Alter kakers, moms to the polls

November 8th, 2015 No comments »

Last week’s Boston election was a flapping wrinkle at least, while not a revolution. No ballot questions or major offices (mayor, governor, legislature, Congress or POTUS) lured the curious or civic-minded. However, we did revisit the 13 City Councilors.

Lackaday, only 13.63% of the city’s registered voters showed, according to the posted results. I could lament the lack of participation. Yet, it was right in the narrow range the MA Secretary of the Commonwealth predicted. I could also feel a barely justifiable pride that my precinct (18-16 in Hyde Park) more that doubled the city rate, at 28.08%. We had 1572 in our book and 442 cast ballots.

I’m the warden there, the minor official in this big pond with many inlets, as in 254 other precincts.

Instead, I noticed a few trends in my nearly 15 hours there. Election workers get to the polling place at least an hour before the 7 AM opening. We leave after breaking down, putting away, checking each ballot for write-ins, and accounting for each civically-sacred ballot.

It is no exaggeration that we are accountable for each ballot — received, cast, spoiled, or provisionally marked. We count them all day long, cross-reference the check-in and check-out books, and go a final great bookkeeping of them after polls close at 8 PM.

We’re on Fairmount Hill, a sub-neighborhood of Hyde Park rife with oldsters (including me) and breeders. Those are the sets that always vote and seemed to dominate again on Tuesday last.

Years ago, I was first inspector, then clerk (effectively middle management), then warden at the Woodbourne Apartments in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, 19-12. There are many disabled residents of that building, and many of those said that voting is a highlight each election day…solid participation, coupled with the rest of the precinct.

The seniors in 18-16 really believe in voting. Like I, they surely had both civics classes in school and expectations from parents that they had to participate in democracy.

In addition, we had a steady beat of babies and toddlers all day in 18-16. Actually that’s not precise. The moms (almost no dads voting with wee ones) were not queued up before 7 with their charges. Nor did they rush in before 8 and closing.

However, many 20-, 30- and 40-somethings came in with one to up to five kids on food, in carriers, in strollers (up to triplet). There were some grandmothers with several kids as well.

As my three did as little ones, most kids seemed to love the event, perhaps for its rarity and newness. Surely adults could say it was a joy disproportionate to the actual task. I did my nefarious part as well, keeping a steady supply of Halloween treats in bowls by both check-in and check-out tables for the taking. While adults grabbed the Reese’s Cups and 3 Musketeers bars, the kids who were allowed to pick almost invariably chose lollipops. I kept the handles within view and those went fast.

Some of the preschoolers also favored the other extra, the I VOTED stickers. As odd as the power of a parent counting down, stickers have their own magic.

Keep the kids coming. They are another reason for some to get to the polls. They are are spots of pleasure for the poll workers, with cuter and less dour, New England faces from the youngsters.




Ruled by the vine

October 22nd, 2015 No comments »

Way back in Boomer time, the Coasters used to sing Poison Ivy, as in

Poison iv-y-y-y-y, poison iv-y-y-y-y
Late at night while you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes

Even now, many of us say we are sensibly terrified of the vine. Parents, Scouts and other taught us, “Leaves of three. Let it be.” Aaaaaaaaaah. Watch out!”

creeper3That came to mind, quickly and repeatedly a few days ago. After a neighborhood stroll, I noticed and shot some berried and colorful leaves, posting one pic on FB I identified as Virginia creeper. Several people corrected me. It was poison ivy.

Other than laziness and indifference, I don’t have an excuse. I’m a certified Master Gardener. I know lots about trees, veggies, herbs and flowers, about soils and propagation, blah, blah. I’m not a vine guy. More to the point, I got over poison ivy many decades ago.

A significance of that is in my childhood in Virginia and West Virginia, I was particularly sensitive to poison ivy. It seemed on every third of my countless trips hiking, playing or camping, I’d come back to get blisters and itching. Even working with my Granddad in his huge gardens, somehow I got the worst of it or the other way round.

I must have been 11 when that ended. We lived in Danville, VA, in an apartment above Dr. Samuel Newman and his wife Ida. They (really she) had a four-tier garden structure with the mansion that had belonged to the city’s first mayor.

That became important as they had a full-time gardener, a laconic black man, Nate. One afternoon, he was clearing the underbrush in the middle of the yards, burning the green and brown junk.I walked through the smoke. It turns out that among his trimmings were large amounts of poison ivy.

Think a shirtless upper body and bare legs covered with pustules. Think a blistered face and eyes shut with inflammation.

