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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

Lesley Gore, 1946-2015

February 16, 2015

Lesley Gore, who died today at 68, is most remembered for her first hit, “It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To),” which began a successful collaboration with Quincy Jones as her producer.

She was a Brooklyn native, but her family moved to New Jersey, where she attended the private Dwight School for Girls in Englewood. She was a sixteen year old junior at Dwight when Jones signed her to Mercury Records and she recorded “It’s My Party,” which went to the top of the Billboard pop chart in 1963. Her recording and performing career continued through high school and Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied drama and literature. She later did some acting; the photo above shows her as Catwoman’s sidekick Pussycat in the TV series Batman.

My favorite of her early hits (she continued to record, perform, and write music through much of her later life; her last album, Ever Since, reviewed favorably in The New York Times, was released in 2005) is “You Don’t Own Me,” described as an “empowering, ahead-of-its-time feminist anthem” by Daniel Kreps in Rolling Stone. The video clip above shows her performing it as part of the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964, when she was eighteen.

While “You Don’t Own Me” could be seen as an “answer song” to Joanie Sommers’ 1962 hit “Johnny Get Angry” (“I want a brave man; I want a caveman”), Gore didn’t see it that way, at least not when she recorded it. She thought of it as something a man could have as easily sung to a woman. Like all of Gore’s early songs, it wasn’t written by her. It was written by two men, John Madera and Dave White.

Gore was in college when she first realized that she was a lesbian. She didn’t announce this to the public until 2005, when she was hosting In The Life, a PBS show about LGBT issues. Her death was announced by Lois Sasson, her partner of 33 years.

Addendum: Friend Eliot Wagner has this observation:

While “You Don’t Own Me” was not an answer to any particular song, it responded to an entire era. The late 50s and early 60s were full of songs which instructed women on their role viz a viz men in society: not only “Johnny Get Angry”, which you mentioned, but also “Love and Marriage”, “Wives and Lovers”, and probably the most egregious of the lot, “Bobby’s Girl”. The fact that “You Don’t Own Me” was on the air was a grand signal that even if that era was not over, it would, in fact, soon be history.

It also occurred to me that 1963, the year “You Don’t Own Me” was released, was also the year that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Coney Island Brewing’s "Seas the Day" India Pale Lager

February 27, 2014

India Pale Lager? I’ve long been a fan of India pale ales, or IPAs as they’re usually called. I like their intense hop bitterness balanced, in the best of them, by a rich barley malt flavor. I didn’t know quite what to expect from this lager offering by Coney Island Brewing Company. “India Pale” made me expect big flavor, so I paired it with a Vietnamese bánh mì from Hanco’s, doused with some extra hot sauce.

I poured, and was rewarded with a full, foamy head. The color (photo above) was a golden amber. I took a whiff: the aroma was powerfully hoppy, with some floral notes. My first sip made my taste buds confirm the evidence of my nose. The hops have it! A few bites of the sandwich convinced me it was a good pairing. Still, I thought, while this beer goes well with spicy, flavorful food, is it something I’d want to drink by itself?

After a few minutes, though, the beer started to open up. I began to get some of the “[b]ig citrus and passion fruit aromas” promised on the label and on the brewer’s website. The flavor also became more rounded, with fruit overtones softening the hoppy edge. I realized that I should have taken the beer out of the fridge and poured it a few minutes before tasting.

I checked the ingredients on the website. Five kinds of hops are used: Galena, Warrior, and Simcoe, all of which are considered “bittering” hops; Cascade, which is moderately bitter and gives a floral aroma; and Citra, a fairly new variety that has quickly become popular (with some dissenters) and that accounts for the notes of passion fruit. There are four malts: two row barley (commonly used in the best beers and ales), malted wheat, oats, and biscuit malt (I had to look that up). The last three would, I believe, tone down the flavor of the two row barley, and, set against the assertiveness of the hops, explains the beer’s lack of any noticeable malt flavor or aroma.

On balance, this is a good beer. It would go very well with spicy food like bánh mì, Hunan or Szechuan cuisine, and the more picante of Mexican dishes. At a moderate 4.8 percent alcohol by volume, it shouldn’t get you in trouble too quickly. My preference continues to be for IPAs that balance the hops with malt. Still, I would drink this again, maybe with my next takeout vindaloo curry.

