• Carsie Blanton is making live music great again

    I didn't lose any loved ones to Covid, but live music was a Covid-era casualty that messed me up bad.  A "slow reopening" was cold comfort; I hate outdoor music venues, and with the exceptions of Halloween and fetish balls, nothing sucks the fun out of almost anything more than a face mask. I remain resentful that bars, restaurants, theaters, and concert venues keep different and often contradictory policies around all this and I've stopped trying to make sense of it. But the experience of live performance, without a multi-check Covid screening protocol and a smothering of polypropylene fiber, ­was one that couldn't come back fast enough.

    It made perfect sense that my re-entry into the world of live music—gleefully unmasked and with a drink in hand, no less—happened to come by way of Carsie Blanton, who gave us one of the finest and eminently relevant albums to come out of the Covid era, Love & Rage.

    Unfamiliar with Carsie Blanton & Her Handsome Band? The good news: she's several albums in, so quality binge-listening awaits. They also happen to be currently on tour across the US, Ireland, and the UK in celebration of her newest release, Body of Work, and may be coming to a venue near you.

    She's earnest. She's hilarious. She's a gal who's never been afraid to speak her truth. She's a prolific, tried and true folkie ("American Kid"), has a penchant for old school jazz ("Heavenly Thing"), she can wield the energy of the great power pop bands of the early '80s ("Shit List"), evoke the sultry spirit of the legendry Atlantic recordings of the '60s and '70s ("That Boy"), and successfully pushes her own boundaries ("Be So Bad"). If you can handle an intense talent, some full-throttle charm, and a serious dose of toe-tappin' fist-pumping activism, get ready to fall in love.

    NPR's Fresh Air says the Southern-born, Philly-based singer-songwriter "delivers every song with an equal dose of moxie and mischief, bringing her audience together in joyful celebration of everything worth fighting for." True, but her setlist jumps from cheerful, anti-fascist anthems and ebullient protest songs, to unapologetic disclosures about falling for—or occasionally indulging in—the wrong men, to an address to a Facebook hater, to insightful reckonings of prevailing Americana and the last few insane years of US history, with selections from The Great American Songbook tossed in for good measure. And only Ms. Blanton can set a harangue to Senator Joe Manchin to music (a song she performed before an audience at The Kennedy Center where Manchin was in attendance) and still keep it fun and earwormy, which for her, is entirely the point. It's not easy to be both genuinely subversive and balls-out fun. On that note, Carsie scores an A+.

    After more than two years of live music starvation, Carsie Blanton and her Handsome Band felt like an all-you-can-eat buffet. They're a tight triad of three stellar talents: keyboardist Patrick Firth brings more music to his fingertips than ten digits should allow, and the discreetly-mohawked bassist Joe Plowman (who also serves as musical director and occasional co-songwriter), toggles between electric and stand up with a cool virtuosity that stops just short of a sex act.

    It's interesting to me that Blanton has cited Nina Simone as one of her influences. The similarities aren't immediately evident, but the two do share a lot in common. Both artists are lyrical revolutionaries who can serve their music with justified, righteous rage without killing the beauty of their art form. They both bring a genuine vulnerability and a bona fide toughness to what they do, delivered with a voice that transcends talent. And, like Nina Simone, my guess is that Carsie's a woman who doesn't scare very easily—and if push came to shove, she probably wouldn't stop short of setting shit on fire.

    A Playlist You Won't Regret:

    Shit List

    Down in the Streets

    That Boy

    Can't Wait to Break Your Heart

    American Kid

    So Bad

    Hot Night

    Smoke Alarm

    Be Good

    Fuck Yourself

    Fishin' with You

  • Christmas with a Z: Zara Bode KO's COVID with a Holiday Special All Her Own

    Snowmen! Puppies! Disco Balls! And tunes, lots of tunes. If you only watch one holiday-y thing this year, let it be this.

