Here's a work of literally heart-breaking genius. From a little joint in south Austin that gets enough press so I won't mention it, witness about 2 pounds of bacon, smothered with diced tomatoes and topped with a spicy chili con queso served on two pieces of thick Texas toast. I've had two of these thus far and I pronounce that quite enough for this lifetime.
I may have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. This is the finest Chicken Fried Steak I have ever encountered. At the evocatively named Johnny Reb's Dixie Cafe in Hearne TX. Great sides too. Not to be missed, I'll be breaking the diet and driving 50 miles out of my way on Saturday to feast upon this plate once again...
While in Portland OR for the Bad Livers gig at Pickathon, I stumbled across a little Arabic joint whose name I did not note. This meal, once again can't recall what they called it, is unlike anything I had eaten. It's a mixture of spiced ground beef, bulgar, rice, shredded chicken, pine nuts and raisins. Unbelievably wonderful. Anybody know what it is called?
Speaking of Arabic:
Frank London ordered this Lebanese hot sausage plate at a fine little joint right around the corner from the West London Synagogue when we were there on staff for Klez Fest UK. When a lemon is served with meat, be looking for some heat!
Back to Portland, the dreaded Bacon and Maple Frosting long john from Voodoo Donuts. I have never felt more ashamed about enjoying something I ate. Maybe the most self loathing moment of my life thus far....
With the dollar in the tank, travel in Europe can be daunting for the broke ass Yiddish musician. For reasons that I cannot fathom, there are no Turkish Ibiss's in the Frankfurt Airport, so $19 US gets you a Bitter Lemon and a pretzel covered in cheese.
And now, a clear signal to the return of the Adkins plan:
The Texas Hill Country is dotted with literally hundreds of these little meat markets and smokehouses, many founded my Czech Bohemian, Moravian and Polish immigrants. I regularly speed past these places on my way to Polka gigs in Schulenberg and honky tonk gigs in Walburg. But last week I decided to mosey along between the K of C and SPJST Halls. I was richly rewarded with this haul of dry sausage goodness.
Pictured L to R
Granzin's Meats, New Branfels
Kreutz Market, Lockhart
Junior's Smokehouse, Brehnam
Chapel Hill Market, Chapel Hill
Burton's Meats, Burton
Myer's Smokehouse, Elgin
Prasek's Hillje Smokehouse, El Campo
3 jars of Garlic, Pepper and Dill pickles from Chapel Hill Market
You only have to watch Mark Rubin rock his standup bass (or his tuba, for that matter) once to determine that the man is one of the great unsung gods of Lone Star music. It’s not often that virtuosity, impeccable taste, a rebel attitude, and a musicologist’s grasp of history come together in one mammoth frame, but that’s why Rubin is such a singular force.
At any given time, Rubin has at least a handful of music projects percolating, but even by his high standards, the Ridgetop Syncopators are something special: a seven-piece collective that delivers high-spirited Western swing with plenty of room for fiddle breakdowns..
I know it's true. But it's always nice to hear;-)
Sorry San Antonio, but I have yet to figure out a way to get grown men interested in burning $60 worth of gas to drive down there to play for burgers and tips. Truthfully, I LOVE San Antone, and enjoy playing there in front of a small number of music fans than in front of a big crowd of other out-of-work musicos and assorted hipsters who are the only people you'll find in an Austin club.
When a real gig opens up, I'm not ruling out such long shot mind you, I'll be able to field a damn fine team. Like I told the nice people at Sam's Burger Joint, if I could pull off a gig all by my lonesome I would do it gladly. But as of this date, I have yet to develop that skill set. (Aha! A new goal!!)
I got really great press, this time from Jim Beal at the Express News, down there last month and I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW I HAD A GIG...(a long story..)
Mark Rubin & the Ridgetop Syncopators at Sam's Burger Joint (6 p.m.) Bassist, tenor guitar picker, singer, songwriter, storyteller, etc. Rubin has played everything from hardcore country to outside music, from traditional Jewish wedding selections to deep blues. He's part of Bad Livers, has worked with Steve James and knows his way around more than a few polkas. With the Syncopators, Rubin brings to bear a repertoire built on real-deal Western swing.
How come I can't get press like this when I actually have a gig? As the old Yiddish expression goes: Man plans, God laughs.
"Who Cares if You Listen?" by Milton Babbitt, High Fidelity (Feb. 1958)
This article might have been entitled "The Composer as Specialist" or, alternatively, and perhaps less contentiously, "The Composer as Anachronism." For I am concerned with stating an attitude towards the indisputable facts of the status and condition of the composer of what we will, for the moment, designate as "serious," "advanced," contemporary music. his composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. e is, in essence, a "vanity" composer. he general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. he majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow 'professionals'. t best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.
Towards this condition of musical and societal "isolation," a variety of attitudes has been expressed, usually with the purpose of assigning blame, often to the music itself, occasionally to critics or performers, and very occasionally to the public. But to assign blame is to imply that this isolation is unnecessary and undesirable. t is my contention that, on the contrary, this condition is not only inevitable, but potentially advantageous for the composer and his music. From my point of view, the composer would do well to consider means of realizing, consolidating, and extending the advantages.
