Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tom's Big Score

Big Lots, Big Savings

I love Big Lots because I save lots on DVDs in the $3 bargain bin there. That's less cost than a Starbucks latte for a motion picture - something you can retain a lot longer than coffee. On a recent pilgrammage to the Dundalk Big Lots, conveniently located next door to the Dundalk Giant Food with its state-of-the-art bathroom facilities (which I needed after almost peeing myself over all the good stuff at Big Lots), I recently scored 20-some cool DVDS of the indie, cult and arthouse variety. Since Facebook friends suggested I post my thrift store scores, herein is the list.

Two DVDS representing 188 minutes-worth of 12 first films by 9 directors - all of whom attended film school at the University of Southern California - including three by George "Star Wars" Lucas (A Man and His Car , Electronic Labyrinth THX 1138 4EB, Freiheit), two by Robert "Back To the Future"/"Forest Gump" Zemeckis (The Lift, A Field of Honor), Richard "Donnie Darko" Kelly (The Goodbye Place), Richard L. Bare (whose The Oval Portrait is based on an Edgar Allan Poe story), Shawn Levy (Broken Record), John Turtletaub (Whatever It Takes), Kevin Reynolds (Proof), James Foley, Jr. (Silent Night), and Steve Sommers (Perfect Alibi).

Errol Morris' 1981 documentary, shot in Super 16, about oddball rednecks in this Northwest Florida town plays like a Dixieland version of Northern Exposure. Featuring a turkey hunter, a pet collector, a carpenter-preacher, and a couple who keep a jar of sand that they believe increases every day. Trust me, it's fascinating. I already own a copy, but I picked up an extra copy for an ex-Floridean friend so she can marvel at the vast cultural landscape she left behind.

This one makes me salivate. All the highlights from the 2006 World Cup, including Zinedine Zidane's infamous head-butt in the final against Italy's Azzuri. Again, I already own it, but I got for my soccer fanatic neighbor because I might use it as a bargaining chip in getting him to mow my lawn this week.

Another one I own but picked up for a friend who's really into '80s movies (PUTV came out in 1990 but it's totally '80s). Christian Slater was still riding his post-Heathers cult popularity when he made this tale about a rebellious high school "pirate radio" DJ named Happy Harry Hard-on. Great soundtrack includes songs by Concrete Blonde, Pixies, Bad Brains, Sonic Youth, and Cowboy Junkies. I remember seeing this at the historic Senator Theater back in the day.

Hany Abu-Assad (Rana's Wedding)'s 2005 film about two Palestinian childhood friends recruited to be suicide bombers was the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and became famously controversial when Israeli officials tried to extract a guarantee from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that Paradise Now would not be presented in the ceremony as representing the state of Palestine, despite the fact it was introduced as such in the Academy Awards' official website. A similar "political" analogy would be that of China and Taiwan, whereby Taiwan is called "Chinese Taipei" in international sports competitions (like the recent Beijing Olympics). As a result, the Internet Movie Database refers to its country of origin as "Occupied Palestinian Territory."

"Changing the world one prank at a time." I heard good stuff about this documentary concerning anti-corporate activists that travel from conference to conference, impersonating members of the World Trade Organization. Roger Ebert called it a "disturbing" doc. The filmmakers are Dan Ollman, Sarah Price and Chris Smith; Price and Smith previously scored a hit with the critically lauded American Movie (2000).

I love this 2005 Brazilian arthouse film by director Andrucha Waddington that tells the story of a young woman who in 1910 is taken, along with her mother, to a far-away desert by her husband. After her aged husband dies, she spends the next 59 years of her life hopelessly trying to escape her "house of sand." Think a feminine version of Robinson Crusoe, only surrounded by a sea of sand instead of water. Fernanda Torres (Four Days in September) is the star and I found her performance riveting. Her mother in the film is legendary Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station, Four Days in September), who was most recently seen stateside in Love in a Time of Cholera.

Christopher Guest's folk music parody masterpiece with an ensemble cast of the usual comedic suspects - Harry Shearer, Michael Mckena, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, and Bob Balaban. Essential and endlessly rewatchable.

Saw this on TV and loved John Malkovich's performance. Lots of garroting, which you don't see every day. A garrot glutton's delight, in fact, especially that assembly-line train garroting scene.

Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's. Supposed to be great, with outstanding performances by Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, and numerous award nominations, including an Oscar nom for Best Screenplay for director Noah Baumbach.

Mark Sandrich-directed Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical featuring Oscar winning song "The Continental." Ginger plays Mimi Glossop, a young woman unhappily married to a geologist who, accompanied by her dotty Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady), hires lawyer Edward Everett Horton to help her obtain a divorce. Complicating matters is American dancing sensation Guy Holden (Astaire), who falls madly in love with still-married Mimi. Sandrich was a top-notch director who directed five of the nine RKO musicals starring Astaire and Rogers, including Top Hat, Carefree, Shall We Dance, and Follow the Fleet in addition to this classic.

Another Mark Sandrich-directed Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical, notable for the singing and acting of Harriet Hilliard - later famous as Harriet Nelson on TV's Ozzie and Harriet show.

An orchestra loses its gig at a ritzy hotel when its leader, Roger (Gene Raymond), is caught romancing Belinha De Rezende (Dolores del Rio), a spicy, Brazilian guest. So it's off to Rio de Janeiro, where the band tries to save a hotel in peril and Raymond tries to woo Belinha from her fiancé. Not the greatest Astaire musical, but it does have that great wing-ding of an airplane dance number.

