If all had gone well, and if a certain jerk of a pedestrian hadn't jumped in front of the headline act's tour bus in Boston last night, I would not be here writing this right now. I would be already safely across the pedestrian bridge at SPAC, surging with concertgoing masses 70 feet above Geyser Creek toward the amphitheater seats and/or lawn blankets that would give us our vantage points for the evening's entertainment. I was looking forward (admittedly a guilty-pleasure alert)) to the soaring chords and howl of their hit from a couple years ago--Your Sex is On Fire-- by those headlining former Tennessee choir boys, one of whom is now biblically involved with a Victoria Secret's model, so I guess that song worked for him. But I also like the new title song Temple and the one that caught my attention lately from that new album -- Family Tree. Even though they are almost a pop group now, I still like their sound.
In mid-August, absent any t-storms that could rock your world, one of the best places in America to see a concert is right here in 'Toga town, as I've written about many times before (and hundreds of others probably have too). This was s'posed to be a killer triple bill that I figured to be the highlight of my local summer concert scene... and the KINGS OF LEON have done this to us here in Saratoga before, two years ago, when the lead singer went into booze rehab just before they would've come to town. This time his brother the drummer was the casualty, as it was Nate Followil's ribs that were busted up in a quick stop that injured him instead of the freakin' nutbag that tried to either drunkenly hi-jack the bus, or get killed by it. Maybe the bus driver should've just plowed into the wacko attention-seeker, and there would still be music happening on this night.
Think of the nasty and negatively expensive karma that spins out from this one guy's impulsive & asinine act-- thousands of people...maybe 15-20 thousand tonite alone... who would've been enjoying The Congos and Young The Giant as much or more than the Kings of Leon (according to my younger consultants), are now missing out on perhaps the most au courant concert of the SPAC summer. I'm not likely to get the same vibe from either Li'l Wayne vs. Drake next Tuesday, or Steely Dan at the end of August... one too young a crowd, the other almost too old and nostalgic for my taste. Since SPAC is a seasonal venue, it's not easy to re-schedule gigs here-- it costs the bands money, the promoters money, the SPAC vendors and employees lots of money, and a lot of work was done issuing tickets that won't be used, including mine-- Section 8, right in the middle of the arena, straight on view. Bummer, bummer, bummer, thricefold. The band Kongos were even supposed to be playing out of their trailer before going onstage, somewhere on the Park property, so make that fourfold. You can't re-invent a concert like that. I wish now I'd gone to see Young The Giant separately down at Upstate Concert Hall a month or so ago.
Not only the SPAC crowd in Saratoga will miss this tour from this point on, but maybe another month or more of cities that will have to cancel their shows as well... what is the extrapolated impact of one fool's action?! The only good thing here is I'm going to be a lot fresher for work tomorrow than I would have been after getting out of that chaotic back parking lot off Route 50 at midnight otherwise. O well: hell's bells to the Followils and their followers, there's nothing to be done but to go with it, or in this case, not go.
On the bright side, instead of experiencing new sonic revelations and feeling visceral exhilarations, I am also NOT getting bit by mosquitoes and standing in long lines to the john after paying for $9 beers in plastic cups. I am here in my study with a cool breeze in my face from the west-facing screens getting one more blog done, and getting ready for more music to come this month.
Next week, after a High School Reunion whose numerical value I do not even want to contemplate, I hope to hit the Rest Fest in Troy on the way home and see some true indie bands again instead of pinning my hopes on over-hyped luxury tour-bus types. I just heard a tune called "Faxes on a Yacht" by one of the 4 groups that will be there, and that spin sounds dynamite.
Maybe see you there, n'ess pah?
Till next time, this one was just a brief one...
Copyright 2014 by Wayne for WaynesWord2 at saratoga.com
Prelude-- My Life With A Sequence of Cats...
I have pretty much always had cats in my apartment or house, since college. Diring Junior High and High School, I grew up with Spooky
-- one a grey tiger cat we found one Hallowe'en who lasted with us, and later kept my dad company, for 19 years... and the other a beautifully ruffed female tuxedo cat who turned into the prototype Russian princess, plump and vain, wanting her belly to be rubbed whenever you passed by. Fuzz
had the softest fur I've ever felt on any kind of cat, and she loved to let you stroke it.
Once on my own I had twin male cats dubbed Lucius
, the latter of whom was the only feline I ever found willing to go not only on nature walks with me, but whom actually would follow when I cross-country skied, hopping in the wake of my trail. I was crushed when each of them respectively disappeared during my early twenties, when I rented a rustic shack in Greenfield Center. If you don't "fix" your male cats, I learned, they are prone to taking off on their own once the dark urges strike.
In my extended bachelor years I co-habitated with two fine and intelligent creatures named Smudge
-- pure white with a touch of ash on her forehead-- and Ruckus,
another female who was the perfect "writer's cat"-- perched Buddha-like on the edge of my desk, loving the clack of my typewriter keys, how quaint that seems now, in the age of largely quiet keyboards. They lasted from my funky bohemian pad on the backside of a Nelson Ave. house where I rented, and made it well into my early family years on Locust Grove Road, when we sprouted a couple more children to join in with my stepson and wife, Melinda. The cats had grudgingly relinquished, or rather shared, my devoted attentions to other people, babies and toddlers to follow, but never really forgave me for giving up our idyllic (for them, anyway) bachelor-with-cats lifestyle we enjoyed in town. They enjoyed the 1/2 lot bordering on a farm, with its monster willow tree, great for climbing and perching... and they caught more mice and shrews and other small rodents than they ever would've found on the manicured eastside of Saratoga.
As with most cats, they required very little in the way of full-time maintenance-- other than feeding them twice a day, giving them water and then a bit of milk now and then, and some regular petting and low-key affection on the couch while I was reading or watching hoop,
there was precious little to worry about. I could go about my work and play, come and go all day, without "worrying what they were up to..." It seems so easy in retrospect.
In my apartment I had a litter box to deal with, of course, but once on the fringe of town with the bigger yard in the first home we bought, these civilized pets would just let us know when it was time to go out, and discretely conducted their business, no muss no fuss, and we never seemed to see it. When Smudge
was about a dozen years old, however, our proximity to a very busy country road caught up with her, and the squeal of brakes and a thud one day, with a subsequent knock on the door from a distraught but conscientious driver, led me to see her prone body and blue eyes glazing over in front of me, and I sobbed for most of the rest of that day as I buried her next to the blue spruce in the front yard. Ruckus
never seemed the same after that, always skittish around me and the kids, like she didn't belong there anymore, and sadly she met the same fate, in almost the same spot, a few months later. After that, we stopped with having cats for a spell. We had enough to deal with on the home front with 3 boys to raise, and then a baby daughter. Pets were a luxury we did not need at that time.
When my dad died in May of 2001, however, my sisters came up from Atlanta and Bolinas, CA respectively for the services and reception, and on a nostalgia trip down to Ravena where we had grown up, and then out in the country of Alcove and Coeymans Hollow where we'd had many friends, we came upon an old abandoned farmhouse that Kara wanted some pictures of... it was classic old clapboard, covered with vines but had the best collection of fragrant lilac bushes that late May in upstate could bring. While cutting off a few clusters, a soul-full meow emerged from the undergrowth, and a loveable little kitten came our way-- I scooped her up and named her Lilac
, and she rode home with us back to Saratoga, on my shoulder, purring the whole way. My daughter at 3 and a half was then old enough to appreciate such a pet and Lilac became a beloved part of the household for two and a half years hence. When we moved to our new, much bigger, more distant home in Middle Grove, however, Lilac also took off into the adjacent woods and never came back, like my male cats in Greenfield Center had done, albeit this one had been neutered. Bella's grief was sad to behold. A few months later, our first spring in the new home, Bella and Miles talked to me into visiting the Adirondack Save-A-Stray shelter in Corinth, "just to look." My wife and Daryn were off on a school trip to Boston. Well, just looking led to the inevitable. In a raised ranch full of about 200 fee-roaming cats vying for or ignoring our attention, there was one, in a cage, who seemed smarter and more intent on getting a new owner than all the other jaded foster pets combined.
She looked a lot like my original FUZZ
cat-- sleek black everywhere except for the white neck and belly, and her face had eyes that bore right into mine as we passed by, and she reached out as if to say "You gotta get me outa here, man!"
Behind her in the cage was apparently her brother, a more laid-back version, just laying there, yawning and unconcerned. It turned out they had been unceremoniously dropped off in the driveway the night before, and had not been acclimated to the rest of the cat population yet, in this mewling cluster of unclaimed felines. Having viewing the entire harem of furry creatures, some affectionate, some prickly, we went back and claimed the 2 we saw first as we entered, and released them from their temporary cage. Kelsey
was the female who got our attention, and Mello
was the cool and casual male, and in 2004 they came home to join us, as the "two cats in the yard" that Crosby, Stills, and Nash had sung about back in the '70's.
Flash forward 10 years.... Kelsey
is still with us, now just as plump as Fuzz
ever was, well-fed and handsomely rewarded for her audacious sales pitch back at the shelter. Up until recently, she ruled the interior roost-- adorning whatever bed or piece of furniture she wanted, lounging like a Kardshian, as if her supposed beauty entitled her to eat and sleep with impunity.Mello
was always more of an outdoor guy. The woman who ran the shelter of course cautioned us not to let either of them roam freely outdoors when we signed the "agreement" to adopt them. "We do not save these cats just so they can become coyote food!"
she sternly warned us. I had lived in the city and on the edge of town and in the deep country, and my cats had always been allowed to go outside, I told her, and I wasn't about to de-claw them and let them become effete. That was not their nature, in my mind, and I was not an old lady. She scolded me some more and we made our donation and left.Mello
came and went as he pleased for a good four years or so. In a neighborhood of a few leashed dogs, he walked down the median with his tail held high, and galloped away safely if the dogs ever got loose and chased him. He laughed at their dog nature. He stayed out all night, and caught many vermin-- mice, moles, shrews, voles, and even, much to my chagrin, chipmunks and small rabbits. He was the top f the food chain for a while, until the day when I'd heard quite a commotion overnight and found him the next morning, in shock and not moving, under the deck, his tail dis-engaged. Took him to the vet to find out that he'd been attacked by a fox, most likely, or a wild dog, who had yanked his tail out of his socket and caused internal injuries. Life in the wild had caught up with him. "National Geographic" in our own backyard, I called it. He was never the same, and his tail never rose striaght up behind him again. A year or two later, at a time when we'd adopted another barn cat named Mika and watched her have a quick litter, he felt a bitter jealousy that he wasn't the alpha cat anymore, and also disappeared one night-- we think in a meeting with that same fox who almost did him in the first time. Another sad passing of one very cool cat, and perhaps the male cat I'd bonded with most closely in my life.
The barn cat Mika
was a reluctantly accepted gift from a neighbor, and she was at least half-feral, so wasn't allowed in the house much, mostly living under the back deck. She, I swear, bred with a strange lynx I had seen briefly on the edge of the deck at twilight one evening... and when she bore a litter of four kittens, we named one female Minx, one male Binx (a gorgeous blondish-red cat), and gave the other two away before attaching names. At one time, during the cruel recession, we were feeding five cats or more on a daily basis.
Long story short, Minx
is still with us. Mika
ran off into the wild-- perhaps looking for that Lynx again?-- after we spayed her, and that money was not well spent. Binx
was beloved by both my sons, but was just like Mello
in that he always wanted to be outside, and never cared much for domestic affection and the life of hearth-&-home. He only lasted a year with us before succombing to the predators of the wild out back, we think. His passing made both my sons cry, and Daryn still perpetuates his image and memory on his laptop's screen-saver.
He could've been the coolest of them all, and was the most distinctive looking of any we've owned. I still deeply regret not getting him neutered early on, and making a domesticated male house cat out of him-- but would HE have wanted that?
So now, or at least up until May 31st of 2014, we had just the two surviving cats-- Kelsey
a vintage 2004 model, and Minx,
born in April 2009 as the runt of the 1st litter Mika
has become the closest approximation to Smudge
I've had, as a cat who will camp lightly on my chest as I nap on the couch, riding the slow waves of my ribcage breathing. Like the venerated Mello
and her sorely-missed brother Binx,
however, she prefers the outdoor world to the comforts of indoors, aside from thunderstorm weather, or winter blizzards. Her fur is also just about as soft as Fuzz's
remains intelligent yet aloof. She considers herself as entitled as any Millennial teen. Her eyes are the most compelling of any non-human creature I've met, but only Daryn feels the deep bond with her as a pet-- the rest of us not so much.
Which leads us to the dilemma of this past May...
For years I've had to hear from Bella and Miles, and to some extent, my wife--- "When Can We Get A Dog??" "Dad won't let us get a Dog!" "I wish we'd had a Dog when we were younger..."
I had always employed the HIGH-MAINTENANCE argument--- when we were shuttling kids to 2 or 3 different schools non-stop and following Miles's basketball exploits year-round, or I was working 60 hour weeks and Mom was doing retail work up in Queensbury, it was never even an option to consider a dog.
I also used the glib rejoinder-- When they invent a poop-less dog, I will allow you to get one...
Sometimes I would substitute the word "bark-less."
