Thursday, June 30, 2011

Diner Signs

Ridgewood Avenue in Paramus New Jersey encapsulating America. Gas used to cost a nickel now you can get a nickel off. Tom Sawyer opened this diner when he left the Mississippi. Oh wait, that was Huck Finn & Jim. I just like the… Gas… A promise of Discount… a diner named after an American icon and run by Greek immigrants… every town in New Jersey has a diner and most of them are good, most of them are the best diners n the county. A lot of things the Garden state cannot boast about but one thing was is and always will be.., best diners in the country which means best diners in the world.

Craft Fair

I should have timed this better but I didn’t. Maybe it’s the name, Yo Mama’s. This contemporary vernacular confuses me. Is it a possessive pronoun or not, should it be pronounced Yo as in Yo Yo or Jo, as in Jo Jo. Plus I prefer Momma to Mama. Or maybe I wasn’t in a craft purchasing mood. Anyway, I had previous commitment that afternoon but I wanted to make it a point to watch the One & Nines play. The band came a few minutes after the 6 pm start time, played a rocking set that included an encore and as just about as soon as the music stopped, the tents were being folded. The 3rd Annual Not Yo Mama’s Craft Fair was over. I hadn’t done more than walk around a bit didn’t take any sort of blog pictures of the actual stuff for sale. This is not meant to be representational at all.

I remember going to a craft fair or two, in upstate N.Y., New England, romantic weekend type thing, in the 80s. Back then there seemed to be two categories of artisans selling their hand-made wares. You had the back to nature hippies, many of whom stayed on the commune after the 60s and turned them into sustainable mini-communities. The other segment were rural folk, conservatives, not quite Amish but they leaned Mennonite. Like Shakers or just conservative farm families who had a side business making folk art. There didn’t seem to be a divide at this craft fair. The times have changed for the artisans. Some seemed to be city dwellers, others traveled from the country. A lot of beautiful work, real diversity of objects, jewelry, satchels, bird feeders. The old artisan divide was gone. We’re all hippies now. Technicolor Shakers.

The parking lot that once served factory workers was transformed into a bazaar that would not be out of place in the Catskills. Kids too, children, reminding us all that every summer is new. The community poured forth, manifesting itself again. Jersey City partisans welcomed the artisans.

I recently wrote about the One & Nines, and I was going to refrain but they were really bloody fantastic. They have this new arrangement of an original, Fool is in the title, I can’t remember the exact name, a very soulful rendition. Early in the set was that song, then the cats erupted with a fierce R&B thunder, ending with take no prisoners kick out encore of Chuck Berry’s 30 Days, done in a style reminiscent of the Ronnie Hawkins cover. Never saw them better. Really nice jamming on all fronts. They keep getting better so I can’t wait until I catch the next gig. Their performance was utterly uplifting.

We’re just promoting Exquisite Corpse, she said. A lot of artists came here today so we’re just getting the word out, and seeing if people are interested in showing their art. It’s going to be a good show. I wrote about this eclectic gallery show last year. Apparently, it’s a moveable gallery. The moniker apparently is taken from mash-up events done by 1920s Surrealists. They too had a great band playing, Crash Gordon. It’s part of the Art Tour in October. Don’t want to push the season, I can wait for the fall. However, this was a memorable exhibit and I’m glad it’s coming back. I wrote about the main show here, and shows within the corpse here and here.

So I took some pictures and figured, shoot might as well put something on the blog. Maybe I could even get into a craft buying mood. But, like I said the place closed at 7:00pm and business seemed to be done.

