Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This postcard turns out to be a fairly common one, although I had never seen it before purchasing this example. It was never mailed and nothing is written on the back. The image is a bit odd, Barty the puss peering out between the slats of this sort of picket fence effect, perhaps he is on a porch?
A handful of other capable bloggers have already done tribute to Barty and Hal who was a radio pioneer in Long Beach, California. A musician himself (a few ragtime pieces he wrote can be found on Youtube) Nicols channeled it into the early days of radio, starting in high school where he programmed a station which I assume was the school’s station. (I nosed around in the early days of radio, which are fascinating, via a series of books called The Radio Girls and that post can be found here.) Evidently it really was the medium of radio itself that he loved.
Unfortunately I could not find an example of the radio show to share and no one has really recorded what kinds of music he played on it. Therefore, I will just imagine that Hal played the jazz and dance band tunes of the 20’s and 30’s that I love since that would have been nostalgic in the 40’s and 50’s. (For a tribute to the radio persona who enlightened me on this subject you can find my post about Rich Conaty here.)
Hal purchased the KFOX-AM station (1280 on your dial) with a 20th Century Fox partner in 1924, but the partner bailed early and he became the sole proprietor. According to his obit, he was on air until his death in October of 1953 after a long illness, presumed to be cancer. I am not sure what the broader programming of the station was, but the Memory Room show was nightly at 6:30. (Today it is a Korean language station out of Torrance, California.) In addition to Barty, Hal was survived by his wife Dorothy – who doesn’t seem to get much air time in the discussion of Hal and KFOX.
Barty, who weighed in at 18.5 lbs and was described as a tortoiseshell and white cat (fluffier and more long-haired than he appears in my postcard), entered the picture as early as 1946 and I gather his contribution seemed to be purring into the microphone for listeners at home. It is said he could (would?) purr “on command” (request?), but of course exactly who was doing what over the radio waves is a bit hard to verify. Another writer suggested that maybe Barty just purred all the time – seems unlikely to me as a cat owner. One assumes there was the occasional meow, chirp or mutter as well. Regardless, Barty seemed to manage to transcend the shortcomings of this early communication medium as a cat performer and he had quite a following. His fan mail routinely exceeded that of Hal’s, especially over Valentine’s Day and over the holidays.
As one writer pointed out, being a feline radio mascot was probably a pretty good gig – lots of time with Hal, much attention from staff and I am sure lots of food and treats. I’m not sure fame interests cats much, but of course it is hard to say what their views really might be.
Hal Nichols had something of a nose for promotion and he ran with the ball on Barty. Holiday cards featuring the feline were produced annually and there were buttons which proliferated as well. This postcard is another example. These collectibles are variously available on eBay, Etsy and at auction although I didn’t see any of the cards for sale except this one I purchased. In my research, I readily came across one magazine page devoted to the duo (which can be found here) and I suspect there were others. There is no indication if Barty headed home with Hal nightly or if the station was truly his only domain.
If it were not for the proliferation of pandemic Zoom, I would not have known of my own cat Blackie’s desire for fame and interest in being a broadcast personality. His daily involvement in Zoom meetings (he prefers late afternoon, but will make an exception for especially long meetings – think Board or Committees) earlier in the day. He is charmed by my being such a captive audience for an extended period.
Although his command center is generally my lap, he does make on-air appearances and favors turning his hindquarters to the camera and I attempt to spare my colleagues that view. He also has a gift for chin and ear rubbing his farewell appreciation on the jerry-rigged set-up which frequently sends it flying to the ground, making viewers believe that I have experienced either an earthquake or, more appropriately, a mini sort of Godzilla cat intervention. All this to say as a result, I can easily imagine Barty, perched on Hal’s lap or giving the mic a few ear and chin rubs, or an errant tail knocking it over occasionally, while purring his way into the hearts of listeners across California for many years.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am pausing in the Pictorama photo post fiesta which will likely resume tomorrow, the reflect a bit on my return to running. I run slower than ever since my fall running on Memorial Day which resulted in two broken fingers. (Posts about my nascent running and the finger crushing fall can be found here and here.) In the heat of summer it is tough going to get back to my former distance. Still, every morning which does not require a breakfast meeting, or it isn’t pouring rain, out I go to give it my best.
