There is precious little information available about new bicoastal band The The The Thunder. Formed last year by six high school friends from Long Island, TTTT has no videos posted online, few pictures, and, for the most part, no last names. (We had to do some dirty digging to find them out but were later asked by the band to not include them below in order to maintain the mystery, so they have since been deleted.) But what can be obtained is their excellent debut album, All at Once, eight indie gems that form a cohesive whole. TTTT itself has rarely been a cohesive whole; while lead vocalist and guitarist Dan, bassist Artie, keyboardist Julia, and drummer Glenn are based in Brooklyn, guitarist Nick and violinist and singer Jill live out in Seattle. On March 18, TTTT will be at Glasslands with Queen Orlenes, My Roaring Twenties, and Great Caesar. We recently corresponded with the band about their music, their friendship, their name, and their romantic entanglements, making a boo-boo that the band had some fun with.
twi-ny: You did not record your debut album, All at Once, all at once but instead on two coasts, with Jill and Nick out in Seattle and Glenn, Artie, Julia, and Dan in Brooklyn. What was the experience like the first time you all played together as a unit, both in rehearsal and then live onstage, in front of an audience?
Dan: We grew up together, and we’ve been playing music together in some form or another forever, so we were comfortable with doing a week of condensed practicing to pull everything together. But there were definitely some moments of calling each other in the middle of the night and making sure we were all practicing separately.
Julia: Yeah, it was an odd order to things. We had to set up shows before we’d ever played together, and that was nerve-wracking. But then putting out an album was nerve-wracking and that worked out OK, so we just had to psych ourselves into believing the live thing would work, too, if we put our backs into it.
Arthur: One benefit we frequently overlook is that the whole process forced us to make decisions regarding the source material during tracking as well as during the mixing and mastering process. Making a record can become an ever-widening pit of “what ifs,” and sometimes being forced to choose is really a pleasant alternative to infinite levels of undo.
twi-ny: There are two marriages among the six of you, Jill and Nick as well as Julia and Glenn. Does that change the dynamic of the band, either in the songwriting process, in the studio, or on the road? Is there something we should know about Artie and Dan?
Dan: I’m pretty devastated to find out my wife has been married to Glenn this whole time. Although I also have a thing for Artie.
Julia: I never meant for you to find out this way.
Glenn: Wait, what?
Arthur: Having the ladies around keeps us all nice and even. Sometimes there are too many guys out there on tour.
Jill: Nick and I were high school sweethearts but we never gelled as a creative duo — my fault, not his; in general I don’t “play well with others.” Somehow adding four other people, who happen to be our close friends, into the mix makes it easier. Still, when we work on demos in Seattle, we never write or record our parts in the same room. But we do exchange sultry glances onstage.
Dan: It’s really worked for us. Bands say this a lot, so I’m afraid to use the cliché, but the dual marriages paired with the lifelong friendships makes the band a lot like a family. A lot of love flying around. And a lot of history. I mean, Glenn and Artie were my best men. Nick and Jill introduced me to Julia. No Fleetwood Mac–style love triangles yet.
Nick: Not yet. But once superstardom hits, then I think we’re primed for some dramatic divorces, icy silences, bitter betrayals, and cryptic messages in songs aimed at one another. It’s going to be great!
twi-ny: You were all high school friends in North Massapequa and Plainedge. How much did you dream of getting out of Long Island when you were kids? Back then, did you ever envision working together as a group as you are now?
Jill: I think most Long Island teenagers spend long nights at diners drinking coffee and eating cheese fries and talking about how boring their hometowns are — but I don’t think the idea of “escaping” crossed my mind. The city wasn’t a hope or a dream, it was an inevitability, for me and for a lot of my friends. With regard to playing with friends, it’s the only way it ever made sense to do it — I didn’t want to make music with strangers.
Dan: We’ve been playing together in different projects since we were kids. I played with Jill separately. I played with Artie separately. I played with Glenn, Artie, and Julia in another band. And Glenn and Jill played together in something. But this is the first time we’re all together. It was a no-brainer once we started, but for some reason putting everyone in the same band never occurred to us. It also grew out of the songs I was writing. They called for more instruments and parts.
Glenn: The “something” Jill and I played in together was barely a something. It was two weeks in 1998 and I was fired. By Jill.
twi-ny: You recently tweeted, “Happy Birthday, @LouReed. TTTT would not exist without you. Thanks.” You’ve been compared to a wide range of artists, from the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, including Reed and the Velvets, the Cure, the Cars, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Bloc Party, and even Devo. Do you consider any of these groups important influences on you? What is your favorite decade of music to listen to?
Nick: With six people it’s hard to pin down a decade for the band as a whole, but I’d like to think it’s mid-to-late ’70s New York punk/New Wave. Music that says something but still rocks, is interesting and thoughtful while still raw and vibrant.
Julia: Lou Reed and a lot of the New York ’70s scene always seemed weirdly approachable to me, talented as they are. Plus, Candy Darling is from Massapequa!
Glenn: The comparisons to those bands are always nice but I do think we have a modern take, which is probably due to being so varied in our individual tastes.
Jill: If the rest of the band saw my list of Pandora stations, I’d be politely asked to leave.
twi-ny: Many of the songs on All at Once reference death and dying both specifically and metaphorically, with such lyrics as “I’m working on a heart attack,” “We don’t have forever,” and “Did it really have to end / All those good times.” And this past December 21, you released the postapocalyptic “It’s Not the End of the World (it just feels that way).” Are some of you more death obsessed than others? Aren’t you all too young to be thinking these thoughts?
Dan: That’s probably coming from me. I wouldn’t say I’m death obsessed, but I find it hard not to see the sadness in happiness and good times. The inevitable end of things. Even something as small as a great night with your friends. But it’s not negative. I think that’s where real beauty is. In moments as they happen. Trying to hold on to them. And making them happen as much as possible.
twi-ny: There are three articles in your name; why not two? Or four? Why three? Maybe it involves a subtle tribute to Matt Johnson hidden in there somewhere?
