Local Heroes 2

 

So I asked the salesgirl “Who was that man
Between the doberman and Bruce Lee?”
She said “Just a local hero”
“Local hero” she said with a smile
“Yeah a local hero he used to live here for a while”

Bruce Springsteen, Local Hero

 

 

Jersey girl and I found ourselves in Red Bank yesterday where we stumbled, quite unexpectedly, across a couple of culturally iconic locales.

Red Bank is a small New Jersey town on the Navesink River, North West of Asbury Park and North East of Freehold, which in 1904 was the birthplace of one of the greats of American music, Count Basie.

Born William James Basie, the man that would come to be known the world over as the Count was taught to play piano by his mother and, by his early teens, was already performing around the local area (including Asbury Park).

Eventually, he moved to Harlem and began playing with the Bennie Moten Orchestra with whom he continued until 1935 when he formed his own jazz outfit, The Count Basie Orchestra.

The Count would become a legend in Jazz and Big Band circles and achieve world fame as a musician, band leader, and composer. This was perhaps in small part due to the attentions of one John Hammond (a familiar name to all Springsteen and Dylan fans) who had heard Basie’s band over the radio and travelled from New York to Kansas City in 1936 to check out Basie and his Orchestra.

Hammond was impressed enough to record the band, a recording he later described as, “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with”. This was the beginning of Basie’s rise to national prominence.

Over his long career, Basie worked with some of the very greatest vocalists of all times; Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, and Sarah Vaughan.

 

Count Basie

 

While wondering around the town cente, we came upon Red Bank’s lasting monument to perhaps its greatest son. In 1984 (the year the Count died) the Carlton Theatre on Broad Street was renamed the Count Basie Theatre in his honour. Many acts have played there, including Tony Bennett,  Al Green, the great George Carlin, Boz Scaggs, Counting Crows, Brian Wilson, The Asbury Dukes, and Jon Stewart. It was the last venue James Brown ever played and has been the location of several of Springsteen’s surprise guest appearances over the years.

 

Count Basie2

We hope to catch a show there in the not too distant future.

 

The second Red Bank icon (and the only other that I know of) is filmmaker and comic book geek, Kevin Smith. My wife and I are both huge fans of his indy movie Clerks which was shot in the area. And I personally am also very fond of Chasing Amy, a large portion of which was filmed right on Broad Street in Red Bank.

All of this came into focus for me when we stumbled across Kevin’s Comic book Store, ‘Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash’ (also on Broad Street).

 

Smith.jpg

 

For those who are not aware, Smith plays the character Silent Bob in many of the movies he has directed or written (Clerks I & II, Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Mall Rats, and Dogma to name, well most of them actually). He also wrote the movie Jersey Girl (which, surprisingly considering the title, I have not seen).

The Secret Stash store also doubles as the set for a show about (you guessed it) comics and geek culture called ‘Comic Book Men‘. Smith and his geek friends talk all things geek for half an hour and as we arrived outside the store, we discovered that the show was taping right then.

Two minders stationed outside told us we could go in during taping but we’d have to fill out and sign waivers and cover up our T-shirts (which featured other peoples’ artworks that could not be shown on TV without their permission). We decided that all sounded like a bit too much trouble so we opted to come back after taping and wandered off down the street for some dinner.

When we returned an hour later, the minders were gone and we had a quick look around Kev’s Kingdom (pretty standard comic book store with a lot of Jay and Silent Bob merch and memorabilia as one would expect).

As we were leaving, I also snapped a quick pic of the building across the street which was used as Ben Affleck and Jason Lee’s artist studio in Chasing Amy (weird that Affleck, who played a comic book writer and artist in that film, is now Batman).

Chasing Amy.jpg

Here’s a scene from the movie showing not much has changed since 1997.

 

Red Bank 3.png
Jason Lee (loved him in My Name is Earl) hanging out in Chasing Amy (Image: Miramax)

 

And that was our strange little day in Red Bank. I found a lot of weird connecting threads which led me to write this somewhat amorphous piece. NJ never seems to let me down on that score and I do love the little adventures Jersey girl and I always seem to have together.

 

Encourage an artist

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

 

The Boys from the Casino

 

20170721_210951.jpg
The Cold Seas

 

I want to tell you a little story. This story, unlike many of my posts, has a beginning a middle and an actual end. It starts back in Melbourne about a year ago but mostly plays out on a steamy Summer’s night (last night in fact) at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.

Shall I begin, then? Good.

