On Saturday I went to my aunt-in-law's in Sayreville to take part in her annual Pierogi Party. They've been doing it for years, but it was my first time. It's a very festive occasion, though you have to show up ready to BRING IT. (You also should wear old clothes, preferably white, because you'll be covered in flour.)
The objective is to make many dozens of pierogis in two varieties, potato and saurkraut, to be served at my aunt-in-law's huge, raucous, Santa-visited Christmas Eve party.
There are three jobs: Rollers, Fillers and Boiler. The Rollers roll the dough thinly on a table, and then use cups to "cut" out circles which are put on cookie trays. The trays are then delivered to the Fillers, who put the circles of dough on pierogi presses (which are little folding plastic devices). The Fillers add a bit of filling, snap the press closed, peel off any excess dough, coax out the resulting raw pierogi and place it on another cookie tray. (I was a Filler, and if I say so myself, I got those babies looking like works of art.) The Boiler then drops the raw pierogis into a huge pot of boiling water. The pierogis are boiled until they float to the top. The Boiler butters the cooked pierogis and places them on yet another cookie tray to cool. Once they've cooled, the pierogis are placed in plastic bags to be frozen. Workers at the Pierogi Party also get to bring a dozen or two home.
When ready for use, I'm told, the pierogis are not thawed. You just throw them straight from the freezer into a frying pan with onions. Once the onions "carmelize," I'm told, the pierogis are ready to eat.
We listened to polkas during most of the production. The music really got you psyched to crank out the pierogis. (So much so, I now want to do a couple of polkas with The Burners; wish me luck talking THOSE guys into it.) We got to eat our "mistakes." They were ambrosia! Kathy would have been laughing and snapping pictures the whole time.
After the last bit of flour was wiped up, my little niece -- the one who played Alegra Sacrimoni's flower girl on "The Sopranos" -- played "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on guitar. (Her teacher is the guitarist for Sugar Ray. She recently played a gig that Dick Dale played at.)
Maybe I'm still buzzed from all of that dough and polkas, but if I spot those little plastic pierogi presses at a department store, I'm BUYING a few.
At the Big Apple Con earlier this month, I ran into Jim Salicrup, the former Marvel Comics editor who helmed the best-selling Spider-Man edition of all time, Todd McFarlane's "Spider-Man" No. 1, in 1990. I'd earlier profiled Jim on PAGE X, accompanied with a photo by Kathy.
Jim got to know Kathy and I during our time covering the comic book beat. One grueling day, we were seated next to Jim, and he got a kick out of Kathy's running commentary of the human parade that is a comic book convention. Kathy's chops-busting sense of humor was on full display. And since Kathy was definitely NOT a comic book geek (and therefore possessed not a shred of the reverence we geeks hold for the medium), Jim found Kathy's humor all the more refreshing. From that day on, when Kathy and I would run into Jim from time to time, we would always pause for a few laughs.
The first time I saw Jim after Kathy died, he told me he'd written a blog about her, and even received messages of sympathy from some readers. But for some reason, I wasn't able to access that blog for a long time. Since then, I've finally read it, and I'd like to share some of it with you.
He titled it "Broken Flowers for Kathy Voglesong." Following is an excerpt.
"I can't tell you how hard that (the news of Kathy's death) hit me. The waves of sadness that suddenly overcame me were surprisingly powerful. ... despite not knowing her very well, the few times I had spent with her at Big Apple and Hawthorne comicbook conventions were very memorable. She enjoyed teasing me, and I loved teasing her right back. Beyond being a very beautiful woman, she was obviously very smart and talented with a wicked sense of humor. Seeing her and Mark at the shows was always great fun. I miss her so much already. ... To Mark, what can I possibly say? Obviously, it's not wise to dwell on the fact that she's gone, better to appreciate how incredibly lucky you both were to have shared so much together for so long. The love you two shared was always obvious and inspiring."
RETURN TO TOYLAND
For me, the holiday season begins at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, when Channel 11 airs "March of the Wooden Soldiers" starring Laurel and Hardy.