Internet reviewer "lovejuice" commented that the "Carioca" dance number in Rio is a remarkable example of how Hollywood skirted around the segregation laws then in effect. "The dance of Astaire, Rogers and white dancers are cut intertwined with the ensemble of about 40 black dancers. Audiences get the sense that they are all in the same room, but we never actually see them dance together in one frame, not until the very last part anyway. The very last shot is of black dancers dance Carioca with white dancers standing still on a rotating platform. The white do not dance, but the platform dances for them. This is perhaps the closest one can get to breaking the segregation law in 1933."

Lubitsch and a gabbing Garbo. 'Nuff said! But I actually picked it up for my dad's girlfriend, who adores Garbo. When released in 1939, it was billed as "Garbo laughs!" as it was her one and only comedy. I also like MGM's other tagline "Don't pronounce it - see it!"

Great high school neo-noir starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, 500 days of Summer).

Yes! He shoots, he scores! Six DVDs filled with almost 700 minutes ('count 'em!) of river explorations that lists for $44.95 on Amazon! I love Jacques Cousteau and can still remember taking a school field trip to the Loch Raven Theater to see his mind-blowing underwater adventures. This set covers everything from the Danube to the Mississippi to the Amazon. Even Muddy Waters. Not, not really.

A rare "comedy" (or as close to that term as he gets!) by Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse, Tokyo Sonata). Thought provoking, as per usual, from the most interesting Japanese director working today.

I'm so blind I misread this one as Thunderbirds G until I put a call in to T-bird expert David Cawley. Dave said it was a lesser Gerry Anderson work, but that's OK, I'll give it to my exterminator pal Scottie, who's a marionette animation fan (he loves Captain Scarlet!) Thunderbirds were go; now they're gone - from Big Lots!

OK, this was an Amy pick because she loves mainstream American TV (like her beloved WKRP in Cincinatti) (what can I say, she has peculiar taste - I mean, she likes me.)


The ones I put back - and am now regretting doing so, are:

Great movie about suburban ennui. Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly got the big credits, but it also features one of my fave actresses, Jane Adams (Joy Jordan from Todd Solondz' Happiness), who has a very disturbing parking scene on her blind date with a sex offender. Why didn't I get it?

No, not the stupid Howard Stern movie but the debut film by Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul).

The ninth installment in the Jim Varney/Ernest Powertools Worrell film franchise. As Billy McConnell pointed out, some Ernest flicks are legitimate cult films, like 1994's Ernest Gets a Job, which was directed by future Existo director Coke Sams. This one will torment me through many a sleepless night. Know what I mean, Vern?

*** AMY'S BIG SCORE *** (addendum)

Ohmigod! In my haste I forgot all the big scores my girlfriend Amy has made on budget DVDs at Big Lots, some which she has graciously given to me (we share!). These include many big-name auteurs, like:

PAN'S LABYRINTH (Guillarmo del Toro!)
Some say it should have won the 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar that went to The Lives of Others.

DAY FOR NIGHT (Truffaut!)


ROADIE (Alan Rudolph!)
Alan Rudolph's 1980 cult classic stars Meatloaf as Travis W. Redfish with a star-studded cast of Don "Soul Train" Cornelius, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry and Blondie,and members of Asleep at the Wheel.

BROKEN FLOWERS (Jim Jarmusch!)


This 2004 tokusatsu (live-action) version of creator Go Nagai's sexy manga and anime superheroine was directed by Hideaki Anno and stars popular Japanese model Eriko Sato as the scantily clad Cutie Honey. But the live-action version is every bit as cartoonish as the manga, playing like a kitschy episode of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers as Honey does battle with a bunch of silly-named villains like Sister Jill, Gold Claw, Cobalt Claw, Scarlet Claw and Black Claw. Great fun!

This is a 2006 hybrid anime project: based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto and made in Japan, but directed by an American, first-time helmer Michael Arrias. It tells the story of two orphans, White and Black, who try to survive in a grity metropolitan slum called Treasure Town. It looks cool.


I think she also scored the eerie Spanish horror film THE ORPHANAGE.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Feets Accompli

Baltimore Soccer is a Blast

Rossoneri Ronnie takes on the battlin' Blues

I'm soccered-out after a sports weekend highlighted by all the soccer coverage of the "World Football Challenge" (a six-match round-robin tournament featuring four of the world's elite teams spreading their club "brand name" - as increasingly pompous ESPN commentator Alexi Lalas phrased it - to American audiences) on ESPN. (Not to mention the Gold Cup final between Mexico and the USA's B Team, but the less said about that 5-0 drubbing by our friends south of the border the better!) Chelsea's Blues may have won the overall exhibition competition, but the real star of the event was Baltimore, where 71,200 fans packed M&T Stadium for the match between Chelsea FC of the English Premiere League and A.C. Milan of the Italian Serie A. Detroit may have slipped past us as Murder Capitol USA, but to the international soccer community, Baltimore is #1; we were the only sell-out for the competition (OK, 81,000 people filled the Rose Bowl match between Chelsea and Inter Milan, but the Rose Bowl seats 100,000). Yes, Bawmer the baseball and football (or "throwball," as I call it) town turned out in capacity numbers for a soccer match. And it was a great game, won by Chelsea 2-1 and featuring a scorching goal by my man Didier Drogba! Color me impressed! (You can even color me Blue after seeing The Blues look so dominant.)

