Eleventy-First Birthday

Esperanza Marrero died on Tuesday at the venerable age of 111. She was the oldest woman in New York state, and lived on the Lower East Side in the Jacob Riis Houses down along Avenue D.

Esperanza Marrero was born on January 19, 1893. That year Grover Cleveland took office as President of the United States. Thomas Edison built the first motion picture studio, Black Maria, in West Orange, New Jersey (and you thought this newfangled Internet stuff was hot); Rudolf Diesel got a patent for, yep, the Diesel engine, and women in Colorado got the right to vote. France conquered Vietnam and declared Ivory Coast as a colony, and American sugar interests overthrew the government of Queen Liliuokalani in Hawaii. Rutherford B. Hayes died; Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Andrès Segovia, Jimmy Durante, Ivor Novello, Leslie Howard, Allen Dulles, Hermann Göring and Mao Zedong were born.

A friend is fond of recounting how a centenarian in the theatre was interviewed about the sprawl of his long life. “What made the biggest difference in theatre over the years, for you?” he was asked. He thought, he pondered, and finally he answered. “Electricity,” he said.

In other news, Reuters reports that oral sex can cause cancer of the mouth. That’s the boy kind and the girl kind, if you were wondering. I don’t know whether to be more upset at the finding, or at the fact that someone was studying it and I didn’t get invited.

“It’s for science, honey. I swear.”

Update: In the course of Googling around on the Marrero story, I turned up coincidental coverage of the death yesterday of William Coates, age 114, in Clinton, Maryland. Mr. Coates was probably the oldest man in America. The final tally: 9 kids, 21 grand-kids, and 37 great-grandchildren.

Posted in General Musings |

February Made Me Shiver

Eliot got it wrong – April is not the cruelest month, unless you’re the kind of person who needs a better accountant. Misery is a regional thing, and New York has two click two click two months rife with more woe than a mere mortal can bear: February, and August.

What these calendar poles have in common is erosion. February’s weather isn’t any worse than December’s, but ’round about, say, last week we’ve had winter so long we can’t remember any other state, of mind or matter. We abrade under the salt and sand, traction grinding us smooth. S.A.D. leaks from every bundled muffler, shuttered window, and raised collar; the stashes of tissues are all used up, the winter coat isn’t full of banked and promising warmth so much as it is heavy, drab, and bulky. Sweatshirt pockets are stripped of mementoes of winters past, saggy with the trespass of frequent hands. The hiss of the heat, the slush of cars in snowflurry washback, the gritty filth of permafrost plates tucked under stoops and at the mouths of alleys. Enough, enough, enuffawreddy.

And August is the same, only hotter.

The other thing common to life in February and August is that people don’t realize, by and large, that they have gone hooting crazy by the end of the month. But more about that another time. The good news is that it’s about to be March, and March has a whole nother feel to it. New carpet, fresh coat of paint, and if I’m sure we’ll track water on the floor for a few weeks at least the wetted floor will be spry and yielding. Or something. This is when the new year really begins. Just ask the trees.

Posted in General Musings |

Google-y Eyes

Whoooo is it?If you’re wearing a smudge on your forehead today, then best respects. I thought about a celebratory Mardi Gras outing last night, but after the snow all day long, frankly I forgot that there was a tropical holiday going on. Besides, this gym-deprived season I’m Gras every Di … so why make a point of it? If we had the Naked Girls thing going on up here I’d feel different, I’m sure, but that tends not to be a feature hereabouts. Or maybe I just hang out in the wrong places.

Maybe you knew this, by the way, but After the Snow by Modern English is a drug song. Post-cocaine, to be specific. I’m pretty innocent when it comes to drugs and drug references, but this both startled me and seemed pretty obvious, once they blurted it out. And, you know, I don’t want to ruin your day or anything, but I think that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds tune might, well, let’s just leave it at that.

Inevitable Blog Content Dep’t: These four months into Peppering, our search logs are turning fun. All month long we’ve been the #1 search result on MSN for “whale tail thong,” which is pretty amazing given that I’ve only ever mentioned it once. I guess MSN doesn’t get out much. We’re fourth on Google for “do not name your children,” making us accidental proponents of a world in which everyone presumably yells “hey you” a lot.

In one nice bit of Internet irony, we’re the second Google listing for Blind Cavefish, while the blog at blindcavefish.com comes in at #8. The three people who got to Pepper of the Earth in February Googling for “Hoboken leather factory” were probably disappointed in any number of ways, as was the one who came through looking for “Starbucks in the southern hemisphere.” Last time I looked the southern hemisphere was a pretty big place.

