Rock Gods #36: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

We’ve had our music columns turned into liner notes and even song lyrics. But never a deposition, until now. Here’s what we know about the shooting outside the upscale club we regularly refer to as Dollars or Dollaire’s (and which, for the benefit of the court stenographer, we note is actually spelled D’Aulaire’s) last Thursday night.

Thousand Year was playing, and their set went long. How a hardcore thrash band’s set can go long we don’t know, but that’s the court-ordered truth. The Allied were up next and, fearful they’d get bumped, started making a stink. TY ignored them, or perhaps just wasn’t paying attention. But here’s where our testimony comes in—we’re pretty sure we saw Thousand Year vocalist Shitgrubber (not his real name) acknowledge the interruptions and rust into an unexpected counteroffensive encore.
So who threw the first punch? Thousand Year, by any standard, were the greater aggressors, a genuine menace—and we say this knowing that Mr. Shitgrubber is safely behind bars.
Dollaire’s has intimated that they will not be booking hardcore shows in future. The dance parties are punishing enough, it appears—and we’re just talking about those synthetic beats and bad shoes.

All this is preface to particularly brutal line-ups Saturday at both Hamilton’s and the Bullfinch, where bad feelings tend to be handled with more aplomb. The more mainstream Hamilton’s has Steel Wave, Gone for Soldiers and Last Full Measure—not chaos, granted, but pretty darned loud—while the Finch offers the full-scale onslaught of Gods and Generals, To the Last Man and Rise to Rebellion.
Us, we could use a good piano lounge about now. Any tix left for that McArthur comeback tour at the Shaara Ballroom?

Chipmunk Cheek

An aside in Adam Markovitz’s brief Entertainment Weekly review of the 3D opus Yogi Bearhas eked some umbrage out of me. The offending sentence:

After watching so many cartoon icons turn cynical on screen (yes, you, Chipmunks), it’s a relief to see Yogi Bear land unjaded in this frivolous CG live-action episode.

There’s a point to be made there, but using the hallowed Chipmunks to it shows a shocking cultural ignorance.
Alvin, Simon & Theodore turned cynical? When? As in, when weren’t they?

From his very first recorded Christmas-song utterances, Alvin was questioning the value of everything from the value of pre-arranged lyrics to recording studio decorum in general. He wanted a hula hoop, damn it.

Revolution is incited on many a Chipmunks record. In their subsequent longer-form TV and film incarnations, the boys were inclined to do good deeds for others, but even these acts of kindness were compromised by their impatient guardian David Seville, who, for instance, wouldn’t believe them when they told him that they’d adopted an eagle. That’s from the 1960s TV version; the ‘80s Chuck Jones rendition is notably warmer, fuzzier and more moral, which is probably Markovitz’s blind spot. But those shows still demonstrate a constant disregard for authority, tradition and basic safety.
A certain amount of cynicism—a huge, vast amount—might naturally be afforded rodents with careers in the recording industry. These are not Smurfs or Care Bears, after all, who have communities of like-minded fluffy friends of the same species to fall back on. In every period of their half-century existence the Chipmunks have been essentially on their own, their motives for what they do perversely their own.

Cynicism’s totally the wrong term. Self-preservation’s a whole lot better. And that’s what those recent semi-live action Chipmunk films cover well. Their sensibility comes from screenwriters Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi who brought contemporary TV coming-of-age myths to a high art in their landmark Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete. The Chipmunks and Pete & Pete share more than the sensation of cute siblings as stars (McRobb and Viscardi also wrote for The Naked Brothers Band series, by the way); there’s the same sense of music having extreme importance, of individuality and non-conformity being paramount characteristics of healthy development.

I have not seen Yogi Bear yet, and have no comment on whether it is important (or credible) for a starving park bear to appear unjaded. But for my entire life I’ve happily embraced the jaded cynical maverick rebellion of The Chipmunks—not to mention their spiritual kin Dennis the Menace, Calvin & Hobbes and Snoopy—and can’t let even a casual clause in a hundred-word Entertainment Weekly review slide.


Rock Gods #35: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

“Saw Donald play last night.”
“Tux or ducks?”


Donald Fowler leads two lives. On Saturday nights, he slicks his hair into a D.A., shines his black-and-white suede shoes (OK, so you can’t really shine suede), and thump-thumps on a stand-up bass to swing and rockabilly covers as a member of The Nephews, house band at the Walter Hotel. There, he rasps and scats and slaps like a sultan.

