by John Berbrich | Jan 3, 2023 | Arts Blog
It was years ago, & I was down on my luck.
I was living in a cheap hotel in Richmond, Kentucky. My job at the car wash in a sketchy neighborhood in Lexington was done. My girlfriend had gone back to her guy, just out of jail. I was not eating regularly. The hotel provided me w/ a single room, a private bathroom, a bed, a desk, &, curiously, a radio—& the lobby had a big ice machine, so I’d fill my bathroom sink w/ ice & (when I could afford it) a 12-pack of (cheap) Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It was all pretty depressing.
Yeah, some nights it was hard to sleep.
But one particular night, I had the radio tuned in to a local station, &, right at midnight, the DJ played an entire album by Martin Mull. I had never heard of Martin Mull at the time; now I know that he’s a successful actor, comedian, writer, &, yes, even a musician.
The album was called “I’m Everyone I’ve Ever Loved.”
Now, I don’t want to get all hyperbolic about this, but here’s the scene. I was feeling down, surely, but not suicidal. Let’s call it mildly depressed w/ pretty much a blank future to look forward to. No immediate potential for good things. No girlfriend, not much money, no prospects. Sounds to me like a dead end.
I’m not kidding, but this album changed the atmosphere I was living in. I felt like I was breathing clean air again. The music & words put the pep back in my step, the glide back in my stride. Seriously, it had that big an effect.
So why don’t I tell you about this music?
Okay, I will.
For this record, Mull develops a personality for himself. He’s simultaneously a womanizing narcissist & a drunken loser. Each pose elicits a wry smile & buckets of laughter. The lyrics are smart & the music is brightly recorded. The band itself sounds like a professional airport lounge jazz ensemble playing at LAX.
Of course, this is comedy, & the words are perfectly interwoven w/ the music, so I can give only a rough idea of the effect. Often Mull will argue w/ the company president (Rob Reiner) about the next song. Reiner insists that they need more songs or tells Mull that the next song is filthy & they can’t use it. In the latter case, Mull sings the filthy song but hums the words that might offend some. As you can guess, most of the words are hummed.
“Bombed Anyway” features the quite convincing Tom Waits as the bartender. In that one, Mull sits at the bar drinking himself into a stupor while thinking about the awful state of the world. He’s wondering which country will drop the next bomb, but he doesn’t worry because he’s “usually bombed anyway.”
In another, Mull insists that he wants to record an example of Philadelphia soul. What emerges is “The Boogie Man,” a real earworm & a marvelous recording.
By the way, Mull writes all the lyrics to these musical numbers & most of the music, additional tunes having been composed by pianist Eddie Wise. And Mull teams up w/ Steve Martin on the indescribable epic “Men.”
One of my favorites is “Honor Roll,” in which Mull goes out drinking every Saturday night. Of course he wakes up seriously hungover on Sunday mornings & therefore misses church; “That makes almost seven years, God save my soul,” he pines. He’s afraid Saint Peter’s going to be mad when he shows up at the Pearly Gates: “When it’s time for him to read that honor roll / I would have been in church, I would have / been in church, good God / But I was on a roll.”
The album ended. I sat & stared at the radio on the desk. I breathed in that fresh, clean air. Suddenly, my little room in a cheap hotel in a backwater town didn’t seem so bad. There were sparkles in the atmosphere.
These reflections should give you a pretty good idea of what the album’s about. I’m sure some of these songs are creeping around the internet somewhere. If you need a little pick-me-up someday, try to find one or two & see if I’m not telling you the truth. It might just put a little cut back in your strut.
by John Berbrich | Dec 8, 2022 | Arts Blog
Zephyr was a rock band (w/ blues & delightful jazz tendencies) from Colorado that lasted from 1969-1971 & recorded only two albums; the first album, the eponymous “Zephyr” (1969) is a mostly-forgotten gem. Let’s take a good look at the band members, then we’ll examine the songs, one by one.
