Rock Gods #68: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

John H. of the Hickenloopers danced naked onstage at the Bullfinch the other night. Again. He does it just about every time.
Only interesting thing about it is that he’s the only one who ever does such a thing, the only one who ever feels the need. Unless you’re the one person at each show who hasn’t seen him do it before, it’s getting pretty tiresome.

Had a long drunken discussion (is there any other kind?) with two of the Brodarts the other night at the finch, and they disputed our use of the word “ironic” to describe their new covers project. Yes, it’s now a full scale project, but a stated act of demonstration rather than a mere irony. Got that?

In a rare act of scene stability, no act has changed its name or line-up this week. Or for five days at least.

Elsewhere: Didn’t we just write about these bands? Why is it so easy for bands to get gigs just weeks after they last played the same places? Oh yeah—school vacation. So:

Two Teachers—Nuts, Two Human Beings and Ubiquitous Mailer vs. Monolithic Me (that’s two bands there, not one or five—we really ought to get into that boldface racket) at The Boldface, we mean The Bullfinch… Hermit Gamblers at Hamilton’s with Coming Back to New York… and more dance parties than you can shake at booty at, at—where else? D’ollaire’s, where they won’t pay for live bands unless they know the hipster students are around…

Site update

Just put in most of the March Almanack, though tweaks to it are assured. I haven’t been very conscientious with this consciousness-raising element of the site lately, so I promise improvements. The site may already have 156 posts and several changing pages on it, but it’s still just a few months old and I’m only just getting around to some of the longterm schemes I have for
I currently post on the homepage in batches of three—two fiction, one non—at a time, and hope to ratchet that up to four this month. “Discipline, discipline is the thing!,” as the bowler-hatted dad says in Mary Poppins.
For those of you who don’t know, I also have a blog, two regular columns (Stage Thrust, News That Matters) and numerous arts-related articles at, my journalistic home for nearly two decades.
Should you need to contact Christopher Arnott for anything—to send me stuff for review, comment off-site, suggest events for the Almanack, etc.—the email is

Rock Gods #67: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Martin Gibson has a lot of money. (His family is in the olive trade, we’re told.) When he boasted recently (over beers he’d bought for a whole gaggle of us at the Bullfinch) that he’d gotten himself a wireless guitar, you could see Eddie Rick of the RickMBacks slump over in his seat. (OK, maybe it was the beer, but we don’t think so.) If anyone in the scene deserves to rock a wireless, it’s Eddie, who roams into crowds for such long solos that the band has to send out homing pigeons to bring him back. Eddie’s guitars are largely borrowed, and the band’s money is still tied up in van payments, so a wireless is not in his immediate future.
Martin Gibson, meanwhile, is the most composed, standstill pop guitarist you’ll ever see. He dresses nattily, never mixes with the crowd, and doesn’t even deign to strut across the stage. Does he need a wireless? No—you could wrap him head to toe in wire and it wouldn’t alter his playing style much.

Cross (merger of the two related cover bands Cross Country and Double Cross), The London Bridges and Mary, Mary all play at bars along the Police Union Road Race Sunday—Rose’s, Violet’s and Pop’s bars, respectively. Hamilton’s actually applied for the honor of being a race-stop, but the run was rerouted this year and our second favorite live music site is now officially off the beaten path… Instead, Hamilton’ s has booked the selfsame London Bridges for later in the day, with Kiss the Girls… New jazz afternoon jam on Saturdays art the Finch, starting this week with Four Blind Mice… The national pop band Goes the Weasel (get it?), a week from now at Dollaire’s (get tickets early! This band is on the way down!) turns out to have a local connection: drummer “Pitpat” Patterson’s grandparents run the convenience store on Stone Road…

You Can Take the Song Out of the Girl, but…

The Girl in the Song—The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics
By Michael Heatley and Frank Hopkinson. Chicago Review Press, 144 pages.

