Kenny Klein with Stapler

Kenny Klein with Stapler

Monday, December 12, 2011

New Orleans cemeteries: what your tour guide didn't tell you

Along with such institutions as Jazz, muffulettas, nutria, drunken vomiting and football fanaticism, New Orleans is known for its cemeteries. Ornate and Gothic, these resting places are unique among American cemeteries in their attraction of tourists and locals. I cannot think of any other American city where a cemetery is typically on a tour guide's agenda.

Our cemeteries are architectural and artistic marvels. NOLA corpses are usually entombed above ground rather than below, so they don't rise up and float away in floods. The work of the city's finest builders and sculptors make up our boneyards. Sadly, even above ground interment in splendid tombs doesn't always help the dead stay put, and in some of our cemeteries the deceased are nearly as present as the living, physically as well as spiritually.

The cemeteries most visitors to the city take the time to see are the very famous Saint Louis Cemeteries #1 and #2 (photo right). These are close to the French Quarter, and are some of the city's oldest. There are well known graves there: Marie Laveau, Jean LaFitte and other infamous and notable past New Orleaneans are interred in these locations. Their graves are a favorite destination of tour guides, mule carriage drivers and Goth chicks.

But most visitors never see the less than perfect cemeteries, or for that matter, the lovely ones that are a bit farther off the beaten track. I happened to acquire a new (to me) digital camera a few weeks ago, and decided to take it for a spin around some of the most obscure New Orleans cemeteries. I thought I'd share my little photographic tour with you, starting with the cemetery closest to my house, the Carrollton Cemetery.

Located in the neighborhood of Carrollton, at Green and Adams Streets, this graveyard was established in 1849. Unlike many of our other graveyards, it is a segregated cemetery: ornate, statuesque tombs comprise a Whites only section, while the Blacks or “Colored” section is made up of in-ground graves. Some of these in-ground graves are marked with wooden, hand painted markers, and because of flooding (especially after Katrina), many of the bodies are coming unearthed. Bones can be found lying on the ground throughout the cemetery. While that sounds pretty creepy, many things in this city are pretty creepy (that's why I love it here), and I find the cemetery has a very serene, ghoulish charm.

While some of the graves here are well kept, others are not. In this photo you can see that trees are growing out of some of the graves.

At right is a tomb whose front panel is fully open. I glanced inside and could not see remains... but it's still pretty eerie!

Even in the Whites section, you can see that graves are in disrepair; the earth is uneven, and gives the effect that the corpse has tried to crawl out. Still, like many NOLA cemeteries, this one is beautiful and the statuary is amazing.

Across Mid-City, at Esplanade and Bayou Saint John, is Saint Louis #3, another very beautiful cemetery with somber, splendid statuary. The cemetery was built on the site of an old leper colony, when graves were desperately needed after the yellow fever epidemic of 1853. This cemetery now houses some of New Orleans' most affluent dead. The New Orleans Dante Masonic Lodge has a tomb there, as does the Hellenic Orthodox community. The tombs are beautifully kept, and ordered in very neat, formal rows, different than many of our chaotically laid-out boneyards downtown.

The city's Catholic nuns are interred here as well, in a wall-style tomb.

Wall style tombs are something I'd never really seen before coming to NOLA. They are just what they sound like: the walls around the cemetery not only keep the dead inside, but in a case of form meeting function, are built wide enough to house the dead as well. Corpses are essentially stacked inside like cordwood, five or six high. A little flower receptacle is often affixed at each marker.

On to Holt Cemetery, or, now for something really depressing...

A mile or so down from Saint Louis #3 is Holt Cemetery. Set in a lot behind City Park and Delgado University, Holt is a potter's field, the final resting place of the poor and indigent. There are no tombs, and all graves are in-ground.

Photographing there was more depressing than I'd imagined it would be. No one has cared for this place in a long time. Most of the dead lie unremembered. Many were veterans of the two World Wars. Most were Black.

Many of the markers are hand written, and as you may imagine, many are broken or in serious disrepair. Some graves hold eight or ten bodies. Others seem to have been dug up and re-used several times. At right is a grave marker that names at least ten people. The grave is small even for one.

Here a tree seems to have grown through a grave marker. It may simply have grown in the grave, and have been cleverly decorated.

Here is something I'd never seen before: a crematorium furnace standing right amongst the graves at Holt. Apparently those too destitute to afford a monument of any kind would simply be cremated on-site. The door of the furnace stood slightly ajar. Parts of the machine perhaps used in cremations lay on the ground around the appliance.

Back to the pretty stuff....

Masonic Cemeteries #1 and #2 stand, ironically, just a few yards away from Holt. These are just as you would expect cemeteries built by Masons to be; all the tombs lined up perfectly and built square and even. There were a few notable statues and markers, though most were like any other nicely kept cemetery in the city, except for their Masonic symbols.

An engraved scroll of Masonic luminaries greets visitors to the Masonic cemetery.

Cemetery thoughts: NOLA is a city of paradoxes. Rich and poor, Black and White, subculture and status quo coexist here with apparent ease. The cemeteries are right in keeping with that blend of things that do not at first glance seem blend-able. Terrifying and beautiful, overwhelming and serene, fixed in time and yet right at the center of traffic and chaos, our cemeteries are one of the many elements that define the deep complexities of New Orleans life. And death.

I'll leave you with some of the amazing statues found in the city's other cemeteries.

From the New Orleans cemeteries, this is Kenny Klein, explaining it all.

All photos by Kenny Klein

Thursday, November 24, 2011

NY/HC---my involvement with NYC Hardcore Punk

NYC in the early '80s was not the beautiful city it is today. It was a slime pit. It was cruel, filthy, squalid and rank with the odor of desperation. In the East Village, where I grew up (or actually avoided growing up) the sidewalks were thoroughly dotted with faded globs that might have been chewed gum or dried spit, or maybe something else that I never really cared to identify. There was trash everywhere, and a walk down the street at any time of the day or night involved junkies begging for change and homeless people sleeping on sidewalks. Once I was walking down Eighth Street and I watched a young woman walk into a doorway, pull her pants down, squat slightly forward, and let lose a stream of piss in the direction of the door (her pubic hair was facing me). Another time I watched a disheveled man relieve his bowels between two parked cars as I sat at an outdoor cafe. Once, walking home in the early morning hours, I saw a dog lying dead on the curb. It's ear had been shot off.

To anyone who did not grow up in this type of squalor it sounds horrible, oppressive and disgusting. But I just considered it my home, my world. I'd lived there most of my young life, and didn't really know anything else. Oh, I'd been to the pristine New Jersey suburbs, enough to know I could never live there. New York City, and specifically the East Village, was my bailiwick. At the time, I could not imagine myself living anywhere else.

I'd lived on Saint Marks place throughout my teens in the early '70s. The music scene there was what we would now call Glam Rock or Glitter Rock. It was the time of Iggy Stooge (who later became Iggy Pop), the Velvet Underground, and David Bowie. Men in the scene were androgynous, women were caught up in heroin chic (in their look at least, if not in their use of the substance). Disco raged across the rest of the world. Blocks away in Greenwich Village Hippie Country and Folk were still king; but the East Village was all about The New York Dolls and Lou Reed. It was the earliest incarnation of what by '76 would be called Punk Rock.

Time marches on. I went off to university ninety miles upstate (it was so clean there!), and returned in the winter of '79. I'd missed the early Punk scene in the East Village, the Ramones and the CBGBs bands (Talking Heads, Blondie, Television). I'd been part of that scene at school, but missed the type of immersion in it that residents of the East Village had known. But now it was 1979, turning to 1980, and I was back.

