Archive for March, 2011

What the hell — let’s have some fun: Poker with the boys

March 25, 2011

Club One Casino in downtown Fresno on a typical morning, around tournament time.

Personally, it was one of the last social barriers to cross in my trip to the girls’ side — playing poker with the boys. Well, actually I’d done that several times — I still play with a crew of mostly Fresno Bee sports guys present and past and other pals — but that’s a home table. I’m talking about a bunch of strangers in a tournament setting, 90 percent of them very much male and highly unlikely to change anytime ever.

But there I was the first Thursday of March, exiting my car in the downtown Fresno underground parking garage, heading to the elevator that would (slowly) take me the two floors to the street level and Club One Casino, to play in one of the regular 10 a.m. hold ’em tournaments.

You’d think I would’ve gotten all my gender jitters out of the way by now. Well, most of them. As I departed the elevator and walked past the OTB room and the restaurant and stepped into the carpeted arena of the cardroom, I was ready for another adventure. And curious to see how different an experience this would be.

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Five Songs, Part 23

March 25, 2011

Time for Five Songs. It’s been a busy and stressful week, so I’ve been light on the writing, but here’s the songlist, anyway …

I do my damndest not to make this a themed feature of my blog, save for Christmastime, but earlier in the week, war weighed heavily on my mind.

As the week opened, our forces bombed Libya to raging indifference from a citizenry that’s been numbed senseless by military involvement in two other intractable places, in fighting that only seems to profit the profiteers.

And dozens of protesters — including Daniel Ellsberg — were arrested at Quantico protesting our government’s treatment of Bradley Manning. (And whatever you think of him — traitor, this generation’s Ellsberg, whatever — our military’s treatment of him, with the tacit approval of  Cheney Obama, is an outrageous embarrassment for a country that’s supposed to be the beacon and shining example to all those burgeoning democracies around the world.)

So yeah — war is weighing heavily. Among the other piles of shit we have to deal with. And it’s crept its way into Five Songs this week:

Where the Rose Is Sown — Big Country

Some Mother’s Son — The Kinks

Handsome Johnny — Richie Havens

At the Height of the Fighting — Heaven 17

English Civil War — The Clash

Five Songs, Part 22

March 18, 2011

Hi. Here are this week’s Five Songs. It hit me earlier this week — and I then forgot about it ’til this morning, but last night (March 17) was the first anniversary of Alex Chilton’s passing. Hence, on a week where I was struggling with getting five songs to rattle out of my brain, I complete this week’s tunes. Enjoy:

Brass Bonanza (aka the Hartford Whalers’ theme song) — Jack Say

Emulsified — Rex Garvin & the Mighty Cravers

The Girl From Outta Space — Barrence Whitfield & the Savages

The Ballad of El Goodo — Big Star

Alex Chilton — The Replacements

The Fresno Autorama: I miss it already

March 16, 2011

George Barris brought his Munsters Koach to the 2008 Fresno Autorama. Photo by Franorama World.

UPDATE 3/6/12: The Fresno Autorama has officially been laid to rest. My former Fresno Bee colleague (and former neighbor) Paula Lloyd — who herself retired this past Friday — interviewed Blackie Gejeian the week before; he was letting everyone know of his decision to shut the show down permanently. And thus ends one of the coolest things about Fresno. As I said a year ago, I miss it already.

*****

I moved to Fresno seven years ago March 23 from the other side of the country — and just missed, by a couple days, one of the coolest events in this cowtown of a half-million, or any other town, for that matter: the annual Fresno Autorama.

But I made it a point to go every year after that. And along the way, I finally grew the sense to bring a camera with me.

It was the brainchild and the baby of Blackie Gejeian, a legendary local motorhead, from a family of Armenian genocide-surviving raisin farmers in Easton, who wasn’t old-school; he was pre-school. (And until the plaque honoring him was unveiled outside the Fresno Convention Center last March, I never knew his name was Mike.)

He returned from the Navy after World War II and started building hot rods to race. Then, after an illegal race nearly killed him, he started customizing them — and chroming the undercarriage, things we take for granted now. And placing mirrors beneath the cars so people could see the handiwork, another car show staple we take for granted. That was Blackie’s doing, too.

And his work became renowned among the auto crowd. Such as the Ala Kart — which he, along with a Fresno pal, the ’29 Ford truck’s original owner, Richard Peters, and legendary customizer George Barris conjured at an L.A. coffee shop in 1957. (Two years later, AMT made it the first show car model. And I have a Hot Wheels version somewhere, in a four-car Barris collection.)

And then he started the Autorama. And it became an event of international renown, one of the biggest custom car shows in North America.

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The Rogue Festival: The final day

March 14, 2011

The Rogue Festival, Fresno’s cultural gem of a fringe/performance fest, ended Saturday (March 12) the way these things usually do: with people scrambling to see the shows they haven’t had the chance to see yet, making hard choices between shows playing at the same time; and a seriously cut-loose party at the end of the night at the Starline, one of the traditional festival venues.

Anyway, here’s my spiel on the final three shows of my Rogue — nine shows in all, 11 if you count the two I sat through on a box office shift Thursday night at Veni Vedi Vici (which I didn’t, as I was too preoccupied to write fairly about them).

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The Rogue Festival, Part 2

March 12, 2011

The Rogue Festival, Fresno’s 10th annual fringe/performance art festival, comes to a close tonight (March 12) after its usual complement of running around the Tower District to see shows, constantly running into performers, word of mouth about performances and, occasionally, copious amounts of alcohol consumed at the Starline Grill.