I like to watch set ups and take downs. Dismantling in motion. Cars back in the lot, trunks open, canvas being folded. The lot soon went back to being empty and the artisans returned to their work areas, plying their talent that combines self expression with functionality.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Power: To & From

Power lines, towers. I love the industrial. Our fair city was an industrial town. Unions may still rule in some circles but that overall serfdom of guaranteed employment is an era now only in the dusty clipping in forgotten folders of historical archives. The jobs are gone and never came back. The jobs still exist, just not in America. We like to hide our industrial past; the legacy of FDR is remembered as being worth only a dime. Like to hide our industrial present to, at least the infrastructure needs that power our lights and computers. They endow our appliances with their blinking lights. The metal jungle of our power stations and transformers, where electricity is generated and makes our lives hum and subways go. It all means work, and life. Might look stark and lonely, nothing here for the flesh. What is true beauty? Isn’t the infrastructure as magnificent as what it enables you to produce? I see this and know somewhere happiness is being pursued even if that happiness forever remains as unseen to here as these labyrinth of cables and towers are as unseen to there. The life we live is anything but separate, just like the energy we require that only exists because of the need that it must be shared by distribution.

Leaning Pay Phone, Abandoned Pizzeria

I think they moved locations, although it still means that the next nearest pizzeria is more than three blocks away. But I like the term, abandoned pizzeria. I like the leaning pay phone tower – tower? – well it ain’t no booth is it now? It’s more tilted than leaning. I suspect the moving vehicles bumped into the pay phone and tilted it. I pray to the Irony Gods the driver of the moving van was talking on his cell-phone when bumper met pay phone. Had to check and no, the dial tone no longer worked. Like the ex-pizzeria behind it, this is an ex-pay phone, just a remnant of the before-time. Somebody is still taking care of the plants in the barrel-esque planters. Time marches on, two steps forward, one step back and somebody is mindful enough to tend to abandoned plants.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Clarence Is Us

Clarence... gone, yet Summer is here. How can that be?

Most of Springsteen’s classics embody Summer, or at least seem to. Clarence Clemons made that classic Springsteen sound what it was, is and always will be. Summer has the gall to come back again even though Clarence is wailing on the other shore?

Takes some getting used to this most recent reminder of mortality.

I’m incredibly sad.

Sure, Trane and Cannonball might have had more dexterity and jazz can have more complexity when it comes to harmonics and arrangement, but the Big Man knew the right notes to play. He knew the targets to hit, and he never missed.

The proper comparisons of course are with the influences Clarence acknowledged: King Curtis and Junior Walker for instance. The student surpassed those teachers. Them cats are Rock & Roll progenitors, and of course, incredible players who should forever be praised. They mid-wifed Rock & Roll out of Jump Music and post-big band R&B. But Bruce Springsteen’s music grafted more genres together, the E-Street jams are more complex than the earlier strain of R&R. More importantly, Springsteen lyrics convey more complicated stories than those 50s ditties, many of which were instrumentals. Bruce's songs required Clarence to play more notes and express more feelings than his mentors faced. Clarence had a tougher row to hoe and he reaped a more bountiful harvest.

The best saxophone player in Rock & Roll? The case can be made regardless of how you define best.

Clarence almost single handedly (lips & lungly too) brought the Saxophone back to Rock & Roll. The particular wind instrument, so important to 50s not to mention Stax and Motown had sort of been pushed out of the airwaves by the 70s, Van Morrison being the exception that proves the rule. Born To Run returned the saxophone to top 40.

There’s something truly special about a saxophone solo. The instrument has a warmth in its sound that other horns and flutes seem unable to capture. Even the clarinet sounds odd when compared to the natural familiarity of the Saxophone, whose wails and bleeps seem closer to the actual human voice than any other wind instrument.

When Clarence plays, when his distinctive solos pour forth, which are almost always towards the end of the song and after the majority of verses have been sung and Bruce’s story told, he does more than just bring the song home. Clarence provides more than just a fitting conclusion. He brings us, the listener, the audience, into the song.

Born To Run, a perfect example, when we hear that loud cry of freedom, Clarence is encouraging us to participate in the escape this song celebrates. When we hear the sax, we join the pursuit of a better life that the narrator and Wendy have embarked upon. Clarence's sax personifies our empathy.

In the Bruce Songbook, Clarence is us.

Two solos stand out for me and ironically, both have to do with the World Trade Center. The first I wish to explore is Darlington County, one of the lesser lights on that mid-career masterpiece, Born In The USA.

