone up to 180, and I feel sluggish. Without trying to sound like everyone else in this position, I’m hoping the next year will see some of that wear away. I’d like to be in the 150 range. We’ll see.

Monty Love once sang, “Being young is only in your head.” On some level, I’ve kept that truthful. I still read comics (though I haven’t bought one in nearly a decade; however, I have read some graphic novels from the library), I like to watch horror flicks (though I’ve never been a super fan of slashers, I do like a good gory ghost, alien or monster antagonist), and punk rock is still close to my heart. Despite all of that, I know that I have matured, somewhat, though there are those who may argue about degree. A quick story: a good friend was listening to some old phone messages from the ‘80s he kept on cassette, and one was from his friend who was upset that he had called up her place of work looking for her, and told a coworker of hers (that he didn’t know) about a bizarre dream about seeing “the hand of God.” She was saying on the message in a sharp voice (he recently played it for me), “How could you just say something like that to someone I work with? Don’t you know how bad that makes me look at my workplace?” At the time, no he didn’t. Now, looking back, he’s chagrined. It’s like that for me, too. I’ve said a lot of harsh things to people without thinking twice about it at the time, and sometimes I blanch in remembrance (other times, I don’t, depending on the situation).

It is okay to mature. I have a lot of friends in my life now who love me and that I love back, who may not have if they knew me in my 20s (and bless the ones who rode it out). There is also one who liked me then, and then disapproved of my growth, turned nasty, and decided to cut me out of her life (at the end, it was mutual). I owe a lot of that maturity to my partner, who over the years has held a mirror up to me and said, basically, “Do you really like who/what you see when you do/say that?” This forced self-reflection has done me a lot of good, as painful as it has been at times, and I am eternally grateful. And yet, even at 54, I know I have a ways to go.

Looking over some of my college papers recently, I noticed a central theme in comments by my professors. They say I am good at descriptiveness, shy on critical process. Even before noticing that, I’ve always referred to myself as a “reviewer” rather than a “critic”: the former will describe how something is good or bad, a critic will detail why. The “why” has been a confusing roadblock in my looking back (or forward) in my life. It is probably why I am such a miserable chess player (though I do enjoy a good game of backgammon).

The point is I take a lot of things as they come, when I should be looking closer at them. Yes, sometimes I notice details that others have missed (which is why I enjoy editing), but themes sometimes get by me. Also, as I get older, I notice that I have more feelings than descriptive words, so it makes it harder to explain what I am thinking. This makes me come across as calloused sometimes, because I am not being clear about what’s going on in my head, but many times it’s because I am “feeling” instead. Imagine opening a book and seeing emotive colors rather than words. Sort of like that, I guess. That being said, as this will come to sound contradictory, I enjoy writing, as the large number of blogs here will attest. If you read them, you will find my professors are mostly correct; they are observations rather than critical assessments, for the most part. While I’m a bit comfortable with that (though I would be happy to have both capacities), I have found this process occasionally disturbs others. I blank out, verbally, and ride on the emotion, which can make me speechless. I’m feeling, rather than deep thinking. It’s like my mind is giant mood ring, sometimes. According to some psycholinguistic theory I learned in college, there are two types of thoughts, deep structure (the original thought) and surface structure (the thought as you send it out). Many times I feel like I’m stuck at the surface structure, and while I understand what I am thinking, what I’m saying is cloudy. I am hoping my writing will bring back more of my solid thought structures.

At this age, people start to think about retiring and slowing down, even if it is a decade or so off. I’m less than a year and a half younger than my mom was when she passed away, and about five years from the age my dad retired. For me, I am heading in just the opposite direction. Soon I will be starting anew, clearing the way for new growth. I embrace it and, frankly, am looking forward to it. Life is changing and speeding up, rather than slowing down. There are many new lessons to be learned, especially in the next year, and I feel a bit nervous about it, not wanting to fail, but am not afraid to grab hold of the swinging vine and jump. The cliché image is of going for the brass ring on the merry-go-round. For me, it’s not circular, however; reaching for that ring is taking me on a whole new ride. It is quite exciting.

