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Vol. II Iss. XXV December 10, 2019 NEWS 4 | Checks and Balances 5 | Brewed On Grant OPINION 8 | Save 'Blue No Matter Who" 9 | What's in a Name 10 | Tragedy ART 10 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 19 |
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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 3
NEWS CHECKS AND BALANCES
GUY RESCHENTHALER APPLAUDS TRUMP'S WAR CRIME PARDONS BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
epresentative Guy Reschenthaler (PA-14) recently went on record approving Donald Trump's decision to pardon three people who are accused or convicted war criminals. The word he used, by the way, was “applaud.” He applauded Trump's decision. While being careful to point out that the military must function with rules and that “war-fighters” (his term) have to act under the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and the rule of law, Reschenthaler also said: “What I'm saying is that there's a lot of prosecutorial misconduct. There's a lot of political correctness that is, unfortunately, at play in the military right now and I really think that started with the last administration.” And here's the sound of one Reschenthaler clapping: “I applaud [Trump's] reversal of mindset because this will allow the war-fighters to focus on the mission and not have that fear in the back of their head that they're going to be wrongfully prosecuted stateside.” If I may, it appears that our Guy in The House thinks that the military's (Obama administration-imposed ) politically correct mindset is getting in the way of our “war-fighters” ability to complete their missions as each “war-fighter” is going to be worrying about getting prosecuted back home for doing something politically incorrect rather than accomplishing that mission. Well, who were the pardoned/ commuted? What sort of “politically incorrect” things did they do? Let's take a look. Major Mathew Golsteyn had been accused of murder, though he'd yet
to go to trial. In a job interview with the CIA, he admitted to capturing and shooting an “unknown, unarmed Afghani male.” He later went back to cremate the body and bury the remains. In a CIA interview, he said that he knew his actions were illegal but he was not remorseful because he said he had solid intel that he was protecting his team. His reprimand stated that he admitted to violating a Law of Armed Conflict, though the document doesn't say which one. Perhaps it was the one that says, “Do not harm enemies who surrender; disarm them and turn them over to your superiors.” If he captured an unknown Afghani man and shot him instead of turning him over to his superiors, Major Golsteyn certainly looks guilty of violating that law. Reschenthaler, what aspect of “political correctness” is being confronted by pardoning Major Golsteyn before his Court Martial even took place? First Lieutenant Clint Allen Lorance had been found guilty “of attempted murder, murder, wrongfully communicating a threat, reckless endangerment, soliciting a false statement, and obstructing justice in violation of Articles 80, 118, and 134 Uniform Code of Military Justice” and he was sentenced to almost two decades in prison. According to the appellate court that denied him a new trial, this is one of the things Lt Lorance did: As they approached the Entry Control Point (ECP), appellant encountered an Afghan villager with a young child. The villager was asking to move some concertina wire on the road leading to Strong Point Payenzai that was impeding his ability to work on
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his farm. Appellant told the villager that if he touched the concertina wire, he and his family would be killed. Appellant conveyed the seriousness of his message by pulling back the charging handle of his weapon and pointing the weapon at the young child. And then there was the time he ordered the men under his command to fire upon some civilians who “had no observable weapons or radios, and were not displaying any hostility toward U.S. or Afghan forces.” He then covered up the event by ordering the soldier under his command who was responsible for doing the Battle Damage Assessments NOT to perform those duties. Instead Lt Lorance ordered two untrained soldiers to make the assessments. The appellate court then stated: After the two soldiers conducted a cursory inspection of the victims, appellant told the gathered villagers to take the bodies. The soldiers did not find any weapons, explosives or communications gear on the bodies. Appellant then told the radio transmission operator (RTO) to report over the radio that a BDA could not
be done because the bodies were removed before the platoon could get to them. Reschenthaler, what aspect of “political correctness” is being confronted by pardoning Lt Lorance of the crimes the military had already found him guilty of committing? Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was acquitted of six war crimes charges and convicted of one violation of article 134 of the UCMJ – specifically, posing for photos with a teenage captive’s dead body. The charge sheet said that such conduct “was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces and of a nature to bring discredit to the armed forces.” The guilty verdict brought a sentence of four months in prison (which Gallagher had already served) and a reduction in rank to Petty Officer First Class. In bringing the charges, prosecutors said Gallagher allegedly texted a photo of himself cradling a dead ISIS fighter's head in one hand, his knife in the other. This is probably what the prosecutors were thinking when they charged him with “bringing discredit to the armed forces.” Reschenthaler, what aspect of “political correctness” is being confronted by pardoning Petty Officer Gallagher of the crime the military had already found him guilty of committing? Reschenthaler stated very clearly the need for the military to abide by the UCMJ and the rule of law and yet he applauds Donald Trump's interference with those very safeguards against military misconduct. For what? To protest “political correctness”? How were any of these proceedings “politically correct”?
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTED THE RETURN OF 'BREWED ON GRANT' PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 5
OPINION SAVE "BLUE NO MATTER WHO" FOR NOVEMBER BY PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
fter Kamala Harris announced that she was dropping out of the 2020 Presidential Race, Dr. Melanye Price wrote in the New York Times: “In the end, however, she and other candidates were hamstrung by the same thing that has sheltered Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg — the structural discrimination that comes from how we define electability. The left’s hyper-focus on beating President Donald J. Trump in 2020 has also resulted in a re-narrowing of who is electable in ways that many assumed had forever changed after 2008.” She continued, “If flawed white male candidates are still ‘highly electable,’ then where is the space for flawed black, white, Latina, Asian or Native ones?” This primary seems to have a lot of folks very worried. The main concern when it comes to candidates is, “who can beat Donald Trump?” This leads to larger questions around the tangential concept of electability. There is still plenty of time for “us” to coalesce around a nominee that can take down Trump. But we need to let go of this whole “blue no matter who” bullshit until July 16, the day the Democratic Convention ends. Right now in the primary we need to fight for our values, and fight for the candidate we want. Then in the fall, during the general election -- that is when we need to come to Jesus and acknowledge that in a two-party system (whether we like it or not), we only have two viable choices. When we kicked off Democratic Primary season, we had the most diverse group of presidential candidates ever assembled. There were white people! There was an Asian person! There was a Samoan-Amer-
ican! There were Black people! There were women! There were Black women! There was even an open gay man! At least on a superficial level, the field actually seemed to resemble the Democratic electorate. To be clear, representation of a person from a group doesn’t mean they’re the best person for that group. I discussed this in the last issue when I critiqued Pete Buttigieg. Kamala Harris also had a fair share of criticism from folks about her actions as California Attorney General that disproportionately impacted people of color. A few days ago, a Black woman I follow tweeted: “I think white liberals must understand why ‘Vote Blue No Matter Who’ doesn’t cut it for black & brown voters. In a nutshell, we’re tired of making concessions to white supremacy to benefit mainly white voters. Racism on the left is no better than racism from the right wing.” This is the time for us to have brutal, honest discussions about those vying to be our candidate. We can’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. “Blue no matter who” infers that a Democrat is always better than a Republican, because they’re the Democrat. That inference is incorrect. One needs to look no further than Pittsburgh and SWPA in general to see that Democrats routinely vote against workers, the environment, and access to healthcare. This past season, when District Attorney Stephen Zappala, a 20-year incumbent with an atrocious record with numerous marginalized groups, was challenged by Independent candidate Lisa Middleman, “progressive” members of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee were threatened with expulsion if they
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didn’t publicly support the committee’s officially endorsed candidate. What good is being a Democrat if one doesn’t espouse the values that come with it? All too often, when people bring up issues in the Democratic Party about diversity and inclusion, they are dismissed for being “divisive.” Rather than listen, learn, and try to understand why people of color have little trust in white candidates, the knee-jerk reaction is to go directly to “do you want 45 to win again? How will Black and Brown People benefit if there is a Nazi in the White House?” These are an example of some of the dismissive responses to those issues brought up in a local progressive action group. “It could be worse” is not an inspiring message that will get folks to the polls (we learned that in 2016), and it does not do anything to move conversations towards a deeper understanding of our society and of what we would like it to be. It is also
asking People of Color, particularly Black people, to suck it up and vote for the lesser of two evils, even if that means doing nothing more than maintaining the status quo. When making decisions about representational government, we need to center the most marginalized people, because when they win, everyone wins. The most reliable voting block of the Democratic Party is Black women. Despite having a problematic relationship with the community, Hillary Clinton received 96% of Black women’s votes in 2016. Meanwhile, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. White people shouldn’t be the arbiters of what is best for everyone else. Lamenting the whiteness of the upcoming debate, Cory Booker said earlier this week, “This is not about one candidate...It is about the diverse coalition that is necessary to beat Donald Trump...It is a problem that we now have an overall campaign for the 2020 presidency that has more billionaires in it than black people.” Julian Castro brought a unique voice to the last debate stage, but as of now, he hasn’t qualified for the December round. He lamented the sudden stark Whiteness of the candidates, too. “By not having anyone of color onstage, the party loses a lot,” he told reporters after a fundraiser in Los Angeles last week. “The party also loses partly the ability to inspire and excite constituencies that we need to win in November 2020 against Donald Trump.” Trump is not the problem; he is a symptom of Capitalist Patriarchal White Supremacy. We aren’t going to beat him without engaging and listening to the folks who our own party has taken for granted for too long.
