Bad Elevator signage, Times Square Station, NYC

Here’s the unhelpful signage of an elevator (el232) in the 42nd street Times Square station. Do YOU know which train you can get to on each level? And if not, how many years in New York earns you this knowledge?

elevator signage

I posted this on my Facebook page. Several lifelong New Yorkers tried and failed to guess this correctly. Here, by memory, subject to correction next time I am there, is the answer.

“Upper Mezz” (= Mezzanine) opens onto a ramp, which may bring you directly to the S Shuttle. It is also the level you need to get towards the QNR platform, where you can take another elevator if need be.

“7th ave platform” brings you directly to the 1,2,3 platform.

“Lower Mezz” empties onto a ramp that winds its way west over to the ACE, though you have to take a square/spiral ramp down to get onto the platform.

“Flushing Platform” means the 7 train, and this particular elevator goes directly to that platform.

My friend Jim Flynn says: “They purposely make it cryptic to prevent elevator overload.” But the actual effect, from my experience and observations, is that it pisses off and pisses on the people who need it the most.

I’ve complained about this for years to the MTA, with no response or effect. Get on the ball, MTA!!

Posted in Uncategorized

Tonight You Belong to Me…a song history

My friend Alice Moore sent me this adorable video, which had reached 13 million views before I caught up with it. I think it’s racked up so many views because of this adorableness, (not to mention the precocious ear and enthusiasm of its star) but the underlying song, “Tonight you Belong to Me,” is lovely, and familiar. It sent me on one of my obsessive morning quests to find out the back story, detailed below.

Benjamin J. Ames and his 4 year old daughter are covering the version found in the movie “The Jerk,” as performed by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters….down to the solo. It’s the sweetest moment in the movie. In fact, there are gazillions of covers since this movie that follow more or less this template: Usually a couple of indie/hipster stars with a ukulele: There is an Eddie Vedder/Cat Power uke version, a Zooey Deschanel + some dude version, a Josh Ritter + some gal version. They are all covering “The Jerk.” One pictures the song coming out of some bygone era. But….which era?

If we go back to the earliest recording of the song, Irving Kaufman, 1926, we might be shocked:

The original is QUITE different. The past they are evoking in “The Jerk” is, to my ears, a vastly preferable past to this reality. The song was written in 1926 by Billy Rose (lyrics) and Lee David (music). It was a hit several times over in 1927, and each version is a slow, drippy waltz. The biggie was by Gene Austin, and personally, I can barely take 3 minutes of it; especially given how much I like what the song became. (And understand….I’m a guy who loves a lot of old recordings.) The end is lovely, I’ll give it that.

The song seems superficially to be about a last affair with an old lover…though the singer could be detailing a dream, which will vanish when he wakes. It’s unclear. It’s both. Good lyric, Billy Rose! And so pretty-sounding, its content sneaks right by.

So. Then, it appears the song was sort of forgotten until 1952, when Frankie Laine covered it…..perhaps the first time it was in 4/4 time, instead of a waltz. Now, I have barely heard Frankie Laine, but I am astonished that we don’t hear about him more often as a major influence on Elvis Presley. I mean….geez….when Elvis does ballads, he’s basically just doing this guy!! And apparently Elvis even covered his songs a bunch.

But even that version isn’t much like the one everyone sings now. This song turns out to be, as with “Wimoweh/The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a situation where arrangement additions made over a span of decades became part of the composition as performed. In this instance, the change came in 1956: Someone came up with a gorgeous, rising counter-melody that was so good that everyone who has covered it since has used it. One could argue that this counter-melody was influenced by the horns in the opening of the Frankie Laine version, but that’s a stretch.

The one that we are hearing a LOT in this decade, in television ads and on American Horror Story, is the version by teens Patience And Prudence. Their father, Mark McIntyre, was a band leader and songwriter who had worked with Frank Sinatra in the 1940s. He produced this extremely successful recording (a #4 hit.)

This song was a phenomenon in this year. According to the book “Who did it first?” by Bob Leszczack, of the 1956 versions, those McIntyre sisters did it first. The Lennon Sisters, backed by Lawrence Welk, had their first hit in 1956, too, with a very similar but far slicker rendition, a mere month later. There are several other 1956 duets that follow this vocal idea.

So. The song, as everyone does it now, is the 1970s Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters ukulele softening of the 1950s pop/rock vocal version of the 1952 4/4 resetting of an overwrought 1926 waltz.

Somewhere in there it went from dated-sounding to “timeless.”

