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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The 80's, or I'll take you to a restaurant that's got glass tables, so you can watch yourself while you are eating

The 80's. The decade, not the age group Part 1

In 1980 my brother Patrick and I were obsessed with bands out of England, as punk, kicking and screaming lost steam, we followed the Clash, the Specials, the Beat, Madness, Selecter, Reggae.

Our dad had died in 1977 and without realising it the only person on this planet to which I felt I had to live up to was gone. Sorry ma, but that's the way it was.
Suddenly I was free, young and open-minded and was living in Fort Lee NJ with the woman that I already knew was the love of my life and who would become my wife early the next year in Kingston Jamaica.
My new-found freedom was evident in several ways if anyone had cared to look: I'd cut my hair short into a flattop, I was clean-shaven, my dress had drastically changed -  the cowboy boots had gone- so too had sneakers mostly, replaced by dress shoes and work boots. Calvin Klein jeans were banished in favour of a return to the classics namely Levis 501 shrink-to-fits which very conveniently were sold at The Gap where I worked up until 1981 (for $19.95) and then only in NY and SF as only the urban gay communities had kept 501's alive during the dark fashion night of the disco onslaught. I had a second-hand army jacket covered in badges from the afore-mentioned bands as well as Jamaican musical influences (note: NOT the Wailers).
The changes were largely intuitive and retroactive as I had grown up wearing similar stiff blue jeans Wranglers or Levis with turn ups, plus hand-me-downs from my older brothers or my dad 's yellow wind breaker.My haircut was from the 50's / 60's, the musical influences were also from an older time too. Eddie Cochran, James Brown, STAX, Buddy Holly, Studio One, yeah mon, rhythm come forward.  I was re-discovering my mod youth and still young enough to pull it off a second time.

FAST FORWARD to 1983, 1981 & 1982 were spent in Kingston Jamaica and that story is for another time gentle reader.

Bam! 1983 Back in NY, working in schlock shop ad agencies ( Sleepy's mattresses, Crazy Eddies, B&H Cameras, The Wiz...) taking classes at School of Visual Arts with Antoinette as she was freelancing at type-shops and department store ad departments, saving what cash we could for the baby that was suddenly coming.
Ronnie fucking Raygun was still in office sadly surviving Hinckley's bullet to return and accelerate the country's slide down the greasy Bat-Pole into the abyss in which we find ourselves 30 years later.  His smug evil female counterpart Thatcher presided securely over the UK.

Guys like me wanted to look good but we couldn't afford tailors or the posh men's shops, besides they were all selling over-tailored, padded shoulders double breasted stuff with lapels you could land jets on. Orrrr they were all pastel coloured Don Johnson wanna-be's still wearing Capezios etc....

We shopped in the East Village at Trash & Vaudeville, 99X for our Doc Martens and Loakes and at another shoe store across the street on St Marks Place. I found really nicely made Italian lace up shoes on West 8th Street at reasonable prices, but for for just about everything else there were the thrift shops on lower Broadway and Spring Street in Soho like Canal Jeans and Hollywood Legend.
For dress-shirts the button-down classic cotton Oxford shirts I shopped at Macy's or B. Altmans. Their store brands were nicely priced and the quality of the US made shirts was miles better than the Fred Perry or Ben Sherman dress-shirts.

Altman's on 5th Avenue was possibly my favourite department store. The polished wood floors, the understated classy layout of its departments, not to mention the Italian Renaissance style exterior designed by Trowbridge & Livingston the firm that did the Bankers Trust Bldg and the Hayden Planetarium all added to the pleasure of shopping there.

As one can see it was all a mix of the old and the new. We were cut off from the money and the political power at least during the day but at night time New York (or London) was ours. We might have been hungry, and 'self-medicating' with whatever we could lay our hands on, but we had energy, there was just a buzz, a vibe, a current that was felt as you stepped out onto the street. Yes the night was ours because we could stay up all night to take it, and while our lives existed in small clearly defined areas mostly on the geographic fringes, our influence was being felt in ever widening circles and digging away relentlessly at the center.  Of course like the anti-war movement and the hippies it would all get co-opted eventually and the the same dickheads we hated just took our shit and sold it on main street. This happened because there was no organised political bonds between our splintered groups of punks, mods, hippies, rockers, skinheads New Romantics etc... Everyone would protest the closing of a neighbourhood green space or the ousting of squatters but when the cops moved in and cracked heads the outcry was fierce for a week and then the real estate investors did what they wanted in the first place.

