The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part X

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces and cable television appearances detailing five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The savvy and sharp Tia Chulangong provided to Gotz as a guide from the city's hospitality bureau provides color commentary about Richmond sights and history. Tia, however, informs Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error booked into the Jefferson Hotel where he is, too. The writer and his guide enjoyed a travelogue experience from the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. While reveling in the atmosphere of the chic boho estabishment of Monrovia, in Monroe Park, and t the sounds of the house band, Deadly Nightshade, he happens into Jennifer and their encounter is less than cordial. Out of sorts, Gotz heads downtown to the club Mongoose Civique.

(Image: via The Vault. All other images via Middleburg Trust.)

The more progress he made up Ninth Street the greater distance between him and the jazz on Gallego Plaza that faded into the noise of a busy city. Gotz fumbled for his cell phone. He pushed in Tia Chulangong because she said he could, and she was his guide. And he needed guidance just now. The phone rang several times until her voice, warm and professional, said, "This is Tia Chulangong of the Richmond Visitors and Conventions Department. If this is media related, please don't hesitate to leave a message. I'll get back to you."

Standing at Ninth and Main, Gotz said, "Tia, this is Phil. I'm calling because...because I'm actually getting ready to go into Mongoose Civique and didn't know if I needed to know anything, ah, special."
He shoved the phone into his jacket pocket and turned left on Main as the familiar clarinet smear from Rhapsody In Blue caused him to bring it out again.

"Guess where I am?" said Tia, sounding more mischievous than Gotz anticipated.

"I wouldn't even try."

"Right outside Mongoose Civique."

A pause.

"What about those Cruel Aztec Gods."

"Oh, we went, and then I saw some girlfriends there and we decided to come out here. We're not staying long. You and I have a busy schedule planned!"

"I know I know...but listen...I'm intrigued enough to know what the inside of this place looks like..."


"There's a line."

"You've got that all access pass around your neck."

Now he stood before 821 E. Main St. an imposing, Trajan triumphal-arched bank building, the former Virginia Trust Company, as the incised letters proclaimed.

"Does this big guy at the door know what this means?" he fingered the plastic card.

"Yes, all the doormen know that special pass. Anyway, I'm standing right here."

Gotz shoved his hands in his pockets and passed by a line of dressed-to-party youngsters and approached the red velvet ropes. The bald man in black wearing a wire at his ear turned hard dark eyes onto the card as Gotz held it up. He motioned Gotz on. Tia stood beside the door wearing a baring red dress.

"Fancy meeting you here," Gotz said.

Thumpa thumpa thumpa music pounded from deep inside.

"We're up on the mezzanine, if you'd care to join us."

"I'd love to."

They passed through the double glass doors and Gotz was immediately in a swirl of partiers, like any hip club, from Goa to Aspen. But seldom had he seen such vigorous entertainment pursued
under gold-encrusted coffered ceilings with rosettes inside. A large lit clock affixed to the mezzanine level marked the advancing hours into the dwindling night. The huge room was dim, music geared to cause hip-shuddering and the bar clingers leaning into each other's ears to be heard.

Up in a calm eddy of the party in a corner of the mezzanine among sleek lounge furniture sat a pair of Tia's friends; Capriana Umana, a stunning African American woman in a purple and pink floral dress and the bobbed blonde Ainslie Groth whose wide bared shoulders made Gotz want to lay his head down on one.

They shook hands and Tia efficiently made introductions all around: Capriana, from Atlanta originally but studying urban planning at Ginter U; Ainslie had something to do with regional sports promotions. Richmond's National League Virginians and the NBA Cardinals gave the metro a chip in the "quality of life" game. Gotz, wherever his assignments and expense account took him, tried his writerly best to figure out a different way to explain. And the only way to know the place is to be in the place, and hear the roar of the crowd when the popfly goes up, like this club where he felt lascivious just walking in; and that was comforting.

"So Capriana, why did you choose Ginter?"

