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Back when I was a rebel-rock whippersnapper, the British/UK scene — and by association, that meant Ireland and Scotland as well — were considered pop culture high-lands that one wanted to visit and climb. Going to England was the idea; to see bands like Joy Division, Echo and The Bunnymen or Psychedelic Furs — before they came to the States -- was the goal.
I finally got to England in 1979 for the World Science Fiction convention in Brighton; as a result, I was able to live out a rock fantasy by strolling along the boardwalk there, something memorialized in The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” their fantastic rock opera, one even better than “Tommy,” their first conceptual magnum opus.
Well those days are long gone; the scene is no doesn’t exist as it did. Many of the bands have dispersed, but now, thousands of recordings made by the late legendary Brit Deejay John Peel for his BBC 1 radio show have become collated and are available through streaming and YouTube. These recordings chronicled those days and the many groups that populated that scene. As noted on Wikipedia, this English disc jockey, radio presenter, record producer and journalist was the longest serving of the original BBC Radio 1 DJs, broadcasting from 1967 until his death in 2004. Over the decades he was broadcasting, Peel gave many bands their first radio exposure.
Original studio sessions from such artists as T-Rex and Nick Drake to Joy Division, The Smiths, The Cure and The Fall, to My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and many more were featured. Over 4,000 sessions made by over 2,000 artists ended up being put out as Peel Session EPs by his own Strange Fruit Records, which started in 1986 and carried on until he died at 65 on October 25th, 2004. Originally on CDs, some of them were released to streaming services, but many more were not, though people uploaded them to YouTube.
Recently this summer, blogger Dave Strickson created an alphabetized roundup of all the Peel Sessions he could find on YouTube which added up to nearly a thousand. Recordings of David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars, Roxy Music, Joy Division, New Order, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Smiths, The Fall, Echo & The Bunnymen, Hole, Jack White, Elvis Costello, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and so many more are now available, and more importantly, findable.
I could continue the list of the many, many bands to listen to but I think I just go back to the blog and start clicking…
So if you are inclined to either re-discover your youth or that of your parents, these sessions can be sourced at this URL:
This article was originally written shorly after the events of 9/11.
I was born in Youngstown Ohio, primarily raised in Cincinnati and flourished as a writer and editor in New York City. When the World Trade Center was hit by terrorists using commercial jets, I was in Cincinnati dealing with the aftermath of my father's death.
Two hours after the attack
At 9 a.m. Sept. 11, I see a part of my world destroyed on Good Morning America, where I see the second airliner hit one building of the World Trade Center.
I have a downtown Manhattan office less than 20 blocks away in Tribeca. I have friends who work down by the World Trade Center. Some business associates have offices by the building.
Since I've been in Cincinnati dealing with my dad's funeral, I'm there as I normally would have been. What's happening downtown seemed all the more unreal.
I get on the phone.
I don't know what else to do. Is photographer Roger Wong, my office mate, running down the street to take pictures when that plane crashed? I can't get through to his cell.
I call Nick Giordano at the Digital Evolution office on Fulton Street, six blocks away from the base of the World Trade Center. I get him on the phone. "Are you alright," I ask.
"You can't believe it," Nick says. "I was standing out there when the second plane hit. I could fell the pressure of the explosion hit me. It was like nothing you could ever believe. I don't know what to do — stay in the office or go out on the street."
Ironically, the worse part of it all is that I want to be back there in New York to help, to work, to save people — and to mourn. What feeling of impotence I feel. It's what everyone must be feeling.
I slowly find out that friends and business associates are safe. Roger leaves word that he's OK.
But I have no idea when I'll find out about others in the days to come. What will I find when I return?
The following day
Though my roots are in Cincinnati, my life for the last 20 years has been in New York. But New York is no longer the place I left a week ago. The life in the city has irrevocably changed in the most disastrous way possible.
When the World Trade Center buildings were attacked and destroyed, I was here handling the details of a death. Now I have a massive scenario of death to return to. I have no respite either way.
As soon as I saw the disaster unfold, I began making calls. I mostly got answering machines and urgently left messages asking if everyone was alright.