The leader & frontline performer here is Candy Givens, lead vocals & a pretty mean harmonica (played sparingly). Candy loves to shriek & screech, sometimes overdoing it a bit, which gets a little annoying. She’s got kind of a thin voice which sounds a lot better when she’s in control of it. Still, she sings w/ a tremendous amount of energy & a whole lot of sassy charisma. She co-writes about half the songs, probably lyrics.
On guitar is the flashy youngster Tommy Bolin, who was only 17 when this album was recorded. He can burn & grind & shred. He can also play sweet & gentle, like moonlight on a calm lake surface. He’s co-writer on roughly half the songs. Tommy didn’t quite make it into the 27 Club, dying at the tender age of 25.
On piano, organ, & flute we’ve got the diminutive, bespectacled John Faris w/ the fluffy hair. John’s keyboards participate fully w/ Bolin’s guitar. The organ swells & rises & fills out the sound.
Candy’s husband David Givens plays bass & like most of the members co-writes about half the songs. His bass is unspectacular but steady & always right where it needs to be.
I can say the same for Robbie Chamberlin on drums. He’s unspectacular, but always right there. And sometimes those drums step out in front perfectly, crashing a climax or building a crescendo.
The entire band plays well together, each instrument going for extremes but never getting completely out of control. And now for the songs.
Side One starts w/ “Sail On,” dramatic blues-rock, which features a furious instrumental break in the middle & a sonic train wreck at the end. The lyrics are like all of Candy’s lyrics: She’s in a relationship, which is either failing or just starting—or she’s in the middle of a really good one.
Next up is “Sun’s A-Risin’,” more blues w/ guitar & organ, plus Candy’s passionate harmonica.
Back in 1961, Dee Clark had a big hit w/ “Raindrops.” Zephyr covers that song here, & it’s probably the least successful piece on the entire album. It features Candy Givens at her most shrieky, trying too hard to be emotional.
Next we get a cool urban jazz instrumental called “Boom-Ba-Boom,” written by bassist David Givens. It’s short, showcases Bolin’s ripping guitar, & leads directly into “Somebody Listen,” a blues number w/ Candy on desperate & convincing vocals.
Which brings us to Side Two, kicked off by “Cross the River,” the best song on the album. It’s a powerhouse performance by the entire band, featuring a delirious jazzy instrumental in the middle, fierce guitar—flute, organ, bass, everybody gets a turn—tempo changes, best voice on the record.
Another cover is “St. James Infirmary,” a blues standard previously done by dozens of artists. Candy certainly sounds anguished, though a bit over the top.
The band has some fun w/ “Huna Buna,” a VERY suggestive jazz number. The sound is tight & exuberant, the voice sexy & fun-loving.
The album closes w/ the big “Hard Chargin’ Woman.” Candy declares that she needs to roam a bit, seeking temporary lovers out of curiosity & a sense of freedom. The music begins slow, ominous, & dark. The voice is in control, moderate & determined. There’s an unaccompanied guitar solo in the middle—rapid, flashy, & wild. The song speeds up, slows down, then accelerates to a grand climax. At eight minutes & forty seconds, it’s the longest song on the album & it deserves to be the longest.
If this sounds interesting, check out Zephyr online. There a sort of controlled wildness in their sound that can be quite stimulating. And Bolin truly could have been one of the greats.
by SLC Arts | Aug 18, 2022 | Arts Blog
HISTORY OF BURLESQUE
BURLESQUE IS COMING TO POTSDAM AUGUST 31st
by Larissa Fawkner, Advancement Committee Chair
SLC Arts is kicking off the 2nd annual North Country Arts Festival by hosting an adult-only 21+ Art After Dark fundraising party with headlining act, The Rougettes, an Ottawa Ontario-based Burlesque dance troupe. Formed in 2018 with routines choreographed by Randi Rouge, The Rougettes bring sweetness, sass, and sensation to every stage these gorgeous glitzy gal’s grace. The Rougettes, including Arctic Blondo, Babycakes, Carmel Spysse, Rosa Diamond, and Viva Van Diva, will perform a 90-minute sexy set that is sure to please the audience with acts including Diamonds, Boots, Buttons, and Money.
