Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Bob and Tom Show

I had dinner at my father Bob Neill's house (left) in Amherst last night with his wife Laura and my brother Tom, who is 13. They, like me, get all worked up about things that they like. My father writes classical music reviews for a website called Positive Feedback. The name of his column; Notes of An Amateur, (a sample column) indicates at what level he feels qualified to write about music, but I always get fully engaged in his reviews. He has a belief, I suspect, in a class of music experts who are the only ones truly schooled enough to speak with authority. He may be right, but the voice of the experts can often only be appreciated by the real classical fanatics. Bob writes for the curious music lover in language that anyone can relate to. He also sells high end audio via his business Amherst Audio.

Last night he turned me on to French cellist Anne Gastinel who rips it up with some Shostakovich in this video.

Tom Neill is equally passionate but about video games. Go figure, right? He's past the point where he takes it all so seriously and is developing the Neill tendency to skewer what we love the most. If you do anything for long enough, the humor becomes too conspicuous to resist. He's grown out of Yugio and now watches a spoof of same with the amateur creators dubbing in new dialogue. Here's a guy talking about how it works and copyright law. Not essential viewing but hey, you decide. Tom turned me on to The Irate Gamer, and has his own show in pre-production.

Here's a sample episode.
Above, my father when he was my age now, with me when I was Tom's age. Check out the plaids and Keds. These were the Brady Bunch days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Panhandling Ordinance Public Meeting

This is a one draft post. I may revise it but I have to get back to work and I figure why not throw it out there while it's hot. I suspect that some may be inclined to attack me with sarcasm and cast dispersions on my character, a frequent result to expressing some of these ideas. Have at me, but this is my current philosophy: "The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts." - John Keats

Last night's meeting was odd in many ways. The self-appointed defenders of this belief or that, regardless of its relevance to the ordinance, dominated the meeting and may have given the council the impression that they represent the population at large, though they are far from a cross-section.

I felt on the defensive, disdained, and judged as an oppressor in my support for some of the goals of the ordinance, as did my friend who owns a store downtown. I am no conservative, and honestly, I'm annoyed by the rudeness and arrogance of the people that lay like carpets across the sidewalk all day, not the people who simply sit and ask for money. I know and like many of the people I'm complaining about, but don't have the courage or even really the inclination to say anything to them, especially in large groups.

The survival of most of these stores and businesses is jeopardized by economic realities, now and even before the crisis, and every sale is important. If people have to (or choose to) walk out and around cars to get by, they miss some store entrances completely. The groups of people are sometimes benign but they are omnipresent squatters, monopolizing a bench or area that is not designed to be an encampment. They often scream (sing), curse, and belch etc. Okay, sure, toughen up shoppers, this is the REAL world, but when store owners ask them to please at least tone it down. They don't. "Fuck her, ha ha!" It's a poorly thought-out "fuck you elitist ruling class capitalist" kind of relationship that many have with this issue and the town in general.

Even the more eloquent of the anti-ordinance speakers failed for the most part to concede that any of the concerns the ordinance tries to address were legitimate. This meeting was about the content of the ordinance and suggestions as to how it might be revised to please both "sides," yet many anti-ordinance attendees spoke in all or nothing language. The pooh-poohing of the ordinance and its goals was helped by the stacked make-up of the room and sloganeering. It bordered on insulting, as Judith Fine, owner of Gazebo pointed out. How dare anyone accuse merchants of trying to rid the town of the "homeless" or "poor." There is no disdain for the "panhandlers," just a goal of surviving as a business and having reasonable behavior by people outside the door. How dare we dismiss outright the concerns of the merchants who have come forward with valid claims. Merchants who DO speak to the problem of poverty with their wallets. So many speakers tonight referenced "kicking the panhandlers out of town." Their posters have absurd police state/martial law images. Did they really read the ordinance? No one's suggesting kicking anybody out of town or off the streets.

Maybe it's self-righteous but I have to say, having been an addict, I'm bothered by the people I know are still junkies "struggling with their disease." Victim is as victim does. The truly needy folks with real disabilities and insurmoutable problems are easy to distinguish and I help them out often with far more than spare change.

So maybe this particular ordinance isn't the solution but the sweeping claims of poverty being criminalized and stealth gentrification agendas are silly and unfounded. I guess you can't legislate manners and compromise, though it would be wonderful if people would be more tuned in to how their behavior affects others. This ordinance wouldn't change much. But I haven't seen the sugar sticks kids or the school camp/feed a family guy for a while, perhaps because of the rumored implementation of the ordinance?

