Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas In Connecticut

just in: The Fleshtones will indeed be playing on New Year's EVE at The Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center! ( )
See you there!!!!

It's the third day of Christmas, a cold rain washed away the snow over night and I can't get 'Christmas In Killarney' out of my head. I had never heard this odiously catchy tune, or at least I managed to ignore it, until this holiday season -when suddenly it was everywhere. We must have heard three or four different artists tackle the song on the Sirius Holiday Radio Channel on our DirectTV and even were regaled by some neo-Brit/Celtic folk revivalists reeling it out over Mid-Hudson NPR on our past-midnight drive up to Connecticut on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's a publishing thing, like when Michael Jackson died the catalogue of Beatle's songs that he was jealously sitting on was suddenly all over the place, adding class to Billy May infomercials and God knows what else. Perhaps when cutting the publishing deal Manager Klein had (in his kindness) judiciously padded out the song-writing efforts of Lennon /McCartney and Harrison with filler like 'Christmas In Killarnery'? I'll leave that to those better equipped to research the connections, but I will say that Bing Crosby's version was the best version I heard, as much as it would have infuriated me (along with everything else Der Bingle did) as an intemperate youth. He certainly sounds natural enough singing it. If it exists, I'd like to hear how Dean Martin would have tossed off the song -don't laugh, Dino Crocetti's breezy 'don't give a f**k' approach is just the thing for such holiday-time blarney.
Anyway, with the Holiday rush and all it's been a while since I've posted to The BusyBuddy. So thank 'Christmas In Killarney and all of the the folks back home' for shaking me out of my Christmas daze long enough to offer you all my Holiday Greetings, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best in the coming year (we'll be needing it) -something I should have done long BEFORE the 25th. Then I could have included Chanukah Greetings to my friends as well as slipping in a plug for The Fleshtones's 2008 Christmas album 'Stocking Stuffer' (YEP -2184; in time for someone to buy it, but that would be too practical and 'smack of self-promotion', wouldn't it?
So it's Christmas in Connecticut -minus Barbara Stanwick, but with the electronic 'Yule Log' gayly burning away on the flat-screen by request of son Sergei (surely this two-hundred year-old house originally had several fireplaces, all removed in an over-zealous modernization drive by the former owners several generations ago). We enjoyed, as always, DVDs of McGoo's Christmas Carol (great Jim Backus and songs by top Broadway tunesmiths Merill & Styne) , a Harry Potter feature and a very strange Russian version of Gogol's strange 'Night Before Christmas' kindly lent to us by Olga Lausch of Rehobeth, DEL, which prompted me to read the original story (translation of course) this morning. No 'Christmas Carol' of course, but then Gogol wasn't that type of moralizer.

Here's our Christmas dinner -on which we are still dining:
Roast Duck with hot Bilberry sauce*,
Mashed potatoes
Root vegetables (turnips, beets and parsnips) brushed with duck fat and roasted with fresh rosemary, pepper and salt)
Spinach with garlic
Mixed salad with feta.
Prosecco Santero -San Stefano Belbo
Before I'm hauled up before a Congressional Committee for high-hatting extravagance in these hard times (but Holiday, eh, Christmas Mr. Scrooge, Christmas...) I will plead that I got the duck for $12.95 with the help of my 'Stop & Shop' card (shades of Jonathan Richman's immortal 'Roadrunner' -but I not only drive past the Stop & Shop, I stop to shop at the Stop & Shop). As exotic as the bilberry sounds, a jar of the jam can be purchased at one of the Polish food shops in Greenpoint (along with somewhat harder to find cranberry, lingonberry and occasionally even whortleberry jams) for about $2.29. I'm sure that's exactly how the chef prepared our magret de canard with bilberry sauce (using jam) that the band enjoyed so much before our Paris show two years ago (I'll get the address of the cafe for you). The prosecco was $10.99 a pop (even less when when you get the 20% discount by buying three bottles at our local dealer on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint) - not too sweet at all -just right and certainly festive. To sum it all up the spinach was thawed from frozen blocks (99¢ a box -anywhere) and the potatoes and roots -well they speak for themselves (hmmm, let me think about that...). We didn't even bother eating the salad until the next day -the feast of St. Stephen as mentioned in Good King Wenceslaus -Boxing Day as Ken Fox and our friends in The Commonwealth would have it -that is, the second day of Christmas. I like Christmas having twelve days. If that's too much for you, once while in Tobago, I recall hearing a woman on the radio putting forth the argument that Christmas actually had thirteen days. I guess that's counting Epithany, which we called 'Little Christmas' when I was a child. The Tobagonians, however, are content to celebrate only 12 days (with music, drinking and constantly setting off explosions by pouring gasoline into a hollow of bamboo and lighting it) -even if they did seem to run out of steam after New Year's Day. Anyway, the old tradition softens the let down after the big build up, you know that feeling of it all being over in one day. Some say good riddance, but people wouldn't feel that way if Christmas wasn't celebrated (pushed, actually) so early and heavily weeks before it even arrives all during Advent or even before that. That might also save us some of the unseemly grousing about Yuletide commercialization, although the observation of desperate merchants this year might have been the lack of it.

