Monday, June 25, 2007

Seven Random Self-Observations

As per my request, of the six folks meme-tagged on Thursday, June 21st, the following hav graciously and quite humorously responded. My thanks and apologies go out to all of you. Some VERY random and revealing observations, indeed.

Whisky Prajer
Hillbilly, Please
*** New Addition on 6/26/07 *** Texas Trifles (She had a very legit reason for the delay. A daughter getting married. Congrats, CP!

Still mulling things over, while waiting for a bolt of lightening to randomize his thoughts is:


Mr.Sgazzetti is in an especially tight pickle as he has been meme-tagged twice (this being equivalent to multiple dope slaps), by Gwynne and myself. Getting out of that double hit will tax the deep well of his diplomatic skills. Oh, yeah. We're still waiting for the Pose of the Satin P.J.'s.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Din of Silence

Occasional forays to Words without Borders always results in a gem of a story. Last week, this story, Crossing the Serbian Republic's Border by the German writer Juli Zeh, as translated by Gerald Chapple, came up. For those of you not familiar with Words without Borders, please go there and bookmark it immediately. It's a free treasure trove of stories we here on the other side of the Atlantic (and Pacific) rarely get to read. I've spent hours over there in the vast written riches.

Zeh's piece, Crossing the Serbian Republic's Border is a short (8 printed pages) excerpt from her book, Even Silence Is a Sound: Travels through Bosnia. It's not Rebecca West. And, for anyone who's plied though her doorstop of a book (1,232 pages in its latest version), I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say, "Thank God!". Ms. Zeh is quite open-minded and doesn't seem, from this short piece at least, to have a political axe to grind.
A short excerpt to tempt you. She has just driven into the bombed out village of Zavala.

"I find a watering can that shakes as I lower it in; the water is fresh and clear. I give the dog some water and rig up a shower on the edge of the roof with the watering can, come iron hooks, and cord. I push the garbage off to the side, sweep the patio with a piece of timber repair the legs on the wooden bench, and pad it with all the clothing in my rucksack. I arrange a few symbolic pieces of furniture: a broken footstool that now has a washbasin on it; a chair, and a pot with holes, tall grass, and cactus. Man is an odd creature, what with his nesting urge; even on the moon he'd try to make an imitation TV chair out of dust."

The only English translation of her published books that I could locate was Eagles & Angels published by Granta in 2004. Hopefully, Even Silence Is a Sound. Travels through Bosnia will soon have its rights sold to an American publisher. Currently, it's only available, outside of Germany, in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Netherlands, & Slovenia.

Hey, Alcessa! Familiar with Ms. Zeh's stuff? Care to share?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

"May you live in interesting times!"

I've been using this alleged aged Chinese curse as a poorly construed version of an off-the-cuff comment to friends and acquaintances as commentary on our lives and, the key word, "interesting" for quite some time. Quite a lot of time, perhaps, as my mouthing of this phrase no longer results in a polite chuckle but more of a mare's harumph.

Now, come to find out, this phrase is neither Chinese, nor old. Funny how self-actualization takes place.

I resolve, this day forward, that any wise-acre phrase I mouth off will be labeled as either Croatian (my favorite note on this entry is "many (proverbs) are considered to be traditional so source cannot be determined") or Klingon. Not enough Croatians out there to second guess me and who the hell is going to believe if that race starts doubting my verbiage?

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Skerik's Maelstrom Trio...

...made a rare appearance on the East Coast as part of Wilmington's 19th annual DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. Turns out that Skerik, aka Eric Walton, is a Wilmington boy, as he acknowledged during a short somewhat mumbled patter between songs. His pull back to this, his only Wilmington, Delaware performance ever, was due, in part, to his father being from Wilmington along with some relatives in the audience. He did not say that he was born in Wilmington as Skerik is quite the mysterious guy. Googleing revealed that he was born in multiple places in 1967, including Seattle and Wilmington. There are Skeriks all around, I guess.
His group's performance did his relatives proud. Along with his cohorts, both from Baton Rouge, LA, Brian Coogan on piano & organ, and Simon Lott on drums, percussion and one incredibly petite horn, Skerik played a solid 1 hour set. The Maelstrom Trio preceded the headliner for that night, the Mahavishnu Project, so there was a time limit for their performance. How unfortunate. It was obvious that folks had come to Rodney Square for the Mahavishnu Project. There were not too many folks there who knew of Skerik's Saxophonics; lots of "Who are these guys?" was opined, a bit too loudly, I'll note. The three musicians were unaffected by their non-affect. They gazed around the grassy square enclosed by the shortish skyscrapers of the DuPont, Wilmington Trust, and Bank of America (so recently MBNA), stuck a licked finger in the air to determine wind velocity and direction and simply proceeded to play.

Their first song, a lovely rendition of a Clifford Brown composition, had people turning their heads in mid-conversation. A mood was being set, not necessarily one that Skerik and crew would allow us to feel comfortable in, but a mood nonetheless. It is a contractual obligation of each performer at the Clifford Brown Festival to perform at least one Clifford Brown composition and Skerik made it known very quickly after finishing the group's first song that his obligation was done and he'd be on his own very way. The smooth sound of this sax was immediately replaced with a low cacophonous din, his version of saxophonics.
The saxophone became a percussive instrument, then transformed to an eerie electronic icicle, and then back to a warm-toned reedy one, all within the confines of one song. The effects were never tiring as all three band members played off each other without hesitation. I don't know how long the three of them have been playing together but I can't imagine being any tighter. At the beginning of one piece, Skerik, the sax-player, Coogan, the keyboard player, and Lott, the drummer, all convened by the two pianos and one organ and proceeded to play to each other. We were merely there to observe the pleasure and the experimentation. It's as if they were composing on stage. The band concluded shortly after 8:00 pm, with no encore despite the constant clapping. They made no mention of upcoming recording releases nor did they shill older recordings at the artist's tent, as had other bands. They were there for an ephemeral performance. And then, they were gone. I glanced over at a fellow who'd been one of the "Who are these guys?" bellowers at the beginning of The Maelstrom Trio's performance. With eyes wide open, he sighed, "Wow......".

