Saturday, February 28, 2009

The nights are long and cold and scary

When I first heard this song, not many others had. It's only gotten better with time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

And the politicians are gleeful

I never purchased a GE light bulb because Jack Welch had reputation as such a brilliant CEO (though the truth of his brilliance is exaggerated). Nor did I buy a Tyson chicken because Don Tyson ran such a good company. Or use a Citi card because Sandy Weill was supposed to be such a financial genius.

It's rare that anyone would buy a product because of a CEO. The rare exceptions might be food products like Newman's Own or Ben and Jerry's, or new technology products like Apple, or Facebook. And even in those cases, the product needs to be superior or it isn't purchased. It's just that in those cases, the CEO is founder, inventor, chef and is still intimately involved with the products which are produced in their companies.

So, when layoffs come. Why doesn't anyone consider lopping off the CEO, and all his or her useless minions first?

Same goes for newspapers. The Hartford Courant is bleeding cash. So the CEO and the publisher fire reporters, photographers, editors and staff. The people producing the product. In the case of the Courant, the most expendable individuals are the CEO, the publisher and the layers of useless administration, who will eventually disappear when there aren't enough writers left to provide copy to surround the advertising.

The Rocky Mountain News is publishing it's last issue today after being in business for 159 years.

Bad writing? (Doubt it.) Loss of readers? (Probably.) Loss of advertisers? (Likely.) Inept corporate management and a burden of debt (Bingo!)

The paper had a daily circulation of 210,000 and a Sunday circulation of about 450,000. By my figures the paper grosses abaout a million dollars a week on subscriptions alone. That's $50 million a year gross on subscriptions. With advertising your telling me that some smart editor couldn't make this paper fly?

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

And the only ones happy about newspapers disappearing are the politicians. Think of what the legislators in the state will get away with without Mark Pazniokas looking over their shoulders. Think of what Dodd and Lieberman will do to the state, and for themselves without Jesse Hamilton keeping an eye out. And don't count on TV reporters to do any of the heavy lifting.

It's a triumph for political power and corruption while it's an indictment of corporate ownership, and failed business practices.

We all lose.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More layoffs at the Courant, but who wrote the story?

The Hartford laid off 100 employees on Tuesday, thirty of who are on the editorial staff, including prominent writers who cover Washington, and the state legislture. All of this, of course, following the absurd logic that you can have a newspaper without news gatherers.

And you know how light the Courant is now, well, with a far lighter staff, the Courant will likely float above your doorstep.

This is not good for Connecticut, the Courant and certainly not for the experienced writers who are now on the street.

Denis Horgan has dubbed it the Mardi Gras Massacre - beads to hang yourself, delivered by phone.

An super-folkie passes on

Susan Forbers Hansen passed along this article about Victor Heyman, a folk music benefactor of mammoth proportions. Apparently, as is her practice with many folk musicians, Hansen hosted Heyman and his wife at her house when they were passing through the area on their way to shows.

There are no doubts that Victor Heyman will be missed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thank-you, Roger

The legacy press can call Ken Krayeske anything it wants. That's freedom of the press, and now Ken Krayeske is a very public figure and open to such criticism.

But, it's turning out, Ken Krayeske is brilliant in his own way. The Jim Calhoun salary debate is now a public story. The Hartford Courant printed no less than three pieces on it today (a front page tickle, a story by Matthew Kaufman and a column by Rick Green). And that's just the Hartford Courant. The story is all over the country. The blame for that lies with Calhoun, not Krayeske.

But I want to cite Roger Catlin, of the Hartford Courant, who, in his blogs agrees that the post-game sports news conference is, indeed, an appropriate place for the question of salary to be raised. While many other journalists have called Krayeske out-of-bounds, Catlin has rightfully come to his defense. By and large it appears that the sports reporters on the inside circle for UCONN men's basketball show as much deference to Jim Calhoun as the White House press corps showed to George Bush.

WTF, Barack?

As Keith Olbermann reported last night on Countdown, the Obama administration is strangely continuing some of the Bush administration's worst decisions - rendition of suspected "terrorists" to foreign sites for interrogation, imprisonment of "enemy combatants" without the right to appeal the imprisonment, and the continuation claim of executive privilege to protect emails sent by Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.

What gives? This is neither openness, change or hope.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Musician's musician suffers real heartbreak

I hate it when my American news comes from Holland, but this just in from Kevin Lynch.

Buddy Miller suffers heart attack, undergoes triple bypass

Sunday, February 22, 2009 – Ace guitarist, songwriter and producer Buddy Miller, touring with Emmylou Harris, apparently suffered a heart attack Friday in Baltimore and underwent triple bypass surgery.

Miller, 56, was part of the "3 Girls And Their Buddy" tour with Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin. Miller had played in concert on Friday night.

Miller was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he had surgery, according to The Tennessean. The web site said, "The surgery was successful, and Miller will likely be recovering in Baltimore for several weeks."

Miller is a recording artist in his own right with a CD with wife Julie coming out March 3 on New West Records. He also was guitarist for the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss tour.