The unprecedented divergence between contemporary serious music and its listeners, on the one hand, and traditional music and its following, on the other, is not accidental and- most probably- not transitory. Rather, it is a result of a half-century of revolution in musical thought, a revolution whose nature and consequences can be compared only with, and in many respects are closely analogous to, those of the mid-nineteenth-century evolution in theoretical physics The immediate and profound effect has been the necessity of the informed musician to reexamine and probe the very foundations of his art. He has been obliged to recognize the possibility, and actuality, of alternatives to what were once regarded as musical absolutes. He lives no longer in a unitary musical universe of "common practice," but in a variety of universes of diverse practice.
This fall from musical innocence is, understandably, as disquieting to some as it is challenging to others, but in any event the process is irreversible; and the music that reflects the full impact of this revolution is, in many significant respects, a truly "new" music, apart from the often highly sophisticated and complex constructive methods of any one composition or group of compositions, the very minimal properties characterizing this body of music are the sources of its "difficulty," "unintelligibility," and- isolation. In indicating the most general of these properties, I shall make reference to no specific works, since I wish to avoid the independent issue of evaluation. The reader is at liberty to supply his own instances; if he cannot (and, granted the condition under discussion, this is a very real possibility) let him be assured that such music does exist.
First. This music employs a tonal vocabulary which is more "efficient" than that of the music of the past, or its derivatives. This is not necessarily a virtue in itself, but it does make possible a greatly increased number or pitch simultaneities, successions, and relationships. his increase in efficiency necessarily reduces the "redundancy" of the language, and as a result the intelligible communication of the work demands increased accuracy from the transmitter (the performer) and activity from the receiver (the listener). Incidentally, it is this circumstance, among many others, that has created the need for purely electronic media of "performance." More importantly for us, it makes ever heavier demands upon the training of the listener's perceptual capacities.
Second. Along with this increase of meaningful pitch materials, the number of functions associated with each component of the musical event also has been multiplied. In the simplest possible terms. Each such "atomic" event is located in a five-dimensional musical space determined by pitch-class, register, dynamic, duration, and timbre. These five components not only together define the single event, but, in the course of a work, the successive values of each component create an individually coherent structure, frequently in parallel with the corresponding structures created by each of the other components. Inability to perceive and remember precisely the values of any of these components results in a dislocation of the event in the work's musical space, an alternation of its relation to a other events in the work, and-thus-a falsification of the composition's total structure. For example, an incorrectly performed or perceived dynamic value results in destruction of the work's dynamic pattern, but also in false identification of other components of the event (of which this dynamic value is a part) with corresponding components of other events so creating incorrect pitch, registral, timbral, and durational associations. It is this high degree of "determinancy" that most strikingly differentiates such music from, for example, a popular song. A popular song is only very partially determined, since it would appear to retain its germane characteristics under considerable alteration of register, rhythmic texture, dynamics, harmonic structure, timbre, and other qualities.
The preliminary differentiation of musical categories by means of this reasonable and usable criterion of "degree of determinacy" offends those who take it to be a definition of qualitative categories, which-of course-it need not always be. Curiously, their demurrers usually take the familiar form of some such "democratic" counterdefinition as: "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music." There is only 'good' and 'bad' music." As a public service, let me offer those who still patiently await the revelation of the criteria of Absolute Good an alternative criterion which possesses, at least, the virtue of immediate and irrefutable applicability: "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music. There is only music whose title begins with the letter 'X,' and music whose title does not."
Third, musical compositions of the kind under discussion possess a high degree of contextuality and autonomy. That is, the structural characteristics of a given work are less representative of a general class of characteristics than they are unique to the individual work itself. Particularly, principles of relatedness, upon which depends immediate coherence of continuity, are more likely to evolve in the course of the work than to be derived from generalized assumptions. Here again greater and new demands are made upon the perceptual and conceptual abilities of the listener.
Fourth, and finally. Although in many fundamental respects this music is "new," it often also represents a vast extension of the methods of other musics, derived from a considered and extensive knowledge of their dynamic principles. For, concomitant with the "revolution in music," perhaps even an integral aspect thereof, has been the development of analytical theory, concerned with the systematic formulation of such principles to the end of greater efficiency, economy, and understanding. Compositions so rooted necessarily ask comparable knowledge and experience from the listener. Like all communication, this music presupposes a suitably equipped receptor. am aware that "tradition" has it that the lay listener, by virtue of some undefined, transcendental faculty, always is able to arrive at a musical judgment absolute in its wisdom if not always permanent in its validity. regret my inability to accord this declaration of faith the respect due its advanced age.
Deviation from this tradition is bound to dismiss the contemporary music of which I have been talking into "isolation." Nor do I see how or why the situation should be otherwise. Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields. But to this, a double standard is invoked, with the words music is music," implying also that "music is just music." Why not, then, equate the activities of the radio repairman with those of the theoretical physicist, on the basis of the dictum that "physics is physics." It is not difficult to find statements like the following, from the New York Times of September 8, 1 957: "The scientific level of the conference is so high… that there are in the world only 120 mathematicians specializing in the field who could contribute." Specialized music on the other hand, far from signifying "height" of musical level, has been charged with "decadence," even as evidence of an insidious "conspiracy."
