Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It has recently come to my attention that Jews are not as popular as they once were and that we (I say we for reasons of simplicity which will become apparent) are getting sensitive (some would say oversensitive) about this. How do you know this? one might reasonably ask.
Well, really its been little things,--not getting invited to the best parties, getting snickered at if we wander into the hardware section at Walmart, WWII. Things like that. In fact, apart from attending Fiddler on the Roof, most people prefer not to hear from or about Jews anymore at all.
How did this sad state of affairs come to pass you may ask? Well, apparently we got one bad write-up a couple of thousand years back and its been an emotional roller coaster ride ever since. (Critics!). Anyway, Not being a joiner, I decided it was high time for me to do something about this personally. To take some individual action.  You know,--take it to the streets! So, (being Jewish), I hired a publicity agency. A few weeks later they came back shaking their heads, saying,
'The real problem is that nobody can agree who is Jewish and who is not!'
'That is true.' I said. Not even the Jews can agree.' So I said,
'Well, I'm paying you guys, what can we do about this?'
'You need a motto', he bald guy with glasses says popping a piece of gum into his mouth.
'Something you all can subscribe to without reservation'
'Jews don't go anywhere without reservations' I say. When this does not get a laugh I continue...
'OK' I say. 'I agree, can't hurt. ' So three weeks later they come back smiling.
'We got it!' they say, (all beaming like they just floated the Costa Concordia).
'Something that all you fucking Jews can subscribe to and which paints you in a relatively positive light'.
'OK,' I say 'Show it to me, guys, I can't wait!'
So the other guy (not the bald gum chewer) sets up this easel (I'm thinking, who are you?! John Nagy). He takes what I guess is a piece of his mother's curtains, anyway a very fancy cloth that is draped over the piece of cardboard that he puts on the easel and then, very dramatically,
whips off that piece of cloth and there it was, --in Bodoni font--(Bold!).
. 'Jews,-- we don't jump off anything unless we have to!' 'That's pretty good.' I say, concealing my pleasure.
'That is Mon-nee!' I am thinking. So, if you happen to see this on a billboard, you should know that it is because one person took action, one person really can accomplish something. Wait,---

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reenacting revising the revisionistas.

I just got back from Johnstown where they were reenacting the battle of Johnstown in the Revwar. If there is one thing you can say about reenactors you can not accuse them of being revisionistas. If there is one thing they value, it is authenticity. Which made the ride home on the NYS Thruway all the more delicious as it was dominated by a theme of revisionism which I will relate in three increasingly brief anecdotes...

(Part 1)
Kindergarten Revisionistas:
The Commonwealth Club program came on NPR radio and there was a feminist with a cartoonish voice addressing them  (ironically this occurred near Coxsackie) repeating the latest feminist trope which I have heard ad nauseum on NPR and Jon Stewart and various other venues, this being that the reason there are more men than women in executive positions in business goes back to kindergarten where overly aggressive, self-centered boys were told they had 'leadership skills' whereas overly aggressive, self-centered little girls were told they were being 'pushy', (which is a code word for being a 'bitch').  I don't know if this is true, (I don't remember either case occurring in kindergarten and unlike the speaker, I wouldn't want to malign my kindegarten teacher gratuitously) but I can tell you this,-- in my working life I have have plenty of experience with both,--and I have always had a term for overly-aggressive self-centered men, and it wasn't  'leaders', I generally called them 'pricks'.  As for the women, I have had no problem with them in the workplace except for the fact that all those bitches were trying to screw the guys with 'leadership skillz' instead of me.

(Part 2)
Quantum Superposition Revisionistas:
 All the rest areas on the Thruway now have been renamed  'Texting Stops'.  This causes me to question the intelligence of all those people who, during the first fifty years of the Thruway's existence, pulled over into these areas under the mistaken assumption that they were resting. In fact they were just behaving like morons when they pulled over and did nothing.  This so called 'resting' was nothing more than just waiting for someone to invent Smart phones. They were obviously lulled into thinking they were resting and so they could sit there stupidly and placidly while laboring under this mistaken assumption. This is probably similar to what will eventually occur with bathrooms which are now called 'rest rooms'. Nobody is really resting in them. They are just waiting around for someone to invent something better to do in them.  And everyone will probably feel really stupid when they find out what that thing is, that they have been waiting for.

(Part 3)
Revising the anti-revisionistas
After the Commonwealth Club gaveled to a close, someone happened to mention on the radio that the Irish have a saying, that 'you can't eat the scenery'. This should probably be revised to 'you can't eat the scenery, Unless you are a vegetarian'.

That is the end of my revisionist ride on the Thruway. I will tell the story of the battle of Johnstown at some later point.

