Friday, November 29, 2013

Music Review: Al Kryszak, 'Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep'

Bless the unknown musician who, despite a constant output of musical creation thrown to the wind unheard, continues to burrow through the icy and crowded stream of musical culture with his latest, soon to be unheralded collection of songs.

Al Kryszak, creator and front man of Buffalo-based alt-rock outfit REV, is one such musician. With four full-length REV albums and several classical music and film score releases distributed from his one-man operation,  Kryszak continues to produce and release fiercely independent music that goes largely unheard.

His newest, first alt-rock solo release, Lullabies for People Who Don't Need Sleep is an intricately woven but wildly stitched pattern of acoustic composition adorned with a light arrangement of sparse background collage that support the subtlest, and often sweetest, of melodies.

The lingering melody rises above a low hum and rattle industrial soundscape in the somber "Shadow of A Coal Plant". Kryszak's soft acoustic plucking, and a swirling, decidedly '70s style church organ paint a lovingly polluted blue-grey sky over a dominating, watchful coal plant. It's a sad, nearly resigned protest song set in a post-apocalyptic-like urban wasteland where citizens work their cancer-causing impossible gardens "in the shadow of the coal plant". It is the outstanding track on this album.

The organic acoustic compositions, often adorned with low-key techno arrangements, snake through a jungle of urban and emotional angst that finds modern blight suffocating the artist sadly strumming his guitar at its center.  Album opener "Declare Nothing" is a downcast of anger with overdubbed vocals and altering guitar riffs. It finds the composition of music and its empty reception, a lifestyle where "talking to the mynah bird" is the art of writing a song.

Elsewhere things get a bit more cheery. "The Rock I Came From" is a funky acoustic jam that explores the genre of rock music, or existence itself, as a rapidly disappearing entity where flowers still grow. "Trying To Remember" is a warm slice of dreamy psych music with the slightest detection of an old Neil Diamond guitar chord at its base.

One gets the impression that when Kryszak touches upon a musical nirvana, such as the peaceful plateau he reaches on "Trying To Remember", the field is ripe for further exploration. But he quickly moves up the path, searching for another riff or melody, as if snuffing out any commercial weeds growing in his garden. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It makes for wildly creative music, but you may want to linger a little longer on the breezy summit of "Trying To Remember", which is just over two minutes long.

Lullabies For People Who Don't Need Sleep is a little rough around the edges. The naked, likely first-take vocals are sometimes harsh, when you know he can sound better, as he does when he supports his own voice with background vocals. It is his choice for the organic sound of the recording, a precious expression of a genuine artist.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: 'A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir' by John Grant

Ask the question, "What is film noir?" of film buffs and you'll likely get diverse answers. Ask them "What is neonoir?" and you're liable to start a fight. Passionate arguments abound about what is and isn't film noir, and if the term "neonoir", a term used to describe noir made after around 1960, is a valid genre in the canon of cinema.

 In his humongous volume, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir (Limelight Editions, 2013), author John Grant defines film noir - a term first coined by French movie critics to describe the wave of American black & white crime movies of the 1940s - as "knowing it when you see it". His complete definition is more thorough and complex, but "knowing it when you see it" is an apt description of this elusive movie genre that most often incorporates shadowy lighting, black & white cinematography, urban settings and crime.

With over 3,250 movie entries listed in encyclopedic fashion, the book is a page-thumbing romp for movie buffs with a passion for noir. The short introductory chapter is an interesting history that finds the genre evolving, not from artistic creativity, but from a limited movie budget which sacrificed elaborate set designs for shadowy rooms narrow in scope. We learn the French coined the term in retrospect, after viewing American films of the 1940s denied to them during the Nazi occupation of WWII.

One man's film noir is another man's detective story, or police procedural, or gangster film. It's a highly subjective categorization that the author admits will find discourse among readers. It is my opinion that Thelma and Louise (1991) does not belong here, while David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006), should have been included. You may disagree or feel validated by several of the author's inclusions.

The listings include production credits, national origin, year of release, and cast. Several obscure foreign film noir are among them. The sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy plot synopsis are often wordy and strictly subjective. I wish the author had omitted his critical analysis of the films in favor of their relation to the genre of noir. The premise of the hard-boiled, white-knuckled paranoid crime thriller D.O.A. (1950), a classic black & white film noir, about a man hunting the killer who gave him a fatal dose of poison, is described as enchanting. It is not. It is mean and raw.

Still, the book is a welcome addition to any film buff's library. It's communicative to the point that you may yell out loud in disagreement. It includes glossy publicity photos of selected films, and selected filmographies of directors, actors and authors.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Music Review: Tony Joe White, 'Hoodoo'

In 1969, Washington D.C.-based Monument Records released Cajun-blues inspired Tony Joe White's first single - "Polk Salad Annie" - a delectable blend of swamp rock and funky Mississippi Delta Blues, that was immediately likable and addictive, and unlike any other Top 40 record of the era. After 9 months of circulation, the single never broke into the popular charts and was deemed a failure and written off by the record company.

Yet requests for the single trickled in from remote Southern U.S. locales, where White had toured, and a few visionary disc jockeys, recognizing the excellence and hit potential of the record, continued to play it. The unlikely hit single that sang of "poke sallet", a food product of the pokeweed plant known to Southern culture, started to nudge up the charts and didn't stop its ascension until it reached #8 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Here's hoping it doesn't take blues music fans as long to find Tony Joe White's new album, Hoodoo (Yep Roc Records), as long as it took record fans to find "Polk Salad Annie". At 70 years old, the songwriter of one of the most beloved blues songs to ever hit the popular charts - "Rainy Night in Georgia" - has released a low-key and stunning guitar driven blues record featuring a low and thumping bass line sure to fondle the beat of your blues hungry heart and shake the beer in your glass.

The blend of instruments - guitars, thumping bass, a touch of harmonica and keyboards - have such an organic and impromptu sound it is no wonder White boasts that much of the record was recorded live to tape on first takes. It sounds like a flawless live performance. White's fluid sliding guitars merges seamlessly with Steve Forrest's bottom-feeding bass and Bryan Owen's steady percussion, to create a simple but atmospheric and seductive blues music.

The autobiographical songs of hungry life in the rural South are heartfelt testimonies from a master of Blues philosophy. "Alligator, Mississippi", with its chugging chainsaw guitar, has all the muscle and drive of an alligator wrestling its dinner. "Gypsy Epilogue" fuses the dying embers of a gypsy campfire with a reverberating slide guitar adorning the sentimental philosophy - "can't eavesdrop on the future, can't dance with the past".

The most striking songs are eyewitness accounts of natural disasters so familiar to the people of the deeply southern U.S. The cyclic familial narrative of "Storm's Comin'" invokes a warm bond as White's patriarchal, controlled voice sings with just a measure of desperation - "Kids get up, get your clothes on, storm's comin'". The catastrophic 2010 Nashville floods are documented in "The Flood", where a higher ground vantage point reveals an unrecognizable Nashville with "guitars floating down the river and drum sets washed up on the road". These storm-themed songs come from a voice that has experienced and a respect for the ravages of nature.