I reach my fellow dweller of my Upper East Side apartment building, Rob Hambrecht, another transplanted Cincinnatian. Both of us had been through a lot over the years in order to maintain our foothold in Manhattan.
"I can see hundreds of people walking north on Third Avenue," he reports. "It's like a total exodus here."
We don't want to stay on the phone — by now word is out throughout the world and the calls and emails are flowing in. He wants to give blood, and I want to keep the phone open for callbacks.
My friend Vicki calls. She got her kids from school.
I get a hold of an ex-girlfriend who lives in the West Village near Hudson with a solid view of the WTC. "I saw the building collapse while I was getting my daughter from her school," she says. "It seemed like it happened in slow motion. It was unbelievable."
I feel trapped here in Cincinnati, numb and pained, impotent, disconnected to my life in the city at the center of the cultural and economical life of the planet.
Should I be on a bus on the way home to see first-hand what's happened to my city? I can't even begin to consider where I can go. All I can do is stare and try not to look into the future.
Three days later
I'm watching ABC's Connie Chung interviewing the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick. The company is the top exchange for the world's bond markets.
Lutnick is crying about the loss of his 700 employees, including his brother, and how he escaped death himself and how he can't kiss his kids thinking about those who died. He wants to go to work to do something, and then he thinks of all the funerals he'll attend and breaks out crying.
His staff at other Cantor Fitzgerald locations decides to open back up, even against his vote otherwise. They want to maintain life as it's been.
But life is no longer as it was. Throughout the world, people have set up memorials. The networks are broadcasting around the clock commercial-free.
People wave the flag everywhere and continue to make the same mistakes as they struggle to establish new rules of accountability to prevent this again.
But the destruction of the World Trade Center has already happened. So many unanswered questions arise as result. And the most obvious is how will we change our lives afterwards? And will we recognize who the enemy really is — not just anyone who prays to Allah or has a Middle Eastern name? There are people with such names who are Christian, Animist or even Eastern Orthodox.
Five days later
I get an email alerting me to the following transcript of remarks by preacher Jerry Falwell on Pat Robertson's The 700 Club:
"The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know that I'll hear from them for this. But throwing God or successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this, because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad.
"I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.' "
What does Falwell have to say about a good, Christian, right-wing boy like Tim McVeigh? Where are all the calls making slurs about the white separatists and other right-wing groups who support equal acts against the United States? We lash out against phantoms such as Osama bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein but tolerate the Falwells and Robertsons expressing equally sick fundamentalist religious views.
Word has it that Bin Laden and his associates profited on the tragedy by buying short on shares of re-insurance companies who would have to pay off on all the damages. And we rush to open the New York Stock Exchange.
My friend Bruce calls. He says everybody feels different, that there's some kind of movement afoot, that the world has been changed irrevocably. I've had days of constant television exposure, but it's not the same as being there able to play my part in the change of life and culture.
"Maybe this will force a shift from a culture of money to culture of life," I say.
I'm off to see the world premiere of Charles Coleman's Streetscape by Paavo Jarvi's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It's based on Coleman's meditations on life in the city of New York.
The opening section captures the energy of the streets alive with people — horns and strings incessantly interact with percussion swinging with a syncopation not dissimilar to Jazz — and then comes crashing to a halt. A bridge section provides a quiet expressed melancholy, resolved with the next section that surges back up to reflect the energetic life of the city.
This soaring rendition staged by such a fine orchestra seems like a fitting wrap on such a week of anguish.
Maybe going out tonight provides more than a simple diversion. In the city where I was raised, I've just heard a soundtrack for restoring life in the city I now call my home. ©
An Essay by Brad Balfour
Around this time of the year, I usually look back so as to orient myself about going forward. But, what a wack summer it’s been.
Having suffered through the coronavirus — literally and conceptually — I find myself settled into a motivational miasma; it’s easier to stink up the couch than drive myself to further heights, get up, clean up and get out to ramble around the city.
Being socially distanced and discouraged from interacting for a third of the year has produced such a weird state of mind. I’m not quite connected to people as I once had been. Pre-March 15th, my day would be charged by the thought of what I would go to see or hear, or where I would go to chat with folks, striking up new friendships and opportunities.
