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)

"...you'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' ( http://www.nosuchthingaswas.com/ ), 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 (http://thepaperdollhouse.com/Home.html).
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 (www.blumengardens.com), 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 (http://www.unclebillysaustin.com/lt-landing/) 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: http://www.ebay.com/sch/eggetravel/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686
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 (http://www.myspace.com/parallaxproject). 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 (http://harrisburgarts.com/) -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' (http://www.ebay.com/sch/eggetravel/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686 ) 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 (http://www.forterieracing.com/), 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' (http://www.thisainthollywood.ca/cms/) 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 (mystics333@gmail.com). 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 (http://www.admiralinnhamilton.com/), 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(dundurn@hamilton.ca), 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 (http://www.rajiworld.com/), 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 (http://www.slh.com/destinations/europe/russia/st-petersburg/alexander-house-hotel/), 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 (http://www.myspace.com/thecavestompers) 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 (http://www.squatcafe.ru/), 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 (http://www.chicagoprime.ru/). 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' (http://www.mamaison.com/moscow-pokrovka.html) 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' (http://www.scandinavia.ru/). 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 (http://www.thealternativecafe.com/index.php), 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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Expanding Our Horizons

Pioneertown, California

Lately, a consistent theme of mine has been that we Fleshtones must expand our horizons, at least as far as places to perform. But I didn't know what our American agent Roggie Baer (http://www.rajiworld.com/) was even talking about when she told us she had snagged us an almost last-minute date for our current west coast swing in some place called Pioneertown, California. Little did I know exactly how much our horizons would be expanded, but before I get into that we'll have to back track a bit. Don't worry, not into the long past, just the day before -June 24, 2011. Bill Milhizer (as you know by now, The Fleshtones drummer) and I had spent the night at the cozy Santa Monica bungalow of Miles Barken, one of the well-intentioned people who have tried their hand (and patience) managing The Fleshtones. Amazingly, we are still good friends, and he is as generous and good-spirited as always. We were about to depart for San Diego and were sadly contemplating the thought that we would be unable to book a hotel in Tijuana, as has been our habit for years whenever we played that southern California city. The security situation south of the border has finally caught up to what Tijuana's ominous (and rather unmerited) reputation had always been. Besides, neither Ken nor I had our passports, the need for which is a recent regulation that has further put a damper on casual visits to Tijuana from the states. We were booked to play Bar Pink, which brought us into a part of San Diego we had, up till now, totally over looked (actually, we had overlooked all of San Diego since in the past we would spend all of our free time across the border in Tijuana). As we drove up El Cajon Blvd, we were greeted into the pleasantly hip (without being overbearing) North Park /University Heights neighborhood by the large deco-ish letters 'Boulevard' in the median, a relic harkening from the Golden State's days of promise. We pulled up in front of the somewhat out-of-place (in Spanish colonial mission-mad southern California), stately brick façade of The Lafayette Hotel (http://www.lafayettehotelsd.com/). Complete with a white columned portico, it looked much like the mansion pictured in the old opening title of David O. Selznick productions. The 71 room hotel had originally opened as the Imig Manor Resort in 1946. Its first registered guest was Bob Hope, and other Hollywood personalities like Betty Grable and Lana Turner would stay here on forays to the race track and other gambling establishments south of the border. Now the property is undergoing a non-invasive updating of furnishings and appointments. I couldn't believe our luck, our room, which had a John Lennon quote from one of my favorite Beatles songs (appropriately 'I'm Only Sleeping'), emblazoned with large letters across the wall, overlooked the large, two-foot short of Olympic-Sized swimming pool. Surrounded by two tiers of balconied rooms, the so-called 'Tarzan' swimming pool was designed by Johnny Weissmuller and is the center of a pleasantly low-keyed scene (and cocktails) during sunny hours. So, there were consolations to not being in Tijuana.