The winter of '79-80 was freezing. Record cold was reported in NYC. I was homeless for a good part of that winter, couch surfing between my brother, a couple of fellow musicians, a neurotic prostitute, an ex girlfriend, and the sister of a girlfriend, and living for a short time in a transient hotel, until I finally got an apartment on 12th and A (through a Punk girl I was sleeping with who was cheating on her BF, and who had learned from her BF that there was an apartment opening up in his building, so I ended up living down the hall from, you guessed it, her was simply like that in the East Village). It was a two room tenement that was divided by a wall with a window in it into the “kitchen” (which also contained the bathroom, shower, and a spare bed) and the “not kitchen” or bedroom. I lived there alone at times, and at other times with a gorgeous Punk girl named Carol (my friend and confidant, but never my lover). Rents were not what they are today: I moved in to the place at $135/month. In the four years or so that I lived there it went up to $156 (which I could barely afford). I imagine if that tenement apartment is even still there, it must go for $1200 or more now.

CBGBs was no longer the place by 1980. The club, still a sleezepit on Bowery, was attracting a lot of Bridge-and-Tunnel types after its heyday in '76. The bands now were mostly local New Wave and Reggae groups. Not cutting edge, more like reliving the cutting edge of four years earlier. Some of the scene had moved to Max's Kansas City, a club in Gramercy where Andy Warhol had hung out for most of the '70s. The Ritz on 9th street, a very large ballroom style hall, had commercial bands on the weekends, but had cool bands on a Monday or Tuesday: I saw Madness, Siouxie and the Banshees, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, The Rockats, The Slits, and Bow Wow Wow there, to name a few (and that's Bow Wow Wow, not Li'l Bow Wow, you moron).

But by '81, the real Underground Hardcore Punk scene was centered around tiny after hours clubs. The one I frequented the most was on Seventh and A, called (in what must have been a particularly unimaginative naming session) A7. The place opened after midnight, and showed six or seven bands a night, closing at five or six in the morning. The bands that played there are legendary now, but at the time they were just kids playing music: The Beastie Boys, The Stimulators, The Cro-Mags, The Undead, Reagan Youth, The Young And The Useless, The Misfits, The Bad Brains, The Moppy Skuds (whose members later became Luscious Jackson: photo left), Even Worse, and Agnostic Front. The Plasmatics hung out there, as did Billy Idol (yes, I hung out with them, and no, it was no big deal to do so back then). The place was tiny, smelly, crowded and disgusting. There was a small bar as you entered from Seventh Street, and past that a few booths with the pleather torn and the stuffing coming through. Then there was the stage area, which maybe held an audience of twenty comfortably: fifty would cram themselves in there and do the dance we called HB-ing and you call Moshing.

Like most bars in the East Village in the '80s, age or proper ID were seldom factors in being served. A7 served alcohol to girls I knew to be as young as 13. So did other bars; a Ukrainian old man bar on Saint Marks Place was a common hangout, as was the Pyramid Club on Avenue A. People drank a lot in the scene, but there was seldom any violence or drama. Most people just drank, HB-ed, and listened to (or played) music. I only saw one fight at A7, ever, between Billy Idol and a sort of creepy guy who pretended to have an English accent and claimed to have played with the Beatles (he was from Long Island and was just about reaching puberty while the Beatles were breaking up). Creepy boy spit beer in Billy's face, so I did not blame the rock star for decking the guy. Although I'm sure you can guess who had to take creepy boy home and make sure he didn't have a concussion... yes, that's right, me. Creepy boy was actually a fairly decent drummer by the way, when he wasn't spitting beer in the faces of rock stars. Anyway, after the Hardcore shows we would all go to one of three Ukrainian restaurants for dawn breakfast: Leshkos or Odessa, both on Avenue A, or The Kiev on Second Ave. The waitresses were all cute underage Ukrainian nymphets who hardly spoke English, and the food was cheap. Sunday at dawn Leshko's was a who's who of Hardcore Punk.

In those days I had a sort of double identity (like a secret agent). I would dress in a crisp cowboy shirt and a neatly folded neck bandana at seven or so, and go off to New Jersey to play Country music with bands like the New York Frets. Then I would return to Manhattan at one or two in the morning, change into a torn cowboy shirt and a grubby neck bandana, and head over to A7 to hear The Beastie Boys and Agnostic Front.

On the home front, I was in a band at the time called Mara, who played at A7 with some regularity. Mara did tribal dark Gothic music long before there was a market for it. We had a manic drummer and a guitarist who actually played in tune once. I played bass, and we had a hot singer who I should have appreciated more but who came off a little too suburban for me at the time (I never make any secret about the fact that I was an idiot as a young man). Later the band got a new singer, a blindingly beautiful Punk girl named Diana, who sang about castrating deserving men (she was adorable), and we changed our name to Black Widow (no relation to my Goth Girl song, written a decade or so later). The photo here is of myself and drummer Patrick in Mara, playing at A7 in '82. (Patrick was an awesome drummer, and a great guy).

Around that time ('81-ish) a guy named Dave Parsons and his girlfriend Cathy came to NYC from Boca Raton, Florida. They opened a record shop and distribution outlet at 171 venue A beneath a local recording studio, called Rat Cage Records, and published a fanzine which they named for their former Florida home, Mouth Of The Rat. (The issue of MOTR pictured here shows Janet Whitehouse on the cover, as I recently learned from some excellent follow up e-mail). Rat Cage Records released some of the first and most influential Hardcore Punk records, including the first Beastie Boys EP Pollywog Stew (which was later released on Capitol Records as Some Old Bullshit). Most of the recordings were done just upstairs at 171 Studios. Rat Cage and 171 became the daytime hangout for many the Hardcore kids. You could walk into Rat Cage pretty much any afternoon and find members of the Beastie Boys, Luscious Jackson, The Bad Brains and The Cro Mags hanging out. The Bad Brains often lived upstairs in the recording studio when they were not living on my kitchen floor (my model-beautiful room mate was, um, 'dating' the bassist, and 'dating' is simply a euphemism for 'giving blow jobs to:' I would often come home to find him in her bed with the rest of the band passed out on my floor. All of this happened in the 'other room' of my two-room tenement apartment, which was the kitchen/studio/bathroom).

Rat Cage founder Dave Parsons was a brilliant character, who became well known in the East Village scene not only for MOTR and Rat Cage Records, but also for wearing his GF's dresses while recklessly skateboarding along Avenue A, narrowly avoiding drag queen death under the wheels of speeding cars. (I hear he later became a woman, Donna, and moved to New Orleans).

Speaking of Mouth Of The Rat, Fanzines sprang up all over the Hardcore scene, exhibiting a squalid character only possible in the days before desktop publishing. There were a dozen floating around the East Village: Noise News (left), Cheap Garbage, Big City; the 'zine at the top of this post, Decline of Art, was put out by the local NYHC girls, including Jill Cunniff, Kate Schellenbach, Rebecca Scanlon and Sarah Cox, among others.

For me, this idyllic existence lasted about four years. As I said above, time marches on. Rat Cage Records and 171 Studio were closed down by the health department for lacking fire exits (no real surprise to anyone). The owner of A7 absconded with any and all funds and left the place closed down. The East Village was gentrified, after a police scandal involving “clearing out” Tompkins Square Park by bashing the heads of Punks, homeless people and a few waitresses and reporters (the captain who ordered the action retired on full pension before charges could be brought up, leaving his lieutenant to take all of the heat). My roommate who 'dated' Bad Brains' bassist Darryl married a normal guy, moved to Brooklyn and had a bunch of kids. Her best friend, also a frequent guest at Chez Klein, moved to England and became a well known photographer. I speak to her frequently. I myself went on the road playing original music in '86, and never returned to live in NYC for any length of time.

