Kenny Klein with Stapler

Kenny Klein with Stapler

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.