Listening to White is like listening to the elder father at the family supper table, who holds you spellbound with tales of storms, lovers and family bonds. He grips the listener in a warm cocoon of fascination while never abandoning a rich and rowdy blues spirit. Hoodoo is a splendid blues album, maybe the best we'll hear all year.

this article was first published by the author at:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review: 'Roger Waters, The Man Behind The Wall' by Dave Thompson

This biography, by renowned rock 'n roll scribe Dave Thompson, (frequent Rolling Stone magazine writer and author of the Kurt Cobain bio Never Fade Away) says as much about Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, as it does about his flagship rock band. It paints a cheery if psychedelic picture of the burgeoning progressive rock music scene of 1960s England, and examines, with blissful scrutiny, the in-studio and behind-the-scenes history of Pink Floyd's legendary albums and concerts.

The late and tragic Syd Barrett, one-time leader and co-founder of Pink Floyd, is given just enough biographical detail to emerge as a genuine human being and artist, as opposed to the impossible mythological demigod history has made of him.

While encompassing decades of the ascent of rock 'n roll as a true art form,  and name-checking nearly every major musician of the era, the book is still an expose on Roger Waters, the quiet musician and writer who rose through the ranks of Pink Floyd to become its unlikely leader and spokesperson following the exile of Syd Barrett. It traces his subsequent divorce from his band mates, (and his wives) and his confident attempt to be recognized as a solo artist, while the mammoth dinosaur Pink Floyd lay in broken bones around him.

The book is a treasure trove for a Floydian, the musical equivalent of a Trekkie.  While Thompson writes at an arm's length away from his subject, with no one-on-one interviews or correspondence with Waters, his insight into the music of Floyd, and his exhaustive research of the era including interviews with those closest to Waters, makes for a thoroughly engaging and often amusing read. When the famous Pink Floyd prop, a giant inflatable pig for the promotion of the Animals album, escaped from its mooring and floated off into the sky, Thomspson assumes the point of view of an pub patron stepping out the door, looking up to the sky, and seeing a giant pig floating by.

Pink Floyd's opus The Wall, a monumental album that crowned Pink Floyd's tremendous body of work late in their career, and forced The Grammy Awards people to nominate a progressive and unlikely rock music for Album of The Year,  is the theme the book revolves around. It covers the album's transfiguration into a movie version (a colossal dud I thought), it's impact on popular culture (The Berlin Wall came tumbling down), and Waters' seemingly endless live touring of The Wall which has been making the rounds of the globe for the last three years.

But it's the more detailed and intricate nuggets of Pink Floyd history that makes this book one of the finest rock 'n roll bios I have ever read. While Waters is no more "in the flesh" than he ever was after reading this, I have a deeper appreciation for his life and work. Specifically, the Wall-related loss of his father in WWII, before he was born, and the influence it had on his art. And I won't soon forget Thompson's description of a drugged-up, wild-eyed Syd Barrett playing his last gig with Pink Floyd at dawn in an English park.

And now I have an insatiable urge to listen to The Dark Side of The Moon for the millionth time.

this article was first published by the author at:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Review - 'Blackfish'

The orca that killed veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010 before a packed horrified audience was an aggressive individual that had killed twice before and would likely kill again. So says the documentary Blackfish, a movie that examines the danger involved with domesticating orcas for circus-like entertainment at places like SeaWorld.

We all remember the tragic incident in Orlando. Initial reports stated trainer Brancheau was pulled by the whale or fell into the water when the aquatic matinee star, the killer whale Tilikum, dragged her under effectively drowning her. SeaWorld claimed Brancheau's pony-tail style hair was to blame, having gotten caught in the whale's teeth, an explanation echoed by local law enforcement. The whale was simply playing and unintentionally drowned her.

Blackfish disputes that explanation and rightfully so. SeaWorld's passive denunciation of the tragedy, modified several times since, is in bold denial of the facts. Brancheau's autopsy revealed she was attacked, thrashed about, and scalped. Her left arm was torn off. Witnesses say it was eaten by the whale. She suffered a lacerated liver and broken ribs. If not for the outcry of the unfortunate viewing public who witnessed the matinee show at SeaWorld, we may still be believing a whale of a tale.

Tilikum had killed twice before. In 1991 trainer Keltie Byrne was killed at Sealand of The Pacific in British Columbia when she entered the whale pool, and was tossed from mouth to mouth by Tilikum and two other trained whales. The official cause of death was drowning. Witnesses described a horrible death. The negative publicity from the tragedy forced Sealand, which was more a roadside attraction than an amusement park, to close. They sold Tilikum to SeaWorld who intended to use him as a breeding male.

In 1999 27 year-old David P. Dukes sneaked into Tilikum's pool and was found naked and dead the next morning draped to the whale's back. He had wounds and bite marks on his body and his genitals were bitten or pulled off.  Details of this incident are unclear with accusations that SeaWorld must have video surveillance of this attack which they claim they do not. SeaWorld's public spin on this tragedy suggested it looked like the whale had tried to save Dukes from drowning by putting him on its back. Believe!

Tilikum still performs at SeaWorld in Orlando to this day, although he now swims alone. While the documentary attempts to depict him as an aggressive individual who is spawning countless dangerous baby killer whales - a rather alarmist sci-fi notion - one suspects it is the breed itself and not some individuals who are a threat to their trainers. Director Gabriella Cowperthwaite notes there is not a single documented case of a killer whale killing a human in the wild. These tragedies occur only in captivity.

The film conveys the absurdity of capturing and training these magnificent beasts and then joining them in the water as if they are an air blown aquatic toy to be ridden on like a horse. Grainy video from old TV news reports, and colorful vistas from SeaWorld's promotional advertising, that depicts parents playfully placing their child on the head of the orca, are coupled with the very dark edited footage of the tragic events. The most compelling footage is the near death of trainer Ken Peters, who was dragged down by his foot to the bottom of the whale tank, held underwater, brought back to the surface and dragged down again. The entire incident, well known and immortalized on YouTube, lasted nine heart pounding minutes.

The movie is an aggressive and impelling argument against the capturing and compounding of killer whales. SeaWorld is depicted as an uncaring contemptuous multi-million corporation hiding behind a veil of ecological righteousness in their claim of promoting awareness and activism of marine wildlife. As a result of the death of Dawn Brancheau, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made it mandatory that a physical barrier must be placed between the trainers and the killer whales. SeaWorld is appealing that decision.

Blackfish, which is a native-American word for killer whale, made its premier at The Sundance Film Festival and is currently in mass distribution by Magnolia Pictures.

this article was first published by the author at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Music Review: Sly and The Family Stone, "Higher!"

When record executives pressured Sly Stone into producing a hit single in 1968, mainstream audiences were rewarded with a new infusion of pop music - psychedelic soul. This new rock-infused genre of music, bending the beats of the old Motown sound with its reverberating guitar, druggy sound effects, and socially conscious lyrics, would become the blueprint many soul music acts would follow after Sly and The Family Stone's sudden popularity.