memorabilia, Lafayette Hotel lobby

Due to the terminally congested highways of the Los Angeles -San Diego corridor, we arrived too late to take advantage of the luncheon prices (liver & onions: $7.95) at the hotels venerable Red Fox Lounge, so walked a few blocks to the Bahia #1 Mexican Restaurant (1985 El Cajon Blvd, 619 542-0540). Despite its totally generic American strip-mall exterior, inside Bahia was a thoroughly Mexican luncheonette, right down to the large ceramic serving bowls of condiments and salsas, Norteño music on the radio and smiling girl behind the counter. Streng and Fox ordered lobster enchiladas and fish tacos. My substantial 'machaca & huevos' burrito came to $4.09 including tax. It was stuffed with delicious dried shredded beef and egg, and not a grain of the rice that is so often used to bulk out burritos back east -a shameless practice that would have hombres reaching for their 6-guns in the burrito's rough and ready home state of Sonora. I was so enthralled by my burrito that it wasn't until late that evening when we were leaving for the club, that I realized I had walked out of the restaurant without my jacket. I dashed back, and as soon as I appeared at the restaurant's door, the young counter girl smiled, disappeared into a back room, and re-appeared with my jacket.
Comfortably occupying a classic cocktail lounge, the Bar Pink (http://www.barpink.com/) turned out to be a great option for a place to perform, and I'd say, see music, in San Diego. Aero-touring on shoestring budget precludes us lugging along our own equipment like my Farfisa, and the Creepy Creeps responded with not one, but two vintage organs. The crowd is fun and the drink prices are conducive to having a good time ($2 cans of Tecate, that sure beats the $2 cans of Milwaukee's Finest that I so willingly swill). Even the 'monitors' were good, which is a real voice saver when performing night after night. The Fleshtones shall return!

A Rude Shock
Returning from The Bar Pink by !:30AM, we realized we had time to drop into the Red Fox for a nightcap before its posted 2 o'clock closing. We were most anxious to check out the hospitality as The Fox is claimed to boast a bar, panelling and other interior details from an 16th century English pub. The story is that screen star Marion Davies had it dismantled and shipped over to California to tone up her beach house. Somehow, it made it to the Imig Resort after her star had faded. Even though an employee hustled us in just as she was closing the door, the barmaid flatly refused us service. "Last call is 1:30" she unsympathetically intoned. "But it says you close at two!" I protested. "Do I need to show you a clock?" she testily replied as she turned to rummaged through the cluttered bar-back for a watch. This was totally uncalled for. "Don't bother -you've already said no" I quickly retorted. She was equally not impressed with my threat to give them a bad review. Quite honestly, I can't offer much of an opinion one way or the other regarding The Red Fox.

06/25/11 Into The High Desert
The next morning, after a bracing plunge into the 'Tarzan' Pool, we headed up to the high desert country, blessed with incredibly clear skies, by way of the thankfully less traffic-choked inland highways towards Palm Springs. After a eastward stretch of I-10, we cut off the 29 Palms Highway in Morongo Springs, climbing into what seemed to be a blasted wilderness of sand and mountains composed of colossal heaps of those bizarrely-eroded boulders oddly familiar to anyone who spent a childhood watching the grade-C westerns and other ancient black and white movie 'serials' that had been economically recycled to TV.
After a rise in the road in a joshua tree-studded landscape, we came to a sign announcing our arrival in Pioneertown. It is not on the way to anyplace else. Soon the low, rambling adobe and cement block compound of Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace (http://pappyandharriets.com) came into view.

