Via WNYC, this is too good not to share. Everybody remember this guy's name.
MY DEAR FRIENDS AND ACCOMPLICES: Get fired up for the coming week! It’s WPRB's annual membership drive, during which time we put our good foot forward and try to remind you that community radio is worth your financial support. Although PRB is housed on Princeton University’s campus, beyond facilities, they provide ZERO funding for the station. That means it’s on us every time a turntable goes on the fritz, a computer croaks, or our webcasting fees shoot through the roof.
As such, I’ll be dropping all on-air pretense this Wednesday between 11 AM and 1 PM and asking you to help us reach our fundraising goal. And I’ve assembled a pretty badass assortment of analog and digital goodies to tempt your dollars with, including albums by recent show-faves like Herzog, the Numbers Band, U.S. Girls, Dot Wiggin, Marissa Nadler, William Onyeabor, the Entrance Band, Black Hollies, Cheap Dinosaurs, Dexter Johnson, and many others. That’s in addition to all of the station-branded swag (this year including flasks, backpacks, and mugs along with the customary t-shirts and such.)
WPRB occupies a unique middle ground between the realms of college and community radio. The station’s got an enormous cultural footprint that’s most synonymous with the metro-Philly area, but which also extends as far north into Jersey as Newark. We’re staffed and run by a revolving cast of dedicated University undergrads, who offer some airtime to community members with an unflinching jones for good radio. That’s how I came on board the station back in 1992—I was a local townie who was hooked on the crazy sounds of underground music, which WPRB was a critical, local mouthpiece for. The friends and experiences those early years provided for me inadvertently directed the focus of my career, and I’ve been working in community radio (or: “up and down this goddam dial”, as I sometimes like to put it) for the last 15 years.
What does that mean? Well, in addition to hosting the Freeform Pathogen, I also serve as WPRB’s Educational Advisor. I’m not “the boss” by any stretch of the definition, nor do I aim to be the type of crusty old barnacle who’s paid to oversee operations at a lot of other college stations. I never tell my student colleagues to reign in their shows or conform to a strict set of guidelines. More often, I’m encouraging them to stretch out, to experiment, and to put crazy ideas into action because that’s the best way to connect with PRB’s rich legacy and the most exciting traditions of community radio. Some of my earliest radio heroes were student DJs on WPRB: Ken Katkin, Tim Kastelle, Mr. Mike Shmelzer, Matthew Robb, Sean Murphy, Jen Moyse, Corey Magnell, and so on. They spoke confidently, candidly, and passionately about their interests on the air, routinely challenging themselves so as to share that challenge with the listeners. That’s a strategy that meant a lot to me when I was young and I’ve taken a great deal of creative nourishment from it in the 20+ years since PRB first put it on display for me. It’s an idea that I’ve worked to instill in the last three generations of WPRB’s student DJs and which I hope to continue doing for a long time to come. The true pride of my function here is connecting WPRB and its staff to the broader network of independent broadcasters that are out there, all finding their way through the same challenges we face. If you think WPRB’s airwaves should be a place where creativity and spontaneity are the principles that light the way ahead, I hope I’ll be hearing from you this Wednesday. With your help, we can prove how great I believe this radio station can be.
Web searches for "Pier Platters", the long-shuttered Hoboken record shop that is the object of nostalgic envy for a lot of people who came up in and around NYC, is still the #1 source of traffic on this blog thanks to this post. Seemingly, it's a time and a place that's still firmly lodged in the collective Google-conscience, so I'm wondering why hardly anyone seems to have picked up on this incredible Daniel Johnston live set, recorded live in the shop to a smattering of late 80s scenesters and underground music icons. (Less than 200 views for a clip that's been up since last September? C'mon, internet!)
It's a great document for Johnston fans, but equally appealing for Pier junkies who still pine for those decrepit floor tiles, dusty racks of fanzines, or tripping on the spiral staircase to the stars. Part one of Johnston's set is embedded here, click here for the conclusion.
I've been to exactly one Wedding Present concert. They played Maxwell's sometime in 1993, and although they performed masterfully and were louder than a freakin' atomic bomb going off, the fact that "Dalliance" (or anything else from the brilliant Sea Monsters LP) did not figure into the setlist sort of tarnished the experience in my memory. Sea Monsters and Bettie Serveert's Palomine totally defined a particular era at WPRB for me, and even as those months were unfolding in realtime, getting stiffed on "Dalliance" was a palpable annoyance. Getting on twenty years later, this live radio session from around the same time makes me feel like it's finally time to forgive.
Originally heard on the Black Sessions program which broadcasts on France Inter (French Public Radio—"FPR", if you will...) this great-sounding set showcases the band at their creative peak, and David Gedge's vocals in their exquisite and froggy-like prime. That's not to suggest that their later material is anything to scoff at—many years after this performance, a reincarnated version of the band effortlessly blew a lot of minds (mine included) with the track "Interstate 5", and rightly so.
But I didn't come here to tell you that. (Focus, man, focus!) These sounds have been blaring forth from the official r:m:b sound system all morning, and show no signs of relinquishing their control any time soon.
