Thursday, February 28, 2013

Playing with Jazz

"We'll be bringing the heavy."

What that meant was that Glows in the Dark was going to be playing in front of a projection of Ingmar Bergman's favorite of his films, 1962's "Winterlight."

What better place than Balliceaux to see my first Bergman film and with stellar musical accompaniment?

And who better to provide that score than the most cinematic jazz outfit in town?

They started strong with "Gary Glitter" as scenes of the Swedish countryside unfolded behind them.

Sometimes I could read the subtitles, mainly when saxophonist John Lilly had no part and moved over by the door, and the rest of the time I watched somber black and white figures and tried to feel their pain.

"Manhunt" took us even further into the claustrophobic story of a very unhappy looking man and then it was back to business with the epic "Beach of the War Gods."

"The next set of songs are all based on Ingmar Bergman movies," bandleader and guitarist Scott Burton announced.

Now we were getting somewhere.

I was stoked to hear "Through a Glass Darkly" because it was the first song I ever saw them do live years ago and they band's only gotten tighter since.

He introduced the next song as, "Winter Light," and appropriately, it was during that song that we saw the noted 6-minute take of a woman reading a letter that the film is known for.

But it's Bergman, so besides epic takes, there was also existentialism and crises of Christianity.

Same old same old in Sweden, it seems.

And you know when you see a line about, "Your peculiar indifference to Jesus Christ," you are definitely in a Bergman movie.

Ditto for this exchange:
Have you considered taking your own life?
I'm not sure.

Who answers that question that way? I'm not sure?

"Silence" was anything but and was followed by "Ex-Musicians," a song that found the musicians sounding like they were running out of steam toward the end, a brilliant but deliberate way to finish out the piece.

Ex-musicians, indeed.

No question, part of the entertainment was watching trombonist Bryan Hooten who was sitting in front of me, get caught up in Glows' music, too, sometimes raising his hand as if to conduct a note higher and sometimes just keeping time madly in his lap.

They finished with "Up and Down," and everyone in the audience leaned in hard, knowing that they and Bergman were racing for the finish.

And just for the record, things didn't end especially well for the Swedes.

The Marcus Tenney Trio came next playing songs from their upcoming album, which Marcus qualified by saying, "It's gonna come out soon. We just don't know when."

You see, you have to stay loose in jazz.

This set's entertainer was Reggie Pace from Glows, who was bobbing his head and grooving hard throughout the trio's set.

When I went to leave, Reggie said hi, asking me if I'd seen the Bergman movie before.

Alas, I had to admit that I hadn't, although now my interest is piqued.

But who else besides Glows in the Dark is going to show that movie for me to see?

And if they show it, they will play music and, once again, I will get too wrapped up in watching Cameron tear up his bass.

Or Scott make his guitar sound almost like a piano.

Or Reggie bend notes on his trombone.

Or John sputter and wail on his sax.

Or Scott look like a blur as his hands move so fast on the drums I can't keep up.

Yep, I've got no chance of ever fully paying attention to the interesting films Glows in the Dark shows behind their killer soundscapes.

When they bring the heavy, I like to hang on for every note.

That I'm sure of.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fried, Funk and Confetti

It was December repeating itself, but only in the best possible way.

December 5, 2012 was the last time I'd been to the Roosevelt for their infrequent fried chicken nights, so when I saw the smoke signal go up indicating it was yard bird night, all bets were off.

I found another fried fetishist and we were walking up the ramp to the Roosevelt at 5:05 in the pouring rain.

You have to understand, they start serving Lee's fried chicken when they open and when it's gone, it's gone.

And given that it's gluten-free and comes with an addictive chile/honey glaze for dipping, it goes fast.

When I was there in December, it was gone by 6:15. Ergo, there was no margin for error.

Our little five-top convened at a table, unusual for me since I always occupy a bar stool at the Roosevelt.

When our server came to take the order, it basically boiled down to fried chicken and greens: collards, brussels sprouts and broccoli.

And let me assure you, as the accountant pointed out, the only purpose of the green course was to put something between all that fried food and sudden death.

With Neko Case belting it out on the sound system, we munched chicken, dipping it into the sticky and spicy honey until everyone was in a food coma.

And still one of us took home enough chicken for his lunch for the next two days.

Our quintet splintered from there although two of us ended up at the Firehouse for the Listening Room and more repetition.

And like Lee's fried chicken, it was all worth repeating.

Instead of last month's store-bought doughnut holes at the L.R., tonight we had homemade cookies courtesy of one of the Richmanian Ramblers, Richmond's favorite Romanian gypsy band.

Emcee Chris thanked the attendees for braving the rain for music, not always the case in our fair city.

"Are there any Pacific Northwesters here?" he inquired, finding one in the third row. "This is nothing, right?"

The guy flicked his hand in a "Pshaw" manner that made it clear that he had little tolerance for weather wimps.

"Consider yourselves frontier types," Chris said before apologizing to first-timers for the kinks still being worked out while organizer Antonia is on leave.

"She's the glue of this event and she's, uh, got a newborn," he explained.

By the time she's back to running things, the boys may even have the hang of it, but no one's counting on it.

First up was Listening Room alumni Lobo Marino, who'd played December 14, 2010 on a wickedly cold night when the L.R. was still at the Michaux house.

They'd just come back from being on tour again and looked especially coordinated with Laney in an oxblood-colored dress and white sweater and Jameson in oxblood-hued pants and a white shirt with suspenders.

Sort of Richmond's very own White Stripes, at least ensemble-wise.

Lobo Marino are known for their unexpected stage goings-on and tonight's addition to the show was a voice-activated light that flashed according to what Laney sang.

With their unique assortment of instruments - harmonium, metal jug, bells on stools and ankles, mouth harp- they produce fluid songs for two voices and whatever mystical spirit moves them.

With a nod to RVA Magazine writer Shannon Cleary's best of 2012 singles list, they called friend Patrick Bell up on stage to play the mesmerizing "Stay With Me," a song they'd never played live before.

That, my friends, is why you never want to skip a Listening Room or moments like that are missed.

Lobo Marino made their set a true homecoming show, full of energy and happiness and before long, Jameson's suspenders were down around his knees and Laney moved her wide black belt back and forth between her waist and hips depending on whether or not she was playing the accordion.

For their joyous song "Celebrate," they called up four friends to assist and they arrived in pointed, shiny birthday hats (in one case, two hats, one over each ear) with tubes of shiny confetti, which they ejected over the stage mid-song.

For those of us at their last L.R. show, it was a variation on a theme; then they'd used a fan with streamers and bits of paper to shower the stage with festivity.

Afterwards, Laney looked around and observed, "I got confetti in my tea!"

I feel safe in saying that that's the first time those words were uttered at a Listening Room.

For their classic song "Animal Hands," the two did a face to face sing off, which afterwards Jameson claimed Laney won.

Which was true, but nothing could have topped the long ago December version of that song when the audience had thrown stuffed animals at the band during it.

As seems to be their latest inclination, they closed with a Hindi chant based on the story of a monkey god who picks up an entire city when a warrior needs only one herb.

They'd laid out the chant's lyrics for the crowd, asked a trio to join them onstage and set out to, as Laney put it, "Hopefully get to a state of religious ecstasy."

Sri ram jai jai ram
Sita ram jai radhey sham

A person really can't ask for more than a set that ends ecstatically.

During the intermission, I admired the tiny reason that Antonia has been missing in action from L.R. duty.

Tiny Casimir seemed right at home at the Listening Room, but given his lineage that's really no surprise.

Before beginning again, host Chris informed us that despite the L.R.'s "no talking" rule, it was okay to laugh if bands made jokes, undoubtedly good to know for newbies.

When the show resumed, it was with shoeless Zac Hryciak and the Junglebeat, who'd last played the L.R. December 18, 2009 after a snowstorm that kept many people home, but not me.

Wow, three years, where does the time go?.

Maybe it was the long time since their last appearance for this crowd, but they wasted no time with banter, jumping right into their set.

A couple of energetic songs in and Zac stopped to wipe his face, saying, "It might not look like it, but it's really hot up here. And that whole "laugh at our jokes" thing, you don't have to do that. We're not that funny."

That could be debated (he and violinist/keyboard player Jessica alone banter like exes), but with a band as good as Junglebeat, we were too busy getting into their pretty pop sound to debate it.

Three and sometimes four voices (a bass player who sings!) combining magnificently.

A kick-ass drummer, impossible not to watch, who defines their sound.

Well-placed violin. Unusual song structures. And the distinctively angelic voice of Zac.

"We get really excited when we play and then we play our songs too fast. We're blowing right through this," Zac said, just before consciously slowing down for "Colossus," a song about either Mila Kunis or Zac's masculinity, depending on which band member you believe.

Zac thanked Lobo Marino, saying, "They brought the funk and the confetti."

What more could a band want in a compliment?

Like Lobo Marino, one of their songs had been chosen by Shannon for his year-end best of list, so Zac thanked him and pointed at Lobo Marino in the front row, saying, "We're right under you guys!" before playing, "Wear a Helmet," a beautiful analogy about risk-taking when it comes to love.

Violinist Jessica reminisced about the first time they'd played that song live at the Triple, a dive on Broad Street she characterized as having only Yuenglings and pool tables.

She's right, that about sums up the Triple, may they rest in peace.

After "Babbayagga," a song about chicken legs and bad dreams, they did "Charles and Bixby," one of two songs they spent the weekend recording for a new record.

