Thursday, May 10, 2012

Notes On The Fortunate Country

The Fleshtones In Australia 04/18/12 -004/29/12

                      04/20/12 airport baggage trolley, Botany Bay, NSW

  Before my time, my dad was in the Merchant Service and spent time in Australia. Later, when I was a very little boy he gave me a large Australian penny with a leaping kangaroo on the back. He also brought back a '78' by Graeme Bell and His Jazz Band. It had a beautiful red, green and white 'Regal Zonophone' label.  The song was called 'The Lizard'. I can still hum a bit of it. There was lots of talk of immigration to Australia then, and to places like Alaska. But we lived in a fortunate country too, and Australia was  very far away. 

As the memories of the Fleshtones journey to Australia to be part of The Hoodoo Gurus 'Dig It Up Invitational' disappear into swirl of mind-bending jet lag, I'd like to set down just a few observations. For the most part I was too busy enjoying the moment to take many pictures or scribble notes, so forgive (or thank) me because I've left out a lot.

 04/18/12 -04/20/12 Destination: Singapore (in flight service see: BA15 en route to Sydney via 'the long way around'...
                                                                                                                                                                            Since I spent my childhood collecting stamps, the idea of stopping in Singapore really appealed to me, even it it was only a two-hour layover at Changi Airport. I somehow found my way to the Cactus Roof Garden where there was, of course, a very tropical resort-like bar, which served the city-state's 'Tiger' lager ice-cold in an appropriately steamy environment.
All that was missing was a swimming pool. At least I had made it outside of, or precisely, on top of, the terminal.
               04/21/12 The Iceburgs, Bondi Beach NSW -at least there are no sharks in the pools.

 First official duty in Australia was providing entertainment for Leanne (Maxie) Maxwell's birthday bash at The Iceburgs Club (, overlooking Bondi Beach. Much revamped since our last visit, the formerly somewhat seedy bathing club now features contemporary dining and drinks to match the fabulous views from it's many terraces. Dave Faulkner joined us for a version of The Seekers 'I Know I'll Never Find Another You' that we learned for the occasion. A good thing, Dave seems to know every song by the iconic '60s Aussie folk quartet by heart.

05/20/12 "Why The Gurus are Australian legends, mate!" -exclaimed lifeguards at Sydney's Clovelly Beach, a prime (and shark-proof!) spot to catch a bit of urban snorkeling. The water was a bit rough for me that day, but I did manage to spot a few sargent-majors and a black and white striped mado.
 Being used to touring on a shoe-string, it was refreshing to be onboard a big operation with load-in crews, drivers, 'per diem' allowances and all that professional stuff all thanks to Feel Presents, Pty Ltd (, all executed with good humor and panache. Thanks Tim Pittman! The Dig It Up Shows themselves were an embarrassment of riches (yeah, yeah we're just embarrassing, ha ha). The line up for the Enmore Theatre ( show in Newtown, Sydney featured The Hard Ons, a reunion of the hit making Sunny Boys, Dennis Tek and Rob Younger of the seminal Aussie punk-rock band Radio Birdman, Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate (accompanied by his charming and talented wife Linda Pittman on drums as well as our own Keith Streng and Ken Fox), Died Pretty, California's pop-rocking Redd Kross, who I hadn't seen since we taped them for The Cutting Edge, and (it gets even better) The, as it would be said legendary, Sonics. Topping the bill were our hosts, The Hoodoo Gurus. Each night, there were two things I was sure not to miss (besides The Fleshtones -you won't catch me missing them anymore!): Died Pretty, with whom we had toured the east coast (of Australia) upon the release of their 'Doughboy Hollow' LP in 1991, and the shear joy of being in the audience when the Hoodoo Gurus brought the Dig It Up shows to their finale. We would headline our own show with Steve Wynn at Newtown's Sandringham (The 'Sando') Hotel the next Tuesday ( What I really liked about Newtown wasn't that it's the up and coming 'hip' part of town -we get enough of that back home in Greenpoint, but it's look. Colonial -almost 'frontier' in appearance.

The Queen Victoria in Newtown is a wonderful example of the classic (and indispensable) Australian 'hotel' or pub. Of course, as the Bonzo Dog Band once said "they tend to get a bit modern these days" -even in Australia.

