Thursday, April 30, 2009
“We’ve had all four seasons in April.”
“I was in a tank top on Sunday. I’ve had on the down parka, the leather jacket, the denim, the light cotton, the hoodie. I’ve worn all the jackets I’ve owned this one month.”
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
You’ve probably heard by now the story behind this record, my favorite of 2008. T. Bone Burnett produced this record, brought together a cream of the crop bunch of musicians and helped B.B. King select a powerful group of Blues songs—classics both well known and obscure—that he knew growing up or were popularized by such long gone contemporaries as Howlin Wolf (one of the greatest artists mankind ever produced).
Blues scholars (you know who are and you have been warned) may disagree with the following analysis. T-Bone Walker is an early master of electric blues, but it was really Muddy Waters who electrified the delta sound first pioneered by prophets like Charlie Patton. Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson. Yes, we all know that they had to plug in to amplifiers to be heard above audience din in Chicago and Memphis clubs. Another evolution took place, and perhaps here Mr. T-Bone Walker led the way, in the post-big band world of Rhythm & Blues. The guitar, specifically the electric guitar, migrated from the rhythm section to lead. The horn section and the piano—really a percussion instrument, thus well suited to the rhythm section—joined sides with the drummer. B.B. King is one of those artists from this era—actually an originator of this whole format—where the voice leads the songs and the songs are based around the guitar, which commands the spotlight within a large ensemble and handles most of the solos. Chess bluesmen for example, tended to play in smaller combos, one or two horns were typical while B.B. King was most comfortable with larger, more orchestra-sized backing.
The Blues create a mood. A genius like Muddy Waters with his smaller combo cuts to the emotional core of a song, he takes the mood and hits you with the truth. B.B. King, with his bigger band, takes the mood and loads it with layers of atmosphere. This thick blanket of the same truth wraps around you completely. Whatever journey you take, or prefer, the end result of transportation to humanity’s deepest and most universal emotions is the same.
One Kind Favor, with its selection of bedrock blues tunes and its texture of B.B. King’s traditionally large band sound stands apart from similar recordings in this genre due to the simple fact it has been recorded with contemporary studio equipment. Solely in terms of sonic achievement, this could be the best sounding of all recordings of authentic blues music. Listening to One Kind Favor is an exhilarating experience. There is absolute clarity in the musicianship, the emotional impact of the songs, and the style and gravitas of B.B. King, who is determined to make another signature statement at the sunset stage of a remarkable career.
“World Gone Wrong”, a song I know from Dylan’s acoustic version on the 90s cover record of the same name, depicts love lost, a perennial blues theme. The narrator feels that the loss of love can only be depicted via apocalyptical comparisons. Dylan performs it as a dirge, a mournful death chant. B.B. King swings it wide open, the band cooking up a joyous backbeat. When he sings, “ I can’t be good no more baby, because the world has gone wrong,” the poignancy has an added intensity because we know the singer has more days behind him than in front of him. His age gives him an undeniable authority that embodies the song, and it’s the same elderly persona that finds a happiness in a lyric that on the surface might seem pretty bleak. B.B. King conjures up that blues magic, that paradox of something to both bemoan and celebrate.
The horns make your hips shake and your vertebrae shimmy. But within this texture, heard throughout the record, there’s Dr. John’s distinctive piano. B.B. King invokes the delta origins and electric evolution of blues guitar. With Dr. John we get New Orleans, we get all that jazz, all that boogie-woogie, all that be-bop, all that gutbucket. We hear the marching band inspired funeral drum lines we remember listening to coming from outside the window into the common room at St. James Infirmary where we lay on our sickbeds wondering if we too would die today. We get that dense, simmering, swampy voodoo funk (which encompasses all of the aforementioned) the Good Doctor got us night tripping to thirty some odd years ago.
The band is humongous—six piece horn section, B-3 organ, two drummers and sometimes two bassists—electric & acoustic. Where else do your hear such a sizeable ensemble, outside of Jazz at Lincoln Center, these days? A lot of components are at work creating this humid, midnight hour atmosphere. The catalyst though is Dr. John. His fingers make sure that the big band has got B.B.’s back. I don’t mean to suggest Dr. John dominates, or the incredible playing by the other musicians is not as talented, as noticeable or that they are less than equal cohorts in the mission accomplished here. But he is Dr. John and with Dr. John we hear Big Easy history. B.B. King is an elder sage reminding us of the Delta’s ancient truths, which he distills into a single emotive voice and bended guitar notes. The Delta has probably met the Big Easy before, but rarely with such equal recognition of common ground and equal respect for where their traditions diverge.
“How Many More Years”, a song written by Howlin Wolf (may his name forever be praised) could easily just have been a run through of a well known and beloved classic. Simple is not the case anywhere on this record. “How many more years, are you going to wreck my life!” the singer asks and in the version by The Wolf, there is rage and self-pity. We still get the anger and hurt, but B.B. King’s interpretation abandons the self-pity Howlin Wolf explored so thoroughly. The guy is 80, when he asks how many more years, we do not need to be made aware about the limited number of years being discussed. The big band rocks hard, enabling that mysterious alchemy of the blues when anguish uplifts us. With Howlin, the narrator seems unable to leave a bad woman. B.B. King has had enough and is leaving, turning the song into a farewell invective. It becomes an anthem about enduring the few years one has left. An incredible achievement has taken place here—a song is transformed, yet remains true to its original intent.
The title of this record is a lyric taken from the opening cut, “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”—a Blind Lemmon Jefferson song (which also has a Furry Lewis co-credit) covered by many, including Dylan. The singer imagines his funeral—with two white horses in the coffin line, his hands growing cold, heading to his burying ground. While only a matter of time for everyone, this scenario is a lot closer to the singer than most of us, and his voice has a tenderness that conveys that realization. The moment you realize the particular relevance of the lyrics to the singer, B.B. King slams you with some particularly tasty lead lines that go right up through your spine. You wince helplessly with pleasure. That effect is made possible by Dr. John building the foundation of this shuffle with an irrevocable momentum.
“Blues Before Sunrise”, a John Lee Hooker penned tune covered by Muddy Waters, is my personal standout track. Before the band kicks in towards the end of the song, we get an extended dialog between B.B. King and the Good Doctor. T. Bone Burnett wisely lingers on the interplay of Dr. John’s ivory with King’s picking, producing essentially a jam to begin the song—as opposed to an instrumental break in its usual position of mid-to-end of the cut. The band eventually storms in to bring it on home, but the long introduction here of a master of the piano and master of the guitar talking to each other musically is a moment of historical proportions, captured for prosperity and just about as beautiful as any music gets. Was music created because there are emotions in our souls unable to be expressed by verbal or visual images? I’d argue yes, and to support that argument today I refer the ladies & gentlemen of the jury to the first half of this specific recording.
There is not one lackluster moment on One Kind Favor, even when the song choice seems too obvious, like those old standbys Tomorrow Night or Sitting On Top of the World. King reminds us why they are old standbys, and discovers a newness in their meaning that their familiarity might have overshadowed in recent decades.
Rick Rubin paved the way for senior citizen artists to prove they can still make vital music with his American Recordings series by Johnny Cash. Rubin showed that the age of a performer can enhance some songs. Those mainly acoustic albums were a different sound for Cash—and the work with Rubin stands toe to toe with the Sun Studio and Columbia recordings we all know and love.
T. Bone Burnett has taken a different tact with B.B. King, producing a continuum of a legacy rather than a surprising addendum. B.B. King may be looking at the sunset he is fast approaching, but he makes Blues music that sounds ready for a new dawn.
I can’t recommend that anyone buy a CD for the performance of a sideman—and this CD is worth it for its star and the songs—but if you were to buy a CD just for the sideman, One Kind Favor would be the one because you will hear some of the best piano Dr. John has ever played. More appropriate than ironic that he excels in this rare back-up role. To all parties involved: Sequel soon! Sequel Now!
Monday, April 27, 2009
Movie Palaces—Loewe’s was one of them—are unique pieces of architecture, peculiar to and an emblematic of the time in which they were designed and built, the 1920s. I know they sometimes presented revival films at the newly refurbished Loew’s, but I never really was interested enough in what they were showing to make an effort to attend until February, when they presented “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe & Joseph Cotton on a double bill with “The Killing”, Kubrick’s early noir classic with screenplay by Jim Thompson. I’m a noir buff and I had never seen “Niagara.” (It was a great noir).
A strange thing happened though, I liked the Loew’s experience at least as much as the films. Now, I’m going once a month, regardless of what’s playing.