Halfway through it, Zac messed up, stopped and they restarted, leaving himself wide open to Jessica teasing him about a song they'd played "1,000 times."

Lees' fried chicken, Lobo Marino, Zac Hryciak and the Junglebeat.

Decembers redux.

A thousand times or a few times, if it's something you enjoy in life, does it even matter if you keep repeating them?

Honestly, I can't think of a better way to get to religious ecstasy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Moon River

I saw the whole of the moon.

Surely that was what delivered such a mind-blowing show tonight.

It was going to be just a Monday night in the 'hood - a walk to the pizza door at Tarrant's for several slices eaten in a booth listening to employee chatter from behind the unseen counter before a show.

Whoa, what? 
And that's all that I got.
What's that address again? 
And it's fully erect!
Dude, wait.
True story.

Halfway to Gallery 5, I heard Canary Oh Canary's distinctive drumming, telling me the show had begun.

Inside, a small crowd was watching them do their usual intense set and I spotted several familiar faces.

Next came Horsehead with their straight ahead rock and roll enlivened by the dapperly-dressed Kevin on guitar, keyboard and slide.

"I just got word back from the bouncer that it's okay to come to the front," the lead singer implored. "You won't be thrown out for coming closer."

The crowd was tenative at best about getting too close.

During the break before Ken Stringfellow came out, a woman came over to grab her coat from a chair near me and I smiled at her.

"People are so friendly in Virginia!" she exclaimed, clearly surprised."I could live here!"

A Floridian, she's up here on business training and had decided to get out and hear live music.

Right there, she got major points. What a good visitor.

She was impressed at the age range of the show attendees and shared that she'd already eaten at Comfort and Tarrant's.

I suggested Bistro 27 for tomorrow since it's also within the orbit of her hotel.

Someone's got to steer the tourists right.

Before Ken Stringfellow started, a friend came over and expressed surprise that it was clearly going to be solo show.

He'd expected at least a small band but it was looking like Ken with guitar and keyboard.

Fine by me.

We agreed that it was an exciting prospect.

When he took the stage, it was to tell us how stuffed he was. "I ate at Comfort and I know what that's short for - uncomfortably full. It was so good."

He promptly grabbed his guitar and harmonica, walked down the stage's steps and began singing amongst us little people.

Reality is subject to cancellation.

Because the crowd was embarrassingly small (come on, people, do the Posies or Big Star mean nothing to you?), it was like being at a house party with Ken in the center.

Ken Stringfellow in the center.

Very cool.

The guy's got a stellar voice, standout songwriting skills and a genuine charisma and obvious delight in performing, making us a most fortunate audience.

At one point, my friend Gregg, a drummer, leaned over and remarked on what a terrifically intimate thing we were experiencing.

"This is the best show I've been to in years. I'm glad you're here too or no one would believe me when I told them about this," he whispered.

True story, to quote the Beavis and Butthead troupe behind the Tarrant's counter.

After singing a few songs while wandering among us, he returned to the stage to play keyboards for a few more.

Maybe he anticipated being lonely up there on stage by himself, so when he invited us to join him onstage, I was one of the dozen who did.

Sure, some people stayed on the floor where they could see him head on, but not me.

For all I know, no musician may ever again invite me to join him so this wasn't an opportunity I could pass up.

Best of all, he kept swiveling around to look at us and smile like he was plumb tickled to have the company.

Eventually we all migrated back down to the floor and Ken took up his guitar again.

He also said he'd plucked a feather from the Richmond bird and invited local songbird Julie Karr to join him for a few songs.

Julie's husky voice matched or harmonized with Ken's for four songs, including Neil Young's achingly beautiful "Birds."

Singing inches from each other while Ken played guitar and Julie kept time with her hands, it gave me chills and, judging from those around me, they felt the same.

Once they finished, he did an exquisite version of "Moon River," taking it in directions Henry Mancini could never have imagined but would have found beautiful.

When he headed back up on stage, he motioned us to follow and many of us did.

There, he enlisted assistance from the singer of Horsehead to sing Big Star's "Thirteen," surely one of the most beautiful songs about the teen angst years ever written and suddenly an audience member jumped onstage to sing along.

Would you be an outlaw for my love?

Pretty soon, half the audience joined in so he followed that with the Posie's "Solar Sister" and even more people knew every word.

You thought you could defeat her
You're lucky you could meet her

There was even shoulder holding and swaying while the crowd sang onstage.

Time was running out but the crowd was having none of him ending his set, so he caved, saying, "I only pull this out for special occasions...and when I don't see a jail."

It only took a couple of notes to recognize the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and the singalong was now complete.

Gregg had been right. "Without you blogging about it, it's like it never happened," a friend had chided me after missing his show last night.

So here's my proof that the Ken Stringfellow-in-the-round show happened.

And if I can be in a converted firehouse on the night of a full moon listening to a man's voice I have swooned to since 1993 sing, "I'm crossing you in style someday," you can bet I've got a mile-wide smile on my face.

Who couldn't live here?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Can You Dig It?

I don't know what was better, the estrogen rush or the dated psychedelia.

This afternoon's sunny warmth had me craving an outing, so I called up a friend and suggested an opening.

She was just out of the shower and naked, she told me, but open to suggestions.

I wanted to go to Plant Zero for 1212 Gallery's juried portrait photography exhibit and she was game once clothed.

The portrait genre fascinates me, both for what it reveals and what it doesn't, plus there was a variety of subjects.

Kay Springwater's "A Coptic Man, Jerusalem" showed a black man in a sky blue robe against a weathered cream door; both the man and the door came across as strikingly sculptural.

Showing a sense of humor, Lisa Botkins' "Shall We Dance" showed four unclothed mannequins facing off as if about to dance.

To me, they resembled a 21st century version of Greek sculpture.

"Cowboy Johnny," a black and white photograph by  Catherine Hennessy showed a Jimi Hendrix-looking guy, shirtless in leather vest, shades and massive bell  bottoms jeans wearing a peace sign around his neck, in front of a boardwalk signs and under a lighted Coca Cola sign.

The groovy factor was suddenly high.

Just as dated was D.B. Stovall's "Print Shop Supervisors, 1978" depicting a black couple in full-on '70s regalia.

His jacket was loud and plaid, the knot of his tie bigger than his fist and with a perfect 'fro.

"I can't get past her!" my friend exclaimed and the pictured woman's ensemble did make it difficult.

The wide-legged bell bottoms were so high-waisted they topped her rib cage with a matching denim jacket that was equally distressed looking.

Like her male counterpart, each of their polyester shirts had collars that extended all the way to their sleeves.

I'm going to bet they don't let print shop supervisors look that fly anymore.

For sheer beauty, Dan Mouer's "Mennonite Girls with Apples" was a feast of color and youth.

What looked like two young sisters in a carriage wearing flowered dresses, coordinating cardigans and bonnets (yes, bonnets!) looked out at the photographer, the younger girl in pale blue with matching eyes.

The older sister looks askance at the younger, probably questioning the wisdom of addressing the camera. Both have half-eaten apples in their lap.

As my friend noted, it could have been a painting by Berthe Morisot, the artist so fond of female subjects.

I countered with Renoir because the peach-complected sisters and their exquisite faces looked like something that artist would have painted.

It is a very good afternoon when I can be admiring photographs and discussing painting with a girlfriend.

We came back over the river for wine, stopping at Bistro 27 for Tempranillo and talk, specifically girl talk.

Some of my best friends are male, many in fact, but they can't give me the kind of girl talk I needed.

I shared my recently-acquired master equation for structuring the best relationship and she explained the fiery hoops she saw as necessary to reach relationship nirvana.

It's so satisfying to explain yourself to someone who agrees completely.

As if to prove our point, as we left 27, she got a text from an ex, saying he was at a bar and thinking of her.

I made light of the message until she informed me that he was her favorite conversationalist from her past.

Well, if you're going to put it in those terms, my dear, perhaps I should drop you off at said bar and let the two of you explore your conversational connection.

A short drive, a little lip gloss application and she was deposited so as to enjoy her favorite thing about the ex.

No commitment, just conversation. Everyone's happy.

I was off to my own adventure at Strange Matter, where they were doing a "No show and a movie" night, showing "Head."

That's right, the trippy, dippy music conceived of by the Monkees, producer Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson during a long weekend smoking weed and spouting off ideas into a tape recorder.

Boy, it must have been nice to be famous, rich and have Hollywood as your playground in 1968.

The film began and ended with the Monkees being chased on a bridge before going to chromatic, underwater scenes with musical accompaniment.

It was topical, with lots of footage of the Vietnam War including the iconic image of the shooting of the Vietcong prisoner on the street.

It was spectacular, with the Monkees playing through scenes in myriad kinds films  (westerns, adventure, mystery), inevitably ripping through scenery to escape having to participate.

It was cliched, with a roomful of synchronized belly dancers performing in a smokey room for the band.

Scenes were sped up or shown in slo-mo, the better to approximate being high.

It was self-deprecating, with both the band making fun of themselves and their image and others skewering them.

When Mike thinks Mickey is hiding from him, he threatens, "If they think we're plastic now, wait'll I tell them how we do it."

It was topical, with the band being lectured while led through a factory, with the leader warning them, "If you constantly seek pleasure, be careful, you may get what you want."

Yea, like a bunch of twenty-somethings are going to listen to that.