It often has been remarked that only in politics and the "arts" does the layman regard himself as an expert, with the right to have his opinion heard. In the realm of politics he knows that this right, in the form of a vote, is guaranteed by fiat. Comparably, in the realm of public music, the concertgoer is secure in the knowledge that the amenities of concert going protect his firmly stated "I didn't like it" from further scrutiny. Imagine, if you can, a layman chancing upon a lecture on "Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms." At the conclusion, he announces: "I didn't like it," Social conventions being what they are in such circles, someone might dare inquire: "Why not?" Under duress, our layman discloses precise reasons for his failure to enjoy himself; he found the hall chilly, the lecturer's voice unpleasant, and he was suffering the digestive aftermath of a poor dinner. His interlocutor understandably disqualifies these reasons as irrelevant to the content and value of the lecture, and the development of mathematics is left undisturbed. If the concertgoer is at all versed in the ways of musical lifesmanship, he also will offer reasons for his "I didn't like it" - in the form of assertions that the work in question is "inexpressive," "undramatic," "lacking in poetry," etc., etc., tapping that store of vacuous equivalents hallowed by time for: "I don't like it, and I cannot or will not state why." The concertgoer's critical authority is established beyond the possibility of further inquiry. Certainly he is not responsible for the circumstance that musical discourse is a never-never land of semantic confusion, the last resting place of all those verbal and formal fallacies, those hoary dualisms that have been banished from rational discourse Perhaps he has read, in a widely consulted and respected book on the history of music, the following: "to call him (Tchaikovsky) the 'modern Russian Beethoven' is footless, Beethoven being patently neither modern nor Russian…" Or, the following, by an eminent "nonanalytic" philosopher: "The music of Lourie' is an ontological music... It is born in the singular roots of being, the nearest possible juncture of the soul and the spirit…" How unexceptionable the verbal peccadilloes of the average concertgoer appear beside these masterful models. Or, perhaps, in search of "real" authority, he has acquired his critical vocabulary from the pronouncements of officially "eminent" composers, whose eminence, in turn, is founded largely upon just such assertions as the concertgoer has learned to regurgitate. This cycle is of slight moment in a world where circularity is one of the norms of criticism. Composers (and performers), wittingly or unwittingly assuming the character of "talented children" and "inspired idiots" generally ascribed to them, are singularly adept at the conversion of personal tastes into general principles. Music they do not like is "not music," composers whose music they do not like are "not composers
In search of what to think and how to say it, the layman may turn to newspapers and magazines. Here he finds conclusive evidence for the proposition that "music is music." The science editor of such publications contents himself with straightforward reporting, usually news of the "factual" sciences; books and articles not intended for popular consumption are not reviewed. Whatever the reason, such matters are left to professional journals. The music critic admits no comparable differentiation. We may feel, with some justice, that music which presents itself in the market place of the concert hall automatically offers itself to public approval or disapproval. We may feel, again with some justice, that to omit the expected criticism of the "advanced" work would be to do the composer an injustice in his assumed quest for, if nothing else, public notice and "professional recognition." The critic, at least to this extent, is himself a victim of the leveling of categories.
Here, then, are some of the factors determining the climate of the public world of music. Perhaps we should not have overlooked those pockets of "power" where prizes, awards, and commissions are dispensed, where music is adjudged guilty, not only without the right to be confronted by its accuser, but without the right to be confronted by the accusations. Or those well-meaning souls who exhort the public "just to listen to more contemporary music," apparently on the theory that familiarity breeds passive acceptance. Or those, often the same well-meaning souls, who remind the composer of his "obligation to the public," while the public's obligation to the composer is fulfilled, manifestly, by mere physical presence in the concert hall or before loudspeaker or- more authoritatively- by committing to memory the numbers of phonograph and amplifier models. Or the intricate social world within this musical world where the salon becomes bazaar, and music itself becomes an ingredient of verbal canapés for cocktail conversation.
I say all this not to present a picture of a virtuous music in a sinful world, but to point up the problems of a special music in an alien and inapposite world. And so, I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public life of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism
But how, it may be asked, will this serve to secure the means of survival or the composer and his music? One answer is that after all such a private life is what the university provides the scholar and the scientist. It is only proper that the university, which-significantly-has provided so many contemporary composers with their professional training and general education, should provide a home for the "complex," "difficult," and "problematical" in music. Indeed, the process has begun; and if it appears to proceed too slowly, I take consolation in the knowledge that in this respect, too, music seems to be in historically retarded parallel with now sacrosanct fields of endeavor. In E. T. Bell's Men of Mathematics, we read: "In the eighteenth century the universities were not the principal centers of research in Europe. hey might have become such sooner than they did but for the classical tradition and its understandable hostility to science. Mathematics was close enough to antiquity to be respectable, but physics, being more recent, was suspect. Further, a mathematician in a university of the time would have been expected to put much of his effort on elementary teaching; his research, if any, would have been an unprofitable luxury..." A simple substitution of "musical composition" for "research," of "academic" for "classical," of "music" for "physics," and of "composer" for "mathematician," provides a strikingly accurate picture of the current situation. And as long as the confusion I have described continues to exist, how can the university and its community assume other than that the composer welcomes and courts public competition with the historically certified products of the past, and the commercially certified products of the present?