I spent my day off with Maxie tracking down a pair of Australian stockman's boots I had promised my son. Now that Blunstones, the archetypical Australian boot have become somewhat trendy, they've moved production from Tasmania (where they were made since 1870) to China. I bought him a pair of "Redbacks' -named for the super-poisonous Aussie spider (it seems all Australian creatures are highly poisonous, even those wacky platypus). They're just as rugged as 'Blunnies' and still made Down Under.

How many can you name?

Later, I unexpectedly joined Bill and Ken at Lord Roberts Hotel ( , East Sydney. They have great roof-top dining and drinks, but I never made it past the ground floor bar.

Brits like to poke fun at the supposedly unsophisticated (and blessedly classless) Aussies -and visa versa. We spent so much time at The Lord Roberts marveling at a bar runner depicting an oblivious upper-crust 'Pom' proclaiming Bulmer's Cider to be 'smashing with ice', that they gave me one.

Steve Wynn and a kenetic Streng play to a packed room, Palace Theatre Melbourne 04/24/12

 Anzac Day, Melbourne VIC "Lest We Forget..."
 The Melbourne Dig It Up Show took place at The Palace Theatre on Anzac Day, first established to commemorate the Australia New Zealand Army Corps ill-starred landings at Gallipoli, Turkey in WWI. There are solemn sunrise ceremonies across New Zealand, Australia and at the battlefield in Turkey. Current and returned servicemen and women don their uniforms. Afterwards everyone hits the pubs where it's just not allowed to let someone in uniform to buy their own drinks. Gambling by playing  'Two Up' is permitted across the nation using two old-fashioned 'large' pennies (see 'Wake In Fright' aka 'Outback' 1971, starring Donald Pleasence). In each city we were lodged in a local 'Medina Suites' ( Besides our own rooms (luxury!), each suite has a kitchen supplied with tea and milk for breakfast. Good thing, The low cost of food and drink that astounded me on our first trip to Australia is a thing of the past. And although not exactly the 'Norway of the Pacific' as Bill Milziher quipped, Australia has become a pricey destination for North American travelers.
04/26/12 Mornington Peninsular, VIC Montalto

 The next day, Dave has organized a field-trip to the Mornington Peninsular Wine Country, about a 90-minute drive south of the city. Joining us was mutual friend Anita Verdun of Verdon Family Meat Market, Raceland, LA and her ex-pat pal Julie who has raised a family in Melbourne. First stop was Montalto ( for tasting, then lunch in their restaurant with wonderful views of the misty, rolling vineyards. They also sponsor a sculpture trail. Forget all those outback clichĂ©s about Australian cooking, the country has gone totally foodie, and the lunch was wonderful. Streng pronounced the local reds 'thin' although I'd just say they're 'light' in a cool country sort of way -like a nice Loire red. Dave did order us a bottle of Cullen Mangan Red from Streng's favorite Australian wine region -Margaret River in Faukner's native state of Western Australia. It was satiny, well-rounded and full. Although koalas are becoming endangered in other parts of the country due to development , disease and fast moving automobiles, the lush gloves of eucalyptus trees lining the Mornington roads are supposedly infested with the cuddly (watch those razor-sharp claws) critters. There were certainly a lot of 'koala crossing' signs along the highway. Try as we could, however, we did not see any of the beloved marsupials. Tree-colored and slow moving, they are hard to spot from speeding cars. Much like deer, we were told you can also see lots of 'roos at the edge of the copses if you get up at dawn.

That evening, Ron Peno, Died Pretty's extraordinary frontman, appeared with his new band The Superstitions at Melbourne's Forum Theatre, a classic movie palace with a pseudo-Roman interior that out-Romes Rome. Borne off as if on waves of ecstasy, Ron Peno's delivery stood in stark contrast to the hyper-stationary stage demeanor of headliner Mark Lanegan, darling of the sock-hat brigade. The next day, I think we really hit our stride at our headline pub show with Steve Wynn at Yah Yah's (www.yahyahs/ in the (yes) hip Fitzroy section of town.