Darlington County is a Springsteen saga (one of many) about losers, the song follows the narrator and his buddy Wayne who drive “800 miles” to work in Darlington County for the summer (they leave on the 4th of July). They meet a gal who they impress with the lies: “Me and my buddy were from New York City… Our pas each own one of the world trade centers/For a kiss and a smile I'll give mine all to you,” Bruce is unclear what happens exactly, although the narrator might switch to Wayne, who sings: “Little girl you're so young and pretty/Walk with me and you can have your way/And well leave this Darlington city/For a ride down that dixie highway,” suggesting some crime of passion might have been committed and the girl has been murdered. Or is it another less violent crime and the girl is merely abandoned?

Then the narrator returns to Wayne Buddy’s for the zinger last act, him leaving and “Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state troopers ford.” The melody is a funkified blend of country & R&B, somewhere between a ballad and hoe down. The story sounds like a honky tonk yarn, but its irony and bleakness could be straight out of Raymond Carver or Breece J. Pancake. Bruce sings Sha la la to end the song then Clarence breaks in, following the melody line than breaking into a wail.

We are now in the song, a parable without a clear morale. Just two working class guys whose bravado is challenged, and erased, by reality. Their adventure didn’t turn out as planned yet the adventure continues.

Bruce fills the track with some chatter, coaxing the “big man,” into a second solo. It’s like we’re back at the dance hall kicking back with some beers and we hear a story that is sad yet paradoxical, not sure what to make out of it, all we can do now is dance. That’s what Clarence does in that song. Clarence is us.

The other World Trade Center related solo, nearly 20 years later, elevates Mary’s Place to being perhaps the greatest song in the late-career phase of Bruce’s songwriting. A reunion of sorts for E-Street after a 10 year hiatus, this wonderful, joy in grief Anthem written for the 9-11 eulogy record, The Rising. “How do you live broken hearted,” the song’s narrator, a widow, asks and for Bruce, the answer is community and fellowship.

The song begins with spiritual overtones: “I got seven pictures of buddha/The prophet's on my tongue/Eleven angels of mercy,” and happiness after a long period of grief finally seems plausible: “My heart's dark but it's risin'/I'm pullin' all the faith I can see” Mary’s Place is about the sorrow and anguish, felt on a national scale, starting to subside. Loss is hard, my loss may be worse than yours, but at least it’s shared and at least we have our community.

“Familiar faces around me/Laughter fills the air/Your loving grace surrounds me/Everybody's here.” Is the Your God or the lost one in Heaven or our common humanity? Maybe there is no difference. Bruce is showing the oneness of existence.

The party that takes up most of the lyrics continues… the record is on the turn table, the furniture on the front porch… Clarence comes in early, near mid song, and he is mixed in with horn section that creates the bridge.. “picture of you in my locket... seven days, seven candles...” Grief is part and parcel of the spiritual comfort faith can bring.

The crescendo builds... “turn it up,” the Patti-led singers repeat as Bruce answers the call, “Waiting for the Shout from the Crowd.”

Bruce-ified Gospel transmitted by the E-Street Band, one of the greatest Rock & Roll Bands in the history of the music. When the crescendo climaxes “meet me at Mary’s Place, we’re going to have a party,” a sublime E Street moment transpires. Bruce does the “do do do” singing and then we have Clarence, before just hinted, now fully unleashed. Wailing to the heavens, voicing all the joy and grief we are sharing. This solo transpots all of us to that Porch. He brings us to Mary’s place. He sonicly makes true what Bruce sang earlier -- Everybody's here.

Clarence is us. The singers repeat… “let it rain, let it rain…” we can heal, we can heal each other, Clarence shows us how. His saxophone is the cleansing rain everybody joins the widow in welcoming.

Truly transcendent playing.

Because of the context of the solo in the song, and the song within the early 00’s in the wake of the terrorist attacks, it is one of the greatest moments of the saxophone in the history of recorded music, equal to Coltrane, Canon or Bird. Sorry, Curtis and Walker did not have the chops for a solo like Clarence's in Mary's Place.

I vote that Mary’s Place is Clarence’s best solo. It is certainly his last great solo.