Last weekend took in “Journey to the Center of Earth”. Unlike my noir interest, I honestly had no desire to see this film again—like everybody else as kid I saw it on TV. The month before, I went to see “The Innocents”, a British film—screenplay by Truman Capote—based on a Henry James short story, “The Turn of Screw.” I’m not a Henry James fan (or a Jules Verne fan) at all. I’m not a fan of British Film in general. It’s considered a classic British ghost film by folks who rate such things. I guess I was curious, but the reality was that I went because, as the fellow who introduced “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” said, for the “art of seeing a film. The experience of seeing a film.”
I enjoyed “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” more than “The Innocents,” although neither film I would recommend, unless you see it in Journal Square. The atmosphere at Loew’s— huge screen, rundown faux-luxury of the interior design, the comfortable seats and the polite and attentive audience—brought out and enhanced the art almost hidden in this movie (Pat Boone is a star for goodness sakes).
I’ve become a believer. Presentation is not as important as story, character, the grammar of film, the artistry of the acting, direction, screenplay, source material, cinematography, score, etc., but it is worthy of appreciation.
For years, I went to the revival theaters that used to be in New York City, like the Biograph, the Thalia or St. Marks Theater 80 (I think that is what it was called). I still go to Anthology Film Archives and the Film Forum. But all these theaters—the ones long gone and the ones still showing revival films—simply do not hold even a dim klieg light to the Loew’s experience. I only went to or go to those Manhattan screens to see the specific film. I go to Loew’s for Loew’s.
I’m utterly democratic when comes to cinema. I love serious films, genre films, foreign films. I love old films. I love new films. I love films that I don’t even like and even regret seeing. I just like the movies.
In spite of the convenience of watching them at home on tape and now disc, I prefer the movie theater—even the real crappy multiplexes (a-hem, Newport Mall). One of the more transformative things in my life was seeing nearly every John Cassavettes film at The Anthology Film Archives during a special presentation several years ago. I’ve seen a lot of them again on the TV screen. It is simply not the same. Not even close.
Loew’s is a “Movie Palace.” In 1929, Movie Studios built these grand, ornate theaters in inner cities throughout the nation. The great Beacon Theatre in Manhattan is one such palace. Movies had become immensely popular during the jazz age. The early films—the silent one reel films—as well as earlier cinema incarnations such as the zoopraxiscope and the kinetoscope—were usually presented in arcades or carnivals. Except in larger cities, there were few theaters built specifically for cinema. Movie Palaces were an exciting entertainment concept that seemed sure to score big—huge screens, opulent interiors, even a stage and orchestra pit. The new sound films were longer in length, they were often shown as double bills, along with shorts, cartoons and newsreels. Going to a palace was designed as an event in and of itself; the movie may have been the centerpiece, but the evening also included: audience raffles, sing-alongs, and Vaudeville acts—comedians, singers, dancers, jugglers.
The theaters held about 3,000 or more patrons, who would dress up for their night on the town most of which was spent in this unabashedly lavish setting—as flashy and gaudy as the decade in which they were conceived. Reportedly, the first Movie Palace was financed and built by one of the Ringling Brothers, the intention being to create a theater that would present film at its best and still be a stage for live performances. I guess even the studio heads knew that having a movie popular enough on its own to fill 3,000 seats every night was impossible.
Then the depression happened, film going, although still popular, was downsized. Smaller, movie-only theaters, with lower priced admissions, were built. Even shorts, double bills, newsreels, all the other stuff, gradually faded away, especially as television grew in popularity. By the 40s, Night clubs replaced Vaudeville stages and Theater Halls (the movie palaces were essentially a combination of a theater hall and a cinema). By the 50s, the novelty of the Drive-in and their large screens further drew away audience from urban theaters. Let’s not even discuss the multiplex pandemic.
The movie palaces were owned by movie studios, and anti-monopoly lawsuits resulted in rulings against the studios, forcing a divestment of the theater and the companies that produced what we now call content. The ruling further fueled the demise of the Movie Palaces, and by the last half of the 20th century, Movie Places no longer fit into the new system of film distribution.
The movie palaces were beautiful, unique and mimicked some of the great opera houses of Europe, including excellent acoustics and sight-lines. But they were an idea whose time passed almost upon the moment they were constructed. Most, like the Loew’s, fell into disrepair, although a few were re-purposed, like the Beacon, which by the 70s became an intimate venue for popular music.
In the 90s, a volunteer movement in Jersey City rehabilitated the Loew’s. Slowly but surely, it was refurbished and is now being used again for various events—I heard that Beck played there a few years ago—and once a month, cinephiles gather to see real celluloid prints of classic movies projected on a large screen.
I love the Film Forum and likely prefer the movies they show there. I’m old enough to believe Traffaut is still hip. The Film Forum shows more exceptional films, the Loew’s has a more exceptional film presentation. Both should be celebrated—although, the Film Forum often sells out, and at Loew’s there’s never a problem getting a ticket (only 8 bucks too).
Loew’s seems to attract its own kind of film buff too. Bernard Hermaan—the famous film composer of such classics scores as Psycho—did the score for Journey. His name received not just a smatter of applause when it flashed on the screen during the credits, but two other times, bursts of enthusiastic hand clapping sprung up because his name was mentioned by the individual on the stage introducing the film. Nobody ever applauds anything at the Film Forum.
On the PATH ride back to Grove, several New York City film-geeks boarded the train. That’s right. They’re crossing the Hudson to the Jersey side. The new restaurants, bars and clubs in J.C. all want to attract people into the city from outside the city. The Loew’s, which operates with the help of volunteers and on a shoe string budget, gets people from New York—as well as from the rest of New Jersey—to come to Jersey City. Loew’s does it all by providing an experience that is unique to Jersey City and doing it well. As far as I can tell, the only promotion is by word of mouth. Those one weekends per month at Loew’s should be a lesson for the office holders, city planners, real estate developers and business owners of Jersey City. The key word here: should.
Maybe, what appeals to me most about Loew’s—it is still in a sort of ramshackle state. They’ve done a remarkable job renovating it, it is clean and you can still notice the original splendor—like the impressive chandelier hanging in the lobby. The renovation, though, falls just a little short of a complete restoration. A slight but pleasantly musty aroma of mildew seems to drift through the air. There are places where the plaster is broken and several aspects of the venue are only partially intact—for example, the large fountain separating the immense bathrooms is chipped and missing sections of tile. It’s fine by me—authentic, and decayed—I love that mix.
I don’t mean to imply that a full renovation should not be completed—it would be fantastic to have a Beacon Theater in Jersey City and one can only imagine the positive ramifications for the city and the Journal Square neighborhood. But I love the semi-renovation, I love seeing the rebirth stalled at mid-birth. I love its tarnished luster. The theater seems frozen not in its glorious opening day grandeur, but in the moment that the splendor began to go to seed. Dingy charm—it can’t be planned and only occurs by happy accident.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
C- lives in my building. We almost always shoot the breeze when we see each other around. We ran into each other one night during the last weeks of winter. I was coming home from another long, dreary day in the New York office.
C- worked in Marketing for the online division of a national bookseller. Smart and fun to talk to—we often talked about books and music—she was laid off the second week of January. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, the economy sucks and you’re being let go and whoever is left will be doing their job, your job, and the jobs of all your other colleagues let go during this economic downturn. I talked to her about a week after it happened. She looked stunned. Tonight, it is painfully obvious she is still reeling from being let go and the rotten job market only amplifies anxiety.
“At least for another week, I have the tie and the job. Publishing is bad. Things are bad. No one is enthused about business.”
“I’ve been going on five interviews a week.”
C- had faith that online was a growing business and she was good at it. She persistently improved her skills. She devoted herself to the career, sacrificed personal time to build that career, endured office politics to move ahead. Online was the new gold rush, she survived the dot.com bust, young enough to master the technology and old enough to apply proven business experience and avoid the pitfalls of other web businesses which the bust eventually had killed off. Can she—and will her field—survive the current economic crisis? Uncertainty grows one piece at a time.
“That is good. It’s about numbers. The more interviews, the closer you get to your number being up.”
I always use the numbers line when somebody is ‘on the beach.’ What else can you say, really. The more resumes you send out, the more interviews you go on, the more likely you will get a job offer. That’s how things used to go, in bad times and good. These days are not the same as other bad times however.
It is a very dark night. A chilly wind scrapes across our faces as we stood on the corner.
She is hurting. So much worry on her mind. Probably cooped up in her apartment all day. I’m used to being along, thrive on solitude as I believe Bukowski once put it. Not everybody can take so much alone time, especially when you are doing all you can to find a job and nothing positive results. I’ve been there. I do not recommend it.
“They aren’t calling back. Somebody told me that for this position, where they would usually get 40 resumes, they are getting 4,000.”
That’s what she said. A hundred times more resumes than usual for this particular job opening. To be selected for an interview out of that number should boost confidence. Then again, how many more interviews are being conducted for this position? Then you read the newspaper and unemployment is up, then you hear about another person you know joining the ranks of the jobless. It’s almost incomprehensibly daunting. More of your waking hours are taken up quelling anxiety, sleep is harder to come by because you can’t stop worrying about everything you worried about during your waking hours.