Sometime last year (I forget quite when it was), while I was stuck back in Melbourne feeling nostalgic for all things Jersey, I was reading up on the history of Asbury Park. I was particularly interested in the musical significance of venues like The Stone Pony and the Wonderbar and was getting that familiar itch to be back there.

On a whim, I typed, “Asbury Park bands” into YouTube, thinking, “I wonder if the next E Street Band is slogging its heart out around the traps of AP, hoping a little Bruce magic might rub off on them?”

Almost immediately, I stumbled across some videos of a band called Deal Casino. The first was a live video of them playing a small gig at Porta (that’s the old Student Prince, Springsteen fans). They sounded tight and I was pretty impressed by the songwriting.

Next, I found a number of their recorded tracks and was instantly taken with this one in particular (obviously the Bruce reference helped).

 

I got on iTunes then and found them easily enough (a minor miracle on the Australian version). They had a number of EPs out at the time and so I downloaded the lot and ‘liked’ the band on social media so that I’d be able to keep track of what they were up to.

Jump forward to just a few short weeks ago, me back now in Jersey and newly married. I was aware that the band were about to drop their first album and was fully intending to download it at the first opportunity when, quite out of the blue, I received a friend request from Christopher Donofrio, drummer with Deal Casino.

I accepted, of course, and, almost immediately, got a message from him saying, Hi Tony! This is Chris from the band Deal Casino. We are mailing tickets directly for our record release show because T**********r sucks. Let me know if you’d be interested in coming!”

Needless to say, I was in and so, we purchased said tickets – at a considerable saving – and, just a few days later, they duly arrived (complete with a free vinyl single, I might add).

So, last night, Jersey girl and I jumped in the car and drove down to Asbury Park. The traffic gods were kind and we arrived with time to spare, so we strolled the boardwalk, had a couple of beers at the Beach Bar, and then a delicious dinner at our favourite Cuban restaurant, Cubacan.

As it turns out, we hadn’t had quite as much time as we’d thought, so missed the first support band, Born Cages. We did, however, catch the second band, The Cold Seas and they were amazing. If I had to categorise them, I’d say they fall within the Post-rock genre.

20170721_213922.jpg

 

 

We both really vibed on these guys and I downloaded all their available recorded material as soon as I got up this morning; really good stuff.

Deal Casino took the stage not long after (I like a band that doesn’t keep its audience waiting around too long) and the gig took off.

 

20170721_222208.jpg

20170721_224520a.jpg

20170721_232946.jpg

 

Deal Casino are: vocals, guitar – Joe P. Parella,  guitar, keys – Jozii Cowell,  bass – Jon Rodney,  drums – Chris Donofrio. I’m not sure how the band divide writing duties but the songs have a consistency of vision that suggests that it’s mostly down to one member.

The thing that struck me the most about the gig was how dedicated the crowd was. You got the distinct impression that there was a strong core of people present who go to every show the band plays in NJ. Having now experienced them live, I can understand where that loyalty comes from. It all made for a really entertaining experience.

At one point, a large section of the audience suddenly squatted down on the floor during an extended guitar build, only to leap back up as one and go wild at the song’s big crescendo.

 

20232898_1513033175385475_3348760576106423929_o
Getting ready to jump (image: Jeff Crespi‎).

 

 

Joe really is a very good vocalist and his voice never wavered through what was, in the end, a pretty long night. His command of the stage was impressive and he even indulged in a little onstage Springsteenesque storytelling. And what was the subject of his story? How he came to be inspired by Bruce and the E Street Band, of course.

It transpired that Joe and another member of the band (not sure which) have held day jobs at Porta. I wondered if they knew the significance of that place in the Springsteen legend.

I also have to say that, though every member of Deal Casino is extremely good at what they do, Chris needs to be singled out for special mention here; he is one of the best rock drummers I’ve seen in a very long time. I wish I’d filmed the crazy solo he performed (with a little technical aid from Joe), it was mind-blown good.

 

20170721_225116a.jpg
that’s Joe holding a snare (or maybe a tom) in the air and moving it about in space as a kind of challenge to Chris who is playing between the kit and the moving target in Joe’s hand – flawlessly, I might add.

 

20229071_452885931735211_4879268080080944642_n
Here’s a much better shot of that not taken by me on a crappy cell phone. (Image:Delaney Gerard)

 

So that was my first ever gig at the famous Stone Pony (Jersey girl saw The Gaslight Anthem play the Summer stage several years ago so, for her, only the first inside gig). It seemed very appropriate to be seeing a couple of young up-and-coming bands at the venue that birthed such legends as the Asbury Dukes and Bon Jovi all those years ago.