We're about to drive up to The Red Lion Inn ( in picture-perfect Stockbridge, Mass (of Norman Rockwell and yes, Alice's Restaurant /Arlo Guthrie fame) to admire the Christmas display and have some hot cocoa or mulled cider with rum, a yearly tradition.
Writer John Buckley tells me he labored there as a lad. Probably at the same time an enraged Viennese dessert chef named Horst was screaming at me at the top of his lungs in the kitchens of the venerable Hotel Sagamore in the Adironacks. I'll have to thank Horst for unintentionally (?...) helping me decide -or at least not decide, what I was incapable of deciding for many years to come. I wound up letting that decide itself. That was in the early 70's - I remember well because the first Black Sabbath album was being played, maddeningly, non-stop by some Mexican maniacs on the only turntable in the dilapidated barracks where the grand old hotel's staff of transients, ex-cons and Anders Goldfarb (who had gotten me the gig there), were housed. Oddly enough, just a couple of years ago I was doing a 'site inspection' for a leading bridal magazine at Caneel Bay, St. John's USVI (a gorgeously low-key resort founded many years ago by Lawrence Rockefeller with the idea of providing a means of employment for the islanders -I couldn't help asking if 'Larry' still dropped in) when I was introduced to the assistant dessert chef, who couldn't have been any older than I was when I was back at the Sagamore. She told me she was just recovering from the farewell party they had given the night before for their retiring (and long-serving) pastry chef -an ill-tempered Viennese fellow named Horst. Life is indeed very strange and wondrous. So once again I'll wish you all Happy Holidays and hope to see you all at Southpaw ( Brooklyn for our audacious Hangover Helper with Roky Ericsson on New Year Day -that's day, not eve, if you can stand it.

Peter Zaremba

* Roasting the duck wasn't as awful as you might think. We scored the skin, rending off a bunch of the fat while browning the skin in an iron skillet, then roasted the bird on a rack with a DEEP pan underneath to catch the rest of the fat in a hot oven (about 400ยบ) for a little under 2 hours for the 5 1/2 lb. duck. I had taken the precaution of lining the inside of the oven with foil, which wasn't really necessary, but of course we managed to fill the house with smoke anyway.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fleshtones Weekend: Rehobeth Beach DE, Harrisburg PA; Dec 4-5

'Is THIS a Susquehanna hat?!'