Dan: The The The The Thunder just seemed ridiculous.
Nick: I agree with Dan. I can’t believe you even asked that.
“I didn’t know how to be undamaged,” music journalist and playwright Marc Spitz admits near the end of his latest book, Poseur: A Memoir of Downtown New York in the ’90s (Da Capo, February 2013, $15.99). In his brutally honest autobiography, Spitz delves into his early dreams of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, a life he got to live out, experiencing dazzling highs as well as dirt-bottom lows as he partied with the best of them, from up-and-coming musicians to legendary stars. Spitz, who was born in Far Rockaway and raised in the Five Towns, wrote more than a dozen cover stories for Spin magazine, spending time with such seminal groups as the Pixies, the Strokes, the White Stripes, and Weezer. He has also penned books on Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Green Day, and the L.A. punk scene; published a pair of novels: How Soon Is Never?, in which a character is obsessed with Morrissey and the Smiths, andToo Much Too Late, about a fictional garage band named the Jane Ashers; and has written a dozen plays, including Retail Sluts, Your Face Is a Mess, The Hobo Got Too High, and “. . . Worry, Baby.” Poseur is a special treat for people who, like the author, came of age on Long Island and in Manhattan during the 1980s and ’90s, as Spitz writes about the Green Acres Mall, the Lynbrook movie theater, the Chelsea Hotel, the Kitchen, the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Don Hill’s, the Slipper Room, and other haunts. On March 18, he will be at Housing Works, reading from Poseur and participating in a conversation with his friend and colleague Chuck Klosterman.
twi-ny: Like you, I grew up in and around the Five Towns area and couldn’t wait to start hanging out in the city. Many of my friends still live out there. What is it about Wrong Island, as you call it in the book, that makes some people want to escape and others settle in?
Marc Spitz: I should say that today, in my early forties, I have such an affection for that area, and realize how much I took the safety and comfort for granted. But as a kid, you just can’t work through the restlessness. And it feels like absolute torture to know that the city is so close. You could get there in less time than it took to watch an episode of Dynasty. It’s one thing to grow up in Ohio or Michigan and pine and plan for Manhattan, but it’s quite another to see it and smell it on a regular basis and not be able to have it for very long. Even when I would cut class and spend the day there, I was always keeping an eye on the watch and the train schedule in my head. The Five Towns just seemed so small. All five of them put together didn’t add up to St. Marks Place for me then. But again, this is someone who now Googles Bea’s Tea Room or Mother Kelly’s in the middle of the night. I think Bea’s is gone now. Have you ever had the macaroni salad from Bea’s? I don’t know what they put in it but it’s become mythical among Five Towners, the side-order equivalent of a unicorn or a mermaid, and I’ve been searching for it ever since, obsessed like Eugene Levy in Splash.
twi-ny: You’ve interviewed many of the biggest rock stars in the world, writing magazine articles and books, but with Poseur, you’re now, in essence, interviewing yourself. Was that hard to do?
Marc Spitz: Yes, I’d rather interview a hundred rock stars than, say, my mom, who I interviewed for Poseur. Or spend time with my own journals and notes and old (bad) writing. I think you have to live in the past quite literally to do a memoir, and I certainly had to drop out a bit. No more bar hopping or dating. I turned forty and just figured it was time. I was also fueled by a certain sense of cause. Like I really wanted to snatch the NYC myth away from these ’60s and ’70s folks who’ve been dining out on their NYC for far too long. Who is to say that their NYC, even with Warhol and CBGBs, was more valid than mine. They won’t get out of the way unless you push them, you know? “Yeah, great. Max’s Kansas City . . .” What about Max Fish, guy? Of course, I was totally in love and inspired by the ’60s and ’70s NYC as a kid and tried to emulate it when I first moved here in the late ’80s. Staying at the Chelsea and all. That’s fine and good when you’re a teen or in your twenties, but into your forties you kind of hunger for your own sense of historical placement, and like I said, sometimes you have to just take it. So while it was difficult and unpleasant and at times just plain sad to go there, interview wise or mind-set wise, I felt like it was necessary.
twi-ny: In Poseur, you write, “When you finish a book, it doesn’t matter if it never gets published; it doesn’t matter if it even gets read by another human being not obligated to read it, like a girlfriend or a thesis tutor. You change. You are not the same. Whether or not the book is any good doesn’t matter. You are better.” Did finishing this memoir feel any different from finishing your previous books or plays?
Marc Spitz: I only recently realized it was over. Like when it was out. The day after the book party, I was hung over and sort of a roach with the lights suddenly on scurrying blindly. Not sure where to go, but it was good. For nearly three years, I’ve had such a sense of purpose and direction, all of it, or the majority of it, anchored to this thing. And suddenly it’s just . . . on sale. You’re a ranking number on Amazon . . . and not a very high one. There’s no earthquake. No explosion. No rapture. Not even the Rapture. But in a way, while the closure is always anticlimactic, and the more personal the book, the more painful that anticlimax can feel (totally overshadowing any triumphs such as being asked to do an interview like this one), it has to happen, especially if you want to be prolific. I want to write a lot of books. I have a deadline for my next one and an idea for the one after that. And a new play. So . . . you know, you can’t linger. The feeling of it being done is no different from the feeling of the first book being done. It’s like President Bartlett says: “What’s next?” After the good, long bender anyway. . . .
twi-ny: A few months ago, a copy of Esquire arrived in my mailbox, replacing Spin, which ended its print version in the fall. You wrote for Spin for many years, including more than a dozen cover stories; how did you react to the news of the print magazine’s demise? Did it surprise you?
