For Tomorrow We May Die—Diary of a College Chum #11

Told Bar about the wall Gar and I tried to make, and he said we should have gone to Wall Mart instead.
So Gar, Mar and I made a list of stores we’d like to shop at:
Cheeses Crust, the Prince of Pizza
Cut Cut Cuttaw!, the chicken butcher
The Sticky Round Thing Place
The Man That Has No Feet humility-based shoe store
Flat Gray Paint Pirates
Nothing But Empty Shelves
I Have No Mouth, But Ice Cream
Tenpin Station Bowling Alley for Deadheads
The Boot Ache Boutique for tired feet
We call our shopping plaza One, because when you’ve seen One, you’ve seen the mall.

What to Do WIth Michael

The Elephant to Hollywood. By Michael Caine. Henry Holt and Co., 2010. 320 pages.

It’s nice that Michael Caine is old and secure enough to write about his career without resorting to Alfie-esque pretension and distanced smirking. His earlier books, and there are several, were informative, more than serviceable or merely commercial cash-ins. But where 1992’s What’s It All About was about maintaining his cool and asserting his place in the British movie star pantheon, and Acting for Film was likewise about artistry rather than celebrity, with The Elephant to Hollywood Caine finally stops being self-conscious about his natural charm. Those other books are worthwhile, and few other stars could have done as good a job with them, but this collection of breezy anecdotes has been a long time coming.
The upstanding Caine of the earlier tomes obscured some great stories that the down-to-earth Caine now tells with casual flair—his working class roots, his fraught days as a young actor in the midst of the barroom brawls and uponemanships of the kitchen-sink drama era, and especially the extraordinary story of how he fell in love with Shakira Baksh, his second wife. He tracked her down after seeing her in a TV ad for Maxwell House coffee, somehow convinced her to date him, and has been married to her since 1973.
There’s a lot of joy in this book, some of it unexpected. Easing into supporting roles after decades of leading-man turns, you might expect a bruised ego, but Caine doesn’t come off that way, thrilled to be known as Alfred in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. His list of actors he was happy to have finally worked with isn’t a namedroppy one—he appreciates talent more than fame, so actors like Bob Hoskins get their due.
In writing a conventional movie-star autobio, Michael Caine actually distinguishes himself as someone who didn’t have to write one, but did anyway. For that, this reader (and unrepentant Blame It on Rio fan) is grateful.

Rock Gods #54: Adventure in Our Little Music Scene

Kid City and Fishery play in the middle of town Sunday, but they’re both extreme bands happiest on the fringes. This relatively mainstream opportunity to gig together at Hamilton’s transpired because “our families knew each other,” explains KC keyboardist Captain Kidd, who says Fishery bassist Green and he “used to play together at the beach, or be in day care together, or something.” Ah, memories. Not that either band is all grown up. Constant line-up changes and frequent reinvention of their respective sound (except the loudness part; both bands have never stopped questing for the ultimate high decibel levels) keep them young and brash. The Thursday show is a family benefit of sorts. A memorial service Monday night for Kidd’s aunt, who lived out of town and died last year, is bringing dozens of members of the extended family to town. So a concert was arranged. Also arranged: the promise of a hasty and no-excuses-required egress for curious oldsters who will quickly (and rightly) fear for their eardrums, not to mention their sanity.
Serious, doting grandmothers are expected. This will be one of those nights when the crowd is at least as interesting as the acts on that shallow Hamilton’s stage.

Different sort of scene at The Bullfinch Sunday as well: a bunch of theater kids from the college on the hill started a band to play in one of the shows there, and they booked a gig as an after-party for the closing night of the show. The band’s been dubbed Green Party Room, since they were founded in the school theater’s Green Room. Another “Room” band, Reading Room, was engaged to open the show. (Family Restroom must have been unavailable.)

Oh, the show? It’s called “No Babies, No Dirty Hands,” and it has its final performance Sunday afternoon. The band, cast and crew will bring their dirty hands and babyishness over to the Finch after they strike the set. Then the band will strike up a set, which includes such twinge-inducing titles as “Musical Planet,” “Magical Forest” and “Scenic Overlook.” Well, we’ll see—in rock as in theater, the acting is everything.

The SCSU Scene, in the February of Their Years

I was a fan of Brian LaRue’s band The Tyler Trudeau Experience long before I induced him to join the staff of the New Haven Advocate, but the paper figured in our acquaintanceship early on. When I reviewed a Tyler Trudeau EP for the Advocate, Brian turned the review into impromptu song lyrics at a coffeehouse concert. The mutual admiration society was secure.
After enlisting him to oversee one of the Advocate’s Annual Manual issues, then supporting the paper’s hiring of him as full-time listings editor, I encouraged Brian to take over what I’d always seen as one of the plum gigs at the Advocate: Music Notes columnist. Not only did our desks face each other’s (and our desktop musics bleed into each other’s airspace) for years, I was also his

Brian left full-time Advocate employment the same day I did, three and half years ago. We both continue to write for the paper, as freelancers. More importantly, Brian has continued to make music. He also moved to New York City. But while his writing career has shifted a bit with the new location, his music appears to have come full circle.

