The Petite Sirah grape is erroneously named. For one thing, and contrary to American producers' tendency to include it under the umbrella of Rhône grapes, it is not directly related to Syrah. For another, it is anything but Petite, producing instead a wine that is almost black as night, of considerably full-bodied fruit intensity and possessed of equally fierce tannins. No surprise that it's been grown for over 100 years in California.
Because of its brawny nature, Petite Sirah is a difficult grape to capture in a bottle. Many Californian winemakers prefer to use it as a workhorse blending partner; those who bottle it solo tend to either charge considerable sums of money for long-lasting old-vine masterpieces (e.g. Behrens & Hitchcock) or sell it cheap in the hope that the public will be easily swayed by its sweetness and weight (e.g. the $10 Bogle Petite Sirah that tastes like a bad Californian attempt at Yellowtail Shiraz).
But then there's Vinum Cellars, a quality winemaker nonetheless dedicated to having fun: years ago I wrote about their Point Blanc blend of Viognier and Chenin Blanc, and their roster also includes the brilliantly named Chard-No-Way and the pop-art 'ka-pow' logo of their G2 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer. Vinum's Petite Sirah, from the Wilson Vineyards in Clarksburg, is called 'Pets' after winemaker Ken Wilson's nickname for the grape; it's dedicated to his dog Tanker (presumably that's him pictured on the bottle) and "a portion of the profits" is donated to a San Francisco animal shelter.
All the worthy causes and good humor in the world are meaningless if the product itself is not up to par. Fortunately, this Vinum Petite Sirah grape is worthy of the star treatment and relatively inexpensive ($14) to boot. There are, admittedly, some similarities to the Syrah grape in the wine's dark, dark, dark color, serious blackberry notes and roasted meat texture, but I can't help feel that it's more like a Petite Zinfandel: it has that particular grape's welcome acidity, cheerily spicy exotic wild fruit flavors, and chewy, dusty tannins. But it doesn't knock you off your feet like one of those high-octane Zins, the alcohol topping out on this puppy at a hefty but manageable 14.0%. For those of us who love to open a big red spicy wine with summer barbeques, but can't handle the headache that comes with high-end Zinfandels, a Petite Sirah like Pets is perfect.
MUSIC? This is robust stuff for strong palates, and though it's very Californian (anyone for Chili Peppers?), don't feel limited to that State (of mind). Drink it while jumping around to the likes of The Go! Team, Hoodoo Gurus or The Clash.
By yesterday afternoon, the intersection at the top of my street was back to normal. The poor cyclist must have died from impact, as there was no blood anywhere on the road. Nor were there any pieces of wreckage, or police barriers or yellow tape, or reporters or photographers, or any sign whatsoever that there'd be a fatal accident just hours earlier. I started to wonder if maybe I'd misinterpreted the scene: perhaps that wasn't a body under the police tarp at 9am alongside the fallen bicycle and parked ambulances and the very senior police officials, but
well, what else would it have been?
At night, coming home from Southpaw, the scene was ever so slightly, and very sadly, different: one lonely bunch of flowers and three unlit candles placed at the corner of the curb. If you hadn't been around the neighborhood earlier in the day to know what it represented, you would have just passed it by.
Sad sympathies: flowers and candles near where a cyclist lost her life Thursday morning.
However, as of this Friday afternoon, the corner is turning into an emotional floral tribute to the young woman. And contrary to what I wrote earlier today right here (the wonders of the web have allowed me to type over it), the death did make the local media: there's a full page story in today's Daily News. It seems to have been the kind of freak unlucky accident that could befall any of us on bikes who pass alongside vehicles on a busy road. A parked truck swings open a door without checking for anyone in the road; the cyclist swerves, falls under the wheels of passing ice cream truck, which crushes her and then drives on two blocks, unaware of what's happened, before being stopped by pedestrians. Police do not issue a summons to either driver. Goddamn.
Increased traffic foot, cycling, cars, trucks is a sign of a thriving neighborhood, and last night, with the heat-wave still in full effect, my wife using the one-day school holiday to visit her mother with the kids, and nothing else on my own agenda, I decided to take full advantage of our local amenities, called a fellow father friend who assures me he's always up for the experience, and headed over to Southpaw.