Anyway, I sure I have managed to offend just about everyone with this post and all I can say is if you wait around for a little bit, there will be a revised version of it. In the meantime, I am resting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

“Star Spangled Banner”

Francis Scott Key stumbled  upon the idea of inflicting the Star Spangled Banner on what was at that point, a less than musically attentive nation from aboard a ship in the harbor where he observed the British attack on Fort McHenry. This battle, occurring on Tuesday, September 13th, 1814 during the War of 1812 led to him being inspired, as he observed the American Flag, tattered but still flying proudly over the fort the following morning leading him to pen the  poem that was only later set to music (so maybe it wasn't his idea after all).

The melody he himself however eventually chose for it was from an old English song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”. Anacreon was a Greek poet noted for his paeans to wine and love. It is not known if he actually is in heaven or even if, being a Greek, he believed in heaven, however, the English believed him to be there and that is (presumably) good enough for me as they usually have the best information about regions to which the French have only limited access.

Only fragments of Anacreon’s original poetry remain. One of them goes like this:


      Men and maids at time of year
The ripe clusters jointly bear
To the press, but in when thrown,
They by men are trod alone,
Who in Bacchus’ praises join,
    Squeeze the grape, let out the wine:
    Oh with what delight they spy
      The new must when tunned work high!

      Which if old men freely take,
      Their grey heads and heels they shake;
      And a young man, if he find
      Some fair maid to sleep resigned      
      In the shade, he straight goes to her,
      Wakes and roundly ‘gins to woo her; etc.                                                                                                    
In case you hadn’t noticed, there is, it seems, a great deal of technical information regarding Greek winemaking (as well as the quasi-erotic insomnial stimulation) that can be gleaned from this seemingly bland pastoral ditty,--. From inspection of the first verso, it is immediately evident that it was not the custom apparently, to allow women to be involved directly in pressing of the grapes: “They by men are trod alone.”  While it is tempting to associate this with or attribute it to the fact that women may have been menstruating at the time and thus considered unclean and unfit for this kind of duty, historically speaking, that is in fact a mostly Jewish Talmudic idea and hence not one that likely permeated Greek wine culture and so, is most likely the wrong gloss on the stanza as far as the gender related subtext.

If one instead takes testimony found elsewhere, scenes portrayed on pottery and in literature and the like, the act of treading wine is carried out not only by men but by ithyphallic fauns or satyrs. So yet another motive arises.  The satyr or faun is a figure that the Greeks used to portray a kind of non-discriminating asexual libido. If you have ever trodden on grapes, you know that it is a very sensual experience, squishing the must beneath your toes and feeling the juice squirting out from between them. It is therefore very likely that at Greek wine crushing festivals, a great deal more than grapes were being squeezed: “When tunned work high”, (or so the poet would have you believe). Greek wine is well known to have additives. Usually they claim it is tree resin.  (Yeah, tree resin,-- that’s the ticket!)

It is not known if Francis Scott Key was under the influence, or sexually erect when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner but he was ‘tunned worked high’ and the chances are, having just recently been released into American custody from a British frigate, he may have been both. (No doubt a degree of libatious celebration would account for the rather obscure sourcing of the melody.) The song immediately became popular, though it was not until 1931 that it was officially adopted as the national anthem. The coining of the phrase itself, “Star Spangled Banner”, still remains something of a mystery to me which I will make a  cursory and half-hearted-attempt to unravel (no pun) despite the fact that whoever made it our national anthem was probably themselves ‘worked high’ at the time.
In parsing the words, “Star Spangled Banner”, the evolution of the “star” metaphor could easily have been derived from the very shape of Fort McHenry of which certainly Key was aware. The configuration of the fortifications was that of a star enclosed within a star and so the flag also at the time, was a field of stars within a star, within a star, a powerful and poetic image from which Key may have drawn his inspiration. As far as introducing the word “spangled”, I would hypothesize that perhaps Mr. Key (not altogether a bad name for a musician by the way) had made the short trip to the strip joints located just up Light Street prior to his capture by the British (I stand by this assertion though the Star Spangled Banner is very infrequently employed by strippers to accompany their routines). 

These obscure conditions under which certain phrases such as “Star Spangled Banner” thus may have evolved or been coined and thence adopted into the national consciousness, the reasons for which, (I as a would-be ‘historical author’ would prefer not to speculate on), nevertheless unreasonably tend to fascinate me.  Phrases that have been adopted generally in other common usages, even those ‘coined’ specifically for coins per sae can, in themselves, be, as it were, sometimes sanguinely amusing. For instance, it is not widely known that the motto;  “IN GOD WE TRUST” did not appear on U.S. currency and coins until April 22nd, 1864.  The earlier motto had been simply: “MIND YOUR BUSINESS”. (Neither of these two phrases are eminently singable, but when taken together might have served as a good synopsis of Thomas Merton’s philosophy.) 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Few Thoughts on why the Republican Party is so Attractive to Ex-hippies like Arlo Guthrie and myself,--

