Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Funeral Oration of Lothos

Perhaps the most famous funeral oration of all time is Pericles Epitaphios Logos. Given at the start of the Peloponesian War it is basically a self congratulatory paean to city of Athens and its inhabitants for being the light of the world. It was politics as pure theater and there is a school of thought that it itself fashioned the identity of the polis , the free citizen, the spirit of democracy, the words were not merely the reflection of the light of culture shed on the ancient world by Greece but the cause of it, the logos in its truest sense, as a creative force.

So, who is Lothos, then? Lothos was the Vampire King in Buffy the Vampire slayer. He accosts Buffy at the Senior dance, despite his great power and the fact that her predecessor failed and was killed by Lothos, Buffy, the cheerleader, still manages to kill Lothos.

Yesterday I went to the funeral of Tom LaBarbera. He was an artist in Chester among other things. I knew him but I did not know him that well. My grief at his passing was not really personal, there were not tears, it was regret at the loss of a valuable member of society and the desire to show respect for an honorable life.

It is amazing how we humans are so resourceful that can turn death into so many things. Like Pericles we can use it as a catalyzing flame to weld the varied elements of society into a unified whole, or, like Buffy we can use it to discover a whole unknown dimension of ourselves that contradicts our daily life, the priest at the mass yesterday used it as a means of comforting and a means of strengthening faith. We all find ways to use death to augment and provide purpose in a life that suddenly seems purposeless or pointless,--it is perhaps the most democratic of all states of existence, despite what the priest said, in it we are all suddenly equal.
--it is in fact probably this capability to utilize death to enhance life which most sets us apart from the animals, perhaps even more than walking upright, except of course when it comes to vampires. Vampires, like Lothos, are those who have escaped the great leveler, become something else, something transcendent. It takes a cheerleader to put them back in their place, to set the universe aright, to restore democracy to the human condition.

As life imitates art, it occurs to me the war on terror is something like the fight against vampires, not that it is being carried on mostly by motivated really cute cheerleaders, but it has all the same elements, at times it seems like an attempt to kill the unkillable, (those already dead) and its purpose is ostensibly the spread of democracy. We must be cautious. Like Pericles, it may be used as a pretext to empire. As in 'Buffy' it seems to represent the permanent and final removal from the world of a seemingly indelible evil a goal which we know is a convenient fiction as long as man is man.

On another note, Tom was of Italian heritage. Everyone knows that Italians on the whole love wine more that most people. Almost every Italian immigrant to American had a father or grandfather who use to make wine in the basement, even in the midst of a confusing new life they knew they had to hold on to something that was good. Perhaps it represented to them the glories of a faded empire, perhaps it represented the means for the temporary removal from the world of the seemingly indelible forces of present despair and inevitable defeat. (I'm a Jew so I really wouldn't know, but, as a writer and a Jew I know that the real danger as always is that the portrayal of character will become caricature.) Even in the words we use when drinking it 'Cheers!'. We seem to extol the victory of Buffy over Lothos. (Not that Buffy was of Italian extraction but in her we see the possibility of the ultimate Pax Romana, the restoration of the accord with death itself, allied also with a possibly winning High School football team) In drinking it, for a time a least we seem to become our nobler selves.

So, what does wine represent really, the hope of empire, or the banishment of inequality, the eventual victory of life over death or the attraction of our darker selves as the proving ground of our souls, is wine tied to the perpetuation of culture or is culture itself dependent on the dissolution of differences between men and women of good will. Who knows, and aside from what it represents it tastes good so, in the end, who really cares. Buffy can go back to the Senior dance and have fun, there will be other vampires to slay, Pericles can build a lasting monument to his culture from mere words, in the end all we can do is try to enjoy what is best in our lives and try to preserve it for those that follow --isn't that the point?
The priest said Tom LaBarbera was already painting away in his new abode. I don't know but I hope so, and if he is I hope he has a glass of wine as well.

So, Pericles, Tom LaBarbera, Buffy, Caesar Osama Bin Laden, it all seems suspiciously random and rambling, a bunch of nonsense, a temporary insanity incurred by a recognition of our own mortality, but perhaps it has its own form of exponential sanity, a means of reaching calculably to a higher dimension through mindless blather, maybe it is-- 'blogarithmic' , maybe it is, --one more glass of wine and I won't care.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I Like Beer

(With apologies to David Letterman--he needs a few extra)

First of all there is way too much wine in the world and there is never enough beer.

Secondly, Americans it turns out can make beer better than anyone in the world.

Thirdly, wine has a whole personality while beer has a profile. Sometimes you just don't feel like dealing with a whole person.

Fourthly, people who make beer are friendlier on the whole and don't really make you feel like an asshole when you talk about it.

Fifthly, it comes in six packs. (Twelve of anything is just too much and one is always too few.)

Sixth, nobody ever comes up to you and asks you for 'sweet' beer.

Seven, it fits better in the refrigerator and in general you don't have to pamper it for it to stay good.

Eight, nobody is looking for a deeper meaning in beer, if anything they are looking for less meaning.

Nine, bad beer is generally inexpensive while bad wine is generally expensive.