It was irreverent, with one of the Monkees yelling at the producer, "It sucks, Bob!" and walking offstage in the middle of a scene.

It was a pastiche of low-level '60s celebrities, like has-been Annette Fuincello, Sonny Liston, dancer Toni Basil and Frank Zappa.

When a cop gets knocked out, the words, "The Cop's Dream" appear above his dazed head, lest we should be confused about what comes next.

But the really amusing part was that from the moment the film began showing on a sheet on the Strange Matter stage, there was running commentary from the bar crowd.

At first it was very "Mystery Science Theater"-like, funny commentary and putting words in the Monkee's mouths - but then devolving into inane chatter by people who couldn't shut up and watch the movie.

Who's that guy?
I dunno, I think he was in the Monkees.
Who?

One of the nay-sayers in the movie warns the band that the movie they were making had better be good. "Well, if it isn't god's gift to the 8-year olds..."

Hey, he's cute.
He was the cutest one.
Was he?

The special effects were hysterically dated with bodies spinning and hurtling through space.

Davy did an Anthony-Newley-style song and dance number, alternately black and white, and very purely '60s European-style pop.

It was during that number that one of the bar elite noted, "Davy was the Michael Jackson of the group."

I almost shot tequila out of my nose at that.

Soon, apropos of nothing, one of the bar sitters observed, "I can't wait until they build robotic bodies. I'm gonna totally turn in my body for one."

Maybe it was a nod to Peter's speech about the nature of conceptual reality, a subject clearly on the minds of the band when they made this. Or smoked that.

By the time the band was back on the bridge and running from the unknown (pop culture? rabid fans? money-grubbing TV execs?), I was a little sorry to see it end.

"Head" was disjointed, not in a stream of consciousness kind of way but in a "it's the '60s and we're smoking a lot of weed" kind of way.

I saw this movie when I was twelve but I really didn't pay attention. Hey, can I have another margarita?

And the peanut gallery was hysterical.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Short and Sweet

Taking the temperature yielded concerns about self-image, bullying and atheism.

The reading being taken was that of the local film making scene at the winter edition of the James River Filmmakers Forum.

There was a decent crowd at the Visual Arts Center and the brown bags full of popcorn were lined up on the counter for the taking.

I took.

First up was Paul Hugins' "Applications," with a woman at a makeup table trying to make herself beautiful.

Make-up application wasn't enough, so she resorted to scalpels and giving herself plastic surgery while brassy vintage music played.

It's not pretty to watch someone carve up their own face, meaning the effects were good.

"As Best I Can Remember," was introduced by filmmaker James Mattise as, "There's gonna be a lot different vibe for this one. I was trying to create a film documentary without using Ken Burns."

Using audio created by his grandfather reminiscing about his life, James placed still photographs of his life - shots from his time on a minesweeper in the Navy, as a groom and young father, working at the family dairy- along with family shots to create a visual to accompany the memories.

The grandfather's dialog was informative and sharply observed, as when he said about being in the South Pacific during WWII, "If you were going to survive, you couldn't be foolish."

Nils Westergard and Daniel Ardure's "William" was introduced with the caveat," We made this after my first years as a film student and his second. We haven't watched it in a while so some parts may make me wince. And that's okay."

The story of a shy kid invited to a party in order to later cyber-bully him could be seen as a 21st century tragedy.

All I know is, I hate to see a college kid wake up next to a Supercan.

And speaking of college kids, I recognized the intersection of Main and Harrison and the credits acknowledged Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The only filmmaker in a tux (he said he was planning to fly out and crash the Oscars), James Cappello called the making of "Cain" a "long, arduous and sometimes lazy journey to get a film made. Oh, and I'm an atheist."

He then asked his parents to move to the front row so they could watch his film without heads in front of them and they obliged.

The tinny voice of god narrated the unusual take on the classic bible tale, with quotes from Nietzsche and lines like, "Humans can be such opportunists," and "Boys will be boys."

"The Persistence of Poe" was a more recent edit of the film I'd seen at the Poe Museum in September, introduced by David Fuchs as, "After biblical deepness, here's some light history."

A prior viewing meant I knew to expect excellent old photographs and illustrations along with the story of Poe's deeply unhappy and thwarted life.

Which meant that by the end of the screenings, we'd swung from self-mutilation to poets dying in gutters, with granddads, mean boys and brothers in between.

The only way to deal with that was by calling all the filmmakers up front for the forum part of the evening.

Alright, you guys, time to explain yourselves.

This is always a fun part of the program because you never know what you'll hear out of their mouths.

Like Hugins saying, "After seeing that again, I found that final shot (of her stabbing herself in the nose) too humorous for what I wanted to do with this film."

Humorous, grotesque, call it what you will.

He did say the film was about his (and everyone's) sense of self-doubt when it comes to looks.

Mattise talked about the sense he had when making the film about his grandfather of listening to the audio on headphones and feeling like he was having a conversation with the long-gone relative, meaningful since he'd been in high school when his grandfather had died and not really taking much note.

The screenwriter for the sad tale of "William" said that the intent was, "Going for the the most dramatic story I could to make a film with no money and our friends."

They spoke of Facebook as an analogy for the ancient art of public humiliation, something that hadn't occurred to me.

John the Atheist said he was drawn to using a bible story so he didn't have to create one of his own.

"I wanted a cheap but challenging story, but the original "Cain and Abel" was so dry."

JRFF host Jeff Roll asked him a terrific question about why an atheist would turn to a bible story instead of, say, Nietzsche or Sartre.

"What better way to talk about my opinion of the bible than by splintering it?" he retorted.

When asked, "How did being raised Catholic and turning atheist affect your film?" John answered, "Mom, do I have to answer that?"

Mom said yes.

He talked about Cain and Abel as victims, finishing with, "I don't really know how to justify it cause I'm just a 22-year old."

Then, turning back to his Mom, he inquired, "Did I answer that right?"

So cute.

The Poe filmmaker Christine Stoddard spoke about all the little changes they'd made to the film since September in an attempt to make it more appropriate for long-term viewing at the Poe Museum, the eventual goal.

And, just like that, we closed out the forum, secure in the knowledge that interesting film making is being churned out all around us.

I'd probably cite "As Best I Can Remember" as my favorite tonight, but the fact that my grandfather was a milkman for Richmond Diary no doubt plays a role.

What's key is that young, local filmmakers continue to crank out new work on important subjects like mutilation, bullies, fratricide and dissolution.

Short-form Oscars, here they come.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Dangerous Face

Be careful if you tell me you hate art.

So when I describe a new contemporary art show I just saw at 1708 Gallery that included old refrigerators, do not tell me, "And that's why I hate art."

Because if you do, I will challenge you to go with me to see another show which I am certain will force you to eat your words.

And seeing this art will begin with a scenic drive down Route 5, where the palette is decidedly shades of silver, deep green and rust.

Where fields are covered in wild turkeys. Where construction of the Capital Bike Trail is an ongoing work in progress.

And when we arrive at the Muscarelle Museum on the campus of William and Mary, we will go upstairs to see "Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane," containing masterpiece drawings from the Casa Buonarroti.

There will be things like "Study of a Horse," showing the concavities of flesh and bone impossible to see when paint is not used to indicate light on a sleek body.

There will be a tiny business card-sized drawing called, "Man with Crested Helmet," showing a man's profile bisected by horizontal lines that suggest a classical cornice, a melding of Michelangelo's love of the figure and architecture.

I will overhear a docent say that on the day the show opened, February 9, 1800 people came through the museum that day.

That Michelangelo's family lived for two centuries off the profits from his art.

I will be enchanted by "Plan for Pichola Liberia," a drawing of a triangular shaped "little library" requested by the Pope to house the rare book collection of the Medicis.

Three nesting triangular tables mimic the lines of the little room, and light is shown as coming from the three corners of the ceiling facing the sky.

"Study for Porta Pia" is such a magnificently realized drawing of a portal to Rome, a grand entrance way, that it feels almost sculptural, like it's coming off the paper and into the gallery.

And you, my friend, will have to acknowledge when, at the back of the galleries, you see "Madonna and Child" that you do not actually hate art.

The muscular, almost sculptural body of the child is in stark contrast to the unfinished form of the Madonna, her lush Italian lips full as she gazes off almost forebodingly, perhaps anticipating that her baby's life will not end well.

And just to put the cherry on top, you should then look at the two "Cleopatra" images, one exotic with a snake wound through the queen's elaborate hairdo and the other anguished looking.

A line of Michelangelo's poetry (because, of course, in addition to sculpture, painting and drawings, he wrote poetry), he sums up the allure of the female face.

It is not without danger, your divine face.

Sigh.

It may not have been enough to put up with Michelangelo himself, though, whom the docent described as "cranky person who didn't take care of himself."

Sounds like a typical middle aged man to me.

And when we walk out of the galleries, you, my friend, will admit that you did not hate this art.

Meanwhile when I go to use the bathroom downstairs, I find a line of women waiting their turn in a three-stall bathroom and wonder how long the lines were when the roughly 900 women came on opening day.

Once in, the obvious update is that the stalls now house modern plastic toilet paper dispensers, meaning the old metal ones with small lidded ashtrays attached (in place as recently as three years ago) are now relegated to the Muscarelle's history.

Also missing are the small signs above them that used to read, "Please refrain from smoking."

Ah, the times they are a-changing.

After proving my art point to my friend, we headed over to the dreaded historical area for a late lunch.