I had it on very good authority–a street musician whom I befriended back in the late ‘80s—that Steely Dan’s hit “Ricki Don’t Lose That Number” was based on an incident in New Haven when a woman related to one of the songwriters joined a religious cult and was given a phone number to call (and not lose) if she ever changed her mind and had trouble leaving.
That story, according to this authoritatively reported book, turns out to be a complete fabrication. The “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” legend which graces The Girl in the Song—The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics identifies the Rikki in the song as novelist/poet Rikki Ducornet, a classmate of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen at Bard College in the early 1960s, with quotes that support that version. So many rock histories are spottily researched compendia of weblore; it’s great to read one with fresh firsthand interviews. One of the creepier stories, which ends up happily, is My Sharona, which The Knack’s Doug Fieger wrote while smitten with Sharona Alperin when he was 25 and she was just 17. They were a couple for four years, maintained a firm friendship afterwards, and Alperin says her time with Fieger is what got her interested in her career as a real estate agent.
Such where-are-they-now anecdotes are much more intriguing than all the obvious celebrity references. Even when the stories are disputed (like Meta, the Abbey Road Meter Maid who claims Paul McCartney told her that her name could inspire a song; McCartney flatly denies her recollection) they’re fun to read about. Best of all, Heatley and Hopkinson don’t take the art out of the equation. They freely acknowledge that inspiration is just a small element in how a lyric gets written, and doesn’t mind bursting a few bubbles by saying that, for instance, Roseanna Arquette was just not that crucial an aspect of how Toto’s “Roseanna” got written.
Good. I like Roseanna Arquette as an actress and I hate that song. Hate Rikki Don’t Lose That Number too. Just like reading about the artistic process, you know.
Of course, considering how many songs about girls there are, there really need to be several more volumes of this kind of reportage. Heck, The Nail’s “88 Lines About 44 Women” would be a book in itself.

Rock Gods #66: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

The Brodarts have a new cover tune, and it just reeks of scrumptious irony. Where the original feints, they jab. Where it bobs, they weave. Where it soars, they lurch (or the other way around). Their version is transparent yet an absolute improvement, tickling in the corners and making the whole thing new.
The song? Some current pop drivel we’re reluctant to even tell you the title of. But the cover? Smashing!

Pool party at the Elihus’ pad. Never occurred to us before that one of those backyard kiddie pools could be brought inside and stuck (literally stuck) in a bathroom. Didn’t occur to whoever installed the floor in that apartment, either. Expect to get an invite to a Fix-the-Foundation benefit soon. …

The saucy sludge of MassaMan at the Bullfinch with Crispy and A. Shrimp. Wednesday… Rapper 1 Ton Super at Dollaire’s same night with Cali Mary (the “special guest” on 1 Ton’s new single “Buff-Ay!”). This is the exact guy whose appearance a few years ago caused the club to cancel all hip-hop shows for a while because a chair got thrown or something. Nice to see Ay-mends made…

Books Received

I always liked the “Books Received” columns in old literary journals. It was just a list of books which had been sent to the publication, which it was felt should be acknowledged. Not “Books We’ve Actually Read” or “Books Our Friends Wrote” or “Books That Make Us Look Cool If We Leave Them Stacked in the Corner Over There.” Just “Books Received.”

These here are Books Received after a visit to Never Ending Books (a cultural drop-off point on State Street in New Haven) on Feb. 22.

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker (paperback). I’m much more interested in the Spenser mysteries since Robert Parker died. They’re so matter-of-fact, so wispy, no blithely conversational that you feel something’s missing from the room when you read them. Turns out it’s Parker, who fades into the background with a humility rare in the hard-boiled racket, not offering any details or opinions he can’t put directly in the mouths or minds of his characters.

Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill (paperback). This is the movie tie-in edition. I’ve reused “Desire Under the Elms” a few times as titles for New Haven Advocate essays, but when Kathleen saw this on the shelf and asked if it was in fact set in New Haven (“the Elm City”), I didn’t know. The setting is New England farmland in the mid-19th century, which is consistent with the bucolic, dyspeptic of O’Neill plays set in the New London, Connecticut area where his family famously had a summer house. The famed elms of New Haven were killed off by Dutch Elm Disease, but not until a few years after this play was written. Adds a nice subtext now. This edition has a slew of handwritten notes on the inside front cover, starting with: “exaggeratedly raw themes/play about common man.”

Three Plays of A.V. Lunacharski, translated by L.A. Magnus and K. Walter, “with an Introduction and an Author’s Preface.” A sturdy if nondescript Routledge “Broadway Translations” edition from the mid-1920s. The thrill here for me is the first script in the book, Faust and the City. Though this one’s based on my least favorite Faust (Goethe’s), I’m a total sucker for modernized updates of the Doctor Faustus legend. Basing itself on the “Free City” episode in Goethe’s Faust Part Two, Lunacharski jumops right in without incantations or back-story. The play opens with a three-page monologue by the demon Mephistopheles, who says of himself:
Mephistopheles is an idealist. He is an idealist, do you hear, you stupid stars? Destroying, he creates. For the purpose of his creative destruction, he has borrowed from men their tricks and masquerades, their body, dress, logic—nay, in season, too, it seems Mephistopheles has borrowed their suffering, and has started life on a loan of light and heat, wherewith to plenish his mighty shadow and to become the weapon of destruction for those who are to be destroyed in the name of the restoration of the One.

