Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I Told You I Was Sick


LONDON (June 21) - Being fired is not just bad news, it could be fatal -- especially if the individual is middle aged, according to a study published on Wednesday.

Among a sample of 4,301 people aged between 51 and 61, the study found the incidence of heart attack and stroke among those who had lost their jobs was more than double that in those still working.

"For many individuals, late career job loss is an exceptionally stressful experience with the potential for provoking numerous undesirable outcomes including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events (heart attacks and strokes)," the researchers wrote in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"Based on our results, the true costs of unemployment exceed the obvious economic costs and include substantial health consequences as well," wrote the team led by William Gallo of Yale School of Medicine.

Why don't they just name a disease after me and have done with it?

Presidential Puzzler!

One pair of legs grew up with more money and influential friends than the other.

See if you can guess which!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Suffragette Formby!

A friend forwards us the following from late last month in San Francisco:

SF Weekly:

"Ziggy Stardust has many singular moments, from the plaintive howl of Five Years and the heavy riffs of Moonage Daydream to the orchestral trills of Starman and all the stuff about the children who boo-gay, not to mention the fuzzy guitar of the title song...The journey ends with the brassy swell of Rock 'N' Roll Suicide, on which David Bowie has a breakdown while trying to establish that you - the young, sad thing that you are (or will surely imagine yourself to be by the end of the album) - are not alone (and that you are wonderful). The record brings up a lot of profound questions, the least of which might be, How would it sound with ukeleles?

The Rise And Fall Of Uke-Y Stardust And The Spiders From Mars has the answer. The show presents Ziggy Stardust, start to finish, using an abundance of the funny little instruments and featuring Ukelele Apocalypse, Megan Lynch, Uni and her Ukelele, Tippy Canoe, 5 Cent Coffee, Henry and the Heymen, and Amy Zing."

How did Miss Templeton miss this? And I look forward to seeing what they do with Low.

Re: Geno's and the English-Speaking Cheesesteak - A former Philadelphian writes in to his local paper:

Boston Globe:

"Reading the stories about Joey Vento's recently erected English-only sign at his Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia, the town of my birth, I laughed privately at the hypocrisy of the Vento family. But Jeff Jacoby's June 21 op-ed, 'Misreading a sign of the times,' made me decide to share.

I have strong memories of my one and only visit to Geno's in 1965, when Mr. Vento's family owned and operated the place and, reportedly, Joey worked behind the counter.

At that time, all the menus in Geno's Steaks were in Italian only, and the staff spoke Italian exclusively and refused to speak English to non-Italian-speaking customers. Even the 'Employees must wash hands before returning to work' sign in the men's room was in Italian. You had to either order in Italian, use charades, or point to a picture. Luckily, I was with my Italian-speaking girlfriend who translated the menu for me and ordered for us.

Amazing how things change, isn't it? And how, in some ways, they never change?


Monday, June 19, 2006

The Cheesesteak That Can Eat Me, or: Philly's More Fun When You Sleep With The Fishes!

It happens here every year or so here in the land of pixie dust and prosecution we call Philadelphia.

Like most large cities, we have a local magazine dedicated to regional issues. And once in a great while, I’ll find myself at a counter waiting to be rung up and I’ll notice the latest issue of said mag, which will be emblazoned with the headline:

Next Year Is Our Year: Philadelphia’s Incredible Comeback!

And I’ll smile to myself, quietly.

Because anyone truly born and raised in this area will immediately recognize it for the charade it is, and we are too polite to laugh out loud at it.

It’s a game we’ve been playing for decades: pretending that Philadelphia has gotten a bum rap. Believing that if we’d only managed to get the right breaks, we’d have quickly proven ourselves the equal of any other thriving East Coast Metropolis.

The truth of the matter, as I’ve said before, is that if they offered free hotel rooms to tourists, made the Schuykill run with Scotch, and paved the streets with gold, we would find a way to screw it up.

It’s what we do.

Which is why the events of recent days have been so delightful.

As you may know, one of the biggest stories to ever come out of Philadelphia recently broke and thrust our city not only into the national spotlight, but became a matter of debate around the world.

It’s the most publicity we’ve seen in years and it absolutely couldn’t be more Philadelphian.

66-year old Joey Vento, the owner and operator of Geno’s Steaks, recently became the focus of media attention when someone noticed a new sign he’d put on display. It read, simply:

This Is America: When Ordering ‘Speak English’

This was just Joey’s way of welcoming the recent influx of immigrants to the South Philadelphia area.

Joey is that part of the Philadelphia psyche that will never allow the glossy magazine’s dream to come true. Whenever a headline appears about the city’s for-sure-this-time revitalization, it triggers something in our Joey Ventos and they’re off like a flash to remind the world that this city has an ugly side.

Namely, every side.