OPINION WHAT'S IN A NAME?
PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTORS WITHHOLD BYLINES IN SOLIDARITY WITH POST-GAZETTE EMPLOYEES
n HBO’s new series Watchmen, police officers in this dystopian parallel universe cover their faces so “bad guys” can’t identify them and the cops are allowed to operate unchecked by the public. That kind of anonymity is dangerous to the public trust. Now, this isn’t a column about police misconduct, but I couldn’t help but think about the show this past week as the staff edited this edition of the Pittsburgh Current. We announced a couple of weeks ago that we would be publishing this issue without bylines and credits to show our solidarity with employees of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who are entering the fourth week of an indefinite byline strike. The action was voluntary but we got 100 percent participation (sans our cartoon pages as most of the strips have identifiers built-in) from staffers and freelance writers to former P-G editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, who draws “Brewed on Grant.” Our columnist, Sue Kerr’s blog “Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents” will also publish without credit lines this week. In protest of the “mistreatment of union members and managers by PG Executive Editor Keith Burris, Publisher John Robinson Block and his twin Allan Block, chairman of Toledo-based PG owner Block Communications Inc,” newsroom members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh have been on a byline strike since November 20. In the first seven days of the action, which took place after the union held a unanimous “no-confidence vote” against Block and Burris, 313 bylines and credit lines have been withheld. In March, P-G newsroom employ-
BY PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM ees will have been working without a contract for three years, they haven’t had a raise in 14 years and have had their healthcare benefits hacked annually. Add that to working daily in a hostile environment and it’s easy to see how employees have arrived at this point. “We are unified and resolute in protest of the unprecedented, unconscionable atmosphere of fear, hostility, and intimidation that Burris and the Blocks have created in the North Shore newsroom and we stand united in our quest for economic justice," union head and veteran P-G reporter Mike Fuoco said in a recent press release. He also called the actions by the Blocks and Burris, “shameful and despicable.” The treatment that P-G employees have endured in all departments goes well beyond tense labor negotiations. Forget about the nearly decade-anda-half without a raise, and decreasing health benefits. There have been open acts of intimidation from a latenight weekend newsroom tirade by John Block to the recent dismissal/ forced resignations of the editorial’s best leaders. Many Employees who were part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom are no longer there. Block brought in Burris to help complete an editorial page transition to a full-on Trumpian fish wrap that included firing Rogers, before naming Burris earlier this year as the paper’s executive editor. In addition, the paper recently attempted to layoff or reduce hours and benefits for most of its Teamster-represented employees before a federal judge blocked the paper from doing so the day before Thanksgiving.
So, in response, employees decided to make a statement by protesting working conditions the only way they could, by withholding their bylines. What does that mean? P-G writer and one of the finest journalists I’ve ever known, Rich Lord explained this way on Twitter: “We care about our bylines because they reflect our accountability and our personal commitment to informing the community.” A byline is an extremely important thing to people in our business; pulling it off of our stories is not a gesture entered into lightly. The Blocks apparently seem to
think they don’t need journalists, why else would the treat them with kind of malice and lack of respect. So, as you read our paper this week and the Post-Gazette, really look hard at the nameless stories, photos, and graphics. A byline lets you know that the person who wrote the article stands behind it. A journalist presents you with a story, without us, you’d be left with just words.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 7
OPINION A TRAGEDY WORTH CONVERSATION
arlier this year, local media reported on the September 16 death of 46-year-old Pittsburgh native, Elisha Stanley, who had traveled to her hometown to visit family. Elisha was a Black trans woman. Her sudden, unexpected death understandably left people concerned both for the loss of her as an individual and the implications for the larger trans, Black, and LGBTQ communities. It is not unusual for coroner reports, especially bloodwork results, to take weeks or months to be finalized. In this case, the report was released on November 1. Elisha’s death has been ruled accidental due to “combined drug poisoning of fentanyl, cocaine, and ethanol.” There is no suggestion of any further investigation, even though there certainly are general concerns about deliberate cutting of cocaine with fentanyl without the knowledge of the person using the cocaine. City of Pittsburgh Police spokesperson, Chris Togneri confirmed that the official cause of death is accidental overdose, asking anyone with information to suggest otherwise to please bring those concerns to the police. When asked about the Fentanyl, Togneri told me: “Yes, there is great concern. In late September, three people died after ingesting cocaine mixed with
BY PITTSBURGH CURRENT STAFF INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM fentanyl. Recent news reports have shown multiple other cases of fentanyl being mixed with drugs in other areas without users being aware. Large drug busts occur on a regular basis in the city, and fentanyl is often recovered alongside other drugs. Police always caution against illegal drug use -- the user simply does not and cannot know what was put into the drug. But with fentanyl regularly being added to products, it is more important now than ever to be extremely careful.” While we do know that at least 20 trans neighbors, 19 of whom were black trans women, died violent deaths in 2019, we don’t often discuss the threats posed by drugs and alcohol, healthcare disparities, poverty, and other threats to their general welfare. There are volumes of data on the dangers posed by alcohol and drug use to our transgender neighbors. It is not inconceivable that Elisha’s death should be put in that context as should our community response to support trans neighbors, especially Black trans women. We saw a similar pattern emerge in Pittsburgh’s gay community when people refused to acknowledge the potential role of alcohol consumption in the death of Dakota James in 2017, preferring to focus exclusively on the slim possibility that he was murdered by a serial killer. And during that ensuing months in which
energy and resources were poured into investigating this possibility, very few were directed to addressing more tangible threats like getting drunk and wandering away from friends or public spaces, much less to friends and families coming to terms with a loved one who abuses alcohol, once or multiple times. I bring up Dakota James because I suspect some people will view the coroner’s findings with skepticism and other people with consider the skeptics to be disgruntled, uninformed, or conspiracy theorists. I want to remind all of us that a lot of white cisgender gay men and lesbians, as well as heterosexual people, have propped up the conspiracy theories around Dakota’s death even at the expense of the welfare of our community. If you are going to give the benefit of the doubt to the friends, family, and strangers who firmly believe Dakota was killed by a serial killer, you must give the same to family, friends, and strangers who firmly do not believe in the conclusions of this coroner’s report. To do otherwise is clearcut bias and discrimination. Now that does not mean you must agree with their interpretation, but given what we know about implicit bias and discrimination in the criminal justice system – a conspiracy or cover-up is no less possible than the Smiley Face killer theories. And
battling over who is right or wrong might once again distract us from actually putting resources into solutions that will have a clear impact for the betterment of Black trans woman and other trans and nonbinary individuals. There is no arguing that the deaths of young white men, gay and straight, receive a disproportionate amount of media attention. Dakota’s story generated many media stories along with a podcast. I don’t anticipate any local media outlet investing in a podcast or special investigation segment centering Elisha Stanley, regardless of the clearly newsworthiness of the circumstances of her life and death as well as the larger context. Elisha’s death is a tragedy, a loss for her personal friends and family, as well as the larger community. The reality that we cannot simply take the response of the criminal justice system at face value is also a tragedy. But worst of all is that we will continue to overlook our opportunities to provide adequate resources and supports for Black trans women to address the challenges they face and empower them to direct their own solutions. We are failing our Black trans sisters and neighbors. That’s the only clear conclusion from this report.