Then A-, passing by, stops and asks how C- is doing.
Real Estate sales guy, also a neighbor. He’s very gregarious, knows everybody. Two, three years ago or maybe four, A- tooled around the neighborhood in a Foxton car—it was a little bigger than a go-cart and had an emblem of a fox on the side. He sold commercial and residential properties. That company went belly up. Made a lot of news at the time—a harbinger of the real estate woes that grew in its wake. I shot the breeze with A- about it a few times. Almost immediately though, he had another real estate job. A- is always upbeat, even after being hit by a motorcycle crossing a Jersey City street. He had to deal with a court case where he was suing the driver who hit while also recuperating from his injury, which required physical therapy. He had a limp for a long time.
“I didn’t get one interview this week.” That’s how I find out he is also unemployed now.
“I had five job interviews this week.”
“All through the internet?” he asks.
“Yes. There were some head hunters, who just wanted to see me and put me on file.”
“You have to be positive,” says A-.
“I’ve sent out more than a hundred resumes.” More than 100 resumes, and it was only about a month since being let go.
“You just have to downsize,” says A-.
“I don’t want to downsize,” said C-.
“You have that big apartment. I have a studio, like Tim.”
I don’t even want to think about that scenario—looking for a job and a new apartment and then explaining to prospective landlords that you are unemployed.
“I still have the severance. And the unemployment.”
“They just raised it $25,” sneers A-., “like that is going to help.”
“You can’t live on unemployment, you can’t. I have the severance, and I have parents too, but I can’t ask them. I’m going to be 40. I don’t want to ask my parents for help.”
“You just have to downsize,” A- insists.
“I bought a few outfits to go on the interviews. Probably the last time I’ll be able to buy new clothes for a while.”
“Everybody is in the same boat,” says A-, “which is not much solace.”
I’m in a different boat, the guy wearing a tie. I’m over-worked and under-paid and no one is enthused. The economy is at a high level, business is being done. But one expects growth in capitalism. If your competitor isn’t doing something new, why should you. I interview and deal with in general people in several different industries. Let’s just say there’s a lack of exuberance at every level.
“I am not ready to work part time yet, I won’t.”
“But you can work part time and still look, but then that messes up your unemployment,” says A-.
“A lot of marketing people have lost their jobs.”
“I see that all the time.” I finally have something to add. “You have sales people and marketing people so they keep the sales people because they make the sale, produce the revenue, that’s the one to keep. But then they have no marketing support.”
“Then their sales go down even further.”
“I don’t want to work for $45,000,” says C-. Her eyes catch the light from the street lamp and glisten with her fear and frustration.
“Stay positive, something will break if you keep looking,” says A-, who says he has be somewhere and says goodbye. “Let’s go Mets, Tim.”
That’s right, Spring Training is beginning. Who can keep track of these things anymore? I notice that his limp seems entirely gone.
“I was told by one interviewer that they are just doing interviews now and won’t be able to hire until the budgets are approved, and the budget was supposed to approved in December.”
“Save by delay. That’s a trick people do. Not just not give raises, but delay. Save by delay. Budgeting gets done not the first month of the first quarter, but the third, or the second quarter. That will automatically cut the budget because we will just make do for another month or so. Why budget when there’s no reason to anticipate growth? You delay the budget, and that means you forestall spending and don’t spend, and then you say, we saved money by what I did, except everybody works harder for less salary.”
“The people I know still at my old company, they’re miserable. Their salaries were cut 10 percent across the board and they have to do so much more. I think they’re more miserable than I am.”
I look at the expression on her face. I want to believe her.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
First step: remove the stumps.
“We’re going to be putting in new trees,” says the construction worker.
“Yes,” I reply, snapping an exclusive Dislocations photograph.
“Are you a tourist?”
“I’m a tourist in my own home town!”
What a coincidence that in an election year our good mayor puts up a sign to take public credit for a public works project.
Actually, I don’t mind a sign explaining the (perhaps) obvious. I’m not interested in writing about politics in this blog, and there are better places to go for the latest scoop on the fascinating intricacies of city government or Jersey City’s colorful pack of politicians. Some argue all of life is political and these materialists have some pretty good arguments on their side, so avoiding politics completely may be impossible. Nonetheless, I try.
As cities go, in spite of my wisecracks about some of the stuff I see, Jersey City, for all its foibles and lingering corruption, is actually pretty well run. Can we do better, yes we can! But there are plenty of cities that are worse and Jersey City has done worse than it is doing now. There you have it: a ‘political’ opinion.
Jersey City is wrestling with a dilemma that urban areas across the nation face. You can’t rely on merely upkeep of infrastructure to maintain our quality of life. Infrastructure— like sidewalks—must be replaced and/or severely renovated from time to time. Infrastructure improvements will attract new business and housing development, in turn attracting new populations. Newcomers can revitalize a community and all communities require at least some revitalization.
The dilemma is, when implementing the improvements you must also minimize any negative impact so a city’s character and quality of life are not diminished. I love a lot of things about my city, especially the multicultural dynamic and I’m not just talking ethnic groups but economic class diversity. We all can benefit from improvements. But making housing too expensive, displacing populations, driving folks out who don’t fit the new resident profile is damaging for those individuals and the city that rejected them. This happened to Hoboken in the 80s and in my opinion, that rampant gentrification (for lack of a better catch phrase) destroyed a lot of what was wonderful about our mile-square neighbor. The city has never fully rebounded, and quite frankly, a dominant white yuppie culture in place for 20 years or so has erased much of the vibrancy the birthplace of Frank Sinatra had when its population was more mixed. I love Hoboken, but I used to love it a lot more than I do now.
I’m under no delusions that when this project was planned, developers with short term profits in mind, didn’t see it as a leap towards the “SoHo-ization” of Jersey City, but now the economy has stifled this objective. Moves towards replacing those smaller, older buildings—some find shabby, others (me) quaint—on the table after nearby Grove Pointe was up and running have been halted. Tearing down the old buildings and erecting new ones still might happen, but there are no signs of it happening now or on the pre-downturn timetable developers, some politicians and other merchants proposed.
Thus, I’m optimistic that the 99 cents stores and CH Martin can survive alongside the fancy new restaurants or whatever else might move in; it is what has taken place so far. The Streetscape Project may prove to be an improvement we all can benefit from. The social forces that transformed Hoboken and SoHo are no longer at work and when the dust settles from the recession and growth emerges again, the paradigm urban communities once operated from—kicking out the lower middle class and bringing in the upper middle class—will not be the same as the new paradigm. Most of the old rules will no longer apply. What exactly the new paradigm will be, all we can do is wait and see.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I'm drownin' in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothin' but affection for all those who've sailed with me
From “Mississippi” by Bob Dylan
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Helen Josephine Bergere, who went by the name Josephine, was an Irish-Catholic girl who only wanted to get out of Brooklyn, marry a handsome war hero, and raise a family in a nice home. But for now, she liked her job.
She was Barrett Herrick’s personal secretary. He was a gregarious, silver-haired bear of a man and president of Herrick Stock and Securities Ltd., a successful brokerage firm on Wall Street. Every morning at eight o’clock, she’d come into his office, hand him his cup of black coffee and take dictation. She was the best secretary he ever had. She could type 95 words per minute, take dictation at a 120 words per minute. They devoted the first hour of each day to dictation, because after nine o’clock, the Street started business—Barrett would be on the phone, and the stock-tickers, sounding like a relentless symphony of metallic castanets, began spitting out their narrow ribbons of paper tape.
One morning, in early December of that year, when Barrett had dictated the last of the morning letters, they discussed the annual Christmas party. The company had offices in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Kansas City, Chicago and Dallas, and everybody took trains to Manhattan for the company bash. Barrett was particularly enthused about this year’s Yuletide celebration. Business had been good, and his son, Kimball, a decorated Marine Corps captain and Wharton Business School graduate, had been discharged and was home for the Holidays for the first time in four years. He had joined the firm, heading the D.C. office.
Three months before, Josephine had met Kimball, and was certainly impressed. He wore his dress-blue Marine Corps uniform, stood straight as a telephone pole and his body was tone and muscular from fighting the Imperialist Japanese armies in the jungles of the South Pacific. Barrett was beaming the day his son came into the office. He was excited that his only off-spring had come back alive and unharmed and proud that he served his country like Barrett had done in The Great War and their Herrick Forebears had done in the Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Revolution.
Kimball was shier than his father, but he still could smoothly issue compliments. When they were introduced, he said that his father could not run the place without her. He also mentioned how stylish she looked in her matching pillbox hat and dress. Her mother and father, and sisters and brothers, who all lived in a two-story Brooklyn brownstone with her, never complimented her about anything, even though she spent hours making her self presentable for Wall Street each day.