The cars and 'choppers' clustered around The Palace signaled that it was popular with the lunch crowd, a promising sign that left me wondering where they all came from. Talk about convenient accommodations, we'd be staying at the PioneerTown Motel (kitchenettes, no TV, 17 horse corrals, rooms from $70; www.pioneertown-motel.com), a long, low example of old west log-cabin rusticity that straggled right behind the dusty parking lot of Pappy and Harriet's. There wasn't anywhere else to stay for miles around. In fact, Pioneertown in actually a movie set, constructed for the filming of 'westerns'. I couldn't wait to brag about being here to that ultimate devotee of that American cinematic form, my Serbian pal Marko Petrovic. One day, Marko shall inspire me write my own wildly successful trilogy of almost-Scandinavian thrillers, the first title of course will be 'The Boy With The Warren Oates Tattoo' (he actually does have Oates' mug tattooed on his belly). The broad dusty main 'street' of Pioneer Town, however was never the haunt of his heros like John Ford or Howard Hawks, but Jock Mahoney was here -often. Starting in the mid 1940's, Hollywood's poverty row producers had been mightily busy here cranking out stuff like Cisco Kid and Gene Autry serials, many of which I had indeed sat through, glazed-eyed, as a child.
Quite honestly, I was having a little trouble 'getting' the place. We were, by definition, in the middle of nowhere. It was too hot for any sane person to attempt to take a walk in the blazing sun to explore. A swimming pool, like they have at The 29 Palms Inn, would have been nice. The word 'desiccated', as in 'a desiccated body of an unfortunate hiker was discovered…' kept popping into my head. Being resourceful, Bill and I turned the situation to our advantage, washing out as much of our sweaty laundry as we could after our nap.Shirts dried almost before our eyes in the bone dry air. So did we. After lunch at Pappy and Harriet's (I had what I thought was the best buy -a massive chili dog covered with congealed cheese served with rice and pinto beans for $6.95 -the instantly indigestible choice was my own doing, the fare at Pappy's proved to be very good) we all exercised our only reasonable option -a midday nap.
Back at Pappy's the dinner crowd seemed to meld with those arriving for the evening's music. It seems most folks arrive in time to dine before the show, Pappy's is extremely popular for steaks, chicken, ribs, burgers and even salmon, cooked damn close to perfection over an immense, smokey mesquite-fired barbecue pit out back.
Besides generously providing us with a 'back-line' The 4019s opened with a nice set of 'road house' tunes like 'Route 66' that seemed so appropriate for the time and place. It certainly put me in the mood. By the time we were playing, it seemed as if by magic a houseful of enthusiastic patrons were dancing before us. At least that's the way it looked from the stage. Bikers with gray ponytails, local families, tourists, artsy refugees from the LA sprawl and fans from as far away as Phoenix Arizona and Melbourne Australia all had a wonderful night in the high desert. "We never have to get rough with anyone here" said the husky dudes that serve as house security. Lingering at the bar after the show, it seemed a shame to let such an evening slip away, but as we stumbled across the parking lot's sands back to our rooms we couldn't help but gaze upwards. Miles from the lights of any big city, the Milky Way glowed in a broad, nebulous swath across the clear, night sky above our heads.

Main Street, Pioneertown

The next morning, I took advantage of the relatively merciful temperature to check out the old movie set 'town'. Besides a few scurrying lizards, I was the only person striding down a dusty street that had been the appointed site of many a celluloid showdown. Sadly, Pioneertown Bowl, one of California's oldest alleys, wasn't open yet. Having, I was told, only two manually operated lanes, its first bowler had been the 'King Of Cowboys' himself, Roy Rodgers. In my mind I hear Roy and Dale as if it were yesterday, singing at the end of each episode of their TV show - "Happy Trails To You -until we meet again...".
Who needs a swimming pool anyway?

-Peter Zaremba

I'd like to add more pix with this post when I get the chance, right now we've got to drive to Monteray... PZ

here's where The Fleshtones will be appearing on the rest of this week's west coast swing:
06/27 Alternative Cafe (http://www.thealternativecafe.com/)-Seaside (Monteray), CA
06/28 Bottom Of The Hill (http://www.bottomofthehill.com/)-San Francisco, CA
06/29 The Blue Lamp (http://bluelamp.com/rocks/?cat=1) -Sacramento, CA
07/01 Dante's (http://www.danteslive.com/contact.html)-Portland, OR
07/02 El Corazon (http://www.elcorazonseattle.com/)-Seattle, WA
for all of you who having been asking when we will be coming out this way, well, here we come.

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Auspicious Beginning...

The Fleshtones in Europe (second leg) May 25 -June 12, 2011

RTB -in natural surroundings.

May 25th: The Fleshtones rendezvoused at the Rego Park home of Ross The Boss, who obligingly made a cameo appearance with his latest guitar acquisition. We were there to catch a cab to JFK and a flight back to Europe (Oslo, Norway via Amsterdam) on KLM, which has become my absolute favorite transatlantic carrier (see Zaremblog KLM 6070 JFK -AMS). For the next 18 days we would ping-pong across Norway, Sweden and Finland, dipping down into Portugal for just enough time to headline the Quarteira Rock Festival with the Staggers (Austria) and Los Explosivos (Mexico). The trip would culminate back in Moss, Norway with the 1st House Of Rock Festival.

I've often promised to skip the lengthly missives, and this time I mean it. It's not just that I've been busy (!) since the release of our latest album, Brooklyn Sound Solution featuring Lenny Kaye (CD/LP Yep-2226), but I've been rather discouraged about writing, especially since my laptop's screen went blank. I brought it to my tech guy months ago and he's been dodging me ever since. Still, a lot did happen on this tour, even for The Fleshtones.

