Wednesday, October 19, 2011


 In the early 1970’s, Marvin Gaye soulfully asked the question of questions, “What’s going on?”
In 1984 Marvin was sadly shot to death by his own father and today as we are fast approaching the year 2012, his words continue to resonate with thinkers and seekers around the globe.

Throughout many of my fifty-nine years of life on Planet Earth I was inadvertently conditioned to fear something or someone. I remember as a grammar school student how my teachers instructed the class to take cover under our desks in the event bombs started dropping from the sky upon St. Fidelis. The thought never even occurred to me to ask how a desk was supposed to protect us. I was taught to fear Cuba, Castro, Russia, Khrushchev, Communism, Socialism, black people, Satan and a wrathful God. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn out like most Americans, addicted to Prozac and a host of other antidepressants.

Risking that I may come off sounding like a relic, a character out of ancient history, I seem to have fond memories of the past, while having misgivings about a shaky future. I affectionately remember when concert halls, like New York City’s Fillmore East and Palladium, had reserved seating. $3.50, $4.50 or $5.50 got concert-goers four to five hours of the greatest music ever made in a venue where they could sit comfortably and partake in, devoid of paranoia, a mood enhancer of choice.  The last two concerts I was obligated to attend took place in huge arenas with no seating and exorbitant ticket prices. My son plays in a touring band that has had the opportunity to open for some headlining acts, and being a supportive dad, I was there. Fans eagerly piled in, uncomfortably crammed one on top of the other, standing and sweating for hours on end, bopping heads to the hypnotic thumping of bass and drums that set the back-beat to very unmelodious verses, choruses and meaningless lyrics. How anybody could honestly claim they were having a good time was baffling.

My daughter recently turned thirty. Her boyfriend organized a party that was given at the open air bar/club of a hotel on the lower west side of Manhattan. My wife and I are very fond of my daughter’s friends and we were more than happy to respond by clicking the “I’m attending” tab on the E-vite, another convenience tool of the social networking generation. Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t understand the mentality of clubbing. Partiers were four deep at the bar as three highly attentive bartenders vigorously mixed drinks, opened beers and ran tabs on a double deck of credit cards. The speakers pulsed while an over-exuberant DJ, who looked like he came direct from the Jersey Shore, programmed shrill and continuous techno pop, a genre I wrongfully assumed died in the 90’s. I was on my fourth Patron margarita which aided in my surrendering to the obnoxious drone of the computer driven rhythms that instigated the tapping of my feet and the bopping of my head. Before I knew it I was out on the dance floor like the old man at weddings who all the young people point to and chuckle at because of his stiff and antiquated moves. The pleasant buzz I had reached helped me to conveniently forget that I was old enough to be the father of everyone in the room.
“Hey, Mr. R, are you having fun?” one of my daughter’s equally beautiful college friends called out.
“If this is what you call having fun,” I wondered, “I suppose I am…” and gave her a great big smile with a thumbs up!

It did my heart good to see my daughters and company having such a great time, but it also made me realize how we occupy two completely different worlds. With the help of some Tequila, I was able to comfortably be a part of the world of my daughter’s generation, a generation living through some very strange times. Until the recent protests going on all over America, I was about ready to give up on today’s young people. When I was a kid, the songs I listened to stirred my mind and soul, not strictly my genitals. I cared about the earth; I raised my voice against war and violence and would like to think I lent a hand in ending the insanity in Viet Nam. I marched against a greedy establishment, but looking at the shape of things today, I seriously wonder if it did any good.

At the moment, people are gathering throughout the world, raising their voices in protest against corporate greed and the disappearance of the middle class. I have been watching closely and listening attentively to the gripes of the protestors and to the reactions of those opposed. Cries from the opposition have accused the jobless of being lazy, unmotivated cry-babies looking for government handouts. It’s easy for those who are still collecting hefty paychecks and living in homes that are in not in danger of foreclosing to judge and point fingers. It’s easy for those who are living comfortably to close their eyes to the irresponsible behavior of corporate CEO’s. The accusations that are being fired back and forth between the well-heeled and the agitated struggling majority are ludicrous to say the least. The problems facing the world today didn’t happen overnight. They have been brewing for decades and it was only a matter of time before the shit hit the fan. Those who have been content working a blue collar job, happy just to be getting by, are no longer getting by. Sadly, as American industry shuts its doors, the jobs have become scarcer. As corporations swallow one another, even those who were once holding managerial positions are standing in unemployment lines. The problems are real; they are not figments of the demonstrators’ imaginations.