So what is the answer? If it's seen by the "street people" as class warfare, us and them, then there is not going to be a willingness to compromise on their part. The cops are all pigs. Anyone striving to survive via retail is "the man." Their customers are " Connecticut tourists in SUV's." These are all generalizations and stereotypes of the people one might encounter downtown. We are all on a continuum, not on opposite sides. These are ultimately "boutique protests" and "boutique ordinances" in our precious little paradise of, for the most part, extreme tolerance.

I don't "support the ordinance" per se but it's all that's on the table right now to provoke discussion; discussion that needs to take place. I find myself more troubled by the mentality of the protestors than everything else lately, and that's interesting. I don't know what to make of it entirely except my frustration that certain people feel the need to scream platitudes, rabble rouse, and march than approach it in a more professional manner. The town has not driven them to resort to protest. They have a say and a voice if they choose to exercise it. Sure it helps publicize their viewpoint quite well given ample local media coverage, but it also diminishes credibilty, hampers a less confrontational approach. It also drowns out what might be a very different point of view held by people who are busy with their lives and supporting families or even just themselves that aren't in a position to stage a protest or a campaign to make their views heard.

I think the cops are just trying to answer to the complaints from constituents who have invested their money and lives into downtown Noho; investors who are not owners of stock in a company, but in a town; of real businesses and real risk. These are people who help define downtown which is, like it or not, first and foremost an area of commerce. This is what "Main Street" is in this country. Without commerce, there would be no downtown. Parks and human services alone do not constitute a thriving interesting downtown. The business owners are looking for a little wiggle room from the people who provide little to the town but their bottomless needs, endless demands, and cries of injustice. What have YOU done for your town lately?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Maygold Restaurant burns in Belchertown

From my archives, a clipping from the Gazette circa 1987ish. I remember passing the cows when my family would travel to and from Boston; a memorable landmark, and a frightening sight to behold in flames.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random Moments Sierra Grille Thursday 11/20

These guys. How can you resist them?
You're looking at Gaby and Tim looking at Gaby and Tim...
Jilian and Gaby eyes open....sorta...
Just Gaby, pre-Sierra with Hamlet hat.
Jilian and Gaby, time travelers, citing favorite songs and bands from way before their time, eyes closed in a moment of mutual appreciation.
Brian standing next to Matt.
Rosa hates the flash, needs a light.
More Gaby and Tim. Get a room!
Tim provides you with your options. Choose wisely.
Oliver and his girlfriend whose name I will include upon learning it.
Boots Got Soul Sound System's artillery.
The Novels onstage; their readers gathered 'round. I see Dennis and Marissa.
Jim and Jilian. Jim is amazed at her cavalier references to Turtles and Zombies.
Prabir and the Substitutes, a sweet pop band from Richmond. Iron Horse gig in December!
Moe Prabir...
More to follow. Late. Tired.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eat your peas honey. You can't have dessert until we can see our leader's face.

You can watch the actual commercial here. I love the white guy at his desk looking at the plate and nodding in approval. And for those of you with a high tolerance for bad taste, the official Head O' State.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