His choice was The Trellis, a surprisingly bright and dated series of rooms still bustling with a lunching crowd even at 3:00.

A table of four women, all with heads bent as they interacted with their phones and not the friends they'd come to lunch with.

Another table of women ordering bright pink cocktails to start their meal.

I went the simple route with today's soup and half sandwich special.

The soup was white bean and chicken with kale, garlic, carrots, celery and onion, thick and satisfying.

Today's sandwich was a complete throwback to my youth: ham salad.

When our server described it as ciabatta with ham salad made of ham, roasted peppers, onions, celery, mayo and a little mustard, I flashed back to childhood and my mother's bridge parties.

The only time I ever saw (or tasted) ham salad was when my Mom hosted her bridge club and she made dozens of little chicken and ham salad sandwiches.

When I expressed my memory of this to the twenty-something server, she jumped on it.

"I know, right? I remember my grandmother making ham salad when I was little, so it's like a total throwback for me, too!"

And while I think crispy ciabatta is the wrong choice for a sandwich like this (too much crunch for the filling), the ham salad was a delicious walk down Memory Lane.

Over lunch we discussed the concurrent show at the Muscarelle, a lesser Baroque painter and disciple of Michelangelo, Mattia Preti.

But truthfully, no painter could hold up after seeing a show of the master's drawings, so both my friend and I had given it, at best, a cursory look.

Lunch concluded with The Trellis' signature "death by chocolate" dessert, certainly not the most unique chocolate dessert I've ever had, but with enough forms of chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth and put a period at the end of our day trip.

Let's just say it was as satisfying as hearing my art-hating friend admit how much he'd liked today's art.

Challenge met and left among the dead leaves on silvery Route 5.

Heart, Loin and Ice

To the far reaches I went tonight.

1708 was opening Jessica Segall's show, "A Thirsty Person," which spanned two journeys and had a fair crowd when we got there.

Segall had done residencies in the Arctic and Mongolia and the exhibit spoke to both, while she provided the anecdotes during her talk.

She'd traveled to Mongolia for a self-directed residency, expecting to find a third world sensibility.

"Everybody had solar panels, so they all had cell phones and TVs," she admitted with surprise. "The new thing is they herd sheep with motorcycles because it's more fun than on a horse."

"Cultures change quickly," she said, explaining the importance of documenting them.

So much for jokes about outer Mongolia.

The very abstract black and beige pieces used the varied patterns of solar panels as elements.

Further back, the work sprung from her Arctic adventure with old refrigerators sitting around, opened and lit, some on their sides and others upside down.

The centerpiece was a copper screen chilled by a freezer coil and showing a video of Segall in an elaborate solar-insulated costume she'd designed and worn for the shoot.

With the coil constantly cooling, the screen was slowly being covered by ice.

Segall told us we could touch it, but not to scratch our names in it.

The image on the screen was particularly lyrical because of the frosty layer forming over the image  of the colorful Goya-inspired costume being broken up by areas of luminous copper.

It had a vintage photograph look - an exotic-looking woman on an icy landscape.

Near the front of the gallery was a photograph of her in the costume on top of the global seed vault (yes, there is one), with nothing but ice all around.

For me, I try to fathom so cold a place when I have cold hands inside my gloves on this merely 37 degree night.

The art lover and I went our separate ways as I headed up the hill to the far reaches of Church Hill to meet a buddy at Dutch & Co.

It was prime time, so I walked into a bustling bar under low, gas light and never even saw my friend, buried in the back at a table.

As it turned out, the benefits were its proximity to the Sub Rosa bread and the loo.

I joined the Cotes du Rhone lover in a glass of 2010 Ferraton et Fils, full of ripe fruit and blood-thickening warmth.

Winter is wearing out its welcome for this thin-blooded Irish type.

Best of all, he was already knee-deep in conversation with the two-top next door, who also happened to be the owners of Anderson's Neck Oyster Company, the ones served there.

How conveniently social for us.

Just last summer, I'd done a big piece on local oysters for a Northern Neck magazine and had talked to all kinds of oyster-raising folk, from the Rappahannock River Oyster Company cousins to a grandfather/granddaughter duo who began doing it to share a hobby and benefit the river.

This lovely couple was still doing it for philanthropic purposes, not yet having actually earned a profit on their endeavor but already increasing from 50,000 to 8 million seed oysters.

Since I'd had their oysters the first time I'd been in D & C, I felt comfortable telling them how much I'd enjoyed them.

My friend and I went even further, ordering a couple of plates of them off the $5 chalkboard menu.

Glasses of the Whitehall Lane viognier accompanied it and our server, affirmed it all, saying, "That is the way to start a meal."

Over bivalves, we talked news since he is the only other human I know besides my parents and me who still gets the Washington Post delivered to him everyday.

It is a unique bond.

So when I ask if he's read a certain article, he will begin with, "Front page of Style, left hand corner?" and I will confirm the location of the piece before we discuss its contents.

This is a singular pleasure to a newspaper nerd.

I was telling him about the 1708 opening I'd just seen when our server came up and joined in, saying she liked 1708 for how "out there" they were willing to go in showing art.

That's my kind of server.

When it came time to order, he wavered between the monkfish and skirt steak, eventually choosing the latter.

That worked out well for me because it came with a smoked pork belly, celery root, persimmon, brussels sprouts and ginger herb sauce that he was too full to eat.

As far as I was concerned, one entree seemed boring when I could get three small plates off tonight's $5 menu.

Cured venison loin and celery root were sliced paper thin and dotted with a rich, sweet  blueberry beet sauce.

Venison merquez meatballs came atop cashew and pickled grape anchoiade for a satisfying contrast in flavors.

Corned beef heart was a thing of beauty with pickled mustard seed and peppery arugula.

When our server came to ask how we liked our food, I couldn't help but state the obvious.

Chef Caleb's a master with meat.

She laughed at my terminology but acknowledged that I was exactly right.

Shoot, the heart and loin told me everything I needed to know.

Since it was my friend's first time there, he scoped out the room, pondering the authenticity of the pressed tin ceiling, noting the wine shelving and the bar's materials.

I still maintain that the place looks lifted from Edward Hopper's painting, "Nighthawks," a reassuringly lit presence on Marshall Street.

He finds the interior too dim, making menu-reading challenging for him.

What a drag it is getting old.

As we finished up, the place was emptying out, not surprising given their 10:00 closing hour.

It would not be a meal out for this friend and me without dessert, so we agreed upon the chocolate chicory toffee cake with chunks of walnut nougat, decorative lines of orange "taffy," chocolate ganache and a mint sauce.

I found the mint sauce to be maybe one component too many, but the nougat was like something I made with my grandmother as a child, a unique touch.

And while taffy was a misnomer, the orange flavor complemented the chocolate even without the chew factor.

By then, we were among the very few, so we gathered up our necessaries and headed out into the not-so far reaches of the city.

That was some good eating.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Crank It Up

It was a Hank Williams kind of night.

It started in the chilly dining room of Tio Pablo for beef tongue tacos and one of tonight's specials, pupusas of pork and cheese.

I gotta say, metal stools are a bitch in the winter time.

But it wasn't just the stools because everyone at the tables had their jackets on, too.

Luckily the chilies warmed things up (and, okay, made my nose run) and they were everywhere -in the red beans and Surry sausage, in the salsa, in the guacamole.

It sure is convenient to have a place like Tio Pablo so close to home.

Lately I've been faced with too many good choices for what to do on one evening, but tonight's choice was simple.

It was Twangtown Thursday at Balliceaux and besides the usual variety of local twang, there was traveling twang.

Walking in, organizer Chris grinned and said, "Welcome back!" a nod to this being my third show this week.

The show started with Matt Conner, a guy with a lot of long, curly hair and a guitar.

He wasn't flashy ("My name's Matt and this is my first song") or afraid to be explicit ("I'm a little phlegmy").

How'd you manage to matter to me?

He announced the next song as, "This is for my mother. She's an old lady. She's stubborn."

All I can say is, good thing Mom wasn't here to hear that fabulous intro or Matt might have heard from her.

Sweet Fern came second and the duo of Josh and Allison is reliably entertaining, with both having talent to spare.

They coasted through songs by Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and, yup, Hank Williams.

There were songs about hangings, jail and a tornado that killed thirteen children in a schoolhouse.

You know, everyday life.

Their set was short and followed by Josh lowering the mics and then having to drop to his knees to introduce Anna and Elizabeth.

The duo are passionate fans of Appalachian music, meaning fiddle-style music and haunting ballads, played on guitar or banjo and sometimes a capella.

After a few songs, they announced that they were going to show us a puppet show.

"Come up front and sit on the floor," Anna suggested, "Like kindergartners."

While I appreciated her invitation, I had a feeling that the floor was going to be about as warm as that metal stool at Tio Pablo, so instead I just sat on the back of the banquette for a better view.

They were showing an art form called a "crankie," meaning a fabric and paper scroll that was slowly turned by Anna as Elizabeth sang a song to tell the story.

It was about a weaver's body and the vividly colored images rolled along seamlessly as Elizabeth sang, "Death is sharper than a thorn."

Isn't it?

What is meaner than womankind?
The devil is meaner than womankind

I might want to take issue with that.

After the song ended, they said they made the scrolls on their sewing machine.

There was nothing to follow such a unique experience with other than Hank, so we got "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," with its suggestion of yodeling.

Another song was described as written in the '30s after the songwriter heard a railroad man singing it.