Marc Spitz: I made my break with Spin emotionally a long time ago, probably before I even left in 2006. It was fairly obvious where things were heading and it was not a good prognosis. So it’s like when you hear the news that a lifelong junkie finally overdoses. You’re not at all surprised but you’re still shaken for some reason. I got Car and Driver, by the way, not Esquire. I actually read Esquire. It’s tricky to talk about this because I still have old friends and coworkers who are employed by Spin and working hard on the website (even though they have not covered Poseur at all . . . despite about a hundred pages of Spin-related memories . . . but it’s not like Boston’s a big college town). Part of me hopes they keep the brand going and part of me wishes it would just bow out gracefully and not be part of some giant web conglomerate’s Ken-Taco-Hut. But I am not proprietary about Spin’s legacy. I remember people grousing about “the good old Guccione days,” which I totally missed. I was part of the new guard coming in after he sold it. It’s human nature to kvetch about such changes, especially if you’re genuinely moved by them, so I will just say . . . “badly.” And “no.”
twi-ny: Since you began writing, music journalism has changed significantly; now just about anyone can consider themselves a critic by starting a blog, writing a few words, and uploading a photo or a video. Do you think that’s been good or bad for the music industry in general and music journalism specifically?
Marc Spitz: Yeah, I was talking to my ex the other day, Lizzy Goodman, who is also a music writer and I said, “Wow, did we pick a shitty career.” And she said, “Well, you made it look like it was a good choice.” Which was both flattering and made me feel guilty. I think in order to get pieces that win awards and change lives and keep the art of rock writing going, you need to spend time and money. I toured with bands. I traveled across the country and the planet and what I filed had all that flavor. It seems like now it’s like, “Wiz Khalifa came by the office . . .” which is, you know, a hub with a bunch of laptops and it’s posted for people that night. Which is the market. You can’t argue with the market. It’s what people want. But it’s not going to spit out another Lester Bangs or Julie Burchill any time soon. It’s just information now. Photos and files and 250 blips of text. As far as the music industry, I don’t really know. I just heard that record sales are up for the first time in a decade. That can’t be all Adele, can it? Is it? It is? OK. I have to go back to my trash can now.
twi-ny: On March 18, you’ll be at Housing Works in conversation with Chuck Klosterman. In the book, you write, “Chuck was good. It would have been so much easier if he were a fraud. I decided the thing to do was to kill him.” Have you and Chuck remained friends over the years? Do you still get those kinds of jealousy fantasies?
Marc Spitz: We have remained friends. We have a drink once or twice a year, and I always enjoy his company. I read his books. He reads mine. I’ve been lucky to do this during a time when you really had a sense of your peers, whether it was Chuck or people like Chris Norris when I was at Spin or Rob Sheffield, who is both another old friend now and also a genius writer; the very best at what he does and a voice you can’t imitate. I don’t know that people filing the above-mentioned text blips have that sense of Beatles/Stones/Beach Boys late ’60s competition thing, which we all definitely felt. If someone wrote a killer feature, your next one had to just blow the doors off theirs and vice verse. Blow the bloody doors off! It looks like my career is winding down and I will never get to do a U2 cover story and Sia Michel — our then-boss gave Klosterman that one - but otherwise we’re cool. Better than cool. The Housing Works thing, by the way, was something he offered. I didn’t ask him to do it. That’s the kind of guy he his, very generous and curious and with a good perspective on his (maddening . . . just kidding) success.
They don’t come much cooler and classier than Tony Lo Bianco. The longtime star of stage and screen has appeared in such films as the cult classic The Honeymoon Killers with Shirley Stoler, the Academy Award-winning The French Connection with Gene Hackman, and The Juror with Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore in addition to such Broadway shows as A View from the Bridge and The Goodbye People as well as off-Broadway productions of Waiting for Godot, The Threepenny Opera, and Yanks 3 Detroit 0 Top of the Seventh, which earned the Brooklyn native an Emmy. Since 1984, Lo Bianco has been portraying former congressman and three-term New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia in an evolving series of shows that have included Fiorello! The Musical, Lo Bianco’s La Guardia, and Hizzoner! His latest one-man presentation, The Little Flower, runs March 11-29 at the Dicapo Opera Theatre. The show, which takes place in La Guardia’s office on his last day as mayor, recently made news when Republican mayoral candidate and Gristedes head John Catsimatidis bought up ten performances as a fundraiser; tickets are still available for March 22, 23, 27, 28, and 29. Lo Bianco, now seventy-six, spoke to us from his Central Park West home as he was preparing to leave for DC to perform The Little Flower to an invite-only crowd at the US Navy Memorial Theater on Pennsylvania Ave.
twi-ny: This is a busy time for you. How are you doing?
Tony Lo Bianco: I’m terrific. Today we’re leaving for Washington, and that’s really exciting. It’s like hitting the pinnacle, except if I had the president in front of me. [laughs]
twi-ny: You’ve performed variations of this play in New York and elsewhere. Is Washington a different kind of crowd, since it’s a more political-heavy audience?
Tony Lo Bianco: We’re gonna see, and I think you’re right. There’s going to be a lot of military there too. In New York, the people who are going to come and see La Guardia have a political background and interest as well; they’re not coming to some musical comedy that they believe is going to be “that kind of entertainment.” We’re going to talk about issues, and I’m very excited about that.
twi-ny: The show goes back to Hizzoner in 1984 and has gone through several incarnations since. How has The Little Flower changed from that original production?
Tony Lo Bianco: The original one we did in Albany in ’84 was more of a valentine to Fiorello. It was filmed by WNET, and we received five Daytime Emmys, including one for Mayor Koch, who narrated it. But it didn’t touch on what I’m touching on now. I’m addressing all the issues, and through its incarnations, I’ve changed it and tried to keep up with what La Guardia was doing and thinking at the time as a congressman and all the way past when he was mayor.
I use that mind, that Fiorello mind, and the fact that he was a fusion candidate – which is a key word in our politics today – a fusion candidate because the way we’re set up right now, we’re never going to get anything done. Nobody can agree on anything. The two parties are so far away from each other, we’ve really made a dividing line in our country. So the idea of bringing people together is to be a fusion candidate, which is what La Guardia was. He ran as a Republican because the Democrats at that time were just loaded with corruption; Tammany Hall was in power for 136 years when Fiorello finally ran against them in Congress and beat them after a second attempt. From that perspective, he was able to say things like – and if any candidate says this today, it’ll go a long way – “If I don’t live up to my campaign promises, I want you to throw me the hell out of office.”
twi-ny: You don’t hear that anymore.
