Yes, it’s that time again. As I’ve noted here before, Twelfth Night is traditionally observed on January 6th in New Orleans, but in other places it’s considered to begin at sundown on January 5th. I guess this relates to the old idea of holidays beginning the night before, like Christmas really seems to start on Christmas Eve, but it’s confusing to the modern mentality.
In any event, last night was the first time I’ve ever been invited to a Twelfth Night party on January 5th. It figures it would take a couple Hoosiers to pull a move like that; sadly, Jeff and Laura will soon be moving back to Indiana for a job opportunity that was too good to resist. We wish them well. We went in costume, of course, and had a good time. I felt like we were getting a jump on the rest of the city, though we had to make a relatively early departure so as not to keep our daughter up too too late. An unplanned theme emerged at the party — the color green. Lou from Denver was serving up a scalding and delicious chili verde, and not one but two of the ladies were dressed as green fairies, and so of course we had to drink a little absinthe.
Now that Carnival is officially here, it’s worth noting that it will be a long season — just about as long as possible. Why? Well, as we all know, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. That puts Easter on the 24th of April this year. (April 25 is the last mathematically possible date for Easter to land on, so this is very late indeed.) Of course, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, so this year it falls on March 9, which means Mardi Gras in March 8. That will be the latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.
Since the beginning of Carnival is fixed but the end moves, the season can be short or long. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. The response is predictable. During short seasons, we hear people complaining that it’s all going by too quickly. During long seasons, people complain that it’s dragging on too long. Don’t fall into this trap! The variability of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season is a wonderful thing. Embrace it. Celebrate, don’t denigrate. Consider the implications of a convenient, modern, fixed date. The only way this would work is if Easter became a fixed feast rather than a moveable feast, which would mean disregarding the moon entirely. I’m sure some people would like that very much, but the very idea makes me retch. Don’t fall prey to this insidious anti-Lunarism. When a weary fellow paradegoer complains about the long Carnival season, haul off and punch that person right in the face. Strike a blow for the moon.
I didn’t really know Betts, but I know Gentilly Girl, who has also been a regular commenter on this blog, and so I am reposting this from Liprap’s Lament in hopes of garnering a few more bucks for the cause. There’s currently over $300 in the fund but more is needed. Start the New Year right and help a local blogger out.
Betty Ann Davis, friend and partner of Morwen Madrigal, passed away last night after a long illness. Sweet, quiet Betts, until she got behind a pool cue or shot glass, and then you’d best watch out. Morwen herself has been very ill lately and I worry about the effects Betts’s passing will have on her.
Of course this is a terrible photo, but it proves I was there. I caught some zzz, then got up at 1:45AM. The total eclipse was in full effect. A half dozen people were hanging out in the street in front of Banks Street Bar, gazing upward. I went around the way to Michael’s house, and we raised a toast together, a cocktail of my own invention, brandy and rye whiskey and pecan liqueur and bitters. I called it a “Brown Moon Rising.”
When I got back home I roused Persephone to take a look at the eclipse out her bathroom window. I’d explained the concept earlier, but now she was understandably groggy. I’m not sure she even really remembered the next morning. Fortunately she went back to sleep easily.
I was not so lucky. After lying in bed for a while, I got back up to eat a bowl of cereal and read and check out the moon again.
From a visual standpoint, I found the partial eclipse much more interesting than the total. The total eclipse was just a funky-looking moon, but watching the shadow of the earth sliding across the surface of the moon? That’s drama.
Our friend James is kind of like the brother I never had. We’ve even been known to quarrel from time to time. I remember some years ago when James went back to school and started studying history in earnest. That he’s now presenting original research at the Louisiana State Museum fills me with a feeling I can only describe as fraternal pride.
The subject is a fascinating one. Here’s the official write-up.