It was the next morning before the terrible itching, other torment and even fear of blindness started that Granddad picked my sister and me up to take us to West Virginia for the summer. My grandmother nursed me for a week or so through the anguish.

Poof! Since then, I seem to have an immunity to the oils that let poison ivy act out. After years of being easy prey, I simply don’t have any reaction. It’s to the point that I don’t even recognize the plant. We are indifferent to each other.

creepertreeThere’s the oddity. A pretty green to red leaf that I don’t plant or cultivate, I just enjoy for its color and veining. (By the bye, the actual creeper [right] is more visually appealing than poison ivy.)

However, I seem to be the only Boomer I know who isn’t somewhere between wary and terrified of poison ivy. That includes my wife, who sees it everywhere and sounds a figurative klaxon to keep us each and all aware and safe.

Thus, Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard, science-fiction author turned huckster and founder of that maybe religion made his millions and billions off the engram. That irrational and emotional belief that if something bad happens to you it causes a permanent change in the brain, an engram, that you need galvanometers and tens of thousands of dollars of counseling to heal, a.k.a. go clear.

I call doo-doo on that. Yes, it makes perfect, very human, sense that we’ll avoid repeating bad experiences. No, every very bad experience does not permanently change your brain. You have to play drama queen and love being a victim to go with that.

As my mother used to say when she was annoyed or disgusted, “For crying out loud…in a bucket!”

So, there’s true and false incorporated in the assertions that permit the outsized profits and power of Scientology:

  • True: Humans avoid repeating painful and otherwise unpleasant experience (think the hand on the hot range burner; the proverbial once-burned-twice-shy cliché).
  • False: Our brains are permanently and physically altered by each bad experience. That is, without for-pay guidance, we can’t transcend such experiences.

One of the worst corollaries is that people don’t change. Of course they do. The least introspection or observation shows that. Research into psychological, sociological and even philosophical literature offers data and other proofs.

Each of us likely can provide our own evidence for another cliché — fall off the horse and get right back on. That can be difficult for some of us and each of us in particularly unpleasant experiences.

I climb in the WABAC machine decades ago around Scientology’s NYC HQ in Herald Square. A friend from out the country was visiting us as we tooled around. A Scientology type trolled and asked if we wanted a free audit (that’s holding the tin cans in hopes that one of us could be browbeaten into signing up for study. She had never heard of Scientology and wanted to try.

We followed him into a classroom and got the spiel. He asked if we had had a terrible experience, like a car wreck. The point was to prove that we’d be forever scarred and scared (hence eager for classes). I told my story of being hit as a pedestrian a few years before and having my head go into the car through the windshield. He lit up and asked gleefully for me to confirm that I was still terrified of cars, maybe of crossing streets.

I said honestly that, no, the impact was so severe and damage to the brain sufficient that I had no recollection of the wreck. Moreover, I had lots of effects I was still healing from, but paralyzing fear that affected my actions, thoughts and feelings were not among them.

He immediately fell to script and changed the subject back to the general “truth” that after a bad experience, each of us remains permanently engrammed.

I admitted then and do now that I know people who have been so goofed up by one or a series of bad experiences that they can’t fully function. Even drama and literature are filled with emotionally crippled characters playing off this trait.

Yet, that isn’t the norm. The vast majority of us can shake it off, even if it takes some thought and effort.

It’s worth it.


South End Rife with Music, 2015 Edition

September 26th, 2015 No comments »

Yes, yes, it was the Boston jazz festival, the South End one, and since Berklee took it over, now the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The music college close to monopolizes it with faculty and students. Hell, there’s plenty of superb music for all of us anyway. Play on.

I went to the latest iteration today. It’s still free. It’s a food, clothing/jewelry marketplace and ethnic food vendor paradise. The terrific range of jazz, blues (not enough any more), funk and more pours out of three stages simultaneously. Take your pick.

A few of my sights and judgments follow. If you haven’t been going, you’ve missed much. There’s no atoning, just planning. Do this.


