Christmas Comes But Twice a Year

 

 

Ten years ago today, as we were wrapping up a visit to Serbia and Montenegro, we stepped onto a bus in Belgrade to go to a town we’d never heard of at the invitation of a family we had only met in passing to share in their celebration of Serbian Orthodox Christmas. It proved one of the great adventures of my life and an experience of such love and generosity on the part of these then-strangers, who now remain dear friends. Mary wrote a vivid account of that wild time shortly after, which I share again here to mark the anniversary of that, with much love to the wonderful Zovko family.

By Mary Herczog

January, 2007

To set the scene, Serbia celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Since much would be closed that day, we half-joked that perhaps we would meet some local who would invite us over to participate in their family holiday. Failing in that (that scheme worked out not at all for Estonia’s St. John’s Eve), we figured we would celebrate a traditional Jewish Orthodox Christmas, to wit, Chinese food and a movie. (There were several playing, undubbed, in Belgrade that we wanted to see.) 

Now, on the flight from Heathrow to Belgrade, I end up in a very long wait for the airplane bathroom and to pass the time, chatted with the woman waiting behind me. S is from Serbia, but she and her husband Z have lived in New Jersey for 12 years. She gave me their cell phone numbers, urging me to call them should we have any problems or need anything at all. After baggage claim, she had Z help us get a cab, and then she said “Come stay with us! We live about 90 kilometers away, and my mother in law has a big house!” Sure enough, Mom was nodding her head in agreement. Since we weren’t sure this was for real, since we had a shortish stay in Belgrade, since we didn’t know a thing about their town, and since we had, you know, just met them five minutes ago, we simply said thank you, and didn’t really think about it again. That’s because we were too dumb to notice that the very thing that we wanted to have happened happened, and not five minutes into our trip. 

Days pass, and we travel to Montenegro and back. It’s now Christmas Eve day. The night before, we went to a very large Orthodox church so that Steve could tape the services (his new passion; it’s like a free concert, twice a day), but despite being told by several different people that services were at 7pm, they weren’t held at all. So we returned for the 9am, and then decided to go to the nearby open air market, full of little old ladies selling ripe homemade cheese and other sights our trusty guidebook assured us was “the real Belgrade.” But when the walk trusty guidebook map claimed was but three blocks turned into eight, we stopped at a corner to get our bearings. Only to have a young man stop next to us and offer his help in perfect English. Turns out he was headed to the market too, and offered to take us there. 

V spent some years working as a broker, including a stint in London, but recently turned his back on the long hours and soulless work for some months spent “reading Russian novels” and living at home with his doting parents. We asked him about Orthodox Christmas and he insisted on taking us to Sveta Sava, the largest church in Belgrade, and asking the first priest he could find about services that evening. Throughout, he gave a running tour commentary on Belgrade, pointing out historical buildings, bombing sites and the like. He told us about the bombing (“since the power was out, my friends and I had to barbeque all the meat in the fridge, which is what we did every night, have barbeques and watch the bombs like they were fireworks. And that was my war.”). Then he took us out for coffee. While drinking, I asked him if we could use his cell phone to call S and assure her we were okay, and that we hadn’t called because we hadn’t needed her help, but thank you for the offer. I felt a little foolish calling–she had probably forgotten about us–but she had been so insistent about wanting to hear from us regularly. 

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” exclaimed a delighted S. “Now, we want you to come over tomorrow to spend Christmas with us.” Er–really? Why, yes. But we have to fly back to Belgrade the next morning. No problem! They are on the same flight! They can drive us back! Then it turns out their flight was actually the day after ours, but no problem; just come out tonight, and spend the night. Well…okay. V, it turns out, is from that same area of the country and pronounced it well worth seeing, and so walked us to the bus station to get tickets, but not before we took a trip to the open air market that started this whole serendipitous adventure. Barrels of soft cheese, some feta-like, some more like creamy combination of creme fraiche and butter, various smoked and dried and cured animal parts, glass jars full of the local pepper puree, and more more more. Heavenly smelling, we wished we weren’t pressed for time so we could sample it all. 

But pressed we were–after all, we had to buy presents for our hosts (local candy, wine, a Serbian translation of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” because I liked it) and a few hours later, we were on a bus hurtling through the dark to who knows where. Seriously. Not sure where it was. Somewhere 120 slightly winding kilometers outside of Belgrade, in the countryside. Chacak, the town is called, and Z picked us up and took us to the sparklingly-decorated small flat he and S maintain, only to then tell us that his mom was expecting us, with a dinner feast ready to go (despite it being well after 10pm). Off we go to her place, to meet her and their two kids. And out comes the food. Dish after dish of food. It seems Serbians “fast” for some days before Christmas, and by “fast” they mean “avoid all animal byproducts except fish, but otherwise, stuff yourself.” And so we ate delicious smoked whole river fish, some kind of fatty smoked fish (smoked by them in their own smokehouse out back–wood smoke smell was everywhere out here in the country) that melted into a pure strong taste in our mouth, plus cabbage salad and an array of fancy desserts, all of which were, to our shock, homemade. Actually, everything was homemade, they said. S and Z were constantly amused by the US emphasis on “organic,” because they come from a place where everyone grows their own veggies and meat and so forth, and everyone makes their own nearly everything. (Witness V buying items at the market for his family’s Christmas dinner from the country people/farmers who sell their wares at the market.) We stop down first for a holiday custom; Z comes in saying “Merry Christmas!” three times, carrying branches of dead leaves, and each time his mother throws seeds, grains and coins at him for luck. Mom, by the way, waits on us at dinner and when we try to get her to sit down, Z shrugs it off. “No, don’t worry about it.” It’s just the way things are done. 

imgp0529By now it’s 11pm and continuing the theme of what will be our 36 hour excellent adventure, ie, a dizzying array of unexpected excellent events about which we have not been consulted, we are now told we are going to see S’s sister perform. Because she’s a big Serbian rock star–well, someone has to be–and she’s doing a solo show in town. Typical smoky bar, tight talented band, covers during the set rather than orignials, but he’s got a good strong voice and a feel for the lyrics that indicates she knows what she’s singing, rather than having just learned it phonetically. From there, we go to church, because, where else?