Go forth and amplify!
WPRB lost a programming giant this weekend. George Mahlberg, more commonly known as "Doctor Cosmo" to listeners of his excellent and long-running Nocturnal Transmissions program, passed away after a long illness. As an old acquaintance and former WPRB programmer, I extend my sincerest condolences to those who were close to him.
Cosmo came on board at WPRB sometime in 1991—about a year prior to me, but his experience and radio wizardry far surpassed anything in my stable. He was older than most of PRB's other non-student DJs, and had a long résumé of radio credentials, reaching all the way back to the 70s when he'd been a programmer at L.A.'s then-adventurous K-Rock. He was also a brilliant storyteller, had a voracious appetite for unusual sounds, and most of all, he really enjoyed the company of young people who were passionate about radio. To call him an inspiration and a hero may sound trite, but after spending the last 18 hours reckoning with the cruel news of his sudden departure, I'm having trouble denying how appropriate those terms are. Recollections on his Facebook page, as well as the phone calls and emails I've fielded from former WPRB colleagues seem to validate the sentiment. There are probably dozens of mic break techniques I've nicked from him over the years, and I feel no shame in admitting it. WPRB was beyond fortunate to have a shepherd like him, even if only a small minority of the staff were aware of how incredible his talents were.
Though I didn't realize it at the time, Nocturnal Transmissions was freeform radio at its finest. When Cosmo joined the airstaff, much of WPRB was very much entrenched in the indie/underground scene of that particular era. While his programming did acknowledge those trends, he also dosed listeners with generous helpings of the avant garde, free jazz, Zappa, Krautrock, 20th Centrury Classical, 70s Marshall Boogie, fringe politics from across the spectrum, and schitzoid spoken word from all manner of radicals, revolutionaries, and acid casualties. More importantly, to the mix he added his own fierce intelligence, his incredibly eccentric humor, a tremendous appreciation for science, and an open door policy for any listeners who wanted to join the fray. As you might imagine, central Jersey doesn't offer too many rewarding avenues for seekers of adventurous art and culture, but to the avid listeners of WPRB's Friday night programming, the reality seemed very much otherwise.
I have many wonderful memories of Doctor Cosmo, but perhaps my favorite was the night he joined me on air when the DJ who followed my program failed to show up. Scrambling for a long track to eat up time, I put on "Die Donnergotter" by Rhys Chatham—a 20+ minute epic of ringing, hypnotic guitars. I'd surrendered control and had assumed a new position behind the guest mic while George slid easily into the captain's chair and engaged me in a lengthy on-air banter while "Die Donnergotter" churned away in the background. As the track approached its crashing apex, George calmly reached over and switched the turntable off so that the audio began spiraling down as we continued our on-air rap. In the kind of seamless transition that true radio geeks get their panties in a twist over, he then began manually rotating the record in reverse with his finger at what sounded like a perfect 33 RPM clip. Presto! Another 20 minutes of background music for us to push later into the evening with.
There are many songs that I'll never be able to distance from the immediate Cosmo-connection they hold for me, but "Die Donnergotter" is probably chief among them. I can only hope that wherever George is now, the guitars sound as great (whether in forward or reverse) as they did to my ears that night. To my friend, I say thank you and goodbye. I wish that we'd had more time together.
Alba vineyard is perhaps one of the Garden State's best-known indigenous wine producers. While it's true that there may not be hundreds of vineyards vying for that title (at last count, NJ is home to around 40), Alba is without doubt one of the best. If you live in the tropical suburbs in or around New York City, the westerly voyage across Route 78 will quickly demolish whatever mental conjurings you've got of what New Jersey ought to look/smell like. The hour-long drive from the Holland Tunnel will set you across endlessly rolling hills, winding country lanes, and idyllic small town main streets, and boasts enough general whimsy to make an old lady in a tea shop blush. Best of all, the Alba folks allow and encourage you to bring your own nosh and picnic right on their scenic property. Enter a bottle of wine into the picture, and you've got the makings of a perfect overcast day in late October.
I've worked in two different urban winemaking environments over the last couple of years. By no means am I an industry pro (I'm more what you'd call a "cellar rat"), but I'm proud that I've learned how to operate a hydraulic grape crusher, can fully orchestrate the robotic destemming of 750 lbs of grapes on the inside of 10 minutes, and can maneuver a 59 gallon French oak barrel across a loading dock with some manner of efficiency. In the weeks leading up to the birth of my daughter, I spent many a freezing night hosing down winemaking equipment—my work boots soaked with a sickening mixture of water and fruit pulp from the day's crush, my hands numb from the leaking hose, and my muscles aching from hours spent racking or on punchdown duty. In spite of the heavy labor that winemaking involves, visiting Alba got me just a little bit nostalgic for that time and was quick to rekindle my desire to someday—somehow—make a return to it in a professional capacity.
