Rock Gods #11: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Curious place, the Bullfinch. For instance, who runs it?

Hamilton’s, we all know, is on the third generation of its hallowed titular family: Edie’s the current figurehead, running the restaurant end weekdays. Dollaires (yes, we really do know how to spell it, it’s just more meaningful for us this way) is largely controlled by the booking agency which relies on it as a geographically perfect venue for touring bands migrating through the state on the way to larger cities.

But the Bullfinch? Technically, it’s owned by a faceless consortium of low-level investors who generally cede control of day-to-day operations to a paid manager. Said manager, the fabled Yuri Theotokoski, is pretty hands-off himself, bound more to the back room than to any action at the bar or stage. Most patrons wouldn’t even recognize him as a regular, and would only know his name because it’s emblazoned on the liquor-license “proprietor” plaque on the Finch’s front door.

So who does propel the Bullfinch? Surely, there’s no end of entertaining personalities happy to bask in the club’s limelight whenever the house mic is plugged in. But these are largely (and we know we’ll get heat for this) king-for-a-night types who host their own events or lead their own housebands. Much as we love and respect Open-MIc Merck, he’d be the first to say that he’s AT the Bullfinch, not OF it.

So who’s the foundation, the wallpaper, the thread, our metaphor of choice to represent the alchemical spirit and soul of this invaluable amped-up, tuned-in watering hole we call home?

Our candidate is Q, the humble barback. He seems to log more hours in the place than anyone, from lugging the beer deliveries down to the basement in the mornings to locking the doors at closing time.

He doesn’t book the bands—anyone who waits around to catch Yuri’s attention will be penciled in on the grid. But from what we can tell, Q provides essential quality control in that process, gleaming the sched for double-boookings or too-frequent appearances. When some out-of-town touring act gets a last-minute opening slot at the Finch (and thus are able to afford a meal or even a motel room en route to the nearest metropolis), that’s usually Q’s doing. Some of these acts turned out to be sensational. At least a couple have repaid the kindness by returning to the Finch when they’d made it big. That includes, as we all know, one certain superstar band in particular (a national act too big for our local-motive mouth to speak aloud in the context of this column) which has continued to sneak into the Finch amid its sold-out stadium tours, under such made-up-for-the-occasion monikers as Shower of Gold, Leda’s Swan and White Bull. For such divine favors you can credit the unassuming Q.

And he’s young! Still in his 20s, anyway. He’s been hanging around the club since he was a toddler, we’re told—grew up in the neighborhood—and has worked there since he came of drinking age. (Not that he drinks.)

Some have said Q has secret, simmering musical projects of his own. If that’s true, Q’s humility must be superhumanly high (or his self-esteem extremely low), since the Bullfinch stage is the most open and undaunting in town.

If he’s got artistic aspirations, we’d love to hear about them, but our advocacy of Q as the hard-working heart of the Bullfinch is not based on that sort of ambition. We know he’s got taste, we know he’s got style, and we know he’s the only one at the Bullfinch who ever dares to clean the bathrooms. Makes him godly in our eyes.

Our devotion is, at this point, one-sided. As they say in journo circles, Q “would not consent to be interviewed for this article.” That just means he shrugged, didn’t understand why we’d want to make any sort of deal over him, and went back to work. We realize that this story, singing praises of a guy who doesn’t mind them unsung, may limit our communications with him even further. Maybe we’ll just have to pray to him quietly over here for a while.

Enough about the Finch, which—for all our unremitting praise—is closed tonight AND tomorrow for private parties. Here’s what’s up elsewhere:  Reach Out and Semester Abroad bring their tireless, endless world jams to Dollaire’s on doomsday, or Tuesday, whichever comes first… Hamilton’s has The Sandwich Hams tonight and—we can’t make this stuff up—Stinky Leftovers tomorrow. The undercard includes Bar-S, White Egret (which, to save you some trouble, is a new local band that has nothing to do with White Bull and Leda’s Swan as referenced above) and a short acoustic set by the Allen Brothers tonight, then Sadia, Morrell & Co. and Guy’s Real all tomorrow….