Orthodox Christmas celebrations start at midnight and go until 2am, and feature a big bonfire outside the church where, earlier in the day, everyone trooped around in procession for awhile, burning the elaborate arranges of pungent dead leaves and branches we had seen for sale all over Belgrade. (The symbolism is unclear. It may be having to do with the end of death as brought about by the birth of Christ.) The church was crammed to the seams, and the shelves that held prayer candles were so full one couldn’t stick another candle into the sand that held the tapers upright, because it was covered rock hard with melted candle wax. We basked in the smoke and the warmth and wondered about it all. 

So to bed around 3am, and in the morning we are greeted with a breakfast of fresh salami, local thin sliced ham (sort of like Spanish jambon), a Serbian staple of a kind of shredded roast pork that looks like tobacco, some of that feta-like cheese and the cream/butter combo which we are told is “serbian caviar” and another national dish. It gets mixed with excellent homemade cornmeal mush. There is also the red pepper spread, handmade by Z’s mother. There is more, but I think I forgot a few things. We see there is snow outside–remember, pitch black when we arrive–and that the town is a nice little hodge podge of late 1800’s architecture and much newer buildings. Z’s family used to raise hogs out back, so this is also partly rural/argriculture country. We are told that on this day one no longer says “Merry Christmas!” but instead a Serbian phrase meaning “Christ is born!” to which one responds with a phrase that basically says “Got that right.” (Actually, it translates as “Indeed, he IS born.”) We add this to our repertoire of six Serbian phrases. (Anyone we speak these to has the same reaction; surprise, pleasure, and amusement.) 

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Around 11am, Z’s oldest friend and his wife arrive. The friend knows all about local history and so the six adults, plus the two kids, are going to drive around the area, looking at monasteries, and then we will come back and have a feast. Again, we’ve not been consulted about any plans, but as it happens, driving around looking at monasteries and then feasting is exactly how we wanted to spend our day. We are mighty impressed by their prescience. When we meet the whole roasted pig that will be the center of the feast, we are even happier. (This is the traditional dish for Serbian Christmas, and Z explained that while they have often roasted their own pig, it’s a local speciality; their area supplies many of the pigs for the rest of the country. So they just bought one this year.) 

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Right, so into the minivan and off we go. We drive past horse-driven carts and other quaint things. Hey, where are we going? Well, we WERE going to several local monasteries, but they decided to take us to the two oldest and most famous ones in Serbia. Cool! Are they far? Farther that the local ones, but pretty close. Okay! So we chat–well, the personable and bright kids jabber with Steve, who is adorable with them, and I talk with Z and his friend, who understands some English and speaks less (sadly, because he is lovely and so very interesting), so there is translating going on. He in turn points out various historical spots along the route. Z explains about the war, about local politics, why he went to America, and more. As we drive. About 90 minutes into the drive, they ask us if we want some borak, which is a flakey savory pastry of layers of filo and either cheese or meat. Sure, but where are we…?–and a delicious smell fills the car, as we are presented with fresh, hot, homemade borak on a silver platter. I thought for sure they were whipping it up in the back seat, but no, Z’s friend’s mom made it, lest we get peckish on the drive. (Serbians, you may have gathered, like to eat. A lot. This is one of their many delightful qualities.) She has also ruined us for this Serbian snack, because hers was by far the best we have eaten and never again will we be satisfied by anything less. 

And we are driving through steep mountains, alternating snow and green vistas, and there are ruined castles and gushing rivers, and I ask Z how close we are, and he says not far, and so another hour passes. We learn we are about 10 miles from Kosovo and that “bullet proof vests are under your seat.” (Kidding, but we weren’t going there anyway. Z, who used to be in the Army, says its the worst place he’s ever been and that was before the war. Also, we didn’t have our passports.) Z explains that the area we were in was now about 80% Muslim (and Albanian) in contrast to the 85% Orthodox makeup of the rest of Serbia. We hit a chaotic dusty dirty small city, in the throes of market day, mostly Islamic, and so where there had been in the places we had driven through earlier in the day the domes of Orthodox churches were now the spires of mosques. They get lost, and lost some more, and we twist through neighborhoods full of shacks, tiny cobbly streets, poverty and dirt and confusion and life and energy, a way of living and economic status totally unexpected in what is supposed to be First World Europe. I can’t do it justice but at some point I thought this was the most exotic place we had ever been. Indonesia, Thailand, Morrocco, Peru–you expect it to be different, but not here, not quite like this, not so radically, not so close to relatively cosmopolitan Belgrade, with its Belle Epoque architecture, internet connections and high fashion stores. It was waking up on the moon. 

And we are still driving, but now uphill in the right direction, and we finally land at Serbia’s second oldest monastery, built roughly 1100 or 1200. The church interior is covered with glowing near-pastel fresco (“Art historians agree this are the best in the world!” said a happy monk, and I thought “Well, Leonardo’s Last Supper is considered rather highly, but never mind.”), which had been left open to the elements for centuries after the place was bombed and the roof destroyed by the Turks back in 15-whatever. It was restored in 1929, and the paintings, of the Annuciation, of various Saints, of a Crucifixion as powerful as a punch, are remarkable works of art, graceful and deeply moving. We strolled around the melted-snowy grounds before heading to the gift shop so that Steve could continue to look for CD’s of Orthodox music, and every member of our party could turn to me and say “Here, Mary, this is for you” and hand me some pretty little booklet about the place, or a map to Belgrade monasteries or some other gift. This on top of the drive, the borak, the room for the night, the pig yet to come. “Why??” I said to Steve, “this generosity, where is it coming from?” and we still don’t know. 

From there, we retrace our steps and Z says we are going to the oldest Serbian monastary on our way home. But we’ve come a long way, and it’s getting dark. But the Plan Is Not To Be Denied, and also it’s not far. Which totally isn’t true, because it’s hours later before we crawl our way up the even steeper, very narrow and thrillingly icy road through the rapidly fading light. It’s quixotic, as we will spend nearly two hours for what will prove a fifteen minute visit. We crunch through snow in the twilight to enter the towering Gothic church (circa 1090), which is dark but for some flickering candles and one or two light bulbs. A monk tells us about various uncorrupted saintly bodies enscounced within, including one he claims is fresh as a daisy despite being roughly 800 years old, and that he is displayed–and touched!–every Sunday. Which it is. But despite my pleas of calender consistency,we missed the viewing and there will not be a second one. At one point, it’s service time, and while we MUST go (it’s dark now, and the road is icy and narrow), we stop to hear the first bit, in the stone grand nave of the church, lit only by a chandelier of candles, amid billowing black robes of priests flung deep into their devotions, our breath steaming in front of us and then the deep tolling of the bells. It was 45 seconds of pure, visceral, crackling sensory ecstasy and it made every bit of effort to get there worthwhile. 