For years, politicians have been groomed, hand selected, not elected, members of a club whose futures are secure. Sooner or later, they all get bought, unable to resist the exorbitant amounts of money offered to them by lobbyists for supporting their greedy, unapologetic agendas.  It’s no longer a secret that those who have somehow managed to find their way into the plush seats of  our corrupt government are merely soulless puppets whose strings are being pulled by the faceless yet very powerful few who control the world. In order to confront them we must first sever the strings and overthrow the conscienceless marionettes who obediently do their dirty work. People are fed up. They want the dishonesty, the greed and the irresponsibility of world government to cease. They want to see a bright future ahead for their children and their children’s children.

Personally, I don’t know what the answer is, but taking to the streets in peaceful protest is a start. I think world awareness to what has really been going on behind the scenes is long overdue. Too many of us have either been asleep, distracted by the mind-numbing garbage spewing forth from the media or simply overwhelmed by trying to stay afloat. I have nothing against wealth but everything against poverty, especially in a universe of boundless abundance. The lies of scarcity have deceived men into living lives occupied by fear and greed. Chancing that I may come off sounding like the idealistic hippie freak I am, I will humbly speak my mind by saying the only remedy for this backwards planet is to be governed by the golden rule…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not everyone has what it takes to be the president of a huge corporation, not everyone has what it takes to be a custodian, but no matter what position life places somebody in, he or she has to face it by being fair, honest and compassionate. Nothing else will work. Jesus said it. Gandhi said it. The Beatles said it…All we need is love.

Bill Graham’s Fillmore East was one of the greatest musical venues ever. The world’s best bands were happy to perform there in front of the most appreciative audiences. It truly was a gift. Record companies and managers started to demand more money for their bands which would have forced Bill to raise ticket prices, something he was dead set against. The result was the closing of the Fillmore. I don’t know if this is such a good analogy, but to me, it sure seems like greed has spoiled just about everything.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Claire Daly's Quintet Plays the Gershwin Hotel

KIRPAL GORDON: Having heard a truly knock-out performance of The Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose at the CD’s release party at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola a couple of months back, I thought that fans and friends of Giant Steps Press would be drawn to the music in a big way, especially with your quintet playing the Gershwin Hotel, 7 E. 27 Street, off the lobby, on October 27 at 7:30 pm, $15 admission at the door.  So who is Mary Joyce and how did she inspire this project?  

CLAIRE DALY:  Mary was my father’s cousin who grew up with his family in Wisconsin.  She was a nurse, went to L.A. in the 1920s to be in the “talkies” and ended up moving to an Alaskan lodge with Hackley Smith, who died a few years later.  The following year, she decided to go to the Ice Festival in Fairbanks, by dogsled, by herself.  The trip took 3 months, and the story is remarkable. She was the first non-Alaskan to take this route, part of which became the Alcan Highway, and she lived in Juneau for 50 years.  We would like more people to know about her life.  

KIRPAL GORDON: Tell us more about the tunes.

CLAIRE DALY:  Steve Hudson and I began getting together a few years ago on this project.  We spent time talking about Mary and imagining what her life was like. Then I went to Alaska and researched her by talking with many people who knew her, hanging out in her stompin' grounds and driving some of the route she took.  I brought back some of her letters, photos and personal belongings and Steve and I dug into all of it.  We enjoyed finding things out about her; she was a real character and a wonderful human.  We tried to pay respects to the many facets of her life and her sense of improvising. Mary invented a helluva life!  Check out "Claire Daly's Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose" on Facebook: 

KIRPAL GORDON: The music has a universal appeal that also speaks especially to kids.