Historian James Conrad will explore the rocky but rich history of the New Orleans public school teachers efforts to gain better pay and benefits in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Orleans Public School teachers struck in 1966, 1969, and 1978. During the 1966 and 1969 strikes, the teacher unions were still divided along racial lines. The Local American Federation of Teachers 527, a predominantly African-American union, led the strik…es of 1966 and 1969 with little success. In 1972, the various unions merged to become the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO). UTNO struck in 1978 and was successful, after teachers formed an interracial union able to work as a unified force in having their demands met. Their unification led to UTNO being recognized by the school board as the main representative for teachers in the New Orleans Public School System.
United Teachers of New Orleans, Local 527 Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans
I really want to be there but I’m afraid parental responsibilities may preclude my attendance. So if you can make it, please heckle James on my behalf.
Thursday, December 9 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm
The Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum
751 Chartres Street
New Orleans, LA
Free and open to the public.
Wine and appetizers provided by Friends of the Cabildo.
For more information contact Brittany Mulla at 504-568-8526 or [email protected]
I don’t really know Gina very well. She’s a friend of a friend, the intermediary being the irascible PJ Christie. Gina and PJ played together in a band called Rabbit Hatch back in the pre-K days. They played at our 2005 Samedi Gras party, as pictured here.
So obviously Gina is a musician but she’s also a visual artist. I remember seeing a show of hers on Julia Street, but I’m pretty sure that was before the flood, because it all seems very hazy, like it happened a long time ago. When I heard through Facebook that she had a show of new works up at Delgado, I thought it would be fun to take my daughter to the opening.
And it was fun. The show is called The Call of the Alluvial Empire, and I was really knocked out by the work Gina has on display. Persephone enjoyed it too. That’s indicative of the broad appeal I think this art has. These pieces are colorful and funky and halfway between quilts and paintings: kinda-painted, kinda-sewn. They are extraordinarily beautiful, joyous and also wistful but not sappy in the least. This is stuff that I imagine would win the love of hipsters and grandmas alike. And if you are lucky enough to have a hipster grandma — well, you need to take her to see this show.
In fact, I was so impressed I had to go back and take a second look this Wednesday. I took my camera with me and snapped a few photos. I suppose this is an egregious violation of Gina’s intellectual property rights. (So Gina, if you read this, just say the word and I will take these down.) You can see many more photos of her work on her website. These humble don’t even begin to do the work justice, but I hope they convey a bit of the flavor, as well as the color and texture, and most of all the level of accomplishment.
So actually I guess the main point of this post is just to say you really need to check out this show. The work is up until the end of September, and the gallery is open weekdays 9AM-4PM. It’s on the third floor of the main building on Delgado’s main campus. Totally worth the trip. Trust me on this.
This is the second installment in my new resolve to write about other people every so often. I suppose I should establish a new category for this. But I already have too many categories, and the only title that’s come to mind is the Sartre epigram, “Hell Is Other People,” which might be deemed an insult to my subjects…
I’m still in touch with a number of friends back in Indiana. Last week I heard some sad news from one of these friends: His mother had passed away. She was advanced in years, but it was still rather sudden and unexpected. Yet what he asked the next day brought a smile to my face. He wondered what it would take, at a bare minimum, to put together a New Orleans-style jazz funeral in a small town in Indiana.
Here’s how I advised him, more or less. I said he needed a brass band. What would be the minimal instrumentation? I’m guessing a trumpet or trombone, a tuba and drum. The players should know at least one slow sad song and one fast upbeat number. You play the dirges on the way to the cemetery and the happy songs on the way back home.
A mutual friend, who is a musician, hooked him up with some players from Indianapolis who were available at a reasonable rate. Two on percussion, one banjo, tuba, trombone and trumpet. Plus a clarinet. He described them as “a smaller, if slightly less cinematic, version of what you’ve seen on Treme.”
And what do you know? It all came together very nicely, or so I gather. The musicians arrived on time, dressed in black and looking good. I don’t know the whole playlist, but the music was reverent and mournful on the way in, and joyous and celebratory on the way out.
But of all the details my friend reported, this one stands out to me as extraordinary.
The funeral director said it was like nothing he’d ever seen and he was going to let his family know that he wants this when he dies.