 Besides Montalto, we existed almost totally on (superb) Asian food when we remembered to eat. I yearned for some of the traditional British-based Aussie fare that we relied upon so much on our earlier visits. Oh, the beer was certainly still there, but remember nobody, but nobody drinks Fosters in Australia. I never even saw it on tap. I was on the lookout for inexpensive stuff like meat pies, 'chips', toasted white bread steak sandwiches with 'the lot' (steak, fried egg, slices of tomato, beet-root and pineapple, lettuce, and 'brown sauce' if they have it) and a 'lamington' -a small block of vanilla layer cake spread with raspberry jam, then covered in chocolate frosting sprinkled with shredded coconut. I had promised myself and all who would listen that I wouldn't leave Australia without treating myself to at least one lamington.
The country having gone through a food revolution, none of this was as common-place as we had assumed. I finally tracked one down in a pie shop on Melbourne's Flinder's Street. The price, no longer pocket change, had gone up to AUS$4.95. No matter, I had to have it.

04/28/12 Perth, WA
Although nowhere near the venue, our Perth 'Medina' was right downtown, a few steps from the Hay Street -Murray Street pedestrian mall which was opened by The Queen herself almost 20 years ago (talk about the 'common touch', a monarch's duties have certainly become somewhat mundane in our times). Perth's mall is like its north American counterparts, but well sprinkled with Aboriginal shoppers and leathery sorts wearing pulled-down rancher's hats or the odd 'jackaroo', giving the otherwise modern city a way out west feel.
                                            Redd Kross rock the house, Perth

 It rained a real tropical downpour into the evening, but nothing was going to keep the sell-out crowd away from the Astor Theatre and the final Dig It Up show. Now pared down to ourselves, Redd Kross and The Hoodoo Gurus, who received a hero's welcome in this, Dave's hometown. Dom Mariani of 'The Stems' fame held the fort (and Keith's guitar) while we once again demonstrated physical fitness in the audience during 'Push Up Man'. The tour ended with all of us joining The Gurus on stage for a final encore of Gary Glitter's Rock And Roll Part 2. Handed the mike by Dave, I somehow managed to forget the words.

Whenever I leave Australia I feel like I'm blasting off in some spaceship to return to my own world, sort of like our last astronauts departing from the moon, never to return in our lifetimes. Australia seems like some sort of parallel universe or planet, and just like in the movies, unlikely as it may be, this planet is oddly Earth-like. Somehow the atmosphere is a life-sustaining nitogen/oxogen mixture like ours and the inhabitants seem (as always) to speak English, although naturally with somewhat of an accent.
 Now, it's back home to Greenpoint where I belong. The Fleshtones Winter-Spring Offensive is over and once again the band has been paroled for the foreseeable future. I go back to selling off my prized record collection (and anything else of value)
Ah, Greenpoint, the perfect film location -nondescript housing stock and docile inhabitants -at least for now. In fact they're got their generators roaring outside my window right now as I write, part of the gargantuan crew for 'Blood Ties' that's commandeered seven blocks of parking in a working class neighborhood to film some movie star's double run out of the Palace Cafe. Meanwhile, the Gurus singing 'Ahhh Ahhh Ah, Ahhh Ahhh Ah, I Want You Back!' is still playing in my head.
-Peter Zaremba

 ...damn, the bastards towed away our car too.

coming soon: Los Fleshtones, our all-new, all-spanish four song vinyl on Yeproc Records (
and on 06/21/12, The Fleshtones return to the New York stage along with Steve Wynn, Ivan Julian, Palmyra and direct from the Country Of Sweden -Stupidity (

some Dig It Up press:



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All Roads Lead To Sycamore

Part II: 'Sycamore... next stop Sycamore...'
(with excerpts from 'I'll Make A Note Of It' -The Fleshtones In Spain, 2009)

"'re just in the van the whole freakin' time!" -Joe Emery (The Ugly Beats), on touring in Spain.

Spain isn't Belgium. The country's size allows for some 'dimension' to touring. There are still some 8-hour drives (more when you toss in a leisurely Spanish roadside lunch, which I insist you do), but it's a far cry from our days of long-distance motoring along Spain's lethal Franco-era 3-lane highways (the middle lane being for 'passing' -from either direction). God, the carnage we witnessed along those roads. Anyway, like Cervantes said "it's the road, not the inn".

Despite the glories of the Alcazar, crossing the towering 'Picos De Europa' and glimpsing Africa across the Straights of Gibraltar, after three weeks in a mini-van, even the most stunning landscape becomes monotonous as it endlessly unreels past your eyes. First-day-of-the-tour enthusiasm for projects like as-you-drive Spanish lessons fade, your favorite music dissolves into an indistinguishable buzz, and the novel you had been waiting to have this kind of undisturbed time to delve into drops from your hand as you find yourself drifting in and out of a state of half-consciousness. Perhaps it's the speed, or the overwhelming brutality of modern motor-way design -the same black and white-striped ribbon, plowing through, and almost negating the features of the countryside. This strangeness extends to anywhere that's home to the long-haul, like last spring on the highways of Oklahoma and Texas. Was that a caged tiger that just passed by my window?