Sly and The Family Stone already had one critically acclaimed but low selling album under its belt -  1967's A Whole New Thing, but Epic Records, and particularly legendary company president Clive Davis, knew that composer and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone was capable of much more.  Reluctantly Sly Stone went into the studio with his band of family and friends and did exactly what was asked. He produced a single that would appeal to the mass record-buying public.

Although the band wasn't particularly proud or happy with the recording, "Dance To The Music" rose to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a big global hit record. Strictly designed for public consumption, the record was still a delicious blast of infectious drum beats, blazing trumpets, hot guitar licks, and a bass line so low and deep, it threatened to blow the batteries out of the tiny transistor radios it played on. Horn player Cynthia Robinson's raw and demanding vocal to "Get up and dance to the music!" lent an electrifying radical edge.

There was a collective dropped jaw as Sly and The Family Stone then showed up on American TV and viewers witnessed the first multi-racial, multi-gender popular recording act. They looked as if they had just beamed in from another planet. Sly Stone, wearing psychedelic sunglasses in a shirtless vest with gold chains and a towering Afro haircut, and Rose Stone, sporting a remarkably unnatural platinum blonde wig, were just a few of the fashion and cultural statements Sly and Family revealed as they crashed into American living rooms.

With the release of Higher! a 77-track 4-CD package that chronicles the history of the band, listeners can trace the evolution of black popular music from '60s Motown (The Supremes, The Temptations) to the emergence of funk (Parliament/Funkadelic), which opened the door to a host of expressionist styles of music including Afro-punk. Sly and Family's hit records ushered James Brown's "funk" into the popular record charts.

The CDs offer 17 previously unreleased tracks, two of which - live versions of "Stand!" and "You Can Make It If You Try" - unfortunately sacrifice the original studio versions. Also missing is the deep funk meditation of "Africa Talks To You" from There's A Riot Going On, an essential track in my opinion. This major fan would have loved to see the Sly Stone-produced Little Sister records included here, but I suppose record executives would remind us you can't have everything in one package. There is still a bounty of music here including several early Sly Stone solo recordings.

The hits are wonderful to hear again -  "Hot Fun In The Summertime", "Everyday People", "Family Affair" "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" - all possess a timeless immediacy,  sounding as fresh as the day they were released. The early less commercial recordings reveals a gritty, urban sound that certainly inspired Marvin Gaye to evolve from a crooner to a visionary.

Higher! comes with a 104 page booklet with rare photos and other memorabilia. is offering an exclusive 8 LP - 1 CD version of the release.

this article was first published by me at

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review: Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine"

Woody Allen's new film, Blue Jasmine is a disturbing, engaging, and finally dispassionate study of a woman buckling under the weight of social pressures. Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis (Cate Blanchett), the once privileged social matron reduced to a poorhouse state after her corrupt Wall Street executive husband (Alec Baldwin) is imprisoned, talks to herself.

When she indulges in her lonely diatribe, chatting with unseen friends at a party, on the street, or alone in a room, director Allen studies her with such cinematic scrutiny, we are forced to watch what we would all chose to ignore - the unfortunate soul talking to themselves. The public reaction to a person carrying on a conversation with themselves is treated here as if it's a disease one might catch. Strangers vacate her space and gawk as if viewing a leper.

Otherwise, for a pill popping, martini slugging woman whose adulterous husband's downfall forces her from the social elite to the dregs of society - from a posh New York City penthouse suite to a cramped low-rent San Francisco apartment - Jasmine is coping. She heads west and as if stepping off a trolley car named Desire, moves in with her sweet lower class sister who has a Stanley Kowalski-like boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). With vague unrealistic hopes of a professional career, she enrolls in a night class to learn how to use a computer and accepts a lowly position as a dentist's receptionist.

She walks a tightrope over this Tennessee Williams scenario while spilling little doses of sanity, mostly revealed in her lonely conversations. Her bubbles burst, her half-baked dreams dissipate, and like Streetcar's Blanche Du Bois, her plans for a future renewed are terrorized by her complete inability to adjust to a social order that is independent of a class system. Without luxury to define her, she is a shell of a human being overwhelmed by the substance abuse that threatens to consume her. Her luxurious presence draped in top of the line fashion wear in her sister's modest apartment seems forever on the verge of departure, as if she is only waiting on a cab to whisk her away to a higher income bracket.

Blue Jasmine is a completely watchable, cringe-inducing blackest of comedies with a powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett who consumes every scene as if in a battle for dominance over the mundane images that threaten her. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent including shock comic Andrew Dice Clay as Jasmine's scorned ex-brother-in-law, and Sally Hawkins as her naïve Stella-like sister. Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography has a small, postcard appeal.

But the film is lacking a groundwork of history that justifies Jasmine's mental unraveling. Is it her highly publicized social downfall that causes her to talk to herself (her only genuine social taboo), or has she always been flirting with schizophrenia? It's a question never answered, as if she is as anonymous as the stranger you see talking to themselves on the street.

In the end I think Woody Allen is doing little else here than handing over the 21st Century Blanche Du Bois on a silver platter and asking us to marvel at the delicacy and fragility of the human mind. His delving into Jasmine's naked mentality borders on luridness as his imposing camera probes deep into the act of talking to one's self, hoping to reveal anything left of sanity. It's a cold little film with a defiant warm glow that blurs the line between comedy and tragedy.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013


Frog Watch USA is a national conservation effort to determine the populations of the various species of frogs by monitoring their audible presence in given areas. The citizen science project - a joint effort of scientists and amateurs - began in 1998 in response to the alarming declining numbers of frog species on a global scale. Data submitted by volunteers is put into a national data bank which  collectively should offer an accurate account of frog species (including the American Toad) populations in the U.S.

This year I signed up to be a participant in FrogWatch at Reinstein Woods, a 292-acre wildlife sanctuary in Depew, NY, known for its active and plentiful populations of beaver and deer. On a wintry March night I attended the prerequisite frog "class" at the lodge at the sanctuary where I became an official Frog Watch steward. I had to learn the nine species of frogs residing in Western New York State and familiarize myself with their various calls and songs. I felt like a kid with a badge when they handed me my ID tags that would allow me into the sanctuary after hours (sunset to dawn).

Into the woods, I had to hear the frogs, not necessarily see them. My first spring night of frog watching taught me one important lesson: Don't forget the insect repellent! I was carved up for dinner by mosquitoes. The FrogWatch program equipped me with a backpack containing a thermometer, map, data sheets, flashlight, headlamp, clipboard, pen/pencil, and tape recorder (I felt like a fully prepared Ghostbuster) - but no insect repellent.

Remaining perfectly still and silent while waiting for the sound of frogs allowed me to observe other wildlife. Aside from the young couple I observed making love in yonder brush, the first wildlife I saw was a remarkably tame deer. She slowly stepped right up to me as if I had been a small tree she was going to nibble on. Probably the result of well-intentioned people feeding her.

Some nights when the moon was full, the woods became a midsummer night's firefly lit fantasy world of shadows and sounds, alive with the activity of the creatures who lived there.  At one frog watching post, bats swooped so low and close to me I was certain I would soon be Tippi Hendren running down the sanctuary path pulling bats out of my hair. At first I was amused at how close they would come to my head, but when I could actually hear the swish of their wings, (and imagine their beady little eyes), the whole rabies/Dracula vibe overwhelmed me.