Burlesque has its origins in the 17th century. The word “Burlesque”, is derived from the Italian word, ‘burlesco’ which stems from ‘burla’ meaning a joke or mockery. Burlesque shows were often described as an ‘extravaganza’ a style of elaborate literary or musical performance containing elements of cabaret, circus, vaudeville, and mime. Victorian era Burlesque was popular in London theaters from the 1830’s – 1890’s. Burlesque actors took well-known plays, opera’s, ballet, and popular music of the time and re-wrote the lyrics for comic effect. Victorian Burlesque style came to NYC in the 1840’s and was popularized in 1868 by Lydia Thompson’s visiting dance troupe, The British Blondes. Shows were performed by an all-female cast and focused on parody. Women actors wore tights that were risqué and considered entirely scandalous when compared to the Victorian fashion of hoop skirts, petticoats, and high necklines. The women would also spoof the crowd by playing men’s roles and performing satirical skits poking fun at patriarchal society. New York Burlesque continued to evolve as elements of minstrel shows were added. Unlike cabaret which was performed in nightclubs, burlesque shows were performed in theaters, music halls, and other venues with separate stages for performances. The show consisted of three parts: first, a series of songs, course humor sketches and monologues by baggy-pants comics; second, the olio, a variety of acts such as acrobats, magicians, and instrumental and vocal soloists; and third, chorus numbers, burlesque, or a play. The finale was a performance by an exotic dancer or a wrestling or boxing match.
In the 1870’s, New York’s first American born Burlesque star, Mabel Santley, became a pioneer of modern Burlesque. Having once been arrested for lifting her skirt during a Can-Can, she is acclaimed for feminizing the genre with her turn in Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels which forever re-shaped the minstrel all-male tradition. In the 1930’s burlesque thrived in the US, but the shows were much naughtier. The art form flourished for almost 100 years before censorship, “clean-up” political policies, and the competition of motion pictures, led to the decline of the craft. By the 1960’s few Burlesque houses remained.
Then, burlesque experienced a revival. In 1979, Sugar Babies opened on Broadway starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, the lavish hit ran 1,200 performances and recreated classic burlesque. Later, in the 1990’s, there was a new wave of burlesque activity. Dixie Lee Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, took over an abandoned goat farm in Helendale California and filled it with burlesque memorabilia collected by retired dancer Jennie Lee thus creating the Exotic World Burlesque Museum. In 1991, Dixie founded the Miss Exotic World pageant to attract visitors and attention to the museum. Then, in 1995, Ami Goodheart’s “Dutch Weismann’s Follies” in New York and Michelle Carr’s Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe in Los Angeles spurred a revival called, “Neo-Burlesque” combining classic “pasties and a G-string” burly-q, swing music, rockabilly, punk rock, tattoos, girl power, lingerie, fetishism, and a healthy dose of humor. In 2000, the Tease-O-Rama Yahoo Group was launched providing the first national forum for modern burlesque performers. In 2005, the Exotic World Museum moved to Las Vegas where it was renamed the “Burlesque Hall of Fame.”
Modern burlesque performers are trained dancing professionals. Just as ballet has its arabesque, assemblé, balancé, brisé, ciseaux, and pas de basque, burlesque has its bevel, bounce, shimmy, grind, goddess legs, heart drop, side split, and sexy walk. Dancers must become proficient in the steps of their performing art. Along with glamor and flashiness, burlesque is famous for its fashion style which includes corsets, stockings, hats, feathered clothing, and extravagant lush hairdos. Neo-burlesque shows are classier, more exotic, and truly focus on striptease as an art show form. That means the shows are not centered for a typically male audience.
