Posts Tagged ‘Hurray for the Riff Raff’

GOING HOME—MYTH AND REALITY

Carolyn and I went to New York last week to see Yosi and Hurray for the Riff Raff at Carnegie Hall’s sold-out Zankel Hall. New York is “home.” I grew up in Queens—Rego Park. But going home goes only so far. Time travel constitutes risky business.

On Friday, we took the subway to 63rd Drive and the Shalimar Diner, a location for the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street. My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts there. Accompanied by my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy, we had lunch with my sister Kay and brother-in-law Herb. My mother’s favorite waitress, Denise, still works there!

After, we walked to the apartment building where I grew up. Then we stopped in a supermarket for matzo meal to take back to San Francisco. Carolyn makes her matzo balls from scratch. At Ben’s Best deli on Queens Boulevard, we shared a potato knish. Last stop: the Rego Park Jewish Center where I was bar-mitzvahed in 1957, and Kay and Herb married in 1960.

Next day, Carolyn and I went to the West Village for lunch with Aaron and Jeremy, and their lovely friend Allison. Strolling back to our hotel, we stopped at 100 West 17th Street at 6th Avenue. My grandparents Sam and Kayla Perlstein lived there in 1914 when they and three of their children, including my father Morris, became American citizens. The site has been a parking lot for years. We’d been there before. No wistful expectations disappointed us.

I love visiting the old neighborhood and other familiar places. But they belong to the people who live there now. The only thing to which I can claim ownership is memories.

I reflected on that following Monday’s Iowa caucus. The top three Republican candidates—Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio—all appealed to voters who want to go home again. These folks, regardless of age, hold cherished memories of yesterday’s America—white, Christian and orderly—the last term meaning that people “knew their place.” Some of their memories ring true. Most are illusory. Think about slavery followed by segregation, hatred of Jews and other ethnic groups, the 60-hour workweek with no minimum wage, the lack of safety in factories and mines, old age without Social Security and Medicare, the Depression, the vicious McCarthy era in the 1950s and the painful waging of the struggle for civil rights.

Neither the candidates nor many caucus-goers understand that returning to the past is unwise and also impossible. Rego Park, for example, has changed dramatically for the simple reason that it’s a living neighborhood, not a museum. I can’t gripe. My grandparents helped change New York’s demographics when they arrived from Warsaw in 1906.

If we need inspiration to embrace change while still shaping it to America’s values, let’s look to the Middle East. Islamists seek to return to the 7th century—the time of the Prophet. In Israel, Palestinians long for the 12th century when Saladin defeated the Crusaders. The Jewish far right wants to retreat even further—3,000 years to the united monarchy of David and Solomon. History laughs.

The author Thomas Wolfe wrote the classic novel You Can’t Go Home Again. I suggest that we can—but only when we acknowledge that home can never be as it was.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

The blog will take a week off and return on February 19.

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PASSION

Long ago, a client asked me a difficult question: “What’s your passion?” His was the piano. The question stunned me. I loved spending time with my family, and my work kept me busy and fulfilled, but I had no answer. Things have changed.

I’m proud that my family is filled with passion. Carolyn loves acting, takes classes and auditions for film, TV and commercials in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She loves singing, too, and takes lessons. She has a lovely voice and really knows how to sell a song. I know. I hear her in the house every day.

My oldest, Seth, is passionate for science fiction in movies and on TV. He also loves video games. Seth is an incredible Star Wars aficionado. That’s why Carolyn and I, with Aaron and his husband Jeremy, flew to Los Angeles for a traditional Jewish Christmas Eve. We joined Seth to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Sharing Seth’s excitement and observations—about the story and the technology—made the event special.

My middle son, Yosi, loves music. You expect that from the fiddler for the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. (They play Carnegie Hall on January 29.) A percussionist at San Francisco’s School of the Arts, Yosi taught himself to play violin then followed up with lessons by outstanding professionals—lessons he still takes when he has time. You know the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.” Passion can make things happen.

My youngest, Aaron, developed a passion for modern dance at Humboldt State. He took a dance course as a freshman theater tech major wanting to better understand how to light dancers on stage. Everything changed. He majored in dance and became an accomplished professional, touring all over the United States as well as Europe and Southeast Asia. He holds a B.A. in dance from St. Mary’s College.