Get a hold of yourself, I countered my ridiculous fear. What kind of a frog-watcher are you?

The beavers would smack their tails against the pond, signaling danger to other beavers, whenever I would come close to the water's edge. It's an aggressive and alarming sound, but not as aggressive and alarming as the land-loving beaver who stood in my path as if refusing to allow me to pass. Did I imagine that he was hissing at me? Do beavers hiss? I had just read on the internet how a beaver killed a guy in Russia who was photographing it. American beavers don't kill, do they? I ain't afraid of no beaver!

But then I was certain he hissed again, and I chose another path.

I am in danger of becoming a woods coward.

But that's part of the allure of the woods. That shot of adrenaline from something mysterious, something undefined lurking around the next bend. I'm not sure I would enjoy the woods as much without that sense of the unknown.  And there is no sense in being foolhardy when a maniacal rabies-infected hissing beaver is telling you to go another way.

But the strangest encounter I had was with man himself. Occasionally I would come across a fellow frog watcher and we would flash our flashlights at one another to identify ourselves as frog watchers. On one fog-shrouded night, after a flashlight communique, I met up with a frog watcher who told me to beware of a strange man lurking in the woods. She said she had just talked with him, that he had no authorization to be in the woods, and that he appeared irrational, odd, and mysterious. She said he was balancing on a log and throwing stones into the pond. After telling me this, she disappeared into the woods like a ghost. It was like a scene out of Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog.

So now I'm looking out for low-flying bats, rabid beavers, and homicidal maniacs.

While I heard every species of frogs residing in Western New York State at one time or another, the actual number of species I heard during the program's designated clocked and recorded 3-minutes of time was smaller. I recorded the "jug 'o rum" call of the Bullfrog, the banjo string "gunk" of the Green Frog, the trill of The American Toad, the "snore" of the Pickerel Frog, the "peep" of the Spring Peeper, and the tinny trill of the Western Chorus Frog.

But, as important, I got in touch with nature. Ah, wilderness! Aside from the spooky thrill of the woods, there were peaceful and contemplative moments. During one sunset I watched a Great Blue Heron circle the sanctuary like a paper airplane, settle down into a crop of brush, and then slowly escape into the canopy to its hidden nest. One night a coyote, looking very much its legend of "ghost dog", trotted off ahead of me on the path under a moonlit sky as if guiding my way.

Next year I'm all up for the bat-watching program. They say confronting your fears makes you stronger. Expect for rabid bats and angry beavers. Rabid bats and angry beavers will kill you.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Swans at The Tralf Music Hall - Buffalo, NY 7/26/2013

Saw "Swans" at The Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo on Friday night. It was the best concert I have seen this year. It was one of those shows where I am so completely absorbed in the music, so engaged in the rhythm of the band, so greedily lapping up my Blue drafts thirst quenchers, - and now that it's over, I am clueless to explain why it was such a great show. It just was.

It doesn't help that while I am a huge Swans fan, and I am cozy with the Swans songbook, I couldn't name by title one song they played. That surprised me. All the more in that I received a review copy of the album that proceeded this global tour - We Rose From Our Bed With The Sun In Our Head.

I jumped into the superb set of elongated anti-climatic guitar drone and secular primal philosophy and emerged completely invigorated, awash with a musical massage that felt like I had just been playfully assaulted by Godzilla. Given the loudness of the show, I also couldn't hear for several hours.

Michael Gira and his 5-man band were a sound prism of noise expertise. The drone, the effects, the noise were all calculated into the rhythm of the music as if they were traditional instruments. It was a wonderful sound that I heard as primal survival in a modern world.
                                   Photo courtesy of soundkick, although I never actually asked

When solo opening act Pharmakon stepped onto the stage, started fiddling with a laptop and proceeded to scream strange sounds into the microphone, I muttered into my beer, "What the hell is this?". I thought she was a stage hand having a nervous breakdown. She then stepped down into the crowd, lopped around, leaning on some, passively confronting some, her microphone chord threatening to lasso the crowd up by their feet, all while screaming (and I mean SCREAMIN'!) a weird indecipherable language into the microphone, as drone effects pulsated from her soundboard. It was brilliantly effective.

Swans leader Michael Gira hit the fan table after the show so I bought a cool Swans poster for him to sign. I always hate having a few moments to convey to an artist how their music has effected me, shaped my life, how brilliant, artistic, blah, blah blah, ... their music is. It always feels so pretentious. I said "blah, blah, blah", he stiffly but amiably responded with an Elvis impersonation - "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees" by David More and John White

If you're contemplating trees and you want to know the identification of a certain species, you can pull out a pocket field guide for trees to aid you. It should be as simple as that.

But if you're tree-obsessed and the mere identification of a species doesn't quell your curiosity - when an elm tree isn't just an elm tree but a distant European hybrid cousin of an elm tree - then The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees (Second Edition, Princeton University Press, 2013) should satisfy the deeply rooted dendrologist within you.
This mammoth book (832 pages) identifies nearly 2,000 species and cultivars (cultivated through selection for desirable characteristics) found in Europe and North America. It offers an extensive history of the collecting and dispensing of tree seedlings.

Readers will discover Johnny Appleseed is not the only name in tree seed lore. Seventeenth-century European explorers, as colorful and animated as the celebrated Appleseed, adorned Western Europe with a host of new species discovered in Asia, which eventually found their way to American shores.

David More (illustrator) and John White (writer) have produced a labor of love and their fascination for trees keeps the stiff scientific data from absorbing the pleasure of reading about these ancient mystical plants. Leisurely yet encyclopedic, the volume serves as a studied document of tree history beginning with ancient glaciers determining tree distribution in northern Europe and America. It also offers practical advice and knowledge for the average gardener and tree enthusiast.

David More spent more than a decade painting illustrations from real specimens. The result is a colorful array of nature's mightiest plants. A touch of whimsy graces the purely scientific illustrations as the artist includes attributes of a species, for instance a dog sitting lazily under the shade of a tree that offers protection from the sun.

While the book only studies trees of the northern temperate zone, it includes an illustrated chapter on southern tropical trees, an area of the globe greatly untapped in the identification, transfer, and planting of tree species. It seems a likely hint at the volume to come from these tree-worshipping authors.

this article was first published by me at

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: The World's Rarest Birds, by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swish, and Robert Still

In our ever photographic world, where satellite technology can reproduce an image from anywhere on the planet, and cell phone cameras are as plentiful as pocket change, it is hard to imagine any mundane image not captured by the lens of a camera. In the huge and exhaustive new book, The World's Rarest Birds by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash and Robert Still (Princeton University Press 2013), we're reminded that advanced photographic technology can do wonders, but it can not lift the canopy off a jungle forest and record the creatures living there. They must be sought after the old fashioned way - beating a path on foot with a good camera.

