Lou’s Favorite Songs of All-Time vol. 1:Femme Fatale by the Velvet Underground

It’s a damp evening in mid June on the Eve of Bloomsday 2015 near a playground between 7th and 8th Avenue off 27th Street in Manhattan. It’s cloudy this evening. The streets are very quiet. Fifty minutes post-show in Manhattan and not one sob story for some change from a bum. You could probably get away with robbing a Dunkin Donuts on nights like these, the kind of nights where you feel spirits. On this evening I had Edie Sedgwick on my mind.

Maybe you could thank Dean Ween who earlier that night performed an instrumental rendition of ‘Superstar’ by the Carpenters. In the Heath Room at the McKittrick Hotel no less which happens to be located around the same Chelsea neighborhood where the inspiration for the songs ‘Just Like A Woman’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ once levitated. She had that look. The perfect Sixties muse. One made for Manhattan.

Walking down a lonesome street in a crowded city. That sentence alone could be her life’s metaphor. To be loved by everybody and nobody at the same time. Knowing my current luck it is fair to say that it’s not good enough for her ‘Ciao, Manhattan’ ghost. What a great ending to another wordless evening running into that ghost would be. The kind of evenings that are meant for outlets like this. No, not tonight, as I opened the gate of the playground. There is not a soul in sight. Philadelphians have made an art out of urinating in public. We keep it on our own streets. My biggest fear every time I visit anywhere is getting arrested. That’s the kind of mindset you develop when you’re used to carrying illegal drugs on you. You’re a criminal. A bad guy. One of the kids that are always out back at the party.

I enter the playground and a light comes on. Motion sensors illuminate a path to the tiny public restroom which I enter and in a rare circumstance, fearing arrest, my bladder abides by the law. As I’m standing over the urinal there’s no cold chill, the type ghost hunters talk about, that gently touches the area where my neck meets my shoulder. Nope, not tonight. After finishing up, the lights in the restroom do not turn off and on rapidly like in an old horror film. As I’m staring in the mirror while washing my hands there’s no noises coming from the women’s room that I should be concerned about: no girl screaming or feet hitting the wall not even the sound of a forgotten foreign love song playing from an old radio that’s not plugged in. Nothing. I knew something had to be up. Slowly I crept the door open thinking about Edie, a couple months before her death, strung out sitting curled up into a ball on a park bench, those pinned-up hazy eyes with rings around them staring at the brake lights of cars rolling by, thinking about the kind of things people think about when they’ve been passed around and used for most of their life. Like when is it all going to finally come to an end. That’s the version of Edie Sedgwick’s ghost I’m meant to stumble upon especially on a night like this one. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to stare right at those “false colored eyes” that Nico sang about many years ago.

Slowly and with much anticipation, I open the door and look toward my left. The playground is still empty. Not even a squirrel in sight. Taking a deep breathe I quickly turn my head to the right but there is no spirit of Edie Sedgwick kneeling by the water fountain between the restrooms to greet me with a smile that could “break my heart in two.” Not on this summer night. At this point I’d be lucky to be accosted by a bum. If he’s old enough maybe the least I could get is a story about Edie from over forty years ago. Even a good made-up one could add a sense of fulfillment to this evening. But not even the lie of another human being was anywhere to be found on this Joycean night.

With nothing more than a stick of gum in my pocket, I headed back to Penn Station. There would be no alibi this evening, not that there’s ever a need for one. The thought of enjoying a wordless night on the town is nothing more than a thought. Similar to the setting around the Chelsea neighborhood that planted it in my head in the first place, lonesome streets in a crowded city. The bigger the town the harder this feeling of being lonesome can hit you. If you let it effect you it becomes contagious. People slowly start to write you off. Or better yet, forget about you. As the train pulled away from the station I hunkered down in my seat and put on my headphones. Then it hit me, this night in Manhattan did have meaning. For in this day and age, we have access to ghosts right in the palms of our hands. I looked into my phone and searched for this song, a personal all-time favorite. A suitable song for Manhattan, a place where most people don’t get what they want. More than other places. I was haunted by a digital ghost that came into my head through the setting of a foggy summer night. With a small sense of satisfaction, I watched this video all the way to Philadelphia and fell in love over-and-over again.

Femme Fatale

 

Lou’s Reviews vol. 2: Dawes @ Wiggins Park

Lou’s Reviews vol. 2: Dawes @ Wiggins Park

New Jersey is a wonderful state. It offers pretty much its own version of everything except for great mountains. One second you’re on a farm and the next you may be buying it if you step down the wrong street in cities like Camden, Newark or the lovely state capitol of Trenton. In between most of this you have the very standard suburbs where most battles are waged on high school football fields or in bragging rights toward which townships have the Mercedes Benz dealerships, which malls have the Nieman Marcus or wherever the hell the mysterious medical marijuana dispensary is located. Somewhere along the way there’s a dividing line that separates Eagles fans from Giants fans, Quick Chex from WaWa, the Meadowlands from Atlantic City, Bruce Springsteen from…well ok, there’s no separating the Boss from anything New Jersey.

This past Friday I had the pleasure of heading to the first night of the XPN Festival with my brother. For those who don’t know me, going to see live music is one of the last enjoyable things I have left in my life. It’s right up there with the first bite I take out of a hoagie, the feeling you get when you jump out of bed on a weekend thinking it’s a weekday but then realizing it’s a weekend so you can sleep-in longer and the fortune of being able to pay all my bills on time. Not even for one second do I fail to cherish these things. Particularly a good live band. So when the schedule was announced for Friday night’s XPN Lineup and I saw that the band Dawes from Southern California were the headliner I knew there was absolutely no way I was missing their set. They’re one of my favorite newer bands.