Perhaps for the same reason, the various institutes of advanced research and the large majority of foundations have disregarded this music's need for means of survival. I do not wish to appear to obscure the obvious differences between musical composition and scholarly research, although it can be contended that these differences are no more fundamental than the differences among the various fields of study. I do question whether these differences, by their nature, justify the denial to music's development of assistance granted these other fields. Immediate "practical" applicability (which may be said to have its musical analogue in "immediate extensibility of a compositional technique") is certainly not a necessary condition for the support of scientific research. And if it be contended that such research is so supported because in the past it has yielded eventual applications, one can counter with, for example, the music of Anton Webern, which during the composer's lifetime was regarded (to the very limited extent that it was regarded at all) as the ultimate in hermetic, specialized, and idiosyncratic composition; today, some dozen years after the composer's death, his complete works have been recorded by a major record company, primarily- I suspect- as a result of the enormous influence this music has had on the postwar, nonpopular, musical world. I doubt that scientific research is any more secure against predictions of ultimate significance than is musical composition. Finally, if it be contended that research, even in its least "practical" phases, contributes to the sum of knowledge in the particular realm, what possibly can contribute more to our knowledge of music than a genuinely original composition?
Granting to music the position accorded other arts and sciences promises the sole substantial means of survival for the music I have been describing. Admittedly, if this music is not supported, the whistling repertory of the man in the street will be little affected, the concert-going activity of the conspicuous consumer of musical culture will be little disturbed. But music will cease to evolve, and, in that important sense, will cease to live.
In this clip, I'm playing a little Besson Bb Tenor Horn that I borrowed from Sanne Möricke, trying to hang onto the brass band skronk of Konsonans Resto:
And here I am playing a borrowed tuba backing up a solo Jewlia Eisenberg on an old Negro Spiritual
(??!! Yup, this is what happens at this thing...Seems like the less Jewish the music, the happier the crowds...)
I took some minor ribbing from some of my musical pals who tend to lean somewhere Right of Reagan when they spied my Obama bumper sticker written in Hebrew (or Yiddish if you like) letters. "I thought your Jews were for Israel? How can you push for a Muslim?"
Ok, kinda depressing on many levels. But trust me, this is actually pretty sensitive and informed discussion in relation to the normal fare of the great importance of a Defense of Marriage Bill to the Constitution and When Are We Gonna Get Rid of All These Katrina Refugees...
So for them, and anybody else, here's my singular politically motivated posting for the next election.
You have only 6 days left to register to vote. Please take time and get registered so your voice may be heard.
Here's a little short horror film he co-wrote and stars in, called "Coffee with David." Check it out and give it a "thumbs up" if you like it.
Truth to tell, Luke cast me in one of his films and when that comes online I'll share the link as well.
Funeral services will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church at 12th and Lavaca streets. A reception will follow at Antone's, 213 W. Fifth St.
To me, Danny was one of the last "good guys" here in Austin TX. Cut of a different cloth than they make folks from these days, he was always generous and kind, respectful and respected. To my mind he was a walking embodiment of the contradiction of Texas Good Ol' Boy and Hippie, displaying only the best aspects of each backround and none of the flaws, the very sort of person that made Austin the unique place it used to be. They called him the "unofficial Mayor of South Austin" and that was no idle honorific. His sudden and untimely passing marks the further erosion of Austin's creative culture, and creates a void I don't see anyone stepping up ti fill.
In happier times, I used to gather with Cornell, writer John Morthland and a rogues gallery of old honk tonk musicians for a weekly lunch at Danny's Texacali Grille. I would listen in as these old salts would trade war stories and tall tales over plates sweet potato fries and other comfort foods, with Danny's homemade root beer flowing all the while. It was a finishing course in music, show business and the manly arts, all of which Danny had a wise word for.
I've been going over it in my head since I heard the news and I cannot recall anything other than a smile on his face and a hearty laugh on his lips. We should all be so well remembered.
Here's his Obituary and notices of his passing in the local press.
After some frantic Skype phone calls from Kracow to the Southwest Airlines customer service desk, I make it happen. All I have to do is snag a rental car in Denver and head the short 156 miles to Aspen, right?
Ok, I travel quite a bit and thus really I should have known better. What Mapquest neglects to mention on the route map it prints out for you is that you have to CROSS THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS to get there. That's a 15 MPH crawl for the last quarter of the journey.
Look ma, no guardrails!
The mountain top in the center of this pic is the pass at the GREAT DIVIDE.
I had to split Aspen right after the gig at midnight to make the 6am flight to Portland and a highly anticipated Bad Livers gig, so the original plan was to retrace my steps back to the Denver Airport. After making the white knuckle trip in a wonderly sunny day, I decide to drive 140 miles out of my way to avoid doing these cliff hugging turns on the way home.....
It's not my favorite tune from their cannon, (I lean towards "Stop the Bus") but it is the only song in the world that I am aware of that mentions me by name. The lyrics of "Last Friday Night" sprang from an epic gig Bad Livers did opening for our pals the local death metal act Agony Column. To return the favor, we named an instrumental medley on our first single to the Rockbusters front man ("Jeffro's Dream,") and guitarist "Dicko" Mathers did the cover art, along with our first poster and t shirt design.
