Sunday, January 21, 2018

I want to see the bright lights tonight

In our house filled with things, my wife came across a cache of concert ticket stubs, some dating back to the middle 1970s. I had actually been looking for this collection of memories for some time. I honestly thought they were long gone, tossed to the trash when we made the move from our newlywed apartment in Northeast Philadelphia to the suburban house that has been our home for over thirty years. 

Wild nights are calling.
Curiously stored in a Barnum's Animal Crackers box, these torn paper testaments were in surprisingly good shape. Time had faded some of the early-computer printed particulars, but the ones that escaped total destruction at the hands of some minimum-wage earning ticket-taker were still legible. The band names were clear enough to read - some consisting of careless, though comical, misspellings. (The opening act for a 1977 Queen show at the Philadelphia Civic Center listed the supporting band as "Thin Lizzie," as though it was an emaciated ballerina.)

A lot of the ticket remnants were from 70s-era Grateful Dead shows, many of which were from shows staged at the Philadelphia Spectrum, the self-proclaimed "America's Showplace," which boasted some of the worst, sound-deadening acoustics this side of the $64,000 Question's isolation booth. Despite being the home base for both the Philadelphia Flyers and the 76ers, the Dead managed to find time to fit in 53 concerts at the venue, more than any other musical act. That allotment of tickets, of course, belonged to my wife — as my first experience with the psychedelic San Francisco troubadours was in April 1982, when I was taken (abducted? dragged?) to a spring concert by the future Mrs. P. I recognized my concert tickets by the decidedly un-Grateful Dead band names that were printed across the colorful Ticketmaster branding. Again, most were from the Spectrum, as it was the biggest and most popular venue in the city, but a smattering were from shows at the smaller Tower Theater, a converted movie palace just outside the western city limits.

My brother, older by four years, was a veteran concert-goer, having seen performances by Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, The Moody Blues, George Harrison (reporting that the former Beatle was "awful" and the show was stolen by energetic keyboardist Billy Preston) and others of that ilk. He witnessed the now-legendary marathon at the remote Widener University gymnasium by an up-and-comer that he mistakenly identified as "Bruce Springstein." Some of my friends at middle school had toyed with the idea of actually seeing some of our favorite singers live when they came to our town. But I broke the proverbial ice when I scraped together a hard-earned six dollars and fifty cents for a single, general admission ticket to see Alice Cooper (and leather-clad guitar slinger Suzi Quatro) on the local stop of his "Welcome to My Nightmare" tour when it touched down in Philadelphia in April 1975, the twenty-second date on its five-month, multi-city trek across North America. That night, after seeing the wiry Mr. Cooper dance with giant spiders, cavort with tuxedoed skeletons and lop the head off a menacing cyclops, I was bitten by the concert bug. I left that show rabid — anxious to see another concert. And fast! It wasn't until a full year later that I was able to attend my second concert. Forking over a steep seven-fifty, I spent an evening at the back of the cavernous Spectrum, watching bland folk-rockers America deliver one boring song after another as they promoted their newest release — a greatest hits compilation culled from their five-album catalog on which every song sounded identical. I can't figure out what exactly I was doing there. I was not a fan of America — not even in the most casual sense. I didn't own any America albums. I suppose I just wanted to go to a concert.

I made better choices (in my opinion) as the years went on. I saw Elton John when he brought tennis star Billie Jean King onstage to join him in a chorus of the terribly shitty, yet hometown beloved, "Philadelphia Freedom." I saw the electrifying Queen several times, including once with pneumonia (me, not them). Freddie Mercury was a showman like no other. I even took my DeadHead future spouse to Queen's final American tour where she questioned the numerous costume changes and lighting effects. After all, the Grateful Dead had not changed their clothes since 1969 and their fans usually visualize their own lighting effects.

I saw Elvis Costello a few times as well, watching as he made the jump from new-wave pioneer to the elder statesman of his bygone "angry young man" genre. The late Warren Zevon, a short-term Philadelphia resident while he was between record deals, gave impromptu recitals at the wonderful, yet now-defunct, Chestnut Cabaret on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Mrs. Pincus and I were in the audience for several of those intimate shows and they were a memorable treat. Along the way, I got to see The Boomtown Rats, Tim Curry (yes, that Tim Curry), They Might Be Giants, Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran, Squeeze, even Barry Manilow.