It was the epitome of Twangtown Thursday.

Sweet Fern returned to a far more attentive crowd and deservedly so since they were doing a song about the plight of the housewife.

Allison even played guitar for one song, not something she particularly enjoys doing, as evidenced by her handing it back to Josh like it had cooties.

"Take this devil box away," said the woman who likes her ukulele.

Putting on his best baby talk voice, Josh teased, "Aww, is it hurting your little fingers?"

Sweet Fern never disappoints in the stage banter department.

"Speaking of gauche, here's Allison Self," Josh said to lead them into the next song.

"Can you spell that, please?" Allison quipped back.

"Like Gucci," Josh said and got things going again.

Anna and Elizabeth took the hint and returned with their own brand of humor.

"What's the difference between an onion and a banjo?" Anna asked before handing the banjo to Elizabeth.

"No one cries when you play banjo!"

Musician humor, you gotta love it.

We were treated to another crankie, this one "The Ballad of Lord Bateman" and told to sit back down on the floor for it.

"I love that middle aged people are sitting Indian style or should I say "criss cross applesauce," as it's now known?" Anna asked. "More politically correct."

Criss cross applesauce? Are you kidding?

After the romance of Lord Bateman with his discarding of his wife for his long lost love, we moved back to heartbreak hotel.

"Here's a song to put a tear in your beer," Elizabeth said.

And damn is they didn't pull out Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," a song we all need to hear every now and again.

Anna and Elizabeth showed they weren't local by asking if we knew Patsy Cline was a Virginian.

Do you seriously have to ask a Richmond audience that? The town where "Always, Patsy" plays like clockwork in one theater or another every other season?

That said, they covered "Fall to Pieces" with Allison doing superb backup vocals and Josh tearing it up on mandolin.

It was so compelling that a drunk guy in front of us stood up and began waving his ball cap in the air as if to conduct the duo as they played.

His friend finally pulled him down so we could see Sweet Fern belting out "Your Cheatin' Heart," making for our fourth Hank of the evening.

"Not that there are four Hanks," Josh clarified, probably to the same people who didn't know Patsy Cline was a Virginian.

You know, the gauche people.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tales From Another Era

Everybody should be able to love and marry whomever they choose, right?

Well, yes, except if you were of different races and unfortunately living in Virginia in the 1950s.

The one film I'd missed seeing at VCU's Southern Film Festival had been "The Loving Story" about the interracial couple who fought for the right to be married all the way to the Supreme Court, and tonight it was being shown at the Library of Virginia.

Sitting waiting for the film to begin, I couldn't help but notice an interracial couple in the row in front of me.

Behind me, two older men sat down and began discussing their familiarity with tonight's topic.

"If you think about it, Virginia's got 100 counties and six million people, so I knew there had to be some out there," one commented. "It's just my observation, but I think a lot of them aren't legally married, they're just couples. I went to the Folk Fest and I was shocked at the scores of them! Shocked at how many black and white couples I saw. Younger people wouldn't even probably notice."

And if this old coot was shocked at what he saw last Fall, it's inconceivable what an uphill battle the interracial Lovings must have fought to be able to live together during the Eisenhower years.

They'd married in D.C. and were happily living in Caroline County when a sheriff broke their door down at 4 a.m. to arrest them for having the audacity to live together in the commonwealth.

Because apparently interracial marriage was still illegal in 24 states so as to preserve the purity of the race.

The film was a documentary dork's dream because they had so much vintage footage, black and white and color, taken when all this was happening back in the '60s.

Husband Richard was pretty monosyllabic but wife Mildred was articulate and sweetly charming.

"When we first met, I didn't like him," she admits to the camera, her pretty, young face riveting to watch. "He was arrogant!"

But she also talks about how in Caroline County, blacks and whites all grew up together happily. "We didn't know nothing about this racism stuff," she naively admits.

And even her redneck husband waxed on poetically to the camera, saying, "If they tell me to leave again, I will because I am not going to divorce her."

They tried living in D.C., but hated city life and missed their small rural community, so eventually they sought help to make it possible for them to move back to Virginia.

They were advised, "Write to Bobby Kennedy. He'll help you. That's what he's there for," so Mildred sat down and wrote a lovely letter to the then-attorney general.

The world was a far simpler place back then.

He passed them on to the ACLU, where two fresh-faced young lawyers got the case of a lifetime and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The film showed reaction to the case, with ignorant white people with southern accents saying things like, "I am white today because my parents practiced segregation!" and, "Some of my best friends are niggers."

During these scenes, people around me shook their heads in disbelief and mortification. Interestingly, I heard nothing from the two gents behind me.

There was plenty of footage of the young lawyers talking about the case as well as recent interviews of them as elder statesmen recalling their incredible luck in getting the Loving case.

"We had to pinch ourselves because of what we were doing," one said about getting to argue the case to the Supreme Court.

We even saw footage from in front of the federal courthouse in Richmond circa 1967.

The Lovings didn't come to court ("Just tell the court I love my wife," Richard instructed the lawyers) because Richard couldn't be bothered and Mildred wouldn't go without him.

Not that it mattered.

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision and bans on interracial marriage had to be repealed.

But not as quickly as I would have thought.

Unbelievably, Alabama just repealed theirs in 2000.

2000! Hard to comprehend.

The saddest part of the story was how eight years after the decision, the couple's car was hit by a drunk driver and Richard was killed.

Such a tragic ending for two people who had spent so long just trying to legally live together.

I was just glad that I'd finally seen this amazing documentary.

My fellow filmmaker and I had a brief window to eat before moving on to the music portion of the evening and Olio got the nod for their superior sandwiches.

Fancy fast food, so to speak.

My Italian Picnic layered turkey, Granny Smith apple slices, my beloved Tallegio, fig jam and garlic aioli on a crusty baguette and I scarfed it down like I hadn't just had Roy's Big Burger for lunch..

Now that's what the 4th Earl of Sandwich was talking about.

The last stop of the evening was Balliceaux for a Steady Sounds listening party.

Walking in, I saw Marty, one of the owners of my local record shop and the sponsor of tonight's program and PJ the band photographer.

Seeing me, PJ raised his hand to hi-five me. "Yes!" he squealed. "I beat Karen!"

Satisfaction comes where you take it, my friend.

Marty came over and asked, "Want a free raffle ticket for a chance to win a free record?"

Why, yes, I did.

"The Trash Company: Earle Hotel Tapes 1979-1993" was the featured record and it was going to be played on what looked like a '70s record player from somebody's school AV club.

Being played was a brand-new reissue of fourteen years of music made by local musician Max Monroe.

And, no, not a one of us had heard of him before this.

He'd been part of a Jackson Ward funk band called the Trash Company back in the '70s and then left over artistic differences.

What was cool was that he'd spent the next fourteen years recording music in his bedroom at the seedy Earle Hotel and those demos were what we'd come to listen to tonight.

Part funk, part psychedelic, part lo-fi soul, it didn't sound like anything else I could think of.

It wasn't derivative, it was a pastiche obviously made by a talented man with a soulful voice and no musical outlet other than some cheap equipment.

The room began to fill up not long after the record was put on, with my only complaint being that many people were there to socialize rather than listen.

When side one ended, it took a minute for someone to realize and go flip the record over.

I don't have a record player, so I didn't buy a copy although I saw several people do so, a wise move since the initial pressing is already almost sold out.

Go Steady Sounds.

I can't fathom what it must feel like for this musician who continued to create music long after the world had forgotten him to suddenly find himself with a new album.

Probably almost as wonderful as being allowed to live legally with the person you love.

Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself to remember life is real.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Circle of Fifths

They might have officially called it the Neumann Lecture on Music, but it may as well have been the Karen Lecture on Music.

University of Richmond's music department was presenting Yale's Dr. Craig Wright speaking on "Music and the Brain," about how the brain processes and interprets music.

If ever there was a talk I was passionately looking forward to hearing, this was it.

Two fellow music geeks were accompanying me and the younger of the two suggested a pre-music meal at Garnett's.

Low key with only three other patrons when we arrived, the little lunch counter soon exploded with four more tables and the long-bored cook was suddenly swamped.

I made it easy on him ordering off the happy hour menu: grilled ham and garlic aioli tea sandwiches and angels on horseback (dates with bacon and bleu cheese).

Being music-minded, we discussed Thom York's new Atoms for Peace project and the obsession two of us are currently having with the new Local Natives album, "Hummingbird."

Meanwhile, the music mix being played was strictly old-school with Janis Joplin and Johnny Cash keeping it real.

We ended up sharing a massive slice of chocolate coconut cake, an offering I'd never seen at Garnett's, Ipanema or the Roosevelt.

The thick layers of moist, chocolate cake with white frosting and toasted coconut was like a grown up Hostess Snowball.

Without the preservatives and artificial colors, that is.

I continue to worship at the altar of W.P.A.'s baker David.

And if he's looking for suggestions, mine would be that this cake be available at all three restaurants at all times for my convenience.

When that plate was licked clean, we high-tailed it to UR and the Modlin Center.

All three of us wanted a good seat for the lecture and performance by ensemble-in-residence eighth blackbird.

And we got them, fourth row and center, despite a far more crowded auditorium than I'd expected.

I had Dr. Wright pegged as a funny guy from the moment I finished reading his bio in the program, taken from the Yale University website.

Besides mentioning several people from his youth ("All survived the experience"), it also said that his music appreciation class was currently, "The fourth most popular online course in China."