All I knew about headliner Keren Ann is what I've written before (here, and here): that she's part of a new French chanson mini-movement, that she'd been involved with that movement's supposed spearhead, Benjamin Biolay, that she's no stranger to New York, and that, as this was at least her second visit to Southpaw, she'd obviously got a following going round these parts. So we paid our $15 and entered the healthily crowded (but far from sold out) room to see what we hoped would be a show to rave about.
It wasn't. I'd like to say that's just because I was unfamiliar with the songs, but I often see people perform that I've never heard (of) before, and it's rarely an impediment. No: though she had the front rows cheering her every pronouncment, and though she was flanked by an excellent electric guitarist and highly competent keyboard player, Keren Ann (at left) failed to fully connect, was unable to draw us into her world. Granted, her songs were mostly of the delicate, quiet, introspective singer-songwriter form, but Southpaw is a small room well-suited for such performances; if she can't properly project here, how will she ever grow in to bigger venues?
Keren's early albums the ones she co-wrote with French man-of-the-moment Benjamin Biolay and which apparently had trip-hop rhythms such as saw comparisons to Portishead and even Bjork were sung largely in French; her more recent recordings, including the latest album Nolita, after the trendy lower Manhattan neighborhood she called home for a time, have been in English. Understandably, her performance leaned toward the latter, but for as long as she's singing choruses like "Life is an endless parade, it's no sweet lemonade," I'm tempted to urge otherwise. But what do I know? Her most powerful song was one with a chorus about "all the children," which evoked Jacques Brel-style narrative lyrics and the rolling musical form of the famed Serge Gainsbourg; yet no sooner had she finished it than about fifty people walked out. We waited through another song, sung in French, but the show still felt tame. After a solid 45 minutes hey, this was hardly offensive we called it a night.
Leaving the club, I recalled seeing Beth Orton for the first time, in a similarly small room, and how she brought the audience straight to her bosom. Keren Ann, by comparison, seemed distant and detached. That inherent difference in performance personality may explain why, by her second album, Orton was an American superstar. And why, some four albums in to a career that apparently embodies the enviable globe-trotting high-life of the modern internationalist, Keren Ann is stuck at the Southpaw level. Buzz only gets you so far.
The good news that the West Side Stadium had effectively just been killed off buoyed many of the several hundred people, myself among them, who walked from Brooklyn Borough Hall to Manhattan's City Hall Tuesday afternoon to protest Bruce Ratner's proposed basketball arena and office tower development at Atlantic Yards. Prior to the march I heard Chris Owens, who is running for Congress this year , explain to a reporter that the Eminent Domain issue is a crucial part of the Atlantic Yards process and the protest.
A beautiful day to cross the Brooklyn Bridge...
...And remind people that Brownstone Brooklyn wants to stay beautiful.
"This is not a black and white issue," Owens stated, though I may be paraphrasing slightly. "Black people need to know that if a white person can be forced from their home through Eminent Domain, it could happen to them too." As we found out when we got to City Hall, it IS happening to them too. We were met by speakers not just from Brooklyn, where Ratner is threatening Eminent Domain as leverage to buy people out of their homes and businesses for Atlantic Yards; but also from West Harlem, where Columbia University, already the third biggest landlord in the City, is trying to exercise eminent domain to force people from their homes so as to expand its campus; and the Bronx - where, unfortunately, I didn't catch all the details.. Civil Rights Attorney Norman Siegel clarified from the podium that Eminent Domain is intended only for developments that offer "public use" and that, as the proposed basketball arena and team will be privately owned, they do not meet the criteria.
While making it clear that I support a development at Atlantic Yards, currently a run-down intersection of several vibrant brownstone communities, I've argued against many aspects of the Ratner Development for over a year, including: a lack of community involvement, the misuse of eminent domain, the misappropriation of public funding and tax breaks for private development, the refusal by the MTA to put their half of the real estate out to open bidding, the increase in traffic at what is already arguably the biggest intersection in Brooklyn, the fuzzy math over promised jobs and housing, the absence of financial contributions to community infrastructure, the lack of environmental studies, and the race card.
U.S. congress Candidate Chris Owens explaining how Ratner, whose executives are exclusively white, is trying to play the race card on the black community.
But protestors and speakers were and are of all colors.