It's the colorized version, which I actually prefer. Many old movie buffs are colorization snobs. While I would never advocate the colorization of, say, "The Maltese Falcon" (which actually WAS colorized by some thoughtless party), I believe it only makes a movie like "March of the Wooden Soldiers" more accessible to young audiences. It also helps the viewer fully appreciate the world of Toyland created by the set designers.
I never tire of the film -- that is, I suppose, as long as I only see it once a year. The music, though old-fashioned, is up there with "Wizard of Oz" and anything Disney. The characters are at turns comical, heartwarming and, well, creepy. That IS a monkey dressed as a Mickey Mouse-type character who behaves like Ignatz, isn't it? Those bogeymen ... those weird dancing pigs ... that marching soldier who loses his head ... that Barnaby.
Just this year for the first time, I recognized Angelo Rossitto as a "sleep fairy" in the scene where Bo Beep and Tom Tom are stranded in Bogeyland. A quick click onto www.imdb.com verified Rossitto's participation, with a bonus: He was also one of the Three Little Pigs. The late, diminutive Rossitto, genre buffs need not be reminded, was in "Freaks," "Spooks Run WIld," "Scared to Death," "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" and played Master Blaster opposite Mel Gibson in "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome."
The secret weapon of "March of the Wooden Soldiers" was, of course, Laurel and Hardy, whose comedy was always child-friendly, but is presented with such affection and gentleness here that the boys become something like cartoon characters. On this year's viewing, my niece and nephews asked about the boys, and seemed surprised to learn that Laurel and Hardy were a comedy team from the '20s to the '50s. A few mouse clicks later, and we were watching the boys' very best short, the Oscar-winning "The Music Box." The Web is sometimes dangerous, but if it helps make the comedy of Laurel and Hardy accessible to young people, it ain't ALL bad. Happy holidays.
I just finished watching the first season of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on DVD. The 39 half-hour shows originally aired in 1955 and '56.
It was glorious. Once you got into the rhythm of the series, you felt cozy and warm, even if most of the episodes were about murder.
Hitchcock was a riot in his opening and closing bits -- funny and naughty and adorable and shameless.
I saw Claude Rains cry his eyes out to Charles Bronson; I saw Bronson and Michael Ansara and John Cassavettes and Carolyn Jones and Joanne Woodward and Jerry Paris and Cloris Leachman and Peter Lawford excell in early roles; I saw Barry Fitzgerald play a reluctant Santa Claus; I saw tall, dignified, underappreciated Brit John Williams kill and be killed; I saw two mainstays of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce "Sherlock Holmes" films of the '40s, Gavin Muir and Gerald Hamer, in the same episode; I saw terrific character roles for Ellen Corby and Thelma Ritter and Estelle Winwood and Mary Wickes and Beulah Bondi and Frances Bavier; I saw Werner Klemperer and John Banner cross paths in the same episode a decade before becoming cohorts in "Hogan's Heroes"; I saw movie stars Raines, Joseph Cotten and Claire Trevor acquiesce to the growing threat that was television; I saw Corby referee a shootout between Gene Barry and Darren McGavin; I saw Jack Mullaney (another overlooked talent, who died tragically young) give amazing performances in three wonky roles, as an alcoholic, a dimwitted stalker and a manic disc jockey.
What I DIDN'T see was many of the twist endings coming. Try as you might to guess how an episode would end, you would inevitably be caught off-guard -- but never have your intelligence insulted.
That was 50 years ago? Those were the days. Today, we have "Dancing With the Stars." Good EEEEvening.
The following was a small thrill for our quintent the Burners that I've been meaning to share with you.
On our two most recent gigs, July 15 and Nov. 3, our sound was done by a company that has done sound for a lot of heavy acts, according to its Web site (the address of which I won't share, because this is not a plug, just a cool little flip-out).