The actual day of my birthday falls on Mother’s Day this year (when I was in grade school, this overlap would embarrass me to no end, but now I think it is cool…see, maturity!). I went to my brother and sister-in-law’s house on Long Island for a dinner with some friends and I will talk to my partner who is currently far away – but not for long – on the phone, and get to wish my mother-in-law, who I adore, a good Mother’s Day. Those who read Facebook and MySpace are surely going to see the notice of the day and will leave comments. Truthfully, I will happily accept these for what they are. Some are sad when another birthday has come and gone. For me, with all the change and transitions in my life, I am happy to see this one. I’ve made it through another year, in relatively good heath, and positive signs for the future.

Happy birthday to me!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Music at Has Beans, Brooklyn, May 2, 2009

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos
Flyer from Internet


I was told the Saturday, May 2nd show was to start at 5 PM. Even says so in big letters on the flyer. Anthony K, who is in three or four groups these days (most with his cousin Ricky Wells, including Kung Fu Grip, as he was listed on the flyer), invited me through Facebook. Didn’t know anyone else on the bill other than Object, but it has certainly been a while since I’ve seen Anthony, and for Object it is even longer, so I decided to go for it.

For once the train was efficient (even though they’ve been working on the wooden staircase in my station for over four months…how long does it take to lay a plank? But I digress), and I ended up getting to the Has Bean coffee shop at 620 Fifth Avenue (basically behind where the Prospect Expressway meets the Gowanus/Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) at 4:30. No one was there yet, other than customers with laptops, and the very nice woman behind the counter who said she didn’t know much about it, but it was probably going to start 6 or 7 PM. So I did what came naturally: I had a coffee and read the Arts section of the Sunday New York Times on Saturday. Found out that England had just picked its first Poet Laurete after over 300 years.

Of course, while I was waiting, I also checked the place out. Has Beans definitely has its charm. There was no stage area, but the tables in the front were moved to make room by the window (which always made the most sense to me rather than having the performances in the back, because you want to attract people). The width of the room was approximately the height of my apartment’s ceiling, about 10 or 11 feet, and it was probably three times that to the counter, with about 10 square 2-person tables (and free wifi). It was a nice space for a show, and I want to thank them for taking the chance.

The promoters came first, being artist-type Lyssa Lovelyss (who runs Rusted Conceptons bookings, fanzine, and CD compilations) and laid-back Vin, who also make up the group Generic Kitty. I love it when musicians set up showcases for others and themselves, like the Nerve! did at Peggy O’Neil’s (KeySpan Park, Coney Island), Monty Love at Dock Street (Staten Island), or Anthony and Ricky – when they were a duo known as Good Grief – did at Limestone (Boro Park). Usually the groups are more eclectic and it feels more personal. Between smokes, Vin set up the small PA system (basically an amp, a stand, and a microphone), and ‘Lyss looked bored and indifferent, while two kids in her charge (including her 10 year old sister) ran around the place.

The first band to show up was Vanderveer St, (is it St. or Street?) from Queens Village. While two members were playing acoustically, the whole band (and parents) was there in support. They looked so familiar, and I wonder if they were in previous bands I’ve seen before. Guys? Then Object arrived, and I sat and talked with them for a while, catching up with Maria Schettino and Eric Kramer. Shortly following it was Ricky Wells, who was momentarily preceded Anthony K and his significant other, Desiree Taranto, along with a jolly crowd of followers. The conversation continued with them, as I’ve known many of them since they were teens. Joseph Baginski arrived just as the show was starting, and Dead Leaf Echo, a Brooklyn band, did not show up until much later, having gotten lost.

[Vanderveer St.]
The first band to play was Vanderveer St. Starting around 6:15, two members of the group, vox/guitarist Billy Kupillas and bassist Thomas O’Brien, came up first, both with guitars. It seemed that their intentions were that they were just going to have fun, and they did. And in doing that, so did the rest of the audience. There was banter and joyful insults back and forth between Billy and the rest of the band who sat in the back, and everyone had a good time. They obviously were winging it, because they’d be in a song and realize that there was a drum solo, but no drums, so they shouted out, “Drum solo!” in the appropriate places, and paused. And Thomas’s bass solo sounded all the stranger on the acoustic guitar, but in a good way. VS were a good start. I also admire that they stuck around for almost the whole show.