Ten, it looks better when it gets in your moustache or beard.

Anyway, that's my take on it, so people bemoaning the popularity of beer over wine in this country should just get over it. Of course, as a winemaker I am perennially hoping for a reversal of this paradigm but I don't see it happening in the near future. So for now, wine is the ugly girl at the party that the moderately pretty girls bring to make themselves look better.

So, all this begs the question, why don't I make beer instead of wine,--the answer is the same as why did I get married. From the outside it looks infinitely more interesting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Am I Doing Here?

My wines were recently reviewed by Tony Fletcher on
I think I may have mentioned, Tony's book
"All Hopped up and Ready to Go", W.W. Norton
is coming out soon, October 26th, it is a precis of the NY music scene and I for one,
(particularly as a musician finding someone finally with something intelligent to say about the contemporary music scene) am
eager to read it and so even if I have mentioned it you will forgive me.
Anyway, in the interests of pure laziness I am reprinting my response to the review here: (since probably no one else is interested)


Thanks for the plug and the honesty. I would expect nothing less and I think you
captured it to a 'T' (though I think you undershot on the Chard,--it is really something quite remarkable now when at the right temp. Several wine professionals have liked it immensely)
but on the whole you did certainly capture the spirit of what I am doing better than anyone which falls somewhere in between the committed muscular amateurism of a 'garagista punk' on steroids (implying a willful lack of marketing polish) and the image of a parapalegic on crutches trying to make the winning kick at a football game also comes to mind. In short (not to make too much of a virtue of necessity) it is intended to reflect my opinion that great wine should be a drama each time and drama by definition should never be polished. Sweet wine is comedy, I really
have nothing against sweet wine or comedy, (I enjoy Rieslind ,(sic Riesling) and in fact I made a super Pear Wine last year. At $16 a bottle it was as good as $70 ice wine--still have two bottles left), it is only the saccharine approach (of) being driven by the market I really despise and the refusal to be driven by the market conversely something that I admire, even if I fail to achieve it myself, sometimes, --it is a challenge to the moon eyed self-swindlers who come and inquire 'do you have any sweet wine' --it is not a challenge to sweet wine per se only to the reluctance to throw off cultural shackles and actually taste something besides sugar when approaching (a) wine that bothers me.

Just to clear things up,

As for the 'Frankie' 'Franky' contretemps. I was aware of the different spelling versions however,
being a New Yorker, an unreconstructed Brooklyn Boy, putting 'Frankie'
on anything would constitute linguistic heresy.
Never even considered it.
Hence, in short not a copyright concern at all.
My previous successful red was called 'Call me a Cab',
so correct syntax is not really what I was going for.
Still pissed the Dodgers left:)


Tony's original message follows:


I posted my first review of the Hunter Wine Fest today. Focused on you and Suhru for obvious reasons. As a good honest winemaker you'll appreciate the need for honest tasting notes regardless of acquaintanceship. I found it interesting that you did so well with the red wines (compared to the whites, IMHO) as I think they're generally much harder to pull off in this region. And I love that you think independently and have fun with what you're doin...

All (the) best ..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Big Lebowski or Where Have You Been Mr. Robinson

I love old timers. I really do. I always have. They never walk up and confront you directly, they always kind of just sidle up and then you just happen to notice them standing there. As if they didn't want to impose themselves on you. As if they expect to be regarded as irrelevant. They don't necessarily have to be all that old either, like 'The Stranger' (Sam Elliot) in the Big Lebowski, they serve in my experience in our society something like the function of a Greek Chorus; conscience and narrator in one.

The Marlboro Harvest Festival had been rained out so we were setting up our tents on Sunday at Cluett Schanz Park instead of Saturday as had been originally scheduled.
"The grapes are no good this year. Not enough sugar." I had actually noticed the elderly gentleman before picking his way with his cane among the wine tents.
"Well," I temporized 'We'll see, they still got a few weeks, we'll see if it dries out."
"Yeah, I went to Cornell in 1967." This immediately struck me as a bit odd. The gentleman standing there appeared to be in his eighties, his baseball cap and stoop said he had done some farming in his day. I had gone to Cornell in 1968 and he struck me as being at least twenty five years older than I.
"You remember the Boxcar?" (OK, now I was really freaking out, as they said back in the day.)
"Sure I do, out towards Dryden, the Warehouse was in back."
I remembered the Warehouse distinctly. It was what it said it was, a warehouse converted to a club. The likewise eponymous Boxcar had been just a bar, sans music. I had seen Taj Mahal and James Cotton Blues Band among others at the Warehouse in 1969 I had in fact (children look away) got drunk on White Lightning in the dressing room with James Cotton.
"Yeah, sawdust on the floor." He smiled at the recollection.
"I know every joint that served beer within twenty miles of Ithaca."
"Yeah, you went to Cornell alright."
"I know all the farmers around here. I ran the Community Bank in Highland. Knew Mark, you know Mark Miller?"
"Oh yeah, only met him once but helluva nice fellow. Didn't care much for his son, Eric."
I had met Mark Miller at a HVWGA luncheon. He had sat there beaming the whole time but in this kind of impersonal way, the way people who all their life had blinded people with their intellect and now don't want to blemish that impression cultivated over a lifetime with the natural infirmities of old age do. Like an artist who knows when the painting is done and doesn't want to mar it with the extraneous brushstroke. Their erratic blinding light simmers to a steady beaming paternal radiance. They become masks. Finally, strangers to everyone and finally themselves. That was the Mark Miller I met. No doubt he too in his younger days had gotten drunk in the dressing room of some itinerant blues man or jazz artist.
"You know how he got started?"
I shook my head.
"Well he used to live down in Scarsdale. Had these two week deadlines."
Mark Miller used to be an illustrator (Saturday Evening Post and Herald Tribune I think.)
"He got so nervous you know with those deadlines. So his wife bought him this five gallon jug to make wine. That's how he got started."
"Really? Didn't know that. What's your name?"
"Fred, Fred Robinson. Yeah, --I'm the last of the old time community bankers."
"Ken, Lifshitz. I'm from Monroe." This was perhaps the first time I had ever said this and really meant it.
"Oh yeah Citizen's Bank, right?"
"Yeah, right, Marilyn from Citizen's Bank."

