Thursday, December 28, 2006

James Brown's Last Gig at the Apollo

I went. I went to Harlem and paid my respects to the remains of the Godfather of Soul.

I was brushing my teeth in Pafman's Gramercy apartment, half watching some inane morning chat show, and they flashed a live heli-cam take of James Brown's funeral hack, somewhere way the heck up Lennox Ave, ready to make its way to the Apollo Theatre. I said to the family, "I gotta go." It didn't take much to convince them to come along with me.

Somewhat dazed after a high speed subway map-checking session and painstaking black wardrobe selection, we raced out across E24th, and I nearly met my maker myself, dashing out in front of a garbage truck making a left turn.

I got a small bouquet of gold and purple flowers (seemed appropriate for the man with the most flamboyant stage wardrobe) at a Chinese lady's deli, and we got on the express train to 125th.

There outside the Apollo, hundreds were already gathering behind steel barricades for the 1pm viewing. Some OTHER hearse went on past, inadvertantly getting massive amounts of respect as bystanders gawked in wonder. It would be another hour before I jumped the barricade to see the actual cortege of the Hardest Working Man in Show Business pass right in front of me, a golden coffin pulled by two graceful white horses. There was a politely celebratory mood in the people who marched alongside it, no cops stopping common folk from joining the procession.

What a sight, though.

I suppose 4 or 5% of the crowd were white, like me. A family of Torontoans were there near us, as well as the random white couple or group. But it seemed like a cross section of rich and poor, men and women, young and old African Americans.

I got back in line, found myself interviewed by reporters two or three times, ate a fish sandwich brought to me by my hubby, and damn near froze to death despite the wonders of microfleece. By 4 pm, when we'd finally surged to a position under the Apollo Theatre's marquee, I basked in the amazing warmth of the light bulbs. They let us in 15 at a time, making us file singly through the lobby. People were good about the rules: no photography of any kind, take off your hat, no turning around.

The lobby was a jarring melange of white, bordello gold and red flocking, with breathtaking faded collages of original photos of the legends made there in that hallowed space. The theatre itself is delightfully ornate, just like last night's Shubert Theatre. But smaller than I'd ever dreamed. Maybe could seat 1200 people. Appropriately enough, "Live at the Apollo" played on the PA as we entered the orchestra aisles, lending an air of cheer to what was actually a somber event.

Family members and friends, & even probably some soul celebs sat in the front orchestra rows, and suddenly Reverend Al Sharpton brushed on past my son, led by two dishy young ladies and followed by 4 or 5 beefy bodyguards. BTW, Sharpton is shorter and slimmer and younger looking than I'm used to seeing him on the Larry King show.

By this time, we were pretty close to the stage, where the big man was lying, not faking it this time, and finally taking a day off (as my son said).

It was open casket all the way. How could I not be moved? Brown was in a purple suit all right, and his high living really had ravaged his strikingly handsome face. I knelt and put my flowers as near to his feet as we were allowed. I don't think I'll ever forget that moment.

We filed back out into the cold back alley world of asphalt, festooned with paintings vendors, and bargain clothing stores. I think we weren't fifty feet from the Apollo's back door when I spotted a pimply techno geek in his car/home, tapping out his own blog entry on this moment in rock history.

I really regret never having seen him perform in person. My husband saw him put on a great performance at the Fillmore East in 1970, and in fact his Hong Kong band Blue Wail used to do a bang-up cover of I Got You (I Feel Good) back in 1990.

But James Brown will forever remain the man who introduced me to soul music, the voice I'd hear as I'd dance in a mirror, trying to look cool at age 9.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Big Apple is a Macintosh

Strewth! Under the New York Christmas tree was an iPod Shuffle, bringing me back to my computer-coming-of-age days in the basement art department of the Hong Kong Marriot. My new little white brooch is chock full o' hits from my various family members, who scrambled to second-guess my taste in music, uploading what they had. As I write this, I am grooving to Sublime, Sting, and The Troggs. (My son, my sister-in-law, my husband).

