Author Archives: McMellon
November 10, 2014
I am in The Landmark Tavern at 626 11th Avenue at 46th Street. It’s an 1868 working class bar near the Hudson River. I think the bar is the original one, so belly up laddies and enjoy old New York. I am there to see the weekly Monday night Irish music group. I hope for good craic. OK, so it’s not Brooklyn, but what’s a boy to do. I can’t listen to my Irish LPs all the time. (Notice the LP reference, which puts me in a certain category either that of an old fart or young hipster because I still listen to vinyl. Of course, I have a ton of music in my IPhone, but I won’t admit it publicly and since no one reads this blog, it’s not public.)
I’m with the wifey and best friend Billy and his misses. We are also there to eat dinner, but that is second to the music. I start with a straight up Grey Goose martini extra dry with a twist. My usual. I live under the impression that vodka doesn’t give me a hangover. I have a second as the music begins.
The is a group grope band consisting of a bunch of Fiddles and flutes, some guitars, mandolin, banjo, uilleann pipes, penny whistles, and two button accordions. The only thing missing is Harpo Marx plucking the Celtic harp. The band warms up on playing and Guinness. They get better with each song. I order a Jameson’s on the rocks. It tastes wonderful. I think of my mother and father and their parents. What would they think of their Charlie boy, a PhD and all, and still drinking and listening to the old music. Be proud of me mom and I am carrying on the tradition. You don’t come to hear Irish music and don’t drink. My mom taught me a few of the Irish immigrant songs, which I still sing today, including Danny Boy and I don’t care what you think.
The music is the Irish music that has roots in killing the pain of the English oppression with alcohol. These are happy songs and plaintive songs of love and sadness and courage and endurance and joy. A young lady behind me stands up and starts doing a step dance. People pound the floor with their feet and the tables with their hands.
As the evening progresses, I sense a few mythical Westie and old Hell’s Kitchen ghosts from a time of Irish dominance of this area. One of them looks like my worked-to-death father, Mac they called him at Smith’s bar in Bridgeport. He is long dead and buried. Dad, is that you, coming back to haunt my dreams?
The music ends and I shout out Éirinn go Brách. It is an uncontrollable behavior, blurted out and I wonder if my mom or dad pushed it out of me. In a few moments we are back on the noisy, dirty streets of late night Manhattan. Erin go what?
Balkan Funk Brass Band Groove
You’re never going to get this kind of experience in Manhattan. Never. I start this Brooklyn adventure with a relatively quite me, in my living room, having two Grey Goose (super-dry) martinis with my favorite Cabot’s cheddar cheese and Keebler’s crisps. I’m a diabetic, don’t you know. So it’s low carbs and good tasting. Thank god Grey Goose doesn’t fuck up my blood glucose levels.
Then on to meet my BFF (I should stop with BFF stuff. I’m fucking 74 years old!) Bill at Café Steinhof’s . The only Austrian comfort food restaurant I know of in Brooklyn for Chicken Paprika and a beer. Yah, I know Chicken Paprika is Hungarian, but they serve it there and it’s delicious. Check out the lighted window in the image below. What goes on in that place? Ring the bell and a dime bag is tossed out the window?
Then on to barbes on 9th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn for a band that Bill likes named Slavic Soul Party. I love this bar. It is one of Brooklyn’s secrets. Check out their calendar for all the different types of bands that play here.
I order a Stella and watch the band come into the backroom one at a time. The band members look like ordinary guys, nothing crazy about them. Two trombones, two trumpets, a huge shiny tuba for Christ’s sake, a snare drum, am accordion, and a wild haired blond guy on base drum and cymbal. I order a Jameson’s to juice myself for this band. Maybe two.
The band starts the first of three, two song, 40-minute sets. The second song lasts for about thirty minutes. It is an insane jam that boils on and on. The snare and base drums drive them. A frantic beat. Not a guitar can be seen within blocks of the place. How these guys survive in a world of guitars and sparkly drum sets is beyond me. The ten-dollar cover hardly gives them subway money. They sound like some kind of combination of a Tijuana Mariachi band, Gypsy sounds, a New Orleans brass band, techno dance funk, a hint of high school marching band, and some kind a crazy Serbian wedding band. My god, it was great. No,… impressive. No… more than that. Certainly great! And such a pleasure to listen to. The band smiles while playing and the crowd smiles while listening.
