My gig at the World Trade Center, remembering September 11

Looking back on September 11, 2001, I know I am not the first to think of it as a catastrophic tragedy comparable to the Sack of Rome in the 16th century. But, today, as I reminisce about the gigs I played at The Greatest Bar on Earth — 1 World Trade Center, NY NY 10048, on the top floor of the north tower — I realize that, like the Sack of Rome, the tragedy of 9/11 marks a cultural watershed: it’s as if our frenetic quest to document our lives through digital images and information began after September 2001 (in the same way that art historians and literary scholars point to the Sack of Rome as a cultural turning point, when there was an overarching shift in our self-awareness).

And so I dug up some old photos and fliers from my pre-9/11 world when my band (above) was still called Les Sans Culottes (today Nous Non Plus).

Back then, we played at The Greatest Bar on Earth nearly once a month.

Remember the World Famous Pontani Sisters? We did a lot of shows there together, with the Pontanis on stage with us. “Wear go-go boots and a miniskirt and get in free!” That pretty much sums up the spirit of those days in New York. We played some wild shows back then.

Those were wild, fun years in my life, when I was still in my early thirties and had moved to NYC just a few years previously. Back then, my day gig was writing about wine for La Cucina Italiana. The band played roughly 50 gigs a year in NYC, where we had a great following. It was a super fun time (look at the other bands that were playing the Bowery Ballroom, above, where we often were the headliners). Seems like a lifetime ago now. It was…

On my September 11, I awoke in Brooklyn and learned that something had happened — although I didn’t know yet what — when I called a colleague in TriBeCa to confirm a 9 a.m. morning meeting. I didn’t have a TV back then. And so I tuned in NPR on WNYC on my Mac over the internet. As soon as what was happening sunk in, I picked up the phone and called my mother who was still sleeping in California, three hours behind NYC time.

“Mom, sorry to wake you.”

“That’s okay, honey.”

“Something’s happened in New York. Something bad. I’m not going to be able to call you later. But I’m calling to let you know that I’m okay.”

“Okay, honey. Thanks for calling.”

She hung up and fell back asleep. The whole world had changed.

By the end of the day, singed shards of paper, business documents, rained gently down on my neighborhood in Park Slope, fluttering as they fell back to earth. I’ll never forget that image.

I was very lucky that I didn’t head into the city that day. I would have been on the 2 or 3 train, passing under the WTC.

G-d bless all the people who suffered and lost and gave their lives that day.

Boudin balls and Brunello (and a Ringo Starr anecdote)

In case yall don’t know what boudin balls are, yall don’t know what you are missing!

Boudin balls are a specialty of Cajun cuisine: you form balls using uncased boudin (pork and rice sausage, commonly found in Louisiana and East Texas where Tracie P grew up) and then you dredge in flour and cornmeal and then you fry.

For Easter this year, Pam brought steaming-hot, freshly fried boudin balls over to Mrs. and Rev. B’s house (she lives just a few blocks away). I paired with an 06 Brunello di Montalcino by Il Poggione that I’d been saving for the occasion. I wrote about it over at the Houston Press, the Houston alternative rag, where I am now a regular contributor on wine. Here’s the link. Fun stuff…

Speaking of Easter, what Easter celebration would it be without memaw B’s deviled eggs?! Man, they’d be worth the drive to from Austin to Orange alone! Love that stuff! Also excellent with the Brunello, where the acidity and tannin the wine cut through the fattiness of the filling like a Bowie knife!

Speaking of balls, I am reminded of something I once heard Ringo Starr say. It was back in 2003 and the French band was asked to open for Ringo at the now defunct Bottom Line in the Village. (You can imagine how thrilled I was to get to do this! It was an amazing experience. Nora Jones — at the height of her fame — also appeared with Ringo that night. Incredible!)

After sound check, Ringo was totally cool and signed autographs for all the folks who managed to make it in through the extremely tight-security (I got to be there because we sound checked after Ringo’s band). At one point, this dude brought him a baseball and asked him to sign it. To which Ringo said, “I’ll sign just about anything, but I don’t sign balls.”

So, there you go…

Remembering September 11…

Above: This shot is from Arlene’s Grocery in Lower Manhattan but that’s pretty much what I and the French band looked like in 2001, when we used to perform regularly at The Greatest Bar on Earth (Windows on the World) in the north tower of the World Trade Center.

“There’s no fucking meeting today,” said the French voice on the other end of the line. “Turn on the news.” It was 9:00 a.m. and I was heading out the door from my apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to a 9:30 a.m. meeting with a client on Desbrosses Street in TriBeCa. Thank goodness I didn’t get on the 2 train. I’m not sure if the second plane had crashed at that point but by the time I was able to tune into WNYC on my Mac (I didn’t own a television then), the south tower had been hit as well.

I picked up the phone and called my mother in California. She was still asleep. “Something’s happened, mom,” I told her. “You won’t be able to reach me today but I’m calling to let you know I’m okay.”

“Thanks for calling, honey,” she said yawning. She went back to sleep and would only learn what had happened when she woke up. By that time, my cellphone (my only phone) no longer worked.