I’m an unapologetic narcissist, as most of my writing here will attest. I write mostly about myself and my experiences. Yet for a long while I’ve thought it would be a good idea to write a bit about other people, perhaps as a regular exercise. When I say “good idea,” I mean good for me; I don’t delude myself that I’d be doing my subjects any big favor. I’m not sure I’ll be able to follow through with it, but I’m going to try.
I thought I’d start with someone easy, namely, Cliff.
I say Cliff’s “easy” not as some kind of commentary on his moral stature, but because he’s a blogger. That makes it extremely easy for me to write this. All I really have to do is point to his blog: Cliff’s Crib. Go on, check it out, and you will learn far more about Cliff than I could ever tell you. You’ll also learn a good deal more about the current state of New Orleans than you’ll learn here. He writes in a highly personable, engaging and entertaining style, but most importantly he write from the heart, and that comes through in every line.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Cliff won the Ashley Morris Award at Rising Tide 5. He mentioned getting comments from a guy who gave him encouragement and offered to get together and smoke a cigar with him. I gathered that was Ashley himself. I’m not sure if they ever did hang out together, but I can testify that on reading some of Cliff’s posts I’ve wanted to go have a brandy with him. There’s something about his online voice that inspires that sort of response.
I think of Cliff as a friend even though we don’t really know each other except through this medium of writing. That’s odd, but I have my share of people who regard me as a friend because I come into their living rooms via that TV show. Only rarely have we rubbed elbows in real life. I guess I’m really more of a fan. I’ve invited Cliff to participate in twopanels here at the University, and he contributed greatly to both. I’m not sure when I first became aware of his blog, but that first panel was in October of 2007, so it must have been some time before then.
I see I’ve manged to turn this into being “all about me” after all. Old habits die hard. So let me just finish by repeating my exhortation to check out Cliff’s Crib.
Last Tuesday night I started to feel like I was coming down with something, which was not surprising since Xy and Persephone have both been under the weather. When I woke up Wednesday I was feverish, but it was a big day for me, so I took some ibuprofen carried on. I conducted a session at work and then I rode down to the Presbytère for the “Katrina 5.0” symposium.
(I will pointedly refrain from grumbling about the fact that I showed up late for the panel. I was told 7:00PM and everyone else was told 5:30. Because I came “early” I didn’t miss much. Imagine my surprise when I was ushered into a room full of people, with the panel in full swing, and one empty seat — mine. It all worked out in the end, except that I was a little disoriented. The fever didn’t help. My only real regret was I missed my chance to read a post from this blog to the audience.)
By Thursday I was feeling worse, and as it turns out my doctor doesn’t “do” Thursdays. Xy’s doctor was on vacation, but I scrounged up an appointment with one of his partners. “Can you be here in 15 minutes?” Not quite — it’s a 25 minute bike ride. But I got a prescription for a Z-pack. I slept much of the afternoon.
Friday I took Persephone to the doctor, and she got on some amoxicillin. I kept her out of daycare. Soon our old friend Sue flew into town. The three of us went out for lunch, then walked through the rain to the University for a quick (and wet) tour of campus.
That evening Xy visited a walk-in clinic. (She has a one-month gap in health insurance coverage which is wreaking havoc on us in many ways. What a system.) So now she’s on amoxicillin as well. The whole family is on antibiotics.
Next day was Rising Tide 5. This is the why Sue was visiting. The conference was excellent, as always. I’ve posted a couple dozen photos.
By Sunday I was feeling almost 100%. Before taking Sue to the airport, we decided to do a brief disaster tour. We stopped by the New Orleans Katrina Memorial, which is in our neighborhood, and bumped into some guy named Mitch Landrieu. (Sunday was the fifth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall.) We drove through Lakeview and tried to visit the lake, but what with the road construction I couldn’t figure how to get there. We visited the site of the London Avenue Canal breach in Gentilly, then headed to the Lower Ninth Ward.
It was there that I took the following picture.
Unremarkable, except for the fact that I was standing in a nest of fire ants when I took it.