I sometimes say I'm the only one of my friends from that scene that is now not either dead or famous. I'm sometimes amazed at the number of 'kids' from among our friends that went on to achieve fame. The Beastie Boys broke up, reformed, broke up, reformed, and became the rap group everyone now knows and worships. Two of the underage drinking girls from the Moppy Skuds, and the original founder and drummer of the Beastie Boys, formed Luscious Jackson and became amazingly famous (and still beautiful and stylish, as they had always been). Another Moppy Skud is Arrabella Field, the actress. Yet another of that band was the first solo female to circumnavigate the world. The Cro Mags and the Bad Brains are still touring.

A few did not make it. My close friend at the time, Bobby, was sentenced to life in prison after a drug deal gone bad that involved a murder (which I'm pretty certain was self defense). Another friend, a girl I was kinda sweet on, went to England and got stabbed during a drug deal. She died over there. Heroin killed a lot of Hardcore Punks, as did the lifestyle we led. Johnny Thunders, Stiv Baters, Dave (Donna) Parsons...the list of those that did not survive NYC Hardore is a long and impressive one.

From NOLA, and once upon a time from NY/HC, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Travelers and the Day of the Dead Parade in NOLA

The night was warm, with a slight breeze coming from the river. Lauren and I arrived a little early at Press and Dauphine, an industrial block of warehouses along the train tracks. A crowd was already gathered there, many with painted faces in the black and white style of the Mexican-inspired holiday. A group of Travelers I vaguely knew were playing banjos and ukuleles, so I got out my fiddle and joined in. They were not the excellent musicians I usually play with: it was more of a chordal screaming match. But we had fun playing just for each other, and it felt good to play music among my friends again.

A lot of friends were there. Musicians I'd played with all last Fall and Winter. There was joy at seeing them again. "How was your Summer? When did you get back? Where are you staying?"
As I stood and sawed the fiddle, the crowd swelled to perhaps three hundred. Many of us had not seen each other since last Spring, and there were warm greetings a hugs on every side of me. I saw many musicians and friends who had just returned, some arriving yesterday or the day before. Some drove in, some hitch-hiked, some came by hopping freight trains. We were all together again tonight. Travelers from all over the U.S. had finally returned to NOLA for the winter season, and this was the first huge Traveler event of our year: the Day of the Dead Parade.

At the head of this swarm of people, the brass band began a dirge, and the huge mass of black-clad bodies collected itself in some fashion and began a slow saunter down Dauphine.

The Day of the Dead Parade through the Bywater is not a parade like you migh see in a small town, or standing outside Macy's in New York, with floats, ordered ranks of drum majorettes, baton twirlers, and a smiling cowboy on a horse: this is a quarter mile of moving chaos. Travelers simply walk in a disordered mass, wearing Day of the Dead make-up, black dresses, suits or tuxes, pushing their bikes, wheeling carts with their dogs inside or their costumed children beaming their elation at the spectacle, holding up poles with decorated heads on them, carrying banjos, ukuleles, accordions and fiddles strapped to their backs, while the brass band plays dirges and leads us through the bleakest streets in NOLA. People stare out their windows, photograph us, and smile as we walk past, a beautiful mob of pierced, mohawked, dreadlocked and shaven-headed revelers.

We felt a little tension, a hint of dread and wariness: last year when we did our end-of-the-season parade, Eris, police raided the group and arrests were made. Some are still fighting charges. Two weeks ago I listened to a concert by local bands to benefit some who are still in jail, or who need money for legal counsel. Lauren and I marched with eyes and ears open, wary of flashing red-and-blue lights. I'm happy to report none were seen.

We walked ten blocks, from the Bywater to the Upper 9th Ward. These areas are seasonal home to many of the Travelers, and this was both a spiritual event, and a celebration of being here, back in the city we love, after being away for the summer, playing our shows across the U.S.A. It was a time to reconnect and, for many, imbibe. ( As I say during shows: "Remember, for every ten dollars you put in the band's tip jar, two dollars will be lovingly donated to the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewing Company! Keep American jobs!!")

The mob ended up in the Upper 9th at some tavern. I didn't stay to drink; marching with my reunited friends was enough, and unlike most of us, Lauren has a job to wake for in the morning. But just marching, in a New Orleans parade, with the musicians I love making music and sharing my life with, was an amazing start to the season. Happy Day of the Dead!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Busking Now, or Please Clap In The Same Rhythm As Us!

Well, it's official. Last night I busked here in New Orleans for the first time this season.

As you might know from a recent Blog, after I left New York back in the '80s I really didn't busk for many years. Mind you, I performed at renaissance faires, which is just a small step above busking---sort of like busking with a pay guarantee. (And really I prefer the costume I wear here, “anachronistic itinerant street musician,” but hey, I wear what I get paid to wear, right?). But for many years I gave up playing on public streets for tips.

There was one exception, and that was when I first began coming to New Orleans in 2001 or so.

It was early winter. I was coming from what was supposed to be an eight-month-long cruise gig, but that gig was cut short due to a bad agent and the spent budget of a laughable start-up cruise ship line (be grateful you were not on their one ship, a Greek ferry sent to the U.S. to “cruise” the Caribbean; it was a nightmare! And maybe the subject of a future Blog...). I was returning across the I-10 to Los Angeles, and decided to stop over in New Orleans. I needed money, as I'd been paid for only one month instead of the eight months I was expecting. I had heard the busking was good in NOLA. So, poor and desperate, I thought I'd see what the busking here was like for myself.

First I just stood out in the street alone and played the fiddle. I made like fourteen bucks. Rather disappointing. But then I noticed an Old Timey band setting up in front of the A&P on Royal (Now the Rouse's, still a French Quarter landmark). They had a washboard player, a guitarist, bass, mandolin, banjo...but no fiddle. I wandered over and asked if I could join them, and (as I learned will often happen here in NOLA), they happily consented. We played for two or three hours, had an amazing good time, and I made like fifty bucks. Nice, huh? I thought so.

I played with those guys every day for the following week, then left NOLA for Los Angeles, where I was living at the time.

Several years passed. I stayed in L.A., and each time I thought about returning to NOLA in the year or two after Katrina, I heard rumors that it was dangerous, there was violent crime, homelessness, etc etc... Not a very heartwarming story. I decided to wait, feeling that I would surely return here someday, hopefully as a permanent resident.

Finally a year and a half ago I came back, ostensibly to visit a girlfriend, and I remembered how much I love it here (pretty much the minute I arrived, the GF in question broke up with me; I see her as the catalyst that brought me back). I love the architecture, I love the weather, I love the mules, I love the nutria. I also love the fact that NOLA is the only place in the U.S. where I will busk!

And busk I did!

One year ago: It's Saturday night on Frenchmen street, and I'm out with Hank and Corey. I met these two in a bar just about my first week back, and we became immediate friends and band mates. They are part of a culture which I have also been part of nearly all my life, a culture of traveling buskers and performers (see my article on this culture, originally published in the Green Egg, here). Like a lot of traveling buskers, Corey and Hank play a style of music I love to play; Jugband music. Some of the songs are Jazz tunes from the twenties, thirties and forties, some are appropriated from Bluegrass and Western Swing. All are swinging, jazzy tunes with room for fiddle and guitar solos. I knew most of Corey's repertoire already before we met, and I learned the rest by playing the songs as we performed. There are no rehearsals for this style of playing; musicians know the style and either play well together or don't. Corey, Hank and I play well together.

