Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering Memorial Day in Baltimore with crabs & beer

Local hero dreams of being back in Baltimore with hard-shelled crabs and beer.

Today marks the 145th anniversary of Memorial Day, a day to honor those men and women, both nationally and right here in our own background, who gave their lives in the service of their country.

As a port city and former steel manufacturing hub, Baltimore has always been active during military conflicts, especially during The Big One. Baltimore was right in the thick of the Allied war effort in World War II - launching the first Liberty ship (the SS Patrick Henry, which was constructed at the Bethlehem-Fairfield yard),  producing military aircraft like the B-26 Marauder at the Glenn L. Martin plant in Middle River, and training grunts and sailors alike for combat duty at facilities like Camp Holabird, Fort McHenry, Curtis Bay and elsewhere.

Baltimore was certainly "on the map" during the second world war, and Hollywood took notice, name-checking B-more for its stereotypical "Charm City" attributes in a number of films. Long before this town become synonymous with violent crime, drug peddling and urban decay in TV series like  Homicide, The Wire and The Corner (not to mention prostitution - don't forget, Tippy Hedren's mom in Hitchcock's Marnie was a sailor-baiting floozy), a Baltimore reference usually involved beer (our German brewing heritage long celebrated by H.L. Mencken) and crabs (both the edible kind and, later, the sexually-transmitted variety) - though in Fred Zinnemann's post-war film The Search (1948), Montgomery Clift boasted that he was from "Baltimore, the cleanest, finest city in the United States!"

Faux native son Montgomery Clift gilds the lily of Charm City in "The Search."

But more often than not, vets from Mobtown were vetted as legit homies by referring to our beer and seafood. One of my favorites name-checks was by native son "Pvt. Jim Layton" (played by Marshall Thompson) in William Wellman's WWII classic Battleground (1949), in which the soldier holes up under wreckage dreaming about being "back home in Baltimore, loadin' up on hard-shelled crabs and beer."

His pal Holley (Van Johnson) counters, "That dream's against regulations, soldier. You know what our boys overseas always dreams about."

Pvt. Jim Layton: "Mom's blueberry pie?"

Holley: "Why certainly. That's what they're fighting for. Boy, when I get home, just give me a hot dog and a slice of that pie. Am I gonna kick when I don't get my job back? No siree."

I've excerpted that "Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time" clip below as a fitting Memorial Day tribute to our vets and their service fighting for the Baltimore - if not the American -  culinary "way of life." Pie schmie! Crabs and beers on the homefront - it's what got this town's Band of Brothers through WWII!

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Marble Bar Redux returns to SoWeBo 2013

Mark Harp returns in spirit to SoWeBo Fest
I'm really looking forward to this year's Memorial Weekend highlight, the 30th annual SoWeBohemian Arts & Music Festival (aka the SoWeBo Arts & Music Festival or, simply, The SoWeBo Fest) on Sunday May 26. Mainly because not only will the "Marble Bar Redux" stage at the corner of Arlington and Lombard once again feature musical blasts from the past that I actually remember (The Beatoes, The Motor Morons, Thee Katatonix), but this year will also feature The Mark Harp All-Stars paying homage (which sounds way too serious!) to - and having fun with (that sounds much better!) - the music of The Big Man himself, our dearly departed friend and musical-genius-mentor Mark Linthicum (aka "Mark Harp," "Harpo," "Corky Neidermayer" and "The King of Peru"), who left this mortal coil well before his time on Christmas Eve of 2004. Geesh, former Null Set/Cabal and Black Pete frontman - and longtime Harp collaborator - Bill Dawson (aka "Bil Dawson" back in the day) is coming all the way up from Jacksonville, Florida for this shindig, so that tells you something about what a big deal the Big Man was, and continues to be to those discerning music lovers in B-more who "get it."

Listen to Null Set (Bill Dawson, Mark Harp, John Chreist, Lou Frisino) play their theme song.