Over the last week I’ve been sleeping less soundly and remembering my dreams better. I believe the two are related, and decreased alcohol consumption probably plays a role in both. The most vivid dreams come just before I wake up.
This morning, I dreamed that Brian Denzer was working on a newspaper story about the Big Easy Roller Girls, who had suffered a crushing defeat or setback of some sort. His problem was the headline: It had to be short, very short, no room even for the full name of the team. I came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution: “BERG Iced.”
I woke up briefly, or dreamed that I did, so pleased with myself that I almost laughed out loud. Then I fell back asleep. Next thing I knew I was explaining the headline to Nicole Kibath in her kitchen in Toronto.
I should have written this down first thing in the morning. The precise details have faded now. What exactly happened to the Big Easy Roller Girls? How did I know what Brian was writing? Was I looking over his shoulder in the newsroom or floating over his head like a guardian angel or what? What newspaper was he writing for? And, above all, what did Nicole’s kitchen look like?
Post Scriptum: In real life, Brian is not a newspaper writer, at least not to my knowledge, but he is the relentless brains behind NolaStat. Nicole makes beautiful art glass. I’m a big fan of both, and also of the Big Easy Roller Girls, whom I’m sure will prevail at their upcoming home game on August 14th.
Post Post Scriptum: Next morning, I dreamt of an elephant who committed suicide by jumping into a river of bourbon.
How does one spend Sunday morning at Tales of the Cocktail?
How about a seminar on “Religious Spirits”?
This session was conducted by Garrett Oliver and a thankfully clean-shaven Allen Katz. Allen talked about spirits and Garrett talked about beer. I never thought I’d be drinking beer at Tales, but this session attempted to bridge the gap between distilling and brewing — in the monastic traditions.
It’s not really contradictory for monastics to make booze. We learned that beer once had a reputation as a temperate drink. Back in the olden days, people didn’t drink water much.
As Garrett put it, “Water can kill you.” In fact, water can kill the whole village. However, no known pathogens can live in beer, so beer was the safe and wholesome drink, and it didn’t have much alcohol.
Monasteries had brewed beer for a long time. When some monasteries started going “commercial” in the 1700s and 1800s, they had an edge on everyone. Their beer was the best, because of they had the science and the scholarship. Furthermore, the penalties for brewing bad beer were severe, so the competition was not fierce, and the brewing enterprise proved very worthwhile for the monasteries.
We tasted some Trappists beers. The Trappists have a reputation for being severe and silent. Many orders were driven out of France by the Revolution and ended up in Belgium. We learned the distinction between Trappist beers and Abbey beers; the former are made entirely within the walls of the monastery, while the latter are simply beers made in the same style by just about anyone, anywhere. Today, Garrett estimated, about 80% of Belgian beers are just such copies. We all know the Belgians make the best beer, and it’s pretty much because of the influence of the Trappists.
We discussed the Westvleteren Brewery, located in the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren. Their beer is reputed by some to be the best in the world. The monastery is extremely closed to the outside world. Garrett doesn’t know anyone who has visited them. As for the beer, it’s a rare commodity, because they brew at a very low volume. The bottles have no labels, as all legally required information is printed on the cap. In order to get some, you have to call on the “beerphone,” register your license plate, and drive there to pick it up yourself. Nice if you live in Belgium, I guess. They take these strict measures to eliminate reselling. They’re not interested in making a ton of profit, just enough to sustain the monastery and their philanthropic causes.
Beer from Rochefort Brewery may be the second rarest of the Trappist ales, in production since 1595. Alas, both Westvleteren and Rochefort were simply too difficult to obtain to be served at the seminar.
But what we had instead was nothing to sneeze at. First we tasted some Westmalle Tripel. It’s the very first Tripel, a hugely influential style. It comes from Westmalle Brewery, run by the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle. The abbey was founded 1794, and they’ve been brewing since 1836. These days they have a lot of secular workers who come in from outside to help produce the beer.