For a while Bella had pictures on her phone of those little toy-dog things that Paris Hilton would fit into a purse-- no barking and apparently nothing much to poop either, except maybe little antiseptic pellets. I thought that would be all right, until I found out they cost a grand or two just for acquisition fees. No, not going to happen.
Then we talked about labs and collies, and I flashed back on a boxer my parents had when I was about 2 years old, and a floppy-eared beagle I loved who died of distemper when I was about 7. Since then, I had never had one in the house, it was too sad of a memory, and we just were not cut out to be dog people, I thought. Even though my favorite writer Jim Harrison lauded the virtues of dog ownership, I could not picture it myself. Even though my sisters and most of my best friends had also tried to tell me how much I would love the mutual affection a dog would provide, I was never one to be swayed...
But on one fateful, weak-hearted day in late May of this year, all that changed....
(Stayed tuned for Part 2...Dog Day Acquisition)...
Copyright Wayne Perras 2014
My life has been a constant vacillation between competing urges-- wrestling with desire to be in the middle of the madding throng... (say, recently, on the dance floor
listening to a way-loud Funk Evolution at Dango's in July, or soon at Bailey's outdoor cafe in the middle of August, or anytime at Gaffney's or City Tavern if you really want a mobscene...), versus chilling on the homefront in the hills nine miles out.,. where everything seems green and peaceful. It's nice to have the choice. And on this blog, at various times, I've extolled the virtues of both possibilities.
Some urban dwellers prefer a life where staring at stars or a sunset from your front porch has no appeal, and life involves nonstop action, entertainment, partying...with little trace of nature in the picture. Plenty of rural folk, however, could not take the pace, density or intensity of even a city like Saratoga Springs in the summer mode, much less NYC or DC or Boston. To each his own, but I like both.
As I write, the small city is at maximum activity, and it takes three changes of a light to cross Broadway at Church Street. Tourists and track visitors alike take the peripatetic stroll up and down Broadway and its side streets, filling outdoor cafes and whatever restaurants are within walking distance to their parked cars. Locals know that strolling from home is simpler than driving many times. Certainly, if you are trying to get around for real estate appointments or other forms of travel, you have to try to work around or avoid the obvious times of high traffic... like around 6 pm six days a week, when the race track crowd hits the streets-- clogging East Ave., Union Ave., Circular Street, Lake Ave... Nelson, Lincoln, Crescent, and of course Broadway especially (Route 9), as well as Route 50, which splits off from 9, going either north or south. Today however the Bolshoi Ballet had an afternoon performance at SPAC which let out at 5 pm and clogged both Ballston Ave. heading back into downtown Saratoga (a mile of gridlock) before the track even let out. I was trying to get to Ballston Spa and going south was no treat either, with a two-mile backup of the sort one usully sees after late rock concerts of 20,000 or more fans tries to exit all at once. I never made it to the appointment, unforeseen logjam gridlock.
But I U-turned out of it and headed west, where the touristos and SPAC-crowd don't know to go..... it becomes rural in a hurry, and the roadrage and frustration melt away... as the scenery turns greenery.
I have some great client friends now named Benji and Robin, recently married, who just this month moved up here in a life-changing mode... leaving behind an 800 sq ft apartment near Dupont Circle in D.C. for a 23-acre organic farmstead (with 2200 sq ft house) they bought in the rustic zone I'm describing, west of Ballston Spa. They went from walking to the subway in the steamy miasma of the Nation's capital to their chosen field of dreams where they are now learning to hitch bush-hogs to tractors and disc the soil with tillers, and collecting currants and berries of all kinds, and planning by this time next year to be on the Farmer's Market circuit themselves.
They, however, are music fans themselves, and not averse to testing how many decibels of indie music they can handle. They liked my blog when they found a reference to Valerie June, whom they'd just seen live. Robin and I had compared notes on music and many other topics in our first chat, and I'd had a good time trying to convince her that she and her new husband would NOT be moving to a cultural wasteland if indeed he-- a brilliant Tibetan scholar-- accepted a new position at Skidmore. When I mentioned my early affinity for the beat poets of the '50's, she mentioned than Benji was related to one of the peripheral writers of that crowd, a friend of Lew Welch and Gary Snyder and Ginsberg and Burroughs and even Jack Kerouac himself. It was a serendipitous match of personalities, and I gave them the pitch that, short of Boulder or Denver or the west coast itself (think Vancouver, Portland, or Seattle,and the Bay area), Saratoga might be one of the best places to illustrate the balance of downtown culture in immediate proximity to natural retreats.
A week or two after they had closed on their property, and had the requisite visits from relatives and close family well-wishers, I caught them on a relaxed evening where we could play three-way Petanque-- a French spin-off of bocci-- in the driveway near the barn, in hilarious fashion.
I took pics of them together as we soaked our dusty feet in the cool blue swimming pool which had been an un-sought bonus to their purchase, and asked if they had sent any slightly-gloating selfies back to their friends inside the Beltway. They looked glowingly at each other and admitted, No, not yet... and when I inquired why, they said, well, we don't really want to brag about how HAPPY we are... they wouldn't understand.
I am not saying this is a trend of any sort-- it is just a choice that happened to make these two people content. The irony is that they had looked at multiple other homes in Saratoga proper, Ballston Spa and Round Lake villages, and the one they bought was significantly different than everything else they looked at. They could have gone the route of "being within walking distance of Broadway" which is so in vogue right now that it constitutes about half my real estate business. Instead, they opted for the 60's or 70's idyll-- back to the land. They speak fondly of acquiring chickens and honey bees and maybe a goat or two, and clearing more and more overgrown acreage each year from here on. They will be cutting firewood for the woodstove in the fall once Benji is back from Vienna, where he will be lecturing on his specialty, the lives of certain esoteric Buddhist masters of Tibet and Nepal.
So this to me is akin to the best of The Dharma Bums, my favorite book in my late teens-- wherein Japhy Ryder (who was really Gary Snyder) tries to convince the narrator (Kerouac himself) of the virtues of early rising, survival skills and agility in the wilds of the High Sierras and Rockies, when Jack would have rather been in the jazz dives of Denver or San Francisco, drinking red wine into the wee hours of morning, and partying with the rebels and hedonists of the beat generation, whose grandchildren now populate the downtown post-midnight revelry of Saratoga Springs to varying degrees of frivolity, seven nights a week. The scene is there if you want it to be, but if not, it doesn't take long to get out to the QUIET, to re-charge.
I'm not saying this as a shill for the Chamber of Congress, nor as a Realtor giving you the hype on why you should live here, I'm just alluding to the reasons I do.
Peace, and thanks for reading...
Wayne, on the outskirts of Saratoga, 7/31/14
As I began to write this, we were into early June, and as of 4 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon-- when most upstate towns are in a semi-somnolent state, the Broadway Saratoga scene was bustling and jammed like mid-summer already. Anyone transported here who didn't know the town would wonder-- "What holiday is this? Am I missing something?" Or, if they knew about SPAC they might wonder if there was a major concert going on that made the downtown population swell like this. No, it is just another late spring day in Saratoga Springs, and this is how the local inhabitants and random passersby hang out here.
The previous weekend, in late May, the Dave Matthews Band appeared for a two-day stint at SPAC; in less than a month PHISH would be appearing for the 3-day 4th of July extravaganza. But there is nothing big going on at the State Park south of town today. The third race of the Triple Crown the Belmont) was yesterday and I'm sure the horsey-crowd was partying hard last evening, but this is the aftermath of that, and the real horse people don't show up here till mid-July.
Skidmore College students have largely left by this time of year, and local high school kids haven't graduated yet, so they weren't contributing to the hordes downtown I wouldn't think. But there is a magnetism of our town's primary Boulevard which draws the traffic of both motorists and pedestrians, to make it feel like a thriving small city on just a "normal" Sunday in the Northeast's hippest enclave.
But sometimes, for music at least, we have to venture a bit farther, and out of our comfort zone, to see some truly good stuff. So, about two weeks ago now (as I write this) that it was MY turn to Get Lucky, as Daft Punk sang, and I won some tickets to see The Head and the Heart-- a six-piece Seattle band of some note-- down in Clifton Park, at Upstate Concert Hall-- which I hadn't been to since it was called Northern Lights, however long ago that was.
Memorial Day was the end of a 3-day weekend heralding summer's imminent arrival of course, but for me was a Monday when I still had to work. "Your day off is my day on..." I used to say early in my career, volunteering to give up my holidays like a dutiful bodhisattva. Sunday had involved 8 hours of sun doing yard work so I could easily have passed on the freebies and stayed home in boring middle-aged fashion... but with the help of some post-supper coffee rallied to make the trip 20 miles south or so. From where I live west of Saratoga you can bypass the Northway and head south on Middle Line Rd to Route 50 and swing onto Rt 146A to make your way to the unlikely shopping plaza location that houses perhaps the best concert venue in Saratoga County, other than the seasonal glory of SPAC itself.
We got there after the opening band had played already and the parking lot was full-- certainly an anamoly for any other shopping plaza in upstate NY on a holiday Monday evening. We passed through the burly bouncers and ID-checkers at the 1entry, who seemed bored that the crowd that evening was so civilized and un-rowdy. With the stage straight back, most of the standing room area was jammed full even though there was no sign of the headliners yet. I'd read the place could hold a max capacity of 1400 but it looked liked maybe half that to me. Not hard to grab a beer at the U-shaped bar in the middle of the place... not a heavy-drinking crowd, apparently. A random survey told me that more than half the audience was female-- not the average punk- or rage-music aggregation which would've given the bald/buff bouncers more conflict to deal with.
My exposure to the band-of-the evening was via the two radio portals I keep talking about on this blog-- WEXT, a sponsor of the event and source of my free tix-- and WEQX, the independent Vermont station which procliams itself "the true alternative." I had purchased the 2013 release from The Head and the Heart a few days before-- a Sub Pop production dubbed "Let's Be Still." Out of the 13 songs thereon, three had grabbed my attention the most-- the killer "hit" was the infectious SHAKE, while "Another Story" was quite different as a beguiling break-up tune, and I'd been seduced while writing one night by the last song on the CD-- "GONE" which built to a swirling quasi-orchestral climax. I can't say I was knocked out by the album overall-- nice harmonies, but more ballads than upbeat tunes-- not my favorite mix as a rule. Hence, I didn't feel like a fanatic fan going in, and in looking around the Hall that night, it seemed I was outnumbered by those who knew all the words...
But once onstage, "From Seattle, Washington..." as Master of Ceremonies Chris Wienk intro'd them..."The Head and the Heart!"-- they got right to it. Some groups have their big radio tune batting clean-up-- 3rd or 4th song in to their set-- or worse yet, they save it for the very end. Here, the tune I'd come to hear was batting lead-off...
"SHAKE" starts out with a big, firm TOM TOM beat like a call to a POWWOW, a ritual dance, or a HOEDOWN, then comes the bouncing pogo-stick bass line that buoyed the crowd instantly... me included. With a great set of lyrics concerning a brief "one-day" stand, it became a natural sing-a-long in a hurry:
"And the memories we've maaaaade
Will never be lost, no... oh!
And the look on your face--
We both knew the cost
But the wind, yes the Wind keeps
The mass of those in front of us, much closer to the stage, was just a swelling clot of bobbing heads (and hearts, come to think of it)) as the ode to evanescent love payed out, culminating in the last chorus, in which the narrator/composer/singer asserts his indelible imprint on his lover's life:
"Even if it was a mistake, I can't forget your face
Even it was just a day, you won't forget the man
Who's making you SHAKE!
and the song revvs up to orgasmic fun and fury as we all mutually REPEAT:
Who's making you SHAKE!
I'm making you SHAKE
I'm making you SHAKE!!!
What a great sweaty climax on the first five-minute song, I thought. Good start, and it eliminated the suspense of waiting for it.
Next song up was called "Ghosts"-- a jaunty tune about death and moving on. From their stage presence and tone, my wife notes, "This group sounds happy..." as opposed to the subject matter, I'm thinking, nice contrast. The third song, however, was a sweetly mournful one called "Another Story..." which I took to be the less-contented side of failed romance. Along with SHAKE, this is getting radio play locally on both Exit 97.7 and WEQX, which is kind of surprising in that it is a piano-driven ballad...with a lilting upper-range chorus, and Charity Rose Thielen's haunting violin lines. This song has grown into one of my favorites from the CD, beautiful and deep. The "AHHHH-YOOOOOO" choruses were like a signature yowl from this group's harmonic palette.
The next song of their set was familiar from their first CD-- update singalong called
"Lost in My Mind..." a title I can relate to all too well:
Put your dreams away for now,
I won't see you for a while,
I am lost in my mind,
I get lost in my mind...
O my Brother, your wisdom is older than me--
O my brother, don't worry, don't worry about me...
Then comes the tom-toms again, heralding the blue-collar hymnal section, which the crowd took to more enthusiastically than any church-goers would:
How's that brick layin' comin'??
How's your engine runnin'??
Are your hands gettin' filled??
Won'tchu tell me my brother??
"Cuz there are STAAAAARRRRR's
UP A- BUUUUVVVE...
