Listening to… The Hairs

Echoey lo-fi sped-up pop, like a cassette recording of a live show from a world away. The perfectly imbalanced production adds the right air of mystery, and the vocals are off-key and raw without being deliberately geeky. All the song titles are funny on their own—“I’ve Been Working Out,” “Satan Says,” “If I Get Back on My Horse Again”—and funnier in the context of the chirpy pop context and shambolic execution. There’s honest emotion here, plus hormones. It’s a fine world we live in, that can have The Hairs and Mikal Cronin and any number of edgy popsters living in it all at once.

Literary Up: After All It Was You and Me

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner’s, 2011)


I almost didn’t even read this one because I don’t usually like the more science-fictional Kings. But I dug The Dome, which sets up a sci-fi conceit (aliens have dropped an invisible bowl over Peyton Place) in order to ramp up the action in what is otherwise a John O’Hara-esque saga of small town politics. 11/22/63 works in a similar vein. It’s got a time travel pretext, but it’s no more about time travel than Carrie is about telekinetics. Carrie of course is really about the horrors of adolescence, and 11/22/63 is really about later-life anxieties—paths not taken, choices that meant decades of commitment but which ultimately didn’t work out. It’s about good intentions and second chances and “If I knew then what I know now,” with “then” happening to happen dozens of years before the book’s hero was even born.

Surely I read any number of reviews and descriptions which dwell on the time-travel theme. But, even more than the dome in The Dome, King uses it as a means to an end and doesn’t make a huge deal of the mechanics of such a trip. A guy is directed down to the basement of a diner and emerges in the early 1960s.

To shorthand this, as many critics have, as the tale of a man bent on stopping the Kennedy assassination, is criminal. Kennedy’s a part of it, and Oswald a much bigger part, but the biggest part is the life-living that gets done of the way to the titular showdown. The point is not that Jake Epping is as driven as he is to change history. It’s that he travels halfway across the country, settles down in Texas, finds a town and a job he likes there, and falls in love. He works his quest to stop Oswald into a much grander existence where, all along, the lives of everyday people he knows and respects matter as much as the folks he knows will be remembered as key figures of world history. This is a coming-of-middle-age novel rooted in respect for one’s neighbors.

I think this is one of Stephen King’s all-time best books. A lot of them lose me when they wrap up the plots without wrapping up the humanity. This one is heartwarming throughout. It has the sort of love scenes (and sex scenes!) which King ordinarily shies away from, and they’re here for the right reasons, showing the innocence and empowerment of the ‘60s.

It might help to be a baby-boomer to appreciate it fully, but 11/22/63 speaks to anyone aware of greater forces—political, social, economic—governing the world in which you’re trying to catch a break.

It was fantastic reading 11/22/63 back-to-back with Michael Choquette’s 1960s counterculture anthology The Someday Funnies, which also mingles real history with heightened personal emotions. Both books are garish and colorful and bold, and much deeper than even their admirers let on. Not noticing stronger powers at work—that’s the ‘60s for you.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Daffodil Festival details

Rob DeRosa has released the full music schedule for the Meriden Daffodil Festival, April 28 & 29.

We’ve already announced who’s playing. (There’s been one change in that: The Gonkus Brothers aren’t able to play this year. Guess who is? Grayson Hugh. A Hartford native, Hugh had a major-label career in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, also landing songs on the soundtracks of Fried Green Tomatoes and Thelma & Louise. After a 15-year hiatus, Hugh released his latest album in the spring of 2010.)

Now we know when, and on which of the event’s three stages.

