Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


Show last night was fun but puzzling.  My friends came & paid five bucks to hear the same stuff Jake & John & I are going to play for free & unamplified at a party at Slim’s house Saturday night. The people there who aren’t my friends -- I did my best for them, and I enjoy trying to overcome the difficulties of playing solo in a noisy bar. It forces me to a higher intensity.  I'm a decent dramatic or comic actor-singer if you're paying attention already, but I just don't have the voice or the charisma to make it past the first couple rows of glass-clinking talkers.  So I turn it up a notch for the people who are paying attention, both to give them their time's worth and in hopes that someone who's only half-listening may catch something after all. My friends Jake London and John de Roo sat in on a funky version of a one-chord holler song I wrote a long time ago (they’d both played it with me before), and it was fun to drone with two guitars (me & Jake) and 2 harmonicas (me & John) and 2 or 3 voices (Jake joined me & John once or twice) and build a big (amplified) acoustic wall of sound.

Jake sang some nice duets with his friend and co-host John Ramberg. John de Roo sang his moody introspective songs beautifully -- he’s a beautiful singer, much better than me -- but the moody introspection wasn’t overcoming the talky glass-clinking any much better than I had.

After John’s set a good accordian player with a beautiful husky voice sang a terrific Eastern European-style waltz with interesting words (“Inside every bird there’s another bird”; “Behind every word is another word”). His 2nd song, I joined the glass-clinking talkers and missed it -- something about thanking St. Judas for taking the rap. His 3rd song tried to evoke laughs from a story of an accident that killed two people and left a third person brain damaged. The manipulatively cruel “humor” pissed me off and I left to get something to eat. He got laughs; Jake explained afterwards that the laughs were probably intended to draw people in and then make them feel bad for having laughed. But I didn’t get drawn in and went straight to feeling bad. I have the same problem with Coen Bros. movies. Stuffing a woman into a wood chipper isn’t funny, and it doesn’t get funnier when you portray her terror as ridiculous. My contempt for artists who play these games transfers over to contempt for an audience who laughs at them. And that troubles me, and I don’t know what to do with it. Paraphrase that Roman Polanski movie and say, “Forget it, dude. It’s po-mo-town.”

I’m really looking forward to Saturday night’s party, which will probably turn into a late-night informal house concert. Get a chance to really hear John and Jake, up close and unamplified; get a chance to play some of my own stuff ditto. Sweet.


An e-mail from my friend Jay Sherman-Godfrey, Friday July 2:

We went to see our local fireworks display last night, in Astoria Park, which is on the East River between the TriBoro bridge and the East River Arch Bridge, a beautiful 1911 cast iron train bridge. There's also a giant '30s era pool there. It's a great park, and there is always a stiff, off-river breeze that cools it down on hot days and eves.

The warmup for the fireworks was music. First, a big band, bland and not too precise, that nonetheless sounded good on some Harry James-esqe ballads (the leader played trumpet). The girl singer was disappointing. They were not helped by spotty amplification, nor an attempt to involve the crowd w/ a bad chart of the disco hit "Last Dance."

Next were two doo-wop groups. Randy and the Rainbows (1963 hit "Denise") w/ the original Randy but with young, hunky Rainbows. They were good and kept it basic and true to the era, despite some reckless Clapton-esque soloing on a too-fast version of "Kansas City." Lenny Coco and the Chimes followed, slicked-up and Vegas-styled with none of the loose, rockin' playfulness of Randy and Co. Still, their hit "Once in a While" is a really cool song and they had a horn section w/ better chops than the big band.

The fireworks were one of these buy-it-already-programmed deals, with a short customized voice over intro. The choice of accompanying music was interesting. It opened w/ a John Williams-inspired heroic orchestral piece (w/ trap kit) and segued into Ray Charles' "America." This got a big cheer, though I'm sure that the programmers had been using this for awhile and it was probably not a tribute. Anyway, the crowd was into Ray, and I noticed for the first time that his version includes the introductory verse. This melted into a contemporary gospel-ish choral version of the same. Next was the odd bit, three of these generic, purportedly patriotic pop-country tunes -- can't say by whom, but full of red-white-blue, down-home, you-can't-keep-us-down, gung-ho imagery. Totally lost on the Astoria crowd. Strangely, this led to an excerpt from Aretha's "Think," starting right in on the “freedom, freedom,” bridge section. This got the crowd going again. Her exhortation to "think!" I thought appropriate, and her defiance much more believable and true than than Nashville's cynical pandering. Lastly, a drawn out Star Spangled Banner by one of those pop opera singers -- much over-arranged, but because of its length, reliant on the more obscure verses. Not much of a climax. No Sousa! No pounding, Germanic symphonic finality. Just a long-held, screeching high-note. The works themselves were quite good, though the thundering finale scared Lilly. [Ed. note: Lilly is Jay’s 16-month-old.]

The crowd was in good spirits. Astoria is like small town within the City, and, despite the outline of skyscrapers in the dusk, it could have been in America somewhere. Great fun.

AND ANOTHER e-mail from Jay, sent Tuesday, July 06:

On the radio, upon the mythic b-day, Pops all weekend and Monday w/ Phil Schaap on WKCR seemingly off the air only a couple of hours out of 72. I caught big and little bits here and there, in the car, in the kitchen. Phil: "Armstrong is, in fact, THE musician of the 20th century."  Was most eloquent about the voice and its overwhelming influence. "Bing would say Armstrong, Mick doesn't know it, but he would say Armstrong, Sinatra might say Billie Holiday but Billie would say Armstrong." I can't translate his singular delivery. I've come to savor his radio talk. That loveable know-it-all.

Oldies had Beach Boys as a focus; cranked "God Only Knows." In the book I sent you the accordionist talks about faking the strings on that. For the life of me, it sounds like fiddle and violas. Classic Rock station missed the point entirely and had a Zeppelin weekend.

Looking for military band music, I switched on PBS. Got pop country and one BeeGee doing staying alive. Never did hear any Sousa.

JOHN REPLIES: You gotta take the Sousa into your own hands. Lots of Sousa on the CD player over the holiday week-end here. Sousa -- he wrote some TUNES.

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)
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Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a Plasma Television site/blog. It pretty much covers Plasma Television related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)
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