The next thing you know, Joey Vento was everywhere. Not merely on the local news, either: Joey was holding forth about “dese people” on Good Morning America as if he were Paulie Walnuts in a roadshow version of The Sopranos, granting interviews to international journalists who’d camped out in order to catch any further pearls of wisdom, and soon becoming the most heatedly debated topic on countless internet message boards.

Most of these posts ran something along the lines of “WE’RE WITH YA JOEY!!! STAY STRONG!!!” or “IOWA LOVES JOEY!!! NEXT TIME I’M IN PHILLY I’LL BE AT GENO’S!!!”

Soon the media told us more about Joey Vento than we ever could have possibly wanted to know. For instance:

With ‘Geno's Steaks’ tattooed on his arm, Vento is used to publicizing things, especially what's on his mind. ‘Speak English’ signs also poster his Hummer. He has driven through South Philadelphia blaring through the SUV's P.A. system denunciations of neighborhood business owners who hire illegal immigrants.

Then there’s the confederate flag on his motorcycle (and tattooed on his arm). And the t-shirts Geno’s staffers wear that claim that Mumia Abu-Jamal belongs “six feet closer to hell.”

And the fact that he still sells (sigh) “freedom fries.”

Possessor of a ninth-grade education, the vivacious Mr. Vento has a colorful backstory as well.

His father, James “Jimmy Steaks” Vento, was convicted of contracting a murder when he sought revenge against someone who revealed that his steaks contained horsemeat.

As for his brother, Steven "Steakie" Vento (I swear I’m not making this up), he was a convicted drug trafficker and mob associate.

You can’t buy this kind of publicity.

So when the Tony Awards aired not long afterwards and the commercial breaks were filled with spots for our latest tourism campaign, Philly’s More Fun When You Sleep Over, you had to wonder if they’d been scheduled to run before l’affaire Vento broke, or if they’d been rushed to air in order to convince any viewers considering a trip to Broadway that nearby Philadelphia had more to offer than freedom fries and immigrant bashing.

The spots themselves showed a man in pajamas in various locations around the city describing our tempting tourist attractions.

“The food! The shopping!” he’d exclaim, as a group of dancers brandished any number of packages as if they’d just finished a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. Now I’ll admit we have some fine restaurants, but the shopping?

I can’t imagine what we have to offer in the way of shopping unless you’re really, really into convenience stores.

But that’s all part of Philadelphia’s endless opera buffa and our unquenchable determination to make any silk purse that comes to hand resemble a sow’s ear. The fog of failure that hangs over the city seeps into every true Philadelphian’s bones, until it’s a part of their basic metabolism. Which is why any attempt to portray ourselves as winners or successes always appears to be archly comic.

We refuse to win. We live to lose.

And a year from now, when the magazine at the counter proudly proclaims:

Philadelphia! The Year We Break Out!

Maybe, like me, you’ll reflect silently on the profound ability of human nature to deceive itself. And you’ll decide you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Doomsday For Bloomsday

This Bloomsday passed relatively uneventfully, unless you count the evening festivities over at the Drunkass Estate. The spring shrubbery makes it difficult to see the extent of their recent additions, but it’s still possible to make out Total Eclipse Of The Heart as it pounds jackhammer-like against the walls of the room.

Hey, for all I know it was a Bloomsday celebration. Maybe after the music ended they all gathered together into a circle to read portions of Ulysses aloud, as the tradition of the day demands. Perhaps those shrieking voices were merely arguments over who got to read Molly’s monologue this year.

At any rate, it is that literary holy week once again and this marks our second Bloomsday post, which also means we somehow neglected to celebrate our first anniversary here. This is all right, under the circumstances, considering that the blogging had fallen off quite dramatically and there wasn’t, in fact, much to celebrate. But it has been a year and what a difference a year can make.

Curiously, there’s one individual who’s celebrating the day by filing a lawsuit.

There’s a remarkable article in The New Yorker this week that relates recent developments in the Joyce Industry, specifically the continuing skirmishes between the writer’s grandson, Stephen Joyce, and the academics who have found Joycean scholarship progressively more difficult to pursue due to the litigious nature of the author’s estate, now controlled by Joyce.

I had been aware of Mr. Joyce having a rather large chip on his shoulder where academics were concerned and that he felt, when it came to matters of personal correspondence and the like, that he considered his family’s privacy to far outweigh the interests of scholarship.

Certainly it’s a position worth considering. If you happened to be in Stephen Joyce’s shoes, perhaps you’d feel the same way.

But as D. T. Max makes plain in his remarkable, fair-minded article, Joyce seems to have gone out of his way to be obnoxious and arrogant, frustrating research at every turn and being incredibly belligerent in his dealings with people whose only request is to be able to quote some of Joyce’s work in the name of scholarship.