On Thursdays throughout the indoor concert season—plus the occasional matinee, Pops show or park gig, Fowler is the bassist for an even more retro, even more roaring combo—The Barks Memorial Hall Symphony Orchestra. Here, he’s a more sanguine, more even-tempered, capable of fading into the background, though no less bombastic when needs be.
Sometimes you’ll find both Fowlers in a single night, undoing the bowtie after a classical rave-up to join the Thursday “Gearloose Jam” at Huey’s Diner. Last week he even brought a violinist and a clarinetist with him.

Didn’t know Huey’s even had a jam? It’s largely an after-hours thing, since assistant manager Bruce Spiegel, aka “Beagle” of The Beagle Boys, keeps his keyboards in a kitchen closet there and is always itching to play after the last round of dishwashing. Sometimes, when it’s OK with the customers, they kick in early.

And that’s how a couple dozen patrons last Thursday got treated to a mad mash of rockabilly tinged with Renaissance interludes as a sidedish to their meatloaf:

“The Mummy’s Ring,” interrupted with the second movement of “The Fabulous Philosopher’s Stone.”
A jam which included snippets from the jukebox gem “Christmas for Shacktown” and the song cycle “Christmas on Bear Mountain.”
A “golden” medley of “The Golden Fleecing,” “The Golden Helmet,” “The Golden River” and “Pirate Gold.” (Two are pop tunes, two are symphonic works; you guess which.)

There was barking and wailing and sincere polite appreciation. In other words, a lot of the crowd didn’t know what to think. But a band was born, and a more cohesive concert/gig is planned. Band names already being bandied around: John D. Rockerduck
There’ll be plenty of notice next time, since this is a project that needs a prepared audience to be properly appreciative.
Hey, can we write the illuminating, footnote-laden program notes?

In less rarefied climes this wintry Wednesday, Dollaire’s gets historical with San Diego Inkpots and Hall of Famers Eisner & WR-H (who had a home in our fair state for a time) at Dollaire’s, CBG and Disney Legends at Hamiltons , while the frolicsome Flintheart Glomgold and the Ganders hold down the fort at the fabled Bullfinch…

You Might Be a Zombie—And Other Bad News
From the Editors of Plume Books (Penguin Group), 2011. 295 pages.

I blew through You Might Be a Zombie’s 41 chapters and umpteen factoids in a single evening, the way I used to ravish the latest edition of The Guiness Book of World Records when I was 12 or 13. This is indeed the hip cynical grown-up’s equivalent of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, an institution for which You Might Be a Zombie—And Other Bad News has nothing but snickering scorn; while debunking the claim that “Einstein Flunked Math” in the section “Five Ridiculous Lies You Were Taught in History Class,” it is noted that:

The idea that Einstein did badly at school is thought to have originated with a 1935 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! trivia column, which probably should have been called Believe It Or Not! I Get Paid Either Way, Assholes! The famous trivia “expert” never cited his sources, and the various “facts” he presented throughout his career were mostly things he thought he heard, combined with stuff he pulled directly out of his ass.

That sort of cogent analysis (and I’m not being entirely facetious here) represents the dominant attitude of this book: Trust nobody, and roast them unmercifully for their self-inflating sins.

Inventors steal their ideas (especially from women: one whole section’s devoted to “Four Great Women Buried by Their Boobs”). Historians not only lie, they underplay the best parts of the legends they’re burnishing (“The Four Most Badass Presidents of All Time,” “Five Beloved U.S. Presidents the Modern Media Would Never Let Into the White House”). Storytellers varnish the truth (“Five Movies Based on True Stories [That Are Complete Bullshit]”; “Five Fight Moves That Only Work in Movies”; “Five Hollywood Adaptations That Totally Missed the Point”). And speaking of varnish, the red food coloring on the candy and yogurt you ate today (this book exists excitedly in the “Eek! Right in front of you!” present tense) is a shellac make of yucky bugs “Five Horrifying Food Additives You’ve Probably Eaten Today”). To the collective of humor writers who cranked this book out, grossing you out is as crucial a mission as screwing up your sense of the universe. For every “Five Ways Your Brain is Messing With Your Head” or “Five Psychological Experiments That Prove Humanity is Doomed,” there’s “Six Terrifying Things They Don’t Tell You About Childbirth” or “Six Most Terrifying Foods in the World.”