At night you could see groups of people walking, skulking, shuffling, leaping - their clothes proclaimed their tribal affiliations and if you had no dosh, no readies, no play money this is what you did, you met up with yer pals, yer mates, yer crew and walked around the city and smoked cigarettes.  Many just captured a park Bench in Tompkins Square Park that wasn't already been commandeered by one of the legions of homeless (or Jean Michel Basquiat) and watched the parade pass by.
So for a while there was an art scene that fed off the music scenes, that in turn fed the fashion scenes and for a while it existed apart where it would thrive. What we wore when on our own anyway, what we went to see in galleries, or hear in nightclubs was unlike anything that was being worn/seen/heard uptown.

To be continued....

Thursday, November 21, 2013

celticgods: Port Antonio, Jamaica

celticgods: Port Antonio, Jamaica: PORT ANTONIO, JAMAICA - ONE OF A KIND Where else in one place does one find the intermingling of the histories of such dispara...

Port Antonio, Jamaica


Where else in one place does one find the intermingling of the histories of such disparate groups as the Tainos,  the Maroons, the Spanish/French/British, American business and leisure, the birthplace of Caribbean tourism, the start of the international banana industry, plus the rich and famous of the entire 20th Century?
Why, Port Antonio Jamaica, of course!
The town of Port Antonio is situated in the northeast corner of the island of Jamaica. It sits on beautiful twin harbours, guarded to the south by the majestic high ridge of the Blue Mountains and the entire area east and west of the town is dotted by coves and beaches carved out of the primordial rock by the eternal caresses (or bashing) of the waves from the Caribbean. Lush foliage fed by its numerous emerald mountain rivers and streams and plentiful rainfall make Port Antonio and its environs the place you always dreamed about in the Caribbean.
Jamaica’s original inhabitants the Tainos lived here and traces of their ancient civilization have been found in the caves of the limestone hills and along the plentiful waterways.  
Columbus found Jamaica on his second voyage to the Americas and the Spanish named the port “Puerto Anton”   after the son of an aristocrat. The Spanish did little else in the area.
Jamaica was taken by the British in 1655 and they retained the town’s name and made it the capital of the parish of Portland so-named for the Duke of Portland, a favourite of the king. Captain Morgan during his tenure as governor used the hills around Port Antonio for look-out posts due to it's strategic location on the passageway between Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica  that scanned the sea for the approaches of Spanish or French invaders. The British developed agriculture mainly sugar, coffee, cocoa, coconuts, annotto and cattle ranches. Fort George on the Titchfield peninsula and Navy Island across the inlet dividing the 2 harbours was the base for the Royal Navy and the fort was manned right up to the 1960’s.

In the early days of British occupation Port Antonio and in fact all of the eastern end of Jamaica, were under threat of attack from within by the Maroons. The Maroons (from the Spanish “cimarron”, for “wild”) were released Spanish slaves later joined by slaves that escaped their British masters and formed communities in the high Blue Mountains and were clever and fierce opponents, eventually forcing the British to sign a peace treaty and designate them as a separate nation within the colony, free from further molestation.  It was the Maroons that developed the technique of cooking and preserving meat by cooking feral pigs using low smoke (to escape detection by the British) on barbecues made from pimento  (allspice) wood which we now know as Jerk. A yearly festival commemorates this uniquely Jamaican cuisine phenomenon in Boston east of Port Antonio.
Americans began arriving after Captain Lorenzo Dow Baker made his first visit to the island in 1871 looking to fill his empty freighter in order to make his return trip to the US profitable. Baker found bananas, and was soon back as were others as the “yellow gold” boom began bringing exotic tropical fruits in quantity to US markets for the first time and making Port Antonio the wealthiest town in Jamaica after Kingston. Dow’s Boston Fruit Company eventually had 40  banana plantations and this was the beginning of one part of what became the United Fruit Company that grew bananas all over the West Indies,  Central and South America which became known as Chiquita years later.
So, how did tourism come to begin at Port Antonio? Simple, the fruit steamers also had staterooms for passengers and the steamship lines supplemented their earnings by advertising for holiday makers to enjoy the salubrious climate of Jamaica, “Island in the Sun”.

