Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Year in Review: Tom's Best of 2023

2023 was a year I couldn't wait to get past because, for the most part, it was a shit-burger with a side of dies. Too many friends shuffled off their mortal coil in this deadly year - Ross Haupt (aka "Adolf Kowalski," the leader of my college punk band), Mark O'Connor (another TSU college pal - a brilliant musician, and one of the funniest people I've ever known), Chris  "Da Plumber" Jensen ("Plumber to the Stars" of Charles Village, musician, artist, Atomic TV cameraman and all-around lovable loon), Keith Worz (my neighbor and a veritable speedball of manic artistic and verbal energy) - to name but a few. Closer to home, I found yours truly suffering from chronic sinusitis, asthma and opthalmic migraines (a scary temporary loss of vision in which one sees only flashing lights). And, despite all the shots and precautions, my wife Amy and I both got Covid. That said, we tried to find solace in some of the following distractions that brought us joy over the past 365 days.


2023 was a banner year for Charm City ornithophiles. The long-suffering Orioles had the best record in the American League, winning 101 games on their way to being crowned champions of the toughest division in Major League Baseball, the American League East. Sure, they got burned in the post-season - albeit by the eventual World Champions, the Texas Rangers - but what a ride it was, and the league and pundits agreed as Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson won 2023 American League Silver Slugger Awards, Gunnar won AL Rookie of the Year, Felix Bautista won the Mariano Rivera Award as the top relief pitcher in the AL, Brandon Hyde won AL Manager of the Year and Mike Elias won MLB Executive of the Year. But for me, nothing topped being at Camden Yards for all four games of a four-game series against the Rays on September 14-17.  Amy and I cancelled our plans to go to the beach, sensing that this would be a crucial series, and it sure was - starting off bad with two tough losses, but ending with the Birds clinching a playoff spot after beating the Rays in the 11th inning, 5-4, on September 17. And nothing brought more joy than attending the September 15 Adam Jones Retirement Night at Oriole Park. Sure, we lost in a laugher of a game (lone mitigating factor:  witnessing rookie Heston Kjerstad's first MLB hit - a 418-foot home run to right field!), but nothing beat seeing the smile on Adam Jones face as our favorite Oriole got his due from the team and the fans. #10, legend!

And now it looks like the Ravens might go the O's one better, hopefully winning the Super Bowl and another MVP award for Lamar "Action" Jackson? They capped the year off by destroying the Miami Dolphins at home, guaranteeing themselves a post-season bye, one week after they destroyed the NFC's best team, the San Francisco 49ers. I'm not a football fan, but I love the joy they bring the city (we certainly can use it). Maryland may be Blue politically, but on the gridiron, we're a solid Purple State.


Christopher Nolan's OPPENHEIMER and Yorgos Lanthimos' POOR THINGS were the two best films I saw and by rights Cillian Murphy as quantum physicist Robert J. Oppenheimer and Emma Stone as beastly beauty Bella Baxter should get Best Actor awards for their performances. I didn't see KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON - the 3 1/2-hour running time scared my bladder off (and believe me, POOR THINGS was long enough! Tell me again, whatever happened to brevity being the soul of wit?) - but if it doesn't win Best Picture, then surely OPPENHEIMER will? It's based, and skews closely to, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's 2005 book American Prometheus, which is also highly recommended.

POOR THINGS is also based on a book, Alisdair Gray's Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless, M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer (1992). I must say that while the "diabolical fuckfest of a puzzle" that is POOR THINGS (as quoted by New Yorker critic Anthony Lane, himself quoting Mark Ruffalo's wonderfully caddish character Duncan Wedderburn's take on Bella) engaged Amy and I throughout its 2 hours and 21 minutes runtime, my bladder was slightly less amused. There were some unnecessary "woke" side-stories that added nothing to the overall story - a horny, feminist riff on the Frankenstein myth and a steam-punk skewering of both Romanticism and the age of Enlightenment - and had me checking my watch at the 2-hour mark. To wit: Jerrod Carmichael's cynical philosopher Harry Astley taking Bella to Alexandria to show her the plight of the poor and afflicted, and Suzy Bemba's socialist prostitute Toinette showing her, what, agit-clit sisterhood? These scenes could have easily been edited out.

Needless to say, the big takeaways from the film besides Emma Stone's tour-de-force acting props (and Willem Dafoe's performance as her Dr Frankenstein-styled creator Dr. "God"win Baxter, and Mark Ruffalo's delightful romp as the louche Wedderburn) will be its ruminations on the meaning of life (and its symbiotic companion, death), its questioning of prevailing social orders and why we even bother with them, and Lathimos' grand visuals and outlandish costumes. Oh, and my new favorite word for sex, coined by an enthusiastic Bella: "Furious Jumping." "Why do people not do this all the time?" she asks. Why indeed, Bella.