My upstairs neighbor and landlord Janet knocked at my door. She was in tears and hysterical. She asked me to sit with her in her living room until her husband and son could make it home. I did.

Later in the day, singed pieces of paper — from all sorts of documents — gently rained down on our neighborhood. All of the fire fighters from our local fire station — just a few blocks away — perished in the tragedy. In the days that followed, we learned that some of the terrorists had resided just a few blocks from the house where I lived. I passed in front of their mosque nearly every day on my way to the YWCA gym where I had a membership. On my way home from my workout, I would often buy falafel at the deli next door on Atlantic Avenue.

All of these memories flooded into my mind last night when I came home from a food and wine event in downtown Austin and Tracie P had the TV on: “President Obama is going to make an announcement,” she said. Osama bin Laden was dead.

Between 1998 and 2001, the French band (above) performed once a month at The Greatest Bar on Earth (Windows on the World) in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Burlesque was the new fashion in hipster circles and we often played with The Pontani Sisters, who danced on stage as we played. Giuliani was mayor and you could still smoke cigarettes (and pot) in NYC nightclubs.

When I finally made it back into the city to visit my client, Desbrosses Street was closed to the public but the police let me through because I had business to conduct there. The staff in my clients office were literally shell-shocked by what they had seen and heard. I saw David Bouley cooking on Canal Street for the fire fighters and police.

Later that week, I interviewed Drew Nieporent for a trade publication. He told me that the entire morning staff at Windows on the World had perished in the tragedy. I’ll never forget how he choked up during our conversation…

All this memories flooded my mind when Tracie P and I heard the news last night.

It seems like a lifetime ago… and it was… I had just purchased my first digital camera. It used 3½-inch floppy disks as memory cards. Today, I can take larger and more photos with my phone. I didn’t even know what (we)blog was.

Magliocco, swordfish, and Gossip Girl

That’s the inimitable Shawnté Salabert, writer, voiceover artist, and song plugger for Sugaroo (my band NN+’s licensing agent). She’s the one who got our track “Catastrophe” (click to listen to preview) into Gossip Girl tonight. (Hey, I know it’s not Master Piece Theatre but if the teenage female American demographic digs my music, I ain’t complaining!)

“Catastrophe” is one of my favorite tracks: I wrote it in NYC with Céline Dijon back in 2007 (seems like a lifetime ago). Tonight’s episode also features another song I wrote and recorded with Céline in New York many years ago, when we played in another now unmentionable French band together. It’s called “Les Sauvages.”

I got to meet and thank Shawnté in person on Thursday when I went to visit the mother office and have dinner with my old friend and music biz veteran Michael Nieves, who cooked up a delicious swordfish steak, which we paired with a bottle of 2009 Terre di Balbia Balbium (I had tasted it earlier that day at a trade tasting and swiped the bottle from the rep).

This 100% Magliocco from Calabria, raised by Venica & Venica, is one of the most exciting wines from Southern Italy that I’ve tasted this year (and I’ve been tasting a lot of southern Italian wines recently for a new consulting gig).

From what I understand, some (or all?) of the grapes are briefly dried in the vineyard before vinification. I was blown away by the freshness of this wine, its balanced alcohol (a little higher than I like but nicely settled in the wine), and its juicy cherry and plum flavors and bright acidity. Extremely yummy wine, excellent with Michael’s roast swordfish steak dusted with paprika.

Thanks again, Michael and Shwanté: for the placement and the rocking piece of fish!

My band in a pretty major Google ad campaign launch today

Yup, that’s me playing a Telecaster…

Whenever I hear one of our old songs in a license or film (and thankfully, that happens often), it always brings back powerful memories of being in the studio and recording. I even remember the sautéed pork chops deglazed with white wine that I cooked for the band the night that we tracked “Allô Allô” in my friend Mike Andrews’s Hollywood Hills studio!

Back then, the band was still called Les Sans Culottes (before the infamous on-stage fish taco fart, the inevitable split in the wake of the fart, the lawsuit, and the dawning of the NN+ era) and since we tracked that song, I must have played it a thousand times live (we used to and still will open the show with it).

Jean-Luc Retard and Céline Dijon wrote the song back in New York City and we recorded the rhythm track in one take. That’s me playing guitar: I played one of Mike’s 70s Telecasters through a Fender Champ (small amps are always the best in the studio). Jon Erickson of Jaynes Gastropub engineered the session and that’s how he and I become friends.

For those of you so inclined, you can hear other tracks from those sessions (Fixation Orale, Aeronaut, 2004) and purchase “Allô Allô” from ITunes by clicking here.

Allô Allô (Hello I Love You) - Fixation Orale

Tracie P and I had have a pretty amazing year professionally, and, wow, this license is the icing on the cake. Suck a lime: I have a whole lot to be thankful for this year.

So many of my dreams have come true in life — opening for Ringo Starr in New York City (!) and a top-10 college radio album have been musical highlights for me… When I left NYC, I thought that all of that joy was behind me. But since I met Tracie P back in 2008, it sometimes feels like the whole world is smiling at me.

Maybe that’s because I’m standing next to a beautiful girl…

Thanks for reading and listening and thanks for all the support for our music over the years!