I wish I could point you to the New York Times for a further elaboration, but as a piece in the paper yesterday stated, under the worrisome headline, Unlike Stadium on West Side, an Arena in Brooklyn Is Still a Go
Forest City Ratner
is also the development partner of The New York Times for its new headquarters in Midtown
This is one issue on which the Times can not even pretend to be impartial. And so let me offer some quotes from a publication distributed at the protest Tuesday, entitled Atlantic Yards News and published by the Downtown Brooklyn Leadership Coalition.
"Process dictates outcome. If the process is wrong, then the final result will be wrong." Rev. Clinton Miller.
"Forest City Ratner has no significant diversity mixture. The company continues to operate in Brooklyn, where the general population is over 40% black and the company's consumers are more than 70%
None of the 23 most senior executives we noted at Forest City Ratner are black."
Rev. Dennis Dillon
"This is not just a question of a piece of land on Atlantic Avenue. Eminent Domain will be used to confiscate property that private developers have their eyes on all over this nation, particularly in poor and working-class communities that have become very attractive to developers who need a way to sweep the current residents off their land in order to make room for high-priced gentrification." Bob Law.
"Botanists understand that one can arrange groupings of plants into a garden, but that no one can create a self-sustaining forest. Only the plant life itself can do that, and only if let alone. Few architects have that insight on neighborhoods, and even fewer developers and politicians... Viable communities sprout not from the laptops of developers, academics or engineers. Solid neighborhoods result from the folks who live there folks who are custodial and who don't take kindly to be being harassed by outsiders with polical goals who want only profit." David Sheets.
For more on the misuse of Eminent Domain, visit castlecoalition.org
For more on the Atlantic Yards, visit dddb.org
...And as if I needed proof, I was greeted by a dead bicyclist at the top of my street this morning, mown down at the intersection by what was, according to eye-witenesses, a hit-and-run driver. (As of this moment, the story has not made the local news, which tells you how damn common road deaths are in a major city. I'll save saying more about the actual accident till I get more details.) Fortunately, the body - apparently a young female - had already been covered by a police tarp. No, I did not go home to get the camera. Sympathies to the victim's family, whoever they may be. A reminder to myself to again teach our nine year old son all the rules of the road - and that many drivers don't respect them. And a plea to everyone who runs, bikes, drives or walks in this over-crowded city (I do all four) to please, please please be careful, share the road and think of others. Lives are at stake here. Literally. I'm sorry if this sounds hokey; this was truly upsetting.
Left-to-right: Ross Millard, Barry Hyde and Jaff. The best power-pop harmonies since The Buzzcocks.
1) NOVELTY FACTOR:
Zero. First time I saw The Futureheads, they surprised me. Second time, they stunned me. Given that they're playing much the same set as a year ago, this was an occasion to watch, listen, learn - and hopefully confirm my original infatuation.
2) POPULARITY FACTOR:
High. Webster Hall was not sold out, but hey, it was only a Monday night, the support bands were unknown, and there are so many hip-hot shows happening in New York right now that them kids you know, the record-buying, gig-going public- were bound to run out of money sooner or later. Besides, had you told me 18 months ago that a group of mods from Sunderland would be selling a thousand tickets in NYC, I'd have accused you of a Pete Meadon complex.
3) NOISE FACTOR:
High all round. The four-piece played at a well-mixed volume one step short of deafening. The crowd reacted with applause even louder. New York audiences can be aloof I witnessed that several times the other week - but this band inspires applause straight out of the concert halls of my youth.
4) MOVEMENT FACTOR:
Equally high all round. The three front men throw as much movement as they dare into their allotted segments of the stage; the suitably energized crowd responds with much vertical dancing of its own. I watched the set proper from the rarified atmosphere of the balcony, but in descending to the front rows for the encores, I discovered something new: under enough pressure that is, for a Futureheads show - the Webster Hall dance floor bounces. Yet again, my mind returned to all those Jam gigs of my youth and famously loose-sprung dance floors. Who remembers Barrowlands?
5) LIGHT FACTOR:
Overkill. The Futureheads play fast the aptly-named 'Trying Not To Think About Time' was performed even quicker than on record but that doesn't mean the light show has to be similarly hyper: the rotating, predominantly pink, back-lit spots quickly prove tiresome. Futureheads have sufficient presence to do without these distractions as anyone who's seen them on a monochrome stage set can verify.