Best Movie Runner-ups: GODZILLA MINUS ZERO (I cried! So did Amy!) and Miyazaki's latest (but not last, apparently) THE BOY AND THE HERON - the latter of which, like all Miyazaki films, bears repeated viewings in order to take in and understand the surfeit of images and concepts absorbed. Of course Amy and I saw the subbed version, it goes without saying (why are Americans so linquistically lazy?). And it inspired us to read the 1937 book How Do You Live? by Genzabuo Yoshino - in the film it's the book left to young protagonist Mahito Maki by his late mother, and apparently it greatly influenced Miyazaki and other young men of his generation when it first appeared in pre-war Japan. 

GODZILLA MINUS ONE is not just another title in the Gojira canon, it's also an incredibly moving Japanese post-war drama. Action fans will love it for the action, Godzilla fans will love it for the amazing design of This Year's Model, but there's also plenty on offer here for everyone's tastes, even, say, Ozu lovers. Because it's a real story, with real meaty content and character arcs, and not just mindless shooting and explosions (we saw enough of that in the 30 minutes of trailers for American action movies that preceded the movie at the Towson Cinemark; mental note: always arrive half an hour after listed start time to avoid the interminable Cinemark/Amazon/SUV/Paramount+/etc ads and mindless franchise movie trailers). And thank god it was subbed and not dubbed

Most Honorable Mention: I also liked Todd Haynes' quiet drama MAY DECEMBER. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it reminded me of an Ingmar Bergman film in the way it examined the complexity of relationships below the skin-deep surface. The film was loosely based on the real-life tabloid story of American teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who had a sexual relationship with her sixth-grade student and later married him. Like Bergman's PERSONA, it featured two strong female protagonists - Natalie Portman (is there a more beautiful woman on Earth? No wonder she's Thor's GF!) and the always brilliant Julianne Moore - psychologically probing one another, looking for chinks in one another's body armor, but it was Charles Melton as the "May" husband to Moore's complex "December" who truly stood out in the acting chops. Truly a sleeper star in the making, and no doubt worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Portman & Moore: Psychological Beauty PERSONA-fied

Breakout Star: Charles Melton as "Joe"

And forget the first half of the BARBIEHEIMER phenomenon. Amy and I saw BARBIE (it was hard not to given the hype) and were underwhelmed - sure, it was fun but total fluff and the 2nd half was overly preachy and hokey-wokey (a fat Barbie? Where was that ever in the Barbie-verse? Sure, there was a "Curvy" Barbie in 2016, but it was more Kardashian of figure than Lizzo-esque) and Will Ferrell's "comic antics" were painful to endure. And we had no interest in ASTEROID CITY. We’ve seen enough self-indulgent movies about nothing and lasted a mere 10 minutes before clicking the remote. I like a lot of early Wes Anderson movies, but ever since THE FRENCH DISPATCH I find myself agreeing with critic Roger Moore that Anderson's oeuvre has metastasized from cleverly-linked bits & bobs into oxygen-free stylish twee.


We mostly caught up on old series we hadn't seen before (SUCCESSION, WESTWORLD, THE TERROR, the "Running Up That Hill" 4th season of STRANGER THINGS, etc.), but of the new offerings, Amy and I loved:

  1. Aussie comedy FISK (Netflix). Kitty Flanagan is Helen Tudor-Fisk, a former high-end lawyer forced to slum it at an estate planning firm where, in her floppy “festival of brown” pant suits, she endures humiliation on a daily basis. I think I love Helen most because she's no-nonsense when it comes to coffee, preferring cheap convenience store java (I'm a RoFo man myself!) to the outlandishly pricey lattes served up at curated coffee cafes. Her put-downs of pretentious barristas and smoothie-dispensing snowflakes ("Hi, I'm Malcolm, pronounced 'Melcome, like welcome!'") warm the cockles of my overly-caffeinated heart.

  2. Season 6 of BLACK MIRROR on Netflix was a welcome return after pandemic-induced limbo. Besides showing the dark side of technology and social media (“Joan Is Awful,” “Beyond the Sea”), the series branched out into horror and true crime spoofs. Especially satisfying was the Scottish serial killer episode “Loch Henry” in which the old John Nettles detective series BERGERAC and VHS tapes figured prominently (and hilariously!).

  3. The latest seasons of INSIDE NO. 9 (#8) on Britbox and the classy DALGLIESH (#2) and Kiwi-centric BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES (#9) on Acorn.

  4. We also enjoyed the 2nd season of Acorn's SHORT FILM SHOWCASE (also on Amazon Prime and others), which seemed to feature all Irish shorts (Erin go bragh!). They were all good, but the standout for us was the romantic CROSSWORD, which thankfully you can also see for free on YouTube. "On a significant day in her life a lonely woman, who finds solace in the daily crossword, discovers that the answers to the clues are all around her. Is it magic, coincidence, or something else entirely?"

  5. The neo-operatic WHITE LOTUS Season 2 (Max) may not have been as good as Season 1, but it still had the marvelous Jennifer Coolidge unpacking her anxieties in a lush Neapolitan setting, and added the always-stellar Aubrey Plaza, F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hollander (The Rev!) to the cast, not to mention the extremely sexy Napoli native Simona Tabasco as a calculating working girl. And a great soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia de Veer (see also: the UK Utopia)!