Running clears my brain better than most things. (Lifting weights can also have this effect, but the hand is definitely still too weak to be trusted much with the free weights in the apartment. I wrote about my studio apartment pandemic workout a few months back and can be read here.) While I used to listen to books while working out at the gym it has developed that it has to be music for running. I have become partial to Beethoven, in particular the 7th Symphony, but I have roamed around a bit too. I love Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello concertos and am very fond of the Moonlight Sonata, but neither runs quite as long as I need and I find myself mid-run looking for the next thing to listen to. As I Jersey girl I will admit that I also have Bruce Springsteen as a fallback – always good if I need a kick in the pants to get me going.
I am also a bit strangely partial to Wynton Marsalis’s Blues Symphony. (As a staffer I would be remiss not to point out that the free download can be found here and a variety of other places on the web.) And in fact I was listening to it when I fell – apologies Wynton, but true. That did not dampen my affection for it however and I still like it very much and have it in rotation. My usual run down by the East River is along the FDR Drive and that means that half of it is quite noisy with commuter traffic. I had a day of trying to listen to Russ Columbo (long-standing Pictorama readers know that I am partial to popular music from the 1920’s and 30’s – this post found here is one of several which touches on that part of my life) while running and alas his voice is too soft to hear. You need a bit of boom to be heard over the morning traffic I am afraid.
Last weekend I made the trip to Jersey to visit my mom. I had last seen her earlier in the fateful Memorial Day weekend when I had been in for a wet, cold concert on that Friday evening – perhaps my exhaustion that morning contributing to my fall. (Arg! That tale can be found here.) The rigors of hand in cast, followed by ever so much ongoing physical therapy have occupied me greatly and made travel a tad harder so this was my first chance to get back there.
Sunday morning had breakout sun and heat for my ferry trip after a night of heavy rain. Unfortunately a quick front moved in just as we pulled out of the Sandy Hook stop on the ferry, a summer stop only for beach goers. Pulling away from the piles of families we just left on the beach in a very sudden, pouring rain, which then lasted the rest of the day. I thought about those poor stranded folks for the rest of the day as there is virtually no shelter there and the next ferry would be a wait.
On Monday morning I woke early with good intentions and determination to head out for a run, despite the gray morning. I threw on my running togs, layered for some Jersey chill, and said a quick hello to mom and went out the door – and into a new torrent of rain. I regrouped and had a nice coffee with mom, ate a really memorable Jersey peach, and was ultimately rewarded for not eating a full breakfast when the rain cleared around 7:30. Out I went. I queued up Beethoven although it would have been a nice day to nod to Bruce as I was virtually down the street from his home.
These days my mom lives in a town just a few miles from the one I grew up in. I am familiar with it in a general way, but realized early on that I could easily get lost in the roads walking or running around in the area surrounding her new house. I mapped a route earlier in the spring, but wanted more distance today and so I peeled off toward a grammar school with a playing field I figured I could check out. I always had my phone to get me back to her house after all.
The morning was still heavy with rain water and the trees, flowers and grass were soaking. I resigned myself to sodden sneakers early on and instantly wished I had thought to pack extra socks. (I have a friend/antique jewelry dealer on IG, Mia aka @therubyfoxes who runs in the British countryside and always shows photos of her mud caked sneakers post-run. I was channeling you Mia!)
Observing the etiquette of the suburbs I greeted the few folks I met along the way with a cheery greeting of Morning! (In Manhattan the most you might have is a nod at someone you encounter frequently, but in all fairness, there are a lot more people here in New York.) I took my chances and followed a road beyond the school up, figuring I could make a big loop without getting hopelessly lost.
The roads around my mom’s house are named for schools. She lives on Oxford and I found myself running along and past Dartmouth, then Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers – a nod to the home team I guess. My sister had a high school boyfriend who lived on one of these streets – I think it was Dartmouth. I was trying to remember and see if any of the houses looked familiar, although many are newly built on the sites of older ones. I may have picked it out, but hard to say.
There are a number of cul de sac dead ends where basketball hoops proliferate and kids clearly command the streets. Several homes sported unmask our kids signs which reminded me that it had always been a community that wore its politics on its sleeve with yard signs favoring political candidates, making statements. Maybe all suburbs are – it is the only suburban community I have ever lived in so I am unsure.
I continued on, up toward some additional community playing fields boardering on a heavily wooded area which I believe is responsible in part for the diversity of birds my mom enjoys in her tiny yard – including hawks and, surprisingly, turkey vultures. As I approached the field I saw unleashed dogs playing and was hesitant to run through – however as I got closer I realized they were instead young deer romping. I jogged the perimeter of the field and noted a nice community garden with someone just beginning his work there, along one side.