Wow, indeed.

Some Notes:
Skerik has played and plays in a plethora of bands including, possibly the best named band of all time, The Dead Kenny G's, Galactic, Meters, Garage a Trois, and Critters Buggin'. My introduction to Skerik came from these two CD's, both highly recommended.

Some necessary info on Mr. Brown is here and here.
My favorite CD's of his releases are a toss-up between Study in Brown and Clifford Brown and Max Roach. This CD is an excellent starting off point. The New Orleans trumpet player Nicholas Payton selects his favorite Clifford Brown performances. The sound quality is fabulous; loud volume is encouraged when playing this CD.
Here's a YouTube performance of Clifford Brown on the Soupy Sales Show. Seems they ran out of lettering on Soupy's show; it's Cliff Brown on trumpet. Anyone out there remember Soupy Sales' kid's show broadcast out of Channel 9 in NYC, or am I seriously dating myself here? White Fang, anyone?

(N.B.: Clicking on the photos will bring them up to full size. Well, o.k., maybe not full size, but a tad more revealing at least)

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

7 Possibly Truthful Things

Gwynne over at The Shallow End has tagged me while I was not looking. The noose of the meme she's coralled me with is as such. I must list 7 random things about myself and then encourage 7 other souls to do the same. I will endeavour on the former but I can't promise on the latter. Seems this meme's going around and affecting quite a few folks. This version of the meme, with the number upped to 8, is a beauty and one that will be impossible to top. Darn you, Colleen Wainwright! Not that this is a competition, you know.

So, on my mark...get set.....MEME!

1) I almost did not make it to the States alive. While on the freighter that brought my family over to join my dad in Jersey, we ran into your typical nasty Atlantic edge of hurricane storm. Being a young lad, still ripe to follow Darwin's Law, I was walking on one of the decks when a large wave washed me off my feet and out toward the roiling seas. Luckily, one leg landed on one side of a thin pole and the other leg landed on the other side of the same pole, causing much pain (but no permanent damage as evidence by my offspring) to the items between my legs. I was able to crawl inside a cabin before the next wave hit.

2) Prior to my escapades at sea, I was spending summer holidays at one of my cousin's farm on a river seperating Bosnia-Hercogovina and Croatia (back in the day when they were all republics and part of Yugoslavia), when I was told that we'd be leaving Yugoslavia and coming to America. I hid in a wooden barrel for 5 hours, thinking my mother and relatives would forget about me and leave.
No such luck.

3) The first time that I skiied, my college roomie, an expert skier from New Hampshire, took me to the top of Owl's Head, pointed me down a black diamond trail, and gently pushed me, yelling over my screams, "This is the best way to get your legs!". Turned out he was right. Sink or swim, I guess...

4)...which brings me to how I learned to swim. We were on holidays on the Croatian coast, taking a leisurely day sail on a fishing/sailing boat, going from island to island. We anchored at a cove. I watched the anchor drop 100 feet into the water, raising a dust of sand as it hit the bottom. I was five and loved the water as long as I was surrounded by inflatables. Without so much as a word, my mom picked me up from my lunch place and threw me into the water. Without a tube. I remember I sank to the bottom; my mother remembers me going under once and then churning up water as I doggy-paddled around the boat until I found some rope to grip onto. The end of the escapade? I stayed in the water and swam for hours, while also yelling at my mother through sputters of salty water.

5) I've been either a registered Independent or Democrat voter since I was 18 and yet I voted for Nixon. Twice. My time in Purgatory is guaranteed. I blame it on ping-pong diplomacy. I've never voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since.

6) In college, I banked at the same location as Henri Richard. He had a brasserie nearby and would come in to empty his till on occasion. I also saw Jean Beliveau there once. If God himself had banked there, I don't think there would have been as great reverence exhibited toward someone. It was amazing.

7) When my son was born and while my Ever Loving Wife was somewhat incapacitated, I was tempted to fill out the birth certificate by writing BeBop as his middle name. Fortunately (or is that unfortunately), temptation did not lead to action.

O.K., now for the drum roll.
My apologies, folks.

Whisky Prajer
Hillbilly, Please
Isoglossia (Yes, you've been taged twice)
Texas Trifles

I'll stop at Six. Enough punishment has been dispensed.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Once on Father's Day

(When Your Mind's Made Up)

Once, IMHO, the best R&R musical since A Hard Day's Night. Why? A story well told with music smoothly incorporated into the film without the movie being an elongated musical video. The movie was humorous, insightful, touching, and, most important of all, unforced. John Carney, ex-bass player of The Frames, directed this movie starring his ex-band mate, Glen Hansard. Anyone out there remember that other great Irish musical film, an adaptation of Roddy Doyle's "The Commitments"? Well, Mr. Hansard was the guitar player, Outspan Foster. Some critics complained that the female lead, 19 yr old Czech Markéta Irglová, is too direct, not "smooth" in her dealings with the male lead, Glen Hansard of The Frames (here's NPR's take on the band). My assumption is that those critics haven't been exposed to the day-to-day behaviour of Slavic women, who tend to treat "beating around the bush" as a capital crime. The whole fam loved her performance, especially the rawness of her singing voice. It is not your typical love story and so it doesn't end as your typical love story. The songs are gorgeous and scene-appropriate. The movie leaves a long-lingering impression. The soundtrack is solid and, I believe, enjoyable whether you see the movie or not.
You should see the movie, especially if it's playing in a smaller theater (like the Ritz in Philly), where the sound system is superb, because the movie is about the music.

L.A. Times
NY Times
Washington Post
Philly Inq
Christian Science Monitor (CSM's Peter Rainer is just your typical heartbroken curmudgeon of a guy; throw some spare change into his bitter cup)

So, all in all a Great Father's Day for yours truly. Thanks to the Ever Loving Wife and the Child Still Left Behind (in the house). An enjoyable stopover before the movie at the Belgian Beer House Eulogy, with its artery-clogging double fried Fries and secret mayonnaise dip and the encyclopedic bottled beer and draught beer listings. A quaff to all!