That first night we also had Taylor playing with us on stand-up bass. The boy is a bass genius, and I played with him in several different bands throughout the season. Corey played ukulele (later she took up bass as well, and played in several other bands with me on that instrument). We did a lot of Jazz tunes that first night, as well as Country standards like Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms and Folsom Prison Blues. Corey has a gorgeous voice, and we sing well together, and Hank plays a good rhythm guitar and, like a lot of buskers here, drinks like a fish. (I joke that for every ten dollars the band makes, two dollars will be donated to the Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewing Company).

There is a door-frame on Frenchmen that makes a perfect busking stage: it's three steps above the street, and it's walled in, so it looks like a performance stage and accommodates four or five musicians. There plenty of sidewalk space for people to gather and listen, and it's well lit. Perfect for busking! That is where we set up shop for most of the season, playing hour long sets two to three times a night, sometimes alternating sets in the spot with another band.

Playing on Frenchman is, as Dickens put it, the best of times and the worst of times. For the most part, you have an amazing audience of people who are in town to hear good music, who want to celebrate and dance, and who have discovered you randomly simply be walking down the street. They become very attached to you for a few songs, tip generously (tens and twenties in the case are not uncommon, and we have received fifties and hundreds). They want to dance, sing along, and tell you their life story.

This is the good part (well, except sometimes for the life story).

The bad part: some are really really drunk. Drunk people tend to be obnoxious, and we get a lot of obnoxious drunks in our audience. That's never all that good. They scream. They gurgle. They fall, sometimes on you as you try to play. They want attention. They want love. They want to play your instruments. They want to touch you. They want money from your tip case. They want to clap along loudly and completely out of rhythm. Some want your first born. Some inspire you to never ever have a first born.

These are all very bad things. Some of them would actually be really funny if they were happening to other people.

Another bad thing disguised as a good thing: we get a lot of Travelers (our friends and co-buskers) who love us, and who sit right in front of us, drinking, listening and talking to each other (sometimes regrettably loudly). Great, you say, what more could you want? You could want the tourists with actual money to have a path to get to your tip jar! (Well, in this instance, your tip fiddle case). One of the small frustrations of busking on Frenchmen Street; the love and adoration (Still, I love my friends, and I'm perfectly OK with us all starving together).

Time marches on: by a couple of months before Mardi Gras, Corey and I had found some other musicians who play on Royal Street during the day. These guys are also awesome musicians, probably the best I've played with in NOLA. (NOLA, by the way, stands for New Orleans LouisianA, and is what white people call our city; black folks say Nawlins). Playing day shifts on Royal was even more lucrative than nights on Frenchmen, and I also got to meet and hear a dozen excellent bands out there playing as well. On a typical day we meet on Royal at ten AM or so (this is almost like a day job). The street is blocked off from auto traffic from 11-4, and we play throughout that time. Sometimes we take turns with another band, each band doing one hour sets. That way the spot is never “dark” on our breaks.

We jealously guard our spots! As Mardi Gras nears the competition for spots gets fiercer and fiercer, and we actually stay all night and hold our spot for the two weeks before Carnival. We had a large band alternating in the spot with us last season, many of whom were young and liked to stay out late. So each member of the two bands took a turn sitting at the spot for a couple of hours. I took the 10 to Midnight shift. I had just begun dating my awesome GF Lauren, and we would sit on Royal Street together, picnic, and play games of Scrabble with the board set up on milk crates. I think we got more attention, both positive and negative, for the Scrabble games than I'd get playing.

The competition for spots on Royal Street is higher than spots on other streets, as some of those spots are not quite as lucrative. There's a sort of hierarchy on the daytime streets: the best bands play Royal; bands that do not consider themselves to measure up to the best will gravitate toward Decatur Street. It's a self-policing system, and there is a good deal of jockeying between band members of each caste. (I have played on Decatur many times...don't tell anyone!).

By a few weeks after Mardi Gras, most of the traveling musicians have left town (I usually leave for my tour in June, though I'm already booked for some away gigs in May of 2012). It gets lonely here after the season, and I am very dependent on my friends being here to play with (remember that whole $14 solo vs. $50 with a band?). At the moment, few of my regular players are back yet (though more and more are now returning). But last night (Halloween) I found an awesome Old Timey band playing Frenchmen, and they were happy to have me play. It was so great to be back busking on Frenchmen, and that's something I spent years never thinking I'd hear myself say (or write...). I am SO ready for this season!

From NOLA, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all, and playing on Frenchmen Street.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Some thoughts I have on the Occupy movement and on strategy for social dissent

A friend and I were talking today about the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, and specifically about the role of Internet social media in those protests. For anyone reading this who has not followed the movement, or does not know its roots, here is a short excerpt from an Internet news site:

“The movement began in July after anti-consumerist group Adbusters called for an occupation of Wall Street on Sept. 17. It quickly gained support from groups like Anonymous. Around 1,000 showed up for the first protest. Over the next two weeks, the protests gained steam and drew the attention of the mainstream media.

“The protests reached their crescendo on Oct. 1, when thousands of protesters started blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 700 were arrested as police officers and protesters clashed during the unauthorized march.”

The movement really began as a response to The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, which were also instigated and fueled by Internet social media.

What I find very interesting about the Occupy Wall Street movement is the total lack of coverage by the mainstream news media. While I do not watch TV news much, when I have in the last few weeks I have seen next to nothing on the protests. (I do get AOL news, but they consider Dancing With The Stars to be headline-worthy). It doesn't surprise me. The mainstream media has become something the Founding Fathers took vast precautions to avoid it ever being: a mouthpiece of the right wing. I know that's not news to anyone, but I am old enough to have lived in a time when journalism took great pride in its role as an independent observer, reporting what it saw without prejudice, disseminating thefacts and going where those facts led. I vividly remember Woodward and Bernstein breaking the Watergate scandal, and I also remember the photos of U.S. soldiers murdering Vietnamese civilians. These reports made Americans angry, and they changed the course of U.S. history.

During W's presidency that all changed. In the aftermath of W's election (or appointment, really) to office much U.S. journalism came under question. I recently heard a report in the alternative media about how W weeded out journalists in the White House Press Corps who would ask questions he did not care to answer simply by not calling on them during press conferences. In time, their employers saw them as a financial burden, because you don't want to pay someone who never gets to report, and their employers cut them loose. Problem solved! This tactic of controlled news began with the farcical 2000 election: I recall one of the major networks being quoted as saying (I may be paraphrasing here) that “Fox news reported that Bush had won, so we reported it too.” That Fox news is a tool of the right wing is no surprise to anyone reading this (Democratic National committee chair Howard Dean went on record calling Fox news "a right-wing propaganda machine" ). What I find shocking is the ubiquity of Fox news. The fact that other news sources use Fox as a guidepost is horrifying. More so, when I travel on tour, it seems every public venue I enter, such as MacDonalds, Subway, and even some Starbucks, have huge TVs mounted on their walls showing Fox News 'round the clock. This to me has much more frightening Orwellian overtones than the Right Wing simply having a media mouthpiece. They can say what they like, but the fact that mainstream service industry businesses are making the Fox message mandatory viewing is terrifying. The W administration attempted to equate right-wing thought with American thought, and the use of Fox news as a universal experience is a strategy of that attempt (and looks a LOT like Fahrenheit 451).

