Join the Sunnyvale Record Club!

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “12 albums for a penny” scams from back in the day. Instead, the Sunnyvale Public Library hosts a monthly Zoom meeting of music fans! Sign up, listen to that month’s album (freely available for streaming), then chat for an hour at 7 pm Pacific on the third Monday of the month. (Tonight we discussed Lido Pimienta’s Miss Colombia. October’s choice is Scala On The Rocks, by Scala and Kolacny Brothers.) It’s no-pressure, you’ll hear great music, and you can attend from anywhere. (Library membership is not required.) Last time I looked, 22 slots were open for the next meeting, so why wait? Check it out here.

Song In My Head #113: “Stones of Silence” by Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth

For weeks I’ve been fairly obsessed with this collaboration between the French musician/actress Jehnny Beth and Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie. Calling it a ”psychedelic folk-rock song” in a recent Paste interview, Gillespie elaborated further in the following video:

 Where do I begin? Beth’s cool vocal delivery neatly underplays her dark verses, while Gillespie’s bossa nova beat adds the unexpected light touch. Moody, complex, yet strangely laid-back, “Sounds of Silence” is the perfect summer song for a decidedly atypical summer…

Gilda’s Restaurant feature in Summer 2021 SANTA CRUZ STYLE

In 1971, local legend Gilda Stagnaro opened a restaurant on the Santa Cruz Wharf. Fifty years later, Gilda’s has earned its place in the hearts of generations of locals and tourists. In my newest Santa Cruz Style feature “Reigning on the Wharf,” manager Alisha Dodds explains the secret to the restaurant’s venerable appeal. You’ll learn how Gilda’s faced permanent closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but bounced back to thrive again today! In Santa Cruz County, find free print copies here. You can read the online version here.

Rest in peace, Charlie Robinson.

On July 11th, actor Charlie Robinson died of cardiac arrest due to cancer complications in Los Angeles. Most people remember him best for his eight-year stint as court clerk Mac Robinson on Night CourtBefore I get into the “he should be known for more than Night Court” part of this post, I want to emphasize the excellence of his work on the show. As a child of the ’80s, I remember when Night Court struggled so badly in the ratings that NBC ran full-page TV Guide ads proclaiming “Night Court is not The People’s Court.” Of course, Night Court became a long-running sitcom thanks in no small part to its brilliant ensemble cast. When I watch reruns today, it becomes clear that Robinson’s work was not only underrated, but often held the episodes (as well as the courtroom) together. The zany plots were great comic fodder for the flashier characters (which I love!), but Robinson’s understated, droll delivery let the show breathe, driving the comedy home and letting us see these characters as real people. Dave Sundstrom explains further in his YouTube tribute:

Of course, there was much more to Robinson than Night Court, as his lengthy IMDB resume attests. (I always enjoyed his role as El Jefe, from CBS’s bafflingly short-lived 1998 masterpiece Buddy Faro. The intimidating yet strangely lovable character was about as different from Mac as one could imagine, yet Robinson played him with a sort of sinister joy that couldn’t help but keep me riveted.) Robinson won Ovation and NAACP Theatre Awards for his stage work, and was a member of the Actors Studio. When reading his obituary, I was amazed to learn that Robinson was an early member of Archie Bell and the Drells. (I shouldn’t have been surprised, given his excellent doo-wop skills in the Season Seven Night Court episode “Razing Bull.”) Martin Landau once called him “the greatest underestimated actor in Hollywood.” Playwright Lyle Kessler proclaimed him “one of the great American actors.” He will be missed.

RSD 2021, Part Two: Featuring International Intrigue!

I’d been feeling fairly smug about my sales resistance these past few Record Store Days. That changed this spring with news of this tantalizing Ash rarity. I vowed to hit the local shops bright and early, only to learn that it was an RSD UK release. Oh…dear. Thus began the quest for an overseas establishment willing to ship, if I could nab a copy once in the in-store sales had ended. (I wrote a guide to London’s indie record stores for Student Traveler around the turn of the millennium, so my struggles to find one felt ironic indeed.) Meanwhile, the record’s release got pushed from June to July, adding a month of fretting to my research. Salvation arrived in the form of Charlatans UK frontman Tim Burgess via his Tim’s Twitter Listening Party website, whose extensive database of UK and Irish indie record shops proved invaluable. (I opted to try the Irish shops first, since they were less publicized. I also assumed the pricing in euros would be kinder exchange-wise, though this was likely faulty thinking.) Most stores were posting their leftover discs online at 6 pm local time, so I waited for 10 am Pacific with anticipation (dread?). Happily, Dublin’s Spindizzy Records took my order, so now I wait. (I checked a few UK shops afterward out of curiosity, and they appear to have sold out of the Ash album quickly. I’m happy for the band, since being forced to halt their 2020 tour midstream must have been a major financial blow.) Thank you, Mr. Burgess; I was planning to buy your upcoming book The Listening Party anyway, but I will make preordering a priority soon. (I highly recommend his Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco.) Needless to say, the local RSD festivities got short shrift in the process, but I’d love to hear what everyone found! (I’m curious about the Shaun Cassidy RSD release. I’m not kidding!)

