Words of a Feather

Overheard on the way to work this morning:

Guy on cell phone: “No, no. No. That thought never crossed my mind. … That skirt you were wearing, though, that crossed my mind.”

Dan in actionOur Featured Link to Extreme Pumpkins loses its pungency tomorrow, once Halloween is spent. (Thanks to Harvard Lecturer Daniel Rosenberg for sending it in – that’s Dan at left in the accompanying image, breaking a cinder block over a friend sandwiched in a bed of nails at the 2001 Ig Nobel Awards, doubtless furthering the Cause of Science.)

We’re looking for something seasonal to put up in its place, some sort of Thanksgiving thing that might make turkeys quail, and while I was browsing around and waiting for the right page to come along I discovered that a young turkey, of either sex, is called a “poult.” Who knew?

Posted in General Musings |

Six Degrees in Search of an Author

Last night two new actors joined us in rehearsals for “The Good Faith.” It’s hard to walk in cold to a show, especially a musical, but they fit in pretty easily, which made me feel good about the rest of the group. If we weren’t sneakily having fun, it wouldn’t be easy for new arrivals to fit in.

I love the microcosms. My scene partner was originally Frank D’Amico, with whom I’ve done several readings and a couple of short scene studies at the Telephone Bar poetry series. Frank had to quit and was replaced early on by Paul Albe, which was a wonderful surprise: Paul and I worked together back in about 1989 with the Arden Party Theatre Company, doing a summer season in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. We were in productions of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost” (I played Nathaniel, the Excitable Curate) and Peter Weiss’ “Marat/Sade” (Marat), and Paul might also have been in our “Doctor in Spite of Himself” (Sganarelle). Every so often I’ll spot him in a movie, but we hadn’t seen each other in years.

Deep Shaft indeedThat was a turbulent time – no, actually, we’re not going to discuss it now – and rumbling through rumblings past with Paul has reminded me how frantic the season was. It turns out I’ve basically forgotten, or “forgotten” (as they’d say in therapy, insert air quotes as desired), all but the most basic shape of that summer. Paul, who chose not to frolic in our Reindeer Games by the beach, remembers events much more clearly than I, and dredges up pearls from those distant harbors that leave me blinking and surprised.

I blame the solar flares. Damn solar flares get into everything.

One of the girls who joined last night looked familiar, in a she-sure-is-cute-do-I-know-her-or-am-I-making-that-up? kind of way. Her name, Christiane Szabo, sounded familiar too, and I just couldn’t quite place her. After rehearsal I braved the soak out to Williamsburg for a session with Pierre at the Spuyten Duyvil beer bar, and midway through a righteous shared bottled of Freeminer Deep Shaft Stout it came to me: I’d seen her name in the list of singers at this past September’s Dewey Beach Music Conference, where I was a speaker. Either she’s at home now trying to figure out who I am, or she didn’t come to my Indie Labels panel. Tsk.

Circles, circles. Most people who successfully come to terms with the City learn this simple lesson: New York really is a small town. A clumsy, brusque, arrogant, overgrown, self-indulgent and sometimes mean small town, but a small town at heart.

Posted in General Musings |

It Isn’t Over ’til the Chubby Guy Sings

Surely, we live in interesting times. The California fires are a reminder that we may rent choice bits of this world, but we don’t own; and this morning’s radio reported that teams are out in Staten Island checking to see if a tornado touched down there overnight. Which would explain how those two parked cars got into the middle of the intersection, and where the aluminum siding went. Tornadoes in Staten Island? What next, tsunami in the Gowanus? Magma flow in Bensonhurst? Maybe this will be one of those frozen-Hudson winters. Like it used to do, when I was young. Grump, fret, grump.

Wildfires in CaliforniaWhen you can see the day’s news from orbit, it’s never a good sign. The current tally is 1,100 homes burned, along with half a million acres of land. “May you live in interesting times,” by the way, is almost certainly not an ancient Chinese curse, as is widely reported; it’s more likely a fake ancient Chinese curse. Calling all deconstructionists.