And of course, this Brave New World does not allow reporting of dissent, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, by mainstream media.

But despite it's conspicuous non-existence in mainstream media reporting, we all know about Occupy Wall Street, because of the Internet.

Here's the rub of what I am getting at. Going back to how very ancient I am, I was dimly aware of the '60s anti-war movement in America for my entire childhood. In High School I remember being FINALLY old enough to march in Moratorium rallies. In the long run, the '60s anti-war movement strategy was extremely successful. The Vietnam war ended, and American society was forever changed by the values of that movement.

But there has been a continued Peace movement in the U. S. and elsewhere since those early days of the '70s which has not been an effective movement. In the last thirty years there has been dissent against U.S. aggression and U.S. government policies, but the movement(s) has caused almost no discernible difference in mainstream attitude or culture. Part of the reason for the failure of these movements is that there has, until now, been no imperative threat: the anti-Vietnam war movement was made up of people who were at risk to be drafted, along with their loved ones and families. They were fighting for their lives. There was no peril of being put unwillingly into a war in the '80s, '90s or Millenium. The current Occupy Wall Street movement is being led by people who have lost their jobs, lost their savings, or face a bleak financial future. But also consider that the voice of dissent has for decades used the blueprint of '60s anti-Vietnam war protest.

Another reason for the failure of the dissent movements of the last 30 years is that U.S. government learned its lesson in the '60s, and created strategies to thwart the anti-war strategies of the '60s. The strategies of that movement no longer work, because the government has put massive obstacles in place. These efforts have been successfully diffused by such strategies as the '60s “lone gunman” model: the mainstream media reports “don't worry folks, it's just a few nuts who are too discontented or crazy to function in our great U.S. society. Ignore them and they'll go away.” (Remember the huge spin used to blame the Oklahoma City bombing solely on Timothy MacVeigh, and the insistence that he had no accomplices? This was based on the media blueprint effectively used to calm public panic and halt any investigation of the Kennedy assassination by solely blaming Lee Harvey Oswald, hence the name 'Lone Gunman.'). One of my little pet rants for decades has been that the movement of dissent needs new strategies, strategies that will work in the current social climate.

And now, for the first time since 1972, the movement has finally adopted new strategies centered on the unifying voice of the Internet and social networking sites. While major news media continues to black out social dissent, we have finally learned a way to both incite social dissent and report on it through the Internet's social media structure (or perhaps lack thereof).

Now this is not anything new...just new to U.S. dissenters. If you buy the info coming from our government, the terrorists have been using the internet to organize for ten or fifteen years now (this is a boy-who-cried-wolf situation for me: I am so disgusted with the info the government has given us about “the terrorists” in the wake of 9/11 that even when the info makes sense I am loathe to believe it). But the strategy is giving the current movement new strength. Not just in the use of the Internet to rally people and give immediate information about time and place, or even in giving up to the minute information on the issues we as dissenters fight against: the bail-outs, the disregard of Wall Street for our financial well being, the dissolution of unions; the Internet prevents tried and proven government strategies, created in reaction to the '60s, from working. The “lone gunman” response to the Occupy movement would be “don't worry, folks, they're just a bunch of losers who can't hold a job or don't want to work. They're lazy, they live off of your taxes. Ignore them, everyone, and go on with your lives.” That would be the strategy. But the Internet allows the people involved in the dissent to tell their stories, and rather than rely on news media to decide whether those stories should be heard or not, to put them out into the world immediately, into the hands of anyone interested in who is Occupying and why they are doing so.

The U.S. government and its agencies will devise strategies to combat this generation of dissenters, you can be sure of that. But when they do, it will be because we've scared them. Like the anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, we've shown them that the people who make up their voter constituency have a voice, and do not want to go with the status quo that the people we have put into power decide to set.

I'm going to end this little rant with a quote from an e-mail sent by a 25 year old woman to her mother, who asked in a slightly condescending way why her generation is protesting (and mind you, I know that people of all ages are protesting...bear with me):

“I don't think you understand how bad it is for people my age right now, especially those of us with college degrees. These corporations could be the ones that could give us jobs, but almost none of us have jobs. Look at all my friends in C* * *. Almost all of them have more degrees than I do and all of them are willing to work hard, yet almost all of them are waitressing or working at gas stations because there isn't anything else. Look at people like K***, in your own profession, who are losing jobs as fast as they get them because of the state of the economy and the government.

“A lot of my friends who just turned 20 are totally lost right now. They have absolutely nothing to look forward to. Their education can't get them anywhere. Its not like 20 years ago when you could go and work at the factory and make a living wage and be fine. Those jobs don't exist anymore because of wall street's insistence on outsourcing. This generation is either lost or so completely in debt, they can't get out of it.

“Why is protesting a bad thing at this moment? Maybe my generation hasn't figured everything out yet, but at least they're starting to try. And I think it"s scary that the result they're getting is the police brutality and the government hauling peaceful protestors off to jail and people from your generation laughing at them. Where is your anger at the current state of things? Where is the generation that protested for womens' rights and equality, where is your generation's support of my generation who has never done this before? You would think that people your age would want to go and do this just as much as my generation. They've been there and done that, maybe they could help my generation actually accomplish something that would help our country get out of this rut and move on. Maybe if people your age were willing to stand up and guide my generation's protest a little more, greater things would be accomplished.”

From NOLA, this is Kenny Klein, explaining it all.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creepy Dolls

“Those are creepy”

“They look like Bratz dolls.”

“That would give me nightmares.”

“Those look like, what's that movie called? Oh yea, Chucky.”

“Is that a voodoo doll?”

“They look Ricci.”

“Will it come alive and kill me?”

I hear these comments a lot. All directed at my customized Blythe dolls.

Yes, I play with dolls. Not those “Reborns” (ick!!) or weird old porcelain dolls. No, I play with creepy Blythe dolls. I'll start from the beginning...

First, let's define doll. Oh, I know what you're saying...”listen, obnoxious Kenny Klein, I know what a doll is!” But maybe you don't. The above comment about a Voodoo doll, for instance, is improbable. “Voodoo dolls” are usually small cloth or wax figures used for magic. This would not be a doll at all, but a poppet. Poppets are usually cloth figures, including the representation of the head. Larger soft figures (your stuffed bear, for instance) are called Plush. To be a doll, a figure needs a hard head. It may or may not also have a hard body. So a cloth doll with a porcelain head is a doll, Kewpie is a doll, and Barbie is a doll. Your stuffed bear is not a doll, and Voodoo dolls are not dolls at all, but they may be Voodoo. The Pussy Cat Dolls are a whole different kind of dolls (though the term does come from degrading women by comparing them to Barbie et al). I'm glad we got that out of the way.

The doll that I collect and customize is called Blythe, and she is the grandmother of the entire current wave of creepy dolls. Blythe was released in the U.S. by the Kenner toy company in 1972. The doll featured a “Mod” look, a larger-than-life head, and a pull string that could change her eyes' color and attitude (she has four different eye colors, and she can look forward, to the right and to the left). She even had a Mod theme song!

How could a doll like this not be a huge success? you ask...I'll tell you how. Blythe's creepiness terrified little girls! Her huge head and big eyes were horrifying to sweet, innocent little Barbie fans. Kenner even tried giving dolls away in market promotions. No one wanted her. Blythe was taken off the market within a year of her release. Thousands of poor little Blythes sat in warehouses, suffering in silence and just wanting to be loved. (It was very like the plot of Life Unexpected on the CW).