The second beer we had was from Achel Brewery, run by the Abbey of Saint Benedict. I think it was the Bruin. It was quite delicious but I preferred the Westmalle.
Allen raised the question, why do some monasteries brew beer while others distill spirits? But he said he had no clue as to what the answer might be other than the availability of ingredients.
Apparently, “innumerable” monastic orders have a tradition of distilling, but we talked about two of the most prominent, the Benedictines and Carthusians. Both are Catholic orders that were founded quite a long time ago.
The Benedictines were around for a good thousand years before they started distilling Bénédictine liqueur in 1510. The original formula was lost in French Revolution, but was “miraculously” rediscovered in early 19th century. The enterprise is now entirely secular and commercial. I think it’s now owned by Bacardi.
By way of contrast, Chartreuse is still made by the Chartreusian monks — indeed, they are the only major order where the monks still have complete control and do all the work.
As a footnote, Bénédictine is made with 27 herbs and botanicals, Chartreuse with 130.
The Chartreusian order was founded founded in middle of the 12th century, but distilling didn’t come into the picture for several hundred years. They live as a community of hermits, which I find utterly fascinating. Garrett and Allen described a visit to a monastery like peeling back layers of an onion. They both talked about hanging out with monks. Monks had lives before they took their vows, and apparently they are even capable of remembering that time before they cloistered themselves away from the world.
Given that we’re in New Orleans, no account of Chartreuse would be complete without a nod to the Krewe of Chartreuse, a Carnival walking club that’s been around for many a year. I’ve never participated in their festive Chartreuse-fueled rites, but I’ve certainly been aware of them for a good long time. Indeed, I was introduced to my first taste of Chartreuse by founding Krewe member Loki, Minister of Volume, back in the day. And here’s the incomparable Maitri at Mardi Gras 2007.
That photo was taken by fellow traveler M Styborski, someone I knew mainly through social network sites until this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, when by sheer happenstance he landed in the seat next to me.
As you can see, he’s a photographer. Check out his photostream. And his presence was far from a coincidence. Indeed, he was there to cover the event for Humid City, the NOLA über-blog founded by none other than the Minister of Volume himself.
So you see we’ve come full circle.
Yes, we had some cocktails, the Last Word featuring Chartreuse and the Vieux Carré featuring Bénédictine. This last has the added allure of being invented at the Monteleone, and of course the Monteleone is ground zero for Tales of the Cocktail.
So you see we’ve come full circle. Just like the Carousel Bar. Which is at the Monteleone. Help, I’m trapped in an Eternal Return!
But seriously, I want to give props to Allen and Garrett for a seminar that seemed to represent the highest level of scholarship and intellectual depth of any of the seminars I attended this year.
Post scriptum: Allen offered a giveaway of a bottle of Élixir Végétal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This stuff is impossible to get in the United States and is said to be the ancestor of the Chartreuse liqueur. (Though that may be nothing but a “wonderful fantasy.”) In any event it seems this was an early effort by the Chartreusians to make a healthful medicine. And thus I have to post this classy photo by Brother O’Mara which caught my eye not so long ago.
I can’t take the blame for this one. That goes to Michael Homan. But if you watch closely you’ll see me a few times throughout this incredibly weird video.
Xy’s in there too. Also, Persephone makes her first appearance in a speaking role. I always thought that would be in ROX. Guess I’ve been slacking off.
I’m actually very impressed with the final product. Michael enlisted his whole family and a bunch of friends as well. It’s great to know such creative people. Most impressive: the costume which was designed by Michael’s daughter Kalypso. I wonder who the fool in the monster suit is?
We played host over the weekend to an eleven-year-old boy whose mother (a friend of ours) had to make a trip out of town. But it was a trip for us as well even though we stayed here. I was reminded of what a radically different way children have of being in the world. They are not constrained by the same norms of social behavior that govern (some) adults. Our toddler throws me for a loop on a regular basis, but I’m not used to being around preteen kids, and it was a bit of a shock to the system. But most shocking of all was the crash-course in popular culture I received at the hands of our guest. Ever heard of something called “YouTube Poop”? I hadn’t. There is an entry on this phenomenon at Wikitubia which defines it as “videos composed of sentence mixing, sound distortion, repetition and other strange techniques.” Here’s an example that is probably the most popular to date:
Keep in mind there are apparently thousands of these out there. Many of them are quite short and violent. Some of our guest’s favorites seem to involve Sponge Bob blowing people’s heads off.