She laughed, big, tossing her head one way. "Well, this is the place you come to for my field, In the country. This is where I wanted to come; because Richmond works, and it's good planning put in motion. And I love it."

"You don't have to impress me. Honestly. Why did you come?"

"Ah," and she looked at her confederates, who laughed with her. Ah, Gotz, said, he so enjoyed the music of unified female amusement.

"It's got a killer club scene," she said.

"Damn straight," Ainslie affirmed as she brought up her martini glass. To Gotz, her green dress seemed like a candy wrapper containing all that sweetness.

"I swear I didn't put them up to his, Mr. Gotz," Tia said, raising a hand. "This is how they really feel."

"Well let me ask you this. I took one of those bubble-things to get here. I've read about them, but it was kind of interesting. A little strange. Even for me. What do you think."

They cried out together, as though scoring the highest in a game, "Ped Pods!" Tia crossed her arms, pointing to the women on either side of her. More laughter.

"They have to answer that."

"I'm a Three T girl," said Ainslie, stirring her olives.

"How's that?"

She counted off on fingers. "Tram, train or taxi," she laughed. "I don't like talking to my transportation."

Tia explained how the Pedestrian Pods were the primary cause for the foundering of the hugely popular Mayor Jack Chataigne who'd served Richmond with a Periclean duration of 30 years. There wasn't really ever a candidate who can stand against him; from an old Richmond family and VMI-trained, his wit, self-deprecation, diplomatic skills and constant moving about the people, returned him to city hall every four years. Chataigne advocated for such late 1980s projects as the extension of the Kanawha Canal trips into Goochland and the Byrd Park Pumphouse Canal Museum that wouldn't have gotten through their embryonic stages without his guidance. He got legislation passed guiding residental requirements for varying economic levels in the towers outside of the center city, led the charge for massive improvements in the schools, roads and riverfront, and more efficient delivery of social services. The Virginians stadium on Mayo's Island is called "The Jack."

"But the Ped Pods killed him off, politically," Tia said.

Capriana shook her head. "What happened to Jack was just wrong. More than wrong: stupid. I mean here he is, the truly, the highpoint, the absolute of what Richomnd is supposed to be about. This city won't find anybody else like him. I mean, he's in the history books: you look up "Good Mayor" in the dictionary, and there's his picture. For real."

Her frown was deep and sincere and Chataigne's abrupt dismissal struck Gotz as though it personally offended Capriana.

The Ped Pods were expensive and experimental at a time of a tight budgets, Tia went on to say, but more importantly, loathed by the taxi driver's union. The compromise measure was that the Ped Pods would run as a four-year pilot project primarily restricted to downtown circulator routes. And that was what got Jack voted out two years ago.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Memorial Pause

Jeremy Blake (Oct. 4, 1971 -- July 17, 2007 )
Theresa L. Duncan (Oct. 26, 1966 - July 10, 2007)

Theresa Duncan, from a Nov. 21, 2006
post on her
blog, The Wit of the Staircase.

Jeremy Blake pictured at the
Vanity Fair opening party for the 8th Annual Art Auction Benefit, "Portraits & Polaroids" held April 23, 2007, at New York City's Milk Gallery. The piece behind him is his Dope & Guns Party. For more on his innovative new media work, see Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

Theresa Duncan, image from
The Wit of the Staircase entry, January 3, 2006,
Horror Vacui in Venice," about the fear of empty spaces.

Greetings, billion-eyed audience. I've not directly addressed you in some weeks, and I apologize for temporarily drawing the curtain upon the present Richmond fantasia serial. I ask for your indulgence as I return for this entry to another of the Blue Raccoon's ongoing obsessions.

This filigree of quotes and images concerns the second anniversary marking the deaths of artist Jeremy Blake and writer/bloggist Theresa Duncan. I've reprised in part here a post of July 10, 2008.