I don’t find a source to credit for this fires-from-space photo, but it made me say “Wow” and I’m using it anyway. It’s a sat shot, so I hope it’s from NASA (and therefore open to public use). When I got to the top level of the server it was hunkered on there was one of those nasty parking sites that changes your start page, force-downloads gnarly spyware (presumably the evil Xupiter), and pops up pop-up ads all over the place. Or tries to, anyway. Hell with ‘em.

Rehearsal for “The Good Faith” is hijacking my Gym Time™, and generally taking over what down hours are left after my heroic late-night exploits making Icewind Dale safe again for the fine people of Faerûn. But Saturday night, after an afternoon at the Great Jones rehearsal studio and then one of those really good naps, out it was to the Brooklyn (original) branch of the Waterfront Ale House (Est. 1989, “Home of Warm Beer, Lousy Food, Ugly Owner”) for a neighborhood night of Excellent Beer, Brilliant Food, and the company of Sam’s Friendly Employees. And a wonderful set of blues.

Saturday Night Sinful Delight: Smoked Duck Sausage with Pumpkin Polenta in a Cider Reduction (appetizer), with a Salmon Sandwich on Black Bread, Fennel Mayo and Red Onion on the side. OMG, as they say in the chat rooms. So much for Gym Time™.

The Good, the Bad, and the ChubbyIf you live in America outside of Brooklyn, you probably don’t know Popa Chubby. That ain’t right. Popa’s a big fella (must be all that Waterfront food) who is even bigger in Europe. Here, where our big-time music mostly looks like Barbie and sounds like limp toast, he hasn’t caught the public fancy. There’s a kind of guy who loves a certain kind of good time, and Popa Chubby is that kind of guy (he describes his upcoming album as “hell-raising, hard rockin’, guitaristic, blues-infused, politically inspired, American music,” which works for me but sells his music way short – kind of like describing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s stuff as “rootin tootin” and leaving it at that). Popa Chubby is guesting in with Dimitri’s Black Coffee Blues Band (ex Popa Chubby’s Black Coffee Blues Band), a regular good-time fixture at the late-night Waterfront. The set I heard went beautifully with smoked duck sausage, and might even have beat the eats.

Guitar tastes are like opinions, if you will – everyone’s got one, and they all stink. Not this one. Popa Chubby has gorgeous control of the instrument. He can stretch and bend and shred and hammer and trum and do all the fashionable gymnastics, but he doesn’t do them quite where or how you’d expect. Gracious on stage and generous with his bandmates, he makes a music that feels like conversation after you’ve done with the formalities and can start sharing stuff you really care about. Two songs in I’m all about the solos, not waiting for the (shared, tonight) vox to start again. By the time Popa crams a Hornpipe into 12-bar Americana blues and then deftly zips out, sprinting for ZZ Top territory but breaking for cover before you get him pinned down, I’m looking around wondering where the whole rest of the world is: they could be here for the price of a couple of bucks in the tip jar, stuffed with great food, warm with the Waterfront’s dependable, sturdy stock of good beer, drifting down blue blues rivers with Chubby and the rest of the Black Coffee Band.

But what am I thinking? I’m in Brooklyn. No one goes to Brooklyn. Do they?

Posted in About Last Night |


Cheap puns take time. There had to be a word for “fear of mice”, but none of those that popped up in a Google search looked right, since they mixed Latin and Greek. A long series of associations finally brought me in the right direction: muscle => musculus i.e. little mouse hence from the Greek myo-, pertaining to muscles –and mice. Ergo: “myophobia”. Phew!

