Archive for March, 2016

h1

The Ballad Of Gregg Sansone (Uncut)

March 28, 2016

image

Author’s Note: This interview has been on a wild ride in the last ten years.  A shorter edit originally appeared in Buffalo Spree magazine, the longer format ran on Acid Logic and the version you’re about to read finally found its way into my fourth book If They Can’t Take A Joke (Authorhouse, 2007).  Gregg’s been a dear friend of mine for more than 15 years and with his 55th birthday approaching, I thought I’d revisit this interview.  

If you’ve participated in (or just enjoyed) the Buffalo music scene for the last six years, Gregg Sansone is a pervasive, melodic, keyboard-driven entity. The two-time Buffalo Music Award Winning Solo Artist Of The Year plays out at clubs, bars and other venues over 300 nights a year (when he’s in peak physical condition), and his cover shows run the gamut of Steve Winwood to Elton John to Stevie Wonder. Dabbling in rock, jazz, blues and classical standards, Sansone has become a local icon and a national underground phenomenon. I saw Gregg play (or channel, to be more accurate) Elton John covers at Route 66 in downtown Buffalo four years ago, and I’ve been a Sansonite ever since. His two and three hour shows are lousy with fans, electric in their intensity and craftsmanship, and brilliant to witness. I had the opportunity to sit down with Greg at my apartment in Lancaster while he was recovering from major back surgery (he had a disc removed).

TW: You haven’t had a drink since you were 15. Why is that, and do you find it surreal to play out at clubs and bars for the majority of the year in the company of people who are soused out of their minds?

GS: No. Alcoholism runs in my family. I’ve got a huge family. Eight boys and one girl. Some people put down meat and become vegetarians. I had the hindsight as a fifteen year old to say ‘You know, I’m addictive as hell. I have a real addictive personality. I’m just not going to do this. Otherwise, I think it could be a problem, and it just stuck through college and everything else. Like anything, I stuck with it and it developed and it’s been years and years. I have a blast (at the shows). People come up to me and say ‘Man, you were hammered because you were dancing on the bars!’ and I say, ‘No, but awesome, thanks man.’

TW: How does your strongly held belief in Buddhism inform your singing and songwriting?

GS: Songwriting and instrumental writing are different. They’re along a spiritual line, but my performances are an extension of what I believe in anyway about myself. Buddhism isn’t a religion as much as it is a philosophy. They didn’t invent being honest and they didn’t invent being good people, they just do it well. So you can apply it to any faith that you have and for me, it just helps me to not want to kill everybody. Or when someone is drunk and they fall into my keyboards and everything, now I don’t want to drag them into the parking lot. Before (Buddhism) I did.

TW: Do you think the era of disposable pop/porn performers like Britney Spears and Ricky Martin is nearing its end, or is it more of a popular music cycle?

GS: I think human nature is human nature, and within music, I’m no expert on anything. I’m just an Italian from Buffalo. Before them when Madonna got really popular, they produced people like Jody Watley, and-

TW: Rick Astley.

GS: People like that, that’s exactly right, but specifically female singers to sound like her (Madonna). Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, so it does go in cycles. I think the American people, we’re a disposable society. There’s a huge portion of the population that buys into that, and they just go into whatever’s popular. But there’s this undercurrent of people like us that-

TW: Observe?

GS: Observe and evaluate and say, ‘This is good, this doesn’t work for me, that’s kinda bullshit. I know that you love Elton John for instance, as do I. People like Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney and even Madonna, and I’m not a Madonna fan, but she’s stood the test of time. They’re not a flash in the pan, and for good reason. If we didn’t have those people, it would be a sad, sad world with the boy bands, although Justin Timberlake has broken from that and has really made a name for himself. I mean, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

TW: And Mark Wahlberg-

GS: Mark Wahlberg is kinda cool in the movies, though! When he was Marky Mark it was a different story.