    I first heard the voice of Zara Bode when she and her band, The Sweetback Sisters, opened for Loretta Lynn during her 2011 tour. At that time, The Sweetback Sisters were a Brooklyn-based swing & honky-tonk phenom with a loyal fanbase, but it was their annual Sweetback Sisters' Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular Tour that drew the sort of following to which  televangelists and cult leaders aspire; every show routinely sold out fast, undoubtedly to the same ticket holders who attended the year before. You could take  your seat, look around the audience, and see all the same faces. It was like our annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

    Because Covid put the kibosh on live performance, much less a tour, it looked very much like the Spectacular was a no-go until Bode made her pivot. Instead of what would have been their 12th year of the holiday show, she created a "tribute" broadcast, Zara Bode's Hunkered Down Holiday Special. Hosted from the living room of her epic, three-story Victorian, Bode leads us through a jam-packed, two-hour (it doesn't feel that long) holiday meander through solos, duos, special guests, and band vids, with plenty of the unexpected and some of the positively post-modern.

    And there's the voice. Although her (non-biological) "sister" Emily Miller—the other half of  Sweetback's spine-tingling harmonies—makes appearances too, the broadcast allows for some stylistic departures for Bode, and her solos are some of the real scene-stealers. Chief among them, her cover of the arcane and rarely-heard, "After the Holidays," which probably hasn't been performed in a live broadcast since an unwell Judy Garland sang it from a chair, too frail to stand, on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in December of 1968.

    Zara Bode's Hunkered Down Holiday Special rebroadcasts today at 3:00 EST today, here. A potential rebroadcast is tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve. Double-dipping encouraged.

  • These Monster Cookies require a pound of butter. And yes, it's worth it.

    Don't tell your cardiologist, but the first ingredient of the chocolate chunk Monster Cookie recipe created by Tavel Bristol-Joseph (one of Food and Wine Best New Chefs of 2020) is an entire pound of butter.

    Join the much-lauded Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi (the genius behind Milk Bar's infamous Crack Pie, which was respectfully re-named "Milk Bar Pie" last year after complaints; America's off-the-hook drug epidemic has made crack less funny evidently), as she joins Bristol-Joseph in her weekly Bake Club broadcast, as they make what could become your new favorite Covid-era indulgence.

    Tosi's weekly Bake Club comes by way of her newsletter, which also includes inspired tips like her Lego Soap Dish. If you sign up, you'll even get a membership card hand made by Tosi herself!

  • Make IKEA's iconic meatballs at home

    I had a friend who was so obsessed with Ikea's Swedish meatballs that he bought them frozen, in bulk, from the IKEA Food Market, and kept a bomb shelter ration's worth in his garage freezer. And this was years before anyone heard of Covid-19, or thought to hoard hand sanitizer or toilet paper.

    My friend has since passed on (his death was not meatball-related), but it would have given him great peace of mind to know that IKEA has released its closely-guarded meatball recipe (including their singular cream sauce, which may, in fact, have had something to do with my friend's death) so that anyone can reproduce the IKEA cafeteria experience in the privacy of their own home.

  • And now, for some Yiddisha Vaudeville

    If you're a music aficionado with an appreciation of the arcane for whom the forgotten tunes of the 1910s and '20s are just as compelling as anything you might stream on Spotify, and you've never heard of Janet Klein: welcome to a wonderful sinkhole of fun, where every day is Throwback Blursday.

    Klein is a Los Angeles-based ukulele virtuoso and singer who began her career performing live in local venues like El Segundo's Old Town Music Hall in the late-'90s, and after nine full albums, has taken her turn as the toast of Tokyo, the sweetheart of the silent movie house set, and the darling of the old-time dance halls. Through a 20+ year career, she's recorded a beguiling assortment of hot swing, French ballads, early jazz, tin pan alley novelty tunes, and arcane Vitaphone numbers, keeping exactingly true to the spirit of each genre, its context, and singular sound. Whether accompanying herself on uke, or performing in front of Hal Roach-style arrangements with her full band, The Parlor Boys, Klein is a music historian as much as she is a musician and singer. She's an essential worker on the front lines of forgotten music, resuscitating life into material lost to disintegrating celluloid or marginalized due to limited test pressings. Using music halls, old rehearsal spaces, or anyplace else she and her Parlor Boys can find toasty acoustics for their studio recordings, Janet Klein's voice ices a cake baked with mandocello, xylophone, ocarina, lap steel guitar, accordion, the washboard, and the singing saw.

    She's just released Yiddisha Follies, a collection of her notable Yiddish Vaudeville numbers on Bandcamp, including the tunes "Yiddish Hula Boy," "The Sheik of Avenue B," and "Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars."