  6. We also loved BEEF (Netflix), my gateway drug into the comedic genius of Ali Wong. I subsequently binged on all her Netflix stand-up specials. And Steven Yeung (Minari, Nope, Burning) was a revelation, showing that his acting chops were wasted killing zombies all those years on The Walking Dead.

    Where's the Beef? Steve Yeung and Ali Wong

  7. And while it's an old series (later remade in a US version, begging the question: why?) the original 2014 UK version of UTOPIA (Britbox, Amazon Prime) was one of the most brilliant - and, given the pandemic, topical - dystopian British TV series I've ever seen. A total mindfuck with a stellar cast of unknowns (at least on these shores, saving James Fox and Stephen Rea, of course), a villain named Mr. Rabbit, an on-the-spectrum killer addicted to Raisinets, and probably the most unrepentantly graphic scenes of violence (school children massacred!) and torture (eye-gouging, eww!) I ever recall seeing on the boob tube. But I couldn’t look away! Watch it and you too will be asking, "Where is Jessica Hyde?" Between this series and Jeffrey Epstein's "suicide," I'm all in on Conspiracy Theories now! There were 2 seasons, but hope springs eternal that there will be a reboot somewhere down the line. And the outstanding series theme music? Cristobal Tapia de Veer (White Lotus)!

  8. This just in...LETTERKENNY's final season - Season 12 - just dropped on Hulu on December 26. Amy immediately gave herself a post-Christmas gift by re-subscribing to Hulu just for this. Even though we haven't had a chance to binge it all, consider it top of this list. Oh, and as part of Hulu, we finally got to see FARGO Season 5 (FX), which we just started binging. All I can say is two words: Juno Temple. Sure, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jon Hamm (who's having a "Go Ham" year, showing his comedic chops in the otherwise lame GOOD OMENS 2) are great, too, but this is basically a one-woman play, as the TED LASSO (which I've still never seen!) English star nails the Minnesota accent and kicks Rambo-ass as Midwest hausfrau-cum-Tiger Mom Dorothy "Dot" Lyon.  



  1. LET'S DO IT by Bob Stanley. This was Stanley's prequel to his outstanding capsule history of rock ‘n’ roll (YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!), wherein he writes with flair about both the famous (Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Gershwin, Ellington, Armstrong) and the forgotten (Mystic Moods Orchestra, Jeri Southern, Whispering Jack Smith, Annette Hanshaw) of the pre-war era. And Stanley gets Sinatra. Really gets him. "Frank Sinatra is the fulcrum of this book. He understood and assimilated much of what happened in the past, he dictated what would happen in the immediate future, and the various phases of his career - pin-up boy vocalist, album-oriented adult singer, late-period duets - are still a blueprint for artists in the twenty-first century...Technically - his pitch, his fluid phrasing - he could out-sing pretty much everyone, though it was when the flaws crept into his singing in the mid-1950s that things got really interesting." Spot on!


  2. MONICA, the latest graphic head-scratcher novel from the always fascinating Daniel Clowes, America’s reigning cartoonist. Like the best of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films, Clowes' comics warrant return visits to unravel the many layers of meaning and detail in each panel..

  3. Quentin Tarantino’s CINEMA SPECULATION. I’m not a Tarantino fanatic by any means, but I gotta give props to his film writing, especially about ‘70s cineplex fare. He was blessed with a boho mom and his mom’s cool Black boyfriend who took him to not-for-kids movies, everything from Euro arthouse and indie American features to Blaxploitation and Kung-Fu flicks. The influence on his subsequent hipster-populist career is telling.

  4. Peter Biskind's PANDORA'S BOX: How Guts, Guile, and Greed Upended TV. Biskind is the master guide to the golden age of American independent filmmaking (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls; Down and Dirty Pictures) and in PANDORA’S BOX he turns his attention to the golden age of “Prestige/Peak Television” and its unfortunate demise into today’s fodder: a return of cable and streaming platforms to commercial network TV’s “standards and procedures”, i.e., a dearth of freedom and imagination. Peak TV is now merely peaked: pale, wan and emaciated.

  5. THIS WAS HOLLYWOOD by Carla Valderrama. I love all the TCM film books that have come out recently and this one presents the most fascinating stories about the legends and forgotten stars of Hollywood (like Puzzums, "the cat who clawed his way to silver screen fame" and the only feline ever to sign a Hollywood contract), from its birth through its Golden Age. The LA-based Valderrama's prose is as slick as the photographs and imaginative layout that accompany it, and her jacket photo - showing her sporting heart-shaped glasses and a leopard-skin blouse - indicates she is trying to carry on the spirit of Hollywood glamour from its mythic-glory days.


  1. The Monuments' first-ever CD, Supreme (which is available to stream or purchase on CD from Bandcamp) was my favorite record of the year. Originally hailing from the Baltimore/Annapolis area, The Monuments have been working off and on for more than 40 years, but surprisingly, these are their first trax on wax. Though a number of players have come and gone over the years, the nucleus remains frontwoman Cindy Borchardt (Bobby Sox, The Beaters, Silver Birches) on vocals, William Sutherland (Judie's Fixation) on guitar and vocals, Russel Stone on guitar and vocals, and Jay Turner (Judie's Fixation, Tom Principato Band, Leah Simmons) on bass, with Richard King now providing the rock-steady beat on drums.