The livery cab arrived, and we headed south on Woodhaven Boulevard, a secondary road that is not only once again the most reliable route to the airport now that the Van Wyck Expressway has been rendered all but unusable due to congestion, but has served as the ancestral path to countless summers at Rockaway Beach...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

By Popular Demand

The Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival 2011, Royal Plantation, Goldeneye, Geejam and The Jolly Boys

There have been several inquiries into the whereabouts of The Busybuddy, including one from colleague Sergio Ortiz (http://www.sergiosfstop.com/), travel writer/photographer and former war correspondent. Taking pictures while people are shooting at you -now that's what I call a real photographer. Anyway, Busybuddy has been busy -despite The Fleshtones current (lengthly!) sabbatical. We finally took a log-delayed family road trip to Florida last summer, and the band headed up to the land of Ken Fox for a few shows including one at 'This Ain't Hollywood' (it sure isn't!) in one of my favorite cities -Hamilton, Ontario. In the fall, the band cut a new album in collaboration with friends Phast Phreddie Patterson and Lenny Kaye. It will be out next week (mid-March) -with lots of shows to follow. I'll have more to say about all that later. Right now, I've always said it's nice to read about a sunny place while we've all shivering through the darkness of winter, and even better to actually go to one. Most recently...

Jamaica -And All That Jazz: 01/28/11 -02/02/11

...it was my good fortune to be invited by the Jamaica Tourist Board to attend the 15th Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival (www.jamaicajazz&blues.com). Musical events like this are held all across the Caribbean, but Jamaica's festival is one of the biggest and the best, attracting up to 35,000 fans. Of course, Jamaica is a great place to enjoy music, and I'd guess even a better place to play. As each successive performer seemed to declare, Jamaicans make a great audience (but as Diana Ross unhappily found out a few Jazz Festivals ago, also a very discerning one). I had hoped to see performers like Jamaican jazz great Monty Alexander, but he wasn't appearing this year. In reality these festivals lean more to popular music, with a stiffening of R&B. This year's headliner's were: Thursday -Alison Hinds, Brenda Russell, Diana King and Ron Isley; Friday -Tavares, Regina Belle and Maroon 5; and Saturday -Laura Izabor, Natalie Cole and Air Supply.
Diverse line-ups like these remind me of working the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park in the very early '70s. Dig up a tape of the TV special 'Good Vibrations From Central Park (1971) starring the Beach Boys, Carly Simon and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and you might be able to catch a glimpse of a long-haired Zaremba painting the stage in the opening credits.
Of the R&B artists appearing, I most regretted missing Ron Isley -whom I credit (together with his brothers and The Contours) with personally provoking my Dad to swear off listening to the 'Hit Parade' -especially while driving the car -forever. Of course my sister and I were there to pick up the torch, right through into The British Invasion -which for Dad might have been even worst. Anyway, because of the incessant snow-related flight disruptions, I was forced to spend the night Isley was performing in a Florida airport hotel -in other words, nowhere.
I did make it to Jamaica in time for Friday night's show. Having outgrown a more pastoral setting at Cinnamon Hill's golf course (Cinnamon Hill was also home to Johnny Cash and June Carter), the festival moved last year to Greenfield Multi-Purpose, a gargantuan stadium built for the opening ceremonies of the Cricket World Cup in 2007 and used for little since. Without a doubt the stadium features excellent facilities and production values, but is stranded in the rural parish of Trelawny. That's a good 2 1/2 hours over the mountains from Kingston, but strategically sited between the island's north coast all-important tourist centers. Despite this, and what you would think to be a rather hefty ticket-price for a relatively poor island (general admission, Thurs -Sat: US$ 250), the festival audience is overwhelmingly Jamaican, a telling sign of Jamaica's devotion to music -and a good party. That's a lot better than playing to a lot of tourists, and gives the festival its unique energy and soul.

peanut vendor -Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival

'General admission' equaled standing room on the enormous cricket 'pitch', so 'higglers' were doing brisk business in folding chairs. Jamaica is one country where vendors will approach you with things you might actually want. Unfortunately, umbrellas were to be a hot item this year as well. Since it was not possible to approach the stage without a premium ticket, a lot of the action gravitated to the private hospitality 'tents' -some featuring buffets and open bars, that ringed the field. A hot spot was the Jamaica Tourist Board 'tent'. This being Trelawny, the very open bar was (for once) well-stocked with Gold Label Rum. It's vaguely whiskey-like and inexpensive. Versatile too -lacking ginger ale, it seemed to mix well with 'Sprite' and a dash of Angostura Bitters. I didn't think of asking for it with 'Ting', which would have been too 'heavy' for the light-bodied rum anyway.

Super-smooze -the JTB hospitality 'tent'.

