September 22nd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

One More Time—A Happy Hobbit Birthday!

I published the piece below two years ago on this date, my birthday. I’m happy to share it here again today, as I turn 60!

As this day, September 22, 2012, stretches toward midnight, it happens to have been my 58th birthday. Growing up, of course I always enjoyed this day, but as I prepared to turn 13 back in 1967, my appreciation of my own birthday had taken a new turn. For earlier that year I first read the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and discovered that all the key action in The Hobbit, and the first book of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was triggered at the birthday parties of Bilbo Baggins,and his nephew Frodo Baggins. And for reasons unknown to me—and so far as I know, never analyzed in all the criticism on Tolkien and Middle Earth—the birthday of uncle and nephew Baggins was September 22. The sharing of my birthday with the brave and indefatigable hobbits was a source of great strength to me during my adolescence. When difficult times arose, I took comfort in the knowledge that I had some sort of kinship with the creative imaginings of such a great writer as Tolkien. His books have been with me at many junctures in my life. Seeing Tolkien’s hobbit protagonists at the center of his sagas made me believe I could be at the center of my own life narrative.

I’ve always liked the fact that the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, falls around roughly the same time as my birthday. This year it was just last week. I like that the new year is said to begin in autumn–counter-intuitively–just as life in nature is beginning to fade and die. It sobers one up a bit, reminding us all that we’re not here forever. I don’t need too much reminding of that fact, in as much as starting in my late 30s I lost my father, then in my 40s, two best friends from college—Rob Adams and Karl Petrovich—and in my 50s, my mom and then my brother, Joel. Still, it seems salutary to take note of the leaves falling just as we prepare the turn of another year, as well as the turn from summer into fall.

With Tolkien in mind, my observance of my own birthday this year got off to a good start yesterday when I saw in Shelf Awareness, the bookselling daily e-newsletter, that Tolkien’s US publisher is publishing a new edition of The Hobbit, tying in with Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” prequel, premiering December 14. When the movie opens in a few months, I’ll sort of feel as if it’s almost again, albeit out of season. Meantime, today’s been a good day, thanks to family, friends, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

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September 20th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Urban Life & New York City

Carving Space w/Esme Boyce Dance in “Dark and Pretty Flat”

Esme Boyce DanceHad an enjoyable time last night at “Dark and Pretty Flat,” a dance performance and multimedia presentation put on by Esmé Boyce Dance. The series of eight linked pieces flowed seamlessly from one to the next against a rolling video backdrop, of wooded roadsides and watery depths; atmospheric guitar playing, both live and looped; and spoken word poetry. The four dancers, in costumes that bore a wood grain texture in gray and peach hues, were sometimes on the floor all together, in pairs, or solo. Carving space with their articulate arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, and toes, they supplely shifted their weight in to rolls across the floor and shoulder tucks that brought them in to very near proximity with their own torsos, or those of fellow dancers. It was a world premiere, with all the pieces choreographed by Esmé Boyce. Beside directing her eponymous company, she collaborates with the Satellite Collective and is a member of Janis Brenner & Dancers. Other collaborators were: video artist Cody Boyce, Esmé’s brother, music and poetry; actor Ted Levine, reader; architectural designer Chat Travieso, set designer; artist Sue Julien, the two Boyce’s mother, costume designer—she chose the wood grain fabric, and cut the costumes as supplely as the dancers moved.

The performance was at a lower east side combined theater and bar venue Dixon Place, a new one to me. Entering at 161A Chrystie St, between Rivington and Delancey, you walk in on a narrow bar, while small tables, chairs and sofas and a tiny stage are in the back. In that rear area is a stairway down to the basement where there’s a large theater, with upwards of 50 seats in banked rows. As a New Yorker for nearly thirty years, it still fascinates me to discover spaces like this, caverns tucked away beneath the rumbling streets and subways, renovated and built out for creative endeavors. The establishment has a great vibe, whether upstairs or down. It was particularly nice to see Kit Boyce, friend of many years, husband of Sue Julien, father to Esmé and Cody, friends who I first met in Chicago, in the years I regularly went there to visit Franconia College classmate Robert Henry Adams.