Running on turf as opposed to concrete, as I do here in Manhattan, was a bit heavenly and I couldn’t help thinking that a fall here would likely only result in getting muddy as opposed to broken bones. Meanwhile, don’t think heroic thoughts about how much I was running. It was my usual three miles and still required (several) periods of walking and as there were no inclines to challenge me I can only admit I really just don’t have my wind and stamina back yet.
There is something downright edenic about being out in the suburbs though, especially after our long months bound to our apartment and our corner of the city, although I always feel fortunate to have grown up in such a pretty place. These days though even being on the ferry and out on the water, some part of my brain releases and relaxes in a way it doesn’t quite ever do here these days – although my time along the esplanade in the mornings comes close.
My route ended with a loop around the original area I had mapped out. Street names that my friend Suzanne had helped me list during a walk one day as I found an initial route. I checked in on Forrest (my grammar school nearby was Forrestdale), Park and Beekman, easy for a Manhattanite to remember for obvious reasons – touched base near her house on Ridge, and turned tail home where mom and a (not New York) bagel with smoked salmon awaited me.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My friend Eden gave me the tag line to this blog, All Pam, All the Time and I liked it because many of my readers, especially at first, found me through Kim and it seemed fair warning that, although you will get some Kim, Pictorama is a heaping serving of me. Some days are more me than others and this is one of those unabashedly me days.
In a quiet way, this week lurched forward significantly and was sort of a landmark week. To start, it was made public that Jazz at Lincoln Center was one of 286 recipients of extraordinary and unsolicited donations from MacKenzie Scott, the philanthropist ex-wife of Amazon titan, Jeff Bezos. (As one colleague said, I feel so much better about all the money I spent with Amazon over the pandemic.) It is a gift that will have a profound effect on the organization and as a career fundraiser it was a once in a lifetime gift to experience. Truly it is a testament to the hard work of Wynton Marsalis, especially his tireless work over the last year plus, as we struggled not only to survive but to be present for people who needed music and community during this time.
However, much like when Kim has a new book to promote, psychologically I had moved on once it was done (there is always more money to raise and we are still closing this year) which for me happened a few weeks ago, and I was drawn back into it with the public announcement, which lead to announcements to Board and staff.
The other events of this week included my first hair cut in a year. Although I had gone last summer, the timing and location are bad for me working from home. However, my newly broken fingers have required first Kim’s help and then my own awkward efforts to put it up and I realized it was time. (I wrote about my longstanding decision not to dye my premature – at first anyway – gray hair in a recent post here.) It was nice to catch up with David who co-owns the salon and has cut my hair since our wedding back in 2000.
Unlike last summer’s cut (short, short because I didn’t know when I would come back) somehow this one transformed me back to a semblance of my pre-pandemic self. The pounds I have dropped (still some left to go, but many gone) probably help in that regard and the recent purchase of a sundress which I was sporting contributed to the overall effect.
The timing was good because shortly after I headed over to Central Park where the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was opening Summer Stage. Many of my colleagues from across the organization had booked tickets and it became an impromptu reunion – complete with hugging and elbow bumps for those not ready to hug. (There’s a lot of hugging in jazz.) The outdoors meant everyone was pretty comfortable being without a mask, eating and drinking. I can’t say the year melted away, but it was like salve on a wound.
As the sun was setting in the west and the orchestra struck up the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue I looked around and realized that coincidence had it that I was seated with many folks I sit backstage with during countless concerts in the hall and elsewhere. I stretched out in my chair and watched the sparrows ready for the evening, a few bats. My eyes welled with the sheer pleasure. The weather and the night were perfection. It was the first time I felt like maybe we really are back.
Friday dawned with a trip to Dr. Mir (hand surgeon – my Memorial Day hand exploits can be found in a post here) and my first session of hand physical therapy was later in the afternoon. I admit to being squeamish about pain and I can’t say I was without some trepidation. My hand is healing, more or less on schedule it seems though. With a little luck I may be allowed to take the splint off at home in another week – maybe even be cleared to run and work out a bit by the end of the month.
Seeing my hand without the splint really for the first time was a bit discouraging. It remains black and blue (quite green actually) in the extreme, still swollen in places. Being allowed to wash it was a huge relief however and that made up for the discomfort of it making its debut, splintless for examination and therapy. There isn’t much to say except that therapy is slow and hurts – almost by definition. I am a chicken about pain frankly, but a realist so I am focusing hard on making each movement count as I remind my fingers that they know how to bend. How could they have forgotten in a few short weeks?