Sadly enough, the pickings are slim for the hopeful soul who wanted “female jello wrestling” and “nyc” – though it is the sort of thing we try to attend. Hint: you get better results if you leave out the quotation marks. We’re #1 on Google for “Booker T & the M.G.’.S Song Cords,” for all you Quadrophenic bondage kinksters; when you’re done with the Green Onions, I guess you can Tie a Yellow Ribbon around your partner (warning: annoying MIDI sound on link).

We’re a pretty good place to find Renée Fladen, who is the Renée of Walk Away Renée (#6 on Google). In the “It’s a Big World” category, we’ve had search hits on “chinese beer labels dali” (anyone? Bueller?), “solar flares” menstruation (if it gets that bad, run away!) and, curiously, “jorma kaukonen forehead.” But there is room for improvement. We are only the #2 place on the Internet, according to Google, to satisfy your “russell crowe spanked” itch. It’s nice to know we have room to grow.

Posted in General Musings |

The Pretty Girl is Not a Mystery

To answer the question, that’s Marisa Tomei‘s picture there in yesterday’s entry – hover your mouse over the photo and you should see a caption spring to life, in most browsers.

While I don’t actually discuss Marisa Tomei in the body of the post (there is a relevant link, if you poke around), I was on my way there originally. Pulled off the Blog Highway for a rest stop, got distracted by the local tourist attractions, and never made it back to the major artery. When time came to publish I needed to face facts: nothing in life has prepared me to remove Marisa Tomei’s picture from anyplace. So I left it in. Inshe cute?

You may now return to your regularly-scheduled Tuesday. Last one out please turn off the snow.

Posted in General Musings |

It’s Monday Again

Marisa Tomei.  Photo by Gregg DeGuire.  And since when does a guy need an excuse to run a picture of Marisa Tomei?  Gee whiz.Oh, wicked, bad, naughty, evil Linus! I’ve been playing Pepper hooky for days. And it felt pretty good. Oops, did I say that out loud? Well, I figure it this way. If the President can go A.W.O.L. for months at a time or more, a mere few days over here are child’s play.

I’m picturing explaining something like that to my boss. Somehow I don’t see it flying, exactly. Kind of like the President.

What I want, though, is a Time Turner like Hermione‘s from the Opus Tertium of the Potter stories. With deft application, one of me could sit around playing computer games and watching DVD’s and generally being a relaxed squirmy lump, while the other of me would blog industriously away, help puppy dogs out of trees, put out the dishes, and console the lonely hearts of Brooklyn with rakish flair.

And go to the gym. Did you know that if you don’t go to the gym for a couple of months and don’t renew your contract, they cancel your membership? What is that about? Winter is for eating; March is for panicking and realizing you haven’t seen your abs since October. Ever was it so. Hmph. Pass that haunch of wildebeeste, while you’re up.

The big news: our Ethan Lipton album is the #4 best-selling title on CD Baby this week, CD Baby being the main drag for indie music cruisers. Pierre and I, along with the silent Seth, have been trudging endlessly after this odd tinkery music dream for seven years now, trying to keep a perky upper lip in the face of every kind of foolery, tragedy, irony, nuttery and forked-tongue thievery you can imagine. It’s a thrill to have something actually lift off and fly for a bit.

This tremble in the ether isn’t exactly feathering the old nest, but A New Low is getting happy attention so far. It’s a wonderful feeling to open your hands and let loose a creation into the world. It’s wonderful whether anyone notices or not, but it’s wonderfuler when people come to love what you’ve done, and when some commerce commences. Because somebody has to pay the rent around here, and it looks like I’m the one stuck with it.

Last night I exercised the Brooklyn Option (we’re allowed to ignore Manhattan and proceed directly past Go without further explanation) and burrowed further into the borough for a spicy set of Americana by The Jack Grace Band over a splendid bowl of Smokehouse Gumbo at Two Boots Brooklyn in Park Slope. Jack Grace does a notable Johnny Cash when the spirit moves him, and follows it up with music that Johnny would have understood – dark and boisterous, moping and sly, eager and truculent and finely coined.