Plan your weekend stroll now: Art Books Bibles, Custom Framing and the sanctimoniously self-descriptive known simply Gospel Music will all be playing at stops along A Walk In Truth, the charity walkathon which winds around the downtown parks Sunday, starting at 1 pm at town center common. We mention it now so you won’t be surprised when you run into any of these bands at clubs this week and they hit you up for contributions. These three acts boast some 22 members amongst them, so you can’t escape. And with them all playing, who’ll be left to walk the trail?…

Of Thee I Sing, Baby

Of Thee I Sing

By Barack Obama. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010.  40 pages. $17.99

When I was a kid, President Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage was inescapable—but though it seemed family-friendly, it wasn’t for kids. Inspirational, sure, and community-spirited in that innocuous football-game cheer kind of way, but also militaristically creepy and too struggle-heavy. And, of course, boring to read.

Barack Obama’s a savvier popular writer. Having done well with his inspirational books for grown-ups, he now moves smoothly into the children’s charts, targeting an audience he knows well from being a parent.

Of Thee I Sing is brilliantly structured and marketed. It’s titled in a personal way, as “A Letter to My Daughters.” It begins and ends with pictures of the Obama family’s pet dog. That tone, and the complementary colorful cheeriness of Loren Long’s illustrations in general, sets a gentle, comfortably down-to-earth context for book’s stirring examples of grand American heroism.

The briefly told stories of Helen Keller, Neil Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Albert Einstein, Cesar Chavez et al. (yeah, it’s quite a range) are introduced with affirmations about how special Barack’s (and by extension, everybody’s) children are. My own daughters took to it immediately.

A lot of people have expressed disappointment with Barack Obama’s pace in fixing every last thing that’s wrong with this country. Whenever it’s appropriate to look back at his legacy as a leader—and hopefully that time will be at least six years, not two years, from now—I think I’ll be remembering this positivist, uplifting, culturally astute and unassumingly education picture book as one of his quiet triumphs.

Rock Gods #10: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

He saw our face go all agog and swore us to secrecy mid-set. (Remember when he leapt into the crowd and stuck us in a bearhug? That’s when he yelped in our ear “Don’t tell a fucking soul until it’s over!” And then he said something which sounded like “Very good, Jeeves!” but we don’t think that’s what he actually said.

Dead Lewis’ dizzying set Wednesday at the Bullfinch was—now it can be told—not a collection of ‘70s & ‘80s punk obscurities, as was advertised. The songs were indeed wild and raucous and went down like a squatter-filled house on fire. There was clapping and shouting and hooting and hellacious laughter. Punk as fuck.

Just older, that’s all. They all came from an LP of WW2-era British Music Hall songs, collectively titled Lord Ermsworth and Others: Crime Wave at Blandings, recorded live at the Blandings Theatre, Ukridge, UK, in 1940.

How do we know? We’re the one who lent Dead the disc, which we found in the quarter bin at Super Talented Awesome Records.

But that’s all the credit we can take. Dead’s the one who dressed these old wheezes up in safety pins and mohawks and palmed them off as classic punk. No one was the wiser—in fact, this brilliant stunt made everyone there much stupider, and happier for it. While we were scribbling the set list down madly, the pogoing around us was delirious, nonstop.

Here’s what got heard:

  1. “Hot Water” (originally recorded, without all those improvised “Fucks,” by Young Men in Spats, 1936).
  2. “Joy in the Morning” (no saucier now than it was when Uncle Fred recorded it in 1939)
  3. “Quick Service” (the Spats again, 1940. Everybody: “Paramount Ham! Paramount Ham!”)
  4. “Fish Preferred” (dirtiest of the lot; Lord Ermsworth, date unknown. You might know the clean version of this song, “Summer Lightning,” which nearly became a standard in the 1930s until “Fish Preferred” spoiled its success.)
  5. “The Girl in Blue” (another long-lost Lord Ermsworth bootleg)
  6. “A Damsel in Distress” (unrecognizable from its hit 1940 version by Eggs, Beans and Crumpets)
  7. “The Coming of Bill” (Say no more! Mr. Mulliner, 1928)
  8. “Sam in the Suburbs” (from the 1936 musical Laughing Gas)
  9. “Louder and Funnier” (Are we sure that one of those iconic ‘70s lesbian punk bands like Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or Ice in the Bedroom or Bring on the Girls didn’t write this? Yeah, ’cause this penis-withering feminist rant first came out in 1927!)
  10. “Three Men and a Maid” (aka “The Girl on the Boat.” Even louder and funnier than “Louder and Funnier.”)
  11. “Sam the Sudden” (done in a whiny nasal drawl, just like the Mr. Mulliner original)
  12. “If I Were You” (underclass consciousness, half a century before the gobspit revolution)
  13. “The White Feather”, neatly segued into…
  14. “Love Among the Chickens” (wouldn’t you like to know?), ending with another originally understated Lord Ermsworth hit:
  15. “He Rather Enjoyed It.”