During the summer of 2007, I fixated on the couple's suicides and their back stories. I wrote a series of interlocking posts called as a group "Seven Kinds of Denial Just to Get Out of Bed." I've noted through recent visits to the Sitemeter that a few people have returned to that series, mostly, I think, to mine the site of Blake-Duncan images. Fair's fair. But what I tried to do then was map "The Blake-Duncan Effect" through the blogosphere. That is, the rounds of speculation, grief, calumny and rank bad taste that metastasized through the Internet in the days and weeks following their demise.

Then, of course, the blogosphere for the most part moved on; to the Xeni Jardin and Violet Blue to-do, and the deaths of Heath Ledger and David Foster Wallace, and, oh, some election thing, and, two wars and economic collapse.

It's not news anymore, but novelist Bret Easton Ellis was mentioned in Vanity Fair about his writing a screenplay pertaining to the Blake-Duncan liebestod. I dragged Ellis into my dissertation that compared the cruelty and melodrama of Weimar culture with our own, and how all that related to Blake and Duncan -- at least to me. But Ellis has plenty of other things going on including his use of Twitter.

I suppose that it's appropriate that Ellis assay the story, especially considering Glamorama. But William Gibson could equally manage the task, especially in his Pattern Recognition/Spook Country mode. Or even Don DeLillo of Underworld and Cosmopolis.

During the past year, when my random-access thoughts fluttered upon this story, I've thought of the changes in the culture even since that summer of '07. The ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter weren't then full-on established. And the dread government she and Blake so hated and, ultimately, couldn't live with underwent at least one significant alteration. But here were times in that summer when even I despaired of ever seeing that reign of misrule end.

Had Blake and Duncan hung on another year, what might their worldviews morphed into? How would the use of these "social utilities" figured into their creative lives? And in terms of how they processed the outside world, would a diet of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the Huffingtonpost have somehow turned them around? Who knows, but I doubt it. Something was broken in those two. Whatever happened, it was serious, and deep-seated, and perhaps beyond the reach of anybody to correct.

In the summer of 2007, a number of those within the chattering blogosphere who concerned themselves with matters Blake and Duncan became the thing they beheld. Their attempt to untangle the real/imagined conspiracies against the writer and the artist generated wild speculations. Some of them sounded as nutty as heir subject's latter screeds. It was like at the end of a cable science or history mystery show where there's a screen shot of a field of stars or scary Mayan hieroglyphs and the sonorous announcer says, "Perhaps, really, the more we explore these mysteries, the more we are really delving into ourselves."

The epic lengths of commentary about these deaths proved, too, that in the summer of 2007, members of this eclectic tribe -- "The Children of the Staircase" -- had way too much time on their hands. Including, apparently, and obviously, me. I went from writing about the tears of my wife who mourned the loss of artists to having those same eyes squinted at me and she saying, "Now, you're part of the problem."

Out of all the epic verbiage to which I voluntarily subjected myself, two quotes stand out now, and I've used them more than a few times:

"There exists in the heart of a NYTimes-reading humanities graduate a capacity for nose-upturned covetousness which people don't talk about. It's a horniness for the blessings of another man's life. Not for his health, not for his wife, or for his Ferrari... And not even for the career, exactly, just for the odor of his resume... For his reputation of fulfillment."-- Crid, August 4, 2007, commenting in Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess blog, to "Making It Up As She Went Along."
"Mental illness is a politically-convenient myth that transposes the cause of destructive behavior away from social constructs and onto the individual. In truth, suicide is not a randomly-occuring chemical imbalance with no external cause (no more so than a malignant tumor metastasizes without prior exposure to carcinogens) but rather the lawful consequence of intelligent organisms struggling to survive in a modern capitalist democracy. The depressed choose to kill themselves because analysis of the data available suggests that to die solves otherwise insoluble problems. If the mental health industry were honest, it would admit that the consequences of freedom are aimlessness and anomie, and that a consequence of the market economy is a lifetime of consumerism culminating in death without meaning. If this life is a hell for some, the world we have inherited is why...Of course, if the mental health industry were honest, nobody would buy their happy drugs anymore; and everybodies [sic.] gotta make a living -right?" -- Manna, on, August 20, 2007.