(Disclaimer: this is an unfunny post so if you are here strictly for entertainment you can skip it)

Republicans have always valued strategy over tactics and this seems to be a strategy that is working mostly because of a convergence of circumstances that includes the present constituency of the Supreme Court. The recent Supreme Court decisions seem calculated at this point in time, to support this subtle shift in power. Republicans also have a good track record when it comes to (decades later) adopting the policies and methods of those they once opposed. The native distrust of unchecked power which was a driving force of the 1960s protest movements like the Yippees (minus the wild hairstyles and the counter culture image) have thus been adopted by Republicans as a workable model in the present day and thus have given rise to populist movements like the Tea Party that are difficult to control. The Hippy movement of the 60s was based on an unquestioning underlying assumption of shared values as being the source of collective strength. Rulings like Citizen's United and Hobby Lobby are calculated to divert power and shift it to entities that can counterbalance an overbearing federal government based on what Republicans perceive as shared values. So let us not be naive about this because, certainly though they may have become heir to and adopted the socially attractive naivete and 'fight the power' ethos of the hippies, Republicans are far from naive.

Therfore I think those that accuse the Republican Party of being simple-minded obstructionists are missing the point and underestimating the quality of their thinking. The situation needs to be analyzed in the context of a larger national agenda. Because of the electoral system instituted by the founding fathers, so called 'blue states' have long wielded an outsize influence in elections at the national level. The policy of Republicans is therefore to take advantage of present circumstances at a time when the nation is not subject to any perceived existential thereat to intentionally shift power and responsibility back to the states. They thus have settled now on a strategy of paralyzing the national government and thereby counteracting and contracting the outsize influence that, thanks to the electoral college system, is presently wielded by the 'blue' states.

This approach is in accord with their underlying political philosophy and it has long been the Republican ideal, (despite it being the party of Lincoln) of supporting states rights and relying more heavily on the power of the states rather than that of the federal government to resolve problems, while conversely the Democratic ideal has long been to rely on a strong national government to address overarching and endemic issues. Continued distrust in Washington therefore only works to the Republican advantage and they look with sanguine glee on congress' plummeting approval ratings and the lack of collegiality in Washington because it is part of an overall strategy that while personally embarrassing to those members of congress (and the president), seems to be working.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bound For Glory

“Phil Shapiro came to Cornell as a graduate student in economics and started his show like many other folk-music DJs of the ‘60s, playing records from radio station WVBR’s cramped studios, then in the basement of Willard Straight Hall. He soon began to bring in performers for interviews and a few live songs, and then went on to concerts with a live audience.” (from Cornell Chronicle, September 5th, 1996).  The site of the attempted assault by the Delta Upsilon boys during the takeover of Willard Straight Hall by black activists in April 1969, the heavy oak and glass door on the south side of the building was also the door leading to the college radio station, WVBR, ironically therefore one through which I too would attempt to gain to a wider world and a wider notoriety though in a slightly different field of endeavor and with a guitar instead of locksnippers.

Phil Shapiro had graduated Brandeiss and come to Cornell to pursue his education and become a  disc jockey for the college station which ran his show “Bound For Glory” on Tuesday nights As the name suggested, was mostly focused on playing what, as Peter Schickele has pointed out, is often erroneously called, folk music. Occasionally he would have local musicians or groups perform live on his show and I fervently and rather constantly desired to be one of those lucky few.

Phil, in 1969 you have to understand, though he was about our age, looked more like a middle-aged Jewish man returning from the beach with a fraying plastic folding chair gripped under his arm. He was a prematurely balding, skinny with a bushy reddish moustache and a stubbornly inneffective comb-over that had an aymptotic relationship with his head. He wore only long sleeve rumpled white shirts over a (also like a Jewish grandfather) strapped (not with a gun but shoulder straps) ‘T’ shirt;  black horn-rim glasses that were always askew.  He was what we in Brooklyn generally and with vague sympathy would have called, a ‘schmo’. It was, however, his very unBrooklyny ‘folksiness’, that managed to save him from the ignominy to which we, his fellow Jews, would no doubt have otherwise heartlessly consigned him, and the fact was,  he was genuinely and sincerely interested in promoting the local music scene in Ithaca and local musicians even if their work didn’t conform strictly with his particular concept of innoffensive 'folkiness' which eventually gave us a chance to appear on his show.–Actually twice. 