If you’re wondering how any local opening band could deliver a 15-song set at the Finch on a Wednesday, these monocle-friendly party tunes are all under three minutes to begin with. Thrust into a Bronx Cheer doubletime no-goddamn-guitar-solos format, most didn’t hit the minute-and-a-half mark, and “The Coming of Bill” took like 30 seconds.

You’d think that last number, “He Rather Enjoyed It,” would be kind of a give-away, and maybe Dead Lewis meant for it to be the set’s punchline. The song was covered by Monty Bodkin in 1972 on the glam-camp classic Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin, which is the kind of record that half the crowd at the Finch that night (most of them there for headliner Heavy Weather) would know by heart. But by that point all belief in the room has been long since suspended. The more absurd Dead’s intros became, the more furiously his band (who reportedly were as muchin the dark about the songs’ Music Hall origins as anyone in the room outside Dead and ours truly) thrashed and pounded, the more chaotic the scene became, the more this became one of those nights-of-a-lifetime that you just have to give up trying to explain.

We’re still shaking our head in disbelief a week later.

How does it feel to have been probably the only one at the Finch that night who was in on the joke? Try thunderstruck. We haven’t had a chance to speak to Dead Lewis yet about this—never one to hang at the bar after a set, he fled the room as the last distorted guitar note chimed, and we haven’t run into him since. (Early deadlines for this column haven’t helped. Happy holiday!).

Being able to appreciate the craftsmanship at work here, let alone the prankmanship, made us feel like one of those Elizabethan lit scholars in the castle on the hill—there’s fun in those footnotes and annotations. Seriously, somebody should be writing their thesis on the Musical Synchronicities of Disposable Pop Culture at Times of Great Despair in British History. Or maybe Dead should just do this set again in a European History classroom.

In any case, Young Men in Spats can really spit, Mr. Mulliner can sure mosh, Eggs Beans  Crumpets can crunch and Lord Ermsby is the Nazz.

And Dead Lewis? Dead Lewis is a genius.

Gig up!: A new venue! The splendiferous Spence, freelance booking agent extraordinaire, has more touring acts ringing him up than the Finch, Hamilton’s and even all those campus lounges can handle, so he’s rented the Deer Guild Hall on Waterland St. for an all-day six-band bill on Saturday, headlined by up-and-coming indie royalty The Prince & Betty and also featuring (all from hither and yon, none local) The Gold Bat, The Swoop!, The Pothunters, A Gentleman of Leisure and Something Fresh (formerly Spring Fever; if you ask us, both names suck) . Plus one local band to be announced; we’re hoping its Money in the Bank (they’re checking their calendars). We’re also hoping this show puts money in Spence’s account too so he can do this again soon.

You take the high road…

When a country’s entire economy is threatened, it’s common to fret about what will become of that country’s best-known export. These are easy little stereotype games journalists play—“What?! Greece in financial turmoil?! What will happen to the olive industry?!” The stories write themselves.

Especially, it seems, when an endangered land’s most identifiable internationally consumed product is its literature.

Ireland had to beg the European Union for a bail-out this week. I’ve already run across several references as to how this could impact Ireland’s celebrated novelists. On BBC Radio 4’s Nov. 26 Front Row show, Kirsty Lang raised the issue while discussing a new anthology of Irish short stories with writer Anne Enright.

The hope appears to be that this fresh appearance on the world stage will cause bolts of inspiration to smack every blocked writer in Dublin and Limerick and foment untold reams of Nobel-quality prose… about what it’s like to be poor and downtrodden in Ireland.