The "stage dive" in question was captured on film and ended up on their video which then made it to MTV's Head Bangers Ball. (Now there's something you won't see on my resume at Klez Kamp...)
Oh and here's the video in question, "Ultra Violent Rays," shot at the Liberty Lunch. Note big boy with base ball cap on backwards making the leap about 2:26 into the tune...
I'm going to take that as a compliment as I don't rate such an honorific even in my hometown of Austin....
But we do have this: Excavated Shellac, a site devoted to ethnic music issued on 78 rpm from around the World. Dive in, download and tell a friend. Big props goes out the cat with too much spare time who provides this service.
It’s not like there hasn’t been a lot to tell you about. For instance a vicious car wreck nearly a month ago that I have been advised by counsel not to discuss. Then there’s the upcoming Bad Livers show, the first in nearly 8 years, which surprises me as much as the next guy. Then there’s a one-off date in Aspen CO with Andy Statman coming up the day before which I’m really looking forward to. Next month finds me involved in major events in London and Toronto, so the ball is getting moved down the field as we say back home.
But the real reason I haven’t written anything is simply because I have not had the time. For the first time in a very great while, I am actually being utilized to my capacity with nary a free moment to reflect. And boy, does it feel good.
Many months ago, Alan Bern, who among a great many other things is the artistic director of Klezmer Summer Weimar (that’s Germany, not the town of the same name just down the road from Columbus TX, BTW) asked me to participate in a two year project funded by the European Union and several European Jewish music festivals (Festival of Jewish Culture Krakow and Klezmore Vienna along with Weimar) dedicated to the sticky topic of the similarities and differences between the “klezmer” and “lautari” communities of musicians that once lived, worked and very often partied together for many generations prior to WW2. To be clear we’re talking about Jews and Rroma (ne “gypsies’,) both hot topics with confusing histories in Europe, both east and West. I came into the project with my own cloudy conceptions of just what it is that makes Jewish music “Jewish,” and as it turns out, the same questions get asked among the Rroma as well.
The conceit is to form two groups, one Jewish (“klezmer” well call it,) and the other Rroma (“lautari” for our purposes here.) Each group is made up of musicians from wildly divergent back rounds and locations sharing only their professional proficiency in the culture they work in. Thus, the “Jewish” band features a Sephardic Jew from London, a couple goys, one named Christian, a Jewish confirmed atheist, an apikoros-in-training Texan, and a Lubbovich Chasid from Ukraine. The Rroms have Hungarians, Moldavians, the greatest living accordionist from Bulgaria and a gadjo Romanian living in France to contend with. The klezmers were given a mammoth amount of recordings and transcriptions, mostly of the earliest recordings of Abe Schwartz, Harry Kandel and the Bobriker Kapelye, attempting to divine just what is it in these recordings that a) makes these performances Jewish and b) why has nobody in the entire span of the “klezmer revival” been able to come close to that sound. As anybody who has followed my writings on this topic will tell you, I have some pretty clear ideas on the subject (see “There is no Klezmer Music” for instance.) But I guess simply because of that stance and my willingness to dive into these questions with an open mind (and get to hang out with some of the finest living Lautari to boot,) I was the right guy for the job.
(For the record, the "Jews" were Alan Bern (project leader,) Stas Royko, Paul Brody, Matt Dariau, Christian Dawid, Dan Blacksberg, Guy Schalom and yours truly. The Rroma were Kalman Balogh, Czaba Novak, Peter Ralchev, Marian Bunea, Adam Stinga and Adrian Receanu.)
Here's video snippets from the first day's rehearsal of each group:
We gathered in Krakow for 4 days of intensive separate rehearsals, culminating with a performance at the Festival and a joint appearance at the big Shalom on Szeroka party that concludes the event. From there, we traveled by bus to Vienna to do the same there, only with one day to rehearse. Then it was off to Weimar for two weeks of symposium, performances and workshops (the later of which we are right in the middle of.) These weeks of close quarters and twelve-hour bus trips have done much to bring the two groups into a single outfit joined with a common purpose. Language has been a bit of a stumbling block, with French, Russian and Hungarian translations running nearly constantly at all times.
And then for the week of intensive workshops we’re all teaching the Germans in English. (Can you imagine Germans coming to America and pulling that off the other way around?) For your edification Alan noted that there was only one continuous complaint during the four symposium days. He told me many people had a common complaint, “we’re certain Mark is an very interesting person. But what is he saying? No one can understand a word he says.” Evidently Texan English is an unknown dialect here in the Eastern part of Germany…. To that point, I am going to have to become bilingual, by hook or by crook, if I am going to continue these dialogs. I’m with Obama on this point: it’s a crying shame we Americans are so language deprived.
Did I mention we were followed the entire time by a film crew documenting the whole thing, all the time? That's a whole other blog posting....