Beatoes fans should get there early, as the Too-Ugly-for-MTV boys will take the stage at High Noon.
The Beatoes kick-start Marble Bar Redux at Noon.

 Watch The Beatoes guest appearance on The Scott & Gary Show.

Thee Katatonix will bring their Beltway Beat to Shake Shake the masses at 5 p.m., followed by Mongolian Glow at 6 p.m., The Motor Morons at 6:30 p.m., and The Mark Harp All-Stars (with a Cecil B. DeMille-worthy "cast of thousands") at 7 p.m. This incarnation of the All-Stars playing the Mark Harp back catalog will include Ben Watson (lead guitar), David Zidek (bass), Chris "Batworth" Ciattei (drums), Beefalo Bob Friedman (keyboards), Robyn Webb (rhythm guitar), Ceil Strakna (vocals), Cindy Borchardt (vocals), Valerie Favazza (vocals) and special guest appearances by Chris Dennestaedt (The Beatoes, Casio Cats, Poverty & Spit), David Wilcox (Chelsea Graveyard, Pooba, The Alcoholics) and, of course, the aforementioned Bil(l) Dawson.

Big thanks to Robyn Webb for orchestrating the Mark Harp All-Stars project; Robyn also MC'ed the Marble Bar Redux stage line-up last year. Returning to manage the line-up this year is none other than iconic Motor Moron and Pleasant Liver singer Fred Collins, who co-managed Marble Bar Redux 2012 with fellow Motor Moron Sam Fitzsimmons. (As they say in horse breeding parlance, those are studs with really good bloodlines for this racing card.) Like just about everybody associated with the Marble Bar line-up, Robyn and Fred once played with Mark Harp.

Watch a clip of Fred manically performing "Big Headed Baby" with the Pleasant Livers at the 2012 SoWeBo Festival, below:

I would be remiss if I did not post Scott Kecken's short film "SoWeBohemian," a video time capsule of the sights and sounds of SoWeBo festivals past - including cameos of a young, svelte Scott Huffines...

Svelte Scott says, "SoWeBo is an excuse to drink!"

 ...and the non-facial parts of Tom Warner's body that won't break a camera lens (look for a below-the-neck shot of him holding a Zim Zowie flyer in his Robin the Boy Wonder t-shirt!).

And finally, as we count down the days to the "Marble Bar Redux Redux," enjoy this field report from last year's festivities, "Marble Bar Redux," posted by yours truly. Hope to see you all out there Sunday! - Tom Warner


Marble Bar Redux @ SoWeBo Festival by Tom Warner (Accelerated Decrepitude, May 29, 2012)
"I had a great time at the Sowebo festival yesterday! The Redux stage proved that it doesn't matter how old you are, you can still rock out! I got there just in time for the Pleasant Livers, and then watched Thee Katatonix, Motor Morons and Ben Watson's World Media War and everyone was fantastic. So good to see so many of you there!"
- Amy Linthicum, Girl Reporter (via Facebook post
As usual, Amy Linthicum says best what I can only flail at with my forked tongue. But my tongue must flail, so here goes...Yes, SoWeBohemian Festival 2012 was a blast - and a true blast from the past for those 80's Punk/New Wave relics like us who still fondly remember the Marble Bar (which closed its doors in 1985), the Galaxy Ballroom and its associated renegade musical spirit. The Marble/Galaxy contingent were treated to their own "old timey sounds" area, the "Marble Bar Retrospective" on the Redux Stage - where co-stage managers Sam Fitzsimmons (Motor Morons) and Fred Collins (Motor Morons, Pleasant Livers) oversaw the day's entertainment. They were ably assisted by emcee Robyn Webb, who introduced the day's numerous acts and kept the rock rolling smoothly.

Continue reading "Marble Bar Redux" at Accelerated Decrepitude.  