With my box-office volunteer duties out of the way, I’m planning on seeing three shows today. But I wanted to check in on what I’ve seen this week, since the first and third shows here have one performance left. See the above link for the remaining schedule. And have fun:

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Five Songs, Part 21

March 11, 2011

OK, This week’s Five Songs coincides with the second anniversary of my layoff. There won’t be a third anniversary, one way or the other. Not everything here, positive or negative or both, is job-related, but you can understand that it’s been weighing just a lit-tle teen-se bit this week:

(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone — Aretha Franklin

Out of Work — Gary U.S. Bonds

Smithers-Jones — The Jam

You’ve Got Everything Now — The Smiths

Gold — Spandau Ballet

New Haven Register archives: Playing his Pet Sounds: Once-reclusive Beach Boy legend Brian Wilson really seems to be back these days. And he’s coming to Connecticut.

March 10, 2011

ABOVE: Brian Wilson will be quite visible on Sunday, his 57th birthday, with show at Mohegan Sun Casino and a new, two-hour A&E "biography" installment, "Brian Wilson: A Beach Boy's Tale." both start at 8 p.m. Photo by Neal Preston.

This interview with Brian Wilson ran as the Weekend section lead of the New Haven Register Friday, June 18, 1999. It was an advance to his performance two nights later, on his 57th birthday, at Mohegan Sun Casino. I got the chance to meet him that night, after his soundcheck. It was as simple and short as a handshake and a “Hi Brian. Happy birthday” and “Thank you very much.”

It was one of my more nerve-wracking and challenging interviews. How do you come up with interesting questions for someone whose life — both the glories and the dirty laundry — has long been in public view? And how do you interview your all-time favorite musician without coming off like a gushing fanboy?

Anyway, the interview took place a couple weeks before the show, on a Friday evening, and it went really well. I actually was able to keep his interest for a half-hour before he said he had to go, and I thought it was cool to be able to tell my friends afterward, “I was talking to Brian Wilson in my kitchen …”

I actually got to interview him again a couple years later in advance of a return show. But there was something special about this first one. And in my 11 1/2 years of talking to performers for the Register, this was one of just two interviews (the other being Ray Charles in 1993) that I kept in Q-and-A format.

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Love those fortune cookies, Part 14

March 10, 2011

So I’m still waiting for the last fortune cookie fortune to manifest itself: “When the flowers bloom, so will great joy in your life.” Well, the flowers are in bloom here and all I have to show for it is the goddamn alllergies. And a few more unrequited resumes.

Anyway, I’m wondering about the veracity of this one, too, which I picked up last week. Do I believe this or not?

“You find beauty in ordinary things. Don’t lose this ability.”

I’m still pondering this one. I was never very good with “ordinary” …

The Rogue Festival: First weekend

March 7, 2011

The Red Rag Andy Band (from left: Barry Shultz, Terry Barrett, Barb LaRae and Andy Brown) Friday, March 5, at City Arts Gallery. Photo by Franorama World.

Fresno will never be mistaken for anyone’s cultural Mecca — especially for someone coming from New Haven, home of the Shubert (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s old tryout house), Long Wharf Theatre and the Yale Rep, and national music venues Toad’s Place and Cafe Nine, and living within two hours of New York my whole life until seven years ago.

But it would be absolutely unfair to paint the hometown of William Saroyan, his cousin Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville of The Chipmunks), Mike “Mannix” Connors and Audra McDonald as a total cultural backwater. To a large extent, yes — on the whole, I’ve never been in a less intellectually curious city in my life. But in this cowtown of half a million, there certainly are solid blasts of intelligent — and creative — life.

Case in Point No. 1: Some usually excellent local theater productions that include a cadre of extremely talented performers who would shine in a much bigger city but choose to stay home. I’m talking about the Good Company Players’ current production of “The Crucible” at 2nd Space Theatre, here in the Tower District, as an example. Or just about anything involving Jaguar Bennett, one of the most brilliant and funny humans I’ve ever met.

Case in Point No. 2: The big event going on right now: the 10th annual Rogue Festival. It’s an absolutely organic event — grown from a performance in Marcel Nunis’ backyard into one of the country’s largest fringe/performance art festivals, and if I’m not mistaken, still the biggest one west of the Mississippi. It draws actors and musicians from all over the country and beyond, many of whom include the Rogue as part of their annual fringe circuit through the States and Canada.

(For you New Haveners in the bloggening audience: Steve Bellwood performed at last year’s Rogue — five shows, five totally different monologues. I caught one of them. Most of Steve’s infrequent performances are back at the Neverending Bookstore on State Street. I had run his calendar listings — and occasionally his photos — in the New Haven Register’s Weekend section for years, but damned if I didn’t meet him until a year ago, and in Fresno.)

I’ve only been attending for three years now, but I’ve been sucked very deeply into this wonderful, incestuous little scene of biographical monologues and occasional musical performances. (This year, I’m volunteering for four shifts on the box-office end — my way of being able to afford much of the fest on the bum …)

I’m not one of those people who uses the word as a verb (“I’m Roguing”), but I appreciate the festival, most of the shows and the work behind them. And if I was half as smart as I give myself credit for, I’d be working on my own one-woman show.

The fest continues through this Saturday (March 12); check the website or one of the kazillion copies of the Rogue Map, the festival booklet. Anyway, I went to five shows this opening weekend, and here are my two cents on what I saw:

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