It is noted here that 75 of the 590 species of the world's birds that are either endangered, critically endangered, or living only in captivity, have never been photographed. The existence of these 75 species is known only through eyewitness accounts and illustrations. Yet the likelihood of their existence, in remote, difficult to access areas of the planet is promising. Reports of extinct species of birds being seen keep bird conservationists unwilling to classify a bird as extinct until all possible avenues of discovery are exhausted.

                                                          Orange-bellied Parrott

The species of birds that have never been photographed, but are presumed extant are meticulously illustrated here by renowned wildlife artist Tomasz Cotta. His work is so well defined it appears photographic. The actual photographs of the 515 species known to be endangered are stunning, partly the result of a prestigious international photo competition organized by BirdLife International for the publication of this book. The authors have canvassed the four corners of the world to obtain images of the most elusive, sometimes the most fabled birds known to exist. Brilliant tropical colors splash across the pages and dizzying aerial flights add excitement to what could have been a big and beautiful (but unread) coffee table picture book.

                                                            Pileated Woodpecker

But the urgency of the narrative, and the alarming statistical data makes The World's Rarest Birds a compelling read as well as a gorgeous book. As if in a race against time, the authors address the great efforts underway, and the obstacles against - loss of habitat, poaching, hostile or indifferent political structure - insuring the survival of endangered bird species. A great sadness is felt reading through the list of bird species confirmed to be extinct, akin to reading through a list of human fatalities.

The book is divided into global geographic areas documenting the species of birds of that region threatened with extinction. Each species is given a detailed description regarding its threatened status, its estimated population, and a map showing its likely occurrence. It is like a colossal version of the classic Peterson's Field Guide To The Birds, but with the emphasis not on the discovery, but the survival of bird species. With its comprehensive appendixes and thorough index, and some of the most breathtaking pictures of birds ever recorded, this volume is an essential and timely study of conservationism and natural history.

                                                                  El Oro Parakeets

this article was first published by the author at:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Peter Frampton, Live In Detroit - Party Like It's 1977!

  If you can stand another round of Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like We Do", complete with talk box guitar - and as offered here with a superlative keyboard solo - and if "Show Me The Way" and "Baby I Love Your Way" are nostalgic musical milestones in your life, then this 1999 concert video, Frampton - Live In Detroit - is a persistent reminder that classic rock will never die. Commercial radio still parties like it's 1977, and the chances of turning on the radio right now and hearing any of Frampton's big '70s hit singles are very, very good.

It's unfortunate that only a slice of Frampton's fan base is aware of his total body of music as opposed to his hit singles. This concert reminds me of just how good some of his lesser known songs are. "Lines On My Face" from 1973's Frampton's Camel, and turned into a classic live track on 1977's Frampton Comes Alive! is still a heart stinging testament of youth leaving a reckless dusty trail behind in the wake of emerging adulthood. Here, as on Comes Alive! the song bleeds with emotion as Frampton's fiery guitar gently, ferociously weeps.

"You Had To Be There", a new song, also recalls the nostalgic past. It's an adrenalin charged rocker that recalls a time when rock and roll was high on peace and love. It's bittersweet lyrics lament a "We Are the Champions" vibe for the aging and wizened hipsters among us.

The weight of the show remains however, Frampton Comes Alive! territory, that seminal 1977 album that taught record label executives that a slickly produced live album by a cult status guitarist could sell upwards of six million copies. "Show Me The Way" is still a sweet song with a heart-achiness that has matured into a longing whimsy. "Baby I Love Your Way", with audience sing-a-long, sounds as heart warming and romantic as thumbing through your old high school yearbook. It sounds almost a bit Nashville countrified with Frampton's gentle strumming of his acoustic guitar complimenting Bob Mayo's sparkling keyboards.

The Frampton standard, "Do You Feel Like We Do" is still an extravagance, but with the added pleasure of Bob Mayo's solo interlude, which gives the song considerable polish and backbone. "Can't Take That Away", again a nostalgic nod to surviving rock 'n roll, from 1993's Frampton boasts Frampton's considerable blues guitar talent.

His voice is strong and rich and his playing impeccable. It's reassuring to see a rock 'n roll graduate like Frampton not succumbing to the lifestyle of booze and drugs. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, and with just a bit of grandstanding (hand cupped to ear - "How ya feeling tonight?") he rouses the crowd like a circus master.

Bonus features include a Frampton interview in which much discussion concerns his mastering of the talk box. The concert is shot in High Definition TV format with 5.1 surround sound.

this article was first published by me at

Monday, April 8, 2013

SHUFFLE - 10 Random iPod Songs - The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell

 Here are the next ten songs to show up randomly on my iPod. I see it as a sort of astrological forecast of doom or fortune. I love the opportunity to discuss my favorite music.


1. Joni Mitchell, Just Like This Train

With assistance from Larry Carlton's steely slide guitar, this song off Joni Mitchell's acclaimed 1974 album Court and Spark, is a dreamy slice of blue skies and upbeat horizons, with Mitchell identifying as a train "rolling into town with the brakes complaining". It's a light and jazzy travelogue of sound that will find you gazing out the window of a rolling Amtrak while brainstorming with Joni about love, life and the whole circle game. Playful woodwinds and reeds make it a pleasant and buoyant ride, with just a few lovelorn bumps along the way. Joni Mitchell tells a story of how she played the newly completed Court and Spark album for record executives and one Bob Dylan, who just happened to be in the room. Dylan promptly fell asleep.

2. Son Volt, Windfall

A perfect follow-up to the travel-bound "Just Like This Train". Jay Farrar of Son Volt is driving country roads, crossing time zones, and searching the A.M. radio dial for a station "somewhere in  Louisiana that sounds like 1963 but for now sounds like heaven".  A yawning flowerbed of country steel guitar guides him along in this perfectly modest alt-country classic from Son Volt's first album, Trace (1995). Son Volt treated fans to an unexpected and joyous encore of "Windfall" when they played Buffalo, New York's Thursday at The Square some years ago.

3, The Beatles, Ticket to Ride

Instantly recognizable from its opening guitar chords, "Ticket To Ride" is the first Beatles' single to clock in past the three minute mark. John Lennon's nasal rich vocals, Ringo Starr's encompassing off beat percussion, and Paul McCartney's wildly fluid guitar lend a driven slower tempo to this rock 'n roll classic. It was a number one hit single in 1965 off the soundtrack album Help!. The song is a simple story of a girl leaving a guy with a "ticket to ride". But John Lennon complicated that theory when he explained a "ticket to ride" was a clean bill of health offered to The Beatles from Hamburg, Germany prostitutes, when they played there early in their careers. As usual, Lennon and McCartney argued over the songwriting of the record, with Lennon insisting he wrote it solo and McCartney claiming they co-wrote it. ---- SPOOKY MUSIC PHENOMENA: I've never heard it but it is  believed an unexplained orchestral version of "Ticket To Ride" is heard at the very end of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. At first thought to be an error in the re-mastered version of Dark Side of The Moon (Pink Floyd recorded at The Beatles' Abbey Road Studios), the orchestral version is said to be clearly audible on high quality vinyl pressings of Dark Side recorded before modern re-mastering technology.

