Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ISSUE 20 - MARCH 2007



In The Elements of Journalism Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel maintain that practitioners of journalism must maintain an independence from those they cover.

Someone said to me the other day, why don’t you have a Best Of contest? My response, what’s the point in that? Then, I added, encore and the Star News do it already. Then it brought about feelings I’ve long held about contests and the possible reasons behind it. It’s done solely for profit and not for celebration, which seems an inappropriate way to make some extra cash. Why not just celebrate? Encore doesn’t seem to be hurting on ads. I thought of Chinatown, when Jack Nicholson says to John Huston, How much better can you eat?
A few days later I read encore’s ‘Setting the Truth Straight’ that sought to answer questions about their contest. Questions such as; “do the staffers change the outcome of winners,” “do encore advertisers only win,” and “how many votes did each winner receive?” Some people naturally distrust. Does encore rig it? Logic dictates otherwise. But the money side got me thinking again.
There are people who don’t care much for contests, specifically ones that you can’t make heads or tails of. I’m one of them. Take the Oscars this year. Please. Every year it seems more and more politicized and glad-handed. I love Alan Arkin, but I don’t buy him winning over Djimon Honsou.
Encore having a Best of contest is a smart way to spread the word about their publication, every year people grow to expect it, and the contest gets more well known. It’s fun. It’s interesting to see who wins each year. Their advertisers don’t always win. But what’s troubling is that encore won’t divulge the number of votes each winner receives. It’s their prerogative, sure. There may be a plausible reason for that but it does raise an eyebrow. Was the number of votes just minimal to begin with? If you won’t state how many votes a particular winner received then where’s the trust? Also troubling was the previous year in which encore ran a best magazine category and gave it to themselves. Encore should not have been in the running. It doesn’t establish trust.
While the piece in encore sought to answer questions and be humorous, it still doesn’t suffice. Also, a best of award is a nice thing to receive but it’s based solely on the readers of the publication. It doesn’t accurately represent the best of Wilmington. A contest, like a poll, is only as good as its audience, the audience that reads encore. Encore does not, nor does any publication, represent the population of this growing city. That’s silly to claim. But publishing is a business and you have to show off a little. It garners attention. And ad dollars.
But why not have a best of contest and leave it at that? Encore shamelessly state in the piece they do it to make a few more bucks, as if the public is silly for asking the question. The contest is a way to raise ad dollars. Surely there better ways to do it. I could suggest some but that would be giving away ideas.
Yes, free publications are paid for through advertising dollars. It’s a tough business sometimes. But ‘continuing to find ways to sell ads’ is a dubious statement. I am no authority on ethics in journalism but it has always struck me as unethical and in no way objective to have a story in a publication about a business and an ad from the same business in that very publication. Maybe I’m wrong. But when I see that, trust goes out the window in addition to respect. How can we trust the writers and the publication? Integrity is key in this business, not just ad dollars. Magazines and weekly publications rely not only creating an identity and informing the public, they must establish trust with readers.
I am not seeking to disparage encore or its staff. They work hard just as any publication does. They’ll tell you, it’s a lot of work. But people will read this and say I’m bitter or jealous. Not true. I’m doing my own thing just as they are and I will continue to do so, with or without ads. If I had it my way, I’d publish BOOTLEG with as few ads as possible. What’s important are the people we cover. For over twenty years encore has informed this city on a weekly basis. I read it as a teenager. If you want to know what events are going on in the area you’ll probably find it in there. But where’s the humbleness? That’s all I’m saying.
The point of this editorial is raise the question of how much is enough? At what point does money overtake the responsibility and privilege of creating, writing and celebrating the stories to be covered. How much better can we eat?

- Brian Tucker


Do we really need to bother the glass with this?


Details. Danny Dobel’s latest work is just that. His latest series of artwork is heavy on details. Currently he is finishing pieces done in pointillism, the last of eight in this series. Pieces of art done in this style are made of very small marks or dots to crate a larger, lucid, image.
The original method of pointillism invented by Georges Seurat in the 19th century, involved using paint to create this effect. Dobel uses pens, preferring ink rather than paint. As one could imagine, this process is time consuming. But what separates pointillism artwork and how Dobel does it is in the complexity of his marks. Every inch of the piece is soaked in the detail of tiny marks made by a pen whose tip is tiny.
“I use a pen that has a point smaller than the tip of your hair and use these tiny dots to make the picture come together,” Dobel says. He sighs and continues, “One picture takes hundreds of hours to complete, but I have the patience for it.”
Dobel self describes his tendency, and enjoyment, as a perfectionist. There’s twice as much detail as perhaps necessary in the pieces. He claims to over analyzes things and it flows into the artwork.
It began with waiting on a car ride. Friends were dropping by to pick Dobel up and there was time to kill. Nonchalantly he started on a picture composed entirely of dots. After working for a short while, he found that he enjoyed the work.
“I liked the challenge of it. I’m a meticulous person, with detail,” he says. “With pointillism you can go far into detail and make a lot of structure.”
It’s a style that takes many, many hours to complete one picture, several hours to finish a few inches of artwork on a given piece. Some pictures have taken over six hundred hours to complete. At the bottom of these drawings are multiple tiny lines, four up and down and one slashed through the four. There are numerous sets of these marks, each signifying the number of hours he’s clocked on each piece.

“I don’t know if I want to stick with it, ” Dobel pauses, “It’d be cool to be known as a pointillism artist.”
In each piece there are tiny drawings within the larger piece, small characters, faces and so on. Turning a piece clockwise will reveal another drawing within the whole. The pieces defy congruity with what is accepted as norm in a piece of art. Some pieces could be hanged as the owner desires, defying convention.
Each piece began without a preliminary sketch, with a very general idea. “I feel that sketching constrains possibilities,” he says. His ink pen drops to the paper and a picture slowly comes to life. Each one, standing on their own, but all individually powerful in their imagery and design.
“I come up with ideas for pictures and instead of doing sketches I just start on it. I move from one piece to another. By the time I finished the first three I was on my eighth one.”

However, the Flower piece is one of the few that had any type sketching prior to starting. The leaves, their shapes, were something that needed to be done prior to all those tiny markings.
He sketched the leaves for the flower on that piece but then added cardboard as matting later for the other flowers. He had no idea that he was going to do that. The result was the piece as pointillism but with added sculpture or the added texture of raised flowers.
“I work five hours and I get a two by two inch area done. The next day you have a different view of it. I take pictures and it’s weird to see how it progresses. I don’t use a magnifying glass because I figure I’d be going way overboard with it. But it’s easier to work as I go instead of seeing a big picture. I can figure out more ways to be creative as you go.”

Dobel is self taught, or was, until attending the Art Institute in Dallas. But he still maintains that ingenuity of being a self taught artist. Each year he likes to tackle another medium. This year he plans to learn about working with charcoal.
“I’m still trying to figure out what kind of artist I am. In school they teach certain ways to draw. For instance, in school they teach you how to draw the skeletal system. I used to draw the skeletal system on my own. Now that I know, I have knowledge of how to draw the skeleton. I don’t know how I did it before.”
Returning home from college Dobel received a nickname, a name that has stuck, Texas. His friends call him by that and it’s common enough that he now naturally introduces himself that way.
“I went to school in Texas and all my friends starting calling me that. I can’t avoid it,” he says. “I hardly ever hear my real name.”
He went to school for graphic design, enjoying it for the most part, taking advantage of working with Adobe software when it first came into use. The plan was to focus on computer graphics but things changed.
“I wanted to be a mutli-media artist,” he says, wanting to continue learning. People told him that to be famous at art the artist ahs to be dead.
“I want to defy that notion,” he says.

There are no artistic people in his family he claims. Born from parents of different races, his father black, his mother white, Danny lived in Nuremberg, Germany until the age of twelve when his family moved back to the United States. Danny’s father was in the Army and the family settled in Wilmington a year and a half after coming home.
The change wasn’t much in the way of culture shock but it was difficult at times. He found it different in the States, groups that were separate.
“I was trying to be friends with everyone and not understanding why everyone wasn’t wanting to be friends,” he explains. Growing up overseas there was a lot of time to himself, the family travelling a lot. It was hard to make friends.
He started drawing around the age of four. There were no ambitions in his youth concerning art. But in school, a teacher assigned project to create a collage with pieces of colored paper. Dobel saw more than collage. He saw lakes, and trees and a bridge. And instead of a collage he built those things.
“The teacher said it had a lot of artistic value,” he says. “I guess getting praise from people made me stand out and it inspired me to continue. That kind of attention motivated me to become better.”
In Wilmington he became more active with art. In middle school there was a contest to design a cover for a department store Christmas catalog. He can’t remember the store, Sears or JC Penny’s, and his work was selected. Local artist Pat Sullivan helped him along the way. He created work to sell at the Azalea Festival, created portraits of people over the years and completed murals for homes. Also, while in school, he learned magic and between classes in Dallas, would go to the YMCA and entertain the children.
He also found an interest in cartooning. Studying a book helped him learn to draw cartoon characters. It simply was another style of art he wanted to pursue.
“I found myself in a rut,” he explains. “Pointillism is detailed where cartooning is not.”

The piles of sketchbooks and stacks of portfolios display numerous drawings by Dobel. A large bookcase on the opposite wall behind Dobel’s work table is crowded with books on anatomy, Salvador Dali and work from school. The bedroom walls are covered with tattoo sketches. Above a dresser, a large, poster-size drawing take sup much of the wall. It is a knight upon a horse made up of shapes and vibrant colors.
The knight is a piece finished in 1999, during a difficult period of his life. Art is very important to Dobel. Years ago, his car was totaled. It was a choice between buying a new car or art supplies. Dobel chose the latter, opting to walk a lot and keep at his artistic endeavors. The goal of being a successful artist is more important than an immediate material object.
“A goal comes with challenges; otherwise, there wouldn’t be any satisfaction in reaching them. That would be like setting a goal of getting dressed in the morning,” he says.
Future plans include putting together an art show and a selection of images concerning AIDS awareness, artistic images that juxtapose sexual images with harsh results of hasty decisions. It will be series of beuaitful images and at the bottom names of STD’s or AIDS information.
“Pieces that burn into someone’s mind. beautiful images and name of an STD at the bottom. I thought it would be an interesting piece to do. You see something beautiful and don’t think about that at all. Taking risks without thinking” The goal is to get people to think through pieces of art.
And then there’s writing. Dobel wants to write a book on racism to instill a change how people think about it.
“I don’t believe in race,” he always says. “It shouldn’t matter.”


by Brian Tucker

In the summer of 2005 The Ivy League shared the bill with Thunderlip for a show at Lucky’s Pub. It was hot outside and inside was no different. People traded the heat for heat with a soundtrack accompanied with smoke, a thick crowd, and dim light, The Ivy League played a raucous set of music. Attendees watched from the bar, many moshed in the pit circle and from the sound board continuing on to the stage was covered with crushed beer cans and fans. Towards the end of the set lead singer Brandon Creep announced to the crowd that their drummer, Alex McBride was off to Iraq, this was his last show. The place was filled with cheers of support, with everyone thinking the same thing; come home alive.