Soon the grand Titchfield Hotel was build on a bluff overlooking the harbour, the town and up to the highest peaks in Jamaica. This brought the new Hollywood royalty of silent films, Broadway and the West End. Wealthy and famous people from the arts, business and sciences began to arrive and some built homes, such as the daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The world’s newspapers followed their exploits and travels so that these style-maker’s holidays in the tropics began to be lusted after by the wider public.
Fast forward past both World Wars and two similar visitors from vastly different parts of the British Empire turned up, Ian Fleming and more important for Port Antonio, Errol Flynn. Flynn sailed into Port Antonio after being shipwrecked in Kingston and stayed off and on for 20 years. He became part of the local scene and brought his pals from all over the globe co-opting the banana rafts for their Rio Grande river excursion picnics and giving an iconic activity to the visitors of the area which continues to this day.

In the late 50’s Frenchman’s Cove resort was built on a coastal plain east and an iconic beach east of Port Antonio which drew several dynasties of European royalty, stars of stage and screen, business tycoons, artists, musicians etc, in other words the jet-set had discovered Port Antonio. Some people returned year after year and began to build vacation homes in the hills and coves around Frenchman’s Cove, named San San, Alligator Head or the Blue Hole.

Today the town is being renewed, infrastructure being renovated, Trident Hotel and Castle has been re-imagined and the long promised investment in Port Antonio appears to be close to reality, keep your fingers crossed!
Port Antonio has retained much of its original charm, and we urge those who are curious to enjoy a real Jamaican Caribbean experience, so, come catch Portie fever.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

celticgods: Wedding and almost Funeral

celticgods: Wedding and almost Funeral: Frank, we'll go to the Plaza Diner, OK? Yeah that's cool. The traffic heading back to NJ was moderate and as we crossed the Geor...

Wedding and almost Funeral

"Frank, we'll go to the Plaza Diner, OK?"
"Yeah that's cool."

The traffic heading back to NJ was moderate and as we crossed the George Washington Bridge we had discussed where to eat and the Plaza Diner in Fort Lee New Jersey provided a convenient and acceptable place.
We had just played a gig, well a wedding anyway, but it paid the requisite 75 bucks per man and as the groom was a friend of the band we broke our "no wedding" rule and played the wedding. The reception was up in Co-Op City held in one of that development's communal catering rooms and was an example of New York City's rainbow diversity - The groom was Puerto Rican  his wife was from the D.R. and their friends were African American, Blancos, Chinese, Jews you name it.

One of the friends of the couple, a white chap with a corduroy sport coat, had brought his guitar and we were asked to let him perform one song for the newlyweds. Our leader the rhythm-guitarist Don (yes, both guitar players in the band were named Don...) assented and after our first break the friend was introduced. We set him up with a mike and backed him as he did his song and received polite applause from the assembly of family & friends when he was done.
We then started up our next number and low-and-behold the family friend with guitar and the leather elbow patches stayed put and gave no indication he was ever leaving. We left him through our first scheduled song of the set out of politeness and when he stuck firm into the second one, ignoring all whispered suggestions/pleas/orders from my band mates to take himself away, I took it upon myself (as I was closest to him) to place my foot firmly upon his arse and thereby shove him (mind you my hands never left my Stratocaster) out of the way. He then seemed to have gotten the message, and no one in the party seemed put out, plus I provided the others in the band with a good chuckle for later as we were packing up the equipment to leave.
Oh yes that occasion was noteworthy for one other thing, my first ever singing performance in public. The Rolling Stones had a hit song "Miss You" at the time and we had rehearsed it musically but somehow without any input from me it was decided the "white boy guitar player" would sing it at the next gig. Never been so frightened in my life, and Jagger has nowt to fear from me, though I got respectful applause at the end.

