Author Archives: Alan Bisbort

Free Junk


Do you need to furnish a new apartment or even an entire house? Do you need to BUILD an apartment or even an entire house? How about a lawn mower, slightly used, to go with these projects? And a plastic sandbox and a bicycle in need of a wee bit of elbow grease? Garden hose? A stuffed animal or three hundred?

Well then, please come to Cheshire in the springtime, because April is the coolest month for junk hereabouts. The town has, after a three-year hiatus, revived its bulky waste pickup program. Consequently, every home in the town has emptied out the contents of their basement and put the detritus at the curb.

In theory, the material awaits pickup from the trash hauling company contracted by the town. But, in practice, enterprising trash pickers arrive from miles around and leave Cheshire with their salvaged loads tottering like the Clampett family in Beverly Hillbillies.

Come join the fun. It’s the ultimate in recycling and reusing and it goes on all month.  Do NOT let this stuff end up in the landfill when it can FILL your house!

Cat Stevens??!!??!!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will induct another crop of musical icons this Thursday night in Brooklyn. At least this year they’re giving nods to deserving folks like Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.

Some of the “undercard” at this year’s ceremony seems dubious at best but, hey, it’s their museum and they can induct whoever they want. Besides, everyone keeps their own private rock ‘n’ roll museum locked inside their hearts. However, the RRHOF really scraped the bottom of the barrel this year with Cat Stevens. Wow, nothing says “rock ‘n’ roll” quite like “Cat Stevens,” ya know?

Cat stevens

When last we saw this Cat (aka Yusuf Islam), he was still refusing to admit that he backed the Ayatollah’s 1989 fatwa on the novelist Salman Rushdie for the “blasphemy” of having written the novel The Satanic Verses. But this piece of video, proof that Stevens/Islam did in fact call for Rushdie’s death, just won’t go away:

Perhaps sensing that the ceremony had become more of a wake or an entombment than a celebration, the Hall has opened the event to the public for the first time, and is holding it in a basketball arena (Barclays Center, where the Nets play). In years past, the induction ceremony was for high-rollers only, with seats and tables going for king’s ransoms. They’re not exactly giving the seats away this year, with prices ranging from $55 to $576.40. But still, you can go:

The highlight of the ceremony in Brooklyn will, no doubt, be Bruce Springsteen inducting his former E Street Band, and performing with them, and perhaps the well-deserved, belated salutes to Epstein and Oldham. Every inductee’s presenter has been decided and announced (e.g. Michael Stipe will induct Nirvana, Tom Morello will induct KISS, etc.). Everyone but poor Cat Stevens.

Might I suggest Salman Rushdie be given the honors? Turnabout is fair play. And it just screams “rock ‘n’ roll”!




Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95,

Who Needs Sundance?

Yale Latin American film series

For the past month, an exciting film series has been taking place in New Haven, apparently under the hipster radar. It is the NEFIAC Latin American and Iberian Film Series, sponsored by The Council for Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale. All films are free, open to the public, and have English subtitles. The complete schedule is included in the poster above.

One event that has already occurred was the screening of two films by Cuban-born Miguel Coyula, his work in progress Blue Heart and Memories of Overdevelopment.

Ana Arellano’s CT Latino News article on Coyula will make you wish you’d gone to the screening:

Furthermore, it will make you NOT want to miss the last three screenings in the festival:

March 31, 2014. 7 pm. Luce Hall Auditorium. Aku Rodríguez will present La gran falacia (2013, Puerto Rico). Documentary.

April 9, 2014. 7 pm. LC102. Luis Argueta (Guatemala) will present the rough cut of his soon to be released documentary, Abuelos y nietos juntos: Two Generations Together.

He will also show scenes from his work in progress, The U-Turn,

April 14, 2014. 7 pm. Luce Hall Auditorium. Isabel Castro will present Crossing Over, a rough cut of her soon to be released documentary.


Hard Rocking Ray Hardman

Blanco and the Radiation

Who’d have thought that the smooth-voiced WNPR host Ray Hardman would harbor the heart of a garage rocker? Count me among the “not I” camp. It’s like finding out Miami Dolphins’ resident bully Richie Incognito collects butterflies or knits.