Related Links:
Mark Harp's All-Stars
(Facebook event post)
SoWeBohemian (Baltimore Or Less)
Scott Kecken's "SoWeBohemian" film short (YouTube)
Marble Bar Redux @ SoWeBo Festival 2012 (Accelerated Decrepitude)

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SASsy Regular "Orpheum George" Figgs

(Following is a profile of local film luminary George Figgs that I wrote - in corporate-friendly "perky voice" - for my workplace's blog. Librarians love George! - Tom Warner)

"Orpheum George" Figgs
 How many people can say they’ve picked out movies for Jesus Christ at their local library? Well, the folks in Pratt Central’s Sights & Sounds Department have had that honor – regularly, in fact!

OK, technically Pratt library regular George Figgs (pictured left) isn’t the historical Jesus whose birthday Christians celebrate each  December 25th - he’s much too young, for one thing (even though he is an AARP member!) and he was born in Hampden rather than Bethlehem - but he played the Messiah in John Waters’ 1970 cult film Multiple Maniacs. It’s not exactly the most historically accurate portrayal, either, but look it up in the Internet Movie Database and there it is plain as day: “George Figgs, Jesus Christ.”

That’s a pretty lofty credit for any actor, but it’s only one feather in George’s signature hat (yes, George always wears a stylish hat) - and certainly better than his scarecrow role in Waters’ twisted Oz short Dorothy, the Kansas City Pothead.  

Watch the only surviving footage from “Dorothy, the Kansas City Pothead”

Besides being a regular “Dreamlander” player in all of John Waters’s feature films except Cry-Baby (though in less-lofty roles ranging from an asylum inmate to a “Neuter”), the multi-talented actor-artist-writer-projectionist-film curator/historian is also a regular at Pratt Central, where he loads up on as many documentaries and foreign films as he can carry back to the light rail stop (not to mention anything to do with his beloved Edgar Allen Poe, about whom he’s written a screenplay).

Watch George Figgs as hairdresser Dribbles in John Waters' "Female Trouble"

George Figgs as hairdresser Dribbles in John Waters' "Female Trouble"

His movie mania is a holdover from his days running his arthouse “temple of celluloid,” the Opheum Theater, in Fells Point from 1990-1999 and “Orpheum George” (as he’s known around town) is still an avid cineaste and an iconic fixture in the local arts scene; just last year the 66-year-old film buff curated the acclaimed three-day, 10-film RetroCineFest at the University of Baltimore and is currently planning a film revival series in partnership with Station North’s Autograph Playhouse. (And he also appears in Jeffrey Schwartz’s new documentary, I Am Divine, talking about his dearly departed friend Glen Milstead, better known as John Waters superstar “Divine.”)

But more importantly, George Figgs represents the kind of patron for whom Pratt Library’s free services are ideally suited during these tough economic times. As a retiree on a fixed income, George can neither afford to join NetFlix nor to see movies at the Cineplex. That’s why he loves the fact that he can grab armfuls of free DVDs at Central, which he calls “the best deal in town for the financially challenged!

“I have to live on Social Security and food stamps” George says. “I can’t afford to go see new releases or even revival films at The Charles unless I get a pass.” Luckily, George is a fan of the kind of films Sights & Sounds prides itself on – classic film noir crime dramas, award-winning documentaries, and a wide range of foreign films from around the world. He still has his VCR, so he can further utilize our large, and often overlooked, eclectic collection of VHS tapes.

And when he's unable to make it downtown, George likes to stream movies on his laptop at home, using our handy Web guide to the best sites to "Watch Movies, TV Shows and More Online for Free." (He's a particular fan of the free movie site Open Culture.)

Besides checking out our films, George has taken full advantage of our reference services, as well. Since we subscribe to the entertainment industry pay service IMDbPro, which lists contact information for over 10,000 companies and 65,000, George was able to get legal clearance for all his RetroCineFest film screenings via the studio phone numbers and emails we found there. And he was elated when, eager to have famous independent movie director-producer Roger Corman read his Edgar Allen Poe screenplay, we not only got him an address to mail his script to, but a direct phone number that enabled him to talk to Mr. Corman in person!

We're elated to service a Baltimore film legend - and so glad he takes advantage of all the free services available at the library!