My son developed an early love for music, based on the constant albums and radio blaring from speakers all over our house. His interest blossomed into a career, as he is now a host/producer on a local Philadelphia radio station. Even before his current employ, we accompanied each other to a boat-load of concerts. We've seen good bands, bad bands, strange bands and just-about-to-hit-it big bands. We've had band members jump off the stage in front of us. (In one case, a singer fell off the stage on us.)  My son even introduced me to bands (A Giant Dog, Low Cut Connie, Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds... yeah, you read that right) in the same way I gave him his first taste of the Beatles and his mom taught him about Jerry Garcia. Thanks to my son and the numerous concert venues that have opened in Philadelphia (named by one music website as the "best concert city" in North America), my concert calendar is usually packed. I never dreamed that, at 56, I'd still be going to shows, let alone bumping elbows in tiny venues with fans half my age. Conversely, it was funny when my wife and I sat in a sold-out Atlantic City showroom for a Tony Bennett show and, looking around, wondered how many other audience members had also seen The Clash.

It's okay, I'm with the band.
The concert experience has changed considerably since I was perched on the second level of the Spectrum, squinting to make out the color of Sir Elton's glasses. Bands were untouchable and unapproachable, sometimes just an out-of-focus dot bathed in a purple spotlight. Now, in the days of social media, a selfie with your favorite singer is no longer a rarity, it is a requirement. Granted, artists that fill stadiums are off-limits, save for those willing to pony up a few hundred (even thousand) dollars for a one-on-one experience. But, the bands that play 1200-seat (or smaller) venues will often appear at unannounced "meet-and-greets" at their "merch table" where the purchase of a t-shirt or album will net you the bonus of a sweaty hug and the opportunity of a cellphone picture to document the encounter.

This story, of course, is far from over. I love live music and it takes a lot to stop me from seeing it. As I write this, I have at least two concerts lined up in the coming months. And there will be more after that. I guarantee it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

harmony and me, we're pretty good company

A few years ago, Mrs. Pincus and I began, what I thought would be, an ongoing family tradition, Yeah, I suppose it's odd to start a "family" tradition when it's just the two of us and we are well into our 50s. Despite that, a 2014 trip to the kitschy, though spectacular, holiday light show at the flagship Macy's location in center city Philadelphia, followed by dinner in nearby Chinatown, had all the makings of a tradition. After that 2014 visit — as well as one in 2015 and 2016 — I thought that this would continue for... well, for as long as we were able.

I was wrong.

A week or so before Christmas, we began to make plans for our annual outing to the holiday light display at Macy's (the former John Wanamaker's, most nostalgic folks over 40, still refer to the store by its original name). Mrs. P contacted our son E., and soon, our plans included E. and his lovely girlfriend Pandora. A rendezvous time on a Sunday was agreed upon. We would meet them at Macy's, as they live in center city Philadelphia and we still reside a short train ride away in the suburbs. Although it was never mentioned, I assumed that these arrangement included dinner at New Harmony, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant a few blocks from Macy's and the location of each post-light show meal for the previous three years. We assembled with the gathering crowd on the third floor of Macy's, overlooking the Grand Court. The show, once again, delighted the holiday shoppers just as it has for the past sixty years. When the show ended, plans for dinner were discussed, much to my surprise. E. and Pandora suggested a couple of their favorite eating spots, including a new place that featured falafel, a favorite of Mrs. Pincus. I smiled and remained silent, but it was obvious that we would not be feasting on vegetarian Chinese food within the next 30 minutes. Goldie, the falafel place, was voted as our destination. Not wishing to appear childish or obstinate, I "happily" went along with majority rule. Admittedly, the falafel at Goldie was really good and it proved to be an excellent choice for dinner (and I will definitely return). However, I really wanted to go to New Harmony.

On the ride home, Mrs. P revealed to me that she really doesn't like New Harmony. I was shocked. We had eaten there quite a few times, not just after the Macy's light show. She said she would rate the food as "just okay," but, in reality,  she was a bit creeped out by the fact that we have always been the sole customers each time we've been there. She felt it was a reflection of the business that there was never another diner in the place. This admission took me by surprise. First of all — the food was  just okay? Just okay?? Compared to our usual choice for Chinese food, a neighborhood place that is, at best, inconsistent — New Harmony is a four-star Zagat favorite. I love Chinese food and it has featured prominently on my personal menu since I was a kid. (In 2009, I even wrote about the role Chinese food has played in my life.) The Chinese restaurant around the corner from our home is like that pair of ratty old slippers you can't bear to throw away. Sure, they're comfortable, but they're not the best. They've just been around awhile. Plus, when you see a new pair of slippers, it becomes obvious what your tired old slippers are lacking. I wasn't mad at missing my chance at New Harmony, but now it was apparent that, if I wanted to eat there, I was gonna have to do it alone.