Here's another version of When Your Mind's Made Up. Acoustic. Mr. Hansard can really get his EmoMojo cranking high and fast, quickly. Catch the commentary on the YouTube; seems ther's a romance brewing.

(An Aside,
Note to all CPA's, that means you, Gwynne! Here's a short piece on the owner of Eulogy, Michael G. Naessens.)

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Fade, Faded, Fading

(Picture from, a treasure trove of all things Jean Shephard-ia)

Jean Shephard, my generation's S.J. Perelman, was a cracking-wise maestro of the wordy set. Where Mr. Perelman offered an almost imperceptible vertical lift of the eyebrow as his "tell" that something wickedly funny was coming your way, Mr. Shephard opened his eye wide and winked with a perceptible click of his closing lid. His talent for both the written and the spoken word was huge. He was most generous in distributing his gifts.

In 1982, on public tv, his Travels on I-95, was required watching for a high school/college student in need of tutoring in the Art of the Gab. The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters was particularly outstanding. It came out on tv (Channel 13 in NYC) a year before this well-known little movie that could (and did). The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski was also one of the short movies (56 minutes) shown in the Jean Shephard I-95 series. All of these films were based on the clutter of his books. Story lines in his various collection of short stories were lifted and randomly place in front of the cameras. Blessed with a blowhard voice of shuck 'n' awe, he was a natural on radio and later on TV and the big screen. To some of us growing up within earshot of his radio broadcasts, his voice became our inner voice. Our silent self-proclamations took on the timbre of his mid-West voice along with the truckloads of words Jean revived from the depths of dictionaries. His ability to roll a fine word in his mouth, sucking, tonguing it like a fine old wine held our envious attention. "If only I could talk like Jean Shephard..... why, no woman of a pro-creative age would be safe from my charms (and advances)!", we said to no one particular but ourselves in his voice.

The Travels on I-95 series has been on my mind lately. I would have thought that the local PBS station, WHYY, heavy into its fund-raising programming, would have re-broadcast these tales of the road at some point. But the station is in lock-step into playing older rock groups from our youth. You know, Yes, Moody Blues, even Cream. Even Mr. Leitch made it onto the small screen recently, emoting his old songs, hoping to hit our memory's ear and bypassing the criticism of our outer ear. It was sad and brutal.

Which brings me back to The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters. Fond memories of this short TV amalgamation of Shephard's stories prompted a search on the 'net for bygones obtention. Lo and behold Cindys Boots had versions available. The DVD's rating was plainly visible as B,, which was explained as

I'd say the DVD I played was a B- or C+, bit Vaseline-y if you know what I mean. The important thing was that I was able to view my memory again, or so I thought.

The sharpness in my mind's eye was too much for the dullness of the DVD. Had I puffed up the greatness of this 1 hour movie to a size totally out of proportion to the lackadaisical, overly lit, lamely acted (in general), directionless story line that I was now watching? Was the gigantic sound and tone of Jean Shephard's background voice too much for even accomplished actors like James Broderick and Matt Dillon to ply their craft successfully? Why did they mainly just make faces and then hold them in some unnatural state while Mr. Shephard piled on declarations and realizations into every scene? Luckily, great Shephard-ian names like Ludlow Kissel, Flick, Wilbur Duckworth, and Wanda Hickey had stayed the same from the version of my youth. But, sadly, that aspect of the film was the only thing that hadn't faded. Was it my absolute adoration at the time of Mr. Shephard's suburban boulevardier's style and verbal cojones that blinded me to the schleppiness of how the movie was rendered? I believe so. While attending the Church of Cool, I'd been blinded by the Word and robbed of reasoning powers. Now, inured to the magic and craft of film, I saw what a horrible and, even worse, minimally funny movie The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters was. Oh, Jean, how did you let that happen? Like Ludlow Kissel, this movie's now just fading away, a memory hopefully not to be resucitated again.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Uptake or Lack Thereof

I've been accused, justifiably, of being somewhat slow on the uptake at times. Luckily, my comprehensive skills never put someone else or myself in the physical danger zone. No, it was the more harmful social cues, well, missed social cues, where I've been caught doing 25 mph in a 55 mile zone.

Say, like the situation with Searchie. She last posted back in April, April 26th to be exact, ending her entry, titled Adieu, with "And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some living to do. It’s all about the journey, you see.....

Do widzenia

She'd been on the trips to Eastern Europe that she mentioned each year before and her last entry seemed, on first reading, simply a short descriptive of this year's itinerary. So, I missed the boat and was of the mind that she'd be posting of her travels shortly. So, some of us (well, maybe just me) are on the pier thinking her ship's coming in when she has clearly purchased a one-way ticket out of her blog.
I think.
Unless I'm missing those social cues once again.
Well, Searchie, if it is a longer trip away from the terra firma of your blog, may you have a journey filled with surprise and awe, fear followed immediately with comfort, and happiness through it all.

Adieu, indeed.


Economy of Verbosity

(i.e., Minimization of Verborhea)
Mr. Stephenesque, chief (and sole) writer, editor, reseracher, gumshoe, and self-observer of the American Fez, the online journal of the Stephenesque Organization, once again demonstrates the art of the bon mot. Well, actually, a collection of bon mots. Here, he recounts the tale of Prince Philip and his holiness. Mr. Stephenesque has some of the tightest, most gorgeous entries, almost always based on the "Less is Much Much More" principle.

Clincher (and closer) line?
"Personally I admire their theological clarity. Unlike other religions, at least they possess photographic proof that their deity is real."