Brandon Creep stands under a poorly lit marquis sign, the stale plastic that holds individual letters, once bright and new now stained like aged teeth. The sign reads BANDS and The Ivy League is playing another show tonight at Lucky’s Pub. It is late September 2006 and although it feels like summer the scent of Autumn is high in the air. At 24, he is flanked by a circle of people, standing up against the rear of a car. I approach and the circle of friends all turn to me, seemingly protective. Brandon looks at me emotionless when I say his name.
I enter the circle of people keeping eye contact with Brandon and mention I’m here to interview him. His response is calm and certain, caught off guard at first. Once the ice is broken he is genteel and friendly. The man’s posture is perfect and he’s dressed in a black button down shirt, black pants and black shoes. He looks like a pastor, a young preacher, talking to younger people.
We walk away from the club to talk, away from the crowd and the heavy sound of music pouring out the front doors. Brandon walks with a shuffle, reminiscent of how a grandfather may take a walk, that carefree stride that comes with knowing who you are and a dose of wisdom.
Once away from the bustle of the club the singer lights a cigarette and is attentive. His eyes always look a little tired, a little sleepy, but piercing nonetheless. Engage him in conversation and he’s friendly and easy to talk to.
We’ve barely begun to talk when his cell phone goes off with a noticeably different ring. It’s blasting a new track from Ice Cube. It’s a new song, ‘Child Support.’ On the new cut Cube is basically talking shit about new wannabe gangsta rappers, making the claim I created you, you’re not kings, I created you. It’s fairly accurate.
Brandon chuckles, his face possibly turning a little red if the lighting were better. He pulls the phone out, eyes the number, and puts its away. He apologizes and says he needs to keep it on in case his girlfriend calls.
“People give me hell,” he says then imitating what others say to him. “You’re a white boy from Wilmington. What do you listen to that for?”
But the answer the question is twofold, if not more. The Ivy League has often been perceived as one type of band. During the summer of 2005 the band was different. Before then they were primarily street punk and Oi band. That was the roots. But they don’t consider themselves an Oi band and strive to be their own entity, not pigeonholed and classified.
A long time ago there shows that got out of hand and the repercussions were a negative stigma associated with the band name. The music is energetic to begin with. Anyone who’s been to any show knows what can happen. One apple can spoil it for all. A girl stands too close to the stage and gets bumped and male ego’s get upped. And mix that with alcohol. Sometimes the wrong set of circumstances come together and causes problems. Sometimes it’s just a couple of guys. And a band is marred for a long time undeservedly.
The Ivy League is not a skin head band either. They are a rock and roll band. Books still get judged by their covers. Bands evolve from punk to rock (Green Day) or from punk to hip hop (Beastie Boys). Years ago, they were starting with a singular sound and vibe but evolution is a close cousin to the mother of invention. Listening to their music, and the forthcoming disc, The 11th Hour, one can hear a range of musical influences.
Ivy League bassist Ben McAndrew defends Brandon. “Alex and I are huge on jazz, and Brandon is on left field. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got in his car and Biggie Smalls is playing. You don’t see that looking at him and then you get in his car.” McAndrew himself will listen to anything from classical to Tupac. “If it’s good I’ll listen to it. Even if it’s crappy I’ll give it a shot. It’s music.”
Brandon, like the band’s other musicians, maintain a wide range of musical influences and backgrounds. Their lives have been occupied with struggle, constant traveling, hard work and worst of all, military combat. Experiences that shape a human being also affect the music of creative musicians.
Regarding the ring tone Brandon makes no apologies. He is headstrong about who he is and where he’s going.
“It (rap) has the edge that rock and roll doesn’t anymore – we are subject to the My Chemical Romance’s that are big. They don’t really have anything to say,” he says, rap music clearly making the case with lyrics about real life.
“I like gangsta rap. All kinds of stuff. Street level stuff,” he says. “One of my biggest writing influences is Tupac because the stuff he said about what you go through. I want to be able to portray what people go through.” Onstage, Brandon doesn’t rap, but you can hear it in the cadence of his delivery. There is little doubt that The Ivy League is a rock and roll band. But underneath there’s a handful of flavors seeping through. You can hear the Clash but not as a direct rip off. You can hear Social Distortion’s Mike Ness on a song guitarist Drew Kane does. There’s jazz and Johnny Cash and AFI. There’s old school punk, but it’s blended together like some monster liquor drink a bartender keeps mum about the recipe. Whatever the case, it’s musical a representation of real life. Much of the material on the 11th Hour is catered to that same philosophy.
“Our stuff is really on the level,” he says. “Anything we write about is stuff we’ve experienced or seen that’s going on in the world or stuff that’s happened to people close to us.”
For instance, ‘Cold Blue Sea’ is a familiar story, the story of a young man having to go to war and leave his friends behind. ‘My Hell, My Life’ is a companion track to ‘Cold Blue Sea.’ Its lyrics revolve around a young man alone overseas surrounded by gunfire and chaos. The song’s center is a moment when everything ceases and the soldier takes a step outside of being a soldier for a moment. The soldier looks back on his life and how he’s far away from home. Songs such as these are clear of politics and operate merely as commentary. And derived from reliable source material, the band’s drummer Alex McBride, who spent his fair share of time overseas serving two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
“We all came from troubled pasts and that’s why Brandon is so good,” McBride says. “It’s all something people can relate to.”
Its rather doubtful Brandon will ever write “happy go lucky” material as he calls it. He won’t be caught singing ‘Shiny Happy People.’ He confesses a dark side, not as dark as The Misfits but does a have a cynical side, a realistic approach to lyric writing. Much of it stems from what he’s seen happen to friends.
“I grew up in the punk scene. We’re a rock and roll band with a punk influence,” he explains. “And a realistic, cynical outlook.”
If it not for fronting The Ivy League he would be a writer. It’s his biggest passion, writing, and wants to produce material that means something to people. His band mates all say the same thing, that he’s a lyrical genius. Like the ring tone, his foray into music is also indifferent to what might be expected from a guy who fronts a punk rock and roll band.
A former Hoggard High School student, he works a full time job at the airport. Singing came at a young age, cutting his teeth on Michael Jackson and a-ha. Later on, The Cure and Joy Division became strong influences. His tastes in Eighties music are varied, but the tone and mood of some of those influences tell a lot about his stake in local music. His vocals are night and day to his conversational voice, his vocals are throaty but not like hardcore. Think Mighty Mighty Bosstones, more aggressive.
“I want you to understand what I’m singing,” he says.
He doesn’t really scream or yell. He testifies onstage, walking around like a black panther. At times, he’ll stand to the rear as if on pause while the band plays on. When he’s off, guitarist Kane will unconsciously take over, exploding with energy and jumping off speakers and monitors.
Watching him stalk the stage you could assume you’d be in for a fight if you looked at him wrong. Onstage, and in public, you’d unlikely be able to see him smile. It’s in the comfort of friends that his guard melts away. His thing is to catch a vibe off people, and determine whether he feels comfortable with them to talk and be around. He’s apt to keep to himself but around the guys in the band he lights up.
Musical training at first came from the do it yourself method, buying compilation cd’s and attending numerous shows in the area to learn about bands. As a young kid, catching shows by The Convicts, Patriot and Disorderly Conduct started lighting a fire. It was the influence of seeing other bands playing live, even before being old enough to go in bars and see shows, that got him started.
But it was a local band from the mid 90’s that cemented the idea of fronting one. He took guitar lessons at Finklestein’s from Scott Shaw, a horn player who played in the local funk trio Three Bean Soup.
“I’d go watch them play live and they didn’t have a front man, no vocals,” he says. The allure of that atmosphere, of people coming to see you play live, performing music that musicians put their heart and soul into.
“I decided then that I wanted to play live and people see me. I’m the type pf person who can’t stand in front of a class and talk about a paper but I can stand in front of a crowd and sing a song that means more to me than that paper. Nervousness goes out the window.”

He and future Ivy League guitarist Kane included, formed The Creeps. They would put on their own shows, renting out Eastwood Skate Park, bringing their PA and play. And as other bands would do, they’d perform at the Skate Barn in Hampstead. The music scene was different ten years ago. Between 1996 and 2000 it was a relatively thin time for bands in the area.
“Music and a scene can change a person’s life, give them something to belong to,” Brandon says. “I’d love to see another band, I’d love it to be my band, but any band to come along and change things, step up and give that feeling that Nirvana gave kids, that belonging, that you don’t have to listen whatever’s big. Even rap now is wholly commercial, all bells and whistles.”
Several things have happened to cause this change. The Internet and the hard fact that what once had an edge has seemingly lost its voice. Safety in music, primarily in selling music, is due to the science of marketing. It’s like genetic code specification, finding the right match. There’s little room for experience or taking chances for music listeners anymore. Everything is carved up, packaged and placed on the right shelf. Musically, where’s the discovery in that? Original voices are difficult to come by today.