Mrs. Pincus went away for an extended weekend to visit Cousin Juniper in Virginia Beach. She had plans to leave on Friday afternoon while I was at work. Although I cannot cook, I am quite capable of fending for myself when left on my own. I can throw together a salad or a sandwich without much effort. I can also go to any number of restaurants or take-out places where a meal can be prepared for me. One of those places, I decided, would be New Harmony. 

Cold, noodle-y and delicious.
After work, I headed — by myself — through a rain-soaked Philadelphia to New Harmony, a mere eight blocks from my office. To my pleasant surprise, I saw I was not the only customer when the host showed me to a table. Across the small aisle, a couple was just finishing up dinner, their table covered with empty, sauce-smeared plates and dotted with stray grains of rice. In the corner, a couple with a baby was dining with a guy who I momentarily mistook for my friend Cookie. As I perused the lengthy menu, another single diner was seated at the table ahead of me. Soon, a waiter filled my water glass for the first of many times and asked for my order. I requested hot and sour soup, cold noodles and sesame sauce and orange beef with broccoli  — all enticing and all creatively made from meatless ingredients. My soup arrived almost immediately. It was a thick, brown broth, resplendent with crisp bamboo shoots, flavorful mushrooms and three enormous chunks of tender tofu. I happen to love tofu and this soup was delicious. As I polished off the soup, a large plate of vermicelli noodles slathered with a big glob of sesame sauce and accented with finely shredded carrots and sesame seeds was placed on my table.

Crispy, crunchy and very orange-y.
I thoroughly combined the two main elements with two provided forks and transferred a healthy portion to my plate. The dish was awesome and, while I could have easily wolfed down the entire serving, I refrained, deciding to focus on my entree. I picked hesitantly at the remaining noodles until my orange "beef" arrived. In spite of the prominent "imitation meat" disclaimers placed at various spots throughout the menu, even the most die-hard carnivore would be satisfied by the offerings at New Harmony. The orange "beef" was a concoction of seitan (a wheat-based meat substitute), breaded, deep-fried and covered with a light, slightly spicy, ginger-orange sauce, accompanied by huge florets of the brightest, freshest, greenest, crispest broccoli. As I ate, I could only compare it to the familiar sameness of every dish at our local Chinese restaurant. My old standby there  — General Tso's tofu (a purely American recipe)  — is good, but it includes thin, limp sticks of broccoli that should be embarrassed by the examples set before me now. I ravenously finished the entire plate (and the rice) as though I was a death-row inmate consuming his last meal.

That's the way the cookie crumbles.
(Click to enlarge.)
The waiter cleared the empty plates from my table and presented my with the check and a cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie. I snapped the baked confection open and read the enclosed message. This prophetic little cookie must have had some kind of insight into my love of trivia, Jeopardy! and all kinds of useless knowledge. I put on my coat, grabbed my messenger bag and started for the front desk to pay my ridiculously inexpensive check. I thanked the waiter and he returned a "thank you," as well. I noticed that the dining room had begun to fill up, with at least six tables occupied in the tiny dining room. Perhaps the secret is to come on a Friday evening and not on a Sunday after a holiday light show. I will try to convince Mrs. P to give New Harmony another chance. I think I am now equipped to make a pretty good argument.

And I brought home a souvenir, although I doubt it will still be here when Mrs. Pincus gets home.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

let me tell you 'bout a place I know

I work hard, so when I take a vacation, I want to go to a place that I know I will have a good time. I, admittedly, have a different idea of "relaxation" than a lot of people I know. I don't care to spend a long time laying on a beach, doing nothing. I'm not particularly fond of beaches anyway, but if my wife, who enjoys laying out at a beach, wishes to include that as an "activity" during our vacation, I will certainly oblige... for as long as I can. Oftentimes, I'm only good for fifteen minutes before I get "antsy" and have to go for a walk or find something to actually "do."

Vacations for my family have mostly involved travelling to a place we've never been before — then going there for several consecutive years until we chose another place we've never been and then repeat the procedure. We went to Walt Disney World for our honeymoon in 1984, then returned for two consecutive years. We took a break when my son was born, but once we decided he was old enough to appreciate the Florida theme park, we went — and went and went.

