Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Showbiz Scramble on the Oakland-Brooklyn Line

Here at L’Amyx in Oakland — and I stress Oakland (known locally as the armpit of the Bay Area), I am feeling a new coolness, for in the New York Times last Sunday, I read that Oakland and Brooklyn (as in NY) are considered kindred spirits in new wave art & stuff, stress stuff ... That is, they both exist in the shadows of the larger cities that hog all the attention. A bit of Brooklyn in my bones? My Mom, a dreamer, grew up there, worked on the Brooklyn Eagle. Her mother, Florence Simpson, made “surgical belts,” eccentrically sizing each lady up and offering her a charge based upon perceived economic status ... One of the letters she had published in a New York paper ended with “Live and Let Live.” A lesson on my young ears never forgotten.

Homesick and tired of living in a house in Gothic Golden Gate Park across the street from a roller coaster managed by my uncle that rattled on around the clock, my mom took me, my sis and bro back to Brooklyn in 1946, when my grandma lived at 493 Hart Street.

They enrolled me in what seemed a one-room school called PS 154 (if not merely 54) for a month or two... My nervous dad railed out from San Francisco, afraid, so my aunt would years later inform me, that we’d never come back. And we might not have. How close I came to seeing Ringling Bros Circus that spring, when my father one Saturday morning went out to get tickets but came back empty handed. Sold out.

Anybody Can Be A Sarasota Icon: The Ring of Fame seems to be turning itself into a haven for scoundrels and underachievers well connected to decision makers. This I reluctantly surmise with the greatest of social discomfort. Norma Cristiani, wherever you are, I love and adore you like everybody else, so please, if you are reading this, look away or skip to the next paragraph. Your Dad, BEN DAVENPORT, inducted in the Ring of Fame? Incredible! Here over Dragonwell tea in Brooklyn West, I hereby declare the launch of my own Showbiz David Ring of Shame. Names to be named later. Like who, you ask? Like a few notorious phone room operators, and like the first person ever to perform the hula hoop in a ring.

How cool was Irvin Felds’s Circus World? My honored guests of commentary (all three of them) seem to agree with me that the circus aspect of Feld’s Great Dream would have never been enough. .. Speaking of the Feld phenomenon (even their failures are epic, you gotta admire ‘em for half-way trying), Kenneth’s Kaleidoscape, named after Barnum, might have been a decadent blast had the show's official director Raffaele De Ritis had his way, and how apt it would have been — evoking the gusty old one-ring tent show ambiance. The only real director Kenneth Feld listens to is Kenneth Feld. As usual, they went for a little Disney over a little Ringling, all of it enslaved in Montreal mist.

Early blooming blogger Wade Burck likens the circus to a poor old dog on its last legs that “can’t hunt anymore.” Says I of the trendy Brooklyn-Oakland axis, despite the talk I hear about this poor old dog going the way of vaudeville, it’s still out there, thank you, Big Apple Circus and Cirque du Soleil, among others. I also am hearing of packed houses greeting Kelly Miller. Some mutts never die.

How cool was Merle Evans? Yes, I know, this lands me in the uncool category of the died-in-the-wool codger lamenting the Good Old Days. Getting ready for my hip entrance at L’Amyx, noticed only by the counter person, I replayed the ‘51Ringling score. Oh, what a way Saint Evans had of matching the action and moving it ahead with zest and zip. Then there are his awesome juxtapositions: A gigantic crescendo nearly wilts — like an Evans sigh — into the most lyrical reading of “Speak Low.” Trouble is, younger set, your Dylan or Depache Mode, your DJ Shadow or Gangsta Looney Goon have never recorded ”Speak Low,”so we’re again in two different worlds ... And I’m losing my trendy touch lost in the great American songbook ...

Speaking of modern, the Big Apple Circus band raises the tent with dazzling gusto, and they’re not playing “Entrance of the Gladiators,” chum. I hope, when I see the show next month, the music is as exciting as it was for Picturesque in 2005. I’ve had it with juke box scores randomly assembled off of a stack of CDs supplied by the acts. First inductee into my Ring of Shame: James C. Petrillo, the great union organizer who organized live circus music into oblivion. His trophy: The figure of a musician on strike.

Blame my edgy outbursts on PS 154. I was there, and I missed Ringling Bros. Circus ten years before Irvin Feld rescued it from itself.

[photos: my Grandma at her shop, 186 Irving Avenue, Brooklyn; My brother, Dick, left, sister Kathy ane me, spring residents at 493 Hart Street; Merle Evans, non stop, as the show goes on]


Wade G. Burck said...