4. The Beatles, Glass Onion

Long before there was an Internet where fans could buzz about their favorite bands, circa 1968, The Beatles' global fan community collectively determined, with clues garnered from Beatles' albums, that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a look-a-like. This magnificent urban legend, which spawned a flurry of wild media speculation, (the least of which is a 1970 Batman comic book reference) was vehemently denied by The Beatles and called "a load of rubbish" by the Apple Records front office. But determined fans would allow no denial. Paul McCartney was dead and replaced by the winner of a British Paul McCartney look-a-like contest. It said so in a Beatles' track played backwards. While most of the mysterious clues were found in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,  in "Glass Onion", off  The Beatles (The White Album), John Lennon lends credibility to the rumor and fuel to the fire with his seriously tainted and taunting lyrics - "Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul" - causing fans to surmise the walrus is a symbol of death and Paul McCartney was certainly pushing up daisies. For all its gimmicky support of  the Paul McCartney death legend, "Glass Onion" is an intriguing psychological oddity that indeed taunts listeners to seek truth. It's pulsating beat and psychedelic synth keyboard is pleasantly disturbing ear candy. As a post-Beatles adolescent youth, I remember a yearly Halloween radio show on local station WKBW-AM in Buffalo, NY that would investigate the alleged cover-up of Paul McCartney's death. The spooky program would segregate sounds from Beatles' albums that supposedly gave clues to McCartney's demise. The words "I buried Paul" could be clearly heard spoken by a faint disembodied voice at the end of "Strawberry Fields". Songs played backwards seemed to come from a netherworld of horror. For this impressionable youth,, it was a scary and mind-blowing program, and the cause of one classic and award winning nightmare where I was being chased through the woods by the dead Paul McCartney and the dead John F. Kennedy.

5. Pink Floyd, Vera

My gripe with iPod - I can't group a collective, subsequent group of songs from an album as a single piece of music. For instance, I can't hear The Beatles' final suite of music at the end of Abbey Road as a single song in a mix. The iPod reads the songs as three separate album tracks - "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End" and divides them accordingly. It's the same with Pink Floyd's The Wall album, in which several tracks merge to create a single unit of music. So, this entry in my 10 iPod songs is for the beautiful pieces of music that takes up most of Side 3 of Pink Floyd's magnum opus, beginning with the lyrics "Is there anybody out there?", and ending with the same line repeated three songs later at the end of "Bring The Boys Back Home". "Is There Anybody Out There", is a haunting sci-fi embrace of negativism with a ridiculously effective noir TV soundtrack playing underneath a voice calling out to the empty beyond. Northern Lights seem to gather in shrieked echoed reply. The lonely acoustic guitar that follows seems resigned to the vast emptiness and paints the moon draped over an abandoned cemetery. As the acoustic piece ends, voices rise across courtyards in an urban afternoon hell, and "Nobody Home", a lament of a life unrealized, falls quietly into place. Sound bites from the British film "Battle For Britain", along with a thin industrial layer of noise lays a mundane foundation to Vera, a song which simply, with great anguish, questions the whereabouts of a woman named Vera (lyricist Roger Waters is referencing Vera Lynn, a popular WWII British vocalist). An operatic chorus suddenly chimes in with a spirited but heartless plea for the return of soldiers in "Bring The Boys Back Home". The suite ends, where it began but now with clashing voices where emptiness once reigned, with the line, "Is there anybody out there?". It's a moving deeply alienated suite of music.

6. Brak, I Like Hubcaps

Quickly then - Brak was a super-villain character in the 1966 CBS Hanna-Barbara cartoon series Space Ghost. When Space Ghost was resurrected to become the unlikely talk show host of a Cartoon Network live action-animation series in the 1990s - Space Ghost Coast to Coast - Brak reappeared as a regular and then went on to star in his own Cartoon Network spin-off series - The Brak Show. Somewhere along the way Brak's character changed from a super-villain with few choice vocabulary ("All hail Brak!") to a childlike simpleton country hick, very similar to the character Ernest T. Bass in the old Andy Griffith Show. The bizarre change of persona in Brak was explained as being the result of Space Ghost tossing him into a cosmic dust cloud. Brak, the once super-villain, now moronic idiot, released a music CD - Brak Presents The Brak Album Starring Brak. This song is from that album. Calling Dr. Demento!

7. The Beatles, Honey Pie

Only the Beatles could take an old-style British dance hall song, and make it sound like something more than a novelty record. Honey Pie is a luscious lick of boozy early 20th Century British popular music, with a strumming ukulele, a horn ensemble, and a delightful guitar solo, playing in a smoky club where drinks are tipped and lovers hold each other up on the dance floor. Paul McCartney's raspy spoken words - "I like it like that -" - is about the most seductive sound in the entire Beatles canon. From The Beatles (The White Album).

8. The Beatles, Everybody Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey

The exuberant joy of escaping all matters of stress and strife, of being freed from a tremendous burden, of being aggressively independent, is the expression found in The Beatles' Everybody Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey. A ringing fire bell, group hand claps, piercing guitar, and John Lennon's hyper-excited vocals gives the song an immediate urgency that sounds like the adrenalin rush of a lifetime. From The Beatles (The White Album).

9. Drive-By Truckers, The Three Great Alabama Icons

The three great Alabama icons are Lynard Skynard's Ronnie Van Zandt, Governor George Wallace, and University of Alabama legendary football coach Bear Bryant. Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood's spoken narrative attempts to explain away the duality of the south, the attempts to reconcile years of racist segregation. It's a tribute from a voice, so genuinely embracing his Alabama roots, that surges into a dramatic and most satisfying closure. From one of the most under-sung albums of the last 20 years, Southern Rock Opera.

10. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper Reprise

The Beatles' brilliant choice to repeat the main theme on this seminal album, adds a timeless, circle-like quality that has so grandly stood the test of time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I never thought I'd find going through the laundry bag of someones personal possessions a fun project. But with the popularity of TV's "Storage Wars", apparently a dreamer can believe there is gold in the bags and boxes of the poor folk who can't afford payment on their storage locker rental space.

"Storage Wars", an A&E television series, follows a group of second-hand merchandisers as they frequent storage unit auctions in California. The show's drama is dependent on the competitive bidding among them, and the valuable merchandise they may or may not find in the storage units they win.

The poor saps who lose their personal belongings when payment is not made on a rented storage space, abandon their possessions to the auction bidders who gather like vultures ransacking the pockets of corpses.

It's a gamble for the bidders who have only a few moments to canvass the items in storage and determine their worth. They can not rummage through the stored items, they can not even enter the storage units, but instead are filed by, like a guided museum tour, or a funeral line viewing of the deceased, to get a quick overview of the items up for auction. The entirety of the storage unit is then sold to the highest bidder.

The show is likely contrived, as you could purchase hundreds of abandoned rental units and never uncover the valuable merchandise that is discovered on each episode of the series. It's reality television, meaning - it's not real.

So anyway, the point of this blog entry, which I'm realizing should never leave the draft stage, is to mention I went to a local storage unit auction. I hooked up with my brother-in-law, also a fan of the show, and with dreams of signed Paul Revere candlesticks at the bottom of an old gym bag, we got up early and went to the auction.