We visited Niagara Falls when our son was little and, again, returned each summer for several years in a row. We have repeated this pattern with Las Vegas, Hershey Park, Disneyland and, of course, based on its proximity to our home, Atlantic City and nearby Jersey Shore destinations. When our son got older and our vacations were reduced to my wife and me, we latched on to taking cruises. Honestly, I balked and actually shunned cruising for a long time. My wife had brought up the notion several times over the years, but finally, I conceded and — I will now admit — I love it. We just returned from our sixth cruise in five years. See? We even made cruising fit into our vacation formula.

So, if you've been paying attention, you will notice a subtle (or not so subtle) similarity among all of our vacation destinations. The overlying theme is "kitsch." That's right! We like to go to places that are entertaining. Hokey, tourist-y places with bright lights and loud music and gaudy colors. We like to see stuff that we can't see at home. And if there's a cemetery nearby, that's a bonus.... at least for me. Got it?

Earlier this week, singer/songwriter Wesley Stace (who used to perform under the name John Wesley Harding) tweeted this statement that smacked of "I've had enough already!" sentiment:
When I read it, I immediately felt Mr. Stace's pain. Despite the fact that I do not know specifically what his tweet was addressing, I certainly understand the frustration that it expresses. You see, over the years, everyone — and I mean fucking everyone! — has told me where I should go on vacation. Not suggested. Not mentioned. Told. Insisted. Nearly demanded. And by some of the recommendations, you would think these people — friends, family, co-workers — had never met me. These folks know what I like, know my interests, my quirky sense of humor, my love of pop culture and all things "corny." Yet, the vacation scenarios that have been presented to me are downright mind-boggling, For instance, years ago, I was planning one of the many trip I took with my family to Walt Disney World. After I secured my vacation time from work, a co-worker (Actually, he was my boss. A tall, fidgety guy who stayed at the office daily for as long as he possibly could, giving me the impression that he was "in charge" at work, but not "in charge" at home) made a vacation suggestion to me in a manner in which I have come to loathe.

"You know where you should go on vacation?," he began. I hate this preface. I have been on the receiving end of this introduction many, many times. I brace myself, because what follows is a proposal that I would never in a zillion years enjoy. And, sure enough, this one was no different. "Yellowstone National Park!," he revealed his "perfect vacation spot" for the Pincus family. I stared at him blankly, waiting for that smug grin to fade from his face. I thought for a minute before I offered my reasons for why Yellowstone National Park, while a fine destination, is not a place that would fit in to the Pincus's vacation criteria. Except, I wasn't so diplomatic.

"Why on earth would I want to go to Yellowstone?," I answered, "I can see trees on my way to work! I can't see singing pirates on my way to work!" I continued before he could open his mouth. "I don't camp. The thought of camping repulses me. That's why I bought a house, so I wouldn't have to sleep in the dirt."

Another time, while we were making plans for a summertime vacation, my ex-sister-in-law, who had just returned from a week at a beachfront time-share in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, began singing the praises of that locale. "Oh, you should go to Hilton Head! You will love it!," she gushed.

"What is there to do in Hilton Head?," I deadpanned, not responding well to someone telling me what I should do.

"There's golfing and bike riding and there's the beach.," she continued as though she was reading straight from a brochure from the Hilton Head Tourist Bureau.

"Have  you ever seen me golf? Or ride a bike? And how many times have you seen me happily on a beach?," I countered. She seemed to have forgotten that not everyone enjoys the same things. While suggestions are perfectly fine, her command of "you should go here" caused me to become irritated.

It's funny how many people who know me, really know nothing about me. I like plastic-y places. Surreal, goofy places. I like factory tours (I've seen how Tupperware is made and how rum is distilled.) and silly, tourist-y places. I like cemeteries, but only to see the graves of famous people. I don't like white-water rafting or tennis or sleeping under the stars. And no matter how much you suggest, or in some cases, insist, I'm never gonna like those things.

I'm very sure of where I should go on vacation. Have a good time on yours.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

glad all over

While watching a DVRed episode of Jeopardy! a few evenings ago, my wife pointed out an ad for Glad® trash bags as I fast-forwarded through the commercial breaks. I stopped and backed the programming up to the beginning of the commercial to watch.