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ART BAH HUMBUG'NAT
BRICOLAGE'S MIDNIGHT RADIO TACKLES A HOLIDAY CLASSIC
he dawning of the holiday season has arrived again, and with it comes countless beloved stories: Rudolph, The Grinch, The Nutcracker, and more. But for those looking for a twist on a favorite holiday tale, look no further than the upcoming production of Yinz’r Scrooged at Bricolage Production Company. From their home base in downtown, Bricolage produces a variety of immersive and unorthodox theatrical experiences, aiming to put audiences at the center of the action. Yinz’r Scrooged is the latest iteration of Bricolage’s popular “Midnight Radio” series, in which the story of the show is told in the style of a 1940s radio show. The format embraces the idiosyncrasies of old time radio, including Foley sound effects and parodies of commercials. There are few visual cues, with much of the storytelling done through sound, encouraging audience members to use their imagination to create the scene. “Midnight Radio” has been a part of Bricolage’s programming for over a decade, and has been the vehicle for stories across multiple genres. These range from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to Frankenstein, as
BYTHE PITTSBURGH CURRENT well as Die Hard N’at, a “yinzerized” retelling of the first Die Hard movie. Like Die Hard N’at, Yinz’r Scrooged is a Pittsburgh-centered translation of Charles Dicken’s seminal holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. Bricolage’s principal creative and cofounder, Tami Dixon, worked alongside director Sam Turich to adapt the classic story to the “Midnight Radio” format. “It follows [the original story] pretty closely, but it makes Pittsburgh the backdrop, and puts Pittsburgh people in as characters,” said Dixon. “Pittsburghers love stories about Pittsburgh, so it seemed a no-brainer to translate that story to something very unique to Pittsburgh.” In addition to moving the setting from London to Pittsburgh, characters have been replaced with famous Pittsburghers. The Ghost of Christmas Past, for instance, will be embodied by none other than Mr. Rogers. The biggest challenge with “Midnight Radio,” naturally, is finding ways to tell the story of Ebenezer Scrooge strictly through sound. For Dixon, this is a style she feels uniquely comfortable writing in. “I’ve been writing in this genre for over a decade now, so I’ve honed
some tricks to making something that needs a visual cue into something that can be done aurally,” said Dixon. Dixon also had to trim the story to fit time constraints, as “Midnight Radio” is usually only one act with no intermission. “It’s a pretty epic story, and we needed it to come in at a brisk 75 to 80 minutes,” said Dixon. “We don’t
like to do intermission at Midnight Radio...so the challenge was to tell this epic story in a way that was digestible in one sitting.” Once the script was completed, the next challenge became finding a talented crew to bring it to life. To pull it off, Dixon brought together a troupe of veteran “Midnight Radio” actors, as well as musical director Deana Muro. “We have a cast of five extraordinary actors, they’ve taken the material and made it their own,” said Dixon. With such a talented group, the only thing left to do is bring in audiences to enjoy. Dixon hopes that would Yinz’r Scrooged provides audiences a delightful alternative to the traditional holiday show, and leaves them feeling a little bit of that spirit of giving that so permeates this time of year. “I hope they leave having had an exhaustive laugh!” said Dixon. “Let their hair down, cry with laughter, and have their hearts warmed as well.” Yinzer Scrooged runs through Dec. 21 at Bricolage Theater, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $25-35. www.bricolagepgh.com.
Support Post-Gazette Journalism The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has been working without a contract since March 2017, and continues to fight for one that is fair and equitable. We fear that may never happen, and this city will lose a long-time, valued institution. To support quality journalism and save our newspaper, we urge you to email Publisher John Robinson Block at email@example.com; BCI Chairman Allan Block at firstname.lastname@example.org; and Executive Editor Keith Burris at email@example.com 10 | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | PITTSBURGH CURRENT
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh wants to thank the Pittsburgh Current staff for your solidarity in supporting our byline strike in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as we seek a non-hostile work environment and a fair contract.
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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 11
Sarah Calentine (Photo: MarcelloRostagni)
AUTHOR'S MEMOIR RECALLS A CHILDHOOD OF NOT TRULY KNOWING HERSELF BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
y friends would joke that the demographics of high school would change depending on how I wore my hair. If it was pulled back -- one more white person. If it was out and big and 'fro-y, well here was a black person," Sarah Valentine explains. But, of course, when she was in high school, her race, the confusion and unknowns of it, were more elided than spoken of explicitly. "We would never articulate that part of it -- everything was by implication." Valentine has been both inside and outside whiteness, both inside and outside blackness, in a way that few others have. It gives her a unique understanding of and perspective on race. She grew up in Wexford. The
neighborhood was white. Her parents are white. And though she was darker complexioned than her parents and her two brothers, and her hair was, as she put it, fro-y when she wore it loose and down, race wasn't spoken of. Kids would ask her brothers if she was adopted and it still wasn't spoken of. Her parents maintained that she was white, just dark. Race was there. And it wasn't. But biologically, Sarah Valentine's father is a black man. There are scant details beyond that. Her parents never brought it up to her -- she had to raise the issue as an adult. After graduating North Allegheny high school, she attended Carnegie Mellon, then went onto Princeton for graduate studies. She has taught at Princeton, UCLA, and Northwestern.
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She now lives in northern Nevada and spoke to the Current via telephone about her new book, When I Was White (Riverside Press, 2019). She says that her parents were tremendously loving and supportive. They encouraged her academically, athletically and in her personal relationships. They were, in most ways, wonderful parents, her biggest cheerleaders, and advocates. And yet, there was this lie at the center of everything. Just as much as the social and political ramifications of her blossoming awareness of her race, she was grappling with lies and what felt like shame. "Couldn't they have loved and supported me in the same way if we had known and talked about the truth?" Valentine said. "I felt very betrayed, just because I always implicitly trusted my parents. Trust, honesty and integrity, those were all values I was raised with. So it just seemed like such a gut punch when all of this came out. We have been keeping a secret about you all along." But why keep it a secret? Why do we keep things secret? Withholding this truth, according to Valentine, is the high price of maintaining whiteness. She writes about a day when the secret could no longer be contained, it burst forth, all but hijacking her. Suddenly, she felt like a black person taking the bus, a black person getting coffee, a black person waiting in line. "It occurred to me since I felt inclined to mentally specify that I was black while doing these things, before that, I was not simply doing them in some neutral state but as white. It was something I'd never thought about, and it struck me with surprise and shame that my assumed whiteness -- despite my persistent doubts -- had been a condition of my whiteness. It also meant that if I felt this way, everyone else must, too. White people were walking around being white without realizing it," she writes. Valentine's memoir takes us on her journey to understand her own
racial make-up, what the nature of it was, what it meant, and why the information was withheld from her. Her own grasp on it shifts and moves as she carries the reader to personal and intimate spaces, but also into public, political and societal spaces. She cannot tie things up in a bow for us. She doesn't have all the answers from her mother. But what Valentine can do, by sharing her experience, to enable earnest discussions about race. She hopes is that this book can carve out a safe island in a sea of fear and anger so that people can really communicate. "I felt like I had been passing -there's obviously such a complicated legacy with passing in this country -- so that was something I also had to come to terms with," Valentine says. "People read the book and then want to talk about the experience, whatever their racial background is. It has been heartening -- it can be something that can facilitate this conversation which is so loaded in this country, especially right now. If my book is something that can help ease people into that in a way that they're comfortable expressing vulnerability, that's the best thing that can happen."