imgp0540And so back down the mountain we go, as Z says home is only about 60 miles away. By now, you’d think I’d learn. Time passes. More time passes. Speaking of which, the last bus to Belgrade–a nearly three hour ride–leaves at 8pm, and we are coming up on 6pm, and by now we’ve assumed we aren’t staying for dinner. Oh, yes, we are, they are not to be denied, and, frankly, we want pig! So Z and his friend consult and it’s concluded that we can take a cab back to Belgrade for not much more than two bus tickets, and a somewhat faster ride. We have to leave for our flight around 7am (and we need some sleep as we are going the next day to hang out with old friends in London, and we don’t want to be all nodding off, sleep deprived for our precious evening together), but we do the math and figure that if we leave at, say, 9pm in the cab, that gets us to Belgrade with enough time to pack up and the other things we have to do and still get a reasonable night’s sleep.

Time passes. Still driving. We eventually get back to Chacak, and we, naturally, have to drop off the friends first, as they are late for their Christmas dinner, and then we get back to Z’s mom’s house, and to meet some more relatives, and also, pig! v Oh, delectable, and there was homemade chicken soup, and two kinds of salad, and all the other things, the cheeses and the meats and the pepper spread, and it turns out that Z’s mom has worked as a chef. No kidding. We visit with other family members, and time passes, and we pack up, and the kids, who have been really good all day, descend into that constant squabbling that is what kids do when they are tired, and we think it’s about time to call that cab, but Z is missing and we can’t leave without saying goodbye, and the clock ticks, and more time passes, and Z finally appears and we say “About that cab?” and he and S say “We are going to take you to our house, and you will get it there.” Ours is not to reason why about anything, and so we get in the car, and S says “I hope you don’t mind, but I have this friend, and her daughter is in a wheelchair, but she makes these icons, and she wanted to meet you and give you a present. So if it’s okay, we can stop there on the way to our flat?” What are we going to say? 

It seems the friend is a rather well known local journalist, and she lives with her tween age daughter and older girl, who is 22 but looks 14, and has severe cerebral palsy, of the sort that leaves her with only minimal control of her left hand and nothing else. We are greeted with cake and coffee, and we resign ourselves to what clearly will not be a quick “how d’ya do? Gotta go” visit. At some point I murmer to Steve “Just go with it,” and he agrees. 

Which is more than okay, because we learn this story; Journalist Mom, who does religion reports for the national news, took her daughter (pause here to show us a photo album of the daughter with various Serbian celebrities) to meet the Serbian Orthodox Patriach (widely regarded as a living saint; pause here to show us a TV program Mom produced on him), and right afterward, the girl, who cannot dress nor feed herself, began working with seeds, rice and paint to produce icons. It’s a miracle! They all exclaimed. Well, all right, we said…and then they produced several examples. And it’s…gallery worthy outsider art, I mean, it’s flat-out incredible. “Primative”, sure, but it’s quality art even without the story, and with the story, it’s unbelievable. There is at least one piece which depicts the girl herself, in her wheelchair, dreaming this all up. It should immediately go in a museum. They take us into her bedroom, and demonstrate the impossible process; her sister sets up her tools and puts the brush into her hand, and then the girl heartbreakingly slowly and laboriously places glue on the page, and puts, one at an agonizing time, a grain of rice (or seed or whatever) in place. Over and over, for hours and hours and hours. It’s flabberghasting. And a true example of the kind of mystic ecstasy the devotional act of icon-producing is supposed to be. 

So as we are processing this, Mom brings out a frame and says “We want you to have this.” Now, I had been hoping to buy a nice Mary icon on our trip but I never found one I liked. What did she hand me? Oh, you know. And it’s stunning. Again, folk art, but just what I would have chosen. Meanwhile, I add this; before we left, Dr. W, he of the normal tumor markers success, asks me to bring him a Serbian flag, so he can hang it in his office along with my photo, for his other patients, to show them what is possible, even with cancer mets. We kept saying during the trip “Must get the flag for Dr. W.” But we hadn’t. So what did Journalist Mom hand me next? Hours before we were about to leave the country? Why, isn’t that such a perfect little Serbian flag? At this point, I don’t know what to do, except tell the story to S, who translates to Journalist Mom, whereupon they both burst into tears and cross themselves repeatedly. What the hell–I join in. 

It turns out that they have not really ever thought about selling her art, which is hard to imagine, as we know at least two galleries in New Orleans that would take her stuff in a heartbeat, not to mention any number of friends who would buy it. So we started planning to help her out, and also to maybe do some stories about her once we get home. Speaking of which, it’s getting really rather late–two hour plus drive to Belgrade and packing and all the rest–but we have to listen to the other daughter play the piano (I asked; I thought she might get overlooked because of her sister a great deal) and also have the artist sign her work, which involves Mom first writing on the painting, and then getting ready to hand the pen to her daughter, but constantly getting distracted and walking away to show us something else. And then we are asked to participate in a traditional Christmas ritual (burning those dead aromatic leaves in a small bowl) and then there are the extended goodbyes. At this point, I really was thinking we weren’t ever, ever going to be allowed to leave. And I felt horribly guilty even thinking it. Because after all, this has been a day, a day of serendipity and adventure and sharing, and the only thing wrong, really, was that we were trying to do it all in a day. These lovely, gracious people, they wanted us to come out earlier, to stay awhile, for good reason, because they had so much to show us, to share with us, and we were too American to understand our great good fortune until it was nearly too late. 

But finally, we did leave, of course, full of exaltation and exhaustion in equal measure. We made it back to Belgrade a mere four hours later than we intended, but what’s a little no sleep compared to this. 

A couple of photos to follow. And Dr. W liked his flag very much.

Hristos se Rodi! Voistinu se Rodi!*

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Baconwrap-up: 2016’s Tastiest Tunes

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By Steve Hochman

The choice for the No. 1 album of 2016 was pretty much set on Jan. 8. It was set in stone two days later, when we learned that the maker of that album had died. We had no idea that there would be so much more loss to come, not just among our “stars,” but in our lives. Even those of us acutely aware that the Boomer generation — my generation — had lodged itself squarely inside the mortality zone were overwhelmed, uncomprehending of the toll it would take on our individual and collective psyches. We held on so tenaciously to our youth, cherishing our toys and our heroes alike as we aged sometimes-not-so-gracefully, that this all messed up our sense of self, and sense of perspective.

