Friday, March 28, 2008

Melkweg fadeaway: Pascal, Paul & me.

Last night Marti & I went to see Alicia Keys at Bercy. Eleven months ago in this same arena we'd heard Bob Dylan namecheck her:

I was thinking about Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

"Thunder On The Mountain" - Bob Dylan

Alicia was marvelous in concert. She sang all the hits ("You Don't Know My Name," "If I Ain't Got You," "Fallin'"), but put the spotlight on her recent smashes ("No One," "Like You'll Never See Me Again"), as well as all the solid stuff from her latest album As I Am: "Superwoman," "Lesson Learned," "Teenage Love Affair" & "The Thing About Love."

Click to see Alicia's Keep A Child Alive Public Service Announcement

During "I Need You" Alicia promoted Keep a Child Alive, her non-profit organization that provides life-saving AIDS medicines directly to children & families with HIV/AIDS in Africa.

All in all, it was a fun, romantic evening. How can you miss with lyrics like these:

. . . that wreckless love
That crazy love
That off the wall won't stop till I get enough kind of love

"Wreckless Love" - Alicia Keys

Two weeks ago I hooked up with longtime pal Pascal & his posse (Paul & Gary) for a Boyz Binge weekend in Amsterdam. The occasion was the fifth annual Jam In The Dam.

The Jam draws trustafarians on spring break from the States, as well as freaky folk from this side of the pond. Over the course of my three day visit I saw many of my fellow Eurotrash jam fans, including Steve from Amsterdam, Bill from Belgium, Bill from London, Rick from Paris, Gerd from Germany, Frank from Hamburg, Daniel from Allauch & others. Pictured above is my dear friend Hartmut from Hannover, Germany.

You can't get alcohol in an Amsterdam coffeeshop anymore. Hartmut & his tour buddies Cali & Spa head down the Lange Leidsedwarsstaat (use it in a sentence three times & it's yours forever) in a quest for brewskis.

The first concert of the run -- in the smaller hall at the Melkweg -- was a typical set by the Dark Star Orchestra, in which they play an entire Grateful Dead show note for note. To say I was skeptical about this concept would be an understatement. These guys try to sound as much like the Dead as possible. For years they struggled in bars, then suddenly caught fire -- particularly with younger Deadheads who never saw the original band. For a geezer like me who caught a few Dead shows in the '70s, '80s & '90s, though, they remain a one-gimmick act, Elvis impersonators. Good musicians, but you wonder what they would sound like if they kicked down some original material.

Which is not to say I didn't dig it, albeit as a novelty. Who wouldn't, given that great repertoire, some cool guys to hang with & a cigarette case full of spliffs?

Pas is a huge DSO fan. I've actually seen him playing drums along with their CDs. Why he'd choose the clones over the real deal is beyond me. But hey, the dude was Canadian for a while.

I ran into my friend & infrequent songwriting collaborator Bill at the show. A Brit, he plays in the French Dead cover band Deadicace. As a musician, Bill really appreciated how spot-on DSO had been.

Also on the scene was another Bill, a friend of many years. I first met him when he started publishing Franklin's Tower, the pioneering online international Grateful Dead site. Marti & I always try to hook up with Bill whenever we go to London.

More Brits. Drunk, of course. They were on line for a show in the big room at the Melkweg. This krew was in town on a Reservoir Dogs-themed stag weekend. God help us. Some lucky gal is gonna wind up married to one of these souses.

My friend Steve introduced me to Armand Sadlier, the guy who produces the Jam In The Dam. I told him how much I enjoyed the mellow scene he's created. This is my kind of music festival. No rain dances. No camping. Legal recreational substances. All-night restaurants for post-show dining. Armand is astride a coolass MisterGreen electric scooter. Rents for thirty bucks & change per day. This ride is noiseless, environmentally friendly & subsidized by the Dutch Government. Those Dutch people. They're simply full of great ideas.

The morning after. I had logged in a solid three hours' sleep, showered, chopped & rolled, gone down to breakfast & checked my electric mail by the time the Three Stooges resurfaced on Sunday afternoon. Out the window it was pissing down rain; I had devolved into superchill mode in my hotel room. At hand I had tunes & movies on my laptop, bottled water, potato chips & all the other basic building blocks of life. But the Boyz -- shadows of their former selves -- were hungry & restless. I was tempted to let them cruise without me, but then decided to go along. They had breakfast in the Penthouse Room at the Comedy Café.