Pretty in pink? The Futureheads' hyper light show is close to overkill.
6) VOCAL FACTOR:
High. Few groups have even one decent vocalist. The Futureheads have four. This allows not only for necessary variety such as prevents them being a one-trick pony, but for the best power pop harmonies since The Buzzcocks. It's tempting then to label Ross Millard's turns taking lead as playing Steve Diggle to primary front man Barry Hyde's Pete Shelley but given Millard's gruff vocals, it's more like he's playing Paul Weller to Hyde's Jon King or Colin Newman. Meantime, cheerful bassist Jaff rarely misses an accompanying note, while drummer Pete Hyde's equally precise harmonies excuse him from his overly relaxed playing style.
7) NEW SONG FACTOR:
Low. There was only one unreleased song in the set, 'Area', and it didn't seem to offer anything we weren't hearing already. (A recent B-side about reality TV I think it was 'Man Made' from the 'Hounds of Love' single - was actually more promising.) If The Futureheads are truly the students of late 70s post-punk power-pop that they appear to be, they'll know that bands like The Jam, Buzzcocks and Wire were capable of two albums a year plus singles. Time, perhaps, to get off the road and write those new songs.
8) PARTICIPATION FACTOR:
Good. You can always tell a group's leader by his lack of unnecessary platitudes. In the Futureheads, Barry Hyde is secure enough in presence and personality that he keeps song introductions to a minimum knowing full well that, either side of him, Millard and Jaff will over-compensate with forced humor and ingratiation. And though the supporting pair's introductions teeter on the embarrassing, they also serve to levitate proceedings, as when each side-stage member pulls in a part of the crowd to join his own backing part for 'Hounds Of Love.' The coolly collected Hyde doesn't participate in this pseudo-cabaret show, but that doesn't mean he frowns upon it: hopefully he recognizes that it's only a rock'n'roll show, it's a Kate Bush cover after all, and that he's fortunate to have such sturdy support men at his side.
9) CONCLUSIVE FACTOR:
Very high. The Futureheads make up for a lack of new songs by playing just about everything they've committed to tape. That includes, I do believe, every one of the 15 songs on their eponymous debut album, various B-sides (the encore concluded with 'Piece of Crap'), and their cover of the Television Personalities' 'Picture of Dorian Gray.' This brought the show up to solid hour just enough to wear us out without become tiresome.
10) CONCLUSION FACTOR:
Still high. The novelty may have worn off for me, and with the lack of new songs, it's difficult to claim that The Futureheads are still my favorite new band. But of all the groups to ride post-punk power-pop into the lower reaches of the American hearts, they remain the closest to my own heart. Here's hoping - and trusting! that with their second album, The Futureheads elevate themselves to an even higher creative level and the long-term greatness that will surely then ensue.
In a New York City that sometimes seems like it's descended into a Deadwood style land grab by major developers, all of them determined to turn our neighborhoods into shiny antiseptic malls, we take good news where we can get it. Yesterday, the proposed West Side Stadium was all but killed off when, as the NY Times put it,
"Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who held veto power over the stadium, said yesterday that he could not support the project on the West Side, along with the large commercial redevelopment plan the mayor has proposed, because it would undermine the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, his district."
Silver may have been looking out for his own (i.e. his downtown district), or he may just have been reminding the Mayor, in no uncertain terms, that we have a commitment to rebuild from the terrorist attacks of 9/11 before we get into pie-in-the-sky plans to turn a vast part of Manhattan into a financial and structural white elephant interrupted by occasional bouts of total grid-lock.
Yet the real reason to shoot down the Stadium plan had actually been revealed a few hours earlier, and from far away, when the International Olympic Commission issued a report
"solidifying Paris as the front-runner over New York, London, Madrid and Moscow [to host the 2012 Olympics]. London also drew high praise and was credited with a "very high quality" presentation before the commission."
New York Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff have always tied in their proposal for a West Side Stadium with their bid for New York City to host the 2012 Olympics. For the last few months they've been telling ('dictating' might be a better word) us that the City's Olympic Bid is dependent on having a suitable stadium in place, and therefore we must rush through the process so as to satisfy the IOC; but ipso factor, the Stadium has surely then always been dependent on New York hosting the Olympics. With the city this far down the pecking order, the Stadium can no longer be justified as a priority.