Hanging out, drinking vodka in the street and sitting down for a few meals in Weimar with Bob Cohen remains the highlight of the trip for me. He’s one of the last real Human Beings; unafraid and fully empowered in beauty and light, 24/7. He's a bit like that crazy uncle who your father likes well enough to have come visit for a little bit, but is so honest and fearless that everyone seems just a little embarrassed by. (I'm talk about you Fred...) We even got about 20 minutes of old-time picking in. One day I predict Hungary will put up a statue of him, but only after he is safely long dead and not available to call them on their bullshit fakelore. He headed back to Budapest all too soon, but returns with his mighty ensemble, Di naye Kapele, to be the house band for the Dance Week, sadly after I split for the states. (Why is dance separated from music workshops? There’s a long debate in the making…)
The symposium itself was mighty damn interesting, even if the palaver was a mite high falutin’. I met and hung out a bit with Bulgarian Rroma rights activist Ivan Ivanov who is a complete hoot. But my favorite parts came from the juxtaposition of Yale Strom and his work, followed that by Bob Cohen and his. One fine example; Bob screaming out “BULLSHIT” at the top of his lungs at several moments during the screening of Yale’s movie. And folks, that was just the tip of that iceberg. There is so much to say about Mr. Strom and his version of anthropology, but I just can’t bring myself to even take the time to type it out. He’s about the nicest fellow you ever met. And mores the pity. Buy me a beer when you see me I guess and I'll spill all the beans.
By incredibly great contrast, the next night I saw possibly the finest documentary I have seen yet, and even got to meet the director. It’s called “Who’se is this song?” by Adela Peeva, and it’s a humble little film asking simple question and getting a series of complex answers. She’s a Bulgarian married to a Serb with a son living in Romania, so she considers herself Pan-Balkan. She was at a dinner party at Greek restaurant one night when the little folk band struck up a familiar tune form her childhood, (“Uskurara” in fact.) Everyone at the table, all from different nations, claimed the tune to be strictly theirs. Curious about a simple song and peoples attachment to identity and culture, she then travels all through the Balkans playing the tune for people and listening to their reactions. Not to be missed is the scene where this very gutsy lady plays a Bosnian version for a room full of drunken Serbs. It’s an amazing document that I heartily suggest you find (it is on DVD I’m told.) She will be screening the film in my old hometown of Norman Oklahoma in the fall, so you Okies don’t miss it.
It’s been completely gratifying work on all levels, musically, socially and spiritually if I don’t mind saying so. I have come to know nearly all the members of both ensembles quite well, and Mr. Bern is to be commended for pulling together what appear to be the nicest guys I’ve ever met in all my years in the music business, no foolin’.
This is some mighty deep work we are into, but it’s not all seriousness. In fact, this has been a tour of non-stop joke telling. We have come to find that it is yet another character Jews and Rroma musicians share. Nearly everyday, in every situation, someone in this project has told a joke, most of them terrible. The Black Belt Champeen Joke Teller belt goes to violinist Stas Royko, who translates all his jokes from Russian moments before he tells them and really deserves his own website. He has told so many tall tales and funny stories that I literally cannot keep track of them.
First up, Bob Cohen:
3 people are sitting in the dreary rain at a bus stop in Berlin; a Polish laborer, a former school teacher from Dresden (in the former DDR,) and a native born West Berliner. One of them notices what looks like a little bottle sticking up from the ground, and all three reach down to dig it up. When they pop the cork on the ancient glass, a Genie magically appears and announces: ‘for releasing me from my bondage, I will grant you each a wish. What is your command?”
The Pole thinks to himself, life is not what I expected here in Germany. I was much happier back home, so he says “I wish to go home!” POOF, he finds himself in downtown Gdansk, happy as a clam.
The East German thinks ‘this reunification has been a crappy deal for me. Under the Commies, I was a professor; I had a great apartment, and assured wage and security. In this new Europe, I have to hustle for a living and toil as a bricklayer. It’s just awful. He says, “I want the wall back up, I want my old life in the DDR.” POOF, the wall is back up and he finds himself in front of a class of students.
The Berliner watches all this go by. He thinks, “Let me get this straight. The Pole is back in Poland. And the Wall is back up.”
He tells the Genie, “I think I’ll have a cappuccino….”
Now, here’s one from Kalman Balogh:
When a man starts to age, he begins to loose a bit of his virility. For him, he becomes very sad the first time there isn’t a second time.
For his wife however, she becomes even sadder the second time there isn’t a first time….
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. The bass? He made it. He builds basses in his "spare time." This particular model was as fine a soundsing and playing bass as I have yet encountered, and remember, I work at a bass shop. I'll be putting in an order soon.
I'm happy to announce the re-issue of one of my favorite projects that frankly didn't get much notice when it originally came out. The Klezmer Shack gave it high mentions as did the Austin Chronicle when it was first released (see review below.)
You can order or even download yourself a copy at my Film Baby site. Please do as I'm mighty proud of the results (and have yet to pay for the expenses incurred making it!)