Me? I started writing fiction over forty years ago. That “after hours” career went nowhere. With a young family and a growing business, I stopped. Yet I wrote a nonfiction book about the business side of freelancing, Solo Success, which Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, published in 1998. Then I discovered a passion for the Hebrew Bible and independently published God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible in 2009.

A decade later, transitioning to retirement, I returned to fiction on a whim. That produced Slick! Passion grew. I love telling stories. Just as important, fiction helps me make sense of the world. Of course, when a reader tells me he or she enjoyed one of my books, I’m thrilled.

What’s new? Reed, the literary/arts annual of San Jose State University, recently accepted my short story “Beautiful!” about a retired astronaut on his eightieth birthday. It will appear in May. And I completed my second—but hardly the last—draft of a new novel. I have more novels—and stories—waiting in the wings.

What your passion is doesn’t matter. Cats? Running? Baking? Sailing? Fixing old toasters? The Warriors? Carpentry? Knitting? Collecting souvenir spoons? They’re all good. To be passionate about something is to be fully human. Today, I’m passionate about being passionate.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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THE RIFF RAFF AT OUTSIDE LANDS

It was another step up on another big stage. Last Saturday, Hurray for the Riff Raff—my son Yosi, resident fiddler—performed at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Carolyn and I were among the few seniors in a sold-out venue of 70,000 youthful partygoers. Here’s my report.

The more I see and hear, the more I appreciate the quality and integrity of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s singer/songwriter, creates music that entertains while being socially conscious and thought provoking.

The band’s set went well. They opened performances at Sutro Stage at twelve-twenty. A good crowd assembled and had a great time, singing along and dancing. Of course, Carolyn and I were right up front. Note: Yosi changed bows during the performance. He explained later that wood bows often don’t do well outdoors; carbon fiber bows resist the weather.

After the performance, Carolyn and I, along with our son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy went to the VIP hospitality pavilion overlooking the Polo Field. A tent at least 150 feet long, it offered tables and chairs, and other seating with a view of the Land’s End stage where Sir Elton John closed the festival Sunday night.

I ordered a beer. I was “carded.” I was required to get a green wristband proving I was 21. Well, I was—50 years ago. A young woman asked for ID. The man with her laughed and informed her that I really was old enough to drink. But who knows? Soon I might have to show ID to prove I’m not too old. Beer in hand, I listened to a band whose female singer strutted the stage a la Mick Jagger. She was better looking, but I knew this only from the giant TV screens flanking the stage. From the VIP tent, performers were specks. Fortunately, the sound system was good.

Drinks consumed, we wandered a bit. The crowd swelled. By two o’clock, getting from place to place over the large area fenced off for the festival proved time consuming. Lines at the port-a-potties—there were many—stood 12 deep. The festival map offered a reasonable approximation of various venues and highlights—food, drinks, merchandise, a beauty bar—but was a bit fuzzy on detail. We tried to get into a comedy show but couldn’t. I left at three, my mission accomplished—almost.

As it happened, the band’s Airbnb accommodations were in a dicey neighborhood. As band members checked the place out on Friday after driving up from Los Angeles where they played the Skirball Center, they saw drug deals going down right outside. Yosi called. Could the band stay at our house? The band camped out for two nights. We provided breakfasts. By Sunday, all but Yosi remained.

What’s next? The Riff Raff will record a new CD in Nashville. In November, they’ll play the Fox Theater in Oakland, opening on tour for City and Colour (Dallas Green.). They’ll also perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall on January 29.

Am I proud? Believe it. Do I take credit? No way. Hurray for the Riff Raff keeps moving up thanks to hard work and dedication. Alynda, Yosi and the band have paid their dues. And it never hurts to make great music.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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“THE BODY ELECTRIC”

Last Wednesday night, Hurray for the Riff Raff (Yosi Perlstein, resident fiddler) appeared on the 13th annual Americana Music Awards Show in Nashville. They performed “The Body Electric,” a cut on their latest CD, “Small Town Heroes.” “The Body Electric” should be mandatory listening in every locker room in the National Football League.

Alynda Lee Segarra sings, “And tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for a world that’s so sick and sad? He’s gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river. Cover me up with the leaves of September.” This isn’t paranoia. Survey after survey demonstrates that millions of women suffer from domestic violence at some time in their lives.