All that to casually mention that I saw Mouse and The Phobes at Luna Lounge last night…

“Mouse” is Miss Mouse herself (Week At The Lake, Owl Motel, Erika Simonian) on guitar and vocals, and Konrad Meissner (The Silos, Gingersol, Patricia Vonne, Tandy) on drums. The anti-White Stripes! Mouse strums her guitar in a way that’s reminiscent of Bibi Farber, with chords that feel slower than the song somehow, while her singing brings to mind Diane Cluck (but only vaguely, here and there). The songs sound rather plaintive and sometimes almost ponderous, while the drumming is vivid and always interesting.

The Phobes, from Washington, DC, on the other hand, flat out rock. My first inkling that I was probably going to like this band came during the sound check, when the guitarist would casually toss off little arpeggios that sounded very much like early Rolling Stones intros, stuff like Hitch Hike and the like. It then took only a few songs to convince me that this trio belongs –together with NYC local heros George Usher and Richard X. Heyman– in that category that I like to call “those great pop songs that you know you’ve heard before … except you haven’t”. Never more than hinting, never blatantly copying, they range happily from the Small Faces and the Who to the Ramones, with nods to Wilson Pickett, the Box Tops, the Animals, and the Kinks. If there’s one problem with their sound, it is that I keep wanting to hear a Farfisa organ surge out from a Leslie speaker, somewhere on the edge of the stage!

Posted in About Last Night |

Oh Canada

Carolyn Mark is funny. I first saw her a few years ago at a Canadian showcase at SXSW, where she was hanging out with her fellow Corn Sister, Neko Case. Playing without her band, but totally at ease on stage, unflappable, sharp as a razor, she breezes through one-liners (“sing along, bartenders, I bet you’re in a band too!”) into the kind of humorous songs that a less dour Lucinda Williams could write. She stands astride in her sensible print dress and black boots, and details the life of musicians on the road, the life of “another other woman“, and men who drink white wine (she’s against). In honor of the Alphabet Lounge’s location at Avenue C and 7th, she offered us a snappy little number in C7th and recounted meeting earlier, at Zum Schneider across the avenue, a stock broker who used to play the guitar and the piano. “Used to play? Like there’s an on/off switch and you can stop?”

Langhorne Slim is a funny-looking guy. With his small hat, Buster Keaton face, and nasal whine of a singing voice that rises to a grating, wobbly shout (and is totally unlike his perfectly normal speaking voice), he’s not the most accessible performer! He’s a very good blues-based guitarist, and he writes excellent songs, but that voice… It’s definitely interesting, and maybe it does grow on you after a while, but I can’t help thinking that he’s trying to imitate the sonic quality of bad recordings of Robert Johnson!

And so CMJ 2003 fades into the night. Back to our regular schedule. Oh, and don’t mind the weird-looking quotation marks. I did not write the scripts, and there are odd things going on that I haven’t had time to figure out yet. Why resort to Unicode tadpoles when the double quote is a perfectly sensible ASCII character completely escapes me.

Posted in About Last Night |

Bloodshot On The Tracks

‘Tis CMJ still, and Ludlow Street was a zoo last night. Not that it isn’t a zoo on other week-ends, mind you, but there was a “deer in the headlights” look on many of the faces above those CMJ badges. Not many Badgers at the Living Room for Jason “no-relation-to-Julia” Darling, however; his SRO audience was apparently mostly civilian. Since comparisons to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen surround him like a halo (the guy sings, plays guitar, has a harmonica around his neck, after all), let’s get them out of the way. It is mostly his guitar playing that captures my attention: his solos often remind me of those airy, blues- and folk-based lines from Stephen Stills or Jorma Kaukonen in their 60′s heydays. And the encore, an idiosyncratic rendition of I wanna be sedated, was downright bizarre –but in a good way!