The band name is tongue-in-cheek. The Ivy League, as a band, stands in contrast to those in the upper echelons of moneyed society. They are salt of the earth and educated working class fellows. But the band has gone through many changes in the last year. In the last six months they have added a rhythm guitarist only to lose him, add another as a hired gun only to replace him as well.
“In the last year…a ton has changed musically in the last year,” Brandon says. “We were a punk band in the beginning, three chord, fast punk songs.”
He met drummer Alex McBride through mutual friends, both disliking each other from the beginning.
“Something didn’t click. When I first met him I didn’t like him,” Brandon explains. “Most of my best friends I have started out that way.”
While Brandon was in The Creeps, he and McBride would stay up and talk about what to do as a band musically. When The Creeps dissipated another door opened. Andrew Christian, now guitarist for The Speed Kings, came to Brandon with an idea for a band and wanted to call it The Ivy League. Brandon suggested his new friend McBride for a drummer that was in the Marines but about to be deployed to Afghanistan. That was April 2004. And they needed a bass player.
Enter Ben McAndrew who had been living in Wilmington briefly prior to meeting Brandon. The introduction came by way of Christian whom McAndrew met through his sister. During this time they all spent a lot of time at Lula’s, a downtown bar quietly tucked away near the end of Front Street,
“A home away from home,” McAndrew says. “When I first moved there we hung out there a lot.”
McAndrew is the quietest member of the band. Tall, wearing wire rimmed glasses; his conversation is sparse but answers questions openly and without hesitation. Originally from California, McAndrew’s father was in the Navy for twenty one years, a fact that meant the family moved around a lot. With his father retiring in Virginia, the younger McAndrew grew restless. In Virginia the family started to get comfortable and he wondered why. All his life they were always on the move, unable to make good friends. McAndrew and his sister never had a lot of friends and never knew where they would be living next.
McAndrew’s grandmother was a country singer and introduced him to guitar. She taught him enough to get started. Practice was tough going but a friend of his father’s taught him to play Spanish guitar and some blues.
“My influences when I started were blues and jazz,” he says. “It made me feel like I was getting somewhere.” A friend from high school started playing guitar with him and they’d practice together, playing ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ till their parents wanted to “shoot us” he recalls. The friend later took classical lessons while McAndrew focused on blues and jazz. But his father’s work in the Navy took the family elsewhere.
“Just when we get comfortable,” McAndrew explains. We’d have to move again.” After high school he hit the road, Philadelphia, back to Virginia. McAndrew even ended up in Texas for a while.
“My sister was living in Wilmington so I came here.”
McAndrew began hanging out a lot at Lula’s and from time to time, discussing music with Christian there from time to time.
“Then one day Brandon and Christian called me up.”
The phone call came one afternoon and McAndrew was asked to play bass. But McAndrew didn’t play bass. He played guitar.
“They told me it didn’t matter, it’s three chord punk. Come on over.”

Learning to play bass for the Ivy League was rough going, his hands hurt the first few months. Playing ripped all the guitar calluses off since the strings so much thicker compared to guitar. He tried playing solely with his fingers, is still trying, but says he can’t keep a solid beat with his fingers.
“So I keep a pick. It’s a little bit easier. I thought everyone played with their fingers and I was a retard because I couldn’t do it.” He still plays a guitar but keeps the focus on playing bass. “If I pick up a guitar I end just playing the top four strings unless I come up with a song then I’m playing chords. But I try to avoid it, just practice the scales.”
He practices by picking that one string over and over again instead of just strumming the whole thing. During the recording of the band’s first demo he was nervous.
“I didn’t know if was going to be able to not hit another string. Even then my fingers were raw and my hand hurt because I wasn’t used to stretching that far. On a guitar the frets are closer together. It’s easier to go three or four frets down. Now, hitting four is painful,” McAndrew says.
But McAndrew relishes a challenge. ‘Loser’s Destiny’ is his favorite song lyrically but his favorite to play is one Kane wrote called ‘Start.’
“Because it’s so difficult to play, one of the most difficult bass lines I’ve had to do in 2 ½ years of playing,” he says. “That, to me, makes it fun. That makes it worth it.”
It was a year ago, the band started to realize they had something, music that wasn’t the typical three chord, screw everybody, let’s have fun mentality. Something was clicking, and they all liked the idea that there was a message they were trying to get across.
“It became clear what we wanted to do. If it takes migraines to write something that someone can get something out of musically,” McAndrew says, “and have it mean something to someone else.”
Over time the band grew musically. McAndrew feels the band plays smarter now. The songs aren’t simply verse-chorus-verse configurations, becoming more technical.
“We’re adding refrains, not super extending the songs, but just smart songwriting, taking this part and putting it here instead of at the end, adding this in,” McAndrew says. “Sitting down and thinking, this is the basic idea of the song, what can we do to make it better, make it big as possible?”
But in time Christian left the band and went on to form The Speed Kings, citing the decision to go in a different musical direction. There were no hard feelings.

Enter former Creeps guitarist Kane. Kane and Brandon were friends for a long time, both hailing from Wilmington.
“I went to Winston Salem for school and The Creeps kind of dissipated,” Kane says with an air if disappointment. “Brandon was in The Ivy League now and he said I needed to be in it. He kept saying, you’re destined to be in this.”
Six months before Kane moved back, Christian is quitting The Ivy League. Brandon calls on Kane again, “Why don’t you play guitar?”
“Fuck yeah,” Kane yells recounting the feeling. “I listened to their songs and said I got to put my style on it. These are great songs.”
Kane began the task of learning the songs while still in school in Winston Salem so when Christian left Kane came in prepared, bringing his style to an emerging band.
“He’s into a lot of older rock and roll music,” says McAndrew of Kane’s style of playing.
The songs are similar to their origin but Kane has added his touch. “Andrew Christian wrote fucking great songs. Look at him now. The Speed Kings are a fun band. I love those guys.”
Kane is an overcharged battery, to put it lightly. He’s always on, begging the question, does he sleep? There’s not enough room for him onstage. You can see him wanting to move around more but there’s not enough room to satisfy the need. As a lead vocalist Brandon can be laid back as well as stalking the stage. It’s an interesting dynamic.

“I’m running around back and forth. Everybody’s got their own thing. I’m used to guys watching jumping all around,” says Kane.
The guitarist sports slicked back jet black hair, usually black clothing, jeans and boots. He exudes the energy of music defined by raw, intense power. Blame his brother.
“My brother got me into punk.” Kane says. The older brother owned a large stereo system and would yell for elementary school age Kane to come into his room. “He’d yell, Hey Kane, come check this out. The first song I remember listening to was ‘The Bruise.”
The older brother would be playing NOFX or Rancid. The experience was his first exposure to music other than listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. From then on Kane was hooked.
“It totally consumed me,” he says. “I really got into street punk, then started listening to The Casualties, The Unseen. The raw power of that type of music. It was the pure energy, a brotherhood, it’s own society.”
At school, not many knew about it. For Kane, the relationship to it was remarkable and special. Then he discovered Social Distortion. Again, blame his brother who was sifting through used tapes at Manifest Music. He found Social Distortion’s self titled release. Kane was in middle school then and he found out, all true, his friend’s grandmother had a Social Distortion cd.
“Ball and Chain’ is my favorite song to this day.”
Kane is born and raised in Wilmington. His love for the city led to writing a tribute song, ‘Broken City.’ Tucked away at school in Winston Salem he grew to miss not only home but this city he felt comfortable in, for better or worse. He came home for the weekend to visit and realized how much he missed the town.
“It don’t look pretty all the time but you love it. Something draws us to it. That’s what the song is about,” he says. “This city, we love it, but we don’t just love the pretty things but the dirty things.” It’s a high wire song, especially when played live, a combination of rapid tempo and a guitar riff that whirls about like a lasso.
In all that time Kane’s been writing a lot of country music as well and concentrating on trying to write good songs. His approach is that every song is already there but if it doesn’t feel right then that’s not how its supposed to be.
“You gotta let it come through you.”
The interest in country emanates from a fondness and the discovery of artists like Johnny Cash. It’s not just the sudden cool factor Cash has acquired in the public over the last several years. Cash never changed, the public and the music industry did. His music and his personality resonated substance and that’s what drew U2 and producer Rick Rubin to him. And musicians like Kane.
It’s obvious Cash has become the new t-shirt for people to wear, after Malcolm X, Che Guevara and Sid Vicious. You know, when some pop star throws on a Ramones shirt, you just feel it’s a fraud? Kane draws from the personal aspects of Cash’s music, that they are real. His sentiment is real when he talks about his passion for honest music, whether it’s Cash or The Clash.
An Ivy League show moves around the musical terrain. There are different arcs. Kane sings back up but sings lead on a few songs such as ‘Last Train’ and ‘Start.’ His numerous influences screams a mantra of let’s play everything. He’d like to play a hip hop show.
“I wanna play country, blues, and punk stuff,” he says. “We did it in the Creeps too. We come from different directions, clash and meet somewhere in the middle.” That’s rock and roll. That’s great music.
Such variety is commonplace and friends remain just that. Ivy League’s Kane and McBride also play in a psychobilly band with The Speed Kings’ Will Lear, The Hot Rod Davidians.

Alex McBride left for Iraq and shortly thereafter Christian left the band. The drummer did three deployments, extending his commitment for the third deployment. He was a squad leader, involved in Operation Iron Fist and Steel Curtain, two of the biggest offensive pushes since the invasion of Fallujah.
“I did my time. I did what I had to do. I was infantry,” he says. “I was a squad leader. I led marines into combat.” McBride is twenty-three years old and seems a good decade beyond that. The sense of age is not in his appearance or his face. It’s in the way he carries himself, the way he speaks frankly or viewing things. He’s stocky and the shortest member of the band, living a life that brought more experience, more than others who’ve never been in the heat of combat.
McBride has lived in Wilmington for two years, roughly the same amount of time the band has been together. Just after entering the Marine Corps he learned that Agnostic Front was playing in Wilmington. Without a car, he took a fifty dollar cab ride from Camp LeJeune to Bessie’s downtown to see them play. After that visit he began looking more into the area.
“I started meeting people in the area, met Brandon and couldn’t stand him at first. He’s from here and my friends were transplants who were in the Marine Corps.”
Brandon being quiet, a year older, he was sketchy of McBride and his friends and they were equally sketchy of him.
“One time he was talking shit and we were talking shit,” McBride says. “But we got to know one another and he’s turned out to be one of my best friends.”
Staying in Wilmington with a fellow marine he began playing drums in The Creeps shortly before that band fell apart.
“Brandon and I talked about forming another band. We found Ben and Christian, jammed a little bit.” The Ivy League had begun. Then McBride left for Afghanistan, his first deployment.
While McBride was in Afghanistan he received a three song demo in the mail. The band found a fill in drummer and recorded some songs, recording ‘Intro/Pain On Tap,’ ‘My Hell, My Life’ and ‘Port City Beer Boys.’
“I heard that and I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that Brandon got off his ass and recorded these songs,” McBride says.
Brandon wrote ‘My Hell, My Life’ for Alex after the two wrote letters back and forth. Brandon was getting a picture of McBride’s life in Afghanistan. Brandon didn’t want to write another typical song that could be taken as pro war or pro military.
“We want people to think about things,” says McBride. “Brandon thought, here’s another way to think about something.”
Brandon concurs, “We all have opinions on the war but its not what we’re about. We get branded as being political sometimes but it’s not that. It’s not politics, it’s people, people trying to live.”
The song, ‘My Hell, My Life’ concerns the time McBride spent overseas, an account of what it was like to be there as an individual, being lonely, being in combat.
“I’ve had some of the worst shit happen to me being overseas, coming home single, girlfriends not being there, having friends killed.”
The tape was survival material because it was killing the drummer not playing while deployed. He would find himself banging on tables unconsciously. But the down time offered another, more positive effect. McBride would lay in his rack resting, listening to music. Then, really listening to music.
“I didn’t have a choice, but over there, I became a listener of music. You’d find a good CD and wear it out and each time you’d hear something different. It’s so cool hearing all the little added stuff.”

