CBGB MBGBB

From the “things-that-make-Joey-Ramone-cry department…”

After the Plaza closes, what’s next? Well, CBGB Might-Be-Going-Bye-Bye. This due to a long-standing rent dispute with the current owners. The Bitter End went through similar gyrations recently, but managed to save itself at the last minute. Let’s hope we see a similar miracle here…

This from the NY Times story:

In an arrangement known to few of the club’s patrons, CBGB subleases its spaces at 313 and 315 Bowery from the organization, which shelters 175 homeless people in the floors above the club. In 2001, the organization began efforts to collect more than $300,000 in back rent from the club. Although much of that has now been paid, the club faces eviction over remaining debts of about $75,000, both parties say.

Both organizations have dug in their heels and claim a moral right to the property.

“We’re an institution,” said Hilly Kristal, the grandfatherly 73-year-old who started CBGB – with plans to stage “country, bluegrass and blues,” not punk – in late 1973. “I think we’re an important part of this community. The city uses us in their Olympics ad, along with the Statue of Liberty.”

The story doesn’t mention whether the homeless people also happen to be deaf. Better come visit NYC while it’s still here!

Sweety Das Küken and other weird iMemes

On my last few working trips to Europe, I would tune in to German MTV from time to time. Somehow inanity dubbed or subtitled into German is more engaging than plain old English inanity. But if you watch for more than a few minutes, you will see, endlessly repeated, these bizarre little commercials for special songs and ringtones to download into your mobile phone (that is, after they’re permanently encoded into your neural network) … The most popular one seems to be this little singing and dancing chick called Sweety das Küken. If you’ve never seen Sweety, maybe that’s for the best. If you’re really curious, go ahead and google, but mostly you will find video along the lines of “Sweety in a Blender,” the sure-fire sign of Internet mega-memedom. (Europeans are now completely obsessed with the customized ringtones. It’s not uncommon to see a senior executive at the second largest company in France run out of a meeting clutching a phone blaring something ridiculous like Dragostea Din Tei, a hit Romanian techno tune.)

And if you happen to make a video of yourself chair-dancing (Roadie!) to this same techno tune, you become instantly famous a la William Hung. This story has hit the Times a few days ago. If you haven’t seen the video yet, you owe it to yourself to watch. For me, I think the kid is genuinely talented, if a little misguided. Sorry to hear that he’s so distressed by all this unwanted attention.

I don’t know how I managed to miss it the first time around, but in 2003 a teenager from Quebec, who became known as the Star Wars Kid, inspired countless video post-production hacks to produce hundreds of minutes of video based on the kid’s 1:48 clip of himself practicing Jedi arts. This one is funny to watch too, but the attention SWK got was a little more mean spirited. Just google “star wars kid” and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff is out there.

And it’s not an iMeme, but Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” must be a virus from outer space…

Numa Numa, Yay!

(ex-) Sedrick fan #1

From the “The inverse square law is your friend, department…”

Silly Lilly writes “OK, Here’s my little news piece about someone who did a search on our drummer’s name because he liked “Spankdriven”, a band she played in a couple of years ago. He has an obsession with the bass and contacted me because of our sedrick web page, and wanted to be put on our mailing list. He warned me he was planning to sit right in front of me in front of the stage, and here is his e-mail to me after the show: …

“Thanks for letting me intrude on your space to watch you perform
on Sat 12 Feb at the Bayou.

Hmm. Your performance was too loud for me. Sure, I plopped my butt
down in front of you to watch you up close, and that may have been
a strong reason for the cause, but not the main reason. I sat back
with the normal audience for the first two songs to gauge the sound
level. I had to decide whether the visual experience was more impor-
tant than the aural experience. I went with the visual to watch you
play.

Lillian, I watched your left hand quite often and marvelled at the
contortions to fret several strings at once (at least that was what
I was seeing).

For experimentation, I brought my digital camera along to take pic-
tures. The camera does not have a zoom. I dislike using the flash.
If I use the flash, then the pictures seem false to me. The camera
does not take good pictures in low light, that is, any motion often
causes a blur. The result is that nearly all of the pictures have
too much blur. A few pictures have barely adequate sections. The
stage lighting washed the pictures in red. If you have ever looked
through the red side of red-blue 3D glasses, then you know what I
mean. I will have to do some cropping to extract those worthwhile
sections for my memoriabilia.

And now, more about the sound …

When I introduced myself to you after your sound check, I intruded
with my comments that the sound from the sound check was too loud.
I still have the same opinion after listening to your performance.