Not long ago we reviewed Carol Shloss’s book on Joyce’s daughter Lucia, To Dance In The Wake. It turns out that Shloss had been threatened by the Joyce estate before she had written a single word and had numerous roadblocks thrown in front of her as she worked towards her goal. In the end, she had to heavily edit the manuscript for fear of a lawsuit.

Which is why this week, on Shloss’s behalf, Lawrence Lessig is filing a suit against Stephen Joyce accusing him of “copyright misuse.” According to the article, it’s probably the first lawsuit of its kind.

There’s no point in continuing to paraphrase when you can read the piece and decide for yourself. There doesn’t seem to be any getting around the fact that, regardless of how you feel about the privacy issue, Stephen Joyce has been behaving in a sad and contemptible way that’s brought much Joycean scholarship to a standstill.

Sadly, Stephen is the last of the Joyce line and, strangely, he seems to be committed to taking as much evidence of its existence with him as he can.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The House That Trane Built, or: A Poke At Ken Burns' Memory With A Sharp Stick

If you were one of the many folks who sat through Ken Burns’ Jazz, you may have wondered just what happened between 1960 and the release of the first Wynton Marsalis CD.

For, in the same fashion that documentaries about Punk Rock somehow take a giant leap from the Sex Pistols to Green Day, Ken Burns’ Jazz managed to buzzsaw its way through the years when the avant-garde held sway in about 15 seconds. This was no surprise as the documentary was basically The Gospel According To Wynton and reflected his extremely narrow and dogmatic notions of what does and what does not constitute what we used to call Black Classical Music back in the day.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing a lecture by saxophonist/composer Henry Threadgill and one of his main complaints about the current crop of players was that, like Marsalis, they embraced ideas of the music that were long since codified and stale. As Threadgill put it, they play great – the only problem is that the people they want to play with are all dead. If anyone would like to read a more extended account of the effect Marsalis and henchmen like Stanley Crouch have had on the music, I recommend having a look at Eric Nisenson’s book Blue: The Murder Of Jazz.

Now by way of redress comes Ashley Kahn’s book The House That Trane Built: The Story Of Impulse Records and a whole series of new compilations to accompany it, not unlike those that were released with the Burns film. These CD’s go a long way towards filling in the history that Marsalis and Co. would rather ignore or pretend didn’t happen at all.

During the 1960’s, Impulse Records provided an outlet for the developments in modern jazz that seemed to be changing the music on a weekly basis. It was home to Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, late-period Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Charles Mingus, while simultaneously releasing records by Duke Ellington and Ray Charles, demonstrating that it was all a continuum. One of my favorite Impulse releases, in fact, is an album of standards by Freda Payne, years before she ever hit the charts with Band Of Gold.

For vinyl junkies, it was a label that defied you not to be fetishistic about it. The presentation of every release, heavy cardboard gatefold sleeves with glossy covers, made each one seem like an art object as well as an album. The thick spines all sported the same half and half orange/black design that seemed to blare their presence on your record shelf. Of course as time went on and the records were reprinted, the glaze disappeared and the cardstock got cheaper until they seemed almost ordinary.

It was Impulse that brought Shepp and Ayler to the attention of larger audiences, although I suppose that some would argue that Ayler’s most influential work was behind him already. They were the label that brought us both Coltrane’s most popular work, A Love Supreme, as well as his most radical work, Ascension, his response to the innovations of musicians like Ayler and Coleman. Initial printings of it became extremely collectible when news got around that the take it contained was quickly switched after it was discovered that it was not the one originally intended for release.

Of course in these days of extreme availability, you can walk into any store and buy a CD version of the recording with both takes. But back when an LP could only deliver 40 minutes of music, whole sections of recordings often had to remain in limbo. It was always a joy to pick up a budget-priced Impulse double-set collection and discover it contained the previously unreleased flute set from a Sam Rivers album or an alternate take of an Ayler track. Eventually these puzzle pieces would get reassembled down the road on other compilations and with the advent of CD, the complete Ayler Live In Greenwich Village sessions became available, as did the complete John Coltrane: Live In Japan, originally a double-album and released on CD as a 4-disc (!) set. That’s three CD’s worth of music no one had ever heard before.

These new CD’s are just the place for the curious to dip a curious ear and at an affordable price. There’s a 4-disc comp that gives you a good overview of the label, a single-disc distillation of it, or a series of collections devoted to individual artists like Ayler, Coltrane, Shepp, Mingus, etc. Each one is worth your time.

Hear what frightened Wynton!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Common Sense From The American Mainstream

(The American Left) are ecstatic about (Haditha)... Folks, let me just put it in graphic terms. It is going to be a gang rape. There is going to be a gang rape by the Democratic Party, the American left and the Drive-By Media, to finally take us out in the war against Iraq.
- Rush Limbaugh

I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.
- Ann Coulter on the 9/11 widows

I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.
- Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)