Seriously. Do we not already have enough Irish novels about abject poverty? What challenge, other than the option of writing in the present or future tense for a change, are these authors likely to rise to?


While flipping through the Irish Times on my Kindle—gaining gossipy snippets of info like how that poor government minister who’d been instructed to emphatically and completely deny all the EU bailout rumors, hours before they were revealed as true, has been behaving since that professional embarrassment—I came across another absorbing Irish lit-life overlap:

Man kills his drunken father (who’s been terrorizing the family for years) with a shovel. Horrific, I know, but impossible to read about without thinking of one of the most important Irish fictions of all time, J.M. Synge’s comedy script The Playboy of the Western World. Journalists must be biting their lips, restraining themselves from making the obvious references lest they be accused of bad taste.

No such problem for the “Irish Biker’s Discussion Forum,” where nggnorm (IDed as a “MotoGP Legend” who rides a Suzuki RF600R”) starts a comment thread with this title: “Playboy of the Western World all over again.” Well, I’m glad somebody’s emboldened to say it.

This piece of classic literature, humorously inclined though it is, can handle the attention. Synge’s play premiered to riots and years of controversy because it dared suggest that patricide could be justifiable—socially acceptable, even. Now it’s a front page reality story, causing the same debates that have been held among theater audiences for a century now.

Rock Gods #9: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

Peter Orsoni, cultured frontman of local legends Orson and the Welles, has a funny relationship to wine. “My father was an importer, a real wine connoisseur. He’d have these collectors over for tastings, and when I was a kid all our summer vacations were based around visiting vineyards, all around the world.” So Peter’s rock/roll rebellion took a different shape than most. “I was part of this cultured crowd—little bowls of fruit to cleanse the palate, lounge music on the hi-fi. I heard all these early rock songs about wine and thought, “it sounds different, but I know this world. I didn’t realize that they had just, you know, found a word that rhymes with ‘fine,” and all they probably knew about wine was, you know, two-dollar-a-bottle house reds from diners. I didn’t know cheapo wines existed. I honestly thought these songs were about my laugh.” He laughs so hard he nearly knocks over his goblet of—gosh, we forgot to ask, but something white and dry and fancy.

Orsoni’s first attempts at rock songwriting were therefore comical. “And then I wrote… ‘California Cabernet,’ which everybody thought was ‘Cabin A,’ like it was a joke on some song about a hotel I’d never heard. I probably used the word ‘chateau’ more times than any songwriter ever. But, you know, some people write about love and some people write about, what, overcoming adversity or something. I wrote about wine.”

He finally scored with one of those “chateau” songs, “Chateau Neuf du Pape.” The title’s pronounced like “nerve do pop,” which is what many people thought it was about, and it became one of those insensible garage-band standards. Orsoni acts surprised when he’s told that phrase, “my nerves do pop,” has found its way into at least a couple of songs by other bands, without attribution.

“*I guess you could say it was a regional hit, like what used to happen in the old days. I’d get a lot of play on college radio stations that were 500 miles away from each other, and nothing in between.”

An acquired taste, then. Vintage. For connoisseurs. Of pop! What nerve.

Orsoni replants some of his old cuttings for a rare solo show (he rarely plays out in any configuration, actually) Thursday at the Bullfinch. He’s been uncorked by his old friend and erstwhile bandmate Joe Mank (aka Jomank, aka J. Mankiewicz), better known as half of the Mank Brothers. No Orsoni/Mank collabs are currently planned, but who knows? Maybe they’ll drink a lot of wine and get, uh, inspired.

Fresher vines:

Goodyear has had one, getting their home pressed debut album rereleased on an actual (albeit small) label. They play the old songs Tuesday (Tuesday? Yes, Tuesday) at the Finch, with Wrangler, SR-a and The White Walls, who have their own album release to celebrate. You might remember the Walls as The Rims– someone finally explained to them what that name meant in sexual parlance, and singer Lippy Lisa (we know, we know) made the rest of the band reconsider. You know a punk band will have picked up the old moniker by Tuesday, so remember: Walls.