The cast of Bound in Before
FAMILY-FRIENDLY 'BOUND IN BEFORE' CAPITALIZES ON THE FAMILIAR
here is nothing like the warm feeling of familiarity, especially around the holidays. That is a feeling at the core of Kiesha Lalama’s latest dance-theater narrative Bound in Before, performed by Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company this past weekend and next. Conceived and written by Lalama and her son, author John Jacob White, and choreographed by Lalama, the world-premiere of Bound in Before is, ironically as the title suggests, bound in what has come before and awash in a storyline, characters and situations all too familiar. The subject of many a Hallmark Channel movie, Bound in Before tells of childhood sweethearts Mickey McWilliams and Claire Henderson who look to rekindle a relationship as adults after many years apart. What makes this telling a bit different is Lalama steeping it in a fair amount of late-1980s, early 1990s teen nostalgia. It is as if the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon had a
BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM baby and that baby grew up in the world of John Hughes films (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club) and the TV sitcom Saved by the Bell (1989-1993). The production was candy cane sweet and capital G-rated in a good way. Bound in Before was set to a lively original score by Jason Coll that substituted for Lalama’s initial idea of using a compilation of songs by popular folk-rock band Mumford & Sons after she couldn’t get the rights to them. The story in 16 scenes follows Mickey, danced by Tyler Kerbel and Claire, danced by Ashley Green, from their grade school beginnings through high school and into adulthood on their way to rather absurdly successful careers, him as a Heisman Trophy-winning, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and her as a renowned concert violinist. Sure the production was littered with a bevy of stereotypical characters during Mickey and Claire’s high school years (which the production centers on) with its large
cast of 45-dancers portraying nerds, dweebs, jocks, burnouts, overbearing parents and even a pseudo-Saved by the Bell “Screech” character Kirk, performed wonderfully by dancer Matthew Saggiomo. But while they all were familiar retreads of characters we have seen, they all nonetheless elicited smiles, laughter and recognition from the audience. Where the production really shone was in its dancing, visuals and delivery. Maybe the tightest production I have ever seen from the student dance troupe, Bound in Before moved seamlessly and briskly through its scenes like a wellhoned Broadway musical. Lalama did a more than commendable job in her mix of contemporary dance and musical theater-like choreography that included bravura dance sequences and flashy, toe-tapping production numbers. Equally her casting of characters was marvelous such as dancer Sydney Fugett as MS Gym Teacher, whose annoyed facial expressions and big eye-rolls at the
students were priceless. While it took perhaps a little longer than expected to get to know and become invested in lead characters Mickey and Claire as individuals and as a couple, the production really belonged to them and both Kerbel and Green were up to the task of giving the audience the heartfelt relationship it needed from the production. One could almost guess the general arc of the story even before it unfolded with Mickey and Claire’s relationship blossoming from friends to romantic partners, surviving other romantic dalliances, growing apart as careers took center stage and fizzling out in college as a long distance relationship. In the end, the two find themselves back in their old stomping grounds and back in each other’s lives, their story culminating a beautiful production-ending pas de deux capped with a kiss. Some may see Bound in Before’s lack of original story and stereotypical characters and situations as negatives but there is also a strong case for the flipside in that its familiar story and characters in the hands of Lalama and crew reminded us of what we enjoyed about them in the first place and why they keep reappearing again and again. My only small knock on Bound in Before was Coll’s use of old-school sounding computer-synthesized musical instruments in the music. That bit of nostalgia is one that really should be left to the past. Kudos to CDC’s dancers for their excellent performances, Coll’s original songs, the entire production team especially costume designer Aimee Colman and Lalama’s choreography.
CONSERVATORY DANCE COMPANY’S 2019 WINTER DANCE CONCERT, BOUND IN BEFORE CONTINUES 8 p.m., Friday, Dec.
13, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14 and 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15. PNC Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. Tickets $1024. (412) 392-8000 or pittsburghplayhouse.com.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 13
ART of new magicians ready to demonstrate that we are doing something different and that the art form is in good hands,” he says. Taking a page out of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s book, Ramirez hopes to break the stereotypes of what it means to be a magician. “When Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the show, In The Heights, he wrote a show that he wanted to see. He wrote songs that he wanted to hear. It had nothing to do with what was good. It had nothing to do with what other people liked” he says. “And so now all I do is I create magic that I want to see, something that I wish I was in the audience to laugh at.”
“ROBERT RAMIREZ: THE MUSICAL THEATER MAGICIAN.” VarRobert Ramirze
ious times. Now through Jan. 5. 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-4566666 or www.trustarts.org
ROBERT RAMIREZ TAPS, SINGS AND SLEIGHTS IN "THE MUSICAL THEATER MAGICIAN" BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ost actors are required to be a triple threat. Robert Ramirez is that, but there’s another talent he has that many others don't: Magic. “When I wasn't booking auditions, I would try to get a gig in magic,” he says. Ramirez tap-dances, plays piano and performs sleight of hand tricks in “Robert Ramirez: The Musical Theater Magician,” running from now until Jan. 5, 2020, at Downtown’s Liberty Magic. Ramirez’s musical and magical interests began during his childhood and continued as he grew up. Ramirez began performing magic when he was 8-years-old after his parents divorced. In middle school, he picked up the flute, and then transitioned to musical theater in high school. He majored in musical theater in college. He took classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles and worked for a company called the Imagination Machine, which promotes creative writing for
children in California elementary schools. Ramirez eventually starred in the national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights from 2011 to 2012. However, after he got off the tour, he couldn’t book an audition for more than a year. “I had realized I'm going to have to create my own work if I want to get out of this little rut,” he says. “So I started doing more magic and I started doing weddings or I started doing strolling gigs when I could.” Between working as a magic consultant on “America’s Got Talent” and booking gigs at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and the Chicago Magic Lounge, Ramirez’s song-dancemagic show has taken the spotlight. “Now in the last two years, I got to a point where now I have to set time aside to do a theater show, do a musical, and then audition for that show,” he says. Although Ramirez has a comedy background, he says the comedic
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aspect of his show is just an added bonus. “I don't want to set that expectation because you may not get my brand of humor. Everybody loves magic, and there's kind of not a ‘brand’ of magic. Either it's going to feel whimsical and feel like magic or it's not,” he says. The evening also features a bit of magic history, which Ramirez says is based on his natural curiosity. He’s big on taking YouTube deep-dives on a variety of subjects, including math and science. “Magic's been popular for hundreds of years,” he says. “I think, when all of these historical events were happening in the world, what was happening in magic?” Ramirez’s show feels hip and cool and pulls back the curtain on an otherwise secretive world. Part of this, he says, is because more magicians relying on creating their own tricks instead of buying them and incorporating social media into their magic. “I think we have a huge generation
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EVENTS THE CAN’T MISS BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM FEATURED EVENTS IN AND AROUND THE PITTSBURGH REGION
NEW YEARS' EVE (DECEMBER 31) End the old ring and ring in the new at Highmark First Night 2020. The celebration is open to all ages and features a variety of arts and entertainment. Walk through Prismatica (pictured right), a modern ice palace on Seventh Street, or enjoy a parade with puppets by Studio Capezzuti. Arcade Comedy Theater, The Zuzu African Acrobats and musician Sierra Sellers are just some of the performers who will be part of the fun. The night begins with Dollar Bank Children’s Fireworks and closes out at midnight with a Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale. Children five and under can attend the event for free. Check the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust site for a list of specific times and locations for the over 100 performances and activities. 6 p.m. Downtown Pittsburgh. $10 general admission. firstnightpgh.trustarts.org
Local vocalist Kenia is joined by guitarist Wesley Amorim and bassist Tony Grey at City of Asylum @ Alphabet City for a fusion of Brazilian music and jazz to celebrate 60 years of Bossa Nova. The performance is free with reservation. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or kzeigler@ cityofasylumpittsburgh.org
City of Asylum @ Alphabet City hosts a staged reading of Simona’s Search by playwright Martin Zimmerman. Zimmerman, a multi-ethnic, bilingual playwright and screenwriter, has a number of credited works, and is part of City Theatre’s Momentum Reading Series. The event is free with reservation. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-435-1110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dreamcrusher is arguably one of the most important artists creating right now, making nihilist queer revolt musik that is high-energy, aggressive, exciting and original--some real punk rock for folks who love to move around and fuck shit up, societally speaking. On Thursday, Dec. 12, Dreamcrusher takes over Collision to throw a banger for all the punk-rock ravers and noise maniacs. Pittsburgh’s W00DY brings their own absurdist hardcore dance tunes to the party. Expect sets by Weather, Bromp Treb and Possessioner too. Come ready to engage and rage is all I’m sayin.’ 8:30 p.m. $8. Contact email@example.com for more information.