We're hurtling towards Murcia in extreme south-eastern Spain. At the wheel, our manically heroic road manager, 'Jimmy' Garcia. For how long I couldn't be sure, we were winding through region of bare, beige-colored stone mountains crowned by ruined castles dating from the time of The Cid, the Moors, or even earlier. Crumbled monolithic cubes cut from the same stone, they seemed to grow like extensions of the mountaintops themselves. We were passing a desolate town. Folded into a ravine, it was watched over by another ruined castle set into a jaw-like ridge like a broken molar. I was overcome with anxiety as I oscillated between staying awake and a vague dream-state. There was something I absolutely had to remember, but what?
...I have to remember...
I tried to remain conscious, but couldn't. Remember what?
...Remember to tell...
Tell who?
...I must tell her...
Tell Her? Her who? Tell her what?!"
...remember to tell her about tying flies...

The Fleshtones attend The First Sycamore International Film Festival, 09/22 -25/11

The Kishwaukee River near Sycamore, Il

The documentary film 'Sycamore', (2011, dir. Sheila Lahey) opens with a long-time resident relating the old Indian legend that once you dip your feet into the Kishwaukee River you must return to Sycamore. The Kishwaukee, a tributary of the Rock River, meanders through the countryside a mile or so outside of Sycamore and has served as summer swimming hole for generations of youths growing up in this north-Illinois prairie town. In fact, Kishwaukee means 'Sycamore River' in the native Potowatomi language.
Crossing the small bridge over the Kishwaukee, a sign welcomes you with the town's unpretentious slogan 'Life Offers More In Sycamore'. It also states the population as 17,500. Later, a town official at the reception for the film 'Sycamore' mentioned it's closer to 12,000. Sycamore itself offers many of the comfortable aspects of small-town America -the county courthouse (the DeKalb County Courthouse -the envy of the nearby, and vastly larger city of Dekalb), it's monument to its glorious dead of The Civil War, and it's business district of 19th century red-brick buildings and banners announcing civic events like the upcoming 50th Annual Pumpkin Festival (10/28/11). Local specialties are real milk shakes (I didn't have a chance to try one) and 'Italian beef' sandwiches -a sort of variant on the thin-shaved 'Philly' steak, with or without the cheese, but most preferably 'au jus' (which I did try, courtesy of the Film Festival via a gift certificate in my 'swag' bag).
The Fleshtones were in town for a screening of Geoffrey Barbier's documentary feature on the band 'Pardon Us For Living (But The Graveyard Is Full) as well as a live performance as part of the 1st Sycamore International Film Festival. Besides Geoffrey's film, there would be entries from Norway, Spain, South Korea as well as the USA. Among the panelists would be Joe Bonomo, author of Fleshtones bio 'Sweat' ( ), who was coming over from DeKalb, where he holds a 'lit' chair at the university.

The State Theatre, venue for The 1st Sycamore International Film Festival. Copies of old lobby cards announced the 'all talking' double bill of Joan Crawford in 'Our Blushing Brides' (one of the sequels to her silent 'Our Dancing Daughters') and Jack Oakie in the intriguing 'Sap From Syracuse'. You'd think we'd be the saps in Sycamore, but wound up being charmed by the open-armed welcome we received. We found ourselves mouthing 'Syc -A -More, Syc -A -More' in a cadence recalling the 'Will -O -Bee!' from Twilight Zone episode 30, season 1, 'A Stop At Willoughby'. Like our stay here, the film 'Sycamore' made us feel we all shared the American small-town experience (yes, that includes Canadians). Even in Maspeth, imbedded as it is in the middle of New York City and bordering on Brooklyn, many of these qualities survived, at least when I spent the first thirteen years of my life there, 1954-1967.

No sweat -Mary Kim Wood, proprietor, whips up a breakfast of pumpkin pancakes, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs and more at The Paper Doll House (
Unlike the the rest of the guys who stayed at a downtown hotel, Bill Milhizer and I were billeted in this grand 1890's B&B. I'd like to say I'll be returning soon, but I would have to join a weekend 'scrapbook retreat' for ladies -the inn's regular business. Hmmm, I might be ready for that.