Showbiz, You are spot one with your observation about the "American Circus Ring of Fame". The only thing more crooked and self serving is the Monte Carlo Festival. Both may have started out with good intentions, but went downhill faster then a snow melt flood. Look at last years "inductees!!!!" I have been asking for a long time have you not been listening, WHAT IS THE STANDARD IN OUR BUSINESS? There is none, never has been. Half the industry is made up of phonies who live for "competitions" and "inductions", and half is made up of shoulder shrugers just trying to survive.
Showbiz, are you using "one ring" Big Apple and Cirque as examples of how this industry is still going strong, bigger and better? I will assume it was a mistake like the mobile home description. Read the paragraph above. Those are the bandits killing the dog.
I like "Mr. Cage Man". Has a ring like "Secret Agent Man". Henry, did you see the name? With your paper and Showbiz's marketing, I think we can get that "old timers tour" underway. LOL
Wade Burck

donaldcovington said...


Those people lucky enough to be coming to see Big Apple Circus on Sunday April 27 in Boston will be treated to a pre-show center ring concert by the South Shore Circus Band during the come-in to the 430 show. Richard Whitmarsh's band has recorded nearly 40 popular CD's of traditional circus music played in the style and with the instrumentation of Merle Evan's RBBB bands. They promise to feature classic circus standards that instantly evoke the golden era of traveling circus bands. Then, without leaving their seats, that lucky audience will enjoy one of the finest circus bands on the road today as Rob Slowik and his eight piece circus band add their unique excitement to the 30th Anniversary edition of Big Apple Circus.

All the best,

Don Covington

henry edgar said...

First of all. i agree whole-heartedly about the first hula hoop act. i have never in my life seen anything quite like hula hoops trying to pass as a circus act. maybe the iron jaw hula hoop or a hair swing hula hoop -- maybe, maybe a hula hoop with 100 hoops. when i was grwoing up almost every kid in the world could do hula hoops. some may be very artistically done or sold well, which is ok, but the rank and file hula hoop - it's kind of like the king charles troupe would have been without unicycles. but i better be careful. the next craze may be a couple of guys shooting baskets to pad out a program.

now to the next part. the whole award thing, as wade has said many times in the past. this whole thing is suspect at best, questionable and sometimes just stupid. at one time, a monte carlo win at least gave the illusion of something to brag about. at least, the winners were stars everyone respected, or everyone could read about and say, hey, how about that. now it's almost like draw a ticket from the hat. the hall of fame, likewise. i'm still wondering how they could go for a year with no winners who deserved to win. what's wrong with the committee making a choice of deserving winners as they once did? in the beginning, in the sarasota days, they didn't wait for a nomination to decide if someone deserved to win or was popular enough to win.there are many, many people who deserve to be in the hall of fame. has the committee discarded people who didn't? i hope so. i haven't seen a lot of truly questionable winners so far, with a few exceptions. i don't know much about the ring of fame. the first time i visited, i was impressed. these people were truly circus royalty. why single out one member of a great troupe for individual honors, yet lump all the cristianis into one win? at least they have their place, but there were so many cristianis who were outstanding. lucio is generally considered the best rider of all time. why not his own plaque? or daviso, going back to his perch act and then his dressage. oscar and marion and their elephants. luisa and her trapeze. the list could go on and on. the ring of fame seems to be evolving into "who can impress the committee" and "who can come up with the cash to pay for it." the last few years, i've seen more and more names that simply aren't in the same league with the greatest of the greats. sure, the same thing is true. especially with the emmys, and the oscars are often a popularity contest as well, though at least you have actors voting for actors, directors voting for direcors, etc.

if the winners of circus honors are up for grabs, or the whim of a committee, why not just be honest and hold an election and let whoever has the most friends win? it takes the honor out of being honored, but at least it would be honest. as it is, no one knows what criteria is used for any of these decisions other than the opinion of the all-mighty commitee.

Wade G. Burck said...

"Like a dog that has grown old, we still lover her" was the quote. Not a "poor old dog." Don't you start "spin history" now too. You are a journalist, you should know better. Henry Edgar is the publicist. Let him twist it into knots. LoL
Mr. Cage man

Showbiz David said...

Mr. Cage Man, journalistically speaking, I was not quoting you directly (you will note there are no quotes around those words) but paraphrasing you. A "poor old dog" are my own words, conveying the essence of your thoughts. This seems to bother you, so I will respectfully refrain from passing along your thought in the future in this manner. Sorry.

Wade G. Burck said...

No apology necessary. Paraphrase the content as it was intended. "A dog who has grown old, but we still love her" is my feelings. A poor old dog" might give the wrong impression.
Be my guest, paraphrase away. Keep it in the context of which it was written.
Thank you,
Big Cage man