No One Knows About The Old Book Store

Henry Walz took over the Old Book Store from his father around 1980, correct me if I'm wrong Henry. It was originally opened in 1958 (upstairs where Impress Graphics is now) in the old Northampton Cycles factory. Yes, the one commemorated on the vintage poster you can see in the window of the bike store down on Pleasant Street. It's more or less next-door to Packards and the Masonic Street Laundry. (Am I imagining things or are those the same washers and dryers that have been there since the '70s?) The store is not a snooty antiquarian affair with glass cases and books in plastic. It's a used book store for people. Humans. You and me. Readers who don't get all foamed up and twitchy over first editions and signed copies and phrases like "else fine." This didn't hinder the store's inclusion in the New York Times article about bookstores in the valley and it should only serve as further enticement to you. It's about the content, not the object. Plus it's much cheaper than Raven and far friendlier.Tuesday through Saturday you can come in, comb through the well selected, almost ridiculously inexpensive books, and if you're lucky, listen to Henry hold court with his regulars. How many are there? I can't say. But rarely does a visit to the store pass without someone or two coming in with a warm, sometimes bellowing, hello to the humble, wise, and big hearted proprietor, followed by a conversation that may veer from one subject to the next, as varied as the many categories that order the stacks. Henry appears to have the same kind of relationship with his customers as did Wylie Smith back when For The Record in Amherst was open. I'm sure it requires a lot of patience serving as a therapist of sorts to the faithful.
I am a semi-regular; enough to feel welcome to pipe in to whatever conversation is underway. I've even initiated some. Sometimes people will quip from back in the stacks. But everyone is listening. You can learn a lot this way. Henry is the go to historian for at least the immediate area surrounding the store, and much wider in certain categories. Trains. Bridges. The basic theme is: how it was, how it is now, and what the impact of the change has been. He can tell you about the bears that have come to town and their disposition. He uses tree as a verb, as in "they treed the bear." He has photos and news clippings of the bears and other notable pictures and stories on the walls. Sometimes Henry's sister sits in. She's clearly a Walz but I've yet to subject her to an attempted dialogue of the towering and winding variety. I content myself to look through the books.
Henry knows about the buildings and businesses that have come and gone. He knows to smile politely when a first time visitor, taken in by the store's charm and mom and pop feel, says. "I've always wanted to run a bookstore." He seems unflappable, and has not (yet) gone stark raving mad despite having spent many years there in the semi-subterranean store. Someday I picture him just tossing the keys to one of those new customers, saying, "your dream has come true," and heading out the door. The new arrivals are often stacked in brown grocery bags on the floor inside the door which you have to empty and then return to the bag to inspect. I can't decide whether this is annoying or convenient. Sometimes I'll buy a book, maybe "Life On The Mississippi," for two or three bucks, walk over to the Woodstar for a Cowboy Cookie and an Americana and read it. Ye Olde Watering Hole may have the area's best (only?) Beer Can Museum but the Old Book Store has the Best Wall of Bookmarks. Henry will generally let you use the bathroom behind the bookmarks, which is worth a visit if only for the decor. Bookstore bathrooms are always the best. You'll recall my photos from inside the facilities at the Montague Book Mill.
He buys books, but on some days, again on a brown grocery bag, he writes "Not buying books until Friday," or another day, and tapes it to the door. I haven't asked but I suspect this happens when Henry feels in his bones or knows from his receipts that the balance of supply and demand has tipped too far in the direction of supply.
The collection of fiction is excellent. For a few dollars you can find recent books as well as the classics. Sometimes I'll do a Ouija buy. I'll run my finger along a row of books with my eyes closed and commit to buying whatever I land on.Poetry has always been thin. There's a lot of history, a decent music section, and the art section has some treasures but they don't stick around long. You really have to assess for yourself but I always find it worth a walk down the stairs. Again, the prices are well below whatever you would pay elsewhere except perhaps the league of women voters sales.
This past weekend, I was excited to find that this year's Old Book Store 2009 Calendar was in. They are available for free at the counter until they are gone. They go very quickly. It isn't filled with literary quotes or portraits or this day in history. It is one sheet on card stock with the months laid out in rows and a short sentence about the store. Heck, I'll just scan it and show you. The funny things is, when Henry went to pick them up, he noticed that they were wrong. The days of the week were off by one day. We joked about how the one thing that someone making a calendar should be sure of, it's that the dates are accurate. No level of craft, attractive font, or layout will make up for this detail. "Ah, come on,it's only a day off." He told us that this company had made the same mistake a few years ago. But Henry is about loyalty. So these are the second, corrected run. The others are now a collectors item. I found this review of the store on Judy's Book, a website that claims to reveal secrets:
"Being a student for 4 years in Northampton makes one pretty familiar with local bookstores, but it was only this year (my last) that led me to find the old book store. I had to be living almost on top of it to notice it (FYI it is between the Masonic laundry and Bela or Woodstar cafe), but once I did, I wouldn't come out. Finally cheap books!!! Only used and just the right price. Most expensive book I desired was $8. Most are around $3. And they are not junk either. Good quality books all around in this basement shop. Come once and you'll come back."
As for the name, it's up to you to decide if it's the store that is old or the books. It could mean either or both. The Old Book Store, just off Main Street on Masonic, is a piece of Northampton history that sees no need to change anything.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Superman Orchestra Live at the Academy of Music. Truckers in Love in the Masonic Lot.