Reading Mr. Stephenesque's entries, as I have over the past 3 1/2 years, always reminds me of an incident involving some acquaintances of ours quite a few years ago.
A long-married couple have had a long-standing competition with each other regarding who of the two of them had a better story to tell. If the story was actually based on facts, it was a bonus. If it was based on the truth, well not so much a bonus since Truth is such a wriggly greasy little beast, a difficult squirm of events to wrestle down.
One particular summer storm night, when electricity was in the air and sometimes also landing in trees as evidenced by split trunks the following morning, the couple was engaged in seperate activities in seperate rooms. The husband was watching a baseball game on tv, being broadcast from a city unencumbered with torrential rain and a Sturm und Drang lightening display. His spouse, ignoring sensibility during this electrical storm, was on the phone informing someone of her cleverly concocted opinions (BTW, I was going to use the old slang word, "heater", instead of phone. When I tried to link a site to the word "heater", it turns out that these days, the phone can be the heater....seriously. There are phones that can warm (or cool) the hands of the user, depending on how cold their hands are.).

Boom! Then, Boom! Again. Two seperaet bolts of lightening struck the house within seconds. What were the chances? Well, knowing the residents within that house, I'd say the chances were pretty damn good. The husband let out a whoop and a yelp and ran to the kitchen so as to detail the proof positive that this time he had a story to best his wife's. The tv had blown up, shards of glass in the wall, the rug, and even in him. The wooden cabinet was singed to a smoldering black, leaning to starboard, its innards slowly pouring out.

"Ah Ha! Beat this story! It blew up! Right in front of my face", he was screaming as he hobbled overto the kitchen. Turning the corner, his enthusiasm was hosed down at what he beheld. His wife, never one to be hesitant with a deluge of words, stood speechless, temporarily, by a kitchen wall. A black smudgy hole, still smoking, was all that was left of the telephone that had been mounted on the wall. Her face was a touch sooty giving her huge toothy smile an even brighter glow. Her right arm, elbow leaning on her waist, was holding a blackened piece of plastic.
"While you were sitting and viewing, I got a call from the Heavens!"
He slunk off and sat back in the frazzled favorite tv chair, muttering about Fate and stories.
Skunked, again.

So, Mr. Stephenesque, as I read that last posting, I thought about aerial electricity and your perpetually struck telephone. Where can I buy one of those?


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Krunoslav Špišić @ World Cafe Live

On Saturday, June 9th, I was fortunate enough to have tickets to see Kruno Spisic and friends performing at Philly’s World Café Live Café, the Upstairs lounge. Housed in the renovated Hajoca Building down the street from the U of Penn campus, this venue has been quite successful, a credit to the folks who set up the club and certainly a well-managed spill-off from the ever-growing kingdom of college-based radio, WXPN.
The Upstairs lounge is a cozy area, with two floor levels filled with tables for couples and groups and a long bar on the right side of the room for individual seating. Acoustics and sound equipment are clear and enjoyable, which is a surprise as the venue has 20-25 foot ceilings; some acoustic engineer knew what he/she was doing. Sight lines are a bit off as the performance stage is minimally elevated. If you’re not sitting at a table within 25 feet of the stage, prepare yourself for a long night of cocking your head from side to side and a lot of leaning forward and back. If this gets tiring, as it did, one can always get lost in the pools of love emanating from your companion’s eyes and simply let your ears stay engaged to the music while your eyes are only on her/him. Good for bonus points of the romantic variety, don't you know.

And what music to engage oneself in... All acoustic instruments; the deep resonant sounds of aged wood and taut steel strings. Two rhythm guitarists furiously keeping up with Mr. Spisic as he picked and bent notes with a most rapid of motion. There was a double bass player, laying down solid lines behind the ever-advancing army of plucked guitar sounds. Since the bass player was standing, he was consistently the only person we saw during the 2 hour performance.
Mr. Spisic cuts quite a figure. Like most men of Croatian origin (most, not all, so I’m not including myself here), he is of the tall, dark, & handsome variety, which made it easier on the women who were dragged to this show by their music-seeking men. I can’t say enough about his guitar-playing. He’s not a showy performer at all, reveling in the performance of the group. He has a deep, dark singing voice which he used only on a few occasions to sing Balkan songs, "Svaku Zenu, Volim Ja" (I Love All Women) and "Delem Delem" (I Walk I Walk) among others. I eagerly translated the songs for my family but, as my daughter pointed out, I could have been telling them anything about the songs and they’d assume my translation was true. Mr. Spisic would have helped the cause by noting some of the key lines of the songs for his listeners, although most folks seemed more than happy to remain in the dark since his voice was so enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps it was our seating or my poor hearing that negated my comprehension of most of the patter he had in between songs. At the end of the performance, I also missed hearing the names of his fellow musicians, all of whom were excellent and obviously in the same state of mind and performance as Mr. Spisic.

The repertoire was mainly Django Reinhardt’s catalogue; songs Mr. Reinhardt had actually composed or songs that he loved playing. Mr. Reinhardt’s most popular song, Minor Swing (remember the underlying music of Chocalat, was faithfully and energetically performed by Mr. Spisic. The general format of the songs were your typical jazz renderings. Theme, solo, theme, solo, and close out with a pithy version of the theme again. Where Reinhardt’s renditions tended to be in the 3 minute area, occasionally straying into the 4 minute area, most of Mr. Spisic’s versions were in the 4:30 to 6 minute time frame. The runs were breathtaking, the slower pieces were clever combinations of various songs, the overall affect was listening to a craftsman thoroughly enjoying his craft. The audience’s response reflected this. There was enthusiasm and a lot of neck-craning as the evening wore on. When the last song was finished Mr. Spisic and his cohorts cahooted off stage and into the darkness, a djingling Djangology of notes still hanging in the air.

I'll be checking his site for future concert dates. He's not worth seeing only once! He also has a MySpace site available with some videos. His next performance will up at the Django In June festival on June 16th at the Helen Hills Chapel in Northhampton, MA

He played most, if not all, of the songs on his only CD. I’m waiting to see how well he was recorded; if the CD’s anything close to his live performance, it will an album well worth listening to.