Then, speaking of native Richmonder Xeni Jardin, there was a New York Times article this past summer about her and the Internets, and concluding with these observations by writer Noam Cohen:

"For all the damage to reputations the Internet can cause, perhaps the greater anxiety from online communication is the weightlessness of it all. The whole World Wide Web can seem like a hall of mirrors — nothing tangible, no binding, no watermarks, no notary public seals. Where, exactly, is it? How do we know any of it is true?

Ms. Jardin said she did not sign up for the heaviness of being a publication of record.

“It’s still kind of punk rock,” she said. “The part that still freaks me out is that it is such a huge thing. Part of what people love about Boing Boing is that I can post whatever I want. It’s super fast-moving.” She added: “The huge impact it has, the whole thing that makes it this thing, is that it is so lightweight.

Yet it seems so important at the time.

"American Ruins" segment from Blake's digital video piece Winchester, April 16, 2006.

From Blake's
Reading Ossie Clark, in the Daily Serving, August 27, 2007.

Blake and Duncan in 1997, by Michael Levine/CPI, via New York Magazine web site post, August 20, 2007.

Duncan and Blake, pictured Sept. 17, 2007, on the "St. James Version" of the World of Wonder, taken at an art opening in the fall of 2006.

"She is gone, and he is gone, a play set up in the privacy of love, a stage set in the intimacy of public longing for details." —Jonathan Perez, July 26, 2007, “Ode To Jeremy Blake” at The Palm At The End Of The Mind.

"…Whatever interests they may have had, the suicides are not really all that astonishing. I talk to people who have tried it every single working day and the explanations are usually very mundane and sad. As for the “paranoia”, please consider some alternative explanation.
There are plenty and maybe they’ll show up in the toxicology report.” – CB, July 31, 2007, DreamsEnd (blog)

“I think we all want this to be more than it is for a myriad reasons. I think we’re all creative and smart and that means we read into things and enjoy it and our brains work on overdrive. We quickly pass over the obvious or the banal because we assume it has just GOT to be more than what it appears to be; this simply CAN’T be all there is. We want to believe that, so whether we know it or not, we fuel and perpetuate that. I posted once before that I’m sure if I died suddenly or mysteriously, lots of things would come to light about me that people would be surprised of and never knew. We all have skeletons in the closet and things that happen to us on a daily basis that we keep to ourselves. Mystery loves company. Without us, there’d be no wonder, no romance, no crypticism. Right?” — GothamInsider, August 1, 2007, onDreamsEnd, (blog)

“Paired paranoia is particularly pernicious. * SIGH *”
--Scottynuke, Washington Post,
August 1, 2007, “Achenblog,”

"But like the best bloggers, she created an illusion of intimacy with her readers. Most blogs are simply unedited confessions for the blogger or for close friends, posted where they might be found by strangers (as, I imagine, the diarist dreads but also desires). And still other bloggers hope for anonymity, only to deliberately push its bounds by revealing too much — when readers know all but one secret, they’ll search for it, and find it." —Swati Pandey, August 1, 2007, Los Angeles Times Opinion Daily.

“Beauty. Brains. Bonkers. The question now is, what the hell was going on in Jeremy Blake's head?” --
August 2, 2007, SoMA: Society of Mutual Autopsy (blog), “Theresa Duncan Upsate.”

“She was bright and polished apple with a rotten core.”
--#15.”Guest” commenting
August 4, 2007, Laist, “Staircase to Nowhere.”