    As the title suggests, the single features two Supremes covers, "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "My World Is Empty," both written by Motown's hit songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Many groups have covered the Motown songbook and countless female singers have tackled Diana Ross' vocal stylings, but Cindy Borchardt's pipes are more than up to the task. But what really makes The Monuments' covers a Supreme achievement is the arrangements. They retain Holland-Dozier-Holland's soulfulness, while the twin guitar attack of Stone and Sutherland add a hard-edged punk vibe to the classic soul melodies. But don't take my word for it, check them out for yourself at their Bandcamp page: (Yes, it's Monumentz spelled with a "z" because there are other bands using that name! Same deal with their email, it's

  2. It’s not new, but the SITA SINGS THE BLUES soundtrack (the movie is streaming on Kanopy) was my favorite musical discovery of the year, an unlikely but successful mix of Indian and 1920s jazz music. This film itself is about The Ramayana, an important text in Hindu mythology, and primarily focuses on Sita, an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, who is married to Rama, an avatar of Vishnu.

    I discovered this amazing film after Amy came across an old 78 rpm record at her parent’s house by a “Miss Annette Hanshaw,” who apparently was famous for always ending her songs with her signature, “That’s all!” Curious, we Googled the name and immediately came across this movie directed, produced and animated by artist Nina Paley that cleverly juxtaposes Indian mythology and iconography with Annette Hanshaw's flapper-era blues songs. The art, story and soundtrack were an imaginative mix of East and West and how, now, ever the twain shall meet. Including Hanshaw's music led to copyright snafus, making this a hard soundtrack to come by. Oh, and Nina Paley was later "cancelled" for "cultural appropriation" (which is why she now labels herself: "Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat."). Tough biscuit, that. Regardless, click here to hear Annette Hanshaw's music.

  3. Amy and I also really loved The Routes’ REVERBERATION ADDICT, wherein the Kyushu, Japan-based Anglo-Japanese garage band reimagined Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady With Surf-Rock. Yes, twangy guitar versions of punk classics! The Routes also covered Kraftwerk’s canon - of all things! - quite successfully on THE TWANG MACHINE. Check 'em out at Bandcamp.

  4. Sonny Stitt - BOPPIN' IN BALTIMORE. Sonny Stitt was one of my dad's favorite sax players and this 2023 release by Zev Feldman for his Jazz Detective label shows why. Presented by the Left Bank Jazz Society, this two-disc set was recorded live on November 11, 1973 at The Famous Ballroom on North Charles Street at what is now The Charles Theater. Stitt never got his due compared to the "other Sonny" (Sonny Rollins), but here, backed by the stellar trio of pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Louis Hayes, he more than makes his case that he is one of the greatest hard-bop stylists of all time.

  5. Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs' Ace Records compilations. Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs are not just members of the UK indie-pop group St. Etienne, but also avid record collectors, DJs, pub pop-quiz curators and, notably in Stanley's case, authors. And, thankfully, their tastes are exquisite. I especially liked their '80s synth-pop THE TEARS OF TECHNOLOGY compilation. As they write in the liner notes, "Like mellotrons before them, synthesizers could project a strange and deep emotion - something in the wiring had an inherent melancholy. Previous generations had often disparaged synths as dehumanising machines but, at the turn of the '80s, a new crop of musicians appeared who could coax them into creating modern and decidely moving music. It was almost as if these groups had set out to prove the doubters wrong." Well said, lads!

Standouts tracks here include the lovely cascading synths on China Crisis' opener "Jean Walks in Fresh Field," Turquoise Days' "Grey Skies," Oppenheimer (him again!) Analysis' "Behind the Shades," and, as always John Foxx, the synth-pop pioneer himself, with "An Evening in the Rain" from 1981's The Garden. Oh, and I discovered Electronic Circus, the band formed by former Tubeway Army synth-player (and co-writer of Visage's "Fade To Grey") Chris Payne. Their lone single "Direct Lines" features the lovely Siouxsie Sioux-styled vocals of Penny Heathcote (ex-The Corvettes; see her "Love To Hate You" single). These artists rub elbows with the usual (and more familiar) suspects here: The Human League, OMD, Simple Minds, Soft Cell and even your friendly neighborhood folk-punk with a synth, Patrik Fitzgerald.

And I also really dug the boys' FELL FROM THE SUN, which gathers the best of the 98bpm records that sound-tracked the summer of 1990. As the authors explain, "1990 and '91 brought a host of records that were made to accompany the sunrise; they slowed the pace on the dancefloor itself, right down to 98bpm. Woozy and hypnotic, this was the perfect post-club soundtrack." Well, I never was a raver, so this is an introduction to me of what I missed. It's pretty chill, the note-perfect soothing accompaniment for my nerve-wracking commutes to work on the Jones Falls Expressway. Highlights include Primal Scream's "Higher Than the Sun," Q-Tee & History's "Africa" (Ya-Ya!), The Grid's "Floating," and  The Aloof's "Never Get Out of the Boat" (Flying Mix) with its Martin Sheen/Apocalypse Now sample, which goes all the way (absolutely goddamn right!).