For me, the main culprit was the singing for being too loud, that
is, either the singing itself, or the singing part caused the band
to put more energy into the song. Often, the words in the songs were
unintelligible to me from the distortion. During the slow songs, the
overall sound, including the singing, was within a tolerable level
as the band tried to keep the energy level in check. The worst for
me was the punk songs at the end of the performance, especially the
last one when Lillian let it rip. I felt waves of nausea from the
sonic screams in the last song.

My options are: (1) plead for volume restraint, (2) be intoxicated,
(3) wear earplugs, (4) stay away from the stage, or (5) not come. I
can do (3), but I ask for (1), and (5) seems inevitable.

With the venue name of Bayou Blues and Jazz club, what I heard was
different from what I expected. I expected blues and/or jazz, not
classic rock nor scream punk. I enjoy classic rock, but not scream
punk. The classic rock songs got my foot tapping. For some reason, I
expected all originals from Sedrick, but no cover songs. To me, one
has to ask about how Sedrick identifies itself, perhaps you are still
trying to understand each other to choose an overall direction.

I wrote the above with no animosity whatsoever nor intended any, but
a genuine desire to provide one person’s honest feedback. I am in my
quest to find a live music band that caters to my music taste, and
keeps the sound level below the pain/discomfort threshold.

Thanks for your time,
…”

And here is a final response that our drummer and pretty much everyone else in the band found completely distasteful, but I just think it’s all downright funny:

“Lillian,

I did some thinking about my music taste and the music of Sedrick with
your comments in mind. And, yes, please take me off the mailing list.
Time for me to renew my search for a live rock band which satisfies my
music taste. If you know of a live rock band which is looking for fans
and which is beholden to the classic rock scripture but is fresh and
modern in their own style, then please let me know such that I can be-
come a disciple of theirs.

Thanks for the memories,

And, all the best,

….””

Les Paul at Iridium

From the “good-things-come-from-Waukesha” department:

Not to be ghoulish about it, but the death of Bobby Short yesterday created a real sense of urgency about seeing Les Paul do his regular Monday night gig at Iridium. I had lost my chance to see Bobby, and wasn’t going to miss out on seeing Les. As soon as the box office opened, I made the reservations. If you’re not an electric guitarist, you’re forgiven if you don’t know that he is the living patron saint of the instrument. He was monstrously famous as a performer in the 50s, but he’s equally important for the engineering and design work he did in the early days of the electric, culminating in the creation of his namesake guitar, which is one of the true icons of Rock and/or Roll. But what’s truly amazing about him is that he’ll turn 90 this June and he still gigs, doing two shows every Monday night…

Iridium is tucked away into the basement of 1650 Broadway, which cyberkrunk insiders know as the original home of the studio I helped to found. It’s also a famous old music building where people as diverse as Irving Berlin and Don Kirshner worked. Kind of an annex to the Brill building, which is just down the street. After hanging out for a while in a line that was already startlingly long at 9:30, we were whisked in and seated at a long communal table front and center. It’s a mid-sized club that probably seats about two hundred; the site lines and sound are both good. They’ve made some effort at putting together a menu, but I especially liked the wine list and found a nice Croze-Hermitage with which to settle the drink minimum.

Les plays with a quartet now. Les’ main sideman for the last 20 years is guitarist Lou Pallo. Lou is just a kid, he can’t be more than 65 years old. He’s an amazing guitarist in his own right, and seems to have an extremely humble approach when playing with Les. Rounding out the combo is Nicky Parrott on bass and John Colianni on piano. They play really well together, do a lot of listening to each other, and just make it all work.

To be sure, Les no longer plays the way he used to, but he still plays damn well. Since his fingers are no longer so nimble, he has stripped out the pyrotechnic figuration that used to be one of the cornerstones of his style–this duty has been taken over by the group’s pianist. Instead, Les focuses on the melody and some simple comping. But he’s still got his characterstic phrasing and flourishes and above all, simply beautiful tone. Any guitarist can learn a lot from watching him play. We were very close to the stage, so I could see clearly what he was doing. There was a lot variation in where he picked the strings, often picking close to his left hand over the fingerboard. A lot of variation of pickup selection, too. His left hand technique looked a little strange; I’m guessing that he has lost strength in his fingers and makes up for it by doubling one finger over another. But the really strange thing is how much he uses his left hand thumb. Almost everything he played on the sixth string was with his thumb; I only saw him use regular fingering on the sixth string in one passage in one song. He rarely touched his vibrato bar. I was also extremely surprised to see that he seemed to be using nothing but stock effects pedals–he even made a joke about buying them all at Sam Ash (a couple of blocks away on 48th street). The effects were used spraingly and tasefully, mostly delay, a bit of tremolo. The volume level was quite low, so low that Colliani was playing his piano with a closed lid and a leather cover.