Oh, I promised you an actual ending to my story.

This morning, I was putting some of my phone pics of the night up on my Facebook page and, literally within moments, Chris posted a comment thanking me for coming. That’s before any of my actual friends had even hit ‘like’ and, even more incredibly, at 9.30 am!

What he was even doing awake so early after a gig like that is beyond me, but I predict that kind of dedication to the fans is going to take this band far. If this show was anything to go by, they certainly deserve to get where they’re going.

 

 

20170721_211010
The Stone Pony wall of fame.

 

Deal Casino’s self-titled debut album is available now.

 

Words and images (except where otherwise credited) are my own.

 

©2017

I wanna be where the bands are

 

pony

“Before we play a little bit, I’d like to say a few things about why we’re down here tonight. Mainly I’d like to say that I think that the marriage between a community and a company is a special thing, it involves a special trust and even 400 jobs is a lot of work lost in a small town.

“What do you do when after 10 years or 20 years, you wake up in the morning and you see your livelihood sailing away from you, leaving you standing on the beach? What happens when the jobs go away and the people remain? I’d like to say what goes unmeasured is the price that unemployment inflicts on people’s families, on their marriages, on the single mothers out there trying to raise their kids on their own.

“Now, the 3M company, it’s their money and it’s their plant but it’s the 3M workers’ jobs. I’m here tonight to just say that I think that after 25 years of service from a community that there’s a debt owed to the 3M workers and to my hometown.”

Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony; 19 January, 1986. performing a benefit gig for workers from the Freehold 3M plant that was about to be permanently closed down.

 

The Stone Pony in Asbury Park is generally acknowledged to be one of the most important live Rock venues of all time. It is often mentioned by music historians in the same breath as CBGB, Whiskey a Go Go, and the Cavern Club.

And for almost the entire of the club’s forty three year history, it has been closely associated with one rock icon in particular. Bruce Springsteen’s relationship with the Pony is legendary. Following the closure of the Upstage club when he was still living in and around Asbury Park, through all the years of touring, Springsteen has been a fairly regular fixture at the club.

It has been estimated that the Boss has played the Pony stage some 100 times and, with the exception of private gigs to fundraise for his children’s various schools, has never once been billed there.

His first ever Pony performance was on Sept. 8, ’74. Springsteen was jamming with an outfit called The Blackberry Booze Band featuring none other than Steve Van Zandt and Southside Johnny Lyon. Blackberry would go on to become the Asbury Dukes.

 

70s.jpg
Bruce and Stevie, the early days. Picture lifted from the Stone Pony website.

Springsteen’s star was already in ascendance when the Pony opened its doors in 1973 but, even after he had gained considerable fame and recognition with his breakout album, Born to Run, he could still be found hanging around the Pony, occasionally even jumping the bar and serving drinks to customers (by all accounts he sucked pretty hard as a barkeep).

Almost all of his public appearances at the pony have been jams with other artists. These have included: Blackberry Booze Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Clarence Clemons, The Shakes, The Band’s Levon Helm, Joe Grushecky, Soozie Tyrell, Lord Gunner Group, Marshall Crenshaw, Little Steven, Bobby Bandiera, Nils Lofgren, and Jimmy Cliff.

 

 

The relationship has not always been harmonious, however. There was a period from October ’77 until May ’82 where Springsteen shifted his allegiance from the Pony to the Asbury Lanes across town. This reputedly had something to do with fellow E Streeter, Danny Federici getting tossed out of the Pony one night for general rowdiness which apparently did not go over too well with Springsteen.

By May ’82, all was presumably forgiven as Bruce took to the Pony’s stage again with a vengeance, playing 14 Sunday night jams with house band, Cats on a Smooth Surface.

 

 

On June 8, ’84 The E Street Band launched their mega, Born In The USA tour with a warm-up gig at, you guessed it, The Stone Pony. Twelve songs were played that night, including the live debuts of Born in the U.S.A., Glory Days, My Hometown, and Darlington County.

The Pony has not only served as a handy place for Bruce to play, it was for many years a safe haven, one of the few places he could relax among the public without the fear of constant harassment from eager fans. It is an unwritten law around the Pony that you don’t get up in Springsteen’s face. That’s a rare kind of respect.