Between the bands, Vin smoked and Lyss looked appropriately bored. I gave her my card, and she basically showed no interest whatsoever. Not sure if she was being “cool” or being cold. Kinda distracting. She watched and videoed the bands, but really did not seem to be present. Maybe it’s me…

[Anthony K, of Kung Fu Grip]
Anthony K came on next. He kept saying, in a self-deprecating way, “I’m not in the mood to do this!” to anyone who would listen, but he still did fine. I’ve seen him perform some acoustic stuff before, with Ricky, but he sounded alright by himself. While not as flashing a guitarist as his cousin, Anthony is more meat and ‘taters (though he’s a madman drummer when he plays). Funny thing is that when electrified, Anthony sounds like he could be in some Northwest post-grunge outfit, but when he plays the same songs acoustically, they translate amazingly well into singer-songwriter. He finished his set with one of my favorite songs of his, about his girlfriend (which reminds me, in spots, of Lennon’s “Julia”).

Through the first three sets, there was a table of older regulars in their 60s sitting behind me, who conversationally talked loudly over the music, and I wanted to turn to them and say, “How about a little respect for the music,” but they did not look like they would be receptive, and they obviously didn’t care. So, I took the high ground and respected my elders. If they were younger, I may have said something.

[Dead Leaf Echo]
Here’s where things began to get a bit weird. Two members of Dead Leaf Echo came on next, though I believe they were supposed to come on earlier, but were late, as I mentioned earlier. Up until them, everything had been acoustic, but they brought in four amps, an electric guitar with an elaborate foot pedal setup, and a huge synth keyboard. The music was ambient, in an electronica way, and while it was played well, I found it incredibly somnambulistic, and yet amazingly loud, especially when Mike D. pushed the petals. Liza B. didn’t really have much to do other than press a chord on the synth every bar or so, and sing a single note for a bar in a Linda McCartney quality. They seemed like nice people, but I was glad when they were over.

[Joseph Baginski]
The amp that Vin brought burned out, and Joseph Baginski’s guitar was buzzing, so it took a hell of a long time to sort it out. Finally, after about 45 minutes and it was dark outside, Joseph started to sing, and I winced. Yeah, he plays guitar right handed and upside down, but the man couldn’t sing on key to save his life, and the out of tune guitar didn’t help much. Also he mumbled all the lyrics like Dylan or Kobain (though I would assume Baginski would say the latter, since he had his hair dyed and cut very Kurt-like). The songs may have had deep lyrics, but I couldn’t tell through the tuneless vocals. Everyone I caught eye contact with gave me a wincing look, as if to say, “Ow.” I hope I don’t have to review any of his CDs going forward, and I didn’t introduce myself to him, as I did with Vanderveer St. or lifeless Lovelyss.

[Object]
Happily, next up was the highlight of the night, Object. Damn, they’re a great duo. Eric Kramer is on guitar and vox, and Maria Schettino handles all the percussion, which was wide and varied this night. The songs are both melodic and complex; Eric has a way with words and can sing. This night was extremely special, as it was the debut of Maria on guitar as they both played acoustic for one number. She did great. When they play, even when the songs are about distressing subjects, they look like they are having fun up there, and it translates to the audience. They’re both very open as artists, and someone needs to record them more. By this time in the evening, the table behind me was minus the talkers, so it was even better.

[Generic Kitty]
Last up were Generic Kitty, made up of the couple than ran the show, Lovelyss and Vin. For the first couple of songs, Vin strummed guitar and ‘Lyss sat cross-legged in a chair and sang (while her two young charges sat in front and talked through most of the set). After a couple of songs, she picked up her guitar and they both strummed as she sang. The songs were a bit simplistic, but okay, in a soft, Kyma Dawson, post-grunge way. They were actually all right, though the vocals were a bit emotionless, even the song about someone the protagonist does not like (written by ‘Lyss with her 10-year-old sis). When GK started, the place had been pretty empty, but everyone who stepped out came back as they started, which in the small place pretty much filled it up, I’m happy to say.