There’s a style of Jazz gig that seeks to create the ambiance of a chamber music recital. Man, this wasn’t that kind of gig! Les had a TV show in the 50s and I’ve never seen it, but it must have been something like his gig last night. The group played a few numbers, then started hamming around and bringing out guests. When you’re 90 years old, you can make any kind of tasteless joke and not only get away with it, but get a laugh too! Bassist Nick Parrott is very easy on the eyes, so inneundo jokes with Les are expected, even though she could be his great-grandaughter. Sometimes Les will bring out a Keith Richards-cailbre guest, but tonight we weren’t so lucky. We had a Nashville couple playing a Beatles medley, a vocal beatbox artist, a sax player, who did “Lester leaps in” for his second number, a harmonica-playing dude from Wisconsin, and a 7-year-old who, while cute, really couldn’t play too well. Even though it wasn’t a stellar bunch, we all had fun–it was a great vibe, just like hanging out and jamming with friends.

Knowing full well that most in the audience are there just to worship him, Les sets the standard for making himself available to his fans. I’ve never seen anything like it! Flash photographs are allowed throughout the show. Following the second set, Les meets with every single person who wants to see him, whether they want him to sign an autograph or just shake his hand. A long line formed as soon as the set was over, maybe half of the people at the show. Lots of them were carrying guitars for Les to sign–would it be in bad taste to bring in an SG? Apparently, some nights, this goes on for hours and hours, maybe til three in the morning. He’s more than fifty years older than I am, and I’m no kid anymore. Not only that, but he had a cold tonight, and his runny nose didn’t phase him a bit. When I grow up, I want to be Les Paul.

Since it wasn’t midnight yet, we decided to press on for a blues nightcap. After a brief diversion scarfing a slice at Ray’s on 8th Avenue, we headed down to 42nd street. That is, the new 42nd street, aka the Disney block. Generally this is a place to avoid at all costs, but our destination–the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill–is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Downstairs at Lucile’s bar, they have free music every night. This is a very good thing to keep in mind! We caught the last 45 minutes of the Jr. Mack band’s set. Jr. was playing a mixed bag of blues, rock and some gospely pop (poppy gospel?), but he really had the BB guitar style down pat. It’s really great to be able to stroll in at midnight on a Monday night and hear some really great music for no more than the cost of a couple of over-priced drinks. The scene was a little weird, a few working stiffs, a couple, and thirty-odd Italian exchange students. It’ll be worth another visit, and the man himself if playing there this summer.

Fade out to Bobby Short singing “I happen to like New York…”

Composer John Sherlock declared Leader and/or Dreamer

Toronto composer John Mark Sherlock will be featured in an upcoming issue of Maclean’s magazine, which is roughly the Canadian equivalent to TIME magazine in the US. This issue, part of a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the magazine, will profile 100 Canadian leaders in fields including the Arts, Sciences, Business and more than likely, puck-handling. John has been a fixture on the Toronto contemporary music scene for more than a decade now, fulfilling many commissions including works for chamber and dance groups. He and I met in guitar master class, and then had the good fortune to do the Array Music young composers workshop the same summer. John’s music often showcases his amazing collection of antique keyboards, which includes Rhodes pianos, Hammond organs, Yamaha Clavinets, and if I remember correctly, at least one Pianosaurus. If we are lucky, we will convince John to do a story about his collection here. We really shouldn’t do this, but one of our operatives went digital dumpster diving and turned up a PDF preview of the piece. Congratulations, John!

George Tsontakis wins Grawemeyer

George Tsontakis has been awarded the 2005 Grawemeyer award in composition. This is very nice to hear. I, along with half a million other student composers, studied with George at the Aspen school; in my case back in the summer ’89. In addition to being a brilliant composer he is a brilliantly funny person–and he does an infamous Peter Falk impression. That humour often comes out in his music, which usually has a very effective kind of American neo-romantic style. In particular, I like his string quartets and the Galway Kinnell songs.

The full title of the honour is the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award For Music Composition. Carrying a prize of US$200K, the award is as prestigious as it is lucrative. Previous winners include Kaija Saariaho, Aaron Jay Kernis, Pierre Boulez, Toru Takemitsu, Karel Husa (who told me he liked my piece Wind and Silver, so he’s alright too), Krzysztof Penderecki, Gyorgy Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski. George is in very good company.