After the screening of Pardon Us For Living, we performed at Blumen Gardens (, an 'event' location and landscaping nursery (!) that was one of the more unusual venues we have played. Proprietor Joel Barczak even gave us all daffodil bulbs as a parting gift. Then, toting our Sycamore Film Festival swag bags, we departed for Hamtramck, Buffalo and Hamilton.
The Fleshtones played what will probably be their last performance of 2011, in a spectacular setting overlooking Lake Travis ( near the irrevocably lost Eden of Hippy Hollow. All present will agree, there was something in the air that night.

Now what?

Well, there is eBay:
One thing is certain, we will return to Sycamore some day because The Fleshtones have dipped their feet in the Kishwaukee River.


We are racing, it seems like hours now, down a Spanish highway towards the city of Leon...
...I was flooded with a feeling of almost heart-breaking relief, like being able to fill my lungs with air after being held under water for what should have been a fatally long time. Financially speaking, I realized my troubles were finally all over. Along with our friend Jorge of the Spanish rock group 'Dr. Explosion', we're in the middle of a film shoot in a deserted 'Spaghetti-Western' town somewhere along the road we were now traveling. Standing around between 'takes' in our Flintstones-style caveman outfits, all we had to do was film some 'filler' to link together the twelve musical 'clips' we already had. Then the feature movie would be finished. Easy. We had it made.
Jorge Explosion was enthusiastic as usual. He looked like Barney Rubble strutting about and joking with a huge prop caveman club over his shoulder.
"Yeah, but don't you know Jorge is getting a million bucks for doing this?" a voice interjected in the hopes of deflating my euphoria with a green dart of jealousy.
Who cares? We've got the songs, there'll be enough for everybody. All of my problems are solved.
"We're going to call it 'First Men' explained the Spanish director "because the way it is said in English -'the men who had come first' -it is too long".
What? I figured in English we just said 'Cavemen'.
"No" insisted the director "The men who had come first, -'First Men' is better!"
Okay, 'First Men' , whatever, who cares, my troubles are over...

-Peter Zaremba

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Busybuddy -All Over The Place

All Roads Lead To The 1st Sycamore International Film Festival, Sycamore, Illinois
(a journey in two parts -I promise)

Vladimir Illich Lenin, looking better than he has in years. For the time being, visiting Lenin's Tomb remains a Moscow 'must-do' -and one which won't cost you a single kopek.

Part I

"Who wants to read about what the Fleshtones eat?" declared Harrisburg music promoter extrodinaire and bon vivant John Trainor, as he sliced into his magret de canard, "you should be writing about music!" A truly creative personality, you've got to seriously consider what John has to say. I thought I had been writing about music, among other things. Truth is, I never had any ambition of being a 'music critic', at least in print. My opinions would be too predictable. At that very moment, however, The Fleshtones were enjoying dinner with Trainor, and as usual in Harrisburg PA, a very good one at that, along Mike Giblin and other members of The Parallax Project ( So the only other thing I'll say about the meal was that it was followed by an even more memorable night at Harrisburg's extraordinary Midtown Arts Center ( -a night most of which I can remember during which I suffered no injuries.

Before leaving town the next morning, we headed over to The Alva (19 South 4th Street; 717 238-7553), an old downtown diner/boarding house where there seems to be a party going on no matter what time of day you drop in. Even John Trainor admits to eating here whenever he's got to catch the 'Amtrak' at the city's old 1887 station. A convivial crowd was gathered at the counter, knocking 'em back while pumping money into a jukebox loaded with heavy r&b and rap. The menu special that really caught my eye were the dollar cans of beer. "What brands of beer do you have for a dollar?" I asked, momentary stumping the waitress. Realizing I really didn't need to know, I just ordered one. It proved to be the wise choice, along with my burger special ($2.98) which was a thin, diner-style patty sans special sauces or any other such gunk, served with potato chips as they do in certain parts of our country. Just right for a light lunch.

Why fight it? Keith Streng -drifting into that mellow Alva vibe.

Across Blackberry Street from The Alva -site of The National Whig Convention of 1839 -Tippicanoe and Tyler too! The Fleshtones once made a pilgrimage to the Tippicanoe Battlefield in Indiana where I came away with a small fragment of The Prophets Rock (that's not a surf instrumental). Maybe I should put that up for sale on ebay too?