Here’s the chronological rundown:



10 to 10:30 a.m.: The Foresters (Welcome Stage)

10:30 to 11:30 p.m.: Chico & Friends (Food Tent Stage)

11 to 11:45 a.m.: The Tropical Hotdog Band (Welcome Stage)

Noon to 1 p.m.: Frank Critelli (Food Tent Stage)

12:15 to 1 p.m.: Anne Castellano & The Smoke (Welcome Stage)

12:45 to 1:30 p.m.: The Ivory Bills (Bandshell Stage)

1:30 to 2 p.m.: Christopher Arnott & His Ukulele

1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: Bop Tweedie & The Days (Welcome Stage)

2 to 2:45 p.m.: Jennifer Hill & Co. (Bandshell Stage)

2:30 to 3:30 p.m,.: Mark Mirando (Food Tent Stage)

2:45 to 3:30 p.m.: The Appledaughters (Welcome Stage)

3:15 to 4 p.m.: Crosseyed Cat (Bandshell Stage)

4 to 4:45 p.m.: Farewood (Welcome Stage)

4 to 5 p.m.: River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs (Food Tent Stage)

4:30 to 5:15 p.m.: The Manchurians (Bandshell Stage)

5:15 to 6 p.m.: The Guru (Welcome Stage)

5:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m.: The Swingaholics (Food Tent Stage)

5:45 to 6:30 p.m.: The Rivergods (Bandshell Stage)

6:30 to 7:15 p.m.: M.T. Bearington (Welcome Stage)

7 to 8 p.m.: String Theorie (Food Tent Stage)

7:15 to 8:45 p.m.: Barefoot Truth (Bandshell Stage)

7:45 to 9 p.m.: Mates of State (Welcome Stage)



10 to 10:30 a.m.: Burrito Betty (Welcome Stage)

10:30 to 11 a.m.: Chuck E. Costa (Food Tent Stage)

11 to 11:45 a.m.: Dagwood (Welcome Stage)

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Amalgamated Muck (Food Tent Stage)

Noon to 12:45 p.m.: 691 (Bandshell Stage)

12:15 to 1 p.m.: Sidewalk Dave (Welcome Stage)

1 to 2 p.m.: Grayson Hugh (Food Tent Stage)

1:15 to 2 p.m.: Bird ‘n’ Boys featuring Ellen Sackman (Bandshell Stage)

1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: The Grimm Generation(Welcome Stage)

2:30 to 3:15 p.m.: Boxxcutter (Bandshell Stage)

2:30 to 3:30 p.m.: The Pedro Valentin Orchestra (Food Tent Stage)

2:45 to 3:30 p.m.: Big Fat Combo (Welcome Stage)

3:45 to 4:30 p.m.: Riverstreet & Friends (Bandshell Stage)

4 to 4:45 p.m.: The D. Smith Blues Band (Welcome Stage)

4 to 5 p.m.: Kelley and Sean (Food Tent Stage)

Oscar Mired

So the Oscar producers’ plan was apparently to stem the declining ratings by presenting exactly the same show Billy Crystal did for much of the 1990s.


No kick against reliability and familiarity, but Crystal’s routines this year were distinguished only by their routine nature. “Formulaic” doesn’t begin to describe them—“forced” might.


His usual set-up, that cracking gags about ultra-serious dramas is funny in an ironic way, only works if those dramas are well enough known to be mocked, and most of the Best Picture nominees just weren’t. These films didn’t come with Jerry Maguire or Hannibal Lecter catchphrases or universally recognized scenes. Without a Brokeback Mountain or Crying Game set-up, Crystal had to resort to inserting himself into The Descendants’ death scene for his token “men kissing is funny” bit (during a program whose original producer was pilloried for making a homophobic statement). In Crystal’s film frolic, it was clear from the descent into Spielberg’s Tintin that the movies most ripe for parody had not even been nominated. Find another format to good-naturedly salute the nominees then!


The Crystal shtick made you that much more conscious of the Hollywood royalty template which is really the crux of this ceremony. There is the opening fashion-show pageantry. There are the classy presenters (Cruise, Hanks, et al.) who are allowed to loosen up but not lose composure, and the clowns (Ferrell, Galifanakis, Stiller) who are not allowed to be serious for a moment. (Except that Adam Sandler, amazingly, got the last weighty word in one of those documentary segments where stars were asked to about their inspirations and career desires.)