The first time Phil had arranged for our rather raunchy acoustic trio which went under the name of “Raw Meat” ((composed of Hugh Cregg (later Huey Lewis), Chip (Gabe) Aiello and myself)) to perform live on a broadcast of his show from the coffeehouse at Anabel Taylor Hall. The following year I appeared again, this time with my own electric band called the “Greased Grapevine”, and this time direct from the cramped studio in the basement of the Straight.  Because we were the first (and last) electric band to appear on Phil’s show, it was an event which in my own mind I had inflated in importance to that of Dylan going electric at Newport, combined, for several extraneous reasons related to extra-musical substances and beverages we brought with us, with a bad supermarket accident (‘Cleanup in aisle blues’). 

We debuted on that second occasion an original song called “Peanut Butter in my Love” which at the time may have sounded shocking, but in the context of today’s sex-cum-fast-food-fetishists, underwear on the outside, Tom Jones clones appearing on just about every TV commercial for food may seem rather tame by comparison; the food and alcohol based havoc we wreaked on the studio was not.  It appears somewhat odd in retrospect that my entire early musical career was framed by some kind of food theme.  We had, for some odd reason, brought along jars of peanut butter and Boone’s Farm apple wine into the studio with us that evening, neither of which, as we learned shortly, are especially compatible with complex mechanical equipment.

I learned all this in 1995 while visiting for he 20th college reunion; that he had been honored by the Town of Ithaca for his work; “Last Sunday the show (Bound for Glory) began its 30th year, reaffirming its title as the longest-running live folk music radio show in America” and I ran into him on the street not long after that. By this time he no longer looked so much like a ‘schmo’ as a kind of, fringed-vest wearing prototypical semi-anonymous folk hero which is what Ithaca had over the years made him.

He was also by then also no longer skinny but, like me, definitively paunchy (to put it mildly) and wearing the fringed-leather vest and cowboy hat, bushy beard draped over, yep,- probably the same torn T-shirt probably purchased from Macys on Flatbush Avenue. By now, having comfortably grown into not only the larger size pants but his role as local legend, he had no real obligation to acknowledge me, (his one ‘walk on the wild side’) with anything but forgetful bemusement which is just what he did. The fact is, we had left his studio a terrible mess the second time we performed strewn with the Boone’s Farm wine, Ritz crackers, roaches and peanut butter all over the floor and the microphones and forgetfulness indeed seemed the logical choice.  He was however an infallibly good host and did not mention it,-- ever.  I therefore believe he deserves that award he got, not least for spending so much time in a place that smelled that bad but also for cleaning up the mess we had inadvertently left (and doubtless countless others after), probably having to use that stinky, metallic, acrid solution, whatever it, was and for being just ‘Phil’–no longer a schmo,–and that time I ran into him on the commons finally he had his glasses  on straight. Those of us who had got this far out ahead, those of us who weren’t dead,–well all of us found we were for lack of a better term, Bound for Glory.
Thanks in part to Woody Guthrie, from whom the title of the show (and this piece) was derived, politics and music in the sixties would remain indelibly wedded and thanks in part to the actions of a politico I call Little Red Fred which I will go into later, Phil Shapiro would to remain in every sense of the words, the ‘Master of his Domain’, not in the “Seinfeldian” sense but in that his domain that south corner of the “Straight” would remain forever inviolate,--and he and Woody Guthrie would be left to lord over it with an iron but very sympathetic and no doubt well-lubricated fist..

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Brothers Karamazov
Kazmazarov, Karma-jackoff,–or, (carjacking. Catjerking) or, what the f**k– brother!

Speaking of magic (was I actually speaking of it, or did you just think I was?), the magician, Ricky Jay, (or Fast Eddy as he was known to some of us, the willing/unwilling captives of Eddy Street), was not just a magician but what one could call a ‘rock star magician’. This was a relatively newly coined vocation and meant essentially someone who sported long hair and would open the show for some of the better known local rock bands which Ricky did with his impressive card-throwing act, which was, I must say again at the risk of repeating myself (and though I have not seen it), by all accounts, quite impressive. It would eventually land him an appearance on the Carson Show which would in turn lead to an impressive showbiz career under the guiding and equally facile hand of the impresario David Mamet.

In any case, since I’ve already shot my metaphorical wad: At that time, in the early 1970s, Ricky would sometimes wander into the Gnomon Copy Shop on Eddy Street where I worked the night shift appearing mysteriously at the counter usually as I was just wrapping up at about 9 AM. He usually took the form of his alter ego, Fast Eddy of Eddy Street (not Fish’s Eddy), for this impromptu appearance in order to chat up my not-very-attractive female boss, Tina, who had bad teeth and black copy ink perennially smeared all over her pale freckled/pimpled face which in some way set off her black hair in the manner of a black terrier humping a tan Chihuahua and this seemed to contribute something undefined to her pimply allure, at least to some of the hipster elements who frequented the copy shop. Her main managerial duty seemed to be chain smoking Newports.
Ricky was somewhat short, also with greasy, long black hair and acne, resembling nothing so much as an albino mole that had been unceremoniously rousted from its burrow or a turtle that had been poked and withdrawn its head part way back into its not very colorful shell. He always carried a deck of playing cards with him and while I never had the pleasure of seeing him perform on stage, I do recall his constant, seemingly involuntary and somewhat obliquely threatening one-handed obsessive manipulation of the deck, even while he was engaged in a rather trivial conversation (usually with Tina) in his high-pitched, inoffensive bantering, slack-jawed tenor. His propensity to dress in all black contributed further to his mystique but also gave seemed to underline that he was in fact of no definable species (either metaphorical or literal),–(a veritable black box of self-defined Linnaean disarticulation).