The tour made a stop in Torrington at the Warner Theater.

Go Huskies.

Much has been said and written in the past two days about the unfortunate press conference performance of Jim Calhoun after Saturday's game. Colin McEnroe's analysis is particularly insightful.

If you haven't heard, Calhoun's hair trigger temper was set off by law student, and freelance journalist Ken Krayeske's (you might remember his last brush with fame) question about Calhoun's salary. Watch.

You can form your own opinion about Calhoun, or Krayeske. As Jeff Jacobs reports in the Hartford Courant this morning, Calhoun had his numbers wrong. Jacobs also admitted that the UCONN press corps, in fear or fealty, has failed to ask Calhoun the same question, which Jacobs describes as a legitimate question. Still, he questions Krayeske's timing.

I'd say Krayeske had perfect timing. He asked his question. He got his response. And today it's a national story.

While Jacobs, over the years, has been one of the reporters who has fearlessly defied Calhoun's intimidation of the press, the Courant on Sunday reported that "The press conference continued without further incident." This tells you everything you need to know about how important the press conference is and how important the news from such a press conference typically is.

And for all those sports fans who feel that a basketball press conference is somehow sacrosanct, it's time for a review of the Constitution. Calhoun did not have to answer the question. He certainly didn't have to call the journalist "stupid" or tell him to "shut up." He lost his temper, and I'd guess he's regretting it now. Think what you like about Krayeske. He showed more courage than any other reporter in the room.

Another case of the blogs beating the legacy press to the punch.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Red ink headlines

Another bad week for newspapers.

The Journal-Register Company, corporate owner of The New Haven Register and the Middletown Press, has filed for Chaper 11 bankruptcy, filing a reorganization plan that calls for protection from creditors, closing more newspapers, the cancellation of stock and becoming a closely-held company.

It remains to be seen, of course, which newspapers will close.

The other news comes from inside the Hartford Courant where falling circulation and advertising is being blamed on the need to make more personnel cuts. Of course, the real reason for the huge financial mess is the leveraged financing used to purchase the chain's newspapers. Reports are that staff may be cut by 20%. One wonders who will be left to write the stories.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Oh yee yaiii, tonight

Mardi Gras Ball
Tonight, Saturday Feb 21
Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Cranston, RI

Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band

Friday, February 20, 2009

La chanson de Mardi Gras

I am mentally fatigued. Too much economic gloom. Too much mistrust in leaders. I need a window-screen mask, a conical hat, a fistful of Abita, and to be singing along to this somewhere on the prairies of Southwest Louisiana.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's not Ben and Jerry's; it's Hoods

There is truth to a new Ben and Jerry's Flavor, Yes Pecan, in honor of our new president.

What is hilarious, but untrue, are the flavors the ice cream maker is said to have considered for our last president.

My addition to the list: Exstrawberry Rendition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Army Department of Euphemism

The army called it, IRF (initial reaction force), and it's the excuse the military gave to guards at Guantanamo to submit prisoners to horrible abuse.

One wonders when former Army Private Brandon Neely will be discredited by the Pentagon.

Neely was a guard at Guantanamo, was convinced to sign a non-disclosure statement about his time there, but he has relented because he apparently can't live with his conscience.

Now he's speaking out, and if he is to be believed, our concept of Guantanamo, as horrific as it appears on its face, is nowhere as harsh as the reality that Neely describes.

It becomes clearer and clearer that our nation's leader who are responsible for this horror, need to be held responsible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sweating ink

Almost as ubiquitous as gloomy talk about the economy is gloomy talk about the demise of newspapers. You can read it in Time Magazine. You can hear it on NPR.

I've spewed my share of electronic words here about the way in which a combination of forces - corporate ownership, financial constraints, an aging readership, competition from electronic media - have pushed newspapers to, and over the brink.

As a c0-founder of a local newsblog (The Middletown Eye), I'm acutely aware of the failure of the legacy media, and the difficult, if not impossible task, of filling the gap with volunteer community journalists.

I bridle at the accusations, hurled by media analysts, that the news can only be delivered by trained journalists, and that the resulting loss of "objectivity," depth and grasp of the "truth" will doom us to a hobbled democracy.

In fact, objectivity and the truth are slippery concepts which reporters and editors have rarely grasped firmly.

Certainly, "untrained" reporters ought to be aware of the difference between reporting news, and opinion. They should understand that checking facts, and having two (ideally three) sources before printing a fact, is the time-honored path to approaching the "truth." They should know that the facts will save them, and having those facts reported accurately in a notebook and on tape are the way to protect them from accusations of inaccuracy, libel and slander. They should know that there are at least two sides to every story. Reporters should be aware that sophisticated sources will try to spin them, and unsophisticated sources may be so lost in a passionate argument that accuracy falls by the wayside.

Unfortunately, if those rules were followed by the legacy media, we might not be in this mess.

