Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Straight Outta Philly …

And not a moment too soon. I finally got back from the City of Brotherly Love (recently renamed the City of a Decidedly Unbrotherly Early Summer Heat Wave) late Monday night. My flight was delayed two hours, putting me on the ground about 1:30 Tuesday morning. The ground here never tasted so sweet.
I couldn’t find a strong enough (free) wireless signal to transmit any posts on Sunday/Monday, but since I started this blog by writing about the trip, I might as well wrap it up.

Closing afternoon of the AAN conference. I always hate that part — they start breaking down all the vendor tables and the attendees scatter, making it hard to properly bid adieu to friends old and new. There’s usually a wrap party, but some folks leave on Saturday and others are too exhausted or otherwise distracted to make it. We got together at the Constitution Center, and we had a nice treat when Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell showed up. Rendell, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter, was impressive, actually answering questions and speaking candidly about the whole sordid mess that used to be called the Democratic Presidential primary. (I did have a weird vision of Kentucky’s governor standing in front of a room of alt journalists — and then I thought, uh-uh, not a good idea).

Rendell said Clinton supporters are entitled to several days to get over her loss, and then they need to get with the program and support Barack Obama. By contrast to John McCain, Rendell noted, Obama is a million times more palatable, and he also invoked the mantra that I’ve been hammering since 2000, when some of my knucklehead friends voted for Ralph Nader out of an admirable but ultimately misguided sense of protest. Because, you know, PRESIDENTS APPOINT SUPREME COURT JUSTICES (not to mention starting wars against sovereign nations), and the next one could well appoint THREE justices. So, as Rendell said, we can’t afford to wait.

The rest of the night was anticlimactic. Some of the gang headed out to Penn Landing to catch the last part of the Roots Picnic. Others jumped on a bus to Atlantic City. I just hung out at the hotel bar chatting with some folks, including a woman who works at Gambit Weekly in New Orleans. As anyone who lives there will tell you, they’re fighting hard down there against still nearly insurmountable odds.

SUNDAY: Headed out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but the route was more difficult because the Franklin Parkway and adjacent streets were closed for a huge bicycle race. You’ve probably seen that museum — Rocky runs up the steps. You’ll be glad to know I didn’t cop any poses, although I saw plenty of folks doing it. The museum is impressive — I particularly enjoyed the Duchamp room, including that urinal he turned on its side, starting a whole new movement in art.

Later I headed to World Café Live, which is adjacent to WXPN-FM, home of David Dye’s “World Café” radio show. World Café Live has a nice diner with a small stage upstairs, and also a much larger room downstairs. It’s kinda like dinner theater but with cool music — people arrive at 6, order off a menu, and finish up about the time the headliner (in this case, Dan Bern) hits the stage at 7:30.

Anyone who’s read much of my stuff over the years knows I’m a Bern fan. Strangely, I’ve had several frustrating experiences trying to hear him. Once at Phoenix Hill Tavern, he was in the Roof Garden, but he music from the Taproom was so loud that it overwhelmed Dan. Another time he was set to play Gerstle’s, but the Kentucky Wildcats had an NCAA game bumped to a later start, meaning the place was full of hoops fans, delaying the start of Bern’s show. But the Merry Pranksters were to go on at midnight, truncating Dan’s show and sending him out to the sidewalk on Frankfort, where he played requests for five bucks a pop.

This time, there were no obstacles. The sound was impeccable. Bern was in good voice, although he seemed a bit out of sorts playing for a pretty docile dinner crowd. “I’m not disturbing your dinner?” he asked at one point, and commented a few times about how the crowd wasn’t living up to Philly’s rowdy reputation.
Bern played several songs I didn’t know — he’s such a prolific writer that I can’t keep up with his output — many with his trademark odd juxtapositions. One song was about he world in 2013 — out of gas and screwed. Another was about the succeeding world wars, all the way up to, what, World War XV. Bern often includes geopolitical tidbits in his absurdist compositions, and one song had Israel moving to Antarctica to escape global warming, with the Palestinians moving into their old territory but Egypt and Syria telling them “not so fast,” and the Palestinians joining the Israelis in their new land.

Dan did some mid-career favorites like “New American Language, “Black Tornado,” “God Said No” and “I Need You,” then hit his more recent CD, Breathe, doing the title track and “Trudy” before turning to his Dewey Cox homage, “Dear Mr. President,” which Bern wrote for the film “Walk Hard.” It goes like this:

Dear Mr. President
I want you to know
I am deeper than you
Listen and Learn
My heart is a chapel
My head is a steeple
My arms are the people
And the people now yearn

I stand for the midget
I stand for the negro
I stand for the Injun
all hopped up on booze
I stand for the Jap
And I stand for the beaner
And I stand, yes I do
For the Christ-Killin' Jew

I stand for the dyke
And I stand for the retard
I stand for the chinaman
Washing my socks
I stand for the bum
And the pimp and the bugger
And the cripple who lives
On my street in a box

To Conclude, Mr. President
I'm not at all Hesitant
To tell you I think
The first ladies a fox
Her husband, the jerkoff
Is ruining my country
That's all for today
Sincerely, D. Cox

Then Bern invited me onstage to wield his vidcam while he cajoled the crowd to bunch up near the stage and shout him down while he played “Jerusalem.” The crowd obliged, booing and yelling “you suck” and worse. Dan loved it. Look for that one on YouTube one of these days.

Well, you might think that’s enough for a night, but no, I went upstairs, where my friend Art Howe, who used to own LEO, was watching some of his friends play gypsy jazz. I missed that but caught the headliner, Robin Nolan, who was billed as a gypsy jazz guy but who played mostly bebop and fusion. I thought it was impressive technically, but some of the purists in the room thought it was tedious and not a good representation of Nolan’s talent.

MONDAY: My buddy T.E. Lyons was passing through town on his way to Virginia, so we grabbed a cheese steak at Jim’s Steaks on South Street. We drove around a bit, sat by the Delaware River and then headed over the JFK Plaza to see Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture. It’s simple but elegant and handsome.
I wanted to go to the Mutter Museum, which is full of all sorts of weird anatomical oddities, but it’s closed on Monday. Ditto for the Edgar Allan Poe site, so I killed the rest of the day at the National Constitution Center, taking in lots of minutiae about the founding of our nation. Obviously, it is a fascinating story, and it’s inspiring to realize that in spite of our obvious problems today, our founding principles were and are profound. Here’s to reconnecting with them.

I chowed down (again) at the Reading Terminal Market, a delightful collection of food vendors in an old railroad terminal downtown. Then it was on to the airport and back to the Ville — not a moment too soon. --CARY STEMLE


Heather said...

Glad you got a Philly Cheesesteak. Glad you are writing, I hope you keep up the blog. You might want to look into the RSS feed so all your fans can subscribe knowing when you update. There is a meeting for local bloggers tonight at Fox & Hound at 6:30, you should come. They are very open to newbies.

Tracy and I WILL take you for a cocktail very soon.

Heather said...

Sorry, I found your ATOM feed. Didn't want to falsely accuse you of not using technology.
And when I said tonight at fox & hound I meant Tuesday, 6/17.


not really said...

Hey Cary,
Will you shoot me an email?
I want to talk to you about the indy scene in Louisville.