Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I met the Devil in Chicago . . .

It was around midnight. At the entrance to a club called Schubas. "Here he is!" I said to Marti. "This is the guy who sits on my shoulder and says, 'Go ahead, Phil. Don't worry about a thing, Phil. That's a great idea, Phil!'" Of course I always take his sulfurous advice. And then things go terribly wrong. The Prince of Darkness confirmed this fact. He turned to Marti and said, "Phil's very easy to work with. He makes going to work a pleasure. With him, I can pretty much phone it in."

Marti & I were in the Windy City to attend the wedding of my cousin Tom to the beautiful Kristin. I think Tommy is the last of my first cousins to tie the knot. It had taken so long to drag him to an altar that I'd started wondering if Tom was playing for the other team.

Our journey began on Wednesday, October 24; Marti & I flew to New York City from Paris & headed straight for Times Square.

Our hosts for the Manhattan segment of the trip were Jody & Emmett, who live in a brownstone two blocks off Times Square on Restaurant Row, next to a cabaret called Don't Tell Mama. Jody is the friend we've known the longest in our relationship. We three met thirty(!) years ago in the theater at UMass.

We stowed our bags in the V.I.P. Suite on the parlor floor, then strolled down a few doors to the House of Brews sports bar to watch the opening game of the World Series.

Emmett had come along, then Jody joined us after work as we watched our beloved Red Sox throttle the Rockettes of Colorado. A better welcome to America I could not have envisioned.

The following afternoon Marti & I did some New York shopping. In the evening we hooked up with several longtime friends, among them gallery owner Howard Greenberg.

I've known Howie since the mid-'70s, when we both lived in Woodstock NY. The Howard Greenberg Gallery has become the leading source for classic twentieth century photography, including works by Diane Arbus, Berenice Abbott, Eugene Atget, Margaret Bourke-White, Brassai, Henri Cartier Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, William Klein, Gordon Parks, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Weegee & many others.
Jaroslav Fabinger
1930, Gelatin Silver Print
That night Howard was opening his current show: Czech Vision. Remarkable images. We surprised Howie by showing up unannounced, then knocked him out further by rendezvousing at the gallery with mutual friends Susan & Marc Black, also former Woodstockers. Later Sue & Marc, Emmett, Marti & I jumped into cabs to go to the Sugar Bar.

At dinner at Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson's Sugar Bar: Jody, Marti, Susan.

Marc, me, Emmett.

Our friend Lady Laura -- soul chanteuse extraordinaire -- hung out with us all night.

We're gonna take the beginning of this song / And do it easy / Then we're gonna do the finish rough / This is the way we do "Proud Mary." It was Thursday Open Mic Nite, so before long Lady Laura took the stage & rearranged the architecture of the nightclub with her rock 'em, sock 'em hand-standing rendition of the John Fogerty-Tina Turner masterpiece.

I can hardly speak / My heart is beating so. We kvetched until Marc agreed to sing too. I suggested "You Don't Know Me," the country classic by Cindy Walker & Eddy Arnold. "This crowd thinks it's a Ray Charles ballad," I said.

Marc sang the song, more soulfully than I've ever heard him do it. Very expressive, at one point crouching & clutching himself. On the way back to the table Valerie Simpson asked Marc what that bit of business was, why was he holding his arms? Marc explained that he usually sings while playing guitar & didn't know what to do with his hands. Valerie told him, "I'm stealing that!"

Our impresario friend K. LaMonté showed up with his latest protegé, Big Baby. She cleverly subverted the Sugar Bar one-song limit by kicking down a long medley that incorporated just about every great R&B hit since the late 1950s. (All this and the Red Sox took Game 2, 2-1!)

Next morning Marti & I took off for the wedding in Chicago. Our digs for the weekend were at the Union League Club. Nice. We had engaged a car service, so on the way in from Midway we crowbarred ourselves into a lunch Tom had planned with our cousin Christine. We held the car, dropped our bags, then sped off to the University Club.

Apparently Cousin Tom is all about the private social clubs of Chicago. Tom's a world-reknowned architect & I guess he conducts business in these towers. (Kristin the Bride is also an acclaimed top-level architect as well.)

In any event, our cousins lunch in the seventh-floor Front Grill was delightful. Lots of catching up, family gossip. Chris had flown in from Washington DC. Her husband Jim would arrive on Saturday.

Later that afternoon we enjoyed a long hang with our Chi-town gal pal Terri in the Rendezvous Bar back at the Union League Club.

There was a kids Halloween party going on somewhere nearby; we kept seeing fabulously garbed princesses & pirates roaming through the bar with their parents. Terri observed that these were no Walmart 6.99 costumes. I remarked that "no poor people belong to this club."

Terri, Marti & I took a cab way uptown to see Gov't Mule at the Riviera Theater. I had tried earlier to get us a hookup for aftershow passes so that we could say hi to Warren & the guys, but my efforts proved fruitless.

A million miles from yesterday and a million more to go . . . Mule was great, as always, but after a long first set I became restless & asked my dates if we could cut out. There were about a thousand security thugs working this show. "You can't stand here. You can't stand there." A real Police State. It's a miracle Gov't Mule makes any money with this much bouncer overhead. That, coupled with dodging the giant cups of beer wielded by their attention-deficient fans, made me homesick for European shows where after the lights go down half the crowd fires up as the security staff looks the other way.