For those who still don’t believe, allow me to introduce you to Hardman’s band, The Radiation, seen here in this video clip with Blanco in a massively hot version of the Bellrays’ “Blues for Godzilla.”

And here they are performing a cover of Love’s “7 + 7 Is.”

The best news of all is that you can behold Ray Hardman in the flesh, along with The Radiation AND Blanco AND the Blanco Brothers, next Saturday, March 29, at Sully’s Pub in Hartford.

Above is the handsome poster for the show.

Your WNPR listening experience will change forever.

Thank You, Bart


During the eight-year reign of Bush the Dumber, only a few things stood between us and complete and paralyzing despair. David Rees’ Get Your War On comic strip, Steve Gilliard’s News Blog (, Media Whores Online ( and Digby’s Hullabaloo spring readily to mind. Rees’ strip is no more (it served its purpose), Gilliard is dead, Media Whores disappeared into the ether but, thankfully, Digby is still plugging away. Here’s a link to her indispensable blog:

Now we have to add one more to the loss column: Bartcop. This may be the biggest loss of all. Bartcop, the longest running political satire site on the web, was an inspiration, if not a template, for hundreds of other progressive blogs that came in its wake. “Bart,” whose real name was Terry Coppage, died last week after a many-year battle with leukemia. Somehow, day in and day out, week in and week out for nearly 20 years, from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bart kept the hammer going, skewering the pompous lying bastards in Washington and the corporate media that enabled them. He took particular glee in savaging Bush, whom he memorably nicknamed The Murder Monkey, and “Darth” Cheney, and the caricatures of both that appeared on Bartcop were delightfully inflammatory.

Bart the man and Bartcop the website were like anchors in the constantly shifting currents of the Internet. There was no one else as fearless. Just knowing he was out there, even if you didn’t check the site every day or even every week, was as consoling as knowing that that Grand Canyon and Big Sur were out there, though you hadn’t laid eyes on them.

Here’s a link to Bartcop’s site. Check Bart’s “Last Word” and then explore the back issues. You have hours of fun ahead of you.


Picturing Punk

Cafe 9 Photo show

Tom Hearn grew up in Cheshire with a guitar in one hand and a camera in the other. On Friday night at Café Nine, his two hands come together, so to speak, at the opening of an exhibition of his rock ‘n’ roll photographs. Hearn, whose boyhood buddies Eddie “Legs” McNeil, John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn left the suburbs to start Punk magazine, was never without his camera when he went into Manhattan to meet up with his Cheshire posse. Many of the photos—which are in living/breathing black and white—are from forays into New York (and CBGB, et al), but others document the burgeoning punk scene in New Haven. Think the Ramones, Debbie Harry, the Dolls, Link Wray, Robert Gordon.

The photos will be on view at Café Nine for the month of March. The opening reception is Friday, March 7, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Café Nine, 260 State Street, New Haven, 203-789-8281,

The legendary Furors will be providing music at the reception.

At one time, the fate of the nation rested in the hands of these three gentlemen from Cheshire pictured below (L-R) John Holmstrom, Eddie “Legs” McNeil and Ged Dunn, at the “Punk Dump” in New York. Photo by Tom Hearn.

PunkDump 1

Jack Kerouac Is Still Haunting Us

Kerouac Haunted

Jack Kerouac’s literary road appears to have no end. Though he died in 1969, at the too-young age of 47, Kerouac has never staggered off stage. The bulk of his literary output is still in print and selling well (particularly the “peak” novels On the Road and The Dharma Bums), even if the royalties go to the Sampas family and not any member of the extended Kerouac clan. Kerouac married Stella Sampas toward the end of his life, and her family now sits atop this pile of gold, every year or so releasing another book’s worth of unpublished material.

The Haunted Life and Other Writings (Da Capo) is the latest from the archive, and it is far better than the previous Sampas production, the subpar “lost novel” The Sea is My Brother (Da Capo). The long title story in this volume is a practice run for what would be Kerouac’s first published novel, The Town and the City. It’s a surprisingly readable, tightly traditional narrative built around the dialogue of the main characters.

