Archive for April, 2010

We are happy to have been served by you (Leslie Buck, 1922-2010)

April 29, 2010

I’m fond of those nooks and crannies of history and culture — people, items and/or places to which we don’t always give a second thought, but they’re a part of our lives somehow in a way we don’t ponder until they’re gone.

Until this evening, when I read his obit in The New York Times, I didn’t know who Leslie Buck was.

If you seek his monument, look above. The Czechoslovakian-born son of Jewish parents who died in the Holocaust, he designed the Greek coffee cup that’s close to synonymous with New York. Talk about melting pots. Or cups.

With the proliferation of coffee chains that use foofy words like “venti,” the small but venerable cup’s presence has declined. But this tiny bit of paper and wax, spawned in the mid-’60s, is an iconic artifact of a time and place — in this case, of pre-Internet, pre-9/11, Jerry Orbach-as-Lennie Briscoe New York. Like a lot of other New York artifacts — Luna Park, subway tokens, the Horn & Hardart Automats, West Side Story,  stickball, Ebbets Field, the ’64 World’s Fair, CBGB, the Twin Towers — it will be a defining piece of the city that will never be forgotten as long as there’s a history.

And Leslie Buck was the man who made many lives a little brighter by making them a little bluer.

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Love those fortune cookies

April 29, 2010

Not only do I believe that everything happens for a reason, I believe that often applies exponentially to fortune cookie fortunes.

Look, I realize they’re cranked out at factories where they’re produced by the billions. And, like newspaper horoscopes, they’re supposed to be extremely vague and applicable to just about anyone who may receive them.

But somehow I usually end up with fortunes that really pertain to my situation. And I’ve somehow forgotten and/or lost almost all of them.

But maybe I should start remembering them — and use this space to help me do so.

So tonight, I went to a Chinese buffet (not for the Chinese food, mind you, but the cheap sashimi and sushi). And this is the fortune I came away with:

“Know and believe in yourself, and what others think won’t disturb you.”

At this point in my life, it especially speaks volumes.

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Underground Garden” — Blake Jones & the Trike Shop (self-released)

April 24, 2010

Blake Jones & the Trike Shop emerge from "The Underground Garden" to release their new album April 24 at Audie's Olympic in Fresno. From left: Leland Vander Poel, Martin Hansen, Jones, John Shafer and Mike Scott.

In a perfect world, I would love for my California friends to be able to meet my East Coast friends. And I wish my fellow music fiends back in New Haven and New York could get to see Blake Jones play at least once.

He’s in his late 40s, like me, and has been part of the Fresno music scene since the late ’70s. He was one of the first people I met here — one Saturday morning at Spinners Records in the Tower District in January 2004, while I was out here on my job interview. And he and his wife, Lauri, are two of the nicest and most supportive people in the universe.

A pop composer extraordinaire whose whose earlier work reminded me of Lennon & McCartney meets Brian Wilson meets XTC, with a dash of Zappa and a dollop of theremins, he currently performs in three configurations: with The Trike Shop; his Ill-Advised Solo Shows; and, very infrequently, a Beatle band called Ticket to Ride that plays the obscure stuff (say, “Think for Yourself,” “What You’re Doing” and the German songs).

Well, barring me winning MegaMillions, I don’t think my east and west coasts will ever meet. But those of you shackled by geography can really get to know him and his heart, musically and spiritually, through the Trike Shop’s wonderful new album, “The Underground Garden,” which he’ll unveil Saturday night (April 24) at Audie’s Olympic in Fresno. Maybe his latest bit of musical agriculture will become something else for which the Central San Joaquin Valley can be world-famous.

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Oh shit! Drew Brees on the cover of Madden ’11!

April 23, 2010

Duuuuuum da-DUM-dum! So much for the Saints' 2010 season.