The crowd for this band is not your typical young rock and roll youth group dousing themselves with cheap beer and Jagermeister. This group seemed more worldly, very white, yet still willing to sway and dance to the complex beat.
A sax player shows up to wail like Ornette Coleman. The trombone and trumpet players are on fire. The music is 40 minutes non-stop driving blarefest, vaguely related to Duke Ellington. Or at least that’s what the bandleader Matt Moran tells us. And all of this in a crowded room no more that 20 by 40 feet. Jammed in to the banging pulsing music. An endless jamb that spins the room into ecstasy driven by the snare and base drum players who seem crazed in a grove that they couldn’t stop.
Matt Moran, apparently a manic Irish guy obsessed with this type of driving music, leads them. Moran beats the base drum, dances in the audience, and drives the band forward along with Chris Stromquist on snare drum. The rest of the band is also superb including trombonist Tim Vaughn who caught fire during one of the songs and almost exploded with a jazzy solo.
It’s over and I step out into the Brooklyn night. It is still early, only 11, but I need to go home. I’m off to the gym tomorrow morning to help keep me alive so I can do this again. It is quiet on the streets, only a stray dog-walker and late night workers also going home. I love Brooklyn.
FAST AND LOUD
Out on the town in Brooklyn again. This time to a bar named The Fifth Estate @ 506 5th Avenue, Brooklyn to see Bob of the Shirts. If you don’t know who The Shirts are then look them up. One of the seminal punk bands from Brooklyn in the 1970s and CBGBs.
But tonight I am at one of the many bars on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m drinking Jameson’s and a beer chaser. My old man was a shot and a beer guy. Probably Four Roses and some shit beer, but never the less I follow in the old man’s footsteps when it comes to bars and drinking. It takes a long time in life to figure this out.
We walk in, to the sound of Pinballs clanging and Rock and Roll.
We are there to hear Bob of the Shirts. Bob was a member of The Shirts. He plays bass and sings and writes songs and paints art and God knows what else. He just carries on. Tonight is about older rockers and older listeners playing on into the night. Who gives a fuck? We just keep going.
I am into fast and loud music. Now being an old fuck it is not always easy, but this is what I need and want. The crowd here tonight is also mostly older. They like this music too. Older listeners reliving the 60s and 70s and CBGBs and when music had some meaning to our culture. We are young again for a night with grand guitar solos, not the droning muddy sound of much of today’s music. This music is strong and clear. I wonder what the fuck is wrong with most current musicians. Why can’t they pick up were we left off and carry it into the future. Instead, they play dull, monosobilic music that deadens my ears. They either play crap or this hip-hoppity music, bitches and hoes, music. (yah, yah, I know, but fuck you.)
We are part of a community. Lovers of straight up rock and roll. We love it because this music changed our lives. It taught us not to obey authority just to obey. Not to believe all the bullshit that was puked out of the media. Not to believe the propaganda that all would be good if we worked hard, loved out country, obeyed its laws, and were willing to die for all of it. We questioned everything.
Check this out if you like it fast and loud.
Bob of the Shirts plays on. He has to survive. What else can he do at this stage of his life? Turn it all around and become an accountant? Fuck no, he bangs out the music and looks into the abyss. If you want his music, log into CDBaby.com and search Bob of the Shirts. It is there and is great Rock and Roll.
I walked home in the heavy rain with my wife. We did not care about getting wet. We did not care about all the bullshit of the world. Brooklyn is where the good music is. Forget Manhattan and all the touristy bullshit music blues bands catering to college boys. The rain cleaned the streets just like the music cleansed our souls.
The Rock Shop, Saturday night. There to listen and watch and listen to a band.
This place, on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn is full of young musicians, young customers, young bartenders, and me three times as old as everyone else in the place. The place is a typical emerging Brooklyn bar. The back bar has small batch bourbon, single barrel bourbon, a good selection of Irish whiskey, and plenty of beer including Brooklyn and Goose Island Honkers beer.
And then there’s me, sitting at the end of the bar, the old fuck, with a shot of Grey Goose in front of me and sixty (yes 60!) years of listening to R&R songs of young love, young rebellion, and young identity crisis. Ok, so I’m just a guy who likes music, the type of music that can change your life, can give you direction, can save you from the hell of conformity and suburbia.