The simple truth is that New York City needs neither the prestige nor the chaos that comes with hosting the Olympics. From a perspective of pride, the City has nothing to prove, especially about its ability to absorb people from different nations. From a logistical and structural point of view, we're simply not set up for it: we don't have the space and we don't have the facilities. Maybe it would be nice to have a Stadium of sorts in Manhattan, somewhere down the line when it's approved through due process, but considering that the Island is only 12 miles by 2 miles, it's not as easy as it sounds. So instead, we continue to attend Giants Stadium which, less than 15 miles from Manhattan, is around the same distance as Wembley from Central London. Giants just happens, unfortunately for NYC's Olympic Bid, to be in a different State. So be it. Quite simply, New York City has other priorities right now. And hopefully, we can start focusing on them.
Win one, lose one. The day before Silver effectively killed off the West Side Stadium plan,
"City Council Speaker Gifford Miller announced his support yesterday for a $3.5 billion arena, office, and apartment complex in Downtown Brooklyn, giving the developer Bruce Ratner a key ally in his push for city approval of the project."
To which Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, quickly retorted,
"It is the height of hypocrisy and inconsistency that Mr. Miller, a staunch opponent of the West Side Stadium boondoggle and a rigged M.T.A. bidding process, is now supporting the same kind of sweetheart Olympics arena deal and rigged M.T.A. process in Brooklyn."
But that, of course, is politics for you. Us Brooklyn residents would welcome something going up over the Atlantic Rail Yards to solidifying the rejuvenation (gentrification?) of Brownstone Brooklyn, in the process tying together the vibrant local neighborhoods that have worked so hard to make this area liveable and community-based. Many of us continue to challenge the notion that what we need is a 20,000 seater sports arena at a junction already snarled by constant traffic, along with the 17 different skyscrapers, malls, office space and residential units proposed by developer Bruce Ratner, a man already responsible in Brooklyn for three of the ugliest malls you could ever expect to see in a major city. Nor do we feel he should get tax breaks from us for profiting from our own hard grass roots work, or that he should be allowed to enact Eminent Domain and force people and businesses from their homes. You can read more at this site by doing a quick search for Ratner; you can visit the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn web site here, and you can march today from Brooklyn Borough Hall to City Hall in Lower Manhattan to register your disapproval. Given yesterday's news about the West Side Stadium, the long-planned protest could not be better timed.
IJamming! had a record amount of traffic last week. No great surprise: I add at least one page every week, and I've yet to delete any of the many hundreds that have gone up since 2000. As people find their way here through Google searches and follow links to older pages, there should be a few more readers every week.
Still, maybe it is time to delete some of the old writing. I was interested to note, when looking at last week's statistics, that iJamming! was linked from cooltownstudios.com, a site dedicacted to "Catalyzing urban villages for innovation and economic vitality."
A quick scroll down cooltown's home page brought me to a post dated Tuesday, May 31, 2005, where I instantly recognized my pictures from the 5th Avenue Street Fair. Last year's Street Fair, I should stress. But that's okay. What shocked me was that I was quoted as praising the outer boroughs like Brooklyn over Manhattan, from a piece I posted a few months after 9/11, i.e. over three years ago. A note to Cooltown's editor: I truly and thoroughly appreciate the prop, but events move quickly in major urban centers like ours. Feel free to link to my comments anytime, but perhaps just choose some that represent where I stand right now, not what I thought in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Rare is the weekend when I get through a novel from cover to cover, and so, apart from the bonus of its brevity, I have to immediately praise 200 Beats Per Minute for being both stimulating and addictive.
"Anyone who isn't confused and absolutely bewildered by the world in which we live is either, one, lying to you, or two, simply not trying hard enough." Words of wisdom from 200 Beats Per Minute.