The New York Times bought into the administration selling points prior to the Iraq war. The White House Press was cowed into allowing the Bush administration to lie for eight years. Here at home The Hartford Courant the editorial board endorsed Joe Lieberman, John Rowland and Eddie Perez, even as intrepid reporters were working to reveal the vile political manipulations of these politicians. In my hometown, which the Courant has abandoned, the Middletown Press doesn't even have the horses to cover the basic stories.

All this, to point you to one of the best essays I've read recently on the topic.

In a truly thought-provoking Salon essay, Gary Kamiya posits that it's not only the death of newspapers we should worry about, but the death of reporting.

We need to remember that our founding fathers understood the importance of a free press to a well-regulated democracy. At its most desperate juncture, our local state paper, The Hartford Courant, is focusing a microscope on crooked politicians, venal appointees and incompetent corporations.

We can't afford to lose that microscope, even if all it reveals are the viruses which are making our communities sick.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Has the New York Times fallen for a Cajun joke?

In the Sunday New York Times, respected and wide-ranging music critic Jon Pareles unleashes his usual eclectic notices on a half-dozen new albums.

But I think he's fallen for an outsized Cajun joke.

Joel Savoy, proprietor of Valcour records, released an album by Christine Balfa late last year. It is, and was, Christine playing solo "tit fer" (little iron) or triangle. It's the tink-a-tink, without the chank-a-chank. As you can imagine, the album is repetitive in a way the way that only a triangle can be moving from waltz to two-step without accompaniment. Of course there's the occasional Cajun wail, but it's triangle most of the time.

And it's a joke. I know because I corresponded with Savoy about the album.

Not surprising from Savoy, or Balfa, who are both excellent musicians. Balfa, also a guitarist, is the daughter of Dewey Balfa, the late, legendary Cajun fiddler. Savoy was a member of the Red Stick Ramblers, and is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and the son of famed Cajun musicians, Mark and Ann Savoy. Both like a good laugh, especially when the joke is on city slickers.

So, Pareles has raised the Balfa album to high art, and maybe he's in on the joke. Surely the proof will be in the pudding as we keep an eye on sales of the Balfa album to see how many music fans will buy a concept unheard, because it was praised in the Times.

I'm beginning to think there's an insider journalistic joke going on - smart music writers sneaking one by the editors, after reading Steve Hochman's (who knows better) review in New Orlean's Offbeat Magazine.

And they're even smirking at the Valcour site.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The state gravy train

As content in the Hartford Courant gets lighter and lighter, it's with pleasure that I look forward to Sunday and the newest revelation of state malfeasance from Jon Lender, Kevin Rennie and now our old Middletown reporter Josh Kovner, who's showing his skills as an investigative reporter.

I started my career, post Hartford Times stringer, in the State of Connecticut Labor Department (Unemployment Compensation Division). During the mid-seventies recession is was a place of refuge for recent grads who couldn't find a "real" job. If I knew then, what I know now, I might have considered a career as a state employee. In those days, the lack of competitive compensation was ameliorated by a generous benefits package.

Unfortunately, most state employees labor their entire careers in modest-paying bureaucratic jobs, but apparently there are a chosen few, like some at the UCONN Medical School, who are allowed to double-dip, or who win contracts, as Kevin Rennie points out, that seem fit for royalty.

And as Josh Kovner demonstrates, our worst instincts are true. Our state legislators, by and large, have no idea how to work in the real world, so even when their stints as legislators, and legislative employees are through, they're given per diem contracts so they can hang around the Capitol and bask in the reflected glory.

I'm beginning to think that the idea of a part-time legislature, with amateur legislators who eventually return to real-world jobs, is a pipe dream which we will never wake from. After all, how can we expect the chickens to come home to roost when the foxes are guarding the henhouse.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dodd and Lieberman seeking redemption

With their poll numbers so low that they look like the share value at some banks, Connecticut's two Senators, Friend-of-Angelo Chris Dodd, and Creepy Joe™ Lieberman are seeking to salvage their ragged reputations.

Dodd's bid was to put a cap on executive bonuses, which is more stringent than the one the Obama administration sought. The cap still allows execs at bailed-out banks to receive huge salaries, and the bonuses are capped at 30% of those salararies. Boo hoo, poor execs.

Lieberman is trying to put a new populist luster on his Republican tendencies by convincing his fellow Republicans (I know, I know, Lieberman claims to be an Indy Dem, but really...), to vote for the stimulus. He helped reach across the aisle in his expert bipartisan manner, and it yielded two votes.

Sorry to tell these chumps that these heroics are not what they will be remembered for in the voting booth.

Friday, February 13, 2009

There's a USA Today growing inside my Hartford Courant

If you still read the print edition of the Hartford Courant, you've undoubtedly noticed something strange occurring six or eight pages into your A section.

As you flip past the half-page ads for Thermo-tite Windows, and the Hunting and Fishing Show (Are they printing these ads for free? Look at the size of them!) And as you browse past the vestigial remains of the Business Section, reporting on the vestigial remains of business and the economy, you suddenly find yourself in a through-the-looking glass world where the Beyond CT section brings you to a typographical wonderland, an offset funhouse, a bizarro-world version of what used to be as familiar as old newsprint.

