The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile

My friend Mike returned from vacation in Corfu last week to a spate of bad news:

  1. A lawsuit involving his dog knocking over an elderly lady in park had somehow gotten revived long after he had deemed it over and done with. Over the years, the plaintiff’s allegations have gotten trumped up and dramatized to the point that they now include Mike standing over the victim and laughing evilly while she writhes around in pain. So, needless to say, it’s shaping up as quite a courtroom drama.
  2. The same dog– now years older and much calmer since the park incident described above– nevertheless terrorized his dog sitter while Mike was in Corfu such that the sitter no longer has any interest in looking after the dog.
  3. Most hurtful of all, Mike returned to find that he had been ousted from his role as Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix tribute band he plays in and replaced by… a chick!

Now, performing in a tribute band is such a farcical and inauthentic experience to begin with that it would be easy to poke fun at someone’s feelings of betrayal at being kicked out of a fake Hendrix band to which they felt a sense of ‘belonging’. But, note a few disturbing facets of this: first, the fact that the band has removed a mild-mannered, male, native English-speaking drummer from the Mitchell role in favor of a Czech woman clearly indicates that it is taking its one big craven shot at ‘the big time’ and has abandoned any sense of fidelity that it once had to emulating the real Hendrix Experience. Unless you’re going to replace every member of the group with a woman, this expedient mixing-and-matching of personnel clearly violates the unspoken ethical/aesthetic code of the tribute band.

Next, in the long tradition of Rock Bands Not Handling Things Professionally, no one actually directly informed Mike of the palace coup. Instead, he found out from the band’s facebook page, where its Iago-like manager had posted a concert notice inviting followers to ‘guess who our new drummer will be!’ (A strange and unanswerable question to pose, by the way… what should one guess, Kofi Annan?)

When Mike told me about all this, I was reassured by the fact that he had already assembled a bunch of half-baked ideas for  how to wreak revenge on his former band, as this — i.e., obscure vengeance plots– seems like the normal and healthy response of a bruised creative ego. One idea was to make a somewhat condescending documentary about a tribute band who arrives in the Czech Republic from the US and whose personal identities become totally eclipsed by their assumed Hendrix Experience identities. I endorsed this and vigorously recommended the Chuck Klosterman essay where he follows the Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band around as background reading. My only other suggestion was that he form a rival Hendrix band that specifically emulates Jimi’s Band of Gypsies phase, and thereby re-ignites the whole debate about whether he was better when he was playing with British white guys or American black guys.

For old times’ sake, here’s a clip of the The Jimi Hendrix Facsimile from the Trutnov Music Fest back when Mike was still manning the drums:

See also: The Seven Types of Stories, in which I go to see the Stone Free Experience play, but wind up writing mainly about the Led Zep cover band that follows them.

A supposedly brilliant thing I’d rather not listen to

There are only two things in my future that I look forward to with utter certainty. One is being able to communicate with my son; the other is the point in time when classical music suddenly starts to appeal to me. Naturally, there are plenty of things that I sort of happily anticipate in a general sense, but these are the only two concrete, forthcoming things that seem 100% destined to take place. And, yet, haven’t so far.

Consider this paragraph from New Yorker critic Alex Ross’ semi-recent write-up on Czech composer Antonín Dvořák:

Dvořák was no populist of naîf, as Michael Beckerman, his most perceptive American chronicler, has shown. When he set aside “classical” writing, he was really announcing his intention to rival Wagner. It’s as if he had imagined the first line of his obituary being written– the lowborn composer who gave the Germanic symphony a rustic air– and tried for a different outcome. In the end, it was not to be Dvořák reached the “broad masses” not through operas, gorgeous as some of them are, but through his symphonies, concertos, and quartets. When the rapper Ludacris sampled Dvořák, he went for the “New World” Symphony, not ‘The Devil and Kate”. Dvorak’s struggles with classical form led to his finest music: the “New World” is a narrative of cinematic vividness, in which sharply etched themes are swept up in furious episdes of development and transformation.