TW: Your best one night stand story after a show:

GS: Um, my best one night stand story after a show-because I have one night stand stories during a show.

TW: That sounds like the better story.

Read the rest of this entry ?

Advertisements
h1

Bat To The Future

March 21, 2016

image

Author’s Note: With BuffaloComedy.com having gone the way of the dodo (where this piece originally appeared in January of 2015) and Batman Vs. Superman just 5 agonizing days away from its theatrical release (which I’m not laying any bets on until I see it), I  thought now might be a good time to revisit my reflections on the 75th Anniversary Year of the Dark Knight Detective.  This is an essay from the upcoming book Travesty.   

By the time you read this, the year-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics (in 1939, for those of you who don’t have a calculator nearby) will have come and gone. He’s a character who has endured the test of time, and you may know Detective Comics by their abbreviation: DC. I caught hell some years ago for defending the cultural importance of the impending theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). It was a week-long troll battle in a lesser publication and I hate to be the guy who said I told you so, but I was right, Buffalo. That film changed the superhero film forever and demolished most (if not all) box office records. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. What follows is a personal recollection/celebration of the mythos. Dates and citations have been left out, messed up or guessed at because the author is lazy.

I’ve been a Batman fan almost all of my life. As a child, I got into the comics around the same time that I caught the syndicated reruns for the high-camp television version with Adam West, three separate Catwomen and the famed ‘Bat-usi’. This led of course to Batman:The Movie, which we have to thank for the ‘Bat Shark Repellant Spray’ incident. The utility belt can only hold so much. The Caped Crusader has gone through a lot of incarnations over the decades he’s traveled through, which may be one of the secrets behind his staying power. While it was corny and cheesy (‘camp’ is an ironic form of comedy that borders on being an endangered species), the tv series hit home for at least a few seasons.

The ’80s was a great time to get into comics since the medium was growing up in terms of maturity and readership. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns made such a gritty impact on the pulp multiverse that college courses are still taught dissecting its importance. The story zeroes in on Batman coming out of retirement in order to stomp out the threat of a mutant gang, subvert government opposition to superheroes and to square off with Superman. Miller followed this up with Batman: Year One, a mini-series that focused on the roots of billionaire Bruce Wayne’s lifelong war on crime.

Toward the end of the decade, comic icon Alan Moore applied his craft to The Killing Joke, a one-shot story where the reader is taken through a retelling of The Joker’s origin, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter is crippled by same, the Commissioner’s sanity is tried by The Joker and Batman’s is questioned at the close of the arc with a punchline and a recurring pattern of raindrops. The Joker postulates throughout the book that the difference between sanity and insanity is just one bad day. Batman tries to prove him wrong.

In the early ’90s, mainstay Grant Morrison took a turn with Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth. I re-read this book almost every year and always come away with something new in this layered psychological examination of the aberrant psyche. Batman infiltrates the asylum (which the inmates have taken control of spear-headed by the Joker) and tries to keep his head while everyone else’s is long gone. This is interspersed with the story of how Arkham Asylum came to be, which is quite haunting to say the least.

Meanwhile, in the single issues, there was the groundbreaking A Death In The Family, a story arc that was revolutionary because DC set up 1-800 lines so that readers could vote on the fate of Robin at the hands of (you guessed it) The Joker. For you younger readers, people used to have phones in their house attached to the walls that we called ‘Land Lines’. A 1-800 number was a ‘toll free’ number that residents could ‘dial’ on said Land Lines. Spoiler alert (not sure if it’s a spoiler alert twenty five years later): the readers killed off Robin. Luckily, nobody ever stays dead in comics for some reason, and that particular Boy Wonder (there have been around four) came back in Under The Red Hood.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Big Words I Know By Heart Episode 23: ‘Schadenfreude’

March 16, 2016

image

The Buffalo standup comedy scene is on fire, and Allie Brady is one of the comics who’s right at the center of it.  After interviewing 3 comics so far (with more on the horizon), it’s fascinating to explore each of their individual voices, styles and, by extension, their acts.  Brady has this slight pause before she delivers a brutal politically incorrect punchline that I really admire.  In the studio, she was fast, relentless and hilarious.  To top it off, her website (stilltoosoon.blogspot.com) is one of the funniest projects I’ve read online in a very, very long time.  Britney Hoffman was a little deer-in-the-headlights in the Co Host Hot Seat, but I thought she rounded out the dynamic quite nicely.  Roll that clip!