Austin Chronicle Review
BY DARCIE STEVENS
"The Golem would be potter's refuse without its soundtrack. Set in 16th-century Prague, this 1920 silent film was written by, directed by, and starring Paul Wegener, but the German Expressionist classic, here on DVD with English dialogue cards, is brought to life like its titular clay monster by local music-scene veteran Mark Rubin and his klezmer posse. Scoring silent cinema live for an audience at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse is no small feat considering the breadth of instruments interspersed throughout. Somehow, Rubinchik's Yiddish Ensemble pulls it off. Their traditional songs are married to the picture as though it were never actually silent. In fact, the presence of five 21st-century men – Rubin, Ben Saffer, Dr. Don Weeda, Michael Maddux, and cantor Neil Blumofe – isn't even felt until the audience begins to clap along to a particularly joyous refrain, which happens several times. There's something about that tuba-accordion play that inspires energy. Rubin & Co. drive The Golem through scene after scene, displaying what a triumph this film was in its time. If that's not enough Yiddish, Rubin is also one-third of trad trio Hank Sapoznik & the Youngers of Zion, whose debut LP, Protocols, is a soundtrack for any Jewish celebration. Culture is so trampled these days, it's a blessing someone like Mark Rubin is keeping traditions alive."
I'm am not a huge fan of the Tejano meat stuffed "Lard Cookie," but at $2.75 per I had to try 'em. It's a new joint on far East 6th street and I forgot the name, but I reckon my belly could drive straight there.
Here's a fine Polish Gorale ensemble that appeared at the Houston Polish Festival last week. They were accompanying a large folk dance dance troupe that had come down from Chicago (Góralski Zespół Pieśni i Tańca "Holni" pod patronatem parafii Św. Krzyża). The local Poles really didn't know what to make of them, as they are mostly descended from the Lowlands and share the traditional Polish distrust of the hillbillies of the Tatras Mountains. Like the dancers these boys here are are FOB (fresh off the boat in the local vernacular) and didn't speak a word of English. Brian Marshall and his boys waited patiently for them to clear out so they could crank up the Texas Lowland fiddle sound.
Me? I thought they were ASS kickingly good. What's hard to see in this picture is the "maly bassy," or small bass; a three string cello actually played with clubby underhand bass bow. The dude could rock it and along with the twin rhythm fiddle section it was a mighty. mighty skronk. You can hardly make it out but one of them is playing a regularly tuned fiddle left handed. (Follow this link for some nice pictures from the event.)
"A kid sent me a message on Myspace about wanting to be a pro bass player. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t resist a reality check, especially after his getting such an off-hand remark about going pro from another road guy.
From: >XXXXX< style="font-style: italic;">[he’s 14 now] and everybody says I could go pro. XXXXX XXXXX also told me this but I don’t think so could u please give some advise so I can get better? I really would appreciate...
And here was my response:
Great to hear from you! If you just want to play for fun and profit, then work on your intonation, be familiar with the basic bluegrass keys, and work with a metronome. If you want to be a pro, certainly go for it, but you'll want to want to have a bit more backing up your playing -- such as...
TO START WITH...
Learn all your scales, learn all your keys, learn common practice theory and jazz theory and how to apply it to your playing, learn how folk music styles are different and how to apply that to your playing, learn how to play jazz standards and folk standards in multiple keys, learn about time and how to play in it and with it and around it, learn to play with the metronome on beats 2 and 4, learn how to make your bass sound like several different players, learn how to solo in various standard styles (in every key), learn as many tunes from memory as you can and then learn a whole bunch more, listen to as many records and songs from as many styles and genres as you can and STUDY THE PARTS (who's doing what, when, and how), learn how to play your way out of a paper bag so that you can save the tune if you or anyone else completely messes up, learn how to amplify or plug in and get your sound for at least two different applications with a couple of backups in case something breaks, and be able to do all of that without ever hearing yourself in case the stage sound is terrible.
Learn how to do anything on little or no sleep, food, or during illness; learn how to sleep anywhere; learn how to wash your clothes in an ice bucket and dry off with a wash cloth; learn how to get along with anyone, when you won't be able to, and when you shouldn't get along with them; learn to fix your own stuff with a butter knife, string and a paper clip, and learn how to pack 7 days worth of clothes into a backpack.
WITHOUT FORGETTING TO...
Make sure you have your schedule, itinerary, routing, gig clothing, gear, back-up gear, contacts, contracts, financing, and provisions taken care of at all times.
Learn how to listen and learn from those who have been there and done that before you. We're all just dwarfs standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us...
Make sure you REALLY want to do it before you do it. It's an awesome and amazing job, but WILL BE your job.
No word yet if there was any response.......
Seems my old man gave a good interview, so I come by it honestly I guess. Here he is featured in a publication called JPSP, explaining the Jewish Experience at at an Oklahoma Ag-Tech College. Those who know me well will here echoes of his verbiage in both my language and my attitudes today.
Bonus: My first public appearance as a Jew, age 5. And they got my name wrong, presaging my relationship with journalism and writers for many years to come.
Of particular resonance with me was this observation about the singers working the cuircut today: "A lot of these guys don't even know the country standards, the songs you always heard and had to know," Watson says, calling in from his Austin home. "You couldn't get onstage anywhere in any honky-tonk and not know 'Your Cheatin' Heart,' but some don't." Watson says most of the new country boys and girls who came along during the '80s and '90s had no roots -- they just started doing country music a year before they had their record."
In the very same issue, I noticed another interview with Bob Mould, one of the small fraternity of musicians who used to crash at my house in Norman Oklahoma during the mid-80's punk rock explosion. Like Watson, he is touring behind a new release and he too spoke to the shift in culture that has lead to the state of affairs music finds itself in today:
"The current state of the business is enough to get a man all worked up, but today's Mould discusses it calmly, with a sense of humor. "Music used to be a religion to people, and now it's simply an accessory," Mould said by phone from his Washington, D.C. home.