The South Hills Children’s Choir presents a wintery concert,
“Across the Sweeping Tundra,” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Joined by the Cygnus Quartet, the performance will include music by Ola Gjeilo, John Rutter, Maurice Duruflé, Gabriel Fauré, and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as a number of holiday songs. The concert is free with reservation. 7 p.m. 1066 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon. Free. shcchoir.org The Andy Warhol Museum hosts a Print Party for 13 to 18 year-olds who wish to learn more about Andy Warhol’s most well-known art techniques. Teens can explore the galleries, participate in discussion and activities and give screen-printing a try for themselves. The party is free with reservation, and spots are limited. 6 p.m. 117 Sandusky St. Free. 412-237-8300 or information@ warhol.org
The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh open their Off the Wall exhibition, with additional hours through Dec 30. Support local artists by browsing the gallery of original works, all priced under $300. When a piece is bought, it comes off the wall. 6 p.m. 4106 Howley St. Free admission. g1cw. com/current-exhibitions Start The Beat with SIKES has been a Pittsburgh podcast institution for a long-ass time, and it's had a pretty dang good year. On Friday, Dec. 13th, SIKES is throwing a big ol’ party to celebrate the good shit in 2019 at REDFISHBOWL Studios. There’ll be a variety of live entertainment, appearances by Queens of NC-17, THRIFTY Podcast, Ghoul on Ghoul, Neon Braniacs and beyond. It’s free, holiday attire is encouraged, egos can be left at the door and fun is mandatory at
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 19
this one, so leave the boring, cool guy apathy at home. Do not come unless you want to have a good time. 8 p.m. 4327 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Free. redfishbowl.com
A Christmas Story fans should head to DoubleTree Pittsburgh Green Tree for a themed PopUp Bar Dec. 19 and Dec. 20. The bar will be decorated with 1940s vintage decor, including the infamous leg lamp, and the film will be streamed continuously. 4:30 p.m. 500 Mansfield Ave. Free admission. 412-922-8400 or pittsburghgreentree.doubletreebyhilton.com
Children ages 3 to 7 are invited by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to a two-hour workshop inspired by The Nutcracker. The workshop is for kids with any or no amount of dance experience, and includes dance class, music, costuming and special guests from the holiday classic. Participants should wear comfortable clothes and socks or ballet slippers. Registration is required. 10 a.m. 2900 Liberty Ave. $75. pbt.org/nutcracker-workshop-2019 East End Brewing holds their annual Crafts and Drafts Holiday Market. Shop for gifts from local artists and brewers, and come early to enjoy brunch by Larder of East End. The event is free and family friendly with housemade root beer and ginger ale. 12 p.m. 147 Julius St. Free. 412-537-2337 or eastendbrewing.com
City of Asylum @ Alphabet City partners with Sembene - The Film & Arts Festival for a screening of Eddie Jefferson Live in Concert, a documentary showcasing the final recorded performance of the late jazz vocalist Eddie Jefferson, a Pittsburgh native born 101 years ago. The documentary will be followed by a Q&A with Richie Cole, Jefferson’s friend and mentee who also stars in the documentary. 7 p.m. 40 W. North Ave. Free. 412-657-6916
Pittsburgh Winery holds their
Dec. 19: Mannequin Pussy
annual Home for the Holidays concert at the Benedum Center. Listen to Pittsburgh artists such as Scott Blasey, Lyndsey Smith, Billy Price, Margot Bingham, Steeltown Horns and more perform holiday classics and original music. A pre-show wine tasting will be held an hour before the performance for additional cost. The Benedum Center lobby will also be hosting a donation drive to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, with a list of needed items on the event’s Facebook page. 7:30 p.m. 719 Liberty Ave. $29 - $74. Trustarts.org In these winter months, it’s easy to retreat into the comfort and warmth of your own home, softened by the beauty of the snow. Fuck that. Get out of your house and get your aggro back on at Gooski’s on Tuesday, Dec. 17. Spike Pit will be bringing its delightfully ignorant-ass, blistering punk from Cleveland. You could throw empty beer cans or tater tots at them during their set,
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and it would be okay either way, probably. Pittsburgh hardcore punk heavy hitters Living World and De Rodillas (my personal favorite band in PGH) will be holding it down for the 412, or whatever. 9 p.m. 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill. $5. www.cruelnoiserecords.com/
Bring your pets to Camp Bow Wow’s first annual Howliday Market at the Ace Hotel. A $10 donation includes a pet photo with Santa, paw print art, entry into Camp Bow Wow’s Daycare Raffle and more. Pet vendors, arts and crafts vendors, a hot chocolate and coffee bar as well as a cash bar will also be on hand during the event. Donations benefit the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, Biggies Bullies, and Humane Animal Rescue, with further donations beyond $10 going to a pet shelter drive. 6 p.m. 120 S. Whitfield St. $10 donation. 412-362-7529 or campbowwow.
Mannequin Pussy is a rock band with the power to bend genres while making music that is emotionally gutting and powerful. Its latest album Patience oscillates between beautiful confessional moments to “burn it the fuck down” energy, and the band delivers a fiery live performance to match. On Thursday, Dec. 19, Mannequin Pussy will tear it up at the Mr. Roboto Project alongside dreamy, indie rock band Kississippi, another band with the power to wield vulnerability as an emotional weapon. Spacious pop-tinged rock band The Ophelias joins the party too. 5106 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $12-15. Therobotoproject.com (MF)
The Candle Lab and Call Me Crazy Cookie Lady partner for a workshop on candle-making and cookie decorating. Attendees will learn to make a custom-scented 8 oz. candle as well as decorate half a dozen cookies, all of which are included in the ticket price to take home. The event is BYOB. 6 p.m. 4409 Butler St. $55. firstname.lastname@example.org or thecandlelab.com
Bierport is opening their bottles of Tröeg’s Mad Elf from the last
EVENTS ty images. 10 a.m. 144 E. Main St. Carnegie. $150. headshotpopuppittsburgh.com
five years. Try the different iterations of this Pittsburgh-favorite Christmas beer from 2014 to 2018 in their taproom. 4 oz. pours and flights are available only while supplies last. 11 a.m. 4115 Butler St. Free admission. 412-904-4248 or bierportpgh.com
Row House Cinema holds a screening of Amélie, with coffee, tea and pastries provided by Madeleine Bakery & Bistro. Ticket price includes refreshments. 10 a.m. 4115 Butler St. $15 rowhousecinema.com
Strange Roots Experimental Ales partners with Stone’s Throw Farm and their alpacas for a pop-up shop in the brewery and drinks in their beer garden. Featured alpacas include Buffalo Bill and McGregor. 12 p.m. 501 E Ohio St. Free admission. 412-4072506 or strangerootsbeer.com
Join Sidelines Bar and Grill as they celebrate Festivus. All Full Pint Brewing Products will be on special as attendees Air their Grievances and Demonstrate their Feats of Strength. 5 p.m. 621 Evergreen Ave. Millvale. Free admission.412-821-4492 or sidelinesbarandgrill.com
For holiday movie lovers with an appetite for Chinese takeout, Row House Cinema has it covered with a holiday movie marathon starting Christmas Eve and continuing through Christmas Day. The films being screened are The Muppet Christmas Carol, Die Hard, Krampus and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Those planning to order food should arrive 45 minutes before the movie, and food will be delivered to their seats in the middle of the screening. Food provided by Zen Asian Diner and is not included in the ticket price. 5:30 p.m. 4115 Butler St. $8 matinee, $10 general admission. row-
Dec. 24: "Shitter's Full!"
Kat De Lac hosts a “Stuff Yinz Stocking” Free Drag Show and Pot Luck at The Smiling Moose. Hot spiked cider will be on hand, and attendees can participate in a holiday sweater contest as well as enjoy the show. 8 p.m. 1306 E. Carson St. Free. 412-431-4668 or smiling-moose.com
“Mummies of the World: The Exhibition” opens at the Carnegie Science Center. View the 125 mummies and related pieces, the largest collection from around the world ever curated. The exhibit will be on display from Dec. 26 to Apr. 19, 2020. 10 a.m. One Allegheny Ave. Free for children 2 and under, $11.95 for kids, $14.95 for seniors, $19.95 general admission. carnegiesciencecenter.org
For performers and professionals in need of their first or an updated headshot, come to Headshot
Popup Pittsburgh at Higher Voice Studio. The event will be held from Dec. 27 to Dec. 30 and includes three professional quali-
For those 21 and up looking for a party from the past, Spirit hosts the 4th Annual “The Upstage Lives” celebration, reviving the experience of the Pittsburgh dance club. DJ EZ Lou, DJ Callisto and DJ Arvin Clay, all former Upstage DJs, will spin of mix of music from the 80s and 90s. 8 p.m. 242 51st St. $15. upstagelives4ever.bpt.me
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
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PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 21
BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
od Schwartz, the former bassist of locals the 11th Hour and Saturday’s Kids, had retired from playing and sold his equipment when he received a call from a couple of friends. Mike Moran and Daryl Cross had a wild idea: Would Schwartz want to participate in a show, covering one side of the Clash’s landmark London Calling album? “Just five songs. And there were going to be four different bass players doing the show. We’d each take a side,” he says, laughing at the simplicity of the original idea. “Then people started dropping like flies. Before I knew it, I was playing half, then three-quarters. And when I got into it, I was just into all of it.”