By the end of forty minutes with the therapist we could see some, small improvement. I was reminded that my original purpose in taking up running (at least in part) was to tackle something different and hard during a time when my waking hours seemed to be confined to a desk chair in our one room apartment, working. While hand therapy will not get me outside, nor help me lose weight, it is unintentionally providing me with a new challenge to meet.
So I end the week with some renewed optimism about our impending nascent return to the office part-time next month. I think I am starting to shake off my Covid cocoon and if not the old Pam, at least the latest model of her,
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am writing from mom’s house in New Jersey. It is Memorial Day weekend and I am reminded that Memorial Day (much vaunted in this beach community as the start of the summer season) is almost invariably cold and wet. This weekend is a great entry in the annuals of lousy weather on Memorial Day weekend.
In high school there was a small town parade (which has continued with the exception of last year; I don’t know if they are returning to it this almost post-pandemic year or not) which required the services of our high school marching band and drill team. This means I know something about standing around in the wet and chill in a brief uniform, toting a faux weapon. (That alone is probably news to Pictorama readers – yes, drill team. Loved the noise the fake rifles made as we slapped them and hit the ground in unison!)
Most importantly in a summer community like this it means the opening of the beaches and the green light for tourists and after our last (pandemic) summer I am sure they are quite anxious to get back to it here. We’ve had some glorious days recently so even old hands were tricked into a false sense of security, but man, that Jersey weather is having a good laugh at us. We Jersey shore folks remain ever optimistic however.
Upon arrival in Fair Haven, I paced the backyard while taking the remainder of work calls that needed winding up. Meanwhile I enjoyed my mom’s absolutely gorgeous garden. She is housebound and enjoys it via the windows, and what gets brought in, but Mike who works on the tiny garden and yard does a great job. The peonies below are from plants I gave her in 2019 and they have grown nicely!
I am actually not technically here to celebrate the launch of the season. I arrived yesterday in time to attend a live gig with Wynton Marsalis and the septet for work. I invited three friends and it was a dinner club set-up, much like we did in the fall. (You can find that post here.) The ferry ride was very cold (and the water rough) yesterday morning. I chatted briefly with a young man with a bike who was preparing to ride to some area north of Philadelphia. (Yeah, I don’t think this must have worked out too well for him.)
The concert promoters assured us that the concert would happen rain or shine so we bundled and layered up and off we went. True enough, there was a tent and we were protected from the (hard) rain and wind, at least for the most part. I did see the music start to blow off the stand on stage until secured. It was 51 degrees and despite having spent the past year dressing for outdoor dining in all weather, I was layered but cold in my scarf and down liner. (My friend Suzanne lent me a large waterproof outback hat which helped keep the rain off.)
I felt for the guys playing and knew they must be freezing in their suits. (Let’s face it, brass instruments can be cold!) The music was great despite the inclement weather though and it was a real treat to hear them in person again. In particular, our pianist Dan Nimmer was having a memorable night.
I came back to the house, got rid of my soaked clothes (trousers still wet this AM) and had some hot tea. Soon I was happily ensconced in pj’s in bed watching television while the storm raged around the tiny house. Gale force winds and rain were pounding when we heard a loud bang and the entire neighborhood went pitch black. I decided it was my cue to head to sleep and luckily this morning the power has returned, although the storm continues. Sadly no running here today, but a day with mom ahead so enjoy and more tomorrow.
The other evening our usually dependable Wifi sputtered during a meeting. I was able to get back on it, but yesterday we woke to the realization that we didn’t have Wifi. After two calls to our provider, RCN, our “box” was declared dead (well, dying, it has a few meager lights blinking) and a technician requested for later today. It was also, as it would happen, Kim’s birthday and so thoughtful wishes are piled up, as I write, in the world online, an internet connection away.
Kim, who is immersed in the latter stages of his next book spent yesterday tracing off pages which will then be tightened and eventually inked. (A post with the specifics of Kim’s process can be found here. It is a great favorite!) I still had online access, via my phone (and my ipad which decided it could operate off my phone) which meant I could do some work including attending meetings with my little Italian Felix toy avatar in my stead.
I have my own policy of trying to be on camera for most Zoom meetings, at least at the beginning of each, and I try to stay on for all meetings with staff. I think it is more humanizing even if I am just in from my run and admitting that I only make it to even nominal make-up about once a week these days.