Joe Martin is the paterfamilias, based on Kerouac’s father Leo, a bigot and anti-Semite who loathed Franklin Roosevelt. Peter Martin, a stand-in for Kerouac, is an earnest and idealistic Boston College student. Their give-and-take is revealing, and it also shows that by 1941, when this novel opens (and written), Jack Kerouac had already developed formidable writerly chops. (He was at the time 19, and a football scholarship student at Columbia University). This is pre-Beat Generation stuff. It’s sober and clear, with occasional flashes of prose-riffing that would put Kerouac on the map by 1957, with the publication of On the Road.

The Haunted Life and Other Stories is augmented with some fascinating letters to and from Leo and Jack Kerouac. As much as Kerouac loved Lowell, his father thought of it as a “rat hole” and was glad when he could leave it for a job as a printer in (yes) Meriden, Conn., from which he wrote his son this advice: “Think clean, act clean, don’t let your life become sordid.”

So much for fatherly advice. Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs were just about to enter his son’s life.

Gissing Cousins

George Gissing

No matter which novel of his you tackle, the criminally under-appreciated writer George Gissing (1857-1903) forces the reader to think about money. He was British, and Victorian, so his money thoughts are inextricably woven into the byzantine fabric of the class system, every nuance of which is obvious to all others caught up in it.

American readers can easily substitute “money” for “class” and be swept up in the plots of Gissing’s amazingly prescient and still subversive novels. New Grub Street is Gissing’s best-known work of fiction, but any of his 23 novels will explain why another great English George—Orwell—was so smitten with him. At his death, among his many unfinished project, Orwell was planning to write a biography of Gissing.

 Will Warburton was Gissing’s last novel, written while he was slowly dying of lung disease (like Orwell) at age 46 (like Orwell). Warburton is a Victorian gent with a sunny if sardonic bent of mind who is conned out of his life’s savings by someone he thought was a friend. Rather than end in the gutter, he scrapes together enough money to secretly buy a grocery shop and survives behind the counter there under an assumed name (Jollyman) lest his former friends find out. Alas, he is found out and it’s as if he has leprosy in their eyes. It’s a devastating chronicle of snobbery and self-deception and the desperation surrounding the getting of money—those without scraping and scheming and those with too much never feeling they have enough.

In short, Will Warburton is a perfect novel for 2014, when billionaire “venture capitalists” can compare criticisms of the rich to Kristallnacht and demand that the wealthy be given more than one vote at the ballot box.




Inside Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk

For those who “got” the Coen Brothers’ excellent film Inside Llewyn Davis—which chronicles a week in the life of a struggling folkie in Greenwich Village in 1961—you owe it to yourself to read the source material. The title character in the film is largely based on Dave Van Ronk, who was, himself, a bit larger than life.

Before he died of cancer in 2002, Van Ronk, an irascible and witty raconteur, talked his way through his life and career to fellow musician Elijah Wald. They were ultimately collaborating on a giant, if not definitive, book about what really happened during the “Great Folk Scare” of the early 1960s.

Unfortunately, Van Ronk died and Wald was left with hundreds and hundreds of pages of transcripts, notes and archival material. Somehow, he was able to patch together an engrossing and entertaining memoir, called The Mayor of MacDougal Street, and it is that book that inspired the Coen Brothers to create the character Llewyn Davis and put him through some of the same paces, highs and lows that Van Ronk encountered during the early years of his career.

Van Ronk comes off as more of a hipster than a folkie. An exceptionally well read, self-taught man (he dropped out of high school in Brooklyn at 15), he loved to argue about politics and music and stayed true to his socialist convictions. Every page of this book contains some new twist on that cultural epoch known as the 1960s that forces readers to reexamine their own preconceptions. You can’t ask more from a book than that.

 Da Capo has wisely just reissued the memoir in a handsome trade paperback edition, with an explanatory postscript by Wald. Perhaps future editions of this will come with a CD compilation of Van Ronk’s songs, culled from his more than two dozen albums.

Visit Elijah Wald‘s website to learn more about Van Ronk, order the book, and listen to some of the “Mayor’s” music.