Not-quite-faded-away Paul. An album cover? Or the poster boy for wretched excess? Paul's biting wit cracked us up all weekend. Later that afternoon we tried to find a cap for Gary to wear. I locked in on the perfect item at Zara. Very Spring 2008, very now. Gary modeled it for us. Paul took one look & quipped, "You look like a train conductor in a kiddie porn flick."
End of cap quest.

Genuine English breakfast. Heart attack on a plate. I'd already eaten. I ordered a Jameson on the rocks with a Diet Coke back.

Topping off with a little dessert after brekkie. Gary & I just watched them in amazement.

We cruised the Leidsestraat, dividing our time between the coffeeshops & boutiques. I had a shopping list: Heinz Hot Dog relish, Kraft mac & cheese & Hellmann's Light Mayonnaise from the American "gourmet" food shop, handmade olive oil soap from Lush & a dress teeshirt from Matinique. I dragged the zombies into each of these joints. Paul was especially helpful as a consultant to the teeshirt acquisition.

As the cocktail hour approached, we made our way to the Rembrandtplein. We hit the de Kroon Café, where an elderly gent was tickling the ivories. He was playing & singing mostly hits from the '30s, '40s & '50s. Our youthful enthusiasm & raucous applause encouraged him to make the giant leap forward: after a while he favored us with Billy Joel. "New York State Of Mind." The Great Wheel of Music, it just keeps on

Dudes descending a staircase. My companions & I departed the Kroon, headed back to our hotel for a little chill before the evening's festivities at the Melkweg.

I was watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith on the TV in my room when the guys came to collect me. Hmmm. Angelina in a garter belt? Or Dark Star Orchestra? Angelina, garter belt? Or DSO? Angelina in the garter belt. I told the boyz I'd catch up with them at the venue after the movie.

I did find Pas, Paul & Gary during the DSO set. I cruised around the big hall a bit, finally located a little nook in the balcony where I could sit & burn one down. I made my way over to the small hall & caught the last of Perpetual Groove's set. Then I copped a sweet spot up front in the big room for Umphrey's McGee (pictured above). These guys have grown measurably since Marti & I saw them a few years ago at the tiny Boule Noire here in Paris. They sounded great.

In fact every band I heard that night was an improvement over DSO. They all were playing original music. I ping-ponged between Umphrey's & San Francisco's Tea Leaf Green, another fine group. It was Lotus (above), however, who won the night in my book. Their set began at 1 a.m. Lotus' heavy jamming-into-trance sound was irresistible. The crowd had thinned a bit, I weaseled my way up to the rail. I loved 'em.

Next morning on the way back to my room after breakfast, I nicked a brand-new edition of Amsterdam Exclusive magazine from the maid's cart. I read a listing for an exhibition called Paris In Prints at the Van Gogh Museum. Paul had already departed for an early flight home, but after a bit of negotiation Gary & Pas decided to accompany me. They could check out the permanent exhibition while I peeped at the prints.

They left me standing at the altar. I told them I'd phone afterward & went to see the show. The first piece I encountered was Toulouse-Lautrec's Le Divan Japonais, which appeared on this page not long ago illustrating an item about Julee Cruise's recent concert at the same venue (now known as Le Divan du Monde). The small selection of prints in this "interim" exhibition featured scenes of the streetscape & nightlife of my adopted city. Most of the works were acquired in 2000 & had never before been displayed.

It was a delightful little show. The highlight for me was Félix Vallotton's Le Bon Marché, depicting Paris' first department store in its earliest incarnation as a fabric store. I've been sharing a roof with a costume designer for more than thirty years, so I've spent a significant chunk of my life in fabric stores. This is the liveliest depiction of clerks, shoppers & bolts of cloth that I've ever seen.

I headed uptown for a rendezvous at the 420 Café with an iconic figure from the 1960s.

John Sinclair is a veteran activist & poet. Back in the day he managed the Detroit-based punk pioneers MC5 ("Kick out the jams, Motherfuckers!") & led the revolutionary White Panther Party.

I Talk With The Spirits
by John Sinclair

. . . I asked him, "Do you think
about Earth life?" He said,
"Not much." I said,

"Do you consider
that you might prefer
living on Earth
as opposed to your life
in the afterlife?" & he said,

I wouldn't prefer
living on Earth." So I said,
"Really? Not with all
the acceptance, the
recognition, the fame?"
His reply was, "I prefer

the Spirit
to the way
on Earth"

August 1982

John is perhaps most famous for the Draconian prison sentence he was given in 1969: 10 years in prison for giving two marijuana joints to an undercover narc. Is there any question why a youth counterculture emerged in the '60s & '70s? John Lennon was among the many notable left-wingers who came to Sinclair's aid via a benefit concert & rally in late 1971. Within three days of the rally, John Sinclair was sprung from prison. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled the State's marijuana statutes unconstitutional.