Nonetheless, the lack of Wifi slowed me down mightily – if you are reading this it means either I posted it via my phone (a skill set that may well be beyond me), or the technician has come and restored us to full function. It makes me realize how much I depend on the internet for casually adding things to these posts as well. My fingers twitch to check references and add links and photos.
In case the day needed more complications, I had an appointment to get a new phone. Like many people, I beat the heck out of this thing over the past 18 months. The screen is cracked from dropping it from the elliptical at the gym, years ago now. (There was a time when I didn’t take my phone into the gym, preferring to listen to a tiny and somewhat finicky ipod instead, but when my dad was began his decline and was hospitalized I started bringing it with me to workouts. It bounced off the moving machine hard and it is lucky it didn’t hurt someone.)
It has been giving me warning signs that it is breathing its last (screens turning into strange shadow screens, no longer holds a charge) and so while making another change to my account recently (prophetically changing my date plan), I committed to a new phone. Suffice it to say, given the day that yesterday was, after more than an hour at the Verizon store, I left sans phone transfer complete – alas, I must return later today.
Evermore than even a year and a half ago however, I am tethered to the internet like it is a favorite child!
Simultaneously, this week I was encouraging my office to help inform a return to work plan and being met with recalcitrance, fear and assorted resistance which evinced an insurmountable level of exhaustion in me. Like many managers, the decision about a return to the office is an institutional one and Wynton Marsalis has made his feelings very clear throughout this period – we will not be an organization that operates remotely. We need to be together and to see each other as humans again as soon as is safely and reasonably possible.
Like a good manager, I have been trying to gently exercise the muscle of in-person meetings and discussing our return. Our policy is to return to the office in person two days a week over the summer and then moving to full time mid-September. Having to decide on dates was like ripping the band-aide off for many folks though. It is hard to balance their variety of concerns, an institutional mandate while keeping any of my own feelings to myself. I am impatient with my own impatience.
The day finally concluded with Kim and I eating some excellent Vietnamese food which greatly restored me. Then, with the premiere of a concert for our virtual season, our full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with the founder and head of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson. It was a great marriage of spoken language and jazz and spoke very directly to the topics of freedom and inequality and history. (Freedom, Justice and Hope is available on-demand until May 26 and you can purchase tickets to watch it here). It is in my opinion by far the best concert we have produced for online viewing and I am so proud of my colleagues who created it and how far we have come. It left me with the very real hope that we will come out of this period with a new way of continuing to reach audiences far beyond those in our hall and on our tour destinations.
Afterward, I watched the first part of a PBS documentary on the Metropolitan Museum. Long-time Pictorama readers know that I spent most of my career, thirty years, there before leaving for my current gig. (I wrote about my departure in a post called Leaving the Met which can be found here.) I gather that the documentary was originally meant to follow the museum through its 150th Anniversary Year. Instead it is half about that and half about how 2020 played out with the pandemic and the closure of the museum, the ultimate re-opening and then grappling with the new re-emerging world.
It was moving for me to see many former colleagues as well as some objects I know like they had spent years in my own living room, so they too are like old friends. But overwhelmingly for me it was so touching to see the conservators, curators and other colleagues I had worked with for so many years. I was graphically reminded that yes, despite our discomfort, Wynton is right. In the end it comes down to the people. People make organizations like these great and that will suffer if we do not make the effort to come back together again to work with each other in person. When I interview people I always ask them, what will you miss most about where you work now and almost to a one they say it is the people.
In her remarks, Carolyn Riccardelli, one of the conservators, kept coming back to the metaphor of the conservation work that had been done on the Tullio Lombardi statue of Adam. Many years ago, it famously fell spontaneously from its base and smashed into an almost infinite number of pieces, fragments, and some reduced to dust. Like a crime scene, the pieces were photographed in situ and logged where they fell to aide reconstruction. That reconstruction took ten painstaking years (it has been documented in a video called After the Fall and can be found on their website here) and is back on display. It looks flawless, but of course as part of the team who restored it, Carolyn must see her years of handiwork beneath the surface every time she looks at it. She talked about how sometimes you just need to move forward, even if you have no idea how you are going to do it, making progress and claiming small victories until finally, you are there.