CLAIRE DALY:  Well, we premiered the piece in Juneau in May '11, and did a residency while we were there.  One of the gigs was for 200 school kids who get bussed into the State Office Building on Fridays for a concert from different schools.  They went nuts---it was as much joy as I could stand!  Steve and I wanted to create beautiful music that honored the subject more than "fitting into a category." The result seems to be that the music is enjoyed by a wide audience.  

KIRPAL GORDON: What can we expect at the Gershwin Hotel? 
CLAIRE DALY:  The whole band will be there!  Napoleon (our beat boxer) will be in town from Cincinnatti.  He is a unique and wonderful talent and never ceases to amaze.  Mary Ann McSweeney (bass) is back from a gig in Thailand, Peter Grant is on drums, Steve Hudson on piano and I'll be doing the baritone/flute/vocal thing.  We'll perform the piece as we did in Juneau, and I'll yak a little about Mary Joyce to set up some of the tunes.  Our hope is that the audience will leave knowing something about Mary Joyce, and will be empowered to live their own dreams. 

KIRPAL GORDON: In the meantime, where can people hear some of the CD?

CLAIRE DALY:  You can hear some of the CD and buy it at my website,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Earthquakes, Natural Disasters and the Fundamentalist Christian Mindset

Today the entire eastern seaboard of the United States was all abuzz with the news of an earthquake that hit Virginia and shook the walls of homes and buildings as far north as Montreal, Canada. At the time of the rumbling I was in my car on the south shore of Long Island heading towards Jones Beach and can honestly say I didn’t feel a thing.  

My wife and I plopped down into our beach chairs, stretched out under the mid-August sun when the vibrations of my cell phone deterred me from drifting into the tranquility of twilight sleep. It was my good friend and band-mate, Bob, who called to ask me if I felt the walls of my house shake. At first I thought he was referring to the band practice we had in my basement the night before. “No?” he questioned in disbelief, “Didn’t you just feel the earthquake?” I had no idea what he was talking about but then he fully explained the day’s events. “Holy smokes!” I shrieked, “You’ve got to be kidding!” and for a brief moment, all the warnings about God’s wrath that hailed from the pulpit during the years I occupied a pew in a Pentecostal church haunted me. “Oh crap,” I wondered, “What if they’re right?” There’s no denying that in recent years the weather has been very strange and the occurrences of natural disasters have been more frequent. If I were a Bible enthusiast I’d probably be out in the streets shouting, “Repent! The end is near!” But I’m not, and I try to use logic, science and common sense to explain why we repeatedly seem to be feeling the fury of Mother Earth.

As my wife and I were leaving the beach later that afternoon, we ran into an old acquaintance from the church I had escaped from nearly ten years ago. “Did you feel the earthquake?” she asked with an expression that was a combination of heightened concern and cautious exuberance.
“Get ready!” she smiled pointing towards the clouds, “Jesus is returning soon!”

I don’t quite know what it is with me, but whenever I hear certain folks sounding joyfully anxious over tragic events and relating them to a vengeful God, I tend to lose my tolerance. What exactly are they hoping for? It seems clear to me that according to them, before Jesus gets here, God’s children are going to have to face some cataclysmic events, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, economic collapse and all the wonderful incidents making today’s headlines. Those, however, who have made a conscious decision to make Jesus their personal savior, will be mysteriously removed from the planet in a twinkling of an eye and join him in the clouds as they embark on their way to eternal bliss with the angels and saints. Do these people really and truly believe this or have they simply convinced themselves that this extraordinary event will take place only to put their own fears to rest?