A man is sitting alongside a trash can in, what appears to be, his house. He explains to the viewing audience, in a very serious tone, that his wife has convinced him to become a devout vegetarian. Then a sly smile spreads across his lips and he arches one eyebrow. "Except on Ladies' Night.," he adds. He is then shown dumping the remains of a barbecue dinner into a Glad® "ForceFlex trash bag. There are dozens of long rib bones — browned, cleaned of meat and glistening with bits of red barbecue sauce, followed by several paper plates — greasy and stained with the same sauce. Finally, the last items into the bag are scads of crumpled paper napkins, all smeared with more sauce. It is implied that when this man's wife goes out with her friends on "Ladies' Night," he sneaks in a large mess o' ribs, disposing of the evidence in an opaque trash bag before she discovers his charade. She believes he is maintaining his aforementioned "vegetarian status," and, thanks to the good folks at Glad®, she's none the wiser. The commercial ends with the man dropping the tied-up bag into the outside trash receptacle as his wife pulls up in the car, the headlights illuminating the bag, but the incriminating contents remaining hidden.

While I certainly understand the gist of this ad, I didn't like its "humorous" approach at the expense of faithful husbands and vegetarians everywhere. So, I did what every outraged consumer does in this era of technology, convenience and laziness. I took to Twitter. I whipped out my phone, opened up the Twitter app and punched this message to the Glad® company:
I was careful to note that I was offended by the ad apparently condoning deceptive behavior and lying to one's spouse, as well as the not-so-subtle dig at vegetarians. All that and the fact that Glad® was offering its product as an accessory to the "crime." Of course, my "anger" was exaggerated, but, still, I wanted Glad® to know how misguided I felt their message was.

The next morning, I got this reply from the Glad® Twitter account:
Really? They needed me to send them a link to their own commercial?  I suppose the Twitter account at Glad® is manned by some college intern following detailed instruction in standard, generic customer service procedure. A quick search of YouTube resulted in a truncated version of the thirty second TV spot, but the sentiment was the same. I replied:
Soon, I received this reply to my reply:
What? That's how you handle a customer who has been offended by your company's advertising message? It wasn't over, as far as I was concerned. I shot back with this:
I received no further response from Glad®. I'm still waiting.

I don't really buy Glad® trash bags anyway. I'm just a troublemaker.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

seasons come, seasons go

In 1988, Jim Morrison (no, not that Jim Morrison), a life-long Christmas enthusiast, purchased a multi-piece display called "Tudor Towne" from the Christiana Mall in Delaware. Filled with lifelike, anthropomorphic animals, all decked out in Victorian era winter garb, the animated tableau takes viewers into a whimsical storybook world where chapters of the story unfold along a winding, faux cobblestone pathway. Christiana Mall was updating its holiday decor and Morrison was pleased to acquire the exhibit. He added it to his already massive Christmas collection.

Well, of course, this is the owner.
Morrison purchased a 20,000 square foot facility in the fittingly-named Paradise, in the heart of Pennsylvania's rural Lancaster County. Wedged between Bird-In-Hand and Intercourse, Paradise is a sparsely populated town of just over eleven hundred residents. Morrison filled the maze-like structure with the multitude of nostalgic, Christmas-themed items in his collection and began offering tours to the public in 1998. 

While scanning the news feed on her Facebook page, Mrs. Pincus came across a post highlighting the National Christmas Center. The brief description was intriguing and, seeing how, once again, I found myself with a surplus of unused vacation days at the end of the calendar year, my wife and I planned a road trip to Amish country on the Tuesday afternoon before Christmas. Paradise is just a bit over an hour from Philadelphia. With Mrs. P in her natural surroundings — behind the wheel of her car — we headed out, not quite knowing what to expect.

We passed a number of large farms as we snaked up Route 30. There were small pockets of commerce — strip centers with a large supermarket anchoring smaller businesses like auto parts dealers and feed stores. But mostly there was farmland. Some were made up of bare fields while others were dotted with small herds of cows, grazing in bare fields. Our GPS announced that our destination was ahead on the right and, sure enough, the friendly facade of the National Christmas center loomed large just over the crest of a hilly section of blacktop highway. We parked and noticed that for a weekday, the lot was fairly crowded. We joined several folks in a queue to purchase admission ($12.50 for adults and five dollars for kids) and soon we entered for our self-guided tour.