I stopped by the Academy of Music tonight to see what the Superman Orchestra was all about. I'm on the Northampton Arts Council and we awarded a grant to help fund this production. Press blurb: Filmusik: The Superman Orchestra is a live film music project in which seven 1940s Superman animations will be shown accompanied by new scores written by 7 acclaimed composers and performed live by a 12 piece orchestra and voice actors. (Tonight it was the WRSI/WHMP gang: Monte as Clark, Bill Dwight as the man of steel and Jaz as Lois Lane.) The upshot? An hour and a half of onscreen, justice packed action, accompanied by the varied compositional styles and interpretations of seven contemporary composers from across the country, and led by world-renowned conductor Lanfranco Marcelletti. The Superman animation shorts, known as some of the best of the Golden Age of American Animation.

A pianist to the left, the orchestra in the pit, and voice actors Bill, Monte, and Jaz on the right.

The transformation, captured!

Across the street in the Masonic Lot another NAC grant recipient, Lea Donnan, was showing her documentary Truckers In Love, on the side of an 18 wheeler. Actually, a movie screen positioned on the truck. It's a great idea and movie and it will happen again soon. I love this town. Thanks to Tony at In The Valley for the photo below!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Emma Murray

A guy named Bill Murray sent me an email asking how his 14 year old daughter who plays the piano and writes songs could get an opening slot at the Iron Horse. His tone implied that he perceived getting a gig was like making an appointment, merely procedural. I responded politely and joked about the old "how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice" thing and gave him the reality check on the situation. But then I went back and listened to his daughter's music some more and some of us in the office checked it out. You can too, here. These are six songs Emma wrote when she was 13. I felt like perhaps I had been condescending in my response and wrote back to tell him that we were actually finding her music quite charming. And the joke about Carnegie Hall, well, it's true. She isn't "ready" yet. It's about practice and dues and for Emma it sounds like that's not even an issue. She has the same matter of fact confidence that her dad seems to. She's unapologetic. Obstacles are just formalities. Emma's going full tilt on these songs, almost as if it's a race. But imagine when she finds some room in the songs and dwells in them a little more. Imagine the energy and talent you hear in raw form here a few years down the road, when she's had more life experience; logged more time on the planet and at the piano, discovered some old Sandy Denny songs or new ones by Nellie McKay. Maybe she should come to the Iron Horse to see Vienna Teng do her thing on Monday, December 8th. It's a school night but the show's done by 9:15 or so.

It's easy to chuckle too, and say isn't that cute, she's singing about homework and school, but these songs draw from her life and experience. Think back to when you were 14. Remember the euphoria of stepping off the bus on the the afternoon of the last day of school? Summer vacation. Three months of NO SCHOOL. An eternity then, laid out before you, filled with possibilities and adventures and risks and freedom...and you're IMMORTAL. But you feel pain as strong as any adult, and love maybe even stronger. And this is in her songs. She's confessing feelings. The ones she has. She's not making stuff up. She's reporting, playing with words and images a bit too, seeing the wind, the sun spinning, and her rhymes are creative "the teacher's boring, I can't ignore him."

I took piano lessons. I sucked. I didn't want it at all. For me it was merely an appointment. I was an instant gratification kid. I listened to music but I didn't have the patience to make it. Why bother? It was already there. So when I wrote Bill Murray back I sent him this video (at bottom) and suggested he show it to Emma. Joni is in her mid-20s here and you can be sure she was playing when she was 14. (Note: The photos are not of Emma's hands.)(Note 2: Bill says the songs on her MySpace page were sung with a bulky dental retainer stuck in the roof of her mouth!) So maybe it's the area's open mics next...the few with a piano. Or maybe she plays guitar? Meanwhile, she has a bunch of new songs that she plans to record in Zing Studios in Westfield. Can't wait to hear them!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Feeted or Un-feeted

A friend mentioned pajamas recently and now I'm thinking about pajamas. I'm in one of those reorganize my life bursts where I re-arrange my office and alphabetize things and lose some bad habits and start some new ones. I don't have pajamas. But I do like the Bob Marley song "Pajamas." I'm thinking that if I get pajamas it might inspire me to make my bed every morning. Even though I live alone it will be treating myself with a little more respect and it might ripple out into each new day in unexpected positive ways. I deserve to come home to a made bed at the end of the day and think to myself, "how thoughtful the Jim of this morning was to tidy up and make the bed and lay out his pajamas for the Jim of the evening! I think I'll reward the Jim of tomorrow morning by doing all the dishes so he has a clean kitchen awaiting him. Maybe I'll even choose his outfit for the day." Like I even have "outfits." My sister Emily is an outfit evangelist. She can exponentially increase the perceived size of your wardrobe by creating combinations of garments that go "well" together. And get this. Each garment can be in many different "outfits." That's where the exponentiality comes in. I have a lot of clothes. But I usually end up wearing the same 15 or 20 garments in rotation. Sometimes I'll feel like I'm neglecting some of my clothes so I'll wear something else. Come on out Mr. Big Tall Neck with a Zipper Sweatery Shirt Thing with Ralph Lauren American flag visible when neck is fully zipped. Let's give you a day out in the world. Yes, I feel like I'm stuck in a pipe but this is a "look" I've been led to believe by my much hipper sister, the outfit diva, who gave it to me because I need "a little fashion coaching." But I just don't feel like me. I've gotten out the door and turned around to go back and change into my real clothes. The clothes that I know. That know me. They are me. I know me in those clothes. I have no idea what sorts of things sweater-neck me might say.