These are purposefully chosen adjectives: in 200 Beats Per Minute, first-time author Eddie Beverage (presumably a pseudonym) tells of a gang of 18-year old ravers enjoying their last week on the mid-1990s Orlando scene before narrator Danny Boyle heads off to college. Though Boyle initially promises incite into the world of electronica and ecstasy, his diary quickly descends instead into debauched druggery an example of what destroyed the once-promising American rave scene. For a while, the reader wonders at the point(lessness) of it all, but Beverage has a couple of surprises up his sleeves, and 200 Beats Per Minute finally reveals itself less a homage to substance abuse than a parable about sexual identity. Along the way, Beverage drops poetic descriptions of everything from jungle to hip-hop to trance to breakbeat, and throws in properly-framed references to DJs like Moby, Keoki, Carl Cox and Roni Size; only when he lets another character offer up a rather hokey, lost-in-translation potted history of the birth of the rave scene in 1980s Britain, does he suggest anything other than that he fully knows his shit.
200 Beats Per Minute is a new discovery for me, but it's not a new book. It was published back in 1998, when American's infatuation with post-rave dance culture was at its peak, with Orlando recognized as a national capital. (This before the home of Disneyworld also became the headquarters for Mouseketeer pin-up pop stars.) Yet for all its apparently perfect timing, 200 Beats per Minute could not find a home even within the small-press world, and Beverage was reduced to the 'indignity' of self-publishing the book through his own Sure Shot imprint.
This evokes one of my pet peeves: the idea within the arts world that while it's totally cool to throw your life savings into your first movie, and almost essential that you self-release your first piece of music, self-publishing a piece of literature is somehow a mark of failure. If so, that failure is on the part of the literary elite in their gilded towers, too busy guarding their rarified atmosphere of mutually enhancing elitism to admit 'unwashed' writers detailing real life experiences in street language.
That said, if you are going to self-publish a book (or self-press a record, or self-release a movie), you owe it to yourself to do it properly, and 200 Beats Per Minute is let down by a series of repeated and blatantly obvious grammatical errors that become increasingly infuriating in what is otherwise such an emotionally engaging read. It's hard to believe that a writer of Eddie's natural ability and evident energy could not find, somewhere, a sub-editor willing to see his work through to professional fruition. Still, I was willing to suffer it like I would a thinly mastered first 45 by a band to watch, or an otherwise engaging short movie where the boom mike keeps dropping into frame: an annoying intrusion that didn't completely detract from an otherwise stimulating and, remember, addictive - adventure.
So, yes, 200 Beats Per Minute is now seven years old, its Orlando-based protagonists (to the likely extent that they were based on real characters) long out of their teens, and the American rave scene of which they came of age now officially deceased, but the novel's keen sense of time and place will never date. When the American archivists arrange the exhibition that celebrates Gen X's brief infatuation with electronic music - and its eventual submission to drug abuse - they'll hopefully mount it using not Moby's platinum discs or Paul Oakenfold's performance fees, but with white labels, rave flyers, surf clothing, pacifiers and self-published stories like 200 Beats Per Minute.
200 Beats Per Minute, by Eddie Beverage, is still readily available through amazon.com, here, and amazon.co.uk, here.
Back in that atmosphere of "mutually enhancing elitism," I'm sure that this feature was the talk of the town's brunch gatherings yesterday. In a cover story for the Sunday New York Times' Arts & Leisure section, the usually mild-mannered Jon Pareles ushered in Coldplay's new album X&Y by calling them "the most insufferable band of the decade." He elaborates:
"The lyrics can make me wish I didn't understand English. Coldplay's countless fans seem to take comfort when Mr. Martin sings lines like, "Is there anybody out there who / Is lost and hurt and lonely too," while a strummed acoustic guitar telegraphs his aching sincerity. Me, I hear a passive-aggressive blowhard, immoderately proud as he flaunts humility. "I feel low," he announces in the chorus of "Low," belied by the peak of a crescendo that couldn't be more triumphant about it."
He also accuses Coldplay of spawning a generation of one-word bands who are inherently "redundant," as "from the beginning, Coldplay has verged on self-parody." He cites Athlete, Embrace, Keane, Starsailor and Aqualung, and there may be a few iJamming! readers inclined to share his condesension. But he also includes Travis in this catalogue of "Coldplay follow-throughs," when it's only fair to point out that the Scottish band were already onto The Man Who, their umpteen-times-UK-platinum second album, in 1999, a year before Coldplay came on the ecording scene. iJamming! 2000 interview with Fran Healy from Travis, here.