The National Christmas Center is a heartwarming trip through the history of Christmas, beautifully displayed, beautifully assembled, although not chronologically presented. The fifteen individual galleries are loosely themed to various aspects of Christmas. The first display is a full-scale, minutely-detailed living room, straight out of the 1950s, replete with period board games and toys, furnishings and a large tree, dripping with tinsel and appointed with fragile (fragilly?) glass ornaments and authentic bubblelights. A night-shirted adult figure stands by the fireplace while a sad-faced boy in a pink bunny costume (reminiscent of "Ralphie" from the film A Christmas Story) stares longingly at a shiny red two-wheeler. Just past this scene is a long hallway outfitted with glass-front display cases that house hundreds and hundreds of figurines - Santa Clauses, elves, angels, nymphs, snowmen — crafted from a wide variety of materials from wood and plastic to papier-mâché. A doorway opens to a splendorous depiction of Christmas around the world, including vignettes of traditions from several European and Scandinavian countries. Figures are clad in clothing and accessories  alongside unusual trees and decorations. Another room is a full-size reproduction of a Woolworth's circa 1940. Shelves are tightly stocked with wares and signage from days long in the past. Tables overflow with trinkets and displays of sewing notions, greeting cards, kitchen gadgets, glassware, toys — all frozen in time and as pristine as the day they arrived at the store. The National Christmas Center continues on with room after glorious room. There's Santa's workshop, a full-scale street of vintage shops, a three-dimensional representation of Haddon Sundblom's famous Coca-Cola Christmas advertisement. A multi-level model train set-up — positioned beneath a giant Christmas tree — delights and mesmerizes guests with its tunnels and bridges and multiple locomotives. The collection culminates in a retelling of the birth of Jesus (after all, I've been told that "he's the reason for the season") and a stroll through a realistic Bethlehem of a thousand years ago.

We were surprised by the sheer amount of stuff assembled inside this nondescript building. We were also surprised by the meticulous attention to detail each and every display boasted. This was not some thrown-together roadside tourist trap. This was a lovingly conceived and presented collection, professionally executed and very well maintained. We were among the youngest visitors that day, with the average tourist having nearly twenty years on us. We were also unique for most likely being the only ones taking the tour who never celebrated Christmas and have no fond childhood memories of anything among the Center's contents.
But, alas, this may well be the final Christmas for the National Christmas Center. The owners, Mr. Morrison and his business partner Dave Murtagh, are in their 70s and 80s respectively. They recently announced that, unless they find a buyer, the facility will close its doors forever in January 2018. Murtagh and Morrison want to sell the entire contents of the National Christmas Center to someone who will continue their passion for all things Christmas. They cringe at the prospect of closing, but shudder even more at the thought of the collection being dismantled and auctioned off piece by piece. The National Christmas Center has never made a profit, despite its steep entrance fee and droves of visitors. Murtagh suggested that the next owner could apply for non-profit status. Quite an enticement to a prospective buyer.

I'm glad I got to tour the National Christmas Center. I would recommended it to all nostalgia lovers for a fun, interesting and educational day — even if you don't celebrate Christmas. But, hurry, because time is running out.

Unless, of course, you'd like to buy it.

* * * *  UPDATE * * * *  
The National Christmas Center has closed its doors forever on January 7, 2018.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

that thing you do

As we are in the throes of Chanukah — I believe we are up to night eighteen or nineteen — I am reminded of just how not religious I am.

I have never been a big fan or supporter of religion. I attended synagogue only a handful of time as a child. As a teen, I went to many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of friends, but didn't have a ceremony of my own. Of course, I took full advantage of religious holidays as a day off from school, but those days never ever included any sort of formal observances.

In 1982, I met Mrs. P (of course, she wouldn't actually become "Mrs. P" for another two years), who, I would later find out, was pretty traditional in her religious beliefs and practices. Within a few minutes of our first meeting, she informed me that she observed the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher). I immediately made a joke, stating that the only people I knew who kept kosher were in their eighties. Indeed, my wife kept a kosher home and when we got married, since she maintained the kitchen, the rules of kashrut were applied there, as well. 

In my pre-vegetarian days, I still ate what I wished (except, of course, in our house). But when our son was born, I made the decision to go "full-on kosher." I figured it would be confusing and contradictory, in his young eyes, if Daddy ate one way and Mommy ate another. As our son grew, he was enrolled in Jewish schools, with religious reinforcement at synagogue and at home. We lit candles every Shabbat (Friday evening) and heartily celebrated all Jewish holidays — major and minor, including a lot I never heard of and some I suspected my wife was making up. I was still not comfortable with the religious aspect of the whole deal, but the bond that was formed within our family was very strong, so I overlooked what I saw as "nonsense."