As a teenager McBride grew up DC, where learning street smarts prepared him for life. He didn’t find many friends in his age group, connecting more to older people. Yet, in conversation, he still carries a distinct line between maturity and youthfulness.
His father was a grunt in the Marines. McBride was never the toughest kid growing up, just an average kid that liked to play music, played since the age of twelve. Always played drums. As a student he took five years of jazz instruction. Then studied sight reading, rock, funk, under three different teachers.
“In High School I was in marching band, pit orchestra, symphonic band, pep band,” he says. “I had my own jazz combo.”
There is a power to his playing but also a precision that comes from the schooling. McBride is a tight player, deeply focused but plays with ferocity and discipline. He sits upright behind the kit as if keeping an eye on the drums. His focus rarely breaks except maybe during the break in ‘Cold Blue Sea’ when stands over the drum kit, sticks pointed out at the audience singing along to the lines, Set sail on that Cold Blue Sea…
“Music has been my life since I can remember. It’s all I think about, all I care about. All I wanna do.”
His favorite type of jazz is hard bop, Art Blakely, Max Roach. Recounting a Bobby Timmins record he explains that Timmins is going off on a piano solo and you can hear him in the background singing. It’s the type of thing you don’t catch until after a little while, after you’ve been listening to it. He says its the same with Art Blakely, when he’s going off on a well thought out drum solo and you can hear him talking like he’s singing it. A moment when a musician is really feeling it and he’s got that passion.
“I’ve played in every type of band – jazz combos, hardcore and punk rock bands. That’s one of the things I miss the most is playing in big band jazz, cause I’d sit there and read charts and play. I was doing a lot of stuff. I was doing everything I could to play, playing with people better than me. I did two jazz consortiums when I was in high school at the local college.”
After high school he worked at a guitar center. The plan was to join a big band but before long the drummer traded his sticks for a rifle. Joining the Marines had nothing to do with the fact his father was also in the military, nor was it politically motivated.
“I guess I had something to prove to myself and to other people because I was smaller than everybody else,” he explains. “A big fuck you to everyone.”
Motivations also didn’t stem from an ideology of trying to change the world but more from a desire to go through the experiences, to be able to feel them and really know what it was like. That is, the entire spectrum of being a Marine, more specifically combat, to test himself and push the limits.
“I really wanted to try and do something with my life to get it started where I got a lot of life experience under my belt. I didn’t want to go to college. I want to work with my hands. I couldn’t sit behind a desk,” he says. “And I love to shoot guns. I enjoy target shooting, not random things. In the Marine Corps I was a designated marksman. That’s not a sniper. It’s an urban sniper. I didn’t go to sniper school.”
Returning home from Afghanistan, The Ivy League’s members were Christian, McBride, Ben and Brandon. Within months they would play Alex’s last show at Lucky’s before leaving for Iraq in July 2005.

On Day Two of Steel Curtain as his squad of men were pushing through the city they approached a building that was previously attacked. The squad went to breach a door and a guy was throwing grenades at McBride’s first three men on point. All three ended up getting wounded.
“The blood and guts didn’t bother me. One of the new guys got killed, that bothered me.”
The Medics put the soldier in a stretcher and McBride saw his leg dangling off a stretcher. His cammies were so soaked with blood and it was that image that troubled him. The thought of it still lingers but he reasons it away.
“Survival of you and your friends is what’s going through your head. That’s why we do so well. The camaraderie between each other, you don’t want your friends to die. You kill as an act of survival. In the heat of the moment it’s because someone is shooting at you. Afterwards you may think other things. It’s a rush.”
McBride came home in March of 2006 and left the Marines for good on June 10th having served 4 years and 3 months.
“You don’t even realize all the things that go through your head until you actually get out - get out, because you’re still somewhat attached to that life style.”
He has friends to talk to, also having shared combat experience. But, as a former soldier, he was on his own, as in, not being around the alpha male scenario all the time. The former soldier is immersed in a different lifestyle, around regular people. The whole mentality of life is completely dissimilar. The whole life mentality is different.
“It can be hard to adjust sometimes.”
It has taken time to acclimatize to civilian life, to being home. McBride reminds himself that its alright to let his guard down, to cut up and have a little fun. Having a conversation with him it’s hard to imagine he has to do this. At times, one on one, he’s very serious and focused, intense. When his band mates are around he’s another man, jovial, fun – a cut up. He knows that when things don’t happen, its not life and death.
“I stress out over almost nothing. When big things happen I probably don’t stress enough because I see that its not life or death. Over there, its life or death because somebody’s gonna die.”
He expounds by reinforcing that decisions, stupid decisions, are the difference between a dead soldier and breathing soldier. Things work and succeed for specific reasons, doing what you’re told, what you’ve been trained for. The training keeps you alive. Being at home doesn’t stress him out. Working his construction job doesn’t stress him out. He finds humor in some things that people fret over. Because they are nothing, they are not analogous to life and death.
McBride sits silent as if thinking about something serious then offers, “One of the little things that stresses me out is getting things in order with this band.”

The band has been recording their full length off and on for the last several months. Last October, Ben McAndrew shares a room with Ian Millard at Cape Fear Studios. McAndrew sits playing a bass line for the song ‘Start.’ He gives it another run through, then stands, to play it again. It’s a bouncing line, fun and repetitive.
Kane shows later than everyone else. He’s carrying a six pack under his arm and everyone is happy to see him. They razz him about the tardiness but announces he ahs an excuse.
“I got off work and brother calls me up,” he says with a serious tone, “come over and drink with me. I’ve been drinking whiskey all afternoon with my brother.”
It’s just after eight and the band is there to tweak some things on the band’s forthcoming disc The 11th Hour, due March 30th. Both Brandon and Kane will add vocals tonight in addition to the bass line.
“Basically 11th hour stands for those final minutes while you're desperately gasping for air before you drown,” says McBride.
Brandon takes a similar approach to explain the songs on the album. “It’s a combination of a dark outlook on life and the aggression of struggling.”
A few of the tracks have been around a while, three from the early days and the remaining eight songs are new. One new song, ‘I’m Not Okay,’ concerns a friend who attempted suicide, an atypical approach to the subject matter.
“The song is not saying do it or don’t do it. It’s the feeling you get in the eleventh hour right before you’re about to make that decision on what you’re gonna do,” says McBride. The band wrote it during the practice prior to recording. “We wanted to get the song done because it relates to the theme of the album which is about loneliness. All is I can say is loneliness is the best word to describe that album, romanticizing misery. It also lets people know they’re not alone.”
The 11th Hour is not a depressing disc by any stretch. Many of the tracks are anthem worthy and purely fun. Take ‘Small Town Anthem’ for example, it echoes brotherhood and the love of home, The city we live in / the streets we roam / the bars we drink in / this place our home. It’s the type of song made for radio airplay. Tracks on the record take on life as people know it, talk about it, making the idaes accessible coupled with plenty of energy.
“We have a more poetic outlook on life whether positive or negative,” Brandon says. “If you come from an ascribed status of being lower level, poor, any little thing that can keep you down. You’ll either keel over from not being able to take it or you’re be tough as nails or you’re gonna not back down.”

Take 11th Hour as armor, a creative burst of musical energy that reaffirms there are still albums that people can relate to, steeped in something other than pop leftovers and shaky marketing schemes. Evident are the sounds of rock and roll’s tribal history in their music, from the American garage to Springsteen to The Clash. The album is an electric mix of working class people and energetic rock and roll, music to drive fast to, identify with, or go to a show and get loaded to. The Ivy League has crafted songs about real life, drenched in sweat. And you can dance to them.

