Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: The Living Room - 8PM, 8/13/07

Chris Denny plays with Matt Mays at an 8 PM show. The way I understand it, Matt was originally going to be called up to sit in on a few songs in the middle of the set, but ends up playing along for the whole show.

Instead of a hat (he loves him his hats) Matt is wearing rock star sunglasses which you can barely see beneath his forelock. He plays along subtly and evocatively, singing backup now and then, and taking solos whenever Chris says in a low voice, "Take it, Matt," or "All yours, Matt."

Matt also gets the biggest laugh of the night during a tune-up. "If anyone out there believes in telekinesis," he says, "please raise my hand."

It's a great show. But I have a hard time concentrating because Chris looks so much like Robert Iler as sixth-season AJ Soprano that it's totally freaking me out:

Blogging On The Road: Chapter 3

Less than a paragraph later, we're in Chicago; less than a page later, the narrator is hitching west after kicking himself for spending money on a bus from Chi-town to Joliet. The way he brushes off both trips is a clear indication that the Road of the book's title is not buses and paid fares, it's hitchhiking and the pricelessness of freedom.

Along the way he sees "my beloved Mississippi River." Beloved why? What for? Because he's read about it in a Mark Twain novel? Seen it dozens of times before? It's an odd use of the adjective, it implies a past which is never revealed, and points up the fact that there's very little of the narrator's past that is part of this story. Maybe we'll get it along the way, but if we don't, it's because it's not necessary; almost like he's filling it in when and if he needs it, like an oil change at a gas station.

Stuck in Davenport, he tries to get out and winds up right back where he started, like a miniature version of the last chapter. The Road is a place of fits and starts, of deep frustrations and high joys (the narrator would probably say "holy joys"). After a couple of truck drivers get him to Iowa, where he can "see Denver looming ahead of me like the Promised Land," we get a flash-forward: he's in a town "where years later Dean and I were stopped on suspicion in what looked like a stolen Cadillac." It's the first mention of Dean in a while, and the first time he's explicitly situated in the future, like Denver.

For the rest of the chapter, the narrator (still nameless) hooks up with a hitcher from New York named Eddie, who may be on the run from something. It's yet another rule of The Road: the Road is only home to two kinds of people, those who are running towards something they can't describe and those who are running away from something they don't want to talk about.

In this section, there's another little miniature, as a cowboy tells the guys a story about hopping freight trains back in the day, and another fits and starts moment when they end up in Shelton, Nebraska, where Eddie was years ago. In the ensuing drizzle (the rain is starting to become symbolic; it always seems to happen when there are no rides out of town), the narrator gives Eddie his wool plaid shirt to help keep him warm, a gift that he later regrets when Eddie without a word or a backward glance hops onto a trailer with only room for one passenger, leaving the narrator stuck in Shelton.

But before Eddie vanishes off towards the horizon, he and the narrator are offered a job with a travelling carnival. It's tempting; if there's one group of people that could actually form the kind of rootless community which could survive on The Road, it's carny folk. It's like a myth within a myth, and here's the opportunity to take it, but they pass. You get the sense that they pass not just because it's a job, but because it's a job where you have to deal with normal people whenever you stop moving and pitch your tent. And if you're going to deal with normal people in town after town, why not just settle down in one? Which is not the pearl you want The Road to hand you. Just another empty oyster.

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Pete's Candy Store - 9PM, 8/11/07

The good news is, Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn has an intimate room with great sound that looks like a miniature art deco airplane hangar.

The bad news is, there's no air in the room and the rat's nest of a sound board looks like it was installed by the same sadists responsible for Sam Lowry's ventilation system in Brazil. The concert is about an hour long, and it seems like the guys spend 10 minutes each fiddling with the board before their songs.

Matt and Chris wind up solving the sound board problem by switching guitars back and forth when they do their numbers. And because the stage is also so tiny that only two people can occupy it at the same time, one of the guys is either sitting on the floor or standing off to one side while the others are on stage.