WTF is happening?

Do our local editors really think this tawdry double-truck is easier to read because the pictures are bigger, the headlines bolder, the graphics more numerous and the kerning more dense? Do the corporate publishers really think that layout like a webpage, and stories shorter than a summer night in Murmansk will really attract younger readers who wouldn't know what to do with a newspaper if they were told to roll one up to kill a housefly.

These pages are ugly, and once again, insulting to the only people left reading this wisp that lands on the doorstep each morning, people like me.

What next? The newspaper delivery person waking me up to slap me every morning when the paper arrives?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where were you the night Ned Lamont lost?

I know where Jim Amann was. And it wasn't with the Democratic party.

Now he's running for governor. He'd better get on the phone to his friend Creepy Joe™ to see if they can rally the six dozen supporters Lieberman has left in Connecticut.

H/T to Connecticut Bob for the video.

And here's a golden oldie.

Chene Thompson, an example to us all

Not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two over this.

The comfy chair

Yesterday I suggested that tarring and feathering a banker might be a way for the general public to feel that the folks who got us into this mess were adequately chastised.

I didn't know that Nicholas Kristof had suggested the same thing in the New York Times.

Trouble is, our feckless political leaders don't seem to agree. Yes, they paraded the naughty bankers before their congressional committee yesterday and, yes, they talked tough to them, but when it comes down to walking the walk, they were merely taunting the bankers from behind the barricades of their congressional credenzas.

The Washington Post is reporting that the stimulus package arrived without the promised executive pay cap for companies which receive bailout money.

I'm angry, are you?

We want tar and feathers. They give the bankers "the comfy chair."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The food fight theory of economic reform

Decades ago when I was in college, the food service played a kind of brinkmaship, which occasionally failed.

They would serve us a series of very mediocre dinners, until they could sense the rumblings in the dining rooms, and suddenly we'd get steak, or lasagne, or something special, like lobster.

Then the mediocre meals would continue, until the rumblings would rise again.

But sometimes they failed to recognize the rumblings, or one of the mediocre meals, especially late in series of mediocre meals, was truly despicable. On that evening, you could sense the tension in the dining hall. Maybe the weather was lousy. Maybe it was midterms. But the meatloaf was more than most of us could stand. And then the first foil-wrapped baked potato would fly through the air and strike some unsuspecting sophomore in the head. Next thing you know the air was filled with flatware, boiled-limp vegetables, slabs of ground beef, silverware, sheetcake, plastic cups still filled with dilute fruit punch, glistening polyhedrons of jello, french fries bleeding kethup and stale dinner rolls. A full-fledged, frenzied food-fight would erupt and for less than a minute, when any able hand still had ammunition, and was brave enough to crawl out from beneath a table, it was a veritable thunderstorm of institutionally-boiled-to-gelatinous-consistency fare filling the air. Spent, hungry, but strangely satisfied, we students would leave the room quickly, with our souls nourished.

Today the bankers are on the hill being grilled by Congressional representatives who are trying to tag them in a giant, dangerous and futile game of "you're it." The feckless corporate execs being grilled by the feckless politicians. And when we all still had our jobs, the bread-and-circus comedy of these kind of assassinations by committee, the righteous anger of our elected officials, and the balm of things like American Idol and Paris Hilton, would allow us to sink, eyes glazed, into a stupor.

But I'm beginning to sense a tension in the air akin to that of the dining hall just before a food fight. I have a feeling that if Chris Dodd had the temerity to show his face at a Elks luncheon, he'd get heckled from the stage. I have the sense that Joe Lieberman would be needled mercilessly at any staged diner stop he attempted to make. I know that any bank CEO who happened to get pointed out in the audience at a hockey game, might get checked hard into the boards.

Most of our failed, self-rewarded, feet-dragging leaders don't have a sense of just how angry people are. And I wonder when the first effigy will be burned. I wonder when the mortgage lender will be pulled from his Mercedes, tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

Yogurt pelting is a new sport in Iceland. In Riga Latvia, hurled ice chunks created new store entrances for looters. Greek farmers have driven their tractors to town to block highways. In South Korea, protestors broke through a legislative blockade of furniture to brawl with lawmakers.

So, I'm waiting, wondering when that first foil-wrapped baked potato is going to fly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

80 year old cuts the legs out from under crazed conservative pundit

I beg you to take a few moments to read the hilarious and brutal explication of Ann Coulter's prose by Helen Philpot.

Why doesn't Helen have her own radio or TV show?

BTW, Connecticut is after Coulter for voter fraud.

Me and Julio down by the schoolyard

Barack Obama is proving to be something of a catalyst. On his campaign trail he made a star out of a fibbing, non-plumber who called himself Joe the Plumber.

Today, in a speech in Fort Myers Florida, where the housing market has dropped so precipitously as to make it frightening, he encountered another young man, Julio Osegueda, who made the most of his moment in the spotlight.