The university campus cavorts Sunday–a school night, but do you think they care?– to a metal spectacular (locally speaking) of V8, Endurance and Off Road. The first fan to collect 27 red booze cups will be… Average.

Two Fine Green Pens Purchased in Arlington, Mass.

Pilot has been my pen brand of choice since sometime in the sixth grade. That’s a dozen years before I moved to Connecticut, where they were made. That added a patriotic element. The longtime Pilot president Ron Shaw, a former stand-up comic and salesman who, in his businessman philanthropist mode, was an especially artful chairman of the board of trustees for New Haven’s Shubert Theatre.

Pilot no longer is a Connecticut-centered enterprise, and this past summer marked the end of the grandest thing they’d stuck their name to that wasn’t a writing implement: the Pilot International Tennis Tournament. (The tournament will continue as a women’s-only event under the sponsorship of Yale and others.)

I still use Pilots more than any other pen—mostly the G2 retractable, but occasionally the Varsity disposable fountain pen and the classic razor point. I find the Dr. Grip a bit bulky and silly (when I am forced to think of a gripping, groping medical practitioner, I don’t want to imagine a pen as part of the scenario) and am still coming to terms with the new G7 models. I can’t comment on their ballpoint line, just their gel and roller ball pens, as I haven’t used a ballpoint in decades except under duress.

For me, the point of Pilots is that they have a range of sturdy non-ballpoints that tend not to leak when they accidentally get laundered. And when I’m in a strange mood, I can indulge with G2 variations like green or purple or light blue ink.

Especially green. Hard to find a trustworthy pen with dark green ink. So I was startled when browsing the writingware selection at the Playtime art supply store in Arlington to find two brands of green pen I had never encountered.

The Pentel EngerGel NV BL27  o.7mm ball Metal Point is tough yet lightweight, sleek yet not pretentious. Not as pretentious a Pentel, anyhow, as the EnerGel deluxe, described on the company’s website as “beyond the next generation.” The NV BL27 isn’t a dainty diary-keeping pen; you can stab someone with it, or scribble shopping lists on the back of a Netflix envelope.

The Yasutomo pen company’s Liquid Stylist Fine Point Pen says right on its fat tubular trunk that it’s “for drawing, sketching, illustrating, writing, cartooning.” I’d like to visit the lab where they rate such abilities. (“Nope, lousy at accounting, and definitely not recommended for spirographs. Let’s test it again for crossword puzzles.”) A softer tip than the EnerGel, and not as energized. I don’t think I’ll use it as often. I’m a little worried about it. But it pretty much dares you not to see it as an art object (rather than an object that makes art), since the clear plastic cap acts as display case for the stylish Liquid Stylist tip underneath.

Enough pent-up pontification.  Now it is time for me to go draw some grass, or money.

Rock Gods #8: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

After The Faded Effect’s efficacious set Thursday at the Finch, the question we all had for singer Jaspe was not “Where did that new song come from?” (we knew it was a cover of “It Will Surge” by obscure French New Wavers Charmante) but “Who dressed you?”

Jaspe’s not known for his sartorial skills. In fact, nobody’s ever seen him in anything but black jeans and a T-shirt touting one of his own bands. (Before Faded Effect came Fustian, Kelt and the truly atrociously named Drap-de-Berry; before he became a frontman he also played keyboards for the vocal duo Linsey-Woolsey.)

Turns out his stylist is his three-year-old daughter Moire. (A final “e” is a requisite of all names in this happy family. Mom is Georgette, formerly of The Tricotines.)

“We took her to this fabric shop—actually, it was a place where you get material to reupholster furniture. That’s kind of my day job. And Moire [Jaspe pronounces it ‘Morry,” with a kind of Scottish roll of the ‘r’] just went wild. She got to take home all these samples, and she and Georgette stitched them together into that jacket. It’s my miracle coat.

It certainly held together for a (excuse us) seamless set which Jaspe insists was the last time you’ll ever hear the songs from the first Faded Effect album, Ticking…. “I know people who really like that record, and I respect that,” Jaspe says. “I’m not taking that away from them. I won’t be destroying the records! Those songs, that whole recording experience, came from a very bad time in my life. I just don’t see the point in doing them live anymore—it’s not like I’ll ever do them better. We’ve got like two or three sets of new material that nobody seems to mind”—not to mention that Charmante cover.