There were certainly far greater tragedies in the world this year than the deaths of some pop stars, even the most poetic and impactful of them. And yet the works of some of them can help us regain that perspective, both on the small and big scales, if we let them. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen come to mind in particular for each of their album-for-the-ages with which they left us. In that perspective is a reminder that while we honor the dead, we should exalt the living. And in 2016 artists from across generations, across cultures, across perspectives, stepped forward with works of vital spirit that define the year, not just the bad but also much good, every bit as much as the work of those who left us.

The One:

David Bowie, “Blackstar.”

Oh I’ll be free

Just like that bluebird

Oh I’ll be free

Ain’t that just like me.

 

The Next Nine:

Adia Victoria, “Beyond the Bloodhounds”

From my review on KPCC’s Take Two: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

This is dark, probing stuff, as the song titles indicate (“And Then You Die” is another). But it’s vibrant and vivid, threaded with a sense of her fighting personal and cultural bonds — she was raised in a strict Seventh Day Adventist family and the album title comes from Harriet Jacobs’ autobiographical 1861 novel “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Comparisons are tough here. She cites early blues-jazz star Victoria Spivey, and there are hints of a southern Patti Smith here (the spoken climax of “Invisible Hand”), a folky Nina Simone. But those are fleeting images, giving way to an artist taking her own path. If one song even comes close to capturing the whole, it’s the dense, banjo-accented, swamp-Gothic climax of “Stuck in the South.” Victoria Spivey by way of Flannery O’Connor? Or just Adia Victoria.

 

Xenia Rubinos, “Black Terry Cat.”

My review on KPCC. http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As the debate over just what, and who, is America only intensifies, there may be no sharper, more pointed, more witty, more forceful portrait than “Mexican Chef,” a new song by Brooklyn’s Xenia Rubinos. And more danceable.

 

Allen Toussaint, “American Tunes”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As pointed out in the astute liner notes by Tom Piazza, a New Orleans music critic, novelist and one of the writers on the HBO just-after-the-flood drama “Treme,” on one hand Toussaint brings a New Orleans tinge, with its subtle funk and delightful flourishes, to such jazz classics as Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” (somewhat perversely played in 4/4 rather than waltz-time), while transforming such New Orleans standards as Prof. Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and Earl King’s “Big Chief” (best known from Longhair’s repertoire) into elegant etudes and concisely imaginative sonatas. 

The sequence unfolds like a vibrant novel or film. And at the end, Simon’s “American Tune” is epilogue. Here we get not just Toussaint’s piano, but finally his voice, too, conversational and eloquent with Simon’s portrayal of the complex cultural mix of our nation that brought about the music we’ve just heard, born of struggle and perseverance, of fears of dying and dreams of flying, of transitions and uncertainties, of destinations and destinies unknown. Toussaint brought it into his repertoire in the first few years after the flood, one of several New Orleans musicians who latched onto it as a song that expressed what they, and their city were experiencing as they fought to rebound and rebuild. Here, though, as many in New Orleans and beyond still mourn his loss, hearing him sing this caps this final album with a perfect measure of both celebration of a life of music and sadness at its ending. His life was a truly American tune. An American symphony.

 

Anderson.Paak, “Malibu”

From our year-end wrap-up on KQED’s The California Report. https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/12/18/from-anderson-paak-to-magikmagik-california-artists-defy-labels-in-2016/

Coverage of Anderson.Paak’s nomination for the Best New Artist Grammy this month often saw him called a rapper. But despite an association with Dr. Dre, his music more often than not isn’t rap. That’s abundantly clear not just on his bracing album “Malibu,” but in live performances including a delightful, playful NPR Tiny Desk Concert appearance, Paak on drums leading his sharp compact band the Free Nationals as they flow between soul and jazz and pop and rock, even surf, with grace and wit and a sense that anything is possible. EVERYTHING is possible. In what in many ways was a very tough year in the music world, a year filled with loss and sorrow, this is a positive note.

 

Shirley Collins, “Lodestar”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/10/25/52823/tuesday-reviewsday-shirley-collins-afro-rock-and-w/

There is much sadness in the album, and much death — the traditional “Death and the Lady,” for which she’s done a “Seventh Seal”-inspired video, explicitly so. And she closes with “The Silver Swan,” a 17th century madrigal by Orlando Gibbons, in which the titular bird “thus sung her first and last and sung no more.” But in her song notes accompanying the album, Collins thinks back to nights in the early ‘50s at home in Hastings around the piano, singing that song with her sister and their mother, the three collapsing in laughter at their vain attempts to get through the intricate parts. The version here is sparer, just her voice, a harmonium and a viola. But for the song’s twilight melancholy, you can almost hear that laughter still in her voice these decades later.

 

Zomba Prison Project, “I Will Not Stop Singing”

Second volume from producer Ian Brennan’s recordings of inmates in the unimaginably horrible conditions of Zomba Central Prison in Malawi. “60 Minutes” reported on it in depth: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-grammy-nominated-music-zomba-prison-anderson-cooper/

 

Noura Mint Seymali, “Arbina”

From my BuzzBandsLA feature ahead of the Mauritanian artist’s Royce Hall show in March, which previewed several songs from this then-unreleased album: http://buzzbands.la/2016/03/03/noura-mint-seymali/

Her music is a swirling modern presentation of ancient Moorish griot sounds, with her forceful, trilling vocals weaving in the interlocking curls of her ardine (a nine-stringed harp reserved specifically for women) and swirling electric guitar lines of her husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, along with pulsating bass and drums. It’s also to some extent an attempt to present something that represents a good deal of the country — not an easy task.

 

Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison, “In Movement”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

Here, senses of space and atmospherics are key, Garrison’s subtle use of electronics and effects providing as much a signature to the trio sound as DeJohnette’s tuneful touch and Coltrane’s bright runs, at once wild and controlled. The interplay through a variety of tones and tempos, from the floating title piece to the stutter-funk pulse of “Two Jimmys,” is seamless, the three clearly mutually inspired. So here, more than 20 years after they first played together and more than 50 years since DeJohnette played with their dads, this trio feels like something new beginning, with wonderful possibilities in front of them.