Tony Lo Bianco: No, no, no, because it’s a load of “Scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” and so on and so forth. You need a maverick, like he was, a real maverick, who is not beholden to anyone except the people. And the message has to get out to the people to bypass both parties.
twi-ny: The word bipartisanship has become a joke.
Tony Lo Bianco: Yeah, it’s just foolishness. But when you show people that you hire, as La Guardia did – he said, “I’ll hire people from both sides, even if they voted against me….” I think that kind of attitude – you know, they try to scratch the surface once in a while. Like this administration right now is putting up a fake Republican in Chuck Hagel. It’s like a joke. They did it back in Clinton’s time with William Cohen for Secretary of Defense. In the play, I address many issues that are plaguing us in every which way, whether it’s inflation, whether it’s unemployment, juvenile delinquency, all kinds of corruption in government.
twi-ny: All of which is still relevant today.
Tony Lo Bianco: That’s why I’ve redone the whole show and made it very relevant to almost everything that I say. It pertains to what our faults are today and how to fix them – not just bringing them up but bringing them up in a way that is undeniably the truth. Because, and I say this from experience, when the far left or the far right comes to see my show, they both believe I’m talking to them. And that’s wonderful. I mean, I’ve had that demonstration right in front of my eyes – the far left wanting to buy a show so they can promote their point of view, and the far right has done the same thing. So I must be doing something right.
twi-ny: It also says something about the mayors of New York who have served three terms – primarily La Guardia, Koch, Bloomberg, all of whom appealed to Republicans and Democrats, who ran on both sides of the ticket or switched affiliation. The Little Flower takes place on the last day of La Guardia’s third term. Are three terms too many?
Tony Lo Bianco: You know, it depends on what kind of a great job we need. We’re so desperate for congressmen or mayors who are just terrific that if they’re indispensable, then they should stay, because we have a lack of quality people to represent us, which is just awful. It’s just remarkable how hungry and starving we are for leaders. I do think that if we find a gem, the term should be extended. However, history has proven that that’s not to be the fact – especially when they’re crooked thieves [like Tammany Hall]. That is the biggest problem. How do you regulate that?
Look what they’re doing in other countries as well. I just spoke with someone from Italy yesterday; people are beside themselves, and it’s just handwriting on the wall for us. Europe is just handwriting on the wall for us, and if we don’t pay attention, we’re going to do the same kind of – we’re doing the same kind of thing. You can’t say we’re going to. We are in the process of doing the same kind of thing as Europe. And my biggest personal thing is history is our greatest teacher. To me, if you don’t follow history, you don’t understand history, you’re going to be an idiot. You’re going to be a fool. You’re going to make the same stupid mistakes.
We should be the smartest country in the world. We have all that magnificent history behind us. There’s thousands of years there of understanding what happens to governments, what happens to empires. It’s right in front of us. We’re not inventing the wheel. Tell me, how do we get sixteen trillion, five hundred billion dollars in debt? How does that happen? You think somebody just wakes up one day and says, “Oh my God, is that the figure?” That’s the way we seem to be behaving.
twi-ny: We’re fiddling while Rome burns.
Tony Lo Bianco: That’s right. Is that not the biggest issue? That is like a meteor going to crush us one of these days. The public is concentrating on making a buck just to put food in their mouths – they can’t be thinking about sixteen trillion, five hundred billion dollars, or that their children and grandchildren are going to pay for that.
twi-ny: Do you feel that if La Guardia ran today, based on the same platforms, we would elect him to fix things?
Tony Lo Bianco: I’m fighting like a son of a gun to do something like this and try to, for want of a better word, teach this kind of understanding of sacrifice and giving and helping and doing for the public. It’s in my genes to do that; I personally love doing that, and I picked this character to shove it out to the public. But I don’t know if this public is ready for this anymore because they’re so busy with what they’re doing. They just have to realize what I’m saying and realize the reality of what is happening to them and somehow be strong enough – I say “somehow” because they’ve been led this way to thinking, “Hey, I can only think about tomorrow. “Gimme gimme gimme. What are you gonna give me? What? Oh, good. I don’t have to work. How many weeks unemployment? Ninety-nine? Weeks? Oh, wow. I think I’ll take a part-time job while I’m receiving that money – that would mean much much more money than I ever earned.”
twi-ny: You’re sounding like a conservative Republican. Are you?
Tony Lo Bianco: No, I’m trying to talk common sense. Common sense and logic. Another thing La Guardia said as a congressman was about labels. He said, “I’ve been called a pacifist, a Communist, a Socialist, a radical, a Republican, a progressive, a Democrat, a conservative, a rebel, and a demagogue. That sounds like I’m a well-rounded fella, don’t ya think?” [laughs] That’s in my play. I cover anything that anybody could say or think, but the idea of that stuff I spouted is it might sound Republican, but it’s common sense, isn’t it? Someone tell me where I’ve gone wrong in saying what I just said.
twi-ny: Well, one of the things you did say was “well-rounded,” and “well-rounded” is something you are when playing La Guardia. Here’s Tony Lo Bianco, this elegant-looking, smooth-talking guy from The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, Blood Brothers, and you’re prancing around the stage in this fat suit, telling jokes, singing. That’s something different for you.
Tony Lo Bianco: You see, I love that. That’s what I do. I mean, I love to play other human beings. The roles that I’ve portrayed – there’s a whole gallery of different characters I’ve played, different humans, different tempos, different sizes and shapes. But yes, for the general public, who see me as you just described, which is pretty much the movies and stuff, it is a revelation. When you come and see the show, please, you must come and say hello to me and see the difference of this guy who is prancing around, as you say [laughs]. And I am prancing around and doing all those things.
twi-ny: You’ve also done several sports films. You were a Golden Gloves boxer, you played Rocky Marciano – do you still follow sports?