(the whole place singing this, surprisingly harmonic)
...& we can start
And the communal singalong had once again raised the hairs on my arms and gave me a few moments of goosebumps-- not bad for a suburban shopping mall experience on a Sunday night.
As I sipped a beer and soaked in the next few songs, with opening lines like:
"There's no such thing as love" and "I wuz burned out and lost..." the spell diminished a bit, but that was all right. Can't be ecstatic all the damn time. I scribbled my typical garbled bar-notes as I watched the enticing Ms. Thielen saw and slither with her violin bow..
"Echoes of long-gone 70's bands I remember... Renaissance, with Annie Haslem playing the sultry front-lady part, or a group called It's A Beautiful Day, who had a quasi-FM-hit with a song called White Bird... "
Then suddenly it was time for the "last tune" (i.e. before the encore) which turned out, after a somewhat dreary start, to be a song worthy of closing time in an Irish bar-- "Rivers and Roads", to wit:
"A year from now, we'll all be gone.
All our friends will move away.
And they're going to better places.
But our friends will be gone away...
Nothing is as it's been.
And I miss your face like hell.
And I guess it's just as well.
But I miss your face like hell.
Rivers and roads, rivers and roads,
Rivers till I meet you."
It was moving, as a live tune, though it had left me cold on the album, first time. And not too many rock groups have the nerve to finish off a set in a capella fashion.
The encore sequence began with a solo acoustic version of the title tune, "Let's Be Still" by (I'm guessing at the name here) Jonathon Russell. But the more exciting tune to follow started slow and mournful too--
I wish I was a slave / to an age-old trade,
like riding around on rail cars
and workin' long days...
Lord have mercy on my rough 'n rowdy ways...(repeat)
And it turned out to be that so-familiar tune that came out a few years ago, and already feels a hundred years old... "Down in The Valley." The recurring Tom-Tom drum picked up the pace again, as the singer's voice gains enthusiasm and traction:
I am on my way, I am on my way,
I am on my way back to where I started--
California, Oklahoma, and all the places
I ain't never been to--
But down in the valley, with
these are the places you will
find me hiding. These are
the places I will always go...
And I thought that fine tune would be their last, but there was one more. It was the final cut on the new CD, and it had attracted me at my desk when I first listened to it-- dubbed simply "GONE." As with the dynamics of the live concert itself, the tune was almost orchestral and non-rockish, and yet grew with intensity to hit a collaborative climax that was unexpectedly complex... and the words, when I read them reflect the name of the band, indeed:
Whether it's your head or your heart
And you're too damn scared to start
it's in your mind and your soul
But you just don't know where to go
It's in your head and your heart
And you're too damn scared to start
It's in your mind and your soul
But you just don't know where to go
Now you're Gone
and so were they, abruptly, Gone.
The sad thing was, we had Meet and Greet rights for the band afterwards, but didn't connect with MC Chris Wienk quick enough to take advantage of that once we slipped outside for some fresh air and came back in. I wouldn't have know what to say-- "I wasn't wild about the new album right away, other than Shake and Gone...but man, in concert you were freakin' GREAT..." would've been an inappropriate (duh) fan reaction, so at least I didn't embarrass myself by saying something stupid. We rode home happily and listened to both CDs in the car, having picked up the first one with the strange front cover at the merch table. Having studied the lyrics and recalled the feeling of the live concert itself, their music became more amazing and intelligent to me, with lots of hooks and triggers that now enchant me. I would love to see them again.
PS-- Since seeing this concert I caught BECK at MassMoCa on June 24th which was amazing and also gave me a new appreciation for his mastery and breadth of catalog over the past 20 years... more on that some other time.
Sorry the delay is so great between posts... will try to speed up production...now that Saratoga is in full summer bloom.
The Slowest Blogger in the World
Wayne Perras, for WaynesWord2
Saratoga Springs, NY
For reasons I won't get into here, I've not published a bit for this blog in 5 months...I know.
It's time to start again. I had to resolve and get beyond some old karmic debts of in my rear view mirror and get squared away in my rejuvenated real estate business at 38 High Rock Ave (where I've been since late last September, 2013) before I could indulge in the relative frivolity of writing about music and culture and places I love... Also had to simply get through a brutal winter, which, for a lot of us, proved to be an elemental challenge to the practice of real estate. At one time, say late February or March, if I'd had a Twitter account, I'd have declared: It's hard, up here in the North Country, to get any business rhythm going unless you're a snowplow operator... though that seems nostalgic and somewhat whiny in the retrospective mirror, now tha, in late May,t the temp is in the 70's, finally. Still, the massive man-made snow-hill dubbed Mount Middle Grove in the Town Park only recently receded fully into the ground as of May 5th.
But I had to put my head down and work workaholic hours, making a New Years vow not to drink a beer or a glass of wine from Jan. 1 until I felt I was out of the woods, so to speak, in my life and career. While others of my age and ilk took off on vacations, my family and I stuck it out in the north country this year. My world was limited on a north-south axis from Delmar to Hague, and east-west from Troy to the Sacandaga region. Saratoga is the fulcrum of all that, and for most intents and purposes, I didn't leave town much in early 2014. It's a hundred and two days into the year as I write this, and I'm just now looking up. Recovery doesn't come to the passive.
I didn't blog about music as I wasn't really seeing any-- once again WEXT was my audial pipeline to what was going on...the quirky pop tune "Southern Sun" from Australian duo
Boy & Bear was one of the radio highlights in early spring, in my car or at home... but otherwise I was just watching a ton of basketball on TV in my office during evening hours, as my only allowable narcotic and relaxant. Mostly paid attention to the NBA this year, although the NCAA Tourney was a grueling crapshoot during March Madness too, and I saw a few exciting High School games featuring teams from Spa Catholic, Hoosic Valley, Lake George, and a killer bunch from Scotia, who amazingly won the Class A Hoop Title for all of NY State.
(I still may try to recap all that on another website, but not here,)
There is no hangover from a hoop addiction, however, so I was emailing & texting clients and prospects till 11 or 12 at night and resuming at 5 or 6 in the morning. I became the real estate fanatic I had been at my peak a decade or more ago, and let my light shine out from under the bushel as much as I could until the spring market arrived.
Since then there have been a few "watershed" events... the first was a phenomenal concert at the renowned TROY MUSIC HALL on April 12th, featuring two of the few, if not only, SOLO local performers I would be inclined to pay to see-- SEAN ROWE, and MARYLEIGH ROOHAN. This was perhaps the only time in my life I will think far enough ahead to grab front row seats in a major concert hall-- and it scored me big points with my wife, since I designated it the "modified, officially revised" date of our Anniversary.
In that she is a huge Sean Rowe fan, and virtually melts at the sound of his raspy baritone, this was one of the better gifts I'd come up with during our recent years of austerity, with two boys in college and a daughter with extensive taste still at home.
We had seen SEAN blow away the room like a one-man tornado at the Caffe Lena last February, a little over a year before, and the chance to hear him in his own hometown, during his first historic performance in the acoustic elegance of this Second Avenue 1920's HALL was a notable treat indeed.
I won't launch into a review of the concert, belatedly, here, but Greg Haymes wrote a pretty good one for the Times-Union the next day. He said, however, that Rowe had performed a few too many cover tunes.... though he admitted that the Richard Thompson epic guitar workout -- the infamous "1952 Vincent Black Lightning"--was a highlight of the evening, just as I had witnessed at Caffe Lena as the final sweaty climax at Lena's-- the tornado referenced above. In addition to that, Sean played a great growling, guttural version of The River, which more than a few Springsteen fans appreciated, and also the Howlin' Wolf tune "SPOONFUL" in which he sounded like the white grandson of the Wolf himself, and which I felt might have been my personal favorite, since I love the Cream version I heard first, in junior high, before I had a clue what it meant. Spoonful is about addiction of all sorts-- everything from sugar to smack, from booze to "tea", is mentioned, with the baddest of them all-- a woman's precious love-- the kicker to them all. Rowe sang with intrinsic knowledge of that kind of yearning and withdrawal that cannot be faked. To hear true blues like that in a classically-timbered enclave was remarkable, and jarring. No whiskey-swilling or beer-bottle singalongs in this venue.
In addition to Sean's music-- with his precisely cross-patterned duct-taped guitar still in tow-- and his formal attire (lol) of flannel and black tee-- his between-song patter was fluid, well-timed, and natural. Whereas at Lena's he seemed to be more confessional as to the woes of being on tour a bit too long on the road, away from his wife, he seemed to be in more familial mode, closer to home, and regaling us about his parenting skills--
"Sometimes as a dad you have to use a little "reverse role modeling," he told us slyly..."I was out for a walk with my 7 year old daughter, and said, why don'chu go over there and give that dog a KICK, and she wouldn't do it, so there ya go. Some useful parenting info to take home with you..."
Stories of a former favorite nun at a Troy school ensued-- "She called all of us boys "Master" when she read the roll call-- which was fine for me--"Master Rowe" but I felt bad for my buddy Bill Bates when she got to him..." He let that one sink in while he fiddled with tuning his guitar.
...And, since we were at an event sponsored by and a Benefit for Ia Rural Land Preservation group, he told stories of his early days spent in the back-country of Rensselaer County told with deadpan gusto: "I guess I coulda used a little more guidance...since my way of learning about nature was putting cricket heads on top of grasshoppers, stuff like that..."
Needless to say, he was quite at home there, like a natural vaudevillian on that stage.
MaryLeigh Roohan-- who we'd seen give a great CD release party at The Parting Glass in Saratoga earlier in the winter-- was poised and note-perfect in her opening act that night. Whereas Rowe wielded his acoustic (plugged into his amp, whom he introduced as "his band") like a weapon he used for emphasis, MaryLeigh strums a strat as a harmonic counterpart to her exquisite voice, on all her well-crafted tunes, which showcase her resonant voice, and radiant upper ranges. She took full advantage of the legendary acoustics of that venerable hall-- and then humbly proclaimed it to be by far the highlight of her career so far. At 22 (or maybe 23 by now?) she seemed destined for such a stage, and though a bit coy, protesting her nervousness, delivered her goods with confidence. We saw her and her boyfriend later at a boutique-tavern down the street a couple hours later and she was still clearly glowing from the experience. I know she converted a ton of new fans that evening, and pleased those that knew her already. When she hit the high notes of her best tune yet-- "BABY YOU SHOULD KNOW"-- I'd Give You The Wooorrrrrlld If I Could... it was goose-bump material, angelic.
We came away with a whole new appreciation of downtown Troy after strolling the streets for a while in the post-euphoria of the concert. I must admit, the esoteric beers we drank that night-- 102 days into the year-- tasted so good it was tough to stop with just one or two...but still had to drive the 40 minutes or so back home to the western edge of Saratoga's vale. A concert event like this was well worth the motoring.
Once we got into May, our KW Realty Saratoga office had a few people (including me) sign up to take part in what was dubbed the TreeToga Festival, sponsored by the excellent group Sustainable Saratoga, in conjunction with the DPW Department of Saratoga Springs itself-- headed by Skip Scirocco . It was a ritualized tree planting ceremony-- led by retired EnCon Forest Ranger and longtime Saratogian Rick Fenton, and Tom Denny, as head of Sustainable Saratoga. Our group, after a bit of speech-making and instructional guidance, was assigned the planting of three trees-- 2 tulip poplar (Liriodendron) saplings and a larger on I was told was basswood (actually an American Sentry Linden--(Tilla Americana)-- across from The Saratogian office building on Lake Ave, just below the Police Station. The idea was to re-populate the in-town street-scape with new arboreal species to replace some of the dead or diseased trees that have been removed in recent years. Shade, beauty, and oxygen production are the obvious benefits, and providing native species to counteract some of the invasive varieties was part of the picture too. Although I showed up for a pre-scheduled afternoon listing appointment later that day a bit scruffy and dirty under the fingernails, it was still worth it, although I did not in fact win out on the listing.
There were a lot of cool people there that day, parents with their kids, older retired folks who had grandchildren living in the area, and lots of young urban professionals who had consciously chosen to live in Saratoga in the past decade, plus some who had grown up here, moved away, and had come back. Tough I'd been here since the late 70's, it was the first time for me to participate in something like this, and I commend the city for budgeting for the trees, many of which still have their tags on the branches, as they start their re-growth in this wonderful small city.
One last watershed event of a family sort was a couple weeks later, when my wife and daughter and I ventured early on Sunday May 18th to Syracuse to witness my son's graduation from LeMoyne College. This was a defining watershed event for me, as Miles had felt the same tugs and distractions that I had felt at college-- the same temptations to quit and go back later, or maybe take a year off, or transfer, or whatever-- but he stuck with it on graduated "on time", as I've been told is somewhat rare these days. I had been supportive but somewhat nonchalant during his career there, but his last semester, coinciding with my workaholic phase in early 2014, was his most grueling in the study of Information Systems at The Madden School of Business. I had talked him off the ledge on a few evenings when he was facing multiple all-nighters to get classwork projects, papers, and final exams completed in time to "walk the stage" in the cap-and-gown with his friends and classmates. It was harrowing like most worthy endeavors and I applaud him and his classmates for completed the 4-year cycle-- shout out to Keaton Woods-- his long-time teammate from Catholic Central-- John Rogan, one of his good friends from the Saratoga area, and Jamie Patchett, his lovely girlfriend from a fine family up in Hague on Lake George. You (collectively) did it! Your future awaits....