Highlights of the Chelsea-AC Milan match at M&T Stadium

Fan Kyle Gustafson took some great photos at the game (he either had great seats or a great telephoto camera lens); check out his blog pix.

The previous record attendance for a soccer match in Baltimore was 24,680, for which you'd have to go back to May 30, 1973 when the Baltimore Bays took on Brazilian superstar Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) and his club team Santos at Memorial Stadium.

Pele took on the Baltimore Bays in 1973

I know, because I was there with some other teenaged St. Paul's School soccer chums. Pele scored three goals that night to lead Santos past the Baltimore Bays 6-4 - seeing 10 goals in a game was every bit as exciting as seeing Pele himself! Santos played the Bays again in Baltimore on June 19, 1973, once again beating the Bays, this time by 4-0.

In the early days of the North American Soccer League (1967-68), the Baltimore Bays had a franchise that played home games in Memorial Stadium and the late-great Jim Karvellas was the team's play-by-play announcer. Karvellis later became a co-owner of the Bays when they played in the American Soccer League (1972-73). According to Baltimore's Press Box, "Following the final season with the ASL, Karvellas' Bays played an independent schedule against international competition and hosted the powerful Moscow Dynamos and Santos of Brazil for two exciting nights of big-time soccer that have never been duplicated in this town."

The latter Santos reference has to be the 1973 game I saw on May 30.

I still remember the Baltimore Bays theme song they used to play over the loudspeakers, "It's a Gold & Red World." It was sung by none other than future crappy-lounge-coverband chanteusse Alana Shor (of Tiffany, Paper Cup, Shor Patrol - who flirted with national recognition in 1983 with their "Loverboy" single - and countless other forgettable ephemeral ensembles). I still have the 45 (featuring red text on a gold label, natch). I think the jingle was something along the lines of "It's a gold, a gold and red world when the Baltimore Bays come on/A little pass here and little pass there and we score, baby we score!"

Listen to Alana Shor sing "It's a Red & Gold World."

The highlight of Bays games was seeing the occasional international side come to town. And, apparently, the World Football Challenge wasn't the first international soccer tournament to hit Baltimore. Thanks to a co-worker at the library, I recently came into possession of the following program for a 1969 Baltimore Bays presentation for something called the "International Cup Soccer Competition" that sounds like it was a precursor to the 2009 World Football Challenge idea. In this case, it featured five top "British Soccer Clubs representing the North American Soccer League Clubs" in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Atlanta played host to Aston Villa, Dallas to Dundee United, KC to Wolverhampton Wanderers, St. Louis to Kilmarnock, and Baltimore to West Ham United. Each team played four home games and four away games for the league title, with West Ham United playing "a fifth game in Memorial Stadium against an opponent to be named at a later date."

By the way, my fellow librarian Paul McCardell at the Baltimore Sun maintains a wonderful "Soccer in Baltimore" blog. According to Paul:
Soccer has been played in Baltimore for more than 100 hundred years, brought to town by its many immigrants. The story goes that large groups of Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen and Germans came over to rebuild Baltimore after the great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Some of these men were former professional soccer players. The English organized the Sons of St.George Soccer Club which was based Colgate Creek. Soon more teams followed, organized by the Greeks, Italians and many other ethnic groups.

Baltimore had more than 100 teams in 14 leagues at its peak in the early 1930s. The city would draw international competion on May 15,1946 when the Liverpool Reds played the Baltimore Americans, the champions of the American Soccer League. The game was played at the stadium, where Baltimore lost 9-0. Chelsea played in Baltimore May 21,1954 at Westport Stadium against the Baltimore Rockets of the American Soccer League. Chelsea won 7-1.

The "Soccer in Baltimore" blog also features an interesting soccer photo archive. Here's the newspaper blurb for that 1954 Chelsea game here, once again highlighting a Blues victory.

Seems like the Blues can't lose in Baltimore!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Artscape 2009

Tom & Amy's Big Downtown Adventure

Baltimore - Saturday, July 18, 2009

Stop the presses! It was under 90 degrees and there was a BREEZE at Artscape 2009, automatically making it the best festival in recent memory, even if maybe the musical acts weren't as big as in years past and the parking challenges were the most daunting ever (not surprising given that the Otakon anime event brought an additional 25,000 people downtown to the Convention Center and surrounding environs). So my girlfriend Amy (who loves food and jewelry, which are always on plentiful offer at Artscape) and I ventured out this balmy Saturday to take it all in. Our highlights from Artscape 2009 follow...

Parking is always an issue at Artscape!

We didn't even go near the Mount Royal Tavern - my immune system was still on the mend with a Summer cold following last week's stomach flu, so I couldn't even think about drinking - so we stayed towards the Charles Street side of the festival, and it was a happening scene what with all the DIY vendors, art cars, Midway exhibitors and that free stuff flea market in the Charles Theater garage.

Yes, this year's Artscape theme was definitely "Charles in Charge," as the event continued to move eastward and upward towards the Charles Theatre and the Station North/North Avenue corridor (the latter our latest attempt to create a new artsy Sowebo community in Northeast Bawmer - Norebo, anyone?) .