Instead of the usual back-stage scene, the festival 'press' was headquartered in a 'media center' in the grandstands. This was some distance from the stage and with the overcast weather, I expected clouds to pass between us and the performers. Still the centre was a lively scene, with acts dropping to meet the press and lots of energy courtesy of 'drop-ins' from the Kingston entertainment world. I spent some time hanging around trying to get a word in with Walter Elmore, the festival's mercurial director. One of the many people I did chat with was Wayne McGregor of 'Black Zebra' (http://www.myspace.com/blackzebramusic) a Kingston-based rock band that he describes as a "cross between Led Zeppelin and Steel Pulse". That's right, rock & roll -in Kingston. This festival was going to be an education.

Tavares hold forth in the 'media centre'.

Take Tavares. I'll admit I wasn't much of a fan back in the day, but their performance was exhilarating. Despite the disco legacy, Tavares is basically a soulful vocal group at heart, working out to a insistent beat -matching white suits and all. They delivered a string of hits -their own and others, like 'Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel' with an edge the slick original recordings never seemed to have for me. Later, in the Media Centre, the group was still bubbling with boundless enthusiasm, praising Jamaican audiences and breaking into song 'a cappella' at the drop of a hat.
In between acts on the main stage, attention shifted to the Heineken 'small' Stage. The stage was easily approached and the talent consistently entertaining -like Tina Moore & Family, who laid down a soulful 'retrofitted' version of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love', featuring real horns and drums in lieu of electronics. The Love Delegation or 'horns period' Fleshtones would have been inspired.

The night wound up with the 'Sting'-like vocal delivery of lead singer Adam Levine of platinum-selling Maroon 5. What surprised me was not only did the crowd know who they were, they knew the words to all their songs. It was after 5AM before we got back to the hotel.

Hilton Rose Hall

Visiting journalists, as well as a lot of the talent, were put up at the 488-room Hilton Rose Hall (www.hilton.com/RoseHall). With twin 7-story wings, newly renovated in the sleek, contemporary 'new Hilton' style -beige with lots of polished, dark wood details, this former Wyndham resort recently underwent an identity switch with the Hilton Kingston (which itself became a Wyndham).
Although Hilton is the quintessential 'international' hotel brand, the property makes a good effort at providing local flavor. I wasn't at the hotel for dinner, but Jamaican specialties like salt-fish and ackee, brown stew fish, steamed vegetables, and dumplings, were available at breakfast and lunch. The staff at the beach grill went out of their way to rustle up (and chop open) 'water coconuts' for us. Bartenders were friendly and forthcoming, especially at the breezy terrace bar, where they mixed up a good 'dark & stormy'. From my informal 'overheard conversation' survey, I'd reckon the guests were mostly North American -the twangy accents of the US heartland predominating, reinforced with a smattering of off-balance Brits, one of whom was left flabbergasted at the lack of English beer at the bar. He made do with Red Stripe. The hotel also boasts the Caribbean's largest water park complete with a wonderful slide spanned by a suspension foot-bridge and an long, 'lazy river' circulating through ultra-tropical gardens. Pretty good, especially for families with children.

Saturday evening had the festival audience patiently waiting out a lengthly rain delay. It was the uplifting Tarrus Riley, a late addition to the line-up, who set the evening on the right course. The reggae star topping off his cloud-chasing performance with a rendition of his monumental hit 'She's Royal'. Tarrus did the advance work for the men in the audience and if women in the crowd haven't already melted, they now swooned into their date's waiting arms.

She's Royal! Tarrus Riley at JJ&BF 2011

Along with Regina Belle, Natalie Cole was the 'jazziest' of the scheduled performers. She delivered a cool and sophisticated set, the highlight of which was 'Unforgettable', her somewhat disturbing posthumous duet with her dad Nat 'King' Cole, who appeared on a huge video screen.
Air Supply are regulars on the Caribbean 'Jazz Fest' circuit. Air Supply? I had seen them play to an appreciative audience in Aruba, but nothing prepared me for the Jamaican reaction to the Australian soft-rock duo. It was a veritable sing-along from the first note. The mega-hits came flowing out - 'All Out Of Love', 'Every Woman In The World' -the soundtrack to the love-lives of all present and departed. Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock soaked up the love, heading off stage to work the crowd in the premium priced seats, hugging and singing to the fans, many of whom were moved to joyous tears. Even our 'keeper', the normally unflappable Lyndon Taylor of Ruder-Finn PR, burst into a chorus of 'Making Love -Out Of Nothing At All' in the JTB tent. Yet another reminder -Jamaicans don't only listen to reggae.