Ruby Friedman Orchestra, “Gem”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/06/21/49798/new-music-from-charlie-parker-ruby-friedman-orches/

You don’t need to know Ruby Friedman’s life story to get a sense of who she is. Just hearing her, and better seeing her perform, tell enough. Her voice and manner are as bold and brash as her flame-red hair. But she’s telling you anyway, with “Fugue in L.A. Minor,” the opening song of her long-in-coming first album, “Gem.” Part unflinching biography, part unapologetic confessional, the song briefly accounts various things on her road to this point, overcoming alcohol, having a child and giving her up among them. And she asked God, she tells us, “What am I doing here?” His answer: “Keep singing, well you better!”

It’s quite the curtain-raiser, fitting as what follows has some theatrical punch, Vaudevillian in some spots, Brechtian in others. Well, really it’s Vaudeville-y and Brecht-y, not fully either, or any one thing at any time. Bluesy also applies. Jazzy maybe. But brassy, always. Ethel Waters with a pinch of Ethel Merman — via Dusty Springfield and maybe even some Patti Smith.

 

Another Dozen:

Leyla McCalla, “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

 

Dawes, “We’re All Gonna Die.”

My coverage of their Grammy Museum appearance: http://buzzbands.la/2016/10/29/dawes-new-sounds-spotlighted-vibrantly-grammy-museum-show/

 

Sturgill Simpson, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/03/29/47583/new-music-from-sturgill-simpson-caetano-veloso-and/

 

Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker”

 

Luisa Maita, “Fio da Memória”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/08/23/51483/tuesday-reviewsday-teresa-cristina-mariza-and-luis/

 

La Santa Cecilia, “Buenaventura”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Rokia Traoré, “Né So”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Lucinda Williams, “The Ghost of Highway 20”

KQED review: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Esperanza Spalding, “Emily’s D+Evolution”

 

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, “A Man Alive”

KQED: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool”

BuzzBandsLA concert review: http://buzzbands.la/2016/08/09/radiohead-fiiiiiine-shrine/

 

Nik Bartsch’s Mobile, “Continuum”

10/16/16

Sixty years ago today, Louis Hochman was working on an oil well near Durango, Colorado — “sitting on a well” is how they said it. He was a petroleum geologist employed by Conoco. At some point that afternoon he climbed a telephone pole, tapped into a line and dialed a number in Casper, Wyoming, more than 500 miles away, to get news that I had arrived. His first child.

The anxiety he felt must have been intense, not just from being so far away for the blessed event, but that just two years ago, while he and my mom were living in Olympia, Washington,  she had nearly died in pregnancy from a kidney infection. The baby girl was stillborn. After that, a doctor had told them that it was too risky to try having kids again.

A couple of years ago, going through things after Mom died at age 84, having had me and two more kids, we found a letter Dad wrote around that time indicating that he drove to Casper as soon as he could, caught a look at me in the newbies ward, said hello to Mom, then turned right back around to head back to work. That was paternity leave in the Eisenhower years. We also found the photo shared here, likely the first one of him with me, probably a few days later.

Imagine what thoughts went through his head on that 1000-mile round trip. He was elated, certainly. But also likely worried. He was 36 at the time. Not only had he lost a child and nearly lost his wife, but he’d lost his own mom not long ago then, to cancer. He’d landed at Utah Beach 12 years before, returned to grad school at Stanford to get a degree in the field he loved, reenlisted as a Corp of Engineers officer in Korea mapping the topography to let the grunts “build bridges so that the Koreans could blow them up.” And now he was based in Wyoming, with a new son, and an uncertain future — the oil business had taken a bit of a dip and the company wanted to transfer him, a Jew, to Saudi Arabia. Transfer us to Saudi Arabia.

Instead, they (we) moved back to Santa Barbara, where Mom was born and raised and where Dad’s dad had moved after his wife died. Dad wound up giving up his beloved geology and became an hotelier, running a hotel his father-in-law built. We never heard him express any regrets, and disappointment in how his life had turned, though he jumped at the chance to talk geology with us — every family driving trip would feature lessons along the way: “See how that strata is angled up? That’s from the pressures of the continental plates coming together.” “Out there across the valley, look at how those alluvial fans spread out across the base of the hills…” And I very well remember walking in while he was watching news footage of Mt. St. Helens erupting, a look of pure joy on his face, before he had to sheepishly note that yes, this was a great event for geology, but at the cost of peoples’ lives.

When Dad turned 60, I was midway between 23 and 24 and, after a stint in New Mexico taking a documentary film program, was temporarily back in Santa Barbara, living with the folks and working for Dad at the hotel. I’d worked a lot for him at the hotel starting when I was 10 — bell-hopping, pulling weeds, adding chlorine to the pool, helping the housekeepers, working the old PBX switchboard, doing the books, checking in guests, trouble-shooting. My greatest memories were just watching him interact with the guests. He loved that so much, getting peoples’ stories, where they were from, where they were going. Everything. And he was so at ease with that. He was unfailingly kind, always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, see their better nature. It took a lot to get him to think ill of anyone. That goes for him as a dad, too. Patience seemingly unbound, with a perfect instinct as to when to be indulgent, when to draw a line. Always interested in whatever we had to say, whatever interested us. Always eager to see our passions grow. And music. Oh, music. He played violin in various community groups, including the Santa Barbara Symphony for a while. And never cared what music I loved, just that I loved it.

This, though, was my first chance to be with him so much as an adult. Er, “adult.” Even if for just a few months before I moved back to L.A. to get going on my own again. And his kindness, his patience, his genuine, tireless interest in people made a deeper, more conscious impression on me. I treasure that time.

But one thing our parents didn’t tell us then was that Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. They didn’t let us know for a few more years, when symptoms were hard to overlook. Never was sure why they didn’t tell us, but it doesn’t really matter. At the time, sure he had some leg shakes when he was sitting, and some hand tremors. And he took some medications, but that’s what grownups do, right?

As the Parkinson’s progressed (funny word to use for a disease, progressed) things got difficult, for him and mom taking care of him. He’d fall, of course. He had more and more trouble swallowing. The rotations of medication would stop working, or worse cause other problems, including some severe hallucinations that, understandably, freaked Mom out pretty badly. He’d get obsessed with the prospects of some new treatment or experimental operation, though it was clear that it would not help his particular condition and might be horribly harmful. We heard all this from Mom, not from him. He never said a word of complaint to us. Even when things were a struggle, he was upbeat, happy, to us.

