Saturday, October 25, 2008

DC's A Music Town by Mark Noone

In 1964 I went to Lafayette Elementary. This was a different time; DC public schools were places where learning actually happened. I still remember much world geography from Mrs. Jenkins’ fourth grade class, and English grammar from Miss Fernsner. When I started Lafayette, a couple of years earlier, the school still sported the ‘civil defense’ posters left over from the Cuban missile crisis. There was a bomb shelter in the basement of the school, which I illicitly explored, undetected. At some time in the year of sixty four, I also explored the attic of the school. I was 10 and incorrigible. Most DC public schools have a functionless, albeit appealing, steeple atop the building. I went up the tiny ladder to the very pinnacle. My name should still be up there. Upon returning to school in that Fall of ‘64, the black top conversation was mostly of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, but during the summer, a British TV show had replaced some forgotten usual show. It was also a hot topic of conversation. But it was not the show that had everybody’s consideration; it was the show’s theme song. I remember talking to Maury Abraham (who by the way sported a Beatle Cut) about the opening guitar lick. Maury and I were “in a band”. At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant. Maury did. Since I was clueless, he later banded together with a singer named Andy Williams, (not of Moon River fame) and a focused individual who played guitar, named Josh Bolton. They were called The Ocelots. Mr. Bolton is now the Whitehouse Chief of Staff. That kind of stuff happens in DC.

A DC greaser who lived on Legation St near Lafayette played guitar and taught me that opening lick. I wish I knew who that greaser was, he probably became someone famous. Maybe he was Link Wray. The opening riff, of Johnny Rivers’ hit of Secret Agent Man, should be in every rock and roll guitarists’ arsenal. That opening lick is still a staple lick for every guitar player. All this went through my mind yesterday as I taught the lick to Charlotte, who is one of my many high school aged guitar students. She actually practices. She writes songs.

Every town in America had kiddy bands back in those days, mostly inspired by the Beatles, DC was no different. I like knowing that playing the three chords on my acoustic Sears guitar in Maury’s basement was the beginning of something I might call my music career. Maury is just as much a part of that as Charlotte is. DC is not just the government or the political machine, or the law, or the murder capitol, or whatever anyone else knows it for. Most importantly, especially for me, it is the home of Link Wray, Trouble Funk, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Peaches and Herb, Duke Ellington, Minor Threat, Good Charlotte, Danny Gatton, The Flying Shards, Grin, Scream, Rummy and the Upsetters… This list can go on and on for days, and it will go on and on for years to come, because first and foremost DC is a music town. But don’t tell anybody, that’s our little secret.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

There Are Fifty States But There Should Be Fifty-One by Lynn Thorp

In honor of my big birthday, here are 50 thank-you notes and random thoughts about Planet DC and its satellites:

  1. I feel like I am really home in DC when I am at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
  2. When we were buying our house in Mt. Rainier, we were also spending every night protesting the first Gulf War at the White House, so 2 year old Nicole thought we were buying the White House.
  3. May 1993 – got arrested right there while handcuffed to Martin Sheen. Before he was President.
  4. The pedestrian thing is okay, but I miss driving by the White House.
  5. If it weren’t for one of DC’s homegrown industries, there would be no West Wing- television as an art form.
  6. Thank you for MacArthur Boulevard.
  7. Thank you for Fletcher’s Boat House.
  8. I could drive MacArthur Boulevard with my eyes closed.
  9. Newcomers can’t really understand what the Boulevard was like 30 years ago. But the spirits are very loud if you listen for them.
  10. The squatters just can’t get the Marion Barry thing.
  11. The Awakening belongs to DC, but at least my adopted county has it.
  12. I can’t find anybody who remembers Hamilton Arms in Georgetown, but I am 95% sure it’s not a Brigadoon-type thing that I imagined.
  13. The first time U2 came here they opened for the Slickee Boys. Three months later they were famous, and Slickees opened for them.
  14. The first time the Clash played here, opening act Bo Didley asked me to introduce him to some girls.
  15. Thank you for Garrett’s.
  16. Thank you for DC rock and roll.
  17. Thank you for The Raven.
  18. In the days of DC Space, people were scared to go down to what is now the Gallery Place “whatever it is.”
  19. Thank you for Lyn1.
  20. Lots of people don’t know that the guy who wrote the piano solo for Layla is a DC guy who was in Nils Lofgren’s first band, even before Grin, and he has a bit of a sordid history. Look it up.
  21. You could learn all you need to know about life at the People’s Drug Store lunch counters.
  22. Sitting in DuPont circle with a coffee and a book is one of my favorite things.
  23. I was taught to drive on the Beltway because there was so little traffic on it.
  24. Because they grew up around here, my kids don’t see color, and they can spot b.s. a mile away.
  25. Thievery Corporation could only come from DC.
  26. The sign at the Wisconsin Ave. Little Tavern said “Buy ‘em [chunk of sign busted off] the Bag.”
  27. My cat Kyoko and I used to share a roast beef sandwich across the street at the Georgetown Roy Rogers on pay day.
  28. My sister Maude built Washington Harbor.
  29. One year the Bullets won the championship, and the Kinks played. ( I thought the hollering and hoopla in the streets was for the Kinks.)
  30. Sky King was jealous of me because he wanted my old friend Dan all to himself.
  31. Thank you for all the local bands and the guitar heroes.
  32. The best 4th of July fireworks are the ones rescheduled due to storms. Rare but priceless.
  33. Piggy really did jump off Key Bridge and survive it.
  34. Mom and her women friends lived above Duke Ziebert’s downtown in the last year of WWII. They would go on group dates with the few men left in town, and someone would stay behind to pocket the excessive tip for spending money for the week.
  35. During WWII many women who were liberated ahead of their time came to DC and did all the jobs usually reserved for men, most of who were off in the military. These became some of our local and national heroes and paved the way.
  36. My mom had an apartment at 14th and Harvard in the late 1940’s. Dad lived his teenage years at 16th and Harvard. My parents lived together at 18th and Kalorama in the 50s. They lived in McLean next to Robert Kennedy’s estate in the late 50s.
  37. Thanks from a grateful nation for Chuck Brown.
  38. If Congress would stop meddling with DC, it would have more enlightened laws than many.
  39. My friend Dan never stopped considering NJ his home, but he loved DC as much as any native.
  40. Half smokes are our thing.
  41. Streets that are called “Roads” are the old farm routes used to deliver food to various parts of the area. MacArthur Blvd. was Conduit Road. There are still Canal Road, Loughboro Road, etc.
  42. Baltimore has Mencken but we have Pelecanos.
  43. Bistro du Coin is not a bad thing to inhabit the space of Food for Thought, karma-wise.
  44. Pizza and bagels are a shortcoming, I have to admit.
  45. It’s too bad you can’t sleep on the beach in Dewey anymore.
  46. Someone must have a photo of the old House of Wig on F Street that I can buy.
  47. Adams Morgan on weekend nights is like Time Square on New Year’s Eve. Rather frightening, not my thing but worth trying out now and then.
  48. The hullaballoo over snow days is a deliberate way to get a mental health day. Don’t knock it, join it.
  49. Until there was widespread AC, tons of people slept in West Potomac Park.
  50. Flying into National (don’t call it the other name), is awesome every single time.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Bishop's Garden