Frank (our saxophonist and a recent graduate of MIT was the offspring of a brilliant, serious and accomplished Puerto Rican father and a no-less-serious ex-Hitler Youth  mother "Frahnck, Frahnck!"), aimed his 8 year-old blue 1969 Mercedes Benz 250 to the right, properly indicated our exit from the GWB and we swung onto Lemoine Avenue in Fort Lee and headed southward for the Plaza.

Frank turned into the entrance and as the small parking area in the front was full he continued down the narrow driveway (clearly marked "Entrance" and "One Way" in our favour) on the right side of the diner for the larger lot at the back. Just as we entered the one-way a Buick came at us, ignoring all rules and posted signs pulled right up to Frank's front bumper, blowing his horn.
At this point, I am sizing up the two large round fellows (deffo NOT coppers) in the car opposite and keeping in mind we are currently in Fort Lee the capitol of New Jersey Mob-dom, I felt the steam from Frank's ever-more-crimson right ear hits the side of my face, he lowers the window and shouts:
 "Can't you fucking morons read, I have the right of way!".  This was a bad move.

At this juncture (as Bush Sr.) would say, the two men in the Buick fly out of their respective sides and hasten towards us, heretofore swarthy complexions now white with rage. It was right about this moment I spotted the pistol in the shoulder holster under the left arm of the passenger's sportcoat as he exited the vehicle.This the chap who is in the process of grabbing Frank's neck through the car window and backhanding his face while promising a virtual Dante's Inferno as retribution for our "transgression" and lack of respect.
So, from the moment I spied the gun in the chap's sweaty armpit I calmly composed my new mantra and upon completion I chanted it loudly both at Frank & the driver (who thankfully was a lot calmer than his companion) of the other car as he approached my side.
The mantra has 2 parts and went a little sumpin' sumpin' like this:

"Frank back the fuck up he's got a gun! We are VERY sorry, sir!"
"Frank back the fuck up he's got a gun! We are VERY sorry, sir!"
"Frank back the fuck up he's got a gun! We are VERY sorry, sir!"
The slap to his face brought Frank to his senses and accepting my mantra as his own, he found reverse gear like Parnelli Jones and launched us out of the way and into the boulevard where we exited the scene, post haste as they used to say, our appetites banished for that evening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

celticgods: Things I like about where I live...#1

celticgods: Things I like about where I live...#1: One thing I really like is being able to see quite a long ways out to sea and eastward down the coast of Jamaica from our house in P...

Things I like about where I live...#1

One thing I really like is being able to see quite a long ways out to sea and eastward down the coast of Jamaica from our house in Port Antonio, so that rain never really sneaks up on us if we are awake.
I can hear the rain whapping on the lush plentiful trees and vegetation for several minutes before ever feeling or seeing a drop here, the crescendo building slowly, slowly, across the hills and up to the roof, till it reaches a low drumming and then tapers off, bit by bit, sometimes edging up again and other times just petering out as the squall moves on its way.
At times the sunlight never even dims as huge raindrops pelt down, shining like silver tracer bullets as they plummet headlong into the earth.

Night storms in the summer here often come to us southwards across the sea from Cuba to our north and it is possible to see lightning bolts detonating in different areas across a 20 mile front, illuminating the sea minutely to a translucent turquoise blue for a split fraction of a second.

Antoinette and I will sit on our back veranda and watch these natural wonders as the front draws ever closer pushed by tropical winds and temperature variations, enjoying nature's fireworks show as they fire centre, left-right-right again and then left and repeated until the rain and thunder gusts leave the sea and rush up our hill from the bay below and pelt us with big, cool drops, driving us back indoors to our bed, safely returned to sleep by the drumming on the roof above our heads quite like the corrugated aluminum roof on our family's backyard porch or the 100-plus car freight trains of my youth which rattled nearby my parents' house, their iron wheels beating a soothing rhythm that lulled me to sleep many a night.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

celticgods: Stand Down Permanently Margaret

celticgods: Stand Down Permanently Margaret:  What seemed like an eternity in my life Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of not-so-great Britain. She aided and abetted Ronnie Re...