Q poll confirms: Creepy Joe™ is a loser

A new Quinnipiac poll shows that CT Senator Creepy Joe™ Lieberman would lose in a landslide if he decides to run in 2012.

Anyone surprised?

Things aren't so good for Senator Friend of Angelo either.

Again, surprised?

Monday, February 9, 2009

My dearest Rush,

Blimpbaugh is getting a lot of unexpected mail today. John Feehery, a Republican strategist, has addressed an open letter to Rush asking him to be specific in his plans for the Republican party and for the country.

And Ralph Nader is demanding rent!

Dear Mr. Limbaugh, The Associated Press reports your new contract with Premiere Radio Networks will enrich you with at least $38 million a year over the next eight years. You are making this money on the public property of the American people for which you pay no rent. You, Rush Limbaugh, are on welfare. As you know, the public airwaves belong to the American people. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is supposed to be our trustee in managing this property. The people are the landlords and the radio and TV stations and affiliated companies are the tenants. The problem is that since the Radio Act of 1927 these corporate tenants have been massively more powerful in Washington, DC than the tens of millions of listeners and viewers. The result has been no payment of rent by the stations for the value of their license to broadcast. You and your company are using the public's valuable property for free. This freeloading on the backs of the American people is called corporate welfare. It is way past due for the super-rich capitalist -- Rush Limbaugh from Cape Girardeau, Missouri -- to get himself off big time welfare. It is way past due for Rush Limbaugh as the Kingboy of corporatist radio to set a capitalist example for his peers and pay rent to the American people for the very lucrative use of their property. You need not wait for the broadcast industry-indentured FCC and Congress to do the right thing. You can lead by paying a voluntary rent -- determined by a reputable appraisal organization -- for the time you use on the hundreds of stations that carry your words each weekday. Payment of rent for the use of public airwaves owned by the American people is the conservative position. Real conservatives oppose corporate welfare. Real corporatists feed voraciously from hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate welfare gushing out of Washington, DC yearly. Whose side are you on? Freeloading? Or paying rent for the public property you have been using free for many years? I look forward to your response. Sincerely yours, Ralph Nader PO Box 19312 Washington, DC 20036

H/T SF Hansen

Folk music re-emerges at Grammy's

Folk music was the big surprise winner at the Grammy's on Sunday.

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Contemporary Folk/Americana album for Raising Sand. They also won for best pop collaboration, and best country collaboration.

Pete Seeger won another Grammy. This time for Pete Seeger at 89 on Appleseed.

Art Rosenbaum and Dust-to-Digital won a Grammy for the first volume of The Art of Field Recording.

As mentioned in another post, Michael Doucet and Beausoleil won a Grammy, as did the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Bela Fleck and Dr. John.

Beausoleil wins Cajun/Zydeco Grammy

In an interview just last week I talked to Mike Doucet about his double nomination for a Grammy this year. He thought the double nominee would knock him out of contention.

One nomination was for a very fine solo fiddle album he put out for Smithsonian/Folkways called From Now On.

The other was for a live Beausoleil album from Jazz Fest recorded by an outfit called MunckMusic which records CDs of live sets at festivals and sells them to fans on-site. Steve Riley's album, also recorded at Jazz Fest, was also nominated.

"I've never even heard it," Doucet told me.

"Wouldn't it be ironic if that's the album that won you a Grammy?" I replied.

He admitted to an irony, that in fact occured this evening, when Beausoleil won the Grammy for that live recording.

Congratulations to Beausoleil, and to Pete Seeger for taking home a Grammy for his Appleseed recording At 89.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The war ain't over and the surge didn't work

So says Thomas Ricks, a war correspondent with The Washington Post, and author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq and The Gamble, a book about the surge.

He says that the surge worked militarily, and that there is less violence in Iraq, but that it failed politically, causing more division and making Iraquis more sectarian.

Most depressingly, Ricks says the war is maybe only half over.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Maddow's bull-pucky

I was up in the Northampton Mass area today for a kids concert by Katryna and Nerissa Nields. Shopping at Whole Foods, I was hoping to bump into Rachel Maddow, who comes from the Pioneer Valley, and calls Northampton home (at least on the weekend).

I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed watching her last night calling Republicans on their ridiculous and without-economic-evidence opposition to the stimulus package.

I didn't see Rachel, but I saw two other people I know from Northampton who I haven't seen in a long time.

If you see her, tell her to keep calling "bull-pucky."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Paul LeMay remembrance from Tim Wolf

I originally just published this as a comment, but it deserves a full post. From Tim Wolf:

I've been filtering through numerous memories and reflections about Paul. They are all steeped in gratitude. Like so many, I was lousy about expressing that gratitude while Paul was alive. So the least I can do is share a handful of recollections and history from the early days of Peace Train. Excuse any mistakes (this is from memory).

Paul was originally from Windsor I believe (perhaps more specifically Poquonock). He married and had two sons, Paul Michael and Jimmy, then divorced. Early on he worked as a shoe salesman, then was employed in the office at the Plimptons office supply warehouse. It was while working there I believe that Peace Train was hatched as a concept.