The Burners -- our humble group of five midlife crisis victims from South Jersey who cling desperately to our day jobs -- are listed among the following: Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, Blue Oyster Cult, Badfinger, Guess Who, Jefferson Starship, the Spencer Davis Group, Leon Russell, the Rascals, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Mason, James Cotton and America. We're listed dead last.
But what a little thrill. MY guitar was miked with the same equipment and by the same personnel that miked JOHNNY WINTER'S? And BUCK DHARMA'S?
When we were kids in the '70s seeing B.O.C. at the Philadelphia Spectrum (and staring straight into potentially blinding lasers), this would have been incomprehensible to us. Well, to be frank, not much WAS comprehensible to us the night of that B.O.C. show.
My first club gig was in 1980 at the Galaxy in Somerdale when I was 22. Peter Tork of the Monkees played there a couple of days before we did. It felt like the big time! To us, that is -- NOT Peter Tork.
CURTAINS FOR VAL KILMER
Nephew and I attended the Big Apple Con in New York on Saturday. It's the way comic book geeks ring in the holiday season every year. The view across the way from our table made the day considerably less grueling: a lovely Russian model in costume who posed for a comic book. Another across-the-way neighbor had a banner with a naughty superhero; they soon folded it over for the sake of the many young'uns in attendance.
It was a pleasant surprise to see a work friend there, who I now call FF #48 Dude. This is because he brought along something he had been telling me about for years: his Near Mint (or is it Very Fine?) edition of Fantastic Four #48, the first appearance of the Silver Surfer and Galactus. He was treating it like Sydney Greenstreet would have treated the Maltese Falcon.
My favorite Spider-Man artist, John Romita, was there, but I never laid eyes on him. His autograph lines were LONG. I heard one guy brought 10 books for him to sign. I brought two: Spidey #44 (the Lizard) and #60 (Kingpin). But every time I went to his line, it was so long that I decided to try again later. Finally, on one visit, the line looked manageable. I walked to the end of the line. The fellow in front of me had a sign on his back. ON HIS BACK! Affixed with duct tape! It said: "Last in line for John Romita." Oh, the humanity.
When I told people that Val Kilmer was appearing at the convention, non-geeks said, "Why would a big movie star do that?" while geeks said, "But 'Batman Forever' sucked!" Well, Kilmer's "appearance" was from behind ceiling-high curtains. You had to buy a ticket for an autograph, stand in line, and THEN he'd sign an authograph for you behind the curtains! When I heard about this, I had to run down and see it for myself. I spotted Kilmer through a separation in the curtains; he had on sunglasses and spiky hair. I don't know who cooked up this innovation, but COME ON, Val. Either do the con or don't. The whole idea of fan conventions is that you get down-and-dirty with the Great Unwashed. Even Jack Nicholson did a Q&A the one time HE did a con (for Fangoria in 1994 to promote his horror stinker "Wolf"). Fango editor Tony Timpone told me Jack had a ball. Did Val?
LAST POST UNTIL 11/20
Vacation time for Yours Truly, so I won't be posting a new Web column until a week from Monday, which is Nov. 20.
When I return to the office, we'll hold the traditional tree lighting in my department. We all gather around a pathetic, 18-inch-high "Charlie Brown tree" I inherited from an aunt-in-law. We all hold candy canes. I play a split-second from Nat King Cole's "O Holy Night." The tree lights get plugged in. The whole ceremony lasts about 30 seconds. We do it every year. It kicks off the season.
Back in December 1985, when Kathy and I returned from our honeymoon in Venezuela, we visited my parents on Christmas Eve. They told me that my Uncle Harold (my dad's big brother) was in the hospital that night. Something told me I should go see him. He'd never met Kathy, so we turned it into a combination HOSPITAL/CHRISTMAS EVE/MEET THE BRIDE visit. I remember as we left Harold's hospital room, there were Christmas carolers at his door. It was a sweet moment. I never saw Harold again. He died not long after that visit.