When asked about Burlesque as a dance genre, Dr. Robin L. Collen, SUNY Potsdam Professor of Theatre & Dance and Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences said, “the choreographer, Bob Fosse comes to mind when I think about burlesque. As a young dancer he worked in burlesque shows which had a strong impression on him—influencing his potent and articulate choreography with its sexuality and dark humor. In my 20th and 21st Century dance history course, I challenge students to investigate their beliefs about when they consider dance to be art, entertainment, or pornography. This inquiry is a journey into one’s beliefs and biases about the human body, sex, high and low art, humor, and much more. When you watch The Rougettes, you can enjoy this inquiry for yourselves.” The Rougettes, will perform a 90-minute sexy Neo-Burlesque set list that is sure to entertain. Get your tickets today at SLC Arts and support all forms and expressions of art in Northern NY.
Tickets to the Art After Dark party are $25 per person (online) and available on the SLC Arts website https://slcartscouncil.org/events/goldenjubilee and $30 at the door on the evening of the event.
by John Berbrich | Aug 4, 2022 | Arts Blog
Photo by Eric Keitel
John Berbrich: Hey, Andy. How you doing?
Andrew Thacher: Hi, John! I’m great—Glad to talk with you.
JB: So, how did your career get started? Was it a role back in school?
AT: I definitely got my start there. My first stage show was “Teen: The Musical” in 8th grade at AA Kingston Middle School in Potsdam. I think someone either dropped out or they needed one more chorus person, so I was invited to join the cast. It was great fun, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, a great first step in becoming a performer. Honestly, I was really quite shy, but I covered it at times by being a show-off! I was too scared to audition for the show at first, and I credit my family, especially my mother, for encouraging me to join the cast later. I’m certainly glad I did, because it whetted my appetite for more. I think we forget sometimes how important those formative childhood experiences are. After that, I performed in the school musical every year until I graduated, and continued performing and studying theater in college. However, I never took it seriously as a career until my early twenties, when I found myself living and working in Tokyo, of all places.
JB: Japan? Wow. Tell me about that experience.
AT: I had studied in Japan briefly in college, and was keen to return there after graduating. My “Grand Plan” was to teach English and study Japanese there for a year until I could return to the States and earn a graduate degree in Japanese Studies. However, six months into my time there, I realized I was enjoying it too much to leave! It took a little while to figure things out, but I ended up making a living in Tokyo in English-teaching voiceovers, radio and television programs, in addition to performing community and semi-professional theater with fellow expats. I even performed in a couple of musical showcases on a Japanese cruise ship over a three-month period—something I never imagined doing when I first arrived. I had been so sure of my path when I got there in 1991, but I’m happy things worked out the way they did. I like to say that it took “four years and 10,000 miles” for me to figure out I wanted to be a professional actor.
JB: That’s a fantastic experience. And that’s the second time you’ve mentioned musicals. Do you sing—or play a musical instrument?
AT: My grandfather gave me my first music lesson, on clarinet. I played that for a couple years before switching to trumpet, which I played throughout high school. But, I think singing always felt more natural to me. I was in choral groups throughout my school days, and I studied voice quite seriously for several years, during and after college. Now, my vocal warm up is an integral part of how I prepare before going on stage, whether or not a role requires singing. It’s a way for me to connect with myself as well as to get energized and focused for a performance.
JB: What was your first professional role as an actor?
AT: I think my first pro gig was in Tokyo for NHK Educational, the language-teaching division of NHK, or Japan Broadcasting Corporation. I was hired as a voice actor to record conversations for an English-teaching radio program. The serialized dialog gave the listeners a story to follow as well as material for the weekly grammar and vocabulary lesson. That job led to others with a similar format: Conversations or on-camera sketches from actors provided the basis for lessons that would be led by either a Japanese educator or an American teacher fluent in Japanese, paired with the show’s host.
JB: What was your first acting job in the States?