After the dances, the full house walked back up the stairs for an instant after party in the bar and seating area. Bouquets were presented to the dancers—Esmé’s mates were Giulla Carotenuto, Kit McDaniel, and Christopher Ralph—and toasts were offered all ’round. I hadn’t been to a dance performance in years, and I found it an aesthetic pleasure to see movement, color, fabric, sound, and light all played to such intriguing effect. There’s one more performance of “Dark and Pretty Flat” tonight. I recommend it highly, or take yourself out to some dance soon.Dark and Pretty Flat

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September 18th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Elliott BROOD Made Feet Stomp on the Lower East Side

Elliott BROOD, l-r--Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet, Steve PitkinThe Ontario trio Elliott BROOD played a great set of new songs for a 7pm set at Rockwood Music Hall on Manhattan’s lower east side last night. The early hour meant light was still pouring in the windows off Allen Street as they hit their first downbeat, but the vibe quickly turned funky for the crowd of about twenty-five, for as I wrote about this band after I first heard their live show in 2012:

“The trio’s gritty sound feels as if it’s been imported from the early days of sound recording. More raw than roots, it’s a sonic stew of acoustic guitar, banjo, reverb-ed Fender Stratocaster, harmonica, and thumping drums.”

Rockwood has excellent acoustics, whether the room is crammed or not. Last night, the mix was great and all instruments could be heard well. They played six new songs from their forthcoming album, “Work & Love” (Paperbag Records), and a couple older ones. They announced it was the first time they were playing the new songs for a live audience. Dressed all in white, Casey Laforet (electric and acoustic guitars, and an array of foot pedals he played in sock-clad feet); Mark Sasso (acoustic guitar, harmonica, banjo); and Steve Pitkin (drums and a keyboard set up next to his kit) charmed all with light banter and interesting song reveals. Casey, a still-new parent, introduced one new song, “Each Other’s Kids,” by explaining they wrote it after realizing how much people in their world universally rely on one another to take care of their young children.

I had met them in 2012, so it was good to re-visit afterward, and introduce all three to my wife Kyle Gallup, and our friend, Mike Fitzgerald. I caught up on all the news with Casey, and learned he and his wife are about to have their second child. Steve appreciated I remembered his last name correctly, something I can relate to, since people tend to spell my first name with two lls, though it only has one. I told Mark he had been in good voice, though he said he actually felt like he might be getting a cold. I gave them the card for my blog Honourary Canadian, which I began after I met them the first time. They began packing up for a show tonight at the Black Cat in D.C., then they’re moving on to Bristol, Tennessee—said to be “the birthplace of country music in the USA”—where they’ll be playing the Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival.

Last night’s only flaw was that the new album isn’t out yet–after hearing the new songs for the 1st time, I’m keen to hear them again. But it will be available Oct 21, and though it would’ve been nice to get a copy right from the hands of band member, I’ll also be glad to purchase it from the great Canadian indie music website, zunior.com, a seller I highly recommend.Elliott BROOD's Work & Love, Paperbag Records

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September 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Publishing & Bookselling

Amazon’s Douglas Preston Problem Isn’t Going Away

It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon’s board members respond to Authors United’s outreach to them—if at all—particularly the suggestion that while these people may think they joined the board of a progressive company, that’s actually not what Amazon is any more, if they ever were.

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September 14th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

A Gray Day Near the Great Gray Bridge

I dodged the raindrops during my bike ride yesterday, managing to get all the way up to Hudson Beach and the GW Bridge, and have time to enjoy the view, before it rained hard.