Just a short biography with sites to visit linked within.Krunoslav Spisic (Lead guitar in the band Crossing Paths) was born in Ontario, Canada. From what I can best gather, it was somewhere between Kitchner and Mississauga, about a 50-60 mile spread. He began his musical training at the early age of 8 (or 10, depending on where Google lands you). He found himself playing rock and blues throughout his teenage years, honing his technical prowess and improvisational abilities. While studying at Duquesne University, Krunoslav was introduced to Django-style guitar by Richard Balazs, and began a passionate study of the Gypsy Jazz genre. Upon returning home to Canada, he was fortunate to study with and perform under the tutelage of Arsen Torlakovic, a world-class gypsy jazz musician. Torlakovic played with legends such as Birelli Lagrene and Robin Nolan. After playing the Toronto jazz circuit, Kruno gained an extensive repertoire and a more mature understanding of the gypsy jazz idiom. In January of 2002, Kruno reunited with his friends Richárd Balázs and Brock Belich to re-introduce and popularize the sounds of Django and Gypsy Music.

Andrew Lawrence, Event Organizer at Django In June, mentioned on his site that, "(he) had a chance to hear Krunoslav "Kruno" Spisic play in New York City a couple of years ago and promised myself that I would find a way to include him in Django in June as soon as possible. Kruno is now based in Philadelphia, PA, but to hear him sing and play you'd think he'd just gotten off the boat from the Old Country. Having grown up in a Croatian household and cut his instrumental teeth on an Eastern European variety of mandolin called the Tambura, Kruno makes distinctive and beautiful music by fusing Eastern European folk traditions with Django swing." From Django in June

From a Croatian site, Volavje, some familial information was provided along with pictures. Kruno’s older brother, Mark Špišić, concocted the Tambura Orkestar. He graduated from Duquesne, an educational path that Kruno followed. Mark Špišić is currently(???) the musical director of a folklore group, Kraljice Jelene, in Kitchner, Ontario.

Kruno and his older brother, Mark at a concert party in Mississaugua, Ontario.

Kruno and a cast of ladies

Here's an interview from Philly’s City Paper back in 2005.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Weekend Activity

A wee bit excited about this weekend. Convinced the fam that it is culturally necessary to go to the World Cafe in Philly this Saturday night to see Kruno Spisic. Mr. Spisic was NOT born in the Land of the Croats, but in Ontario (the rich-in-Slavic section of the province) and is now living in the Land of the Cheese steak, but performing all over the country. Saturday seems to be the only date in his new hometown for a while. From the little that I listened to from his website, it's evident his hands are not the Devil's Workshop. Mr. Spisic displays a quick set of fingers and a sharp ability to meld jazz, gypsy music, and Balkan songs into his reportoire. Go here and then click on Music and then clips to listen to 6 full length songs. His singing voice and his playing remind me a bit of the guitar god, Leo Kotke. Hope Mr. Spisic is as funny and self-deprecating as the ever-entertaining Mr. Kotke....
...who will be appearing at the Winnipeg Folk Festival on July 7th.

Hey, WP! Going out there this year? If so, I'd love to hear your take on these guys, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. And, I can't believe it and I'm envious all over...THE IGUANAS are coming!! AND LOS LOBOS! AND Toumani Diabate's
Symmetric Orchestra
! This is too, too much. WP, I may have to do a cross-borders mind and body meld with you so that I can attend. Damn, but that sounds like a great festival


Authors on Stage

Studio-M has been mentioned here before for the site's album reviews. Mr. Joe del Tufo, one of the reviewers and the creator of the site also is handy with the camera, "handy" being a mild descriptive.

Last Friday, June 1st, he happpened to be one of only two photographers prowling around Webster Hall in NYC for a performance by the Rock Bottom Remainders. They actually had a real musician, the incomparable Roger McGuinn on hand as well.

Here's the whole set of photos from Rock Bottom Remainders @ Webster Hall in NYC. Their theme/anthem/mission statement? Still Younger than Keith. Here's a list of the usual suspects. Unusual suspects included Frank McCourt and Andy Borowitz, of whom it was said, "(he) was invited to perform with the Remainders in an effort to improve our average onstage height, which suffered a major blow when Scott Turow joined the band.

And of course their site includes a blog, which, in turn, leaves a trial of many other blogs.

Great pics from Studio-M. Interesting trail of gags, pranks, and non-illeterati at the band's site. Mr. del Tufo mentioned that it was a great time and that Roger McGuinn, while head and shoulders above the rest of the folks on stage as a musician, was very, very gentle to the authors' egos.

WP!??! We know you're handy with the pen; you've alluded to being handy on the guitar. Where were you?


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ducks. Coolest Thing in the O.C.

Randy Carlyle, whose claim to fame, until recently (recently, being like last night), was sitting next to that famous Canadian Blogger, Mr. Whisky Prajer, on a flight a few years back. Guess he didn't realize how close he was to rubbing elbows with fame, did Mr. Carlyle.

Well, last night, he came from behind the shadow of WP, by guiding the once Mighty, now simply, your plain Ducks to kissing Lord Stanley's Cup. As is usual, when your team is winning, no shaving is allowed. I'm assuming that the bristly, gnarly Ducks are also brillo-ing all previous Stanley Cup winners' names off of the Cup as they smack their lips on the silver chalice.

Scott Niedermeyer, my favorite NJ Devil regardless of what team he now plays for (Once a Devil, always a Devil, unless Big Lou deems you to be no longer in existence) finally won the MVP of the Stanley Cup Finals along with his 4th Stanley Cup. Guess that serves as sweet revenge to the previous game's Alfredsson meltdown.

The Devils? Wait 'til next year.

N.B. added 06/08/07: As is her usual, Miss E. over at A Theory of Ice, wraps up this previous NHL year and Stanley Cup Finals with this short and sweet synopsis.
A choice line:
"In a League where most teams are managed according to the Gospel of Getting By, morphing their style to whatever seems to be the dominant paradigm, the Ducks were a team designed around a defiant vision of what hockey should be- a plan, a theory, a hockey ideology about the soul of the game, a prescriptive map of the sport, the Gospel of Brian Burke."