Now imagine that played at loud volume repeatedly for hours on end, and you’ll begin to understand my fragile emotional state.
Of course I will be hiking Saturday morning, and I encourage all to come with us, but there’s another event that deserves your attention. The aim is to raise the funds necessary to finish Helen Hill’s final film. The hike may preclude my attendance, but I’ll be showing a video there featuring Helen — the vegan lunch segment from ROX #90.
Read on for event details.
DATE: Saturday May 8th
HOURS: Two shows: 3pm and 9:30 pm
LOCATION: Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center
ADDRESS: 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd
Cost of Event: by donation
Zeitgeist is pleased to present the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser, featuring a special short preview of the newly completed The Florestine Collection, Helen’s last film. This one-day only event will be Saturday, May 8th, at Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center. There will be two screenings, at 3:00 pm and at 9:30 pm. The event is by donation. Funds raised go towards finishing The Florestine Collection, to create sound and master prints in 16mm film, Helen’s preferred screening format.
Animator Helen Hill received a prestigious Media Arts Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for The Florestine Collection in 2004. The film was inspired by a huge collection of handmade dresses that Helen found in a garbage pile. Helen was murdered during a home invasion in New Orleans in early January 2007, and her widower Paul Gailunias has been working to finish the film in accordance with Helen’s intentions. Sunday, May 9th (Mother’s Day) would have been Helen’s 40th Birthday.
Currently Helen’s films are archived in the Harvard Film Archive, and her film Scratch and Crow, made in 1995 and which will be screened at the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser, was named to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2009.
Also featured at the Helen Hill Birthday Fundraiser will be the band The New Dopey Singers (3:00 pm), a Fresh Fashion Flash by Howl Pop (3:00 pm); and Cheryl Wagner, author and contributor to public radio’s This American Life, will read a short excerpt about Helen and her animations from her book Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around (9:30). Helen’s DVD The House of Sweet Magic will be available for sale, and specially made viewfinders from The Florestine Collection will be given away in a drawing during both shows.
For more information, call Courtney Egan at (205) 393-5588 or Rene Broussard at (504) 352-1150. Information is also available at Zeitgeist’s website, www.zeitgeistinc.net
We had overlapping houseguests last weekend. My mother-in-law was still here, and we were also playing host to a former student of mine.
What? I have former students? That phrase seems strange to me, but I guess it’s accurate. Back in the 98-99 school year I assisted Ron Osgood in teaching a couple of classes, field and post-production if I recall correctly. It was a great experience for me and an honor to teach with Ron. I learned a lot. Hopefully our undergraduate students learned something as well.
Fast forward a decade plus. Here I am in New Orleans, and I get an e-mail from my former student Eric H. He was coming down here for a conference, and could I recommend some points of interest? I never got around to compiling such a list, but he ended up bunking at our house.
Since it was so many years ago, I didn’t have an image of Eric in mind until I laid eyes on him. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he looks alarmingly similar to yours truly. Tall, slender, kinda Nordic — we even had the same glasses more or less. If I had my typical buzz cut the effect would have been complete. As it was he was mistaken for me by all three other residents of our house over the course of the weekend: that’s my wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. In fact, my daughter was a little frightened by this. She ran into my office, saw a man who looked like Daddy, cozied up and then realized it was not Daddy after all. Scary!
Eric is frighteningly intelligent, but he had never been to New Orleans before. When I mentioned the river by way of orientation, he asked, “What river is that?” A little thing called the Mississippi, you may have heard of it. That made me laugh.
All in all, it was a real blast to get reacquainted with Eric, even if it was eerily like to talking to myself in the mirror.