A quick walk up Avenue A to the Sidewalk Cafe, with its newly remodeled stage (larger kitchen, smaller stage; does it mean the service will improve?) At the edge of this truncated stage, against the raw, ill-fitting plaster board is a piano, not the old, battered upright, but a peeling, scabby not-quite upright that appears to lean dangerously forward. Fortunately, neither Joe Bendik nor the Sprinkle Genies will try to pound on it! Joe Bendik is for me the true epitome of local anti-folk, more so than the acknowledged champion of the form, Lach, because Joe’s intensity is unmatched; he’s drenched in sweat and out of breath by his second song; veins, arteries, and tendons that I did not even know existed bulge from his neck and forehead; he jumps, he stomps, he stampedes… And all that, as he eloquently puts it, is designed to sell us beer. Or cranberry juice, in those venues where the beer is unappealing –most music venues in New York, I’m afraid.

After this short but intense set, comes the task of fitting the five members of the Sprinkle Genies on the Sidewalk stage; never an easy task, but now it verges on the ridiculous! They can barely move their elbows once the drums, the amps, the various things to shake or bang on, and the guitars are in place. No matter, they take it in stride as they should: it wouldn’t do for them to get steamed up about something, they are the masters of “slacker” rhythms and sly, lazy lyrics. They managed to go through their set without major mishap, nobody fell off the stage, and if a string was broken halfway through, so be it. Then it was time for me to grab a quick bus ride up to the Rodeo Bar hoping to catch Wayne Hancock, but as I had feared from a cryptic web site message, he had cancelled –he’s been ill for a while, and had obviously not recovered enough yet. So another bus ride brought me to the other Bloodshot showcase of the night, at Tonic.

I arrived toward the end of Trailer bride’s set, just in time to see Melissa Swingle take out her musical saw. They’re a weird band indeed, roots, rock, country and blues all rolled into one, with the lanky Ms Swingle at the helm; North Carolina at its steamiest. Next in line, a band I’d never seen live before: Split Lip Rayfield. Terrific musicians in a crazy bluegrass idiom (where else would you see a gas tank turned into a single-string standup bass, with an oddly shiny, chrome foot), but their vocals left me completely cold; they just don’t have the right voices for their music. Too generic, too … just OK. However, quite obviously mine was not an opinion shared by the spastic dancers in the mini mosh pit!

I hadn’t had time for dinner yet (I had been counting on the Rodeo Bar), and I was getting restless. It was already about 1 a.m. when Bobby Bare Jr took the stage; I had seen him several times before, both solo at 9C, right here in New York, and with his band in Austin at SXSW, but this was the best show so far. A serious rock & roll band with big Rolling Stones chords, a drummer who sits sideways, and guest horn players who did not sound like Exile on Main Street; but my stomach was making demands. I wanted to stay, but it was high time to drop by Bereket for a kebab platter to go. There was Delirium Tremens on tap at d.b.a. Yay!

Posted in General Musings |

Hello, It’s Me – and Todd, Too

Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun into Space, photo NASA-ESAI’m blaming everything this week on the solar flares. “I said what? Sorry, must have been the solar flares talking.” “The rent is late? Why those damn solar flares. They just get into everything.”

While we Peppers mused about the state of the music industry late Tuesday night, the Hollywood Reporter was publishing a cogent and insightful Commentary by Todd Rundgren which covered similar ground. (The link is active as I write this, but it may turn into subscriber content at some point.) It’s interesting how alike our remarks are, although Rundgren comes to his article as a free-thinker and aggressive computer progressive marginalized by a record industry that can’t get comfy with profits until album sales break 500,000 copies or so. I come to mine as an indie label guy, hiding in the shrubbery outside the country club and wondering what the hell they put in the drinks in there.

Compare ours with this excerpt of Todd’s:

Music is a sacrament. This has been true for thousands of years of human history, save the last 100 or so. I’m sure it was not Edison’s purpose to debase such an important aspect of our collective liturgy, but what would one expect when something that was once ephemeral and could only be experienced at the behest of other humans is reduced to a commodity on a shelf.

Damn solar flares, they get into everything. If you’re likely to think in these directions, I highly recommend Rundgren’s rant. And let’s fiddle together when he says, “It’s time to let the monolith of commoditized music collapse like the Berlin Wall.”