Somehow you always felt like a ‘carnie’ mark in his presence and occasionally he would oblige your drooling naivete with a trick. Aside from his uncanny resemblance to the object of his affections here, Tina, I also had a sneaking suspicion that he had another identity entirely, his doppelganger as it were; an equally physically amorphous ovoid Russian avant-garde author who likewise would drop in the copy shop at odd hours who had written (so I learned) a short story about a man who fell in love with his own ass. I had never seen the two of them together and though this is admittedly somewhat slim evidence on which to base this assertion, both, at least from the unenviable vantage offered by my station at the heavy duty copy machine, peripherally, exuded this identical comforting/threatening,--ineluctably foreign yet somehow familiar suggestion of a mind furiously at work while furiously at play.

So that morning, as I sensed a familiar peripheral ovoid figure at the counter, I knew immediately it was one of these two (or some dyadic manifestation of one or the other of one of them) though, being exhausted from a long night of copying textbooks, I did not know or really care which. Somewhat embarrassed by my own state of ink-smeared ignomony (ignomoninny?) (a state I occupied then more frequently than I do now), I did not even glance up. Working the graveyard shift meant that I did not need to consort with any of the customers, ovoid or otherwise though there were some rare exceptions like Ricky and the Russian ass-portraitist that I found interesting and would favor with my sparkling conversation. But mostly I would spend the major portion of my long and tedious evenings there trying to figure out what exactly the word Gnomon in the copy shop’s name indicated,--whether it was derived from the Greek word ‘Gnosis’, which seemed to make some sense for a business dedicated to copying college term papers, or the ‘gnomes’ who inhabited its ink smeared bowels like parasites, feeding the insatiable maw of the industrial Xerox copier through the long upstate winter nights–like me. So there I was one evening, by myself as usual and something unusual happened. While humping away at the midnight oil (a good and reliable lubricant), copying insightful analyses of Gunther Schuller, Gore Vidal and Teddy Roosevelt (or Humper, Shoelaces and Thumper as I dubbed them, mostly to amuse myself) for the ‘phantom of the opera’ student body, I suddenly realized I held in my hand a shiny, blood-red-brown cardboard covered pamphlet additional scores of which stood stacked in a sloppy, gangrenous pile inside a box next to the copy machine. They looked disturbingly like the notebooks I had used in Hebrew School copy over and over the Jewish Kanji that was the heritage of those of my then unsuspect paternity. What they were were actually official CIA Vietnamese pacification manuals. As I recall, three of those four exact words appeared on the cover in black felt tip marker. This was 1969 and the war was in full fling so you can understand my wonderment as to how I came to be in possession of these.

Opening the one I grasped somewhat hesitantly in my trembling hand to peruse it, I saw the word ‘Secret’ stamped in menacing black letters right on the inside of the front cover which caution was reinforced by heavy black lines running throughout the text, like tire tracks of a manic NASCAR driver obscuring that which the censors deemed unfit for more diverse consumption. The print quality was horrible, they looked like hand-typed, self-published books to my naive eye (of which in my inglorious college career I had seen a few and since produced a few) rather than any kind of official government document. They were taped along the spine with what looked like electricians’ tape. They could have been run off in somebody’s basement on an ‘EZ Bake’ version of my copy machine. How and why they had found their way that evening to Gnomon Copy on Eddy Street was a mystery that supplanted the Gnome/Gnosis mental pacifier conundrum on which  I had been sucking. I could only conjecture they were for the use of one or more of the Cornell sociology professors who were then actively consulting with the CIA (just as some of the campus radicals had been alleging all along–) although I tried to keep an open mind. as I read on, about whether in fact this was the case. Without the benefit of my usual mental fodder now I was put into, as they say in Indiana, ‘something of a tin lizzy’, there under the fluorescent lights of ‘our lady of the perpetual Xerox’, wiping the back of my toner-stained hands across my face as I had seen Tina do, this time in itchy genuflection of the Department of Defense. Seeing myself reflected in the large mirror on the far wall, I felt somehow militarized and dashing. I suddenly fashioned myself a soldier of fortune of the copy machine militia, all decked out in ink-smeared jungle fatigue camouflage,--but in what army really I wondered.
Not to trivialize matters, this was of course to anyone even remotely connected with the anti-war movement as I was, a find of potentially tremendous ramifications, directly implicating the University in the unpopular war effort. Just as I had with the unexpected hypnosis session, and Hugh’s unsolicited confidences, I felt vaguely guilty and burdened at having become the unwilling repository of an unasked for knowledge,-- yet in this case also strangely excited. I stopped copying and spent a large part of the rest of my shift reading through the pile of notebooks. They contained. what I saw in my sleep-deprived state as, some fairly specific and useful information, (useful if you were in Vietnam,–or really any hostile environment),-- how to trade candy bars for enemy force locations, novel interrogation techniques involving spandex and Gatorade, how to arrange and pay for Water Buffalo transportation and also summary outcomes of certain previous covert operations in Quang Tri and Dong Ha Provinces, and incidentally, in a very well-written informative and fascinating appendix on how to check for razor blades secreted in a Vietnamese hookers’ vagina. Reading this was as close as I ever personally gotten to either real magic or to Vietnam (or more recently to vaginas for that matter).
The following morning, as I watched as Ricky Jay sidle up to the counter with the obligatory comforting/threatening deck of cards in one hand, tired now from my long night of copying conflicting impulses and still not knowing what  to do with the surfeit of guilty knowledge I possessed, I felt a burning need (it was not the ink this time) to discuss with someone, anyone and Ricky just happened to be there. I approached the red Formica counter. The manuals sat silently and deceptively innocuously back in their cardboard boxes near the rear doors of the copy shop, along with all the copies I had made, ready to be picked up.