“Well, Miss Bergere,” Barrett said, leaning back in his chair that December morning, “those letters should be sufficient for today. Now, let’s discuss the party. I love Christmas. My employees deserve the best Christmas party on The Street. This has been one of our best years. I never thought peace would be better for business than war, but thank God it is.”
“Yes, thank God, Mr. Herrick,” she said, then went over the schedule for the Christmas party, a gala affair to be held at the Warwick Hotel. The festivities would include an extravagant lunch, a barber shop quartet in Dickens-era garb to sing all of Barrett’s favorite Christmas Carols, a piano player to fill in the gaps when the quartet wasn’t singing, and a comedian who would dress as Santa Claus and tell tasteful jokes at the party. Most important were the Broadway tickets. Employees had the choice of either Brigadoon or Finian’s Rainbow.
“Miss Bergere, I recommend you go to Finian’s Rainbow, you owe it to your Irish heritage. It’s a wonderful entertainment. If you like, you can have an extra ticket for your beau.”
“Oh, I’m Beau-less, Mr. Herrick. I broke it off with Jack.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he smiled. “But to tell you the truth, I was afraid when you visited him at Fort Dix you would come back engaged and I would loose you.”
On the day of the party, the Christmas cheer was highly contagious. All the secretary pool girls received Poinsettia corsages and the sales department kept insisting everyone sing Good King Wensceslas, again and again. Kimball walked across the crowded room to Josephine and asked if he could get her a glass of punch. She said yes. Over their drink, his compliments made her blush, then he asked which play she decided to go to. Finian’s Rainbow, she replied.
“Oh, I’m going to Finian’s too, my father keeps raving about it,” he said. “Would you like to have dinner with me before the play.”
She paused. He did not blink; the resolve he learned in the Corps enabled him to conceal his nervous anticipation to her response and to suppress the urge to clap his hands with joy when she replied, “I would like that.”
They went to a Theater District restaurant for steaks, and over their daiquiris—she always ordered a daiquiri before dinner—he suddenly leaned across the table and kissed her on the lips. He was relieved when she smiled afterwards.
“I hope you didn’t mind,” he said.
“No, I didn’t mind… at all,” She replied softly. She did not mention that she never let boys kiss her on her on the first date. She rarely let them kiss her on the second date, and she never went any further than a kiss. She liked the kiss very much, although she realized she would have to say an extra rosary before mass that Sunday.
After the play, they wished each other a Merry Christmas. She told him that she was taking a vacation in Florida in January with her Friend Doris. This meant they would not see each other for a while, but Kimball knew about the train, and said that he could meet her during the 15 minutes the train was stopped in D.C. to receive and discharge passengers.
Every work day, between the party and her departure for Florida, a small envelope for her would be in the package the company’s courier service delivered from the D.C. branch. Inside the envelope was a touching note from Kimball, some complement about her red hair or her hazel eyes or simply, ‘thinking of you.’
The worst blizzard of the decade hit on January 24, 1948, the day Doris and Josephine left for Florida. The stormed dumped a record amount of snow on the northeast before it blew out to sea, and four inches of slush covered Manhattan by the time the train finally left Grand Central Station. It was three hours late arriving in the Nation’s Capital, but there was Kimball, shivering on the platform, wearing his long coat and fedora. In his rush to meet her, he had forgotten his scarf and gloves and his shoes and socks were still damp from trudging through the drifts on the way to the station.
Doris went to buy a magazine, while Kimball and Josephine talked. Between his nerves and the chill, Kimball could not stop shaking. “There is something I have to ask you. Does your religion have any sort of rules against marrying Protestants.”
“I don’t think so. Protestants still believe in Jesus Christ.”
“I believe in Jesus, but I wasn’t really raised in any particular form of Christianity.” After a sneeze, he continued, “So, Catholics are allowed to marry outside the faith?”
She was perplexed at his line of questioning, “I believe they are, as long as the ceremony is performed by a priest and some sort of document is signed promising the children will be raised Catholic.”
He seemed pleased. “That’s good. I would like to have a lot of kids. I didn’t like being an only child. A strict religion like Catholicism instills strong moral values and a sense of obedience.”
On the train headed south, Doris waited a long time before asking her friend, “Well, how did it go with Kimball?”
“Oh Doris,” she said, gazing through the window at the night filled with snow. “He said he would be at the station for the train ride back. I think he’s getting serious.”
“Don’t be silly, Jo.You’ve only had one date.”
The day before they left Florida, a telegram was delivered to their hotel room. “Have 102 degree Fever. Deeply regret that I can’t meet you on your return trip. Can I take to you dinner on St.Valentines Day? Sincerely Yours, Kim.”
When she read the telegram she felt sad that she would not see him, and also guilty. Waiting in the cold, drafty station for the delayed train had made him sick. But how many other men would have stood around freezing for three hours just to spend 15 minutes with her?
Unfortunately, Kimball was still feverish on February 14th and their date was postponed until the 27th. After work that day, Kimball arrived on the train from D.C., presented Josephine with a small bouquet of violets, and they took a cab to the Astor Hotel. The Maitre De greeted the couple warmly, asked Kimball how his father was, and reminded him to pass along his regards. Then he told Josephine that she was the most beautiful woman in New York City tonight.
Josephine wasn’t sure why, but she felt nervous and talked more than usual. Faster too. Over daiquiris, she described the week in Florida, how exhilarating it was to go swimming in the middle of the winter. Then she told him how she and Doris were planning to take a summer vacation in the mountains, and that in the fall she was planning to go overseas to visit her brother Kenneth, who was stationed in Germany.
“Slow down,” he interrupted. “If I don’t ask you this now, I think I will burst. Jo, I want to buy a house in the suburbs and raise a family and I want to do it with you. Will you marry me?”
She was stunned and after a few, excruciating seconds, said, “I guess so… when would you like get married.”
“How about March?”
“Next month? Oh, Kimball, that’s too soon to plan a wedding.”
“No, April is Easter. I don’t want to have a wedding when there is a holiday in the same month.”
“Would you like to be a June bride?”
“No, my birthday is in June. I don’t want to be celebrating our anniversary the same time as my birthday.”
“How about May.”
“Well, I don’t have anything planned for May.”
“Okay, May 1st.”
“Isn’t May 1st some sort of Communist holiday?”
“You’re right. That wouldn’t be a good idea. We can’t be celebrating our anniversary the same day as those Godless hordes. How about a week later.”
“May eighth? That sounds all right,” she grinned. “I don’t have anything else to do.”
So it was agreed. Kimball unclipped his fraternity Pin from his lapel, and pinned it near the collar of his new fiancee’s dress. They looked into each other’s eyes. Then she kissed him.
As the couple finished their drinks, Kimball asked, “What should we do now?”
“Let’s eat our dinner, then I think we should go to Brooklyn so my parents can meet you.”
Later that night, after Anne and Louis Bergere were introduced to the young man, who in a tradition that has just about disappeared from the culture, asked Louis for the hand of his daughter in matrimony, they bid farewell to their soon to be son-in-law and watched him walk into the shadows of President Street. Louis put his arm around his youngest daughter, and said, “Josephine, out of all the boys you ever brought home, he’s the only one I liked.”
And on May 8th, 1988, after America had withstood the bankruptcy of Herrick Stock and Securities Ltd. as well as the shock of the first generation of American Herricks—a family who could trace their roots to the Mayflower—being raised to believe in papal succession and transubstantiation, Kimball and Josephine celebrated their 40th anniversary in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, a vacation their six children gave them as a present. In the Honeymoon suite of the resort, Josephine turned to her husband and said, “You know, Kimball, I never really said yes when you asked me to marry you.”
He chuckled, “I admit it, I rushed you.”
“Well, I’m glad you rushed me. I would have said yes anyway.”
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Relegated to small labels and small venues, Sleepy never made the big time. In parts of the Southeast as well as Canada, where Rockabilly still garners significant contigents of devotees, he’s revered, and he has a following in Europe, where according to his website, he tours frequently. He has been and remains a hard working Rock & Roll outsider.
An enormous man—6’7”—his voice is just as big and plays guitar as well as Scotty Moore, James Bourton, Cliff Gallup or even Chuck Berry. His repertoire consists mainly of early Rock & Roll songs, both classic and obscure, heavily laden with selections from the songbooks of Sun Studio and Chess Studio, and he spices up the set-list with highly idiosyncratic Rockabilly makeovers of country and folk tunes. The only contemporary performer he resembles is George Thorogood. But Sleepy’s attitude is not as macho. He is jollier and more fun loving with less posing or ham-fisted guitar riffs; the good time he encourages the listener to participate in is more pure. And, since he started when the whole music and sound started, he’s more authentic than Mr. Thorogood.