Plot Outlines of 100 Famous Plays edited by Van H. Cartmell. From the Barnes & Noble Everyday Handbook series, published in 1957 after being originally published in 1945 by Doubleday & Co. (From its star in 1873, Barnes & Noble was in the printing and republishing business, opening its first full bookstore in 1917). Kathleen found this for me just as I was finishing up a “Play in a Day” exercise at Never Ending Books, for which I’d knocked The Cherry Orchard down to a one-page outline and had seven children (aged 6-11) embody its main characters. Though I scorn their use as cheat-sheets for those who don’t do their theater-class homework, I’ve always dug books like this (or their modern relations—the synopsis sections on Wikipedia) because it’s amusing to see how different people figure out what the “essential” plot and character points of a dramatic work might be. This book takes an approach similar to Burns Mantles’ Best Plays series: a leisurely multi-page synopsis that’s highly descriptive and not at all analytical. Interestingly, the 100 plays are arranged not by genre, or alphabetically, or by when they were written or who wrote them; they’re arranged by the country of origin of the authors. The opening “American Plays” section has nineteen items (including such faded glories as Eugene Walter’s The Easiest Way, Denman Thompson’s The Old Homestead and Augustus Thomas’ The Witching Hour—not much call for synopses of those anymore), then “British Plays” more than doubles that tally with 39, randomly followed by “French Plays” (8, two of them Moliere’s), “Russian Plays” (6), German/Austrian Plays”(6), “Greek Plays” (5), “Irish Plays” (4), “ three “Norwegian Plays” (all Ibsen), two each for “Spanish,” “Italian” and “Hungarian” (both Molnar), with lone entries for “Swedish” (Strindberg’s The Father), “Czechoslovakian” (Capek’s R.U.R.), “Latin” (Plautus’ Menaechmi) and “Belgian” (Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande).

Restoration Plays, with an introduction by Brice Harris. One of the better Modern Library drama anthologies—solid intro that lays out definitions without being overbearing, a couple of quirky choices amid the obvious. I grabbed this so I could reread George Villiers’ The Rehearsal, which skewered the then-dominant form of Dryden-esque “heroic drama” in the 1670s the way indie film skewers Hollywood blockbusters now—by showing how much artifice and insincere attitude is involved.

The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour M. Hersh. I saw Hersh speak at an alternative-journalism convention when this book was published in 1997. He got lambasted by a few Baby Boomers in the crowd who’d clearly gotten into the journalism game due to the Kennedy idealism of the ‘60s, before the snide investigative Nixon-era downturn of the ‘70s. These few loud guys in the crowd (publishers, I imagine) didn’t want to hear ill spoken of their sainted president. Hersh seemed genuinely taken aback, noting that he’d titled the book clearly so that readers uninterested in the topic could avoid it if they wished. In fact, the book is a lot less scandalous than many popular Kennedy or Onassis biographies. It simply tries to put a lionized, mythologized era into realistic context. Hersh is a defiantly non-sensationalistic reporter, even when (as when he broke the Abu Ghraib story) others are eager to immediately sensationalize his stories for him.

My Fair Lady, “a musical play by Alan Jay Lerner adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.” [In tiny letters underneath: Music by Frederick Loewe.] Fireside Theater Book Club Edition from 1956. Since the script for the musical is extremely (atypically, Broadway-wise) faithful to its source material, and they lyrics easily discernible from any cast album, you might wonder why anyone but a diehard dramaturg would need to have a copy about. Lerner’s charming introductory note is why:
For the published version of Pygmalion, Shaw wrote a preface and an epilogue which he called a sequel. I have omitted the preface because the information contained therein is less pertinent to My Fair Lady than it is to Pygmalion.
I have omitted the sequel because in it Shaw explains how Eliza ends not with Higgins but with Freddy and—Shaw and Heaven forgive me!—I am not certain he is right.