The bold concept was staged at the Rex Theater in 2003, a few months after Clash vocalist Joe Strummer died of a heart defect. The event predated a format that has now become something of a standard — covering classic albums in their entirety. It also signaled the start of Guns of Brixton, a collective of local musicians (named for a song from London Calling) who went on to present four shows that revisited the playlists of the short-lived but influential Pittsburgh radio station WXXP-FM, in addition to covers of entire Elvis Costello albums and a salute to David Bowie. Now, on the day marking the 40th anniversary of London Calling’s release in the
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United Kingdom, it’s time to play the album again. Schwartz was a freshman at IUP when the album hit the U.S., a month after the UK release. The collision of the band’s punk origins, coupled with reggae/ska influences and pop smarts, left a strong impression. “The horns really stood out to me. You didn’t think of that as being considered punk rock, having those kind of arrangements,” he says. “London Calling is when they really let their guard down, showing what fantastic musicians they were, Topper [Headon, drums] especially. Over the years, probably every song on that album has been my favorite song at some point.” Like the album, the lineup of Guns of Brixton was a far-flung menagerie of musicians from the Pittsburgh scene. (Full disclosure: I was part of the horn section that night.) Never before had one stage hosted members of both Submachine and the SPUDS, two of the city’s musical institutions from vastly different circles. Rather than merely attempting the songs, guitarists Steve Seel, Steve Morrison and Cross meticulously figured out the musical subtleties, including the horn charts. Drummers Kip Ruefle (of ATS) and Dave Klug recreated the punch of Headon’s performance. Despite all the preparation, no one knew if the audience would extend beyond friends and family members for the initial show. That mood changed while some of the crew had dinner with Submachine’s Alex Peightal, who lived across the street from the Rex. “We went to the window and there was a line around the door,” he recalls. “We walked in and friends were standing in line and asking us to sneak them in. I was picturing the part of [the Clash’s] ‘Complete Control,’ where they’re sneaking their friends in the back door of the show. I think we realized at that point how many people felt like we did. They needed this cathar-
sis to say goodbye to Joe.” At this year’s show, the 11th Hour will also reunite to perform songs from Give ’Em Enough Rope, the Clash’s sophomore release. Considering the far-flung group of players that will come together that night, Schwartz sees it as a fitting homage to the band. “We’re not trying to be the Clash. We’re just trying to pay tribute to their music in our own style,” he says.
THE GUNS OF BRIXTON PERFORMING LONDON CALLING with THE 11 HOUR. TH
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MUSIC TRUTH TO POWER BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
hen a baseball player stands at the plate with a full count — three balls and two strikes — the pressure is on them. The next pitch delivers a decisive action, either a hit or an out. Eric Vermillion named his band the Full Counts in part because he and drummer Mike Quinlan are baseball fanatics. But that same idea symbolizes the band members’ vision as well: Their next move is going to be decisive. And unlike a baseball game, which can sometimes move slowly, the Full Counts are ready to spring into action. Next Up, the band’s second album, feels more like a band effort than its debut, 2017’s First Up, in large part because its predecessor was more of a studio project. Vermillion, who has played bass locally with the Steel Miners and FOOD and nationally with the band Gumball in the ’90s, recorded basic tracks for the debut with Quinlan at Electric Eye Recorders in Polish Hill. Various guests added guitar parts and a live band emerged with the record’s release. The new album traverses a wide range of territory. “She Said” captures the best elements of Americana rock and roll, with Vermillion continuing to show that he can handle a straightforward vocal as well as a garage band wail. “On the first record I
was doing a lot of acoustic stuff so I think I kind of progressed a little bit,” he says. “At the same time I’m always fine with belting out a song. That’s in my DNA at this point.” By the album’s second half, the garage feeling comes home to roost in the gritty “Don’t Waste My Time” with some psychedelic trimmings fleshing out “Another Way.” Ethan Winograd, who added some leads to the debut, was a full-time member by the time of the new sessions. “I say to him, ‘The rest of us are cake and you’re the icing.’ Eating icing by itself isn’t that good. And cake’s okay. But cake with icing is perfect,” Vermillion says. “I think he really makes that record what it is. He plays different kinds of styles of leads and he has different sounds from one song to the next.” Guitarist Mark Urbano, who played guitar live and on Next Up, left the band following the recordings. His successor, Andy McDuffie, played with Winograd in the Goodies and also plays in the Reckoning REM Tribute Band. With the new lineup in place, all they need to worry about is what to call the next album.
THE FULL COUNTS.
With ATS, Paul Labrise Band. 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. Howlers, 4509 Liberty Ave, Bloomfield. 412-682-0320
hough the raucous punk of Pittsburgh band Unreliable Narrator’s debut LP – Old Man Yells At Older Man, self-released this month by the quartet – owes a lot to ’70s punk and ’80s hardcore, its message-minded blasts of noise are definitely cut from the cloth of 2019. Take, for example, frontman Clint Benjamin’s take on the Trump-era rebranding of white supremacy as nationalism or “alt-right” posturing. “I say, ‘Fuck that noise.’ They’re still odious,” says Benjamin, a Squirrel Hill resident and adjunct professor who teaches English at Duquesne University and the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). “It’s time to stand up and be counted. You can’t stand by with Nazis and fascists on the rise – that’s crap that should’ve died a long time ago.” The band – Benjamin is joined, alphabetically, by drummer Damon DiCicco, guitarist Greg Murray and bassist Chris Nichols – also flashes similar barbs as political commentary. Album opener “Casual Cruelty” tackles the caustic nature of contemporary American political discourse, and “Gotta Be Better” horse-whips racism and sexism. There’s a song about the oppressiveness of capitalism as seen through the lens of student loans, and another about being open-minded about gender identity. “White Flight,” a real rager that boils over its lids, explains itself. “Thoughts and prayers don’t save us,” Benjamin snarls elsewhere. In case you didn’t get the progressive-leaning message – this is a band that cites The Dead Kennedys as an influence, after all – the cover features a sketch of Leftie iconoclast
Noam Chomsky shouting at the grave of former President Ronald Reagan. That just about does it. “We do try to do a social message, social justice and all that. I hope that comes out,” Benjamin says. “We punch upward. And speaking truth to power is important to us.” The band is in the process of booking a proper record release show in Pittsburgh, Benjamin said. The music is available on Bandcamp and will be cut to cassette. Unreliable Narrator is putting itself out there. “From the Germs: ‘those who know will know and those who want to know will find out,’” Benjamin says. Nichols joined Unreliable Narrator on the bass earlier this year after the 12-song LP already had been recorded. He says much of the band’s current sound is a mix of “your basic meat-and-potatoes punk stuff.” “There’s a little Replacements, a little Clash – we try to bring everything to the drawing board, if you will,” says Nichols, who lives in Greenfield. “I feel we have a very unique niche in Pittsburgh,” adds Nichols, who moved to the city from Youngstown, Ohio three years ago. “There are a lot of bands that are heavier, more intense. Unreliable Narrator is a voice for the nerdier punk, the shy guys, that sort of thing.” Blessed are the meek, indeed.
Old Man Yells At Older Man, out Dec. 25, at Preview
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | DECEMBER 10, 2019 | 23
MUSIC Nest by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. The riffs and lyrical themes of that album are head and shoulders above most rock/metal being played today. Favorite album of all time? It’s hard for me to choose my favorite album of all time, but a record I always go back to is In a Temple Garden by Yusef Lateef. I think it perfectly captures the best parts of the jazz fusion of that was going on at the time. Yusef’s flute playing is immaculate and the band’s chemistry is on point throughout all the jams. It also helps that it has some of the bass tones of all time in my opinion. Least favorite/most disappointing album? Fever by The Black Keys. I love almost all of their albums before that record, but that one is just too polished for me. The earlier ones are dirty and raw, like the blues should be. It doesn’t help that the songs are forgettable as well.
FIRST/LAST BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
aisy Chain is a hard rockand-roll trio from Pittsburgh who are releasing their debut effort entitled Oh My, Satan via Steel City Death Club Records on Friday, December 13. To celebrate, the band is throwing down and playing the album in full the following night on Saturday, December 14 at The Smiling Moose on the Southside with support from locals Ugly Blondes and US. I want to thank Ethan Mackowick (Guitar/Vocals) for taking the time to participate in this edition of First/Last.