We hailed a cab & rode down to the Kinzie Chophouse, recommended by Marti, for late dinner. Great food. Marvelous company. A fun Night One in Chicago.

On Saturday morning I woke early & surfed the Net for a few hours, waiting for my bride to rise so I could bust a move. Marti finally got up just before nine; the phone rang. It was Christine, looking for breakfast companions. Never thought I'd be cock-blocked by my own cousin!

We had a lovely breakfast, after which Marti went off to get her hair done & I returned to my laptop. Terri picked Marti up from the salon, came to get me & then we went to lunch at Rodytis restaurant in Greektown.

Terri was thrilled with the flambéed saganaki (fried cheese), I had sweetbreads & Marti ordered a thick pork chop. The food was deelish & our waiter was robustly amiable.

I saw a man, he danced with his wife / In Chicago . . . The wedding took place at the Tower Club atop the Civic Opera Building. The bride was beautiful, the groom remembered his lines & the sunset views from the 39th floor were spectacular. Dinner was fab. We sat with Cousin Chris & Jim, along with a charming contingent from Kristin's camp: Laurie & Mike, Alyssa & Mark. I couldn't find anyone with a Crackberry to check the progress of the Red Sox game, so every half hour I called my brother Jamie in Massachusetts to get the score. The Sox beat the Box of Rocks 10-5. We were one win away from a World Series sweep. It was a super party! All our best to Kristin & Tom.

I walked twenty blocks to your favorite bakery / to pick you up a little treat . . . Baby just to see you smile . . . When the reception began winding down, Chris, Jim, Marti & I cabbed up to Schubas to catch Chuck Prophet's last set. That's where I ran into the Devil & his date, Marie Antoinette. Chuck was showcasing songs from his new CD Soap And Water, plus kicking down lots of older favorites. Stephanie Finch & the rest of the band rocked out. The room was intimate & loose, a complete turnaround from The Riv the night before.

With the Devil & Chuck.

Next morning we had breakfast with the rest of the krew staying at the Union League Club. Then we took class pictures.

Sarah & Best Man Mark with the Newlies.

After brekkie Marti & I checked out & headed for the Art Institute of Chicago.

At Tommy's recommendation, we went to see the restoration of the Louis Sullivan & Dankmar Adler-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, built in 1893–94.

When the Stock Exchange was demolished in 1972, many of Sullivan's decorative elements were preserved from the Trading Room. The Art Institute used these fragments to reconstruct the Trading Room in its new wing in 1976–77.

This museum houses one of the world's best collections of art by the Impressionists. We saw many familiar depictions of Paris. I pointed out a couple of stops on the #80 bus route, evoked in masterpieces by Gustave Caillebotte & Claude Monet.

The Art Institute Garden.

Yo! George Bush. They don't like you in Chicago either.

Back at the ULC Terri insisted on driving us to the airport. She really is an awesome gal.

In the taxi into the City from LaGuardia, our African driver was listening to Game 4 on ESPN radio. What's more, he was a Red Sox fan. We bonded immediately. The Sox completed the sweep by downing the Rockettes 4-3. World Series Champions! Marti & I dropped our bags at the V.I.P. Suite, visited with Jody & Emmett for a while, then cabbed down to Fat Baby in the East Village.

I love rock n' roll / So put another dime in the jukebox, baby . . . Our pal Alan Merrill was doing an 11 p.m. acoustic showcase in Fat Baby's basement performance space. Before the set we hung out at the bar with Alan, his remixer Kirk Yano & longtime roadbud Joly.

Alan introduced songs from his new Rive Gauche CD, a tribute to the Left Banke that features spot-on covers of "Walk Away Renee" & "Pretty Ballerina." Glitter Boy came this close to joining the Left Banke back in 1968.

Also available: Kirk's amazing new remix of "I Love Rock 'N Roll," Alan's franchise tune. This of course is the version with Marti & me singing on the gang choruses. Just in time for holiday gift-giving!

With Glitter Boy at Fat Baby.

For a while on Monday morning I thought Marti & I were looking at a free day in New York. Then we remembered a rendezvous with our dear pal Stephanie, who was training up from Delaware to see us. Marti & I spent the afternoon shopping, then hooked up with Steph on West 30th Street, near Kirk's Planet2Planet recording studio.

The night before Kirk had told me about a cool new strategy that New York-based independent musicians are using to get their music out. They release vinyl records (there are still a couple of pressing plants in Brooklyn) with a coupon inside that entitles the purchaser to download the album as MP3s to be played on iPods. The vinyl album serves as a kind of artifact -- unless the consumer has a turntable.

Steph, Marti & I had cocktails together at the Molly Wee, then dropped in to see Kirk. A little more shopping, then more cocktails across from Penn Station, where Stephanie would be returning home on the 7 o'clock train.

Marti & I went to early dinner at Molyvos, the excellent Greek restaurant in midtown.

