Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 28, 2009

J. Robert Lennon: Good Notice For Ithaca Author

J. Robert Lennon is an author living in Ithaca, who writes about it, in a sense, tempered by an imagination that sees mystery and trouble in the mundane life of a small (and officially fictional) upstate town.

His two most recent books, "Castle" and "Pieces For the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes", received good notice in the NY Times this week.

The Times cites a dichotomy in Lennon's work, calling it both "morbid" and "fun."

Lennon will be interviewed tonight on Out of Bounds With Tish Pearlman, the weekly interview program on WEOS radio. The program will also be archived on the WEOS website.

Lennon is also a musician, recording under the name Inverse Room. His recording "Pieces For The Left Hand: 100 Songs" is advertised as "a musical companion" to his book. It is available at Small World Music, in the store or by mail order.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ithaca Festival Highlights

Everyone knows, we guess, about the financial woes from the over-reaching Ithaca Festival of 2008.

The Fest is still here, thanks to some massive, active good will and acts of charity. It needs and deserves everyone's support, so by all means, buy a button, smile, and get out there to celebrate our community.

Some highlights, by our lights:

Thursday: The lead event is the Parade, which we think is the hippest part of the whole fest. Not many towns our size have enough going on to throw an hour-long parade in homage to their own character(s), communities, and causes. The parade starts moving south on North Cayuga Street at 6:30. Integral to the parade each year is a happenstance of rain. Be prepared.

* * *
Friday: Irish music doesn't get much reeler or more jiggy than with Traonach. At the Aurora Street Pavilion on the Commons, 4:30.

The TalkToMes play that cockamamie local style in the Bernie Milton Pavilion at 6:30.

Adonai and I scratch that Hebrew-reggae itch. Aurora St., 7:30.

* * *

Saturday: Is it really the return of the Hog Tie Sessions? Bernie Milton Pavilion, 4:30.

Pan-Gypsy music from Gadje, Cayuga Street, 5:30.

Mike Brindisi and the New York Rock, and they do, on Aurora Street, 6:30.

* * *

Sunday, at Stewart Park.

All day long goes a new Jam Tent, featuring varied styles: Folk (noon), Bluegrass(1:00), Old-Time (2:30), Contra (4:00), Cajun (5:30), and Irish (7:00).

Jomo and Johnnycake play jug band music with an assortment of instruments, some they've invented, and a yodeling dog. Small Pavilion, noon.

Jali Jobateh plays Malian music on kora. Large Pavilion, 4 pm.

Ithaca's ambassadors, the Sim Redmond Band, on the Ballpark Stage at 8 pm.

have fun -
Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

YouTube Film: Timmy Brown at GrassRoots, 2003

As posted by Timothy's good friend, my brother Patrick.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Friday, May 22, 2009

Music in Ithaca, May 22 - 24

Friday 5/22: noted folkie Jamie Notarthomas does a tribute show for Bob Dylan's birthday, a tradition at Castaways. 8 pm.

* * *

Saturday 5/23: There is likely to be music at the gathering for the late Timmy Brown (see previous post), which starts at 3 pm and will likely last late.

Andy Culpepper receives favorable notice in this week's Ithaca Times for his CD of flamenco guitar. He plays at the Smart Monkey Cafe on Elmira Road at 6:30.

Hee Haw Nightmare plays rollicking old time at Castaways. Lazy Devil opens the 9 pm

* * *

Sunday 5/24: Mary Lorson leads a new band, the Soubrettes, at Felicia's, 7 pm.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Gathering For Timmy Brown, Sat. 23 May

Friends of Timmy Brown will gather in his memory on Saturday 23 May, starting at 3 pm, at the off-site campground of the GrassRoots Festival, on Agard Road, a half-mile east of Route 96.

Everyone is invited, and encouraged to bring food or drink to share.

There will be a bonfire at nightfall.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Timmy Brown, Rest In Peace

We have received a visit and then an e-mail from close friends of Timmy Brown to tell us that Timmy passed away early this morning.

Timmy had been battling the effects of a brain aneurysm, as noted here in Ithaca Blog over the past months.

Recently, reports came from Timmy's caretakers in North Carolina that Timmy had taken a turn for the worse and his prognosis was not good.

Timmy was an influential and beloved musician in Ithaca since the 1970's.

Like many others, we admired Timmy's musicianship and spirit, and were proud to call him friend.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Friday, May 15, 2009

It Takes A Lot To Lead, It Takes Dick Cheney To Mislead

A corollary to the idea that it takes a lot to laugh, but not much to cry (yesterday's discussion) is that it's a lot easier to do bad than good.

Doing good is relatively static and cumulative. It's hard to do a whole lot of noticeable good at once. You can in sports, where with one stroke you can win a contest and make people love you, and they even keep records of it. But of course it's not a very important kind of good.

Doing bad is more immediate. It's explosive. It satisfies itches, from the simple and biological, to the complex and pathological.

Thus, in public life, it is easier to be Dick Cheney than Barack Obama.

Barack Obama is obviously not antithetical to money and power, but his values seem higher, reflecting a background battling poverty and prejudice. His successes have been in spite of challenges, not because of privilege. Against the odds, he went to Harvard Law School. He graduated at the top of his class. He went to work not on Wall Street, but as a community organizer.