Taken purely as an exercise in dramaturgy, this sounds awesome. If it was simply a story, and not something that had to be listened to, I think I would appreciate it to no end. Which underscores the uncomfortable fact that classical music seems to embody so many qualities of things I enjoy (not least of all narrative and music) that it’s a mystery to me why I don’t enjoy it. The moment I pull up these New World symphonies in the iTunes store and give them a listen, they don’t sound furiously developmental and transformative to me at all. The first one sounds irritatingly anesthetizing to me, and (strangely) makes me think of a particular nervous friend of my mother. The next sounds cornily bombastic– I immediately see a conductor in my mind’s eye and he’s doing that thing that conductors do where they suddenly pretend to throw a gassy, violent tantrum to inspire the orchestra, all flapping tailcoats and flailing batons. The third is all nervous mincing and prancing. Perhaps its partly just that society has heaped so many superficial associations on the back of classical music (Eurocentric perfectibility, Mercedes ads, Baby Mozart, etc) that I can’t help but liken each composition to an artificial mannerism. But in any case, something isn’t working.

There have been moments of hope. Back in the day, my friend Joe Schactman gave me a tape of Bach’s partidas and sonatas for violin that I started looking forward to hearing as much as all the dub music and stuff I was into at that time. Alas, part of the appeal, I eventually realized, lay in the lo-fi format: on cassette, the violin had this raw, groaning sound that gave it almost a hint of drone. As soon as I re-obtained this album on CD, the remastering made it sound all icy and perfect and prissy again. I guess the degree to which I’m focussing on sonic qualities and not grasping the music in terms of compositions betrays the extent to which I don’t fully get it. At the end of the day, after all, I’m inclined to say ‘It all sounds the same to me!’, which is always a surefire indication that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Every genre sounds ‘all the same’ when you don’t understand it.

Despite all my present resistance, there’s no doubt in my mind that something will eventually click into place and I’ll become an enthusiast. How many hppy hours of digging and delving will then follow this moment. I wonder: will it happen gradually, or will there be a Road to Damascus moment? Will it crowd out less ‘serious’ musical tastes, or will I still listen to things like Morrissey’s I Am The Quarry that possess no culturally or personally redeeming features?  And, most interestingly, how will I remember the way I hear classical music now? I already have a few albums (Al Green’s Call Me being the example that jumps to mind) that I didn’t like for years and am now hugely into and can actually reconstruct in my mind’s ear (if you will) how it sounded to me when I didn’t like it. Weird if I am able to experience that sensation again, but applied to an entire genre.

Recent Music Reviews – or – A Brief Fictional History Of Bad Schandau

Last Thursday I went to see the Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg play. I’d never heard of her before Wednesday, but she was recommended by someone, so I took a listen to her Bjorkian dirging on youtube and decided it was worth a go. She sounds a little bit like – to paraphrase my favorite throwaway line from Henry Miller – ‘a thousand heads of cauliflower wailing away in the dark’, but in a cool way. Her alliterative Nordic name reminded me momentarily of this fascinatingly lame concert poster I once spotted in Berlin for somebody called Konrad Kuechenmeister…

… but that’s not her fault.

So, anyway, we filed in at about 7:30 to see her play. Something I like about this venue, Akropolis, nearby where I live: the set times are always really, really early, so you’re often back out on the street by 10. I like this (a) because I’m old, and (b) because if the show is bad, you can still go to dinner or a bar and salvage the evening. In this case, the Norwegian Hukkelberg girl wasn’t bad… but it suffered from the overriding wimpiness– both sonic and dramatic– that mars a lot of the electronically-augmented-singer-songwriter genre. If you listen to her clips, her (impressive) voice is just a part of an engrossing landscape of whirs, clicks, beats and orchestral noises… but onstage, it’s just a woman singing along with some sequencers. When I saw my friend who recommended the gig, she hissed ‘Where is the band?‘ with great contempt. The worst part of it is that Hukkelberg would make a show of playing some instrument in every song, but it was always the most ineffectual instrument most buried in the mix. I tried to suspend judgement for the first twenty minutes, but later felt myself wearying a bit as I watched her singing away while rhythmically manipulating something that I could swear was a plain old mortar and pestle.

When I mentioned the ‘Where is the band?’ sentiment to my buddy I’d come with, he speculated, ‘Maybe the only way to make money playing in Prague is to leave your band behind.’ For the remainder of the set, I was completely distracted by imagining a custom– both financially-driven, yet also ritualistic– where the backing band is left to wait in Bad Schandau (this being German border town you go through on the train before entering the Czech Republic) while their leader travels on alone eastwards to make korunnas and roubles. Dressed identically in black suits and thin ties– like the Pretenders sans Chrissie Hynde– they idle around, kicking bottlecaps in the dusty streets and drinking Becks. One can even imagine a historical accident where Bad Schandau becomes renown for its local music thanks to all the skilled backing bands that have left there: the News mingling with the Mechanics jamming with the Waves, all while their singers are off somewhere else… sort of like the famed Army all-star band during World War Two that could boast some of the best jazz players in the country at that time.