There’s a blurry line between Rockabilly and Rock & Roll, especially early Rock and Roll. If you want to hear the difference between Rockabilly and Rock & Roll, compare the RCA recordings by Elvis to his Sun Sessions. Not all Rock & Roll is Rockabilly, but all Rockabilly is Rock & Roll and Rockabilly is at the heart of the music. Besides the faster tempos, hiccup-like phrasing in the vocals and instrumentation and a subject matter that rarely strays from Love & Lust (the occasional train or automobile not withstanding), Rockabilly is the more countrified of the two. In fact, Sleepy CDs are usually in the Country sections of the record store (that is, the stores that are left and among the ones that are left you’re lucky if you find a selection that includes Sleepy La Beef!)
When Elvis first hit, like all commercial successes, dozens of imitators were spawned, as evidenced by the stunning 2007 Rockin’ Bones by Rhino, a four disc box set with 101 Rockabilly songs. Sadly, Sleepy was neglected on this otherwise incredible box.
Sleepy may have begun his career as another early Elvis impersonator. but he is now the last one standing from this first wave of rockers. Dozens of musicians at the time worked in the Rockabilly genre—Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent to name some of the most well known—and no one was above copying something or another from The King. Others, like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley or Jerry Lee Lewis may not fit so comfortably into Rockabilly (a debatable point), but they too were kindred artists uplifted by the tide Elvis left in his wake. The peanut butter in my chocolate moment of country and blues music merging to birth something new was inevitable and likely happening in clubs and street corners and basements before Sam Phillips pressed the record button at Sun Studios in Memphis. Elvis, one of the greatest singers in the history of voice, popularized the genre to such a degree it transcended billboard charts and transformed forever culture and civilization worldwide.
Enter Sleepy. “All The Time”, his first single apparently, sets the stage, a rocking tune about what else—love & lust—starts asking ‘how much I love this woman of mine... I want her with me, all the time,” then evolves into the real truth, uncontrollable passion—‘I can’t stop my crazy heart, it feels just like, it will break apart.” Rockabilly, at least its popularity, may have been a fad at the time but Sleepy’s distinctive trademark of loopy bass lines, country guitar leads with palatable blues inflections and his drawling baritone puts him above the fray. His vocal register resides somewhere between Elvis and Johnny Cash and he shares their versatile phrasing by stretching syllables, rolling them around, adding them to words.
Rockabilly songs often work like Sudden Fiction—short-short stories consisting of only a few paragraphs conveying a significant or revelatory moment in which a truth about a life—or sometimes an entire life—is “suddenly” seen. Rockabilly songs speak of intense, even overwhelming desire, which can revitalize, take possession, cause trouble or linger long after the relationship has ended. In “I ain’t Gonna Take It,” for example, the narrator deals with his lingering love by saying is he going to “put on my best suit,” then go out on the town, refusing to suffer his broken heart or the neglect from his object of desire any more. A clear picture of this fool for love is drawn. We never find out exactly what happens before or after, nor do we need to. Our imagination fills in the rest. This sliver of a slice of life tells all we need to recognize the universality of the conflicting emotions depicted.
An unabashed horn dog, Sleepy finds sexual innuendo everywhere. His lascivious “Too Much Monkey Business” (which he pronounces as bidness) implies sexual activity even Chuck Berry might not have been aware of when he wrote it. Sleepy’s persona is as over-sized as his physical appearance, his sense of humor immense, his persistent blue attitude infectious. Sleepy constantly issues hilarious asides between the lyrics that either relate to the subject of the song or are motivational prompts to his fellow musicians. He calls to mind the Big Bopper, exuding showmanship and a compulsion to entertain, always enhancing and never at the expense of the music. It is in this context of humor Sleepy best captures those instances when the heart and the libido overlap and neither can be tamed.
There are two versions of “Ride on Josephine” here, and again the arrangement is near identical to Bo’s and Sleepy rocks at the helm of the Diddley beat, a little more fire on the latter version (1960), along with witty asides and screeching tires and roaring engines sound effects. “Tore Up”, the Hank Ballard classic—Garcia had a pretty nifty version of this song on a solo record—is a powerful performance and has a fake ending—a long pause in the middle and then the band just starts it up again. Other strange moments are in “Hush, Hush”, with that deep voice—sounds like a mix of Bourbon and Sorghum— commanding, “Hi Ho Silver!,” or "Shot-Gun Boogie", where the boy promises the girl to return when her daddy “runs out of shells.”
Sleepy, especially in the earlier recordings here, channels Elvis or Johnny Cash to such a degree you may want to cry identity theft. “Ballad of a Teen Age Queen”, is down right eerie. Even the most devoted Cash aficionados will need a few bars before realizing they are not hearing the Man In Black. Back in the 50s and well into the 60s, many artists would cover another artist’s hit song in a style that was basically a reproduction of the original. Listen to the Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Chuck Berry covers Elvis is known for—the arrangement is exactly the same and the only difference is Elvis is singing them For someone whose natural voice and phrasing resembles so closely the original, Sleepy is almost his own tribute band, especially with the Cash numbers. The originals may be better—I suspect even Sleepy would agree with this statement—but Sleepy's version are still a terrific blend of homage and unique style. If you love the songs and love the genre, you will find the similarity of the two versions fascinating, even endearing, and indicative of that era of popular records.
Most of the songs are two minutes or under, a handful get close to or go just over three minutes and even the slower songs contain the same unstoppable energy. However close to or distant from the original version, Sleepy provides a relentless pulse, biting guitar licks and a robust, powerful voice. Every cut (and the other cuts on the other releases I’ve picked up) draws you in and you stay entranced and you will likely find yourself involuntarily bobbing your head, tapping your feet and snapping your fingers.
Sleepy’s playing tonight. There will be songs you know and love. When he plays, you will feel better than you do now. Even your beer will taste better. The women will look prettier and act friendlier. Within a minute the whole joint is rocking and in two minutes there will be another song that makes you feel good all over again.
This record is a great bargain—did I mention, 38 songs! Be careful though, too much is never enough and you may soon find yourself seeking more Sleepy. I did.
Friday, April 17, 2009
High pressure hot water. Sanitation men cleaning the stone tiles near the Grove Street Path Station. Dried gum, bird shit, cigarette butts, molecules of grime from our shoe soles accumulated on the stone; all being removed. I love the way the steam curls around the machine near the ground. This place was built only for people to pass through. This place is here so you can go somewhere else. Heard that there’s a restoration project soon to begin at the station. Maybe this is the first stage of that project or just usual maintenance, doing what the rain couldn’t accomplish. The first morning this year that actually felt like Spring. Nothing to notice, except essential upkeep and a brief glimpse of passage.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
One week later, she’s summoned back into the conference room. Just like the last time, the firm’s partners and business manager are gathered around the oval table. She had been the only employee to receive an increase in 2008. Other paralegals and most of the junior lawyers had been fired, as had one secretary. The remaining two secretaries had to cut their hours—they only work four days a week. Even the partners had taken a pay cut, their billable hours are down about 40 percent. She listens to their explanations; her bosses keep apologizing.They inform her that her salary increase has been rescinded.
She can still afford to take a few college classes and is close to the degree. She still has a job. She knows she is lucky—not just because of continued employment—she has something to look forward to, and she still has a little left over from each check after paying her bills.
Working—any career—is a combination of skills and politics; identifying an opportunity and taking advantage of it and learning from experience. As with life, sometimes it cuts your way, sometimes it doesn’t. The next time you hopefully will know why it didn’t cut your way and try to make the outcome different—when or when not to speak up, who to trust, that sort of thing. A rescinded raise is not the same as having a colleague lie about you to a superior or not seeing an opportunity in time to have it pay off. Career dynamics have been transformed. In this economy, everyone is getting a bad break and there are worse breaks, far worse, happening to folks now than having a job without a raise. Not being let go is now accepted as success.
During the times of high inflation and high unemployment in the late 70s and early 80s, American and British economists talked about lowered expectations. Having a higher quality of life than your parents should no longer be an aspiration. Many definitions have changed in this new century, including quality of life. Work, the career—no longer the only or the most crucial component of life. No matter how satisfying, even the most successful have disappointment. Lowered expectations are a painful thing to accept or maybe those expectations have not been exactly lowered just so delayed that they seem lowered. Or maybe, unlike the prognosticators of the late 70s and early 80s, we all have realized, lowered expectations are inherent in working and that there is more to life than the career.
She goes home and hangs out with her cats, talks to her mother and they make holiday plans, goes out with friends for pizza instead of a nice restaurant. She hated Bush, her first vote was for Kerry. Obama won and in a few weeks he will be president. The freezing rain is ending. She and her friends are in a good mood and there’s a lot of laughing and they look at Christmas decorations in the store windows and the thick plastic silver stars and snowflakes on the street lamps that the city puts up every year. Last week, she mailed out Christmas cards for the first time. It made her feel like an adult. She mailed them to her family, her friends, everyone she has worked with whether they are still employed there or not.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Mom’s 89. She lives alone. She’s healthy and active, alert. She still works, in the office of the Rectory of OLV. Nonetheless, she’s 89. She needs looking after.