When he walked out, we saw a trim, handsome older guy who immediately  said, "I'm going to talk without a sports jacket on, if that's okay."

You have to be of another era to even think people might care, a fact I found charming.

He introduced eighth blackbird, saying he intended to use them as "relief from my talking."

Better put, he used them to illustrate his many points.

He began by asking us what kind of music we liked and when one of my partners-in-crime said classical and specifically Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Wright quipped, "That's one you gotta get used to. It's like spinach."

I knew he was going to be a funny guy.

We were told to imagine a desert island scenario and we could take only two albums, but then had to jettison one.

To prove his point, he had eighth blackbird play a piece of a Mozart piano concerto followed by a piece of Schoenberg, asking which of us would keep the first and which the second.

It came out about 50/50, surprising him because, the second piece with its non-conforming elements (no scale, no chords), we should have all gone for the Mozart.

That's due in part to cultural conditioning and partly to nature, he explained.

Throughout the lecture, he'd ask pianist Lisa to demonstrate things for him, eventually just going over to the keys and playing what he wanted himself rather than explain.

"This is funny," he warned us before a good story. "I went to the Eastman School of Music and you were only required to take one science class to graduate. This part is even funnier. I didn't take it."

This information was a prelude to him explaining that he was essentially giving a science lecture.

Now I was in trouble.

"Those with absolute pitch have different brains," he said while colored images of brain stems and temporal lobes showed on the screen. "It's simple physiology."

Simple?

And here's where I have to admit that parts of this lecture went over my head.

Whiz! Right past.

The science part was almost easier to me than some of the more involved parts about music.

Next he covered why we like certain music.

Using himself as an example, he spoke about how he can't play his favorite music in front of his wife or colleagues at Yale.

"They wouldn't fire me," he said, "But they wouldn't be my friends."

"His" music was country and a picture of Billy Jo Shaver came up as we heard one of his Texas country music songs.

And Dr. Wright loved this shit music.

He thought the reason was that as a child, when he was supposed to be napping, he was listening to AM country radio stations, and thus shaping his taste.

"I think it kind of grew in my hippocampus," he deadpanned.

Now, that's funny.

"My parents tried to "correct" my education," he said as a picture of Mozart came up.

The good part was that meant we got to hear Mozart and Rachmaninoff to illustrate his taste.

"That's the power of music. It causes excitement.It's physically empowering."

On this point, I understood completely.

But, as he explained, sometimes we want to set a mood with music and a picture of a candlelit dinner table came up, with him asking what we might play to set the mood if we were hoping for certain results.

He had eighth blackbird play Bach's "The Art of Fugue" to demonstrate and then asked why it wouldn't be good music to set the romantic mood.

One of my companions was first to volunteer, saying it was too complicated to listen to when romance was the goal.

"You hit the nail on the head exactly," Wright exclaimed. "That music makes the mind think about something other than what your original plan was."

Note to amorous types: fugues will not help you score.

He covered how memory works with music, helping us recall past experiences and making us associate certain songs or pieces with specific life events.

"I remember exactly where I was standing when I first heard Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock," he offered.

Likewise, I remember exactly where I was standing when I first heard Pete Yorn's "Strange Condition."

I'd just walked up from the beach to the cottage to hit the bathroom when I was stopped cold, sandy feet and all, in the living room by the song and instantly fell in love with voice and songwriter.

It just makes me another scientific example.

To further illustrate this point, he showed film clips with and without music.

From "The King's Speech," we saw the pivotal speech scene with part of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 behind it.

"Beethoven makes that scene," he said, pointing out the obvious and I recall when I saw the movie thinking how perfect a choice it had been.

We saw a scene from Hitchcock's "Psycho" with and without the screeching violin and there was no comparison.

Without music, the scene was stiff and contrived but once we heard wood on strings, it was terrifying.

His last clip was to demonstrate how some music can give a person chills, his example being Pavarotti singing an aria from "Turandot."

It's as simple as blood flow increasing and decreasing.

Oh, my. I was learning so much.

From opera that made us tingle, we went to the power of rhythm and the beat.

How does music take control of the body?

Well, for Dr. Wright it was as easy as putting on a pop song and dancing onstage uncontrollably.

Let me tell you, it was a highlight of the lecture.

"That's the primordial power of the beat," said this learned Yale man with degrees to spare.

And we all know it's true.

Some music gives us no choice but to shake our groove things.

And for that, no knowledge of science is required. Whew.

On Passion and Reason

Ho hum. Just another matinee of a Pulitzer Prize finalist at my local theater.

I'm kidding, of course.

I was thrilled to be at Virginia Repertory to see Cadence Theater's production of "Sons of the Prophet, part of the Acts of Faith Festival.

The story, a black comedy (or maybe just a drama-comedy) centers around two brothers whose father is killed at the beginning of the movie.

The best memories are all fictional.

Their aging and opinionated Uncle Bill moves in with them.

Joseph has un-diagnosed, crippling  pain in his legs.

He and his brother Charles are both gay (what are the chances, everyone wonders).

His female boss is an addictive personality obsessed with writing a book about his family because they are supposedly descended from poet Kahlil Gibran.

What's Lifetime movies? 
Television for women.

And it all makes for a glorious play where people talk over each other (like in real life) and bad things happen to good people (also known as life).

Anytime you try to put truth on paper, you get fiction.

Segments mirroring chapters in Gibran's "The Prophet" - "On Pain," "On Home, "On Friendship"- tell the story as the family copes.

Where you're dropped off in the world is everything.

The cast was stellar, with some of Richmond's best and some of its best up and coming actors coming alive on the tiny TheatreGym stage.

It seemed like Ryan Bechard as Joseph was on the stage practically every minute, playing a frustrated 28-year old trying to figure out what life had handed him. He did lust as well as he did pain.

The always-stellar Alan Sader was just the right mix of old-world and old man adjusting to the loss of his brother and having to go to the bathroom in a converted closet.

DJ Cummings as the younger brother Charles got my vote for best offhand delivery of his lines, making observations to the faces of other characters with no apparent filter. Hysterical.

The versatile Jacqueline Jones played a host of roles, funny, empathetic, gossipy and disdainful. And her black curly wig was magnificent.

Evan Nasteff played the TV reporter who comes to get a story with a mix of resolve and humor and some excellent butt-grabbing when it was called for.

No one's life should be about finding stability.

The play was short and because it was a story with no resolution, it wound up before I was ready for it to end.

I've little doubt that the Pulitzer Prize jury felt the same.

And considering that it just played off-Broadway last year, this theatergoer feels incredibly fortunate to have a top-notch production of it here so quickly after it closed in the Big Apple.

And I just may have to adopt the play's last line as my motto.

If you do it in time to the music, it goes faster.

What part of life couldn't that be applied to?

I have to give Cadence credit; yet again, they've produced a play I will be recommending my friends go see as soon as possible.

And I'll warn them not to come looking for a neat little play tied in a bow and handed to the audience because "Sons of the Prophet" is so much more interesting than that.

Afterwards, there was a break before tonight's music, so that got solved neatly by parking once and partying twice.

Upstairs at Pie, we found Evan, the actor who'd played Timothy, tending bar with his music blaring.

Given the afternoon, I found his choice of Franz Ferdinand's "Matinee" particularly appropriate.

I chose a Pacino pie (covered in onions, spinach, bacon and Parmesan) just about the time that the actor who'd played Joseph walked in, sitting down at the bar with a drink and his cigarettes and answering questions from strangers about what roles he'd played for Richmond Shakespeare.

Asking for behind-the-scenes dirt, about the best we got from Evan was about pre-show dance parties in his dressing room.

I correctly guessed that Justin Timberlake was part of that mix.

Well, that and Jacqueline knits a lot backstage and DJ is an old soul in a young man's body.

Limited dirt, in other words, but fine pizza-eating conversation.

From there it was a short walk across the street to Balliceaux for Classical Incarnations, with musicians playing in small groups the classical music of their choice.

It's a chance for longhairs to let down their hair, sort of.

Until they began, the speakers blared the Ramones and the Clash, perfect pre-classical music my companion, a friend and I agreed.

We got there in time to score chairs, a good thing, since many people ended up standing or sitting on the cold floor for the entire show given that it was the biggest crowd I've ever seen for one of these nights.

Things got off on a high note with Richmond Symphony pianist Russell Wilson and trumpeter Victor playing the evocative "Night Songs."

I've known Russell since I took a series of jazz classes from him years ago at the VMFA and he's one of my very favorite musicians for his sweet nature, ever-present camera and amazing skills on the ivories.

A trio of guitar, cello and soprano had to wait for the sound of the deep fryer to stop before they could start.

Band photographer PJ was there at the musicians' request, shooting their sets the same as he does punk and indie shows.

There was a good-sized contingent present from Fredericksburg beginning with a violinist who played a Bach piece and got a loud, "Yes, John!" when he finished.

Russell came back with a vocalist for "Je te Veux," chosen, the singer said, because of Valentine's Day.

Tom came out with his bassoon to play two movements of a Bach flute piece.

"Not that much good music is written for bassoon, so we have to steal it," he said with a grin. "I hope by the second part you'll be tapping your feet."

It was a worthwhile theft and by the second part, I saw three sets of feet tapping besides my own, and at the end, a guy yelled, "Get it!" in support.

Oh, he got it alright.