You’ll soon be able to spin those new tunes at home as well: The Whipcord EP was supposed to be out for last week’s show, but had “processing delays”; you’ll be able to find it by the end of the month at Stop (re)Tiring Anymore Records, or at the next Faded Effects show, whichever comes first. The FE also contributed a song, “Sicilienne,” to the Stammel Records’ new local comp. (And they’re all ready if anyone’s putting together a Charmante tribute disk—OK, we’ll stop with that now.)

A full-length, tentatively titled Saxony Say Scarlet, is expected by next summer. Jaspe promises it will have cover art of him in the new homemade. “This was the missing ingredient,” he says. “Now I’m unstoppable.

Dig in:

There was a subpoena, so Prunella has changed their name to Zanella. Same line-up, same textured rainy-day tunes, Thursday at the Finch…. Friday the Finch Bandfinder series starts promptly at 7 p.m. with—in this order, assuming they all show up—Swansdown, Shantung (Shantung! What’re they doing on a “new band” bill?!), Rumchunder, Musterdevillers, Moreen and the already widely known Pongee, who won the High School Battle last month. Seriously, Shantung have been around as long as the kids in Pongee have been alive; if they haven’t been “found” yet, who has? … Friday at Hamilton’s: College nite with The Barateens, which is better than those snotty frat boys deserve. … For their acoustic show at Dollaire’s, internationally on-the-way-down two-hit-wonders Baft requested a solo acoustic opening act. The honor went to Nan Keen, who should blow those blowhards off the unamplified stage. …

Theater Book of the Week #2

Broadway Musical: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009

By Peter Filichia. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2010. Trade paperback, $19.99.

Besides Ethan Mordden, Peter Filichia’s just about the only Broadway-focused theater writer I can stand. He talks the showtalk and dishes the gossip, but doesn’t buy in too baldly. He writes the way theatergoers chat when they’re leaving the theater: in bold, general strokes, interrupted by telling details that prove he knows what he’s talking about. The best Broadway writers assess that type of theater as if it’s a major league sports, complete with stats-trading and fantasy teams. Filicia’s great at putting shows in their cultural and historical contexts, and great at imagining what else might have happened.

The odd, seemingly extreme format he’s taken for this latest trip down the Great White memory lane is to assess each Broadway season by highlighting its greatest success and its suckiest mistake. The middle ground is immaterial. Since books about Broadway flops have become an established genre, there’s a ready audience for Filicia’s appraisal of four decades of worsts. Playing them against the acknowledged hits turns out to be a brilliant gambit.

In some chapters, you see theater history being transformed before your very eyes. Filicia’s pick-hit for 1973 is Stephen Schwartz’s The Magic Show, a newfangled yet nonethless old-fashioned stage revue starring mustachioed magician Doug Henning. The pick-flop of the same year is Paul Jabara’s ill-fated disco musical Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (and Don’t You Ever Forget It). Filicia makes the useful point that glam/camp disco silliness became a prevalent style of Broadway in the ’90s and ’00s. Extending his point, if you revived both Magic Show and Rachael Lily Rosenbloom in the current theater climate, their fortunes might well be reversed.

I’m not in a position to concur with Filicia’s feelings regarding the opening night excitement at these shows He’s the longtime theater critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, and a prolific online Broadway-gossip columnist, so he personally witnessed many of the triumphs and disasters he chronicles here. His scholarship, however, is excellent, so even if you suspect he’s exaggerating the wonderments of some shows, you feel grounded by the basic data.

There are a few shows on his hit and miss lists which I did see, however, like Civil War, which is justifiably deemed the biggest flop of 1999 not just for its own qualities but for how it stalled the career of rising golden boy composer Frank Wildhorn. That show had a frenzied out-of-town try-out at the Shubert in New Haven. Other shows where I can validate Filicia’s astute analysis include Sweet Smell of Success, his choice for the biggest flop of 2001, a section he subtitles “What people don’t need after 9/11.”