Stand Down Permanently Margaret

 What seemed like an eternity in my life Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of not-so-great Britain.
She aided and abetted Ronnie Reagan, Augusto Pinochet and other world-class scumbags. She persecuted the miners and dockworkers in her own country, began the demolition of the UK's National Health Service (recently completed by the non-elected Cameron coalition)persecuted the Catholics in Northern Ireland and nearly got her ass blown up in Brighton for her troubles.
She objected to Nelson Mandela's release from prison and called the African National Congress a terrorist organisation and started a costly, bloody war with Argentina over a near worthless piece of usurped land.

Rest In Many Pieces Margaret Thatcher

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

celticgods: Research of Tom's Purdue

celticgods: Research of Tom's Purdue: Doug couldn’t keep from wobbling no matter how hard he tried. Stiffening his muscles or relaxing them produced the same result on his...

Research of Tom's Purdue

Doug couldn’t keep from wobbling no matter how hard he tried. Stiffening his muscles or relaxing them produced the same result on his attempts to normalize his walking, in fact he resembled a small sailboat caught in variable seas with a strong starboard wind across its bow. His shoulder bag disconcertingly added to his stress upsetting his balance. The wide berth he noticed that other pedestrians were giving him as he navigated westward across Broadway and towards 6th Avenue, served as further proof of this affliction. This predicament he found vexing as the day had been lovely and he had felt good being in it.

One pint too many, or maybe the addition of the several Irish whiskeys to the pints poured him by the affable Dublin refugee barman (aka “drink-serving terrorist”) that were stood him in appreciation of Doug’s long time custom (aka “fishing for larger gratuity”) and grateful for the company of Doug and his pals on a slow Saturday afternoon. Doug and his chums were all members in good standing of the Empty Leg Association, and fully paid up. After all, Doug had not been back to his old neighborhood in quite a while and though the plan had been to rendezvous at O’Faolain’s with the fellas and then to repair elsewhere to have an adult lunch over which much shit would be shot, and heading  homewards in the early evening sporting a pleasant, civilized, buzz. The rendezvous was successfully and punctually made but the action plan stalled there.
That original plan died pretty early in the afternoon and at a half-past three pm David (aka "the Englishman"), was the first to fall by the wayside blaming his early exit from the festivities at O'Faolains on the weekend train schedules (and his not seeing any solid sustenance on the horizon) up to Westchester where he was visiting with the in-laws.  I stepped outside to see him off and watched him careen his way up the street to the corner of Lafayette and hail a yellow cab heading uptown to Grand Central.

Jumbo (bless his poor sainted mother) was so-named by Doug for the size of his planetoid-girthed noggin, and next to him at the bar Ian MacLeod (aka Mac, or Piss-Face or “MacLoud” no one ever called him Ian) also possessed of a sizeable bonce - the terror of many a woolen pull-over.  Both were made of sterner stuff (aka alcoholic tendencies) and with D’Artagnan gone, the three remaining Musketeers turned again united in purpose(“All for one!”), towards the rail.  After a few pulls at our jars, Mac and Doug took one of the many regular and mandatory trips out to the sidewalk to indulge their nicotine habit.
Mac fired up a Winston with his Ronson and commented on David’s recent departure, noting “He can’t put them down like he used to, can he?” 
Doug grunted a laugh in agreement, drawing flame to his Marlboro from the proffered lighter. “Well, Mac… he’s married, and trying to stay that way, certainly it’s not been so long that you’ve forgotten?”  Mac produced a brittle laugh in response.

The foot traffic was constant in both directions, it being Saturday and we being in what’s now called (so-named by real estate weasels) the “East Village”. The demographics and appearance of the people passing in what was the Lower East Side had certainly changed since the years Doug had lived only a few short blocks away from where they stood returning to this place from Eire (yes, brilliant, right - he leaves NY and goes not to London, but Ireland whrre everyone he met asked him “What the feck are you doing here man?”) where he had tried to crack the music business in Dublin and Belfast and spent most of his time eking a living writing pop music criticism for pennies, tending bars but mostly drinking at them. Doug’s own long-suffering patient wife had made the journey over and back with him all the while retaining her patient, pleasant demeanour and her affection for Doug in spite of his several, erm, imperfections, let’s call them. True to Doug’s uncanny sense of (bad) timing, Dublin was swinging and the Republic of Ireland were now booming, money was flowing like the Guinness at Hogans or Bruxelles and the rest of the world now paid Ireland attention it had never received before. So of course, where was himself now but back in the Big Apple, which had turned sterile and become yupped-out and expensive all the way from the Spuyten Duyvil  down to Battery Park, and from Hell’s Kitchen to Loisaida. “Home sweet home -the bollix”, thought Doug.