Years later, when Kathy's Aunt Jenny was in the hospital on Christmas after a serious procedure -- I think she had a double-hip replacement -- the superstitious Irishman in me made me insist we visit her. If memory serves, Aunt Jenny had that 18-inch-high Christmas tree in her hospital room. And guess what -- it was the last time Kathy and I saw Aunt Jenny.
So now I TOTALLY believe that if someone you care about is in the hospital on Christmas, GO VISIT THEM.
Anyway, somehow or other, I inherited what we came to call The Aunt Jenny Tree. It's here at the office year 'round. It picks up an ornament every couple of years or so. Kathy took a picture of it with her then-new digital camera around the time of her final Christmas on Earth, in 2004.
GIG MEMORIES #3
As Mad Jack finished up our last song, the superhot blond chick returned to likewise bless my brother with her welcome attentions. Sister-in-law wasn't there to witness the fun. "You saw it -- I didn't do anything to make that happen," my brother said to me. My reply: "What COULD you do to make that happen -- kidnapping and torture?"
Maestro had a piece of classical music on CD that he gave our sound guy to play for The Burners' opening. Brinie, Bad Bobby and Johnny were instructed to hit a "G major crescendo" at the appointed moment. Maestro had to explain to my brother what a crescendo was. The gimmick worked well.
The moment The Burners began playing, I knew I was in trouble. The singer's performance-killing nemesis -- lack of vocal monitor -- was back with a vengeance. It turns out that The Burners' stage volume was, to put it mildly, a lot louder than Mad Jack's. In fact, my brother thought his bass amp was turned off at first. He had to crank it up just to hear himself. As I told him later, "The only (expletive) on that stage who can't turn up is the singer." Since we were playing it as a two-hour-plus set -- no break -- there wasn't time to discuss or correct. So it was a brutal couple of hours for Yours Truly. I couldn't croon. I could only make an educated guess as to what I was putting out there. I listened to it later on video. Though I didn't go sharp or flat too often, I can tell I'm straining instead of crooning. Heartbreaking. Don't get me wrong; we put on a great show. It's just that I got little return on my three months of rehearsal.
We broke down the stage after the show. Brinie, Maestro, Mrs. Maestro, Karch, Nephew and myself went to a diner on the White Horse Pike for omelettes. We were right across the street from the good old Galaxy nightclub, the very same place that launched the careers of Cinderella and Britney Fox. I played there four times; Brinie and Karch played there dozens of times; Maestro no doubt played there -- all in the '80s, when you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a honey in a black leather miniskirt, high heels and teased-up hair.
GIG MEMORIES #2
Mad Jack, our 30-year-old guitar quartet, opened with Foghat's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" as planned. We did a lot of soul-searching before making that bold, potentially disastrous decision. The song is long with a lot of parts. It's definitely a song that a band needs to "warm up" to -- not to mention, an audience. But we've been doing it since 1978, so we figured we've already had plenty of time to warm up to it. Anyway, it went off without a hitch. We sounded good, we played it with confidence and we got audience response at various points in the song. For me, opening with that song was the most magical part of the evening.
Fro (drums) wore his "Survivor" doo-rag. Voger (bass) said the only thing more -- I'll substitute the word "effeminate" here -- than a "Survivor" doo-rag would be a "Titanic" doo-rag, "Titanic" being Fro's favorite movie. Karch (guitar) sent away for a Splawn shirt, Splawn being the brand of his amp. If you ask me, "splawn" sounds like the past tense of some biological act. I wore my usual black ensemble (including eye-liner and fingernail polish). Voger, the Harley freak, wore a Harley-Davidson shirt.
I figured it would take two or three gigs for my wireless unit to pay for itself. Then -- during a soujorn that was only made possible thanks to my wireless -- a SUPERHOT BLOND CHICK, bless her superhot heart, treated me like a go-go bar patron on the floor in front of the stage. (This was during Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," of all songs.) The scene culminated in me playing my B.C. Rich Mockingbird between her superhot legs. Thank God, my sister-in-law captured the entire episode in photos. (The between-the-legs photo is now my screen saver at the office.) On the way home, I said to my brother, "Well, my wireless has already paid for itself." He said, "Yeah, no (expletive)."
