Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Sixth Borough

Like any Jewish child born in the post-WWII era, I have an uncle named Arthur who is a doctor. Besides being a great guy and good uncle, he’s also handy to have around just in case anyone needs late night medical advice, a last minute flu shot or an update on how the U.S. insurance companies are slowly squeezing every last ounce of joy out of the medial profession. But, when we were younger, being a doctor also meant that he needed to be on call and couldn’t take his family on vacation during holiday break. So, instead of going to Disney World or some other family-approved tourist destination, he used to take my cousins to a local hotel for an “imaginary vacation” every winter.

In certain ways, I feel the same way about taking a trip to Philadelphia: the City of Brotherly Love, the home of the cheesesteak and, most recently, New York’s “Sixth Borough.” I used to think Philadelphia was far away, but when I started seeing Phish there and in nearby scenic Camden, I realized that not only was it close, it was possible to do the entire drive in less time that it takes to listen to the full version of the 70 minute “Reba.” In fact, one of my good friends from college even commutes from Philadelphia to New York every day, so he can balance his girlfriend and job as well as his apparent need for both fresh bagels and cheese steaks.

But since Philadelphia is a full two states away, I always feel like I am going on vacation whenever I take a trip down I-95, more often than not to see the Disco Biscuits. And there is something fun and strangely liberating about taking an imaginary vacation: sleeping in a hotel, eating unhealthy food in the name of trying something new and staying up late to do things I’d never dream of blogging about at home. All and All, depending on the Disco Biscuits’ tour schedule, I’d say I average about 2-4 imaginary Philadelphia vacations a year, which is usually enough to assure me that I still live in New York’s best borough.

My latest Philadelphia adventure took place this Sunday when I what haphazardly ended up “jumping on tour” with my friends for an overnight adventure to Philadelphia. It kind of makes sense that Philadelphia’s two most prominent styles of music are hip-hop (Will Smith, The Roots) and electronic-rock (The Disco Biscuits et all) because kidz in Philadelphia definitively have “that” look, from the sideways baseball caps to the baggy clothes. And while that may see obvious to some of you, I still find it funny that two distinct, different cultural subsets can emerge within a nights drive from one another, even in the global age of the internet.

Not that I had too, too much time to think about all that since being in Philadelphia meant I was ON VACATION and could do things that I rarely do back home, like hosting an all night party in my hotel room or letting someone else figure out how we were getting to New Jersey or, even, including a piece of melted cheese on my trademark tuna fish sandwich. For the first time in a short wile, I also drove down and stayed with an entirely new group of friends, each of whom I picked up outside my usual college/high school/Relix comfort box (in fact, I even met one at an indie-rock show). But while on vacation the rules of space and time are suspended in that summer camp kind of way and, by 4 hours in, we knew each other well enough to harp on each other’s insecure quirks.

Usually, when I leave town, even when it is only to Philadelphia, or say, New York’s Upper East Side, I try to taste a bit of local culture, be it a restaurant, museum or local landmark, in order to try to convince my parents that I’m not one of those lot kidz for whom seeing Phish in 72 cities really meant little man than seeing 72 Best Westerns and Waffle Houses. But, with a new group of friends comes new rules and regulations, and this time I used our hotel as a Lost in Translation-­like springboard for all my adventures, rarely leaving, mingling with my fellow guests and interacting with the local hotel staff as if they were speaking another language (which in many ways they were since, apparently, you can only order sushi at 2 AM in New York and L.A.).

You also learn a lot about new friends by staying with them in a hotel room and, even If they are just plutonic pals, I kind of feel like your relationship changes in a small way after you’ve seen them in their pajama. It’s kind of like jumping from casually dating someone to sleeping with them or, more accurately, going from having a playdate to a sleepover party. Slowly, you begin to figure out which of your friends gets all deep when the lights go out, which one of your friends builds a little pillow fort around herself and which one of your friends gets up way too early in the morning and feels compelled to wake everyone else up “by accident,” like a dog licking his master’s face in the morning.

All in all, it was great fun and I even discovered that they make Philly Cheesesteaks without the bread for people on Atkins. Now that’s progress people…

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Red State Mama

So, over the past eighteen months a good chunk of my friends have either gotten married or pregnant (sometimes in that order). For a while, my stock response was something to the effect of “sometimes I think I want to get married, but really, all I want is to throw a big, formal party.” But, as my mid-20s have gently segued into my, um, late-mid-20s, I’ve started to consider not only what would make me happy three beers deep, but, also, what would make me happy in the seemingly undefined “long term” and what would make my family happy in our seemingly defined Meet the Parents-like future. Growing up, my parents were pretty liberal when it came to most things (T.V., junk food, sex, drugs, rock-and-roll), but the one thing my dad promised, “would break my mother’s heart” was marrying a non-Jewish girl. And luckily for him, no gentile woman could ever spend more than one night with my nervous system OR understand my unconditional love of white fish and bagels.