There was a break for everyone to refresh their drinks and mingle, during which a sax-playing friend walked up and said, "Glad you're sitting down."

It was a reference to my fainting spell the other night, but it was also pretty funny.

Like me, he was bummed to have missed hearing Snowy Owls cover My Bloody Valentine.

During the intermission, I heard a guy say, "If I have a friend come into town this is where I take him."

High praise indeed for Balliceaux.

The Richmond Guitar Quartet was made up of three guys (and one on a seven-string guitar) and one woman in a sea foam green floor-length dress.

I didn't ask.

First they played English composer Frank Bridge's "An Irish Melody," explaining that it would like a deconstructed version of a song ("Like a puzzle you have to put together") that showed bits and pieces of the melody and only came together near the end.

So you can imagine my surprise, being a musical idiot. when I recognized what it was about 20 seconds in.

Maybe it was my Irish heritage, but picking out "Danny Boy" was as easy as drinking.

They did a couple pieces from Bizet's "Carmen," noting an empathy with the bassoon player's dilemma - not a lot of classical music was written for guitar.

 Next up was a cellist I recognized not just from another Classical Incarnations, but from indie band Ocean vs. Daughter. The moving piece was a tribute to a loss and to friends.

The night ended on a lovely note with a string quartet doing the third movement of a Mendelssohn work and one written on his honeymoon.

It was every bit as beautiful as you'd hope music written at that point in a talented man's life would be and a fitting finish to a standout day.

I heard today that where you're dropped off in the world is everything.

Get it, Richmond.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Requiem for Beauty Rest

If ever anyone doubted the musical quality of life in this town, I offer the following.

At 4:00, I had no plans. None materialized by 5:00 or even 6:00.

So by 6:30, I knew I needed to start working towards something to do until the late night birthday party I was attending began.

As I showered, I considered my options, looking for low cost.

I could go to a movie or for that same ten bucks, I could go hear the Richmond Symphony.

At 7:15, I left for CenterStage and by 7:30, had purchased a $10 ticket.

By 7:35, I was settled into the very back row with an empty seat next to me.

Before long it was filled by a guy who'd driven in 40 minutes from the far reaches of Hanover County.

When I asked what had brought him out on this slushy evening, he got right to the point.

"I was trying to decide whether to go to a movie or come hear some friends play music, so I decided on this."

Bingo. Here was tonight's soul mate.

Like me, he didn't mind being in the cheap seats.

"I don't need to see their faces," he said with a smile. "Hi, I'm Steve."

Turns out he's roommates with one of the symphony's viola players.

"People ask if that isn't really cool, getting to hear classical music all the time," he said. "But it's a viola, so I hear a lot of background stuff, but never any melodies. And lots of scales."

Before long, the concert began and the new concertmaster was introduced.

And there he was, the guy I'd met at the Mardi Gras party Tuesday, the one whom I'd heard say, "Where are the single women?" just before the host introduced us.

Let's just say he was way more dressed up tonight.

To get us in the mood for tonight's piece de resistance, first we heard Mozart's overture for "The Magic Flute."

I saw my friend Matt, the symphony's librarian and a bass player, come onstage with music and I knew it wasn't the last I'd see of him tonight.

Next came what conductor Erin Freeman described as "a sonic journey," composed in 2007 by John Hedges and called, "Prayers of Rain and Wind."

The cool part was that Hedges had written the concerto for double bass player Joseph Conyers, who also happened to be in the house.

And playing for us tonight.

Hedges had written the piece for Conyers, a weather freak.

It began with "Summer Rain Fantasia," a rendering of a muggy, humid night, a lovely thing to evoke on this frigid evening.

Conyers' bass then offers up a prayer, "Hymn," to the weather gods and a gentle rain begins, followed by horns announcing the hurricane.

It started with winds (think "The Wizard of Oz") and moves on to the eye of the storm and you could almost feel the release as the sky exploded sonically.

For me, it was a lot like watching the weather from my balcony, knowing that the oppressive heat will eventually give way to the release of a good thunderstorm.

After intermission, we got the reason every seat was full tonight.

The symphony, along with the Richmond Symphony Chorus (all 140 of them) and four soloists, was doing Mozart's "Requiem."

My knowledge of classical music is embarrassingly shallow, but even I knew that it was Mozart's last work and left unfinished when he kicked the bucket.

It was an incredibly moving piece that got a standing ovation afterwards.

Walking out, a woman behind me said, "It was all I could do not to sing along."

I only wish I was savvy enough to wish for the same.

Steve wished me a good evening and I had no doubt it would be since I was heading to a musician friend's birthday party at Patrick Henry Pub in Church Hill.

Turns out it was a multi-person party, with not one, but four people being feted, of which I knew two.

There were probably only 25 people when I arrived, but that number soon grew.

As if the birthdays weren't enough to celebrate, it was also Saturday night, so everywhere I turned, I got interesting if not inebriated conversation.

A woman told me about her shoplifting blind aunt who used to take her with her to Woolworth's when she was a child.

"She'd always have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth," she said. It's quite a visual.

Overheard near the bar: "Back in high school drama class, she supported Bush/Cheney, but now she says she didn't, but I know she did."

When the subject of tequila came up, the talented Herschel made a face, saying he couldn't stand the burning sensation going down.

When I asked if he'd tried good tequilas, he looked at me like I was an idiot.

"I'm Prabir's brother. Of course I've tasted every tequila."

Someone walked up to the guy next to me and inquired, "Are you rolling in the deep?" to which my friend responded, "I don't even know what that means."

And, yes, Matt showed up again, this time sans tux, and there was a protracted discussion of attending a bris, something I did once and intend to never repeat.

The party's hosts had promised food "to soak up the alcohol," and I, for one, couldn't resist the array of potato skins, meatballs and wings.

Now, that's party food.

After a few hours with the DJ spinning the Ramones and the like, our attention was called.

"Does everyone know what we're celebrating?" one of our hosts asked.

It's a good bet that most people did not.

I know that when I had walked into the pub next to a stranger and asked if he was coming to Willis' party and he had said, "Who's Willis?"

So that was clarified for all who weren't overly loopy at this point. and then the live entertainment began.

Everyone's favorite ukulele player who wears a ninja hat, Herschel, then proceeded to play while birthday boy Willis held the mic and did interpretive dance.

There was "Beauty Rest," about a girl who was ugly on the outside, but working on it.

Aren't we all?

He introduced the next song by saying, "It's weird that the way you move has so much attraction. So this is like a sex advice column."

Rile #1 was, "Don't talk."

Rule #2 was, "Shake that ass."

So you see where this song was going.

Meanwhile, Willis danced to Herschel's beat, moving the mic up to his mouth and down to his uke and inciting the crowd to sing the "na-na-na" chorus when appropriate.

His last song was dedicated to several friends who'd died, taking Herschel on a tangent about children dying before their parents.

His suggested solution was not to have children.

But then he sang Randy Newman's "Losing You" beautifully and his lecture was forgotten.

Performance over, the DJ cranked it up again and the party started back in earnest.

I wiled away some time with the smokers on the front porch before deciding to slide back down the hill and call it a night.

It had been a hell of a night's entertainment for ten bones.

And how often do you get wings and Mozart on the same night?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Lesson in Social Engineering

The third time was the charm with the "Matinees with Miss Maggie" film series.

No doubt as part of Black History month, the Maggie Walker historical site right here in fabulous Jackson Ward, is showing culturally relevant films all month.

Today's drew enough of an audience to require moving it to Club 533, just around the corner (and the site of the annual Jackson Ward Christmas party), something another attendee and I found out only when we arrived at the original site.

After getting in our respective cars and motoring the block and a half to 533, we agreed that we'd have been better off walking together in the snow shower.

Inside, we joined several dozen people for a screening of "The Road to Brown," about the brilliant legal campaign that led up to the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case.

Amazingly, I had never heard of Charles Hamilton Houston, the go-getter responsible for being part of every major civil rights case that went before the Supreme Court for a quarter of a century leading up to the Brown case.

He went around the south taking pictures of the deplorable conditions in "separate but equal" colored schools.

And while I'd heard and read about the joke that was "separate but equal" facilities, I was amazed at how far that doctrine had been taken to enforce the so-called Jim Crow laws.

Separate Coke machines for blacks and whites.

Separate phone booths.

Separate textbook storage facilities.

Think about that. We had to separate black and white textbooks that weren't even being used?

But Houston had a plan.

While dean of the Howard University Law School, he began attracting and teaching a cadre of black lawyers who would help him fight the battles necessary to dismantle the Jim Crow laws.

He decided the first area of attack would be education, taking on equal pay for black and white teachers and equal facilities.

As in no more tar paper shacks for the colored schools.

And one by one, Houston and his talented group (including Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill) won cases that set precedents.

So when Brown v. Board of Education came along, they had enough precedents to use to win a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court.

But as we all know (or should know), just because it's law doesn't mean the states choose to obey it.

No, if you're like Virginia, you just circumvent that law with state laws that allow you to continue with the embarrassment of separate but equal.

And it was from that era that the post-film speakers were pulled.

Three former students from the all-black Moton High School in Farmville spoke about the student-led walkout they participated in on April 23, 1951.

The all-white school board had denied Moton funds, despite it then housing 400 kids instead of the 180 it was built for.

One, a fifteen-year old when it began, said she was asked by the organizer, Barbara Johns, to spread the word about the walkout to all the other 8th graders.

And not to tell her parents a word about it.

