Friday, November 30, 2007

Piano, Man . . .

Kenny White got to tickle the piano's ivories for the last time Wednesday night. It's not that he's retiring; he's shouldn't and won't what with all the great songs and whatnot that sound like this and this.

But the piano's moving on.

And while we're on the subject, if any of you ever need to move the piano off of the Joe's Pub stage, hang up the phone and make sure the exit platform is clamped in place.

Just saying.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Last year at Thanksgiving we could barely get Pat out of bed; she was feeling the kind of blue that makes you lie down and wait for it all to be over--and at her age, it sometimes seemed that the wait may not be long.

This year, she was the life of the party unless the Phoenix Suns were playing; don't bother her when the Suns are playing. She was in the pool, pruning the bushes at the Biltmore, descending the water slide and cheering from the court-side seats that Cousin Jimmy procured. That's what a move to California will do--not to mention the side-benefits of a road-trip with cousin Joey.

(Side note: on Pete's fiftieth birthday earlier this year, Pat--his mother--was introduced to Amanda, who was my date to the gala outside San Francisco. Pat turned to Amanda and said, "I know I only just met you, but I have to tell you that last night I had an erotic dream involving a three-way with Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I haven't had sex in thirty years; it was great.")

We were legion this year, four generations of Mervises (or is it "Mervi"?). Only three cousins couldn't make it and they all had good excuses and were missed. So were Allison and Elizabeth, out there in Florida eating a Thanksgiving Alligator or whatever it is they snack on on the third Thursday of November.

This year, I decided to make a holiday of it and booked a room at the Biltmore spa and resort. I figured it was the best way to get home safe after spending the evening with the cousins at the fire pit. Joe bunked with me and we successfully kept our location secret from Chris for over half the trip. If Amsterdam taught me anything, it's that what Chris doesn't know can't wake you in the middle of the night--just ask Adam. Of course, I hadn't counted on the fact that we're all getting older and last year's definition of fun may not apply now that he's all married and stuff. Rumors swirled anyway when cousin Ellen heard early-morning party noise in the hall Saturday night, but it wasn't us, Ell; we were sleeping.

The week was full to overflowing, what with the traditional Tuesday dinner at Cousin Bob's and the Wednesday/Thursday combo at Cousin Jimmy's and this year the Friday birthday dinner was held at cousin Maude's rental pad in an unsuspecting northern neighborhood of Phoenix. Soon-To-Be-Cousin David made a speech after we'd all eaten turkey and announced his plans to take on a family merger with my sister; look for the wedding bells the summer after next. And Alan and Adrienne brought the gang along, which meant we got to keep cousin Jory out late and throw her kids around just like the old cousins used to do to us out on Honey Lake.

At the end of it all, Joey drove me to the airport, so I could sit at Sky Harbor and wait for the weather to clear at JFK. As we drove down 51, Joey summed it up by saying (and I'm embellishing because this year I was writing some of Joe's material), "I may be weird cousin Joey, but it's great to turn around and face that many people who love you despite and because of it all."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brief Notes

Just got back from Arizona late last night after rain delays. I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and the weight gain isn't too noticeable. My Thanksgiving was great, thanks . . .

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Limited Run

Darryl "DMC" McDaniels at Joe's, last Thursday.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Smells like Teen Spirit. Not.

Last night after the fourth show of the evening, I caught a cab home.

Now, there are times in New York City when a train pulls into a crowded subway station and, pressed on the platform in the mass of humanity, you see a large empty space in the car and you make a beeline for the spot, delighted that you've found a seat until you realize that the large empty space is there because a homeless person is in that section of the car and they have not bathed for a very long time and that section of the car smells like . . . well . . . it really only smells like an unwashed homeless person on a subway car; it's a situation that lacks metaphor. And it's heart-breaking and you really want to do something about it, help in some way, put coins in a cup and vote Democrat, but survival demands that you stop breathing and flee. It's the smell made famous in the Seinfeld episode with the car that Jerry ends up having to get rid of. And if you've never smelled it, you have no idea and you are lucky and the risk is reason enough to stay away from New York City.

So my point is.

Early this morning as Shanta and Jeremiah and I were saying goodnight at the corner of Jones and Bowery, and I turned to hail a cab and watched the two of them walking up to the comfort and safety of Jeremiah's car because Shanta's place was on his route home and my place was not, I had no idea that I was about to get into a cab driven by a guy who had that smell and that, to make matters worse, he would drive me home at the slowest speeds I have ever traveled on the streets of New York City.

All of which is to say that Jeremiah's band, The Ramblers is playing tonight at Rockwood and they're awesome.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And He Keeps It Out of Sight

Last week I reunited with HK Gruber as he conducted the Zankel Band over at the Zankel Concert Hall at Carnegie. He was there as part of the Berlin in Lights Festival which has been sweeping all of New York's cultural institutions major to minor, including this blog page now. Gruber and the Zankel band were presenting the music of Weill and Eisler, composers near and dear to Gruber's heart.