“Hey” I said guiltily. He did not make eye contact but I knew a mental link had been established. The knowledge of those manuals was weighing on me like the doughy dregs of the previous night’s pizza. Perhaps I harbored some dim hope that the famous Ricky Jay, like some human antacid, might be able to quell my simmering discomfort, to just to make them disappear altogether and thereby alleviate me of the burden of making any decision about what to with them. Just as I was about to broach the subject, I realized that he, through his hyperkinetic magician senses, had already anticipated and assessed the entire situation and dealt the problem in the manner magicians often do and with some surreptitious own self-ass-loving prescience and had simply made them disappear. ‘Gone’ (as the Buddhists say,–gone beyond, Parasamgate). Copies and originals all had disappeared without a trace.

It was later that same year I found out Ricky had gotten on Johnny Carson throwing his playing cards (perhaps using a deck fashioned from the stiff brown cardboard covers of VietMinh CIA pacification manuals,--who knows). So my somewhat abortive acquaintance with Ricky Jay was also my first brush with the wider world of fame, (aside from Markie Bell who later became the drummer for the Ramones), much later and earlier,–(and of course there was Hugh but he would take the long road to fame via the Ken Kesey on-thebus-off-the-bus yogurt truck).

As you may have guessed, aside from these randm encounters at the copy shop, I didn’t really know Ricky Jay very well personally (different ovoidian circles). Yet, after the Carson appearance I never got over this vaguely surreal thrill of impersonally-personally knowing him, ‘the real’ Ricky Jay, the man behind the mask, the magician who was now famous for some patently ridiculous talent, in his case throwing cards, (I was still a paramountly hip author who never wrote anything down but just copied what everyone else had.) It was like I was still sitting on the folding chairs in the offstage area at Ben Light Gym, listening to Huey perform. A few years later I learned he had authored his own paramountly 'hip' book entitled ‘Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women’ (I never learned into which category Tina fit) and has since appeared in several movies and TV shoes including HBO’s Deadwood,–usually as a disturbingly ovoid villain who gets shot at some point in some indefinable portion of his anatomy. In spite of my own aversion to his aggressively ageometric anatomy, pockmarked complexion stringy black hair and preference for Newport chain-smoking copystore managers, following the disappearance of the pacification manuals, I became what can only be described as, ‘a fan’. He and I were both  keepers of this same delicious secret,--his far more important but lesser known talent for making CIA pacification manuals disappear into thin air.

So it is now some thirty years later and Hugh calls me up. I still have achieved nothing of any note. We chat amiably. A few days previous I had stopped by the theater where he was doing a star turn as the crooked lawyer, Billy Flynn. in ‘Chicago’. Finding him not there I left my business card with the taciturn, heavyset black stagehand and went on my way. So it was a total surprise when that same evening I get a call. ‘He says its Hugh’ my daughter says, handing me the phone. Hearing him instantly brought to mind something that was related to those two strange buildings and us, their temporary inhabitants.
‘Your voice sounds a little different.’ I say.
‘Your voice sounds exactly the same.’ He says.