It's a good show but it seems like a step back from last night. I miss seeing everybody on stage at once, two of them listening while the other one plays. It feels like less of a group show and more like three guys getting up one after the other without the group connection I felt last night at Union Hall.

Blogging On The Road: Chapter 2

Having saved fifty bucks from veteran benefits (he’s a veteran?—from what war?) our nameless narrator is ready to head out west and join his friend Remi Boncoeur in San Francisco where they will ship out together on a round-the-world liner. After consulting a bunch of maps (which, given our narrator’s propensity for mythologizing, probably all have blank spaces around the general area of the Great Plains with the words “Here There Be Dragons” inscribed in 10-point Gothic), our modern Dante decides to get to Ely, Nevada the straightest way possible, which is to take Route 6 cross-country from Bear Mountain. Big mistake. He winds up a sodden mess of a man trying to hitchhike in the rain, a man whose dream of zipping across the country in hobo luxury has turned into a nightmare of rideless frustration.

“What the hell am I doing up here?” I cursed, I cried for Chicago. “Even now they’re all having a big time, they’re doing this, I’m not there, when will I get there!”

He finally gets a ride, but it’s a ride back into New York, where he blows half his money on a bus ticket to Chicago, berating himself because he wanted to head west and wound up “going up and down like something that can’t get started.” This is the lament of a man who is more interested in the destination than the journey. Will he ever actually enjoy any of his travels? Or will they all be frustrating interludes of motion without movement between where he is now and where somebody else is having a good time without him?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Blogging On The Road: Chapter 1

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.

Without reading any more than the first two sentences, all I can think of is this:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

And I have this vision of the nameless narrator (and he stays nameless for a long time) as a soul-dead drifter divorced from female companionship ditching Beatrice for a Virgil who runs every red light on the road to hell and back. This Virgil is the perfect road companion: Dean, a man who was born on the road itself. A man who is also dumped by his woman and ends up at the narrator’s house in Paterson, New Jersey--which sets my Western Lit alarm off and I envision Dean and the narrator visiting Paterson doctor William Carlos Williams to con a prescription for Benzedrine, and the good doctor writing the following poem:

so much depends
a red ford

splashed with brown

beside the white
route 66 sign.

What do we know about Dean at this stage of the game, besides the fact that the narrator is enthralled by him? Well, in a wonderful paragraph-long sentence, we discover that Dean is the most fantastic parking lot attendant in the world. We also discover a typically oblique reason for the narrator's fascination with Dean in a justly famous passage which comes up so quickly in the book it feels like a summation instead of a beginning:

They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

Like the symphonies of Beethoven, it's impossible to hear this for the first time. Seeing these words is an act of recognition, not perception.

On the theory that everything in this novel is about Dean--every relationship and every image and every word the narrator says, whether he knows it or not--we've just been given the man in poetical miniature, which is almost immediately followed by a much more down-to-earth snapshot of a man who is totally obsessed with getting laid and getting fed, an animal interested in nothing more than where his next girl and his next meal are coming from. A man who's not, in fact, very likeable. And yet the narrator sees in Dean a kind of world-oyster, and by following him, "[s]omewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me." What pearl? The pearl of wisdom? The pearl of great price? Or (knowing Dean) a girl named Pearl who'll make your blue centerlight pop till you go "Awww!"

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Union Hall - 9PM, 8/10/07

Friday night in Brooklyn, where Doors @ 8 means the show starts around 9, 9:30 or when the band's finished eating, whichever comes last. Downstairs at Union Hall is like being in your grandparents' cellar-the only thing that's missing besides a ping pong table is plastic sheets over the couches. It's a very down-home intimate space with a stage that's only about six inches off the floor.

Every time Mike plays, Chris sends his astral body out to listen to him. Because Mike rephrases his songs differently every night, it's like he's walking into a familiar room by a different door, or a new window, just to see what the room looks like now from this strange new vantage point.

The guys are definitely getting better and better. After last night's Midtown mob scene, tonight's small but receptive audience brings out a lot of confident co-playing and a relaxed sense that they've been playing together for months, not days. I just wish more people were here. (I bet Abe does too.)

