Underneath the sycamore

 

Now every time this girl I see
She tries to chain me to her tree

Marc Bolan, Visions Of Domino

 

Marc Bolan, the fey glamster who helmed T. Rex, is said to have predicted, through several of his song lyrics, the year and manner of his own death. I know that the Rock world is somewhat rife with such tales, usually the inventions of hardcore fans and their overactive imaginations. However, there are actually some fairly interesting coincidences in this case and so I thought I’d while away a bit of my afternoon (and perhaps yours) having a wee look into it.

First of all, Bolan was on record as believing he’d never make it to 30. He was quite correct in this belief as he died some weeks shy of his 30th Birthday. He never got his driver’s license, having had strong premonitions he would die early, and claimed he “felt a car might be involved”.

On his final tour of France, Bolan visited the Louvre where he encountered a painting by Rene Magritte called September 16.  It is said that he spent several hours just staring at that one piece.

 

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Image, the Louvre.

Interestingly enough, the painting shows the moon in the exact same phase as on the night Bolan died when the car, driven not by him but by his girlfriend Gloria Jones, hit a fence under a tree, on 16 September, 1977.

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The license plate of the mini they were in was FOX 661L and fans have pointed out that in the lyrics to the song, Solid Gold Easy Action he sings:

“life is the same as it always will be,

Easy as picking foxes from a tree.”

 

 

In another song, The Road I’m on he sings:

Since we last loved Gloria
the suns been up and down that many times
since we last loved Gloria
I’ve been sharing love with women of all kinds

Summer ends and leaves start dying
you won’t see robin crying
he knows where the sun is hiding
to another nest he’s flying

You gave me reason now I’ve gotta roam
‘cos the road I’m on gal won’t run me home

Hear my words Gloria
echoing from mountains with a cry
Hear my words Gloria
you’ll see them gal reflecting off the sky

Hear it in the cold wind blowing
hear it in the river’s flowing
no-one in the mind that’s growing
see ‘cos the cards that’s showing

You gave me reason now I’ve gotta roam
‘cos the road I’m on gal won’t run me home

 

That line, the road I’m on gal won’t take me home along with the repeated mention of the name Gloria and the late summer setting have stirred much discussion among Bolan’s fans. His girlfriend Gloria was indeed trying to drive him home when grisly fate intervened.

Bolan had also written a poem about death called The Warlock of Love with the first line, sycamore of sorrow.

The tree beneath which he died was a sycamore.

Sycamore of sorrow

Pray I’m swallowed

In the swell of your yelling leafy breast

My crippled bended chest is shamed

Through flaming crowsfeet, soaring nouns of Norse confession.

Dark earth gremlins, rootlegged hobbling

In the cryptess of my turned wound

Ill-famed fair prince, steal my lightening

Stake me with steel, for my haughtiness

Straddle my storm head with your abyss shroud

Call me harlot, call me wormy wordler

Ever so, but out loud.

 

It’s worth reiterating that (according to one biographer*) Bolan did not die from hitting the actual tree as is popularly believed but rather when the car hit a steel-reinforced fence post in front of it. Bolan was impaled through the back of his head by a piece of iron which gives a couple of other lines in the poem a certain macabre relevance.

Stake me with steel, for my haughtiness

Straddle my storm head with your abyss shroud

 

Finally (and this one is not as compelling to me but I’ll include it for the sake of being thorough) in the song, Celebrate Summer Bolan sings Summer is Heaven in ’77 which was, obviously the year and season of his death (as I said, not particularly compelling, that one).

 

 

* In Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan written by Lesley-Ann Jones.

 

©2017

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Love is a battlefield

 

1983 was a strange and unsettling year in my life. I was 20, living in Canberra (the capital of Australia, where I’d grown up), and working in my first adult job as a visual merchandising manager in an upscale department store. I’d not long before returned from the UK and I was feeling rudderless, to say the least.

I was also putting myself back together after the implosion of my first serious relationship. I was pretty much a basket case in 1983.

One of the things that kept me at least partly grounded was music. I wouldn’t say my musical tastes were particularly refined at that time but I was passionate about the music I liked and was an avid watcher of MTV and the like.

For at least a period of that year, one song and video dominated the airwaves. Pat Benatar’s, Love is a Battlefield seemed to be playing every time you turned on the TV, switched on the radio, or walked out your door. It wasn’t quite my sort of thing but the title and theme of the track resonated with my still broken heart and so I paid it more attention than I might have ordinarily.

I remember being struck by the way the video interrupted the song with dialogue (something that had never been done before). The angry father yelling after his fleeing daughter, “if you leave this house now, you can just forget about coming back,” may have been a tad corny but it stuck in the head and came to define the song. So much so that, listening to the actual track on the radio sans the dialogue, felt – odd.

As I said, the song itself wasn’t quite my cup of tea but it got lodged and in some weird way came to represent that very unsettling time for me. In all the years since, whenever I’ve heard that track played, my ears prick up and a strange flood of conflicting emotions resurface.

Now, here I am living in New Jersey. Canberra is a long way away and 1983 a long time ago. Both time and place could not be more different to my current life and circumstances.

I’ve witten several times on this blog about Clinton, a small town I love one over from my new home. It’s a gorgeous place with a very American every-town feel.

That’s probably why, in 1983, Pat Benatar traveled there to film those crucial domestic scenes for her video.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a small piece in our local press where people were reminiscing about the day Ms Benatar filmed Love is a Battlefield in their little town. Really? Of course, I needed to check this out for myself.

 

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So, yesterday, Jersey girl and I went over to Clinton and wandered around a part of the town we’d thus far neglected. It was as picturesque as most of the rest of the place and it didn’t take us long to identify the house from the video.

I have no idea how it was selected but this house was chosen to be the family home from which Benatar’s rebellious character flees (an amusing scenario considering she was 30 years old at the time of shooting*). It has changed very little in the succeeding 34 years.

 

 

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The house today.

 

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

 

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Image: Chrysalis Records

 

It was a very strange feeling looking on from the street – almost like stepping into the video. I half expected to see Benatar standing by the tree waving up at her kid brother in the window (the tree’s still there but no Benatar).

It was also a little like stepping into my own past. Those mixed emotions began to reemerge as soon as I caught sight of the house and grew as it drew closer. It’s amazing how music and its associated symbols can tap into those strong emotions and pull us backwards through time.

I never could have imagined, all those years ago, that I’d one day be living just a few miles from such an iconic locale.

 

 

*Equally amusing, the song and video were used in the movie 13 going on 30 – you can’t make this stuff up.

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.

 

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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).

 

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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).

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

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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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