After buying the infamous school bus, Paul found a patron in Jack Dollard, an architect hired by the Knox Foundation to help it spend its money to revitalize Hartford. Jack granted Paul a modest sum to help convert the bus into a caboose. Jack may have even sketched out a blueprint for the "conversion". (Was this perhaps around 1973 or 1974?)

Paul's girlfriend/partner/collaborator through the 1970s was Pam Ring. Pam was cooking at Picnic, the Union Place vegetarian restaurant run by Judith Elliot. Picnic, and Union Place, was a hub of creative, groovy, hippie commerce and energy. Paul did much of his honey selling and acordian playing in front of Picnic to raise money for Peace Train and the first Fiddle Contest. Some of the early musicians associated with Peace Train may well have been connections made on Union Place, where Shanti School (a public alternative high school located inside the train station) had faculty and students such as Nick Duke, Dan Schultz, and others who played Bluegrass. There was also a Trinity College contingent, many of whom lived on Kenyon Street that became Peace Train regulars: Bill Ferns, Peter Garnick, Joe Cohen. Additionally there was Will Welling and Bill Wallach.

In 1975, I was a sixteen-year-old from West Hartford into the art of kite-making and flying. I had an idea for having a kite festival in Bushnell Park, and like Paul received funds from the Knox Foundation (thanks to Jack Dollard and Tim Keating) to produce my first public event, Kite Day, on May 5 of that year. Paul was there with the Peace Train and a few musicians, Judith Elliot carried over a pot of soup from Picnic to feed the kite flyers. A good time was had by all, and Paul and I made our connection.

Over the next four years or more, Paul was my mentor. That spring and summer I became part of the Peace Train family, hanging out regularly with Paul and Pam (and dog Zenobia) at their little house on Skitchewaug Street in Wilson. Despite my young age, or perhaps because of it, Paul was always running his unstoppable litany of ideas by me. I always gave him my honest opinion, "bad idea," "won't work," "maybe," "that sounds workable," "give me a break". He always respected my opinion and often took my advice. This played no small part in a sixteen-year-old's ability to develop self-confidence.

I tagged along to the numerous parades (everyone wanted that caboose in their parade), fiddle contests and concerts as helper/crew-member on the "Train". That summer ('75) during the West Indian Day Parade Paul was getting a little tipsy while driving the Train through the streets of the North End blasting Calypso from the loud speakers when he turned the driving over to me. I had never driven a standard, and certainly never a school bus/caboose, but he put it in neutral and coasted at a slow speed--in the parade--as I took the driver's seat. Paul said, "I'll put it in second gear, that's all you need." From that day on I became a backup driver. I drove that bus until 1984, well past it's retirement and replacement.

The Plimtptons warehouse formed one base of the recruitment center for the technical production of Peace Train's activity. U. of H. graduate David Budries worked there and had started Mantra Sound with Stephen Washburn from Glastonbury. Mantra provided all the sound for the first several Fiddle Contests as well as neighborhood and park concerts for years. Two other Plimptons guys, Doug Eldridge and Floyd (can't remember his last name) had a lighting company and provided the illumination for all manner of after-dark events that Peace Train produced. Much of the sound and lighting equipment was eventually bought by Peace Train as it became bigger and began to sell its services as a concert production company to other presenters, such as the annual fiddle festival at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Katonah, NY, the Hartford's San Juan Festival, the West Indian Celebration and more. There is a lineage of sound and lighting equipment and sound engineers and lightning technicians that still provide those services to Hartford concerts and events that can trace their roots to Paul and Peace Train.

The bus Paul built was the Peace Train mascot and it turned heads everywhere it went. Once we moved our friend Elliot Porter in the Train from Hartford down to an apartment on Bleeker Street in Manhattan. After unloading Elliot's furniture we drove uptown so I could try to do some kite flying in Central Park. Instead, we were ushered into the Puerto Rican Day Parade that happened to be taking place that day. The NYPD thought we were late to the parade and opened up the barricades to let us in. Paul got on the mic (attached to a gooseneck that swiveled in front of the driver's seat) and invited flag-waving parade watchers on board. Someone provided a cassette of Salsa music and Paul popped it into the tape player and belted it out of roof-mounted loudspeakers. That was some party.

From the first few Fiddle Contests in the early/mid-seventies through Paul being ousted by the Peace Train board over the hot-air balloon debacle in 1981, Paul had built Peace Train into a nationally-recognized non-profit performing arts presenting organization. In it's hey-day Peace Train had a couple dozen employees (thanks to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA) and was producing well over 100 free concerts, large and small, in a season. To many people Paul's legacy was the New England Fiddle Contest, but his legacy is much deeper than that. Peace Train employed hundreds of local musicians to play free concerts in nursing homes, senior centers, block parties, virtually every housing project and public park in Hartford, as well as New Haven and other cities and towns in Connecticut and beyond. I said "employed", he paid artists to play free concerts accesable to all. It wasn't just fiddle and folk music, but Gospel, jazz, blues, rock, bluegrass, country, funk and much more. Does anyone remember Hubert Powel & the Gospel Truth, Wood Brass and Steel, Last Fair Deal, Blues Train, the Hartford Morris Men, Jacob's Reunion, Spiral, to name a few?