    "The story telling of these songs has everything to do with immigrant experiences…What results are songs that reveal a mashup of dialects, malapropisms, inside jokes and often are only thinly veiled references to people like Theda Bara, a tailor's daughter from Cincinnati, but in the movies, an exotic vamp from Egypt, inspiring the song 'Rebecca Came Back From Mecca.'"

    You can see Janet Klein's videos, explore her music, peek into her Vaudeville Closet and more on her site.

  • When the US dollar is worth nothing, will Utah lead the way to a new American currency?

    Is blockchain currency too intangible and complicated for you? Does Facebook Pay feel too In-Zuckerberg-We-Trust? Does your couch potato lifestyle prevent you from going on a Sweatcoin shopping spree?

    Could Goldbacks, the world's first local, spendable, voluntary currency made of physical gold, be the alt-tender answer? The Beehive State is leading the way with the Utah Goldback, a new currency that holds legal status in the state by way of the Legal Tender Act of 2011, which recognized specific forms of gold as currency, and allowed small amounts to be used as a form of payment and monetary exchange within the state among individuals and businesses who accept it. The polymer paper bills are coated with real gold and come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50.

    An alt-currency enthusiast friend recently gifted me with a fiver (a bill backed with 1/200th of an ounce of pure gold), which left me feeling like Charlie Bucket and my wallet looking like a winning Wonka Bar every time I opened it. Glimmering, brilliant, yellow gold illustrated with a depiction of Veritas; it was maybe the first time in my life I actually wanted to hold onto my money rather than spend it. Probably a good thing, since I don't live in Utah. Maybe the nationwide use of Goldbacks would encourage Americans to save more because you just don't want to give these beauties away, the way they catch and reflect light is nothing short of mesmerizing. Cats would probably love them too.

    Goldbacks have been praised as an inflation-proof alternative to the dollar, which might come in really handy soon enough, and while it addresses the problems of fiat currency, some critics say they aren't cost-effective; much more is spent on Goldback production than paper money. There are also concerns about wear and tear with use, causing a diminishing supply. And what happens to one after it's forgotten in a pocket and goes through the washing machine? I'm not willing to experiment.

    1000 Goldbacks = 1 ounce of gold (1 Goldback is backed by 1/1000th of an ounce), and because the price of gold is fluid, the price of Goldacks is too. You can buy them from an authorized dealer, or even shake shit up and start a Goldback movement in your own state.

  • Why Suzi Quatro is one of the coolest American rock stars you probably don't know much about

    Speak the names of 1970s & early-'80s women rock icons such as Patty Smith, Debbie Harry, or Joan Jett, and you'll undoubtedly receive a nod of recognition. Say Suzi Quatro, and for the few who know the name, most will point to Happy Days, the American Graffiti-inspired hit '70s sit-com that featured Quatro in the recurring role of her Fonzie-adjacent character, Leather Tuscadero (footnote: Debbie Harry was also considered for the part). Few could name one of her many hits.

    But Suzi Quatro was already a bonafide rock star by the time she was cast on Happy Days. It was, in fact, because she was a bonafide rock star that she got the role. As a kid, I understood that the woman singing with a seductive rock 'n' roll rasp wearing skin-tight leather jumpsuits and sporting the very un-1950s shag haircut, sharing the screen with Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, was a real rocker somewhere, someplace, but there was always a strange disconnect with Quatro. A popular culture gap. Why didn't I hear her on the radio? Where did she exist beyond the world of Happy Days? Why did she somehow seem both here and nowhere at the same time? And why now, with a career that spans more than four decades and record sales totaling over 55 million, is this Detroit native still barely known within the US? The compelling and revealing documentary, Suzi Q—from the Australian-based team of Liam Firmager and Tait Brady—fills all the gaps and satisfies every question.

    Stream it, you won't regret it. It's the stuff a great rock 'n' roll documentary is made of. She'll inspire. You'll run to Spotify. You'll tell your friends.

  • Keep restaurants in business, support farmers, and feed those economically hit by Covid? Yes, it's possible!

    Brattleboro, Vermont has initiated an innovative project leveraging CARES Act funding to keep local restaurants in business, while at the same time supporting local farmers and feeding members of the community hit with the economic impact of the Covid health crisis. The project is called Everyone Eats!, and it's a program that integrates the diversity of Brattleboro's food scene with the economic realities that the health crisis has thrown to many area food businesses, farmers, and residents. 