But back to the matter at hand. If my first visit to Alba three years ago yielded wines which I thought were merely "good", I would go so far as to call the current vintage nothing short of exceptional. The ten dollar tasting fee earns you samples of close to twenty different wines (albeit at least five of which are in the dessert family, and not really of interest to me.) We began our tasting with whites, and were especially impressed with the Dry Riesling and the Mainsail White, both of which were crisp without being overly sweet. One of their Chardonnays was also nice, and a rare treat for me to sample, as my wife is a celebrated hater of that grape's strong butter and oak flavors. (Even she admitted liking the main varietal currently being offered, but neither of us cared much for the Chardonnay Barrel Reserve which was thin on any discernable flavor.)
The reds were spectacular, and covered a broad range of prices. Happily, we were most immediately impressed with the Old Mill Red, which Alba promotes as an everyday table wine and which blends Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon with a number of other grapes. This "kitchen sink" tactic yields great results, and at ten bucks a bottle, is a killer bargain. If you're willing to drop a little bit more coin, Alba's Pinot Noir and Chambourcin are good adventure picks in the 14-18 dollar price range, bearing in mind that they drink like wines that would cost twice as much in a retail environment. We threw down for the Chambourcin, but were certainly tempted by a few of the other options. However, I felt it necessary to quit at that point, having now had quite a bit of wine on an empty stomach, and with our return voyage beginning to take its place as the centerpiece of late afternoon. We lunched outside under soggy skies, and then hiked up the hill for some pictures and closer examination of the grapes, which were mostly on their way out for the season. Nevertheless, it was all quite picturesque, and a welcome changeup from the sights and sounds of the city. Alba's vineyard is a fantastic daytrip option, even if you treat it as nothing more than a long drive for a picnic and great bottle of wine. Their staff is very knowledgable, friendly, and happy to discuss their wines in as simple or advanced a manner as you're comfortable with. In the most basic terms, you could do a lot worse on a random Saturday afternoon, so what are you waiting for? Aren't spontaneous viticultural missions the real reason you got that Zipcar membership in the first place?
Steven Raichlen is to Bobby Flay as healthy lovemaking is to internet porn. Those of you who desire further deconstruction of that theory are now excused, but the rest of you should stick around for pizza. Grilled pizza! Which I was inspired to make after I watched this Raichlen video segment:
Raichlen's BBQ University is by far one of my favorite TV cooking shows. Eschewing the intolerable narcissism of almost everything on the Food Network for practically explained techniques, Raichlen's style actually makes me want to cook rather than hurl the remote at the television. He's also charmingly dorky, has magnificently brushed hair, and a penchant for puffy, blue oxford shirts. If Cafe Press doesn't yet offer a "Steven Raichlen is my Homeboy" t-shirt, well... they ought to.
But back to the matter at hand: Grilled pizza! Living in the cultural sphere of Brooklyn/Manhattan/North Jersey, there is obviously no shortage of great pizza available whenever I might desire it. But unlike, say, bagels -- many delicious examples of which are also easily within reach -- there is a certain thrill to crafting one's own pizza, and as any grill enthusiast will tell you, the joy is intensified when experienced in one's own back yard. For my first attempt, I bought a blob of whole wheat pizza dough and followed Raichlen's step-by-step video instructions. I found that flipping the dough onto the grill from the oily baking sheet was a lot harder than he made it look, and one corner of my dough got bunched up during this critical step. After a brief attempt to fix it was deemed futile, I just accepted the fact that one bit would be more doughy than the rest of the pie, and moved my attention to the toppings.
Remember, get the cheese on first so it has plenty of time to melt while the crust continues to cook. You can always pre-heat the sauce and apply it warm if you're concerned that things won't get hot enough in this accelerated means of pizza preparation. When mine came off the grill, its shape resembled that of a flattened turtle, but the taste was utterly top shelf! The crust was perfectly done, and bore the lovely, cross-hatch markings of the grill's cooking grate on both sides of its surface. The fumbled corner was just as tasty as the rest of the pie, if only slightly less crispy, and overall I'd call the experiment a ringing success. Boboli be gone!
Pictured: A lovely hunk of seared tuna with wasabi aioli and black sesame seeds. This was my birthday meal two years ago, which I enjoyed at the Beach Haven Fishery, Long Beach Island, NJ.
The Fishery is a fine establishment, and serves up some of the best and freshest seafood on the island. But as with any place in a tourist-based locale like LBI, it comes at a significant cost—this is the only restaurant I've ever been to where lunch for two people can easily clear sixty dollars, yet you must seat yourself at sticky picnic tables and bus your own plates.
If you're looking for a slightly cheaper option, try Pinky Shrimp's. They have a reasonably priced twin lobster combo that's a great lunch or dinner for two people. If you prefer the sea's bounty in fried form (who doesn't, at least some of the time), and you don't mind eating in the company of leather-skinned guys in Bob Seger tour t-shirts, try the M&M Steam Bar. Alternately, should you crave the company of more authentic salty fisherman types, your table is waiting at Boulevard Clams. (Don't bring your droids, as they more than likely won't serve "their kind.")
For further perspective, here's everybody's favorite Icelandic-experimental-electronic-folk duo, Múm, with a fish's rebuttal to these gastronomic musings. Recorded live at KEXP last year—stream or download it from the FMA using the player below.