Paul also brought nationally-known artists to the city for free concerts: Taj Mahal, Leone Redbone, Maria Muldaur, Pat Metheney, The Paul Winter Consort, Elizabeth Cotton and more. He started Hartford's first free outdoor dance series, Summerdance, presenting Pilobolus, the Alvin Ailey Repertory Company, Hartford Ballet, Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble and more.

After Paul's ouster from Peace Train, I was hired to be its technical director, then served as co-director (with Jack McNair) and finally held the position of interim director, not wanting the permanent position of director. I left Peace Train in 1984 and it folded as the diverse presenting organization it had become a couple years later. During that period Paul and I remained friends. I may have been to only person still involved with Peace Train still on good terms with him in the year or two following his firing.

Playing off Paul's tradition of taking all types of performing art into all communities, for free, Jack and I developed programs on the other end of the spectrum from the Fiddle Contest, including a series of breakdancing contests across the state that developed into a traveling school program introducing Hip Hop culture to suburban and rural audiences. This was 1982 and 1983! We still ran the Fiddle Contest, but it was no longer the big money maker it had become for Peace Train after the city forced us out of Bushnell Park. Yes, for a time the Contest was able to largely pay for itself and turn a profit through t-shirt sales and rental of vendor space.

After Peace Train, Paul ran a competing fiddle contest in Massachusetts for one or two years, got into the hot air balloon thing (briefly), and even ran his own competing arts-presenting organization for a couple of years. The Downtown Council was so keen not to take sides in the Peace Train vs. Paul aftermath that it divided up the contract for a series of summer street music programs between Peace Train, Paul's group, and another presenter, TAPCO.

After I left Peace Train Paul let me apply for some grants through his new organization to present a one-day world music festival in Bushnell Park in 1984. The event was rained out of Bushnell Park and Paul invited us to put on the program at Mad Murphy's on Union Place where he was then booking the bands. It was all last minute, chaotic, hot and crazy, but truly unforgettable when the headliner, Sun Ra and his Arkestra took the tiny stage at Murphy's. Paul helped me make that happen. That event was the seed of another nonprofit I started with my wife, Linda Pagani, in 1990. The International Performing Arts Festival had a nice run of four years in the free concert tradition of Peace Train before the funding climate and shrinking audiences forced us to shut down.

I dealt with Paul professionally a little more in the eighties when he would book my band, The Hibachi Brothers, into Mad Murphy's. In the nineties, Paul tried to recruit me on numerous occasions to get involved in the reincarnated Peace Train and Fiddle Contest. I politely declined each time having decided to focus my energies in other areas after the demise of my own organization. At that time Paul had been making a living as a spreadsheet master, working as a contractor for CIGNA in Bloomfield. Paul was a gadget guy, so it was never a surprise to me that he totally embraced some aspect of the personal computer boom. I recall he was also was quite good at accounting.

In the last decade or so, I could expect an annual phone call from Paul to either try again to recruit me or simply to run another idea by me, like Bob Dylan in Bushnell Park. Once I declined or wished him luck on the latest unhatched plan, we would talk about his two sons and catch each other up on old acquaintances. I enjoyed getting to know his son Paul as an adult after he returned from India with our mutual interests as fellow Buddhists. The last e-mail I think I got from Paul Sr., several years ago, was a photo of his then new grandson, Paul Jr.'s son Henry.

Paul didn't single handedly set me on my life's course, but he was a really important and large influence. The job I have today, and have had for the past 21 years, I can trace back to Paul.

This has been a long and indulgent reminiscence, but these are memories that deserve to be shared. We never know when our time will come, and so I put these thoughts down at this time for those who knew, appreciated and loved Paul.

Another sappy Manhattan story

I always thought New York City smelled like maple syrup - poured over a puddle of vomit and urine, in a chestnut cooker fueled by contaminated diesel fuel.

Now, it turns out, I was right!

Of course, I just don't buy the whole Grade A, New Jersey Maple Syrup thing. Does it come in a bottle shaped like a refinery tank?

Now we know how to show respect for the Constitution

They're still trotting out the buffoons of the George Bush administration.

Now it's chief-of-staff Andrew Card saying that the proper way to show respect for the presidency and the Constitution is to wear a suit while in the Oval Office.

If it were only so simple.

Respect for the Constitution requires adhering to some of its basic philosophy and its principles, many of which were trampled regularly by Bush and his henchmen and women.

But at least he was wearing a suit and tie.

"That one" reads AND writes

Imagine a president who can sit at a computer and knock out an op-ed. Alright, alright, I suppose he might've gotten help, but I'm sure that since he'll be accused of not writing it, that it is, in essence, his.

Read it and weep ye promoters of stupidity. We've got a thinking man in the White House.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Right there in black and white

Congrats to Susan Forbes Hansen.