Behind Lucky’s Pub, the band’s home away from home, a stale yellow light glows against the concrete wall. A sign states NO DRINKING IN PARKING LOT. The message seems pointless as cigarette smoke pours out the back door into the steady drizzle of rain. The January cold is enough that your breath is noticeable. Jacket weather certainly, but just right for a night in a heated club where the music is loud and pounding.
A band from NYC is onstage, P.O.R. and they’re killing it. Sounding like old school punk and grinding metal. One song that is completely jamming segues into a two minute punk explosion.
McBride is digging it, reflecting on the history of the band’s sound, their impossible to miss influences. He knows his music history, from jazz to punk.
Away from that yellow light the parking is dark. There are several vans and almost too many cars. Agnostic Front, the band McBride took a fifty dollar cab ride to Wilmington to see, is headlining the show and there is a sizable crowd on this Sunday night.
The Ivy League finishes loading equipment after playing their set. They stand in the overhang of the building. It’s dark and evident that they are comfortable with one another. They pose for pictures, hanging on one another, striking poses and goofing off. But mostly they are enjoying themselves. They have spent the last several months preparing for The 11th Hour. The title has changed, they’ve ran through several lead guitarists but the music is still remains. The attitude is still the same. The heart of the band is still determined and honest. They are just like anyone else, but more than some are diligent in chasing the dream. They all have day jobs, decent ones, but ones worth risking to chase it.
The sound of P.O.R. still emanates from the club. In the shadow of the building’s overhang McBride, Brandon and McAndrew are talking when their manager Dave Friend approaches. They playfully wrestle standing up, like brothers, tugging and pushing at one another. A man with short brown hair and a full beard walk directly to them from the dark of the parking lot. No one is quite sure what to make of him yet.
“I liked what I saw on stage tonight. I was really taken with what I heard,” he says. The man is in town with P.O.R. He’s from Boston and has a small record label with fingers into, he says, a larger piece of the music pie. The man doesn’t come off a hustler, but who knows. He is knowledgeable of music and even comes off nervous at first. Years ago his grandfather left him an inheritance and he started a small record store and eventually parlayed that, along with a friend, into a record label. He is interested in The Ivy League. He talks at length about making CD’s and promoting bands.
McBride interjects and apologizes for interrupting.
“I grew up on punk,” he says. “But punk as it was and what was great about it has been done and is dead. There’s no point in repeating it because it’s been done. That’s not what we’re about.”
McBride is honest with people, straight up. But he’s very kind about it, done in a way one can appreciated.
“What this band is about…Everyone in this band brings a different influence with them. We are five different parts and we are trying to forge something different by combining them.”
In Pump up the Volume Christian Slater’s character talks about how all the great themes have been used up and that everything’s been turned into a theme park. Over fifteen years later the dialogue from the film still resonates, still drives a point. How does anyone, especially artists, create something new in this modern world? The poor, the working class have always had skills to survive. In the absence of wealth one has to fight and struggle. It is in these struggles that creativity flows and is grows wildly. Rich kids don’t always make the best music. Art is about influence, inspiration, emotion and a singular fresh voice.
With The 11th Hour The Ivy League have melded different sounds to create their own brand of rock and roll, blending the likes of Social Distortion, old school punk rock, A.F.I., country, The Ramones and maybe a little Art Blakely. Here comes the new stew. In a time where there’s dozens of bands and hip hop stars churning out similar versions of a familiar sound there are bands like The Ivy League working to forge a new sound.
Around the time Pump Up the Volume was being released in cinemas a unknown band in Aberdeen, Washington was mixing up punk rock and Cheap Trick. Their name was Nirvana.


Go west Grasshopper and help people in overweight predicaments
by Sloane DeVaney

I watch too much television. Kung Fu reruns were on early Sunday evening and I was glued to it. Television advertising is ridiculous if you have yet to notice. I disbelieve the actors who say they are MDs acting on weight loss commercials. Am I supposed to believe they are medical doctors? Maybe MDs are initials for “Many Dopes?” The ads show the before and after photos. We see the poor slob who gets no attention and then she takes the magic skinny pill and WOW, she gets attention and other women are jealous. Then there are skin care products and lush cosmetic advertisements. What are they telling us? What about Bow Flex commercials? Have you seen them? One ad is at least seven years old. What is the message it is sharing? The advertisements are overtly saying, “Get fit, lose weight, look beautiful and you will have more sex.”

Mike McOwemkimmon, “beach pro-volleyball player,” appears on the television screen. He tells us he is 41 years-of-age and he is in the best shape of his life. He says, “Competing with 20-year-olds is tough but NOW thanks to Bow Flex I can still compete!” We see Mike greet three other people. They are two young women and a young man and whether they are also pro-players it is irrelevant. The foursome pair off and play a hit back and forth for what looks like a competitive game. Through the game, Mike tells us that his weightlifting machine has helped him pack on 21 more pounds of solid muscle. We get to see close-up stills of his six-pack abs, his legs of steel and his arms of six-steel packs.

The funny parts are the glimpses of the volleyball game Mike is “playing” with the three other players. Mike is paired off with a pretty woman who is dark haired and wearing probably what would be appropriate volleyball women sportswear. We don’t get any close-ups of her and she reveals no cleavage because we are not supposed to look at her.

The other team has the younger man and woman. He is of course buff too but unable to block Mike’s power spikes. Mike celebrates with bad sportsmanship after each point. The other young women is blonde and buxom and wearing a bikini and a big smile for Mike! We get plenty of close-ups of her. In between clips of the volleyball game Mike tells us how wonderful Bow Flex is for him. The blonde woman flirts with him. Is she the other man’s girlfriend? Is the dark haired woman Mike’s sister/friend/grown niece? We never learn the relationships of the four players, but that doesn’t really matter. Bow Flex will get you into shape and let you play beach volleyball “gooder” than younger people. Right? Well, no.

Near the end of the commercial we see Mike and his dark haired woman team-mate. They are off strolling on the beach after the hard played game. Who should come join them in a slow motion jog but the bikini clad buxom blonde and she is by herself. The other man must have left in defeated shame. We get the idea that a she-cat fight is about to break out and thank goodness Mike is wire-taunt strong to prevent it! Or will he? His attention has all ready turned to the blonde. We, the assumed flabby viewer, get another plug from Mike off screen how great the product is and “you should really really really buy it.” In the next beach scene, after the women have fought over Mike, the sun is setting. Mike is frolicking in the surf with the blonde woman. What happened to the dark-haired woman? She must have been drowned in the ocean. So please tell me what is this TV ad really trying to tell us? What I think it tells me, is that if I buy Bow Flex in my 40s I can steal a buxom blonde woman from a younger man because she will prefer me sexually over him and knock the lesser attractive woman out of my life. And back on Kung Fu David Carradine saved the day with slow motion karate. Hiiiiii yaaa!