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Summer Reading ("On the Rack" Version)

Andrew Cockburn's new book, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy, has been issued in Great Britain under the title, "Rumsfeld: An American Disaster". A review from the Sunday Times by Rod Liddle is here. A choice bit from the review? How about,

"You know, I don’t think Andrew Cockburn likes the former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld very much. The clue is in the title of his book – and also in some of the chapter headings, such as A Ruthless Little Bastard and Warlord. Indeed, the loathing and bile drip from pretty much every page, the tone a sort of quietly amazed revulsion at its subject matter. I suppose Rumsfeld: An Objective Study would have been a much less entertaining read – but I suspect it would come to pretty much the same conclusions as those reached by Cockburn."

National security journalist Martin Sieff wrote a perceptive and informative review for The American Conservative that is available here. An excerpt at the tail end of the review goes like this:
"Finally, something must be done about the dustcover of the book. When you close it and place it on a shelf, one of Rumsfeld's eyes is staring remorselessly at you from the spine, wherever you stand. Surely this is too much to ask even those of stout mind and spirit to endure?"


The Absolutely Final "Final Game" Tonight?

Ottawa Senators
Scott Burnside,one of ESPN's hockey writers, on interpretation of an interview.

"What they said:
"Our focus is just on the game. Obviously, the end result is there, but we've worked too hard and we've sacrificed too much to lose focus at this point." -- Veteran Todd Marchant on not thinking too far ahead.

What they meant:
"Have you ever heard what (coach of the Anaheim Ducks, Randy )Carlyle sounds like when he gets angry? He makes Al Pacino in 'Scarface' look like Howdy Doody. So, we'll just pay attention to the game until he tells us it's time to open the champagne, and not before. I've been in the league since 1994 and he still scares the bejeebers out of me.""

Anaheim Ducks

No team has blown a 3-1 lead in a Best of Seven format in 65 years. In 1942, a team known as the Toronto Maple Leafs came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Detroit Red WIngs in 7 games. That team resembles the current Maple Leafs in that both were/are based in Toronto.

Should be an entertaining game as the Senators may actually have their sticks checked for incorrect curvature thereby resulting in at least 50% of their shots to be on the Ducks' net rather than on the hot dog guy selling his wares. The big question is, "When will Alfredsson get clocked for that meathead play at the end of the 2nd period in the last game where he mistook Scott Niedermeyer for a hot dog vendor and shot at him with a slapshot?". Mr. Frozen (cuz he's beyond cool), Scott Niedermeyer's pulse was reported to have risen from 25 to 27, a major emotional display on his part.
I'm still rooting for the Senators...but that Alfredsson play is starting to sway me.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Letting Frank Rich Speak For Me

In a friendly badinage concerning our differing opinions of the last two-termers this country has had guiding our ship of state from the troubled waters of moral turpitude through the straits of incompetence to the vast oceans of secrecy, privlege, and continual 9/11 justified lying, Gwynne at The Shallow End and I have spoken our piece and hopefully are still at peace, with each other. I'm hoping political opinion will not muddy the Adriatic clear waters of our friendship. Let's face it; each of us has minimal, make that infinitesimally miniscule, effect on how our country is run. The 2000 election is exhibit #1.

My displeasure for the current administration unfortunately doesn't make me instantly erudite about expressing the multitude of reasons I am cooking in my own qualunquismo stew. So, without further ado, let me simply extract an excerpt or two from Frank Rich's most recent Sunday NYT Op-Ed piece titled "Failed Presidents Ain't What They They Used To Be".
In attending a recent performance of "Frost/Nixon", Mr. Rich was bowled over by the performance of Tony Award nominated Frank Langella. He writes:
"...but Mr. Langella unearths humanity and pathos in the old scoundrel eking out his exile in San Clemente. For anyone who ever hated Nixon, this achievement is so shocking that it's hard to resist a thought experiment the moment you left the theater: will it someday be possible to feel a pang of sympathy for George W. Bush?
Perhaps not. It's hard to pity someone who, to me anyway, is too slight to hate. Unlike Nixon, President Bush is less an overreaching Machiavelli than an epic blunderer surrounded by Machiavellis. He lacks the crucial element of self-awareness that gave Nixon his tragic depth. Nixon came form nothing, loathed himself and was all too keenly aware when he was up to dirty tricks. Mr. Bush has a charmed biography, is full of himself, and is far too blinded by self-righteousness to even fleetingly recognize the havoc he's inflicted at home and abroad. Though historians may judge him a worse president than Nixon-some already have-at the personal level his is not a grand Shakespearean failure. It would be a waste of Frank Langella's talent to play George W. Bush (though not, necessarily, of Matthew McConaughey's (OUCH, that was not necessary)).
This is in part why persistent cries for impeachment have gone nowhere in the Democratic Party hierarchy. Arguably the most accurate gut check on what the country feels about Mr. Bush was a January Newsweek poll finding that a sizable American majority just wished that his "presidency was over" This flatlining administration inspires contempt and dismay more than the deep-seated long-term revulsion whipped up by Nixon; voters just can't wait for Mr. Bush to leave Washington so that someone, anyone, can turn the page and start rectifying the damage. Yet if he lacks Nixon's larger-than-life villany, he will nonetheless leave Americans feeling much the same way they did after Nixon fled: in a state of anger about the state of the nation.

Addendum June 5th. Seems a few pundits are going to see "Frost/Nixon" and mull over the current President Bush's future consideration of importance vis-a-vis, say Preseident Nixon. Here's George Packer's take from the most recent New Yorker. Do these folks gather in the lobby and share their soon-to-be-published thoughts or is there just a similar mindset inspired by the play?

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Lou! Not the Hat!?!!?

The denizens of the home dugout at Wrigley Field have been making all of the news programs this past weekend, so a trip over to Cubby Blue revealed Lou's Latest Escapdes and the Bout of Chicago.

Darn! I was hoping that Mr. Cubby Blue had actually drawn a scene of Lou in mid kick. Here's a shaky replay of Looooooou, picking on somebody not his size. As my son would have said, "Lou, come on, not the hat! Don't kick the hat!"


Karl Marx, Film Material

As pointed out by Mr. Kolkava over at Deleted by Tomorrow, here's a link to Crooked Timber where a seemingly simple topic, a film covering the 1830-1848 years of Karl Marx's life, spawns a hilarious chain of commentary by the Crooked Timber readers. Check it out. Who would have thought there was so much material on the non-Material Guy?