Here I will pause for a comment on Guinness Stout. Those who hate it I can never hope to convince of its merit. Those who like it but who have never drunk it in an establishment that takes the dispensing of this delightful beverage seriously, have an epiphany in store for them. A proper pint is poured by a professional barman with care into an immaculately clean glass which must be shaped a certain way, or else the result for me is sullied. It cannot be ice cold as would a lager be stored but neither is warm Guinness desirable. When you order a proper pint of stout(the mother’s milk, motor oil, porter, black gold, etc.) the first taste is so delicious and physically pleasant it takes great willpower not to pour back the entire glass in one go. The texture is delightful, the flavour at once slightly bitter, yet slightly sweet, creamy, cool  and calming. My suggestion to those in the rural or suburban USA who think they like Guinness to go to New York for a weekend check into a hotel and visit as many Irish-owned bars as you can. This will be your schooling and if you like it still and desire more, go home and plan your trip to Ireland. The Guinness in London is pish, unless you find a place like the Finsbury Park Tavern that serves Dublin Guinness and not the inferior English stuff.  The perfect accompaniment for Guinness they say is oysters but I believe it is whiskey but gentle reader, that is a story for another day.

Jumbo joined them outside as they stood and smoked looking across at the few remaining brownstones and tenements on the north side of the block. Jumbo hated cigarettes but enjoyed a different type of smoke inhaling quickly one deep draught then bashing his lit number against the tenement wall and turning back into the bar followed closely by the other two.

 The fresh pint of porter stood waiting for Doug and Jumbo’s Bass Ale and Mac’s screwdriver had both been refreshed. Behind their glasses stood three empty shot glasses and the barman grinned his evil little grin at them from the other end of the long bar as Doug  (keeping his eyes fixed on the amiably malevolent,  ginger-headed,  pint puller) toasted his pals’ health and prosperity again and it was somewhere about this time he lost track of the time and the running count of the drinks he’d had, losing himself willingly in the pleasure of the good company that he had often missed when away from the place.

Mac related to them tales of his ex-wife who had mentally gone off the rails in a spectacular fashion in spite of his best efforts to help her and which he continued  even after they had separated and by contrast Jumbo only recently married to a woman with no misconceptions,  mentioned his wife not at all, but as ever was keen to tell us about some book by minor talents like Banks or T.C. Boil he’d found at the Strand or at Shakespeare & Co. hailing it as “Groundbreaking!” or “Evocative” or “Seminal!” or some other overwrought adjective he liked to apply to books he enjoyed especially if they were by William Butler Yeats his idol and literary inspiration. Mac who followed recent fiction as well as possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of music of many genres and eras would say he too had read it and usually politely deem it “All right, I guess” and switch the topic to something he found particularly stimulating.

Doug too loved books of fiction but had a peculiar bent that he always felt he had missed too many great works from the past and was therefore un-interested in modern or current fiction. He would read non-fiction and recent history but music for him had halted when the Pogues split again preferring to investigate rhythm and blues, jazz, country and western ever more deeply.
Darkness began to descend on the late summer Manhattan streets and the three stalwarts settled up their tab tipping the beverage banshee at a rate of about 60% of the total bill for being so free with his boss’ liquor. They turned left out the door following the path David had blazed some hours earlier. At Lafayette Greg bade the others farewell and headed south to catch the F train to Brooklyn and some bars nearer his flat as Doug headed west walking quickly and waving to Jumbo as he grabbed a cab uptown.

After a trek which felt like he had done the Rongai route up to the summit of Kilimanjaro but in fact encompassed only 2 avenues and 5 streets of the Manhattan grid on a pleasant late evening, Doug spied salvation in the form of the entrance to the PATH train and the promise of transport home.
The PATH train to Hoboken ratcheted into the sweltering station and Doug increased the pace of his weaving to get as far forward in the train as he could.