"The saddest part of the story is the implication that she may have finally realized that she wasn't special, that she was talented but normal, and rather than see the collapse of her house of lies as an opportunity to finally grow up, she chose to die. What a waste of her creativity and passion."--- from comment by "wf," August 6, 2007, on SLOG, the blog of Seattle, Wash.'s The Stranger alt-weekly, "The Latest on Theresa Duncan"

"Since their suicides last month, the sadly foreshortened life stories of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan have passed beyond their control and are currently passing through the distorted mirrors of projection, grief, anger and a sort of perverse, bicoastal peer review by New Yorkers and Los Angelenos who are stumped as to why a talented and beautiful young artist couple who had been together for 12 years took their own lives, despite seeming to have the grail of professional and personal success firmly in hand."-- August 7, 2007, New York Observer,“Art World Shivers After Lovers’ Double Suicide.”

“The lilly-livered, packaged conclusions that have been drawn about this woman, attempting to do the impossible (explain human complexity in about nine sentences), are falling short of doing anything but making me want to hit someone.” --Alison Tuck, August 7, 2007, Women and Children First, “Dead Artist, Beautiful and Brilliant, Cops Further Beatings” (blog)

"Duncan was a pioneering digital artist/entrepreneur who did not have any mentors (if any) to be her guide in the digital arts world. Her work was distinctive, wonderful and she will be missed."-- Katherine K., commenting, August 8, 2007, on the New York Observer article, “Art World Shivers After Lovers’ Double Suicide.

Duncan portrayed herself as a Freudian and a fashionista, an intellectual and a stoner, a political radical with a perfume fetish, and a groupie in a 12-year monogamous relationship. Because of the pliancy of her mind, these seeming contradictions could coexist. She was hungry for knowledge, for answers, for beauty, and she created an online space that was essentially a map of her discovery process -- a "web log" in the truest sense."--
– Steffie Nelson, August 12, 2007, the
Los Angeles Times,

Just like every other piece on the duo so far, this is about "why" they killed themselves. Not unexpectedly, no one as yet has an "answer." I do! You know why they killed themselves? Because they were fucked in the head. Just like everyone else who's ever killed himelf. Probably not their fault, either—surely the fault of natural chemicals or other chemicals that they put in themselves. Because you know what else is weird? All these profiles talk about how erratic the twosome became—they were paranoid,convincedthat the CIA and the Scientologists were out to get them, erratic with friends.... You know whatthat sounds like? Hi, crystal meth. They sound like everyone who's ever done a lot of stimulants; tinfoil on the windows, water glass to the door, looking for secret cameras. Lots of those folks do themselves in too."-- Choire,August 20, 2007,, suicide is painless"Why Did Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake Commit Suicide?"

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part IX

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The savvy and sharp Tia Chulangong provided to Gotz as a guide from the city's hospitality bureau provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history. Tia, however, informs Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error booked into the Jefferson Hotel where he is, too. The writer and his guide enjoyed a travelogue experience from the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. At the chic boho estabishment of Monrovia, in Monroe Park, he's intoxicatcd by not just liquor but the sounds of the house band, Deadly Nightshade. He's descending the spiral stair from the upper club into the lower bar.

The Metaphorical Implications


At the second turn of the stair Gotz was observing the activity of the bar below him when he turned to see what he'd almost forgotten to anticipate.


She was upswept auburn hair and a sharp, tailored black suit and long white lapels and cuffs. Next to her, some big dark square-jawed guy who looked vaguely familiar.

She said, "In a city of three million people..."

"Out of all the gin joints in all the world," Gotz replied.

For a few moments the two blinked at each other, suspended there on the spiral stair within Monrovia's congenial atmosphere suddenly turned cold.

Then she said, "Well, Phil, looks like you have to come down for me to get up."

Gotz managed to remark, "Spiral stairmakers must've enjoyed long marriages." This sounded so oblique not even he knew quite what he'd meant.

"Phil, this is Kendall Reilly, my agent."

"Ah, yes," and Gotz saluted him with two fingers at his temple. "Your name. She mentioned you in the dedication of the latest."

"Phil? You've read it? I'm touched."

"I feel like a partial investor."

Kendall thankfully spoke up. "I enjoy your travel writing. And the show on TLC is fun. Are you here for that or which?"

"Glomar Explorer, the site, right now, maybe other things later. "

Jennifer tried moving up a few steps but Gotz, paralyzed, hadn't moved.