As our son entered the waning days of his high school years, he questioned everything. Every single concept, idea and reason for tradition. Of course, he brought his questions home for discussion. My wife stood by her traditions, but I, who had no religious upbringing, was in complete agreement with the utter baloney I always felt religion represented. However, as time marched on, my wife's solid beliefs relaxed and softened. We attended synagogue services less and less — with my attendance dwindling to "never." I stopped requesting days off from work for all Jewish holidays. I still (reluctantly) go to holiday dinners at my in-laws' house, mostly because the religious rituals and the blind, fanatically-outlandish behavior of those who participate in them make me cringe.

And, now, ladies and gentlemen, here's where our story takes a ridiculous, inexplicable turn....

I still light Chanukah candles. I like lighting Chanukah candles — every night for as long as the holiday lasts. When I was a kid, we had an electric menorah (technically a chanukiah, as a menorah is a word that refers to any candelabra) that featured light bulbs that just twisted into a socket with each new night of the holiday. It wasn't until I got married that I was introduced to an actual Chanukah menorah with actual wax candles. My wife and I, and later our son, light one every year during the nights between the end of November and the end of December that the lunar calendar has designated as Chanukah. Mrs. P and I no longer exchange gifts, but when our boy was a boy, it was another instance of warm family bonding. Why do I still do this and still enjoy it? I don't know.

Every year, on the days corresponding to the Hebrew dates of the 9th and 28th of Tishrei respectively, I light a yahrzeit candle in remembrance of the passing of my mother and father. Although my parents practiced little to no observance of religion, I remember my mom kindling a little shot glass-sized candle twice a year in honor of her parents. There are really no religious overtones (as far as I can tell) associated with this ritual. I miss my parents, though not a day goes by that I don't make some sort of reference to them. I don't say any sort of prayer before I light the candle (Don't even get me started on my feelings about prayer, that's a subject for another, extremely lengthy, blog). I just light it and that's it. Why do I do this? I don't know.

Just this past week, my department at work held its annual holiday luncheon and gift exchange. After lunch was finished, we gathered around a big conference room table that was laden with gaily wrapped gifts. The distribution plan involves each member of the department bringing a gift. Then numbers are selected from a hat (or bucket or bowl... whatever holly-decorated vessel in available). One by one, in number order, participants choose one of the gifts and unwrap it. The next person can either pick a new gift or "steal" a gift that has already been chosen. This process, which, at times, can verge on vicious, continues until all the gifts are opened and no fist fights erupt. In some circles, this party game is called a "Yankee swap," or "white elephant exchange," or a number of racially-insensitive names that I will not mention.

At this year's event, I opened, and eventually came home with, the most fitting gift. Even as I tore the concealing Santa Claus-themed wrap, several of my co-workers began to laugh knowingly. It was a game with a very Josh Pincus-centric title:
I think this sums things up nicely.

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 81 minutes worth of pure Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. Need to clear your house of unwanted guest who have overstayed their holiday welcome? Download this compilation, crank it up and watch those ungrateful freeloaders head for the door. (You may even follow them.)
 You get twenty-seven eclectic Christmas selections that run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!)

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

playin' in the band

One day last week, JP, a friend and co-worker, posed a question to me just as I arrived at work and was taking off my coat. Little did he know that his question was one that had been the topic of discussion many times with many people. Since JP has known me for nearly ten years, he had to have expected a long-winded, overblown answer rather than a typical "yes" or "no." JP's question was straight to the point and innocent enough. But when you ask Josh Pincus a question — well, you're just asking for it.

It seems JP, a fan of Phish, The Grateful Dead and most jam-related bands, was participating in a heated debate on an online jam-band discussion group the previous night. One of his statements ruffled some feathers (not that he was particularly upset). He made a comment regarding the band "Dead and Company." Knowing my devotion to all kinds of music and the fact that I have been married to a proud Dead Head for the past 33 years, he wanted my take on his position. 

So, what was JP's question, already? "If a well-known band is comprised of three original members and continue to tour using the band name (or variation of), are they still that band?" 

I swear, I have discussed this often. More times that you (or other normal people) can imagine. Therefore, I was prepared when I launched into the filibuster answer that JP had to have expected.

I believe this scenario first came up in conversation in 2005 when two remaining members of the band Queen embarked on a world tour fourteen years after the passing of charismatic front man Freddie Mercury. As a longtime Queen fan, I was angered. Not because guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor still wished to be part of the (*ahem* lucrative) music industry, but by the fact that they were calling themselves "Queen." They were not Queen. Without Freddie Mercury pirouetting at the edge of the stage, his unique vocals soaring into the stratosphere, they would never be Queen. Never. Some Queen fans, however, will disagree. They, of course, are wrong.