Didn't I promise we'd be heading to the First Sycamore International Film Festival in DeKalb County Illinois? There The Fleshtones would perform as well as attend a screening of director Geoffrey Barbier's documentary on us 'Pardon Us For Living (but the Graveyard is Full)'. I did not promise by the most direct route. I finally downloaded more than a year's worth of snapshots that I recorded on my ancient LG 360 celephone (accidentally deleting scores of photos in the process). More than enough survived...

Ken Fox unwinds under the palm-thatched roof of the beach-bar at the track -in sunny Fort Erie, Canada (09/26/11).

Due to current economic trends, it seems like I'm getting more more social messages via my ongoing auctions of personal belongings on 'Ebay' ( ) than I do on Facebook these days. At least that's how Dan Barrett reached out to invite us for an afternoon at lovely Fort Erie Racetrack (, right across the border from Buffalo. Dan recalls spending many a weekend there as a child. His Uncle Omar, who worked on the nearby Welland Canal, was so devoted to the track that his ashes were scattered at the finish line opon his death. Or was it Toronto discophile Randy Black's Uncle Omar? Anyway, Jean Trivitt later commented that she hope they at least got his ashes OVER the finish-line. If not, what a hellish way for a track hound to spend eternity?
However picturesque and historic it is, Dan admitted that Fort Erie is decidedly a 'B' racing venue. Erie does get it's moment of glory each July however, when it hosts the Prince Of Wales Stakes, a component of The Queen's Plate -Canada's Triple Crown. The Fleshtones hope to be there. Unusual also is the large percentage of female jockeys among regular riders at the track. Thanks to the handicapping skills of Bill Milhizer, I actually came away $1.50 richer. And here I am, wasting my time auctioning off my records and memorabilia on ebay! It's barely an hour's drive across Ontario's compact Niagara Wine Country from Fort Erie, to Hamilton and Lou Molinaro's latest rock & roll club 'This Ain't Hollywood' ( where we'd be playing that night. Affectionately nicknamed 'The Hammer', few people would mistake this rough-around-the-edges steel town for Hollywood, USA -thank God. It's the one place in the Dominion where you'd figure I had long-lost Canadian cousins thereabout.

3 Mystics on stage, This Ain't Hollywood, 09/26/11; photo: Jean Trivitt
We lucked into a fine Portuguese dinner that night that I won't be telling you much about either. Later, The Mystics opened the evening with a refreshing set of spirited garage-pyschadelia. Joe Emery of The Ugly Beats agrees their new eight-song CD is really good (LOOSE LIPS 002), but there are only 50 copies available ( Anyway it is always gratifying to see anyone under 50 playing rock and roll. We didn't realize Hamilton's own Gord Lewis of Teenage Head fame was in the house as we plowed through a rendition of their classic 'You're Tearin' Me Apart' , but he did join us later in our set (not much later -things move fast when we play) during 'Push Up Man'.

Gord Lewis wrangles Streng's guitar, This Ain't Hollywood, 09/26/11; photo: Jean Trivitt

We spent the night at the local Admiral Inn (, a 'modern-style' motel at the entrance to the city. The dining room overlooking the parking lot is popular with locals for a nice evening out, and as we checked in at about 5:30PM, the tables were sprinkled with folks having supper. By 7:30 it's usually empty. The Inn is also right across York Boulevard from one of the city's notable attractions -although not generally cited for such refinements, Hamilton does possess an authentic 'castle'.

Dundurn Castle(, picturesquely crowns a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario. It was built by Alan Napier McNab, hero of Stony Creek, where one of the United State's many inept invasions of Canada was thwarted during the War Of 1812. He was later knighted and became premier of pre-Confederation Canada. The dreary skies only add to the 'Englishness' of the scene, don't you think?

'Music' enough? -Steve Wynn and The Baseball Project at last March's 'South By South West' Festival in Austin, TX. Of course I was prepared not to like them, but the songs were just too good. For us, the trip was a typical installment of SXSW, fun, frantic and ultimately pointless, but it did give us the opportunity to catch up with Steve as well as our agent Roggie Baer (, Texas favs The Ugly Beats and The Sons Of Hercules, Israeli group Electra and Gourmet Delicé, formerly of my favorite Canadian Francophone band Les Secretaires Volantes.