It seemed like events beyond my control were tempting me to miss the event. At the office, the copier decided to break 10 minutes before the official start of the weekend making the unofficial start 90 minutes too late. When I finally did get a chance to leave, I got stuck on a bridge during a bridge opening. Eventually, I made it to Camden’s city limits but unfortunately I was forced to park at the campus of Rutgers because the cops weren’t letting cars move any closer to the water.

The whole time walking toward the event I noticed something that could only be too good to be true. There were droves of people, many of them young, making a pilgrimage toward the waterfront. “What the hell is going on…” I thought, “Has indie rock really made it?” In the distance I could see grills, American flags, and girls…lots and lots of girls. And they were all gorgeous. “Could a random ticket to a Dawes concert not too far from where I grew up which may as well be the setting for Kevin Smith’s ‘Mallrats’ really be a passport to heaven on earth,” was the prevailing notion along with the subtle uneasiness of thinking to myself: “what in the world did I finally do to earn this privilege of being around all these beautiful women.”

Getting closer to the vibrations of the crowded parking lot sparked an aura of anticipation I haven’t felt since re-starting my blurbing hobby almost three weeks ago. My only question of the evening was: why the hell are all these girls wearing cowboy boots. Trust me, I’m not opposed to this style it’s just shocking how not half or three quarters but nearly every single girl around me were wearing cowboy boots. In all honesty, I doubt over ninety-percent of them have even rode a horse before or much less been to the Cowtown Rodeo or even picked apples at a farm any time recently. It wasn’t even five minutes before this lingering question was answered and reality set in to destroy my fantasy. These girls, this abundance of young beautiful girls were not in town to join me in welcoming an up-and-coming indie rock band to the Camden Waterfront. In fact, I’d be shocked if any one of these girls even knew Wiggins Park or a band named Dawes or the WXPN radio station even existed. They were here for something I feel is even more bewildering…they along with the masses of Southern New Jersey were in town for a country music festival.

Now don’t get me wrong, country music isn’t that bad. For instance, some of the legends in country had profound influences on rock and roll legends. I was more overwhelmed by the turn-out. Especially the quality of the turnout. I’ve never seen so many multitudes of good looking women in my life. Who is to blame (or thank depending on how you look at it) for putting this plethora in place? Was it the mega popular Taylor Swift who got her start in the country world before having every single woman on the planet fall in love with her and her music. She’d be my first culprit. Or do women have some insane attraction to men who drive pick-up trucks (I’ve never seen so many in my life). All I know is that whoever started this phenomenon sure had a bad taste in country music. Most of the pop country I hear simply sounds non-engaging and it leaves a similar impression in my ears like the auto-tune crunk rap of the past decade. An impression that forces me to question my own personal tastes. But for whatever reason, good looking women flock to the sounds of it. Maybe it’s the feeling they get while wearing cowboy boots.

As for Dawes? After rummaging through the hordes of drunken country music fans, I finally found myself stage-side at Wiggins Park. While the scene was much smaller than the country music fest, people were still showing-up in support. It may not have been the most beautiful women the state of New Jersey has to offer but at least it felt real. The majority of the people may have been older, they may have loved the Beatles and they may drive four door Japanese sedans (like myself) but at least they came for one common thing: the music. Dawes put on a great set. They recently added Duane Betts, the son of Allman Brother Dicky Betts, to open the sound on lead guitar and he lives up to his first and last name. They rock it. Their third album ‘All Your Favorite Bands’ carries on the stellar musicianship and songwriting of the first two and their performance on stage shows they take pride in these songs. I would pay to go see them again and will when the opportunity returns. Hopefully if that ‘time comes’ they’ll still be able to draw a generous crowd on their own. Who knows, maybe by then some of the wannabe cowgirls will grow out of the current pop country music phase that has overtaken the tastes of many gorgeous women in the United States.

Dawes Clip

 

 

 

Lou’s Reviews: Vol. 1 St. Vincent

Lou’s Reviews: Vol. 1 St. Vincent

It’s a Saturday evening, I’m starving and all I’m thinking about is how I haven’t been to Donkey’s in over ten years as I’m pulling into what I hope is an actual parking lot right off Haddon Ave. in Camden, New Jersey. Thanks to Anthony Bourdain the secret is out, the best cheesesteak can be found in this town. You know what else is the best in Camden, its Waterfront. One that hosts a great minor league baseball experience, a heroic battleship and a top notch aquarium all under the anchor of the Ben Franklin Bridge that holds the Philadelphia skyline in place. One amazing view that I’m especially admiring tonight as I walk into the legendary E-Center (as I like to call it) wishing for those greasy hot pickled relish fried onion kaiser bun concoctions you can only find in the middle of the day. It’s these times where you really have to ask yourself what is worse: the hunger or the craving. Not even a generous and pricey serving of Guy Fieri French fries with all the flames you’d expect to be created by a man with his style of flare could satisfy this craving. You’d think the venue in Camden would have better food options but what’s sadder is the fact that one year ago, food would be the last thing on yours truly’s mind while at a rock concert.

Luckily before I had any more time to digress a pale-skin vixen wearing all-black made her way onto the Camden stage. Walking to a backbeat she side-steps in sync with her bass player, a petite Asian woman, toward center-stage. With the drummer providing the steadiness in the right corner and a synth player putting it together on the left, the thought of biting into a Donkey’s cheesesteak quickly precipitated out of my mind. I looked up to the stage from my seat nestled near the soundboard to see Medusa herself staring right at me with a heavenly venom spewed forth in every strum of her guitar. Divine musical notes. They can accommodate a queen but are more suitable for a saint. One who needs no coronation for she possesses that Jedi force only reserved for the most distinct rock gods and goddesses. Or saints.