Carlos Averhoff, Jr. and his group featured the more modern, hotter sax, drum and more jazz. carlos
stefonharris4 The remarkable vibe guy Stefon  Harris played with Omar Thomas’ Large Ensemble. He kept at it the whole time and was a huge hit (with me as well). He’s another I’d gladly pay to hear.
Caili O’Doherty was another charming lyricist and composer, well adept at promoting her new album. They were good. Caili
The Berklee table offered earplugs. That initially seemed like hipster irony. Then I trotted over to hear Alissia & the Funketeers, who seemed to be playing at jet-plane decibels.
We Four was a Berklee faculty-centered tribute to John Coltrane. They had my number, particularly the famous Javon Jackson on tenor sax. javon2
felix Felix Peikli  and the Royal Flush Quintet was colorful in ever sense. They’re a wonderful throwback to the nights of hot clarinets.
The Chorobop trio performed pre-WWII Brazilian dance music that had people grinding. chorobop


My pick for the afternoon was unquestionably Jackie Foster. She stunned the audience while singing as a guest of Marty Walsh (not at all our mayor) and Total Plan. She’s not quite 20. I have no qualms about predicting a fabulous career for her.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


Listen for the White Squirrel in Boston

September 12th, 2015 No comments »

This, the fifth year of the JP Music Fest, I caught the early (song)bird special bands. Here follow a few sample snaps. There’s a link at the bottom to a Flickr album.


Even early in the afternoon, Fur Purse was hard and powerful. Lead singer Eve left nothing behind the mic. furpurseeve3 - Copy
hstfdrums2 copy The Hyde Square Task Force was drum heavy and the best at getting the crowd moving (see below).
A huge hit for us jazz lovers was the (New England Conservatory’s) Alexei Tsiganov Trio. Alexei1
winshallbradford - Copy gtrumpetger for Daniel Winshall and the Walking Illusion,  Michael Bradford, kept pace with his kid maestro.
The very young and already highly acclaimed Daniel Winshall is a local favorite at places like Wally’s. winshall2 - Copy
junko4 - Copy Junko Ogawa was very original and self-possessed. Here she provides what she termed attitude in a send up of racism, “Oriental Rug.”
The Hyde Square Task Force inspired the locals to line and prance. hstfline1

jpfestwhite - Copy
It’s been a long time since we have seen a white squirrel, for real, at Jamaica Pond. They live in doll and t-shirt forms.

More pix: These and additional shots are on Flickr. It’s a set of 25.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


Unflinching POW tale worth the angst

September 5th, 2015 No comments »

MCPJreadNothing like being slugged in the mouth by your dad…unless it’s always quaking in his presence because he was volatile and your any word or action might make him roar or threaten you. Nothing is good enough or right.

The relentless tone and theme of Cathy Madison’s memoir The War Came Home With Him both fascinates and exhausts. Of course, Amazon has it and it’s well worth reading, so long as you know what you’re committing to do, think and feel.

As a disclaimer, the author and I were wee childhood buddies, as in nursery/kindergarten time. Our mothers kept regular contact until their deaths. She and I reacquainted casually in the past few years. The pic above from right to left has mutual friend Jackie, my sister Pat, Cathy and I reading. We were at the Arden Apartments (see chapter 2) where her mother awaited word on Korean POW Doc Boysen.

Note too that my father also fought in both Korea and WWII France and Germany. As nearly all such soldiers who saw a lot of action, he didn’t talk about it, much less glorify war. That was for desk jockeys to do.

This memoir is a hard read, but not because of length (only 239 smallish pages) or turgidity (she’s a real journalist). Rather, she sporadically describes from her memory and mostly from her father’s written recollections horrors of several types. In fact, the book alternates its 26 short chapters. One recounts the vicissitudes of Army family life and then the literal and figurative tortures of being a POW, and the next speaks to the title in her memories.

The primary subject, Alexander Boyson, MD, known both as Doc and Pete, was beyond prickly. In Vietnam and later parlance, he had PTSD and has clearly changed personality for the worse during three years of Korean and Chinese imprisonment. As the eldest of three children and by the text the most sensitive, Cathy got the intermittent physical punishment and regular verbal abuse. Rather than responding to the martinet with disdain and hate, she seems to have gone the cowering and trepidation route, the survival mode.

As a writer, I was very impressed by the elegant interweaving of the two parallel memoirs. The time periods are not contemporary, but the interplay works superbly. Her own tales, while they can be jarring, act as breathing space for the reconstructed vignettes of the prison camps, forced marches, prisoner disorders, and deaths.

I suspect many readers will think of Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. While the latter book and movie do not deal with war tragedy and horror, the harsh and overly precise dad character comes to mind.

I found some parallels and coincidences with Cathy’s story. Fortunately, I did not have a verbally and physically abusive home life. My parents divorced when my father returned from Korea to the rest of us in Japan  He quickly remarried and became a deadbeat dad, refusing to pay child support as he was assigned to Germany and had two sons by his second wife. Yet, my mother (who would have been 91 today) supported my sister and me as exec in a series of Red Cross chapters. That meant we moved every couple of years, as Cathy did in the military. Amusingly enough, she also spent time at Fort Sill, where my parents married, my sister and were born, my parents divorced, and my mother and grandfather had to retrieve us via a military court when my father and stepmother announced they’d ignore my mother’s full custodial rights and take us to Europe.