I was watching the TV show "The Wire" and McNulty and his partner are staking out this crook named The Greek and when the guy emerges from his house McNulty comments on the guys suit. "What's that, Hugo Boss?" His partner chuckles implying he's a charlatan and says, "Nope, it's a Luigi Borelli. You can tell by the buttons. They're brown. Wooden. Not black like most others." McNulty harumphs and say, "yeah, well, you know what they call guys that pay a lot of attention to their clothes." "Yeah," his partner says, "grown-ups."

So in my big reorganization of my external world as a distraction from my internal world...which could REALLY use some new outfits, maybe I'll even toss some expired things out rather than refrigerating them into next year. And as for the pajamas. Where do you go for something like that. Is there a pajama department within the men's department at JC Penney? Is it something I should be label-conscious about? I mean, maybe a girl will see me in these pajamas...hopefully not for very long. Do I go to Acme Surplus? That's where I get my socks. Then there's the question of feeted or unfeeted...I suppose even DE-feeted; sawed-off pajama pants.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tearashedivis Yawnawidicus: Bored To Tears.

Sunday! Sunday! Jeeps! Mud! Mud! Jeeps! Sunday Sunday! Mud! Mud! Jeeps! Mud!
Ariel Kotker and Mollie Zanoni's opening at the Northampton Center for the Arts happened this afternoon. Ariel's is "His Room As He Left It." Mollies is something to do with Mummies. Here one of Mollie's creatures watches patrons of the arts enter the gallery.
She can't quite make out what they're saying.
She wants to look at the human girl but is too shy. "Maybe she will come over and view me. Over here! Oh how I wish my beak weren't papier mache'd shut! Damn you Mollie!
"I am a physical representation of a child's drawing in which a head has limbs yet no body."
Pedal Person Marie and the boy's pants from Ariel's installation in progress. Marie makes her own clothes much as Ariel made these, by hand from the ground up.
Ariel Kotker herself (below) was the first one to come across his room as he left it. She's sharing what she knows about the situation so far but she still hasn't finished creating all the forensic evidence so she can analyze it for more clues.
A sudden commotion! Molly's creatures leap from their pedestals and make a rush for the wine and cheese!
A visitor accidentally eats this guys dinner. He rears back to strike as she realizes that this is a taste she has never experienced.
"We're different, sure, but we both feel sad sometimes. Chin up there missy."
Sidewalk find! A six-drawer file for my collage materials.
Food Not Bombs folks at their Sunday feast of bruised fruit , over-ripe bananas, and a steaming vat of tofu surprise.
I didn't take pictures of everything that happened today, but if I had you would have seem a photograph of a young boy outside the gallery slouched in a chair, alone and crying. I asked him what was wrong. He said "I'm so BORED!" Literally bored to tears. I'd used the phrase but never considered it might be an actual phenomenon. You would have seen some shots of Rachael and Jena and I at the Pine Street open studios examining the works of the artists who inhabit this old brush-works building. Like Sally Curcio and Alyssa Krauss and Bob Marstal and so many more that my balsa wood brain has collapsed on itself and the memory of the names. Rachael made a commitment to buy or make art for all her holiday gifts this year. Jena visited some of the local artists whose work she carries at her store Pinch, including Joyce, who works at Pinch and makes stunning "altered books" among other beautiful paper-based work. Joyce and I commiserated on our mutual love of Joseph Cornell. Last night I discovered that this whole altered books idea is a pretty big deal and even has a society. Then lo and behold, I find that Joyce makes them too. I wish I had a picture. I promise to round up some images of her stuff in the days ahead. And tell you Joyce's last name.