The Pony also happens to be the place where, back in the early 80’s, Bruce met his now wife and fellow band mate, Patti Scialfa.

 

cropped-dsc_3069-2.jpg

 

The Stone Pony

 

 

Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.

 

©2017

 

 

The Lean Years 15

 

This is the end…

Sadly (for some, happily for others) this is the last remaining Lean Years strip. The rest have been lost to time. I’ve enjoyed reliving those days with Y’all – self-indulgent as it’s been – but now it’s done. Gone like the 90s.

 

Lean years 15 001

The artwork and characters featured in this strip are my personal IP and may not be reproduced or distributed without my express permission. ©1990-2017

 

New York, New York

 

20170613_170625.jpg

Two gigs in NYC

This week I had the great pleasure of seeing two remarkable performances in New York. They were about as different from one another as can be but were nonetheless both amazing in their own ways.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Beacon Theatre, NYC, 6/13

On Tuesday evening my wife and I drove into the city for a show we’d bought tickets for nearly a year before (while I was still stuck in Melbourne). Jersey girl is a huge Nick Cave fan. It’s safe to say Cave is to my wife what Springsteen is to me. It’s funny that I’m from Melbourne and idolise a rockstar from Jersey while she’s from Jersey and adores a rockstar from Melbourne (clearly this marriage was meant to be).

Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds were playing a sold out show at the vaunted Beacon Theatre on Broadway, an event too perfect to miss. For some reason, despite being a long time fan of his music, I’ve never seen Cave play live. The closest I ever came was attending a reading he gave when he released his first novel When the Ass saw the Angel.

It was therefore a pretty special event for me to be seeing him in NYC. After a fun meal at a crazy Mexican restaurant called Playa Betty’s on Amsterdam Avenue, we headed to the theatre and found our seats. Jersey had done us proud and we were in the orchestra section with a great view.

It’s an impressive theatre and seemed like a pretty perfect backdrop for what was to come.

20170613_194024.jpg

From the moment Cave took the stage, we knew this was not going to be your average theatre gig. The entire audience left their seats the moment they caught sight of him and rushed forward to the stage. It was literally stand up or see nothing and so all pretence of decorum was abandoned.

20170613_202647

We had assumed that the main focus of the show would be his most recent album, Skeleton Tree which deals largely with the emmotions revolving around the death of his teenage son in a horrible cliff fall. It’s a very atmospheric album which lends itself to quiet contemplation and self examination. In that context the seated theatre venue had seemed quite apropriate but that wasn’t the gig we got.

Cave interspersed songs from Skeleton tree throughout the night but they served as the moments of quiet between  raging storms. To everyone’s delight he pulled out songs from every period of his long career with the Seeds.

We were treated to stunning renditions of songs such as Red Right Hand, Tupelo, Mercy Seat, and Stagger Lee. And all the while cave strode the stage like a demented southern preacher crossed with a daddy long legs spider. The man is no spring chicken but his energy remains remarkably vital and there is still no compromise in him.

20170613_210010.jpg

20170613_210127.jpg

20170613_215744.jpg

At one point he dragged a young guy up onto the stage and sang directly into his face. When he was done with this intense little piece of theatre, he simply walked away leaving the fella unsure as to what he should do; leave the stage or stay up there with the band? He shrugged in Cave’s direction and was told, “Do what you like”. Ten minutes later, there were thirty people up on the stage and that’s how the rest of the night went.

20170613_221606

20170613_221626

The audience having taken the stage, at one point Cave took to the floor and we beheld the humourous sight of people up on the stage taking pictures with their iphones of their idol down in the audience.

20170613_221757

20170613_221742

When it was all over, we left the gig in a state of semi-shock. The room had reached a near religious fervour over the course of the show. Cave is an arch manipulator and he had quickly recruited the willing New York fans to his church of soaring sounds.

It was, we both agreed, a show to match anything we’d seen.

 

Spike Wilner, Melissa Aldana, and Paul Gill, Mezzrow, Greenwich Village, 6/16

On Friday night, I travelled back into the city to meet up with my son and my good friend P from Melbourne. Both of them had come all the way from Australia to attend our wedding and, as P was flying out the next day, we decided to have an Aussie boys night out together in the greatest city on Earth.

The theme of the night was to be jazz. We had heard, from a musician friend of my son’s, about a club that has a great rep, Smalls Jazz Club in the Village and so we headed over hoping to get in (we hadn’t thought to book ahead). As it turned out, the set was sold out but we were told by the door guy that they had another club the other side of 7th Ave.