But wait, there's more! I'm looking forward in the new year to Bob Stanley's' latest playlist, Fantastic Voyage New Sounds For The European Canon 1977-1981 - this time collaborating with the BFI'Jason Woodwhich drops January 26 (this is definitely an early birthday present to myself!). And Stanley's newest book, The Story of the Bee Gees: Children of the World, crosses the pond to our shores on February 6, 2024!

But wait, there's STILL more! I'd be remiss not to mention my wunnerful Christmas gift from Amy, which is a hybrid of text, images and sounds: 

The Art of Punk & New-Wave Covers: It's a flip calendar that lets you scan Spotify codes to play each album displayed! My birthday is the first, self-titled Psychedelic Furs album, and Amy's is the Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food


Our favorite jock, the legendary Weasel, was canned, so we tuned out WTMD (though we still like old-timer Bob the Paper Guy and Don "Donzo" Gold's playlists) and turned in mourning to internet radio for salvation: 

  1. Robbie White’s “Forbidden Alliance” Sunday mornings 9 am-12pm on WOWD (94.3 FM) features the best shout-outs to the heritage of local heroes from the Balto-Washington area, especially The Slickee Boys and their spin-off bands. Robbie's special guests are equally outstanding, like his interview with Jeff Krulik about old music venues like Adam Morgan's Ambassador Theater (Jimi Hendrix played there in 1967!) and DC's heralded lineage of guitar greats like Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan and Roy Clark. And, as always, his year-end Christmas Special with Chick Veditz (and sometimes LesLee Anderson!) is something we Marble Bar alumni always look forward to.

    Robbie White (middle) flanked by Slickee Kim Kane, Chick Veditz, LesLee Anderson and Weasel!

  2. Skizz Cyzyk’s “Point Me At the Sky” every other Tuesday morning 9-12 on Radio Plastique (download the app now!). Skizz has heard it all, owns it all, and plays it all. I discovered he was a Neil Young fan thanks to one of his eclectic playlists (I never knew!). And, naturally, he already knew all about The Routes and played the heck outta 'em on his show!

  3. OK, it's regular old transmission radio, but I have to mention another Tuesday show that tickled my toes in 2023, Charlie Stinchcombe's "Psyched Out" Sixties-psych-garage program 8-10 pm on WKHS (90.5 FM). WKHS' strong signal broadcasts all the way over the Bay from Kent County High School ("The Voice of the KCHS Trojans") in Worton, MD, where Charlie also hosts a Doo-Wop show from 6-8 pm every Tuesday night. With tens of thousands of rare records in his arsenal, Charlie is truly the Gandalf of the Grooves, and every week I discover a new obscure '60s band or song I've never heard of before.
Charlie Stinchcombe, host of "Psyched Out"

Thrift Stores:

The Goodwill Super Store, 7928 Eastern Avenue in Dundalk brought me more joy than any other second-hand store I visited in 2023. Amy found several stylish outfits there, while I scored some hidden treasure of my own. I never owned ANY Crack the Sky albums until I spotted CRACK ADDICT: THE BEST OF CRACK THE SKY there for $2. It's the perfect intro for a Tommy-come-lately neophyte like me, and it's been on heavy rotation on the car stereo ever since. Nothin' but the best, later for the rest!

The next week I picked up the CARTOONS THAT TIME FORGOT: FROM THE VAN BEUREN STUDIO for $2, a DVD that lists for up to $138 used on Amazon! While far from great, these early pre-Code 'toons, featuring Molly Moo-Cow, Toonnerville Trolley, and other unknowns, are seldom seen today (though to his credit, Pee-Wee Herman used to feature them regularly on his Saturday morning TV show) but are a real kick to a cinephile like me. New York's Van Beuren Studios were rivals to Walt Disney back in the day, mainly thanks to animator Paul Terry (Mighty Mouse, Heck & Jeckyl)'s "Aesop Fables" series, and it's fun to watch these early forays into animation before the studios found their legs and their brand.

Record Shows:

Amy and I enjoyed the two big Baltimore record shows throughout the year: the bi-monthly Baltimore Record Bazaar held at Peabody Heights Brewery in Waverly and the Arbutus Record Show, held on the third Sunday of each month at the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Dept. Hall. 

They're both fun, but we tend to find better wares at the Arbutus record show, where our favorite dealer is prog-meister Bill "Thought You Couldn't Find It" Martin (, discogs id: billhatman - send him your want list!). His CDs and LPs aren't cheap, but they are reasonable given their hard-to-find nature and, after all, you gets what you pays for! Sign of quality? He had a lot of Gong (which I never see ANYWHERE!), NRBQ, Krautrock and (personal faves) rare Byrds CDs, like the wonderful Gene Clark import AMERICAN DREAMER.