Tony Lo Bianco: Oh yeah, I’m a big fight fan. I’m a big baseball fan.
twi-ny: You did Yanks 3 Detroit 0 Top of the Seventh, which you won an Obie for.
Tony Lo Bianco: I loved that.
twi-ny: So I gather you’re a Yankees fan?
Tony Lo Bianco: I’m a Yankees fan, but actually I’m a New York fan. I want them both to win. My ideal, of course, is for the both of them to be in the World Series.
twi-ny: That’s a tough place to be.
Tony Lo Bianco: I’m a baseball fan. I like to watch excellence and achievement and great players who respect the game, respect themselves, respect the country. Whether they’re a sports hero, or any kind of hero, whether it’s an actor, whatever, they should really understand that they are a public figure and they should be an example to the children and everybody else in the world of how to behave. They must all be tremendously grateful for having the opportunity today in earning the kind of money that these athletes earn, which is rather enormous.
twi-ny: Regarding the steroids controversy, should Mike Piazza have been elected to the Hall of Fame?
Tony Lo Bianco: There is no proof, no evidence against Piazza. That kind of stigma in this country is terrible. Even Roger Clemens – Roger Clemens has been cleared. I just saw a thing in the newspaper that labeled him a disgrace. What disgrace? He was cleared, and anybody who’s cleared is cleared. And as far as Mike Piazza, he certainly should be in the Hall of Fame. But as far as those who have used drugs and steroids, no, they should not be in the Hall of Fame.
twi-ny: Boxing isn’t the cleanest of sports either.
Tony Lo Bianco: Back in the day there were definitely things going on, when the mob was involved. I don’t know what’s going on now. You never know. You got promoters promoting both fighters. Who the heck knows what’s going on? But some of the fights are pretty vicious, so it makes you wonder, “Can this fight possibly be fixed?” It doesn’t look like it.
twi-ny: You’re a Brooklyn boy.
Tony Lo Bianco: Yes.
twi-ny: What do you think of the new Brooklyn, which has spread out to Bushwick and Red Hook, and now you’ve got the Nets playing where Branch Rickey wanted to put the Dodgers?
Tony Lo Bianco: You know, one person’s progress is another person’s disaster, and I address that also in the play, because La Guardia had to build low-cost housing, and he had to take that land from somewhere. You know, I am so thrilled to have grown up having nothing. My father was a taxicab driver, so we understand where we came from – we never forget that – and I’m grateful for all that wonderful experience. I would call it “home education” – when I say “home education,” I mean because I had uncles, and aunts, and grew up in a big family, and the headquarters was my house in Brooklyn. Every Sunday, everybody would come over to see my mother and all her brothers, and that kind of life teaches you more than any school or college can teach you. I’m so grateful for that, and it’s given me my best quality, which is certainly not my academic understanding but my human understanding, of people and conditions, and maybe, in a funny way, that’s why I relate to La Guardia, and why I picked La Guardia, because he’s a man of the people, for the people.
On June 16, 2009, author, sailor, and filmmaker Sprague Theobald boarded the 325-horsepower, 57-foot-long Bagan and took off for the Northwest Passage with a small crew that included his son, Sefton, his stepson, Chauncey Tanton, his stepdaughter, Dominique Tanton, and her boyfriend, Clinton Bolton, setting sail on a journey that few have attempted and fewer have survived. “The Northwest Passage is a ship killer, and always has been,” Theobald writes in The Other Side of the Ice: One Family’s Treacherous Journey Negotiating the Northwest Passage (Skyhorse Publishing, August 2012, $24.95; ebook available from Antenna Books, $9.99), which details the trials and tribulations he and his family experienced on the open seas. “At various stages of the journey, I found myself numb. Exhausted. Terrified. How had it all started? What were we doing?” A transatlantic racer, Theobald, who has previously written the novel The Reach and won an Emmy for his America’s Cup documentary The 25th Defense: End of an Era, explains exactly what they were doing, warts and all, in the book and its companion film, also called The Other Side of the Ice, a production of his Hole in the Wall team, which is a self-described “consortium of renegades, misfits, and malcontents intent on bettering the world through the art of film and storytelling.” The Other Side of the Ice will be playing at the Quad from March 8 to 14, and Theobald will be at the theater to discuss the film and sign copies of the book following the 7:30 screenings on March 8 and 9 and after the 5:30 show on March 10. But first Theobald discussed the book, the film, and the state of his family in our latest twi-ny talk.
twi-ny: You begin both the book and the film by wondering whether you were in essence risking the lives of your family in order to accomplish this personal mission of sailing through the Northwest Passage. If you knew then what you know now, would you still go ahead with the trip?
Sprague Theobald: Knowing what I know now, I would certainly still go ahead with the trip but with a better sense of how deep and deliberating the extreme Arctic isolation can be, the hell it can raise on your thinking if not your soul. This I wasn’t prepared for.
twi-ny: What would you change if you had it to do all over again?
Sprague Theobald: If I had it to do all over again I would have spent a bit more time vetting the captain, who I was assured “could handle anything.” As it was he fell mentally and fell hard. I hired him so that I could concentrate on the documentary, but in the end I had to toss him off the boat and bring the boat, with the great help of my three children, to Seattle through three thousand miles of some of the world’s most torturous weather.
twi-ny: When the Bagan was stuck in the ice with nowhere to go, did you always think you’d eventually make it, or were there moments when you truly felt that you would join other Northwest Passage crews who were never seen or heard from again?
Sprague Theobald: While stuck in the ice and at one point alone in my cabin I thought, Jesus . . . I’ve missed the headline on this trip. All the while I thought it was going to be “Family Successfully Transits the Northwest Passage,” but instead the real headline is now, “Father Leads Children to Death Trying to Transit the Northwest Passage.” This was as real as real could be. I had to battle this thought and image, plus many more, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. I thought, Yes, the odds looked incredibly against us, but the only way to find out was to, if physically possible, continue to put one foot in front of the other and see where this takes us. I did my very best to keep these thoughts to myself and not share them with the kids. It was a pressure that, as I explain in the book and show in the documentary, I’d never before known and didn’t know if I could survive.
twi-ny: There were 280 hours of footage that were edited into a 77-minute film, and there was a four-month trip edited into a 220-page book. Which task did you ultimately find most challenging, making the film or writing the book? Did you make a conscious decision to save certain moments for the film and specific other ones for the book?