The criteria by which a band can call itself that band is a tricky thing. My opinion, of course, is merely that - my opinion. But I'll try to explain my rules.

If a band is comprised of the majority of its original members with supplemental musicians filling in for departed members, that band can still claim itself as the band. However (and that's a big "however"), if any of the members had a solo career during or after the band's major output of work, then they walk a fine line with regards to their rights to the band name. As an example: The Grateful Dead had many keyboard players over the years, but the core members remained the same. Some of those members (Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart) enjoyed solo careers — some more successful than others. Since The Grateful Dead never officially broke up while those solo careers existed, the members could reform and disband and still tour under the name "The Grateful Dead." However, when band icon Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, the remaining members decided to permanently disband. That lasted approximately three years, when three members, along with several hired musicians toured as "The Other Ones," performing songs made famous by the Dead. Several incarnations of "The Other Ones" morphed into what is now known as "Dead and Company." This band, currently on tour and playing sets exclusively of dead songs, consists of Bob Weir, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann and guitarist (and self-proclaimed Grateful Dead fan) John Mayer. Original bassist Phil Lesh, who toured with a few of the offshoot versions, has now embarked on his own, but still sticks to a Grateful Dead playlist. While Weir did sing lead on many of the Dead's notable songs, Jerry Garcia was the heart and soul of the band. When he died, he, essentially, took the band with him. This current version calling themselves "Dead and Company" are one step away from a cover band.

In 1986, Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind classical rockers Electric Light Orchestra, called it quits following a performance in Stuttgart, Germany. Lynne continued to produce other artists and even joined supergroup The Travelling Wilburys for two albums. In 1989, ELO's drummer and founding member Bev Bevan, under a licensing agreement with band leader Jeff Lynne. ventured out in a newly-formed band called Electric Light Orchestra Part II. Although asked to participate, Jeff Lynne declined the offer, though he allowed a bastardized and deceptive version of the band's name as the banner under which they would perform. ELO II featured Bevan as the only original member for two years until he recruited original ELO members violinist Mik Kaminski, cellist Hugh McDowell, and bassist Kelly Groucutt. Hardly recognizable figures to anyone but die-hard fans. The band was obviously lacking something without the creative vision of Jeff Lynne. Now, as announced for 2018, Jeff Lynne has decided to tour as something called "Jeff Lynne's ELO," which, aside from keyboardist Richard Tandy, features a bunch of guys that Jeff Lynne knows.

The Beatles never performed as a band again after that impromptu rooftop show chronicled in the film Let It Be. Paul McCartney, undeniably the most successful former Beatle, toured many times after the Fab Four broke up, but never did he call that band "The Beatles." He sang Beatles songs — a lot of Beatles songs — but he was still Paul McCartney. Even Ringo, who assembled many versions of his "All Starr Band," surprisingly never called his band "The Beatles" — which is commendably un-Ringo-like.

The Who, on the other hand, continue to tour with just two original members and a stage full of musicians playing Who songs. Both surviving members — vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend — have enjoyed long solo careers, yet they shamefully parade themselves around as "wild mods," despite having long outgrown that label. It seems when the rent comes due, Daltrey and Townshed dust off their bell-bottoms, fringed vests and Union Jack turtlenecks for an overpriced world tour.

Robert Plant, the one-time lead singer of mighty blues-rockers Led Zeppelin, regularly shoots down inquiries regarding a band reunion. Plant is not the least bit interested. As a solo artist, he has released eleven albums — two more than Led Zeppelin released over their twelve-year career. His current musical output leans toward mellow folk-rock, although his concerts are peppered with Led Zeppelin compositions. He struggles with the high notes, though. Plant has realistically assessed his career and knows, at 69, he is no longer the sinewy sex symbol and rock god he was worshiped as. He has moved on and adapted with the times.

When Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died in 1980, Robert Plant considered leaving the music business to become a teacher. I can think of a number of classic rockers who should take his class.

Does that answer your question, JP?

***** ***** ***** ***** *****
My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a 
at for a limited time.

This year, it’s a whopping 81 minutes worth of pure Christmas cacophony that’s sure to ruin your holiday celebration within seconds. Need to clear your house of unwanted guest who have overstayed their holiday welcome? Download this compilation, crank it up and watch those ungrateful freeloaders head for the door. (You may even follow them.)
 You get twenty-seven eclectic Christmas selections that run the gamut from weird to really weird plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s right! FREE!)

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download.)