Posted in music history

Cereal Box records: The Archies (Honey-Comb)

In perhaps the most dramatic episode of my mother spoiling me as a child, she bought, all at once, the four different huge boxes of Honeycomb cereal featuring Archies’ records on the back. I still have the cut-out records. How did this happen? I’m guessing I had a royal tantrum at Star Market or Purity Supreme. Anyway, I loved them, I still remember the event fondly, and I still have every note memorized, so in terms of karmic returns it turned out to be a good move. My copy of “Jingle Jangle” does not sound nearly this good, due to endless playing on a Fisher Price record player, and I am therefore suspicious of this video clip.

Cereal box song #2: “You Know I Love You.” Really nice guitar solo and backing vocals on this one.

Archie’s Party:

And the fourth one was “Nursery Rhyme.”

Promo advert for the prior run of records:

 

Some cursory research puts this event at 1970. I was 3 years old. Thanks mom!

Posted in music history

You’re No Good.

Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee sang the original “You’re No Good” in 1963. Did you know that? I didn’t.

She also sang this song. The drums inspired the drums of Led Zep’s “D’yer Makr” (which is pronounced like “D’Jamaica’r”)

Posted in music history

“Honey chile, honey lamb, honey baby, honey doll, honey pie” — Spike Jones and Hoppy Jones

“Honey chile, honey lamb, honey baby, honey doll, honey pie.” Recently I found myself intoning this litany of “honeys” in a moment of love-drunkenness, with some cat or dog or person.   It is from one of my childhood fave recordings, Spike Jones and His City Slickers’ 1945 version of “You Always Hurt The One You Love.”  (An artistic peak, and it blows my mind that “The Blue Danube” is the B-side.  To my mind, that’s right up there with “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” as a double whammy.)

It’s still a fave, though my politically-correct superego has wondered if that’s remotely OK during the monologue.  (It’s almost impossible to enjoy comedy and animation from 60 plus years ago without confronting out-of-date stereotypes.  I think it’s further fair to to say that the future may look ever-less-kindly on many moments of “The Simpsons” or Eddie Murphy’s “The PJs” that we give a pass to.  Consider this an acknowledgement that there is some social complexity here that I couldn’t remotely hope to cover in one blog post, let alone a book.)

The first and third vocals are by Mr. Carl Grayson, who is mentioned by name by the monologist, Red Ingle.   Listening and enjoying this for the thousandth time the other day, I decided that I should finally figure out if Red Ingle had a personalized parody target in mind with this performance, or if this was some sort of generalized blackface.

Research showed that the Mills Brothers had a Billboard #1 hit with (Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts’) “You Always Hurt The One You Love” in 1944.  It was a quite popular song at the time, and though several stars were covering it at the time, they’d be the most likely target.  Except that, in fact, their rendition is stylistically unlike the Spike Jones arrangement.  It is wonderful, though, so here it is:

Here’s the actual Decca record:

No, Spike Jones and His City Slickers are doing this song in the style of the Ink Spots, who were in the middle of a long run of insane (and deserved) popularity. After a number of years in the early 1930s as a uptempo “Jive Swing” act, they had added to their ranks a young tenor singer named Bill Kenny. He introduced to the group (perhaps invented) a ballad style called “Top And Bottom”, in which his (or Deek Watson’s) tenor run-through of the verse was followed by a bass-voice spoken version, performed by Orville “Hoppy” Jones. Here is their massive 1939 hit which introduced the style:
“If I Didn’t Care”:

The style was influential, and is now seen as the stylistic predecessor to most of the doo wop ballads of the 1950s. I hear the Platters all over this, as well as the Moonglows’ “The Ten Commandments of Love,” one of my favorite recorded performances.

Hoppy Jones died of a brain hemorrhage in 1944, after collapsing onstage at New York’s Cafe Zanizibar. He was 39 years old. It appears that there are no films of the Ink Spots performing their signature song with Hoppy Jones in the bass spot. We have to go to a 1942 Abbott and Costello movie, “Pardon My Sarong,” to find Hoppy Jones at all:


Another song from this period, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” You will notice that they stuck pretty darn closely to their formula once they found it. But it’s such a good one that it kept on working, song after song. You will notice that Hoppy Jones says “Honey” here, too. It was a part of the formula, and that’s what Red Ingle was magnifying in his deathless phrase.

The group continued on for many years after Hoppy Jones’ death, with other bass vocalists taking over the “Bottom” monologue. I am guessing this filmed remake of their first hit is from the early 1950s, shortly before Bill Kenny left the group:

Scott Schinder writes: “The proliferation of spin-off and impostor Ink Spots groups was/is a truly astounding pop-cultural phenomenon. The original group broke up in the early ’50s, but dozens of acts billing themselves as the Ink Spots, with tenuous or completely bogus connections to the originals, have continued performing ever since, and a handful are still around. Harold Jackson, the guy doing the monologue in the [following] version of “If I Didn’t Care” (with original Ink Spot Charlie Fuqua’s ’50s spinoff group) was still performing with an Ink Spots act as recently as three or four years ago, at the age of 90.”