The NFL’s response to domestic violence has been less than impressive. A number of players have been arrested for assaulting girl friends or wives, and the league has struggled to implement a meaningful policy. The case of running back Ray Rice, recently released by the Baltimore Ravens, has become notorious. A video from an Atlantic City casino shows Rice slugging his girlfriend (now wife) wife in an elevator and knocking her unconscious. “Gee, who knew?” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell virtually said. Yet a video released earlier and seen by the NFL shows Rice dragging his victim out of the elevator as if he was taking out the garbage. So how did Goodell think she got into that state?

Rice settled with legal authorities last May. When he completes a pretrial diversion program, third-degree aggravated assault charges will be dismissed. The NFL, with its zero-tolerance policy, later suspended Rice for two—count ‘em, two—games. Uproar followed. The Ravens felt the heat and cut Rice. He is appealing through the NFL Players Association.

The San Francisco 49ers face the same challenges. Defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested August 31, charged with assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Citing due process alongside its own zero-tolerance policy, the Niners played McDonald in their first two games. Of course, they were missing another defensive end, Aldon Smith, their best pass rusher. Smith was suspended for nine games for weapons possession and a false bomb threat. This followed prior substance abuse. Other Niners players have problems, too, suggesting that individual player photos may now consist of mug shots.

Oh, and Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on charges of aggravated assault against the mother of his 18-month-old child. Police said he head-butted his wife and broker her nose. This followed charges against Minnesota’s all-pro running back Adrian Peterson for beating his son. The Vikings decided to let Peterson play, heard the uproar that followed and suspended him with pay.

Yes, men in all walks of life hurt women and kids. But few corporations or groups are as visible as the NFL—or wave the flag and salute Mom and apple pie as publicly and piously.

So here’s a suggestion for the NFL: Forget the usual halftime show at this season’s Super Bowl. Hire Hurray for the Riff Raff and several other artists to sing about domestic violence. Pay them a decent fee. Then donate the savings on the bloated budget to organizations supporting women. Sometimes you have to put words to music before people hear them.

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THREE KINDS OF PEOPLE

Last Friday night, I led Kabbalat Shabbat services at Congregation Sherith Israel. I gave my drash (mini sermon) from notes. My theme: There aren’t two kinds of people in this world. There are “three.” Here basically is how it went.

First—appreciating showmanship—I asked three volunteers to choose a card from each of three categories: dessert places, movie stars and verses from the week’s Torah portion, Ki Tetse (Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19). My task: relate Baskin-Robbins, Felicity Huffman (of “Desperate Housewives” fame) and Deut. 22:5, “A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing…” What? That’s difficult?

To begin, Torah presents us with two basic sexual identities—straight male and straight female. It forbids sex between men. It doesn’t mention sex between women, possibly because such relations don’t lead to procreation and legal claims concerning inheritance. Now, let’s put it all together.

Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors reveal much about sexual identity. Human beings encompass a broad variance in anatomy (witness the challenges the Olympic Games have confronted defining who can compete as a man or a woman), sexual identity and sexual preference. Thus the existence of the “third” kind of person within the broad category of “not two.”

Felicity Huffman starred in the 2005 movie “Transamerica.” As Bree, a transgender woman—born physically a man but identifying as a woman—she was about to have surgery that would make her as anatomically close to a woman as she could be. Sadly, Bree’s mother couldn’t accept her. But trying to impose one of two flavors in a 31-flavor world accomplishes nothing. The “third kind of person” isn’t making a choice but fulfilling complex physiological and hormonal imperatives. I know.

My son Yosi, fiddler with the band Hurray for the Riff Raff, was born my daughter Rachel. Yosi was bat-mitzvahed and confirmed at Sherith Israel. But she had trouble understanding her sexual identity. So did we. She wanted to be known as a boy and be called “he” or “him.” Beyond that, his sexual identity couldn’t be squeezed into any particular mold. We were confused. Rachel was delicate and feminine in many ways. But we were open. We concluded that Yosi—he later legally changed his name—was simply Yosi. And Yosi is not just a wonderful musician but also a wonderful son and human being.

In this light, I cite another reference to “three kinds of people.” The late Rabbi Michael Signer wrote about people who read the Bible. Pre-critical readers accept everything. Critical readers find flaws and reject everything. The third group, post-critical readers, acknowledges what it finds disagreeable while still holding to the Torah and its wisdom. Post-critical readers live with the biblical cognitive dissonance about which I wrote last week.