It used to just make me gulp, this weekend it made me cry.

Clarence had a warm, friendly persona. He seemed like a guy who would be a lot of fun to hang out with. His presence gave Bruce’s music not just integrity – Bruce’s sincerity means integrity is never in doubt – but credibility. He connects the band with the Jump music roots of Rock & Roll, something most bands of the 70s had migrated away from. The E-Street Band emerged out of the dance halls Down the Shore where bands had to be juke boxes that could play both the Rolling Stones and Motown/Stax. Bruce was a folk rocker who had to get everybody dancing to make a buck. Only after he could do that could he be the poet he was born to be.

Clarence makes sure everyone is dancing.

When Bruce’s songwriting talent emerged and matured, Clarence still got us dancing.

In fact, that purpose gained a new importance. Bruce’s tells stories about the human condition, Clarence embodies our empathy. He underscores the universality of Bruce’s songs. That saxophone tells us of the human place we share with Bruce’s characters, yet it is a place the lyrics can’t quite go. It is the place only for the Saxophone.

I’ll be playing ONLY Bruce – ONLY E-Street Bruce – for many days. Summer is here and Clarence is gone? How can that be?

Clarence is Us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Preparing The Feast: Lemoncello

Last year about four gallons of Lemoncello was sold at La Fiesta Italiana – better known as The Feast – the mid-August street fair that has been taking place in Downtown Jersey City since 1912. Here’s a blog about last year’s festival, scroll down for the shot of my first Lemoncello shot.

This home made aperitif was so popular that six gallons are being prepared for the 2011 edition of The Feast. The beverage is sold by the shot – and the shot glass used seems only half the regulation bar size – six gallons goes quite a long way. You get a lot of bang for the buck. In fact, a buck was the price per shot. And, a bang is what you get when you take a shot – a burst of extreme lemon explodes on your tongue and the alcohol heats your mouth and face. Sinuses are cleared and eyes go wide. Tastes like lemon candy; feels like rocket fuel.

I’m not sure if you can buy a bottle of the stuff, but I know for certain that even if you could, Nicky, Phil and Carmine would never consider factory made. Like so many things in this annual summer celebration of everything Italian, keeping the tradition alive means home made and hand crafted. In reality, Lemoncello has been part of The Feast for only a few years and is actually made by Nicky’s wife, Barbara, who happens to be Polish. Nonetheless, Lemoncello is an authentic Italian drink and all about the hand crafting.

Nicky, Phil and Carmine have known each since there were kids; they were all baptized at Holy Rosary Church on 6th street. They grew up in what has become known as the old Italian Village, the swatch of downtown generally around Brunswick Street. Jersey City born and bred only begins to describe why the three were peeling lemons on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June. They have no memory of a summer without The Feast defining their season. Now as adults they keep their roots alive by making the event not just a successful fundraiser for their Parish but a source of renewal of Italian American culture enjoyed by succeeding generations and the Jersey City community at large.

In the back yard of Nicky’s house on Brunswick Street – which has been in his family since 1970 – these three pisans sat at the picnic table peeling Lemons. A reproduction of a vintage poster of The Feast circa 1960 was on the table to set the mood. Wine that Nicky made in his basement was served… dry red, delicious… snacks on the table… mozzarella with salami and peppers.

Chops were busted, memories were traded, compared… additional plans for The Feast were formulated, even finalized. The trio is a quasi steering committee of The Feast and in addition to peeling fruit, logistical matters were discussed. Last week the poster was approved. A face book page and website debut soon. They’re re-introducing the Ad Book for local merchants. One from 1930 was on the table. Black and White, thick pages, simple display ads... one that caught my eye was for a “Home Laundry” which is still in business, according to Carmine.

“Look at this one.” said Nicky, dangling a contiguous ribbon of lemon peel for the others to envy. “That’s how it’s done, Carmine.”

Did longer peels make a difference in the Lemoncello? No, of course not, the guys were competing with each other to see who could get the longest, uninterrupted peel. A dozen bags, a dozen lemons per – 144 lemons – had to be peeled by this trio so why not make a sport out of it. Nicky won.

