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]