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.
"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 (email@example.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(firstname.lastname@example.org), 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...'