One of her beautiful photographs has been accepted into a juried photography exhibit at the West Hartford Art League running through February 22 in the Clubhouse Gallery, 37 Buena Vista Road.

You can see many of her prints (she shoots on film, and develops the prints herself), in a show entitled, The Black and White Season, on display at the Roaring Brook Nature Center, 70 Gracey Road, in Canton.

As Susan reminded me, they have several good folk shows coming up, so you can take in a concert and see the photos, too.

Feb 7: Erica Wheeler, songwriter and Land Trust spokesperson
Feb 14: Ed Gerhard, brilliant guitarist
Feb 21: Paul Rishell and Annie Raines: excellent blues vocalists and instrumentalists
Feb 28: Anais Mitchell & Meg Hutchinson, fine young songwriters
Mar 7: Stan Sullivan & Jim Mercik

Who is Christian Bale again?

When my video editor asked if I had heard the Christian Bale on-set tantrum, I had to admit I hadn't.

Then I asked, "Who's Christian Bale?"

"He was Batman in the Dark Knight," he said. "You've got to hear this."

He was right. It demonstrates once again what a glamorous life filmmaking is, and how much actors and actresses appreciate the hard-working men and women who make them look and sound good.

Or not. Here are some of the nice things Mr. Bale said to his DP (Director of Photography). WARNING: The f-word is used a few times.

Oops. Mr. Bale forgot he was wearing a microphone and that he was not just humiliating the DP, he was making the rest of the crew very angry, especially the sound recordist who just happened to make this clip available to Mr. Bale's many fans on the web.

In fact, one of his fans was so pleased with the clip that he turned it into the song which will likely be on hundreds of dance floors this weekend. It's so catchy.

So catchy, it's become viral on the web.

My argument with Mr. Gale is that he so dilutes the already diminished power of a beautiful Anglo-Saxon expletive. It's obvious Mr. Gale needs a script to sound coherent.

Poor Mr. Gale. His intent was to humiliate the DP, and now he's got to suffer so much humiliation himself. Hope he's fucking happy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Alligator Purse on Caterwaul

At some point tomorrow morning, I'll play an interview I did this week with Mike Doucet, of Beausoleil, about their latest album, Alligator Purse. Tune in 6-9 a.m. to 91.3 FM in Hartford, or listen online.

BTW, I'll also have tickets to giveaway for the annual Mardi Gras Ball, at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston, RI.

Hartford for Hartford's Paul Lemay

The Hartford Courant noted Paul Lemay's passing today with a great photo online.

As Kevin Lynch noted in a comment, Paul didn't create the fiddle contest because he loved fiddle music. He created it because he loved people.

In fact, Paul did love music - blues and jazz and folk. But he absolutely adored the late John Hartford. So here's a little Hartford for Hartford as it memorializes Paul Lemay.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Another rendition of "Hail to the Chief"

(An extraordinary rendition flight. Note the flag.)

UPDATE: Looks like I got punked too.

I'm not expecting to agree with everything the new president does, but his failure to put an end to extraordinary rendition dulls the shine on his restoration of other Constitutional rights.

I can't see how someone who seems to understand the need for the United States to adhere to the letter of the law can allow a policy which allows secret U.S. agencies to kidnap people from the streets, anywhere in the world, and throw them into jails without the benefits or personal freedoms, or guaranteed representation and due process.

It's a shameful sin of omission in Obama's current attempts to resurrect the reputation of America, and restore the rights we are all guaranteed by the Constitution.

An Obama spokesman said: "Obviously you need to preserve some tools – you still have to go after the bad guys."

Sorry, but I'm not willing to allow any administration to define who the bad guy is, if the bad guy doesn't have the right to declare that a mistake may have been made.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Our tone deaf speaker of the house

Chris Donovan just doesn't know when to quit. First we find out that he wanted to hire the just-ex-speaker Jim Amann as his special assistant at a salary (read: cost to taxpayers) of $120,000.

Both Donovan and Amann, who is planning to run for governor, decided it wasn't a wise plan, after it was publicized and the tax paying constituents went apeshit.

Now this. Donovan, who seems to have a special gift for making decisions which will resonate like a sour note to constituents, has hired a press secretary at a salary of $165,000 a year.

As a writer, far be it from me to complain about one who has figured out how to pull down $165,000 a year. And he was making $245k at his last gig. But it pains me to think that I own a communications business, with employees, and we all pay taxes to hire a state employee who is pulling down a good bit more than me, and has a benefit package that is the envy of any private sector employee.

And his job?

To make the Speaker of the House look good.

Well, it looks like the speaker will need someone to burnish his reputation at this rate.

BTW, kudos to Jon Lender and the Hartford Courant for the diligent work and the good sense to expose the weaknesses of our leaders. It seems to be a common thread among the Courant's columnists, as Colin McEnroe and Susan Campbell and Kevin Rennie and Helen UbiƱas take up the same theme.

Look up the word feckless in the dictionary, and it's illustrated with a map of Hartford.