Next thing I know, I am strolling down Fifth Avenue in Manhatten and see the gigundo Apple store, 24 hours free internet stations. My family is way too cool for my drooling and gawking, and I almost don't make it to the 57th street subway station after we celebrated Barbara's birthday at the Michael Feinsten Christmas show.

So what is the deal with html and the Mac? Is it this computer's settings, or is it true that the Mac can't do html blog entries? If you want the link to Michael Feinstein, this is it:

Want to know just how musical this family is? Here's what my kids gave the whole clan for Christmas.... a musical revue of seasonal songs. Standing before the tree on Christmas aftersoon, we were treated to this a capella 'stravaganza (some names blanked out to prevent stalking):

We Three Sisters (to the tune of We Three Kings)

We three sisters of T_____ family are
Ten hours we flew from places afar
Georgia, New York, California
Our family's Broadway stars
Stars of music, stars of song
Stars of making boeuf bourguignon
Cheerful laughter, witty banter
Staying up all night long
Stars of teaching, gardens for us
Stars of removing asbestos
You all possess ageless beauty
Please pass it on to us

I Saw Santa Wearing Cowboy Boots (to the tune of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus)

I saw Santa wearing cowboy boots
Over at the Meadows Christmas day
He sang to one and all
Everyone there had a ball
We listened to the baritone as he walked down the hall
Then we all asked hey why is Santa Claus
Dressed like he just flew in from LA
Oh, what a sight it would have been
If T- had only seen B-- kissing Santa Claus today

Up At Heathcote (to the tune of Up on the Rooftop)

Up at Heathcote W-- stands
Ready to tend to our demands
Fourteen pockets filled with parts
The job gets done before it starts
W--, check the shed
See it its paint contains lead
Down in the basement, the furnace creeks
He's go the wrench to fix the leaks
Outside we see the snow fall down
Up jump the kids from out of town
Don't eat the snow warns W--
The NH4 count's ten PPM
Down in the front room the door was jammed
All it needed was W--'s hand

Dot Brought Her Cookies (to the tune of Frosty the Snowman)

A--- came from
New York to Short Hills
D- was there at the train to say hello
And to drive to Cooperstown
She cooked up her lasagna
And she froze it over night
It travelled up in our car
And we ate up every bite
Oh, D- brought her cookies
Like always in a tin
And we can't believe she perfected them
While keeping herself thin

Sam S- is Moving to LA (to the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town)

Oh, he's packing his bags
He's loading the truck
We're all wishing him good luck
Sam S- is going to LA
He's finished up at Cornell
He's ready for his trip
He's graduating from race cars
And moving on to rocket ships
Oh, he's selling his skis
And buying some shorts
He better say bye to winter sports
Sam S- is going to LA

Going to the Store (the the tune of Jingle Bells)

Dashing to the plane
Speeding in the car
Almost missed the train
Travelling very far
Bags stuffed to the seams
Gifts for all to share
Booking tickets in their dreams
Yet they always make it here

Liquor store, hardware store, driving to the mall
Ev and Air know what to do when they hear R--'s call:

Clothing store, nail salon, buy three kinds of milk
Don't forget that A--- can only drink the Silk

Packing up the bags
Maple syrup here
We will bring the telescope
When we see you all next year

Merry Christmas, everyone. Gotta rush up to the Met.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Illiterate USA?

Man, what is the deal with this country?

Am back in the old country, having another bout of culture shock. It's manifested a little differently each time I return. In 1990, it was "clueless ATM queue etiquette." In 1991, it was "shampoo aisle, conditioner aisle." In 1992, it was "you mean to tell me you're having a recession?" In 1993, it was "why are the streets so empty?" And so on. But this year, it's "can't you people read?"

I really really want to apologize (not apologise, which I would use to address my Canadian & UK pals) to all of my Stateside friends, those of you who can read and spell. But you ARE living in a country that is starting to have a big problem.