Sprague Theobald: No, I didn’t make a conscious decision to save “this” for the book or “that” for the film. What I did have to do, though, was go back through my personal journal, which, once the trip was over, I prayed I’d never have to look at again. After Herzog made Fitzcarraldo, he was too terrified to look at his personal journal for twenty-eight years. By no means do I compare myself to him, but I do understand the power and terror these raw words, written when all seemed lost, can carry.
twi-ny: In the book you write, “On very rare occasions, if you’re very lucky, you get a chance to look into someone’s heart and character.” What did you learn about your own heart and character on the journey?
Sprague Theobald: I found out that I am simply human, no more, no less. That if one gets too close to hubris, in any sense of the word, the stakes become extreme, the flame more powerful and hotter than anything imaginable in this world.
twi-ny: What did you find out about your family’s heart and character that most surprised you?
Sprague Theobald: I found out that my family’s heart is as strong as I had ever dreamt for it, wished for it to be, if not stronger. Their sense of commitment and total lack of selflessness, when one of them around them was demonstrating just the opposite, was a gift greater than I ever expected to be given.
twi-ny: Have the bonds that developed with your kids on the boat continued?
Sprague Theobald: Big time. It’s not to say that we’re in touch more often or that we call and have long talks over the phone any more than we did but that when we do get together the laughter and joy come from a base and foundation of the deepest respect and love. We now know what’s petty and what isn’t.
twi-ny: Now that the book has been published and the film is being released, are you getting the itch to travel again?
Sprague Theobald: This has kept me busy every single hour of every single day since we landed in Seattle on November 6, 2009. I truly haven’t had a day off in over five years. From time to time, though, I do daydream about talking a kayak from the headwaters of the Connecticut River up in Canada to where it terminates in the Atlantic, the Long Island Sound. But it’s going to be a while before I play out of the backyard again.
Last fall we raved about the energetic and exhilarating OntheFloor, a wild and crazy participatory performance by the Dance Cartel held in Liberty Hall downstairs at the Ace Hotel. For ninety minutes, a talented group of dancers moved and grooved through the dark space as the audience followed them around. Conceived and choreographed by Dance Cartel founder Ani Taj Niemann and codirected by Sam Pinkleton (Witness Relocation), OntheFloor returns to Liberty Hall on March 2, beginning a four-month residency that continues April 6, May 4, and June 1. You never know quite what’s going to happen or who’s going to show up at the fast-paced evening. Native New Yorker Taj recently gave twi-ny the lowdown as she prepared for the new set of performances.
twi-ny: What was the genesis of OntheFloor?
Ani Taj: The seed for OntheFloor was a short performance the Dance Cartel did at an art party called BjorkBall at Kent285 in Williamsburg, where we decided to move the crowd around us as we danced to create a shifting performance space. That idea was born largely out of my excitement about recent months I’d spent in Bahia, Brazil, where dance and music saturate everyday experience. In Bahia you get a lot of percussion in the streets, crowds dancing, spontaneous unison choreography in parades and concerts — people are constantly participating in rhythm and movement whether they like it or not. So when we got the offer to create an evening-length work based on the way we did BjorkBall, I thought I’d like to create an environment where people would have that same kind of permission to dance and participate, whether they’re dance savvy or not. Over time we’ve made a home for ourselves and our audiences at the Ace, but we keep it fresh with new material and guest artists for new collaborations.
twi-ny: How did you come upon the Ace?
Ani Taj: We really embrace the idea of making dance happen in unexpected places so that people outside of the usual dance crowd can have access to it. Ken Friedman (of the Spotted Pig and the Breslin restaurants) had the vision to bring us into Liberty Hall after seeing us at Kent285. There are challenges since the space is not intentionally outfitted for performance, but that’s part of the thrill of moving into new territory.
twi-ny: What do you tell dance fans who might be thinking twice about going to a show in a dark basement where they’ll have to move around for ninety minutes, being careful not to accidentally bump into the performers?
Ani Taj: Our MC offers a few simple guidelines at the top of the show, but mostly it’s common sense: if you see a body flying toward you, move; if you like the beat, groove. Part of the fun is that you're being asked to be aware of your own body in space — as you would at a crowded concert or club.
twi-ny: The show begins with a series of short acts from various genres, from comedy and video to participatory performance art. How are the acts chosen?
Ani Taj: Actually the evening you saw was unusual — that night there was a partnership with a publication that created that whole preshow. Usually we start off with just the Cartel, and sometimes there is a guest performer (usually musical) midway through the show. We are lining up our guests for the spring now — we’ll keep you posted.
twi-ny: OntheFloor is the type of show where anything can happen. What’s the craziest thing you’ve experienced while performing the show?
Ani Taj: I’m happy to say there have been no major train wrecks, only happy convergences between unexpected groups of people. There was a great night where a dozen businessmen accidentally rolled in toward the end of our show, loved the feel, and they just cut loose and stayed dancing with us and our Brazilian drummers for a couple of hours. Our collaboration with Team Hotwheelz was also an incredibly gratifying, out-there experience; we cocreated a dance with two pioneer performers who happen to be in wheelchairs, Ali Stroker and Chelsie Hill, and then for that show we suddenly had multiple audience members in wheelchairs doing the Dougie with us.
twi-ny: You and Sam also teach the Dance Dancing Dance Company Class. Is that a class for anyone? What is the focus?
Ani Taj: The Dance Dancing Dance Company Company Class (DDDCCC) is very much a class for anyone — we’ve had everyone from trained dancers to sound designers to philosophy students, and the class is crafted to be both challenging and fun (yes, fun; dancing can be fun!) for people with disparate backgrounds. I think for both Sam and me, a sense of humor and an accelerated heart rate are important parts of the dance we want to see more of in the world. Students can expect to get low and sweaty and have a stupid good time but also to be challenged to capture the dynamics and rhythmic details of real dance sequences in the choreography portion of the class.
NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S FILM FESTIVAL
Multiple venues throughout Manhattan
[Not for] Children Film Festival Benefit: February 28, $300 - $1,000
March 1-24, $13 (opening-night $20-$40)
All-Access VIP Pass: $400
Since its beginnings in 1997, the New York International Children’s Film Festival has been dedicated to bringing more intelligent movies to kids ages three to eighteen. Part of GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate), NYICFF hosts programs year-round, but its bigger-than-ever sixteenth annual festival is scheduled to take place March 1-24, spread out across such venues as Asia Society, the IFC Center, Tribeca Cinemas, FIAF, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Scholastic, the DGA Theater, and the SVA Theatre. More than one hundred features, shorts, documentaries, and animated films will be presented from France, Belgium, Canada, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Taiwan, America, and other nations, in addition to workshops, a filmmaking camp, a prefestival not-for-children benefit (showing films that were submitted to NYICFF but are clearly not for kids), and the opening-night gala, the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Renner’s animated Ernest & Celestine, followed by a catered reception. This year’s jury, which includes such actors, writers, directors, and producers as Geena Davis, Gus Van Sant, Susan Sarandon, Jeffrey Wright, Christine Vachon, and Michael Modine, has also selected such films as Laurent Boileau and Jung Henin’s Approved for Adoption, Enzo D’Alò’s Pinocchio, the English-language premiere of Koji Masunari’s Welcome to the Space Show, and the Spanish-language version of Wreck-It Ralph called ¡Rompe Ralph! Eric Beckman, who cofounded NYICFF in 1997 with his wife, Emily Shapiro, was only too happy to discuss this year’s festival and the state of children’s films in general.
twi-ny: What prompted you to form GKIDS and NYCIFF in the first place?
Eric Beckman: NYICFF was formed to fill a void in the marketplace for exciting, meaningful, diverse, nuanced, eye-opening, thought-provoking film for young people. At the time we launched back in the late 1990s, the indie film movement was in full swing, and on any given weekend in New York City you could see maybe one hundred different films for adults — edgy indie films, French art films, romantic comedies, teen sex comedies, high-brow Oscar bait, action pictures, silent film retrospectives, and so on — literally any kind of film you could imagine was on tap for adults. But for kids there would be just one movie playing, which seemed just wrong for a city like New York. So the germinating idea for the festival was that we would bring a hugely exciting world of film to NYC every winter so that for four weeks during the festival, there would be the same kind of cinematic diversity and creativity and range of experience for kids that there is for adults.
twi-ny: How has the festival changed over the years, since its debut in 1997?
Eric Beckman: We’re much bigger (the largest in North America). NYICFF is now an Oscar qualifying festival, we have more films — and perhaps equally important we have a paid staff. We have also secured a reputation as a significant industry event on par with the prestige “adult” festivals in terms of important feature premieres and our record of introducing significant new directors to U.S. audiences and debuting future Oscar nominees. But the core concept is still exactly the same — uncompromising, excellent film for ages three to eighteen, including shorts, features, animation, live action, docs, and experimental films from six continents.
twi-ny: Do you think children’s films themselves have changed over the last sixteen years?
Eric Beckman: Yes and no. The Pixar animated CGI picture has supplanted Pocahontas/Lion King as the model to emulate. And more recently, with companies like Laika and others producing pictures every few years, there has been a wider variety of films out there — which has been great. But the underlying market forces that limit what is available for children have remained, and if anything have gotten stronger. Unlike films for adults, there is no independent circuit for children’s movies, so pretty much everything that is released is engineered to reach a mass audience. Amour at $4 million box office gross is a critical and financial success — but The Pirates! at $31 million is a potential write-down, even though it is a wonderful movie. So this pressure to reach mass audience to achieve $150 million domestic box office continues to affect the types of children’s films that get made in the U.S. — and severely limits the number of independent or foreign titles that can get a release. NYICFF and GKIDS are working to build that indie-for-kids circuit — and we have had some notable success at the Oscars and getting films attention and distribution, a trend we expect to continue.
twi-ny: With everyone, including children, having more access to films of all kinds over the internet, on cable, and on handheld devices, should parents worry more than ever about what their kids are watching?
Eric Beckman: This is a parenting question, so I will take off my film festival director hat for a moment. I have three children, and to be honest I am not overly worried about content. I am more concerned with limiting screen time, making room for reading, exploring art, theater, music, and other activities — and encouraging creative use of technology rather than passive consuming. Yes, there is some terrible stuff out there, but hopefully you raise your kids to make good choices rather than making the choices for them.
twi-ny: You have another prestigious jury this year. What do you look for in a jurist?
Eric Beckman: That is an often-asked question — as clearly Gus Van Sant and James Schamus do not jump to mind when you think of children’s films. But it is exactly that take we are looking for. We reach out to jurors who love and understand and are involved in creating great films. Not great children’s films, but great films period. Our jurors generally fall into one or more of three categories: actors or filmmakers (many of them parents) who we saw were coming to the festival so were already fans and supporters; innovative and provocative filmmakers who support a wider and more interesting range of film being made for young people; and renowned foreign filmmakers whose works first found U.S. audiences through the festival.
twi-ny: On February 28, there’s a specifically “not for children” benefit. What can adults expect from that?
Eric Beckman: The NY Int’l [Not for] Children’s Film Festival is a really, really fun and slightly naughty event. Every year NYICFF receives submissions that are so “not for kids” that you have to wonder what the person submitting the film was thinking. This began at the very first festival, with a film made with Barbie dolls that would definitely garner an NC-17 rating. So a few years ago, we decided to show a few of these films at a private cocktail party we were doing for board members, staff, and other friends of the festival. Everyone had so much fun we made it the theme of our fundraiser that year, and thus began the tradition.