So did the Rabbis of the Mishnaic era two thousand years ago. This week’s Torah portion condemns a wayward, defiant son to stoning. Yet the Rabbis made capital punishment virtually impossible. They didn’t turn away from the Torah; they used elements of the text to make their case

A final story, possibly apocryphal but True with a capital T. During the Holocaust, Jews in a camp fiercely debate God’s existence. Finally, someone announces it’s time for Mincha, the afternoon service. All go off to pray.

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NEW YORK NOTES

Carolyn and I just spent five days in Manhattan. I’d like to share them with you.

In “The Scoop on San Francisco” (June 13), analyst Lynn Sedway stated that New York also is a hot real estate market. True that! We stayed at the Viceroy Hotel on West 57th Street. Across from us, a high-rise condo building for the super rich is being completed. It’s not the only such building on 57th either. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t walk anywhere in midtown without going through scaffolding as new buildings rise and older buildings undergo renovation.

Downtown, we walked the High Line, an elevated park running from 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues down to Gransvoort in the Meatpacking District. It’s way more crowded than a few years ago—a major tourist destination. The High Line offers a breath of fresh air and fabulous views of Manhattan streets, the Hudson River and New Jersey. Not surprisingly, developers are building condo and apartment projects alongside.

Before lunch, we rested overlooking 10th Avenue and 17th Street. In 1906, my father Morris came to America from Warsaw at age 2-1/2. When the Perlsteins became citizens in 1914, they lived four blocks to the east at 100 West 17th at 6th. (The site has been a parking lot for years.) August 25 marks the Perlstein citizenship centennial. For us and many tens of millions of others, the American dream has been real.

We held two small Finkle (my mother Blanche) family reunions starting on Saturday, August 2. First, we had a great lunch with our friend Teri at the Boathouse in Central Park. Then we met up with Israeli cousin Rachel Sela, her family and friends to hear Hurray for the Riff at SummerStage. The band provided a fabulous hour of Americana music rooted in blues, country and folk. Our son Yosi continues to amaze on fiddle, and we spent time with him the day before at… the Russian Tea Room. We also saw the family of Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s fabulous singer/songwriter. Side bar: Hurray for the Riff Raff opened for Dr. John and the Night Trippers, but Dr. John took ill and had to cancel. The Riff Raff couldn’t play any longer because they hurried off to the Johnstown Festival in Pennsylvania.

After the concert, we had dinner with Teri at the Bryant Park Café, one of our favorite places. Bryant Park, behind the Main Library, has been transformed into an activity-filled destination. Despite all the people enjoying themselves, it manages to be an oasis of peace.

On Sunday, we met Israeli cousin Lisa Bennett and her family, as well as my sister Kay and some of her family. We gathered for brunch at the Shalimar Diner on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (featured in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street.) After, we walked three blocks to the apartment building Kay and I grew up in. Then back to Manhattan to see The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

More on theater: Our first night in offered When We Were Young and Unafraid with Cherry Jones. It’s a powerful play about abused women with an accomplished actress. We also saw Audra McDonald in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar. There’s a reason she won her unprecedented sixth Tony.

I love San Francisco. I also love reconnecting with my roots. Today, new generations from all over the world find a home and opportunity in New York. If I tear up whenever I see the Statue of Liberty—even on a stamp and even as I’m writing—you know why.

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THE CHEMISTRY OF MUSIC

Last Tuesday, I saw my son Yosi play fiddle with Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Independent here in San Francisco. The club sold out a week in advance. The band played a lot of tunes from their new CD, “Small Town Heroes.” Much has gone right for the Riff Raff since I wrote about them in July after they opened for Alabama Shakes at the Hollywood Palladium. This Tuesday night, they appear on TV with Conan O’Brien (TBS). In August, they open for Dr. John in New York’s Central Park. More big events are coming—all thanks to chemistry.

No question, Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s founder and singer/songwriter, is a driven young woman. Also a sweetheart. But the Riff Raff has taken off because it’s prepared to deliver great music night after night.

Wherever a band resides on the food chain, its members have to work together. Like most professionals, Hurray for the Riff Raff spends lots of time on the road. There’s some flying and much driving. Some good hotels and lots of modest accommodations. Fatigue and constant proximity always come into play. If people can’t get along, the act suffers.

