Archive for December, 2004

Slices of Commerce

by Linus, December 8th, 2004

Late on Saturday night, Sunday morning really, I’m forging back home in the cold — remember, we don’t own those wheelie things here in the City, those whaddayacallum, “cars” — from the far wastes of Bay Ridge. Bay Ridge, best known to America from its ensemble role in Saturday Night Fever, is much the same as it was then, plus the occasional tattoo and minus a reef or two of polyester. The only thing we really need to know about Bay Ridge at the moment, though, is that it is Not Near My House.

This is almost always true, no matter where you may be. Bay Ridge is nothing if not consistent; it is Bay Ridge to all people.

We’re down here in the first place following the befezzed Fisherman’s Xylophonic Orchestra for a burlesque revue on the frontier. This may or may not be sensible. If you delve enough in entertaining nights, though, eventually the Usual Spots blur a bit. You don’t appreciate the come-as-you-are downtown charm so much, and all the endless possibilities shrink to a single repetitive point: as if you’re trapped in a huge multiplex and they won’t let you leave until you’ve seen each movie at least once, every single one. And you have to see Alexander twice. No naps.

Of course once I’m here I immediately want to be back someplace real, but that’s part of the tonic. Girls in Bay Ridge still have big hair — I thought there was a law about that. The bus takes the bulk of an hour to reach the delta of Fifth Avenue, and once we’re stationed in the comfy chairs there’s a long wait while … well, let’s just say that light shows are best left to professionals. Eventually The Fisherman posts himself behind his tiki-flavor keys, the patter begins, the music flows; robes are dropped, fans are flapped, glitter is revelled, skin is spangled, undergarments are unstrung and flung; pasties whirl, and the good burlesque business eases on down the floorboards with familiar tease.

Bay Ridge follows the rule of mountains: it’s easier to get there than it is to get down. Without getting too deep into it, let’s just mention that the late bus was early and the next one was a cold hour down the pike; the R train pooped out at 36th Street, tossing us to the wolfish N and D; switching for the 4 at Atlantic/Pacific is never quite as trim as it sounds; and by the time I’m back in the hood, it’s plenty cold and I’m not getting any younger. I stop for a restorative slice at the 24-hour at-your-own-risk pizza place on Court Street. Cheapest pizza around: buck a slice, and you get what you pay for.

Linus: I’ll take a slice please.
Late Night Pizza Guy: OK. Slice. OK. Two.
Linus: What?
Late Night Pizza Guy: Two slice, OK?
Linus: No, just one, thanks.
Late Night Pizza Guy: Eh? No. Two slice OK. Two, OK?
Linus: I just want one.
Late Night Pizza Guy: Two slice, I make for you.
Linus: All right, fine, two.
Late Night Pizza Guy: OK! Two slice. Which free you want?
Linus: What?
Late Night Pizza Guy: Two slice, OK. You get free one slice.
Linus: What?
Late Night Pizza Guy: You free, one slice two slice.
Linus: No, I … uh, pepperoni.

Look Backward, Snow Angel

by Linus, December 6th, 2004

Last year at this point it was snowing beasts and burdens. Today it’s, well, it’s the early December of a formless winter so far, no snow (occasional threats, yes) and no overarching wintry cold. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Now and then I step outside of a sunny weekend afternoon and look at the dry trees up along Clinton Street, and it looks like October. As if the trees, who know this sort of thing, are shrugging: “Hey bro, it’s not winter yet. We’ll let you know.”

For ease in looking backward we have a new menu-toy: down on the right-hand side of this page, between the Merriment divertissements and our Col. Mustard blogroll list, there’s a link that will take you to our entry one year ago on this blog. This can keep your Pepper level up when, like this past week, we get all tired and don’t post like we oughta.

Also in cycles: last December 5 Col. J.D. shook his legendary shackshaking stuff with his band The Legendary Shackshakers at the Knitting Factory; Los Straitjackets, those surf-splendor kings of the Mexican wrestling masks, were also on the bill. Last night the Shackshakers were at Southpaw instead, and the Straitjackets headlined at Bowery Ballroom. So it must be a tradition.