A Tale from Foggy Neck County
by L.B. Mitchell

The kitchen screen door slapped shut at Ned Calloway's place early Sunday morning.
"Ned, you in here? It's Rene Davenport, I have the lumber you ordered in the truck. Ned?" Rene made her way through the kitchen. The front left burner of the stove glowed red-orange and several strips of bacon were shriveled and charred on an iron skillet. Rene removed the frying pan from the burner and placed it aside as she turned the knob to the 'off' position. Grease popped and sizzled a few more times before fading into silence.
"Ned, you should really watch this stove honey, you're gonna burn the place down. I talked with Craig and he said you can take the rest of them boards if you like." Rene fingered out the bacon onto a paper towel, turned the tap on and laid the pan in the sink basin. "You really need to be more careful dear, where are you?" Rene shut off the tap and walked over to the kitchen table. She set her purse down on
the table and walked through the doorway to the hall. "Ned, you in
here? It's Rene." She moved down the hallway towards the bedroom
when Ned popped out of the bathroom.
"Rene, I thought I heard a voice, I was just cleaning up here." Ned said.
"Oh, sorry to disturb you sweetie. I have your boards in the truck and I took your bacon off the stove, there's almost nothin' left, you really should be more careful- grease fires are a real bear to put
out, ya know."
"Oh thanks, I guess I got side-tracked- late night, ya know?"
Ned chuckled avoiding eye contact and concealing one eye with a towel
he was using to dry his hair.
"What's that?" she asked. "What are you hidin’ there?"
"Nothing, it's nothing." Ned dropped the towel revealing a puce ring around his left eye.
"Ned, for crying out loud, what happened, come here and let me have a look." Rene pulled at Ned's arm leading him back into the kitchen. "Here, sit your butt down here right now and let me take a look. What did you get into last night or should I say, who got into you last night?" Rene bent down and smiled at Ned.
"Oh, it's no big deal, Rene. I just fell into a little trouble down at The Cannon last night." Ned took a deep breath and smiled back at Rene. "So you have my wood, huh? All of it?" Ned squirmed out of the chair and went to have a look outside.
"Not so fast, you sit here for a moment. I'm gonna' grab some ice for that eye. You really out do yourself ya know. Always finding
trouble, that's my Ned." Rene moved towards the refrigerator for some
"It's not me Rene" he exclaimed. "You know Judy, right? Sampson's little girl?"
"Why yes I do and she's nothin' but trouble, you hear me, trouble!" Rene returned to the kitchen table with a tray of ice and a hand towel. She twisted the tray and dumped several cubes into her cupped palm, placed the tray on the kitchen table and wrapped the ice inside the towel. Here put this against your eye. Rene mashed the ball of ice against Ned's face.
"Ahh, that hurts!" he barked.
"Somethin’ tells me you deserve it. What were you doin’ messin'
around with Sampson's girl any how? You know she just got released from that damn mental hospital up in Barkitsville. That girl's been in more trouble than even you- the two of you together? Oh lord, I can't imagine.”
"What'd she do to get put away? Do you know Rene?" Ned dropped the towel of ice to his lap.
"Put that back against your face." She paused. "You mean you don't know? I figured you'd know if you were out galavantin' around town with loose Judy all night."
"Nah, I don't know, she didn't wanna talk about it. I asked but she got all defensive- said to let sleeping dogs lie or something." Ned
winced from the cold pain as Rene pushed the icy towel back on his face.
"Well then that's what you should do, let sleeping dogs lie. That's all she is anyway, a damned dog if you ask me."
"If I didn't know better Rene I'd think you're jealous. Are you
jealous, Rene?"
"Honey, you wish, even if I was interested, which I ain't, you
couldn't handle a woman like myself." Rene backed up and presented her
curvy figure by running her hands along her sides. "Besides, a mud-crawler like you wouldn't know what to do with a sophisticated woman like me. I see the way you are with all your girlfriends. I don't need no man to tell me I look pretty or I did good- I am gorgeous, smart, and honey, I'll knock yer block off. I take care of myself and I take care of you, so what my little angel, what could you do for me, jealous you've got to be kiddin'." Rene stood tall with her hands on her hips.
"Take it easy, take it easy, I was just joshin' you, Rene. I know you take care of me and as for those curves-"
"You shut up right there Ned or you'll find yourself with two of them shiners, you hear me?" Rene's finger stretched within inches of Ned's face.
"I hear ya, I hear ya. You know I love you Rene, come on now. I
wasn't gonna say nothin' bad." Ned held out his arms.
"Yeah, yeah, you just keep that ice on your eye." Rene shot Ned a smile and walked to the kitchen counter. "So is this the way you like
yer bacon- all burnt up? Rene bit down on a piece and crunched on it
delicately so not to mar her lipstick. "Mmm, that's good, darlin'. I should have you cook for me sometime." Rene laughed.
"So what did she get put away for? Everybody keeps it quiet. I never really knew." Ned patted his eye with the towel, glancing up at Rene for a response.
"She give you that shiner? Wasn't Sampson was it? He's been in that wheelchair damn near four years now. Was it Sampson or some other
young buck tryin' to get a cheap piece of ass down there at The Cannon. Rene winked and cackled at Ned as she bit down on another piece of bacon.
"Well it wasn't Sampson. I can tell you that much." Ned said. Rene rolled her eyes and walked toward the screen door.
"Come on, let's get your wood." Rene waved Ned to the door.
"So you're not gonna tell me? What'd she get locked up for Rene?" Ned followed her outside onto the front porch.
"Can't say dear, don't really want to either. It's nothin' I need to get into about with you. Just stay away ya hear? She ain't worth a damn. Now help me unload this wood, will ya? I've got to be headin' back here soon."
"Well if that's the way you're gonna be, Rene, I won't tell ya who gave me this shiner." Ned smirked.
"Honey, I know who gave you that shiner. The question is, do you know? Don't you know I know everything around here. You were drunk as a skunk last night. How you thought you'd be able to eat that greasy bacon this mornin' after a night like ya had last night, is the real mystery. Now enough about Judy and last night, let's unload this wood." Rene unhitched the tailgate and let it drop.
"Fine. Thanks Rene for the wood and all." Ned looked at her apologetically.
"You're welcome honey, come on now, lets' do this." Rene and Ned began unloading 2x4s out of the back of the truck. “So what're you
gonna do with all this anyway, buildin' somethin'?" Rene asked.
"Well I thought I'd repair some things on the cottage around back. It's in pretty bad shape. Nobody's seen the inside of it for years. I think it'll keep me busy. It's time to clean this place up, put some life back into it ya know?" Ned tossed a few boards into a pile on the grass.
"I think that's great Ned. Keep yourself busy out here. Quit foolin' around in town with that girl. Ain't nothin' a few nails and these boards here can't fix. I'm proud of you darlin'. Your pop would be proud to see you doin' this- workin', takin' pride in somethin'."
"Thanks Rene. Maybe I can have a family here someday too, ya know?" Ned paused holding another bundle of boards in his arms.
"That'd be somethin', honey, that'd really be somethin'." Rene leaned up on her toes and kissed Ned just below his shiner. "You take care of yourself, ya hear? I'll check back with you shortly but for now I gotta get back into town. Call if ya need anything, OK?" Rene tossed
the last two boards on the lawn, swung the tailgate closed and hopped
back into her truck. The engine roared to life and Rene headed back
down the dirt road waving and smiling in the rear view mirror. Ned
waved and looked down at the wood pile.
"Guess I should get to work." He muttered to himself; then headed back up the steps of the porch and into the house.
Staring into the bathroom mirror, he examined his black eye and
touched the swollen corner beneath his brow.
"Ahh!" The bruise was tender to the touch and he stopped and shook his head. He squeezed a glob of hair gel into the palm of his hand and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair. Tossing on a black and white flannel shirt, he headed back out the kitchen door and down the porch steps. He fumbled with two 2x4s like an old pair of skis
until finding balance upon his shoulder. He headed around the house
across a patch of firm green moss that carpeted the side yard. The
forest beyond the house was still shaking off the dew from the night
before and a thin layer of fog grew out from a birch grove like an old
man's mustache. He continued down a steep embankment, leaning back on
his heels so not to fall forward, when a rogue root reached out from
the earth and grabbed his left leg. Ned slid off his heels landing on
his right side; the 2x4s grappled with one another before taking aim
down the slope. The boards came to rest at the edge of a small narrow
footbridge that laid stiff over the flowing brook below.
"Damn!" Ned scolded the root as he wiped the mud from his hands down the front of his Levis. As he rolled back up onto his heels he focused on the footbridge below. Shakily, he made his way down the hill, slung the boards back upon his shoulder and strutted across the bridge towards the cabin below. He leaned the two boards against the eave of the cabin as he pushed and kicked his way inside the front door. Dust was sprinkled over everything like powdered sugar. Directly in front of him on the left wall was an old bunk bed; the top bunk rose nearly eighteen inches from the ceiling and bedraggled blankets hung from both mattresses haphazardly. It looked as though somebody had woken up in a hurry, got out of bed and took off, never looking back. Ned bent down beside the bottom bunk. He raced his finger across the bed sheet that was now yellowish in color. He gazed at his finger tip in the sunlight that shown through the front door.
"Nobody's slept here in awhile." Ned commented to himself as he
brushed the dust from his hand. Clutching the oak bed frame, he lifted himself back to his feet and walked towards the front door. He pulled a shade adjacent to the door and it zipped and fluttered at the top of the window blowing a tornado of dust in the air that danced in the sun beams like snowflakes under a lamp post light. He coughed and waved his arms in the air. To the right there was a narrow entrance that lead into the kitchen. There wasn't much to it: a long wooden trough with aluminum lining was mounted on the wall and a black garden hose hung through a broken window pane. Cobwebs around the vacant window were so thick they rudely resembled an effective measure for insulation. And to the left of the trough was a small olive-green ice chest. A thin, warped buffet table was pushed against the opposite wall and tall stacks of World War II era newspapers covered its surface entirely. Beside the table was another entrance- this one even more narrow and irregular. A thin trapezoid-shaped ply-board, hinged by canvas straps nailed into the wall, masqueraded as a bedroom door. Ned bent down on one knee and began pushing the door open with his knuckles. The room was murky and the only thing, immediately visible, were two pale legs dangling off the bed.
"Jesus!" Ned exclaimed, as he lunged backwards knocking his head
against the wooden trough. He scrambled to his feet and scampered out
of the cabin. His flailing arms knocked the 2x4s off balance and they slid along the rain gutter before stamping the thick mud below. His long legs nearly cleared the footbridge in one stride and he hobbled
up the steep grade feeling the pain in his foot for the first time since his encounter with the maligned root.
"Rene, Rene!" Ned cried. He raced around the house and up the steps of his front porch. "Oh God, what the hell is going on?" Ned
interrogated himself as he paused with his hands on his knees, panting
from the sudden explosion of energy. He squinted his eyes and gazed down the long dirt driveway that lead away from the house. Pacing in
circles, he gauged the path with his feet contemplating what to do
next. A shovel leaning against the house caught his attention and he
marched over to it. He gripped the shovel in his gentle hands,
practicing a few hits and jabs in the air. The shovel in his arms
crossed his chest like a soldier's rifle and he nervously inched along
the front of the house toward the side wall. The shovel's edge peered
around the corner of the house first, shaking off dirt and grass and
Ned's wide eyes followed. The cabin remained concealed below the steep
grade and the grove of birch trees- ghostly white- stood out like
skeletons dangling from the foliage above. He moved anxiously across
the moss; tiny pools of rain water eructed from the soil beneath his
boots with each step. Sliding down the bank on the sides of his soles, he reached the narrow footbridge when the sound of a slamming car door rang out. Ned slid to a halt and dug the tip of the shovel into the bank for balance. He cocked his head to one side and listened intensely. The sound of footsteps climbing the front porch were heard followed by the screeching sound of the screen door's heavy metal spring stretching as the door opened wide. The Jurassic sound pierced
the morning calm and a voice followed.
"Mr. Calloway, Ned, you home?" Ned listened to the voice. It was a man's voice and he struggled to distinguish whom it belonged to. The screen door banged shut and Ned wondered whether or not somebody was now inside his house. He glanced down at the cabin below and back up to the house. He dug the shovel into the dirt and heaved himself back up the hill and across the patch of moss. A brown and khaki Ford
Bronco was parked in the driveway. The driver's door had a star emblem
and written above and below it was, Foggy Neck County Sheriff's Department.
"Ah, Mr. Calloway, Deputy Lyle Cummings, how are ya this fine
mornin'." The deputy sashayed down the front porch steps fingering
the hand rail like a piano. The deputy was tall and very thin. It looked as though his holster belt required a few extra punch holes just to keep it around his waist. His uniform was impeccable. His slacks and shirt were firmly pressed and the silver and gold decorations that donned his breast glistened in the early morning
sun. "I was just pokin' my head inside here, is that bacon I smell?"
The deputy's thumb shot past the brim of his hat toward the kitchen.
His hair was shaved close around the nape of his neck and you could
still trace the white outline left behind by the barber's handy work.
His eyebrows were dark and dense but neatly manicured. He was clean-shaven and smiled big. His teeth were large and his Adams Apple swayed up and down like a buoy in rough water with every word he spoke. His eyes were large and bulbous and maple in color. They were unusually light in hue and oddly enchanting.
"Uh, no deputy, I uh, I mean, yes, yes, awhile ago, I burned it." Ned replied awkwardly. His thoughts returned to the cabin. He kept visualizing the legs hanging off the bed. He was nervous and his eyes darted back and fourth between the deputy and the side of the house. His hands reached deep into his jeans pockets and he swayed back and fourth in his boots. "I'd uh, I'd offer you some deputy but I, uh-"
"You burned it. Yes, you mentioned that." The deputy interrupted, holding a wide smile as he looked Ned over. What happened to your face?" The deputy asked, still smiling.
"Oh, uh, nothing, just a little scuffle down at The Cannon last night. I'm all right, it's no big deal. So uh, what can I help you with today, deputy?" Ned pulled his right hand out of his pocket and
shielded the sun from his eyes that pierced the canopies of the trees
behind Deputy Cummings.
"Uh huh, yes, a scuffle. Yes, well that may or may not be the reason I'm here Mr. Calloway. See, we got a call from Sampson Davies this morning’. It seems his daughter, Judy, never came home last night. Now I know Judy is grown for the most part and she can go where she wants, when she wants, but I just thought I'd ask around a bit. Her daddy depends on her you know. He's stuck in that wheelchair and doesn't get around so well, you understand." The deputy held his characteristic boundless smile and nodded to the side as though he sought Ned's acceptation.
Uh, no, no. I understand deputy." Ned replied as he repositioned himself so not to stare directly into the sun while addressing the deputy. He dropped his hand from his face and shoved it back in his pocket.
"So you saw her last night, did ya? It's no secret about her being at The Cannon, too. I just figured since you were there and word of mouth says you two were gettin’ pretty close, that chances are she'd be here this mornin', now am I right?" The deputy rocked back in his spit-shined black loafers and let out a chortle.
"Well, yes, Deputy Cummings. I did see her last night but she ain't here this morning. We were hanging out at the bar, you know, having some beers and some laughs. Now that's about it. I mean, well, I tried to bring her home but you know, she got real defensive with me cuz I asked about her being at the loony bin and all? She took offense and pretty much told me off. Now, I didn't see much more of her after that. And as for my eye? That was just me and some boys down there. I didn't do no fightin' with Judy if that's what you're gettin' at." Ned spat out his story to the deputy still trying to block out the image of the legs in the old cabin. He stirred in the driveway, looking down the dirt road and back towards the house.
"I see, I see. So you don't mind if I just take a quick look around then do ya? It'll just take a minute or two." Deputy Cummings walked back up the front porch steps and opened the screen door to the kitchen. He stepped inside and as the heavy spring began to retract he turned and stopped the door from slamming shut. "You comin'?" The deputy asked as he stretched the spring even more taught, inviting Ned
into his own house.
"Yes, yes of course deputy. You can have a look around. She ain't here, honest. It's like I said, we hung out, had some beers and that was the end of it. I swear." Ned leapt up the steps and followed the deputy into the kitchen. Deputy Cummings walked through the kitchen casually, with his hands on his belt and his elbows pointed outward, He approached the sink where he noticed the grease-laden frying pan and the burnt bacon crisps laid out on a paper towel.
"So you did." The deputy remarked.
"Pardon?" Ned asked.
"So you did." The deputy repeated himself. "Burn the bacon that is." The deputy picked up a burnt piece and held it between his fingers. He turned back to Ned and smiled again.
"Oh yeah, it's burnt." Ned reiterated. His hands found their way back into his jeans pockets. The deputy brushed off the bacon crumbs from his fingers and smacked his hands together over the kitchen sink. He swung around on his heels and faced Ned who was leaning against the kitchen table. Suddenly and for the first time, the deputy's smile disappeared and his face grew angry.
"I thought you said she wasn't here. You lyin' to me boy?" Deputy Cummings' bulbous eyes concentrated. His voice became razor sharp and he moved mechanically toward Ned. The loose and smiley gentleman that had just entered the kitchen had now turned angry and militant.
"What do you mean? What're you talking about deputy?" Ned became very nervous. His heart was beating rapidly now. "She's not here, honest, she's not!" Ned exclaimed.
"Then what the hell is this?" Deputy Cummings marched to the table, grabbed Ned's arm with his left hand and with his right scooped up a brown leather pocketbook from the kitchen table and suspended it inches from Ned's face.
"No, no that's Rene's purse. She was just here, honest! She delivered some wood for me." Ned pointed towards the kitchen door. The deputy dropped the purse onto the counter and began thumbing through it still holding Ned's arm tightly.
"Rene Davenport." The deputy said. His hand emerged from the purse with a Tennessee driver's license. His smile return and his grip
loosened. He bounced around the house quickly poking his head in and
out of rooms and closets. "Well okay Ned, I best be movin' on. If you hear from Judy, you give me a call, all right?"
"Absolutely deputy. I, uh, I'll call you if I hear anything, anything at all." Deputy Cummings darted down the porch steps, slid back into his Ford and drove back down the driveway in reverse, disappearing behind a row of pines.
Ned ran back down to the footbridge. His heart was pounding. His palms were clammy. He tip-toed across the footbridge and into the cabin. Nervously, he pushed open the makeshift door to the bedroom. The sun was higher in the sky by now and the room wasn't so dark. The legs were still there and didn't appear to have moved.
"Damn!" Ned backed off the door allowing it to shut again. He sat on the floor with his back against the ice chest. His shaking hands covered his face and he began to cry. Wiping his tears into his cheeks he rose to his knees and pushed the door open again. Focusing on the legs, he crawled into the room. It was musty and dank and reminded him of some caverns he once explored in Virginia. The
legs were feminine and her nails were painted a crimson color. Ned
stood up. He looked down at the body; wavy red curls draped over the
woman's face. He knew that hair- it was a dead giveaway. It was the
body of Rene Davenport. Ned's knees buckled and he fell to the side
of the bed. The room was spinning, he felt nauseous and everything
went black as he fainted onto the floor of the cabin.
"Ms. Davies, Judy, wake up. You've got to quit doin' this now Ms. Davies." An orderly from the Barkitsville State Psychiatric Hospital shook Judy's arm. She was slumped over a park bench a couple miles from the hospital, still wearing a gown issued to her with the word's 'Facility Member' written on the back. She was disoriented and slurring her speech.
"Wha- happen-?" She murmured.
"What's her story?" Another orderly asked.
"Ah, just another schizo, man. "Four yeas ago she killed her stepmother, claimed she was cheating on her with her old man."
"You don't say. Crazy bitch, huh?"
"Yep, smothered her with a pillow in her father's cabin down in Foggy Neck County."
"Yep, then took a shovel to her old man's back. Put him in a set of wheels for life."
"You weren’t kiddin’ when you said this job was interesting."
"Yeah, that was an understatement. Come on, help me get her up." The two men pulled her up onto a gurney, strapped her down and wheeled her into the back of a white van.