AT: My first gig in Los Angeles was quite an experience. I had been auditioning fairly regularly through most of 2005 before I finally broke through that fall on a new Fox buddy dramedy called “Head Cases”. Three or four episodes had already been completed when my rep called to give me the good news that I had booked a co-star role on the next one. I was both thrilled and relieved! My wife and I had moved to LA so that I could pursue on-camera work, so it felt incredibly validating to get that call. My euphoria was short-lived, however, as my manager called back an hour later to tell me the gig was off! The show had been cancelled that same day by the network after airing only two episodes. I couldn’t believe it! “Welcome to Hollywood,” I thought. But, I knew there was nothing I could do about it except keep going and be ready for the next opportunity. That was a good lesson to learn.
JB: Now I want to talk about Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. When did you first read that book?
AT: I was twenty-six, and had known of the book for a few years. Several friends had recommended it to me, and so I finally borrowed a copy. I devoured it!
JB: When were you first inspired to turn it into a one-man show?
AT: I had seen a number of one-person shows in New York and Los Angeles, and by 2008 the challenge of creating my own full-length solo performance had gotten a hold of me. However, at the time I didn’t feel capable of creating one from scratch, so I began researching source material to adapt. I had been reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull out loud to folks for years—taking after my father, who had read to me and my brother many times when we were kids. Richard Bach’s novella seemed a perfect fit: The book wasn’t overly long, and the original 1970 edition had a three-act structure which I thought was ideal for the stage. (Note: A 2014 re-release of the book included a long-lost 4th section, which I didn’t feel was necessary to include in my version.) I began tinkering with the first part, which ran about 20 minutes. I performed it as a staged reading for the first time in 2009 at a theater showcase in LA, and the response I got was enough to convince me to continue adapting the rest of the book.
JB: What intrigued you about the book so much that you wanted to share your hard work and inspiration with others?
AT: There is a delightful relatability in the way Richard Bach tells Jonathan’s story. His youthful, daredevil passion to learn all he can about flight becomes a life-long journey of self-discovery. I think anyone who has faced personal demons—who has struggled to express their best and truest inward parts—can see themselves in him. There is a strong spiritual and metaphysical theme to the story which I feel Bach presents in a down-to-earth way that never becomes preachy. The story’s focus is always on how Jonathan, and later his students, strive to stay true to themselves in the face of their own self-doubt and society’s judgement. It is easy to become jaded and cynical in life, especially today, which is why I feel the book is more relevant than ever. We need compelling stories that uplift and transport us, at least for a little while, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull does just that.
JB: You’re right that we need uplifting & transporting—especially now. I’d like to talk more about your show, but right now we’re out of time. But I do have tickets for the Friday, August 12th performance. As a closing remark, why don’t you tell us how you feel about performing this show in your hometown of Potsdam, New York.
AT: I’m overjoyed! It’s a dream come true, but also a bit surreal. The last time I performed in Potsdam was 1987 as a chorus member in Music Theater North’s South Pacific. There will be friends and classmates at the show who’ve known me since I was eleven years old! So, I’ll be performing for family, really. I only wish my parents could be there—I know they would be delighted. They were both artists and staunch supporters of the arts in Potsdam. And, they always encouraged me and my brother in whatever we wanted to pursue in life. Every moment on that stage will be a tribute to them.
*Andrew Thacher lives in North Hollywood, California, with his wife Kelly and cats Stanley and Sofia. (He was a dog person growing up, but Kelly has managed to convert him.) He has studied Shakespeare in London, rubbed shoulders with Kabuki stars in Tokyo, and assisted with mink vaccinations in Denmark (and has the scars to prove it). You may have glimpsed him on TV here and there (find him on imdb.com) and you can catch him next on September 28th in Netflix’s Blonde. (At least, he hopes so—he’s in the trailer!) Andrew is also proud of his work in Audio Description, recording narrative tracks that aid those with sight impairment to more fully experience the films and shows they love.
You can see his show Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Solo Flight at SLC Arts’ Creative Spirit Community Arts Center on Friday, August 12th, 2022 at 4 PM and Saturday, August 13th at 1 PM. Visit slcartscouncil.org/soloflight for more information and to buy tickets.
by John Berbrich | Jul 20, 2022 | Arts Blog
If anyone wanted to enumerate the top ten best completely forgotten albums by a rock band of the late 1960s, “Another Time, Another Place” by Fever Tree should certainly rank high on the list.