SARATOGA SYNOPSIS--- May 2014--- Quick snapshots:
To move beyond the personal to the Saratoga-centric, a lot has changed and taken shape since I last wrote on this blog---- among the most notable--
SAVE SARATOGA has indeed fought off the dragon of Vega-style Gambling from the city limits, and defeated the siting of the state-anointed Casino within the City limits. More on what this means, and what challenges remain in this realm, on another occasion.
The Pavillion Hotel has been un-shrouded of its winter-long plastic-wrap cocoon and completed on 30 Lake Avenue...a beautiful monument in the downtown landscape... on the site of a now-long forgotten Mobil Station... right alongside the venerable Parting Glass Pub, still there.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel is framed and towering on Congress Street, a block from Broadway on the westside, also nearing completion later this year...a Bast-Hatfield Company project.
The Northshire Bookstore and Criterion Bowtie Cinemas are now anchoring fixtures on the cultural and architectural downtown scene, and fully dressed-out.
15 Church Street--a low-key restaurant facade-- has been tastefully created out of a longtime brick shell, just behind the Post Office, close to Broadway...also Bast Hatfield, with architectural design by John Muse.
More to come...!!!
(Wayne is back!)
Take care, see you soon...
So much going on, good to have a lull-- "What a lovely day to be lonelay." as Broken Bells sing. For me the Saturday before Christmas forms such a day-- not too many demands from the real estate public, nor current clients. Everyone shopping or otherwise occupied. A day to stay home for me. A day to lay back, contemplate and plan and stop being a Type A, to breathe deep instead. Take a day off from being court jester in every meeting; or conversely a calm counselor to nervous or uncertain clients. This is when musing about (and listening to) music can come to the forefront as I have the house largely to myself. I could write about The Saratoga Casino controversy that is brewing, or about what great movies are showing at downtown's new Bowtie Theater... but for now I will stick with my impressions of a MUSICAL LIST recently compiled by WEXT-- my favorite FM radio station, as most of you know from this blog.
MUSIC NOTES... and Reflections on "The Top 500 Groups"
As I write this, WEXT has just concluded a week-plus run of broadcasting their choices for The Top 500 Bands in History. I could go on and write a book at length about my reactions to that-- mostly eupohoric or at least good, but some stingingly bad, and some just ugly. Let's just say that a list that includes Asia, Bread, Kansas, & The Trans-Siberian Orchestra well ahead of Sly & The Family Stone, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Stevie Ray Vaughn's Double Trouble, and The National-- just to name a few-- clearly implies that they did not ask MY opinion. Thankfully I was not listening when they played TSO, so didn't barf in my car, or office.
But the good outweighed the bad. I could elaborate for pages here but I'm already aware my blogs are mostly too long to tolerate. Start with the WEXT (97.7 FM) Top Ten--
Predictably # 1-- The Beatles
Surprisingly #2-- Led Zeppelin
Falling to ...#3-- Rolling Stones
Intriguingly #4-- Pink Floyd
Quizzically #5-- Queen
Resoundingly #6-- The Who
Underrated @ #7-- Jimi Hendrix Experience
Maddeningly #8-- AC/DC
My #1, to them #9-- The DOORS
Rightfully #10-- Nirvana
There were only two groups in the Top Ten -- Queen, and AC/DC -- that I could not agree with, nor stomach,and in fact neither would be in my Top 100. I can understand that they have huge fan bases, and had great stage shows in their day, but that is not enough to warrant Top 10-- Dave Matthews Band meets those criteria and ended up down at #163, much to the chagrin of fanatic son Miles, and me. And I'm sure the impassioned Phish fans were irked or indignant at their boys being ranked #205, also, but those folk would be most likely listening to WEQX during such a countdown anyway.
I could rave a bit about how great the other 8 bands in the Top Ten are, but that would be a celebration of the Obvious, which I will leave to others. The Doors and Led Zepp I've already labelled as Rock Gods previously, and I could also testify ad infinitum about how much I loved the godhead Jimi, or the second band I ever saw at SPAC, early Pink Floyd. But some other time...
There are other bands that I would've considered for Top 10 inclusion, which meant the most to me during my lifetime, but showed up much further down the Exit977 list. They would include these--
(in no particular order on my part, but showing 'EXT's rankings):
#13-- Derek & The Dominoes (Clapton & Duane at their mutual pinnacle, geezus....)
#16 -- U2 ("The Joshua Tree" a 1987 masterpiece album/ and career high point)
#17 -- Credence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary" a Top Ten song for the early me)
#19-- Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Their " Rockin' in the Free World" Best SNL rock guitar act ever, kudos to Frank Stampinato & the timeless Neil)
#22-- Cream (Rock Gods of '67-'68-- they were widely revered by those who knew)
#24-- Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young ("Tin soldiers and Nixon comin'..." O-HI-O...")
#26-- Red Hot Chili Peppers ("Give It Away" a mind-blower first time I heard it)
#28-- The Police (liked their late 90's production more than early 80's)
#32-- Radiohead ("Kid A" a revelation when my first webmaster Eric Baker turned me onto it, year 2000)
#37-- Santana (Top 10 for me, as a recording band and live act both)
#40-- The Allman Brothers Band (Top 5 for me)
#41-- Dire Straits (1978, a good story with that one)
#42-- Deep Purple ("HUSH" is a Top 10 song to me)
#43-- Jethro Tull (really old days here)
#55-- The Animals (primordial Eric Burdon, great stuff)
#57-- Steely Dan (back to my hoop days, radio on the bus rides...)
#58-- Talking Heads (1983 Tour blew my mind)
#66-- Smashing Pumpkins (among best of 90's, to me)
#69-- Buffalo Springfield (ominous line: "Somethin' happening here...)
#72-- The White Stripes (still learning how good they were)
#78-- King Crimson (perhaps the heaviest stuff I heard in HS)
#82-- Steppenwolf ("Born To Be Wild" a Top 20 all-time tune too)
#83-- Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (Carl Landa might make them #1!)
Digging further-- these would not be among my Top 10 candidates-- except for possibly DMB or Blind Faith-- but maybe otherwise would almost all be in the Top 100 for me-- yet I was pleased to see them included:
#109-- The Four Tops (among the best of Motown in my youth)
#117-- George Thorogood & The Destroyers ("I DRINK ALONE!" --a fun phase,lol...)
#129-- The Youngbloods ("Love One Another Right Now" -- still gives me pause)
#132-- Sam and Dave ("I'M A SOUL MAN!!!" Nothing quite like their original)
#139-- The Zombies (still sound really good many years later)
#141-- Beastie Boys (appreciated them more after they were done)
#142-- James Gang (o man Joe Walsh was way cooler BEFORE The Eagles)
#143-- Isley Brothers ("Whoooose That Lady?" one of the classics)
#147-- Blind Faith (a legendary session, but only once...iconic music on 1 album)
#149-- The Black Keys ( rare whiff of this century on the list- a very cool swagger)
#150-- Canned Heat ("On the road again..." a buzzing beauty of a song)
#157-- Funkadelic (Including George Clinton I presume?)
#163-- DMB (those who have seen the band LIVE know how ridiculous this is)
#182-- Mountain (largely forgotten, look up "Nantucket Sleighride" sometime)
#185-- Little Feat (o man when Lowell George was still alive...sweet band)
#195-- Prince & The Revolution (the Purple Rain tour alone qualified him...)
#202-- Fine Young Cannibals (my wife & I both loved them courtship days...)
#207-- Sublime (great name for a band that only seems greater with time)
#211-- Foster The People!... wow that was quick...recent history pops up...
Next to #212-- Captain Beefheart!! Eccentricity of an earlier era!! Great combo!!!!
#215-- Spencer Davis Group ("I'm A Man, Yes I am, & I Love ya so...!")
#216-- Roxy Music (especially "Avalon"-- beauty in the 80's...)
#219-- Kings of Leon (hope they tour this way again, we missed them...)
#237-- Phoenix (maybe the newest group on the list, see my prior blog...)
#239-- Florence & The Machine (see last September's SPAC blog...)
#250-- New Order (nasty dance music in early 80's...back of the Metro)
#253-- Jr. Walker & The Allstars ("SHOT-GUN!!" for that song alone they make it)
#259-- Counting Crows (1st Sat Nite LIve appearance: "Mr, Jones!"...awesome)
#260-- Human League (see number 250, ditto)
#284-- Living Colour (Vernon Reid & his friends, not the Wayans Bros. TV show)
#286-- Blues Traveller (John Popper's harmonica on "But Anyway"--omg)
#298-- John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers (this group had Clapton in it...)
#313-- The Chambers Brothers ("TIME HAS COME TODAY!")
#322-- Cowboy Junkies (for Margo's voice ....and her brother's "Blue Guitar")
#328-- Smokey Robinson & The Miracles ("Tears of a Clown")
#330-- Sly & The Family Stone (one of the hippest black bands of my youth)
#335- The National (I'm a recent convert, but loved "Blood Buzz Ohio" too)
#338-- Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble (one of Best I've ever seen live!)
#343-- Return To Forever (surprise jazz-fusion inclusion--loved them @ 1 time! Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White!)
#353-- Strawberry Alarm Clock (one hit wonder: "Incense & Peppermints"-- but what an amazzzing single...)
#365-- Weather Report (mid-70's instrumentally mesmerizing...Joe Zawinul & Wayne Shorter, acolytes of Miles D.)
#382-- Rare Earth (my hoop friend Billy Van Alstyne's favorite band, c. 1970...)
#392-- The Style Council (Paul Weller's accompaniment to my mid-80's despair)
#393-- The Seeds ( "and We named it Rock N Roll"...nastiest ueven beat EVER)
#401-- Men At Work ("Who Can It Be Now?" Colin Hay's high voice was everywhere for awhile...)
#416-- Government Mule (Warren Haynes great in any setting, but this band is HIS)
#435-- The English Beat (vastly underrated: at least two phenomenal albums I loved)
#439-- Yo La Tengo (amazing in retrospect, 3 decades of output...see prior blog...)
#446-- Rusted Root (saw them warm up for Santana at SPAC years ago...my boys still remember that, and they were pretty young... )
#448-- Everything But The Girl (soundtrack for great &/or sad romance, o yes)
#449-- Massive Attack (obscure to some but everything I hear of theirs is good)
#460-- Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (You had to be there, early 80"s!)
#464-- Average White Band (mid-70's/college, "Pickin' Up The Pieces" was playing everywhere)
#469-- Sugar Hill Gang (see #460 above...it all blends together in dance halls...)
#478-- Culture Club (England in 1983, very popular there for several minutes...)
#479-- Daft Punk (USA via France, 2013, very ubiquitous for most of this summer too...)
#481-- Tedeschi Trucks Band (Derek Trucks and some horns makes this 11-piece one to watch, and his wife has a great, unique voice, a sultrier Bonnie Raitt)
#484-- Soft Cell ( an 80's flashback, brief on the scene, like #s 250 & 260, above...)
#490-- Hold Steady (loved that tune about Summer...singer's voice frantic & smart)
#493-- Big Audio Dynamite (Clash split-off I liked as fat dance music, late 80's??)
You get the idea--just in reviewing the print version of this list, I'm rampant with opinions and memories of where I was when I heard each of the above... and a lot of great groups that did not make the list...
LIST OF SOME GRIEVOUS OMISSIONS:
Vampire Weekend-- out of all the millenial groups of the last decade, I would put them in the top three with Black Keys and Arcade Fire, in terms of likely greatness and staying power... certainly more output than Foster The People, for instance...
Hot Tuna (please, where is Jorma? Where is Jack Cassady? You kidding?)
Atomic Rooster, ("Death Walks Behind You"- great rock tune... I might be the only one who remembers this bunch)
Spooky Tooth (my boyhood friend Fred loved this band, heard Chris Wienk mention them...)
Moby Grape, (my friend Hank STILL loves this San Francisco band best)
Miles Davis Band, Bitches Brew era... (a room full of assembled geniuses)
Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen (with Leon Russell! Best version of "Cry Me A River" of all time, and a slew of great tunes on their live double album-- also Best version of "She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window" by The Beatles)
Ten Years After (Woodstock performers, why not on the List?)
Paul Butterfield Blues Band ( searingly good live act, famous on college circuit in 70's)
Screaming Trees ("I Nearly Lost You..." a 90's classic)
The Wallflowers (Jacob Dylan) ("One Headlight" is a classic)
Rage Against The Machine (surprising oversight-- Tom Morello still big)
The XX (one of my faves from THIS decade we're in)
OUTKAST (one of my faves of early 2000's-- "Bombs Over Baghdad" one of the most volatile tunes of all-time, and prophetic...)
Big Head Todd & The Monsters (How'd they miss this one?! I treasure & love their classic: "Bittersweet:)
Mahavishnu Orchestra (John McLaughlin at his arena band peak, saw them twice)
A Tribe Called Quest (bad oversight)
Morphine (really bad oversight--still played heavily in my house & car)
Treat Her Right (the late great Mark Sandman's other band...)
Everclear (Art Alexakis? He was pretty cool for awhile, wasn't he?)