Counterfeit they may be, but this is still a great performance, which is probably why we know about Harold Jackson at all. I would have been happy to see a concert of the 1950s lineup of Charlie Fuqua’s Ink Spots. WHO is that replacement tenor? Subject for further research.

Bill Kenny was a sweet-voiced tenor, but he was not gentle at all when it came to the subject of racism, and he was spot-on. The following quote is found on his Wikipedia page. Schinder and I both assume this is during WW2, the height of their popularity, when Kenny had a lot to lose to by making such a statement. I agree with him that this is also interesting, “as the Ink Spots were one of the first African-American recording acts to achieve mass success with white audiences.” Kenny’s quote describes a dichotomy that persists, in mutated form, to this day.

“As a loyal American citizen, I believe in America, but I am a complete alien where democracy is concerned. To the white man while I am on the stage, I am Mr. Bill Kenny. But when I am on the streets and still wear my colored face, I am no higher nor lower than the scum of this earth so far as he is concerned. On the other hand, after he learns of me, he immediately thinks differently because he feels that I have money. I am now wondering what Gen. MacArthur can teach the Japs (sic) about democracy when MacArthur knows nothing of that which he expects to teach Japan. If the American’s set about to teach the kind of democracy practiced here in America, this entire world in time, will be full of low ideals because there can be no crime committed by man lower than that of taking away the rights of an individual or a people. The Americans have since the beginning robbed the colored man of his legitimate rights, and this is a low crime.”

Tell it, Bill Kenny! And thanks for the great music.

 

Posted in music history

Sidewalk Cafe reviews Steve Espinola

Paleophone was pleasantly surprised by these writeups of Steve Espinola’s ongoing music project, which appeared in the NYC Autumn Antifolk Festival 2012 guide. They were written by J. J. Hayes, Jonathan Berger, and Bernard King.  We would like to share them.

“Mr. Espinola harks back to the ’90’s on the scene, and he’s been performing his sometimes soft, sometimes ribald, keenly observational songs here ever since.  Sidewalk Cafe’s Blackout Nights have seemed the perfect vehicle for him to shine, by their candlelight, encouraging the audience to help him unroll a giant scroll or winding up the Victrola that he’s set up in the corner for between sets.”  –Bernard King

“Steve Espinola–A sound-whore Luddite mad musical scientist who writes beautiful Tin Pan Alley-sounding tunes arising out of his own innate sweetness confronting the frightening near absolute zero of the void.  He will convince you that Love will be victorious; he may play an electric tennis racket of his own making.” –J.J. Hayes

“Creator of the Log-o-rhythm, Steve Espinola has touched more aspects of Antifolk than you could ever hope to.  He’s been a leader of the Look-a-likes (USA), SideWalk soundman, second banana in the Dan Emery Mystery Band, producer of the Sprinkle Genies, inventor of instruments, engineer of 78’s recorded on plastic plates, opening act for Michelle Shocked, cub, and Biff Rose, and–well, isn’t that enough?  Would it impress you to know that his songwriting is first-rate, from the hilarious ‘Right Out in the Street’ to the melancholy ‘Whoop-De-Doo’ to the curious ‘Bumbling Along’ to the gorgeous ‘Love Song While Running Away?’ What will it take to convince you?” –Jon Berger

Posted in Reviews of Steve Espinola's music Tagged with:

Geido, Brooklyn sushi restaurant. Secrets, layer #1.

For 19 years, I’ve lived around the corner from Geido, deservedly one of the most famous sushi restaurants in the five boroughs of New York. It is only in the past couple of years that I’ve even begun to crack its secrets, and now, on the occasion of my leaving Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, I will pass on what I’ve learned thus far, to you.

Sit at the bar, near the master chef/owner, Osamu Koyama.  You can probably dispense with reading the menu.  Simply order “Sashimi Mackerel,” and you will be treated to an exceptional and oily Norwegian variety, used merely for bait by typical foolish humans, but prepared in a secret, magical and impossibly delicious fashion by Koyama.  In fact, order any and all mackerel dishes, menued or specialled, broiled or raw, headless or still-headed, and you can’t go wrong.

Toast Koyama while eating this heavenly fish, which is starting to communicate its fantastic life story through your tongue. Try to maintain some connection with your immediate surroundings, or you shall drown.  Now: If you’ve ordered cold sake, Koyama will accuse you of “drinking water,” then he’ll grab your glass, dump it out, and fill it with the mysterious substance he’s been blatantly soused on for these 27 years, which turns out to be Soju, a Japanese potato vodka that his doctor claims is “most healthy.”  He will soon start serving you, free of charge, various strange Japanese delicacies, like pickled bitter melon.  All of these verge on quease-inducing-yet-exotic-and-interesting, and also, “most healthy.”  Very much worth it for the adventure factor alone.

An acquaintance in the audio/vinyl record industry tips me off that the local “audio engineering mafia” meets here, after hours, on an undisclosed and indecipherable schedule, and plans their world takeover.  Bring Koyama an appropriate beverage at 11 pm, on a lucky night, and you may meet those powerful ones who are pulling the invisible strings.  I have not yet gotten up the nerve to try this.

An ex-girlfriend tipped me off that an exceptionally pretty and equally cold waitress/greeter, has a physiologically blatant thing for non-Japanese boys who can speak her native tongue fluently.  She loses all sense of decorum and goes limp, in the middle of taking an order, directly in front of any such boy, even if he is on a date with some lovely lass.  This is data I cannot use.  I pass it on to you, for its potential in the avoidance of dating disasters or, alternatively, for its possible assistance in finding true love.

19 years of Geido.  That’s as far as I got.  May my limited learnings serve you well.

Posted in Reviews by our staff

On the Shaggs musical, “Philosphy of the World”

THE SHAGGS

Philosophy of the World

Well the outsider musicians want what the insider musicians got…but the insider musicians want what the outsider musicians got. How can you write a musical about the Shaggs without loving, understanding, or even trying to get inside their music?

A musical theater piece based on the true life story of the Shaggs is running currently at Playwright’s Horizons.  (Book by Joy Gregory; music by the Bobs’ Gunnar Madsen; lyrics by both.)  If you don’t know the Shaggs, the show works perfectly well. It’s got a captivating and strange story, taken almost beat by beat from Susan Orlean’s 1999 New Yorker article on them. The performers are stupendous, especially the women playing the mother and Helen. The original music is effective in its own “normal” way. It is certainly compassionate to all of the characters in the story, even the superstitious, controlling dad and the shifty record label owner.  But I believe it does the music of the Shaggs a disservice by building on the premise that the music was merely “the worst ever,” created by girls who were simply and only trying to please their dad, girls who had no musical vision or genius. I don’t buy it. You don’t end up creating music that rule-breaking and interesting that way. You don’t end up drawing pictures as bizarre as the “foot foot” cat unless there is something else going on.

The most offensive part of the show has the girls in the recording studio. The composer of this show writes conventional girl group music that is intended to let us hear what was supposedly going on in the girls’ heads, and then contrasts it by playing deliberatedly tinnied-up version of what they actually recorded. Then the engineers react, basically telegraphing to the audience how they are supposed to “hear” the music.  The audience around me reacted with the same horror as the engineers.

The credits of the show are strange. There is no direct crediting of any the Wiggin sisters for actually writing the four Shaggs songs which are heard (in fragmentary form) at points in the show. Only the music publisher is credited, several pages back in the program. I’m sure there’s a story behind that.

There are a couple moments near the end that show what Could Have Been, where the composer seems to write a near-Shaggs song of his own. I think the show would have been more interesting if it included all 12 Shaggs songs in the show, in some way or other. Let us get inside the music by hearing the complete songs, until it begins to make sense. Do some interesting reorchestrations and recompositions of the songs that build on their strengths: The bluntly honest and moving words; the consistently strange lengths and time signatures of the phrases, the odd chromatic curls of the melodies and chord progressions. The impossibly tight psychic synchronization of the two guitars, and the utter lack of conventional synch with the drums; the space that this disconnect creates. The fact that the lead guitar always doubles the vocal line; the fact that, for all their weirdness, the songs are undeniably catchy, and actually catchier and more memorable that the new songs in the show.

A great example of what I am talking about is the Shaggs own re-recording of “My Pal Foot Foot” which they did several years after the original session.  Some of the original chaos is smoothed over, and what is left is a gorgeous and still very strange song.  Every pickup syllable given its own 1-beat measure, regardless of how this throws off the established meter.  There is enough room for everything.  The song makes sense, but on its own terms.  Hearing this song, repeatedly, has positively freed up my own understanding of the elasticity of song form, and has therefore allowed me to fix and finish  countless formerly problematic and abandoned songs of my own.  Innocent?  Ignorant?  Isolated from convention?  I don’t personally find the gifts of a “beginners mind” mentality any less sacred for being less than fully self-consciously arrived at.  Isn’t that the state most artists struggle to reach, self-consciously or not?  (I think the reason Frank Zappa appreciated Beefheart, the Shaggs, and Wild Man Fisher is that he recognized they were in a place he could never hope to go to, with all his self-conscious mathematical precision.  There may have been some contempt in his enjoyment of some of his oddballs, but I suspect there had to be true reverence as well.)