I'm going to take a break from Spain to tell you about last weekend. Ken Fox picked us up Friday afternoon in his mini-van and we drove down to Rehobeth Beach, DE to play that night at Dogfish Head ( Thanks to our friend Chris Lausch, it's become a regular (and welcome) gig for us. I'll have to tell you more about Rehobeth at some point, but it's a low-key beach resort that we, in true Fleshtones fashion, happen to play mostly during the winter (why change our business model at this point?). A mile or two up the coast is Lewes (pronounced like Dean Martin's partner), where the Cape May ferry comes in from New Jersey. In Dutch colonial days it was called Swannendael, and as such claims to be Delaware's oldest town, but there's nothing left from then (or its ephemeral Swedish period). Still, the compact village has a super-quaint, salty English colonial vibe and is worth investigating. Although hardly unique for bombarded American sea-side towns, they do have their own 'cannonball house' with a iron memento cemented where it smashed into a wall during a British siege, if I remember (I'm not going to research that now) from the almost-forgotten War Of 1812. The only person I ever knew who got worked up over that conflict was Gordon Spaeth. We may not have gotten Canada in that one, but did wind up with two good songs: The Star Spangled Banner and Johnny Horton's 'Battle Of New Orleans'.
Anyway, the worst part of touring (even in this small way) during the winter for me is arriving at our destination in the dark. It's always given me the creeps. As soon as we 'loaded in' however, The Dogfish Head lifted all spirits. During the evening it's a cheery, family seafood place. There's canoes and a dinghy suspended from the ceiling as well as vintage photos and fishing gear on the walls. Although a bit exotic for my tastes, they brew their own award-winning line of beers that are starting to get national distribution, as as well distilling their own vodkas and (excellent) rums.
There's lots of great places to eat in Rehobeth, but we decided to stay put and dine right at Dogfish Head. Nothing fancy. The speciality is of course seafood, with with optional hamburgers and steaks if you're in the mood. Most of us chose crab-cake sandwiches, $11, which comes with a pile of excellent french fries which is good if you like french fried potatoes. I like french fries. To wash it down I had a pint of their 'Lawnmower', the closest thing they brew to what I'd call a 'normal' beer, but I've got pretty pedestrian tastes when it comes to the stuff. Then we went back to Chris's to watch a DVD of 'Young Frankenstein'. Gene Hackman tackles his cameo with his usual delight, but YF hasn't held up well (I didn't even bother seeing it when it came out, and as weak a leading man as Gene Wilder was, Brooks' films hardly improved later when he replaced Wilder with himself. But to have made one movie like 'The Producers' is enough to redeem them all).
Back at the club the opening band, Harrisburg powerpoppers The Jellybricks, (who were also kind enough to lend us their 'back line'), got the fun rolling with an energetic set, then we did our thing for a modest-sized, but appreciative, audience. It's always a pleasure to play Dogfish Head.
Afterwards, Chris was once again kind enough to host the band. On the way back to his home we stopped in front of Apple Electric on Route 24 just off Highway 1. Every year, the building and grounds are covered with an elaborate (to say the least) all-night light display that is synchronized to Christmas music broadcast over 88.7FM. Bill and I clamored to stop, so we pulled over and tuned in just in time for opening bars of 'Charlie Brown's Christmas'. The lights went into a mad dance, then both radio and lights went dead as Apple Electric's power blew, plunging everything into an inky, silent night.

The next morning after coffee and mini-bagels (and again many thanks to Chris and his lovely wife Olga), we headed off to Harrisburg. We decided to screw 'Mapquest' (usually, not a good idea) and cut cross-country (well, yes, we did use a road), heading to Harrisburg via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It's an interesting drive through the flat Delmarva farmlands and small towns that reminded me a lot of the Long Island of my childhood (which could have been in the 19th century for all the irrevocable change that that place has undergone). The route took us right through the middle of the Sussex County seat (DE only has 3 counties) of St. George's, with it's green surrounded by beautiful red-brick (there's no stone here) colonial buildings including the courthouse and an inn that looks like a great place for at least a drink, if not more. Let me know if you ever stop there. We were listening to Irma Thomas and I was engrossed in the harrowing climax of Hemingway's 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' - something I should have read in school, or at least while driving around Spain, but only had recently picked it up on the urging of my son, who came by it by way of Metallica. By the time we got to the bridge, it was snowing heavily, reducing visibility to a tight perimeter. What we could see of the bay far below us was dark and gray, whipped into a white-capped frenzy by the raising wind. "This is really something" Ken and I blurted out simultaneously, but what we really meant was 'scary'. It snowed all the way to Harrisburg, but as we crossed the Susquehanna River into the city, the weather settled into a misty, sorrowful gloom. I'm a patriotic guy, but staring down at the broad, shallow river, the place seemed more foreign to me than anywhere we'd been in the over 3 weeks in Spain. Well, I don't think we've played in Harrisburg in 20 years, the closest we've gotten was rocketing by miles to the north on the 'interstate' on our way to points west or east. At least I'd have some observations for anyone who finds themselves here if they become governor or something.

There's Something Out There...