Me? I was out in the darkling commerce at an Upper East Side branch of Best Buy, sweetly wheedling the sales clerk, who ended up letting me have the landside portion of my web-bought DVD order even though I couldn’t find the email I was supposed to show them. (The other three are being shipped.) I’m rarely on the Upper East Side, and I walked down through it for a mile or so as evening came on. I looked for a place to inspire dinner, but nothing rang my chimes at a reasonable price, so home it was to the warm messy apartment and a sleepy curl of Black Adder II episodes.

Sometimes easy is the way to go.

Nash(less)-ville: a Farewell to Juliana

by Linus, December 1st, 2004

It’s frustrating to watch a towering talent fade into comfortable obscurity more or less unnoticed. This is a common enough event, which is part of the ingrown sadness of the music business. Last night Juliana Nash had a last-minute goodbye party out in Williamsburg, marking a quiet shift in her musical life. Pierre and I dropped by for a quick drink and scooted just before the pesky rain began, and like so much else these days it got me to thinking.

Over dinner with the Divine Maggees a couple of weeks ago we were talking about How Things Change. The Maggees are a Maine band with a dash of Boston and a current residence in Athens, Georgia, and they’re not taking well to the South. I don’t take well to any state where folks are likely to serve you white gravy without warning, so I can appreciate their feelings.

We were talking about strategies and plans, and labels and bands, and how to get things done, and how to waste money or not, while making a difference or not. Because there comes a point — there come many points, actually — when it’s time to make changes, great or small. I put it this way: imagine you’re standing there in front of a wall. It’s a nice wall; it’s your favorite wall. You’re knocking your head against it now and then, because that’s what one does. Bang. Bang. Bang bang. After each thwack you rub your head and comment: Ow, that hurt. Or Man, that was a bad one. Bang. Whoa! One more of those and my teeth are shaking loose! Every once in a while you smack your head up there and say, Hey, that time it hardly hurt at all — I must be making progress.

In a world of vanishing mystique, disposable fads, force-feed publicity and MBA-culture focus on products rather than process, I’m not even sure there is such a thing as success in the music business any more. Except for occasional routs from the indie left field — today’s darlings are Montreal’s The Arcade Fire, and from what I’ve heard so far the band is absolutely terrific — the dance cards are tightly programmed, and filled at the whims of hands on high.

Eventually, you look up at the wall, now dented and hammered. And you say to yourself, What the hell was that about?, and go about the rest of your life with fire in the memory and bruises on the head to show for it.

Juliana Nash matches a voice of amazing range and texture with a pen shaved down to the pithy core, and adds an instinct for easy, rolling hooks. She fronted a rock band called Talking to Animals, which was signed in the ’90s to Columbia Records, warehoused for a couple of years, and then dropped. Eventually the band’s one album, Manhole, was released on Walter Yetnikoff’s ill-fated Velvel Records, and although the CD is a fine one, that was pretty much that. “Turning into Beautiful” from Manhole is one of my favorite uptempo happy ferocious bouncy tunes EVER.

When I came to know Juliana, Talking to Animals was fading. She had phased the band into a wiser and deeper machine that layered her melancholic musing melodies with soft detailed lines and the gentlest touches of harmony, and drew out her inward silences with sympathy and care. Our modern world has no handy box to squeeze grown-up music into, and her shows became rare over time, sweet treasures buried in the calendar.

Story not over: Juliana became one of the owners of a new enterprise, Pete’s Candy Store, an unlikely music bar launched on the residential fringes of hopping Williamsburg. Pete’s is small, cozy, and unique, and as booker and den-mother she was instrumental (heh) in making it into one of the essential we-care acoustic music rooms in New York City. Now, five years and two kids after plunging in, Juliana has sold her interest in the Candy Store. The venue continues, power to it, and if a music-friendly child center opens up just outside New York anytime soon … well, let’s just say that some people are built for forward motion.

Meantime, take this moment to visit Juliana’s page on CD Baby, which (if you don’t know it already) is the best indie music store around. Her self-titled EP contains the only commercially-available recordings of Juliana’s post-Animals music, and it is rare and gorgeous stuff. The buttons on the left of that page will stream mp3 samples of the first four songs: listen. She is still, and beautiful and strong.

In other news, it’s hella windy over here and we’re all wondering if this building is going to fall down, or what: the wind is screaming past outside, and up here on the 10th floor even the kitchen is creaking.