After the set, I had a nice, short talk with Vin, and gave him my card, to which he sounded receptive. Despite my teasing about the hot and cold from the couple, I hope they produce more shows like this. Vin is from western New Jersey and ‘Lyss is from Brooklyn, so he will be coming here somewhat regularly, I would think. Given that, the opportunity for them to do more shows is a possibility. I hope they jump on it, which is good for them, and for the local scene. Everyone should check Rusted Conceptions out at www.myspace.com/rustedconcept.

After some goodbyes to Anthony K and his crowd, it was off to the subway for a much longer ride home. But it was worth it because it was a good night.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Club NOT to Play: Great Gildersleeves

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos
Images from the Internet


There was a club on the Bowery, just one block north from CBGB, called Great Gildersleeves. It was a miserable hole with no atmosphere that did not feel like any other club at the time: it felt like jocks, frats and yuppies, and just stank of poseurs. Everyone with whom I hung out felt the same way. There was just something tainted with the place, so it was very rare we went there, even though they occasionally had some major shows, including Husker Du and PiL. There weren't many places to do a show around, so a band would play where it could, but it would be like seeing your favorite uncle in a hospice.

The last time was to see the Marbles play. I arrived early with two friends, and after having our hands stamped and sitting for a while, we were feeling uncomfortable being in the place, the hairs on the backs of our necks standing on end. Also, we were a bit peckish. The prices at this club were prohibitively high for the quality (fried and greasy) and quantity of their food.

The place wasn’t crowded, so we decided to go to the 24-hour deli across Bowery and grab some quick munchies. I bought a small Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda (sheer ambrosia) and a couple of small 25-cent bags of Wise chips (gotta be Wise brand if you wanna dance with me), and my companions bought small stuff as well. I finished one bag and the bottle and put the other bag in my pocket, while they finished their supply, and we headed back across the street to the club.

The bouncer was standing by the door with one of the higher ups of the joint. As we were walking back in, flashing our inked hands, the bouncer stopped us and demanded (with a wink of the eye to the other guy) to know if we were trying to sneak in any food. We said no, and he started roughly going through our pockets. Before I could say anything, he pulled out the bag of chips and yelled at me, “What the fuck is this?” I said sincerely, “It’s a 25-cent bag of chips, that’s not food.” The bouncer screamed into my face from about 3 inches, “We sell chips in here!” while the other guy was laughing. I said, “I’m a student without a job and I can’t afford the chips here; besides, it’s just a 25-cent bag. It’s not like I’m bringing in a large bag.”

With that, he grabbed me – all 115 lbs. of me vs. his 200+ lbs. – by the throat, and started choking me. He was big enough that I couldn’t really reach him with my hands, and not being a fighter of any worth, I probably wouldn’t know what to do anyway. Besides, I was scared shitless. He believed he had all the power, and in that moment, physically anyway, he did.

When he got bored and realized that I didn’t prove to be a challenge, he let me go with a push. Through my sore vocal chords and Adam’s apple, with a croaking voice, I demanded our money back. The other guy went into the club, and when he came back with some ham-fisted crumpled bills, he threw our money on the floor by my feet.

They had won that round, but I was not done. I would never walk back into that club. I thought about blasting them in an article in FFanzeen, but had second thoughts: why give them the publicity? Instead, I relied on Oscar Wilde’s bon mot, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” and I refused to ever mention the club again in my mag. Even when brought up by other writers or artists, I would change the name of the place to the non-descript “a club.” I always explained to the writer what I was doing and why, and no one ever complained. Not that there were many people writing about the little shithole.

Gildersleeves closed (which is why I’m even mentioning it now) and, after a while, became a homeless shelter. At least it became something useful.