We made our way over and found the place, Mezzrow which was situated in the basement of an unassuming brownstone on W10th Street. We got in without having to wait and were led through to a table The place was tiny and we could hear the subway trains rumbling by beneath us every five minutes or so (you’d think that would have detracted from the music but, weirdly, it had the opposite effect).

Mezzrow is owned and operated by jazz pianist Spike Wilner and he was the man tinkling the ivories that evening. It was also his birthday so he had selected two very special guests to play with him. Melissa Aldana is a Chilean born saxophonist who can play like an angel struggling with its demons. And on double bass was Paul Gill.

IMG_2615.JPG

This tight little trio proceeded to blow our minds with a set of amazing renditions of classic jazz standards and some original composition. All three musicians were exremely tallented players and I was keenly aware that to have seen jazz of this quality in Melbourne it would have been a very pricey ticket indeed (we paid just $25 dollars).

IMG_2610

 

IMG_2608a.jpg
The audience showed their appreciation of the music on offer in that uniquely jazz audience way.

IMG_2614a.jpg

 

And the icing on the cake was that our Mezzrow tickets gave us entry into Smalls, so we wandered over after the gig and caught the end of a set there. I’m not sure who we saw there but it was equally enjoyable (though the room was uncomfortably packed and very hot).

By the time we got back to our digs in Brooklyn it was about 2am and we were exhausted (I’d been going since early the previous morning) but we’d heard some amazing jazz and were basking in the glow of it all.

So there you have it, two very different, very excellent gigs in one week. Who knows when that opportunity might come along again?

 

 

Words and images are my own.

©2017

Synchronicity

 

 

flame3.jpg

Noun: synchronicity

  1. The relation that exists when things occur at the same time

  

   I’ve always experienced a lot of synchronicity in my life. It comes and goes like the ocean tides. Often it manifests in small seemingly insignificant things like, for instance, a few weeks ago, I mentioned to Jersey girl that as much as I enjoyed the American beers I’d sampled, I had yet to find ‘the one’, a beer that I could think of as my old faithful as it were.

   That conversation took place on the day I wrote this piece in which I reference Frost’s The road not taken with its famous lines;

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
   That very afternoon, while perusing some of my favourite blogs, Frost’s poem came up again (sadly, I neglected to bookmark the blog and can’t remember now whose it was).
Then, later that evening, we stopped off at the liquor store where I came across this little gem.
Screen_Shot_2016-01-05_at_9.47_.30_AM_.png
I, of course, had to give it a try and yes, it is now ‘the one’.
   As I said, a small thing but still noteworthy. I treat synchronistic moments like these as signposts which tell me if I’m on the right path and headed in the right direction.
   My most recent piece of synchronicity also revolved around a poem (and a lyric, though, sadly not a beer). I had just finished writing the text of my blog post on William Carlos Williams and was looking for a title and song to go with it (I generally take the blog title from the accompanying song clip rather than the piece itself – just a strange quirk of mine).
   I’d included several quotes from poet and critic Randall Jarrell in the piece and, as the post was also about Springsteen, decided to use his song Jungleland to accompany the piece.
I wanted to use the lyric The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all as the title for the piece but had a feeling I’d already used it in a previous post.
   I went back to find it and, sure enough, I had used it on this piece essentially about my relationship to poetry. In the post, I reference the poem The Death of a Ball Turret Gunner – a piece that had had a strong impact on me in my youth – by none other than Randall Jarrell.
tree.jpg
   In a sense, the two posts were spiritual kin and yet, I’d had no idea until that moment that the Jarrell I’d been quoting in the one had penned the poem in the other.
   There are lots of little synchronistic threads woven into this larger one. For instance, Jarrell wrote two children’s books which were illustrated by Maurice Sendak. And Sendak wrote the very first book I ever borrowed from a library, Where the wild things are. That book’s visual style was a massive influence on my future interest in illustration.
   Even the fact that Williams and Robert Frost both died the same year I was born (just a month before, in Williams case) seems synchronistic to me. Actually, several of the people I would come to admire chose the year I was born to depart this existence; Kennedy, C S Lewis, Aldous Huxley – all three on the same day mind you, Patsy Cline, Jean Cocteau, and Édith Piaf.  All died that year.
   I don’t know what broader significance any of that might have, but I can say that the knowledge of it has shaped my world view in small ways and large.
Words and images are my own.
©2017