Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Holiday Road

Ms. Luverne Dozier, at Balthrop, Alabama practice last night at Castle Anthrax.

Towards the end of summer, I started thinking about Christmas. This year, there were candy canes hanging in my head before they hit Wal-Mart.

Well, last night Balthrop, Alabama had its first practice for A Very Balthrop Christmas, the show we're doing at Joe's Pub on December 12. Nearly everyone in the band has penned a new holiday tune and last night we all got to sit down together and take them out for their first spin. And it was stupid fun to eat some pizza, drink some wine and play a bunch of great new songs. It was cold and rainy outside and there was an unexpected chance of snow but the holiday cheer at Castle Anthrax kept us warm like a cliche with a mission.

There's a lot of promise in the air nowadays, something new in the wind. It's election season and the end of a long hard year and it's been a while since the idea that things could get better seemed like anything other than a quaint notion.

But maybe, maybe, maybe . . .

I dunno. I can't speak for everyone. It looks like we've got a lot of hard times coming and things may get a whole lot worse before they get better. We may even be on that roller coaster that only goes down. Our hair might all fall out cause the wind from the downward plunge plucks and pulls. Our eyes might water and we won't be able tell if we're laughing or crying. We might look like pale prunes by the time it's all done.

But, I'm optimistic and happy beyond all reason because I'm on the ride with some good folk and we're doing the best we can in hard times. We even built a store (well, Jemison did) and hung up an "Open For Business" sign.

We're cleaning house and working hard. We're tired but singing. We're heading in to the next with new tunes and new dance partners. This ain't no Band on the Run. What we got here is a village on the move.

And it's Holiday Season.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Staying Alive

Loser's Lounge tribute to the Bee Gees, Saturday night at Joe's Pub.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Last weekend was the big old celebrations for Joe's Pub's Tenth Anniversary.

There was a fancy dinner over at Chinatown Brasserie and a gala concert, honoring Judy Collins and an after party honoring alcohol and its effects on the human body. And then, after all of that, Joe's Pub offered up ten free shows over the course of the weekend that featured Alan Toussaint, Kristen Schaal, John Cameron Mitchell, Adam Duritz, Jill Sobule, John Wesley Harding, Stew, Raoul Midon and a host of other amazing and talented folks that Joe's Pub presents as a matter of routine almost every night of the year.

I could say a whole bunch of stuff about how great the night was, but what happens at a gala stays at a gala (except for the part that ended up in a small planter in front of the Church of Latter-Day Saints on Court Street). But, I think I'm just going to point out that the people who work at Joe's Pub are the greatest collection of generous and genuine music fans you are likely to find anywhere and the fact that they are also the best actual people--folks you want to be friends with because they're nice and funny and quirky and warm and supportive--makes it all the better.

And the gala was a lot of fun, but Shanta, Sara, Jenny, Jo, Alex, Kevin A, Kevin H, KB and everyone else from the managers to the servers of Joe's Pub produce over 600 shows a year and each show has the more-often-than-not realized potential for greatness, so what would you expect? They are tireless (even when they are exhausted), they are committed (and underpaid to prove it), and totally dedicated to the artists that they present (and I include myself as one of these fortunate people).

Last year, Bill and I started talking about what a poster for the Pub might look like. Because of the incredible variety of acts that appear regularly on the stage, no one artist or look really seems to suit the place as an icon. When he left the Pub and went up to Lincoln Center, I made Bill a collage poster featuring many of the acts I had drawn over my first year at Joe's Pub as a goodbye gift. It was one solution.

But, the image above (which I drew during the load-in for Amy Winehouse's American debut at Joe's) is another solution to the challenge. I like the idea of the potential, of the empty stage waiting to become home to something special. We have made 100 prints of this image and I signed and numbered them and you can purchase them through the Pub. And I think they're headed for a T-Shirt as well.

I remember how, in his enthusiasm for Joe's Pub, John described the place as the very special club where everyone would be singing at the end of the world. That moment and that description has been in the DNA of my work there ever since. It's the place, that rarest of places, you want to be; it's a genuine home.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


On the F train last night, coming home from The Trailer Park. This guy just kept going further and further down into his coat like gravity had designs on him or something.

FYI, bartenders who have an impulse to create drinks should be encouraged but always verify. For example, the one at Trailer Park last night masterminded a little something she wanted Chris and I to try which had both Jagermesiter and Patron Silver in it, but she didn't tell us until after we drank it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Talking Points

Pascal, Bernie, Lauren, Ryan and I made some dinner and watched the candidates last night. In summary, the chicken was tasty and John McCain thinks I'm his friend, but I'm no friend of anyone that would put Sarah Palin in a position to sit at a desk in the Oval Office.