The event takes place Feb 28, the night before Opening Night. You will want to reserve your babysitter now! It is at Tribeca Film Center and involves a screening of very inappropriate films that were submitted to the festival, plus food, cocktails, drinking games, prizes (courtside Knicks tickets, racecar driving school, all-access family passes to the festival . . .) and more things that I am not even aware of, since I am not on the benefit committee. The proceeds benefit the festival’s FilmEd program, which assures that economically disadvantaged New York City families have access to the festival’s programs and filmmaking classes. So it is a great event for a great cause.
“What they don’t tell you when you sign up to become an author is how many times you will end up reading your own book,” jazz guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli writes in the finale to his first book, World on a String: A Musical Memoir (Wiley, October 2012, $26.95). “I can also tell you that I have been around the block so many times with this manuscript that I’m beginning to have issues with this vaguely familiar John Pizzarelli character who seems to get a lot of airtime in this book.” The son of legendary musician Bucky Pizzarelli, John, now fifty-two, has been recording original songs and covering standards for more than thirty years, playing with such greats as Skitch Henderson, Paul McCartney, Rosemary Clooney, James Taylor, and many others, including his wife, Jessica Molaskey, and his father. On his most recent record, Double Exposure (Telarc, May 2012), John reinterpreted a wide range of jazz, pop, rock, and folk classics by the likes of Neil Young, the Beatles, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Steely Dan, and the Allman Brothers.
For his memoir, Pizzarelli teamed up with longtime friend Joe Cosgriff, who wrote one of Pizzarelli’s most popular hits, “I Like Jersey Best.” (The book includes a riotous section on how John and Bucky went to the Jersey State Assembly when the tune was being considered for official state song.) John and Joe, a pair of Jersey-born Red Sox fans who are both proud members of the Yankee-hating BLOHARDS group, will be at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO on Monday night, February 25, in a benefit for the Brooklyn institution, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. Pizzarelli will read from and sign copies of World on a String and will perform a rare solo set. Admission is a mere twenty bucks for what should be a unique and wonderful evening. Pizzarelli and Cosgriff recently discussed their collaboration, the Boston Red Sox, meatballs, and Sandy with twi-ny.
twi-ny: You’ve been friends for some thirty years; how did the writing process go?
Joe Cosgriff: It took us a little while to hit our stride. We started out face-to-face, which was a blast but didn’t produce finished pages. And John submitted about a third of the book in written form. But what worked best were the voice files and CDs he sent from the road. They were hilarious, and John’s prodigious output of these helped us catch up with the publisher’s deadlines.
John Pizzarelli: That’s it! Mostly we wrote about what subjects Joe thought we should explore. Then for a follow-up I would put more exact answers onto a CD.
twi-ny: Were there moments that you wanted to kill each other?
JP: Joe was really great about specific things he may have gotten wrong. If I said, “I think it happened this way,” he was more than happy to fix things. So there was no head banging, sorry to say.
JC: John and I have collaborated on projects previously, although nothing as ambitious as this one in terms of sheer volume. We had other bumps in the road — three editors and counting — but never any issues with one another. He is a natural storyteller, worked hard on the book, and he helped to make the experience about as enjoyable as it could be.
twi-ny: When will you be starting on the sequel?
JC: Sequel? We need to do a better job of letting people know about this book first.
twi-ny: You’re both Jersey boys who love the Red Sox and live in New York City. That can’t be easy.
JC: It’s not an easy road and not one I’d recommend. Yankee Stadium, especially the previous one, was not hospitable. But our little club, the BLOHARDS, has a lot of fun at our two annual luncheons, and John and I have a good time preparing the material. “My Bobby Valentine” was one of last year’s best songs.
JP: My first recollection of baseball was the ’67 World Series [between Boston and St. Louis]. I loved the look of that Red Sox team, especially [Carl] Yastrzemski. Since there were no Red Sox uni’s then available in New Jersey, I was [Yankees second baseman] Horace Clarke for about a year, till about 1981-ish, when the Yanks fired Dick Howser.
twi-ny: John, you’ve put out dozens of albums and played thousands of shows. How has public and critical reaction to the book compared to what you’ve gotten throughout your career as a musician?
JP: The entire routine is like putting out a CD and waiting for the reviews, etc. The book has been largely well received, which has been a very pleasant surprise.
twi-ny: Joe, you worked for a printing company for several decades before recently retiring. What’s it like to have your name on the cover of a book for the first time, after having printed so many millions with others’ names on them?
JC: Good question! The best part of this “author thing” has been hearing from people who connected emotionally with the book. A couple of people at John’s shows had tears rolling down their faces talking about what we wrote about Zoot Sims and Dave McKenna. Those experiences have been powerful and unexpected.
twi-ny: How were John’s son Johnny’s meatballs at the annual Birdland after-party? I understand that they were not made at their usual location, Cosgriff’s kitchen.
JP: We did use Joe’s stove for an earlier meatball fest. I had to get out of there, though. I didn’t want to get used to that stove; it’s tremendous. When we do anything at Joe’s, wine tasting, meatballs, or book editing, he plays the best music — Zoot Sims, Anita O’Day, Oscar Peterson.
JC: Johnny is a meatball machine at this point. There were some time constraints this time with the Birdland gig, so they did the prep on the West Side. And the prep is half the fun. One common denominator about parties with Johnny's meatballs — no leftovers!
twi-ny: John is playing a Sandy Benefit Concert at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO on February 25. Were both of you affected by the hurricane, either directly or indirectly?
JP: I was lucky on the Upper West Side. Our cabin up north lost power for two weeks — lost some oxtail ragu that was in the freezer, but nothing else too bad. I am happy to help out any way I can to those affected much worse than I was.
JC: My apartment lost power for five days, but this was nothing compared with the devastation sustained by friends of ours in Brooklyn. And I am traveling this week in California with friends from the Jersey Shore whose home still needs significant repairs. When we heard about the damage to powerHouse, we told them we’d like to help, and that is how this event came about.