Mom’s been a widow for 20 years now. She has a wide circle of friends, middle-aged children and adult grandchildren. Everyone wants to help her, but as everyone tries to be more helpful to her, she becomes more insistent on establishing her independence. When it comes to her children telling her what to do, she’s downright defiant.
About six months ago, we were finally able to convince her to stop driving. She used to live with my aunt, her sister, who has passed on. The Aunt would do most of the cooking. My mother raised six children and I was number five. By the time I got to college, she was no longer preparing many meals. I guess after cooking for the kids, my father, holidays, for 40 years or so, she just got sick of it and she was never somebody who enjoyed it—there were a lot of tater tots and meat loaf made with Lipton onion soup. The microwave might have been her favorite invention, coming along about the same time no kids were around to feed.
On Mondays, my sister takes my mother grocery shopping as well as other errands, doctor appointments and the like around Paramus and Bergen County environs. I can’t make it every Monday, but I go at least once a month. I love being with them almost as much I love them.
Rochelle Park Shop Rite at 10:00 am on a Monday Morning is a gray zone. I spotted one lone MILF towing around a toddler, but otherwise, everyone else shopping was well into their Medicare Benefits. The MILF, Suzanne and myself, and the supermarket employees were the only ones there under seventy. The ambience is absolutely somnambular. Everything seems to move in slow motion because the old people have no need to hurry their grocery shopping.
I’m meandering through the aisles with Mom. Suzanne is doing something else while we shop. We reach the Frozen Food aisle. The frozen food dinners require intensive scrutiny. She selects Hebrew National Cocktail Wieners and Hot Pockets and some sort of Fish Sticks. She asks the Frozen Food Manager who is stocking one of the freezers why are the Lean Cuisine labels now green. (They just changed the color of the packaging, ‘mam).
Besides convenience, I think my mother likes frozen food dinners because she enjoys throwing them. She doesn’t carefully place the boxes among the cereal and produce. After studying a product and deciding to get it, she tosses the box into the shopping cart. I sense a glee when she hears the quiet thud.
After leaning into the frozen breakfast freezer for several minutes, she straightens up. She has grabbed three bright red boxes of Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits.
“Mom, Suzanne said that you already have enough Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits.”
“Suzanne said that you have enough Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits. Suzanne said you do not need any more Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits.”
“Suzanne told you what food I should buy?”
“She checked the freezer before we left. You have a full stock of Jimmy Dean.”
Mom grimaces at me. She is stubborn and not afraid to take a stand and make a statement. She angrily flings one by one the bright red boxes of Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits into the shopping cart. Each clatters as it bounces on top of the other items.
“Tell your big sister to keep her nose out of my breakfast! I like to bring them to the office.”
Chuck out the Wheaties, forget the Total, to live to 89 the real breakfast of champions: Jimmy Dean Microwavable Sausage Biscuits
Monday, April 13, 2009
Veterans of World War II and the Korean War wanted what they thought would be a better life. Everyone aspired to upward mobility. They eschewed the drudgery of the rail yards or factories, like Dixon Ticonderoga and Colgate. Come five o’clock the windshields of all the cars parked in the Exchange Place and Paulus Hook neighborhoods attained a thin film of soap residue from the production at the Colgate Plant. They had the G.I. Bill and there were new white collar jobs to fill.
By the mid-50s, the Jersey City segment of the Greatest Generation began to move to the suburbs where they would commute into New York City and office jobs in the white collar sky scrapers. The earliest forms of the cubicle began to emerge. Capitalism was king! The suburbs promised lawns, wide open spaces, good schools and wholesome experiences for their baby boomer offspring. Soon, the remaining wide open spaces were filled with shopping malls and their kids were getting high. Even prefabricated deceptions begin with worthwhile dreams.
In Paramus and the surrounding boroughs, what used to be farmland, where descendents of Dutch families grew celery and tomatoes—an agrarian culture that went back to before the American Revolution—sold off their fields to developers who had Levittown in their eyes. They built communities of two story houses on one acre lots at prices affordable to folks who grew up in Jersey City and wanted their own version of Mayberry or Walton Mountain. Puerto Ricans and African Americans had begun to move into Jersey City neighborhoods, attracted by the same blue collar, low-skilled jobs once filled by the Italian, Irish, German and Polish immigrants. The brown exodus into Jersey City further fueled the white exodus into the suburbs.
Not all the Caucasians moved out of Jersey City, just a lot. Urban meant crime, loss of opportunity and suburbia meant the small town experience everyone back then dreamed of. Not everybody in Paramus came from this background. My family didn’t, but most of my friends did. Most of my friends were properly ethnic—Italian and Irish mainly. Jersey City was a place they went on Sundays to visit their grandparents.
My mother still lives in Paramus and I visit frequently. After I moved from the lower east side of Manhattan into Jersey City—at the time, the early 90s, Jersey City was not the destination of young adults like it is today. Jersey City was still the slum next to Hoboken. There were few signs of what has been called gentrification or yuppie-fication in Jersey City when I moved here. At the time I was still a pioneer.
“They must have roaches as big as footballs,” said one fellow who lived across the street from the house where I grew up. He is older than me, grew up in Paramus and moved to another suburb to raise a family.
“Unlike New York, I’ve never seen a roach in my apartment.”
“I remember painting apartments there as a job, renovating them for the (he uses a racial pejorative) when my grandparents were still alive. The place was disgusting, how can you live there?”
"A lot has changed since then.”
His father loved to talk to me about his home town. He always reminded me that Christopher Columbus Avenue used to be Rail Road Avenue. He told me that the neighborhoods were designated by Parishes. “Even my Jewish friends would say, I live in Saint Bridget’s or Saint Michael’s.”
When I moved to and lived in Manhattan, folks in my home town would look at me screwy, the idea of spending more time than you had to in New York, be it for work or entertainment—simply unfathomable. Jersey City though, that they could understand and support. My mother worked in the rectory of Our Lady of Visitation, where I went to school and received the sacraments. My mother when we talked on the phone would tell me so and so said hello, asked where you lived in Jersey City. It was a craze for a while among my mother’s friends, asking her about me and Jersey City We would go to mass, after mass they would come up to me, “I hear you live in Jersey City.”
Some of course were parents of my classmates from grammar school. They never really inquired about my well being before, nothing more than a hello. I had gotten in trouble a lot in High School and in the suburbs prejudices either die hard or live forever. They weren’t inquiring about my well being now either. They really wanted to just talk Jersey City. They didn’t care about where I lived or what I was doing. Only a few places—like Percaro’s Bakery, which makes Pizza Bread, I’ve seen old people in Paramus get teary eyed remembering Pizza Bread— were still around, but most of what they remembered had been gone for a while.
One of the organizations at OLV was the Catholic War Veterans and sometimes they hold functions after mass when I visit mom. An old guy (shit, they’re all in their 70s and 80s!) comes up to me, “Are you the Timothy that lives in Jersey City?”
“I’m the Timothy.”
“That was where I grew up in Jersey City. I go there all the time. Ocean Avenue.”
Now, here’s the thing. I have an awful sense of direction and there are neighborhoods and places in Jersey City I’ve never been to or can’t remember if I had been to them or not. I’m too busy wandering around living the life of the mind. “Isn’t that the heights? I think it’s a bad neighborhood.”
"It’s not as bad as it used to be a few years ago. I go there all the time.”
“Is there anything to do there? Any good restaurants?”
“I never get out of the car. I’m retired. Twice a week or so I go to Jersey City, drive around look at where I grew up. I never stop and get out, I just drive.”
Probably how a lot of people see Jersey City, through their car windows, taking a short cut from the Turnpike. Most just drive through (at speeds above the residential limit). Maybe some wonder who lives here, what kind of lives they lead. Others though are coming from Bergen County, seeing what used to be here, remembering the kind of lives their parents led.
“Timothy, do you know of any apartments in Jersey City, not too expensive.” said born and bred Jersey City woman from my mother’s generation—I’ve known her all my and loved to talk to me about Jersey City and pizza bread, until 2008.
“It’s not like when I moved here, the rents are out of control. Manhattan prices are being charged. Lots of condos.”
“My grandson wants to live there, can you believe it? Me and Bob (her husband) moved away so we could raise our kids somewhere nice and clean and now their kids want to move to Jersey City. Did you know that Jersey City has become the hot place for kids to live?”