When he could no longer play violin due to his tremors and diminished dexterity, he tried mandolin and harmonica, with enough success to give him pleasure at making music.  And there was tennis, the other passion alongside music. He played three, four, five time a week for as long as I could remember. If he was ever disappointed in his kids it was that he could never get us to share that passion on that level. But it got harder and harder.

For his 75th birthday we had a surprised tennis tournament for him — he was lured out to the courts on false, lame prospects, to see family and friends gathered. We all took turns playing doubles. Everyone wanted to play with or against him, of course. He still had some of his old tricks (he was the master of the spin-shot or sneaky drop). But just getting his feet to move was tough. Still, he had the time of his life. And when it was over, he hung up his racket. Never played again. Never expressed a word of regret, again. At least to us. And that was the case right to his death five years later, just a couple of days after his 80th birthday. We’d taken him to Disneyland for the birthday (his request). A wonderful day for all, him beaming throughout. A final image of him that sticks with me, capturing of his nature.

As I turn 60 today, I’m thinking of him a lot. My wish is that I could have more of his patience, more of his spirit, more of his kindness. There would be no achievement greater for me to honor him that way.

A Little Lanois (and Friends) in the night.

 

By Steve Hochman

Anyone walking around the Silver Lake Reservoir on Sunday night might have been struck by the sounds wafting from the hills on the eastern side. Not the coyote cackles that often punctuate the evenings there, but the somber weeps of gentle steel guitar.

That was Daniel Lanois, long-time resident of the area, sitting in the portico of his historic, castle-like estate, sitting face to face with partner-in-sliding-steel Rocco DeLuca. The two were performing in part to celebrate the release of their new somewhat-ambient instrumental steel duo album “Goodbye to Language,” and in part to celebrate Lanois’ 64th birthday, which it would become at the stroke of midnight. (The whole thing also was tied to the Art of Elysium, a non-profit working with hospitalized youth, homeless shelters, special needs centers and elderly and hospice patients in arts education and expression as a vehicle for social change. Contributions in exchange for vinyl copies of the album, donated by the artists, went to the organization.)

It calmed the coyotes. And it calmed, entranced, but also excited the guests here for this special occasion. While on the surface the music was calm, if contained many more layers of emotions — sadness, seeking, as well as utter joy, clear from the expressions of the musicians, face-to-face as they improvised around themes and motifs, at times joined by drummer Kyle Crane and bassist Jim Wilson, set up next to them looking out over the landscape.

And Lanois being Lanois, much of the music played for the friends/fans who crowded in around them is newer, unrecorded — not just a few things clearly created right on the spot (Lanois calling out changes to the others), but some new songs by DeLuca, the Long Beach guitarist and singer who has been a Lanois protege for a few years now and has made consistently gripping music on record and on stage in his own right.

During a break between sets, Lanois, chatting alongside his menagerie of motorcycles (he’s fully recovered from his nasty wreck a few years back) was clearly excited about the new music, both on the record and that in process. It’s all about moving forward, he said. All about trying to touch something as an artist, something that touches something in an audience.

“Goodbye to Language” does that in ways that have been part of many of Lanois’ more prominent work, both as an artist and producer of definitive works by U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers and so many others. Most profoundly it connects with the ambient works he made in partnership with Brian Eno in the ‘80s, recordings that first brought Lanois to public attention. As wonderful as those records remain, there’s more depth, more emotion in what he’s doing now in that realm. But then, one would hope that would be the case with any artist having grown and accumulated, well, life over the course of several decades. Of course, that’s not always so. And not that the new sounds were all gentle — some of it got downright raw and aggressive, other emotional avenues. In the latter regard, “Language” serves as a complement to 2014’s “Flesh and Machine,” a powerful collaboration with drummer Brian Blade incorporating various electronic manipulations and textures.

Two songs featuring DeLuca’s singing were remarkably moving. “Nightingale” was the poetry of distance, of yearning for love and affection that had faded with time. As he sang he gestured with his hands as he hunched over his steel guitar, sometimes poking his chest, sometimes sweeping his hand out as if gathering something in, the words and feelings seemingly forcing him to portray them physically. A little later, “Congregate” had a quiet gospel feel, Lanois and Wilson provided harmonies, the song a celebration of the salvation of community, of coming together. Which is what was happening here at the house.

Until the cops came.

Seems those sounds wafted a bit too much for a Sunday evening. Lanois being Lanois, he worked that into the performance, not so much taking on the police for doing their jobs, but riffing stream-of-consciousness-wise and not-a-little sarcastically on the contrasts of the challenges of community, of art, of beauty — The many trees he’s planted on his estate: “Evil!” The sidewalk tables at local hangout Cafe Tropical removed: “Evil!” The Art of Elysium: “Evil!” Making music that babies could fall asleep to rather than the sound of jackhammers that’s been in the neighborhood with the reservoir renovation project: “Evil!” It was pure Beat poetry, interwoven with music in which he led his cohorts, at times calling out changes. And with each Evil! came a mischievous smile from Lanois.

Somehow it made for a perfect capper to the night, at least the musical part, as many guests stayed for mingling.

The coyotes remained calm.

Cubed.

IMG_6586

 

By Steve Hochman

The young man in the mesh-screen cube was improvising some Beethoviana on an upright piano, drawing strongly on the Pathetique, when I walked toward it Sunday evening. The cube has been constructed around a tree, which goes up through the top and canopies overhead. The music coming from within was gorgeous, expertly guided by the gent through ebbing and flowing emotions, the contours seemingly shaped in the moment to incorporate the sounds of traffic along this stretch of Sunset Blvd., the cube sitting in a patch of grass in a West Hollywood city parking lot, just east of the old Tower Records.

He finished, got up, exited the cube be pushing aside one of the mesh “walls” at a corner, shrugged off the visitor’s compliments and explained that the piece was just a little warm-up for the real performance, coming shortly. We talked a little about his day (he’d just had dinner at a nearby restaurant), about his approach to his music (he mentioned a past devotion to the music of minimalist composer/performer Charlemagne Palestine, and amusedly cited a performance at which the cognac-loving Palestine insisted that the audience keep up with his consumption).

“Well, I need to get started,” he said, excusing himself. And with that, Manuel Lima, a slight-built man with Harpo hair and a lilt to his voice imported from his native Sao Paolo, re-entered the cube, sat back at the piano, put a red scarf around his head as a blindfold and started playing.