A few weeks back, when I was at the Wilco concert, I got into this conversation with a sports reporter. We were talking about towns in Upstate New York and he told me that he had recently been up to Watertown working on a story that had completely captured his attention.

Seems there was this young kid in his early teens who bowled in a league, but because of his work schedule or his religion or something, he had to bowl on off nights--sometimes he would be the only person in the bowling alley to record his score.

Well, word began to trickle out that this young man--bowling alone--had bowled the Holy Grail of Bowling, a perfect 300 game that's about as rare a thing in the bowling world as you're likely to see. The proof was on the wall, where he dutifully recorded his score every night for the rest of the league to see.

It became quite a cause for celebration.

And as the story emerged from Watertown and took its place on the National stage as such an accomplishment was bound to do, people began to want to see if the kid had serious bowling chops.

Now, the kid insisted he had done it fair and square. And the locals backed him up as you would one of your own--they were proud. ESPN got involved and flew the kid out to a tournament with bowling pros and television cameras and sports reporters and he took the lane and bowled like an amateur kid plucked from Watertown on to the world (bowling) stage might be expected to bowl. His game was less than spectacular and far from perfect and that might have been the end of it, except the kid insisted that, alone in his bowling alley back home, he had been perfect.

And people believed him.

In fact, there emerged some sympathy for his position; suddenly, there were a bunch of folks saying that if the kid said he did it, then he must have and who wouldn't have choked up with nervousness having to perform like he had to perform in front of everyone and their video cameras?

He went home, beaten but defiant and ESPN decided to send a professional bowler up to Watertown to spend a day bowling with him and see what he thought. That would settle things once and for all.

So, this guy went up to Watertown and spent a few hours bowling with the kid and then he sat down for an interview and was asked, "so, do you think that kid bowled a perfect game?" and he hemmed and hawed and said he didn't want to call anyone a liar but it didn't seem possible to him that the kid had bowled a perfect game--he just wasn't that skilled. The reporter pushed the professional bowler, "So, you think he couldn't have possibly done it?" and the professional bowler hemmed and hawed some more and said he doubted it but he couldn't say for sure because the kid was so insistent and he didn't want to call him a liar.


So, we're standing there at the Wilco concert and this reporter is telling me the story and I ask him, "So, do you think the kid bowled a perfect game?" and the reporter, who had pushed the professional bowler to answer the same question hemmed and hawed and said he didn't want to call the kid a liar, but . . . he didn't think he could have done it.

But, he said, "the kid had balls. I mean he had the whole world watching and he just stuck to his story. I mean, that's kind of impressive."

"So, how did you end the story?" I asked, "What was your take on the whole thing?" And the reporter said, "We did one of those endings where you talk about who knows what the truth is? We left it to the audience to decide."

And I said, "You should have ended it by saying that it's morning in George Bush's America where, if you can assert something and stick to your story despite all evidence to the contrary, you end up a winner."

And he considered it and nodded and we waited for the music to start.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What To Do With Michael

Mike Viola has been back in residency with Kelly Jones at Joe's Pub for the last several weeks which always make everyone at the Pub happy. They've been celebrating the completion of Kelly's solo album which Mike co-wrote and produced and it's full of pop gems like this and this. You can stream the entire album at her site.

I'm feeling particularly lucky about the timing because the opening of the Joe's Pub gallery of my drawings and Kevin Yatarola's photography is this Friday from 6:30-8:30 at the Public Theater. Then we're gonna start celebrating and come back for Mike and Kelly's show at 11:30. You can get tickets to their show here. The gallery reception is free and you're all invited.

By the way, Mike's shows tend to go late and take on a form of their own. They also tend to feature a lot of guest stars and this week the super-secret extras are going to be Mandy Moore and Tracy Bonham. At Joe's Pub. At my After The After Party. (Not that these ladies know that Mike's show is my party. It's still my party and I'll lie if I want to.)

A number of artists who I have drawn over the last couple of years at Joe's Pub were asked to share their impressions of the archiving process we have at the Pub, specifically my drawings and Kevin's photography. Several artists responded warmly, but Mike Viola's generous response is one of the nicest descriptions anyone has ever offered about my work--made all the more special for how much I admire what he does-- and I quote it here in full:

"Whoever turns up at Joe's Pub for one of my midnight shows is there to hear the music. It really feels like are no casual listeners. Maybe cause it's so late, It's Friday, the week is behind us, the decision has been made to put off going upstate for the weekend and to hang around the city for one extra late night. The room is charged with an energy that's loose and spontaneous. There's this sense of structure that eventually forms by the end, like the whole thing was planned. I guess I could be describing the way Michael draws, I mean, we're both tapping into the flow of people in the room, making something raw out of it."