Lyndon does Air Supply in the JTB Hospitality 'tent'.

Next year, Shirley Bassey is slated to headline the festival. That's something I wouldn't want to miss. Imagine teaming her up with Tom Jones to tear up the JJ&B stage? From 'Burning Hell' to Thunderball' now, that would be a blast.

An Extraordinary Dinner

Zaremba discovers what he's been missing... photo: Dwiaitt Watson

After the festival, I was invited to check out Sandals Royal Plantation (www.sandals.com), a small luxury property that the Jamaica-based hotel group acquired in 2000. Since then, the chain has set about making the Royal Plantation the jewel in its crown of resorts. The hotel perches, Riviera-like, on a rocky promontory above twin beaches just east of Ocho Rios in the parish of St. Ann. Besides being the location of Ocho Rios, St. Ann has given birth to two of Jamaica's most famous sons - Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley.

All 74 rooms are suites, and all suites are 'oceanfront'. Live peacocks, and butlers who have your clothes unpacked before you finish your welcome drink, greet you at the stately 'Gone With The Wind' entrance. That is, the butler unpacks your clothes, the peacocks just strut about preening themselves and emitting that eerie child-like cry of theirs. Behind the columns, on the second floor there's a magnificent drawing room done up in full-blown regency decor. I'd later find out what the salon was used for. Enveloped by lush- tropical foliage, I have never seen a more lovely pair of tennis courts in my life. Too bad I don't play -another result of my confused youth -imagine growing up in Flushing and avoiding learning how to play tennis. Too busy wearing out Yardbirds records.
The hotel takes great pride in fulfilling guest's every request. I've always have trouble figuring out what to do with a butler, after all I've only just recently figured out how to pick up after myself. Now my son Sergei -he's 14 - he could use a butler -other than me and his Mom, that is. Apparently, guests adapt to the butler thing quite well. Once a butler buried an extra-long extension chord under the sand so a guest could watch a TV program he didn't want to miss at the beach.
When I arrived, most of the guests were having lunch, while enjoying the sounds of a 'mento' trio called 'The Happy Smilers'. Then it was a few steps to the beach, where the guests looked super-relaxed and well-tended, the appropriate drinks reaching their hands, barely needing to be requested. It reminded me of an acquaintance of mine who once had the honor of waiting on Frank Sinatra at some event. He sincerely told Sinatra that he admired his work. Sinatra: "Whiskey on the rocks. Doubles. Keep 'em coming. Don't make me ask..."

That night I was invited to dinner with Lindsey Issacs, Sandals Regional PR Director, and Shupatrik Guha, hotel manager, in that grand drawing room I mentioned. Now reserved for special occasions like visits of Prime Ministers or members of The Fleshtones, it had once been the hotel's main dining room, seeing the likes of Sir Winston Churchill as well as Ian Fleming and Noel Coward, both of whom lived down the road. We started with osetra caviar, served from an iced silver server. I've got to admit I've always found caviar too 'sophisticated' (okay, fishy) for my tastes. Sprinkled on a nice cracker, however, with a dab of sour cream and some finely chopped shallot, and I was starting to get an idea of what all the fuss was about. Better not get too used to it.
Since champagne goes with everything, champagne, Vevue Cliquot, was served as an aperitif (again, to be honest I'm not too choosy when it comes to the bubbly, perhaps a result of toasting the first moon landing in 1969 with Andre 'champagne'). This was a night for grand flourishes, so the champagne was to be opened via 'sabrage' -that is by lopping off the stopper with a sword. I instinctively drew back. I had once attended a party where our very French host, complete with legionnaire's kepi, misjudged his stroke, exploding the bottle and showering us with glass shards. He was left holding the label -and wet. Ces't manifique -yes, but what a waste of champagne. This night, the bottleneck was expertly whacked off with a special ceremonial sword made just for this purpose. At this point I should add that the Royal Plantation operates the Caribbean's only champagne and caviar bar. The meal proper proceeded with an entré of jerk chicken wrap with greens, then Jamaican 'pepperpot' soup with calaloo, followed by curried lobster tail in its shell and black angus steak tournedos with asparagus. Perhaps there was some dark rum deglazing/reduction involved. After all that, I could barely remember what dessert was.
The next morning GM Peter Frazer graciously found time to chat with me about the hotel, the Jazz & Blues Festival and rock & roll before I headed eastward along Jamaica's north coast.