But, just when I thought it would be another 8-10 years before I found the woman who would drive me slightly insane for all of eternity, I met someone who seemed to have all the proper qualifications: a 5’3, neurotic, New York-bred, Jewish girl with both a college degree and a pair of patchwork pants (in her closet). She even understand that the phrase "I love you like a 'Ghost' from '97" was a compliment, not some failed attempt at post-adolescent trick-or-treating or a secret reference to an ex-girlfriend from 11 years ago.

We met earlier this month at a party and made plans to go out for drinks, which quickly segued into a full on dinner (always a good sign of things to come). Over the course of the night, we touched upon all the appropriate subjects and one-by-one she passed the small Seinfeldian quizzes I subconsciously pop whenever I meet someone of interest:

Do you live within the social L that extends from the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side, across/below 14th St and into Brooklyn (but not past The Hook)?

Have you seen Garden State enough times to know when I am plagiarizing Zach Braff?

Would you be OK with dancing to “If I Could” at our wedding?

Are you so neurotic that you actually make me seem calm, cool and collected (or at least confident)?

In retrospect, it was one of those rare nights when the conversation flowed like wine, the wine flowed like water and the water flowed like, well, like fish (come on, you saw that one coming for a half a sentence). I've always said that you can tell a date is going well when the waiter hands you the check instead of placing it in the middle of the table and let’s just say he asked me if I wanted to open up a tab before we received our appetizers. The night got a bit fuzzy from there, but I'm pretty sure that sometime before dessert, I took a metal note of her favorite flowers and ring size. But, then, a few hours into our conversation, she touched on a topic more taboo than aligning with Red board over the Green board on PT and revealed a rather interesting tidbit:

She's a Republican.

And, let me clarify: not a financially conservative, intellectual for Israel, post-Steven Colbert, pro-Bloomberg neo-con or whatever the kids are calling everyone who lives in Murray Hill these days, but a real, Bush-loving, Cheney supporting conservative (who hates, even though they had the foresight to introduce Neil Young to My Morning Jacket way back in 2004).

After I pulled my jaw from the ground, I began to think what dating a Republican would mean for me: we’d probably have to balance our car with both red and blue bumper stickers, split custody of the T.V. between Fox News and the Daily Show at 11 PM every night and avoid the first week of November for any impending weddings, anniversaries or potential birthdays (unless, of course, the Democrats manage to retake the White House next year)

Now, I have friends who are so liberal they sometimes make me want to change parties altogether (and four years after we broke up, I'm still not sure how my ex-girlfriend managed to convince me that turning on my air conditioning was equal to voting for Bush, but driving from Saratoga to Boston in a SUV for a Nader rally was kosher), but I’ve always felt that dating out of party is kind of like sleeping with someone from a different religious background: It’s fun for a night or two, but our chances of tying the knot are about as good as Edwards scoring the Democratic Nomination.

But, it did get me thinking where exactly politics holds up on my list of Facebook vital statistics, especially since---my Mom and Dad aside---I grew up in red-county, poisoning the minds of young intellectuals in an otherwise blue state. In fact, of my four best guy friends from high school, one actually clocked in time working for Bush post-college, a second switched parties to appease his conservative investment banking boss, a third switched parties to appease my friend who switched parties to appease his conservative investment banking boss and a fourth is so idealistic that he actually thinks Bush is trying to spread Democracy. Since I also rely on at least a few of these friends for regular advice on life, love and loose commas, I’ve also justified to myself: namely, a job’s a job, money’s money, your friend’s money is money and that anyone that idealistic probably still thinks Phish’s hiatus was about spending time at home with the kids.

Luckily, before I paid the check and she managed to help repeal the first amendment, she also told me she liked the last two seasons of Seinfeld, so I obviously immediately chopped the check, but the night did get me thinking about if I could end up with someone who longed for the day when Gamehendge would be a red state. I even asked my Democratic Party-card holding Dad if he thought marrying a Republican would break my mother’s heart. He smiled and said, “No, she probably wouldn’t mind, but you better not ask me to help pay for the wedding.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It’s the End of the Year and I Know it (and I Feel Fine!)

It’s December, the weather is finally cold and the heat in my apartment building is on so high that I’m thinking of turning on my air conditioner so I can sleep. Which can only mean one thing…Holiday Party Tour! The holidays are the best: everyone is in a great mood, there are parties every night and, for three wonderful weeks, drinking eggnog is socially acceptable. Just this week alone I attended four holiday parties, some associated with work, others with friends, and one that was actually just a dinner disguised as a Chanukah celebration, but I digress. Holiday parties are also a time to take stock of the past year and say all those emotionally awkward things you’ve stored up all year, with the hope that when the clock strikes 12 on December 31 everything you say will be erased like a scene from Groundhog Day.