Beautifully. Building slowly at first, single notes and short phrases, spare harmonics, now playing not just off the traffic and other ambient noises, but specifically with a preprogrammed, composed loop of white noise and subwoofer surges coming from speakers next to the piano — and those in turn triggering bursts and surges of red light from a dozen or so bulbs strung in the cube from the tree branches, at times turning the whole cube a bright, saturated red. Over the course of an hour or so, the music continued through many phases, flowing readily from hypnotic to jarring to somber to giddy, all tonal and inviting, classical in roots, modern in spirit, always inviting a visitor’s attention, but allowing that attention to wander into its own musings, as the music did the same. A video I shot, which you can see below, is a bit more than 19 minutes of it (the phone’s storage maxed out) and gives a pretty good idea of the sonic and visual splendors — you don’t even need to watch the whole thing to get a reasonable sense of it, just dip in anywhere.

A few people wandered up from the sidewalk at the musical invitation — two French tourists out on a walk before heading back to Paris the next morning, a young couple who live nearby (he, it turned out, a fellow Brazilian musician, trained in composition but in recent years the drummer of the hard-rock band We Are Harlot, she the director of the childcare program at a nearby health club), another neighborhood couple walking their bulldog, Winnie. And just by being there, they became part of the performance/experience.

Call it “Sonata for Piano and Sunset Blvd.” Or really “Sonata for Piano, Cube, Sunset Blvd, Neighbors, Electronic Sounds and Red Lights.” All created and delivered for whoever cares to drop by, under the visage of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, glaring down from a billboard overhead.

This is “The Cube,” Lima’s distinct music/art installation/experience in conjunction with the City of West Hollywood. It started last Friday and will end on Sunday (Aug. 21), Lima basically living (and sleeping) in the cube, following a daily schedule including a morning and afternoon performances of “Sunset Blvd.” involving going from left to right on the radio dial and improvising short piano pieces based on things he’s heard, and the evening variations officially titled “Red Light Piano,” which will increase in length each day, with plans for it to be a full five hours by the end. And from 5 to 7 p.m. he is hosting tea just outside the cube, during which he takes great joy in talking about this project — and anything else — with whoever might care to join him. (And yes, he gets breaks during the days to go shower, eat, etc.) It all will change, evolve in some ways through its course, as the experience changes the artist too.

Lima developed the project while finishing a doctorate in musical arts from CalArts (on full scholarship from the Brazilian government), doing a test run of the project on a hillside near the school’s Valencia campus earlier this year.  Laura had been telling me for a while how great a guy Lima is, how fascinating the concept is and in the first days of it how much of a treat it was to have this in West Hollywood. (She is working with the city to promote the project and to help get local residents and businesses aware and involved.) But it needs to be experienced to really grasp its delights. And those delights start with and bloom from the artist. Come by for music. Come by for tea. Come by to chat, with him and others who have come by too. A charmingly hand-written/drawn score, which you can see at this link, gives further sense of his take on what he’s doing

When Lima stopped playing, it was time for some wind-down visiting — he and the other Brazilian musician conversed about their thoughts and experiences in mellifluous Portuguese, while we all took turns petting Winnie (her owners, it turned out, having come by the Cube every night it’s been up). It’s public art with as much public as art. Which is the point.

As we got ready to leave, Lima and I talked more about some of the influences and musical relationships, some direct and others not so much. We talked about John Cage, about LeMonte Young’s “Well Tuned Piano” using alternate “just” tuning. I asked him if he knew the music of late guitarist John Fahey (he didn’t, but was interested), and if he knew John Schneider, the L.A. guitarist and Harry Partch and Lou Harrison devotee who also makes use of “just” tuning and other unconventional set-ups (he did). He told me about his Cal Arts composition teacher Michael Pisaro, who has developed a very personal style involving some long, indeterminate stretches of silence, or near-silence.

It’s all, we agreed, about playing with time, with perceptions of time. Spending time at the Cube and with Lima is time well spent.

… and Counting.

On Aug. 13, 1966, my dad took me to my first rock concert. He had no idea what he was starting.

Aug. 13, 1966

Santa Barbara, California

The capes. It’s the capes. The first thing that comes to mind about that day. We’d gotten there early, pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot — which car would we have been in? The ’57 Mercury Monterrey with the push-button panel for the automatic transition on the dash to the left of the steering wheel? Probably. Or was it the still-new ’65 Chevy Impala wagon, white body with turquoise top and interior, the backward-facing seat in the way back folded down in wait for some special occasion?

We got out of the car, between the early-afternoon traffic buzzing lightly on Las Positas Rd. up at the top of the succulent strewn slope and the mild activity at the entry to the yellow-domed Orchid Show Hall here at the Earl Warren Showgrounds complex. I’d been here many times for said Orchid Show, for gem shows with Aunt Hester and Uncle Harold, I think for a car show once. We’d been to horse shows in the adjacent open-aired ring, though we’d come regularly in the next decade when Karen became a mainstay on the youth horse-show circuit here. We’d even come in a few years to see the L.A. T-Birds roller derby team making a road-trip appearance, Mom, Dad, Karen, Daniel and me the odd-fit upper-middle-class white family in the largely working class, largely Hispanic and wildly exuberant crowd.

But here, today,  as we got out of the car and started toward the dome, were the capes, being carried on hangers, shrouded in flimsy clear dry-cleaner plastic, from a car a few slots away. Red with black trim. The capes. Or were they black with red trim? Whichever, I was excited just to see them. I probably said something to my dad.

“It’s what they wear! The Count Five!”

Or maybe I just thought it to myself. In any case, I was buzzing, bursting. It was great already. And we were still in the parking lot.

I don’t remember how I talked Dad into this. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents had shown inclination to allow before. They weren’t nasty about it or anything. It’s not like a lot of 9-year-olds were going to rock concerts in those days.

I’d hear concerts promoted breathlessly on Santa Barbara’s KIST-AM and KACY-AM from just down the coast in Pt. Hueneme, by “Barron” Ron Harron and the other disc jockeys — I can still sing the jingles: “K-I-S-T… thirteen forty!” “Fifteen-twenty, K-A-C-Y” And there were the “Get KIST” bumper stickers around town. I was devoted to the stations, listening any chance I had on my little, black Sears Silvertone transistor radio my parents got for me the year before. Karen and I made signs to put in the car window in hopes we’d be spotted by the KIST Patrol and given whatever fabulous prized they had. Once I even sat in the front yard with a sign, thinking that maybe the Patrol would just happen by and see me. I tried to call in for giveaways, but never won:

“We’ve got something special for the sixth caller who can tell us the name of the group playing this new song. Here’s a hint… it rhymes with ‘Kind Fenders.’”