A current meme has been that we boomers are evil, sucking the financial blood from the American body. Yet, many or even most of us didn’t have cushy lives.

Cathy certainly didn’t. She grew up not fully protected by her mother, under the control of a neurotic, very smart surgeon dad. Here again I got the better of it with a single mom, where being from that period piece clicché broken home also meant I didn’t get beaten or shamed. Having two parents isn’t necessarily the ideal.

Even if I didn’t know Cathy, I’d recommend the memoir. I won’t delve here into the images of POWs’ bootless feet leaving blood and skin on forced marches over ice nor Doc’s sudden outbursts that were both irrational and cruel. Just be warned that some, no many, chapters carry harsh jolts.

For those who want the long view be aware that when you finish The War Came Home With Him Cathy comes to terms with a mother who smoked too much, drank too much and shielded her daughter inadequately, and with her often insecure self, and even with her understandably traumatized father. She does not deeply analyze her mother or herself, rather provides reportage and lets the reader do that.

In addition to her memories, her father’s writings, and a few interviews, she also includes some research on the aftermath of POWs and collaboration. As a whole, a war queerly called a UN police action, comes into focus through the experiences of Doc and his fellow POWs. If war is hell, prison camps were a whole deeper level.

Cathy’s memoir is a short, intense trip, well worth it.

The book is at once detailed and yet leaves out much. Her two brothers are very minor characters until the end of her parents’ lives; we don’t learn whether Doc’s abuse extended to them or to her mother and to what extent if so. We don’t know whether she turned to her mother to protect her and if so whether Cathy held her guilty for not doing so. We don’t read about her marriage, which she writes that her husband left. Was he in any real way like her father or did her relationship with Doc color and poison the union? We have to wonder whether the Doc who could record his memories and thoughts of the Korean year so fully analyzed his own treatment of his daughter and others.

In my many moves, I got to know numerous families under the command of an ex-military dad, and in a few cases a dad and a mom. I knew quite a few others who had abusive fathers who were neither POWs or even ex-military. Getting slugged in the face and beaten with belts and such was part of their lives. It wasn’t part of mine, for which I am grateful, and more so after reading Cathy’s memoir.






Wee Beests to Boston

August 28th, 2015 1 comment »

After a very unsatisfying and crowded first go at the Strandbeests last weekend, we had a much closer, leisurely and just better time when the small versions arrived in downtown Boston today.

They brought the same pair of relatively tiny TinkerToy-style, wind-in-sail driven models as at Crane Beach. I write tiny because the videos and promo material for Theo Jansen’s fantastical constructions show titanic versions. Sure it makes perfect sense that they would not try to lug and reassemble the biggies everywhere. Just as sure, it’s disappointing to see 7-foot tall models rather than major-motion-picture-scale ones.

Nonetheless, I grew up on construction toys and bought more elaborate ones for my sons, ostensibly for my sons that is. What follows are some shots from City Hall Plaza this afternoon. Geeks and nerds only need look.


Don’t let the legs and feet fool you. They are under the Strandbeest to stabilize it. These are sail, wind-driven toys. Beest1
beest7 Dutiful intern types do quick assembly on Jansen’s critters, then pull them to a starting area and wait for a good breeze.
beest4 beest3
beest6 When top and side sails fill up and get some oomph, the beest takes off, the feet and legs churn, and it seems to be walking even running.
The legs and feet really do rise and fall as the beest races along. The illusion is of locomotion beest2
beest5 The worker bees are ever at the ready to do quick repairs (frequently needed) and if necessary to pull the beests back for another run and another wait for a breeze.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


God’s TinkerToys

August 22nd, 2015 No comments »

Five of us from Boston, Brookline and Worcester joined several thousand at Crane Beach in Ipswich today to jostle each other for glimpses of the Strandbeest. The plastic framed, wind-powered walking thingummy from Dutchman Theo Jansen was hard to get close to and difficult to see. You’ll have many more chances, some to observe the bigger, badder versions.

Rain or shine, wind or not, one or more will be at the Peabody Essex Museum from 9/19 through 1/3/16. On Friday, August 28th, they’ll be at Boston City Hall Plaza from 11AM-1PM and the Kennedy Greenway from 4:30-7PM.