Drama Survey Volume 2 Number 1: Spring 1962 issue. Some drama journals are out-of-touch before they’re even released, and some—like this smorgasbord of on-the-cusp essays trying to come to terms with new forms—are priceless time capsules of flux. In this one issue, there’s: a prescient “New Dramatist” profile—“Still in his early 30s, Edward Albee has to his credit four short plays of an impressive literary quality and lively theatrical style”; Roderick Robertson on “A Theater for the Absurd”; separate essays rethinking how Lear, Henry II and Hamlet strike modern audiences; and a Robert Downing’s rather straightforward essay on what it means to be a stage manager. There are also two instances of novelist/theater historian Gerald Weales: a review of his book Religion in Modern English Drama and a preview chapter from this then-forthcoming American Drama Since World War II. The chapter is “Off –Broadway: Its Contribution to American Drama,” and it references a range of seminal works in that realm that wouldn’t make later histories.

Modern Drama Volume 5 Number 2: Fall 1962 issue. While essay titles such as “Poetry and Politics: The Verse Drama of Auden and Isherwood” and “Existentialism in T.S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion” leave me cold, I can’t resist something called “James M. Barrie’s Concept of Dramatic Action” (as expounded by William R. McGraw) or “The Influence of Melodrama on the Early Plays of Sean O’Casey” (by Harry Ritchie, who a few years after this would be a colleague of my father’s in the Tufts University Drama department). I guess I just prefer earthy to lofty, even in my academic criticism.

No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson. Not to be confused with that other bestselling thriller novelist Patterson, RNP writes polarizing political fantasies in which extreme events—a depressed divorcee using a legal firearm to kill his ex-wife (who happens to be related to the wife of the President of the United States) in a crowed airport lobby, for instance—to force fictional national debates on highly sensitive issues (like gun control). This one, which I read most of from the library once, involves a Presidential primary, a crazed anti-abortionist, adultery, power-family values… it’s Harold Robbins for C-Span junkies.

George S. Kaufman—An Intimate Portrait by Howard Teichman. Crazy-readable, anecdote-packed bio of the prolific Broadway hitmaker who had a hand in the success of everything from (as co-author) You Can’t Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner and several Marx Brothers classics to (as director) The Front Page and Guys and Dolls. Teichman was Kaufman’s collaborator on the late-career hit The Solid Gold Cadillac. I’ve been a Kaufman fan virtually all my life, and didn’t need this book to turn me into one, but it’s bound to do the trick for anyone else who’s curious about the guy.

Blue Heaven, a novel by Joe Keenan. I first discovered this book, in its spiffy Penguin trade paperback edition, while briefly working at the old Yale Co-op in the late 1980s. I later met and interviewed Keenan when a musical he wrote got workshopped at the Long Wharf Theater. Ran into him on the street one day and chatted about John Lahr’s book on Dame Edna, I recall. I wrote something for the New Haven Advocate which infuriated him, so I never spoke to Keenan again. The musical fizzled and Keenan went into television, where he became a key writer-producer on Frasier. Blue Heaven is the kind of book for which the word “insouciant” must be carved into the spine. It’s set in the ‘80s New York gay culture, but resembles the sort of Wodehousean novel from back when “gay” was used to mean “frolicsome.”

Rock Gods #65: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

The Mellons are pounding a new, extremely old, model of music making, and to do so they’ve decided to change their name to the patronized. That’s because they’re seeking patrons. They will write you into a song if required.
“Can’t be worse than playing where they sell beer,” reason head Mellon Andy Williams, who already has the sort of name you can take to the bank. “I got the idea from my art history class. Some major works of art wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been commissioned. And I often have trouble finishing things, so….”
Any takers? There’s an application process and the likelihood of sit-down negotiations. Then, depending on what level of sponsorship you can afford, your

We remember a conceptual piece along these lines at the Art School of the college on the hill a few years back. “I’m not saying this has never been tried before,” Andy “Your Name Here” Williams says, “but I think most of those other times it’s been, like, ironic. This isn’t an art joke. I think it might work. I write good songs. I think they’re worth something, and I’m willing to negotiate with the right patron.”
Or is he just trying this because his parents want him to quit music and go into advertising?

John and Eunice Jet’s classic soul revue at Dollaire’s tonight, with desirogers, Johnson Rice, Rolle, Merry Weather, Aiesha Askew and DeNard—or various forms thereof: you debate whether Aiesha is better doing Merry Weather harmonies or with her solo disco hits. The same seven-piece band backs all the acts…