I had a few technical problems. My guitar went seriously out of tune twice. So while playing, I had to figure out which string was bad, and THEN figure out how to play the song without using that string. Every club-seasoned guitarist has been through this many times, but since it happened on two of my showcase songs, which were close together in the set, it rattled me. Thankfully, I listened to my brother and practiced my digital tuning at every rehearsal. I got through it.
GIG MEMORIES #1
On a cold Thursday night, Brinie, Nephew (in from his dorm room at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan), Maestro and myself set up the stage lights and keyboards. Maestro produced a black-and-white photo of himself from 1973 or '74 playing the exact same stage. The ceiling tiles were identical. A waitress told us Billy Joel played there around the same time.
The next afternoon, we lugged in the remaining equipment and waited for the sound company, so we could have a sound check. I tested my new wireless unit at every corner of the ballroom. It worked great! The only problem was the weird delay you get when you're far away from the amp. Brinie, Karch and I ran through the Foghat song with Johnny filling in on drums. Smooth as silk. We even got to perfect our stage volume. We worked it out so that the guitars were at equal volumes just loud enough to be on top of the bass and drums. The sound guy, we figured, could take it from there.
When the sound guy got there, he said, "Don't take this the wrong way," and went on to explain that he's done this a million times, and we don't really need to wait around for him to set up, which will take more than an hour, just so we can get a sound check. Minutes before showtime, he could just sample us individually, and then mix us on the spot. It sounded sensible to me. What did I know? But I would regret it before the night was over.
Fro showed up and tested out Johnny's kit. Then me, Fro, Nephew and Brinie went to the very same diner my dad used to take our family to on Sunday mornings after Mass. We were all pretty psyched, telling each other how much (posterior) we were gonna kick. Being Irish and superstitious, I felt a twinge of Counting Our Chickens, but I was too far gone to reel myself in.
Brinie, Nephew and I pulled into the parking lot about a half-hour before show time. The lot was mobbed, which made us extremely happy. I pushed my way to the stage at the back of the ballroom, trying to straddle the fine line between not conversing with a soul AND not appearing to be rude. It's stupidity itself for a singer to have a pre-show conversation in a crowded bar; shouting just a few sentences over the din compromises much needed vocal longevity. But you can't wear a sign that says, "CAN'T TALK NOW," either. My sister felt I snubbed her at the July 15 gig.
Once at the stage, I set up my good old B.C. Rich Mockingbird, tuning up the new-fashioned way using a digital monitor indicating flat, sharp or in tune. The technique is new to this recklessly old-school cat, but I practiced it during rehearsals -- something that came in REAL handy later in the show.
I'm almost done listening to "Endless Wire" and I totally dig it. It definitely sounds like A WHO ALBUM.
It's amazing to hear Daltrey sing new Townshend songs -- there's nothing like that combination. It's even more amazing that it took these guys 24 years to get it done. The songs, performances and production are clear and direct and beautiful.
The sole clunker (so far) comes when someone -- I think it's Pete, but I'm not sure yet -- sings ones of the songs in a very annoying growl, a la Tom Waits. The song is gorgeous, but the growling actually makes your ears hurt.
On this first listen, I haven't yet missed Entwistle, but something tells me it won't be long before I detect those places he would have punched up. Sometimes, Ringo's boy sounds EXACTLY like Moonie.
It's a curious thing how distinctive a band's chemistry can be.
If you listen to "Walking Through Clarksdale" by Plant and Page, and then you listen to "Zooma" by John Paul Jones, you can hear how one album needs what the other has, and vice versa. "Walking Through Clarksdale" is a wonderful, spare album of folky blues, but the production is sometimes a bit thin. "Zooma" is lush and ethereal, but it cries out for vocals and lyrics and melodies. If, in some unseen dimension, these two albums were to be melded, with Bonzo's drums as the cherry on top, I don't have to tell you what we'd end up with.