For their last song, the guys play "Handle Me With Care," with Matt doing the Dylan part and Chris doing Orbison (duh). It is such a joyous moment; I'm laughing with glee and singing along like the nerd I am at heart.

Then the place turned into a disco and we danced for a couple of hours.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Weekend update

The only thing more peaceful than a cemetery is the site of a hundred-year-old battlefield. In this case, Petersburg, Virginia, and the Battle of the Crater.

Maybe it's the stifling humidity which makes the air so thick you have to shoulder your way through it like you're wading into surf. Or maybe it's the knowledge that you're walking over ground where kids half your age and younger bled their lives out into the grass and the earthworks.

Whatever the reason, you barely talk as you drive from point to point on the battlefield tour, getting out at stop after stop like you're walking some uniquely American version of the Stations of the Cross, until you come to the final site of the battlefield, though not the final site of battle.

The Battle of the Crater took place on July 30, 1864, when 4 tons of explosives went off in a tunnel that Union soldiers (mostly ex-miners from Pennsylvania) had dug under the Confederate lines. If you've seen the movie version of Cold Mountain? That's the big battle scene Jude Law walks away from. It was a total cock-up from start to finish. Because the black troops who were originally supposed to spearhead the Union charge might have suffered drastic losses, which would have made a bad headline, another regiment was sent in, and instead of advancing around the Crater, they walked straight into it. The resulting turkey shoot gave the Confederates enough time to rally for a counterattack.

What can you do in the face of history like this? Raise monuments? Observe silence? Sing "Mamma Look Sharp?" The only thing I know for sure is that it's impossible to picture a battle taking place here. Which is the fate of battlefields. Time weeds the blood and agony from the land, and what is preserved is something which dishonors the dead by making it impossible to imagine anyone dying in a place so peaceful, so quiet, so green and alive.

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Bar Nine - 9PM, 8/9/07

After the Banjo Jim's concert, I was giving Chris Denny and his fiancee MC a preview of what it would be like to play at Bar Nine. "There'll be a lot of people talking and a lot more people yelling to be heard over the people talking, and then when you finish your song you'll get a polite clap or two and then everybody will go back to yelling at everybody else until you finish your next song. People getting drunk, guys trying to pick up girls, a crowd that gets bigger and louder as the night goes on -- typical Thursday night in Midtown." Chris looked at me and said, "You've been to Little Rock?" I shook my head. "Because there's a bar called Midtown that's just like that." I laughed and said, "Well, here in New York, we have a whole ten block radius that's just like that."
Since I always try to be early, I get to Bar Nine at 8:40 or so for the 9PM start. Silly me. The only person there is Janine, who comes in from Philadelphia now and then. DJ shows up pretty much at the announced start time, then KP, then there's a whole flood of people, none of whom are the actual performers. The place is pretty packed by the time they get there at 9:15, and it only gets more packed as the night goes on. If this was a concert crowd we'd be in for a great time. But it's a Thursday-night-in-Midtown crowd, so those of us who are into the music worm our way to the front of the pack as the show starts.

Even though I’m five feet away from the stage, I can’t understand a word Mike says when he speaks between songs. Matt seems very do-it-and-get-off, saying “Thank you” and backing up a millisecond after he finishes his numbers, like a man who expects no response at all. Chris starts out with a shirt under his overalls but it’s so hot he says to hell with it, takes the shirt off, and plays bare-chested. Directly in front of Mike, there’s a blonde necking with her boyfriend, and all I want to do is yell “Get a room!”

But a funny thing happens. The louder the audience gets, the better the guys play. And the more they play with each other. Yeah, they're playing in front of an audience, but they're not playing for the audience--they’re playing for themselves, and the concentration required to block out the pick-up bar shouting results in a great concert because they're listening to each other instead of trying to get a bunch of loud drunks to listen to them..

Some of the people who were listening: (from right to left) Abe Bradshaw, DJ Fuller, and Janine Bacchi. The guy to Janine's right is some guy she told five times she was from Philadelphia, before he staggered off to look up where it was in his Blackberry.