I was just in an Old Navy store in Tucson's Park Place Mall. The guy in the checkout line next to mine had on a sweatshirt that blared the prefaded words: Team Baseball. What is that supposed to mean? Guy obviously isn't a baseball fan, or else he'd have on the shirt the name of an actual team. At best, he's a nice guy who doesn't want to take sides. At worst, he can't even read, doesn't care about grammar and meaning, labels on his own body. And what is this Old Navy enterprise, anyway? What does Old Navy mean? What bizarre marketing decision was this? Chimps with darts and a wall covered with words that might be associated with a clothing bargain? I can see the selection: Navy Army Surplus Old Overstock Overage Remainder Sale et cetera. Please, please, do not inform me that this Old Navy name was focus grouped. Please do not tell me that a group of consumers had a certain je-ne-sais-quoi for the words Old and Navy.

In our nation's capital, I was walking from the Metro station to my son's apartment and passed a fast food joint. Called Booeymonger. What, pray tell, is a Booey, and why would I want to eat it? It was an anagram of Booger money. A food outlet. It's downright creepy to see names that don't make sense. I mean, they are English words (Navy, monger, old, baseball, team) or at the very least follow one or two English spelling rules (booey). But this is every bit as bad as Chinese tee shirts I first encountered with mirth and incredulity in 1989.

When I first came to Hong Kong, I saw on tee shirts, jackets, and handbags such gems as "It's the Strange Active Dog" and "Dramatic Establishment Since 1957" and "Fight an Enemy" and "Funky Milky Girls." Ye-es, these are English, but does it mean anything? I held a fascination for these bizarre sayings and would try to memorize them, but because they make no sense, they defy memory. I had to start writing them down in my diary. I started stalking the funniest ones, missing tube stops and lunch appointments as I followed and scribbled these in my notebooks. I should blog a full list of these.

In the same way that Madison Avenue brainiacs of the 1960's went for the annoyance button to get our attention onto brands ("Mother, please; I'd rather do it myself" and "but not for boys" et al), marketing men just want us to give our attention to brand names. And here I am, blogging about Old Navy and Booeymonger, giving them free press coverage.

But, can you dig this? It's not China, and I'm reading these same ridiculous messages on contemporary fashions here in the largest English speaking country in the world.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blasters, The

Okay, I've got a new favorite bar band: The Blasters.

These guyses come from LA, but have friends in Tucson and play here whenever they can get a gig. I saw them Saturday night at Club Congress, which is a hip little joint in downtown Tucson.

We arrived well after the announced 9 pm start of the triple bill, but we listened to the opening acts from our little table ten feet from the stage. The two rockabilly acts were fairly unique, eschewed covering the Stray Cats and early Elvis. Telecasterman Al Perry performed with a competent percussionist on snare, and a fine standup bassist. Al looked the part with sideburns, sweat, and grease, and his smooth voice was... sweet as Tupelo honey. Lookswise, I thought he could have passed for the little brother of late, great, Texas-born artist Jim Pomeroy. It was the night of the Al's, for the badass and pared down Al trio was followed by a larger band that brought in a larger repertoire of Freddie King intstrumentals, ballads, and bluesified country tunes. But this frontman didn't really connect with the audience, and the crowd thinned out a bit to gossip in the hotel lobby and get beer in the pump room. Best of Al's lost sheep was the inventive harp player, an innocuous-looking guy who looked like his day job was librarian or tax accountant. Forgive me, but Al Foul looked eerily like Willem Dafoe!

And when the Blasters hit the stage, wouldn't you know lead guitarist Keith Wyatt was a dead ringer for Geoffrey Rush!

But who cares what these guys looked like. It was an evening all about the SOUND! Wyatt has the kind of creative energy and musical genius which I haven't enjoyed since Chai Soo Heng's never-the-same-twice solos in Hong Kong's original Blue Wail blues band. It was a mind-blowing evening of mostly original music played with passion. Yeah, these guys may have their roots in rockabilly, but they pretty much defied that narrow categorization. It was all guitar-driven Americana, true blue rock and roll that ranged from blistering surf instrumental Boneyard to redneck Johnny Paycheck ballad I'm the Only Hell my Mama Ever Raised.