It ain't fair, John Sinclair
In the stir for breathing air
Won't you care for John Sinclair?
In the stir for breathing air
Let him be, set him free
Let him be like you and me

"John Sinclair" - John Lennon,
Some Time In New York City

John & I enjoyed a world class hang at the 420 that afternoon. He's an interesting cat, to say the least. Easy to speak with. These days Sinclair divides his time between the 'Dam & the U.S., does fascinating roots music radio webcasts from various coffeeshops, goes on speaking tours, even has a band. We gabbed about everything under the sun. Music. Bob Dylan as Satellite DJ. Our childhoods. Our health (like the geezer fucks that we are). We discovered that we'd seen Chuck Berry on the same Alan Freed rock 'n roll package tour in our youth. I caught the show in Hartford in January, 1958; John saw it a few months later in Detroit. Small planet.

I told John that earlier this year I'd written about that show on this page. Now my friend César has picked it up & published it in Spanish in the current issue of his Barcelona-based magazine Popular 1.

I'll be writing a piece on John for Pop 1 later this year. For now, though, I just wanted to meet the guy & tell him how much I dug his webcasts. I wasn't disappointed.

I had hit Pas on his cell to suggest that he join us at the 420, but he ran into some folks he knew & we never reunited. I trammed back down to the Leidseplein to buy tickets for the Leonard Cohen concert in Amsterdam in July. First tour in 15 years. Then, with an hour to kill, I wandered into a huge Irish bar on the square. It was late afternoon but the partying was in full swing. It was Saint Patrick's Day. There was live music & Irish dancing. I settled into a booth & ordered a health food lunch of Guinness & fried onion rings. A nice way to wrap up the long weekend. After that, it was back on the high speed Iron Horse for the four-hour journey home to the City of Light.

Speaking of the Sixties, Marti & I took in a free concert by Richie Havens at the Maison de la Radio France. After a waaaaaay too long opening set by Eric Bibb, a singer-guitarist who is competent enough but doesn't have that much to say, Richie took the stage accompanied by a guitarist & bass player. He started strong with "All Along The Watchtower," then rolled off a bunch of tunes with which we were unfamiliar. I've always felt that Richie's strengths lie in his deft covers of the great songwriters such as Dylan & Lennon-McCartney.

Just when I'd about given up hope for Richie Havens remaining relevant in the Third Millennium, the three musicians went into a long Arabic-sounding instrumental intro. I wondered where Richie & his cohorts were going with this, the most compelling music they'd made since the beginning of the set. Then Richie sang

They can be counted on to tell us who
our enemies are
But they're never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

"Lives In The Balance" - Jackson Browne

Nice save, oldtimer.

The concert went on forever. By the time Marti & I were strolling across the pont de Grenelle to the 15th arrondissement, the Eiffel Tower was doing its midnight strobe show. We were lucky to find an Italian restaurant in the avenue Charles Michel that was still serving pizza.

Another man is sending my bride love poems. And I've known the culprit since he & I became friends in Woodstock, NY in the mid-1970s. It's our favorite unreconstructed hippie singer-songwriter pal Marc Black. See, over the past couple of years, both Marti & I have been giving him cool socks we find in our travels. I've gotten him music-themed hosiery from the Concertgebouw gift shop in Amsterdam. Marti finds off-the-wall socks in various shops & sends them to Marc. Now Marc has responded with the following composition:

i was told to be wary . . .
just days ago
a visit from the fairy
who loves my feets and toes

oh boy said my heels
and the ankles above
the thought makes us dance
the cha cha of love

and sure as sure
as sure can be
a package of socks arrived
from the foot fairy

although she could not come
to visit in person
she knew that no socks at all
would even be worse . . . and

so she sent these . . .
celebrations of style
a sock that's a sneaker
and one that's just wild

and now i'm hopping like a mad man
jumping like a horse
this newfound energy
folks want to know the source

i'd tell them if i could
but there's really no way
they would ever believe
what i have to say

so just let me tell you . . .
my feets got a smile
no shoes can hide
such a sweet smelling style

i have a love
in gay paris
she's my one and only
lovely, eccentric, foot fairy.

"Sock Fairy" - Marc Black

Speaking again of the Sixties (someone cue "Let's Do The Time Warp Again"), Marti & I went to visit Jimi Hendrix' 1968 white Gibson SG at the Hard Rock Café last week. We were joined by a bunch of folks (L to R): Jean, Charlotte, Desiree, David & Mike. Des & Mike are expat pals of ours here in Paris. The other folks, who came with solid references, were visiting from Cleveland. Their son Ian was inadvertently cropped out of the pic; I had stupidly enlisted an actual professional photographer to shoot us.