The last number is a group performance of "The Weight," with Matt doing the Rick Danko part. Believe it or not, even though four-fifths of the people in the bar didn't seem to be listening to the show at all? This is the one that had the most CD's sold.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts: Banjo Jim's - 8PM, 8/8/07

Banjo Jim's is a tiny little bar that feels so intimate that I don’t take too many pictures because I feel like it would destroy the atmosphere. I also figure that the boys will be using this night as a performance/dress rehearsal, and who wants to have pictures taken during a rehearsal?

They play for about an hour, starting around 8:30 and playing till just before 10. It does feel like a rehearsal; when one sings and plays, you can see the other two listening and taking it in.

Occasionally Mike plays harmonica behind Matt, and Matt plays behind Chris. The minute Chris opens his mouth, it gets so quiet you can hear your cells divide. During one of the tuning sections, Chris tells a joke that gets a flat response, and follows it by saying, “This song is better than that joke,” which will become a running gag for the next week.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The 20 Rules for Sadness and Depression

(from The Art of Unhappiness, by the Dull-eyed Lama)

  1. Remember that failure and disappointment always result from taking a risk.
  2. When you lose, don't forget to forget the lesson.
  3. The loser you are at work, is the loser you are in life.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is the natural order of things.
  5. Learn the rules so you can use them as an excuse.
  6. Always let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
  7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to repeat it.
  8. Avoid thoughtfulness like the plague.
  9. Open your arms to change. Then duck.
  10. Remember that silence is never an option.
  11. Never let values interfere with the satisfaction of a fleeting desire.
  12. A tense atmosphere in the home is the foundation of an unsuccessful life.
  13. At least once a year, make plans to go somewhere you've never been before, and then cancel them at the last minute.
  14. Remember that the most fulfilling relationship for the truly depressed is one in which need masquerades as love.
  15. We are only truly alive when we make ourselves suffer.
  16. We are even more alive when we make other people suffer, which is why everyone gets married and has children.
  17. Love is like a scorpion. If you can hold it without being stung, then it's dead.
  18. Compassion breeds resentment.
  19. The best way to reduce conflict is to internalize it so you get cancer.
  20. When in doubt, do nothing; when called upon to speak, complain; when asked, make an excuse.

Best. Review. Ever.

(this week)

Friday, August 17, 2007

sitting in an irish bar/vermeer's guitar

The only people for me are the mad ones

The last time I read On The Road was 25 years ago, right after I moved to New York, which was for me the equivalent of a road trip to destiny.

Like all road trips, it's involved rest stops and exits I never anticipated. And as for destiny, well, one thing I've learned since those days is that motion is not movement. Movement, like a road trip, depends in equal parts on the machine you're driving, the amount of gas you have in your tank, the direction you're headed, and the traffic on the road.

So far this summer it's been like a long sojourn in the break-down-lane waiting for someone to fix my engine, fill up my tires, or (failing that) tow me to a garage. I definitely need a jump start. So: starting next week, I will be re-reading On The Road. And (what the hell) blogging about it.

Since I'm heading to Virginia to see an old friend, what better book to read, right?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The 02:59 CD Release Concerts, or, Why I Have No Brain Today

So, after sending out an e-mail that totally confused Merv Griffin with Mike Douglas, among other things, I am forced to contemplate the fact that approximately 24 hours of sleep in the last 8 days is about one more sleepless night away from turning into a Native American Vision Quest. (My new Indian name: Walks Without Sleep.)

And who is responsible for this? (Because, y'know, nobody ever takes responsibility for their own actions any more.) These guys:

And these guys:

From left to right that's Mike Ferrio from Tandy, Matt Mays of Matt Mays and El Torpedo, and Arkansas's own Christopher Denny. They've played seven shows together over the last week, each one better than the last, and I've been to every one.

Bottom line? If the 02:59 record label didn't have such great musicians? I would be a lot more well-rested right now.

Full recap on all the concerts after tonight's Matt Mays solo show at the Mercury Lounge, and some well-earned rest on my part.