Birthplace of Bond

'Bond' meets Fleming -Goldeneye.

Not far east along the coast is Oracabessa. The Spanish didn't bequeath much to Jamaica save the Maroons, the ancient 'Flat-Bridge' (still a notorious choke-point for traffic between the island's north and south coasts) and some place-names. Oracabessa is the English corruption of the original Spanish name 'Ora Cabeza' -or 'golden head' because of the area's beautiful late-afternoon light. From this name was derived 'Goldeneye' (www.goldeneye.com), the beloved, tropical retreat of Ian Fleming -creator of James Bond. It's now a high-end resort. Over the years, notable guests have added to the profusion of the lush, jungle-y property, by planting trees, beginning with Sir Anthony Eden, the British Prime Minister who was invited by Fleming (who was begged by HM Government to invite?) to recover at Goldeneye after suffering what amounted to a nervous breakdown in the wake of the Suez Crisis of 1956. I'm not sure if Hillary Clinton planted anything after she recovered here from her bruising presidential primary bid -people only asked me about Johnny Depp's tree.

Goldeneye recently re-opened after a major expansion -but any expansion would be considered major for a resort that had consisted of only 5 villa/compounds. The best things have been wisely left rather unchanged. You're still offered a frosty 'Goldeneye', the resort's rum-based welcome cocktail, upon arrival. I still like the Gazebo Bar, which rambles along a rocky ledge overlooking the narrow canal that guests used to have to swim across to reach the beach on Low Cay. The channel is now spanned by a suspension foot-bridge -a nifty thing really and a necessary bow to progress -you can't have all those new guests getting wet every time they want to dine at the Gazebo or go to 'reception'. The beach is now lined with a handful of new cottages, that fit into their settings so naturally that they appear to have been there all the while. Despite their down-home West Indian appearance, they are all quite luxurious and stylishly -if understatedly, appointed. Fleming's own villa has been spiffed up a bit, but remains marvelously 'open' and simple, the way the author designed it. The desk at which he wrote all of his Bond stories is still in the master bedroom, tucked into a windowless corner, it is said, so he would not be distracted by the vivid colors of the flowers and Caribbean Sea outside.

A National Brouhaha

This being Jamaica, there was a national brouhaha over the re-naming of near-by Boscobel Aerodrome to 'Ian Fleming International Airport' -providing a pleasant diversion from the country's problems. Was this not another manifestation of a national inferiority complex? Wouldn't it be a sign of national pride and maturity to name it after a Jamaican? The name did have a bit of a craven ring to it. It was a hot topic on talk radio as I continued my drive to Port Antonio. One caller suggested that since this re-naming was meant to satisfy tourism interests (that is the interests that generate the largest share of Jamaica's economy by far), why not just name it after Fleming's creation -James Bond. After all, everyone knows who James Bond is. Good point, but I don't know about naming something serious like an airport after a fictitious character. We do have our own precedent with New York State's Rip Van Winkle Bridge, which I like, maybe more liking renaming LAX for Bugs Bunny or more precisely, Newark International after Santa Claus -he's not an American, but wait, there really was a Santa Claus. In the end, maybe it would be a sign of even further national self-confidence to just leave it at 'Fleming International'. Not that anyone ever said he was a nice guy, but he did love Jamaica and chose to do most of his work there. The French would honor a writer or artist that way -and they're pretty self-confident. Anyway, I'll always call it Boscobel Aerodrome -just like I still say 'Tri-Borough Bridge'.