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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing

#FridayReads, Sept 12–George C. Chesbro’s “City of Whispering Stone,” w/Mongo the Magnificent

City of Whispering Stone frontContinuing my theme from last week, today’s #FridayReads is another mystery featuring Mongo the Magnificent, former circus dwarf turned criminology professor and private eye, in City of Whispering Stone, published in 1978. This plot would have been very topical and timely then, as it concerns Iranian students in NY, an Iranian strongman, a member of the circus that Mongo once performed in, and the political fate of the Shah. In real life, this was all just prior to the revolution that ended with the mullahs in power, which has seen them hold power ever since. In the novel, the strongman has gone missing and the impresario of the circus hires Mongo to locate him. The writing is great, noirish and tough, and very good at revealing the mindset of Mongo, an ultimate outsider who’s never fit in anywhere in his whole life. City of Whispering Stone back

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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Annals of (Un)employment Injustice

In a handwritten letter written last month, an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania oral surgeon, Dr George Visnich, fired a female employee, Carol Jumper—who had worked for his medical practice for twelve years—after she informed him she’d been diagnosed with “cancer affecting her ovaries, liver, and pancreas.” Ever since my own brush with wrongful dismissal I pay special attention to accounts like this one, reported yesterday by Huffington Post. The doctor’s attorney has since claimed that the letter was meant to make it easy for Jumper to qualify for unemployment benefits, and that the doctor intended to re-hire her once and if her treatment was successful. And yet, the letter is as curt and unfeeling as anything I’ve ever read. See for yourself:
Doctor's letter
The letter, which I read as filled with eagerness to terminate her before she might cost the doctor an extra dollar in raised health insurance premiums, was shared on Facebook by a friend of the fired employee, resulting in much opprobrium for the doctor and contributions to a benefit fund for Ms Jumper. I detect bad faith on the doctor’s part, with careful wording meant to protect him from the Americans with Disabilities Act, under which “current and recovering cancer patients are protected against job discrimination…so long as the individual is able to perform the job’s essential functions.” He wrote, ” You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.” He’s evidently tried to absolve himself, by claiming that “this [would] make it easier” for Jumper to claim unemployment benefits, but I detect a convenient calculation behind his words—I believe they were meant to make things easier for him, not his long-serving, mortally ill, employee.

Local reporting on the incident explains that Ms Jumper did not ask anyone to put the letter on Facebook, and that she is focused on trying to get well, not on her former employer. She is probably not pursuing a legal case, which I understand, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, none of the reporting reveals what she’s doing about health insurance now, but I assume she’s been forced into COBRA to continue the coverage she had under her employer. No word in any of these stories, either, as to whether he offered her any severance or help with paying for COBRA. I have to assume he has not. Meanwhile, the doctor’s lawyer says that the attention on the letter has been “very troubling” for his client. Gee, you’d almost think he was the one with cancer.

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September 12th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Urban Life & New York City

Elephant Stone, Making Mind-bending Music at Mercury Lounge

Rishi sitarI had a great time at the Elephant Stone show at Mercury Lounge Tuesday night. It was the third time I’ve heard the Montreal band (I earlier wrote about them here), and they were in great form, with frontman Rishi Dhir and his crew really getting down on several psychedelic and funk jams. As cool as Rishi’s sitar playing is, he’s also a really great bassist, and plays it like a solo instrument. Meantime, bandmate Gabriel Lambert is a wizard on 12-string electric guitar. The result is the band’s signature blend of soaring psychedelia, bright pop harmonies, thumping funk, and chiming guitar. If you’d like rock n’ roll that sounds like the Byrds crossed with Indian influences check them out. Frontman Dhir (shown at right) has playfully dubbed their sound ‘Hindi rock.’ I hear echoes of the Byrds and the Beatles, though more psychedelic-ized than either of those giant groups. I got a copy of their new album The Three Poisons after the show. Also in the house was Mike Renaud, aka “Parkside,” of Hidden Pony Records, which handles several of my favorite acts (like Rah Rah, Jeremy Fisher, Said the Whale, and Imaginary Cities) and Tyler Bancroft of the aforementioned Said the Whale, who was in NYC for a few days, then leaving to meet his bandmates for a StW show in Calgary. Parkside, Tyler, myself, and some new friends, Jillian Bordeaux and Michael, a colleague of hers from Caroline—a company that works with many indie music labels—went out for beers afterward.

Elephant Stone’s current US tour continues tonight in Philadelphia, and tomorrow in Asbury Park, NJ, Sept 12 and 13. Details here.

Here are more pictures from the fun night.