This summer Marilla and I made good on our long-standing promise to our son Sergei and we returned to the land of his birth, Russia. On the itinerary was a stay in St. Petersburg, Moscow and a pilgrimage to the medieval Russian Orthodox center of Sergeiv Posad to visit the tomb of his patron saint -and that of all of Russia, Saint Sergius.

July 31, 2011: Navy Day in sea-going St. Petersburg. Sergei delighted in the city's cavernous and musty museums dedicated to the various branches of the former Soviet armed forces.

Midnight on Krykova Canal in front of our hotel, the 19-room Alexander House (, looking west to its intersection with the Moika Canal. The hotel is named for Alexander Suvarov, a general who lived a few doors down the street who figures in 'War And Peace'. Leading character Pierre and his carousing pals tossed a policeman bound to a dancing bear into the Moika as well. Also along its embankments is the palace where Prince Yuri Usapov and his accomplices murdered Rasputin on a winter's night in December, 1916. They later shoved his lifeless (they thought) body under the ice, however, of the nearby 'Little' Neva Canal.

The Cavestompers in action -I have my doubts about groups with designated tambourine-players, but Petr Chinavat's percussion and dancing gave a 'Gerard Malanga' edge to their performance that, along with Greg Eniosov's drumming, sets the Cavestompers apart from other garage rock bands.

Besides meeting us at the train in the pouring rain (thank you Petr) and showing us around Moscow, the Cavestompers ( were kind enough to learn a set of Fleshtones-style material so I could perform with them. It seemed that at least one rehearsal with me was in order. Getting to the rehearsal was a standard Moscow procedure -one of the bandmembers put out his hand along Ulitsa Prokovka , a passing motorist stopped and agreed to drive us there for a hundred rubles (about USD$3.50). A bit of positive fallout from Soviet times is the ability of a garage rock band to have access to a rehearsal facility like the Prokofiev Music Academy, and I arrived the band was already at work on an auditorium stage beneath a towering portrait of the composer ("you know he informed on his own wife to stay in favor with Stalin" someone whispered).

The performance was held at Cafe Squat (, which was not a 'squat' at all, but an appropriately funky club complete with go-go cages not far from the utterly chilling old Soviet Secret Police HQ and prison at Lubianka. The 'Stompers surprised me with an impressive first set of originals and garage-rock classics. My only complaint is that they did not perform more songs in Russian. Then, while they beat out our 'Theme from The Vindicators' I took to the stage (well, there really isn't a stage per se). The set came off way better than I could have reasonably hoped for. In fact, it was a blast. We performed ancient Fleshtones relics like 'BYOB', the Love Delegation's arrangement of Lee Hazelwood's 'Some Velvet Morning', then began improvising around Richard Berry's 'Have Love Will Travel' and songs that sound like 'Louie Louie'. I can't wait to return to Moscow with The Fleshtones. Afterwards, everyone, Sergei included, danced as Greg and Petr deejayed old 45s. Then we met up with Bernie Sucher at his excellent Chicago Prime Restaurant ( Bernie, also an American ex-pat, was an early importer of much-needed quality restaurant know-how (and notions of customer service) to Moscow, and had offered invaluable advice in sorting out our Russian visa dilemmas prior to our trip.

In Moscow we stayed at the somewhat over-the-top 'Mamaison All-Suites Spa Hotel Prokovka' ( in the pleasantly-hip Chisty Prudy (Clean Ponds) neighborhood. Here, as everywhere across the city, it seemed gaping stretches of every sidewalk had been torn out, a result our Muscovite friends quipped, of the sudden need to have them repaved with blocks from a company owned by the new mayor's wife.

A 'new' Russian leaves his wheels where convenient -in the walkway of Hotel Mamaison. We had never before seen that model of Ferrari, nor of many of the scores of hyper-luxury automobiles that we saw strewn across Moscow's streets.