DIY Section @ Artscape
Charles Street and Mount Royal

The DIY section was home to hip and talented crafters, like Catherine Wang of Motobus...

...who was my fave vendor in the DIY section of Artscape 2009. She belongs to the Etsy community. To check out some of her neato stuff, visit her Etsy shop or her website at below are some of her buttons (which exhibit a Japanese minimalist style)...

Lovestruck Bon Jovi Bunny:
"Shot through the heart and you're to blame/You give love a bad name."

and postcards (whose colors and clear lines remind me of Adrian Tomine's graphic novels)...

I bought a bunch of Motobus buttons for Amy because she loves little accessories, plus one of the buttons depicted what looked like a cartoon version of her! I also picked up a Motobus coloring book because I work with a 50-something woman who still likes to play with her crayons at lunch.

It was also damned good to see Spoon Popkins hawking her Damn Good Doormats in the DIY section of Artscape. Hers was the first familiar face we encountered.

Spoon says: "I believe the entrance to your home should reflect the individual person inside." Her 100% coconut fiber doormats have a latex backing keeping the mat firmly in place and feature Baltimore motifs, like clipper ships, Mr. Boh and our stupid "Believe" motto. But I like the one with her French Bulldog Pierre (below right) best.

As Spoon says, "Pierre reminds me to be neat when I enter the chateau."

Spoon's Damned Good Doormats are available through her Etsy shop; see also her popkinportraits blog.

Right next door to Spoon's tent was Diane Kross' "Cutesy But Not Cutesy" stand, featuring her handmade plush cyclops monster dolls.

Diane Kross' "Cutesy But Not Cutesy" monster dolls

Like most of the DIY vendors' wares, you can buy Cutesy But Not Cutesy monster dolls online at Diane Kross' Etsy store. See more of Diane Kross' work at her dkoss2 blog, flickr page or Or follow her on Twitter.

Watch Diane' animated film "Monster Compilation" on YouTube:

This stop-motion mash-up of her toy creations was made in collaboration with animator David R. Popolow of Right Brain Animation.

Our last stop in DIY-land was the Bunny Butt Apothecary because, well, there is nothing like the smell of a rabbitt's rectum. Sme say. (Actually, it's an organic soap shop, and the soaps do smell pretty nice.)

The delightfully smelly Bunny Butt Apothecary

Brewer's Art: The Opera

Also pounding the asphalt on Charles Street was an opera troupe hawking some production at...the Brewer's Art, of all places! (Blogger's update note, 9/30/09: the troupe is the Baltimore Rock Opera Society and its production of Grundlehammer has since been moved to 2640 Space.)

Safe to say, any time you see people wearing anthropomorphic headgear with horns - and you're not in New Orleans during Mardi Gras or watching a Kenneth Anger experimental film - it's a good bet it has something to do with opera.

The lead diva was especially eye-catching (and potentially eye-gouging!) - luckily my girlfriend was by my side to ensure that I didn't get too dangerously close to the action:

Double D-Cup Diva strikes an operatic pose

A closer view with my opera glasses

Whew daddy! Those ample areolas were made for lung-burstin' arias!

Art Cars

We then made our way up towards Penn Station where the street was lined with Art Cars. Beatles fanatic Amy was naturally drawn to the Yellow Submarine art car.

Contemplating car-jacking, Amy looks for
the keys to the Yellow Submarine art car

Amy inspects the Mondrian Art Car.
Or was this the sedan version of the Partridge Family Bus?

"Look schveetie," Amy says, "This Jag matches
your bedsheets - except they're clean!"

The Leopard-skin art car had a tail

Slim Pickens would have enjoyed saddling
up this rocket-propelled ride in "Dr. Strangelove"

The interactive Paint Me art car;
look for the sequel Wash Me car next year!

The Rock and Roll VW Buggy

The Flower Garden art car

I was glad to spot Harrod Blank, the cowboy hat-wearing art car documentarian (and son of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Les Blank - who shot the legendary short Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe) who is most famous for Wild Wheels (1991) and the follow-up doc Automorphosis (2008), which he screened outdoors in the Charles Theater parking lot at Artscape 2008.

I was ecstatic to see that the Automorphosis was finally available and eagerly plucked down my cash for an autographed copy. I liked this sequel even better than Wild Wheels. The doc featured world-renowned spoon bender (and Michael Jackson's psychic pal) Uri Geller and his fork-and-spoon-covered “Peace Car,” Howard Davis’s “Telephone Car,” and religious folk artist Leonard Knight, who painted his vehicles as well as most of an entire mountain in the desert as a testament to his faith. But as Brett McCabe wrote in the Baltimore City Paper, "the movie's most compelling figures are its ordinary citizens: the German immigrant who loves hamburgers [Hamburger Harry], the golf player who turns to the copper in pennies to alleviate his arthritis, the severely burned stock-car racer who started collecting horns so as not to become a hermit, the patriotic World War II vet, and the simply unstoppable 'Spoon Man'." Especially moving was the Frederick, MD woman with throat cancer who built an art car as an emotional outlet for her travails (as a bonus, the woman was at the screening with her daughter and seemed elated to be the center of attention from well-wishing fans who came up to her afterwards).

Blank's "Camera Van" - the world's only van carpeted wall-to-wall in cameras and rigged to catch the candid expressions of people everywhere - was also on display:

Harrod Blank's "Camera Van"

After seeing the art cars, seeing a festival organizer riding around on a two-wheeled segway paled in comparison; still, small children (and my child-like-sense-of-wonder girlfriend) were amused, as shown below.

