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June 14th, 2014

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

#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s Newspaper Novel, COLD TYPE

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#FridayReads, Harvey Araton’s newspaper novel, COLD TYPE, being published July 2014.

Memorable and likable characters dominate this realistic and very enjoyable novel by longtime New York Times sports reporter Araton, who also spent years at the NY Daily News. The progtagonist is Jamie Kramer, son of Morris, a longtime printer and union member at a NY paper called the Sun, which has recently been acquired by a marauding Anglo-Irish press baron, Leland Brady. Jamie works at the paper, too, though his one big story, on covert policies in his native Brooklyn that limit the sale of real estate to white people, a well-reported expose, earned him nothing but trouble. He hasn’t received the laurels bestowed on his hotshot cousin, Steven, a heroic columnist, at least in his own eyes. The book is set during a newspaper strike, apparently resembling in some respects a strike that occurred at the Daily News in the early 1990s. Araton makes entirely believeable the tension among the eight different unions striking the paper, triggered by the intemperate drivers.

Other characters include Jamie’s wife, Karyn, from whom he’s separated; their son, two-year old Aaron; and Jamie’s Latina colleague Carla, a savvy ally in the newsroom, and a sympathetic soul who knows Jamie’s secrets, even while she has many of her own. One subplot concerns Karyn, who’s in the midst of being recruited by a talkative entrepreneur in Seattle who’s starting a new business selling books on the Internet, still so new at this point in the ’90s. He even wants to recruit Jamie, who wants desperately to maintain a connection to Aaron, and so flirts with the idea of moving across the country. Araton never gives this Jeff-Bezos avatar a name but he hardly needed to do so. One irony that Araton doesn’t seem to have anticipated for his novel is that Bezos is now himself a newspaper owner, of the Washington Post, an inheritor of the world that Jamie Kramer and his father inhabit.

I will say very little about the ending, except that it’s a treat, as just desserts are served all ’round. This is a really enjoyable, sort of old-fashioned novel, offering a social portrait and a really rich story. Kudos to Mr Araton and Cinco Puntos Press, of El Paso, Texas, for writing and publishing this worthy novel. Thanks to Bobby Byrd of Cinco Puntos, who at BEA gave me the autographed copy I finished reading today. I’m going to be recommending COLD TYPE for weeks.

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June 8th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

Did Allied Bombing of France in WWII Cross an Ethical Line?

Are you aware that during WWII, British, American, and Canadian airplanes bombed Nazi infrastructure and installations in occupied France, or that an estimated 57,000 French civilians died from Allied actions during the war? I was not until last night, when I heard an in-depth report by BBC correspondent John Laurenson that CBC Radio carried on their weekend news program. In Laurenson’s story, the transcript of which can be read here, with several illustrations, he added that Free French forces pleaded for a halt to the raids, to no avail. Meanwhile, the Vichy government—cooperating and collaborating with the Nazis all the while—tried to turn the populace away from any sympathy for the Allied cause by decrying the bombardment.

Laurenson narrates that “According to research carried out by Andrew Knapp, history professor at the UK’s University of Reading, ‘Roughly 75,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the UK [including Hitler's V missiles]. In France, it [was] in the order of 518,000 tonnes.’” Incredible, but apparently accurate. Some of the raids—especially the one pictured here that leveled Le Havre, killing 5,000 inhabitants of the city—would under today’s international agreements, probably be regarded as war crimes. More than 1,500 French towns were hit during the war.

DeGaulle must’ve lobbied Churchill, and FDR, to stop the raids that aimed to hit “marshaling areas,” as the Allies phrased it. But it was the conduct of Marshall Petain and his government that most concerned the Allies,. This topic, and the scale of French casualties, was taboo for many decades, with the moral ambiguity that had shrouded the war years in France. According to this report, many French were conflicted about the bombing campaign. They didn’t ‘support’ it, but many were ashamed of the conduct by the Vichy leaders, and hoped the Allies would prevail. In that context, the deaths of civilians was in some ways as expected, if not excused, as that of combatants. It was total war. Along with the above figure on the French casualties, at least 60,500 British civilians died from the German aerial bombardment. On D-Day itself, in 1944, 2,500 Allied combatants died, while about the same number of French civilians died that day.

Though I don’t excuse certain aspects of the Allied bombing, which has been examined and as far as I can tell, convincingly indicted in A.C. Grayling’s important book, Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan, I think I have a sense of some of the priorities and concerns that may have preoccupied all the Allied heads of state (Churchill and FDR, and also Mackenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister during the war, whose fighter pilots also flew bombing runs over France). They weren’t certain the Allies would win, and so believed in, or rationalized, some bombing that crossed an ethical line.  As for the crews who flew those missions they were lethal for them, too, for Laurenson adds about the British flyers: “Almost half of Bomber Command’s airmen were killed in action. Their missions, their commanders argued, would help win the war more quickly.”