I do not know and have not been able to find out what happened to Lionel Quebecsteen/Stein, my college roommate, (I think he is a hedgefund manager, or if he ever got over his depression over his ex-girlfriend Mary back in Wisconsin. He is probably lounging around somewhere, gangly legs folded under the bed (at least I hope so). Nor do I know where Paul Belden, the mountain-man Ag Student is or if he achieved any fame in the competitive arena of nose picking, or whether Baker’s black hipsters, Larry and Joe, ever escaped from their momma’s boy brand of swaggering black militarism to become true bad-asssmuthafuckers. Anyway, I am sure quite they are all doing quite well, far better than me certainly, (at least one would hope),–and here I am failing at yet another passionate avocation,--grape growing and in my military alter ego, the pacification of the native population of Chester, New York.

Friday, July 18, 2014

On the Passing of Tommy Ramone

I didn't meet Tommy Ramone until a wine tasting/music lecture/book promotion event held at the Art Gallery in Woodstock sometime in the summer of 2009. It had been organized by Tony Fletcher (author of 'Boy About Town' and 'The Smiths). Fred Smith, bassist from the New York Dolls was there along with a few other notable musicians on the panel. I was there as one of two wineries (the other being Fred Smith's, Cerighino-Smith Winery) supplying the wine for the after party. At the time I had been most excited to see Eric Weisberg who was an old time 12 string guitarist and was supposed to be on the panel. I remembered him from the sixties Village scene but to my disappointment Eric was a no-show at the lecture.

After the lecture and party I went out on the street and was introduced to Tommy Ramone. Tommy was one the original founders of the punk rock group the Ramones and he had been replaced by Marky Ramone as the band's drummer by 1978 following extended 'creative differences' (I believe he stayed on as manager of the band). Marky Ramone (Mark Bell) was my best friend, Marc Sperber's, neighbor at 640 Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn back in the sixties and we used to sometimes hang out at the Bells apartment when not playing punch ball in the courtyard next to the building. Mark, Fred Bell (Fred) and Marc lived on the first floor of 640 Ditmas while I lived two blocks away (one long one short) on Ocean Parkway. This being the early to mid-sixties,-- pre-punk, you should know, so it was hard to understand what the Bell brothers were trying to do musically because there was as yet no corresponding musical scene.-- The context for it simply had not been invented yet.

Usually they would practice separately in their respective bedrooms but sometimes Freddy and Marky would play together in Freddy's room which was even less conducive to harmony with the upstairs neighbors, I am sure. To me, a kid who was into Mississippi John Hurt, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Dylan and Phil Ochs, they seemed crazed,-- like men possessed. It was loud. Really loud. We could sometimes hear it from up the street on Ditmas Avenue or even as far as around the corner on East 7th and if we ventured into Mark and Freddy's apartment, we would inevitably find their mother Audrey sitting in the kitchen smoking Pall Malls draped in her pastel print housecoat, face expressionless, as if she were suffering a stroke and a high-powered-testosterone-inflamed-auditory-carpet bombing issuing from somewhere nearby (there father seemed perenially absent,--possibly by design). If I was bold enough to stick my head inside the door to say 'hello' they presented a rather strange tableau, with their stringy long black hair and longer faces, and not only because they were identical twins(one of two sets in the neighborhood) but because the music seemed to have transformed them from awkward teenagers into crazed zombies from some futuristic Daliesque dystopia. There were the two skinny Bell brothers, fellow musicians, buck- toothed twins, Freddie sitting on the bed, one leg draped to the floor, eyes closed, seemingly gang raping his electric guitar while Mark hunched over epileptically assaulting the blue sparkly drumset as if trying to launch it into space.

The only way we could tell them apart was when they were playing music. Possibly the same was true for their mother, which is possibly why she had bought them different instruments, which stratagem she possibly by then regretted. This turned out to be more about Tommy's replacement in the Ramones, Mark Bell. rather than Tommy Erdelyi himself but it has the advantage of being a first-hand account, so it is my hope the reader will overlook this.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Why I Am a Writer