Next, on Saturday, we went to a very different kind of musical venue– a ‘wine tasting festival’ in a small town west of Prague that combined elements of Dork Season with your average redneck American country fair. There were lots of haircuts like this:

The headlining act for this festival was none other than Michal David, legendary king of Czech 80s cheese. In the pantheon of Czech 80s pop culture, David is Corey Hart, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Collins all rolled into one hideous cultural zeitgeist/abortion. Here he is in his prime (1983), performing his breakout hit ‘Nonstop’:

This is bad enough without any context, but I feel obligated to add that ‘Nonstop’ is the Czech term for a store that’s open 24 hours. And that David released an autobiography two years ago titled ‘Život Nonstop’ (Nonstop Life). And that he’s become an apparatchik for various unsavory politicians in recent years.

More David-meets-teen-angst here…

(Note the super cool metro station walls at 0:54)

… and, of course, in the classic Disco Přiběh, discussed here.

Anyway, in the end, I guess neither performance was all that memorable. If I had to pick one, though, I would say I probably enjoyed Michal David slightly more, which just goes to show once again the tyranny of low expectations and unfair advantage that irony and schmaltz enjoy over things that are trying to be serious and good.

Part Sandy Denny, Part Lucy Lawless

My favorite opening sentence of any novel is easily the first line of Dashiell Hammet’s Red Harvest– nothing else really comes close:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte.

I mention this only because each way I consider starting this post, it starts sounding like a second-rate imitation of this. It goes something like:

I recently learned about Dana Gillespie from my friend, a reluctant drummer called Shuffles Tierney. He passed along this track from her debut album, Foolish Seasons:

Wow! First of all, who ever heard of ‘Dana Gillespie’? Second, the way the guitars and drums sound, and with the hopped-up double-time chorus, it sounds super contemporary. It could practically be … who, The Ting Tings? Actually, the track (written by Gillespie’s then-boyfriend Donovan) was recorded in 1968. You gotta hand it to the late 60s: just when you think they’re all squeezed out material, along comes something else. This was probably only about the 800th-most significant song recorded in 1968, which is pretty amazing. Quite a year for music.

I also like the track ‘No, No, No’ off the same album:

Dana Gillespie – No No No

Now, check out how her look evolved once she dropped the folk rock thing and stopped cavorting with unicorns:


The enclosed article talks about how she’s making an album with Angie Bowie and Angie thinks she’s gonna be a big star… but her look still seems a little intimidating for mass market success circa 1974. I can imagine being 13 years old and thinking ‘Um… I’m gonna stick with my Doug Henning poster, thank you very much.”

As her career continued, her forays into ‘acting’ started to crowd musicianship out of the picture – and when I say ‘acting’, I mean things like this (Dana appears at 0:54):

To her credit, though, she did land the role of Mary Magdalena in a London production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which is pretty awesome. Anyway, the point is, I can think of a million less entertaining people than Dana Gillespie whose careers are common cultural currency. Gillespie, I guess, was neither fully one thing or another: not committed enough to be remembered for her (quite creditable) early folk-rock career, and not Farah Fawcett enough to be remembered as a pin-up girl.

(Titbits photo taken from Mr. Blues Man)

If Van Morrison is a Jerk, Does That Make "Brown-Eyed Girl" Any Worse?

I recently came upon this interesting interview with Greil Marcus where he talks about his new book on Van Morrison. I’ve always liked but not loved Van Morrison, so I’m not about to run out to buy the book, but I was very interested in how, in the interview, Marcus espoused a form of musical analysis that seems comparable to New Criticism, the old school (mid-20th century) style of literary criticism that they taught at Dan and my high school. In short, it was all about the close reading of texts as self-contained entities, with no regard whatsoever for the biography of the author or, really, any other context. It turned out to be a great way to be introduced to the study of literature, and I’ve always felt that the rigorous training in such close reading has served me well in various other endeavors, including my eventual career as a lawyer.

I no longer believe that such analysis is the end-point for understanding a given work of art, but I’ve puzzled for years over the question of how to determine the meaning of music, which, lyrics aside, is so much more abstract in “form” than any other sort of creative work.