Then, Dame Fortune smiled upon sweet little Blythe. In the 1990s, a photographer named Gina Garan was given a Blythe doll as a gift, and the doll became her muse. She released a book of her photos of Blythe, created a website around the doll and convinced clothing designer Alexander McQueen to use Blythe as an icon of fashion in ads for Target. Gina single-handedly created a new market for Blythe, not as a toy, but as a high priced collectible doll.

By the 21st Century two companies had licensed the Blythe mold and were marketing Neo-Blythe Dolls: the Takara company in Japan, and the Ashton Drake Galleries in the U.S. Currently the more collected of the two, Takara Blythes, sell from about $150 up to $450, depending on the model (Takara releases 12 models a year, each with a different theme, different hair color, make up scheme and clothing). When I customize Blythe, she sells for about $650. Original 1972 Blythes, which as you remember Kenner was once giving away, now command a thousand dollars or more on eBay, even in poor condition. I've seen '72s in great condition go for two grand! (If anyone was wondering what I'd like as a Yule gift...)

I've been interested in Blythe since I saw her as a kid, but being a 17 year old boy at the time, I was not really quite ready to play with dolls (I've grown much more confident in my manhood since then). Time marches on...twenty-eight years later, in 2000, I went to an L.A. Art gallery exhibit of Gina Garan's work. Gina's photos revived my interest in Blythe, and I began doing some internet research. What I found was this: Artists were taking Blythe and creating new rooted hair, changing the eye chips, and carving and painting the face plates, turning them into one of a kind creations. Some customized Blythes are subtly changed, giving just a different eye shape or thicker hair; others are completely changed, with new bodies, carved faces, some made into fantastical creatures, or given star quality make-overs. I was in art school at the start of the 21st century, and I was looking for a new art project. Blythe seemed perfect.

I am not alone. There is a growing community of Blythe collectors and customizers, and there are conventions, Internet groups and local meet-ups. I get very good ideas and inspiration by attending Blythe events and participating in on-line discussions, and I meet some great people (and a few complete loonies...but that's true in every community). My very favorite Blythe customizer, who sets the bar to which I hold myself, is a Spanish girl named Picara. You can see her work here. She is my inspiration at the moment. Her work is magnificent.

The re-release of Blythe in 2000 paved the way for several other creepy collectible dolls. The next generation of Blythe style dolls was called Pullip, and was made by the Korean company Jun Planning. Pullip, which means “young leaves” and is a euphemism for teenaged girls, has a slightly smaller head than Blythe, only one set of eyes which can wink and move from left to right, and is more articulated, meaning the arms and legs are fully jointed, so the limb movement is much more human-like than Blythe's body. The company also put out a smaller girl, Dal, who is really creepy! I'm talking completely creepy! And they also produce a boy doll, called TaeYang (nowhere near as creepy as Dal...take a look to the left!). Some customizers work on Pullip dolls, and I have put Blythe heads on more flexible Pullip bodies (this also makes Blythe taller). Pullip and her kin are a little more affordable than Blythe (but still high), at around $80-100. There are dozens of models (as Takara does with Blythe, Jun Planning releases twelve models each year) which vary by theme, hair and eye color. Among the new releases are licensed anime and game figure Pullips and Dals. There was also a series of Audrey Hepburn Pullips (I own a Breakfast at Tiffany's).

But all of this pales in comparison to the Holy Grail of doll collecting: Ball Jointed Dolls, or BJDs (heavenly angelic choir sings here). These are VERY expensive Asian dolls that are generally proportioned exactly like humans, and pretty much every joint we have in our bodies is represented on a BJD body. They are also anatomically correct (THAT's not creepy...). They come in both genders, although many of the boys look like girls (except , as I mentioned, where it counts). The human-esque BJD was first released in 1999, and the enormous popularity of BJDs in the last few years has caused companies to create fantasy creature BJDs of all types as well as the human-like dolls.

Several companies make BJDs. Volks is possibly the best known, though I like some of the smaller companies like D.I.M. Doll, Impldoll and Soul Doll. These dolls come in a vast array of sizes, from teensy (like the size of the old Troll dolls I had as a kid, but made of resin and fully jointed) to 60 cm, which is about two feet tall. You can get some even taller. Most often they are made of resin, which is easy to paint and customize. You can buy tons of hand made clothes for the little darlings on Etsy and on eBay (there of tons of Blythe clothes there too). A finished 40 cm doll (my favorite size) and a full set of clothing will set you back at least $500, and can go over a thousand depending on the company, the detail and the size (Check out dolls and prices at In a word, you can go completely broke with a habit like collecting BJDs (I refer to my Blythe dolls as “adorable money pits,” and they are a fraction of the price of BJDs!!).

Perhaps the ultimate Internet authority on BJDs is my friend Lanie, who has an entire youtube channel dedicated to collecting BJDs. She has been collecting these dolls and video blogging about them since she was a teen, and there's almost nothing I can tell you about BJDs that she does not cover in her video blogs.Another source of BJD information is the chat group Den Of Angels.

So why does a grown (straight) man play with dolls? Most important reason: I like them. They are beautiful, and I can create something artistic and unique out of a Blythe doll. I also love experimenting with costumes: I can create a Blythe doll from any historical period or with any fantasy theme I can visualize (I work with an excellent costumer who is also a puppet maker, and who loves sewing for my dolls). Yes, I get odd looks, even from the ranks of my fellow (mostly female) collectors: until they see my dolls. Then they warm up to me pretty quick (more often than not...there are hold outs). I've recently started running doll meet-ups at the cons and ren faires I work, which allows me to show my work as I get people together over a common interest. It's win-win.

If you want to see my Blythe dolls, go to . I also have a new photo folder on my Facebook page with a bunch of my dolls in it. If you are interested in owning a Blythe, I recommend which has tons of info and a very good chat forum. Pullips are available at Denver Dolls (link below). If BJDs appeal to you, watch Lanie's youtube posts, and visit to see pretty much every type of BJD that's available. For a “big picture” view of doll collecting, see .

Oh, and I like when you tell me my dolls look like Christina Ricci. Don't say that other stuff.

From NOLA, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My new FB store

Just a quick post to let you know I have a NEW Facebook store my Facebook musician's page. You can listen to samples of songs, download songs, download CDs, or buy physical CDs. Sometimes I myself marvel at the digital age we live in. Anyway, please go "like" it or whatever you Facebook types do. Thanks!!

This was simply a short commercial message. Fear not, I will have a new snarky post up in mere hours.

Monday, October 3, 2011

How and why I started busking, or Mommas don't let your babies grow up to be buskers!!

One of the things I do here in New Orleans that I simply won't do in most other places is busk. Busk, (busker, busking) are European terms that mean someone who performs on the street for money. “On the street” might really be a street, or maybe a park, pedestrian mall or subway station. I thought I'd talk here about how I began busking, an historical personal retrospective if you will, and then at some later date I'll talk about busking in NOLA.

To set the scene for my busking roots, we must roll the tape back to 1980. I was just out of college when the '80s began, living in the East Village, one of the vilest slums of New York City. I was heavily entrenched in the underground Hardcore Punk scene, and also playing a lot of Bluegrass and Country fiddle (it was something of a double life, like being a secret agent or Anthony Weiner). Before I had gone off to college I had known a lot of regulars in Greenwich Village, including a band called the New York Frets, who did a fair amount of busking around Washington Square. Now as '79 turned to '80, I returned from college and ran into these guys again. And as luck would have it, they needed a fiddler.