Nothing screams "machismo" like a Segway Cowboy

"Look, segway!" Amy exclaimed (she also gets excited whenever she spots a squirrel, bunny or cardinal).

"Wow," I responded, underwhelmed.

The Midway: A Bridge Too Far

We then slowly slithered our way through the human clusterfuck gathered on the Charles Street bridge to reach the Midway, where there were lots of imaginative little conceptual art exhibits by area artists and musicians like the Human Foosball Game and Bunniette's Symposium. I don't know why, but this year it just didn't wow me. I mean yes, very nice, very nice, and all very labor-intensive works, but I had more fun looking at the crafts on Mount Royal and the lower Charles Street DIY section. More lasting, I guess, than these look-at-me/interact-with-me installations.

Camera Obscura

Abiku's Tiny Rave

The Human Foosball Game

DJ Steve Santillian of More Dogs provides the beats for the Human Foosball Game

"Look, bunnies!" Amy exclaimed outside one such stall, something called The Bunniettes Symposium.

Bunniettes Symposium

You could ask the bunnies a question. Or not. Amy, for one, was transfixed by the wonder of inanimate bunnies with alleged mystical powers. Or maybe she was just eyeing the pail of raw carrots there. We were both getting kinda hungry.

The only highlights for me were the crazy Christian proselytizing on the bridge (or was he really a Conceptual Street Performer commenting on our nation's swing to the extreme right?)...

Midway Preacher: Christian loon or Conceptual Performance Artist?

...and the break dancers breaking it down outside the Metro Gallery:

I could do this in my sleep back in the day...

...but maybe not this!

I saw Dan Van Allen doing something on the Midway Clusterfuck, but there were so many humanoids going this way and that - plus the agitation of that manic street preacher polluting the airwaves - that we couldn't get near. Safe to say, I'm pretty sure Dan Van was topless and doing something (writhing?) on the ground. (I just hope he wasn't break his age that could be dangerous!)

A massive throng of humanity was gathered on jam-packed Charles Street as we jostled our way past the Midway toward The Charles Theater...

...until, just outside the Charles Theatre and Tapas restuarant, we spotted the biggest trend-to-date of 2009: hooping. Yes, the thing kids used to do for fun is now a big deal with adults. It's already supplanted roller skating as the discerning hipster's latest aerobic/sports craze.

Amy, who always corrects me when I call 'em "Hula Hoops" ("They're hoops!"), has two hoops (one for home plus an adjustable "travel hoop")! She was very impressed by the chick in blue slacks -"She's really good! She even can hoop around her neck" Amy commented, referring to an advanced hooping technique so dangerous even adventure-junkie David Carradine steered clear of it. See for yourself in the video clip of the woman's Watusi-worthy whirling below:

The Charles Theater Parking Lot Flea Market

Flea Parking in the Charles Theater Garage

As we wended our way past the hipsters and hoopsters gathered outside the Metro Gallery we noticed that the Charles Theater Parking Garage had been transformed into some sort of flea market - only it was more like a "Free Market" Flea Market, with most items coming from the Baltimore Free Store ( whose motto is "Take what you want, give what you can."

I saw a lot of people taking, but none giving (other than the Baltimore Hostel, which offered a tour of a sample hostel room set up inside). This is what the scene looked like inside:

There was also some guy dressed up as a Crossing Guard holding a stop sign. Ah, conceptual art; can't get enough of it.

I must say I was impressed with the selection of old vinyl records on display for the taking and made sure I got in the "take what you need" spirit by helping myself to one. Buried behind some Jackie Gleason Orchestra LPs with the cool glamour gals and cocktails covers, and a tempting The Partridge Family Sound Magazine album (I already have it or I woulda picked it up!) was my score of the day - Allan Sherman's For Swinging Livers Only! (1964) record, which was in great condition. The title is, of course, a play on Sinatra's 1955 Reprise LP Songs for Swingin' Lovers!

I love Allan Sherman! I still have my Milton Bradley "Camp Granada" game ("It's a game that should be gotten/About a camp that's really rotten!" - a board game based on the lyrics to Sherman's most popular song "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," whose medley in turn was set to Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours") and a subsequent Google search determined that this album, which contains the Dr. Demento fave "Pop Goes the Beatles" (set to the tune "Pop Goes the Weasel"), is currently out of print on CD (as well as vinyl, needless to say), so I was doubly happy to find it.

On the way out we noticed some Log Lady chopping wood. I have no idea what that was about - was she giving away free matchsticks as part of the free/flea theme.?

Looking at my watch I realized we had had to get a move on if we were gonna stop down at the Inner Harbor for what was billed as a CD Release Party for my old band Thee Katatonix's "new" CD, Thanks Hon: Thee Katatonix 30th Anniversary (yes, Adolf Kowalski has kept the dream alive since 1979!), before heading over to Pier Six for that evening's concert event, "BSO Plays the Music of Queen" (Amy's favorite band). Plus we had to get some food in our growling stomachs.

Passing the Charles Street Food Court to our right, we saw yet another new-fangled fad, the bicycle-powered Smoothie stand, Wheel Good Smoothies.