The first album you ever bought? I believe the first album I ever bought was American Idiot by Green Day. That album was the music of my early teenage years and it really fueled my desire play loud rock music. I wouldn’t say that it made me want to make political punk music, but that record set the foundation for the musician I am today Your last album bought? I don’t really buy albums anymore, because of the convenience of streaming, but the newest record I’ve fallen in love with is Infest the Rats
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First concert attended? Trans Siberian Orchestra in Columbus. I went with my parents when I was 12 and it was awesome. I had no idea you could make metal Christmas music, but those guys made it happen. Last concert? Dead and Co. in New Jersey. It was amazing. The setlist had a good amount of my favorite Grateful Dead songs like “St. Stephen” and “Ripple”, and the band’s jam chemistry is better than ever. I think that has a large part to do with John Mayer’s incredible guitar playing. Favorite concert ever? Probably the Cage the Elephant show in Pittsburgh that happened about seven years ago. It was at a time when I first started playing in a band and Cage the Elephant’s stage presence blew my mind. It inspired
me to try to put that level of energy and passion in my own musical performances. Least favorite concert? The Japandroids show I saw about two years ago. I came to see the opener Cloud Nothings, but stayed to watch some Japandroids, and it was probably some of the most generic music I had ever heard. Every song was the same tempo, chords, texture and it infuriated me that there were so many people excited to see them. It killed a little of the hope I have for the future of rock and roll. Favorite thoughts, experiences about Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh has a great music scene if you look for it. There are amazing house show venues like LavenderTown, Gloveworld, and The Jelly Fox that showcase amazing local bands, and they’re usually for $5 for a ticket. Nowadays I would rather see a show at one of those places than anything at Consol. The people there truly love music for music’s sake. Hugh’s Take: Thanks, Ethan. My appreciation for house venues has grown over the last several years for the exact reasons you mentioned. It’s the passion and love that really make the DIY scene important. Hugh Twyman (AKA HughShows) has been documenting the Pittsburgh music scene since 2004. His website (www.hughshows.com) features a comprehensive Pittsburgh Concert Calendar, episodes of HughShowsTV, a newly launched public Pittsburgh music database, exclusive audio streams from local bands, thousands of his concert photos and his trademark First/Last interview series. Support Daisy Chain: https:// www.facebook.com/daisychainpgh/
Carmen Maria Machado 7:30 p.m. Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland $15-35 pittsburghlectures.org/tickets
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FOOD A CONVERSATION WITH SMOKEY ROBINSON THE MOTOWN IDOL ON WINE, PITTSBURGH AND SONG BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ith 4,000 songs to his credit in his 50-year music career, there’s a good chance you’ll happen upon a Smokey Robinson hit in a Spotify playlist. But, on top of being a renowned singer and songwriter, Robinson is a part-time Pittsburgher, and owns a home in the area with his wife, Frances and is a partner in Smokey Robinson Wines, based here. According to Nielsen, US wine sales over the holidays will be over $1 billion. Robinson knew that sort of growth would be a good opportunity to continue his legacy and grow a new audience. According to Louis Caputo, one of the partners responsible for helping Robinson bring his wine to life: “Smokey is an icon. He is class and perfection and with wine you can get as close to that as possible. With his history, getting behind a product like that, we just think he can touch his fan and wine audiences in a different way.'” The Current got a chance to sit down with the Robinson to talk about wine, the holidays, and some of his favorite things. How did you get involved in the wine business? These two guys (gestures to Louis Caputo and Robert “Bob” Buzelli). My wife is a Pittsburgher, so she’s known Bob for a while, and she introduced me to him at the Kentucky Derby one year, and he and I became friends, and he introduced me to Lou. They talked to me about doing a wine company. I started to taste grapes and wine, and here we are.
Facing page: Smokey Robinson posing at Downtown's Fremont Hotel. Above: Robinson's "Second That Emotion Cabernet." (Pittsburgh Current Photos) You were born in Detroit, but you have a strong connection to Pittsburgh. When did that start and how did that sort of grown. I’ve always loved Pittsburgh, I’ve loved Pittsburgh since I came here many, many years ago, way before you were born, way before your parents were born. I came here to play at a place called the White Elephant with the Miracles, the group I was singing with. And so, I’ve always loved Pittsburgh, but my real bond with it now is my wife. I’ve known my wife for 30 years, and we’ve been married for 17. You are an incredible songwriter. When did you realize you had this knack for songwriting? Honey, I’ve been trying to write
songs since I was four or five years old. I’m serious about that. The first song that I ever wrote that anyone ever heard of, other than my mom and me, I was in first grade, and I was in the school play, and a teacher let me write a song for it, and so I’ve been trying to do that all my life. Professionally, I met Berry Gordy, I graduated from high school when I was 16 in June. I met him in August of that year by chance. I had a singing idol, Jackie Wilson, and Berry Gordy was a songwriter and record producer in Detroit and he had written all the hit songs for Jackie Wilson. I had all of Jackie Wilson’s records. The Miracles and I went to audition for Jackie Wilson’s managers. We sang five songs that I had written rather than what was currently popular by other artists, and they hated us. They told us that we would never make it. Berry happened to be there and he liked a couple of the songs. He came out afterwards and introduced himself, and he started to teach me how to write songs professionally. That’s when I started to write songs professionally, when I met him. Did the songwriting come before the singing, or were they happening at the same time? Oh no, my mom said I was singing from the time I could open my mouth. I always sang around the house. I grew up in a music house. There was always music. Singing and music and stuff like that was a part of me from pre-birth (laughs); from embryo-ism. If you could choose, would you rather be viewed more as a singer
Smokey Robinson Wines For more information: www.smokeyrobinsonwimes.com
See our online cookbook featuring recipes from Pittsburghers Dec. 12. or a songwriter? I don’t care. I don’t really have a preference on that. I hope people remember me for being a good person who loved the Lord. What’s your favorite song written by you and performed by someone else? I don’t have that either. You’ve written like, 4,000 songs... When someone records one of my songs, I’m totally flattered and totally overwhelmed by it, always. When young rappers first came out and they first started sampling people’s songs, people would ask me all the time, “Aren’t you upset that they’re sampling your songs?” No, I’m not. Sample all of mine, please. Because if you sample my song, that says that that song had an influence on your musical self, and you liked it enough to put it in one of your songs. Plus, I’m going to make some money (laughs). So, I don’t have a favorite. So I’m guessing it’s also hard to choose a favorite artist that you’ve worked with or even a favorite song you’ve written? Oh yeah, I can’t do that. The only favorite thing that I can tell you I have is a favorite album of all time. It’s “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye, because it’s prophecy. It came
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FOOD out in 1970-something, and it’s more poignant today than when it came out. That’s the only favorite I can tell you I have. How have the holidays been for you over the years? Now, earlier in your career and growing up? Honey. I’m very blessed. Growing up as a child, I was poor. My oldest sister, who was 17 when I was born, ended up being my mother, because my mother passed away when I was 10. My dad was still alive, but my older sister raised me as my mom. And she ended up having 10 kids of her own, so there were 11 of us. And we grew up in the hood, and we were struggling, but we didn’t know because everybody there was under the same conditions. We still had good Christmases because we loved each other. There’s an organization called Goodfellows that would
come and bring us toys at Christmas when we were kids. But since I’ve been grown, all of my Christmases are beautiful. Like I said, I’m very blessed. I think once you are grown, you don’t think about Christmas like you used to, except for the fact of how fast it comes. When I was a kid, Christmas didn’t come but every three or four years. And now it’s here every week. Favorite holiday food? You’re a wine guy, but what do you like to eat during the holidays? Well, I like the traditional holiday foods. I’m a vegan, and for the last three or four years I haven’t had any meat, but I like the traditional holiday foods: macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, dressing, and turkey and all that. I don’t eat the turkey anymore.
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Cranberry sauce preference: homemade or in the can? I like the can. I don’t like the one with the little cranberries in it. I’ve never liked that. I like the can, it’s almost like gelatin. What’s something about Pittsburgh that you wish more people were aware of? The progression. Pittsburgh is probably the most progressive eastern city we have left. The rest of them are dying, basically. The maintenance and the upkeep of them, and the input is not the same. Pittsburgh is very, very conscious of that kind of thing, and it’s probably the most progressive eastern city that we have left. You’ve been all over the world, so what makes you say that? Pittsburgh. That’s the answer. You live here. Have you been anywhere
else? I lived in New York for a couple months. Ok, so what do you think? I like it, I mean… Pittsburgh also feels like home — Absolutely. See, I love New York, for about 12 days (laughs). But I feel the same way about Hawaii. I’ve never been to any place in the world that I love for living as Los Angeles, but I do love Pittsburgh because, like I said, it’s very progressive and there’s a lot happening here, and all those things like that, and I’m very happy that I had the connection with it that I do, and I’m happy that my wife is from here, because I got a chance to see it first-hand and the intimacy of it. I’ve had the chance to know Pittsburgh and to really love it.