Annie Clark, who goes by the stage name St. Vincent, is one of the best guitarists (quoting Jim James the front man for the band My Morning Jacket who she was opening for) “ever.” If I had to make a comparison in playing I would not be afraid to say that she has a similar style and is as good as another rock god with royal pedigree, Prince. I’m not familiar with her music as well as other bands. What I’ve heard over the years from the studio sounds great. My worry going into this was how these songs would translate live. Was I happy to give her a chance! Anyone reading this blurb should too. She absolutely rocks! I turned to stone during her set. Captivated by every move she made. Lost in the classic rock and roll temple constructed by her music. St. Vincent exceeded any and all expectations. The set ended before even having a chance to think any more about those classic cheesesteaks. My mind was too busy thinking about what it had just witnessed. Something different and so unique I heavily urge anybody…ANYBODY to go out and see her live if you have the opportunity. She makes more than music on stage, she makes miracles. She brings audiences to life. Here’s hoping that she makes her way to a stage near you:)

*Dawes on Friday and My Morning Jacket were both also incredible

*WXPN rules!!!

 

 

 

 

Lou’s Stories from Past Experiences in an Altered Mental State vol. 1

The Night I Ran into my Grandparents in Atlantic City
If you’ve grown up in the Delaware Valley and you like to have fun chances are you’ve probably
had at least one good Atlantic City moment. The seaside resort has cost me a solid 4 maybe
even 5 of my nine lives. Most of the time it’s intentional. Bachelor weekends gone haywire are
AC’s middle name. Crashing hard is expected when excursions are executed after cautious
months of making plans. Memories for the most part are few and far between as they should be
when the usual outcome is often tarnished with regret. It’s a ‘what happens here stays here kind
of a place’ although by now once you’ve become veteran to the extenuating circumstances of
forced depravity, the outcome can also start becoming rather mundane. On this particular night over five years ago there was no bachelor party on the radar. No outcome to be expected. Just an
evening with the Disco Biscuits at the House of Blues chased with a shot of ergot. Or so I thought while leaving the House of Blues far sooner than I’d anticipated. For the show was nothing more than the evening’s pre-game.
When you leave a show on those peculiar nights, the ones where you’ve let your mind tether the fine rope of reality, there’s no better place to be than Atlantic City. The Showboat was great for these kind of situations. Before the Revel it stood apart from the other casinos along the beach. You could walk outside to grab some fresh air with only the harassment of about half as many people in destitute situations asking you for anything monetary or vice-related. It also boasted the House of Blues which in my opinion was the only modern small venue that seemed to get it right in that town and when both the venue and the casino closed-down I felt like a part of me closed down with it. You see, the Showboat was not only my particular favorite casino but it also happened to be the casino of choice of my grandparents. Even before I could legally enter the floor I remember seeing my
grandmother drive her Lincoln with my grandfather riding shotgun and usually another elderly couple posting up in the backseat riding down Pleasure Avenue in Sea Isle right around sunset heading to what was once America’s Playground.
They were drawn to the thrill just as much as I was and still am. Maybe that’s where I got it from.
The only difference is what draws us in. They liked the Showboat because it brought them good
nights at the slots or blackjack tables paired up with a half decent buffet and alright senior
citizen entertainment options. I liked the music venue and the carpeting. But I think it’s safe to
say that we both loved the carnival atmosphere.
After the show I made my way to the bar for a much needed sip of relaxation. Tonight it was heavily called for as the lights fantastic, drawn out from hibernation within the abyss of my mind by the jam-heavy three to four song sets that have made the Disco Biscuits famous, was flying full throttle. At this point, the biggest concern was figuring how I was going to get home. I had arrived in Atlantic City behind the wheel of my own vehicle but even the daredevil in me was chicken when it came to leaving town under my current impairment this evening. What made matters even worse was that I didn’t have the mask of alcohol to hide under because my first drink was ordered at the side bar near the venue after the show.
In my drinking years when I found myself in this state I’d usually order something that I would
never order. Like a strawberry daiquiri or anything with blue curacao in it. On this evening it was a rum runner with an extra shot of rum and a much needed one because the bartender’s frustration was literally writing its name onto her name tag. Who could blame her? Her bar had been invaded
by a curious bunch of un-showered heathens barking demands and she had been cornered with the anxious stares of multiple dilated pupils. My anxious stare being one of them. It wouldn’t have
been so bad if the only seat I could find wasn’t the dreaded seat you see at the end of the bar
which is usually near a trash can and in the way of its employees when it isn’t being used by
them on their breaks. Trust me, on nights like these you can sense the frustration of people and
when that frustration is much-deserved because of the degree of jackass one is forced to serve
in order to make a living, observing its escalation can in and of itself be a traumatic experience. It didn’t help that the one man sitting next to me looked like he had just finished up shooting bull
testosterone into his rear and seemed to be looking to take his rage out on a poor video poker machine that probably sits obsolete on more normal days.
This prompted me to sneak my drink outside and do what I love to do late at night when I’m at
the beach and I can’t sleep because my mind is altered, stare at the ocean in contemplation.
The relaxing sounds of the ocean waves crashing under a half moon provided just enough
courage to walk back into the chaotic world of the Showboat Casino on a typical weekend night
in the heart of Summertime. My vow re-entering the casino was quite simple, walk around and
stare at the light and the carpet until I feel safe enough to drive back to my shore home (Sea
Isle City) where a sunny Saturday on the beach would be awaiting my tired and delirious mind.
It was either that or sleep in the car and there was no way I was missing out on this evening’s
peculiar light show that was igniting the orchestra that often lays dormant inside my head.
At first glance casino floors may seem to go on forever but the lights, carpets, and mirrors add
this dimension. When you’re not a gambler, walking the floor gets old very quickly. Usually I’ll pull a twenty dollar bill and post up at a random slot machine long enough to muster a cocktail
or two. This night was no exception. A couple pulls and a little luck can have you riding in
victory off into the sunrise. On this night it seemed my luck had run out halfway into the Disco
Biscuit’s second set. I didn’t even have time to flag down a cocktail waitress before I was forty
dollars in the hole. To make matters even weirder, when I looked around for the cocktail
waitresses I noticed a familiar face standing in the adjacent slot row. With leather skin and eyes
which have seen secrets to tomato sauce recipes handed down from previous generations, dressed as if she was about to tee off at the Shop Rite LPGA Tournament in Galloway was none other than
my grandmother, Mom Mom.
You would think if she ran into me she’d run up to me first and start talking to me. Maybe even
give me five dollars for a spin. But at three thirty, early on a Saturday morning in late June at the
now shut-down Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey she was just as shocked to see
me as I was to see her. It’s as if now the fun is ruined because the cat’s out of the bag, everyone knows the secret. In that current moment I even felt she knew I was in an altered state of mind. We stared at each other in a sort of standoff fashion, the type you see in old Westerns or when you read about Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Who was going to say the first word? One of us had to. But she was quiet. Maybe she didn’t think it was me. Maybe she thought she was looking at someone that looked like her grandson. I let this minute of eternity slip by until walking up and saying hi to her. And her response, “your grandfather is sitting alone at the
blackjack table, you should go say hi to him.” Perfect. Just what I wanted to hear. The quick ‘you
do your thing I’ll do mine response’ although now I had to find my grandfather and say hi
to him. Which is all fine and dandy when being normal isn’t a masquerade.
My mind was beginning to race. What if they ask me why I’m here and what I’m doing on a casino floor two hours before sunrise? I have no woman in tow which means I have no cover-no beard to hide the flaws inside my soul that so often come out on sleepless nights. I don’t even have friends with me. I’m alone in Atlantic City, spun out after a rock concert and the only people I know in the building are my grandparents. And they know everything from what I’ve been doing to what I want to be doing and when it’s all placed on broadcast it does not look very admirable. Especially in their generation, the greatest generation that did many great things but in the eyes of the counter-culture they have one creation which has scarred this great nation and that creation is the War on Drugs.