Saturday, April 11, 2009
A tough gig. A lot of the crowd was New Jersey yahoo, rude douche bags. Putting on their coats and walking out right in front of the band as they played. Like or not like the music, but at least show some consideration. There was this whole thing with this plant, some tall rubber plant monstrosity which was to the side of the raised platform—about four inches I reckon—which served as the stage. One of the guitarists kept bumping his elbow into it, which interfered with his playing and looked like an accident waiting to happen. He moves it. Bar manager dude moves it back. Gets moved in front of the band at one point too. Playing to a plant, can it get more obnoxious? Finally the bar manager dude moves it out of the way like he is doing the band the biggest favor in the world. No respect for the music, or the plant.
With all that though, there was a real showman ship going on. Scuttle but around the bar was that the bar owner only signs bands who play covers, but this was a big exception. This became a running joke from the “stage” with songs being introduced as a cover of one of our songs, which I thought was pretty hip. The singer, who not only is a real talent but has a showmanship about her, not to mention a natural charisma and was able to work the crowd, which wasn’t ugly per say but there was a good amount of indifference that she was able to transmute into enthusiasm by the end of the second set. She kept doing this thing, a toast, which was called “a social” where she held up her beer and everyone raised their glasses. It was funny, great time filler in-between the songs and served to draw in the crowd.
This showmanship, the ability to work the crowd without giving into or more importantly, not be intimated by the large but still a minority of dopey fucks and just let the music sing for itself, be speaks volumes. My favorite local band, Any Day Parade. Okay, the only local band I could care less about, or whose name I know or whose myspace page I log onto weekly to keep up with gigs. And why is that? They’re friggin fantastic.
How great it is to actually have a reason to make an effort to go to some place and hear some really talented musicians perform terrific original material in genres I love. For a music lover, a dream come true. In the way early 90s, before moving to chilltown, living in the lower east side, there was the Barnstormers. They played in a rootsy, sun sessions style and I still remember their version of This Train is Bound for Glory. Saw them rip it up a few times at the Ludlow Cafe. I was told they broke up and I remember seeing one of the cats working in a pizza joint, at least I think it was him, and I’ve always regretted not saying hi or paying him a compliment, but I was so much older then.
The DIY thing is so much better now. You can get CDs made by the band at gigs, keep up with their gigs on their Myspace page. And, with Any Day Parade you can walk around the corner and catch a gig. Makes it a little easier to get the music out there and cobble together some sort of living as well as a “starter” audience.
In Jersey City Summer of 2008 Groove on Grove was launched. Wednesdays bands play in the new pavilion surrounding the Path station, local unsigned indies. Pretty interesting diversity of musical stylings, worth a listen and a linger. Any Day Parade I stayed for the entire performance and picked up their Cd. Five demo-ish cuts. Played the dang thing every day for at least two weeks. Great songs, intelligent lyrics and a high level of craftsmanship musicianshipwise.
It was a friggin weird summer in my life, stuff going on with the girlfriend, with my mother and siblings and the news being the election and the economic collapse. I was listening (and still am) to Dylan, (always Dylan), Dick Picks Dead, Roy Acuff, Ralph Stanley, Louvins, George Jones. Dave Alvin and Sleepy LaBeef and Folkways maritime and labor songs. There were also a week of just Elvis. It’s not everything I know and love to hear—sometimes it is only the Ramones or Coltrane—but basically I was digging old time country both acoustic and electric, rock n roll, rockabilly and really smart songwriters, like Alvin. And of course, Dylan (always Dylan).
I only mention the play list to explain my mind set. Any Day Parade was a fresh breeze. I remember listening to them with the gathered crowd on the pavilion. Summer in full swing, the afternoon edging towards twilight. I remember thinking, is this true—what I was hearing. Are they really as good as I think they are? Even when the Grove Street bands are kind of posers with their music, owning a lot of Smith records or doing that electric pop stuff (I mean seriously, Squeeze and the Jam were always lame to my ears—I saw XTC open for the Talking Heads, they sucked.). On the other hand, the groove on grove bands were always pretty talented, the young musicians of today seem to be a little more into craft and less willing to settle for solely attitude like the punk hey day and post-punk hardcore. You know, good riddance. Practice your instrument kids. I like catching a set of even so so music and trying to see what they’re saying and accentuating the positive of what they are doing, Then I go about my business and think about something else.
Any Day Parade was way different, I stayed for the entire performance, bought the C.D., signed up on the mailing list and just had a great old time. When I heard the CD, I was convinced that this wasn’t just a figment of a mood. Impossible to forget what I heard. These cats are the real deal.
The easiest genre to shoe horn them into is country rock. Or is that roots music. Americana. It’s limiting. The fact is, the cats can play. They are bouncy and rocking. To my ears I heard lots of stuff I like, old timey country and dirty rock n roll. Used to be a lot of up in arms about that difference, which was no difference whatsoever. Drums are at the opry. Dylan’s gone electric. Johnny Cash covered Metallica. We’re post-post, post-alt—real country is roots and folk rock is folk and new country is karaoke Eagles.(I hate the fuckin Eagles man, which is why I hesitate with that much abused term, country rock.) Whatever. Traditional and progressive is a hard thing to pull off, but here it was, familiar, traditional while being original and new, ready to stake out some new territory. They’re the real deal. Any Day Parade is.
Caught up with them again in a slightly better venue than O’Hara’s, and they were even better. Sometime in the Fall, at this Lamp Light place, which I had been meaning to go to and this was the first time. It’s a shack of a dive, but at least there aren’t glaring huge flat screens everywhere you look. Dingy and cozy. The band was great that night too. Alas, the last acoustic bass show. They played it the back of the place, after the kitchen closed. Wood paneled like a basement or is that rec room in a lower class New Jersey suburb. No stage or anything. A good crowd, lots of young folk most of whom seemed to be friends of the band. I was the oldest person there which is not unusual these days in my life. But I liked the place and the hot blonde bartender was very nice, long neck millers and Jameson’s. She was attentive. I seemed to be the only one there tipping. Fantastic set. They really cooked.
Wanted to see them again but my schedule was unable to permit.
It was apparent at O’Haras that Any Day Parade is a band in transition, which compounds the growth pangs any band less than two years old confronts. The transition stems from acoustic stand up bass to electric. Course, I think Bill Black was as essential to the sun sessions cradle of all of rock n roll as Scotty Moore, so there’s a bit of a bias. The electric bass did not make the sound suffer and it’s not that they lack cohesion, but it is still something they are growing into.
So O’Haras, which was in February, was the electric bass edition debut (at least for me). The drummer, Brian, who I chatted with some said he hadn’t learned all their songs and there was some new ones on their way, which I think they performed a couple of but can’t be sure since I didn’t take notes. Basically, they played the same set twice, the first set being different because of an inclusion of Dead Flowers, which they introduced as a cover song from the Beatles. A loud mouth at the bar was bellowing it was the stones not the Beatles, so not everybody got the joke. They do this song pretty well, at the grove gig it was bouncier and reminded me of the all but forgotten version by the new riders of the purple sage, this one was in the van zandt version from the dude abides scene that closes lebowski mode, or maybe it was more like the original. This version aspired to be honky tonk-esque, didn’t quite get there but an admirable notion in and of itself. Crowd pleaser too.
I was a little disappointed in the first set. I was missing the acoustic bass. They could still play like they meant it, but I felt that the band hadn’t yet caught up to their new sound. So, even if the set wasn’t one for the record books it was still a unique experience, seeing a transition manifest itself.
Sat at the bar—there was a lot of delay, in coming on, in-between sets—talked with a tattoo artist I’ve seen around the neighborhood. Switched from Makers Mark & Soda to Heineken. This was hanging out drinking and here I was, after all these years, hanging out. Usually, I drink whiskey and beer then eat, and maybe an after dinner aperitif. Drinking some hard stuff then switching to beer you do to keep the buzz going but not get too drunk. It was almost like drinking yourself sober. Used to do this quite often back in the day. Unfortunately, it was this stupid sports bar and I made a mental note to bring a paperback next time because staring at these frigging flat screen TVs with their close ups of Jack Nicholson (well, that was sort of neat) at the Lakers game was a bummer while waiting for the show to start—website said 9, called up they bar and they said 9 30 and the band didn’t come on for the first set till after 10. On the other hand, I’ve had a f-uped two weeks and I got my mind off things, the bartender who I recognized said she worked at Arties, a long gone 90s hang out. A pleasant interval of nostalgia. There are worse things than waiting for your favorite local band to play.