Dealer Bill Martin: The Man in the Hat

That said, we did find some good wares at the Baltimore Record Bazaar, too. For example, Amy scored an ultra-rare copy of Kraftwerk's ELECTRIC CAFE CD for a song. Thanks to Ralf Hutter's obsessive revisionism that seeks to erase their analog catalog years, old Kraftwerk albums are extremely hard to find these days and, while this one is considered a low-water mark in the Dusseldorf boys discography, ELECTRIC CAFE is easily our favorite (and funniest - if you can imagine Kraftwerk being humorous) album.

Meanwhile, at a March Peabody Heights BRB, I spotted 2 Katatonix LPs, ALL SOLD OUT (1988) and this ultra rare signed-by-the-band copy of the long out-of-print DIVINE MISSION (1984). I had the original, so I passed on the $75 sticker price, but it was fun to look at the doodles on the sleeve.

 Amy also found yet another Mark Harp 12-inch there that day ("Boring Holes") and the dealer asked her if she knew Mark: "Know him? I was married to him!"

And at a May Peabody Heights record show, I got a great deal on some SoulJazz Punk 45 CDs from an Everton FC fan who kept me clued to the day's EPL Championship Sunday scores. Next door at Normal's Books & Music, the day's scores continued when I found Eric Idle and Neil Innes' Rutland Times LP, plus Malcolm McLaren's Madam Butterfly 12-incher (featuring Towson High grad Genie Vincent on the cover!), another rare Gruppo Sportivo record (albeit not as great as Mistakes), and a coveted (for Rundgren record runts like me) used copy of Paul Myers' A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio.


Amy got me involved with Postcrossings, wherein one sends and receives postcards to postcard lovers arund the world. While I'm nowhere near her tallies, I did receive some really cool postcards, especially from Japan! These were two of my favorites:

The guy who sent this card loves Blade Runner, Ozu & Queen - a kindred soul!

This card was from a fellow Astroboy fan!

And I'd be remiss not to mention the wonderful Viv Stanshall postcard I received from Amy for my birthday!:

Digital Music:

Nothing made me happier in 2023 than this unexpected treasure I received from Robyn Webb at Thanksgiving: all the tunes and spoken word tales a Bonzo Dog Band and Vivian Stanshall fan could ask for on one thumb drive! Thanks are given, Robyn!

Thumb drive by Robyn Webb; thumbs by Tom Warner

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Chris Jensen, 1956-2023

Rest in Peace

(July 15, 2023) - Saddened and shocked to hear the news that Christopher Jensen has died. A true Baltimore character, Chris was a multi-talented guy - a working class hero and craftsman beloved by arty bohemians and blue-collar tradesmen alike. (Be sure to check out The Tradesmen, the documentary by his filmmaker cousin Richard Yeagley that features Chris hard at work plying his trade!)

He was essential OG crew for early Atomic TV (along with Kelly Conway, Melissa Darwin and Todd Stachowski) – a guy who not only could hold the camera while Scott Huffines and I made asses of ourselves, but actually keep it in focus. He was a total pro and (like Adolf Kowalski and Dave Wilcox), a big, charismatic personality, the likes of which we'll never see again. He was very self-deprecating, as reflected in his humor. One needed only to see the Jensen Plumbing van pull up on the street with its Tom Chalkley-designed cartoon of a wrench-clutching plumber bending over to show off his butt crack with the slogan "Your Poop Is My Bread and Butter" to realize that this was not your dad's Roto-Rooter Man! All Jensen Plumbing memorabilia - the business cards, the refrigerator magnets, the t-shirts (I wish I still had my "Your Poop Is My Bread and Butter" shirt!) were and are collector's items, especially the Christmas cards he had specially made by his artist pal Tom Chalkley.

The Jensen Plumbing Man (art by Tom Chalkley)

Everything I know about camerawork I learned from the self-trained Chris, and I used to edit titles in his basement where he had a very effective, old school analog setup (two Panasonic S-VHS AG-1970s! I gave him one of mine when his died, as Chris was an avid fan of "cuts-only" editing, even when he upgraded to fancy digital software), the same setup he used to edit Laure Drogoul's 14Karat Cabaret TV show with her (he also did camerawork for her because he loved crazy Art and Music of any sort!).

Good lord the man loved his art. Every time he did a plumbing job for me, he was willing to trade his time for art – he especially craved the framed R. Crumb “Tommy Toilet” poster I had hanging in the Porcelain Palace and the Yellow Submarine Toilet Seat an obsessive library fan gave me when I got married. I wish I had given them to him now.

He also helped me clean up the clutter in my old Townhouse Shabby in Rodgers Forge. “Tommy, I deal in shit & grime every day, so when a plumber tells you that you need to clean up your act, heed the advice!” Of course, he was the Felix Unger of plumbers, a neatnik who always obsessively cleaned up his work afterwards, just as he obsessively cleaned up the litter around his block in Charles Village.