So, what about this Coney Island Brewing Company? Is the beer made on Coney Island? No, it’s brewed upstate, in Clifton Park, just south of Saratoga Springs, by the Shmaltz Brewing Company, makers of He’Brew (“The Chosen Beer”) and other craft beers and ales. In this respect Coney Island Brewing is much like Brooklyn Brewery, which has most of its beer and ale brewed under contract by F.X. Matt in Utica. Coney Island Brewing does have a tiny brewery at 1208 Surf Avenue on Coney Island where small batches of specialty brews are made and sold to the public. The brewing venture is a partnership between Shmaltz and Coney Island USA, a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to “defending the honor of American popular culture.”

Next on my beer tasting agenda is Coney Island Brewing’s Mermaid Pilsner. I’ll be reporting on it soon.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

Update on Lou Reed: his Grace Church connection (thanks to Binky Philips).

November 2, 2013

I damn near vandalized my briefs when I read the first sentence of Binky Philips’ Huff Po piece:

I first met Lou Reed at the Holiday Fundraiser Fair at Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, the day after Thanksgiving, 1967.

Lou at the Grace Church Fair? My wife has been a stalwart Fair worker for maybe the last thirteen years or so. Of course, 1967 was well before our time here in the Heights. I was starting my first year of law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she was a sixth grader at a Catholic school in Lynn, a few miles away. Had we been introduced at the time, and told that we would someday be married, we would both have been very surprised, perhaps even (at least in her case) horrified. (I would probably have thought: “Well, she’s not the upper middle class WASP princess of my dreams, but she is pretty.” She might have thought: “What an pretentious, pseudo-intellectual twit.”)

Anyway, Lou was not present in person at the ’67 Fair. Mr. Philips, fourteen at the time, “met” him in the form of a stack of the first Velvet Underground LPs (you can always get some really good stuff at the Grace Church Fair; trust me), one of which he bought, took home, played, and didn’t like. He described Lou’s vocal delivery as “Bob Dylan with a Brooklyn hitter accent.” Two years later, stoned, and with a friend, he pulled the album out, played it, and SHA-ZAM! He was converted.

Later, Mr. Philips had several in person encounters with Lou, almost all of them in music stores. In one of these, he did manage a brief, inconsequential conversational exchange about a guitar. I was once (apart from the Detroit concert) in Lou’s presence. This was at a party, sometime around the ’70s-’80s cusp, in the then edgy (now touristy) Meat Packing District. My friend Charlie (not to be confused with Binky’s friend Charlie) pointed him out to me, standing maybe twenty feet away. I resisted the temptation to introduce myself, knowing I was not cool enough to merit his attention.

Mr. Philips writes that he was in the Grace Church Choir (by which he presumably means the Youth Choir) for three years. Among his choir mates at that time likely would have been Harry Chapin and Robert Lamm, later keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter for Chicago.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

"Framingham" by Nice Strong Arm and "Maddox Table" by 10,000 Maniacs: contrasting visions of mid 20th century America.

September 19, 2012

This video was made in the late 1980s by a band that broke up in 1990, so I may fairly be accused of exhuming a dead horse to flay it. In defense I offer first, it’s so screechingly awful (I’ve never liked the Heartland Records/ Sonic Youth/ “noise metal” genre) that I couldn’t resist sharing it (OK, call me a sadist); and second, it unfairly maligns a small city (technically a “town”) with which my admittedly tenuous connections are all pleasant.  The only time I ever spent there, apart from traversing its outskirts on the Mass Pike, was when I had Thanksgiving dinner in 1969 thanks to a delightful young woman, then a Harvard senior, who worked on floor staff at the now lamented Lincoln’s Inn, and her parents, who shared their table with me and several of my law school friends. My continuing connection is through two friends, one of whom grew up entirely (the one who introduced me to Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA), and the other partly (the one who introduced me to the Brooklyn Bridge cactus), there.

Framingham, Massachusetts (population 68,318 as of the 2010 census) sits roughly halfway between Boston and Worcester (a city with which my connection is even more tenuous).  It’s been designated one of America’s 100 best small cities by CNN. It has its normal share of annoying inhabitants, both human and animal, but it’s certainly no hellhole. It was at least for a time the home of Crispus Attucks, considered by some the first casualty of the American Revolution. In the years leading up to the Civil War it was, in common with my adopted home, Brooklyn Heights, a center of the antislavery movement. It has a large Brazilian immigrant community, so you can probably get good bacalhau and feijoada there.