A big thanks goes out to Brady, Hoffman and the always-lovely Richard Wicka for putting it all together.  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE for new shows, bonus clips and other additional content.

Tom

h1

Big Words Video 23.5: ‘Irish Spring’ & 23.6: ‘Shitty Girl’

March 16, 2016

I’m starting to think it’s a better idea to send someone out into the field to get these Big Words Video Bonus clips.

I don’t enjoy being out in front of a crowd scene anymore.  There was a time where my ego insisted on it, but these days I’d rather hang out in the background and let the star be the star of the show.  Harvesting these clips with a consumer camera demands that the ‘director’ get right up on top of the action.  Music production man Roger Pleasant of Uprise Studios went on location to Magruder’s in Lancaster for Green Gorilla Comedy’s ‘Irish Spring’ showcase a few weeks ago and came back with two really solid clips from standup comic Allie Brady’s act.  See for yourself:

Using the same Sony PJ340 I’ve been using, Pleasant got a great angle, sound and lighting in HD.  Allie’s comedy speaks for itself.  Putting someone else at the helm of the camera does too.  If you like what you see, SUBSCRIBE!  We’ll be back at it next month with longtime pal and journeyman pianist/performer Gregg Sansone.

See you then,

Tom

h1

Dante’s Double

March 1, 2016

image

You could fill Lake Erie with the amount of hot sauce I’ve ingested.

Nothing would live, grow or thrive there, so basically, it would be the same lake. I’ve been eating chicken wings at least once a week since I was around 17. Technically, chicken fingers were my gateway poultry. My buddy Ron and I got together every week to play video games and we commemorated the event with chicken fingers. And hot sauce. When I got my first apartment, I got my first fryer. Shortly thereafter, I gained about 40 pounds. Studies show that those two events were interconnected somehow. With no self control and the understanding that I was too lazy to deal with the mess of making wings at home, a new tradition was born: wings once a week. This is the point where I could say ‘A hero is born.’ or ‘This is the stuff of legend.’, but my artistic license expired yesterday. It’s best in this situation to borrow from the poorly named 1980’s Fred Ward star vehicle Remo Williams and go with ‘The Adventure Begins’. Cinephile Note: The adventure began and ended with that horrible movie. Let’s get back to the wings…

There are a lot of things that Buffalonians lay claim to: losing at football, losing at hockey on a technicality, losing on ‘Best Places To Live’…you get the picture. Chicken wings really did originate in Buffalo though, at the famous Anchor Bar in the city. Chicken wings happen to be the one thing about Buffalo I embrace. In the rest of the country they travel under the nom de plume of ‘Party Wings’ (makes sense), ‘Hot Wings’ (I like to use that one because it drives my boss into a fit of rage) and yes, ‘Buffalo Wings’. Hot Tip: If they’re listed as ‘Buffalo Wings’ on a menu, you’re probably at a chain restaurant that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to make chicken wings and you’ll end up with a soggy, buttery embarrassment in a plastic basket. ‘Buttery Embarrassment’ also happens to be how I refer to the loss of my virginity. Chicken wings are deceptively simple in their execution. Cook until crispy, douse in hot sauce with a fire hose and mix with butter for those with indigestion.