The men were just there for the peeling, and the wine. Barbara does the mixing. She told me her friends in Fort Lee were making it and said they had gotten the recipe an authentic Italian source, although the exact location in Southern Italy where it originated is in dispute. Since it is just as easy to make more than it is to make less, she saw it as a perfect item for The Feast.

“People think it’s hard, but it is really easy to make Lemoncello,” said Barbara.. “It is not fermented, it is really just a big mixed drink.”

Only the peel, which has the essence of the fruit’s flavor is used. The rinds are soaked in a concoction of one part distilled water, one part sugar (about 20 lbs) and one part grain alcohol (195 Proof, did I read that right?).

Two large “industrial sized” buckets are utilized for the soaking, which takes about two weeks (due to vacations and other preparations for the Street Fair, the 2011 batch was made a little earlier than usual.

“You have to be careful about the rinds going rancid, so really no much longer than two weeks,” she said. “You don’t want it too tart because then it seems bitter. Lemoncello is smooth.” With all the other details that need to be organized for The Feast, the Lemoncello was actually being made early. After the soaking, the conction is filtered into bottles. “You don’t want grit or mealy bits of lemon.”

Like many food and beverage items so intrinsic to Italian culture, Lemoncello is simple to make, yet the combination of ingridients becomes a uniquely splendid, intensely lemon-flavored cocktail. This Peasant Liqueur is merely alcohol infused with a part of the fruit upper classes throw out, but the result is an affordable libation for the rural working class of Southern Italy and a memorable quaff for those (21 and older) attending The Feast.

So, only the peels are used, what happens to the Lemmon? “We give them to our family and friends, we make lemonade, lemon chicken, lemon pie, do you want some lemons to take home?”

Skylines & Cityscapes

I like water towers, the ones on top of buildings, says Elinor. I like how the tops of buildings look together.

Elinor’s Israeli and creates impressionistic illustrations of skylines and cityscapes. She uses thick lines of black ink or paint that appear more embossed than painted on the medium, which includes “recycled,” slabs of wood and canvas swatches. The images are not so much depicted by lines but seem to have been dripped into being.

I don’t know why I like the water towers. They're on the old buildings, you don’t see them on new buildings. I want to capture them before they’re gone.

Some of the paintings have impressions of elevated trains, attenas, circles for the sun – setting or rising? – the city contains buildings, the buildings contain life. All seen through a window, the window of her perception.

Someday all the old buildings will be gone, she says. Then the water towers will no longer be in the skyline.

But they will still be in the idealized urban horizons captured with nostalgic melancholy in her art.

She’s based in Brooklyn, shows her work in Union Square. Frist time at Creative Grove in Jersey City. She also had a gallery class canvas study of Morton Salt. When it rains it pours, girl in raincoat holding umbrella. She said she became fascinated with the girl, considers this her more mainstream work.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Subterranean Reopening

I am pretty sure this newsstand – the Grove Street Path Station – has been closed since September 11th 2001. I could be a little bit wrong, there may have been some intermittent openings and closings and soon there after construction took place. But I don't think so. It was closed on that dreadful day and never reopened until now. Anyway, looks like they are going to open the newsstand – now that I don’t smoke and read newspapers on line! I wonder if it is going to be operated by the same folks who run the corner place on Grove & Newark. They’re from Pakistan and delightful chaps, they are really into cricket. I assume this was closed because of heightened security after the attacks. Can I also assume the reopening is due to the fact Bin Laden is dead and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars winding down? Or has the need for a cold beverage and demand for certs and chewing gum gotten so great the public demanded another outlet? I spoke with the gentlemen here, who was unsure who would be running it, when exactly it closed and when it will actually open. But I’m telling ya, the last time it was opened you could still get on the Path with money, not metro cards or smart-links!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Cement Pond Cancelled?