On the Trail of a Sadistic Bunny
By Josh Spilker

The following occurred in Atlanta, Georgia. All of the events that follow are true and happened in the order mentioned, as to the best that I can remember. I think. This intro has made the story seem a lot more dramatic than it actually is.

Two piles of books. Keep and giveaway - the age old system of determination. Keep: anything I mostly enjoyed (Walker Percy), should’ve enjoyed (Willa Cather) or should’ve read (James Joyce). Giveaway: anything meant for a season (money troubles: Suze Orman), anything meant for frivolity (Anne Maxted: frivolity is easily replaced), or anything too frivolously laborious (The Mensa Book of Genius Questions: won’t even attempt).

A problem. The Celery Stalks at Midnight, by James Howe. On the cover: a dog and a cat staring at a glowing green celery stalk. It’s thin, it’s a little worn. It’s YA. It’s a story about pets, vegetables, and pets that suck the juice out of vegetables.

“Why did you put this in the giveaway stack?” My wife had found my dilemma and disrupted the balance of the age-old system of determination. “I love this book,” she continued. “What’s it about? A vampire rabbit or something?” I asked. I had yet to open it up to find out. “Yes,” she said, “You know, Bunnicula.”

Bunnicula. A vampire rabbit that sucks the juice out of vegetables. And this book was the sequel. Stories from the 80’s. Stories from our youth. “Oh yeah,” I conclude, “I liked that story.”

Next night. A night for going out. Or at least out of the house. We choose ice cream. A store named after two pet dogs of the owner. A shaggy-haired boy is working behind the counter, while his girlfriend is waiting on the couch clutching a cell phone.

I choose blueberry cheesecake mixed with cotton candy. My wife samples Guinness, and it tastes like an off-color vanilla. The alcohol doesn’t freeze, says the shaggy haired boy, excited by the possibility of being so close to an adult beverage. He is still YA. My wife nixes that one, however. She goes for “Live by Chocolate.”

We talk. We chat. We sit on a rustic-looking bench that moms in their mid-30s deem as cute. We look up and around. A chalkboard behind the counter advertises a sandwich made with apples and brie. “It’s like a gourmet grilled cheese,” says my wife - my translator for all things fine or refined. I had never heard of it before. It sounds like something moms in their mid-30s might enjoy. We look up and around again. Bunnicula. We see it and pause. It’s a sign. It’s a sign advertising a play going on all month, based on the book. It’s a play for moms in their mid-30s who might also have YA children. This upcoming weekend is the last weekend. My wife can’t go; she has to work on Saturday. I decide to go. I have to follow this bunny trail wherever it leads.

Bonty agrees to go. I saw him a few days later at a church community group and he says he can go. Bonty enjoys the performing arts. He was in an a cappella group in college, and once managed the finances for a fledgling theater troupe. Bonty doesn’t even chafe at the $12 price. “Oh, that’s not expensive,” he said when I told him it was expensive.

I try to figure out culture’s fascination with deranged and sadistic rabbits. Why does rabbit irony have such a large progeny? There’s Frank the prophetic rabbit in Donnie Darko, the children’s book series about dumb bunnies called Dumb Bunnies, and Matt Groening’s Life is Hell, which serves as an inside joke to The Simpsons faithful.

I ask my wife about the deranged bunnies in popular culture. “Why do they put little girls in horror films?” explains my wife - my translator for all things symbolic and puzzling. “It’s the same thing,” she says. I get it. No one expects rabbits or children to do the things our culture makes them do.

Saturday. Play day. It’s an early show, 11:30 am, to take advantage of the theater company’s “Family Series.” Bonty and I arrive at the playhouse at 11 am, only to get our tickets and encounter a man still folding programs. The door won’t open for another 10 minutes or so, they tell us. “What do you think they think about two guys in their twenties going to see Bunnicula?” asks Bonty as we see parents in their mid-30s file past with their kids that are mostly under the age of twelve. “I don’t know,” I say.

We see a sign. Drinks are allowed in the theater, so we step back outside. I go back to the car for the coffee I left. Bonty goes into a smoothie place. There’s a homeless man sitting on an embankment near my car cutting up aluminum soda cans. He has a painted sign that says “Homeless/Would like some food” or something like that. It’s nicely done, in the style of those “Home Sweet Home” signs seen at a great-grandmother’s house.

The program folder guy says we can go in now. The usher gives us two different options for seats, and we take a second row perch. The stage is a square, and the seats are arranged at a 90-degree angle on two sides of the square. Supposedly it’s a sell-out and the seating is tightly regulated. The kids and parents we saw earlier begin to pile in. Many kids are carrying copies of Bunnicula. One girl, about nine, with brown hair halfway down her back desperately saves a seat for “Ms. Handler.” Other conversation focuses on how the animals will be portrayed. We wonder the same. Maybe a ventriloquist. A boy with surfer-flowing hair in the same group as Ms. Handler’s seat-saver counts the number of audience members. “49 people,” says the surfer boy. We scrunch up so a baby boomer woman with a long skirt and a bag labeled “Zen Popcorn” can get by us.