ETA, July 24th: The album arrived yesterday (wow, that was quick)! It was absolutely worth the trouble…the remastering is amazing, and the song selection touches on all of Ash’s musical strengths. Side one’s 1994 Peel sessions hit me in the heartstrings, since the band sounds so touchingly young there. (An odd thing to say about musicians advertised as “Guaranteed Real Teenagers” back in the day, I know.)  As a bonus, I have some new musical leads to follow…I had no knowledge of a third band led by Michael Head (previously of Shack and The Pale Fountains), but Ash’s cover of the Strands’ “Something Like You” sounds promising indeed.

RSD 2021, Part One: Better Luck in July?

I was unable to get to Santa Cruz’s Streetlight Records today in spite of my best intentions. So, I glanced at Amoeba’s online Record Store Day catalog in the afternoon. Did I enter a bad search, or did most of today’s wares sell out early? Either way, it was probably just as well, since I blew my RSD budget on the surprise release of Sloan’s B-Sides Win, Volume 2 the other day. Sorry, everybody. Next month’s RSD drop should produce a real saga, thanks to a UK-only offering that will add several degrees of difficulty for this Stateside collector. In the meantime, feel free to regale me with tales of your RSD finds in the comments!

May the Force be with you (believe me, you’ll need it!)

As I planned my post for this year’s Star Wars Day, something occurred to me. “Hmm, I’ve never seen The Star Wars Holiday Special.” Over the years, the 1978 CBS presentation has been disavowed by everyone from George Lucas and screenwriter Bruce Vilanch to Princess Leia herself, the late, lamented Carrie Fisher. (She supposedly played the tape when she wanted straggling guests to flee.) Nevertheless, I’ve survived many a pop-culture disaster in my day, and felt it was my duty to watch the show at least once.

The opening credits gave me a warped sense of (a new) hope with its incongruous list of guest stars. (Beatrice Arthur! Art Carney! Diahann Carroll! Jefferson Starship! “R2-D2 as…R2-D2!”) It was a moment so Simpsons-esque,  I half-expected Troy McClure (sigh, we miss you, Phil Hartman!) to appear. Nothing could prepare me for what was to follow, however. Someone made the risky artistic decision to film the first ten minutes in unsubtitled Wookiee. I saw interpretive dance sequences set to a woozy synthesizer score. Harvey Korman’s gleeful cooking-show cameo made me think of his Hedley Lamarr in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, adding a whole other layer of cognitive dissonance to the proceedings. My jaw dropped during the sequence where Carney presents Chewbacca’s father Itchy with…well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

I can hear the diehard superfans out there crying “Elizabeth, you’ve only described the first half hour of the show!” That’s right, this special runs more than 97 MINUTES without commercials. Rest assured, dear reader, I watched the whole thing (though I resorted to the 1.5x YouTube speed setting halfway through). Since this is the rare case where YouTube viewer comments greatly improve the experience, I’ve decided not to embed the video, instead linking to it here. Good luck, young Padawan!

Patrick Marleau beats the odds (again)!

During the April 19th game against the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Shark Patrick Marleau played his 1,768th career NHL game, surpassing Gordie Howe for most games played in NHL history. (The 41-year-old had previously passed the likes of Mark Messier, Jaromir Jagr, and former teammate Joe Thornton on the list.)

There is an element of chance to such an achievement. The Mercury News pointed out that if Marleau had been born one day later, he would have had to wait for the 1998 NHL draft (and thus lose a season of games). Nevertheless, If it weren’t for two lockouts and two pandemic-shortened seasons, Marleau would be on track for a 1,900-game record. He’s played a minimum of 74 games in each full NHL season. The following Sportsnet segment drives home both the quirkiness and the rarity of Marleau’s accomplishment: 

Best of all, Patrick Marleau is still playing, making the case that he’s not only the ultimate San Jose Shark, but the consummate modern-day NHL player. Congratulations!

Artist Ursula O’Farrell and David Kinch’s Mentone featured in Spring 2021 SANTA CRUZ STYLE

If you visit Santa Cruz gallery Curated By the Sea this month (which I strongly suggest you do!), you will see Compelled Toward Beauty, the new exhibition by acclaimed Corralitos painter Ursula O’Farrell. In “Living Life With Bold Strokes,” my feature in the Spring 2021 edition of Santa Cruz Style, O’Farrell discusses her process, the epiphany that turned her toward the artist’s life forever, and how creativity sustains her in the time of COVID-19. Later in the issue, “Mentone” outlines the evolution of Michelin-starred Chef David Kinch’s newest business venture, Aptos Village Park’s Mentone. General manager Chris Sullivan explains why Aptos is the perfect spot for this homage to the Italian Riviera, reveals hidden delights of Chef Matthew Bowden’s menu, and talks about the realities of opening a restaurant during 2020’s shelter-in-place. In Santa Cruz County, find free print copies here. The online edition is here.

ETA: The O’Farrell exhibition has been extended through May 15th, Thursday through Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m. A socially-distanced First Friday reception for the artist takes place on May 7th from 6 to 8 p.m. Visit Curated By the Sea at 703 Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz, or consult for more information.