When many of us first discovered The Tyler Trudeau Attempt in the pages of the New Haven Advocate (as the very first subject of Kathleen Cei’s now-sadly-defunct “Stuck in a Corner” local band interview column—again, years before Brian joined the Advocate staff), the band was part of what seemed to be a thriving indie rock scene at Southern Connecticut State University. Besides Tyler Trudeau, SCSU students figured in The Battlecats, The Sarcastics (later The Frills, and whose leader later formed Bourgeois Heroes) and (alongside Yalies) The Cavemen Go and The Vultures. All could summon an old-school garage rock feel and wrote clever lyrics. The Battlecats broke up and The Vultures became a multi-styled scene of their own, but the other three bands continued to project a sonic symmetry of smart, humble heartfelt pop-rock with ironic twists.

In reality, I was assured by more than one of the bands, this scene had been happenstance. The bands didn’t hang out much, played shows together largely by coincidence, and weren’t mutually motivated into creating a scene or genre or community or any achievement larger than the already sizeable one of just keeping their bands going.

Yet, seven or more years after the SCSU “scene” started, the small Connecticut-based label releases a free digital compilation—One Year of Original Music from February Records—which brings together The Cavemen Go, Tyler Trudeau Experience, Bourgeois Heroes and a more recent Brian LaRue project, Women’s Basketball, all in one place. They all have maintained that core cool-shy-kid-in-the-corner grooviness that made them stand up in the first place, and they’ve all built upon it. There’s also more connection among the bands than before—LaRue has played bass in The Cavemen Go for two years now, and Brian mentioned to me once that “We Got the Look” evolved from a joke he shared with Jason of The Bourgeois Heroes, and that he initially offered that song to the Heroes before doing it himself.

The comp’s title, One Year of Original Music, is a misnomer—the lead-off track, “I Thought You Wanted to Know,” has Watertown’s Secret Charisma covering a Richard Lloyd tune from the 1980s, best known as the first single released by Chris Stamey and the dBs. But the 19 tracks are mostly as original and recent as advertised. A favorite is Tyler Trudeau Attempt’s “We’ve Got the Look,” which lightly parodies a certain Go-Go classic while lyrically mocking acts which care more about appearance than musical ability. I’ve been enjoying that song for over a year now off of a Tyler Trudeau demo, and it’s always thrilling to have one’s infatuations echoed by those who actual take the time to release records on their own labels.
The Cavemen Go’s contribution is one of their quicker, jauntier affairs, from the 2009 album New Lives, with crisp vocals by keyboardist Emily McMinn. The Bourgeois Heroes offer a live 2004 version of Elizabeth is Bored.
Though Abby Mott’s pushy “She Don’t Play Nice” comes close, the nostalgic genre feel of the SCSU scene of the early 2000s is not sustained by the other bands on the comp—Boy Genius does their alt-pop harmony thing, The Month of June recalls late-‘70s Brit dancepop, and Even Artichokes Have Hearts stands alone with its old-school ukulele friskiness, and the Two if By Sea and Summer Library both languorously reference railroads (“Westbound Train” and “Past the Railroad Tracks” respectively).
February Records is a wonderful resource for thoughtful Connecticut pop bands. Just one year in existence, it’s already an invaluable time capsule of creativity in Connecticut. More than that, this all-too-current label remakes history by showing us that the SCSU scene wasn’t a fluke but sustainable.

Rock Gods #53: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

The Chapter Books got on the college charts! And to them, the reward is just that so many DJs bothered to write their name down.
“We’re glad they’re playing the record, obviously,” says drummer Mandy B. “But we think it’s amazing just to think of radio jocks scrawling our name down on playlists.” Three of the bands members have had their own college radio shows (Mandy is the middle school correspondent on her older sister Millie’s well known Total Local program). “We know what a pain it can be to keep lists.”

Some of us, of course, are used to the mundane task of jotting down musicians’ names and song titles. We’ve even been known to bring reading and writing materials along to clubs.