The singer/composer recalled the sacred ritual of procuring vinyl records in his youth. First, you saved up your money from the crap job you hated, caught the bus to your downtown record shop where you frantically perused all the hip music magazines to see what was worth a listen. You took hours making your selections before working up the nerve to see if your selections were good enough to escape the disdain of the hip employees who rang up your purchases. Even then you wouldn't know if you had wasted your hard-earned money until you unwrapped the cellophane and put the platter under the needle for the first time.
Now, the journey is only as far as a keyboard. "It wasn't as easy as walking to a laptop and going, 'Look, an MP3 blog with 38 new songs that aren't even out yet,'" says Mould. "I'll just download all of those. I have no idea what the artwork is, I don't care anything about the band, maybe there's 15 seconds in here that speaks to me. If it does, I'll drag it into my iTunes library and maybe I'll remember it's there tomorrow.Mould says he wouldn't have made it in the current marketplace. "If I was coming up now, I'd just throw my hands up and go 'This is nonsense,'" he says. He thinks he'd be better off as a graphic artist, a painter or perhaps in social work. "I think that's always a good alternative to music, to get out in the community and help people less fortunate," he says. "You're actually gonna have a much richer life than if you try to be a musician."
Now, the casual reader, a younger music fan perhaps, might think from these riffs that these guys are complaining or are bitter or even burnout. But in reality they are simply reporting accurately on the field they find themselves in. Both Watson and Mould are about my same age and experience, albeit with quite a lot more commercial success than I've had, and both are cats I respect a whole lot, though in completely different ways.
Personally I find it encouraging that even in the current atmosphere of "good-enough" that they strive to continue to make "great."
It was a LONG flight from Austin to Atlanta, then Paris, finally to Nurenburg and then a short drive (with a wonderfully pleasant driver) to the old town of Fürth. Lucky for me, the event was run with typically European efficiency; a mixture of respect, conviviality and payment in a currency that isn't tanking a little bit more every day. I was also pleased to find a bar with a fine selection of Cuban cigars, which I relished smoking at every free moment. Yup, they really are that much better than the Dominicans we poor Yankees get now.
High lights for me included playing and hanging out with the Hungarian members of Budowitz, who by the way sounded simply amazing at their Thursday night concert. Along with the estimable talents my old pal Cookie on fiddle and Christian Dawid on reeds, Josh's early music approach to Jewish music was made all the more relevant and vibrant by this "Mutt & Jeff" trio of Tanzhaus musicians. Besides being some of the finest players I've been around, and I'm referring to the rest of Budowitz for instance, these cats bring a joi de vrie to their playing, on stage and off, that is simply inspiring. I sat in on their workshop when I wasn't teaching and as per usual learned more myself than the students, maybe. (Their names are Tamás Gombai, Sándor D.Tóth and Zsolt Kürtösi in case you were wondering No, I can't pronounce them either.)
For the first day I was teaching ensemble performance along side Aaron Alexander and Dan Blacksburg who as usual did most of the heavy lifting. They had to split the next day, so it was left me to to rehearse the student ensemble. These students I found to be at turns eager to learn and techincally quite advanced not only on their instruments, but in style and repertoire. Jewish music has really made deep inroads in Germany, with repercussions I can hardly imagine.
Well, after a day of teaching from 8am-5pm, it was back to the hotel, and quick bite at the venue's own restaurant and then straight to a performance. The German Goldenshteyn ensemble featured all but 2 folks who played on his CD, and in their absence the addition of all the members of Budowitz. It was a mighty big band, but with almost no rehearsal (adhering to the Frank London school of "it's all in the casting" style of band leadership) young Kontorovich did an admirable job of intoning German's material. Hard to do when the tuba player was weeping uncontrollably between sets.
OK, so the next day it's more 8-5 teaching offset by a lovely lunch with a new best friend, Vira Lozinsky . She was born in Moldavia and raised in Israel, she came as vocal instructor. She's a "keeper" as we say back home, a fine combination of wit, skill and talent. This is deep praise, as many of you know how much I don't normally care for singers. But I hear she cut a record with Toronto's Beyond the Pale, and I'll be looking for it.
So then there was the student concert. I'll let the local press take it from here:
"The eleven teachers gave their all to take the 55 students under their wing. The spontaneously formed combos sounded as if they had already been playing for ages with each other. Perhaps the secret was to choose pieces that lay well, often ones in slower tempo, but in the completely full hall of the Klangforum (Culture Hall,) one didn’t notice that. Mark Rubin, one of the few musicians who waves the klezmer flag high in Texas, distinguished himself virtuosically amidst his students...."
The smiling clarinet player from the newspaper photo, Katrin, is who sent me the clipping. After the show, she told me she felt terrible and that she and her fellow students didn't do a good job. I assured her that nothing could be further from the truth, and I promised her I wasn't lying. I very glad to see the local reporter backed me up on that point.
With any luck I'll see some of these same folks at the Klezmer Week in in Weimar, where I'll be on staff as part of the Other Europeans' project.