The Minutemen (an amazing punk trio I discovered at WSPN in the 80's, leader/guitarist D. Boon died too young, in 1985)
Mungo Jerry ("In the Summertime, When The Weather if fine..." great jingle)
Sugar Ray ("Fly" alone would qualify)
Digable Planets (hip-hop poets extending a fine but little-known beatnik tradition)
Fishbone (a memorable performance on SNL way back when....like an African juju ritual)
Renaissance (singer Annie Haslem, I believe, a siren singer of my youth, via WRPI)
Fairport Convention (also a staple of WRPI, late '60's into 70's)
....and I reserve the right to add others to this list, as I think of them~
And who would I remove, to add the above--
Glad you asked. Here are the bands that I either don't recognize, or make me cringe, who ARE on the list, and would need to be removed, if I was music dictator of this world:
Captain & Tennile ("Muskrat Love??" are you f'reaking kidding me???)
Soup Dragons (?)
English Dan & John Ford Coley (kidding me?)
Twisted Sister (I could do without this genre altogether)
Scorpions (ditto again)
Judas Priest (ditto times 3)
Iron Maiden (never into it)
Kasabian (just don't know them?)
Dead Milkmen (ditto--must have missed this one)
Orange Juice (no idea)
Nickel Creek (I'm not a country music guy, presume this is?)
Night Ranger (ugh?)
Bread (please, get 'em off)
The Penguins (?? No idea who they are)
Toto (no comment)
Heatwave (don't know who this is)
Zephyr (ditto, no idea)
Trans-Siberian Orchestra (I've already expressed my revulsion)
The Silver Convention (no impression of this band at all-- did I miss something?)
Autograph (same comment as above, sorry, no knowledge of them)
Among the more Famous acts that I would axe... (if I had to make more room...)
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts (never could stand her "I Love Rock'N Roll", sorry)
The Ramones (sacrilige to some, but I never liked them, especially "Sedated")
Jefferson Starship (loved the Airplane, hated the Starship)
Asia (80's pomposity and predictability at its worst)
The Boomtown Rats (because of how much I detest their celebration of a serial killer's mindset: "I Don't Like Mondays..".)
S0,...to the stellar anthologists and archivists Dave Michaels & Chris Wienk & KTG & Aja and all... thanks. All the deejays on this station know what they are doing... in fact, on the day I was wrapping up way too much writing on this subject, Wayne Henning was playing Vampire Weekend and Timbuk 3--( "the future's so bright, I gotta wears shades..."), neither of which were on the list.
Some final commentary:
As someone born in the 50's. I should be pleased, I suppose, that the entire Top 10 (aside from Nirvana) dates back to when I was growing up-- the Golden Age of Rock and Pop, so to speak. I guess there is something to be said for "passing the test of time" and becoming timeless, ironically.
But it struck me more than once, while listening to the countdown, that there were many groups on this list (like AC/DC or Queen or Iron Maiden or Nazareth or the despicable KISS) that are played on commercial "Classic Rock Stations" like PYX-106, and I am glad NOT to hear them on WEXT, as a rule. Same with Bad Company, Heart, STYX, Thin Lizzy, and Cheap Trick.
There are other tunes that one would normally only hear on specifically "oldies" stations like "Great 98"-- the WTRY-kind of stuff I started out with, but now seems as dated as shag carpeting. Some of it is noteworthy, much of it is not-- I love The Supremes and The Four Tops and The Impressions, in small doses, but do not want to hear Boston or The Guess Who on a regular basis, and certainly not Bread or The Carpenters, who thank Gawd did not make this list.
When I issued my reaction to the ambitious list of the Top 977 Albums of all time, I similarly felt there were NOT ENOUGH NEWER artists included-- that list also tilted heavily to the past-- 50's thru 90's-- and not enough into the current century.
I feel THIS list was more inclusive and less prehistoric, and I went thru the whole 500 to filter out the groups that are from year 2000 till the present tense... or at least are still performing these days.
Here's my take on these more contemporary acts ( in descending order on the list):
Radiohead (32-- formed in the 90's but still going strong, and getting better)
The Black Keys (149-- the highest of any purely millenial group!)
Queens of The Stone Age (152--and gaining respect)
Dave Matthews Band (163-- nuff said)
Arcade Fire (192-- and rising!)
Phish (205-- many think should be higher)
Foster The People (211-- too unproven to be above some of these others)
Kings of Leon (219-- heading higher)
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (233-- Vermont-based faves around here)
Phoenix (237-- with a bullet)
Florence & The Machine (239--a torrent of yin energy)
Mumford & Sons (244- climbing each year I believe)
Arctic Monkeys (256-- but Rolling Stone thinks they're better than this)
Snow Patrol (285)
Ben Folds Five (319)
Band of Horses (331-- "Laredo" is a recent killer tune for me)
The National (335-- this band is destined for greatness, & a higher ranking)
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals (362-- best slide guitarist still going?)
The Heavy (374-- "How Ya Like Me Now?" a wicked hook tune, even as KIA theme-song)
The Lumineers (377-- Denver dudes winning over fans in a big way this past year or 2)
The Head & The Heart (378-- wouldn't have been on this list a year ago, moving up)
Nada Surf (379--an 'EQX group I am trying to grasp)
Death Cab For Cutie (380-- quirky but catchy, and Benjamin has moved on...)
My Morning Jacket (383-- Jim James will only get more masterful as he proceeds...)
Meyer Hawthorne & The County (398-- I didn't see him in Albany but KTG raves about him so I believe her)
Franz Ferdinand (410-- When 4 Down covered "Take Me Out" I loved it again)
Mazzy Star (425-- atmospheric voice and compellingly diffferent sound)
Fleet Foxes (428-- this group has grown on me since listening to WEXT)
Neutral Milk Hotel (437-- same comment as #379, still learning about this one)
The Shins (438-- not a fan of James Mercer's histrionics, except in Broker Bells)
Nortec Collective (444-- Josh Norec's great Latin show has turned me on to this)
The Lone Bellow (467-- noted in my last blog as an awesome harmonious trio)
Delta Rae (468-- great southern spunk)
Daft Punk (479-- two French dudes in Robot Gear making great dance funk)
Delta Spirit (480-- like the kick of this band)
Tedeschi Trucks Band (481-- extolled their virtues elsewhere)
Hold Steady (490-- likewise, vastly underrated here)
Dawes (494-- an LA band that is growing on me )
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings (499-- glad she survived her cancer scare)
So, by unofficial count, roughly 38 of the Top 500 are repping the period of the past 13 years, as oppose to the prior century... and some of these bands clearly started out before the Year 2000 (Phish, Ben Harper, and DMB, for instance). I am glad for the inclusion of these groups, however, while others unlisted yet, like Alt-J and The XX, Vampire Weekend and Alabama Shakes, are still announcing their presence, and will no doubt be on future lists.
In general, I was intrigued by the monumental nature of the LIST, but in thinking about it realized that in the upper echelons-- it was heavily skewed toward a love of BRITISH imports-- the Top 6 acts are all from England!! Until we get to Hendrix and The Doors and Nirvana, there are no domestic, American groups! Hmmm... The British Invasion still prevails.
I love and admire The Beatles-- especially in terms of their prolific output, diversity of sonic palettes, harmonies, and wide range of styles-- but Led Zeppelin and The Doors did a lot more for me in terms of excitement during my formative years, shall we say.
Robert Plant and Jim Morrison, along with Hendrix, remain the most influential voices in my psyche for this lifetime, so I guess I should be happy they are all in the Top Ten.
Thanks for bearing with me on all this-- you must be a fellow fanatic if you read this far.
Take care and stay tuned... more to come before the Year 2013 is over!
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
PS-- one musical oddity on television I wanted to comment on: There is a commercial now playing on national TV, advertising a video game for the new PS4, apparently. It uses the late Lou Reed's voice singing his song "O What A Perfect Day" as it shows gladiators whack each other with swords, and race car drivers knocking each other for a loop, as they serenade each other. Great stuff, and I happened to see it for the first time on the day when Lou Reed's death was announced on the news. Talk about receiving royalties after death-- I hope his widow Laurie Anderson is getting the residuals on that deal, and am sure Lou is smiling somewhere to see his sardonic lyrics going bigtime commercial!
That's it-- finally...as I went on too long again, I know...
Sorry to have been derelict in my duties as self-appointed music blogger, but here I go: a blast on a stay-at-home Sunday to make up for my slackerdom. I am on the road so much of each week that I listen to the radio several hours a day, also including time at the office, often to the chagrin of my co-workers. There are two distinct categories of song (or instrumental music) that make me reverent-- the UPBEAT, PROPULSIVE quality that sets the mind and blood racing, or the CONTEMPLATIVE, BROODING sort of tune, which chills one out, and sometimes GIVES you chills as well. I will try to exemplify each category with my favorites of this past calendar year...and the best of them, like the first on the list, combine equal parts of each, if that is possible. This list is gleaned mostly if not entirely from either WEXT 97.7 FM (Amsterdam/Troy NY), or WEQX 102.7 FM (Manchester, VT.), or both.
At various times in the past year, any one of these tunes might have been considered My Favorite of the moment, but I admit to being fickle in that regard, and my opinion is subject to sudden change at any point...
UPBEAT, PROPULSIVE CATEGORY:
#1: "Holding on For Life" by Broken Bells-- My current fave single, which is weird for me because it combines two men's voices whom I've never admitted to liking individually-- James Mercer of The Shins (whose most recent tunes I loathe), combined with someone channeling Barry Gibbs of the BeeGees, a disco throwback which would have made me nauseous in my hardcore jazzfreak days in the 80's, but now sounds amazing in this new context. And if in fact someone can tell me that the falsetto chorus of the title line is NOT Barry Gibbs (or a true sample thereof), I will be even more amazed. (Does Danger Mouse sing that part--? I haven't heard...) This tune is the # one melody & lyric stuck in my head right now like the needle is skipping, over and over. I can't wait to hear it again: with its swirling circular synth lines, ostinato bass, and lamenting lyrics ("what a lovely day...to be lone-lay...). It propels me forward as it gives me hope in the face of any despair I may be feeling. Isn't that a lot to ask of a song?
#2: "Reflektor"-- by Arcade Fire-- on the other hand, is pure propulsion. Fueled by a rumbling, bubbling-over conga section from start to finish, it reminds me of the offbeat background sound of "Sympathy For The Devil" back in the day. And the hypnotic lyrical redundance on the title phrase holds its appeal for the full seven minutes. When performed on Saturday Night Live back in October the stage visuals were eccentric and riveting as well, and it's been heavily played in our house, and the car, ever since.
#3: "Trying To Be Cool" by the French band Phoenix, still remains in my Top 5 of ear candy for 2013, and their appearance on SNL helped get me hooked on this tune, as did "Reflektor". It's Electronica you can dance to, with that Euro-accent floating atop it all-- definitely as Cool as a short tune gets-- just wish there was an extended version on the WEXT version, as it seems to last less than 2 minutes, and seems to lack a closing chorus. I've heard 'EQX play the extended version, or maybe it was on David Dye's World Cafe, where it blended into another tune via a spacy jam... that's the kind of stuff I love.
#4: "SPOTLIGHT" by the Nashville-based band dubbed Leagues, is another Top 5 tune for me that features skidding, emphatic guitars over a brisk rhythm track that sets off arcs of electricity in my nervous system while I'm driving. Love the singer's voice-- urgent in the upper ranges:
"Never gonna letchu go/
I'm never gonna letchu GO!/
This tune has been out since summer, and hasn't gotten old on me yet. Radio is now playing their second single, "Walking Backwards," but frankly it doesn't grab me as much as the kinetic pop of Spotlight.
#5: "OHM" by Yo La Tengo-- released in early 2013, this seems like a timeless tune with a signature groove by a New Jersey-based trio that has been recording since 1986. Still sounds fresh, transcendent, in fact... I remember them being in the NEW bins during the seemingly final days of vinyl during the late 80's... they have been making music as long as I've been in the real estate profession, in other words. Their spiritual knowledge and sound seem to get better with age, which we might all aspire to as well. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew-- I am re-discovering you, years later. I could imagine this song as a soundtrack for galloping a horse across an idyllic flat plain while in full zen meditation mode. I love it, and would love it more if it were half an hour long jam--it would be the rock version of a Ravi Shankar raga.
#6: "Fitzpleasure" by the British group ALT-J was a ubiquitous, quirky hit from the past summer, which compelled me to buy their CD, AN AWESOME WAVE... good name. I found that I liked the tunes
"Tesselate" and "Breezeblocks" just as much as this first intro-to- America hit of theirs... It's laid down with a jittery and totally original percussion track which at one point is nothing more than a drumstick on a soda bottle, combined with a mudswamp alligator bassline shaking its tail through the song, making for a great basis. On top of that, singer Joe Newman's brittle surrealistic phrasing makes them perhaps the most unique and original group on this year's list. Hence: ALT-J wins Newcomers of the Year, as far as I'm concerned, even though the record was actually made in 2012.
#7: "Don't Swallow The Cap" by The National, also inspired a CD purchase. Their album "Trouble Will Find Me" proved to be a bit on the dreary side in terms of lyric content and mood, but this song qualifies for being on the UPBEAT side due to a wickedly snappy drum underlayment and the perfectly syncopated monotone of singer Matt Berninger, despite the strange resignation of his words:
Everything I need is out to sea...