Mini-back-hoes can’t fly but they can be hoisted. Who needs a ramp when you got a crane? Several days ago a tall fence was put up around what I’ve called the Downtown Mosquito Hatchery for the past couple of summers. It was an abandoned construction site that maintained a stagnant pool for yours. As the officer on site told me – he wouldn’t let me go closer for these pictures – after four years, they are going to build a building here.

Four years. They got the foundation done then halted. Thus, the cement pond of filthy, smelly muck. To be fair, the recession hit construction quite severely and two years ago several Jersey City officials were indicted so developers were forced to develop new bribe lists. Farewell muck, good bye cement pond. Let’s hope there’s a decline in mosquito borne illnesses. Cholera is no joke! Construction gets delayed, and even though the stagnant, filthy water would be around longer than might be healthy, it did get drained periodically. Today at least was a visible step in the right direction, construction equipment has successfully been stationed within the foundation.

It was cool seeing the equipment in the air. You don’t see that sort of thing all the time. This summer’s Downtown Mosquito Hatchery has been cancelled almost as fast as a July 4th municipal firework display! I’m making too many snarky, inside J.C. quips here. Alas…

This was one of my first Dislocation posts. I feel nostalgic. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the blog. Within its first month, I decided to pick up an inexpensive digital camera and try some Zen-like J.C. reflections. The cement pond is a regular route for me. Now, that sort of thing now makes up the bulk of this here blog. Ironic, huh. Here is the first

Then there was the
Semi-Frozen and Really Frozen and then melted

Unmaintained Maintenance

Bane is back in town, but you should have seen the Bat-mobile. Gotham City, get it, Holy Batman jokes! Sort of sad but amusing, this door of Gotham City Maintenance, disembodied from its truck. Even the maintenance companies need maintenance and sometimes require work that goes beyond maintenance.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Polarizing Art

Another local spray paint/stencil (if that is the right term) artist, we’ve seen this soldier around town. The original may be some other familiar image but this G.I. reminds me of those plastic soldiers in the Toy Story films. If graffiti/Street art is also defacement of public property, consider this unique case. It is not painted on an exterior, but the artist supplied square of plywood, which the artist attached to a street sign pole. The street sign pole is unused, however. There is no sign on the sign. No obstruction is taking place. Prior to the soldier, the pole was unadorned. Why not turn it into a display tool for art, which also gives another aesthetic layer to the plywood, which in fact is mimicking a street sign since street signs hang are on poles just the way this art hangs, which is also affixed with a similar bolt. The question city fathers might want to ask, why is there a perfectly good unused pole here? Or did the artist install the pole instead of just mildly repurposing the pole.

Delta Gas Sale

What’s funnier – the idea that gas can be on sale or that the sale price is $3.75, ten cents less if you pay in cash. Flash back to 2005 prices! This may look like a dilapidated gas station, but the look is intentional, the station will appear in the Mad Max remake. Need gasoline, make it Delta! Call the Wrench Brothers. New sidewalk installation going on right now, developers have this section of town in their sites, trying to extend that Downtown magic, the edges of “Old Italian Village,” the no-man’s land between downtown and the heights, and this gas station remains, an outpost from another time, slipping between eras. But you need gas on Newark Avenue, this is probably your only choice. I love the mangled frame of a sign under the Delta logo sign. With prices like these, wrecked signs are besides the point.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Warm and windy, really windy in fact at the annual June-a-palooza fundraising festival for Learning Community Charter School at what is now called Hamilton Square, a fun block party and street fair on the street between the new park and the old hospital which of course is now a condo/retail complex. A rock band (Damn Glad), backed up a Jamican singer and keyboardist as they competently performed the Bob Marley and Reggae Song book. Clever twists on lyrics – a school yard in new jersey for government yard in trench town; Also, given the political furor charter schools can incite, Get Up/Stand Up had a very interesting context. The crowd applauded and cheered and encouraged the band to do an encore, which was Exodus, a fitting ditty for the end of a school year party.

Food, games, children, parents, teachers… booths for the library, chess players… late spring, our diverse community gathered for some fun, enjoy the weather and each other. Why let strong gusts hamper our re-invented PTA intent on enjoying classic reggae grooves.