Around here, the base hot sauce is Frank’s Red Hot. I was not paid for that endorsement, but would like to be. Most places use Frank’s. In the rest of the country I’ve seen diners that give you a 2 oz. shooter of Tabasco for 30 chicken wings (I’m not sure how that would even work), Sriracha (which I’ve never had but would like to try) along the southern border and a lot of sad kitchen-made pastes that were more ketchup than anything else. Spoiler Alert: Ketchup does not resemble hot sauce in any way, shape and especially not form. My palate is so accustomed to Frank’s Red Hot that I’ve gone off in search of other strains of sauce. As a hot sauce enthusiast, you build up a tolerance to heat over time. Useful Factoid: A unit of heat with peppers is measured in ‘Scovilles’, whichb were named after the inventor of the system.

Unlike the rest of my family, I have the constitution of a billy goat. My older brother gets an upset stomach after oatmeal and my younger brother chews on Tums like they’re Tic Tacs. I was not paid for either of those endorsements, but would begrudgingly accept payment in the form of check, money order or chicken wings. By the time I was 25 or so, I’d worked my way up from Medium wings (half butter, half hot sauce) to hot wings (all hot sauce) to more explosive options. Sauces that incorporated jalepeno peppers (they deliver that extra mule kick to your mouth at the end of every bite) habanero peppers (which add a very distinct flavor to the sauce while incinerating your insides) and eventually, ghost peppers. Ghost peppers are no joke. On the Scoville scale, ghost peppers reside somewhere in the vicinity of Dante’s final circle of hell, if that circle included screaming, crying and praying on the toilet all at the same time.

Many argue that the hotter wings that are available aren’t enjoyable. While there is a small subsection of guys who feel the need to prove their masculinity by devouring wings they normally can’t handle, often can’t handle during their demonstration, and definitely won’t handle ever again without a medical staff on standby, some of us have worked our way up to it. Crying is a factor. It’s more of a chemical reaction than an emotional catharsis. It also takes place if you happen to wipe your eyes with the same napkin you used to wipe your sauce-spotted hands with. Or if you don’t wash your hands and scratch your eye hours later. Don’t do this with ghost peppers. Ghost pepper sauces will make you their bitch. Plain and simple.

I hate to say it, but I may have reached an age where I have to start traveling down the heat index. My endurance with the hotter sauces may have reached its apex. For every cause there is an effect. That, and I can’t imagine carrying an IV of blue cheese around with a stainless steel diaper when I’m 50. It’s time to put on the brakes a bit. Blue cheese is for punks. It’s an easy way out of the heat that serves to mask or neutralize it. Milk neutralizes the pain, too. I prefer soda. My Buffalo brethren insist it is called pop. They’re wrong. That’s neither here nor there, though. I like a nice cold glass of Diet Dr. Pepper with my wings. I was not paid or coerced by the good people at the Diet Dr. Pepper bottling plant, but would feign refusal and quickly accept large monetary gifts in the form of gold doubloons or solid ingots stacked in a triangular fashion.

Nowadays, I order a double (20) of wings every Thursday because you get a price break per wing at 20 and I can always finish them off for an additional meal time. The additional meal time may take place before I get up from the table the first time. There’s a great debate between drums (drumsticks) or flats (the actual wings) with solid arguments for both. Drums are easy to eat in public and they tend to crisp up better if you prefer yours crispy. I’m a flats man. My dad was a flats man and his father before him. We’re flats people. Honestly though, I like flats because they’re more tender, they soak up more sauce, they taste better on the reheat and they don’t have as much gristle as the drums. Believe me, I’ve done the research.

By a stroke of luck (and the one good genetic card dealt to me), my severe height has cancelled out any blood pressure issues that might accompany someone who eats a double of wings every week. It’s right on par. If I were a superhero, that would be my super power: Slightly Average Blood Pressure. Villains everywhere would tremble at the sight of my triage. I’ve been training for this all my life. Now I just need an outfit that’s stain resistant to the corrosive concoctions I crave.

Fired up,
Tom Waters

%d bloggers like this: