Sunday, September 21, 2014

Balto Band Bash 2014: You're With the Band!

Or: Bravo, Balto Weirdos!

[Note: This is a salvaged draft of an earlier post (June 9, 2014 to be exact), most of which was lost in the Blogosphere thanks to Blogger's deficiencies, which are too many to go into; but now, like a moth drawn to the flame, I go cautiously once more into the fray...]

It was a trip down Memory Lane - not to mention The Marble Bar, Oddfellows Hall, Maxwells, Spirits, the 8x10, and so on and so on...

(May 24, 2014) - Tonight's the night! I made the Double-A List (thanks Bob, thanks Mindi!) of invitees to a private party called Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!" (Mission Statement: "We are paying tribute to our friends, families and others who have suffered through the hardships of repititous rehearsals, frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment. This party is for you!") at Heritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center.

It was an offer no one could refuse: free hot and cold buffet (the cinnamon cake desert alone was worth the price of admission - if there was one!), free beer and wine, and free musical performances by a lineup of luminous local legends. History may have relegated them to being rumors in their own time and legends in their own rooms, but on this night in this room, they were beheld as rock avatars in the collective minds of everyone there with two ears and a taste for good, smart music.

Yes, in the age of Smart Food, Smart Drinks, Smart TVs and Smart Phones (not to mention Smart Asses, who are mostly found at comic book conventions and nightly on Fox News), there is such a thing as Smart Music, and it was made on this night by three bands with, as they say in Kentucky horse-breeding country, impeccable best-in-class "bloodlines": the bossa nova-and-a-more-a Trio Novo (keyboardist Bob Tiefenwerth, bassist Paul Reiger, and drummer Tim Taormino)...

"Kick out the jams, mofos!: MC Rod Misey introduces Trio Novo

...venerable rock vets OHO (featuring guitarist Jay Grabowski and drummer Dave Reeve, with guest vocals on a Kinks cover courtesy of Dave "Steptoe T. Magnificent" Wilcox), and the "progressive rock for the contemporary absurdist" stylings of Buck Subtle & The Little Planets (keyboard-vocalist mastermind Mark O'Connor, his singer-guitarist wife Mary Lis, sax player Mindi Siegel, and a former Da Moronics rhythm section of bassist Charles Freeman and drummer Jaimie Wilson, Sr.).

Buck Subtle & The Little Planets

Mary Lis and Chuck Freeman of The Little Planets

Jamie Wilson & Mindi Siegel

Saxy Mindi Siegel toots her own horn while savy Mark O'Connor sings

Monkey To Man: Jamie Wilson's drumming has really evolved from Da Moronics days

Buck Subtle's set was highlighted by "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore" (which will be on their forthcoming CD, currently in the works at Baltimore's Invisible Sound recording studio) and O'Connor's homage to Moby Grape singer-songwriter-drummer Don Stevenson's infamous middle finger salute on the cover of Moby Grape's 1967 debut album (which was airbrushed off on subsequent reissues).

Don Stevenson makes a point for Moby Grape

Basically, most of the musicians gathered in Parkville on this night could trace their roots to the "OHO-GOHOG Revue," a multi-tentacled assortment of like-minded bands including the original OHO (named after the initials of O'Connor, bassist Steve Heck & guitarist Joe O'Sullivan, with guitarist Jay Grabowski & drummer Jeff Grabowski bookmarking them as GOHOG), Dark Side, Trixy & The Testones, Food For Worms, Klangfarb, U.S.E. (United States of Existence - a neo-psych group featuring Trio Novo's Paul Rieger and Bob Tiefenwerth and former Ebeneezer & The Bludgeons singer Dennis Davison), Little Hans, and BLAMMO (Beleagured League of Artists Meeting Mass Opposition).

Best of Baltimore's Buried (1980)

Their output over the years dominates the two Best of Baltimore's Buried records (the 1980 LP Best of Baltimore's Buried and 2003's Best of Baltimore Buried, Vol. 2 CD), which, far from sounding dated, hold up well compared to current professional recording standrads - damned well, in fact!

Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2 (2003)

Note that the "Great OHO Schism" eventually split the band into Jay Grabowski and Mark O'Connor camps, with Grabowski carrying on the brand name and O'Connor branching off into new, Not OHO (NOHO?) ensembles like Blammo and now Buck Subtle & The Little Planets.

In a just world where the cream always rises to the top, Outrageous, OHO, Food For Worms, or Blammo would have been not just the Best of Baltimore but recognized as among the best in the world at what they do: creating funny, melodic, danceable rock songs, with the added heft of actually being thought-provoking (that's what you get with a bunch of artists and Philosophy majors - it's almost a categorical imperative!). (Remember, these were the pre-Punk days when "Prog" wasn't just another four-letter curse word but a sign of intelligent like like Roxy Music, Eno, or Van Der Graf Generator.) Probably what held them back is the fact that they were just a bunch of ordinary looking guys more concerned with making music than projecting image, unlike the majority of today's hair-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pans and glammd-up American Idol prima donnas.

And, other than "singing human lightning rod"  Gyro J. Scope (Ed Barker) - whose Outrageous may have been the best (albeit outrageously short-lived and unheralded) local prog rock group to emerge from the '70s and whose "Who Am I? Where Am I?" is the hands-down highlight of the Best of Baltimore Buried LP (narrowly eclipsing OHO's "We'll Be Famous When We're Dead") -  there was no truly charismatic frontman leading these various lineups.

Listen to Outrageous play "Who Am I? Where Am I?"

These well-schooled rockers weren't concerned with window dressing and they never took themselves that seriously - they were funny, clever, and self-deprecating. Indeed, Food For Worms - with O'Connor, Grabowski, Barker, and Reeve all contributing songs - may very well have been Baltimore's answer to 10cc, another too-clever-for-their-own-good band blessed with multiple songwriters but without that shining star frontman or easy-to-beg identity.

The FFW tradition of smart and smart-ass rock carried over into O'Connor's next musical venture, Blammo, as witnessed in his amusing anthem "Sweet Home Balt-amore" - another in a long line of songs about his hometown (e.g., "Horrible Place" about the then-new downtown showcase Harborplace and "Fun In Nicaragua" with its topical lines during the Iran-Contra Scandal about a certain Orioles pitcher: "Dennis Martinez, your home is where the heat is!").

Listen to Blammo play "Sweet Home Balt-amore."

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: along with Randall Peck (Boatniks) and David Cawley (Berserk, Garage Sale), Mark O'Connor is one of the few area artists whose songs make me laugh out loud.

What a treat this night was! It was like going to a wedding reception except the band(s) didn't suck and the DJ wasn't obnoxious (indeed, the evening's MC was none other than former WCVT psych-rock jock Rod "The Mod" Misey!). And this wedding, marking the marriage of classic '70s-on-up Local Prog Rock to Baltimore Weirdos (AARP Edition), was thrown and paid for by the largesse of Paul Reiger, Esq.

Host Paul Reiger (Trio Novo) and MC Rod Misey

Apparently Mr. Reiger is doing quite well, thankyou, as a lawyer! As Bob Tiefenwerth remarked later to me, "You see, you should have stayed in law school!" (Bob's right about that - as he was when he also told Mark O'Connor that he never should have sold his Mellotron, as later lamented in the Blammo song "You Never Should have Sold Your Mellotron"!) By the way, Tiefenwerth's impressive art was also on display this night, along with other paintings and art by Connell Byrne, Maureen Nolan, and David Wilcox.

Before we arrived, Amy remarked that she wouldn't know anyone there except for Mark O'Connor and Dave Wilcox (The Alcoholics, Problems Pets, Grand Poobah Subway, Chelsea Graveyard & the Screams At Midnight, et al), but the minute we walked in she was immediately greeted by her good friend Mark Silvestri! (This being Smalltimore, Mark's brother Matt is good friends with Paul Reiger's wife and...there ya go!) And I ran into my old pals Alexandra Doumani and Jay Ludwig (Jay and I were in The Boatniks, whose ranks also included Katie Katatonic, Randall Peck, and Rick and Stephanie Eeney).

The Boatniks: Tom Warner, Randall Peck, Jay Ludwig, Katie Katatonic

It was a great night to catch up with countless old friends of both symbiotic camps - musicians and fans - alike. Folks like "Mrs. Steptoe" Alice Wilcox, the always affable Chuck Gross (The Beaters) (who in the midst of all the music couldn't stop raving about Svengooli and Me TV's Saturday night lineup), and my long-time-no-see college pal Mary "Myrtle May" Crivello, who grew up in Hamilton and thus was well-aquainted with the GOHOG Revue, especially Outrageous and the many Mark O'Connor ensembles from the '70s and '80s. Myrt reminisced about hanging out with the Barker boys during Outrageous practices in Hamilton, and I promised her I'd make her a copy of the four-song Outrageous suite appearing on Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2.

Mary "Myrt" Crivello & Tom Warner reunite

Speaking of which, I think I stumbled onto Gyro's Outrageously obscure web site, ("Electric Music for the Wilted Mind"), where one can listen to all four Outrageous songs on that CD sampler - "A Letter From Kevin," "Faggy Goats at the Neck of the Woods," "Madman Serenade," and "The Laughing Man" - as well as capsule reviews of them. I love the description of "Faggy Goats": ""A decade before Spinal Tap did Stonehenge with dwarves, Gyro J. Scope wrote this masterpiece about elves, bowling (again, ahead of the curve) and Goats of an alternative persuasion" with what may be the first bass solo run through a Fuzz box and ending vocals inspired by Ethel Merman. A masterpiece indeed! And the chicken solo in "Madman Serenade" is wonderful as well! "Be kind in your evaluation," Gyro asks on the fast Elder web site.  "This was the 70's. The effects available at the time came in two flavors - Fuzz & Wah...Double tracking was done with two tracks" and "Loops were pieces of tape splice together, and a flanger was somebody's thumb on the rim of a tape reel (hence the name!)"

All the more's the glory that Outrageous, like its other like-minded "avante-fringe" peers in the GOHOG Revue, made such fantastic sounds over the years - sounds that were recalled and celebrated anew this very night.

But I digress...back to the party!

In summary: Thanks Paul and thanks all ye bands for an evening bash that was a bona fide smash!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Baltimore-Washington Rockway: Singles Going Steady

Following are some thoughts about some tracks lost between the cracks of time, a celebration of some great local music by Tru Fax and Dark Carnival that I've been too lazy to review - until now!

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs @ 2013 SoWeBo Festival

Running into the perpetually perky Diana Quinn at the Black Cat club in Washington, D.C. last week (for the first stop of Buzzcocks's 2014 North American Tour) reminded me that I was criminally negligent for not reviewing the latest music from her classic and long-running D.C. pop quartet, Tru Fax & The Insaniacs. You see, I bought a 5-song CD-EP ( a steal at $5!) from Diana back in May when her group played the 2014 SoWeBohemian Festival.

The Mighty Quinn: The perpetually perky rocker Diana Quinn

Way back when I played drums (if that's what you want to call my limp-wristed attempts at keeping a beat) in Towson's first punk band Thee Katatonix (circa 1979-1980), we were good friends with the Insaniacs - they were our favorite D.C. group (along with The Slickee Boys and Black Market Baby, natch) and I was particularly close to Libby Hatch, the original Insaniacs bass player (formerly of The Shirkers) who tragically passed away before her time after a 1998 motorcycle accident. Perhaps the Kats bonded with the Fax because we were both underdogs whose technical ability was sometimes questioned in the early days: Katatonix frontman Adolf Kowalski used to boast, "We're the worst, that makes us the best!" while Washingtonian Magazine actually named Tru Fax the District's "Worst Band" of 1980. For their part, the Insaniacs wore the dubious award as a badge of honor, even flaunting their status as "Washington's Award Winning Band"! in their fliers, as shown below:

Tru Fax: "Hear Them Do Their Worst!"

Perhaps it was this self-effacing, ego-free attitude that so endeared them to me. Despite having two "rock chicks" in the early lineup, their onstage vibe was always that of cool nerds, like something out of a Daniel Pinkwater young adult novel, rather than "New Wave Punks." Back then, now slimmer guitarist David Wells was roly-poly and bespectacled, while Michael Mariotte wore big, thick tortoise-shell specs that made him look more like an accountant than a rock & roll drummer. They didn't care; the band was about making pop music and having fun, not putting on airs and copping attitudes.

"We adhere to the original punk ideals of musical simplicity, purity, and high satire, and we're committed to having fun." - Tru Fax Mission Statement

Their sound was accurately characterized by Silver Spring Penguin blogger Jennifer Deseo as a mixture of buzzsaw guitars and Debbie Harry vocals...a gritty sound juxtaposed with a bubbly beat" accompanied by "cheeky irony that makes punk deliciously irreverent" ("Local Licks: Tru Fax and the Insaniacs," March 28, 2008). Deseo added that songs like "Betsy's Dressed Up," "Friday" and "Pictures Of You" mirrored the punk end of Blondie's Parallel Lines (a list to which I would add the new song "Quarry House," with its soaring "Atomic" vocals intro). "Other tunes - 'King of Machines' and 'Washingtron' nod at Stooges," she continued, "and 'Love Love Love' is a gabba-gabba-hey! away from The Ramones." So Tru(e)!

Tru Fax would soldier on after Libby Hatch with various other bass players (Jamie Cramer is the latest) and Diana would win a 1998 WAMMIE (Washington Area Music Association award) for Best Rock/Pop Female Vocalist, but over the years I lost track of them. Until, thanks to the encouragement of the Kats' Adolf Kowalski, Tru Fax rekindled memories of their late-70s/early 80's brilliance by once again gigging in Charm City with the Kats, first at the Metro Gallery in February 2013 and then at the 2013 and 2014 SoWeBohemian Festivals. (Diana also performed at the 2013 Honfest in Hampden with her swinging '60s "Girl Group Sound" band The Fabulettes.)

Tru Fax's "Washington" 45 (Wasp Records, 1980)

Tru Fax's "Mental Decay" LP (Wasp Records, 1982)

Though they only released one album (1982's Mental Decay on Wasp Records) and one classic 45 (1980's "Washingtron" b/w "Mystery Date" on Wasp Records), Diana reports that a new CD is in the works for release in the fall of 2014. This is good news, very good news indeed! (According to their official web site, Tru Fax had originally planned to release a CD in 2007 that would have included their vinyl 45 and album, plus eight new songs, but it never came to pass. So far, only four Tru Fax songs - live versions of "King of Machines," "Chinese Wall," "T.V. Me," and "Washingtron" - have appeared on a commercially available CD, 1997's hard-to-find 9:30 LIVE!: A Time, A Place, A Street 2-disc set, recorded during the final days of D.C.'s old 9:30 club.)

9:30 LIVE! CD (1997, Genes Records)

Perhaps now, since their long player Mental Decay only came out on vinyl, there will finally be digital versions of that album's "Love, Love, Love," "What the World Needs Now," and "Mars Needs Women" for the world-at-large (at least the world beyond The District) to enjoy at last!

According to recent posts on the Tru Fax Facebook page, we can count on the following songs to appear on the new CD: "Beautiful World," "Pictures of Dorian Gray," and perhaps even Michael Mariotte's

In the meantime, here's are some more clues to what we can expect from the Insaniacs based on their latest EP teaser release.

5-Song CD EP (2014)

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs 5-song CD EP

1. "Washingtron" (2014 update)

This sounds like a beefed-up, slightly faster re-recording of the 1980 original that became an instant anthem for all residents of The District. Diana adds some additional patter and vocal dubs, but this is still basically the unadulterated timeless classic that remains as relevant today as almost 35 years ago, even with all its time-topical references ("Accu-tron watches" and the movie Tron - of course!).

"We don't know nothing, we want to know less/It's all too hard, the world's a mess - it's not our fault," Diana sings over crunching guitars, before Mariotte's driving beat signals the famous chorus:

"I used to work as a waitron in the lounge of the Hiltron
Now I work for my Senatron and I live in Arlingtron
I'm just a Washingtron, we're all Washingtrons, Washingtrons"

2. "Britney Spears"

This must be a few years old, because Britney Spears is today "so 15 minutes ago," but nonetheless it's a blistering skewering of today's cookie cutter talent-challenged pop divas.

Pop culture doesn't make any sense, made up of stylists with lots of pretense
American Idols who don't know how sing, rock stars who just go bling, bling, bling

3. "Mental Decay"

4. "Quarry House" - Diana sings the praises of the Quarry House Tavern, a "dive bar" in Silver Spring, MD, that's popular with musicians and fans of rockabilly music.

5. "Message To You" - Hilarious parody of the infamous  "419 scams" - fraudulent advance-fee mail or e-mail requests (similar to the "Spanish Prisoner" scams of the late 19th century) often associated with foreign nations like Nigeria (a famous variation featured either a Nigerian Prince or royal family member requesting financial assistance).


"Book of Love" b/w "Second Chance"
Limited edition red vinyl 7"
(Merkin Records, 1989)

"Book of Love/Second Chance" 45 (Merkin Records, 1989)

I mentioned before how the (thee?) Katatonix connection helped rekindle memories of the criminally neglected tunes of Tru Fax & Co. Well, they also helped stir memories of another criminally neglected local band from that era called Dark Carnival. You see, two outstanding staples of Thee Kats' live shows over the years have been "Book of Love" (especially during their neo-psych phase) and "Second Chance," and both poptastic tunes were penned by lead guitarist Charlie Gatewood (aka "Mr. Urbanity") dating back to his late '80s days leading this Kats spin-off group whose ranks included Katatonix drummer "Big" Andy Small and bass player Ken Malecki.

In 1989, Baltimore's Merkin Records released a limited edition red vinyl 7" of the two songs. "Book of Love" was technically the A-side but, like classic era Buzzcocks "singles-going-steady," it was basically a double A-side release, with the songwriting quality making this arguably the greatest post-punk record ever to come out of Charm City. (Berserk's 1991 "Giant Robots/When I Think" 7", also on Merkin, begs to be part of this discussion as well!) (For D.C., the best single debate would come down to Tru Fax's "Washingtron/Mystery Date" versus Tommy Keene's "Back To Zero/Mr. Roland.") Despite that, this rare collectible is virtually impossible to find on the open market, unless you want to fork over $15 for a German distributor import. I recall buying a copy from the band when they played a record-release show at the Galaxy Ballroom back in the day, but alas, it's long been lost in the black hole that is my vinyl 45 collection.

A-Side: "Book of Love"

Fast-tempo guitar and drums race through this pop confection as Mr. Urbanity sings "I want to read the Book of Love/I want to see what you know between the pages." On the bridge, Gatewood

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Book of Love."

A version of "Book of Love" also appears on Thee Katatonix's Thanks Hon, 30th Anniversary CD (U.K. Spud, 2009).

B-Side: "Second Chance"

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Second Chance."

A version of "Book of Love" also appears on Thee Katatonix's Thanks Hon, 30th Anniversary CD (U.K. Spud, 2009).

(Should you try to track down Baltimore's Dark Carnival records, be sure not to confuse them with Detroit's Dark Carnival, a band featuring ex-Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra and ex-Stooges Ron and Scott Ashton.)

Merkin Records Seedy Sampler (1989)

Another Dark Carnival song, the industrial-toned "Back to the Factory," appears on the 1989 Merkin Records Seedy Sampler album. Despite the exceptional pedigree of Gatewood's songwriting and the band's musicianship, Dark Carnival's back catalog consists of just these three songs. Alas. Gatewood and Small eventually returned to the Katatonix fold, where Mr. Urbanity's melodic pop tendencies and image-packed lyrics - and Small's rock-solid beat - continue to shine.

Note: Should you try to track down Baltimore's Dark Carnival records, be sure not to confuse them with Detroit's Dark Carnival, a band featuring ex-Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra and ex-Stooges Ron and Scott Ashton.


Related Links:
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (Facebook)
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (
Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (My Space) (there are lots of videos here!)
Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (15 tracks to hear @
Radio Baltimore: Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (Mobtown Shank)

Monday, September 08, 2014

Bob & Teresa's Outstanding Picks for Outdoor Flicks

16mm fans: real film for reel enthusiasts

The few, the proud, the discerning. That describes the folks that continue to check out the rare film shorts housed in Enoch Pratt Free Library's archaic-yet-still-invaluable 16mm film collection. People like my Pratt co-worker Teresa Duggan and her husband Bob Wagner (my fellow St. Paul's School for Boys grad - though Bob is a much younger vintage STP alumnus!).

Every summer, this hip couple perodically check out films from Pratt Central to project during outdoor parties in the back yard of their Hampden home. Their taste is impeccable. Though I've worked in the library's A/V Department for a baker's dozen years and thought myself well-acquainted with Pratt's 16mm film collection, Bob and Teresa continually manage to find rare and obscure films that I never knew existed. They truly know how to dig through the archives and navigate the intricacies of the Pratt catalogue!

Norman McLaren's psychedelic Stars and Stripes

As an example, for this year's July 4th's Independence Day celebration, Bob and Teresa checked out Norman McLaren's dazzling (and tres appropriate) animated short Stars and Stripes (Etoiles et Bandes, 1940, 3 minutes),which is set to the chest-pounding music of John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" (it doesn't get more patriotic than that!). Who knew? (Well, I should know, as I own the now out-of-print 7-disc, 58-film DVD box set Norman McLaren: The Master Edition - which will take me my lifetime to get through!)

Norman McLaren 1940 "Stars and stripes" by moklaomax

Following are their most recent Outdoor Film Festival checkouts (great picks all!), listed here just in case you didn't get invited to their backyard soiree:

GUMBASIA (1955, 3 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Art Clokey

This student film, consisting of animated clay objects contorting and reshaping themselves to a snappy jazz score, so intrigued Samuel G. Engel, the president of the Motion Pictures Producers Association, that he financed the pilot films for what became Art Clokey's The Gumby Show (1957). (Art Clokey, USA, 1955, 3 minutes, color, 16mm)

Watch Gumbasia (YouTube)

MOODS OF SURFING (1968, 15 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman

What better way to  hold on to an Endless Summer than trading the urban chic of land-locked Hampden for the hang-ten feats of surfboards riding waves in Hawaii?
The film poster used the LeRoy Grannis;s classic photograph of the infamous Makaha shore break in Hawaii.

The Moods of Surfing was a Pyramid Films short made for theaters and released in 1968 by United Artists. Photographed and edited by Greg MacGillivray, the film received many awards including the Best Film Award from the Photographic Society of America and the Gold Award from the New York International Film Festival.

Pyramid Media description: "In this spellbinding interpretation of surfing's many moods, wild wipeouts are contrasted with the grace and agility of a skilled surfer on a long ride; the excitement of large waves and crowded beaches with the quiet of pre-sunset surfing."

Watch ""Moods of Surfing" (YouTube):


THE NOSE (LE  NEZ) (1963, 11 minutes, b&w)
Directed by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Nez Who?: Alexander Alexeieff knows all about "Nose"

A wordless adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's story about a nose that disappears from its owner's face and turns up in a barber's loaf of bread. In this case, the medium is the message, as artist Alexander Alexeieff uses a reflected-light pinpoint "direct animation" technique (in which images are created during the process of filming, not before it) to make this film. The effect is like watching an animated engraving. In collaboration with animator Claire Parker, Alexeieff invented the "pinscreen,"  a sturdy frame holding a white board into which thousands of very thin black pins are inserted; by adjusting the pins so that the distance to the camera varies, the animator creates various shadings from black to white. (Another oustanding pinscreen-animated film in Pratt's collection is Jacques Droin's impressionistic Mindscape.) Arguably the best adaptation of a story by the Russian literary giant.

Alexeieff and Parker are perhaps best known for using their pinscreen technique in the prologue to Orson Welles' 1962 film adaptation of Kafka's The Trial (which is also in Pratt's 16mm film collection).

Watch "The Nose" (YouTube):


SHOTGUN JOE (1970, 25 minutes, color, 16mm)
Produced by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons

Joe Scanlon
 This is a cinema verite-style documentary film about convicted felon Joe Scanlan, nicknamed "Shotgun Joe," who was serving time for armed robbery in the Conneticut State Reformatory. The film follows Scanlan in prison and his interaction with prisoners, staff, and family. Interviews with guards, teachers, fellow inmates, Joe's mother, his sister, and Joe himself reveal him as a likable, flamboyant, pathetic, young man moving toward his own destruction. A classic study of juvenile delinquincy, by an unknown director for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons.

"Shotgun Joe" became "Joey Onions" Scanlon and was later shot and killed in a 1982 mob hit. The guy who killed him confessed on his deathbed and Scanlon's remains were found in 2009.

Watch "Shotgun Joe" (YouTube):

CALDER'S CIRCUS (LE CIRQUE DE CALDER) (1961, 19 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Carlos Vilardebo

Cirque de Calder

Sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his "mobiles" (a word invented by Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe Calder's moving scuptures). He also created miniature spring-loaded circus figures made of wire. In Calder's Circus, Calder demonstrates his creations and viewers get to see them spin, hop, roll and leap. I remember seeing this years ago at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It's quite fun!

Watch "Calder's Circus" (YouTube):

BETTY IN BLUNDERLAND (1934, 7 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Betty in Blunderland

If you went to St. Paul's during Michal Makarovich's tenure as film instructor, you couldn't avoid being exposed to the mind-blowing animation of the Fleischer brothers - animator Max and director Dave - especially their wild, Jazz Age shorts featuring Betty Boop. No doubt that's why Bob Wagner picked this gem, a surreal adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. (By the way, Pratt also owns Makarovich's 1976 homage to Greta Garbo, The Face of the Century, on 16mm.) The Fleischers were considered Walt Disney's main rivals in the 1930s and their violent, sex, jazzy and imaginative animation made them polar opposites of the Disney aesthetic. In this short, Betty Boop dozes off while working on a jigsaw puzzle and awakens to enter an enchanted world inhabited by characters out of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. Betty sings "How Do You Do" to them and everyone comes to her rescue when the Jabberwock steals her away.

Watch "Betty in Blunderland" (YouTube)

I would be remiss not to mention that Teresa's not just a discerning cineaste, but a talented photographer. Along with fellow Pratt shutterbugs Lynne Parks (a 2013 Mary Sawyers Baker Artist Awards Winner) and Patrick Joust (whose "Still of the Night" photo essay was recently featured in Baltimore magazine), she will be showing her work as part of the "Pratt 5x3" exhibit in the Fine Arts & Music Reading Room on the second floor of the Enoch Pratt Central Library. The photographs of these talented Pratt staffers are on display from September 8 through November 2, 2014, with an opening reception Wednesday, September 17 from 5:30-7 p.m.

Pratt 5x3 exhibit

And I would be equally remiss not to mention that Bob Wagner is a well-respected musician (and cyclist, for that matter!) about town, a percussionist described by the High Zero Festival guide as "a pure natural, an enigma, a question mark." They go on to characterize his drumming as "deeply perplexing" and call him "The Han Bennik of Hampden" because of his extreme use of dry humor in his music. Bob can be heard on numerous records with his groups Companion Trio, The Can Openers, and The Recordings. He also performs with The Pleasant Livers, whose set I was lucky to catch at Baltimore's 2012 SoWeBo Festival.

Watch The Pleasant Livers play "Big Headed Baby" (YouTube)

Related Links:
Pratt's 16mm Film Rarities (Accelerated Decrepitude)
A New Generation Keeps It Reel on 16mm (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Top 10 Pratt 16mm Film Rarities (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Shorts Circuit (Accelerated Decrepitude)
The Great Ecstasy of the 16mm Film Series (Accelerated Decrepitude)

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Buzzcocks @ Black Cat (9-4-2014)

Black Cat, Washington, D.C.
September 4, 2014

Buzzcocks want to show you "The Way"

Nostalgia for an age yet to come - yet again!

I'm a curmudgeon, I'll readily admit it. When I saw that Buzzcocks, punk's longest-running (yet still vital) act, were bypassing Baltimore on their U.S. tour in support of new album The Way - their first stateside visit since 2010's "Another Bites" tour - I was ready to blow off seeing them. Once again, Shelley-Diggle & Co. were opening their 12-date North American tour at The Black Cat in Washington D.C.'s posh Shaw-U Street neighborhood (DC's answer to Portlandia with lots of bikes, coffee shops, and upscale boutiques) with their next closest gig set for the next night at Philadelphia's Union Transfer club. I hate driving to D.C. and Philly's an even longer drive, but after weeks of hearing my Buzzcocks fanatic girlfriend Amy Linthicum whine "We can't miss Buzzcocks, they only tour once every four years!," I finally relented (otherwise I envisioned years of relationship counseling to repair the potential rift). Had I not, I really think she might have hitch-hiked down to the nation's capital!

I immediately contacted my friend Dave Cawley, whom Amy had supplanted as World's No. 1 Buzzcocks Fan, and he and his girlfriend Gina joined us for the suprisingly easy commute down I-95 to the Black Cat to see our beloved 'cocks. Gina was a 'cocks virgin, whereas Dave had seen them countless times and Amy and I had only seen them once before, when they played Baltimore's Ottobar in May 2010.

Tom & Dave compare their tees

Gina & Amy: These girls just wanna have fun

On the drive down we played the new album (their ninth studio album, which was funded by the Direct-to-Fan online crowd-sourcing site PledgeMusic!, and the first album of new songs since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy), an even-Steven split of five tunes apiece by original 'cocks Pete Shelley ("Keep On Believing," "The Way," "Virtually Real," "Out of the Blue," and, co-written with Danny Farrant, "It's Not You") and Steve Diggle ("People Are Strange Machines," "In the Back," "Third Dimension," "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times," and "Saving Yourself"), which Dave hadn't yet learned to love - unlike Amy and I.

We doubted many of the songs would make the show's setlist, but were wrong: the boys played six of the 10 tracks that evening, though surprisingly Diggle's old Flag of Convenience song "In the Back" (from his War on the Wireless Set LP) didn't make the cut. Neither did Shelley's "Virtually Real," despite the relevance of its social media subject matter (e.g., "You spend your time liking and sharing, when you could be loving and caring with me" and "profile updated, it's complicated, so tell me how do you feel: virtually real?"). The full Black Cat setlist is shown below:

Buzzcocks Black Cat set list (

Now for some reason, Buzzcocks always have horrible bands open for them over here (in 2010 it was The Dollyrats), so we took sonic shelter in the back of the Black Cat while DC's Loud Boyz lived up to their name, blasting out recycled hardcore atonalities which one audience member characterized as "so 15 years ago" (I would have added "So 15 epochs ago"). That astute observation was made by Tru Fax & The Insaniacs singer-guitarist Diana Quinn, who was sporting the coolest minimalist Buzzcock button I've ever seen. She was there with her friend Gary Hailey, who writes about music at his "2 or 3 lines (and so much more)" blog - check it out, it's pretty good!

Dave bites his knuckles listening to Loud Boyz, while the gals cool their heels

As Pete Shelley sings on the new album's title song, "The way you are's not the way you were," and it's an apt description for Buzzcocks today (as well as for all middle-aged rockers). Sure, Pete's a little chunkier and sports a gray beard now (one fan likened his countenance to folkie John Martyn) and his "helium" vocals have lost an octave or two, while original bassist Diggle has emerged from Shelley's shadow to take his place as a spotlight-hogging guitar thrasher (one given to"cod-guitar hero antics" in the words of one critic) and songwriting equal in the Lennon-McCartney arrangement the band has adopted since their post-Classic Era (1976-1980) relaunch in 1993 with the still-great Trade Test Transmissions album. But coy boy Pete still writes clever lyrics over melodic hooks, and Steve's still a hard-rocking man-about-stage who pleases crowds with his boundless energy and windmill guitar-strumming histrionics. (He tried it out once, found it alright for kicks, but now he's found out it's a habit that sticks!)

Follow-through on a Diggle windmill power chord

Diggle prepares for lift-off

More Diggle cod-rock guitar antics

In fact, some might argue that Buzzcocks today aren't the way they were but better. I wouldn't, as the original rhythm section of John Mayer (best drummer ever?) and Steve "Paddy" Garvey still sets the standard for me. But the new boys, Cockney drummer Danny Farrant (who co-wrote "It's Not You") and stylish Steve Winwood-lookalike bassist Chris Remington (who's also in Diggle's Revolution of Sound side band) are as good as one could hope for as able-bodied replacements. Farrant joined the band in 2006, replacing Phil Barker; Remington came on board in 2008, replacing bassist-producer Tony Barber. (To hear what this Buzzcocks edition sounds like playing the classic-era tunes, check out 2011's A Different Compilation.)

Diggle, Shelley & Remington kick out the jams

At 10 o'clock, Buzzcocks took the stage to a packed house (we were crammed into a tight pocket of space on the Diggle side of the stage) and proceeded to blast out what has become their traditional opening three-song salvo, Spiral Scratch's anthemic "Boredom" followed by "Fast Cars" and "I Don't Mind" from their studio album debut, 1978's Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

Then, while the audience caught their breath, some new material: Pete ventured forth with "Keep on Believing," the pop-infused toe-tapper that opens The Way with the que sera, sera words "What's the use  complaining, it's forever raining, after all that's what they made umbrellas for"...

Watch Buzzcocks play "Keep On Believing" (Union Transfer, Philly, 9-5-2014):

"Keep On Believing" was followed by Steve's "People Are Strange Machines."

Watch "People Are Strange Machines." (Robin 2, Bilston):

Along with his "Chasing Rainbows/Modern Times" (essentially a recycling of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" with added guitar solo chops), "Strange Machines" is a definite highlight of The Way.

Steve Diggle: Always Chasing Rainbows
Diggle strums his strange machine

Then it was back to the classic tunes fans know so well from Singles Going Steady (by the way, the t-shirts featuring the Singles Going Steady cover quickly sold out - sorry Dave! - at the show's merch table), interspersed with new tunes (like Pete's "The Way" and the growing-on-me "It's Not You" - the latter which I think would fit nicely on SGS) and a Mini-Diggle Set of  "When Love Turns Around" (from 1993's Trade Test Transmissions - still Dave Cawley's favorite "new edition" Buzzcocks album), "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" (to which naysayer Dave Cawley murmured, "Worst music video of all time!"), and the classic "Sick City Sometimes" (from 2003's Buzzcocks - still Amy's favorite "new edition" Buzzcocks album), which Diggle explained was about 9-11 (which was news to me - ah, those Diggle lyrics, so many layers to unravel, like an onion!). ("Yeah, well onions stink!" countered Diggle contrarian Dave Cawley who, in retrospect, admitted he now understood "SCS" better.) ("Yeah, well you picked the Diggle side of the stage," counter-countered Amy.)