Honoring the Moscow ritual of meeting beneath the Pushkin statue in the square informally named for Russia's most beloved author, we rendezvoused with friend and American ex-pat Steven Konigsburg, who then raced us through the city's Tverskaya district to met up with his Russian-born wife Viktoria. She had been waiting for us at the wildly popular 'Scandinavia' ( The cafe was packed with a stylish crowd enjoying after-work drinks. We joined the over-flow patrons, drinking our beer while sitting on the front step. Then we rapidly wove our way past Patriarch's Ponds Park (where the Devil appears in the first chapter of Bulgakov's novel 'The Master And Margarita') to Karetny Dvor Cafe (Povarskaya 52; tel: 291 6376), not far from the foot of the Kudrinskaya Square Building, one of the more bizarrely spectacular of the Stalin-era 'Seven Sister' skyscrapers, or 'Stalinskie' that puncture Moscow's otherwise rather low-slung skyline.
Steven, Serg and Marilla at entrance to Karetny Dvor, Moscow
We entered a courtyard where Steven promised we'd eat the best shaslik in Moscow. This we certainly did, along with other fantastic Georgian and Azeri dishes, all washed down with vodka and emerald-green tarragon-flavored soda -I'll admit a new one for me, as was the walnut-stuffed rolled eggplant.

The 'Holy Grail' (brand) of tarragon sodas 'discovered' at Karetny Dvor.

Mikhail Bulgakov's final resting place among the greats of Russian literature, science and history at Novodivichy Convent, Moscow.

Sergei Zaremba: inexorably drawn to Red Square (is there a transmitter hidden in Lenin's Tomb?). I should post more about our Russian trip.

1998 -the first trip, with a konked-out Sergei

flashback: that Tarzan Swimming pool at the Lafayette Hotel, San Diego that appeared in the previous Busybuddy. Looks inviting -as is the poolside cocktail service -certainly more so than the inhospitable treatment we received at the hotel's Red Fox Lounge.

While in California, we exited into the total nowhere of the Central Valley along I-5 on our way from Pioneertown to Monterey, and began cutting across to the coast towards Paso Robles on the small two-lane State Route 41, when in the middle of nowhere we sped past something called the 'James Dean Intersection'. It gave us a creepy feeling. Strange bothering to name an intersection (the only one for miles) out here in the middle of all this sun-withered emptiness. Of course it was the desolate stretch of blacktop where the young rebel (he was only 24) met his death in an automobile accident on September 30, 1955.

After a bizarre (and totally enjoyable) performance at The Alternative Cafe (, an art gallery/cafe in Monterey (well, Seaside, really) we stopped in misty Castroville, 'The Artichoke Capital Of The World', for, yes, french-fried artichoke hearts at The Giant Artichoke (11261 Merritt St). I could have sworn that food was served out of windows cut into a free-standing giant artichoke. That's what the passing of time can do to your memory. But the fried artichoke hearts were as good as I recall they were when I first had them in 1980. And they went really well with the 'split' of Sutter Home pinot grigio ($2.50) I managed to chill in their ice-filled display of soft-drinks while I was waiting for my food.

Speaking of beguiling (and increasingly closing) windows into the past, later that day on the way to San Francisco, we made a quick pit-stop in San Juan Bautista, CA, which served as a location for the wind -up of Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'. One of my favorite places, I still can't believe this sleepy, historic village hasn't yet been destroyed with cutesy shoppes and over-developement. I better keep my mouth shut. Paramount's F/X department can be forgiven for taking liberties with the historic integrity of the old mission by adding a full-blown bell-tower to the church in place of it's actual dovecote-like campanile, otherwise bad-girl Kim Novak wouldn't have had anything to fall to her death from. Perhaps, the church originally did have a bell-tower that was destroyed in an earthquake or something. The first time I visited San Juan in 1980, the parish was holding a rodeo, as I supposed it must have been doing since Spanish times. The 'bleachers' for the spectators were set up on the gentle slope of the San Andres Fault which drops off right beyond the edge of the old mission's churchyard.

A Capital City

After an even more rainy time than usual in San Francisco, we got a chance to finally see Sacramento, thanks to Keith's Cousin Sally Freelander and family who were kind enough to put us up (and put up with us) as well as show us around town. Quite frankly, we usually just pass California's capital city by on our way to the Great Northwest. Among the sights of interest (to us at least) was the magnificent state capitol, Sutter's Fort (John Sutter also owned the mill where the California Gold Rush was ignited in 1848), the somewhat gussied-up historic Riverfront District, and the frame house where would be Gerald Ford assassin (really, trying to assassinate Gerald Ford?!) and Charlie Manson acolyte Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme (my personal favorite too, Charlie) hid out while in town.

Good Bye west coast: Mount Rainier from flight DL1542, SEA -JFK, 07/03/11

So long for now. Right now I've got to celebrate the opening of homely old Greenpoint's first tattoo parlor.

coming soon, part II: 'Sycamore... Next Stop Sycamore...'

-Peter Zaremba