So like any extremely paranoid human being under the influence would do when they find themselves in this situation, I decided to walk to the atm, withdraw 200 hundred dollars and exchange them for two hundred in chips at the roulette wheel. I had to create an acceptable persona before going to say hi to my grandfather and what better persona to create than being a gambling degenerate. In the eyes of the greatest generation, the one thing you don’t want to be associated with is drugs, unfortunately even sexism and racism seem to be more acceptable to many octogenarians than being somebody who uses drugs. Gambling is as much a rite of passage as going off to war for these old-timers and I was
never into either. This however would be different.
After a couple failed attempts of winning money at the roulette table I peered around the wheel
and made my way to the tables. Sitting alone at the end of the table was the man himself, my
grandfather, Pop Pop as he came to be known as in his grandfatherhood. When he saw me it
was almost as if a light had gone on beneath the frames of his glasses. A big man in stature, he
pulled up a seat and waved me over to the table. Much different from the interaction with my
grandmother who wanted no business of me getting in between her and the slot machine, he
welcomed me with a gentle pat of his big left hand on my back and a ‘hey little Louie’ to make
me feel much younger than my years. I told him my game was roulette yet little did I know that
roulette requires about as much strategy as a slot and this quote probably made me look like a bigger idiot than I actually was in his view. After losing my two hundred dollars he told
me the best thing to do at a roulette wheel is to bet big on red or black. I asked him what his
color preference was, he answered: ‘black.’ We sat down and he mentioned how he always sat
at the end of blackjack tables because he had the ability to count cards and one who counts
cards must always sit at the end. He played a couple of rounds, he won and the next thing you
know I’m in line for the breakfast buffet with Mom Mom and Pop Pop in tow, courtesy of their comps.
The only downfall of the evening was telling my grandparents how much I love to gamble at
casinos which is a total lie. Anybody who has partied with me at a casino knows I’m not into
wagering my money on its games. I’m more of a camaraderie type of guy: give me the lights, the
funky carpets, the cocktail waitresses, the slot noises, and the overall acceptance of
debauchery. I’d rather piss my money away on other things (or people)! That morning I told my
grandparents another lie, I told them that my car broke down and it was being repaired in AC…and that I had been waiting for the bus. At this point the sun was up and I could’ve drove home but I opted to catch a ride from them back to Sea Isle.
We got home early enough to sneak into bed before anybody else realized where we had been. Their secret was safe with me. From that point on my grandparents had me labeled as a gambler and they would always be quick to remind me that it is not cheap to keep casino lights on all night as an err of caution when traveling upon gambling’s dark road. Ever since that night, I always feel like I’m going to run into them when I walk into a casino even though my grandfather has since passed and my grandmother is under 24 hour care in a home. Even my favorite casino, the Showboat, is no longer in business. That following day at around noon I took the bus into AC to retrieve my car. When I got to the Showboat the urge kicked in to take a shot at winning back some of the money I lost. I withdrew two hundred dollars, walked up to the roulette wheel and heeding the advice of my grandfather I put it all on ‘black.’ It hit. Without even thinking twice, I cashed out and left.

That is the only time I had ever won something substantial at a casino.

 

When I’m in AC, I like to think of how much joy it gave my grandparents in their later years. It makes me feel less guilty about my own ways of having fun, ways which their generation would not approve of, but as I said earlier, there’s many social aspects of their generation that lack my approval. Somewhere in Sea Isle just around sunrise on a summer morning if you search hard enough you too may also run into an elderly couple that may be cooler than you give them credit for being. For all you know, they too may be heading back from a long evening of fun, lost in what was once America’s Playground, under the lights fantastic.

I Heart Hoagiefest!