I didn’t pay any attention to Thursday evening’s first round of the NFL draft as it was taking place. But now that I’m catching up, I do know my Super Bowl champion Saints (I sooooo dig saying that) wrapped up the first round by taking a cornerback, Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, who’s suposed to have a million bucks of athleticism but lacks in the mental skills. But if Sean Payton and crew can work some magic with him, they could be set at the corners for a long time; last year, they drafted Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, who started to really come around by year’s end.

And my Giants, at No. 15, took South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul; he’s supposedly a boom-or-bust player who could complement Mathias Kiwanuka and Justin Tuck and hasten the departure of Osi Umenyiora.

So I should be happy, right?

No — actually, I’m not.

Because I just saw the above image.

Drew Brees on the cover of Madden ’11. EA Sports made the announcement Thursday.

The strongest jinx in sports this side of the Sports Illustrated cover.

Shit.

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Mike/Christine: My cautionary tale

April 21, 2010

Mike Penner and Christine Daniels: Life got to be too much in either gender.

Mike Penner/Christine Daniels, the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who underwent a very public gender transition three years ago, has been my cautionary tale for the two years-plus since I had my own epiphany about gender identity.

(S)he was such a story for me even before I knew I was headed down this path. And (s)he became even more of a warning to me a year and a half ago, when (s)he very quietly decided to chuck it all and retreat into the closet. And (s)he resonated loudest and clearest when (s)he committed suicide the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend — as I was going through a round of internal hell over the transition.

And (s)he has remained a cautionary tale for me as I inch along — sometimes warily, sometimes not — in my life change. Since the Times ran this story on him/her as a Column One piece on the front page earlier this month, (s)he has given me a lot to chew on. And it hasn’t been very tasty.

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Fresno/Clovis: 64 screens and nothing on

April 17, 2010

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in "The Last Station," which Fresno finally got to see last night -- thanks to Fresno Filmworks, no thanks to the chains.

This rant has been building for a while, and it took an event last night to bring it to full complaint mode.

I attended the opening of the sixth annual Fresno Film Festival. It’s presented each April by Fresno Filmworks, a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization that brings movies one Friday a month to the Tower Theatre, the 1939-vintage Art Deco gem that gives the one cool area of Fresno its name (the Tower District).

The opening-night selection was “The Last Station,” based on a novel about the final months of Leo Tolstoy’s life and the battle over his will. It was an extremely well-done film with a stellar cast: Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, Helen Mirren as his wife, Paul Giamatti (one of my favorite actors) doing another weasely turn as the author’s main disciple, and James McAvoy as Tolstoy’s personal secretary. Mirren (best actress) and Plummer (best supporting actor) were nominated for Oscars, SAGs and Golden Globes for their performances here. A great choice by Fresno Filmworks, to be sure.

So what’s my complaint? That this is a film that should have been screened at a first-run theater, not saved for a once-a-year film fest. Fresno and Clovis, with a combined population of about 600,000, have 64 screens devoted to first-run films. There’s no reason these excellent films have to fall to the realm of a dedicated but small group with limited resources, and then for just two screenings on a Friday night — or, in this case, one. Filmworks’ last two monthly selections — two programs of Oscar-nominated shorts in March; “The Messenger,” a military film with Oscar-nominee Woody Harrelson, in February — fall into the same category.

And it’s not just highbrow and/or art-house fare we’re talking about here. A month after its opening in the big cities and a week after it went wide “everywhere,” “The Runaways” hasn’t opened here, either. Guess that means this is nowhere …

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ALBUM REVIEW: “Volume Two” — She & Him (Merge)

April 16, 2010

She is Zooey Deschanel; Him is M.Ward. And you might want to start thinking of She as a songwriter and singer above all.

Regardless of what Zooey Deschanel told Will Ferrell in “Elf,” she does sing. And in front of people. And very, very well, at that.

And “Volume Two,” the second and latest album by She & Him, the group fronted by Deschanel and M. Ward — a partnership formed when they collaborated on Richard & Linda Thompson’s “When I Get to the Border” for her 2007 film “The Go-Getter” — has been deservedly getting plenty of workout in my car stereo as of late. It’s an extremely well-crafted album; were it not for her other career, more people would be flat-out singing her praises as a songwriter and singer. Not one of her 11 originals here falls flat, and many of them hit some lofty peaks.