I also like holiday parties because they kind of connect the dotes between the various people I know and allow me to accidentally reintroduce my friends to, say, their roommate, next door cubicle neighbor or ex-girlfriend (damn small world). Plus, it’s always nice to see that all it takes is a few drinks and some sushi for the most uptight guy in your office to start streaking naked across the floor or, or more accurately, hugging you a lot and awkwardly apologizing to you in the bathroom the following morning.

I also have special “tour” friends that I only seem to run into during holiday party season each year. But since I also tend to appear in a disproportionate number of pictures while on holiday party tour, according to, say, my Facebook photo gallery, these people are my best friends who I see every week. My favorite holiday tour friend is probably Jess a.k.a. “JFS,” who I’ve seen more in the past seven days than the past 7 months. Jess and I actually met at a holiday party in December of 2005 and spent a whirlwind three weeks on hoiday tour together, before she accidentally/drunkenly walked into a mirror after an Ivan Neville show and was forced to go to the emergency room (which was kind of like the Altamont of our friendship). We seem to reunite each December for a few sold out nights of holiday party shenanigans---if only so she can rub it into me that she thinks of me whenever she looks at the scar on her foot---but ‘tis the season for forgiveness, right?

In fact, I love holiday party tour so much I wish it had a summer counterpart timed around July 4th or something. Luckily, my annual Hungover for the Holiday party has slowly been delayed to the point that if might actually take place around the time of my summer birthday, so maybe that will convince some other offices to delay their Christmas cheer until the summer months. At least my air conditioner will already be on…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Auld Lang Syne Set 3:

And now for...

Mike Gordon, Yonder Mountain String Band, Luther Dickinson, Akron/Family, Antibalas, ALO, Christian McBride and Other Friends

Monday, December 10, 2007

Auld Lang Syne Set 2

This time with Marc Brownstein, Les Claypool, Reed Mathis, Railroad Earth and Umphrey's McGee, among other friends

Sunday, December 09, 2007

In-Store Pornography

Last night I went to see a free in-store performance by the New Pornographers at the Apple Store in SoHo with my friend Kristin. I’ve been to a few in-store shows over the years (Cold War Kids, Guster, Dana from Ominous Seapods, Badly Drawn Boy, Jonah Smith, Gov’t Mule and Secret Machines to name a few) and have always found them amusing, if not thoroughly entertaining. There’s nothing like placing a musician on display like a new product to make them feel awkward and I can’t help but feel awkward for them. Seeing a show at the Apple Store is even more awkward because it’s easier to charge your iPod than to score a drink at the so called “genius bar” (which isn’t too smart in my humble opinion) and, unless you get there early enough to secure a seat, they tend to stuff you in the back like overflow merchandise. To their credit the New Pornographers put on a great, high energy show, which lasted far longer than many of the indie rock shows I’ve seen over the years (a solid 40 minutes, plus an encore). Neko Case also played with her occasional bandmates which was a special treat, though given our spot in the room, her face was strangely reminiscent of a metal support beam.

But the one real problem with the show, and most in-store performances in general, was the awkward stage banter and eerie silent pauses between songs. Unlike a crowded rock room, where silence between songs is expected, at in-store shows musicians feel the need to be funny and every…single…word…seems to take on some overly weighty meaning. Honestly, I feel bad because most musicians I’ve met over the years aren’t that funny and, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to be. It’s as if I was presenting at a conference on being neurotic and had to participate in a spelling bee between lectures on the suburban Oedipus complex and compulsive behavior under stressful circumstances (two of my specialties). Kristin said it reminded her of going to see a bad comedy at the movies where nobody laughed, which apparently is one of her greatest fears (perhaps she is speaking after me at the above mentioned conference). Thankfully, the evening did have its share of funny moments, mostly thanks to the event’s security, which consisted of Freaks & Greeks approved Apple Store Clerks with VIP passes placed over their pocket protectors, which apparently only granted them access to the data ports behind the onstage projectors (but imagine what you can plug into with an All Access pass…)

I also think it’s funny that the Apple II GS I used to play “The Oregon Trail” on has managed to beget an empire so large that it is now, reportedly, responsible for 80% of the music market. Now if I could only convince Hot Chip to cover “The Oregon Trail” theme song (and finally make it across the Columbia River without killing all my video game Oxen…did I just date myself to 1988?).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Auld Lang Syne Set 1

Auld Lang Syne Set 1: Al Schnier, Keller Williams, Marco Benevento, Chris Frantz, Fuzz and Other Friends

As another year comes to a close, another “best of” season begins. And once again we’ve asked a number of musicians, managers, writers and other scene staples to look back on 2007. Below we asked Al Schnier, Keller Williams, Marco Benevento, Chris Frantz, Fuzz and other friends a series of four questions and, fittingly, their responses touched on such diverse topics as the impending presidential election, the return of Bruce Springsteen and the fall of Britney Spears. We hope their thoughts help guide you into 2008. Look for new installments regularly throughout December.