Tiny bubbles hang above me;
it's a sign that someone loves me.
I can hardly stand up right.
I hit my head upon the light.
I have faith but don't believe it.
It's not there enough to leave it.
Everything I love is on the table;
I have only two emotions:
dreadful fear, and dead devotion.
I can't get the balance right.
I'm not alone, I'll never be...
and to the bone, I'm evergreen...
This is a band I have to see LIVE at some point, please. Worth a trip to Brooklyn, I guess, as I don't believe they are coming upstate anytime soon.
#8-- "We Own Nothing" by Stellar Young, of Albany, NY. Along with the much-acclaimed Sean Rowe, and Saratoga's own Maryleigh Roohan, each of whom I've seen and written about this year already (and below, again) .... this group was the best of the local crop that I became familiar with this year-- (and in that sense I am assuming that PHANTOGRAM has ascended to a higher state than being known as a Saratoga-grown band, now that they have a snippet of their song featured for a
few seconds during a Gillette shaving commercial (!) on national TV...and are receiving worldwide acclaim from their touring).
What's different here is that Stellar Young is a true rock GROUP-- a five-member bunch who all take a role in the music, not just a leader and sidemen, or a duo, or a solo act. I really hope these guys make it as big as Phantogram, and then they will have in common the fact that a name change preceded their fame. (Stellar Young used to be called The City Never Sleeps.) Go back and see my post about their performance at The Tang, back in July, for more on the live band. This song noted above was the best of their new CD of 2013: EVERYTHING AT ONCE. John Glenn's shimmering voice surfs on top of exultant chunky Rhodes piano chords and then it becomes a drum-driven anthem. His lyrics are about being attentive to the present tense above all else... and insist that ALL we own is the present moment. Amen. This was in heavy rotation on our car speakers even when it wasn't on the radio, a soaring motivational song with big hooks.
#9-- "Workin' Woman Blues" by Valerie June, is from her debut album, I believe,
called PUSHIN' AGAINST A STONE. This song starts out with her playing an intricate filigree'd lick which seems like a prelude, and then kicks into the nastiest matter-of-fact blues-of-our-time that you've ever heard. Her band is dynamite, and the trumpeter in particular gets some nasty little moments to himself toward the end, to compliment the snappy rage of Ms. June's guitar. You should check out the YouTube clip of her performance on late night TV-- Fallon or Letterman I think-- I sent the link to my own sisters and they both fully approved.
#10-- "Downwind" by Sean Rowe also showed up on national TV this past year-- and this song is what he played-- a freaking whirlwind of its own, the way it starts out at a loping pace, almost nonchalantly, then slowly speeds up like a guy running as he's being hunted, and spins more furiously into a guitar-shredding frenzy at the climax...which is mesmerizing both instrumentally and in terms of songcraft.
It doesn't just END, it kind of implodes on itself and is spent, with a twerky synth spiral, leaving the story ominously unfinished. In person, at the Caffe Lena, he played the guitar part solo, but on the album "The Salesman and The Shark", and on the Jimmy Kimmel show, it was local guitar hero Chris Carey, I believe, who delivered the goods just as dramatically. Sean's Rowe's 2013 record is moody and thickly bluesy otherwise, but this tune flies him into a zone of intensity similar to his days with Mudfunk. (And on that note, if you get the chance-- check out his 2008 version of "Poppa Was A Rollin' Stone" with just him and his percussionist tearin' up that late 60's tune by The Temptations.)
Honorable Mentions for 2013, in the UPBEAT Category:
Daft Punk, w/ Nile Rodgers & Pharrel Williams: "Get Lucky";
Jake Bugg, with both "Lightning Bolt" and "What Doesn't Kill You";
SusanTedesky-DerekTrucks Band, "Made Up Mind";
Dr. Dog, "Broken Heart";
Milo Greene, "1957";
Leanne La Havas, "Is Your Love Big Enough?";
Kings of Leon, "Temple"
Delta Rae, w/ Lindsay Buckingham: "If I Loved You"
Lissie, "Does Anyone Love Anyone?"
OK, now for a separate category:
THE MELLOW, & CONTEMPLATIVE TOP 10
.... of 2013
#1-- "Baby You Should Know" by Maryleigh Roohan was probably my favorite of the year in this genre, although some other great ones by national acts have given her competition since this enchanting demo was first released. Now that we have the recorded CD version, enriched by cello at a critical point in the song, it's even more luminous, but her voice is clear and heart-breaking in its sincerity as she sings a rare ode of love in this blues-ridden world. Her album release party, at The Parting Glass in Saratoga, and then later at The Linda in Albany, were packed affairs of devoted fans, and featured some torchy upbeat numbers as well. More on her soon...
#2-- "Dust to Dust" by The Civil Wars is the other end of the spectrum, a slowly- harmonic, almost gospel-esque dirge for the end of a love affair. This plus their other current "hit"-- "I Wish You Were The One That Got Away" form a funereal tandem that is somehow wickedly compelling, and addictive.
#3-- Similarly, the downbeat beauty of "All Things At Once" by Tired Pony grabs me by the heart every time, with a simple, mournful refrain:
"O I'd love you...better than him" sadly sung over and over as a chorus, not as braggadocio, but as a resigned outcast. Killer tune, and brutally sad.
#4-- "Somebody I Used To Know" is a re-make of that recent smash by Bon Iver, but now covered, even more effectively, by a group called Army of 3. Here the female perspective takes charge from the start, and seems more authentic, plaintive, and less quirky coming from her than the guy who wrote the song, who seemed a bit like a stalker in the aftermath of an aborted romance.
#5-- "Heavy Feet" by Local Natives-- an L.A. band, not local to the northeast, despite their name-- a phrase I used alliteratively in 1980, lawding our "latent local native talent" even back then, in The High Rock Review-- but it applies everywhere, it seems. This band, like Fleet Foxes a few years ago, makes harmonies achingly cool again. Their CD is dubbed "Hummingbird." So far I like everything they've done.
#6-- "Love Has Come For You" is performed as a duet by Steve Martin on banjo and my long-distant beatnik girlfriend (before Paul Simon stole her away), Edie Brickell.
With a song and subject matter that might fit into a pure country station, WEXT managed to give it enough airplay to make it a staple, and now a beautiful standard as well. Kudos to them for bringing it to our ears, and attention. Edie's voice is still a sweet, twangy, treat.
#7-- "Bleeding Out" by The Lone Bellow proves them to be in the same category as The Civil Wars, except that their three voices seem to get along quite nicely, as opposed to foretelling divorce and tragedy, despite their equally sorrowful subject matter. I love the irony that this southern-grown alt-country choir-trio is working out of Brooklyn now, not Nashville, and finding fame.
#8-- "Million Miles" and "Mercy" both by TV On The Radio are seductive shuffles and sultry tunes by a group that I loved in the UPBEAT category a few years ago, when "Golden Age" first came out. Lead singer's voice reminds me of a milder version of Andre 3000.
#9-- "A New Life" by Jim James, is a soothing, lilting song from the softer side of My Morning Jacket's great guitarist, who I saw spew a firestorm of new psychedeliac rock this summer at SPAC. His solo CD was grandly entitled: REGIONS OF LIGHT AND SOUND OF GOD... pretentious...yes... but it delivers a whole new sonic quality, so yeah, it works.
#10-- "Untitled #2" by Sara Bogran is a song I want to slip onto this list, by virtue of the fact that when I heard it the first few times I had to stop and say, "What was that? Wait.... WHO was that?" And this is where the playlists posted on WEXT come in so handy... I could look her up and find that it was a locally-recorded demo from the station's private archives. This girl-- from Amsterdam, I think?-- is going to be great, and this instrumental piece already is in that category.
Some More Honorable Mentions I Must Listen To More Closely:
"One Man Army" John Brodeur;
"Pure" by The Lightning Seeds;
"Penitentiary" by Houndmouth;
"Light Passes Through Her" Blue factory;
"In The Waiting Line" by Zero 7.
"We The Common" by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
"Shake" The Head & The Heart.
That's it for now, I finally gave some credit to musicians who've impressed me before the end of the year, and when possible will hit you with more musical meandering in 2014
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
Miles is a senior now at LeMoyne in Syracuse and we've gotten used to being a family of four not five most of the time, but on the Tuesday night ahead of Thanksgiving he emerged safely in his Nissan Quest (ye olde TINDOG we call it-- a story for another day) from a nasty hundred mile stretch of snowy weather... and all five of us were able to enjoy a home-cooked meal together for the first time in a long while. Those of you with college kids in the family, spending more and more time apart, understand the poignant nature of such mini-reunions. At this point we as parents appreciate, as does he, the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday-- the beginning of winter weather, usually, and a break in the long autumn routine before the solstice and Christmas festivities.
Wednesday, though I'd planned to work, I decided instead to stay home and enjoy the fact that we were all together on a midweek day, had no need to travel or shop for groceries. Whatever work I had could be done from laptop and cell phone. So the whole gang slept in, and we had a great extended brunch together, like a Dim Sum in a Korean restaurant on a Sunday. Washing dishes and being a short order cook is occasionally a refugefor me from the real estate world, and gives my wife a break from that role. Bella and Daryn were getting along better than normal, and the day seemed magical in its ordinariness as I watched all the birds out back feed on the pre-Thanksgiving seed feast I had scattered for them that morning. Later four deer would casually join the proceedings, looking for the corn meal I'd been dispensing, but also grazing to steal the precious sunflower seeds before the squirrels could get their share.
We mutually decided to do something unusual, and all attend a movie together at the still-new Bowtie Cinema in the heart of Saratoga that evening. The long-awaited
in-town movie theater complex is something that has been talked about since I ever started coming to this town in mid-70's as a college kid myself. The old Community Theater on Broadway, next to the Stewarts/Sunoco A-Plus store, was the last vestige of a centrally-located movie house, and had closed down before I showed up here, back in '73 I'm told. So the old-timers and newcomers had waited 40 years for this--
and the gorgeous 11-screen Criterion Bowtie Cinema was worth it. This impressive improvement to the downtown scene had been under construction during most of 2013, famously replacing the site's previous structure, the affectionately dubbed "Ghetto Chopper"-- an old-school not-so-super market, made out of concrete block and aluminum-framed plate glass windows. What used to be that store's "butt-end"of dumpsters and faded red blank walls facing Church Street traffic, as urban architecture critic Jim Kunstler had railed against in recent decades, was now a shimmering, enlivened source of culture, a slice of NYC as it were, in our midst. The upgrade in the Westside's streetscape has been incredible. And in the lobby, I saw my hoop buddy Joe Leone, a longtime local native who'd grown up a few blocks away from where we were standing, with a group of friends. He shook hands quickly with me and Miles as we hustled our way into Theater #3, running a bit late, and might've thought it odd that we were all hanging out together as a clan, and I wanted to ask him, "Did you think you'd ever see this kind of place in Saratoga in your lifetime, much less on the Westside??" But the answer was obvious, "Nah...never!" Joe woulda said, "But here it is!"
The trick had been to find a movie all 5 of us could agree on-- not an easy task. Melinda and I had tested the place out once before already, checking out the late James Gandolfino's final flick, "Enough Said." While it had a mixture of laughs and sentimental sadness-- a true dramedy-- we needed something more escapist and visual, whimsical and light-hearted... a Disney film, for instance. Bella had been watching Chelsea Lately the other night and I'd seen the actor Josh Gad for the first time-- the clip from the animated movie, in which he voiced the Snowman, Olaf, had gotten me hooked, so I suggested a tame middle-ground entertainment like "FROZEN", instead of Gravity or 12 Years A Slave, both which we still want to see. Miles was game for anything to distract him from finance courses at college, as long as we'd get home in time to see the Knicks game on the westcoast, and/or Syracuse U. playing in the Maui finals. Bella was in a rare conciliatory mood for a feisty 15-year old, and went along with the idea of an early movie. Daryn was on break from SUNY/ACC as well,and has always been a fan of almost ANY Disney or PIXAR movie, many of which he can recite from memory. This movie was right up his alley, historically speaking-- a rare 20 year old male who disdains video-game violence and gratuitous sex scenes.
In that "Frozen" was a PG-movie, the previews were pretty tame by our normal R-rated standards, but the visuals of something like "Walking With Dinosaurs" were stunning and compelling-- fifty times better than the dinosaur movies which captivated my younger son so much as pre-schooler in the mid-late '90's. In fact, the trailers did their job, as I felt I wanted to see every movie they teased us with. It seemed so much more likely that I'd now become an avid movie-goer again now, downtown, given my prior aversion to not just the Exit 15 Mall, but all Malls in general. Frankly, the seats, the proximity to the screens, and the intimacy of the theaters all improved upon any mall cinema I'd ever visited.
A short cartoon started the evening's proceedings-- the original MICKEY MOUSE, in black and white, circa 1932, or so it seemed to begin with... what seemed to be a throwback bit of vintage nostalgia quickly spun into a multi-dimensional tale of the 80+ year old progenitor-of-the-genre being thrust into conflict/interaction with the highly colorful 3-D world of the present tense. Cartoon characters emerged from the burst screen of the old 2-D world as if sitting on the edge of the vaudeville stage before us. Startling effects in a simple short, to exhibit the span of Disney's domain.