My nomination for the role of Karl Marx is Robbie Coltrane of Blackadder Christmas and Harry Potter fame.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Witnessing the Runaround

Yesterday turned out to be a gorgeous summer day, negating the threatening weather reports of rain showers for mid-afternoon. This was a good thing because the family was parked in section 116 on Turn #4 at the Monster Mile. While some precipitation would have been welcome to cool our bodies, any rain that would have halted the Busch Series Dover 200 would have stalled the race rhythm. There were enough human elements that had precipitated caution flags and even two red flags that had already slowed the race down without Nature arriving with raindrops.
I'd discussed some of the intricacies of race day with some of the folks I work with to get a feel for the faux pas and the yee-haws. Out of the 450 or so folks at our facility, a conservative guess would be that over 80% have attended at least one of the races in Dover, while at least 40-50% attend one of the two annual races held here in the capital of the state. I had a great pool of fans to draw the needed information. Their pooled advice sounded like this.

1) Come early. If the race starts at 3:00, come at least 2 hours before.
2) Sit in the area of Turn #4 or Turn #2. This is where the law of physics and pent-up adrenalin combine for a slingshot effect that will catch your breath as the cars zoom by.
3) Come early. Yes, re-stated again. And, if you're coming early, come early enough to catch the qualifying heats for race positions.
4) Bring lots of water bottles and a sherpa to lug said bottles around. If a sherpa's not available, be sure to make an appointment with a professional masseuse; you'll be in need of some kneading. The water is for drinking and for pouring (onto one's pate and back). It gets hot, make that broiling, sitting out on the aluminum stands and there are no vendors strolling about because it's TOO LOUD for them to be sceaming about their wares. So, for us newbies it was quickly evident that ...
5)...we should have brought a seat cushion if you don't want to have a hot flat backside by the race's conclusion,
6)Bring ear-plugs or ear protective devices because it gets jet engine loud when the cars are running. Funny how the crashes are almost silent because the roar of the engines shooting by is so deafening. The Ever Loving Wife noted that I must be in Spousal Heaven as her wit and her Social Observational Points, though shouted in my general direction, were lost in the atmos due to the things plugged in both ears. She did have to tap me on the shoulder quite a few times at the conclusion of the race to let me know it was o.k. to remove the noise blockers. My ears tingled in anticipation of her pent up opinions. At least I wasn't wearing these! (Which I didn't simply because I didn't realize they existed). A NASCAR race is a gadget delight of a competition. You've got this to watch as you watch the race in person (Not sure if the controls to this gizmo allows you to control the race car as well). There's this item as well, though I did not see any in operation during the race. Perhaps they're pulled out of the Cleaning Garage after the checkered flag is waved.
7) A couple of tubes of SPF 30 and a hat are de riguer. Also, a shirt with a collar you can pull up around your neck. There's a reason red necks are associated with racing and it has nothing to do with attitude.
8) A book or magazine suitable to to lug along, but nothing along the lines of this or this. People with varied opinions were well-observed on race day. But, there's a point where you should stop making your point. I brought along this book, which Mr. Whisky Prajer has repeatedly recommended and which I have duly repeatedly started and then repeatedly mis-placed (WP, I swear it's not the book! It's quite enjoyable and, from the half I've read, highly recommended. BTW, did you know it's also been made into a film?) In between reading, watering, sweating, and shifting one's derriere on the hot and non-conforming seating (since we forgot to bring cushions), one can catch the qualifying heats for race position for the Busch 200.

Since this was our first live exposure to a NASCAR race, the speed and the noise were eye-opening and ear-shattering (even with the earplugs). The Dover racetrack, named the Monster Mile for its length and its steeply banked turns, is one of the shortest on the NASCAR circuit. This translates to the need for drivers to come out of the turns at maximum speed so as to minimize their time through the short straightaways. That's why Turn #4 is the most coveted place to sit. Maximum speed shooting through the turn and pit row right at the end of that turn. Lots of burning rubber and "incidents".

My prevous exposure to NASCAR racing was of the sofa-sitting tv-watching variety. I admit that I was one of those buffoons who mouthed off about what the interest was in seeing cars go around in circles. Over and over again. For hours on end.
I had no interest in going to a live event until recently. Since the tickets were already purchased and re-selling them offered minimal return, I persuaded the fam to come along, noting that it's a part of Delaware tradition that we had seriously neglected. Watching and thoroughly enjoying the race, I was immediately reminded of another sport.
Ice Hockey.
Bear with me please.
The first time I saw an NHL game, I saw it live. The rushes, the defensive battles, the kick saves. I saw the entire rink all of the time, so if there was a hard check into the boards and a change of possession, my eyes tended to dwell a bit longer on the guy who was checked, to see his reaction to being summarily dumped. When I saw an NHL game on tv afterwards, I noticed that the camera never lingered. It stayed with the puck and not necessarily with the action. The beauty of the game is dimmed by the tv camera.
I saw my first NASCAR race on tv, where the camera almost always stayed with the leaders, only straying back to the stragglers in the pack if there were wrecks. Seeing a race live made me appreciate the entirety of the race, of the track. Your eyes aren't cameras being directed by ESPN; you can linger and stare independently of the front pacers of the race. Just like a hockey game, there are things of interest happening all over the track. The limitations of television in broadcasting a race are incredible. The heat of the tracks, the shudder of the stands as a pack of cars slams through a curve, the smell of oil, gas, and burning rubber, and the energy of the crowd as a favored car passes another are all missing while sitting and eating chips on a sofa.

The eventual winner, Car #60 driven by Carl Edwards, crossed the finish line first, albeit on a dual checker and yellow flag. The latter was typical of the whole race as exuberance, a very narrow track, and the unforgiving nature of the Dover track on any little mistakes resulted in quite a few dings against the wall and minor pile-ups at various corners. Mr. Edwards celebrated his victory with his now-famous backward flip off of the roof of his car. Mr. Edwards reflects the new type of athlethic driver v. the drivers of the bygone eras when NASCAR style racing was more of the seat-of-the-pants style and certainly a lot more dangerous even though the average speeds were 30-40 miles less. A series of pictures of the race are viewable here, from the NASCAR site.