The crowd is still arriving. One man with a thin blonde comb-over and large, early 90s glasses walks by, followed by a similar looking woman except with gray hair. “That guy who just walked by,” says Bonty. “I know him. That’s the guy I interviewed with. He’s the head honcho.” A few months back, Bonty interviewed with a local theater company to help manage their finances. Their operation was on a much larger scale than his previous experience, so he wasn’t offered the job. They took seats on the back row. The guy didn’t seem to recognize Bonty, and Bonty didn’t wish to reintroduce himself.

The lights dim. The usher comes back out near the stage, this time wearing a cargo-pocketed jacket. No one is sure why. The announcer makes some jokes involving death, but also demonstrates lightning, thunder, and darkness effects so all the kids can get used to it.

A family living room. Two humans come out. A guy in a spotted brown corduroy suit says his name is Harold. He is supposed to be a dog. A girl comes out in an orange tie-dyed pants suit with an orange headband and says her name is Chester. She is supposed to be a cat. No ventriloquists so far. They sing a song with the chorus, “You can’t trust a human without a pet.” Immediate conviction. I have no pets, nor do I really want any. I have withstood my wife’s insistence on a Labrador retriever. I usually counter with a hound dog. Those conversations don’t go well.

The family comes home. They bring with them a rabbit they found in the movie theater during a showing of Dracula. They argue about names for the rabbit. The mom decides on a combination of “Bunny” and Dracula. Bunnicula. This is a turn-on for the father for some reason, and he chases the wife off stage.

The rabbit is brown-headed with vacant pink eyes. No pupils, just pink coaster-sized eyes. His white body comes up to Harold’s knees. The rabbit has a puppeteer. The puppeteer is mummified in material that looks like gray panty-hose. Even his face is covered. His hand fits into Bunnicula’s neck. This puppet master apparently goes for the jugular. But the puppeteer is no ventriloquist. Bunnicula stays eerily silent. The play continues with a dancing segment that looks like the ‘Thriller’ video. The parents do Thriller, the kids do Thriller, the pets do Thriller. Bunnicula sleeps in his makeshift cage--a predictable mash up of chicken wire and plywood, but with a trapdoor for the masked man’s hand.

Finally, the real action. X-Files conspiracy music oozes out. Bunnicula’s eyes light up to infrared. He looks like ET’s parents coming out of a spaceship. The girl in the row in front of me grabs her dad. Bunnicula freaks her out. He sneaks out of the cage. To the refrigerator. He sucks a tomato dry. A juice-sucking rabbit.

Why doesn’t the rabbit just drink water out of his bowl? Why did the masked man let him out of the cage?

Mom hears noise. She comes in and grabs a knife Psycho-like. Only to cut into the white tomato. “A white toe-may-toe!” says Father who has now come in. “A white toe-MA-toe!” says one of the sons in the play. Father and Son have competing faux-British accents. Everybody back to bed.

Play time lapse. No one in the audience knows what day it is. Chester reads Edgar Allan Poe. Harold eats chocolate cupcakes. The pets conspire about how to prove Bunnicula is a vampire to the family. Can dogs eat chocolate? Can cats read? More dancing, more shadows.

Bunnicula lights up again. Hissing smoke. Girl grabs father, and accidentally hits my leg. This freaks me out more than the bunny. I look over to Ms. Handler’s handler. Surfer Boy took her place next to Ms. Handler. Ms. Handler’s handler sits next to a hip guy in a screen print T-shirt with curls out the back of a baseball hat. Probably her dad. They probably live in some sort of commune with Zen popcorn lady and Ms. Handler.

More white vegetables. They find a white zucchini, and furious violin music is played at the zucchini mention. “Do they make music?” Harold asks Chester, referring to the zucchini. “No, they make casseroles,” says Chester. No one knows why the zucchini gets music. A different son blames the white vegetables on them not being organic. He talks about pesticides. This goes over well in the art crowd. I think I hear Zen popcorn lady laugh.

More play time lapse. Chester confronts bunny with garlic. Then a steak through the heart. This funny food sight gag is not lost on the parents in the audience. The relationship between pets and their food is explored more through this play than any medium since the first Purina commercials.

The denouement. It all ends suddenly. The man behind the mask is revealed to be a veterinarian next door. We trusted their suspension of disbelief, just to have it backfire on us. Lights come up. They do Thriller off the stage. The faux-Brit accent Son comes back on stage too quick. He waves to his real mom. All suspension is gone. Oh well. We get over it quickly.

“I want to meet the cat,” I hear Ms. Handler’s handler say as I’m standing in the aisle. “But I’m scared,” she says. “Yeah, I’m scared too,” says another girl, apparently part of the commune as well. “You’re a scaredy cat! You’re a scaredy cat!” Surfer Boy quickly analyzes.

Bonty is waiting in the entryway of the theater. “I know Chester the cat,” he says. “Or I mean, I know her. Kathleen.” Kathleen plays the cat. Kat plays the cat? This is deeper than even Surfer Boy could put together. Bonty didn’t want to say hello. He worked with Kathleen’s husband at a coffee shop and once said something mildly embarrassing to her and her husband. He wasn’t a close enough friend to have seen her since, or for him to apologize. Bonty doesn’t want to meet the cat. It’s probably hard to apologize to someone while they are sporting fake whiskers. Apparently, the kids aren’t the only scaredy cats.


by Josh Spilker

A brothel is known as a house of ill repute. But The Brothels’ house is more of a house of interesting repute. Chicken wire lines the front yard of their house near Market and 21st to keep the dirt from spilling out into the sidewalk. And there’s a big raft out front on the porch, already inflated and ready for a ride.

On a recent Saturday, the house is literally buzzing. Amps are feeding back and harmonicas are humming. The pattering of dogs and the offering of mango mimosas greet all visitors. I stepped through the makeshift, disheveled living room of couches, sleeping bags, and various books and DVDs to the dining room. This is actually the practice space, with not only the standard band equipment but also a folded up Ping Pong table. The disorganization of the living room is separated from the formal practice space by one prominent feature - a stoned over fireplace painted white with a chimney that doesn’t quite reach the ceiling. No one knows what to do with it, except put drinks and leftover Mardi Gras beads on the mantle that surrounds it.

Jason “Jerry Dripper” Burke and Jeff “Jersey Cowboy” Micchelli are part of The Brothels and live in the house. They just returned from Mardi Gras the Thursday before along with Justin “Sterile Darryl” Autrey. On that trip, while traversing the south, they found out they were opening for Oteil and the Peacemakers on March 9 at the Soapbox. Oteil Burbridge, of the Allman Brothers Band.

“We grew up listening to the Allman Brothers, and going to Allman Brothers shows, when we found out, we were on our way to Mardi Gras from Atlanta,” says Jason. “We lost our voice screaming so loud. It’s early in the life of our band, but we feel good about it.”

So early, that they just started playing regularly four months ago, when Jason and Jeff decided to leave their homes in Maryland and join “Jasper James” Butler here in Wilmington. James (vocals/mandolin) has been in Wilmington for about three years, met his wife Emmalee and has taken to a life filled with aquaculture and band stuff. Justin still lives in Maryland, but is considering a move (“The arm is getting twisted,” says Justin).

At the practice, after petting the dogs and getting settled with a mango juice mimosa, The Brothels launch into their set. They start off with an instrumental that was heavy on the “Fisher-Price percussion amalgamation,” as Jason called his drum kit that included a couple of high-hats, a snare, and bongos. James was ripping on the mandolin, and the hard charging sound was complimented by Jeff on the acoustic guitar and Bry “Sly Cat” Smith on the electric. Justin provided melody on the harmonica.

For the next song Jeff picked up a banjo and Bry soon moved over to the acoustic from the electric and took up the vocals from James. The sextet is rounded out by Steve “The Sledge” Tarabokia on the bass. They all play multiple instruments however, and it’s a flexibility that The Brothels are proud of.

James explains it this way:
“When you’re playing music and you explore an instrument, it’s just like any other profession-- you want to branch out and expand and find out, and so you pick up another instrument. We’ve all done that. We’ve all explored a different instrument not just so we can have a variety of instruments in the band, but have the variety of people playing different styles on those different instruments. It really keeps it fresh.”

This time The Brothels move in and out of their bluegrass/folk mold and James lays his vocals out more as cries of passion rather than singing. This is backed by pleasantly by melody on the harmonica, which serves as an essential member of The Brothels lineup, rather than a mere novelty act. The whole shebang comes out as an earthy original rock experience that invites jam band callers and modern rock hoarders right into the home of bluegrass.

“You can tell from the instrumentation we will be seen as a traditional bluegrass instrumentation, but that’s the furthest pigeonhole away from where you can peg us,” says Jason. “Some of our music can really be fast and intense, and a shit-kickin’ good time, and some of it is really slow, melodic and wonderful. We play a wide variety of music, and hopefully in the end it will sound like us, and you’ll know it.”

“You can’t help but be honest with these instruments. It’s not like we’re playing pop country. There’s nothing to hide behind,” Jeff the Jersey Cowboy adds in.

Once the set gets started, I realize I’m not the only one there for a show. There are few people coming in and out, plus the dogs making their presence known. People want to see what The Brothels are up to. Even a few days before when I first met the guys for an interview at a coffee shop, they were inviting people to their shows. It’s a feeling that The Brothels want to emphasize.

“Most of our music,” says James, “has themes of community, family. It’s inclusive.”

And The Brothels are taking their inclusiveness and using it as a cornerstone for their future. The Brothels is a musical endeavor that the guys are putting their whole selves into. Several of them have given up other jobs or opportunities to move to Wilmington and embrace The Brothels.

“The commitment comes easy,” continues James. “[What] any of us would leave behind I think are false commitments, those that are half-hearted. It’s a leap of faith, but all of us have fallen on our face plenty of times for worse reasons. But the commitment is there, and it’s always been there in every one of us.”

And the right time is right now. Many of them have played together for several years, but it never jelled into a cohesive force until this place and this time. They are finally ready to open up for all to see.

“I think we’re all seasoned to the point where we have a lot more confidence in the songs that we write,” says Jeff the Jersey Cowboy. “Now I feel confident that I can put it all out there and have something substantial behind it.”