Posted in Music Theory |

Jesus Put A Whoopee Cushion In My Truck
or The Diesel Only Showcase At The Lakeside Lounge

Tammy Faye StarliteThis is CMJ week, but some islands of insanity do manage to survive here and there. Diesel Only Records, right here in Brooklyn, is the home of such local country and Americana luminaries as Laura Cantrell, Amy Allison, Neil Cleary, and Tammy Faye Starlite, and tonight they hosted a showcase for the latter three at the Lakeside Lounge in front of an appreciative crowd packed with musicians.

Tammy Faye Starlite (“that’s L-I-T-E, like the adjective”) started things off; late unfortunately… Her trademark mix of exhortations and debasement –it is country music we’re talking about here– brought the usual sinners to their knees while she sang of difficult menstruation, pubic deforestation, and of course Jesus. She did not shed her clothes, however, in deference perhaps to the solemnity of CMJ. As usual, her crack band of Mark Spencer and Rich Ferridun on guitars, Jared Nickerson on bass, and Louis Appel on drums, deftly propelled the set through songs and monologues.

Neil ClearyNeil Cleary, who made his first appearances in New York as Hank Williams’s alter ego in the Hank Williams’ Lonesome Cheatin’ Hearts Club Band a few years ago, then became one of the cornerstones of the late, lamented 9C, kicked off his set with some solid rockers, backed by the omnipresent Mark Spencer on guitar, and Adam James on drums. Unfortunately, time was running out and I could not stay any further.

My next stop was Rififi for the weekly Starshine Burlesque. This edition was hosted by Rose Wood, whose fishwife routine is downright bizarre. Miss Delirium Tremens did her Chinese fan dance, all in reds and blacks; Jen Lux used I put a spell on you for a witches’ brew routine that did not rise anywhere near the heights of Julie Atlas Muz’s splendid –and morbid– version; the always ineptly funny Eric Hall displayed some real magic with mirrors and handcuffs; Little Brooklyn reprised her recent Rosie The Riveter; Creamy Stevens’s housewife abused pills, cocktails, and songbirds on her way to oblivion; and finally Amber Ray swanned her way in black feathers, then sans black feathers.

But what about the whoopee cushion, you may ask. That came later, at d.b.a., my usual restorative stop on the way to the subway. While I had a Stone porter and a Skullsplitter, singer and off-duty bartender Jackie, who was celebrating a friend’s birthday, was trying in vain to make use of her recently purchased rubber goods; finally, a couple of good-hearted patrons accepted to indulge in ersatz flatulence. Some small nervous tittering ensued.

Posted in About Last Night |

Luscious Beers and Bubbly Women

World Wide StoutIn the past few years, Dogfish Head Brewery‘s famed World Wide Stout has been a cold-weather fixture in this part of the world. It is “the world’s strongest dark ale”, and at 21% alcohol it’s not hard to see why! Last year’s batch, which clocked in at about 23%, was a bit disappointing, with a noticeable harshness; this year’s slightly toned-down version is a winner –a superb, smooth, toasty and roasty brew that is stout indeed!

Last night, the Blind Tiger Ale House –one of the best beer bars in the city– hosted not only the WWS premiere, but also presented about 20 “very special” beers from around the US and the world, with an emphasis on strong, dark, spicy winter beers. By 6 o’clock the place was already packed, by 6:30 the complimentary cheese board was bare, but the beers kept going strong well into the night.

Brooklyn Brewery’s Organic Porter is a disappointment, too much of an ashy aftertaste to its roastiness; and so is Dogfish’s other offering, a peach/vanilla pseudo-lambic , whose aroma does promise much more than the palate actually delivers: hardly any peach, hardly any vanilla, and –more damning– hardly any acidity and barnyard funkiness. In fact, apart from a one-dimensional, lingering cheesy hint, there is nothing much lambic-like to this beer. A worthy effort, perhaps one that will bear fruit in later years, but at this point it’s not even a minor bump on the road to Cantillon, Hanssens, Girardin, or Drie Fonteinen.