A couple of weeks ago, in Indianapolis, he and Karen and I had sat down for a private dinner during which he spoke to us about all of the influences--personal, political and social--that went in to the composition of Frankenstein!!. While he spoke, I furiously doodled ideas and hung on his every, animated, passionate word. There has been something about Gruber that has stirred me at a deep and elemental level; I feel like I've connected with someone directly connected to the legacy of Brecht and Weill and the energy of Weimar Germany and he has allowed me, invited me and inspired me to play with these impulses that arise at the intersection of art, politics and a good German jazz tune.

That sounds lofty and I flinch a bit to write it. Not to mention that I've been frollicking in orchestral concert halls endowed with names like "Carnegie," a fact which slightly undermines certain aspects of the Workers-of-the-World-Unite nature of this excitement. But, thus has it always been in New York. Midtown's still tingling with the reverberating echoes of the showdown between Rockefeller and Rivera over the wall paintings--you can't always hear it because of the music coming from all of the Starbucks, but it's there. Besides, I really live below Astor Place in a corner of the Public Theater and I work for little more than a song.

Last night, Heidi (who's on her way to Broadway, assuming the strike gets settled by the end of the year) asked me what my next project was going to be and I looked at her and said I was just trying to absorb the last month. I've got a lot on my mind of late and all of it is good and inspiring and it reminds me of something Dore Schary said to me when I was about twelve years old. Dore Schary was head of MGM from 1951-1956 and was an activist liberal during the McCarthy era, but I met him years later when he was a guest at James Madison University, a visit my father had arranged. He and I were in the back seat of Kay's red Volvo and I wanted to tell him the story I had planned for a comic book I was going to write. "Never talk about what you're going to write," he said, "just write it." That advice has been one of the single most influential things that has ever been said to me and I'd say more about that, but here I'm just going to drop it in as an anecdote illuminating why I have seemed to ramble as of late before moving on.

At one point, during the rehearsals with the Zankel band, Herr Gruber offered some guidance to the classically trained musicicans who were about to perform their hearts out in concert a few nights later. "Remember," he said, "The banjo is the harpsichord of the proletariat!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Play Guitar

El May had nearly everyone over today for a home-grown recording session. There were eleven strummers strumming, laying down a track for the new album, coming soon to a mixing board somewhere along the journey to finished.

Afterwards a couple of us hung out for curry with coconut and banana; there are leftovers if you find yourself in the neighborhood. For directions, follow the liquid-hum echo of sweet voices somewhere between the Brooklyn Bridge and the BQE. Kyle says the room got a little reverential, but he just came from church, so he might have had reverential on his mind.

I've always wanted to hang out at a recording session, so thanks for the invite, Lara . . . I may have even hummed a little, so be sure to list me in the credits as "Special Guest Twelfth Humming Person."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Hit It

Have you heard Ethan Lipton? You ought, really you ought. Well, I mean if you like music and laughing at wry observations that back in to you like the smart-ass you want to hang out with at the party. Also, his video is a visual tour-de-force. Well, it isn't, but it's a good way to spend four minutes and fifty-five seconds. (Especially, you, Richard; he is who we would have been listening to on the 8-track in your car with Meisinger, you know, if then had been now.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

His First Name is Homeboy

When Tom and Linda and I lived in Chicago, Tom used to greet each Independence Day by blasting X's song "4th of July" as soon as he woke up. It's a song I have to hear every year now come July 4th and when I do, I smile and wonder where Tom is now. That song was my gateway drug to X, Jon Doe and Dave Alvin.

John Doe's got a new album of root's rock out now (it sounds like this) and he was pushing it last night at Joe's. It was clear from the crowd--cameras flashing and requests flying--that I'm not the only one who enters Doe's music through the back door of memory and he's enough of a pro to fly with that, gamely finishing the set with an acoustic version of "See How We Are" because he promised it last time he was in town. Along the way he played a bunch of new songs and recovered nicely from a blown string ten strums into the set ("I knew I should have put new ones on this afternoon.")

And I thought of Tom and then I thought of Sonnet because if Tom hadn't introduced me to X, I never would have known to put See How We Are on that first mix-tape . . .

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Last week we celebrated KB's birthday at Joe's. All of us up in the artistic office chipped in and got her a print of two drawings I did of the Pub . . .

Thursday, November 01, 2007


The other night I went over to Rockwood with Shanta to see the Ramblers, but got there early. I was kind of fried from the Indy trip (I'm waiting for some photos before I post in detail about that), so we decided to hang out in their other bar which is separated by a sliding door as part of the oddest architectural arrangement in the history of the "You put a bar in my music hall!/You put a music hall in my bar!" argument.

Not that I'm complaining.

Anyway, on the screen in the bar next door was the guy on stage in the music hall--we'll call him "Michael Daves" because that is his name--and he was playing that guitar in a way that I shall describe as "fierce." He's got a wonderfully annoying whining voice that I'd drag myself across a room of glass to listen to and a picking style that would make Doc Watson's sightless eyes twinkle. Also, he's got a new album coming out next week and a release party at Rockwood Tuesday night. You can hear a couple of his songs here at the music portion of his site.