Some nights, we’re not alone. Virtually everyone who showed up a few hours early for The Ballantines on Thursday night at the Bullfinch had paperbacks in their coat pockets or handbags. The lit vibe was as pungent as whatever was simmering in the heating vents. Carroll and “Graf” from Soft Skull were sharing Wizards of the Coast comic books, while Simon of Simon Spotlight was immersed in an issue of Ecco. The guys from Overmountain were sorting a dozen packs of Razorbill trading cards. We were packing the only novel in the joint, our battered copy of Tor—in honor of The Ballantines, of course. “Moose” Hill of Zondervan looked on warily, nursing a beer and saying he wished he’d brought a crossword or somethin’. A distinct conversational void was in effect.
That all changed when The Ballantines lit up the stage. They are among the chattiest bands of this otherwise distant and insular generation—not just the twin frontmen Faber brothers, but everyone. They all have mics, they all crack jokes, they all introduce (and introduce and introduce) songs. We were completely unprepared for such verbosity, since this is a band known for three-word choruses that never vary. An eye-opener. No, a mouth-opener.

In other text-lovin’ spellcheck news, The Blats have changed their name to The Blits. The band’s new “manager,” “Spawn” Smith, thinks this will help highlight singer Sonny Blitt and his new batch of original “soul rock” songs. What, no more thrash-styled railroad blues standards?! So how many “t”s in Blits? Just the one, unlike the two in Sonny’s surname. Oh, that’ll help.

How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen The Realist?

Acid Christ
By Mark Christensen. Schaffner Press, 2010. 440 pages.

Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Muisadventures in the Counterculture. Kindle Edition, 2011.

I have a simple test when deciding whether or not to read supposedly sweeping histories of the 1960s. I check the index, and if Paul Krassner’s not in it, I pass.

When skimming Mark Christensen’s multi-faceted biography of Ken Kesey, I fully expected to find Krassner references. The men were close friends for decades, and worked on several literary projects together. Kesey comes up frequently in Krassner’s own voluminous autobiographical writings.
What I didn’t expect is that Acid Christ would have dozens of well-researched Krassner anecdotes and fresh Krassner quotes. Or that there’d be a whole chapter illuminating the life and works of Krassner, a whole section of the book that barely even mentions Kesey. In the book’s introduction, Christensen exults Krassner ever more, then mentions that when he’d first decided to write about ‘60s radicalism the person he’d wanted most to biographize was KRASSNER. Until Paul Krassner himself talked him out of it, suggesting that Kesey would be a better subject.

He’s not, but that sort of selflessness is why I’ve always loved Krassner, so I can’t kick. I slogged through Acid Christ diligently, but much more interesting in the subplots and tangents than in the central story. I don’t find it so strange, that someone as swept up in ‘60s consciousness as I am would have their eyes glaze over while reading about one of its icons.

It’s not Christensen’s problem. His writing is lively and unpredictable. He enters himself into the narrative at unexpected points, basically to explain why a certain age-old attitude or anecdote should be construed as timeless or universal. He changes the emphasis on certain eras in Kesey’s life, which is welcome since the times when Kesey was most on public view (movies, bus tours) weren’t necessarily the times when he was doing his most interesting work.

My own issues with Kesey probably have a lot to with his personal success. Not the commercial kind—he was widely ‘rediscovered’ with the release of the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, but the book had come out back in 1962 and been adapted for the stage is 1963, and Christensen shows how the movie version was nothing but a frustration and a distraction for him. No, it’s the rare success he had in being able to create a home and a community for himself that epitomized his own tastes, desires and emotional characteristics. His way of living was free yet precise, and the more I learn about it the more I know I personally don’t share those exact values. I wouldn’t have lived in that part of the country, hung out endlessly with the people he did, done those drugs. Details emerge, I stop relating, even though the big picture is very appealing. So Ken Kesey, to me, is the author of a couple of very good bucks and a couple of extremely good catchphrases, who was able to live his dream. But he doesn’t epitomize the 1960s for me, as I know he does for others. To me, he only epitomizes Ken Kesey, which is fine.

Paul Krassner, on the other hand, is reason I became a journalist—because he showed how there were new kinds of journalist to be. He published, edited, collaborated with or otherwise influenced and popularized the works and ideas of dozens of people

I’m sorry Mark Christensen got talked out of writing a full book on Krassner, with the sudject’s participation. I still hold out hope that someone will, and that they will be able to start it soon, since Krassner will turn 79 in April.

Luckily, Krassner’s come to the rescue with a revised edition of his 1994 autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut. The alterations are minor—he corrects legends he’s been able to fact-check since, he throws in observations on recent media phenomena which are too pure to his sort of reporting to go unacknowledged (the FCC’s fining, then not fining, then fining again, U2 for obscenity, for instance). But I’m reading the book, which I’ve read several times in its original edition (and which already restated material covered in previous Krassner books) cover-to-cover happily again, as if it’s all new confessions.

Meanwhile, Krassner’s magazine The Realist has now been completely archived at, a multi-year labor of love by other Krassnerphiles who have done all of us a wondrous service. That’s the history of the ‘60s (and ‘70s and ‘90s) right there.

I know it’s not a comfy LSD farm commune in Oregon, like Kesey’s, but Krassner’s world is where I prefer to dwell.