I realize that I’m just as familiar with the flops in this book as I am with most of the hits, a weird realization since of course the hits have lasted much longer and made it into the regional theater territories where I do most of my theatergoing. This is what makes this book so fascinating: A lot of us who try to find things to see on Broadway will make a beeline for a show like Sweet Smell of Success, even though we’ve heard it sucks, just because we want to know what compelled John Guare and Marvin Hamlisch to make a musical out of a downbeat Tony Curtis/Burt Lancaster movie. It’s a stronger urge than the one that draws us to a see a show we know will be touring for years, or made into a movie, or be seen on high school and college and community stages ad nauseam.

Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season 1959-2009 gives you the whole story. It respects the process of musical-making while acknowledging commercial and critical realities. It’s full of flukes and flashes-in-pans and happenstance, working in useful anecdotes at the drop of a brickbat. Ultimately, it shows you how many different workable historical perspectives can be applied to Broadway. As Filicia says in his coda, while Stephen Sondheim is widely thought to be the greatest Broadway name of the exact 50-year period the book covers, only three of his shows are among the 100 discussed. And all of them are in the “flop” category.

This revelation would seem to undermine Filichia’s method, but it merely demonstrates how written-in-stone the conventional Broadway hit histories are, and how we need more alternate histories like this one in order to truly see where theater has gone and where it’s going.

Rock Gods #7: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

That beatific guitar-playing grin. We all know what it means. Sure, it looks happy enough, but it’s such a resolutely fixed expression that it can’t possibly be sincere. If you do something to try to change it—make a joke, make up new lyrics and chant them loudly, smear make-up directly on that insipidly smiling face—it only grins more broadly.

Depending on whether you’re a friend, a fan, or the bartender who’s in charge of making sure the set ends before closing time, that face can mean:

1.     Don’t talk to me while I’m playing. No, really, don’t talk to me. By smiling, I’m pretending you’re not here.

2.     Don’t look at my face. Look at my hands. That’s where the action is. I could be doing all manner of wild expressions with my face for you, but I’d just be playacting. I do not have a large repertoire of facial tics; that’s why I get to wear sunglasses on stage. Hands is where it’s at.

3.     I am not getting off this stage until this solo is over.

(And of course drugs don’t enter into it at all.)

In some societies, this somewhat anti-social behavior is known as “being in the zone.” But who oversees these zones, sets their boundaries, monitors their use, issues their parking passes? We happily volunteer for the chairmanship of such a zoning committee. There are abuses that we feel it is our civic duty to correct.

Other sites to behold: Wanco, Eagle Fence and The Traffic Lane Closures all showed up to a gig last weekend at the Dwight (which you might know better as That Old Elementary School with the pig graffiti) and nearly backed into a ditch. Nobody’d told ’em ’bout the broken water pipe and subsequent upheaval on the street. The pipe’s been sealed and reburied, the club has running water again (this might be a good time to clean the bathrooms, guys) and the gig has been graciously rescheduled for next month…

In further vehicular obstacle news, management planted one of those upside-down trees in the parking garage in the dance club district. It lasted three days before a partygoer jumped atop a van and brought the whole thing pounding down. No hospitalizations, unless you count a trip to the tree doctor… On Demand, Roku Box and Nearest Shipping Facility all play at the Finch Thursday. It’s a video release party; yes, you read that right….

Stunning purchases at the Salvation Army Tuesday Afternoon

Yeah, I know they’re anti-gay and weirdly militaristic and stuff, but Mabel’s got me digging the musical Guys and Dolls again, so I sauntered into the Salvo on Crown Street yesterday to see if I could borrow a tambourine.

Truthfully, it was because I remembered they had LPs of plays like Antigone (with Dorothy Tutin), The Cherry Orchard (with Jessica Tandy, of all people), Shaw’s Misalliance (Mermaid Theatre production) and Pinter’s No Man’s Land (with two Sirs, Gielgud and Richardson) hidden amongst all those Peter Nero and Ferrante & Teicher albums. They’ve been there for months, and I don’t know what I was waiting for—I’m the one for whom they’re fated.
While there was a pair of brand new Rockport shoes caught my eye—and then my feet, since they were just my size. They enter my closet just as my thrift shop pair of Doc Martens are breathing their last.
There is a God, though I still doubt that it’s one the Salvation Army thinks it is.