I Heart Hoagiefest!
Nothing represents the typical middle class Philadelphia suburbanite more than the local convenience Meccas that go by the name WaWa. If you’ve never been to WaWa than your life is incomplete. Might as well book a flight to Philadelphia as soon as possible. I pity anybody that does not have the pleasure of experiencing WaWa first hand and more specifically the annual summertime phenomena that is Hoagiefest.

I can remember the first Hoagiefest like it was yesterday. It was at the beginning of the recession back during a time where there was still a false hope that existed in this country or at least in my hopeless world of a brighter future. Sunshine was imminent in those days stretching its rays a never-ending arm’s length towards what appeared to be hope on the horizon rather than the false cloud it has been all along. But who in this world doesn’t want to mistake dark clouds for sunlight every once in a while? This particular mistaken sunlight, the veil of America’s current recession, was first shining prominently on a sunny afternoon off 206 near Bordentown, New Jersey during that fabled summer of 2008…the fabled summer of hope and change in the land of delusion masked in the costume of a 2.99 cent six-inch hoagie that went by the nickname “Shorti.”

Me and my cousin lived off those pesky little sandwiches during that fateful summer with a soundtrack provided by the Fleet Foxes and ruffled with conversations about Heath Ledger’s Joker. It was nice to be able to eat out and not worry about creditors hunting you down at month’s end. My cousin even famously joked how Hoagiefest was WaWa’s attempt to “end the recession.” It was a no-brainer to witness its return the next summer and it’s not surprising that Hoagiefest has become an annual staple of summertime in the Delaware Valley ever since those days.

When you walk into and see every employee wearing a tie-dye shirt it says to me that WaWa has bought into this delusion from the start. Everything is so much happier when your local convenience store recalls the Summer of ’67, or Summer of Love as it is most famously referred to as, with classic sounds of the late Sixties playing on the speakers and everybody wearing tie-dye shirts. You could say that it’s just enough delusion to get me accidentally over-pouring milk into my coffee cup most summer mornings if not for the fact that my mind, in reality, is an eternal 15 year old teenager trapped in an aging prison and my personal WaWa of choice happens to be next to a strip club; I wouldn’t be surprised if this WaWa was a rite of passage for its female employees before moving on toward greener pastures disguised as crumbled dollar bills. Don’t let the onomatopoeia fool you, this is a small town WaWa in a low middle-class Philly suburb; we’re talking about young women that are into dating police officers. Much different from the inner-city ones I know, the majority who hate them along with just about everybody else in my neighborhood. Maybe that’s why there’s so few WaWa’s in the inner-inner city. That and the fact that bodega life is much cheaper and simpler. City bodegas, however,  don’t find subliminal ways to break into your psyche. They don’t have a soundcloud page of songs unless you’re content labeling the Venezuelean satellite station its theme music which it may as well be.

My favorite employee is a husky middle-age man with special needs who works by the coffee station. He loves talking about the Phillies when he’s not mopping milk adolescent minded men like myself may tend to overpour while trying to strike useless conversations with any one of the strategically planted counter girls during peak lunch hours. I like this guy because while he may be shackled by a speech impediment he kind of knows what’s going on. The kind of going on that negates any attempt at holding the sympathy card up in the air for these inattentive counter girls half my age to see or appreciate. I’m more into the fact that this guy straight up does not care about anything. No tie-die shirt. No name tag. Half the time he’s not really even doing anything. My kind of guy. And the old lady at the counter, she knows me by my first name. She’s the Madame in this bordello of goodness which was once totalitarian with different weeks featuring different hoagies but has since embraced the ideal utopia that the Summer of Love wanted to represent all along. A utopia based on freedom of choice. Not only can I build any hoagie in my mind and express this vision in the form of a 4.99 cent ten inch Classic…but this year, if you scroll to Associate Recipes…you have nine regionally selected masterpieces to help guide you on your sandwich journey. My personal favorite, the Sgt. Pepper’s of the bunch, is the Supreme Classic from Quakertown, PA. Folks…besides my beloved Bacon Cheese Dog, this might be the best thing WaWa’s ever done. When I first tried this (and believe me I’ve tried them all) I wanted to call self-accredited sandwich connoisseur and WIP radio personality Glenn Macnow. Something this good needs to be mentioned on the radio. It’s the kind of taste which puts you on that boat surrounded by “tangerine trees and marmalade skies.” And I’ll be upset when it’s gone in a couple weeks. Hoagiefest to me has come to represent more than the initial corporate shot of optimism. It has become a pillar of what it means to spend summers in the Delaware Valley. It’s a part of me…it’s a part of being Philadelphian and when it ends it’s a sign that summer is coming to an end. A sign that seems to always pop-up way too soon.

In celebration of all things WaWa I want to share a couple links to honor this great chain.

First is a track off George Harrison’s classic album ‘All Things Must Pass” titled ‘Wah-Wah’ While not about the convenience chain, it embraces the true Hoagiefest spirit.

George Harrison ‘Wah-Wah’

Next is the official 2015 WaWa soundcloud page

WaWa Soundcloud

Finally…here’s an underground Philly rap song expressing frustration with the lack of inner-city WaWa’s. This production carries a distinct mid-Nineties Philly underground rap theme.

No Wawa’s in the Hood

One final note…for the inner-city Philadelphians that may be reading this post…it was recently announced that they are building a 5,500 square foot flagship WaWa (with seating) at the location of the old Robinson Luggage, the one that was infamously looted after the Phillies won the World Series back in 2008, off Broad and Walnut. What a great place to get dinner any time of the day!