The movie "Frozen" wasn't what I thought it would be, with a lot more musical interludes (a la Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Beauty & The Beast) than Miles or I were prepared for, but the tale was a compelling fable of sisterly intrigue and conflict in the aftermath of perished parents. Drastic weather changes, as implied by the title, were part of the plot, and gave renewed insights to the origin of the phrase "Ice Queen." Names like Swen and Olaf and the recurring word "fjord" warmed the cockles of my (1/4) Scandinavian heart.
More than halfway through the epic, Josh Gad's character finally shows up, and proceeds to steal the show from then on-- a welcome bit of comic relief, both visual and verbal. What struck me was that the youngest members of the audience and the oldest (me among them), were laughing at his lines and antics at the same time. It was genius stuff-- the writing, the timing, the graphics. Rarely has a carrot, as a prop, been so funny.
Not knowing much about it going in, the credits at the end revealed what I should've
been aware of at the start-- the movie's plot was based on Hans Christian Andersen's book, "The Snow Queen." Not having read the original story (as far as I can recall!), I tended to think that Gad's Olaf was a clever addition to the re-write, which saved the movie, from my point of view, and those of the 2-4 year olds in the audience as well. My wife said it was good to see all five of us laughing at the same time, and that alone was worth the price of admission.
A Bit of Nostalgia, Mixed in With The New
Upon departing the Bowtie, we desired and conspired to stroll a bit downtown, despite the 19 degree chill in the air. Daryn sped off on his own perambulation, while the four of us took our time. Miles and Melinda both seemed impressed with the huge outer improvements made to 15 Church Street-- a three story brick place that had been derelict for most of the past 20 years, on the corner of Long Alley, behind the downtown Post Office. When I first moved to town, it was still active as The Third Base Pub...so dubbed because it alleged to be "Your last stop on the way Home!" That may have been true for railroad workers on the westside in the first fifty years of the prior century, but it had been a long time since anyone else used the building that way. Like The HUB Pub, a similar building long since demolished half a block west, it had been a boarding house/bar relic of Saratoga's past, but in this case #15 had been saved with a heavy infusion of cash and effort, evidenced by the "Muse Architect" and "Bast Hatfield Contractors" signs in the new bay windows above street level. Along with the famed Country Corner Cafe to its left and the historic RR shack next to the similated RR tracks on the corner of Woodlawn, and the half-decade old Adirondack Trust building on the site of the old HUB and its broken-glass and puddle parking lot of many years past, that side of Church Street coming off Broadway forms a much better complement to the Bowtie Cinema/Golub Building as described above.
We turned the fabled intersection at the core of town-- "the corner of WALK & DON'T WALK" as the crazy bag lady in Daryn's most recent play production had called it-- and headed for the brilliant beauty of the G. Willikers Toy Store on Broadway, just past the columned ATC bank. The theme of the windows perfectly complemented the movie we'd just seen-- an elfen Santa-with-realistic furry animal theme-- lit up with white branches and snow and shimmering lights, an unabashed Christmas scene. Again, an improvement from what was there when I came to town-- Glickman's Dry Goods-- one of the old school shoe and durable clothing stores of yore. It always smelled incredibly good in there, but the front windows were never anything like G. Willikers, nor the contents as interesting to young children. If that toy store ever closes it will be a huge aesthetic loss to Broadway, so please go support it, and you'll see what I mean about the shopfront displays.
Next, past the venerable Compton's Diner, one of the few remnant businesses (along with Soave Faire--also one of the perennially best windows on Broadway) on that side of the main drag in Toga town, we peeked into the Brueggher's Bagels place, which had been closed for renovations for, it seems, a year or more. They missed the whole summer season in 2013, as it was gutted on the inside at that point. Now the interior is opened up and new walls and floor tile are in place, so the Grand Re-Opening is imminent. I figured the old building, which I had briefly worked and hung out in, circa 78-79, when it was called The Triple Crown... had likely experienced some code violations, but apparently it was worse than that. Miles chimed in that he'd heard the roof had partially collapsed or seriously leaked before this branch of Bruegger's abruptly closed. I thought back to certain stellar moon-gazing sessions on the topside of that building and was glad it was still solid back then. I mumbled: "I'll tell you a good story about one time I was on that roof..." but then figured that tale should be saved for another day, or a chapter in my eventual, long-delayed novel.
Virtually every store front we walked by carried some vestigial memories. The downtown core had been my own version of Greenwich Village in those years between '77 and '87, until I became serious about family and career. Even though I hadn't truly been a native, I now felt like one of Saratoga's old timers, when in fact I too had been called a carpetbagger upon my first arrival here.
I was trying to remember whether The Our Place Pub had been located where Sloppy Kisses Dog Boutique or the new clothing boutique was now--? And I remembered when Mr. Ed's Hot Dogs was there on the base level of the old YMCA Building, across the walkway from The Putnam Street Market. Not too long ago Last Vestige Records was there, recently relocated to the DownStreet Market Place, across the street. What had been in the spot where Saratoga Coffee Traders was now? We continued to saunter down the block. IMAGE Photography was a landmark destination for years in this stretch. The Grey Gelding had been a hotspot for a few years, and now is long gone, with the only vacant restaurant space on Broadway begging for an occupant these last few years, the result of a landlord who wants about 25% more per square foot than the rest of the street. Before the Grey Gelding's good but brief run, a place simply called The Broadway did well there, and they had the wisdom to hire my longtime friend Carl Landa as the house bandleader-- those were great days. He also played with various versions of his band down on the corner of Washington Street where Starbucks is now-- it was called Jacksland's back then; o yeah, a lot of raucous fun was had there.
It was good to see The Wine Bar still thriving-- Carl used to play the Steinway on the lower level in there as well. That elegant building, next to The Downtowner Motel (also still there, despite years of rumors they might sell), used to be a doctor's office when I first came to town.
Cross Division Street and on the archival site of the former United States Hotel, the current brick and glass structure that used to be home to Border's Books & Music is now the home of FINGERPAINT Marketing, a thriving PR firm, which I'd written about on this blog earlier this summer. Those who have been visiting or living here more than 20 years will remember the chintzy 60's structure that used to be a Red Barn fast food place, and then Pope's Pizza through the 1980's into the early 90's. My kids' eyes just glaze over when I hit them with all this change-of-scene history, but I like to let them know it's an evolving streetscape, and has altered greatly even in my 3 and a half decades here.
What used to be The Shoe Depot for decades had morphed into 3 smaller but equally stylish retail spaces, once Frank Panza reluctantly surrendered his prime spot on Broadway. Next to that, the last grassy gated courtyard on the main stretch of Broadway had been transformed into DRUTHERS Brewing Co., a bustling new pub that seems to have prospered amazingly well in its first full year or two. The somber building alongside it on the south, owned for half a century by Al Braim's family, had not changed radically since selling for $800K a few years back. In retrospect, that number will look like a steal, or rather, does already.
Like Bruegger's vacant storefront this year, The Adelphi Hotel had remained dormant all summer too...with very little visible sign of activity within. Given the news-rumor that the new owner was putting 6 or 7 million dollars worth of renovation into it, you'd think the work would be ongoing and vigorous in order for the business to be open next year, but on this particular evening in November, the massive symbol of former grandeur on the westside of Broadway seemed to be in deep, dark hibernation.
Next to the shuttered Adelphi (which had always been seasonal anyway under its prior owners, Greg and Sheila Seifkert), the Van Dam Hotel now featured the flaming porch torches of Maestro's Restaurant, still drawing people inside after 9 pm on a Wednesday evening in November. Personally, I liked it better when it was located alongside The Adelphi when Joe Devivo ran the place, but that's just my stubborn memory at work, combined with the fact that the current owner hadn't treated Miles too well during a brief stint of working there two summers ago. My son wasn't feeling nostalgic about that part of Broadway, that's for sure.
We weren't in the mood for late evening coffee as we strolled past Starbucks, but it was good to see it was there for those who did. We went another block to scope out the window displays at The Gap, Banana Republic, and the smaller shops before Chico's and Lord & Taylor... there were even customers, despite the 20 degree temps, going in and out of the Cold Stone Creamery -- nothing you'd see in any other upstate NY towns this time of year.
We cross the street and the memory flow continues-- how many times had I circumnavigated Congress Park in my early days in Saratoga, with little else to do back then? Daryn still carries on my tradition in that regard. The Arts Center Building on the corner of Spring Street still seems like the Library to me, as I just about lived in there for my first year or two in town.
The opposite corner's 4-story monolith also used to belong to Frank Panza, with a long-abandoned upstairs theater reputedly hidden inside. I regret not checking out that eminent structure while it was on the market. Now there is a magnificent curio shop on the first floor full of huge sculptural Buddhas-in-meditative poses, and trumpeting Hindu elephants. My memory of the storefronts there goes back to Landmark Realty (early 90's), O'Dwyer's Pub on the Spruing Street side, and then the wonderful Posie Peddler floral shop, now successfully transplanted to an old schoolhouse at 92 West Avenue.
The Eddie Bauer building (338 Broadway) that now anchors the center of the block between Spring and Phila Streets always features fascinating window displays, a great improvement over the gravelly parking lot that was there in the early days of my arrival here. Said parking lot, which L-shaped over toward Phila where the parking lot building access is now, alongside the Irish Times, figures into a long story I wrote 30 years about The Tin Shoppe-- when Carl Landa ran the place as a music club, before it became The Trattoria, The Brew Pub, and now The Irish Times, at 14 Phila. I called it The Brass Shack in the fourth edition of The High Rock Review, but I bet only a handful of people remember either that story or the phenomenal acts he used to bring in-- McCoy Tyner, the Brecker Brothers, Betty Carter, Black Sheep, James Blood Ulmer.... oh yeah, 1982 was a cool year around here.
But here's one thing I had NOT looked closely at, nor known much about, before this Wednesday nite walk-- there is a plaque affixed to the brick wall of the Eddie Bauer Building, aka The Granite Palace. It shows the block as it existed from the late 1880's until 1966, when a monstrously destructive fire took down the building on that site-- which had housed Berkowitz Jewelers and the Colonial Hotel, among other famous establishments. The Atheneum, or first official library of Saratoga, was on the second floor, long before I was here. The black-and-white photo behind plexiglass looked eerily archival, and rightfully celebrated the fact that in 1997, Jeff and Deanna Pfeil had the foresight and wherewithal to finance construction on that site, which was one of the first successful in-fill projects of the current era, setting the tone for the Robert Israel condos on Railroad Place a couple years later, and the Sonny Bonacio explosion of subsequent years.
My family had scooted ahead of me while I read the plaque, headed for the new Northshire Bookstore, which proudly occupies The Washington, a prominent brand new building Mr. Bonacio had also just recently completed, also the site of a former decrepit parking lot, on the site of a long-ago burned down Saratoga ediface--
My memory machine sped up as I walked to catch up-- Gary Zack's Symmetry glass art shop used to be D'Andrea's Tavern many moons ago. Dave and Marianne Barker's Impressions gift shop used to be a bar that served the most potent Long Island Iced Teas north of the Hampton's, and before that, it was actually a Bank. Miles wondered if The Arcade Building ever really featured game-rooms like a shoreline resort, but I said NO, not that kind of Arcade. The first seven years of my real estate career took place there, however, and before that I'd had a solo office upstairs there during the first wave of mid-'80 solar sales-- my primitive business years.
Some places were closed for Thanksgiving eve, others never seem to close-- the new Boca Bistro, The Circus Cafe, Uncommon Grounds, Lillian's, the new Chocolate Shop next to Northshire Books, and then yes, The New Bookstore itself-- a feast like no other on the street. The four of us lingered for most of an hour before they closed, browsing and making mental lists of what we'd come back for...I saw a dozen or two amazing choices and the one I wanted the most was a Saratoga History of the 1800's by the venerable Minnie Bolster, longtime local historical society matron, and widow of George Bolster-- prolific collector of archives from this town's glory days.
My daughter was not enthused about anything involving books, which was sad to me, but Miles said he was re-inspired to read more, while my wife and I could spend a lifetime catching up on books we missed or never even knew about. For those who've not been within its brand new walls yet, it should be your primary destination...whenever you can make it to Broadway next. I grabbed a book about Music by David Byrne and a paperback Miles needed for school, and then it was time to head home and catch some hoop on TV together, a different kind of nostalgia for us. We met up with the wandering Daryn and began to head back.
On one last shot at window shopping, Melinda was knocked out by my friend Heidi Owen-West's Life Styles Boutique's front display, which featured female mannequins with skirts fashioned from evergreen branches. Her amazing shop is on the corner of Caroline at 436 Broadway, and was established by her brilliant mom, Kay Owens, years ago, and still thrives in the new millenium under her daughter's guidance.
There was much more to note that night which you can see for yourself on Shop Small Saturday, or the upcoming Victorian Streetwalk in early December, or whenever you get here to visit. There is ample reason why this town's famous thoroughfare has become one of the Top Ten Main Streets in America, and I am glad to feel as if I know the fabric that underlays today's glitter and gloss.