In the end, on a musical level at least, the show seems designed to prop up the idea that there really is some sort of single empirical true standard of “good” and “bad” in art. The girls and family pay for their aesthetic transgressions, as it appears they did in real life. I suspect the real life Wiggin sisters now believe they created bad music. But I also believe they only believe this because they were told so, endlessly, by narrow-minded people. I trust the music more than that. Of course it makes me giggle. It IS outside everything I was taught about music. But there is also great freedom, honesty and discovery there. Austin Wiggin may have been a tyrant and a crazy person. But what he wrote in the liner notes to the Shaggs album was correct.

So I will end with his words: “The Shaggs are real, pure, unaffected by outside influences. Their music is different, it is theirs alone. They believe in it, live it. It is a part of them and they are a part of it. Of all contemporary acts in the world today, perhaps only the Shaggs do what others would like to do, and that is perform only what they believe in, what they feel, not what others think the Shaggs should feel.” Amen!!

Posted in Reviews by our staff

Steve Espinola’s Recipe for Ramen with Anchovies

Caution: Certain details are specific to the New York City area. Translate as appropriate.

1) Get off at home subway station after late night gig.

2) Check in with stomach. If hungry in that 2:00-in-the-morning, too-late-for-a-full-meal way, proceed to Korean all-night grocery store.

3) Buy ramen. The large $1.35 kind with kimchee and dehydrated extras packet is best.

4) Also buy anchovies, in small rectangular can. These must be the kind where each anchovy is curled around a caper.* The brand I buy includes the poetic printed advice: “Keep Cool”.

5) Take groceries home. Fill a small pot with about 2 inches of water. While heating up water, check phone messages, then turn on TV. Catch a few minutes of Channel 7’s “Late Night Movie”, which will feature one actor you know, in a movie you’ve never heard of (usually for obvious reasons). Do not get hooked, because the ending is always a disappointment.**

6) While continuing to wait for water to boil, rip open plastic ramen package. Break off small chunk of dry noodles, and eat.

7) Add ramen noodles to boiling water. Add powdered spicy flavor packet and dehydrated extras packet.

8) When ramen is ready, pour noodles into a bowl with as much soup as you like. Open can of anchovies. Fork out all 10 anchovies into noodle bowl, capers intact. Add small amount of leftover anchovy oil for flavor. Mix. As cats are now milling about, threatening to wake roommate with meows, give each a small amount of leftover anchovy bits.

9) Sit on couch in front of TV set. Eat ramen and anchovies.***

10) Optionally, make satisfied “mmmmm” noises. Leave empy bowl on floor, where cats will take turns licking at it.

11) Turn off TV at commercial break. Leave bowl and pot in sink for morning. Brush teeth. Remove clothing. Go to bed.

Footnotes:

* By the way, according to my expert friend Ted, they actually coax the anchovy fish to curl themselves around the capers, using reason, before shooting them.

**It used to be that the late night movie would end around 2:30, and it would be followed by ABC’s “World News Now”. This was a fantastic and surreal news show featuring the witty, sassy, attractive, and irreverent Asha Blake (she looked like an Indian Halle Barry), and the nearly-as-wacky Mark Mullen. For filler, they would play videotapes of, say, George Will, cut him off, and then make fun of him! Or they’d read the news while spaceships zoomed around in the background. Thursday nights they had a staff accordion player who performed polkas at Peter Jennings’ desk. Eventually the original writers and producers and anchors and sense of humor left, and now they run it at 4 am, if at all. It’s a real shame.

***Be careful about those splintery anchovy bones. As a child, I had to go to the hospital twice to get anchovy bones out of my throat; I must say, though, that this seems to be more of a problem with anchovies on pizzas which have been overcooked to the point of dryness. These canned, capered anchovies should be delicious and safe. Enjoy!

Steve E.

UPDATE/DISCLAIMER AS OF 12/2000: So far, only two people have reported to me that they actually tried my recipe: My friend Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches, and her mother. They did not like it at all. I’m not sure they followed the essential time-space-TV-cat details, but you may want to take this as a warning. I continue to eat this stuff at least 3 times a month.

Posted in Recipies Tagged with: , , ,