 

Lou’s Impromptu Classic Album Reviews #1: ‘Aja” by Steely Dan

To my beloved readers,

As many of you may already know my brother is a musician in the Philadelphia area. Today was supposed to be my first post reviewing bands that play with my brother and I was all set to feature Thomas Wynn & the Believers, a band out of Northern Florida that my brother opened for at Ortlieb’s on Saturday night however little did I know that Ortlieb’s had went the route of the Boot after the fire and completely changed its set-up (meaning you can’t sit and eat while watching music like you used to). So I missed them in exchange for dinner. But…I had bigger and better plans for Sunday in what would’ve doubled as the first edition of Lou’s Concert Reviews as I was all set to witness a full day of music on the sunny streets of Ardmore. This, however, was deterred by a heat index of 105 degrees. When you’re not getting paid to write about music you have to be feeling what you’re feeling at the moment.

My apologies to Thomas Wynn and the city of Ardmore,

Lou

‘Aja’ by Steely Dan

1977.

What goes though your head when you see the number 1977? If I had to create an image of 1977 in my head it would be a girl with dirty blonde hair, brown eyes, light freckled skin, a tight Led Zeppelin t-shirt, thigh-high cheekies, socks up to the knees, low cut Chucks, with a popsicle, under the shade of a maple tree, holding a hidden book of numbers in one hand, birth control hidden in another lost from the sun, cracking a shy smile toward any eye wandering her way. And why wouldn’t I find her today on Montgomery Avenue? It’s the hottest day of the year. Who doesn’t want to frolic on a hot summer day, with my luck she’ll be ringing out the sweat from the bonnet she keeps in her back pocket near the train station. That’s all I was thinking of as I made my way to watch another Benevento-Russo project cover Zeppelin out behind Ardmore Music Hall.

Leaving my house in the city was torture. Nothing a little a.c. and Steely Dan couldn’t help cool off. I popped Aja on as a sort of ends to the edge created by this summer heatwave. Let me tell you, the opening notes of Black Cow really carries the melody of an inner-city street. The song, after all, is about an underage streetwalker. One more likely to be found on a West Philadelphia side-street than near an ice cream truck on the Main Line. Knowing the obvious doesn’t prevent me toward getting lost in my own delusion. Lost in Wayne Shorter’s sax solo on the album title track, I almost had to pull over to calm what non-experienced wanderers may mistaken for as an anxiety attack if it wasn’t for the singing along to the chorus of Deacon Blues to quench the fake-out as I proceeded to make my way to the Suburban Square parking lot in Ardmore.

As I got out of my car the blast of excessive heat quickly made me realize how much I love Steely Dan. Their music is an escape. Not even the sounds of ‘Down by the Seaside’ (a personal top five Zeppelin song) could calm the urge to get back in the car and turn up what is arguably my favorite track of the album: Peg. By the time the opening notes of the next song, Kashmir, started I was dripping sweat and rushing back to the car to hear one of my favorite melodies in music. ‘Peg’ carries a double meaning for me. First and foremost, the song brings to life those Sunday afternoon Phillies broadcasts from my childhood. For anybody old enough to remember, the Phillies would have this song on the background as they cut to commercial. Nothing says summertime like baseball making the fact that I’m eating a 40 dollar ticket in lieu of driving around the mainline listening to this classic album even more bearable.

As I’ve gotten older the lyrics to Steely Dan’s songs have began to make more sense and all I can say is Donald Fagen has that darkness inside of him I really admire. What more could you expect from somebody that is rumored to be a longtime casual heroin abuser. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that ‘Peg’ is not about baseball. Unless she’s modeling in a baseball uniform. On this particular Sunday afternoon there would be no Aja or Peg in sight and by the time the seventh and final track of the album (‘Josie’) rolled around there would be none of her in sight either.

You see, in reality, if you’re not throwing the party at your own mansion on the Main Line, it’s pretty boring to the outsider. I always tend to get myself all worked up until I end up near 76. The dirtiest thing I could do on the Main Line is purchase a pack of condoms or look for a comic book that might show a little nipple before proceeding back home. There’s no girl dancing to “Chinese music under banyan trees,” no model cracking a “smile for the camera,” not even a little chica “praying like a Roman with her eyes on fire.” Nope. Not to this outsider. On a hot day like today you would be lucky if you even see somebody leave their air-conditioned homes to go walking around on the streets. There is, though, seven tracks from 1977 on repeat in my car. They’ll not only accompany me on the ride back into town on 76 but most likely they will stay on repeat until this heatwave finally ends.

Below is a link to the album and a pretty cool doc about the album…enjoy!

Aja Album

Making of Aja

 

 

 

 

My Losing Tradition

My Losing Tradition

Philadelphia is my town. The street food. Rolling around the Ben Franklin Parkway through Kelly Drive is the most beautiful ride, day or night. Brotherly love. It’s in the water…does not matter how you pronounce it. Everything about me breathes the soul of Philadelphia from my musical preferences to what provides significance in my favorite motion pictures. Everything except for one blemish. During the autumn months it comes around in the form of a rival football team from another city that goes by the controversial name: Washington Redskins. For this one reason alone, my closest friends I’ve known for decades fail to accept the one thing I identify with the most, being a true Philadelphian.

If you follow the National Football League you’d probably be thinking the same thing I question to myself daily, why do I root for the Washington Redskins? Their owner is a heel, they haven’t been good in over twenty years and they’re not even from a city that has the heart of a town like Philadelphia. Adding further insult, the name is offensive. My only response is that it’s family tradition. My father’s a Redskins fan, my grandfather was a Redskins fan, and my parents met in the D.C. area. Let’s not forget that I was born there even though Philly’s been my home for the past thirty years. For this reason, in the eyes of my closest friends, three hundred and sixty five days a year, I’m a loser, a loser that roots for a losing team. And if you really think about it, they’re completely right. Except for two Sundays a year, two Sundays where my team gets a chance to beat their team. Two opportunities to relish in victory. Two chances to wave the controversial flag that bears the name Redskins in triumph.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the people who wave the confederate flag. Many of these unfortunate folk, similar to my relationship with the Redskins, have family history sewn into the cloth of this dubious symbol, one which has also been handed down from generation to generation. They know no better to turn their back on this tumultuous past, many of these people may even do no wrong from day-to-day. For this reason, some fail to accept what the flag of their heritage means to other people. The heritage of the Confederacy which lost the Civil War. The people that wave the Confederate flag honor a losing nation once defended by losers on the battlefield. In order to preserve what once existed, they honor these losers.