Someday my long-procrastinated novels will be populated with some of the spots I'v mentioned herein, and more-- the lore is everywhere in this movie-set town!
That's it for now-- making up for lost time-- your most sporadic local blogger, Wayne!
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013
(Bloggers note: OK, sorry, real life and job change intruded on the aftermath of this episode, finally getting to this in late September, which makes me the slowest blogger in existence, I know. Furthermore, I have not finished it yet but the stories I have of a four-day stretch smack in the middle of this past August-- while not exactly Joycean, are perhaps at least Perrasian in their view of Saratoga...Tales like these show why you don't have to go anywhere else when summer is in session... and I am recalling it now, a mere month and a half later, as chill and dark of autumn descends... stay tuned, and keep scrolling down...)
In Paris, France, I understand, the majority of urban dwellers and workers take the month of August off and retreat to the countryside for a refreshing bucolic sabbatical. In Saratoga Springs, the opposite occurs-- those of us who reside in the hinterlands tend to congregate back in the core of town more than normal, and feel the gravitational pull of Saratoga's downtown charms while the tourist population is at peak density. It is a busy little city till all hours of the night, almost Every night.
So it was in the exact middle of this month...just last week as I start this. While I am assuredly Not in a position to take a 30-day vacation (nor is anyone I know!), it is fun to live and work in a town where you can switch back and forth to business and recreation at the "drop of a hat"-- or by putting on a different hat altogether...
It began with an invite to the Saratoga Racetrack on Wednesday the 14th. Some people I know at Homestead Funding, a mortgage broker of some note in the Capital District, had convinced me to join them for lunch and drinks and friendly wagering at the most famous place to do so in this Upstate land... The Crown Jewel of NYRA's Horse Racing Empire. Let me state here that I am not a "Habitu-ay" of the place-- I work too hard for my money to donate regularly to the coffers of NYRA. Fortunately, I guess, I have not ever won enough large enough sums of money there to lapse into believing that I could beat the odds and have the Track contribute CASH BACK to me.
But I had not been there in a couple years and it was time to revisit. Some things were consistent: a small acoustic quartet played in the open walkway just inside the gate: Reggie's Red Hot Feetwarmers, I believe: the venerable Saratoga icon Peter Davis playing guitar with an upright bass, fiddle, and banjo alongside. They have played music in this setting as long as I've lived here and I was glad they were stuill doing so.
Massively remodeled in recent years, I was a bit dazzled by the Track's changes from what I recalled as I made my way to the Clubhouse upstairs, trying to find "The Carousel." So-named for its circular shape and flow, there were tables ringed around the outside and a grand buffet positioned around the core, and the Luncheon provided was terrific. I wore a light summer jacket, thinking it would be required, but the dress was more casual than in the olde days, even up here, away from the hoi polloi, invitation only. On a gorgeous 75 degree day with blue sky and puffy cotton clouds, I quickly dispensed with that jacket.
Before connecting with my cordial hosts I took a ringside seat overlooking the Paddock to see the slow parade of horses for the first race, more for the aesthetics and the ritual than any betting prowess on my part. I bet a $2 double ticket on my son's hoop uniform number, 44, or tried to, as one of the "4's" had scratched. O well, I went 4-3 instead and the first "4" lost anyway. I ate an extra piece of tilapia with olives plus another braised chicken breast to make up for it, had my protein fix for the afternoon. I made up for the entry fee right there. Felt better and had one beer when offered by the Homestead contingent, that was it for the afternoon.
A guy named Rob Beaulieu, who will end up in this blog at the final moment of this recounting, was there with my friends (and former clients, way back when!) Vince and Annie O'Neill, and their recent college grad daughter, Jeannie. Vince is a vice-president at Homestead Funding, a key player in the predicting-of and reacting- to...the markets at large. His lovely wife is a friendly-rival Realtor locally with Prudential Manor Homes, whom I worked for 20-some years ago when they bought their first in-town home through me, on Jumel Place. A little-known builder named Sonny Bonacio had remodeled an older home on Jumel Place, and they bought it... to kind of help the young dude's career get going a bit. (That worked.) I think their curly-hair'd girl was about 2 years old at that point, and seemed to figure out to know what was going on with the purchase of the new/old home. Now she was working with her dad's company in the home-loan business, and inviting ME out to lunch. I was flattered, grizzled vet of the real estate business that I am.
I know this sounds like social-scene gossip at this point, but too bad-- this is my only shot at that kind of reporting, for the 2013 Season, anyway. Had name-drop a little, that is part of the Saratoga tradition, and thatz part of what blogs are for.
Rob and I compared tales of woe and wonder, good times and bad we'd each had in our parallel, respective professions. I won't go into that here but it is the stuff of t
Then I got the kind of call that you get no matter where you are when you think you can take some time off as a Realtor. Emergency situation with V.A. buyers, due to close the very next day and some unexpected costs came up. Buyer agent has to calm them down, understand the situation, and come up with a solution if any is possible. Some agents like to dump it off on the attorneys-- "let them deal with it!"-- but I just can't do that, as I know they already deal with way more than they're paid for in these real estate cases. Paralegals, in fact, are the unacknowledged saints of this business-- getting the nuts and bolts ironed out (mixing metaphors madly) and often acting as cartilage between the abrasive bones in many a contentious transaction.
Distracted and exasperated for a bit, I coulda been irked at the interruption but what did I expect on Wednesday afternoon? Not everyone is at the track. It's a setting as nice as any to call an office, however, now that cell phones are in vogue. We are never really "out-of-the-office" as people used to be able to say. Some day I will have others to cover these kinds of calls, but for now I still manage them all myself.
Once the pre-closing math issue is settled, I quickly return to the cameo role of race fan. My cell call peregrinations had carried me past the circle of friends and lenders I'd started with, and I had gravitated to the legendary grandstand. I saw some neighbors and other Realtors and a politician or two and a guy who used to coach my son in AAU hoop (shout out to Joe Leone) who probably coulda & woulda given me some tips if I'd stopped him as he walked by in his droopy summer shorts and Converse sneakers, the dude knows what he's doing there, while I am but a visitor, with a wad of bills, on his part...to prove it, famously tucked away...somewhere. But I was in line at the no-minimum betting window, and thought I'd rather see if my own intuition was working rather than casting for inside info, or tasty backstretch rumors, even if from Joe. His black cons disappeared in the throng.
My idea of a big gamble is a $6 exacta box (three horses, buck a bet) and I've got to admit it made the race exciting having my numbers and chosen silks near the lead the whole way. I'd strolled nonchalantly down the grand stairway right near the finish line and was surprised to find that --on a Wednesday at least--the formally-dressed fans were greatly outnumbered by the casual. Groups of guys from Long Island in Bermuda shorts and dockers, spread over a couple of rows near the rail, clearly well-lubricated by mid-afternoon, dispensed quips and barbs with each other like it was part of the sport, which it is. There were also a few groups of jocular women comparing notes on the names of the horses they either won or lost with so far. There was plenty of room in the prime seating on a Wednesday afternoon, I found, and I found myself with a phenomenal view of the video monitors and tote boards on the grand infield, back-dropped by the pond and the glamorous landscape that has survived and evolved for 150 years now. The pure beauty of Saratoga Racetrack struck me that day more than any previous visit, which all had been more crowded days than this one.
It helped my spirits and my psyche more than my wallet when I won a symbolic $17.20 for my intuitive efforts, with the 2-3 combo coming in, as I recall. Then I went big, having broken even already, and went for a trifecta box on the next race, and that one was a gorgeous adrenalin rush too. All through the backstretch I saw the three numbers I'd picked changing on the order board...out of nine horses running.
I felt, briefly, like it was my day and I was going to walk out a winner. It had never happened before so figured I was overdue. I think it was 1-3-9 I was banking on and next thing you know the 6 horse-- a favorite I had blithely ignored-- worked his way into the mix. I tried to jostle the 6 out of the top triumverate to no avail, and he crashed my party. I figured with one and a half longshots in the mix I woulda been good for $1700. or so if that 6 had tripped up, but such is the nature of the track experience.
After two full races on my own I sauntered back to the friendly financial group to see if any of them had won anything significant in my absence. Sumptuous desserts were being sampled, and they were better than vicarious betting thrills-- cheese cakes and triple chocolate tarts, way more calories than a man should ask for on a midweek afternoon, but what the hell it goes with a day at the track, like free drinks do at Vegas.
When I bid my colleagues adios, and soaked in all the track ambiance on the way out to the Union Avenue front gate exit, I knew I'd had just enough but not too much of a racetrack sample.
(To be continued...)
I was awake anyway-- never really sleeping late anymore, even on a brief vacation-- but a strangely Squawking Crow compelled me to unzip the tent and arise. The day was just breaking and you only get one chance to see that. When we camped on the Islands, when the kids were younger and we all went to bed earlier, I would try to see the sunrise each morning, but it had been a long time since then, and I only had a short time at this sacred northern Lake George site this summer. I was determined not to miss it.
The previous night had not seemed so sacred, to tell the truth-- surrounded by drunken Hiawathas of the modern era in this densely packed public campground, I'd had to clamp an extra pillow over my head to get some rest before 10:30, beat from 2 days of driving, camp chores, swimming, sun, and exertion. Thanks to the weird jungle-like bird sounds I'd heard (the word Quetzalcotl kept coming to mind, thanks to an old Jorge Luis Borges story I dimly recalled), I was beating everyone else to the punch on this one special morning.
Absolutely no one else was stirring yet. No crackling campfires or creaking restroom doors. No one. Very rare in a campground. I grabbed my swim trunks, towel, pen and notepaper, minimal equipment, and strolled as Indian-quiet as I could down the road to the path to the rock shelf area where insiders knew to go for the best lake access.
My cellphone said 6:14 a.m. as I got to the water's edge, 53 degrees, chilly last night. The orange orb of the sun was just above the tree-tops on the Putnam side of the lake. Its glistening shimmer on the water was overwhelmingly bright, more than sunglasses could deflect. Awesome sight, but I'd wished I'd been down there half an hour earlier, when the dawn was just breaking. No matter, I was here, alone, not a soul moving or anywhere in sight. Not even a fishing boat on the water yet-- and I had about a seven-mile view of the Lake expanse, from Anthony's Nose off to my distant left, down to Sabbath Day Point to the south, far right.
The water before me was limpid and clear, but the rowdy white folk from the night before had left their usual assortment of Coors Light and Keystone cans behind, which I decided to gather up and bundle out of sight. Cigarette butts were also infinitely dispersed, and I picked up the most obvious of those, keeping them away from the shore. Some thoughtless parent must have given their kids blue chewing gum recently as well-- there were gobs of the residue left in the grass and crevasses of the rock. With a plastic cup I collected the foul debris, as my service of the day. Found an empty plastic half-gallon jug of Smirnoff vodka left behind-- alcoholics notoriously negligent about cleaning up after themselves. Once I cleaned the rock slabs-- ancient granite and gneiss, if I remembered any geology at all-- I felt better about doing my sitting meditation and prayer of the morning.
After some quiet absorption and silent offerings, thanking this amazing place for allowing me to be there-- I pulled off my sweats and tee, donned the swim trunks. Primordial rock meets crystalline water, still pure despite the degradations our species often brings with it.
I plunge in and take my dip in the golden light on the surface. Emerald water sustains my float, and ten minutes of side-stroking. Not a powerful swimmer, I wish I could make the mile-and-a-half haul across to the far side, but that would have been more likely 30 or more years ago. I content myself within fifty yards of shore, more cautious now. The water temperature was not as chilly as some people complain it is-- actually it felt velvety and comforting. The air temp, however, when I crawled back up from the slippery rocks to the dry, was another story. I quickly pulled on my shirt and sweats again, and wring out my trunks, the lake water draining back to its source in rivulets.
Then I noted the first fellow human of the day, or at least his cruiser, coming out of Silver Bay, a couple of miles away. Then I saw a small fishing skiff zipping along on the far side of the forested shore-- the long stretch of (mostly) unpopulated, densely-wooded lakefront that runs north from Bluff Head. Those two boaters had hefty chunks of the lake to themselves as well. Though the sun was rising, a large swath of the green forest-- which catches the last sunset of each day, was still dark in the shade of the ridge.
As I scribble my notes about the gorgeous golden light I witnessed on this Monday, the sun slips under a wide bank of clouds and the ambiance goes from yellow to silver, right away, proving how transient these transcendent moments are. It seems chillier right away, and I'm glad I swam when I did. Still almost no one is on the scene, and anyone getting up from this point on won't know what a glorious start to the day they missed.
After an hour it occurs to me that the lapping waves have hypnotized me, and I have not had my morning coffee yet. It's time to take the golden memories with me and return to the campsite to start the fire. After breakfast, I will have to help my wife and daughter break down the tents and stow the gear, and will have to be back at work by 1 or 2 p.m. in Saratoga, 70 miles south of where I sat this morning. But now I am refreshed, and know that the spirit and sense of Lake George will remain in my soul for the rest of the summer season. No matter how brief this visit was, if you catch it right, it is intense, and stunningly beautific.
Wishing you all a taste of such beauty,
Copyright Wayne Perras 2013, for WaynesWord2,
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