Hop-heads, of which I am definitely not, raved about Avery’s “Hog Heaven”, a Cascade-infused barleywine of the sort that they overindulge in on the Pacific Northwest, even though this one comes from Colorado.

So many beers, so little time! But they’ll still be around for a few days, so it’s worth taking a side trip to Hudson and West 10th this week-end.

Jo Boobs at the PussycatFrom timeless beers to tasseled breasts, it’s only a short ride down the #1 IRT to Rector Street. The Pussycat Lounge, a classic strip bar on the ground floor, is also home to the Cat Bar on the second floor, a relatively new rock venue that also dabbles in burlesque on Wednesdays when the combined forces of the Coney Island Sideshows and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus present Lucky Stiff, one of those post-modern neo-ironic Time-Out-tantalizing burlesque shows that have been making headlines in recent days. After a musical introduction by the Reverend Tribble and the Angels, it all came down to juggling and jiggling; Jo Boobs (left) twirled her … tassels, Porno Jim and Carin, his lovely assistant, taught the masses how to shop for good pornography, and in the spirit of the upcoming Halloween, Julie Atlas Muz did her splendid take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s I put a spell on you.

And so it was, another night on the frontlines in New York City.

Posted in About Last Night |

Roosevelt Partway

The Third Trimester, by Wayne KralA couple of days ago, I wrote about seeing a show by my painter friend Wayne Kral down in a gallery on 1st Street. At the time, I didn’t have the nod to run any images here for blog consumption. This morning Wayne sent along a scan of his piece “The Third Trimester” for your visual pleasure, so now you can go read about it there, and then come back and look at it here. Or vice versa. His four-part Trimester series was one of my favorite parts of the exhibition.

We had rehearsal tonight for “The Good Faith,” a show I’ll be in at La Mama ETC for three weeks starting November 20th. It’s a fun piece, a musical by Harold Dean James which thumbnails forty years and some in the life of an old-time-religion Jehovah’s Witness named Brother Rawe. The play is based on a true story, as they like to say in the movies. Bro. Rawe was toiling along in his chosen fields, presumably bothering innocent sleepy people early on Sunday mornings and asking passersby if they’ve talked to Jesus today, when his coven was taken over by a couple of nefarious earthly types more concerned with money and fast women (well, fast for devout Christians, anyway) than with the Word of God. Bro. Rawe and his wife, Sister Rawe, were unceremoniously booted out, but they bore their lot with patience and eventually returned to the fold. I play one of the Nefariouses (Nefariousim?), as well as doing cameo bits as a brawling recruiting soldier and President Roosevelt.

With the season running hot and cold and sleety outside, we were all a bit touchy and distracted, too aware of the room and our own transition states, not quite knowing the words or the songs or each other, stumbling over the blocking. But Katarina the adorable stage manager brought in an adorable orange cap (baseball, backward), so that was something. The headshot they’re using for me is nearly old enough to vote – it’s been a while since I did my sweet time in the theatre – and maybe I’ll run a scan of it here in some future entry. For giggles.

Rehearsal kept me off the streets, out of the bars (where the fearsome and wonderful Dogfish Head World Wide Stout was premiering at the Blind Tiger, and I’m sure Pierre will have something to say about that once he recovers) and away from the clubs (where the annual CMJ Music Marathon did its annual unfurling). Missed a lot of good music, and a lot of good beer. And it was cold in there too.

Since Pepper of the Earth went live for the general public today and linked up from the outside for the first time, a few tips of the e-hat are in order: first, to Pierre for putting up with my whinging and tolerating my discursi on the fundamental philosophies of three-column layout (“all right, all right already, I’ll make it boldface”), and for getting this site both operational and pretty from nothing but default freeware in a little under 5 days; and second, to bloggers Dawn Eden of The Dawn Patrol and Tony Hightower of the sometimes-resting Evil Twin Theory, for accidentally inspiring us to do this.

Posted in General Musings |