Let me give you a few examples. I was one of those teenagers, a million years ago, who sat in the balcony of a darkened theater and heard Bill Halley bang out Rock Around the Clock at the end of the movie Blackboard Jungle. Like a fucking lightening bolt into the brain! If you haven’t seen it, put on your to-do list. I will begin to give you an understanding of where and why rock and roll emerged in the mid 1950s as a medium of youthful rebellion.
Listen to the angst-driven lyrics of early Bruce Springsteen on Born to Run or the magical guitar playing of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman in Derek and the Dominos (and thank you to Jim Gordon for that driving piano riff) or Janis Joplin screaming her heart out with a bottle of Southern Comfort to sooth the pain.
The crowd tonight, here in Brooklyn and a million years later, is different from the crowds at the Fillmore East or of the State Theater in Hartford in 1955 or 1956 (help my memory is fading), my first rock and roll show. The Allen Freed Show, spreading the Rock and Roll gospel with Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Fats Domino. Tonight’s crowd does not have the level of excitement or commitment to the music earlier generations. Too much social chatter while the band played. Jesus Christ could play guitar and few would notice.
This is not a punk crowd nor is it an early R&R crowd of Presley crazy girls and cigarette smoking rebels against everything, Beatle screaming wet teenagers. The crowd here is mostly a middle class kids, educated, polite, and clean. Beards trimmed, these new age rock and rollers, listen quietly. No hipsters. No Goths. No Emos. No punks. Just a lot of white kids trying to escape, but not knowing how. The girls are well dressed, the boys looking like future hedge fund managers all dressed in brand-name clothes unaware if the global implications of wearing designer clothes.
And the bands played on.
I drink Grey Goose with ease here. Doesn’t everyone here drink the Goose? I stand out in the crowd even at the back of the bar, who is this old fuck listening to young music?
The bands are ok, but derivative and sitting squarely in the middle of the road. Nothing new or exciting, Nothing for the listener to say: holy shit did you hear that? The musicians work in Brooklyn or Manhattan, they play at night, I am not sure when they sleep, they are young .
I sit and wait for the next rock and roll messiah to lead us out of the hell we have created for ourselves.
Freddy’s Bar. 5Th Avenue in Brooklyn. Freddy’s is a local,bar, not too raucous, not on fire as I expected arriving at 9:30. I am there to see the local barista play his songs with a band. “Chris Buckridge and the Last Friend.” It s Halloween, so everyone is dressed in all kinds of costumes. Some big guy dressed as Little Orphan Annie walks by me while some young hottie is showing more flesh than I can handle.
I am here with my buddy Bill to see and hear young bands. We both are. Young bands trying out their stuff. I guess I am hoping to see something really different. A new sound. I wonder what it was like in Liverpool when John and Paul were just starting. I want to repeat my experiences at Max’s Kansas City when Patti Smith was reading poetry with an electric guitar in the background. Or David Byrne and his boom box at CBGBs.
I start with a double Grey Goose on the rocks. Self-medicating. So I get a bit buzzed before going into the room where the bands play. I order a second at 18 bucks a hit. And this is Brooklyn. I enter the room where the bands play and bump into something and drop the drink. The sound of breaking glass announces me to the crowd. I say fuck and they all laugh. Little Orphan Annie looks at me like I’m a class A asshole plus I’m older than anyone in the room. So I try to pick up the mess of the broken glass and surer than shit I cut my fingers picking up the broken glass. Now I’m back to the outside bar to get another $18 drink and I better be careful since this is costing me a fortune just to hear this band.
It tell Little Orphan Annie that this time I have made it into the room without dropping the drink. He chuckles and ignores me.
My lifetime buddy Bill who has some music chops. We enter the music part of the bar to listen to the band. The band does their thing. I know the singer/songwriter who plays away. The band, by the way, has a female bass sax player and a female violin player. My buddy Bill is in love.
I’m listening to the band when I notice I am bleeding from my finger from picking up the broken glass of my stupid dropping the drink routine. I lick and such my fingers because I know that saliva has some clotting ability. Blood drips on the floor and all over my Iphone, which I am trying to take a few pictures before finally stopping. It’s funny, blood has little or no taste. So what is with these vampires? I’m tasting my own blood, but no taste. WTF? All the time the band plays on.