The video starts, over a portentous repeated strum, with an aerial view of a treeless suburban spread of Malvina Reynolds’ ticky-tacky houses, evidently somewhere in the high plains or desert, certainly not New England. Then, with a hissing snare crescendo, we’re transported down to one of these houses, where the protagonist lies asleep, at first still, then agitated. Cut to the band, shot in near darkness, appearing to be the spectral figures who disturb his sleep. A voice begins a droning chant:

He was a company man, on the lifetime plan,
He gave them forty years; they gave him a watch…

What follows are evidently stock scenes from 1950s movies or Father Knows Best style TV sitcoms, as our protagonist has breakfast with his pretty wife and adorable toddlers, then leaves for work. We then get, as the droning voice continues, scenes of factory workers lining up to punch their time cards and views of huge industrial plants, mostly of kinds that never existed in or anywhere near Framingham. As we shift to the interiors of these plants and see workers doing repetitive tasks, and the voice drones on, we do get one glance of what appears to be an auto assembly line, something that Framingham actually had for a time. The voice shifts out of its monotonous drone into a shriek, then a bellow:

This is what I DO! This is what I AM! I want to LIVE FOREVER, in FRAMINGHAM! 

What, no retirement home in Florida? No, Framingham forever! Then the yelling ends, and we get keening guitar as the workers leave the plant, our protagonist arrives home, his darling daughter removes his shoes and puts on slippers as he reads the paper, and the family goes to the dinner table. There, Dad seems glum as he picks at his food, perhaps contemplating the Meaninglessness Of It All, or mulling over the gambling debts he’s run up without his wife’s knowledge, or both. The kids are excused, and Mom looks concerned. Cut to exterior, where we see the bedroom light going out. Nothing like a roll in the hay to chase away those existential blues, but we suspect it ain’t in the cards. 

What seems odd about this product of the late 1980s is that it mocks an America that was, if not entirely a thing of the past at that time, well on its way out: an America of plentiful manufacturing jobs that paid well enough to provide middle class comfort, and gave a reasonable expectation of lifetime employment. Also strange is the repeated description of the protagonist as a “company man.” A time card punching assembly line worker in the Northeast in those days would have considered “company man” an insult: he would be a “union man,” and proud of it.

Nice Strong Arm came from Austin, and moved to New York after the success of their first album, Reality Bath (“Framingham” is from their second, Mind Furnace). What made them pick on Framingham? I suspect they just needed a three syllable name to fill out the measure of those last shouted lines. Allentown would have done as well, but Billy Joel had already claimed it.

And now, for something completely different:

Jamestown, New York is a city about half the size of Framingham (2010 population 31,146). I got to know it well in the 1970s when, as a LeBoeuf associate, I did work for a client there.  Jamestown was a furniture manufacturing center, and Maddox Table was one of its largest employers. If you follow the link immediately above to the first installment of my LeBoeuf saga, you can read about my first visit to Jamestown and find the “Maddox Table” video embedded there as well.

“Maddox Table” is from 10,000 Maniacs’ first album, The Wishing Chair, which was produced by Joe Boyd, who had produced albums by several English folk-rock groups, including Fairport Convention. This should tell you we’re a long way from noise metal. The lyrics, by Natalie Merchant, tell of the drudgery of factory labor (“The legs of Maddox kitchen tables/ My whole life twisted on a lathe”) by an immigrant worker (“My first English was/ ‘Faster, boy, if you want your pay'”). As in “Framingham” we have a contrast with after work life, but here it’s a tale of courtship, with Vaudeville, movies, and Sunday trolley rides to Bemus Point, then an amusement park, now a more upscale attraction.  Ms. Merchant does give us some inscrutable lyrics: whatever does “Oh, my Dolly was a weak/ Not a burdened girl” mean?

Perhaps the most important contrast with “Framingham” is that “Maddox Table” recognizes the role of unions in factory workers’ lives:

To your benefit we strike or bargain,
With the waving fist a union man,
Not just for
Smokes, spirits, candy, and cologne,
But for
Automobile keys,
Cash in the bank,
And the deed
On a place called home.

Then, there’s the video. Instead of stock stuff from various repositories, we have scenes from the real Jamestown, from 1940 according to the text accompanying the video, though apart from the vehicles it looks as if it could as easily be from the 1950s. It shows the people of Jamestown at work and at play, and some of the scenes (particularly of the shirtless guy in the newspaper printing plant) show people who actually seem to be enjoying their work. I’m guessing this was a Chamber of Commerce production, intended to display the city’s best side. One disturbing aspect is the complete absence of anyone who isn’t white. Maybe this reflected the reality of Jamestown in 1940 (it didn’t in the 1970s, as I can attest) or maybe it was a deliberate editorial move.

“Maddox Table” is a song about a real place, made by people who knew it well. It doesn’t shy from the hardships of factory work, nor overly idealize what’s to be enjoyed outside of work. The accompanying video may present an airbrushed version of Jamestown as it was, but at least it takes us there.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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