So, anyhow, I was intrigued to see Marcus explaining, somewhat passionately, how he didn’t give a damn what was behind Van Morrison’s classic songs, and whether there was a real “Madame George” or not, and how basically irrelevant such context is to “true” appreciation of the music. I found myself drawn to this approach as a way of helping to explain how a song’s “feel” can be so powerful, even if the words are just “Sweet Thing” over and over again or whatever.

This topic was particularly relevant to Marcus’ work on Van Morrison, I gather, because Van Morrison is this legendary despicable, hateful guy – although to be honest, that doesn’t actually strike me as all that surprising given his music, although I can’t say exactly why.

But then a little bit later in the interview Marcus seems to contradict himself 100% without recognizing it. He talks about this long “dead period” where Morrison failed to produce any decent music, from about 1980 to 1997. And then he analogizes it to a similar dead period for Dylan, which he cites Dylan himself as identifying as stretching from his post-John Wesley Harding recordings (1968) all the way until the early ‘90s:

“Essentially, that entire period — that’s a long time — was worthless, was searching for something that would give him a reason to sing, faking it the whole time. Any Bob Dylan fan would say, ‘Oh, what about Blood on the Tracks or ‘Blind Willie McTell’, that great song he didn’t even release in 1983? I loved Desire, Under the Red Sky. How could you dismiss all that?’ Well, because he knew how he felt singing those songs, making those records.”

Notice the contradiction? Suddenly the “value” of the songs is very much tied up in how the author “felt” while making them – whereas moments before Marcus was espousing this New Critical, context-less analysis of the music. And he even goes on to say that when an audience embraces music that the artist “knows” to be phoney, “it can only breed contempt for the audience. If the people who supposedly care about your work can’t tell the good from the bad, can’t tell the real from the false, why should you have respect for them at all?”

So much for the professed disinterest in where the songs came from. I can’t say that I was really surprised by this turnaround – as much as I always loved Marcus’ ability to capture the “feel” of a song in words, his writings always seemed more about mythologizing the performers than about getting away from them.


Dan adds: I wonder if this New Criticism / Greil Marcus method of analysis can be applied to blogging as well? In particular, I hope it will be invoked to redeem the long “dead period” that I’m anticipating taking place in my own blogging between 2012- 2025.

The Hatto Affair

There are frequent postings about music on this blog.  I enjoy hearing the clips, but am absolutely clueless when it comes to the different types of rock, the names of bands and performers, the history of their departures from bands and return to them, etc.  So now I’m writing about music and musicians that I do know something about.  Not exactly in retaliation, but more in the interest of diversity.

In 2005 I read an article by the Boston Globe‘s music critic Richard Dyer about  Joyce Hatto.  The headline ran: “After Recording 119 CDs, a Hidden Jewel comes to Light.  Fans and Critics Have Long Overlooked Pianist Joyce Hatto.”  The CDs appeared under the Concert Artist label, created by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe.  (Like his friends, I’ll call him Barry for short.)

This was an amazing pianist.  At age 71, wracked with cancer, she was recording in her husband’s studio virtually the whole classical repetoire, from J.S. Bach to Messiaen; a feat as yet unattempted by man or woman.   The recordings were all first class according to Dyer, who has a discriminating ear; and on top of that she was English.  In the entire 20th century, England had produced only three memorable pianists:  Solomon (who, by his novel use of first name only, anticipated Madonna by 90 years), Clifford Curzon, and Myra Hess. Even better, Hatto looked English: a bit horsey and Camilla-like because of her long face and strong jaw.

Right away, in great excitement, I sent Dyer’s article to my brother-in-law, who is a musicologist and amateur pianist.  Living outside of New York City, he goes to tons of piano recitals there.  It was with some satisfaction that I told him of a pianist that he’d never heard of—as Dyer put it, “[t]he greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of.”  We exchanged Hatto CDs and emails about them.

Before the Globe article, excitement over Hatto was pretty much confined to bloggers.  After Dyer’s article and another one in the prestigious magazine Gramophone, the enthusiasm over Hatto spread to the larger musical world. The discovery of overlooked genius generates a lot of excitement.  I suppose part of the thrill is egotistical:  being a Hatto fan puts one in the know.  But at least in Hatto’s, case, there’s a deeper satisfaction.  Hatto’s career on the concert stage had been unremarkable, gaining her little recognition. By an unforgiving rule that condemns most of us to obscurity, people usually get the recognition that they merit.  But in this case, the rigid test of time turns out to be fallible:  an unregarded pianist turns out to be the greatest one alive.  This is something to celebrate.