If you look at the stills and vids at the Strnndbeest and museum sites, you’d expect titanic critters of major motion picture proportions. The pair of them that hit the beach today were more scaled-down traveling models…maybe 7 or so feet tall, plus some wind-catching sails.

strandsoloWhile you might expect something like Imperial AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars, these were more in the super-sized TinkerToy or Erector Set models. They are still way cool, just not either as big or animated as fantasy would have it.

Boomers, particularly boys from that era of gender-specified playthings, should feel very comfortable with Jansen’s updated models.

We concurred that real beast in the Strandbeest show at Crane’s today was the crowd. Either Saturday mornings on the North Shore are slow or the PR efforts worked. The roads to the beach crawled, the lots were full, and the beach was jammed.

strandincrowdEveryone seemed to feel entitled to an intimate experience with Strandbeest(s). The poor yellow-shirted volunteers really did try to get folk to stand back. The concepts seemed to be not to hurt the moving sculptures, to stay out of the way of the art, and to let people see the damned things.

People weren’t having any of it. There were several loud women telling off quiet men and women, saying they’d been there for over two hours and were not about to let anyone sit down in front of them. That was just rude and they knew it. So there.

As a couple of hours passed though, everyone interested kind of got a view. A few had parents or friend hoist them on their shoulders. Many wormed their way close enough to see the action. Others held out hope that the promise of the Strandbeest waddling down the beach would bring one or both of them within sight.

strandsailThe yellow shirts first walked the frames down the beach to a clear area for repeated promenades. The crew would attach, then unfurl the gauzy sails. The wind from the ocean would then propel a Standbeest a couple of hundred feet. Then the crew would walk it back to the starting point to repeat.

The large crowd never got rowdy and stayed pretty calm. Again, everyone got to see something, even if the script for Strandbeests lumbering along the beach repeatedly really didn’t happen.

These very large toys are clearly well designed and even better constructed. They stood up to hours of being lugged and led and reassembled. They did in fact walk on the beach, largely under wind power on their plastic stumps.

We decided we’ll have to visit them next week in downtown Boston. I rather doubt they can count on the ocean breeze as they did today. We’re curious to see these in various environments.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


Blissful bairn bath

August 16th, 2015 No comments »

adabatheAt four weeks, granddaughter Ada loved her first bath. That’s remarkable in at last one way.

Her father was terrified. Other than brief-lived jaundice (into the window in the woven carrier per the pediatrician’s orders!), his early months were happy and curious. In fact, the recorded moment of birth in NY is when the crew (I in this case) cut the umbilical cord. Even before that, neonate Aaron looked about with insight and extrospection.

However, laving was different. Sponge bath, in the baby tub or the roomy stainless sink…the method and locale were not relevant. My first-born wanted no part of water and bathing.

Granted, this peculiarity astonished me by background. I have always been a water guy. I still swim in the Y pool many times each week. I was a water safety instructor and summer swim-team coach, and lifeguard and team swimmer in high-school and college. I shower and bathe one, two or three times a day. I love water and never feel more graceful, happy and meditative.

How could this tragedy occur with my son?

I had an aide though. I worked in a smallish publishing group, maybe 30 folk, the count of an elementary classroom. One was a Dutch fellow also in his late 20s or early 30s. I’m not sure his nationality played into it, although the sophistication and open-mindedness may have been factors.

I asked around in the group about whether anyone had children who were or had been afraid of bathing. He was quick to teach.

My wife was home mom during this period, only too happy to get relief when I returned from mid-town Manhattan after my commute/work/commute. Aaron was our first, he was very intense, nursed incessantly, and was still always looking, looking, looking. When I entered the West Village apartment, she’d greet me by thrusting our son into my chest, saying, “Here!”

It makes perfect sense to me that I could connect with him by bathing him while I chatted and grinned and he babbled. Except, he screamed and fought.

My Dutch colleague played Obviousman very well. He had been there and knew the answer was, “Get in the tub with him.”


I explained that I showered and shaved in the morning before heading to American Management Association. He fairly snorted and said that this was about my son and not about me. It wasn’t going to hurt me to get wet again and that if my son was frightened, being in the tub with his father was all he would need.


I’d run water into the adult tub, undress us both, and climb in with him. He’d cling to me and sometimes lie back on my hands as I washed his hair. We’d chat and laugh. We’d reconnect after my day away. Perhaps as important, my wife and his mother has time to herself after 10 or so hours of intensity.

It’s nice that Ada likes her bath. Yet, I have to wonder what my son and daughter-in-law might be missing.


Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015 No comments »

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.


Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015 No comments »

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.