That type of character makes it harder to get things done in politics than for a man like Cheney, where lust for money and power fuels a career of destruction, lying, and hate.

Obama is having a hard time finding his way now that he represents insiders at least as much as outsiders. This is why he doesn't support single-payer health care anymore, as he did as a community organizer. Now he has to represent the current health care industry as well as people, and the industry is rather more focused in its demands and its ability to extract them.

It seems the thing for us to do now is to recognize the realities of power, and keep calling out, so Obama might recall his way of old.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senor Wences Versus Ennui, Via Dylan

Somehow, in the past few weeks, we've twice been asked about the meaning of the Bob Dylan song title, "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry."

Maybe this is not so unusual when one works in a music environment. Certainly it will be much less usual outside such an environ, so it will not exactly be a red-hot service to clarify this matter publicly, but we will do so anyway, as it happens to be raining, and a little slow in this music environment at the moment.

Here's what we wrote on our friend Mike Hanson's "Facebook" page about it. Mike plays banjo, and occasionally puzzles over Bob Dylan.

"It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry" means that life is essentially sad. How much in life reliably makes us laugh and feel joy? Not much. Senor Wences, and that's about it. But all it takes is something as mundane as a train (lonesome whistle; going away) to make us sad.

So, the more explicit song title would be, "It Takes A Lot To Make One Laugh, Or Feel Life's Joy, But It Takes No More Than the Mere Thought Of an Ordinary Transportation Vehicle, For One Example, To Make Us Feel, Quite Disproportionately, the Fundamental Tragedy of Life"; but that would be too long.

(P.S. Senor Wences was a big guy in my hometown, NYC. The block of 54th Street where he lived is named for him. He died in 1999 at age 103.)


Steve Burke
for Ithaca NY Blog

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Town Without Cars

The NY Times reports today on Vauban, a German suburb that is acting against the use of cars.

It is, largely, environmental activism. But it also embraces issues of safety, health, and quality of life.

Vauban is a new planned community near Freiburg, in the Black Mountain region of Germany, near the Swiss and French borders.

Freiburg - I've visited - is a lovely, historic town where fountains run water along street curbs for aesthetics and cleanliness.

The streets of Vauban are free of cars, except the main thoroughfare, where a tram also runs. Stores and other amenities are on the streets of the town, rather than in malls.

70 percent of Vauban's families do not own cars.

" 'When I had a car, I was always tense. I'm much happier this way,' " says a Vauban resident quoted in the Times, "as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor."

City planning in the past 50 years has revolved around car use. As a result, as much as 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in cities comes from cars. Vauban hopes to show that, as we created the pollution, we can reverse it with planning.

Until then, we can still change car use from rampant to rare. Or, at least, rarer.

We use our cars so much, partly, because they cost so much. If we're paying $2500 a year for insurance, maintenance, repair, registration, inspection, and depreciation, we're damn sure going to use them.

This is where efforts like Carshare of Ithaca come in, offering partial rather than sole car ownership.

We also use cars to save time. But what does that saved time turn into? Going to the gym to make up for the exercise one doesn't get while driving?

The other main component of car use is, let's admit it, laziness. The desire to get somewhere while sitting down.

Compare that to the idea of walking streets like Vauban's, with children and bikes, birds and trees, and no specters of crashes and death.

Joe McMahon of Ithaca recently posted a comment online about hoping for a day when people are as shocked and upset about a death from a car as from a strain of flu.

Information about Ithaca Carshare is at Also, see the comment linked to this article from a message from Carshare.

Information about public transportation in Ithaca is at

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Money, the Cayuga Trail, Eminent Domain, and Money

It is curious, in all the hubbub about some property owners in the West End blocking the development of the Cayuga Trail, and the threats against them of eminent domain, that nobody is mentioning actual money.

We imagine that if a business were offered $500 for a right-of-way through 5 of its parking spots, it might fight. To use another extreme example, in order to make the point, we imagine that if it were offered $5 million, it would offer to help shovel.

Has the city made firm offers to these property owners for the various rights-of-way? Have the property owners made counter-offers?

Are the money matters confidential? If so, it's hard to know who is being reasonable and who isn't. It seems about time to clear the air.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

ABC Cafe To Close?

Expatriates of Ithaca might not have gotten the news, reported on the front page of the Ithaca Journal yesterday, that the ABC Cafe, the venerable vegetarian place on Stewart Avenue, may be closing in June.

The ABC opened in 1980. It undertook a major expansion in 1999, and took on two new partners in the past year. Despite these developments, and a longstanding, gritty determination to survive, it seems the end is near.

It's a shame, of course, when any beloved business closes, but this one particularly hurts. The Moosewood is better known, but the ABC is probably the most resolutely Ithacan of eateries, with its Orthodox vegetarianism, international menu, and sense of easy anarchy, from the mismatched tables and chairs to the varied entertainment.

We think it was Hemingway who described the process of going broke as one that happens slowly, then all at once. President Obama has said that things are going to get worse before they get better. The possible - or likely - closing of the ABC seems an example of both.

Steve Burke
for Ithaca Blog