The extraordinary stream of flawless recordings continued up to her death in 2006.  Then, the next year, the fraud collapsed.  All of her recordings, but one (she actually did play the piano) were made by other pianists, whose recordings her husband had swiped from other labels.

It seems that by the 1970s, Hatto and Barry concluded that the critics, who had given her concerts mixed reviews, would never accord her the acclaim she deserved.  So she retired from the concert hall; the explanation, given to anyone who cared, was ovarian cancer.  (She did in fact die of cancer at age 77; but her oncologist is quoted in a couple of sources as saying the cancer didn’t appear until the 1990s.)  Her husband had long been in the recording business; out of his technical expertise, great knowledge of the piano world, and musical taste they reinvented her career.

One thing that made the fraud possible is the amazing number —a glut, really —of excellent pianists around, then and now.  Even my brother-in-law hasn’t heard all their names.  Barry pirated performers who were at once first class and obscure sure to be applauded but unlikely to be recognized.  A great influx of talent had poured in from Eastern Europe, where it had been dammed up by the Iron Curtain.  From the other side of the globe comes a flood of Chinese pianists who, as children obedient to their parents, out-practiced everyone else.

The fraud had been suspected before 2007 among some bloggers.  Barry had overreached by releasing CDs of piano concertos, Hatto ‘playing,’ in each case with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Réné Köhler.  No one had heard of either.  To answer the suspicious queries of a German researcher, Barry came up with a Köhler biography; Köhler had studied in Krakow, not at the conservatory, which was closed to Jews, but at a university.  He survived the Treblinka death camp, where a German officer had crushed his left hand, only to perish in the Soviet Gulag.  The investigator checked with the university to find that there was no record of K’s attendance and not even a music department there.  Clearly Barry tossed off K’s biography without much if any advance thought; I imagine he had fun improvising his lies.

The name of the orchestra is a riot of redundancy, suggesting that Barry had a sense of humor too.  “Philharmonic” means “symphony” (the New York Philharmonic); “symphony” can be synonymous with “orchestra” (the Boston Symphony). So, in a redundancy pointed out by a blogger, Hatto, in playing with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, plays with the National symphony symphony symphony.

Some people doubted the Hatto marvel; others were too happy with it to give it up.  The controversy was settled by iTunes.  From the Wikepedia article on Hatto:  “When Brian Ventura, a financial analyst from Mount Vernon, New York, put the recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes credited to Hatto into his computer, the Gracenote database used by the iTunes software identified the disc not as a recording by Hatto but as one by László Simon.”  The database identifies a CD by the timings of its tracks; and the timings of Hatto and Simons CDs were identical.  This discovery led eventually to a waveform analysis of the recordings by an audio lab in England that showed them to be identical in every respect.

On other CDs, Barry forestalled detection by tampering with the timing of the pirated tracks.  He managed to speed up or slow down the Hatto version without altering the pitch, so that the Hatto performance did sound different from its original.  Another of his ploys was to steal from multiple pianists in a single piece.  For a sonata, say, consisting of three movements and three corresponding tracks, he deployed a different pianist for each track.

For some music critics, the exposé was quite embarrassing.  In 1992 a critic reviewing Yefin Bronfman’s rendition of the Rachmaninov 3rd Concerto wrote that “it lacked the sort of angst or urgency that has endeared Rachmaninov to millions” and that Bronfman sounds “oddly unmoved by Rachmaninov’s slavic idiom.”  Fifteen years later, the same critic wrote of Hatto’s release of the same recording: “stunning… truly great… among the finest on record… with a special sense of its Slavic melancholy.”  I felt kind of foolish too, having waxed so enthusiastic over her recordings.

Once Hatto gained fame from the fake recordings, the couple were very happy to be interviewed, and in their interviews retroactively slathered her new-found prestige onto her earlier career.  In a profusion of free-from fictions, she was playing for and being advised by the greatest musical figures in the mid 19th century.  As all of them were dead by this time, who was to object?  Over- the-top reviews of her concert performances surfaced.  “Her performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto in D minor was a triumph.  The technical virtuosity was compelling in its complete nonchalance but it was the blazing passion that brought the huge audience to its feet.”  (I love the “huge” audience).  Or:  Her performance of Brahms’ Paganini Variations was “dispatched in a seamless riot of ecstatic bravura with underlying deep musical feeling . . .”

