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