"Phil, we need to get by."


"We have to negotiate this."

"Um, well, yes." His hands remained resolute on the rails.

Jennifer inhaled, sharp, deep, looking around. "H'mmm. I don't smell a fire. Do you, Kendall?"

"Um, I don't."

"Guess Gotz hasn't tried burning the place down. Like in Barcelona. At a flamenco bar he believed the time was right to demonstrate his skills. Until he knocked over a table with a lit candle on it."

"Why were they using paper table cloths?"

"Phil is the international war criminal of travel writers. There's some countries he can't go to because the police will meet him at the airport."

She faced him and laughed with some sarcasm.

Gotz tried to equal with her but his was a forced reaction. Kendall made a face that reminded Gotz of having a gas attack.

"So we're staying at the Jefferson," Gotz said, for some reason prolonging the agony. "Mix-up."

"Phil, it's a big hotel in a big town. So. A distinct displeasure to have gotten this out of the way. Now, we'll get up..."

"Deadly Nightshade," he blurted. "The band. You'll like them," and he at last began to move around them.

Uvilla Peyton's voice wafted down.

"Ah. She's quite something, I bet."

Another knowing smile.

"See you around, Phil," Kendall said.

Gotz got down the stairs and passed through the stained glass vestibule hall, nodding at the hostess, and into the warm night air without getting sick. Outside, he held hands to hips and paced around like a runner trying to cool down after a sprint. He kicked a tree a few times.

Did you hear that? he muttered to the air. 'Distinct displeasure! Damnit. She got it over me.

The prospect of returning to the Jefferson seemed suddenly fraught with dim possibilities even though this random encounter here precluded a similar occurrence in the cool calm halls of the hotel.

Now, I really need a drink. At least that's what he told himself.

He meandered along the gas-lit radial path to Belivdere and Main where he took in the imposing window festooned walls of Ginter University dorms and class buildings, the turret-and-finial capped townhouses and the Jefferson looming above all, like some great Spanish galleon come to port. (Image: Library of Virginia)

Gotz had an idea.

He looked around for a call button pole for one of the pedestrian pods he'd read of. These were intermediary personal transports that filled the space between trams or trains, and, controversially, taxis.

A push of a green button and within a few moments one of the glowing transparent distended beach ball pulled up with a comforting sigh. The things ran on underground magnets.

The door slid open and exposed the small, three seater interior and a curving dash for a few controls, speaker and a slot for his transit card. He pushed his temporary passport into the reader.

A warm female voice said, "Welcome aboard Richmond Transit's PedPod. Where may I take you this evening?"

"Mongoose Civique."

"Do you mean Mongoose Civique Bar and Lounge, eight sixteen East Main Street?"


A slight pause as the robot brain considered his response.

"I can get you to within a two-block distance. Is this OK?"

"Fine. I'm not crippled."

"I'm sorry I didn't quite get that."

"Yes, yes, yes."

"Very good! Click your safety belt and we'll be at 9th and Cary streets at Gallego Plaza in about two and..a...half minutes."

The pod eased along Belvidere and then down the hill of Cary past splendid antique buildings bulging with Romanesque flourishes and sculptural details, and others simple, elegant and workmanlike. The pod seemed like a bead of water from a summer rain sliding down a window pane.

"Ninth and Cary streets at Gallego Plaza," the pod voice said and the tinted roof slid away. "Please check the seat from any personal belongings."

Gotz emerged and the pod, responding to another request, hummed away. He stood, pausing next to the Great Turning Basin and Gallego Plaza, and music from an unseen street jazz combo echoed among the grand arcades, terraces and loggias adorning the Basin. Spectral globe lamps lit the architecture giving an expectation of romance or song. A break in the plaza's girding structures was sufficiently wide where he could see sail boats riding at anchor, and some other small craft, one illuminated with Japanese lanterns. People meandered at the waterside. The invisible band received applause and cheers from an invisible audience. He'd be seeing plenty of this later.