Shown at top: Tullio Lombardo (Italian, ca. 1455–1532). Adam, ca. 1490–95. Italian, Venice. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1936 (36.163)
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Time marches forward and it was brought to my attention today that I have published more than 760 of these posts. (That seems impossible actually, but I will take the word of the fine folks here at WordPress since they seem to be keeping count.) Topics have sprawled over time and the nature of it has morphed a bit. As a general rule they have gotten longer and increasingly personal, although cats, photographs, toys and Felix remain the banner headline for the majority of weekends.
You all, my readers, have increased in number over time too – more in recent years than at first. And inevitably some very interesting things have come in over the transom from you all. A wonderful cache of Felix photos came to me that way – I remember I was in a hotel room in Florida having a miserable trip for work when it found me and cheered me immensely. (That post can be found here.)
One man in India was very interested in a rare book I had acquired (and cannot find in the miasma of our apartment post renovation to scan for him but will eventually) and I have heard from the descendants of folks I have uncovered, such as the grandchild of Alfred Latell, who have had occasion to write about more than once. (Among my most popular, those posts about his career as an animal impersonator can be found here and here.) Usually I let the stuff I have acquired lead me down the rabbit hole of memory or joyfully research or speculate on its past a bit, although occasionally I have taken you on trips across the country and world for work, recipes I have created, or whatever else is on my mind on a given day.
My original dream of organizing my Felix photo postcards into a book seems as far away as ever – folks start muttering about copyright when I mention it – but nevertheless, it remains of interest to me. Alas, I will find a way I hope and of course I continue to add to it.
Earlier this week, a reader reached out to me to ask about a post I did where I mentioned a lost cousin of hers, Bruce Rogerson, someone I knew in Britain when I was living in London in my earlier twenties. It arrived in the midst of a work week which can only be described as our annual budget hell which has been escalated in intensity by the pandemic – such is fundraising for a performing arts organization that hasn’t been able to perform in public for more than a year! However, I did take some time to answer her and dredged up memories of Bruce the best I could on short notice.
Annoyingly, at the time I could not find my post she referred to and it was only this morning that I realized that it was the briefest of mentions in a super long post I wrote while returning from a work trip to South Africa in 2019. (It can be found here.) That post was primarily about African Highlife music and musings on my early relationship to it while living in London in the mid-1980’s. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra had played with local musicians as part of the Joy of Jazz Festival and the strands of the more indigenous African music woke the sound memory in my mind.
This morning I received an email from her and thanking me for writing along with the information that she had about her cousin. The combined gathering of my memories of Bruce for her and then reading her notes have him very much on my mind today.
Bruce Rogerson owned a coffee house in Britain called The Troubadour (still in existence at 263-267 Old Brompton Road, London). It would have had recognized bona fides and probably something of a cult following when he acquired it in 1970 from its original owners, Michael and Sheila van Bloemen who established it in 1954. The Troubadour made its name in the heyday of the coffee house live performance culture on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950’s and ’60’s. It is said that it is the first venue in London where Bob Dylan performed has have Paul Simon and more recently Adele.
At the time I knew it the basement was used only infrequently for music or performance and I can only remember being in it once. Subsequent owners have expanded it and it is a live music venue once again – or presumably was pre-Covid. However, living down the street in a series of rented flats in Earl’s Court – which was rundown and affordable at the time although even then you had to know it was on the edge of gentrification.
The Troubadour was to me a rare place for a good cup of coffee – at a time when that wasn’t easy to find in London and I was already coffee addicted. It was also warm in winter (my abodes were anything but) and light food was available – a good soup comes to mind and quiche. The pastries were dubious and occasionally we joked about those. I was chronically a bit broke at the time so eating out was a matter of budget, although I was willing to pay for coffee. It was a sort of a cappuccino served in thick white ceramic mugs. (Liquor, wine and beer were not sold there during my time although I believe a license was acquired later.)
A coffee or two could buy you a lot of time at the Troubadour and soon I was doing my school assignments and writing letters from there, and my few recently acquired friends joined me there occasionally, making it our clubhouse of sorts. However, I was the most constant resident and as a result I got to know Bruce and also a number of the other regulars.
I now know that Bruce was born the same year as Kim which made him twenty years older than my 21 years at the time. Over time I was to learn that he had a degree in mathematics, an advanced one I believe, although I only remember touching on it once. He was a tall, lanky man, always dressed in a uniform of neat denim jeans and an open-necked, button down Oxford cloth shirt, light blue or blue and white stripe for the most part. Bruce wore his hair a bit long, disheveled and was balding when I knew him.