Fever Tree started out as a garage band in Houston. After playing a variety of gigs along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, they moved in 1967 to Los Angeles & in 1968 recorded their first album, simply titled “Fever Tree.” This was a funny record, half hard & half soft. The hard songs included “Where Do You Go?” “Man Who Paints the Pictures,” & their biggest radio song, “San Francisco Girls (Return of the Native),” plus their version of wicked Wilson Pickett’s hit tune “Ninety-Nine and one Half.” The soft songs were slow & placid, featuring piano, gently plucked guitar, & even orchestration. Next came “Another Time, Another Place.”
But first let’s introduce the band. The lead singer is Dennis Keller, a mysterious figure w/ a raspy voice. Keller’s official bio says that his birthplace is “unknown,” which certainly adds to the mystery. On lead guitar we’ve got Michael Knust (known on recordings only as Michael). He was apparently inspired as a lad by attending live performances by Jimi Hendrix & Eric Clapton, which accounts for much of his ethereal, experimental guitar work. Thumping the bass is E.E. Wolfe III, a solid & steady performer. The guy who really gives the band class is Rob Landes; his elegant organ, flute, clavinette, & piano perfectly fill in any dead spaces & set the mood for every song. Mean-faced drummer John Tuttle can slam the snare as hard as anyone, but he also knows when to pull back & just cool it. Together, this ensemble always plays as a synchronized unit, particularly on their second album—oh, one more thing: husband-wife team Scott & Vivian Holtzman write most of the lyrics & seem to act as inspirational gurus for the band.
Anyway, now for “Another Time, Another Place.” The album kicks off w/ a remake of “Man Who Paints the Pictures” from their first record. When they recorded the song on their initial album, it sounded to me like a mad, rapid march, a little dark & sinister. They slowed down its pace on their second album, creating a classic nearly-seven minute FM radio monster. The song has everything: husky vocals, intriguing lyrics, wild forward-&-backward guitar, oceanic organ, savage drums, lurking bass, varied tempo. It’s really a masterpiece, followed by “What Time Did You Say it is in Salt Lake City?” a group party song w/ honky-tonk piano apparently about a guy (stoned or drunk) stuck in a Georgia airport while he’s trying to get to Utah. We’ve all been there.
“Don’t Come Crying to Me Girl” sounds exactly like you’d expect. The guy has little pity or sympathy for the girl, but in truth we don’t know much about the particular situation. Next up is a fairly steamy version of “Fever,” a song earlier popularized by red-hot Peggy Lee, that displays singer Dennis Keller at his vocal best. Side One closes w/ “Grand Candy Young Sweet,” a brief powerhouse that features Keller experiencing extreme lust.
Side Two begins w/ “Jokes are for Sad People,” a sweet, playful, & sporadically melancholy instrumental in excess of seven minutes. It’s all done w/ piano, guitar, & flute. “I’ve Never Seen Evergreen” is gentle & filled w/ dreamlike images, sung by guitarist Michael Knust & written by him in collaboration w/ the Holtzmans.
“Peace of Mind” starts out gentle too, but don’t worry—the pace picks up quickly, the whole band charging forward aggressively. Which bring us to the album’s closer, “Death is the Dancer.” Drums & bass tap out an insistent beat—you can tell that something great is about to arrive. And it does. And it’s a smart song, too—kind of about social justice, but really bigger than that. It’s sort of an angry & disillusioned shout at the cosmic void, the vast hungry maw that awaits us all at the end of our days. This is capped by a coda of gleefully insane piano, the kind you don’t hear very often. It’s exciting & an absolute curtain-closer.
Well, if you plan to list the top ten best completely forgotten albums by a rock band of the late 60s, “Another Time, Another Place,” by Fever Tree gets my vote.