Port Antonio, Geejam and The Jolly Boys

My final destination in Jamaica was Port Antonio in the north-eastern parish of Portland, to interview British hip-hop pioneer Jon Baker, creator of Geejam Hotel and Recording Studio (www.geejam.com) for Tape Op Magazine, as well as cover the hotel's Bushbar for Caribbean Travel & Life.
According to the tourism 'line', Port Antonio was 'discovered' by actor Errol Flynn, who fell in love with the sleepy town and it's lovely surroundings. Apparently, the locals fell in love with the gregarious Flynn as well. It became a hideaway for Hollywood types and International society figures like the Aga Khan. Then the area dozed off into a long beauty-sleep, insulated from the tumults of the rest of the island by the appallingly bad roads. All of this is true and as it is, 'PA' is a link to an earlier Jamaica of the jet-set era -and before. While in 'P.A.' I also hoped to catch veteran mento band, and Port Antonio locals, The Jolly Boys. After all, the first time I visited 'Portie' hoping to catch a glimpse of Errol's widow, actress Patrice Wymore (Ocean's 11 -the original), I wound up having dinner with her at Geejam. Port Antonio is like that.
To say 'hotel' might give the wrong impression, this exclusive 'boutique-of-a-boutique' property only has three high-tech cottages, a suite and a 3 bedroom villa, which was originally used as the recording studio, nestled on a lush, wooded hillside over looking the Caribbean Sea. No statues or fountains, just towering, vine draped pimento and cottonwood trees. Now the recording studio is in its own building, complete with roof-top sun-deck and a sound room with picture window views of the Caribbean -a nice place to make records. Amy Winehouse worked there recently. When I walked into the studio, The Jolly Boys just happened to be laying down a version of one of my favorite old mento tunes -'Sly Mongoose'. Now lead singer, 72 year old Albert Minott, was originally the fire-dancer for the group back in the days when Errol Flynn changed the group's name from 'The Navy Island Swamp Boys', dubbing them 'The Jolly Boys'.

Like the 'rake and scrape', 'fungi' and 'string band' music of other English West Indian islands, 'mento' developed along with calypso, employing guitar, banjo and a 'sitting bass' or 'rhumba box' -much like a fender amp-sized 'kalimba' that the player sits upon. The music has a 'light' feel that makes it extremely fun to listen and dance to. The advent of ska and reggae, however, relegated mento to the lobbies and pool-side parties of the resorts -for decades. Realizing that the group would not be around forever, along with co-producer/engineer Dale 'Dizzle' Virgo (who also drummed on the record) Baker recorded a new album, 'Great Expectation' with The Jollys at Geejam and sent them off on tour to Britain and Europe. The record avoided the old mento standards, instead featuring a surprising selection of covers familiar to anyone who spent a lot of time in nightclubs in the early '80s. There's even a couple of Iggy Pop tunes and a version of Winehouse's 'Rehab' -a pretty smart move. Even I admit they couldn't just keep singing 'Dandy Shady' forever.

Dale 'Dizzle' Virgo records The Jolly Boys

Down time between interviews with Jon and bartender Jason Brown gave me a chance to met Jon's business partner -Hong Kong musicman and fellow British expat Steven Beaver. Steven was kind enough to invite me along on his swims at dusk. The coast around Port Antonio is notched with a series of beautiful sheltered coves, and now that the resort/studio has opened it's own private beach on gin-clear Mack Bay, the situation at Geejam is pretty near perfect.

Steven was also keen to lay some Stephen James (www.stephenjamesluxuryorganics.com) natural food products on me that he brought from Hong Kong. The all-organic, non-dairy 'pizza' bar did keep me alive on my flight back to JFK. I also tried the 'volcanic' Pili nuts from the Philippines -five times more vitamin E than almonds, and quite tasty. I'm not sure if munching them along with the house 'Blue Geejam' cocktails negated their beneficial properties. According to Steve, the Stephen James 'organic smart bars' are actually made in Macau. Since my childhood obsession with fireworks, I've been fascinated with Macau. Besides avoiding the dubious distinction of a 'Made In China' label, it occurred to me that producing the bars in Macau made sense given that territory's long tradition of preparing dried foods -like the delicious, jerky-like 'meat roll-ups' I sampled on my visit to Macau a few years ago.

Jon Baker -plotting a course for the future.

The next morning I hitched a ride back to Kingston with Jon in the smallest Cessna 4-seater I have ever seen, none the less flown in. This would turn a two-hour plus drive over the 7,000 foot high Blue Mountains into a 20-minute hop. In the aeronautical equivalent of a Fiat 500, the up-drafts bumped us over the mountainous 'spine' of the island. Then, spread across a broad plain, Kingston -the big city, came into view. We touched down in a small aerodrome in an industrial zone near the harbor, then a taxi took me across town and down the same Palisadoes Causeway along the sea that as a boy I saw James Bond traveling upon after his arrival in Jamaica on his very first international screen assignment. That was in 'Dr. No', a half a century ago in the final years of Jamaica as a British colony. Now the airport is named for Michael Manley, fourth Prime Minister of an independent Jamaica. I was headed in the other direction -and a Jet Blue flight back to New York.
-Peter Zaremba

Dr. No -Bond rumbles upon arrival in Jamaica, location: Palisadoes


next: The Jolly Boys go to New York and The Fleshtones leave it -as part of the Brooklyn Sound Solution.