One of the go-to-commercial teaser comments about upcoming awards mentioned that something like 10 veterans of Saturday Night Live have been nominated for awards (including Kristen Wiig, as co-author of Bridesmaids, this year), but that none had won. Yet Saturday Night Live was the single cultural entity that bound most of the disparate elements of this show together. Most of the “cool” stars had hosted it. Most of the comic relief were former cast members. Considering how merrily SNL roughs up its hosts’ images, and how it’s one of the most assured methods to sell a major movie on television, it should be taken as a model for how the Oscars could court a younger demographic.


As for the winners, Martin Scorsese has gone back to being a channel through which others nab awards, rather than winning himself. Conversely, Woody Allen is again picking up trophies and not deferring them his supporting cast members and cinematographers. I’ve seen so far of this year’s nominees that I’m not fit to judge whether or not they were robbed (or overrated). I like Moneyball but thought it tried too hard to be Oscar material, and I’m glad that transparent toniness didn’t fly with Oscar voters. Meanwhile, having seen neither Hugo nor The Artist yet, I’m hopeful I can still find them in theaters now that they’re prizewinners.

Overall, fun as always to watch, but the Oscar glow faded before the Jimmy Kimmel aftershow even started.

Do the Sour Dough

I am very proud of my spelt sourdough. I nursed it along for weeks of daily feedings and have kept it thriving for something like five years now. Our farm friend Laura shares the spelt berries she buys in bulk. Spelt flours is a nutty wonder, underappreciated yet one of the healthiest and heartiest flours you can find.

I stumbled into spelt as the base for a sourdough. Turns out it’s the best choice you can make. If you have a white-flour sourdough, adding heavier flours could kill it. But spelt sucks up everything you throw at it, at the primordial ooze in Joseph Payne’s short story “Slime.” I’ve also gone on weeks-long vacations and found my spelt sourdough easy to revive upon my return (though it did say it had gotten lonely in that dark refrigerator).

This is not to say that I have not had some difficult periods with the sourdough. Let it “rise” too long (especially on a second “rise”) and it gets gray and clammy. Sometimes it looks just right, yet won’t bake up. I put this down to seasonal climate, and in winter I’ve been adding a little yeast just to be sure.

This past month, however, I guilted myself into forgoing yeast and making careful tests of what worked and what didn’t, prep-wise.

And I think I’ve nailed it:

  1. Before bedtime, mix one cup of sourdough starter in a ceramic bowl (no metal!) with one cup of water (no chlorine! Use one of those water filters, or better yet just leave it out for a day before using) and enough white (unbleached!) flour to make a very soft dough, so sticky that some will remain on your fingers. Add nothing else. Don’t butter a pan. Beware salt and metal. Cover with a heavy dishtowel.
  2. In the morning, mix in another half-cup of the water and enough flour to make it a slightly stiffer dough than before. Put in a loaf pan—I use covered clay ones. No metal! Let sit for 45 minutes to an hour, no longer.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the pan in the hot oven and bake for at least 45 minutes. You’ll smell the baked sourdough smell well before you need to remove the bread from the oven. If you don’t let it cook that long, it will have soft gummy spots.
  4. The sourdough loaf will come out golden and crusty. Excellent with cheese, but also with butter and jam.

Rock Gods #263: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Egg of Night was named for a 2-6 a.m. truckers’ breakfast special at the Ellie’s Place. The band would poke its fans with plastic forks. Out of this melee grew O.H.I.O & M.E.T., sometimes cited as among the area’s earliest rap acts, but really just aggressive white guys in baseball hats who shouted rather than sang.

These days, you play five times as much for an egg sandwich, can’t get one except between 7 a.m. and noon, you can’t snag a free newspaper to read while eating. And the idea of an original band bouncing off the walls of a truckstop? So unlikely you can’t believe it EVER happened. These are the myths, folks. These are the Rock Gods.