    Everyone Eats! is a food assistance program that leverages federal relief funds to support local restaurants, small farms, and families by providing free meals to anyone negatively impacted by Covid due to a job loss, underemployment, homelessness, and other well-being challenges. NBC News reported on the program, which is serving as a template for other communities wrestling with impending restaurant closures.

    Image: NBC

  • Covid-19 is making New York kinky again

    Memo: Wash your hands, and your sex toys.

    The New York Health department has issued a "harm reduction strategy" document encouraging city residents to eschew in-person hookups and opt instead for "video dates, sexting, subscription-based fan platforms, sexy Zoom parties or chat rooms."

    But if you absolutely must, the memo offers covid-19 safety tips for sex workers ("take a break" the memo states, but don't expect an EIDL loan), directives for group sex parties ("limit your guest list"), and guidance for those who dig the "mature" (Remember, those over 65 are high risk!).

    "Make it a little kinky," the memo states. "Be creative with sexual positions and physical barriers, like walls, that allow sexual contact while preventing close face to face contact." The times they are a changin'. Could the city's infamous glory hole culture make a comeback?

    Ultimately, the memo urges, "You are your safest sex partner," and as the infamous New York pervert Woody Allen once said, "Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone I love."

    But the best harm reduction strategy might be the memo itself. Read the whole thing and you'll never want to have sex again.

  • Skin tight, with bite: lion-mauled jeans

    Covid-19 takes no prisoners, and North Safari Sapporo in Japan's northernmost prefecture is no exception. Scott Wilson reported for SoraNews 24 that mandatory shutdowns have forced the animal park to get creative, so the zoo  started a crowd funding campaign offering incentives such as earrings made from skin shed by their snakes and feathers dropped by their parrots, coasters gnawed by beaver, and for 70,000 yen ($639) a pair of distressed jeans that have been ripped, chewed and mauled by the park's lions.

    North Safari took a cue from Yagiyama Zoological Park, who in 2016 put their lions, tigers and bears to work in partnership with a local retail chain to create ZOO Jeans:

  • Nebraska woman is suing every gay person in America

    Alissa Skelton reports in the Omaha World Herald that a Nebraska woman, Sylvia Driskell, 66, who claims to be "an ambassador for God and his son, Jesus Christ," has filed a lawsuit against "all homosexuals." She is representing herself in the case.

    "Citing Bible verses, Driskell contends 'that homosexuality is a sin and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in the closet(?)'"

    "Driskell wrote in a seven-page petition to the court that God has said homosexuality is an abomination. She challenged the court to not call God a liar," Skelton's story says.

  • Catholics have more fun: baptism by squirt gun

    Covid-19 physical distancing has sparked a new trend among Catholics with a sense of humor: baptism by water pistol.

    The telltale sign that this child is a girl might not be the christening gown, but the pink water gun. Interesting too, because historically pink was associated with the masculine (it was considered a variant of red) and blue was attributed to the feminine (because The Virgin Mary was most often depicted wearing blue). So this just goes to show that the Catholic church can, in fact, to some degree, change with the times.

    Image: Jumpstory / CC0

  • Homemade sourdough is so April. Try your hand at home-cured meat!

    We've all been spending a lot more time in the kitchen over the past couple of months, some of us more successfully than others. But if you're feeling ambitious, aren't afraid of power-packed spice blends, and have a place to hang raw meat in your home for a few days, consider upping your Covid-19 culinary game with an Armenian appetizer that'll make you weak in the knees.

    For the uninitiated, basturma is a salt and spice-cured tenderloin encased in a deep red crust of paprika, fenugreek, allspice, black pepper, cumin, cayenne and lots of fresh garlic. Some call it Armenian salami. It's not very pretty, but what dried meat is really, and you're unlikely to find a more addictive match when placed alongside olives, Armenian string cheese, and lavash.

    The sumptuous new book, Lavash, by food writer Kate Leahy (of Burma Superstar fame), chef and food stylist Ara Zada, and photographer John Lee finally gives Armenian food the culinary and cultural fetishization it so rightly deserves, and demystifies the process of transforming fresh beef into razor-thin, almost translucent slices of zesty piquant basturma.

    The book's central focus, lavash, is only a jumping off point for the dozens of other recipes—while somewhat arcane, many are also surprisingly simple—all exquisitely photographed and accompanied by thoughtful and intriguing histories and editorial.