The second set makes me think my assessment of the first set might be unfairly harsh. Actually, the first set was more of a rehearsal. The second set cooked real good. It was basically the same set of songs, but there was more energy. Worth the wait. The mix seemed better. They played this new song that had shifting tempos (a song structure I think grunge—nirvana/pearl jam/hole—really brought into the forefront though I could argue that it was Dylan’s Sooner or Later and better arguments could probably point to rockabilly. Wait a second now, what is more shifting tempo than the breakdown, familiar to bluegrass but also electric country). But they really pulled it off, with some really great lead picking, though from my vantage point could not quite see who it was. I believe it was both of the two guys. Is this a Duane and Dickie thing? Throughout this set the drummer also seemed to be having a great night, finely executed accents. A driving force, which the more electric arrangement demanded. A really good version of this song Hold on You, which is song by one of the guitarists, a nifty up-tempo that does a nice country lyric twist with hold on (you have a hold on me, I want a hold on to you), which seems a pretty original upheaval of the typical macho country heart break lament ala George Jones. There’s a neat couplet about thinking about you and closing my eyes wondering if you’re thinking about me. How often does a romantic song confront an existential dilemma?
Any Day Parade unleashed their inner Credence in the second set, not a bad path to follow as this post-alt country quintet plugs in.
I’m still convinced of the real dealness of the band, the sound they are going for may not be there yet but the playing is quite accomplished. I’m confident they will get there and feel eager to hear the new songs again (and again). Even with the more rock elements, the guitars have a distinctive twang. Credence. Wall of guitar, twangy texturing bouncing off and on that wall. In fact, I do believe I heard a warm up riff of up around the bend by one of the guitarist in-between numbers. A Credence cover would not be a bad idea. Since this band plays a music I identify with, I could probably come up with a long list of covers they might try, but what’s next, weddings? A sports bar tour of Hudson County. Give me a break. Their original songs are cool enough. Yes, a longer set would be desirable and I’m not sure it will come but what is better, an informed astute opinion, some well observed criticism or witnessing some talented young musicians with a genuine devotion to some musical genres I love grow in front of my eyes. The latter, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. How often does one witness a band finding their bearings? Pretty rare. Also, fascinating, compelling and entertaining. Just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you fall. In transition, yes and maybe further along than my measly observations seem to indicate but you know, seeing some of that transition in progress is a joyous thing. A snap shot. In years to come, will I see fruit ripen and remember those seeds at O’Haras? Is that the dream of a music lover who lucks into a local band who satiates the jones?
The music business is a horror these days so God bless to anyone attempting it. Seeing the “O’Haras Show” was indeed unique and lucky because I saw the imperfections, then most of the imperfections overcome and an achievable direction indicated. A lot of the imperfection was due to the sound system, you could really only hear the two electric guitars and drums and the voices, an important part of the sound is the “rhythm” section of the acoustic guitar was pretty much lost. The texture of the arrangements was probably more of the bad sound mixing than the band still struggling to “plug in.”
The bass player—obviously talented and competent—needs to get more acclimated, more songs have to be rehearsed and all that. But here was a lackluster set followed by a really hot set and they were essentially the same set. Compare and contrast.
The next day, after I got over my hang over and was back to listening to some music, the Any Day Parade CD returned to the rotation. Had been a coupla months. It still sounds friggin great. The main singer, Tree, who seems to be the band leader. has a really brassy broad voice—full throated. Comparisons to Maria Muldear and Michelle Shock come to mind. Even Bessie Smith only borders hyperbole. She has a way of oozing out of a vibrato into some bright and clear high notes that induces goose bumps.
Broken Lamps, which was played at O’Haras, introduced as a song about having sex while drunk or something like that, it is a rockin dittie about apparently, a drunken one night stand, has a sound similar music wise to subterranean homesick blues. It was well served by the more electric Any Day Parade. The song raises a ruckus, the musicians make an edgy racket. There’s a garage band drum riff opening and a real twangy guitar—and upon repeated listens, a real killer guitar riff in the break prior to the ending chorus.
Good Mornin’ Darling has a refreshing eroticism embedded in a what on the surface can be taken as a simple country shuffle. Basically, this song takes place in bed, opening with “good mornin darling, let me catch that smile,” which if it isn’t an innuendo—the smile of the lower set of lips—it should be! Another couplet about let my fingers careen around your curves and maybe I’ll slip right in. Really well placed sensuality, enhancing more innocent lines about got a secret to share about loving to see her eyes through locks of chestnut hair. The refrain includes a line, you melt my heart and other more innocent expressions, like you make it all seem all right. This is a song about love and lust being one, and also appears to be about a woman singing about her woman lover. What I dig is that it is unabashed, yet is universally romantic. Who hasn’t woken up next to their lover and had an overwhelming need to physically express that love? The only ones have never been in love I guess. It doesn’t matter the gender, a rare feat these days. Could easily be a call to arms in a less talented writer, a smutty wave the rainbow flag thing, but it isn’t. Everything is subtle, and it completely lacks cynicism. Some of the lyrics may sound bawdy, or sound bawdy when you think twice, but this isn’t good fun vulgarity. It is sincere and sweet. What comes to mind is endearing. We need more love songs as honest and subtle and intelligent as this (if you ask me that is!) And, maybe more stories that are simple depictions of ordinary domestic moments, because in the right hands, those moments can say as much about life as any epic—just ask Raymond Carver (or Sharon Olds).
Which is why I think my favorite song is Miss You. Again, more in the country mode and it has a great opening lick, that kicks off a story, as most country songs do—“say baby, I know your day has been long, but I need to talk with you a while.” What does the narrator want to talk about? “ten years away from our first day, let’s pick up where we used to be, I miss your lips, your breath, your kiss that spot before I see you smile.” Basically, it’s a domestic scene to rekindle romance in a relationship. How domestic? The narrator offers to rub the feet of her object of desire—with a really clever way of saying it—“unlace” and “push the dog and kitty away” but the real theme is the narrator’s plea to “take your car, to that spot, where we spent our first night/let us sleep in the back seat, wake up with the morning light” Dang! That’s the story, work and adulthood have gotten in the way of our desire so let’s rekindle it by making out in a car like the teenagers we used to be! A story, but a simple story—lets make out in the car! I love the simplicity, the ordinariness of this sentiment, balanced out with some really sensitive drumming and lilting guitar licks. This song convinces you of rekindling romance. I’m ready to sign a petition to save our nation’s lovers lanes. Heck, sometimes I hear it and want to write the dang petition myself. I know I mentioned Carver before, and I have no idea if the song writer knows or was influenced by the work (I just know it’s a common reference point for me) and I am not suggesting there are signs of the influence, but I was reminded nonetheless of this great classic Carver tale, Why Don’t You Dance?, where this guy, after a divorce, is holding a garage sale of basically all the belongings of his life with the ex and a young couple looks at stuff and it ends with the guy playing records as the young couple dances in the driveway. Of course, this is Raymond Carver and one of the greatest short stories in American literature and so there is a lot going on, including despair and I would never lay as heavy a comparison as Carver on any country song, no matter how fantastic. That notion though, depicting a moment where nostalgia is used to hold onto love is in that story and this song and is both joyful and heartbreaking. We hope the car sex works. We hope the narrator who declares her love so sincerely and has such a fond memory of how it used to be and a conviction that a return to something they might have grown out can bring back the love, gets her wish. Doesn’t always turn out that way and sometimes hope is all we have. Joyful and heartbreaking.
I’ve Had Time remains a little inscrutable to me, but is truly haunting. The melody is infectious and flowing. It has a feeling of Appalachian based music, which got filtered through the carter family and blue grass, not the fit and start thing with hollers and whatnot, but smooth like some old Joan Baez number (Silver Dagger comes to mind), where similar melodic lines fire away one ending high, one low. There is also a Lucinda Williams feel, but that might be a projection on my part. I’ve transcribed as best I can the opening lyrics: If Jesus doesn’t take me/when my time has come/ I won’t be surprised/ look at all the things I’ve done/ married a young boy/ stole his heart away/I left his momma crying, now I understand her pain/I had time to think on this, as I grow old alone.
It’s a darker song, at least it’s about less cheerful truths than the others on the EP. Regret, empathy and, and.... And, that’s just it, try as I might, I can’t get the rest of the lyrics, the mix is weird or something. At O’Hara’s they played it and I didn’t recognize it, because it’s this song that sort of resists registering for me, beyond the melody. I thought it was one of their new songs but even there, what registered was “Jesus” and so when I was listening to the EP again post-show, it dawned on me, hey this was that really cool song they played. More electric and a little faster (it is not a slow song by any means)—an enhancing arrangement—but I still didn’t get the rest of the lyrics. A few days later, I was banging around the neighborhood, taking the path to Journal Square for an errand, and I was humming to myself, which is just to stop the voices in my head, seriously though, it was that mindless humming and dry whistle one does while killing time doing errands and such. la la la, dobie doo doo type thing. After this went on for a while, incessantly somewhat, I started to think, what is that song I’m humming. I couldn’t recall where I heard it right away, which of course only made me hum it again and again. And then it dawned on me, oh yeah, that Any Day Parade song that has Jesus in the first line. Even though I can’t quite figure out the precise lyrics, the melody was clinging to me. Days after I had heard it last.