A shaving brush. It is not as pretty as Marisa Tomei, but it's slightly more on point.Jack’s soul patch has migrated down and become one of those bushy little conical beardlings that extrude from the point of the chin, as if someone took a shaving brush and stuck it on there as a cheeky bit of physical metonymy. Normally that’s an automatic foul, but Jack wears it well. As if the music were not enough, he also does about the best emails in town. You should sign up on his list for both reasons.

I had to split before the end of the second set, anticipating the usual siege campaign with the bus back home. But as I rounded the corner of 2nd Street and 5th, there was the B63 trundling past The Gate and easing toward my stop … that never happens.

Posted in General Musings |

Keeping Up With the Jones

Norah Jones - Feels Like HomeChomp, chomp, chomp. That <– is the sound of me eating my words, and I might as well do it in public.

Back up just a couple of years and Norah Jones was a regular performer at The Living Room, and The Living Room was a regular stop on my night rounds. Which is to say that I saw her a couple of times back when she was still just Norah Jones, and that and a buck fifty would still get you on the subway.

On stage Norah was cool, gifted, and gracious, and hella cute. Her music wasn’t my thing, which is fine (Schönberg isn’t my thing either, for different reasons). Her wonderful rise to acclaim and fame was inspiring and very satisfying, since so few artists by and large were getting signed out of New York. I was at the SXSW Music Conference when her buzz became a shout, and was completely surprised when the Grammies fell her way and her Energizer Bunny of a first album kept selling, and selling, and selling. I confess to several witty and withering email reviews to friends who didn’t hear the magic either. I predicted a dire Hootie and the Blowfish-style stall for Norah’s second record, saddled as she was by a prior stellar sales history and by the Grammy New-Artist curse. It’s going to end badly, I said. It was a fluke, I said. Everyone got their taste and now they’ll move on, I said. Doom and gloom, gloom and doom, woe and sorrow and tragedy.

I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrongity-woo-wrong-zingo.

I bought the last one just after the Grammy awards, really just to share in the afterglow and play my willing lemming part in the tip of the numbers. I’ll buy this one too. What I’ve heard says that this record was done right, that it’s not the usual mess of commercial compromise and backstabbing hit-machine skullduggery. What I’ve heard says Norah has done this on her terms (having Grubman, Indursky & Schindler renegotiate your contract for a $15 million advance makes this easier, I suppose), playing through the machine without letting the machine gnaw off a few fingers and toes along the way.

Whether I like the music or not – it’s immaterial at this point – I’m going to listen to Feels Like Home and hear a major-label record by an artist who deserves all her accolades, and who just basically refused to drag through all of the L.A. dirt to get where she was going. She got where she got by doing what she does best, and people liked it without having it battered into their ears, and that was that. High road? I like it. You go, girl.

Chomp, chomp, chomp. Over a million scanned first week alone, and a future looking bright. Chomp, chomp.

Posted in Music Theory |

The Great Unwatched

Here are the movies from this year’s 29th Annual 24-Hour Science Fiction Film Marathon about which I will not comment:

  • The Amazing Transparent Man, d. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1960 – a five-day speed-shoot quickie that lifts plot points from 1933′s The Invisible Man. In which a mad scientist injects a convict with his invisibility serum so that he can steal radioactive … stuff … and make … armies of invisible soldiers? To take over the world? Did I get that right? Begorra.

  • Mutiny in Outer Space, d. Hugo Grimaldi and Arthur C. Pierce, 1965. In which a deadly moon fungus from the lunar ice caves – ahem – lurks aboard the nearby space station and threatens the earth. The fungus looks like hair, on a bad hair day. I could swear they beat it by lowering the temperature in the space station to 0°, but maybe I missed something. Zounds!

  • Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, d. Masaaki Tezuka, 2000. In which Godzilla (again) meets Tokyo (again) and there is much stomping (again). There’s also something about bug-monsters that swarm all over the place, and an orbiting satellite shooting black holes (“baraka horu,” more or less), because the Japanese noticed over the course of the last 58 Godzilla pictures that regular ammunition won’t do damage here. Accidenti!

The reason I won’t be talking about these films is that I was dead asleep there in the third row of Theatre 1 (the Wheat Chex Room) while they were playing. I was more successful with the rest of the program. Words to come in the days to come.

There’s music to come too – our Ethan Lipton CD, A New Low, is posted up and live at last for sale at CD Baby! Fresh out of the CD oven! Nourishing and delicious! Check it out!

Posted in General Musings |

Another Bel Di

Madama Butterfly poster by Larry RiversThe opera Madama Butterfly is 100 years old today, and the popular belle of the zo odori has hardly aged a jot since Giacomo Puccini set her pining on the stage of Milano’s Teatro alla Scala back in 1904.