He turned left, trudging uphill on Ninth to Main.

Note on image: These are derived from the mid-1960s Richmond Esthetic Survey & Historical Building Survey archived at the Library of Virginia's web site. The first is at Belvidere and Main; in our version of Richmond the right hand side of the image would be occupied by variant Union Theological style campus buildings. Note the Jefferson at left center; the bad International style high rise at far left wouldn't exist.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part VIII

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The savvy and sharp Tia Chulangong was provided to Gotz as a guide from the city's hospitality bureau. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is, too. The writer and his guide enjoyed a travelogue experience from the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. He's at the chic boho estabishment of Monrovia, at Monroe Park, where he's intoxicatcd by not just liquor but the sounds of the house band, Deadly Nightshade.

A Night In Monrovia With Deadly Nightshade

(Image: The former fire and police alarm station in Monroe Park, demolished after 1964. Via Library of Virginia).

During the band's mid-evening break, Gotz got some time with the Deadly Nighshade's fantastic singer, Uvilla Peyton. "It's OO-vee-ya," she said shaking his hand and giving a familiar explanation. "West Virginia grandmother's name. Looks like it should be something that dangles in the back of your throat, but once you hear it, you don't forget it."

"Well, I certainly won't," Gotz said.

They were sitting among the deep and undulant old couches on the lounge's far side as her bandmates fetched drinks and chatted up friends. The high arched stained glass window gave the place a spiritual feel enhanced by Uvilla Peyton's voice and presence.

Gotz played reporter. Peyton, a native Richmonder, didn't grow up in a musical family and her predilections, while not discouraged, weren't celebrated either. The story, she told him, from that angle wasn't very interesting. "You know, typical," she laughed and he lit her cigarillo. "Thanks. Rebel kid goes against the family of business and commerce. Dyes her hair. Runs to Montreal. Then Mexico. Then Europe. Gets married and divorced. Twice. Three kids. Gets jobs. Telephone surveyor. Cocktail waitress, bartender. Sings here and there, but a friend puts together a band. Five years ago. Started here. Been singing semi-pro since then. Have two discs out; and got signed last week to the Spectra label out of New York." She grins. "So I think things are going to turn around."

She's gotten recorded live here, and may have a disc out in the fall, "Live From Monrovia: The Richmond Sessions." So people don't think she's from Liberia.

The big bass player, introduced as Scootch Hansen, gives Gotz a beefy handshake. He knows Gotz's name from his cable travel show appearances. "Man, a real live celebrity. See, girl, things are lookin' up." Jon Greenberg, the trumpeter, "He's from the east side of the West Bank," Uvilla jokes. The pianist, Nate Duval, is elsewhere. Their manner together is of the easy and deprecating nature of people who've made art together for a long while. Teasing and nurturing, "So I was tellin' her, " this is Scootch, waving around his glass, "that guy is leanin' forward like he can't hear you. You gotta belt it out."

"She belted out a few," Gotz nodded.

"But you were like squintin'. I thought: He can't hear a word of this."

"Hah, no I was just paying close attention."

"I hope not too close!"

They laughed. Jon asked some things of Gotz, when did he arrive, where's he going. Gotz told him.

The writer then asked about Richmond's music and culture. They gave generally favorable reviews. Uvilla was emphatic, "People can rag on Richmond, and they do, but everything good that's happened to me in singing has happened here, and people come out to see me, and the A & R guy who signed me sat just about where you were tonight. So I got nothing bad to say."

"Is it a good jazz scene?"

"Is there a good jazz scene anywhere?" Scootch chuckled. "I mean, 0utside of like New York or Paris or someplace."