And it says volumes that this album gets a thumbs-up despite their version of one of my all-time favorite songs.

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ALBUM REVIEW: “I Learned the Hard Way” — Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (Daptone)

April 13, 2010

Sharon Jones, Bosco Mann (right) and the rest of the Dap-Kings are busting out this time, whether the so-called mainstream lets them or not.

I’m not gonna sit here and bitch and moan about how unfair the music business is — that’s a given.

OK, maybe I will.

In this particular case, my complaint is that a strong, thick, middle-aged black woman with a dynamic voice, born in James Brown’s hometown and living in the center of the universe, can’t get noticed by the mainstream. Yet for years, all these less-talented English chickies, all white and cute and too young to remember the Godfather, have reaped all the attention and acclaim for being such good soul singers.

All this even though this woman fronts the same band that backed Amy Winehouse on her breakthrough album. (And I’m not lumping Winehouse in with all the other young English soul singers — hell, she’s wasted more talent than most of them ever possessed.)

Sharon Jones, 53, of Brooklyn via Augusta, Ga., should have been a star years ago; a recent New York magazine article, an excellent piece by onetime Daily News music scribe David Browne, tells of an audition in the ’80s when a recording executive told her to step back and let her younger, skinnier, lighter-skinned friend take the mic.

But now, after a decade together — and Jones’ personal quarter-century sojourn from heartbreaking auditions, to singing in a wedding band, to singing to inmates while working as a guard at Rikers, to singing with people from Lou Reed to Michael Buble to Phish — she and the Dap-Kings have made yet another convincing argument for being the coolest group on the planet: their fourth album, “I Learned the Hard Way.” And, Justin Bieber magazine covers aside, the so-called mainstream is being yanked by the earlobe whether it wants to or not.

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SEX sells (so do fashion, art, music and controversy): Malcolm McLaren (1946-2010)

April 9, 2010

“For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and i will miss him, and so should you” – Johnny Rotten

I never got the feeling Malcolm McLaren, who died Wednesday, really gave a shit about music. He was an art student and an entrepreneur, first and foremost — and not necessarily in that order — and he used his art education to channel his rebellious nature, ultimately, into a way to make money. Which he did splendidly — he had homes in both Paris and New York.

But along the way, he accidentally discovered a way to change the image behind the music we’ve been hearing the past 35 years — and, in turn, had more than his say in shaping music as well. Did you ever stop to think how different everyday music, fashion and art would be had he not created the Sex Pistols?

McLaren certainly didn’t invent punk, nor the look. But he was the catalyst through which the style was joined to the sound — and, eventually, to mass culture. And more things than you can count, from colored hair, to stylistically tattered clothing, to artistically arrayed riots of color in everything from cars to advertising displays, to comics — and the widespread musical influence of punk — draws a line through McLaren and his many-named London boutique in the early-to-mid-’70s.

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New albums you should know about by people I know: Black 47, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents

April 6, 2010

Black 47's latest album is "Bankers & Gangsters." From left: Thomas Hamlin, Joe Burcaw, Larry Kirwan, Fred Parcells, Geoffrey Blythe and Joseph Mulvanerty.

(Note: After a far-too-lengthy pause due to burnout, I’m getting back into doing something I’ve always enjoyed: reviewing albums.

If you have a new CD — and it has to be available in CD format — or know of an album I should hear one way or the other, drop me a line at franoramaworld@gmail.com.)

Spring brings not only a renewal of life, but the awakening of the music world from its long winter slumber. And a personal slumber as well, as I get back into reviewing albums, which I started doing as a high school junior (“NRBQ at Yankee Stadium,” spring 1978). I might as well ease into it with three released in the past month by people I know — Black 47, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez and Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents:

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