The New York Frets was the brainchild of Gene and Truckin', a couple of old hippies who shared a staggering knowledge of Country music and a true knack for street performing. Gene had moved to Greenwich Village in the '60s. He lived in a stylin' apartment over a Korean market, and had a stunning collection of instruments, including the ax he played with the Frets, a vintage Gibson banjo. Truckin' lived in a basement under a restaurant, and played a beat-to-crap Fender bass through a tiny, tinny Pignose battery powered amp. From a distance it sounded a bit like a cross between an injured cat and a broken calliope. Truckin' also had the ability to start a song at any tempo and end up at a speed that could have won races at Bonneville. He was tall and gangly, danced like a scarecrow when he played, and had a huge perpetual grin. You could not help loving him.

Almost everything I know about playing Country music I learned from Gene. Gene was handsome and brooding, and seldom spoke except when he was giving the band instructions or introducing a song. He had several “Gene-isms” as I call them, phrases which he used all the time. When he introduced the song “Different Drum,” written by Monkees guitarist Mike Nesmith, he would always say “this song proves the theory of evolution; it was written by a Monkee.” When he caught any of us eying the tip money collecting in the banjo case, he would paraphrase the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” by saying “There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the playin’s done!” And when he felt we had played enough for the evening, he'd say “we've reached the point of diminishing returns,” which was some fiscal formula that I never fully understood. Still, to me Gene was a sage, my guru, my Obi Wan, so when he said it I believed it and that ended it.

Before I joined the New York Frets (if you haven't figured this out, we were named on the model of NYC sports teams: the Mets, the Nets and the Jets. Frets are the fingering lines on a guitar) there had been a revolving door of female singers. That changed in the summer of '80 when Holly showed up. Holly and Gene shacked up, and Holly stuck around for a number of years. She was a good guitarist and an amazing singer, and she knew a ton of Country songs, so Holly was in, and that was that. She also knew how to keep perfect time, and I'm sad to report that this edged Truckin' out.

As for me, while I play several instruments (I was playing bass in Punk and Rockabilly bands at the time) I liked busking on fiddle best. It's easy to carry, it's a novelty to most people, and it gives me the option of stepping back and being a sideman, or stepping out as a front man on any particular song. So I was the fiddler/singer. By the end of '80 Truckin' had pretty much left the band, and for the next several years the lineup was Gene, Holly and myself. Gene's Gene-ism for this (and this might be funny only to musicians) is that the New York Frets were now a three-piece because “Bluegrass is never played past the third Fret.”

In busking, as in real estate and U. S. military aggression, the rule is “Location Location Location!” We would only play in one of three spots: against the wrought iron fence on MacDougal and Third; outside the Korean Market on Bleecker and Sullivan (under Gene and Holly's window), or down a little further on Bleecker between Sullivan and Thompson. Why? Because these spots presented the highest level of non-interference from local business, tourist interaction and visibility (we wouldn't get kicked out, everyone could see us, and people could stop and stand in that area). And tourists there were in plenty! Greenwich Village was a mecca for “bridge and tunnel” people, tourists from New Jersey and Long Island. On a Saturday night in Greenwich Village in 1980 you could hardly move down the sidewalk as it was so mobbed with tourists combing the streets and clubs of the Village looking for “The Next Bob Dylan.” This massive influx of musically misguided tourists made walking down MacDougal street a nightmare, but it was GREAT for our wallets!

The dress of the day: for males, topsiders, cargo pants, and polo shirts; for females, huge baggy tee shirts and skin tight spandex leggings, and hair in claw bangs. Also in the mix were disco hot pants, leisure suits, pants suits, maxi skirts, and wide leg jump suits. The eighties were truly the era that fashion forgot.

We went out nightly and played a mix of Bluegrass and Hippie Country. Most listeners stood for a song, maybe two, tipped, and moved on. Some, driven by either alcohol or poor social skills, had to interact with the band. This meant clapping loudly in a rhythm that was nowhere near the rhythm we were playing (and sometimes nowhere near the rhythm of any known musical form), sometimes stomping wildly, or on those very special occasions, doing a mock “swing your partner” or “do-si-do,” apparently learned from cartoons or from the movements of mating lemurs. In special displays of love, listeners would shout out song titles that were meant to be inclusive of the style we played. “Dueling Banjos” was a favorite shouted request (note that we had only one banjo), as was “She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain.” My favorite, of course, was that old chestnut, “can you guys play The Devil Went Down To Georgia?”

There were times when audience participation became unpredictable. Once a hippie guy was dancing spasmodically to a song. He threw off his shirt, and kept dancing. He then slipped off his shoes, and kept dancing. He then took off his pants, laid them with his shirt and shoes, and...left, walking away naked down crowded Greenwich Village streets. Public nudity while dancing on crowded streets was actually not uncommon, but wait, more on that in a moment.

We busked like this for about three years, and made awesome money doing it. Twenties and even fifties were not uncommon tips, and that was a good deal of money at that time (at least for two hippies and one disheveled Punk boy. Mind you, rent on my squalid one room apartment in the Alphabet Jungle was only $135 a month). But all good things must end. Greenwich Village had gone from being a '60s artists' mecca to being a model of '80s gentrification. Ironically the people who had bought in during the '70s to be in the artsy neighborhood where Henry and June and Bob Dylan had once caroused in artistic squalor, now found themselves living in high end real estate, and did not want smelly buskers devaluing their pristine streets.

To this end, the MacDougal Street Block Association elected a president who would go to any lengths to chase buskers off of their street. He called the police on every busker who set up on the block. In time the police ignored Mr. Block President's calls, and he had to find ways to escalate his war on buskers. This was graphically demonstrated one evening, in an incident involving (as promised) public nudity while dancing to the music of unkempt buskers.

Gene, Holly and I were playing in front of the Korean Market when a group of hippies began dancing. On girl was wearing a long, bell sleeved velor dress. She held one bell sleeve over her chest as she danced, maneuvering around behind the concealing fabric. When she lowered her arm, her breasts were exposed. She smiled a knowing smile at us, and kept dancing, boobies staring up at all who watched.

Now generally speaking, a little public indecency in NYC can often go unnoticed. But it seems Mr. Block President caught wind (or sight) of Miss Boobie-Dancing Hippie. War was waged upon us undesirable buskers.

We played, and the hippies (including Miss Boobie-Dancer) danced. People walked by, stopped, listened, ogled, leered, and tipped. In a few moments we noticed a mounted police officer ride up in a state of agitation. He halted his horse, looking frantically up and down MacDougal street. “That couldn't be for us,” Gene whispered. “A mounted cop?” We played on.

Two squad cars followed, then several beat cops, and another mounted cop. “That couldn't be for us,” Gene again whispered. “That many cops?” We played on. The brave boys in blue all gazed up and down MacDougal, looking both wary and bewildered.

Then they all seemed to notice Bluegrass and dancing hippies, and suddenly all eyes focused on us.

Gene knew one of the beat cops, and walked over to powwow with him. When Gene came back he was almost smiling (that would be like laughing hysterically for anyone else). The police had received a tip, an anonymous call, reporting that a man with a machine gun was walking down MacDougal. Hence the dispatch of a dozen or so of New York's finest. When the officers saw us, armed with only a banjo, guitar and fiddle and not one single AK 47 among us, it dawned on them who had placed the anonymous call. Yes, Mr. Block President.