Thanks to Alice with that last posting, I'm reminded that The Bishop's Garden behind the National Cathedral is one of my favorite places in DC. You can reach it by a series of steps leading up from the parking lot , or through an opening near the top which features medieval castle type doors set in a stone wall. I like to come in that way and walk the smaller winding paths down. One side features a large green lawn lined with trees where a dog can squirrel watch for hours on end. The rose garden on the other side combines open spaces and more private spots to sit- my favorite being an out door room which feels like an ancient stone chamber- always cool even on a sweltering day in August.

We used to take the children there for elaborate games of hide and seek. Depending on the time of year and day, it can be crowded with tourists or you might have the place almost to yourself. I remember one day being there with my father and mother and probably the rest of the family. We had all scattered a bit- exploring the herbs or looking for the fish in the little man made stream. A young couple was standing in front of the rose garden-having their picture taken by a passerby when my father, who was probably getting bored, jumped into the scene. The person holding the camera, having no idea that he didn't belong, went ahead and snapped the shot.

The couple was startled at first, but soon started laughing when they realized my father was harmless. He had that effect on people. I like to think that they still have that picture stuck in an album somewhere- and maybe they still laugh when they see that funny little man in the green checked suit standing in between them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Mobile Party Unit by Alice Despard

photo by happy monkey

When I set my mind back to my early teens, it seems to me that live music shows were at the center of my life. In the early 1970s there were plenty of places in DC for the young hippies to congregate and hang out. Cheap wine was plentiful, but you wanted to stay away from Strawberry Ripple and Boone's Farm Apple wine--those sickeningly sweet concoctions would make you ill in a heartbeat. (Marketing alcohol to the young is no new thing!)

I attended--somewhat sporadically and between bong hits-Maret School- but all my friends were from Sidwell Friends and St. Albans. We were all preppy hippies. We hung out at the
St. Albans coffeehouse every Friday night. Our "Mobile Party Unit" (as we dubbed ourselves)
would go to the local liquor store and buy a gallon of cheap Chablis wine. No problem, even though we were only fourteen years old! Times were much more relaxed back then. We would head for Bishop's Garden gazebo on the Cathedral close, and it was a perfect place to get high: hexagonal benches in a stone structure with arched open windows all around overlooking the rose gardens.

After awhile, we'd wander over to the coffeehouse in the parish hall at St. Albans where a light show was already sending wild patterns onto the ceiling, and the band was in full swing.
The light show artist was really into mixing the oil, water and food colors and swirling them around on the overhead projector. Wow, man! (This is how we entertained ourselves before the video age arrived.)

I remember the Alice Cooper cover band called Tinseled Sin playing there many times.
Other bands, I don't recall their names. It wasn't important because the main thing was just hanging out together with friends and enjoying the whole scene, and maybe snaking around a little bit (hippie dancing--I call it "snakin")

I remember a St. Albans student setting up a candelabra on the piano downstairs in the parish hall basement, and playing Keith Jarrett-style improvisation for hours. I thought he was brave to play solo by the seat of his pants like that. Nowadays, I'm so jaded, I'd rather be shot in the head than listen to pseudo-jazz improv on the piano. Back then, it was all new and full of wonder: "Wow, he's just playing music without any sheet music or even songs to hang onto!"

During the endless, muggy DC summers, we'd hang out at Ft. Reno Park-a major destination for the underage and street-wise. Bands cranked while we sat in the grass or boogied on the basketball courts, wine and weed travelling constantly through the sweaty, hazy throngs of youth. I heard many, many R&B and roots rock bands there---countless Little Feat and Grateful Dead hits were covered. Everyone knew all the same music back then, as it was much more homogeneous than it is now. DC was a Little Feat town, no question.

(Alice may be a reformed party unit, but she's still a wonderful musician.
See her at the Galaxy Hut October 12.)