Anyway, the Hudson Valley within about the past year has lost two of it's greatest lights. Mark Miller a little over a year ago, and Ben Feder just last week. With their loss, we descend a little more into an impersonal age, an age where machines and algorithms make decision, not people, a world of beaming benign masks, a world where you could never drink White Lightning with James Cotton in the dressing room of the warehouse. I generally don't care really for this 'bemoaning the faceless present' stuff much, but lately it is growing on me. Maybe it's because I am getting to be an old timer myself. Maybe it's because I am getting to be a stranger to myself and everyone else. In either case, that is a shame.
"Yep, no more community bankers after me."
I realize that I am, at 58, a person with the sensibilities of an eighty nine year old man. This is not really surprising, as I have had the sensibilities of an eighty nine year old man since I was fifteen.
"Yeah, not enough sugar this year."

(Note to future biographers: The Mark Miller collection is being held at Cornell,
Mark Miller and Benmarl Winery Collection #6716. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009


So I just sent a birthday message to my daughter on facebook that read
'Crunkay Badunkday' MC Dad

Clearly I have finally lost it.

This morning I burnt my thumb on a pot.
I knew the pot was hot, I was watching it
I watched it heat up with the flame under it.
Didn't stop me.
Something else to post to Face book.

I look at these both as pathetic attempts to keep current,
to feel alive in this computer and image driven age.
To be or at least appear relevant,
but, it is getting a little ridiculous,
the cost is too high,
aside from the second degree burns
I don't care what Debbie from Albany had for supper.
I barely care what I had for supper.
It is also a little scary.
Knowing all these things about people implies
some kind of responsibility, like now you don't just have to remember
their names and their kids names but also what there most recent emoticon
indicates about their current mood.

So I Was at Hunter Mountain Saturday doing the Microbrew and Wine Festival.
Really a blast.
Dave was setting up next to me.
"Yeah, I been doing this festival for ten years. That's the best
door to go out of." Pointing behind me.
"Yeah great. Where's Tom"
"He's doin' a farmers market then he's going to church. He's talking.
He a lectern."
Well to me a lectern is either a piece of wood that goes in front of
a speaker to hold his or her notes or it is just a folksy elision of 'lecturing'
I tried to puzzle this out, was his father-in-law 'lecturing' or was he
saying he was a piece of stage furniture? Still puzzled, I deflected.
"Yeah, the Bounty of the Festival was a bummer. Really didn't like being
treated like I fell off a turnip truck."
Dave treats me to a look of disdain. This is his normal look so I
don't think much of it.
"Yeah I been doing the Bounty of the Hudson Festival for ten yeeeaars."
I have decided finally that he is comparing his father in law to a piece of wood.
He moves away from me toward the vendor in the middle aisle selling watercolors.
"Yeah, my father-in-law isn't coming . He's a lectern." He announces to the politely disinterested watercolorist.
One might think I had learned my lecterns by now. I haven't.
"I'm going downstairs to pee. The bathrooms are really nice."
"I been peein' for ten years."
And so it went.

Then an interesting fellow walked up to me and introduced himself
as Tony.
Tony actually is relevant and,
he immediately got the post punk references on my bottle labels.
(Most people like the cute bulldog).
As it turned out Tony, was Tony Fletcher
music journalist and wine fanatic.
He has parallel interests to mine, wine, music and writing.
His website, apart from the interesting
articles and music interviews contains a better explanation of
the link between wine and music appreciation
than I have seen before and
his new book "All Hopped up and Ready to Go",
due out shortly (From Norton) treats a subject
near and dear to my heart, the pre-CBGB NY Music Scene.
I know I am going to reserve a copy on Amazon. F'Shizzle.

Anyway 'Crunkay Badunkday' to my kids and
F'shizzle to all you lecterns and
fly skiers and post apocalyptic
bubbles on the sea of musical serendipity.
I really know how to talk like this.
I have been doing it for ten years.

BTW Had tuna fish for lunch. OMG Happy face emoticon.