FOOD DAY DRINKING
KEEPING TABS ON PITTSBURGH'S CRAFT BEER SCENE
BY THE PITTSBURGH CURRENT INFO@PITTSBURGHCURRENT.COM
ec 4, 10 a.m.: I’ve been invited to speak at a beer conference in Santa Monica, Ca., called Brewbound Live. Like many other industry conferences, leaders from across the nation meet to network, discuss the current state and trends, and take turns showcasing their soothsaying abilities. Unlike any other industries I’ve been a part of, there is an open bar here at 10 a.m. for research purposes. No, really. If you’ve got something to say, the best messenger is your product. Bonus if your product lowers inhibitions. I’d be interested to see if they leave a candy dish full of pills out for the attendees of the Big Pharma Summit or hand out pre-rolls at CannaCon. If so, this column may go from Day Drinking to Bracey Bonging. I run into some hometown heroes from Pittsburgh, Aurochs Brewing, who are here to participate in the annual Brewbound Live Pitch Slam. It’s a Shark Tank style competition with 15 contestants from around the country competing for money & education. Common themes in this competition and the overall vibe of discussions throughout the conference include social impact, a need to appeal to consumers beyond the bearded Pale Dales, and products referred to as “Beyond Beer, which include hard waters (much more than a fad), non-alcoholic beverages, “better for you” options, and any other products that share shelf space with the craft industry. Aurochs fits into the “better for you” category in the sense that if you are part of the 1% suffering from celiac disease, this product is better for you and your toilet, something to consider when buying booze for
pride of saying, “I know the folks who brewed this.” Listening to what new consumers want rather than telling them what they should like with an air of superiority; creating environments conducive to learning without shame. There is no easy fix, just as it wasn’t easy to convert Bud drinkers into hopheads. You either care about the people you’re serving or you just want to sell more product, and it’s becoming increasingly easier with technology and social networks to sniff out the latter. Again, this is just two cents worth of insight from a comedian with an overworked and underpaid liver.
the family or office party this holiday season. There is a shared understanding here that as the market becomes more and more saturated, there is a need to appeal to new demographics. The question most commonly posed to me is how to do so without seeming disingenuous or pandering. The most common answer given is, “I’m a comedian. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here.” The second most common answer
is to recruit everyone else the same way you recruited white men, by spending time and money in their communities, and providing opportunities to enrich their lives beyond the few hours spent consuming the product. The biggest draw of craft isn’t the variety of flavors; it’s the sense that if I buy here my money will stay here; the concept of craft breweries as community centers utilizing shared resources to uplift those in the area, and not just watering holes. The
Dec. 6, 1:30 p.m.: I’m at Three Weavers Brewing in Inglewood, CA, owned by two women, named after three younger ones, and only 10 minutes in LA traffic from LAX, which should make this your first stop when arriving to the city, or your last before departure. It’s in a fairly massive warehouse adorned with local art and a sizable patio. Worthy of note is the Nashville hot chicken joint across the street. Unless you have Indian sensibilities of spice and digestion, I recommend you don’t go above mild when ordering there. There are 18 taps and enough variety to appease hazebois, hopheads, barrel is lifers, and fruit fanatics alike. My favorite is the 5.6% pale ale called “Day Job.” I don’t know what it is. It just speaks to me. I grab a flight and sit down with Alexandra Nowell, brewmaster and co-owner, for a conversation that you’ll get to read all about in my next column. Assuming bong-blowing businessmen haven’t brazenly bought out beer belching Bracey by then. TBC…
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EXTRA Savage Love BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
My husband and I (straight male/bi female couple) have been married 15 years. We are in our early 40s. When we met, he was inexperienced and crippled by shame from having grown up in an extremely sex-negative atmosphere. I have no hang-ups about sex and was happy to get him involved in some more adventurous stuff—but he quickly became obsessed with kink and shows no sign of slowing. I’m happy to play along with fantasies and role-play, bondage, domination, foot play, anal sex/pegging, going to events, having moresomes, etc. But sometimes I’d like to have gentle and slow “unadorned” sex with an attentive partner who calls me by name, compliments me, and does things to my body he knows I enjoy. My husband has been seeing a therapist for some years. We also went to this therapist for couples therapy, and he gave us some “exercises” to try to tone down my husband’s desire for perfectly scripted kink “scenes” every time we have sex. But my husband was either not able or not willing to try them, and I gave up. He now basically can’t maintain an erection without either (1) a complicated script with roles and props and costumes and toys or (2) going through the motions of romantic sex as long as I keep up a constant stream of “in-character” dirty talk, which makes it impossible for me to be in the moment. I’ve urged him to go see a dominatrix or to get more involved in the local kink scene without me—but he’s obsessed with this imagined moment where I suddenly “awaken” and fully join him in his obsessions. I find this condescending and stupid. Just
because I can enjoy kink play now and then doesn’t mean I’ll ever be someone who gasps with excitement at a woman on a leash being peed on or someone dangling from the ceiling by the clamps on their nipples. It doesn’t shock me or disgust me, it just kind of bores me. It feels like watching someone fill their kitchen with every gaudy, expensive, chrome radish peeler and strawberry diddler when they can’t even boil an egg. Is there a trick to reducing your partner’s dependence on kink? Or a way to make kink more interesting to yourself? Bored By Obsessive Kinkster You must feel like you created a kink monster. But you didn’t! I mean, you did meet this inexperienced, sexually repressed guy, BBOK, and you did encourage him to let go of the shame, and you did give him permission to be a little more sexually adventurous… and 15 years later, you’re stuck with this selfish asshole who’s so obsessed and/or dependent on his kinks that you’ve come to dread having sex with him. But your husband was always the elaborately twisted kinkster he is now; he just needed someone to give him permission to admit to being who he always was—or to get in touch with who he always was—and that person was you. And now here you are, BBOK, writing to me in the hopes that I can magically cause your husband to become less dependent on his kinks or can magically “awaken” in you a similarly obsessive interest in the exact same suite of kinks he has. And we both know neither is going to happen, because you’re not going to get kinkier (which is what
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he wants) and you’ve already tried to get him to rein in his kinks (and that didn’t work). That’s what the couples counseling was about, right? Him learning to be a little less selfish and a little more GGG and a better partner… and the selfish sack of shit couldn’t be bothered, could he? Both of your proposed fixes are basically pipe dreams, as I suspect you know, BBOK, and I further suspect you’re not really interested in either one. Because what you really want is right here: “Sometimes I’d like to have gentle and slow ‘unadorned’ sex with an attentive partner who calls me by name, compliments me, and does things to my body he knows I enjoy.” (Emphasis mine.) I don’t think it’s an accident that you wrote about wanting “an attentive partner” to call you by your name and do all sorts of vanilla things to your body that they know you enjoy. I don’t think it’s an accident that you didn’t use “loving husband” in that sentence, BBOK, because deep down you know your husband isn’t interested in doing those things. And he won’t be any good at doing those things. And even if he could fake an interest in doing those things for 20 minutes— which apparently he can’t—you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy his half-hearted attempts at vanilla sex, because knowing he had to concentrate on BDSM sex the whole time—knowing some script was playing out in his head—would make it impossible for you to be in (and enjoy) the moment. You want to have loving, tender, connected sex with someone who cares about you. You want to have sex with someone who isn’t asking you to be someone you’re not each and every time you have sex with him (or her). And the obvious fix here, the easiest work-around, the reasonable accommodation… well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You need to have sex with someone else, BBOK,
with someone who cares about you. Basically, you need to take your own advice, the advice you’ve been giving your husband, and go find yourself a play partner or two—for vanilla sex, not kinky sex. If you can find someone who can give you the kind of simple, passionate, connected sex you no longer get in your marriage, perhaps you’ll come to resent your husband less and your desire for kinky sex with him will rebound. On the Lovecast: Lock him up! All about chastity cages: savagelovecast.com. email@example.com Follow Dan on Twitter @fakedansavage ITMFA.org
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A Q&A with Motown Legend Smoky Robinson, a new book from Sarah Valentine and Da Bracey goes to California