Juice Jockey takes a Smoothie Ride

I had seen this before, at the Waverly farmer's Market. The basic idea is, you mix your own smoothie organically (without using electricity), by hopping on a bicycle - in this case a "pony" bike! - thus burning off some calories to justify the calories in that otherwise healthy shake. Check out the demo below:

Abercrombie's Beef: The World's Best Hamburger

Amy and I were so hungry by the time we passed the Bed & Breakfast-cum-restaurant Abercrombie Fine Food and Accomodations on Biddle Street across from the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall that we abandoned our original idea of going to Dukem for Ethiopian tibbs ("What if the service is slow and we have to eat the tablecloth?" we exclaimed) and plunkered down at their outdoor grill where $10 got us two fat hamburgers. I'm not much for red meat and this was only my second burger in the last two years but lemme just say, it was transcendent. The best burger I've ever had, thanks to that topping of Havarti dill cheese drenched in that zingy green chimichurri sauce (a mixture of vinegar, garlic cloves, parsley, and red pepper flakes).

Abercrombie's chimichurri burger: to die for

I can see why TV gourmand Rachel Ray stopped here on one of her "Tasty Travels." Unfortunately, I think Abercrombie only cooks 'em up once a year for Artscape; otherwise their high-brow menu reverts to its rather pricey $25 bucks and up entrees. Oh well, there's always next year!

Sated, Amy and I now had enough energy to walk down to the Inner Harbor so we could see our old schoolmate (she went to Dundalk High with him, I went to Towson State University with him) - and my former bandmate - Adolf Kowalski, who was holding court at the Marriott Courtyard at Camden Yards for a "Meet and Greet" event celebrating the 2009 release of the Thanks Hon: Thee Katatonix 30th Anniversary compilation CD on UK Spud Records. (To read my full review of this impressive release, see my blog post "Still Katatonic After All These Years.")

As we drew near the Inner Harbor we passed throngs of wildly costumed, sword and sabre-wielding, mask and facepaint-wearing, pink- and blue-haired teens with swag bags coming to and fro the annual Otakon Festival at the Convention Center. I gritted my teeth and told Amy, "I used to like going there before they started charging $65 just to get in the door, even if you just want to go for one day - even if all you want to do is go into the dealer's room and buy things!" I hate that Otakon charges money to get into the dealer's room. I mean, you're there to spend money, yet it costs you money that could be going to the vendors to get in there. It's like a Las Vegas casino charging you money to come in and blow your money (instead they invite you to come in by offering gamblers gratuities such as free drinks!). Arrrrgghhh!

As we neared the Marriott, Amy was practically hobbling, poor girl, as we had walked a long ways for her brittle knees. I tend to walk briskly - a former Jewish girlfriend once told me "You walk like a New York Jew in the Garment District!" and I took it as a compliment (hey, I'm from Bodymore, Murderland - you gotta walk fast if you wanna last here! Fast enough to outpace a speeding bullet!) - and forget how much mileage I take for granted, while Amy was ready to plop down on a hotel room bed for some R&R.

Katatonix CD Release Party

After some confusion and running and running around, we realized that the Katatonix event was actually being held in a third floor hotel room where head Kat Adolf Kowalksi and his girlfriend Patti Jo Jensen (sister of Baltimore Turd Czar Chris "The Plumber" Jensen) were holding court with a mouth-watering assortment of culinary delights and libations (Jack Daniels, National Bohemian and the finest snack fare from Utz, Cheetos and Doritos).

Adolf says "Hey hon, it's been 30 years!"

"Who'd a thunk it?"

Adolf's first words to me were, "Look at you man - how'd you end up with my old body?" Adolf's filled out over the years, but back in the day he was skinny as a rail, with his shock of jet black hair accounting for most of his weight. It's funny too, because looking back I still had some baby fat in my drumming days (hey, I was still living at home and getting Mom's home cooking, what can I say?).

When we told Adolf about all the creatively coiffed and costumed kids we passed outside the Convention Cnter, he replied, "That's where my daughter is! She's been there all day. In fact, she made a Jap anime music video for my song 'Crown'!"

Here's Ms. Kowalski's "Crown" music video (wonder what the source anime was?):

Thee Katatonix, "Crown"

Nice, but I told Adolf I prefer the new "old" Katatonix video clip that Richard Taylor (who's been working forever on "the Marble Bar documentary") recently posted on YouTube, a live Marble Bar recording of our old setlist standard "My Son the Gynecologist" from when the Kats were a three-piece with Mr. Urbanity on bass, Big Andy Small on the skins and Adolf on guitar. Wish there were more vidos from that early '80s period.

Katatonix @ Marble Bar: "My Son the Gynecologist"

When we told Adolf that we were going to see the BSO play the "Music of Queen" that night, he reminisced about the Queen concerts he saw with Amy back in the '70s when they were still in Dundalk High. Adolf commented that back then, he always thought Freddie Mercury looked and dressed Way Gay, but given the Ziggy Stardust, Glam Rock, New York Dolls mascara-and-tinsel aesthetic of the day, attributed it to being part of the rock star experience. "We just figured, this is part of what the band looks like!" Freddy Mercury fooled The Living Legend Adolf K; go figure!