At times, You Might Be a Zombie makes too much of simple ironies, like that Barry Manilow didn’t write the song “I Write the Songs” and other deceits that are formed only in the minds of the ignorant. Plus there’s always that awkwardness of a book openly embracing harsh language and bad taste yet appearing to be shocked and dismayed by examples of harsh language and bad taste elsewhere (“The Gruesome Origins of Five Popular Fairy Tales”). But even these lapses into literary overkill help set a tone where conspiracy theories (including five that “Nearly Brought Down the U.S. Government,” not to mention :”Five Wacky Misunderstandings That Almost Caused a Nuclear Holocaust”) can be told from fresh perspectives

What You Might Be a Zombie fails to acknowledge—because for marketing reasons it chooses to be a humor book and not a scholarly textbook—is that this ain’t such a bad teaching method. There’s such a consistent tone and fluid writing style to this widespread selection of cultural conundrums that one of the book’s biggest shocks is the number of separate writers who apparently contributed to it. This is the biggest tribute to unified-voice humor writing since the early years of Spy Magazine.
You Might Be a Zombie’s superior and snide attitude is compelling and convincing. The jokes are funny and hold your attention regarding disagreeable subject matter. The disrespect for authority, the snippiness about the reliability of recorded history, the complete distrust of common wisdom, the glee of unlocking key truths which unsettle mountains of accumulated “knowledge”…
It all adds up to a comedy compendium profoundly more consciousness-molding than all those humor books which merely satirize history with line-by-line parodies and puns, like (the nonetheless brilliant) Onion’s “Our Dumb Century” and The Daily Show’s “America: The Book.” What You Might Be a Zombie lacks in graphic-art expertise (though some of the illustrations are very funny), it makes up for with an obsessive need to not just make you laugh, but make you laugh at yourself and at the world around you so hard that the “shocking but utterly true FACTS!” advertised on its cover may shock you into shaking things up a bit.
Such activism will either lead to the reclassification of as a university or think tank, or provide fodder for You Might Be a Zombie’s sequel, depending on how badly you screw up or show your worst attributes.
Either way, score. I felt distinctly unZombie-like after plowing through You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News. Oh, I wanted brains. But the book taught me the difference between having them in your head or having them up your ass.

Rock Gods #34: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

How Hard Can It Be?

Tippy from Tippy and the Tipsies is in a community production of that famous rock musical about the religious hippie, and it’s gotten her converted.

“Who needs bands? It’s theater for me from now on!,” she croons. Asked if she’s bothered to inform the tipsies of this bold new performance direction, she demurs. “Well, I probably oughtta see what else is out there. I like performing.” Spoken like a trooper.

But the ratio of club hoppers to theater geeks remains unchanged, since someone else is switching ranks, over on the other side of the local music/local theater cultural divide:

Robert Lipsyte, he’ll remind you, is “a theater guy.” He founded Work Theater 10 years ago, when he was still at the college on the hill, and has mounted “between 12 and 20 productions, depending how you count.” (A lot of one-act plays were involved.) The most popular of these shows were seen by maybe 25 people, the least popular by two.

Lipsyte would go out with the cast to Bull’s or Hamilton’s after rehearsals. He’d see the generally larger crowds in the club scene. And, he admits, “I got jealous.

“You can’t imagine the amount of work that goes into presenting a play. There’s the memorizing, all the technical stuff, rehearsals. Plus I write my own plays and act in them.” You can hear the “hmph” in his voice.

Well, if you can’t get them to join you, put a beat on it.

So Robert Lipsyte became Bobby Lip, and Work Theater became a band called Work Theater: Opus One. Opening night is Thursday at the Bullfinch. Bobby Lip sings, plays keyboards and wrote all the songs, some of them based on his experimental plays like “Succatash High” and “Ex-Text Next.”

“I’ve worked with interior rhymes and choral refrains in several of my chamber plays, and it’s not that different than songwriting.”

But wait, there’s more. “I want this to be a valid rock band, but the experience will be mostly metatheatrical.” Got that?

The Arps, The Huelsenbecks, and Emmy H. are at the Bullfinch tonight, a pretty lush theatrical spectacle of their own, assuming they bring the theremin and the bondage gear… Everyman His Own Football, Rongwrong and The Blind Man are telling certain people their Hamilton’s gig tonight has been cancelled. But they didn’t tell us, and the Hamilton family’s clueless too. All our queries to anyone who might know have been left unanswered. Stay importuned…

The Sort of Holiday Gifts People Give Me

A washboard tie

A tea set

A turntable with USB port, so I can turn my Willie Loco Alexander records into mp3s

An oil-free, hot-airblown popcorn popper

And stuff I choose not to write about here.

Back to school for both girls and wife tomorrow. The stay-at-home vacation is officially over, and the stay-at-home work recommences.

With regular breaks to make popcorn, play records, drink tea and swipe a thimble across an accordion-pleated piece of metal hanging from my chin.

New Year’s resolutions for this website include doubling the number of daily posts, increasing both the fiction and non-fiction elements, making deadlines with the almanack, and start publishing some of it to Kindle. All right with you?