"We have some great clubs here," Jon said, crossing his arms and, with a thrrruppp, blowing trumpeter's wind through his lips. The three of them bandied back and forth some names and stages that Gotz jotted, though they meant nothing. He'd have all this in the materials Tia gave him, but getting the information from the natives was always the best. They mentioned Benjamin's, Bogart's Backroom, The Armory Lounge, Chataigne's in Midlothian, and about a half-dozen others that were either devoted to jazz or booked jazz-related acts. That Ginter University sponsors a world-class jazz program helps foster the musicians, "Too damn many," Scootch grunted, and the venues.

"I'm in town the next few days, who should I try to see?"

"Hitler's Furniture," Scootch said without hesitation, causing uproarious laughter and Uvilla to punch him in the knee.

Scootch feigned surprise.

"What? That's a solid group. Tight."

"OK, OK, Phil lemme tell you about this Hitler's Furniture," and she lit another cigarillo and waved the smoke away. "So, this guy," she jutted a thumb in Scootch's direction. "He calls me up. Let's go see this thing, it's three experimental bands down at the Scottish Rite by Ginter College, and I said, fine. So we go. And there's like a good audience. OK. So far so good. Well, lights come down, and there's this guy with a theremin, right? Off to one side of this set up a like living room. Old ratty couch and end tables and stuff. So he's playing this theremin," she moved her arms as though to make the noise, which Jon helpfully imitates. "And this chick comes out in this fake Russian army uniform."

"Fake Red Army outfit, tell it right," Scootch said.

"Whatever the fuck it was. Anyway, she's got an axe."

"I'm liking this," Gotz said.

"Well, you would've loved this chick in her tight little uniform and one of those bear hats with the flaps, you know. Thick black glasses. So she's got this axe and she starts choppin' up the furniture. She's whalin' away on the table and chairs, and bustin' shit up and the audience is just goin' nuts. Cheerin' and screamin'."

Scootch knew this story but it obviously never failed to amuse him. He picked up the thread. "So, so, Uvilla is like leaning over to me and yellin' in my hear, "Get me out of here."

They all laughed. Uvilla shook her head. "So no, he won't leave and I'll be damned if I'm stayin' to see this shit. Well, so, then Scootch says, 'You gotta see Canasta Party, and I said, 'What? Oh, no I don't! " So I don't know, he told me there were cute guys in it or something. Anyway, so finally, the Red Army amazon has busted up all of Hitler's furniture and there's this huge applause and they don't even..bow...or anything they just walk off, and one of the guys comes back with a big broom and sweeps off the stage and now people are standin' up and cheerin'. Then he goes away, and this other bunch of guys comes out and they have a card table and some kind of sound machine. And they sit there and start playin' cards and twistin' the dials and then these two chicks come out wearin' like daisy dukes and tied up shirts and they they each have little toy pianos. And so they sit there and start makin' out -- I mean, like, full on tongues -- while they're playin' their little pianos."

Scootch is almost on the floor laughing so hard. He collects himself. "So Uvilla goes, "I'm gettin' the fuck outta here," and she gets up and she's like climbing on people's heads to get out, because we were in the middle of the row. Oh, she didn't speak to me for days."

"Weeks. I'm actually still not talking to you now but Mr. Gotz is here, so I have to make like a love you."

"Aww, honey," and Scootch hugged her.

"Hitler's Furniture," she grumped.

Jon said, "Actually, those two groups -- they tour festivals and they're fairly famous."

"I wouldn't say that," Scootch chortled. "Infamous, maybe."

"Do you know this Cruel Aztec Gods?"

They did. And typical of musicians, they gave the group a "Great if you like that kind of stuff" review, describing them as a blend of dance and moody pop. Scootch described them as manic depressive.

Jon recalled that Master Cylinders were playing he thought Saturday night at Tantilla. "They're just solid rock group, excellent singers." They named others and Gotz jotted them down to look the names up and see about maybe catching at least one show while here.

Now Deadly Nightshade needed to resume their stand, where Nat was already nooding around on the piano, and Gotz, his drink drained, and feeling fatigued, wanted to amble back to the Jefferson. He got all their contact info for later photographic purposes, and while they played took some with his digital.

Then he with some regret descended the spiral stair.

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