"Well, not everyone can look manly like you, dressed in nylons" I replied, remembering our debut performance when Adolf appeared in fishnet stockings and mascara, dressed like Tim Curry's Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as shown below:

Rocky Horror Kowalski

Also on hand were original Kats fans Damon the Roach and his missus and our old Towson State University pal, Al Erzersky (aka "Formerly Fat Al") and his three kids. Al used to come up onstage dressed as a rabbi whenever Thee Katatonix performed "(I Sure Miss My) Foreskin" and slice off pieces of a baloney stick attached to a didlo Adolf would pull out of his pants. Fans enjoyed catching the discarded meat (a good source of protein!) that would be flung into the crowd.

Adolf packed the meat;
Rabbi Al carved it up

Al went down a checklist of old friends and acquaintances from college days, but sadly many of them are long gone - as in forever. The "He's dead" and "She's gone" countdown was a little depressing, but made us feel lucky to be able to still be there in that little hotel suite.

Al's kids were getting restless to leave and Adolf and Patti Jo were getting ready to take the light rail up to see Cake at Artscape, so Amy and I pleaded with Al to give us a ride back to my car and spare Amy's porous knees from much pavement pounding. Fitting six people in his car was a stretch, so I had to plop Amy (blessfully petite!) on my lap in the backseat next to Al's little girl, who let me play with her blue-maned (it was Otakon, after all) My Little Pony. "Smell her hair," she said. I did and was pleasantly surprised by the lovely fragrance (mental note: buy an odor-cutting My Little Pony to put in my bathroom).

Killing Time in Fells Point

After Al dropped us off at my car, we decided to stay downtown and kill some time in Fells Point before our last stop of the day - the BSO/Queen concert at Pier Six that night. That meant grabbing some coffee at The Daily Grind and browsing through the CDs at Soundgarden, where I made my second - and greatest - musical score of the day: a used import copy of The Bonzo Dog Band's Cornology box set (which, like the Allan Sherman record, also looks to be out of print).

I love the Bonzos! Before punk rock appeared on my radar in 1978, it was left to my well-worn copy of The History of the Bonzos (1974) LP to get me through the Seventies musical landscape (OK, I was a Deadhead for a while there, too, before I gave up certain habits). I even took the title of my first radio show on WJHU "Tubas in the Moonlight" from a Bonzos tune (it appears on what is arguably the greatest Bonzo platter after Gorilla, 1969's Tadpoles), though the indie band Death Cab for Cutie trumped me by taking their name from a tune that appears on the Bonzos debut album (not to mention in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour). Cornology represented the whole ball of wax - all five Bonzo Dog Band albums: Gorilla (1967), The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (1968), Tadpoles (1969), Keynsham (1969), even the (pretty bad) reunion album Let's Make Up and Be Friendly (1972), whose best number "The Strain" was about taking a shit. The set even includes some of their early neo-vaudeville singles, like "My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies," "I'm Going To Bring a Watermelon To My Girl Tonight," "Alley Oop," and "Button Up Your Overcoat." Ecstacy Bruce, ecstacy!

If you've never heard the Bonzos before, do yourself a favor and check them out. Though madcap frontman Vivian Stanshall later penned some tunes with the solo-era Steve Winwood, narrated Mike Oldfield Tubular Bells, and hung out with fellow loon Keith Moon, the band's most famous member is probably pianist/songwriter Neil Innes, who penned their only charting single "I'm the Urban Spaceman" (produced by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym "Apollo C. Vermouth") and went to create The Rutles (and portray the John Lennon character "Ron Nasty") with Eric Idle. The Monty Python connection dates back to the Bonzos being the house band on the BBC comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set, which featured the talents of (the pre-Python) Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam. As the Cornology liner notes so succintly capsulize them:
"The Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band began life as a surreal musical act which drew its repetoire from novelty songs, particularly of the 1920s. From there it was a short-step to satire as the group embraced the 60s' underground scene while scoring a hit single with 'I'm the Urban Spaceman'. By 1968 they were mirroring rock's traditions, but with a genuinely incisive style which blended crafted pop melodies, visual gags, robots, children's comics and sacred cows; lampooning, cajoling and burlesque-ing all the way. They were part of the new-wave of comedy which spawned 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' which but having tired of the pressures now exerted upon them, the group broke up in March 1970. Its individual members have since pursued a variety of projects including The Rutles and 'Rawlinson's End', but it seems they will be forever tagged 'former Bonzos'. [Especially Viv Stanshall, who died in a 1995 fire in his home but whose legacy lives on thanks to the 2004 BBC Four documentary Vivian Stanshall: The Canyons of His Mind.] It's not such a bad testimonial."


Unfortunately, I am a Freak Magnet, so while I was perusing the Cult Movie DVD section, some guy I had never met before started giving me his unsolicited appraisals of every title on the shelf. At first I thought he worked there and was trying to be helpful, but it soon became apparent that he was an oddball Dan Clowes character who had emerged from the pages of Eightball comics. "The Schoolgirl Reports series is very kitschy German sexploitation from the '70s, very much like Jess Franco's lesbian vampire flicks but with less eroticism, blah blah blah."

I swear this cartoon character was
following me around Soundgarden!