Frontman Phil Alvin sweated and wailed nonstop through just under two hours of songs about troubled romance, hot cars, and they were tight, tough, and thoroughly INTO the music. Supreme entertainers, Alvin grabbed our hearts in the way that inspires fan behavior ranging from cool respect to slobbering stalkation. Viz: one drunken, past-her-prime groupie yelled out "you're a babe," and Alvin lost his cool composure. Not that he showed annoyance; to his credit, the man blushed and stammered with ingenuous charm. When you can meld innocence and rock n roll, you've pulled off the coup de grace.

Jerry Angel, drummer with finesse, brought in the surf cred as a bona fide surf instructor, but in true Americanarama, the band hails from Downey, LA's white bread lower class suburb, not some spoiled-brat velvet ghetto like Redondo Beach or Orange County's Newport.

While we're on the topic of working class integrity, I've got to heap a little praise on the noble settlement of Tucson, Arizona. Its current boom phase has blasted the population just over the 1 million mark, but that doesn't mean it ain't a small town. And the economy is depressed juuuust enough, to be a kind of annex to the developing world. Judging from prices, it almost doesn't belong in America, but it is totally American in every other way.

Dig, it's $5.25 for a Glenlivet at the Congress and $10 cover charge to see a semi major rock act with two openers.

But gas was at near-Texas prices (207 a gal), and Freixenet (low budget cava) hovers reasonably at 7 bucks (inflated for the holidays in California at 10). A Safeway iPod giveaway was enough to pack the store at 11 at night. Cheap tacos abound, and you can bring a date to the movies with a twenty dollar bill and still have money left over for popcorn.

The cute part of Tucson is that the girls are a little bit behind in the fashion realm. Checking out the 'competition', I was kicking myself for not bringing my leftovers of trendy 2001, a year when you could still get away with wearing chunky black platform boots. Evidently, it's not at all passé to wear these relics in a size-each-other-up venue like the Congress. I went for "intellectual backpacker" in my Keen walking shoes and wool beret, but every other gal there was clearly "too young to be a punk rocker" retro... black on black with silver stud accents. Not one exposed belly button in the joint, so that means they haven't discovered 2005 yet. Take a wardrobe like mine (please), and it's loaded with whatever was daring three years ago, fleece wear, and my fetish collection of scarves and handbags. From San Francisco to Soho, I'm a joke. But I can be riding the crest of fashism in the Sonora Desert.

Three cheers for Tucson!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ragtop Sunburn

In honor of my husband's sunburn (he drove around sunny San Francisco all day with the top down, doing errands), I offer the following cocktail:

Ragtop Sunburn

Stir together in a collins glass:
1 shot Pearl vodka
1/2 shot deKuyper Cinnamon Schnapps
several cubes of ice

Fill up with cranberry juice. Can be garnished with lemon or orange "wheel." Make it a lime "wheel" for Christmas color scheme.

Weapon of Mass Destruction Cocktail

You heard it here first, folks!

The cocktail of the year: Weapon of Mass Destruction
(as invented by a junior diplomat in Washington DC):

Mix together in beer mug/ pint glass :
1 oz Peach schnapps
1 oz Vodka
2 oz Cranberry juice
Fill with soda water
Drop 1 shot glass full of Jaegermeister into glass (boiler maker style)
Like any good diplomat, the guy adds this explanation:
"Basically it's a Red-headed slut (peach schnapps makes the Jaeger palatable) only served and consumed like a boiler maker."

Enjoy (I guess).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Blogger Beta, Evolution and Me

I am always suspicious of "new and improved," thanks to Joy of Cooking's various revisions, and thanks to Victoria's Secret changing the pattern of their "Rio Brief."

So it took me a really long time to get into the whole Beta Blogger thing. But I've taken the leap.

The changes? Well, it's nice to see the blog comments, finally, but I am now listed as living in Bali, Idaho. That's cool, as long as I still get all the miles coming to me on Star Alliance.

Thanks, Blogger, for these updates.

Just Testing

This is my first test, posting blogger via email.

Thanks for ignoring this test.