Now, I just don’t get worked up about contacting anyone, or picking a spot to eat outside and spend an hour engaged in social interaction.
It seems so much easier to be in my social media haze, so I peruse Facebook or look at Instagram. And because of that, up popped the info that on August 25th, 1975, Bruce Springsteen released “Born To Run,” his third album and rock groundbreaker. So, as I write this, I realize why this day feels so special. Springsteen made a big impression on me back then and still does, representing a notion of the rock hero -- and this long-awaited recording ideally expressed that at the time.
It was the ultimate album of engagement — hailing the idea of getting on a bike and getting out of some shit New Jersey town, running off to explore the world. Nearly every song on that set was anthemic and inspiring; it cataloged all sorts of social interaction that we’re missing nowadays. Whether it be the two singles culled from this masterful production — the compelling “Born to Run" or the evocative “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” — or any of the other quintessential tracks found here, the album was inspiring. It propelled Springsteen into the mainstream and established him as a chronicler of passion and provocation. Tracks like "Thunder Road" and "Jungleland" became rock staples by celebrating an exuberance for life.
It's been hard to wax enthusiastic about music without that live experience in mind. I have been listening to the radio a lot; the political races are the only thing that raises my blood pressure when the squawk box is on. But I can only take so much of that and that’s when I discover music on the radio again by listening to WFUV, WNYE and WQXR.
FUV provides a broad range of rock and pop; NYE is for Afropop Worldwide and Celtic folk music; and QXR offers classical. It’s a chance to re-familiarize myself with so many sumptuous sounds but it’s just not the same without a band on hand for the live experience.
So while I've been sitting on my butt, I think back to that time a half century ago when Ididget charged by the music and got up, got out — and let the screen door slam (metaphorically) as I hit the streets. I’m looking for that time again — and hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later.
Having re-discovered Soda Stream recently, I now know what old is new again. Thanks to tech-reinvention, a bit of smart marketing and the realization that something so classic was also a good idea, deserving of a second life.
Back when I was a kid I remember going into Jewish delis and there sitting at a corner of a table was the seltzer bottle. You never lacked a good burp after a huge pastrami sandwich or potato pancakes becuase there was the bottle -- full of gas clearing carbonated water.
I was watching early morning TV and suddenly up pops -- so to speak -- a Soda Stream commercial -- advertising and in-home carbonation generating system at a reasonable price point. In a high-tech looking bottle and a range of flavors far beyond egg creams, there was my old Yiddische treat in a new 21st Century form.
I had first heard if this company and its concept when I saw it being demo-ed at some tech showcase -- I think it was a Pepcom event several seasons ago. At the time, I thought that’s quaint, let’s revisit seltzer bottles but wasn't sure I hadroom on my countertop at home.
Well lo those many years ago when the experience of having the seltzer delivered was common practice, there was no controversy about sugar-engorged soft drinks endangering the children of America.
Now i get it. Soda Stream offers a great way to get around pissing off Mayor Bloomberg, it can make mom and the dentists happy and keep us all safe from the ravagesn of white stuff by regulating the sugar content in soda.
The current generation of Soda Stream machines offer a range of flavors which can be genuinely natural so there’s a chance of something healthy slipping through while still serving the burp factor. What else is carbonation good for anyhow?
Now I admit i haven't asked for a model to bring home for my own evaluation, to really test and sample on an ongoing basis. But having watched the demo -- it didn’t seem too messy and it tasted pretty good if not a little strange to this Coca Cola lover.
And lately I've been fascinated by the story of Coke's origins as a fountain drink. Around the turn of the century an entrepreuneur approached Coke to get the rights to bottle the drink and sell it for a nickel. Since the soft drink's primary business was soda fountains where the secret formula was mixed on site with seltzer water, the let the bottle side of the business slip out of their grasp.
Eventually that fresh-seltzer based business was eclipsed by the bottling side of the revenue stream. But it offered the sentimental side of the coca cola story when the boy and girl met at the edge of soda fountain in some diner.
Now that whole fizz factor is finding a new life in a different form and possible a whole new generation of audiences by brings the fountain soda experience into the home and the 21st Century.
And nobody needs to buy a disposable water bottle ever again.
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