Chemistry isn’t easy to attain. Alynda and Yosi spent a lot of time looking for the right musicians—people combining talent with the willingness to work hard and avoid drama. They found them in keyboardist Casey McAllister, bass player Callie Millington and drummer David Jameson. The result was evident at the Independent: a tight sound and command of the room.

This isn’t just a plug for Hurray for the Riff Raff (although it is one). Pro basketball offers another great example of chemistry. The San Antonio Spurs (I lived in San Antonio long ago) have won four NBA championships since 1999. They barely lost to the Miami Heat in last year’s finals. This season, the Spurs, again coached by Gregg Popovich, a future hall of famer, finished with the league’s best record, 62–20.

Chemistry was a prime factor. Many teams look for big scorers to lead them. Popovich emphasizes team play. Individuals give up opportunities for the common good. The Spurs’ leading scorer, Tony Parker, averaged only 16.7 points per game, making him the league’s 41st leading scorer. Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City led the league at 32.0. Still, the Thunder finished three games behind the Spurs. The NBA’s third top scorer, Carmelo Anthony, averaged 27.4 for the New York Knicks, a dysfunctional franchise and a team so lacking in chemistry, it failed to make the playoffs.

There’s nothing magical about achieving chemistry. It forms when individuals curb their egos and direct their activities to the common good. Bring together people with great talent but little regard for communal purpose, and you get an underachieving group—maybe an outright failure. In music, in sports, in any endeavor, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, do the little things and ignore the spotlight produces winners.

Hurray for the Riff Raff and the San Antonio Spurs are two inspiring examples of chemistry leading to success. I wonder if anyone in Congress has given this some thought.

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Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. 

HURRAY FOR HOLLYWOOD

Hollywood used to make movies about performers suddenly discovered and thrust into stardom. It happens to some. But most take their careers a day at a time, becoming highly accomplished but not necessarily famous. I’ve seen it first hand.

My wife Carolyn is a very fine actor. She’s had small roles on two network TV shows—Chuck and Grey’s Anatomy. She’s also done wonderful stage work. And work it is with endless classes and countless auditions. A performer’s rise to public acclaim comes through great effort and the occasional shedding of tears—all usually hidden.

My son Aaron is a very talented dancer now concluding his career. He discovered his passion for dance as a freshman at Humboldt State. He won a spot with the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble in Detroit. Years with ODC/Dance in San Francisco and Alwyn Nikolais Dance Theatre of Salt Lake City took him on many trips to Europe and Southeast Asia. Audiences saw the beauty and athleticism. We knew the sweat and the pain.

I’m also proud of a new “not-quite-yet-but-maybe” overnight sensation—my son Yosi. Wednesday night, Carolyn and I flew to Los Angeles to see Yosi perform (fiddle and drums) with Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Hollywood Palladium. The band just signed a contract with ATO Records and opened for one of the hottest groups in America—and their label-mates—Alabama Shakes.

Yosi’s road has been long. He started playing drums in middle school. At San Francisco’s School of the Arts, he became an outstanding percussionist. After high school Yosi wanted to play the viola, but that was too big an instrument to take on his travels around the country. He bought a violin on a Friday and was playing on Sunday. He’s taken lessons from outstanding teachers and practiced with unwavering determination.

Then there’s the road. For years Riff Raff has played gig after gig across America, many in small clubs, bars and even private houses. Glamour? Not exactly. Riding in a van means too little sleep. A tight budget means limited food choices. Even a dressing room can be a luxury.

But Riff Raff keeps going, and each year they rise. The band has appeared at big festivals like South by Southwest in Austin. They’ve toured the United Kingdom three times and played on the Continent. Yosi and Alynda lee Segarra, the band’s fabulous singer/songwriter and leader, even appeared on Treme, HBO’s series set in New Orleans (where Yosi used to live). Their CD’s are rightfully acclaimed, and they’ve won many thousands of loyal fans.

There are no guarantees, but their hard work seems to be paying off. Las Vegas and Vancouver dates with the Shakes are coming up. There’s the Vancouver Folk Festival on the 23rd. On July 25th they open for Judy Collins in Waterford, Connecticut. Two days later they play at the Newport Folk Festival. On August 10 Hurray for the Riff Raff appears in New York at Lincoln Center’s outdoor Roots of Music Festival.

So Hurray for Hollywood. And a bigger hurray for every artist rocketed to stardom one exhausting leap after another.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.