These losers are the worst kind of losers for their loss cannot be avenged. There’s no victorious Sunday. No chance for triumph. Forever are they marked with a similar stain to the one I can relate to every time I walk down 9th Street in South Philly wearing my Redskins hat, especially during the autumn months. One that tradition prevents me to break from even though many times my conscience tells me otherwise. These unfortunate losers, these bearers of the Confederate flag, I can only pity them to a certain extent before realizing no pity will get them to own up to a battle that can no longer be won. Like being born with the legacy of a losing football team, one whose triumph is lost in memory’s distance, one cannot erase their heritage. So they honor their tradition of losing, waving their Confederate flag, the flag of losers. The flag that represents a dead nation which bowed down long ago in eternal defeat on one final battlefield.

Lou’s Great Songs of 2015 Vol. 1 ‘Without You’ by Tobias Jesso Jr.

Anybody that knows me knows that I love to listen to music. Over the course of this blog space I will start to feature a handful of songs that were released (or became more public) in 2015. The first song I am featuring (‘Without You’ by Tobias Jesso Jr.) was heard on an XPN Making Time is Rad show back in mid-March. Without further adieu I present:

Lou’s Great Songs of 2015 vol. 1 ‘Without You’ by Tobias Jesso Jr.

Have you ever dropped somebody off at an airport and started to cry? Better yet, have you ever pulled over to the side of a runway and watched the planes take off while thinking to yourself about how many people on that plane were leaving behind somebody back on the ground down below in tears? If not, I’m sorry to hear about not having the experience of saying goodbye to a loved one. Or the misfortune of losing a former loved one. Both experiences are intense. And gratifying. I guess you kind of need to experience one to satisfy the other. Losing at the game of love. It can be a tough pill to swallow.

Tobias Jesso Jr. has sat off that runway before. Car burning gas idle off the freeway on the losing end of love. A place where we all find ourselves every once-in-a-while. If you don’t believe me, listen to the open notes of ‘Without You’ from his debut album Goon. Those notes reek of the sound conveyed by loneliness. Trust me, if anybody would know what loneliness sounds like it’s yours truly. His voice has the sound of somebody talking to someone not listening, or not even there, and realizing it. It’s a voice confined so deep in the human heart even the Tinman would shed a goose-bump upon hearing it. Non-tinmen like myself would go so far as to shed a number of tears by this tone alone. An all too familiar tone from a world many wish they can become more unfamiliar with…a world of emptiness. A world epitomized by this beautiful song.

An added bonus is the music video which accompanies this masterpiece. It’s the classic case of an older person finding a passion that’s been gone for a long time. I really like how it is an older woman with a younger man. I’m personally sick of seeing old men with young women. It’s not genuine (passionately speaking for the most part) and it’s played-out. It’s about time the older woman gets her due. And being a younger man I can tell you…we actually appreciate the carnal aspect of it more than the opposite sex which usually prides itself more on the financial part of such an arrangement. At least from my observations. Hopefully the older woman in this video got that feeling back. I’m sure she deserves it for all she’s probably went through, just like the brokenhearted singer-songwriter. That feeling I hear every time this song plays. It’s loving something that has flown away. Something worth pulling over on the side of the road for and waiting for it to return.

Without You

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to a Mentor

This past weekend Don Bigley, a former employer, suddenly passed-away as a result of a heart attack. Even though I have not worked at Ott’s Tavern for 12 years my experiences working at his establishment have had an impact on my life. I first started working at Ott’s Tavern in Delran, New Jersey on Winter Break in the middle of my sophomore year while attending Fordham College in the Bronx. I’ll admit, my only intention was to work there for a couple weeks to earn some bucks for partying back at school. In my immature and entitled Prep-school mind I was above working in the kitchen at a bar that didn’t even have a dish-washing machine. Plus it was kind of a dump. By the end of that break I rejoiced as I headed back up to New York where I could big time it leaving my little hometown corner bar in the dust as I was on to bigger and better things in the Big Apple. Everything seemed fine. Perfect. Until I practically failed out of school.

Over the second semester of my sophomore year I started to feel too good for college. I had
developed a cavalier attitude that was disguised in a hidden desire to be something I was not. I
wanted to be seen but didn’t even know what I wanted the world to recognize me as. I wanted
to be what was happening but I didn’t even know what was happening around me. And as a result, I failed as a college student.
By the time May rolled around I found myself back in Ott’s kitchen with my tail between my legs.
This time there was no room in the kitchen. Those cooking jobs which I had once felt like I was above
now found themselves above me. But luckily it was Friday. Friday, Memorial Day Weekend to be
exact. Lunchtime. And the kitchen staff had found themselves in an all too familiar predicament,
being backed up on dishes. By some stroke of divine intervention this was all happening as I
crawled into the kitchen to inquire for work. The next thing I knew (but I didn’t know it then), my 3 year run of manually washing the dishes at Ott’s Tavern had officially begun.
As the summer went on, my interactions with Don were pretty limited. He was running a
business and I was nothing more than the typical entitled preppy college student who was home for the summer with no more intention than mustering a few bucks for pleasure. He knew it and I knew it. Lots of times when I was scrubbing away at the dishes (most of the time in frustration) within the sweltering kitchen he’d pop in and give me a
stern look and before I could even express any complaint he’d tell me to shut up and that
dish-washing was therapeutic. I’ll be honest, he’d piss me off at times. Not for his wisecracks but
rather the fact that he operated a restaurant this busy without a dish-washing machine. And I wouldn’t be afraid to air my frustrations while he sat in his office which, may I add, was a thin wall away from the dish sink I had been mercilessly slaving over in a kitchen that seemed to always be at least 1000 degrees. Trust me, he could hear every word I said.
The summer finally came to an end. All the kids were going back to school. All the kids except
me. That’s right. All the kids were going back to parties and fun while I was stuck laboring at a
bar that was falling to pieces. Down on my life and out of luck, I came to earth for the first
time in my adulthood. I remember walking into the office and telling Don that I wanted to work as
many hours as he could give me. And for whatever reason, Don told me I could work as many
hours as I wanted. It was almost as if he was daring me.