He was one of a kind, the Joker Wild in the card deck, a loveable nut and loyal friend. I wish we had kept up more. The last time we saw Chris was December 2018 at Joe Squared, where he was out to support a show featuring The Jennifers and ex-Slickee Boy Marshall Keith. He had a cane (years of hard labor had taken their toll on his back and knees), but despite losing a step or two, he was as gregarious and energetic as usual. Time will not flush away memories of what a treat it was to know Chris Jensen.

Be sure to check out Scott’s Huffines’ wonderful appreciation of Chris Jensen on the Baltimoreorless site, which is full of great photos of Chris. Baltimore IS less without Chris. 

As Scott says:

How do you describe Chris Jensen? He was a community organizer and community activist, art collector and artist, plumber and model, unofficial mayor of Charles Village, Atomic TV cameraman… he was a pro and an essential part of what made our little-watched public access program Atomic TV so great and we'll miss him. The last time I saw him (pre-rona) he brought me a case of Bud and I drank it like it was the 1990s at Memory Lane. The thing that impressed me most about Chris was how engaged he was with the community. Baltimore is losing too many cool people too soon – at least the memories survive.

Chris Jensen perched on his throne (photo by Chris Myers)

Related links:

"Chris Jensen, Rest in Peace" (Baltimoreorless)
"Chris the Plumber Turns 50" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
"Close Encounters of the Turd Kind" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
"Everyman Art Collector" (Baltimoreorless)
"Underdog Lady Encounters the Negativity Scene" (YouTube)
"Jensen Plumbing commercial for Atomic TV" (YouTube)

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

Tom & Amy Remember Adolf Kowalski

He called himself The Living Legend," but since his family didn't publish an obituary (it's, um, complicated), it's up to his friends, lovers and bandmates to insure that he is remembered and that his legacy (good and/or bad, depending on one's point of view) lives on in some form. There's the music, of course; he may be only cremains but the tunes remain...but more than that are the memories gathered here, there and everywhere on social media. Ross Haupt/"Adolf Kowalski" touched many, many lives in Baltimore and across the globe. He certainly touched the lives of me and my wife Amy and was always, without fail, nice to us. Following are our thoughts about his untimely passing from renal failure on March 21, 2023. He was 63 years old.


Tom Warner (aka "Tommy Gunn," friend and co-founding bandmate in Thee Katatonix)

 March 21, 2023: I heard the news today, oh boy...the King is dead.

Ross Haupt, aka "Adolf Kowalski"

45 years ago, Katie Glancy and I met the young Ross Haupt in the Towson State University Glen, where Katie and he concocted a plan to start a rock and roll band. I came in as part of a package deal with Katie (kind of like a multiplayer MLB trade) because I wanted to go out with her and lied and said I could play drums because, well, how hard could it be in a punk band? (I hadn't yet heard Rat Scabies - dummy me!). Who knew then that Katie & the Katatonix, the fledgling group soon to be rechristened Thee Katatonix, would blossom and grow (like a fungus) and that Ross - soon to be rechristened Adolf Kowalski - would soldier on through the decades and additional bands (All About Suzie, Blunt Force Trauma, etc), never abandoning his career and lifestyle aspirations of being a rock star and Living Legend. Well, he is no longer living but the legend lives on - warts (there were plenty) and all.

The Heroic Trio? Thee Original Katatonix, 1979 (illustration by David Wilcox)

Katie Katatonic, Tommy Gunn  & Adolf Kowalski

Adolf was always fronting the image, but beneath the hubris there was a guy who would do anything for those he loved. He was my confidant in those early band days, the keeper of secrets I'll take to my grave (and vice versa). He once confided, "The old days were best, man"...They were, but they weren't made to last, not at the pace he set. A charmer, a harmer, a lover, a hater, a changer and a re-arranger -  Ross/Adolf was a complex character who found Better Living Thru Chemistry, even when his body disagreed. RIP, old friend. I know you'll be pissed at missing Svengoolie each weekend, but what the hell ya gonna do? Indeed, that was the question when you became financially independent and stopped working: what the hell ya gonna do? There was dope and booze, of course, but given your creative spirit, that wasn't enough. So you poured your energies into some "venture capital" projects, like releasing Katatonix CDs, recording other artists you liked, financing the ill-fated Coffin Cuties magazine and clothing line, going to lots of concerts, and so on. And supporting any friends that needed a helping hand. That's why Robyn Webb once quipped that, while "Adolf Kowalski" could be one of the biggest a-holes on earth, Ross Haupt was the best friend anyone who experienced that side of him could ask for.

The old days were best, man!

Ah, more memories of those good old days...The early Kats did everything together and saw a lot of shows en masse: Blondie/Rockpile at Merriweather, Elvis Costello at Georgetown, The Ramones everywhere. One of the best was Devo at Painter's Mill, December 29, 1978 - when Mark Mothersbaugh came into the audience playing a wireless guitar, Adolf grabbed his ass and tore this piece off his yellow jumpsuit. I treasured it and had it laminated, apparently using a TSU photo laminator!

Mark Mothersbaugh's Devo suit

When the Cramps played the Marble Bar, we all went and I recall Lux Interior leaning over the stage to swipe Adolf's sunglasses (worn, as the song goes, after dark) and put them on his head. Adolf was touched. 