Being a little slow on the uptake, I did not realize that Eric was the author behind the marathonpacks blog which I have been reading off-and-on for years.
Kurt D: Put your hand down your neighbor’s pants, take count of working bits and tell them thank God it was a joke. (That covered all 3 correct? Do I win a prize?)
Jeff Lamb: count yourself lucky and have a beer
But I think I found the perfect activity: I’m filing my taxes. Think about it. It’s reporting to the government, it involves plenty of fibbing, and a generally mournful attitude pervades.
As for the photo above, it’s from 25 years ago. Greenwood Community High School. February 6th, 1985, to be exact. Right in the middle of Spirit Week. The Student Council had planned a "Punk Day," but our fearless leader, Principal Crawford, forbade that idea. It was re-named "Future Day."
We the students chose to have "Punk Day" anyway. This set of four pictures bears testimony to how our suburban Midwestern imaginations conceived the notion of "punk."
No it doesn’t really have any connection to Maundy Census Fool’s Thursday, but the photos are so fun I had to stick ’em somewhere.
My friend Brad W. once made an offhand remark in an online discussion that has been preying on me for years now.
We were discussing early heavy metal, in particular Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult, in particular a certain riff that shows up on both bands’ debut albums. Who was copying who, I wondered? It now seems clear that Black Sabbath originated the riff, but that’s beside my point here. Brad mentioned that one reason he liked BÖC was their sense of humor, something he felt Black Sabbath lacked.
I’m a huge BÖC fan, but I’d never appreciated their humor before. I believe Brad’s right, in the main, and I thank him for giving me cause to revisit some old familiar music and hear it afresh.
And yet…. and yet… something has been nagging at the back of my mind, lo these many years — namely, the lyrics to those two songs we were discussing.
First let’s consider the lyrics of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Cities on Flame with Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
My heart is black, and my lips are cold
Cities on flame with rock and roll
Three thousand guitars they seem to cry
My ears will melt, and then my eyes
Oh, let the girl, let that girl, rock and roll
Cities on flame now, with rock and roll
Gardens of nocturne, forbidden delights
Reins of steel, and it’s alright
Cities on flame, with rock and roll
Marshal will buoy, but Fender control
I will be the first to admit that as a teenager I didn’t see the humor there. I just thought it was badass. The song has a murky, sinister sound, and that riff is heavy and baroque. But now I see, in the lyrics, a bit of ironic detachment, a faint tongue-in-cheek mockery, a send-up of rock-god hubris that lends the musical bombast an intellectual edge. That’s awesome, and I’m grateful to Brad for opening my eyes, which were previously only melted.
So far so good. BÖC’s humor checks out. It’s not exactly a laugh riot, but it’s there.
Now let us turn our attention to “The Wizard.” Here’s the same riff, apparently the original, blown through a harmonica. Consider the lyrics.
Misty morning, clouds in the sky
Without warning, the wizard walks by
Casting his shadow, weaving his spell
Funny clothes, tinkling bell
Just keeps walking
Spreading his magic
Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by
Sun is shining, clouds have gone by
All the people give a happy sigh
He has passed by, giving his sign
Left all the people feeling so fine
OK, did you get the joke? The wizard is clearly your friendly neighborhood dope peddler. And that’s my point. At a casual first listen, this song seems like some Tolkeinesque fantasy, but upon closer examination it’s about some hippie dude selling dime bags, a committed stoner with a Gandalf fetish. And that, my friends, is frickin’ hilarious. Anyone who has lived in Bloomington, Indiana, of all places, should have no trouble cuing in to this one. We’ve all bumped into this guy in front of the Eye, or maybe hanging out at Lothlorien.
Now perhaps this song is an exception. Perhaps it is a rare example of humor in the otherwise dour universe of Black Sabbath. Perhaps as a rule BÖC is funnier. But if you compare these two particular songs, BÖC gets the points for sinister rock stylings, while Sabbath comes out ahead in the funny department. Furthermore, since the riff was stolen, I think the only possible conclusion in comparing these two songs is: Advantage Sabbath.