Chef Jim Botsacos has rethought the traditional Greek gustatory repertoire, developing delectable new twists on the standbys that will please everyone from gourmets to old-schoolers. We love this place.

Monday evening we got together with Lady Laura, Jody & Emmett at B.B. King's on 42nd Street. Our friends Jon Paris & Amy Madden were conducting their weekly open blues jam in Lucille's Bar. Laura rocked the house & we enjoyed a super hang at the bar.

The next morning Marti & I explored Jody & Emmett's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. I had The New York Times' Hell's Kitchen Tour podcasts on my Nano, but we decided to forego listening in order to continue our shopping quest. We headed downtown.

I scored a cool John Varvatos shirt at a sample sale near the Flatiron building.

Roxy Paine's stainless steel sculptures in Madison Square Park.

Ghandi in the park. This was actually the second time Marti & I had seen Ghandi in a city park: years ago we spied Ben Kingsley with a sweet young thang on his arm in the Luxembourg Gardens, back home in Paris.

Union Square Park.

We popped in for a drink at the Coffee Shop Bar at Union Square. Every waitress in this place was a hottie.

Tuesday evening Marti & I cabbed up to 175th Street & Broadway. Our driver -- a Hell's Kitchen native -- said, "Welcome to Fort Apache" as he dropped us off. I figured we were okay; we were just across Broadway from The United Palace. Besides, we lived in D.C. for thirteen years -- Marti & I have seen African-Americans before.

Staircase To Upper Mezzanine.

The United Palace opened in 1930 as a 3,293-seat "Wonder Theatre" designed by Thomas Lamb for vaudeville and movies. It was known as Loew's 175th Street Theatre.

Today The United Palace is home to televangelist Reverend Ike. Dr. Frederick Eikerenkoetter & Christ Community United Church purchased the ornate theater in 1969. The legendary "jewel box" was exquisitely restored & hosts concerts, classes, lectures & multi-cultural church activities, in addition to major film & TV shoots.

Because the night belongs to lovers / Because the night belongs to lust / Because the night belongs to lovers / Because the night belongs to us . . . Tonight it was Patti Smith on that stage, preceding The Black Crowes. What a bonus! Marti & I love Patti; we see her every time she plays Paris. Her forty-minute set at The United Palace served as an aperitif to The Crowes. She did "People Have The Power," "Are You Experienced?" & "Babelogue"/"Rock n Roll Nigger"/"Gloria," among other goodies. Always a treat to see Patti.

Twice as hard / As it was the first time . . . Nobody rocks as hard as The Black Crowes. Crowes drummer Steve Gorman had arranged for fifth row on the aisle center orchestra tickets & aftershow passes for Marti & me. He's very kind.

The Crowes hit with "Waiting Guilty," later delivered a double whammy with "Sting Me" & "Twice As Hard," jammed out "My Morning Song," did some "Soul Singing" (appropriate, given the venue), closed the set with a balls-to-the-wall "Hard To Handle" & encored with the Marvin Gaye perennial "Baby, Don't You Do It."

Whew. Steve's drum solos burned red hot. The Crowes were crankin' tonight. Shoulda brought ear plugs.

Marti & I chilled while the hall emptied, then went backstage to Reverend Ike's offices. We caught up with Steve outside on 176th Street, by the tour bus. We thanked him for his generosity & chatted for a while. He had just made a quickie visit home to Nashville to help his kids decorate for Halloween. The holiday is very big in Steve's neighborhood, lots of competition among the households.

When Steve told us his son was going trick-or-treating as a zombie, I offered consulting services to the little guy. Marti & I played zombie extras in George A. Romero's Day Of The Dead (1985). A long time ago, but you never forget that arms-out stagger-step.

In guilty Night / And hid in false disguise . . . Halloween. Our last day before flying home to Paris that evening. I found us a free lunch hour concert of Graveyard Music at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue at 51st Street.

Performing macabre pieces by the likes of Henry Purcell, Thomas Ravenscroft, Anne Boleyn & William Shakespeare was the ARTEK Early Music Ensemble. Skeeeery!

Chapel at St. Bart's.

Our final destination that afternoon was the historic Landmark Tavern at W. 46th Street & Eleventh Avenue, the subject of a New York Times' Hell's Kitchen Tour podcast & the choice for our Goodbye Until Next Time NYC lunch.

One of the oldest continually operating establishments in the City, The Landmark Tavern retains its classic old New York charm. It opened in 1868 as an Irish waterfront saloon. (In those days there was no 12th Avenue, just the shores of the Hudson, on which this tavern sat.)

On the taxi ride to Eleventh Avenue, Marti & I listened to the podcast. The proprietors of the new saloon had made it a home for their children on the second & third floors. This remained as such until Prohibition forced them to turn the third floor into a speakeasy. In the 1920s one of the "speak" patrons was a young actor named George Raft.

Shortly before 4 p.m. we retrieved our luggage from the V.I.P. Suite. We had bade farewell earlier to our dear hosts Jody & Emmett, who were otherwise occupied that Wednesday afternoon. The Town Car arrived & whisked Marti & me to Newark airport.

We'd be dodging witches riding broomsticks on our flight home.

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