He stood behind the low, ancient wood bar counter at The Troubadour, stairway that went up to the apartment where he lived above just in back of him. The kitchen, painted a really bright, surprising sunshine yellow, was at the end of the long narrow space and beyond the counter. One usually ordered from the counter although occasionally a waitress might stop at a table and ask if you needed anything – or not. The seats were hard wood, all of them. Former church pews lined the walls, at least in retrospect that is what I think they were, and wooden chairs made up other table seating throughout. Music played ongoing and the Blue Danube Waltz was played nightly at closing to usher us out the door.
Michael van Bloemen, the founder, was known for his ability to find trash and turn it into treasure. (After selling The Troubadour he and Sheila moved to Sarajevo and my father was ultimately introduced to them while traveling there and they struck up a friendship.) So The Troubadour was chock-a-block full of odd ancient and interesting bits and pieces that spoke volumes even to a young Butler blogger and future collector of detritus even at the time. In retrospect it seems odd that Bruce would be so devoted to the place when his own taste actually ran to the modern and his apartment reflected this and was a bit of a shock in contrast. Michael stayed friendly with Bruce and was a close friend of Don’s and would stay with one or the other on trips to London, where he turned up periodically to pick up his money from the dole.
I met and became good friends Don Bay there, it was Don who introduced me to High Life music as he owned an African music company, Sterns. (Ironically Don tried to pick me up by taking me to a classical music concert I had been reading a review for when we met. It was the only time I would associate Don and classical music.) Don and Bruce were close friends and over time I tagged along and was enmeshed in their lives for the time I lived there.
Let it be said, these guys drank a lot. At 21 I was capable of drinking a fair amount myself so I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I know it was a lot of drinking. Bruce consumed endless bottles of white wine while tending to the counter evenings, always in a short water glass. Meanwhile, Don and I had a love of cooking in common and he had a large kitchen at his house in Putney so we would spend whole weekends making exotic fare and inviting friends to eat it. Those cooking weekends including consuming bottles of scotch while we cooked (my mind reels thinking about it now), not to mention while we ate, and those parties generally went all night long sometimes with leftovers being finished in the morning.
Bruce and Don both knew about food and enjoyed eating out and would sometimes take me along to the various restaurants they knew, some where they were regulars themselves. With Bruce it was always a late meal, after The Troubadour closed, which I want to say was 10:00? Seems so late now, but there was a French restaurant across the street where he went on a regular basis and there was also an African restaurant in a basement up the street where you could get a late night meal. Again, I was very broke and a good meal was always memorable and appreciated. (I was acquiring my own cooking chops as well and this was the time I really started to figure out cooking.) I was just starting to leave off eating meat, but still did. Bruce’s cooking achievement was a traditional cassoulet.
Generally Bruce, who was a very reserved man, made much of looking askance at my young (probably somewhat outrageous and loud) American ways and would often use a certain look of horror, eyebrows raised when I shocked, which was frequent – sometimes just looking at what I was wearing; I had a fondness for very bright colors at the time and at one point shaved my very long hair into a boy’s bob in response to my less than efficient shower at the flat. However, he generally also had a bit of a twinkle in his eye as well. In retrospect, he was fairly rigid in his ways and was very set in a routine; he needed the structure he created and wasn’t comfortable out of it. He stuttered a bit, something that is just coming back to me now in an effort to really remember him.
Bruce generally surrounded himself with a series of stunningly attractive waitresses whose skills had to include making the coffee (a large and somewhat erratic machine was involved) and at least assembly as well as serving of food. I still remember one woman named Emma who remains one of the most attractive women I have ever known and once told me a wild tale about having been a nanny for a famous German film director, who in addition to hitting on her, one day took her to a major film premiere without telling her where they were going. The Troubadour provided Bruce with both a social life and an endless line of attractive women, both customers and staff.
He was a kind person and to his cousin I related a story about a mutual friend, my age, Hedwig Dumangier, who suffered terribly from epilepsy – she would have “tremblies” as she called them, several times a day and throughout the night. Specialists were unable to control it, although she tried a variety of medications and I believe had seen doctors across Europe. She was unerringly cheerful about it and took it in stride, however, when Hedwig failed to find employment due to her disability, Bruce gave her a job waitressing at the Troub for as long as she needed it. (This was very hard on dishes and occasionally food ended up in the lap of customers, but Bruce never really cared that much about the comfort of his customers!) On another occasion he invited my friend Sue to spend Christmas Eve with him and Don when she was alone in London. She was Jewish so the midnight mass they attended (sharing a flask in the back of the church) was I believe, memorable indeed.