I watch the locals enjoy themselves. Young people playing the meeting and mating game. Would you like a drink? Hey, you’re looking cool tonight. Speaking of cool the local hipsters are in the bar too. Pork pie hats, fifties look. what the fuck are these posers doing here? Hipsters do not do Halloween. Hipsters do not hang out in bars like this. Go read Burroughs’s Junkie to get it right. It’s ok to want to be a hipster, but live the life, not some Disney version of it. Get real.
Freddy’s is too nice to be a hipster bar. Any bar that says they are a hipster bar, is not a hipster bar. Anyone who thinks they are cool is not. Anyone who says they are a hipster is a poser. You want to be a hipster, get arrested. Sit in a bar where old guys piss in their pants and pour rot gut into their stomachs. Walk the streets alone at night. Hysterically orate Ginsburg into the dark empty streets. Live at the bottom for a while. Touch the bottom. Smell the bottom. Maybe then, you might be a hipster although you may nevertheless know it. In fact, who really gives a shit?
Four shots of Grey Goose later, I walk home through the streets filled with the left overs of Halloween, 2013. Nothing much changes does it? Same half drunk people, a few kids wilding for one night of fun, Late night drivers hoping not to get in a crash, bars still filled with the lost children of this generation, and me, walking home again. Slowly.
One of the many incredible places in Brooklyn for music is a small bar called Barbies. And lucky for me, it is just around the corner from where I live.
So, last night, I buddied up with my BFF (don’t you hate this kind of abbreviated shit?) and after a great dinner near by we floated over to Barbies for a 6pm show of a young lady named Mamie Minch. Now a 6pm show is a bit of an anomaly even in Brooklyn, but here she was booked for that time.
We are seated right next to the stage, great to see, hear, and for me, maybe take a pictures. I am drinking beer because I tend to get really dry when I am in this mood.
Mamie walks in carrying her two guitars, one a 1937 National Duolian Resophonic, the other one, equally rare, that I could not make out the name clearly. She plays a mix of country blues and old timey type music, some covers and some original. All with feelings that should be more in an old black blues player than a young white female living in trendy Park Slope.
The audience also interests me. They are older for the most part, looking like 60s lefties aging but still hanging on to the music. They tap their feet, nod their heads but stay seated or standing in the back. No dancing, no yelling and screaming, no drunken revelry, just enjoying the music. This tells me that I am not crazy to be doing this at my age. The My Generation generation still rocks on. This need for music does not slow down as you get older, others things like kids and work get in the way, but it is there and I am revitalizing myself by injections of live music.
Nights in Brooklyn
I stop at Niedra’s on 7th Avenue for a latte to give me some gas for the evening. At my age, I die early on unless I am fortified with caffeine. I have willingly submitted myself to a caffeine addiction so that I can work more focused during the day and stay up later at night without falling asleep in the middle of something.
I walk over to Bill’s house on 11th Street for drinks. Bill lives in what looks like a museum. Only it isn’t. It is his personal statement about his life. The doorway under the stoop is painted like a subway car, straphanger and all. The bottom floor is pretty dark, but everyone walks up the stairs and it hits you. The upstairs rooms are full of artifacts of his travels, mainly Buddhist stuff, and artist friend’s work. He is currently in the process of having all his doors painted by an artist friend from New Zealand. He pays for the guy to fly over, stay at his house and in return the friend will paint something on one of his doors. Kind of cool, although I worry about him ruining the architectural integrity of his 1890 brownstone with all this red and blue and yellow color. His daughter thinks he is going to try to give the house to the City of new York when he dies. We joke about that, both knowing it ain’t going to happen.
He is feeding me some left over gunk called Celtic Honey, an Irish Liqueur. Sort of an oxymoron; Irish Liqueur? It tastes sweet and pretty awful, but I chug it down, two glasses, so that we can go to a movie a little high. This business of getting high does not leave me; it only surfaces in different forms, first booze, then dope, now booze again. I claim when the doctor gives me six months to live, I’m going straight to the bodega for a bag of weed.
We stumble into the Park Slope Palladium Cinema. The movie is “Contraband” with Mark Walburg. It is a mile-a-minute action flick with a crime pays moral at the ending. Not bad, steal some stuff, kill a few freaks, and take all the money to live happily ever after on the Gulf Coast beach.