Doomrock quadruple bill at D’ollaire’s: Skull Mountain, Skeleton Rock, Clue in the Embers and Witchmaster’s Key. What does one drink at such an affair, and is it served in a cauldron?… Jungle Pyramid at the Bullfinch… Flickering Torch and Mysterious Caravan, world rock, at Hamilton’s…

Listening to… Mark Lanegan


Mark Lanegan, Blues Funeral. This is a nice blend of slick late ‘90s radio rock and an undeniable blues sentimentality. Lanegan has an artist-for-hire reputation, but here he seems genuine. There are guest stars and old bandmates galore, but it’s not as showy an ensemble as on Lanegan’s last solo album, Bubblegum.

This is a guy whose scattershot career is hard to follow with consistent idolatry—some of his associations seem lightweight, and it’s hard to gauge the level of participation on some of the projects he’s the ostensible frontman for. This, however, is a set of thumps, wails, and sobbing basslines you really can get behind. It’s well-composed, well-paced, well-intentioned. Best of all, considering the stadium-grunge pedigree of some of its contributors, it’s understated. Northwestern modern malcontents need their own blues: here they are. “If tears were liquor, I’d’ve drunk myself sick.”

Literary Up: Someday has come, and still funny

The Someday Funnies

Edited by Michael Choquette (Abrams ComicArts, 2011)


I was still in junior high school when I started reading National Lampoon, so of course the comics appealed most. This spectacular volume serves as a long-lost issue of that magazine, for those of us who felt that some of the key contributors never did better work elsewhere. It’s also (and this was its intention) a careful distillation of the central events of the 1960s, written and drawn by those who were clearly changed and liberated by that era. This is not a distanced view of the decade, edited by hindsight. This is not one of those jokey books such as Jon Stewart’s show or The Onion does, or indeed the National Lampoon used to do, satirizing the excesses of the period. This is of its time, with the added sparkle of having been stored in boxes for several decades due to the logistics of getting it published.

I was among those who read Bob Levin’s long Comics Journal article about the project a couple of years ago in amazement. The story had readers salivating for a glimpse of these graphic treasures, but it also had the despairing air of Joseph Mitchell’s “Joe Gould’s Secret” to it—this stuff was probably out of reach, or perhaps really didn’t exist in publishable form. Grails are all too easy to believe in, but they usually remain out of reach.

Yet now here The Someday Funnies is, with only one main element substantially different from what the project’s overseer Michael Choquette intended back in the ‘70s. Each one- or two-page “chapter” of Someday Funnies has a hole deliberately placed in it—the only unifying visual concept of a work whose 129 artists range from C.C. Beck to Neal Adams, from Sergio Aragones to Gahan Wilson, from Red Grooms to Federico Fellini. Those holes were at one point held in hopes that R. Crumb would fill them in with Mr. Natural adventures, but instead they’ve become a post-modern documentation of Choquette’s own adventures in putting the book together. That these drawings are not the most successful artistic statement in the book goes without saying—they are in service to a much grander scheme, of encompassing the whole of the 1960s. The main attraction is the splashy original artwork, but the idea that this book is also a historical artifact of the 1970s is inescapable, with multiple prologues, reams of annotations and translations, and bios of every contributor (some of whom were just starting their careers when asked to lend a page to this project, and the majority of whom continued on as artists and writers of renown). Making Choquette a constant seems only right. The book as it stands is as much about itself as it is about the ‘60s.


If Someday Funnies had come out as planned in the 1970s, it would have smoothed the transitions of countless young comics fanatics into counterculture college students, even faster than did National Lampoon’s own Funny Pages section. For here are the creators of Uderzo & Goscinny of Asterix fame, and top-rung Archie comics artist Stan Goldberg, and Mad magazine icons Aragones and Don Martin using their famous styles and characters in service of satire and subversion. There’s a wondrous psychedelic skepticism running through this book. It challenges, it explores, it goes to extremes.

Above all, it lives up to its hype, which is more than the 1960s did.