See also:
Film house fulfills Figgs’ fantasy” (Jacques Kelly, Baltimore Sun)
The movies are a mission for George Figgs” (Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun)
George Figgs (Wikipedia)
George Figgs (Facebook)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reinventing the Wheel: Of Dirtballs & Dumbbells in Towson

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Huff (Photo, Baltimore County Police Department)

Back in February of this year, Baltimore County councilman Todd Huff was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Towson. Huff was traveling north in a County-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee on York Road near Washington Avenue at 2:30 a.m., Saturday February 23, after allegedly leaving an Elks Lodge "meeting." According to the Baltimore Sun:
The 44-year-old Lutherville Republican is charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol, a headlight violation and negligent driving, police said. He allegedly had a blood-alcohol level that was more than twice the legal limit. An officer observed the vehicle traveling with no headlights and saw it come to a sudden stop at a red light, passing the crosswalk of the intersection.

When the officer tried to stop the councilman, Huff drove a half-block and pulled into the parking lot of the Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center in the 900 block of York Road, a business his family owns, according to the statement of charges.

“Don’t you know who I am?” he allegedly told the officer when asked for his driver’s license and vehicle registration card. “You stopped me on my own property.”
I highlighted the part the story detailing how this shameless dirtball pol tried to avoid getting arrested by stopping at his family's "own property" at Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center in Towson because...synchronicity!...barely two months later my girlfriend Amy had to go to Brooks-Huff to have them install the four new tires she had purchased on the Internet. And - surprise! - her experience here was just as dodgy and ludicrous as Councilman Huff's ridiculous claim that he was immune to prosecution because he pulled into his family business' lot. Though the staff there were exceedingly nice to her, she said she felt like she was in a sitcom, an automotive Comedy of Errors. In a nutshell, what Amy and the auto center staff experienced was akin to what Strother Martin's sadistic prison warden in Cool Hand Luke (1967) termed "a failure to communicate." I'll say!

Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Center in Towson

Here's Amy's Yelp review:

I purchased a set of tires online from, and needed a shop to send them to. On tirebuyer a list of recommended shops is given, so I chose this place which had  mostly positive reviews.

Well, maybe I would have been better off having the tires put on at Mr.Tire. I had an appointment at 10 to have the work done. I came in and clearly stated why I was there.I also asked for my wiper blades to be replaced. (My rear wiper blade was hanging off.} My info was verified in their computer, and I decided to wait there at the shop.

About 45 minutes later, my name was called, and one of the people at the counter told me that my car looked fine, but that it needed new tires. Well, umm, that is why I was there, and what I had clearly stated when I came in. So he looked confused, glanced at a piece of paper and apologized. Back I went to the waiting area.

After some time passed, they called my name again, and I was hopeful that my car was ready. But it was a different gentleman, who told me that my car would need new tires. Again. And again, this person looked confused and looked at the piece of paper, and apologized. Back to the waiting room I went.

Some time passed. I get called out again. Again I was hopeful. But I was  told that there was a problem, that one of my wipers is special and not in stock, but that they can get it within a reasonable time. Fine, I said. Back in the waiting room once more. (Thank goodness Kindles really hold a charge.)

Finally, my name was called again, and I was told - hallelujah - that my car was really ready! I paid my bill, walked out the door, and -- my wiper blade was still hanging off! I went back in and told them the work wasn't done. Someone came out and said that the blade still hadn't come in! So back into the waiting room I went again!

At 12:30 I was finally out the door. I was given cards for two free oil changes, and the guy at the counter apologized and said things are usually "not like that." But I will not be going back to find out. I felt like I was in a sitcom!!! I don't know what the problem was, but my experience was ridiculous.
"Ack! My experience was ridiculous!"

In life, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression and if I was the manager, I would have serviced Amy free-of-charge after such an exasperating customer experience. (And remember, Amy's nice; anyone else - like me - would have had a conniption!) Failing that, I wonder: is there a police charge for Working Under the Influence? (WUI)? If so, write up the ticket!

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