Since then, Cio-Cio-San and her faraway Pinkerton have watched opera shuffle over into the has-been section of the popular arts, in America at least. It’s been bowdlerized into musicals, macerated into movies, caricatured and sampled in song. Opera broadcasts are no longer center-of-the-dial radio events, and even the summer-night sojourns out into the city parks by the Metropolitan Opera company feel more like propitiations to neglected gods of high culture than brushes with the florid tremble of art. As far as the working lumpen go, the only complaint I’ve ever had about music here at the Day Job – and I’ve worked the musical fringes of my co-workers pretty hard over the years – was when I tried out a nice recording of La Bohème at my desk one day.

Office Manager: What is that horrible noise?
Linus: (Looking around) What horrible noise?
Office Manager: That noise. Coming from your stereo.
Linus: Noise?? That’s La Bohème.
Office Manager: Make it stop.
Linus: But that’s a Callas recording. It’s Puccini. It’s one of the high points of…
Office Manager: Make it stop now. Don’t make me kill you.

I’ve seen Butterfly at least twice; I keep thinking there’s a third one in there somewhere, but I can’t imagine where or when it might be. In 1994 at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the show was staged with minimal sets and broad use of banners and flags. It was one of my very first full traditional operas (I came a bit late to the fold).

In the interlude where Cio-Cio-San watches the harbor and waits tragically for Pinkerton’s returning ship (you can freshen up on the story of Madama Butterfly courtesy of the Met, if you like) the soprano stepped tentatively out into a fogged stage bare but for whorls of spent white silk draped along the floor. As the music swelled the silk took on color and blew into blue waves all around her, rising high into the empty space like giant wings, held in place only by her feet, finally engulfing her altogether. The impression was of a tiny devoted life swept away by a tide of indifference and distance. It was beautiful and I’ve never forgotten it, though I remember nearly nothing else about the production.

I saw the Met production in 1995 or so, shortly after Placido Domingo began conducting the show rather than singing in it, so my Cio-Cio-San was probably Maria Spacagna. The sprawl of the Met is not ideal for their design of the piece as a small, just-so story in its particular setting – I remember it as a bonsai show, meticulous and intricate but, in the end, not much to dine on, especially at those prices.

Miracles of Technology Dep’t: follow this link to hear a 29-second recording of Puccini’s voice.

In other birthday news, McSorley’s Old Ale House on East 7th Street turns 150 today, which is somethin’ in the City of Change. I first had “the two” at McSorley’s, with a side of onions and blasting-cap mustard, after they had begun admitting women (as a reluctant result of Seidenberg v. McSorley’s Old Ale House, 1969) and before the bar made the concession of a second bathroom for the unwelcome second sex. Back in those days the myth still held that McSorley’s Light and McSorley’s Dark were something homemade and special; we’ve discovered since that they were the light and dark brews of the house from F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica. If you’re the right age and you went to the right New York bars, you may remember Prior Light and Prior Dark from taps here and there around the city: same stuff.

Posted in General Musings |

Heart U.

Candy is DandyFor better or worse, happy Valentine’s Day to lovers, wish-we-were lovers, unlovers, and everyone between. Thanks to Guinness for pointing me to the online ACME Labs Heart Maker. No carbs!

Flipping through the tattered leaves of my life I find that not one but two different women had the fullness of heart to actually break up with me on February 14th. One even dragged me down from Boston by bus to tell me face to face in Bay Ridge, because doing it over the phone was too impersonal. Um, thanks.

Worst V-Day idea ever? That would be the February 14th steak special at Smollensky’s Balloon in London, where I worked for a bit as a busboy. The heart-shaped pie slices were cute, especially the key lime, which took well to cookie-cutter notions. The pink heart-shaped napkins, okay, whatever. But the his-n-hers heart-shaped steaks? Romance as a function of sizzling meat? It was an idea whose time was not coming any time soon.

Posted in General Musings |

Ils sont fous, ces Gaulois

Amy Allison sings that The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter, but very clearly, according to Le Figaro, The Wine makes French senators stupider.

By an overwhelming majority, fueled by statements such as “wine is not alcohol” and “drinking wine, that’s not like drinking alcohol or beer“, the French Senate has rejected a proposed law requiring health warnings on alcoholic beverages.

Posted in General Musings |