I call the parking lot where my car is and we walk down there to drive to Fiorentino’s Ristorante on Avenue U for some good red sauce not fucking around Italian food and wine. The waiter has this I don’t give a fuck attitude, but is friendly two us. I guess he figured out we were not an old gay couple out on the town, but just a couple of old fucks out on the town. There are other guys-from-the-neighborhood groups there doing the same thing we were doing. Eating food and getting more of a buzz on. We drive away happy and full. Next on the list is Farrell’s.
Farrell’s Bar is a shot and beer paradise. Jameson’s for me and Jack for Bill. We also get a short glass of beer, probably Budweiser, but I don’t pay any attention to the brand. It is surprising how easy the shots go down in this old Brooklyn bar reminding me so much of my youth and my father, one foot on the brass rail, slowly downing his depression sorrows in shots and beer. Me, nine years old, watching him for across the room as I play the nickel pinball machines. The apple does not fall far.
Then we are off to Barbie’s on 9th Street and 6th Avenue. Why this place has a French name is beyond me. There must be some story, but I am not too interested. I finally did check out why the name is what it is and it turns that two French musicians own the place. This place is a gem and it is right around the corner from where I live. If I were younger and single, I would be here as a regular. There is a great bar and then a small back room, where they play music almost every night. They also show odd old movies and have poetry sometimes. Tonight’s group, which plays every Wednesday is The Mandango Ambassadors. They are from Guinea and play an upbeat version of afro-american jazz with a lot of visiting musicians sitting in. Tonight will be no different. We are early enough to get a seat and I order a vodka on the rocks to sip.
More and more young people come into this little dark back room. The music begins to fall into a grove. The rhythm is constant and happy. They dance before me. Close. But always moving to the rhythm. Somehow losing themselves in the music, such an easy and important escape from all the crap we now live in. The music gets louder and louder, the rhythms stronger and deeper. This little small dark room in Brooklyn bounces to the music and the dancing and the youth of it all.
We end the night at smiling pizza. I walk home eating a warm slice of Brooklyn pizza, enjoying the cold night air.
Another night. I am sitting at the bar at Talde, the trendiest bar and restaurant in Park Slope to open in awhile. I am drinking a martini and having their pork and chive dumplings fried in sesame oil. A really good bar food. This a a cool place, not a hipster type of bar, buy a trendy, upscale asian-fusian type place. The food is good. Food is one of our sensual pleasures. It is a joy to place something taste on our tongues. I do a lot of genealogy and in past my distant relatives lives much poor than I do today. I eat what I want and go where I want to go, but these ancient folks could only go where jobs were. They followed the mills from Ireland to England and down the western coast of England as the Industrial revolution over south. May father’s family ended up in Manchester, working in the mills. Then to the US to first work in the cotton and woolen mills and then into Tool and Die Making and a small success. I am the product of these men and women who struggled with survival. I am the survivor and I should respect and honor the past.
I look up and my son, Edward is standing there. He has found me. Ed is a cop turned fireman/marine. He’s a stand-up guy who I am very proud of. He is more like my ancestors than I am. He is different than me in many ways, but also similar. Ed will be leaving for Afganistan in a few weeks for a third tour in that area. He was at the trade center on 9/11 and can not let it go. It is trying to avenge the deaths of all the people we know. The restaurant fills up and we walk home.
Once again in Brooklyn at Barbes to hear Stephane Wrembel, the gypsy guitar guy. This guy is and his band are just amazing. The double vodka on the rocks helps mostly to drown out the bar sounds and let me focus on the guitar playing.
You would know this guy because he composed and played the music for Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
I met this guy and his wife sitting next to me who had driven in from Newtown, Ct. He told me he was honored to be there. Now, I live around the corner from this place and it made me think a bit about living in a neighborhood and the places that are there. This gut and his wife drive two hundred miles and I walk two blocks. I should appreciate this place more.
If I were younger and single, I would hang out at this bar, which is probably the coolest bar in all of New York City. Lots of nice looking young ladies, many with dates but some singles. Maybe I can talk my son into coming with me one time.
The music is astounding. I have heard a lot of music and this is among the best. His finger work in beyond belief. The rest of the band is great. The drummer had a few solos that told me this guy will be more in the years to come, if he lives.
Anyway, a great evening in Brooklyn.