I'll never forget Adolf picking us up at my parent's house to go to the Preakness in May 1980. He showed up in a full-length blue polka-dot raincoat with a cowboy hat and dark sunglasses and announced that he had just dropped acid for the occasion. ("You gonna be alright with him driving?" my sister Nancy asked. "Sure, what could go wrong?" I naively replied.) We sat in the kitchen watching John Lydon and PiL wreaking havoc on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. It set the tone for the day.

Then there were the infamous shows in D.C. At Madam's Organ in Adam's Morgan we debuted "I Hate D.C." to a less than receptive audience (go figure!) in a shitshow of a performance that found us all suffering from Montezuma's Revenge after our suspect pre-show dinner; we couldn't wait to get off the stage and back to the grimy bathroom. And our show at Scandals caused a riot that shut the place down. But trouble was already brewing before the gig when Adolf - driving Katie, me and new recruit Steevie Squeegee (Mike Milstein) - around Georgetown, sarcastically complimented some Marines on their crewcuts - the irate grunts chased us around for blocks. Not done with antagonizing the Armed Services, on the same trip Adolf also drove by a midnight screening of The Empire Strikes Back and, seeing a line of people waiting to get in, shouted out his spoiler "Darth Vader is Luke's father!" Again, the audience was less than receptive. But that was Adolf. No matter where you were, you had to be ready for an adventure.

Front Page Story: Adolf's "Boogie Nights" profile (City Paper, 1981)

Of all the achievements in his tragically short life - founding Towson's first (and Baltimore's 2nd) punk band, backing Edith Massey, touring SanFran and the UK, playing the Mudd Club, running for Guv'nor, releasing a cult LP (DIVINE MISSION) that goes for hundreds of bucks in Europe, winning those Battle of the Bands contests, the media accolades (who can forget Pam Purdy's "Boogie Nights" profile for the Baltimore City Paper?) - I think Adolf may have been most proud of winning the Dundalk Eagle's "Best Chili in Dundalk" award last year on “21222 Day.” (Dundalk celebrated a once-in-a-century date that Saturday, when the date, abbreviated as 2/12/22, matched Dundalk’s main ZIP code, 21222.) Of course, we “rocked” the vote (much as years ago we got “Katie Katatonic” elected “Homecoming Queen” by canvasing the Towson State campus with “Vote for the Punk” flyers!) It made the front page with the accompanying photo. Too bad he cannot defend his title.

Flanked by event organizers Peggy Sue Oliphant (left) and Will Feur (right), Adolf Kowalski takes home the cash prize for winning the “21222 Day” Dundalk chili cook-off (Dundalk Eagle photo by Dan Belson)

Kathleen Glancy Milstein (nee Katie Katatonic) just reminded me of another Adolf Kowalski achievement in his CV: He won the 1977 "Best Punk Costume" prize at the Iggy Pop/Ramones/Crack the Sky show at the Civic Center. This was before either of us had yet met him! But even then he was "in it to win it."

Best Punk Costume winner, 1977

His look changed constantly over the years from that initial bad boy punk style, but the attitude always remained the same. 

Adolf, hair-bent for leather

Adolf, "philosopher king and the boy most likely to" (City Paper photo by Jennifer Bishop)

I particularly liked his Prince Valiant look when the Kats went into their psychedelic flower-power phase.

Before he was King...Adolf as Prince Valiant, at a 1980s New Year's Eve Party…

Adolf, you left us too soon and took away all those great memories of "the good old days." I will miss your anecdotes, your wit, and your sense of humor. But hey, you went out on your terms, living the high life and going for the gusto. Living fast and, well, dying young. It’s kinda cliche, but it’s  “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Way.”


Amy Warner (nee Davis, nee Linthicum; friend and former Dundalk High schoolmate)

Ross Haupt before the transformation…into Adolf Kowalski

Way back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, I was friends with this guy Ross. He was likeable, kinda pudgy, quite smart. We liked the same music. That's how you bonded with people in those days. He took me to my first rock concert (Kiss), and my second (Queen). Then I went off to college in southern Maryland and we lost touch. Then either through a chance encounter or a phone call, I forget which, we were communicating again. He told me he was now calling himself Adolf Kowalski and fronting a band, Thee Katatonix, and he invited me to see them at the Marble Bar. I didn't drive back then, and I actually took public transportation to go and check them out. But alas, something happened and they didn't play that night. That was my first visit to the Marble. I did see them play soon enough, and was amazed at the transformation of Ross into this gaunt, theatrical and somewhat threatening persona. Adolf was always pissing people off, and would say and do things that would make me cringe. He could be quite rude. Yet he was always so generous to me, and to Tom. I remember a few years ago he plucked us out of the crowd at The Damned show, and put us where he was, with the unobstructed view. He offered to send us on a honeymoon... I wouldn't have met Tom Warner (Kats' drummer), or my first husband [Mark Linthicum, aka “Mark Harp” or “Harpo”], or any of my Marble friends if I didn't know I will miss Adolf; I will miss Ross. R.I.P. my friend.

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