That was the day we knew busking in Greenwich Village had died. There were other issues than the whole Block President situation. Portable amp technology was jumping ahead by leaps and bounds, and by this time full bands with portable amps and huge rock drum kits were setting up in the streets. A little acoustic Bluegrass trio simply could not compete with that level of volume. But do not worry about us, dear reader, we had our plan B. It seems the movie “Urban Cowboy” had caused all the discos in Jersey to become Country bars, and we were riding that wave of employment. We bid adieu to the profitability of New York's streets and began playing music as a five piece (adding bass and drums) in New Jersey Country bars. This proved to be gainful, steady employment.

My mentor Gene taught me some amazing lessons about busking that I carry with me today. In a club, you want your set to arc; that is, you start hard and fast, move into sensitive and slow, then move back up to emotional and hard hitting. But in the street no one is going to stay for more than two songs, so no long set lists: each song must be a universe within itself, displaying the bands' best talents, best playing, and utmost level of energy. We take turns singing lead so that everyone rests for two songs, then hits their hardest on their turn. Harmonies are important too. They sound good, and also give a sense of band unity. If people make requests and the band knows the song, do it. It makes the person feel special, and they'll tip more (the New York Frets knew every single Country song ever recorded, BTW, except for The Devil Went Down To Georgia). Discourage hippie girls from denuding themselves in public: it can be bad for business. Smile and nod when people clap and hop around like mating lemurs. And of course, “there'll be time enough for countin', when the playin's done.”

Members of the New York Frets still play around NYC in the the Minetta Creek Bluegrass Band. When I'm in town, I still play with them.

From NOLA, and reminiscing about the glory days of NYC, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Some photos of Nixie

Bellavia gave me some cigar boxes. I was inspired to use them with Nixie, one of my custom Blythe dolls, to do a 1950s pin-up style ad shoot. I think because I just watched the pilot of Pan Am (great show!) I was sort of channeling '50s Playboy and Bettie Page.
Apparently Nixie was too.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sheri's World: Fairy Tale Rituals by Kenny Klein

Sheri's World: Fairy Tale Rituals by Kenny Klein: Fairy Tale Rituals by Kenny Klein is gives a surprising look into the dark and mysterious side of the popular fairy tales we all grew up wi...

Your Musician Questions Answered

I am a professional musician (as you may know), and there are some questions I get asked all the time. Here are a few, with the answers, which may or may not be fact:

Questions About Me Specifically:

I have played every kind of music, in every kind of venue. Here are some points of confusion:

My favorite places to play are small, intimate settings. House concerts and small ren faire stages are the best. Irish bars are sometimes my least favorite, though here in NOLA I play at an Irish bar called The Kerry Irish Pub which I like a lot; I'm playing in a few weeks at the Plaza Pub in Texas. I'll let you know.

Yes, I have played music on cruise ships. No, they do not have Pagan music on cruise ships. I had to play Margueritaville and Sweet Home Alabama sixteen times a night like everyone else who plays on a cruise ship. You have not fully lived until you have seen hundreds of drunk obese redneck women in string bikinis.

I have played Country fiddle in bands all over the U.S. No, I will not play The Devil Went Down To Georgia for you. I learned to play Country music in, of all places, New York City, with a band called the New York Frets. I did play in a Missouri band called Eisel and the Heymakers (you can find them on youtube), who backed Clint Black's brothers Brian Black and Kevin Black. I have also played on CDs by some famous Country acts ( No, none of them played Pagan music.

Which in my odd logic leads us to:

Fiddle Questions:

There is no difference between a fiddle and a violin. They are different names for the same instrument. Fiddle comes from the German 'fythel,' violin from the Italian...well...'violin.' In the Renaissance, (somewhat arrogant) classical musicians distinguished themselves from folk musicians by using the Italian instead of the common Saxon/German name for the instrument. No, the Saxon/German fiddlers will not play The Devil Went Down To Georgia for you.

There are different playing styles used on the violin to get the sounds of a fiddle and the sounds of a violin. Generally, when playing Irish, Gypsy, Old Time Appalachian, Country or Bluegrass, one is playing 'Fiddle." When playing Classical, wedding music or Rock, one is playing 'Violin.' Opinions vary on Goth, Emo and Hungarian Oom-Pah.

No, that is not a machine gun in my fiddle case.

My favorite styles to play on fiddle are Western Swing, New Orleans Jazz/Jugband, and Old Time Appalachian. No, I will not play The Devil Went Down To Georgia for you. For that matter, no, The Devil Went Down To Georgia is, believe it or not, NOT the only song ever written with a fiddle part in it!! There are others! You just haven't heard them.

Renaissance Faire Questions (and you know who you are if you've ever asked me this):

No, Renaissance Faire acts do not all get in a train car together and ride to the next festival. We each have our own separate contracts with each individual renaissance festival; we sometimes turn up at several of the same faires in a given year because those are the faires that have hired us.

Just because I play music at a Renaissance Faire does NOT make me a "wandering minstrel." (For one thing, I play standing still). I'm more pre-minstrel.

Yes, thank you, Renaissance festival acts DO shower.

Yes, those elephants are real.

No, the Belly Dancers are not strippers. There is a strip club just down the road. It's none of your business how I know that.

No, I cannot tell you where the turkey legs are at, and no, I am not Moonie. Moonie is the guy standing right over there with a huge sign that says Moonie.

Yes, I'll be happy to sell you my CDs...which brings us to:

A Brief History of Musician Merchandising:

Do I get more money from the purchase of a physical CD or from a download? This is the question I really posted this to answer... I really get the same amount in the long run, depending on which site you download from. But I am happy with whatever I get. I just like people buying and listening to my music. It wasn't always this easy! Listen:

I began playing music professionally in the very late '70s (the dinosaur was extinct, but the mastodon was in its heyday). Then, if you wanted to have recordings or merchandise (merch) you had to be signed to a label. In the eighties I was signed to Kicking Mule Records, a small label run by the guy who had managed the band Country Joe and the Fish (they did the "Gimme An F" song in the Woodstock movie). But by the mid eighties there was a revolution in the music industry: cassette tapes!!! With this technology, any band or musician could record their music at a music studio (which then generally charged $25-$50/hr) and release it on cassette tape, which the act could sell at shows.

This meant that acts could manage their own finances. With the label system, you had to trust your label and your management. The Beatles and the Grateful Dead are both examples of bands whose label or management stole huge amounts of money from what individuals in the band were supposed to receive. (Kicking Mule never reported its European sales to its U.S. artists, and we lost a good deal of royalties). Now bands could handle their own sales, though without distribution of their product (cassettes), bands could not always reach a huge audience.

In the '90s this changed again. Enter the Compact Disc (CD). Now production became much simpler, and the sound quality better. They were also handier to cart around. And they were easier for radio stations to play than finding a song on a cassette tape! Most CD production services had a minimum order, usually 1,000, so the artist did have to shell out some bucks for both the recording and the initial order. It was not always a profitable situation, but it was a way to get your music out there.

The greatest advance in musicians controlling their own product came with the computer. By the early 2000s, you could record your own music using user-friendly recording software; you could create product on your own computer and printer; and you could market yourself on the Internet. This has become easier and easier, as services can now reproduce CDs with no minimum order, and websites offer download and sales packages.

The only problem is, getting people to listen to you in a sea of indie acts vying for attention on the Internet! This takes touring, promotion and mad marketing skills (which I sometimes don't feel I have).

So in a nutshell, I don't care where you download my music from, as long as you do! If you care about me getting the most $ from a download, get my stuff from . But really, iTunes or Napster or CD Baby are fine as well.

From NOLA, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.