In fairness to Hatto and Barry, it doesn’t seem that this was just simple, cold-blooded fraud. It was a tour de force of imagination.  The two invented a whole life for herself in an amazing amount of detail that grew with each conversation they held.  A New Yorker article by Mark Singer entitled “Fantasy for Piano” gives you a good sense of their powers of invention.  They moved so easily from fact to fiction that you can’t be sure which you are hearing.  I don’t think that they could tell the difference either, and that’s where the story gets scary.

Personal Jesus?

My wife handed me three CDs from her teenage collection last night and asked, “Which one of these do you want our son to listen to in the car?” (She’s going nuts listening to the same album of kiddie songs over and over again, thus wants to introduce some variety). The options:

A. The Who’s Greatest Hits
B. Suzanne Vega
C. Depeche Mode

After a moment of serious reflection, I heard myself saying, “Depeche Mode. I want my one year-old son to ride around town listening to Depeche Mode.”

Vintage jazz covers, part four

Here’s the final installment of those classic jazz covers, another round of photo-based designs. There’s a lot to like here, but my favorite thing has to be the woodcut pelican overprinted on top of photo for Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars (whoever they were).

Also, it’s a shame that Jack Jones’ “I’ve Got A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” contains too many words to qualify for TK’s First and Probably Only 6-word Memoir Contest.

Vintage jazz covers, part three

The first two posts covered the illustration-based covers; these next two posts show the ones designed around photos.

In this batch, I especially love the irradiated glow around Errol Gardner, and the Victorian-era swashes around his initials. I suppose the latter design idea probably stemmed from the fact that he happens to have a dashing Anglocentric name, and that they wouldn’t have thought to add this effect for, say, a Thelonious Monk record.

Also: it occurs to me that I’ve been an ignoramus in terms of presenting these as being all ’78’s’ in the last two posts– some of them are 45s or LPs and clearly say so right on the cover. So, nevermind about that part…

Jazz 78s, part two and unrelated ranting

• Looks like I spoke too soon about my back. After victoriously crowing about it feeling entirely better on Monday, I screwed it up again on Tuesday playing basketball. Not good times. Bad times.

• To follow up on an old post: my buddy Tol is blowing through Prague this week and reports having heard that Zoltan Rex is out of jail now. Might just be a false rumor, but three years in a Hungarian prison seems about right as appropriate punishment for faking your own death.

• By sheer coincidence, my father’s cousin and mother’s cousin were both visiting Prague last weekend, giving me a chance for some quality time with the ol’ cousins-once-removed.

This got me pondering my own weirdo family tree a bit: my father’s side of the family is Jewish, but my own distinct branch bears little evidence of this because my father’s mother was a social climber who found it inconvenient to be Jewish in the Manhattan of the 1940s and essentially smothered all consciousness of it in our family. What’s interesting is that members of the family who don’t descend from this dubious grandmother seem discernibly Jewish, whereas my father and I don’t (even though my father is no more or less Jewish racially than they are). It’s strange how the awareness of being something (or lack of awareness) can seemingly alter one’s very physiognomy. They should do one of those experiments where they take two identical twins and raise one with an awareness of being Jewish and the other without and see what happens (whoops, I just used ‘experiment’ and ‘Jewish’ in the same sentence– let’s just move on…)

• It’s become clear that the train ride from Budapest to Prague is Central Europe’s 9 hour version of the 14 Mission bus line in SF. If you take it at night from Prague to Budapest, they stuff you into old commie-era trains that have seats like slippery church pews, so you spend the entire night groggily sliding around as the old train SCREETCHES around curves, whinnying like a terrified horse in a lightning storm. In the daytime, meanwhile, the air conditioning inevitably breaks down, amidst other sundry horrors: when I last rode it, I personally witnessed an organized purse snatching; when one of the cousins-once-removed took it last week, the guy sitting next to her had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the air-conditionless heat. To my undying amazement, my cousin suddenly remembered her training from 5th grade home room and stuck a pencil in her hand into the guy’s mouth to keep him from biting his tongue.

• Imagine if there was a rare condition that caused your head hair to take on the wiry roughness of body hair and your body hair to take on the fluffy lustrousness of head hair. That would be disgusting.

OK, here’s another round of those vintage jazz 78s I was talking about. I love the Harold Owens Hawaii one in particular…