In the case of Churchill, in particular, I don’t mean to cut him any slack he doesn’t deserve. I’ve read Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, where Churchill’s belligerence is on display, and in his own words for it’s a book assembled entirely from original documents. And, yet I must concede that he fought the war like he feared the Nazis might win, a possible outcome that would have been even more detestable than the moral crimes he committed, or may have committed.  I recommend you read Laurenson’s story here.

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June 5th, 2014

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

Fun Night of Happy Music with Brain Cloud at the Rodeo Bar

Brain Cloud is a happy music-making outfit, maestros of western swing whose infectious repertoire harks back to the music of Bob Wills, Patsy Cline, and early country & western radio. They are fronted by Dennis Lichtman, multi-instrumentalist (clarinet, mandolin, fiddle), while also featuring fab vocalist Tamar Korn, and hot sidemen playing lap steel guitar (Raphael McGregor); hollow-body electric guitar (Skip Krevens); and a solid rhythm section with a stand-up bassist and drummer who also played a washboard vest. They have so much fun playing their tunes, and with such good humor, you can’t help but feel good, even giddy, as you listen to them play. Licthman sports a very open personality on stage, offering polite kudos to his bandmates, and clear announcements of song titles and their origins, while Korn is a veritable vocal gymnast who uses her voice in skillful and surprising ways, often mimicking the sounds of the instruments near her on stage, and miming the fiddling of her stage partner, Lichtman.

The Rodeo Bar is a long-running NYC venue for live music. On weeknights there’s no cover charge in their music room, with a reasonably priced Tex-Mex menu on offer. Kyle and I ordered dinner (tacos and pulled pork), which was served quickly, and cleared off our table before Brain Cloud’s 9:00 PM set began.

Before the show, we chatted with Dennis, whom I had first met in 2011, when Brain Cloud played the Brooklyn Folk Festival. He also plays with the jazz combo, Mona’s Hot Four, an outfit that plays weekly at Mona’s Bar on Avenue B on the lower east side. In 2012, I attended a joint launch of a documentary and a CD about the jazz scene at Mona’s, and wrote about it here on this blog. In 2013, I attended a CD release party for Brain Cloud’s album “Outside Looking In,” also the title of a signature song of theirs that Lichtman explained was composed by Izzy Zaidman (and I note from the CD below, Lichtman and Korn), musician and leader of Izzy and the Catastrophics. Like much of Brain Cloud’s repertoire, this song sounds like it could come from the 1940s, though it’s a modern evocation of that era. They appear at Rodeo Bar many Wednesdays, I recommend you go hear them some time. Here’s what their CD looks like, along with pictures I took during last night’s show.

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May 31st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Annals of Urban Wildlife—My Latest Encounter

Walking in Riverside Park tonight at dusk, at about 106th Street, I heard a scuffling nearby. Before I could actually walk up to the source of the noise, I spied what was making it: a raccoon feeding noisily on the contents of a decidedly full trash can. I stood a few minutes and took some pictures. Unconcerned about me, the animal kept angling for ways to get at the food scraps in the can. At first it was pulling stuff thru the steel mesh, then it got up on top of the can, dipping its head and torso in for maximum effectiveness. Quite a show of nimbleness. I was reminded of the time a couple years ago when I saw a baby skunk at the West Harlem Piers in Riverside Park at 125th Street, and my friend, CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence saw a white sturgeon in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. Click here to see all the photos I took of the raccoon tonight:

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May 28th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Food & Spirits; News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Blending New York City History, Anarchism, Contemporary Painting, and Home-brewed Ale

AleA fascinating slice of synchronous civic history was on display on the Lower East Side of Manhattan recently. At 50 East First Street, on a one-of-kind block tucked just north of East Houston, is a new gallery/activist venue called OSMOS Address. Kyle and I enjoyed the exhibit at the purpose-driven space run by socially conscious curator Cay Sophie Rabinowitz. The show features the paintings of Peter Dreher, who for forty years has devoted himself to painting domestic objects—a water glass and a chalice, for instance—in an ongoing series of meditative still-life works. Along with Dreher’s mesmerizing paintings, the evening offered visitors to the gallery the chance to taste a savory reddish pale ale—brewed by Austin Thomas, artist, gallerist and craft brewer—with aromatic fresh-baked bread from Table on Ten in Delaware County, New York, each small loaf sporting a sprig of rosemary—serving as an earthy tasting companion to the ale.Bread

Quoting from a handout distributed at OSMOS Address, the small batch ale was brewed as part of an homage called “Beer on Sunday,” honoring a distinguished nineteenth century tenant of this same address, “a German-American anarchist named Justus Schwab, who kept a ‘Beer-hole’. . . where writers, artists, radicals and other misfits met to drink and talk in to the night.”