Not for anything, but it sounds to me as if their fear of death has them hoping for an improbable escape. It also sounds to me like they have an undeserved tremendous regard for themselves; like they are so special that God would hand select them to magically ascend into the heavens leaving behind millions of people who probably lived more Christ-centered lives than they themselves have lived. Everybody, sooner or later, has to face a physical death. If there is any truth to the presumption that humans have spirits or souls, then there should be no reason to fear death or no reason to want to physically escape death because spirit is eternal; it does not die. Truthfully, I think Fundamental Christians have done a great job of ruining Jesus’ reputation. I see Jesus as a gentle, caring, non-judgmental, compassionate soul who saw the hypocrisy in the arrogant, self-righteous religious hierarchy who thought they were holier than thou. I see Jesus as a deep teacher of Truth; someone who saw way beyond dogma and silly doctrines. I see Jesus as an enlightened avatar who knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that only love and humility could save humanity from themselves and not from the wrath of a jealous tyrannical creator. I see Jesus as someone who definitely would not approve of a belief system with his name attached to it. I do not see Jesus as the self-appointed leader of a club of do-gooders.     

When a child dies due to a natural disaster do we blame God? When a tree just so happens to fall on a car and kill the driver is it God who made it happen? When earthquakes hit Japan and Haiti was it God who caused them? I seriously doubt it. Earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes have been occurring since the beginning of time, the only differences are, we didn’t have as many people on the planet and we didn’t have 24-hour CNN coverage. There also weren’t nuclear reactors built on fault lines, so when radiation spills into our oceans do we attribute it to God’s wrath. Humans continually screw themselves. If and when civilization is obliterated, it wasn’t God saying “I told you so,” it was our own reckless and greedy behavior. The earth is a living thing. How much longer does anyone think we can poison her waterways, put toxins in her soil and cut down her forests? Eventually, just like a woman scorned, she will take revenge.

We were given safe, natural and efficient ways to produce energy. We have the options of wind, solar and water power yet we continue to drill the earth for her lifeblood, oil, and kill each other in bloody battle in the process. We continue to annihilate hundreds and thousands of men, women, children, not to mention animals and plant life, over the illusion of money and wealth and unfortunately the church that bears the name of its central figure is caught up in the same illusion. Churches are forever campaigning to raise money to build more and more churches to perpetuate more and more lies about how one faith is “truer” than the next. The God we choose to serve is usually based upon what suits our needs. It’s too bad we haven’t figured out that we are all one and have the same needs. 

~John Rullo~         

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Interview with Whitestone's Author Jason Antos

KIRPAL GORDON: As you know, Giant Steps Press has many connections to north Queens.  While researching the old neighborhood on the internet, I came across Whitestone, your pictorial history of the neighborhood in a brief 127 pages, and was knocked out by the maps, paintings, sketches, post cards, documents, photographs and your astute commentary which delivers an imagistic memory lane experience for a local like me and a cautionary tale to all New Yorkers about the risks of overdevelopment.  Told in your informed but impassioned voice, it's a testimony to our unique hamlet sitting alongside the East River between the Bronx-Whitestone and Throg's Neck Bridges.  Because you argue so well for the value of history, it seems fitting that you dedicate the volume to your grandmother, Evelyn Kaye, who is seen in a photograph with Joe Dimaggio.  How did the project come about?

JASON ANTOS: Since childhood, I have been a great admirer of history. For years I had been writing short pieces for local papers and for University publications. As a lifelong resident of Whitestone, I remember exploring different areas of the town when I was growing up. I would walk down by the abandoned CYO and hang out in the remains of the Hammerstein House. I knew I had something. There was definitely a story to tell. 

KIRPAL GORDON: Divided into seven chapters that open with Dutch settlers and the Matinecock tribe, you take us through the arrival of the British Empire, Francis Lewis and the Revolutionary War period, Governor de Witt Clinton's homestead in an 1854 photograph, Walt Whitman's stay and the Civil War, the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road in 1869, the population explosion that began with the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the neighborhood's brief stint as a seaside resort which brought celebrities and more development and the continuing impact of immigration throughout the two world wars and into the 21st century.  That's an amazing amount of dedicated research.  Who helped you find all that out?

JASON ANTOS: Since Whitestone was my first book, I had to become a detective and figure out one step at a time where to find material. I began at the Queens Historical Society which led me to the Bayside Historical Society. From there I went to the Queens Library Central branch to Long Island Division (now called The Archives). The Queens Library has an endless amount of information on
Queens. The best part is that it is all open to the public!