Oh, yeah. The strapping fellow at the top with a back broad enough to be rented out as a billboard? Quite the interesting and helpful fellow. He was there as part of a son-begats the son-who begats the son continuum of NASCAR racing. Quite the attentive dad to his own young heir to fandom and more than helpful in doling out advice and insight about the tactics on the track.

Turns out the only red neck that I saw was my own, where I'd neglected to spread on the SPF 30. A great day was had by all.

N.B.: Click on any of the pictures to see a larger version.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Waving to Nowhere

The Facts:
One 19 year old Croatian male, eyes wide-open with the possibility of making his first visit in the US of A. Note that I emphasize VISIT.
Son of my cousin, who has traveled extensively in the States, alone and with his wife, for business and for pleasure. My cousin has ALWAYS gone back to the Land of Croats. Why wouldn’t he when he’d otherwise be missing this.
This Croatian male has traveled extensively in Europe, spending months in Ireland, England & Spain. Has been, for shorter periods of time, in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, Kenya and (I believe) some of the Scandinavian countries.
Has ALWAYS returned back to home, to Croatia.
Loves to swim. Is great with kids. Enjoys his Summers, Winters, Falls, and, well I guess, Springs as well in Croatia. Who wouldn’t?

Does not have, does not want Work Visa for the US of A.
Does not have, does not want Student Visa for the US of A.
Does want to come over to work on his English; assumes this work does not require a Work Visa.
Does want to stay 45 days to work on his English and to see NYC, Washington D.C., Philly, NASCAR, and Hollywood. (may have to eliminate the latter; I don’t think he realizes that Hollywood is on the West Coast).
He’s never seen the Atlantic from this side of the world. Can’t wait to be at the beaches in Delaware and the shore in Jersey.
Not very interested in museums, but loves cars and things that move; amusement parks are high on his list of things to see.
More than happy to do volunteer work while here so that he would be immersed totally in all things American.
Does not want to / Is not expecting any remuneration. The experience is what he’s shooting for and he knows that receiving money simply complicates things.
Is 100% Croatian, although physically he resembles more your typical German kind of guy.
He’s a practicing Catholic who regularly attends Mass with his grandmother, who goes to church every day.

Oh yeah, he’s never been arrested, convicted, or jailed. He does have rather rosy cheeks, as most of his aunts and his grandmothers tend to pinch them continuously because he’s the cutest 6’ 3” kid they’ve ever seen.

The Problem
Said 19 yr old Croatian goes to US Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia for a visa interview.
A 2 minute visa interview.
Result: Rejected.
Reason: Not enough proof that he won’t stay here once entering the country.

I filled out this Affidavit of Support.
Other documentation was provided to ensure his return to Croatia.
(Not sure if pictures of the Croatian coastline, his adorable grandmothers, his parent’s house and their weekend villa on the coast, his friends, etc were provided. I am seriously thinking of getting myself adopted as a son by my cousin. I’ve been paper-trained and have outstanding table manners).

Said 19 yr old Croatian goes to US Embassy in Zagreb for a second crack at the visa.
Result: Rejected. Again.
Reason: Same as before.

The Gripe

I think that Michael at 2 Blowhards and Mr. Steve Sailer make some valid points about our current immigration policy. The US Embassy in Zagreb must be reading and applying their postings, as they seem to have taken the complaints to heart and seem to stopping any outflow to the USA from that teeny, tiny part of the world. Both Michael and Mr. Sailer discuss immigration, specifically the illegal immigration coming from Mexico and points south. I’ve read through their pieces and haven’t found anything on visitor’s visas as being a key weakness in the illegal immigration problem. They may say that the matter I’m talking about here is not an immigration issue but rather a visa issue. I disagree entirely. The two are intertwined as the State Department, perhaps due to pressure exerted by the Bush Administration or Congress, seems to think that by cutting down on visa approvals from Europe, they will be cutting down on illegal immigration. Do we have a problem with illegal immigration from Europe, specifically (getting nasty here) from Christian immigrants from Europe? I haven’t heard or read about this problem anywhere. What I have read is that life over in the EU and potential-EU countries, like Croatia, is good, pretty damn good. Folks are happy living where they already are. The Euro is much stronger than the US Dollar these days; they’re just in the frame of mind to make a VISIT here. On the cheap, well, maybe, on the cheapER.

Will we have to wait until the Dems come into office to get back to reality regarding potential visitors to the USA? Jeez, that’s another 2 years of this circle-the-wagons thinking. Maybe said 19 yr. old Croatian will have a chance to send his kids over for a visit, after he settles down, marries, and procreates. The way things are going, the shine that was so blinding which emanated from this country will be dull and lacking in uniqueness once his kids are allowed to come and to see. Not to stay.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Speeding to Nowheresville

I am going here on Saturday and I am not a happy camper. My lack of mirth has nothing to do with this. In fact, I'm actually looking forward to it. I've been residing in the First State for well over 15 years and have yet to have gone to any of the 2 NASCAR events held here every year. How I haven't gotten arrested yet for such a lack of participation in one of Delaware's main attractions is pure luck. I haven't researched the entire Code of Law in Delaware, but I'm pretty sure there's some regulation in there stating a resident of the state must go to the Monster Mile for a race at least once if said resident has resided in said state for over ten consecutive years. If there isn't one, there should be. I'll be posting pics and descriptives sometime next week, after fully recovering from the the Sun, the Suds, & the Speed.

My lack of mirth? The key gobbets are Homeland Security, US Embassy, family, and summer visits. I am still so teed off at this point to be able to write about this topic without bathing the entry in a full body acid wash. I promise to re-visit this topic. Going to the race on Saturday will, unfortunately, rub in the pain more as it was an event I was not going to attend without a certain visitor who, unfortunately, will not be visiting this great country. Let me just finish by stating that it's a sad state of (foreign) affairs our country has come to when dealing with those folks who aren't our citizens.

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