Why I Am a Writer

I had just spent a pleasant couple of hours catching up with an old college friend and the daughter of another friend at Bryant Park in Manhattan and after dropping them both off at the S Train in Grand Central was walking back along 42nd street when I spotted this young light-skinned black man with a cane who seemed somewhat disoriented. When I got a little closer I saw he had on a button, the kind you used to get in High School for joining the G.O. It was large and round and what it said was, 'I am Deaf and Blind. Can you assist me'. Not that I regard myself as more of  a humanitarian than the next guy but I had about an hour or so to kill before I had to meet my daughter on the upper West Side to take her out for her birthday so I took his arm and stupidly began asking if I could help him get somewhere. Of course he couldn't hear me, but he extended his palm and indicated that I should write what I was trying to say on his palm. "Can I help" I wrote out in large capital letters with my finger. He immediately took out a sheaf of white 6 x 9" paper and a pen a wrote down. I want to go to the library. I was overjoyed that I could communicate with him and I wrote "Sure" on his palm and grabbed his arm and proceeded to the main library which was only a block and a half away. Once we got inside I had a sinking feeling that I did not know what to do with him. I had just assumed that there would be some kind of special provision for vision impaired people and that I could then unload him on some kind individual and be on my way. All there was however in the main anteroom were two ladies, one with red hair and one with orange hair and the one with orange hair was holding an ipod. "Where do you want to go" I signed on my new friend's hand. He took out the white sheaf of paper and wrote "I want to see John Rathe in information services". "OK" I signed. This is where it got complicated. Well not really, it had occurred previously on the street but I had been able to overcome the difficulty that I am about to describe by attention and perspicacity. The white sheaf of paper he was writing on had been written on just about every sheet back and front, so whatever he was writing now he was writing over something he had written before making it next to impossible to make out what he was trying to say. "He wants to
see John Rathe in information services I informed the ginger haired lady with the ipad. She looked confused. "I don't know. There are a lot of libraries in the city. Are you sure you in the right library?" "This is the main library I signed to my new friend. He didn't get it at first so he erased his palm with his other hand and I wrote it again. "This is the main library. Are we in the right place?" He gave me a big smile and thumbs up. "We are in the right place" I said to the pair of helpfully unhelpful volunteers at the desk. The lady with the ginger hair showed me the ipad. She had looked up information services for the library and there was no John Rathe. I scrolled down to Katherine Wu and then back up to the top. Nope. No John Rathe and it looked to me like the bulk of information services people were down at 110 Madison Avenue which the little old lady speculated was the Morgan Library. This led to another somewhat frustrating round of superimposed squiggles and paint by number questions. "We are in the right place" I finally insisted, not sure at all that this was the case. "Well you better go up to the third floor and talk to the librarian". The elevator is right past the gift shop to the left". On the way to the elevator I stop and take his right hand and write "My name is Ken". He shakes my hand with a big smile and takes out the pad and writes "My name is alvkninmr." in any case I decided it was after subtracting the extraneous letters, Alvin. So Alvin and I go up to the third floor. Now I am not a small person and now, having to guide my friend Alvin I was essentially a double person, so people were having a hard time getting in and out of the elevator. Finally we get to the third floor and I head to the main reading room where there is a duplicate the ginger and fred couple sitting at a desk except this is a young man and an older woman. After a conversation much like what had taken place on the first floor they finally directed me inside to the main reading room desk. I went up to the nice middle aged man behind the desk and said. "We are looking for John Rathe". He did a double take as if I was was speaking Norwegian. Finally he says "Ohhh! You mean John Rath-thay. He's at the reference desk thru that door to the left." So we go thru the door and to the left, directed by a security guard and go up to the desk. John Rath-thay is not not there but will be here in five minutes. Sure enough, three minutes later a middle-aged man which a reddish beard going to gray shows up and sites behind the desk. "We are looking for John Rath-thay". "You found him." he said not evincing any expression but just stating a fact that obviously, I having come to the library had looked for and successfully found. Well honestly, at that moment I felt like I was a magician. That I had conjured John Rath-thay from thin air. That I was the one who had made him appear at just this place and at just this point in time. "He was looking for you." I say, "Do you know him?" "Yes, but he was here a long, long time ago." "Can you help him. He is going to need some paper" I said. "The paper he has is all written on." "Oh, he's going to need a lot of paper, John Rathe says and commences to produce it. Now clearly, despite John Rathe's statement, to Alvin he was someone of immense familiarity. Someone that he might likely have interacted with just yesterday, but John Rathe is telling me that he hasn't seen Alvin for a very long time. I was at something at a loss as to what to say. Clearly I was confronted with two very different realities, Alvin's which had taken place just yesterday and John Rathe's where the interaction that had caused Alvin to seek him out specificially had taken place 'a long long time ago'. I realized that this was precisely the situation I always found myself in. That people and things that I had met or encountered a long long time ago in real time were to me, as present as if the interaction had been just yesterday. This is just the way my mind works. I produce them at will and interact with them just as I had John Rathe, magically. I then realized that this was because I too was somehow blind and deaf and that is why I experienced the world this way. For other people the world had gone on spinning, things had happened, marriages, divorces, trips, children, walks in the park these had all transpired in some reality that had passed me by and so I could just still magically produce them just as they once were just by scribbling some letters on a palm or a piece of paper or a computer. That because some part of me also was blind and deaf, these images remained as fresh as if they had just occurred,--yesterday. "Nice to meet you!" I wrote on Alvin's palm and turning to John Rathe I said "I really have to go. I have to meet my daughter." "I understand" he said. "Will you take care of him?" I asked. "I will take care of him". I walked out of the library on to 42nd street smiling and shaking my head. "John Rath-thay"