Physically, Harrisburg was a lot more attractive than I remembered. It's basically a pre-Civil War (I bet things got pretty jittery around here when Lee's armies were down the road in Gettysburg) era city with its guts ripped out by some more recent, misconceived urban planning. We pulled into the Comfort Inn Riverfront ( 525 S Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17104;, which has recently been redecorated -contemporary furnishings, lots of granite and all. Not bad! And river front indeed -right in front of our 'picture window' was the wide Susquehanna (well, there was a bit of a parking lot in between), crossed by the city's trademark long, low old multi-arch bridges -I tried counting the concrete aches of the closest one but lost count after 30. The adjacent Indian restaurant is supposed to be pretty good too, but tonight's promoter (he hates that term and if a 'promoter' he is a most exceptional one) John Traynor had other plans for us. Driving to the venue we passed blocks of old row houses, sort of like the older parts of Philadelphia. The Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (268 Herr St and Susquehanna -'is this a Susquehanna hat?!', Harrisburg PA;, very much a work in progress, occupies a multi-thousand square foot disused former Jewish Center in a residential part of town. For once I felt relieved to be in a bright, renovated performance space. The ceiling was soaring, high enough to accommodate the witty stainless steel sculptures (giant fly meets giant swatter, etc) that topped the long, inviting bar. The walls were hung with an exhibit of large, contemporary paintings. John explained that they were a series of autobiographical pieces created by 'at risk' youth -an outreach program for kids that have been kicked out of schools and worse. John was quite proud of the project and to cynics (with a small C) I'd say it's a hell of a lot better (and cheaper) than jail. There's always time for that later. Hearing far and wide that The Fleshtones were reputed to be veritable idiot bon-vivants, John was very excited to show us what rebounding Harrisburg had to offer.

He brought us, and Mike from the opening band Parallax Project (who had helped arranged the show together with Chris), to Mangia Qui (272 North Street, Harrisburg PA; which is diagonally across from the Pennsylvania's grandiose capitol -complete with a dome patterned after St. Peter's Basilica.
Behind the wooden venetian blinds on the windows there was a nice 'buzz' in the medium-sized store-front dining room. The walls were a soothing ochre. The well-dressed diners looked, and sounded, like they were enjoying themselves. Co-owner Staci Basore effusively greeted John -he seems to be quite the man about town. He certainly is doing a good thing for Harrisburg. Having the unusual background of parents from Norfolk, England and our own Rockaway Beach, Queens, he grew up in New York and England, later opening a boutique hotel in Bejar de la Frontera, Spain. He was on the verge of moving to Brazil and opening a hotel there, when he made the next logical choice and landed in Harrisburg.
The waitress ran down an formidable array of specials and recommendations: seared fois-gras with 'Italian' fruits...... marinated and grilled local 'boletus' mushrooms..... fresh 'corzetti' pasta served with a lamb.....Portuguese snapper -I can serve it two ways: ......whole...... fillet.... local micro greens..... magret de canard... 'Tuscan grill' (?)....... At $14 a 1/2 dozen, there was a pricey, but good selection of cold water oysters, including small Rhode Island Umani (like nearby Fisher's island) and Effinghams from BC. I used to love oysters on the half shell, but have been mighty gun-shy of them (especially on performance nights) since two catastrophic encounters (in France, no less). I'm no sissy and I had been drinking wine (Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba 2006 -hmmm, what's that, a hint of? vanilla? 'flan?' -I'd been in Spain too long), so swept up in the general enthusiasm I downed one oyster, and then another and another. John also insisted on me trying the seared fois-gras with 'Italian fruits'. I know this sweet fruit thing with meats is sort of cheating, but it was very good. Anyway, I've got no brief against maraschino cherries, a venerable product of Trieste. I spilt the 'corzetti' and the Tuscan Grill with Ken. The corzetti was like orecchiette, only bigger and flatter -served with a rich lamb ragu, and the Tuscan grill (served with roast fingerling potatoes -local too, I presume!) turned out to be a thick disc of a rib-eye, semi-charred on the outside, red on the inside and salted, just like in Florence, but much, much better meat -but I wished I had chosen Streng's duck, which was rare and more flavorful than any steak. Wasn't there a show to do? And I did say we don't eat before shows?
Instead of the dozen or so old fans creeping out of the woodwork, we were surprised to play to a full house. Again, the openers Parallax Project, were ace musicians, generous and lots of fun, and the sound, eerily hollow during sound check, was excellent. We had a great time, even whipping out a version of The Guess Who's 'It's My Pride' (more Canadiana) that we've been reluctant to perform ( it does have an unnecessarily large amount of lyrics for me to remember).
Well, you can still learn things. I love Harrisburg.

Next: back to Spain -Valencia, Barcelona, Burgos, A visit with Ricardo Palacios and 'Don't Talk To Juancho'