Diggle & Shelley: A Different Kind of Duo

Pete: "Steady now Steve!"

In concert, the two main Buzzcocks couldn't be more (polar) opposite one another. Louder Than War blogger John Robb describes the Shelley-Diggle partnership as A Different Kind of Tension:

It's this dynamic tension between [Diggle's] scissor kicking rockism and Pete Shelley's sardonic very much non rock approach that is the key to Buzzcocks- the two opposites, the warring couple- each with their own powerful, creative agenda and yet when they join together and those two guitars interplay with each other it's perfect.

there are a few grumbles about guitarist Steve Diggle's prediliction for power-chording over the intros and outros, constantly turning his amplifier up and generally just fucking around.
He also seems intent on counting in the songs, the choruses and anything else despite Pete Shelley's rather grim stares. This becomes slightly irritating as the set goes on. Diggle is clearly the worse for wear and slugging from a bottle onstage. Anyone who's seen Buzzcocks over the last few years can only be aware of Diggle's cod-guitar hero antics, but someone with his pedigree is given a fair bit of slack.
- See more at:
Pete Shelley: Sardonic Rocker

Pete making one of his coy faces
The Dynamic Duo

Or, as reviewer Kyle Schmitt (DC Rock Live - Reviews) remarked:
In contrast to his more reserved, gray-bearded bandmate, Steve Diggle unleashed his inner 18-year-old guitar hero throughout the set, playing to the crowd and bumping fists with the punters. His enthusiasm clearly inspired the audience, which he implored to “Blow the fuckin’ roof off!” and “Keep rock ’n’ roll alive!” Diggle walked the stage hoisting a microphone over the crowd during a singalong version of “Harmony in My Head”, and seemed to invigorate Shelley as the band rolled through “Noise Annoys” and “Oh Shit!” during the set’s latter half. Crediting rocks’s standard bearers at night’s end, Diggle said this music was “about Chuck Berry, the fuckin’ Ramones”, and despite his accent, I’m 90% sure he threw in the Buzzcocks at the end of that listing. After their set, it’s hard to disagree that his own band belongs in that rarified company.
Buzzcocks: In rarified company

Pete Shelley and Chris Remington

Diggle, emoting

It was a great show and I'm so glad we caught it, despite my initial reluctance (perhaps Pete Shelley was singing to me in his 1981 'cocks single "What Do You Know?"). Amy even got to shake Steve Diggle's hand as he walked off stage (though it wasn't as intimate as the kiss she got back in Baltimore in 2010).

Afterwards, Amy made a pilgrimage to Steve Diggle's amp (easy to spot with its signature "Steve Diggle" cloth draped over it!).

Amy standing guard over Diggle's Corner

She later spotted former WCVT disc jockey and lover of all things Pop-Punk, Gary Razorpop in the crowd and gave him a big hug. And I spotted another Baltimorean, Big Chris Calabrese of the band Fishnet Stalkers.

Amy with Gary Razorpop

Outside the Black Cat, Dave Cawley saw Next Gen Buzzcocks Chris Remington and Danny Farrant milling about on the sidewalk, getting a spot of fresh air.

Dave, Chris & Danny (backed by Chris Calabrese) outside Black Cat

Dave tried to convince Farrant to get the band to play Baltimore's Ottobar again (probably to no avail, but at least Danny liked the name of the club he couldn't remember from his last stop there in 2010). "I like the way you say that," Danny said, repeating "Ot-oh-bah!"

Dave continued to ingratiate himself with the affable drummer, singing the praises of P.G. Tips tea, The Who, The Small Faces, The Jam and all things Mod.

Dave Cawley, Lover of All Mod Cons, poses by a scooter outside Black Cat

"You really ought to stop that," Danny cautioned, worried about Americans loving anything hinting of British Invasion superiority. He did concur about the early Jam and Faces, but Dave winced when Danny admitted he liked the Rod Stewart vintage Faces as well. As for North American bands, Dave and Danny bonded over their shared appreciation of The Sonics. But Danny drew the line when Dave admitted he listened to Rush in high school.

Danny admitted only to listening to Rush in order to get into a bird's knickers. Dave had no such excuse ("I was young and stupid!" he cried), and tried to limit the damage by saying he stopped following Rush after 2112.

And then the errant Buzzcocks were off to pack up for the next night's gig.

Later, after we walked back to the car and drove off past the Black Cat, we spotted a little, stocky, gray-haired man in shorts loading something in a white van.

"Tom, look! That's Pete Shelley!" Dave shouted, rolling down the car window to get ready to say something to his idol. But as I slowed down and we got a close-up, it turned out just to be some middle-aged schlub.

We should have known by the shorts, Pete Shelley, punk rock star, would never be seen on the street in shorts! "The way you are's" may not be "the way you were," Pete Shelley, but you were always too cool for shorts. We ask only that in our rock star idols. As for us, we won't stop believing!

Amy to Tom "Aren't you glad you came now?"

Related Links:

Buzzcocks @ Black Cat (9-4-2014) (a Flicker set)
It's the Buzz, Hons! (Accelerated Decrepitude)