Our bud Yazid -- France's greatest Jimi freak -- hipped us to this event. The guitar is on tour & will only be in Paris through mid-April. This was opening night.

As we glommed our burgers, French Jimi tribute band Voodoo Wild (you can't make this stuff up) entertained us with ear-splitting versions of the Hendrix classics. Charlotte, who had ordered the Hard Rock's inedible over-spiced mac & cheese, rocked the hardest of anyone at our table. At one point she & I went downstairs to the stage so that she could click off a few closeups of the band.

At the end of the evening Marti & I took Jean, Charlotte, David & Ian to the Trocadero to catch the hourly strobe show by the Eiffel Tower.

A couple of nights later Marti & I rendezvoused with Des & Mike at the opening party of the new, expanded Il Sorrentino -- their favorite Italian restaurant.

Our pals announced that they'll be repatriating to the States in a few months. Mike has a new gig. We'll be sad to see them go, but at least they're bound for Southern Cal. I'm dying to get back to L.A.

Des & Mike thanked Raffaelo the chef for all his great cooking.

Afterward we cabbed to the Café Laurent for digestifs & cool piano jazz by the Christian Brenner Trio.

Last Saturday my bride & I went wedding gift shopping at Brentano's in the avenue de l'Opera, then ducked around the corner to Harry's New York Bar for seminal Bloody Marys. This legendary watering hole was originally a bistro acquired in 1911 by an American jockey named Tod Sloan who turned it into the New York Bar. By 1923 the joint fell into the hands of Harry McElhone, who welcomed the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Jack Dempsey, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart & Sinclair Lewis. George Gershwin composed An American in Paris in the "Ivories" Piano Bar at Harry's. The Bloody Mary was born here.

Among the celebrities from the sports world who frequented Harry's were football great Knute Rockne, tennis star Bill Tilden & the prizefighter Primo Carnera. His gloves still hang over the bar.

Carnera was a huge dude: he was nearly 6'6" tall & tipped the scales at 265 pounds -- in an era when the average height was approximately 5'5". He won the world heavyweight championship on June 29, 1933 by knocking out Jack Sharkey in Round Six of their fight in Long Island City, NY.

Our across-the-hall neighbor Stéphane Martin has immortalized Carnera in a remarkable series of paintings. This is Red Carnera (2005).

Last Sunday Marti & I attended Easter services at her church, the American Cathedral.

We arrived early to get a good pew, so we got to see the load-in & the soundcheck.

The Cleveland Krew joined us for Easter church & lunch.

We went to the recently renovated & spectacularly redesigned Drugstore Publicis for buffet brunch.

Charlotte digs into a typical French brunch of bagel, cream cheese & smoked salmon.

We invited Ray, one of Marti's old flames, & his wife Martha to join us as well. Marti swears she only dated the guy a couple of times, back when she & her wing gal Susan were working their way through the entire senior class of the U.S. Naval Academy. Hey, over the years I've learned not ask for details. My cardiologist agrees that's it's best to remain in the dark in these matters.

There we are, the happy windblown foursome. Martha & Ray are actually very nice folks. This despite the fact that Ray is on my father-in-law's distribution list for extreme right-wing e-mail screeds. These are invariably debunked at the Snopes urban legends site, but that does not deter these cranky old soldiers for a minute. Without them, I'd never have known that Hillary Clinton has a dick.

After our long brunch, Martha & Ray toddled off to the Rodin Museum. Jean, David, Charlotte, Ian, Marti & I Métro'd to the Marais, where Charlotte went on a thrill ride.

Ooooh. Clever art photography. Or something. We had a fun time with these peeps. Undeterred by the cold Easter afternoon, we strolled & took warm refuge in the boutiques & cafés of the Marais.

When Marti & I arrived home that evening, I had received the above photo of Easter Sunday in Amsterdam, courtesy of my friend Steve. Where the hell is spring, anyway?

Marti & I have the antidote to all this cold rain & snow. In a couple of weeks we're flying to the Dominican Republic to attend the destination wedding of our friends Teri & Jerry.

A week of sun, sand, piña coladas & hard partying should sort us right out.

Ghost photo effect by Gary Pelletier.
Permission to excerpt "I Talk With The Spirits" by John Sinclair given by the author.
Permission to post
Red Carnera by Stéphane Martin given by the artist.

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