But we only stood there in awe of the mega-dollars that were being thrown about. We were obviously "Storage Wars" fan boys among the seasoned baseball-capped bidders who flocked to this city auction. The most remarkable thing was how much the local storage auction resembled the TV show.

I couldn't get that catchy, blues driven theme music to "Storage Wars" out of my head. I wanted to swagger down a storage unit hallway and have "The Neophyte" written across the screen.

We couldn't get a bid in, but we had fun. It was all my effort not to raise the $5 winning bid for  a pathetic unit that contained a pile of old sneakers, a broken Fisher-Price toy, what looked like plastic furniture, and a mysterious cardboard box that certainly hid a valuable treasure.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Devendra Banhart Goes Island Hopping On His New Disc

I've warmed up to Devendra Barnhart's new album, Mala (Nonesuch Records). The folkie freak, who hates when he's referred to as anything resembling a hippie, cruises lazy Tiki bar rhythms and tequila sunrise musings on his latest disc. Soft marimbas and strumming acoustics lap against the shore of his island life fantasy, which isn't so far removed from Jimmy Buffett gone full-blown psychedelic.

It's cool, easy music, like Bobby Bloom's "Montego Bay", but without the snappy, whistling tropical edge that song delivers. Mala forces the listener to sip, slowly and methodically, like you would a tall zombie cocktail on an overpriced grass hut rental vacation, its curious tone of surf-side intimacy. One may want more from a new Devendra Banhart album, and the temptation is there to suck the alcohol out of every mouthful.

But it comes in doses. And like the effects of that killer cocktail, Mala creeps up on the listener unexpectedly with thoughtful, albeit tipsy drunken psychological adventures in sexland. Under a seaside moon, Banhart makes longing eye-to-eye contact with the natives in the cocktail drenched "Mi Negrita", that sounds remarkably like Jonathan Richman's excursions into Spanish eyes territory on his Her Mystery Not Of High Heels And Eye Shadow album.

"Your Fine Petting Duck" (smirk if you will) is an orgasmic night of lovemaking with an island girl call-and-response vocal that is as laid-back and rum influenced as a Kid Coconut record. It lifts like a rising wave (or a very happy petting duck) into a pulsating tropical electronica vibe.

The instrumental tribute to the celebrated and departed skateboarder Keenan Milton, "The Ballad of Keenan Milton", seems an homage to The Clash's southern hemisphere and their brilliant Sandanista! album. Its soft and sad plucking of an acoustic guitar above the barely audible sound of a siren wailing in the foggy distance is as entrancing as Sandanista's quietest and most powerful moments.

Elsewhere, Banhart's last night on Earth is more pop oriented than his freak folk image would suggest. His signature weird vocal warble, like gargling with stones, is heard only once on Mala, on "Won't You Come Over". It's a catchy melody with a Caribbean easy beat that vaguely recalls Jimmie Davis' blues-country classic "Come On Over To My House".

So I'm a bit hooked to Mala. It has all the strangeness of an exotic fruit and all the familiarity of a great pop songbook. The more I listen to it, the more I am aware of its several influences. Did I mention Elliott Smith? Possibly Mala is Banhart's attempt to bury his freaky folk dude persona once and for all, and celebrate other musical influences besides Donovan Leitch.

He has only himself to blame for the freaky dude label, which he has publicly detested. One story finds him showing up at a Halloween party wearing nothing but a skirt. He claims he didn't know it was a Halloween party.

this article was first published by the author at

Monday, February 25, 2013

Music Review: Unwound - "Live Leaves"

Unwound (1991-2002) were a Washington state post-hardcore band that flew under the radar throughout the 1990s, showering their small but committed fan base with a spattering of albums and singles, and boasting a workhorse ethic while constantly touring the U.S. and Europe. Noise-art rock with an atonal ear for spacey guitar drones, Unwound's music also possessed the verbal melodic catch that made it ripe for college alternative radio. At least one song from the Unwound canon, "Look A Ghost", from their 2001 swan song album Leaves Turn Inside You, should have been a huge hit single.

Released in late 2012, their Live Leaves album documents U.S. shows from the band's final 2001 tour. In a press release, frontman Justin Trosper admits to cringing while listening to some of the recordings of the tour, the result of working without an active soundboard. While there is nothing cringe-worthy in these stellar live performances, the softer musical passages of spacey guitar drone, intent on lulling the listener to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, are in competition with the bar-like conversation and chatter coming from the venues.

Listening to the album is like being there. The sound is the quality of an A-plus bootleg recording, with crowd sounds and beer glasses clinking, all rolled into the mix indiscriminately. One happy fan shouts enthusiasm while standing far too close to the microphone. His grunts of appreciation reach the decibel level of the loudest guitar. Patron conversation is distinct enough to be understood. It makes for a cozy but loud, atmospheric live listening experience. Indulging in the sound, the listener can become entranced with the mesmerizing imagery of a thick slab of drone and effects, and then feel the need to mosey over to the bar to tip another beer.

"Look A Ghost" sounds as hot and exciting as an early Rolling Stones record when experienced live. It's lazy, adrift studio version is electrified with the punk spirited antagonism of David Scott Stone's stabbing guitar and Trosper's snotty faux British accent. Percussionist Sara Lund does an inspired set of choppy rolls and discordant beats in the 10-minute "Terminus", a post-punk prog merging with pulsating barbed wire guitar work. The 14-minute set closer "Below The Salt" is a grand opus of drone, buoyed by wavering guitar chords that drift into the abyss like a Spanish lullaby. Bassist Vern Rumsey anchors the ominous soundscape with a commanding lead of sure-footed doom.

It wasn't so many years ago I googled Unwound, after discovering them on vinyl, and found the totality of information to be one Wikpedia entry which stated simply, "Unwound is a post-punk band from Washington state". These days, now that their song is sung, information on them is all over the internet. Live Leaves gives you the opportunity to hear live recordings of the best band nobody ever mentioned in the '90s.

this review was first published by the author at:

Friday, February 1, 2013


Here's my old school playlist. It's late, it's early, it depends how you look at it. When these five songs are played in conjunction, dark spectral beings are known to rise and make shadow puppet on the wall. G'night - but first let me tell you about a Commander Cody song I can't get out of my head ...

Steely Dan – My Old School
George Baker – Little Green Bag
Bob Dylan – Mozambique
Roger Waters – 5:01AM (The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking HIKING Part 10)
Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I am a sucker for a moderately priced piece of worthless junk. I am a goldmine dreaming junkie for junk.  I am a bottom-feeding American Picker. I want to be rich. Here are some of my most recent "finds" as I trolled the winter flea markets, estate sales, and thrift stores this weekend.