KIRPAL GORDON: Among the most telling photographs in the book is a shot of Harvey Firestone's mansion
before it was torn down to accommodate the Cryder House.  The sense that the neighborhood's actual history has gotten buried alongside such development is unmistakable.  Ironically, just down the road sits the Hammerstein mansion.  Turned into the highly regarded eatery Ripples on the Water, I see from the cover of your book that the original mansion has been rebuilt on the old grounds.  What do you make of these two tales?

JASON ANTOS: It is all about fate. The Hammerstein home was privately owned until
Le Havre was built in the early 1950s. Originally known as the Levitt House Apartments, the complex acquired it as their club house. Firestone's house was owned by Mrs. Michele who operated a bed and breakfast. She sold the property for the building of Cryder House. Hammerstein's home was luck enough to be purchased by a group who wanted to turn it into a catering hall. This allowed the building to remain long enough to be recognized as National Landmark.

KIRPAL GORDON: In the last section, the construction of the two suspension bridges to the
Bronx really captures the sense of a leafy, once bucolic neighborhood in transition.  How do we keep Whitestone green while limiting the growing McMansion-ization of its homes?

JASON ANTOS: That is up to the people, our local politicians and zoning laws. The laws have to be enforced and perhaps changed so that Whitestone can retain some of its small town feel.

KIRPAL GORDON: What most impressed me in your telling is Whitestone's unique heritage as a place of tolerance.  You point out that the Dutch and the Native Americans coexisted peacefully, which is indeed a rarity in the colonial era. In addition, the Flushing Remonstrance, the
New World's first legislation insuring freedom of religious choice, was signed in 1657.  Ever since, Whitestone has been home to a wide range of religions: Quaker, Dutch Reform, Methodist, Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Lutheran and of late people from Korea and Far Eastern Asia.  What factors play into this open-mindedness?

JASON ANTOS: I think when a neighborhood is multicultural and tolerant, that atmosphere becomes evident to all people. This creates a sense of calm and attracts diversity. When one group moves out the other stays and grows creating a continuous cycle. 

KIRPAL GORDON: Beyond your present duties as a reporter on the neighborhood for the Queens Gazette, you have penned three other books on
Queens for Arcadia.  Tell us more about those projects.

JASON ANTOS: After the success of Whitestone: Images of America (2006), I followed with Shea Stadium: Images of Baseball (2007), Queens: Then and Now (2009) and Flushing: Then & Now (2010).

Jason Antos is a reporter for the Queens Gazette.  To peruse or purchase Whitestone, see

Thursday, October 6, 2011


It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so I decided to do some yard work.  As I was on my hands and knees, stretching my arms underneath the hedges to grab all the broken limbs, branches and debris left behind by a nasty winter, I came face to face with a two-foot long and unusually thick garden snake.  Startled, I fell back and was quite taken by surprise when the snake curiously asked, “You’re not afraid of snakes, are you?” 

Not quite sure of how to answer, I said, “No, at least not the garden variety!” 
The snake hissed as if he were laughing at me and then questioned, “Are your friends going to believe you when you tell them you had a conversation with a snake?” 
“I suppose not,” I answered. 
I imagine the snake must have sensed that I didn’t kill living things, so it didn’t make any attempt in slipping away to escape the likelihood of getting impaled by the teeth of my rake.
“So,” the snake inquired rather smugly, “Why wouldn’t your so-called friends believe you, when for thousands and thousands of years, generations upon generations of you humans clung to the belief that a woman exchanged words with a serpent?” 
“I guess we all believe what we want to believe,” I answered. 
“Yours is a peculiar species,” replied the snake, “You created a fable accusing a snake as the source of your downfall rather than own up to your own shortcomings. What’s really pathetic is how some of you continue pretending to believe it!” 
The snake made a quick and sudden flip, rustling the crisp dead leaves, startling me once again, and then slowly slithered away underneath the chain link fence, disappearing into the neighboring yard.  I hesitated for a moment, and then ran into the house, anxious to tell the news to my wife.
“Honey,” I exclaimed excitedly, “You’re never going to believe what I just spoke to.”  
She didn’t. 

 ~John Rullo~