But being a good girl, she did choose to tell her father.

"He was surprised, but he didn't tell me not to do it," she said.

All three former Moton students spoke of the deplorable conditions at their colored school, rooves that leaked so badly some kids needed an umbrella in class, a pot-bellied stove for warmth, although unless you were near it, you still needed your coat to prevent shivering.

It was a history lesson of the very best kind, courtesy of students who had not only lived through it, but been willing to stand up to make a difference for others.

While I'd gone to the film because I'm a documentary dork I'm a history nerd who wanted to know more about the Brown decision and what preceded it, I'd learned a lot that I should have known before now.

And I say that as one who was actually bussed to a black high school in the lingering years when everyone still acknowledged that we had not yet reached educational equality and thought I knew more than most about the subject.

Yet I'd never heard or read a word about the "man who killed Jim Crow," Charles Houston.

Miss Maggie's matinee changed all that today.

Best Houston quote: "Lawyers are either social engineers or a parasite on society."

Amen, brother.

We all owe you a world of debt.

The Intimacy of Snow

Snow is the great equalizer.

So when I go outside for my daily walk and find that between the time I looked out the window upstairs and walked down the steps it has begun to snow, I am surprised.

Back up I go to get an umbrella and walk through the swirling flakes.

When I stop at the ATM by the VCU Welcome Center, there is a man already using it.

Suddenly he turns around, grins and says, "You have a friendly face."

Not sure why this matters, I ask.

"I turned around once and saw a 357 Magnum pointed at me," he explained. "I told the guy I was broke, but he patted me and my friend down anyway."

I almost never have cash with me, so I'd always thought my plan would be to claim poverty, which I told him.

"But you're easy on the eyes," he said. "So then you got to worry about what else he might want."

Gulp.

"Be safe!" he said, lumbering off. "Stay warm in the snow!"

Turning back down Broad, I immediately heard what I thought was bucket drummers.

From behind a column came a long-haired guy with snowflakes in his hair grinning and holding a box.

"Got any spare change for a song?" he asked, gesturing at his instrument.

I explained that I was just getting some exercise and hadn't a dime with me.

Since I love an unexpected song, all I could do was apologize.

"You got a great smile," he said, "So you deserve a song anyway."

Next thing I knew he was beatboxing and singing to me as we stood under the shelter of the Welcome Center.

Passing by the bus stop on the next block, a guy smiled and said, "Good morning, pretty lady. How are you doing?"

Quite well, I said.

"You need to get home and out of this snow," he advised.

And miss all this random interaction? Pshaw.

Coming back up Clay Street, I saw an elderly woman who looked like she weighed 90 pounds lugging two enormous bags of groceries.

I approached her and asked if I could carry one if them for her.

She agreed timidly, so I tried chatting her up to make her more comfortable with me.

By the time we got to her house in Carver, I knew she'd raised the children of the Dementi family, living with them and having Thursdays and every other weekend off.

When they grew up, she'd taken a job with another family, but lived in her own home.

"That was much better," she said, smiling. "Now I work in a medical office."

She asked what I thought of the meteor over Russia, a subject which clearly has her concerned.

We discussed the importance of snow in killing off germs that are making so many people sick lately.

When we got to her house, I placed the bag I'd carried on her porch and wished her a good day.

"I so enjoyed talking to you," she said, smiling widely. "Thank you for helping me with my bag."

Waving good-bye just as the snow tapered off, I headed home.

If you're out while it's snowing, you become part of an exclusive club.

My fellow members made it an especially enjoyable club meeting today.

Friday, February 15, 2013

All Quiet on the Friday Front

Sometimes, Friday nights are my quietest nights.

Admittedly it's rare, but if nothing catches my eye, I am happily content to have a meal and call it a night.

Maybe it's because I'm out all the other nights, but if nothing grabs me culture-wise, I feel no shame in having a low-key evening.

So when I hadn't found anything calling my name by 8:00, I contently headed out to eat.

Facebook postings by restaurant friends had informed me that they were anticipating a lot of residual Valentine's Day business tonight and tomorrow night, so that was a consideration.

Taking a chance, I went to Aziza, hoping to slide in after the initial Friday/holiday rush.

Whether I succeeded or not, I have no idea, but it was a good thing I wanted to sit at the bar (empty because what happy couple wants to eat at the bar?) because every table was taken.

But my server recognized me, making me feel at home and I settled in for a solo meal while the Pandora '60s station serenaded me.

Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over," Judy Collins' "Both Sides Now," the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man."

The truth is, I couldn't listen to it everyday, but tonight it made for a nicely mellow ambiance.

I was debating about having a glass of wine after the great faint of last night, but I risked it with a glass of Marques de Riscal Rioja, spicy and with a long finish.

To start, I went with a bowl of red turnip soup with duck confit and seared scallions.

The creamy soup had no actual cream (just an abundance of butter) and a generous sprinkling of rich and salty confit to make it truly decadent.

Mid-spoonful, a woman came out of the bathroom, stopped and said, "Karen?"

It was the former P.R. director for Maymont, with whom I'd worked back when I was in publishing a lifetime ago.

Honestly, I was amazed she even remembered me.

That's when she caught me by surprise.

She not only remembered our shared projects back then, but had seen me at the VMFA memorial service for a former boyfriend last month.

She even recalled all those years when my daily walk took me past her Grove Avenue house every morning and she'd be coming out for the paper and wave hello to me.

Even after two decades here, I never cease to be amazed at what a small town this is.

Once she left, I returned to my dinner, this time spicy garlic shrimp with herbs and Spanish olive oil.

When the server brought the dish, she said, "Chef Philip said you can eat the shells."

This might have surprised me at one time, but not since my Fall trip to Italy, where I'd had a fried prawn dish and been instructed to do the same thing.

If I can do it in Italian, I can do it in English.

These were even better candidates given the pool of flavorful and fragrant olive oil in which they rested.

Some of my bread also found its way into the oil, but before long, I had to admit defeat.

In fact, when my server came around to inquire about dessert, it was with a heavy heart that I had to decline.

Surprised because she's seen me enough to know my fondness for the house cream puff, I had to come clean.

I'd had a bowl of ice cream around 5:00, I admitted.

She was impressed, so impressed that she said so.

"I can't even keep ice cream in my apartment because it's my weakness," she said, clearly envious of my earlier treat.

I may be able to keep it around, but I found myself regretting my decision to have some now that it was potentially cream puff time.

So there I was with no dessert, no music plans and the rest of Friday night looming ahead.

But I was okay with that.

Just don't ask me to settle for such a low-key night any other night of the week.

I do have to be able to face myself in the morning, you know.

50 Objects and Counting

It's like Richmond reduced.

The new show at the Valentine, "A History of Richmond in 50 Objects" is a crash course in the city's history.

And free for this, the opening weekend.

Let me be the first to say that the undisputed highlight of the show, for me anyway, was a  black and white 1955 "Guided Tour of Richmond" made by some Hollywood company that went around talking up cities worth visiting.

Once you get past the cliched background music of "Dixie" and "Swanee," it's a compelling mid-century look at our little city.

The VMFA is touted as, "The building is entirely air-conditioned," despite gallery walls that look like they're in need of a paint job.

What made my heart flutter was the shot of the Boulevard entrance, the one I insist on using since it was re-opened after the renovation, and still the most welcoming, in my opinion.

I was surprised, however, to see that that entrance used to boast fountains and sculpture, making it even grander than what it is now.

Maybe the VMFA could get working on bringing that back.

University of Richmond was described as, "Built on rolling hills under huge trees," with a shot of the Greek amphitheater, looking very sedate compared to when Fugazi played there back at the turn of the century.

A shot of Maymont ("Richmond's most beautiful park") showed a worker using one of those cylinder-like push mowers to cut the grounds.

There was a guy with total job security.

Byrd Park was described as having "Three lakes for boating and fishing."

The announcer said that we had "fine air-conditioned shops" and we were a "major manufacturing center."

We saw all the major hotels - Jefferson, John Marshall, Murphy and Richmond- and some of our finest eating establishments - Hot Shoppes and Howard Johnson.

But that film was only one of the 50 objects, so after watching it twice, I began checking out the other 49.

There was a 1971 pantsuit worn by a recently promoted female executive working at Thalhimer's, with an explanation that both her job title and attire were evidence of breaking through the glass ceiling.

A watercolor from 1866 showed a bucolic view of the city but the title tellingly showed the artist's feelings about us.

"Richmond, Virginia, Where Men and Women are Bought and sold Like Cattle."

Ouch, but sadly, true.

One of my favorite objects was a 1934 diorama of city hall, not because of what it showed but because of who had created it.

Actually, the artist wasn't known, but whoever he or she was, they'd gotten the assignment from the Works Project Administration, the federal art project that kept poor artists from starving during the Depression.

Oh, for such an administration in these lean times.

I even saw a familiar name on the column supporting a list of those who'd contributed to the exhibit.

There it was: Janet Lundy, Museum Technician.

I know her as Janet Lundy, Show-Goer and Enthusiastic Dancer, but whatever.

From a Civil War-era mourning dress to an early television, the show had stuff of every possible ilk.

And they're seeking out object #51, taking public input for ideas.

As I walked around the gallery, I cam face to face with a man with a baby in his arms.

"I'm trying to instill a love of history in him," he joked. "It doesn't seem to be working."

I wouldn't be so sure, my friend.

History geeks sprout from the unlikeliest places.

I should know.