Bruce was the one who was interested in classical music and I remember him trying to impress upon the young me that the sound quality of CD’s was inferior to LP’s. He had an elaborate turntable and a record collection which seemed substantial at the time, although I now know that a large record collection is generally in the thousands. If I could go back in time I would ask him if he didn’t also collect 78’s, maybe he did. Of course, even better sound quality there – but I knew none of this at the time and it was my first introduction to the concept. He played me the same recordings on both to make his point, but my untrained ear failed to really catch on at the time.
Although I knew Bruce had died back in 2014 (at age 69) I did not realize that he had been in nursing care for dementia in the last years of his life. He had sold The Troubadour in 1998 and retired in the Chelsea area. His cousin tells me that growing up his parents ran an inn where his father would have held forth behind a bar much as Bruce would later in life at the coffee house, although his family’s preoccupation with running the inn meant that he was sent away to school early on as well. Bruce lost his mother to cancer when in was just 17 or 18 and purchased The Troubadour when he was only 25. Knowing his background, growing up with parents running an inn, that makes more sense now – he grew up in the business. He was estranged from his mother’s side of the family after she died. My favorite bit of information is that he was nabbed for smuggling Swiss watches into the country. Bruce would have been attracted to Swiss watches and their fine mechanisms!
For those of you who made it through this very long post, thank you for staying the course. I hope this gives a bit more color to my description of him to his cousin Sara, who made the inquiry. It made me think hard about that time in my life which I haven’t really in a long time and so it was very much on my mind. I hope you enjoyed the trip, but hope to return to Felix and finds next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Pictorama readers know I haven’t posted new cat sheet music in quite awhile, but this one caught my eye and I thought it should join the Pictorama collection. Perhaps I will bring it to the office as a return to Columbus Circle offering later this year. (I have written about the sheet music which adorns my tiny office. Those posts can be found here, here and here.)
Despite being The Greatest Comic Song Yet I will admit up front that I was unable to find any sign of a recording of this tune, The Cat’s Dead. A few of his more popular tunes such as And Her Golden Hair was Hanging Down Her Back and Comrades have left some creaky musical tracks. (Period recordings of these can be found on the DAHR, Discography of American Historical Recordings site here if you are curious. However, a better rendition if you actually want to hear the lyrics is the Youtube recording from a performance at the Metropolitan Museum in 2016, performed in the American Wing. It can be found here.)
According to Wikipedia, Felix McGlennon was born in Glasgow in 1856, the son of an Irish shoemaker. McGlennon, who specialized in comic dance hall and vaudeville songs, settled in Manchester, England where he published his first penny songbooks. He later emigrated to the United States in the mid-1880’s and this song and his others of note seem to be published in the United States in the 1890’s. He took his success and return to England and set up his own music and postcard publishing company there in 1909. He lived until age 87, dying in 1943.
My favorite part of the brief Wikipedia entry claims that he had no musical training and picked his tunes out on a toy piano. I share two quotes from the site below which I gather more or less summed up his philosophy on his music:
Assume, if you like, that what I write is rubbish. My reply is “It is exactly the sort of rubbish I am encouraged by the public to write”… All my life I have tried to produce an article for which there is a public demand. If I visit a music hall, it is with the single object of instructing myself as to the class of thing that is pleasing the public. Then, I try to write it – and write nothing else.
On another occasion, he said: “I would sacrifice everything – rhyme, reason, sense and sentiment – to catchiness. There is, let me tell you, a very great art in making rubbish acceptable.
The Cat’s Dead is considered an American song, published in 1893 by the Anglo American Musical Agency, but it has an English copyright. It would appear that the song and music is by Mr. McGlennon.
Sadly there is no artist credit for the great cat art on the cover which is of course why I purchased it. There is a tiny company credit which reads, NAT PH. ENG Co NY in the lower right corner so presumably it came from an engraving company library of sorts.
The music cost a rather dear forty cents. Google tells me that is about $15 in today’s money.
Our feline fellow has something of the old Confederate soldier about him – something about his vest. He has lost an eye and uses these odd crutches (I like that you can see his claws on his paws), but of course there’s something about him that makes you think he could still do a jig if he had enough liquor in him. I love his face with that sharp toothy grin, whiskers aplenty and the one smiling eye.
The lyrics are sort of awful and I will spare you those – all about the various ways they went about killing the cat who always repeatedly came back – until the end of the song. Although, as we see from the cover, Don’t you believe it!!