It's a summer day in New York City and we've got several hours before we need to return the rental car. Normal people might hit the beach or a remote park in search of a respite from the city's oppressive heat. Not my wife and I. It's off to Midwood, Brooklyn and one the borough's most popular and controversial pizzerias, DiFara Pizza. What was once a small, neighborhood pizza joint has in recent years been transformed into a foodie favorite with two-hour queues and $5.00 slices, much to the derision of locals who now find themselves fighting camera-wielding food bloggers for a taste.
So, it was with some surprise when we rolled up to DiFara's and saw no line at what would be the beginning of the dinner shift (6-9 p.m.). Had we found the sweet spot, a rare Saturday with no long wait? Unfortunately not.
Founded in 1924 by Anthony "Totonno" Pero, Totonno's uses only the finest ingredients: "tomatoes imported from Italy, handmade mozzarella cheese, and dough which is made daily" on premises. In fact, when the dough runs out, the doors are shut for the day. Sidelined by a fire last year, Totonno's re-opened in May 2010 and I'm happy to report the quality of the product is unchanged (as evidenced by the long line on a Saturday evening, many in in the neighborhood to check out a Dead-related show at the ballpark).
One of the benefits of the wait at Totonno's is you get to watch the pizziolo in action and observe the process:
The dough is stretched rather casually, but there is no show-offy tossing
Fresh mozzarella goes on first and sauce is ladled on top
A light sprinkling of Parmesan is added as a finish
Totonno's is bare bones. There is a large pie ($19.50) and a small one ($16.50), though the waitress told us only large was available that night. A small list of toppings is listed on the wall at $2.50 each but we opted for the plain pie. Coca-Cola is served in good, old-fashioned small bottles and there are ice-cold bottled beer (Bud and Brooklyn Lager), which really soothes legs tired from standing on the sidewalk.
Unlike some authentic Neapolitan pies, Totonno's crust is only slightly charred and has a great, smoky coal-oven flavor. With the addition of the Parmesan cheese that gets browned on the crust, it may have be the most perfect crust I've ever tasted. Because the cheese goes on first, the sauce doesn't soak through and weaken the crust, so these slices are made for picking up and eating with minimal effort or mess. The sauce, my wife noted, is the "perfect combination of sweet and tangy."
One element missing is a sprig of basil, but that can be forgiven, as Totonno's pizza did not disappoint on any level. It was well worth the drive and the wait for a pie that has come as close to perfection as I've ever experienced.
Formed in 1992, Egghead. Released a slew of punk rock EPs before disappearing in 1998. Due to a clerical error, GenTech, the band’s parent corporation, accidentally dispatched the band to an arms conference in Upper Foreignslovabia. Ostensibly, the band’s goal was to unload overstock from the Munitions Division, especially the ill-fated A43A “Innocence Debaser” land-to-air missile. However, the lads took one look at the people of the region and detected a vacuum in the leadership. Within a week they had roused the native army and installed themselves as a ruling triumvirate. They were beloved and feted as living gods until Mike Faloon (drums) insisted that the citizens house his ever-growing collection of prog rock. More than one youngster was felled by a vinyl copy of the mighty Yessongs 3-LP set. Alas, these misfortunes inspired a popular uprising and the band barely escaped with their lives.
But escape they did, taking three different paths to flee their adopted homeland. John Ross Bowie (bass, vocals) went on to become the star of the CW sitcom That Guy Is Really Handsome, Yet Accessible, a role which has garnered him three Emmys, a Grammy and a Pulitzer. And when not busy 'advising' Goldman Sachs and designing deep-sea oil wells for BP, Johnny Reno (guitar, vocals) spent several years attempting to breed a dog that only lives for a month, for people that want a dog but are leaving town in a month. Faloon spent the intervening years rooting for the Mets.
In early 2010, by some bizarre twist of fate, those three different paths led to the Laundry Room in East LA. The trio reconnected, gave Reno a sponge bath, and recorded their full-length debut, nearly 18 years after first forming. In the name of crushing your spirits and thrilling your souls, they present Egghead. Would Like A Few Words With You.
Friday, July 9, Minneapolis Pop Punk Emporium (formerly Arise Books), 6:30 2441 Lyndale Ave. South
"Pop Punk Time Machine" local bands cover mid-90s pop punk favorites, Manix, Nato Coles, God Damn Doo Wop Band, and more.
Long before the Valley Girls, Jewish princesses, mud sharks, dental floss, yellow snow and, tragically, the cancer which claimed him in 1993, there was simply Francis Vincent Zappa, a young kid with an above-eclectic record collection who escaped the confines of Lancaster, California to arrive in Hollywood with his “rockin’ teen combo” The Mothers of Invention in 1965. His career on stage and disc thereafter caused countless unsuspecting youngsters such as myself to immediately set aside their Monkees albums in order that we could join our newest mentor upon this most adventurous of all, as it turns out, musical paths.