The free-thinking anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) knew Schwab well and said this about her close friend:

“Schwab was the traditional Teuton in appearance, over six feet tall, broad-chest, and strait as a tree. On his wide shoulders and strong neck rested a magnificent head, framed in curly red hair and beard. His eyes were full of fire and intensity. But it was his voice, deep and tender, that was peculiar characteristic. It would have made him famous if he had chosen an operatic career. Justus was too much the rebel and the dreamer, however, to care about such things.”

A reprinted article on hand, originally appearing in the New York Times of March 7, 1879, chronicled a criminal trial in which Schwab was the defendant. He had been arrested at 50 East First on July 22, 1878, accused with dispensing alcoholic beverages at his Beer-hole shortly after the clock turned midnight and ticked over in to that early Sunday morning. Arrested at 12:15 am, Schwab was charged with a violation of Sunday closure laws—aka “blue laws”—a sign of churches’ influence on local regulations, which were still on the books in many municipalities well in to the twentieth century. Hearing the case, a three-judge panel found in Schwab’s favor, pointing out that the law as written forbade the serving of alcoholic beverages between one o’clock and five o’clock in the morning, and made no mention of midnight as the cut-off. Schwab was acquitted and the judges ordered court costs to be paid to him by the arresting officers. A pretty big win for the activist who not only kept beer taps in his establishment, but also operated a printing press with which he issued broadsides and political pamphlets in service of the causes embraced by Emma Goldman and other radicals of the time. The plaque about Schwab at 50 East First Street relates a friendship he shared with keen misanthropic writer Ambrose Bierce, a writer primarily identified with San Francisco, whose later disappearance during the Mexican War remains a mystery. I was unaware he had spent time in NYC.Schwab plaque

Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Austin Thomas presented all this lore alongside the works of Peter Dreher in an adroit blend of hitherto hidden history and adventuresome aesthetics. I look forward to attending other events at OSMOS Address—where Rabinowitz told us she plans to set up a printing press—and at shows put on by Austin Thomas of Pocket Utopia. Kyle and I also enjoyed meeting longtime residents of 50 East First Street, artists Christin Couture and William Hoise, keen appreciators of nineteenth century aesthetics and collectors of objects and antiques from the era.

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May 27th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Hockey Night in Canada

Getting set to drop the puck between Habs-Rangers.

 

 

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May 25th, 2014

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

Ewan Turner at the Bitter End, 7PM May 25/Updated w/Photos

As I’d tweeted earlier tonight and shared here, Ewan Turner was going to be playing at the Bitter End tonight and it turned out to be a terrific night. The venerable music room—which has hosted such legendary performers as Joan Baez, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Miles Davis—was quite full, and attentive to Ewan’s songs. He did six of his own songs, and he had time for one cover, Dylan’s “Abandoned Love,” a song that he told the crowd he’d learned Dylan had performed only once live, at the Bitter End, back in 1975. Here are images from the evening, beginning with a shot of an old poster in the club window, indicating many of the people who have played the venue over the years.Bitter End lineup

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May 21st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Media, Blogging, Internet; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Taking a Page from Honourary Canadian

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I started a second blog in 2013, called Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada From Away. After starting this blog in 2011, I was often posting about Canada, and a couple years in, decided to start a second site devoted to Canadian topics, where I’d offer my views of Canada for Canadians and others interested in the country. I aspire to the perspective and the work of Alistair Cooke, who broadcast and wrote knowledgeably and sensitively about America, after moving to the US from England. Like this site, at the new blog I write about Canadian books, publishing, live music, media, and politics, with the cross-cultural perspective of a respectful outsider. I’ve been sharing HC links here from time to time and integrating the two sites one with another, for instance setting up a feed so the latest posts from each site are readily visible and linked to on the other. The two blogs are sort of like siblings, with this one the older brother.

I’m posting here today to let Great Gray Bridge readers know I recently published a new entry at Honourary Canadian called Why I Started This Blog and Call It Honourary Canadian, which explores my lifelong interest in the neighbor to the north. I invite you to read it. It’s a memoiristic piece that chronicles many trips I’ve made in Canada since childhood, beginning with Expo ’67 when I was just twelve years old; authors whose books I’ve read and published; bands I’ve seen live and become friendly with; and reflections on differences between the US and Canada, and the media in both countries. Along with the essay, I’ve included dozens of scenic photographs, book covers, band photos, and scans of letters I received from Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, with whom I had a lengthy correspondence when I ran Undercover Books in the 1980s.

At the top of this entry is a shot of that new post, which will give you a sense of what the new site looks like if you’ve not visited yet. Just as I found a visual touchstone for this blog from a scenic landmark—the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and the little red lighthouse—I found visual inspiration for the new site in a true wonder of the world, the majestic Percé Rock (aka le rocher percé or ‘pierced rock’), a huge rock face on eastern Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, a veritable lobster tail jutting in to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Below is a pic of what that post looks like. If you enjoy awe-inspiring scenery, I recommend you check out the whole post, which includes many photos I took during a visit there in 1988. In fact, I invite you to visit Honourary Canadian, and have a look around.