This beautiful die-cast metal Marilyn Monroe 1955 Cadillac Eldorado was made by Solido, a renowned French maker of model cars. It's in pristine condition, with opening doors, red Marilyn Monroe decals on the hood and doors, and a Cadillac license plate. It is completely unblemished. It's got a red tag serial number on the bottom. Was there a crazed look in my eyes when I asked the thrift store clerk, "Are you sure you don't have the original box?". The car measures 10" from fender to fender. It glared at me from a showcase and I took it home for ten bucks. I know, I know, you envy me.
At another thrift store I bought this cool looking souvenir from Bolgona, Italy for a couple of bucks. The girl at the register asked if I planned on putting it at the bottom of my aquarium. "Honey", I said, "this is not a guppy toy". It stands 8" tall and is surprisingly heavy. It is sandy to the touch, possibly a ceramic. It is signed by two artists - "Cerrimi", and "Fasuloa", who are both greatly unknown in the vast universe of the internet. It is an intricately hand carved replica of The Leaning Towers of Bologna, not Pisa!  The also-rans of leaning towers. The name "Bologna" is prominently displayed.
The pic doesn't do it justice. Its intricate detail of lines and design is impressive, full of contours, ridges and curves.
How can I pass on (7) 9 0z. "On The Rocks" Plasticware glasses with the Official Symbols of the 1984 Olympic Games and a patriotic parrot carrying the Olympic Torch, for 49 cents? Forty-frickin' nine cents? It's a no-brainer! Even though 2 of the 9 original glasses are gone. And even though the box they originally came in is now dilapidated. And even though they feel as if they would fall apart if you dropped an ice cube in them. It's my first ever Olympic collectible! Picture me on "American Pickers" - "I bought the Officially Licensed Olympic plastic glasses for forty-nine cents. I think I can get one hundred dollars for them.".
                                                                                                           - .49 + 100.00  =  $99.51
Exactly what is an Electronic Snapkit? I had no idea but for $1.98, I was willing to find out. It was made by Radio Shack (2005) and according to the box, I can "build one hundred exciting projects", and "have fun learning all about electronics!". The kit is complete and looks as though it was never used. It's got the original instruction manual and a block layout sheet. Fun? You bet! Can't wait to get started even though Talking Heads' Burning Down The House is suddenly rolling through my mind.
Bought this vintage astrological print for 3 bucks by artist Margot Johnson, 1968. It's under glass in a  black bamboo-like wooden frame with the original paper lining on the back and a wire for hanging. It measures 17" x 8 1/2", and it's a cool collectible from the psychedelic era. I researched the print and Johnson did an entire series of these astrological signs in the late 1960s, and they are currently scarce and desirable. I'm waiting for a call back from Christie's ... not!

I bought not one but two Buffalo Bisons notebooks for fifty cents each. I need them to store all the worthless baseball cards I've collected over the years. They're a 2003 Sorrento Stringsters Cheese promotion. I'm perserving Buffalo history! They look brand new.
An open-neck AC/DC black medium T-shirt. Three bucks. It's hanging in my closet next to my Jefferson Starship T-shirt which I will also never wear.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chasing "The Paper Chase"

There are a number of film/TV titles which have never been released on video that I periodically search for. Some may have had an obscure VHS release that is hard to find or ridiculously expensive in its rarity, and others seem to have never seen the light of day of any home video release.

The early 1930 "talkie" film The Royal Family of Broadway based on the George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber play The Royal Family, is a film I've always wanted to see. It has been on my radar for several years and I finally found it posted on Youtube in multiple parts. It stars Frederick March and an actress unknown to me, Ina Claire, in parodied portrayals of the famous Barrymore acting clan (Ethel and John) of the early 20th Century, of which Drew Barrymore is descended. The quality of the video was poor but the film itself was very good.

The David Lynch television comedy series from 1992, On The Air, an ABC show in which only 3 of the 7 filmed episodes were broadcast, is another title which is unavailable. The word was that it was simply too bizarre for network television. I missed the 3 televised episodes during its original run and I have been putting out online searches for it for a number of years. David Lynch has been known to sell videos of the series directly from his own website, but only occasionally. I have found the first few episodes on Youtube. It is a whacked-out show about a fictitious TV network in the 1950s putting on a variety television program.

Occasionally I'll search for titles that have been unavailable, and on a recent hunt, I was delighted to find that the television program, The Paper Chase has finally been released by Shout! Factory on DVD. So far only the first two seasons have been released.

It was a favorite program of mine on CBS during the 1978-79 TV season. It was a ratings disaster. Scheduled opposite the then most popular programs on television - Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley - The Paper Chase lasted one whole season dead last in the Nielson ratings. Legendary CBS founder and president William S. Paley, who built CBS up from a small radio network into the empiric television network it became, was fond of the show, and purportedly saw comparisons with the series' relationships between a renowned law professor and his students, and Paley's kinship with his own young television executives. It stubbornly remained in its doomed time slot for the entire season and was then cancelled.

PBS - Public Broadcasting System, in what was an unprecedented move for public television, re-broadcast the repeats of the series, marking possibly the only time an American network program was repeated nationally on PBS. There was talk of new episodes being produced by PBS, but it wasn't until four years after its cancellation by CBS, that fledgling pay-TV cable network Showtime renewed the series for three more seasons.

It is only the first season that I have been craving to see again. Strangely, the subsequent seasons on Showtime, resembled the bland familiarity of dramatic television. Being able to add more mature adult content on a pay-TV network, did little to improve The Paper Chase.  The whimsy and intellect of its first season on CBS was missing in subsequent Showtime episodes.

Based on both the 1970 novel by John Jay Osborn Jr. and the 1973 movie version, TV's The Paper Chase retained the Oscar winning actor from the film version, John Houseman (1902-1988), for the lead role of Professor Charles Kingsfield, a renowned law professor who intimidates but nurtures his students like a crowned king in the study of law at a prestigious American law school. Unlike other TV programs of its era, or any other era, The Paper Chase relied on story lines that rarely invoked the traditional formula of television network programming; action, comedy, adventure. Its drama was realized in the study of law being an adventure in itself. Plot lines would evolve around  legal issues and cases the students were studying.

It was partially filmed at The University of Southern California, giving it a tree-lined, hallowed halls collegiate appeal. The show follows first year student James Hart, a farm boy going to law school on a scholarship, played by actor James Stephens, as he contends with his utter fascination, fear and awe of  the infamous Professor Kingsfield. The supporting cast is made up of other students who form a study circle with Hart. They all share the common bond of being at the mercy of the god-like Kingsfield.

I'm 8 episodes into revisiting the program, and loving it again. A few celebrities have popped up unexpectedly. Marilu Henner of TV's Taxi, appears in the pilot episode as Hart's co-worker at his part-time bar tending gig.  A very young Kim Cattrall, Samantha on HBO's Sex and The City, has a featured role as the wife of a harried law student in the 6th episode, "Da-Da".

The catchy theme song, "The First Years" rolls through my mind every time I think of the program. It is sung by Seals and Crofts and written by Charles Fox and Norman Grimbel, who wrote the songs "Killing Me Softly With His Song", popularized by Roberta Flack, and Jim Croce's "I Got A Name".

The program may seem a little drab and crudely 70s-ish to some viewers. For all its gentle nature, it can at times become exceptionally heated and exciting. Witness the violent nature of Kingsfield (John Houseman) as he reacts to a paparazzi photographer invading his classroom in the episode "Nancy". The scene has all the fury of TV's most action packed moments.