    Heghineh Cooking Show demonstrates the basturma-curing process in a how-to vid (and I do love her Russian-Armenian accent). Videos by the Lavash authors (including a how-to for lavash) can be found here.

    Once you've mastered basturma, try your hand at jingalov hats.

  • Jayne Mansfield: Viral Warrior

    For much of the first half of the 20th century, another mysterious virus was freaking people the hell out, and no one understood what it was or how it spread. Children got hit the worst. It touched the wealthy and the poor. It paralyzed and even killed. Nothing seemed to stop it, and "Polio season" came back with a vengeance every summer. Public swimming pools were the kiss of death—or at least paralysis—and attending a gathering at a birthday party, a bar mitzvah, or even a playground was a recipe for disaster. Speculation about its source ran rampant: the public considered everything from poisonous gasses from Europe, to horses, to radio waves, to cigarette smoke, to parents tickling their kids too much. Children touched by the virus were deemed pariahs and sent off to hospitals and sanitariums for treatment, while their panicked parents "cleaned" their homes by tossing toys, burning bedding, scrubbing floors and ripping down wallpaper, unsure of where the virus lurked or how long it incubated. Then, in 1953, Jonas Salk created a vaccine that stopped polio in its tracks.

    And Jayne Mansfield did her part to promote the March of Dimes immunization program.

    My friend Bill Franklin, writer, educator, and publisher, was a Southern California grade-schooler at the time. It was announced to his 5th grade class that the movie star Jayne Mansfield (the infamous headline-grabber, pin-up, and star of the films Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, The Girl Can't Help It, Too Hot to Handle, and Promises! Promises!) would be visiting local area elementary schools, and for a fifty cent donation to the March of Dimes you could have your picture taken with her.

    "Fifty cents was a lot of money for a kid at that time," he recalled when he first told me about his brush with greatness, "But I thought about it, and I decided it was for a good cause and that it would be worth the money. So I nervously took five precious dimes from my savings that morning before I left for school."

    Although his moment before the camera with Jayne was brief, no one could argue that his fifty-cent investment wasn't well spent. Unfortunately, 30 or so years later would Bill succumb to complications of another virus, HIV, while AIDS was at its peak and more advanced treatment had yet to be developed.

    His photo with Mansfield is priceless though, and it's my favorite way to remember him. I also love that even when touring the Southern California public school system posing for photos with children to fundraise for polio vaccination, Jayne was still all about the bust. Although she couldn't sport her signature plunging neckline at an elementary school, she still managed to get the job done with a blouse of complicated geometrical striping and seaming. The pose is all about the tits too, as she's fully aware, giving every fifth-grader their money's worth, nearly poking Bill's eye out with the tip of her bullet bra.

    Could the distribution of a Covid-19 virus be as much fun?

    RIP Bill, and Jayne.


  • No pants, no problem. But cover your face.

    As coronavirus cases soar past 4,700 in the Czech Republic, the Eastern European nation's nude sunbathers are being targeted by authorities for neglecting to cover up their mouths.

    "Citizens can be without clothes in places designated for this purpose, but they must have their mouths covered and must observe the numbers in which they can go into nature," said  police spokeswoman Markéta Janovská.


  • States need programmers who know old COBOL language to process a surge in unemployement claims

    New Jersey, Connecticut, and Kansas are among the states whose unempoyment systems are being overwhelmed with new claims, and the systems run on old computer language that stopped being taught before many programmers were born. According to a report on CNN Business, "On top of ventilators, face masks and health care workers, you can now add COBOL programmers to the list of what several states urgently need as they battle the coronavirus pandemic."

    "Despite a dwindling number of COBOL programmers, a 2017 report by Reuters found that there are still 220 billion lines of COBOL in use today. 43% of banking systems are built on COBOL and 95% percent of ATM swipes rely on COBOL code."

  • Anyone can make Tora Smart's DIY no-sew face mask

    No, it won't ensure you don't catch covid-19, but some face coverage is better than none when making a trip out of the house. Tora Smart's a how-to vid walks us through a quick and easy way to create a face mask with materials you already have at hand:

    "Let's all make our own masks and let front line health workers get first dibs on the real ones. If we all wear our own when we leave the house, there will be less spread. New information is revealing that some face coverage is better than no face coverage. BUT, please allow care workers to get the real ones first!"