But exactly how did this seemingly unassuming composer/guitarist with a penchant for sinister footwear become one of the most musically and socially iconoclastic participants of the 1960s; an era seemingly awash in just such creatures? A fascinating new documentary from Sexy Intellectual, Frank Zappa: The Freak-Out List, uses the 179 names listed within the original 1966 issue of the Mothers’ debut album Freak Out! as a guide to explaining, well, why the music therein sounded the way it did.
As in, sounded like NOTHING ELSE released that year...or ever since, for that matter.
Setting aside the litany of Zappa’s friends, teachers, business associates and various showbiz personalities (such as Lenny Bruce and John Wayne) to concentrate instead on the seventy-one musical figures listed (which Frank said at the time “have contributed materially in many ways to make our music what it is; please do not hold it against them”), The Freak-Out List and its superb cast of interviewees duly cite the connections between, for example, Bob Dylan and “Trouble Every Day,“ not to mention The Cadillacs and the Cruising with Ruben and the Jets album...yet I’m still not exactly sure why Frank dedicated one of Freak Out’s most alarming numbers, “Help I’m A Rock,” to Elvis Presley (though I have my theories).
It is in its detailed examinations of the classical composers and rhythm ‘n’ blues musicians however, who first awoke young Frank to the possibilities of a life and career submerged in musical exploration, which truly give this film the meat of its matter. Of course the quote “The present day composer refuses to die!” will be familiar to anyone who read the fine print inside the Mothers’ key early albums. But as The Freak-Out List explains, the man who first uttered those defiant words in 1921, French composer Edgard Varèse, remained a major influence upon, and inspiration to, Frank Zappa throughout his life.
Since first reading his name in a 1953 Look Magazine article and subsequently unearthing his Complete Works Volume 1 album, Zappa took to Varèse’s above-free-form, percussion-based experimental/electronic work, referencing and returning to it often for the remainder of his life. In fact, so utterly besotted was he with the man, the young Zappa convinced his parents to allow him a long-distance phone call to the composer as a fifteenth birthday present. (Most unfortunately, the two never actually met: Edgard passed away just months before the Freak Out! album was released).
Likewise we learn of, and actually hear via side-by-side audio/visual clips, the above-obvious influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Film Score” on Zappa’s very own film scores, and precisely how snatches of Holst and Stravinsky end up weaved into the Mothers’ Absolutely Free album of 1967. Why, as Frank himself ordered the likely bemused readers of Hit Parader magazine that year, “buy everything that you can by Igor Stravinsky and dance to it.” Hotcha!
Zappa biographer Ben Watson rightfully warns us, however, that such “spot-the-musical-quote” playing misses the point. One should instead concentrate on “how Frank makes you think about classical music” while you’re trying to get jiggy with, say, “Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin.”
Now, on the all-important flip side of The Freak-Out List lie the many doo-wop and r ’n’ b artists Frank was also seriously grooving to, as he mastered drums then guitar in his very first Lancaster desert garage bands (...when he wasn’t locked in his room composing film scores, that is). For instance, it is impossible to hear any of Zappa’s multitude guitar solos, recorded or otherwise, without being directed straight back to the magnificent Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and The Freak-Out List presents joyous, yet ultimately heartbreaking footage of the two’s final musical get-together chez Zappa.
Elsewhere, we’re shown how no less a kindred musical spirit as Miles Davis, and his In A Silent Way album in particular, helped create a context for Zappa’s landmark “jazz-rock” (as it would be pigeon-holed today) Hot Rats. Yes, although he once (in)famously claimed “Jazz isn’t dead; it just smells funny,” Frank obviously kept his fair share of Eric Dolphy records alongside the Varèse, and co-operated so fully – and so successfully – in jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty’s King Kong project that Ponty ended up as an actual Mother himself for two entire tours.
So, then: Dozens of albums, hundreds of compositions, and thousands of performances later, we still may not be able to get a sufficient grip around the art, or as some would say artifice, of Frank Zappa. But ever since leaving on what was called his final tour, just before 6 pm on Saturday, December 4, 1993, all we have left are his dedicated scholars, followers, and now films such as The Freak-Out List (plus Sexy Intellectual’s companion DVD Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention In The 1960s) to guide us towards our understanding and appreciation of a figure so prolific, so public, yet so baffling.
In an interview with Jazz & Pop magazine in 1967, Zappa explained “that whole Freak Out! album is to be as accessible as possible to the people who wanted to take the time to make it accessible. That list of names in there, if anybody were to research it, it would probably help them a great deal.”
As always, however, just don’t hold it against them.