Busy signal. Busy signal. Busy signal. RINGING!

“The Mind Benders! The Mind Benders!”

“That’s right, but we already have a winner. Better luck next time….”

Awww.

It was a world I wanted to be in, but could not. The shows advertised on the station, or on the marquee of the Earl Warren, seen from the school bus many morning as we passed along, were as distant as the moon. Once the Animals were going to be there. Eric Burdon! I wanted to go so badly. I asked my mom.

“You’re too young. They have an age limit.”

I called the station to find out. They would have to know, right? Who else could I call?

“It’s open to any age, we think,” I was told, and I told my mom that.

“They mean any age older. Not younger. You are not old enough. It’s too late. It wouldn’t be safe.”

But then came word of this Saturday matinee. I asked. They said yes. Here we were.

It must have been a 15 minute wait for the doors to open, though it likely felt much longer. When they let us in there couldn’t have been more than two dozen people there. Inside, straight ahead about three-quarters of the way across the plain concrete floor — no seats, just standing — was a stage, nothing fancy, just a platform with a curtain along the back and some instruments ready for the opening act, a group from Ventura (I think) called the Melody Men (I think). When they started playing there were maybe 60 people inside. They sounded, well, I don’t really have any memory of how they sounded.

When the second band came out, introduced by Harron, then of KACY but later to be on KIST, there were perhaps 150 people inside. And I remember how they sounded, as well I should. You may have heard of them. The Rascals. Though they were still the Young Rascals at that time.

But as soon as they started they had to stop. Felix Cavaliere’s B3 crapped out after just a few notes. It felt like it took half an hour to get it fixed. Given that this was all new to me, I’m sure I figured this kind of technical difficulty was business as usual for rock concerts. Fifty years and thousands of concerts later, I was right.

My dad and I walked around the inside of the hall a little in that time. All those people there looked so…. mature! Teenagers! Some of them must have been at least 16! Guys in slacks, ironed Oxford shirts, black-rimmed glasses, hair just slightly out of trim. Girls in skirts or summer dresses. So this is what a rock crowd looked like, though I already knew that from watching the afternoon dance shows we got on the L.A. stations: Lloyd Thaxton’s “Dance Party” on Channel 13, “Boss City” on KHJ, and of course the weekend national “American Bandstand,” which I’d probably watched that morning.

The organ finally fixed, the Young Rascals resumed, Cavaliere coaxing those cool soul sounds from the keys, Eddie Brigati in a sporty cap, shaking maracas as he sang, and making the biggest impression, Dino Danelli at the drums, twilling his sticks like a baton, bouncing them on the drums and letting go so they flung 20 feet into the air, catching them as they came back down without missing a beat. (Poor guitarist Gene Cornish. I can’t recall a single thing about him.)

They played “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” They played “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and, my favorite of theirs at the time, “Good Lovin’,” both songs having been and national hits, the latter hitting No. 1 earlier in the year. They played “You Better Run,” which had made it to No. 20 nationally that spring. And I think they played “Groovin’.” though that may be a faulty memory, as the song wasn’t even released until the next March.

And then…. what I was there for. San Jose’s Count Five. The capes. The hit. Destined to be their only hit, though we didn’t know that at the time. Harron even came back on stage to introduce their “new single,” a song called “Double Decker Bus.” I remember later hearing it on the radio…. never. Not once. Zippo. One hit and Count Five was down for the count.

But that day? Excitement! Elation! Funny thing, what I remember being most interested in from their performance was to see just how they made that chicka-chicka-chicka sound during the frantic instrumental rave-ups in the middle and at the end of “Psychotic Reaction.” I perked up every time the song came on the radio, lived everything about it, the bluesy twang of the electric guitar lick, the thumping drums, the what-the-hell-does-that-mean words …. and those rave-ups — blasting into high gear, verging on total chaos, and then stepping down back into the song proper. Whew! What a ride! Did I get at the time how much it was all a Yardbirds cop? Not sure. Maybe. Doesn’t really matter.

Oh, that sound. The rhythm guitarist damped the strings way up by the pickups with his left hand while strumming rapidly with his right. Genius! Well, no. Pretty simple and hardly original. But I was 9. It was an epiphany, first of its kind in a series of…. any counting. Count Five.

And it was over. No memory of exiting the hall. No memory of the drive home (about a mile). No memory of asking my dad what he thought, or of him volunteering same. We must have talked. He must have said something about it being loud. But I know with absolute certainty that he had a big smile, as big as mine, sharing my joy. He loved music. He didn’t love my music (though over the years our tastes intersected, with some delight). But he loved that I loved music, that I shared a passion he had for it, even if it manifest in different tastes.

I wonder if he ever thought back to that day, if when he watched my life as a professional concert-goer develop he connected it, saw his part in it. I hope he did. I think of it often, and more than anything else about it, I cherish the mental picture of being in that parking lot, seeing the capes, Dad at my side.

——-

Many, many years later I was visiting my friend Tony Berg at the Beverly Hills offices of the Virgin Records label, where he was then the head of A&R. He introduced me to his new assistant, Brandon, and quickly I noticed a poster at the assistant’s desk, a classic ‘60s style advertising a Doors concert at, of all places, Earl Warren Showgrounds.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

He said, “Oh, my dad was the promoter for that show.”

I said, “Your dad is Jim Salzer?”

Indeed he was. Jim Salzer Presents was the name attached to all those shows I wanted to see, the name on the radio ads of as mythic proportions as the names of the artists. I told Brandon about that ’66 afternoon of my first concert and he was thrilled. The next day he emailed me and asked if I had a fax number. Within an hour the fax spat out a treat from him, a copy of the Rascals’ contract from that date, though it was for the evening show at the same locale, in which they were headlining. At some point over the years I think I figured out that the show I saw was just a little KIST-sponsored event, but the “real” concert had been that night. And of course the Rascals, with multiple hits, had the top billing over the new kids.

I’m sure that was great too. There were probably kids there attending their first rock concert. I hope their memories are as good as mine of the afternoon show. I hope that started something big for them too. But for me, Aug. 13, 1966 is all about Count Five — now plus five decades, with thousands of concerts. And counting.count_five_psychotic_reaction_psychedelic_rocknroll_garage_punk_nuggets_san_josehouse_dracula