I began showing up to work at 7:30 in the morning and sometimes staying until midnight. In the parking lot, his gold Ford F-150 was always at the side of the building near the take-out store in the morning and at night. He began to notice my effort and would begin engaging with me in more conversations. Most of the time we’d compare stories of his glory days and the (back-then current) days of my early twenties. He would share stories with me about how he was like me once when he was young. Doing the same things one does when they’re in college. Making the same mistakes and, most of the time, paying with the same low grades.

He knew a lot about me, the bad and the good. However he would go around town and say only great things. I know this because he would say these things to people while in front of me and other times people that I didn’t even know would ask me if I was a friend of Don Bigley. Especially at the bank, in my hometown we both went to the same one. There was a point that every time I’d go in there I felt like a celebrity. Apparently Don loved having me as an employee. I’ll tell you this, there’s never a time in your life when another person’s words carry more meaning than when you have absolutely nothing to fall back on. In those situations, they’re all you have.

Over my year off from college I was learning different lessons. Ott’s Tavern, a place I had initially walked into feeling I was too good for had now become my life. I began to care about the place and the people I worked with. And it helped that the man I was working for was right there beside me. Don was living proof that in life there is no shame in loving what you do and he made me value the American work ethic. And that’s a lesson no classroom can teach you.

My parents stopped in for dinner one evening and I introduced him as the guy I work for. He later pulled me aside and told me that I don’t work ‘for’ him, but I work ‘with’ him. And believe me, I was taking him seriously this time, if there’s one thing I could tell you about Don it was if he pulled you aside to tell you something, he meant it. From that point forward the man who was my boss slowly started to develop into a mentor.

I’m happy to say that I learned responsibility from Don and that is something that no classroom can teach you. This responsibility helped me to not only get back into college but encouraged me to pay for most of it out of my pocket. Back in school I fell in love with my passion for writing all over again only this time it was different. I actually had initiative to write.

Don knew my dreams of one day being a published writer. And he would always encourage
me to pursue my dreams. One of his favorite songs was Dream On by Aerosmith and he used to tell me how he’d crank the song up on his stereo and sing it with his sons after picking them up from a soccer practice. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned how important it is to never stop dreaming.

One day I asked Don what’s the best part about success and his answer was: getting there. Today the only thing that saddens me is the fact that I’ll never have the opportunity to thank him. Unfortunately, I’m still getting there. However, I’ve never stopped dreaming. And for the record, he would have been the first person on my list to thank for when I do get there.

As I get older I start seeing myself with more responsibilities in life. For the first time, I can see Don Bigley reflecting from me. I loved Don and would be honored in life if I could become half the man he was. So Don…if your spirit can hear me…I’ve got one thing and one thing only to say to you:
thank you. You’re one of the most important people to touch my life and you’ve taught me how
to be something that no teacher ever could, you taught me how to be a man.

 

Give George Miller Anything He Wants: My Mad Max Fury Road Review

Another morning, another pothole. When are they going to fix every other broken street around my house. It’s quarter to nine in the morning and already the day is one half hour behind schedule thanks to what little procrastinations have a risen after watching Mad Max: Fury Road.

Sing with me folks, post apocalyptic industrialization! Or as I have come to know it, the section of 95 heading North between the Ben Franklin Bridge and Academy Road every single morning. Driving out of the city for work during the Monday thru Friday grind. Crazy, right? There’s only one logical way out of the city. Any back road or Jersey detour is more impractical and presents way more of a chance to end out on a swamped road, especially after last night’s heavy rainfall.
A little section of 95, running both North and South, my Fury Road. Here’s a tip for anybody that winds up in a similar situation, watch out for the goons passing on the right. Especially if you’re behind an 18-wheeler. Most especially if the goon is driving one. Make a mistake and the movie ends sooner than you think. Don’t most of us prefer the more contemporary way of dying. Like begging. Slowly waiting for the water to fall with all the other vagabonds.

The construction taking place seems like it will never end. Plus its been going on forever. That damn left turn near the office is on a personal Mt. Rushmore featuring dangerous portions of my often mundane day-to-day. After parking, always make sure nothing is left in plain sight. Broken people tend to find most of their hopeless prayers answered preying on middle class nine-to-fivers running a half hour behind schedule. Running away from where they have to eventually return. Those city dwellers. And to think of all the time I’d save in my week if I had wagered on a house in Croydon.

Trust me, the ride home is not any easier. That’s why George Miller named it Fury Road. Exhilaration is a two way street. My cousin Larry said on the ride home: “if you told me that movie was the most expensive movie ever made, I’d probably believe it.” Let’s just say it’s quite the romper. I’m glad to hear Hollywood agrees and is letting George Miller make more babies. Now if only they could fix all these broken roads near my home. The post apocalyptic industrialization on my end of life’s bargain may finally start veering its ugly head and making way for my own utopian Valhalla.