"Thanks, I know," I replied, startled. "I have lot of these; you're preaching to the converted." I literally had to move away from the DVDs to get away from him, only to discover that he was now shadowing me in the CD racks, where Amy was looking through the latest Queen reissues. Once again I heard his droning voice, pontificating "That's a later Queen record when they got into the disco sound..." WTF? Jeezus, I thought, is he looking over our shoulders? "We gotta get outta here," I whispered to Amy. I hate unsolicitated solicitations, be they the Jehovah's Witnesses that fill my mailbox with junk mail about the end of the world coming soon (or knocking on my door, dressed in their Sunday finest, whenever I'm in the shower!) or crazy customers at work that come in to tell me all about the latest conspiracy theories (like the Time Machine Man who insists that the U.S. Government, the King James Bible and some demon god named Mordak have been sucked into a time tunnel resulting in an apocalyptic catastrophe that's coming soon - "Thanks for sharing that heads-up" I wearily responded after determining his indisputable insanity).

We were running late for the 8 p.m. BSO/Queen show anyway, so I frantically motored through the gridlock of downtown Baltimore traffic to get to the closest parking garage near Pier Six...ready to hear the epic sounds of Queen.

BSO Plays Queen

OK, so we're sitting inside Pier Six and while I'm happy for Amy because she loves Queen, I get kinda melancholy looking around the crowd and realizing that the Baby Boomer-Classic Rock demographic is far from glamorous - or even interesting like the Otakon kids. It's a sea of gray hair (where there is hair remaining!), double-chins, pot-bellies, Polo-shirt-wearing men, and non-erotic, sensibly-attired (i.e., non-slutty) women (e.g., no low-cut blouses, thongs or tramp stamps visible). I quickly resign myself to tonight's demographic and its lack of eye-candy.

This is after all, about the music of Queen. Admittedly, though I actually owned Sheer Heart Attack, I was never a Queen fan, finding their music to be kinda cheesy and overblown, and thus perfect for the stadium rock playlists of radio stations like 98 Rock. I especially loathe their ubiquitous sports anthems "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." But I have to admit I rather enjoyed this show.

Right from the start, it became obvious that this was really a rock band covering Queen songs with backing strings and horns courtesy of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra rather than a BSO interpretation of Queen with vocals and some guitar thrown in. (This became clear when, initially, you couldn't even hear the orchestra over the sturm und drang of the electrified instruments!) The rock band was never identified by name and I suspect they were thrown together at the last minute just for this performance - after all, the gig was originally supposed to be the BSO playing the music of Pink Floyd (which also would have been interesting). The bass player was later identified as a Baltimore local, in fact.

Brody leads the band and BSO Orchestra

But the band was hot, with a Hispanic guitar player who looked like a pint-sized Gene Simmons of KISS, a metronomic drummer and the star of the show, singer Brody Dolyniuk, a Las Vegas-based frontman/pianist whose regular band Yellow Brick Road specializes in classic rock covers (a massive repetoire that includes Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush and, yes, Queen!). (Younger audiences may also know him from his vocalese turning up on video games like Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and the new Konami game Rock Revolution.)

Brody Dolyniuk of Yellow Brick Road was
up to the challenge of "Ready, Freddie, Go!"

The whole show was put together by guest conductor Brent Havens who is known for adapting rock music for symphony orchestras, including the "Music of the Doors", the "Music of Pink Floyd", the "Music of the Eagles," and the "Music of Led Zeppelin", which he performed with the BSO at the Strathmore in Bethesda, MD last year.

"When Brody came out to audition for the show we knew immediately that he had something special,” Havens said on the BSO's web site. “He not only knew the music but he had clearly listened to every aspect of Freddie's performances. His inflections were spot-on and even the wailing rock sound had that Freddie resonance. Clearly, there will never be another Freddie Mercury, but close your eyes and listen to Brody, and you're going to get something very close."

Freddie Mercury's shoes are pretty big to fill, but Brody was certainly spot-on as a replacement. I can't imagine anybody who sounds more like him (certainly not the decidely un-Mercurial Paul Rodgers!) or who sings more in Freddie's key. Brody even got singled out by Singer & Musician magazine for his ready, steady Freddie act. I'm surprised he wasn't in the UK theatrical show We Will Rock You that played the Dominion Theatre in London for eight years before hitting the road overseas. On top of it all, Brody has a easy-going manner that translates into a natural rapport with the audience.

Amy kept me abreast of all the songs and what albums they were on from the opening "The Game" (from The Game, natch!) on through the ballads Freddie Mercury wrote toward the end of his life like "These Are the Days of Our Lives" and "The Show Must Go On." All the hits were included, with the possible exception of "Radio Ga-Ga," highlighted by "Somebody to Love Me", "Stone Cold Crazy", "Fat Bottomed Girl", "Crazy Little Think Called Love", "Another Bites the Dust" and the crowd-rousing "Bohemian Rhapsody" (middle-aged people actually put down their beers and clapped their hands!). Amy was somewhat surprised that three numbers were selected from the Highlander movie soundtrack, including "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "Hammer To Fall" (which is found on the CD The Works). ("Who Wants To Live Forever" was cited as being from Highlander, but it actually only appears on The Miracle album.) A highlight for me was seeing a guy in front of me pull out his lighter and wave it to and fro! Ha - not a sight you see everyday at the symphony!

Brody and his bandmates clearly knew and liked the music they were playing, and there was no attempt to dress up in costume and mimic the stage antics of Queen.

"This isn't about me donning a mustache and prancing around," Brody told the audience at one point. "This show's all about the great music of Queen."

It worked. It worked very well. Amy certainly approved and a few days later was very excited to have added Brody Dolyniuk as her newest Facebook friend (check him out at Also see Brody's Facebook page to see more photos from the Pier Six show.