Frogmore Stew

If you were lucky enough to get to visit my mother’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina, and she was happy to have you there, odds are that she would serve you the great staple special dinner of my upbringing: Frogmore Stew. And you would be very happy to have it, indeed, especially since my Mom would likely have gotten the shrimp in the Stew still wriggling-fresh off of one of the ubiquitous shrimp boats that ply the waterways of Low Country South Carolina, like this one . . .

Fishing Vessel Ophelia Rae
(Copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith)

The sun’s rising on the horizon
as our boat motors into the east,
with nets hanging low on her winches
like wings on some cumbersome beast.
She’s a mote in that vast living ocean,
a speck catching yet smaller specks,
which we haul up in great writhing masses
and then dump in her tank, below decks.
With a full metal belly, she shudders
as we turn her back ’round t’wards the shore,
and then ease her back into her harbor,
where she vomits up shrimp by the score.
And the townsfolk, they scoop up her purging,
which they take home to shell and de-vein,
and then eat with their families at dinner,
while our boat, she gets hungry again.

I periodically see watered-down, neutered versions of Frogmore Stew on menus here in Upstate Yankonia and environs, though it almost always carries another name, something like “Low Country Boil” or “Carolina Seafood Stew” or something like that. For some reason “Frogmore” seems to be word that can’t be used to describe food up here in the North,  I guess because it evokes images of frog legs or other amphibian delicacies.

But Frogmore Stew is actually named after a little village on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, near the site of the historic Penn Center. Eating any boiled combination of corn, shrimp, potatoes and sausage under any other name does a grave injustice and disservice to the good folk of the South Carolina coastal islands who created this tasty, simple, practical dish.

Katelin and I will be heading back to the Low Country in October. I can’t wait to have me some Frogmore Stew while we’re down there, and perhaps also a shrimp burger or two. Mmmmm . . . . shrimps . . . . . they always inspire me to creative flights of fancy, since even murder ballads need to have culinary grounding.

P.S. Go Navy!

Beat the Meme

Someone forwarded me one of those internet meme thingies where I was asked to decide what I (or you, or anyone) would pick if I could only have five songs on my iPod. I guess this is “Desert Island Discs” for the electronic generation or something.

The post and links included with it had these impassioned arguments for all sorts of great songs and artists, well-crafted and reasoned, thorough, convincing in an academic and intellectual way. Problem is, none of them seemed to get one painfully obvious point: if you pick five standard pop or rock songs, then you have about 15 minutes worth of music to get your through the rest of your life.

So me being a smart chap, if I could only have five songs on my iPod on a desert island, they would look something like this:

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield: 48 minutes, 56 seconds.

“A Passion Play” by Jethro Tull: 48 minutes, 13 seconds.

“Supper’s Ready” by Genesis: 22 minutes, 55 seconds.

“The Gates of Delirium” by Yes: 21 minutes, 50 seconds.

“Tarkus” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer: 20 minutes, 39 seconds.

That’s nearly three hours worth of music with five solid songs. I’m thinking I’m going to be enjoying my time on my island much more than those of you with 15 minutes worth of tunes to get you by. I’ll let you come visit if you bring me a coconut.

After Crimso

I’m still sort of alternately buzzed and numbed by the King Crimson show in New York City Saturday night. It was, without doubt, one of the finest concerts I’ve ever seen, hands down. The venue (Nokia Theatre Times Square) was excellent, with unbelievably good sound and great sight lines from anywhere in the room. Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastellotto and Gavin Harrison delivered over two hours of utterly spot-on brilliant performances, many of them spine-tingling in their complexity and power. As I’ve written before, this group has the power to move me like no other. They did it again Saturday night.

For the Crimheads among you, the group pretty much played every song I had any reasonable expectation or particular special interest in hearing, recognizing that they never play anything from before their 1972-74 incarnations. The set list included the following songs, though I may have them listed slightly out of order in a couple of places in the main set:

Robert Fripp Soundscape
Drum Duet
“The ConstruKCtion of Light”
“Level Five”
“The Talking Drum”
“Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Part II”
“One Time”
“Three of a Perfect Pair”
“Frame By Frame”

Encore One:
Drum Duet
“Thela Hun Ginjeet”

Encore Two:
“Elephant Talk”
“VROOOM/Coda: Marine 475”

I made it back home at about 3:30 AM, exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure. I haven’t been to a lot of concerts lately (at least compared to the years I spent reviewing them), but this one was good enough to last a year, easily, as I can’t think of many shows that left me smiling and beaming as much as this one did. Outstanding.

Two Days ’til the Mighty Crim

I’m an enthusiastic music listener, lover and pusher, always happy to find new things, always happy to share them. I love to read about music and musicians, and have a large library of criticism and biography, and it satisfies me to find the places and spaces where intellectual (e.g. this is good because . . . ) and emotional (e.g. this makes me want to jump up and down and scream . . . ) responses are well-balanced and proportionate. I’m not generally apt to get overly gushy or fanboy-like about many artists accordingly, as much as I may adore them.

King Crimson are one of the rare exceptions to this rule. I can wax philosophical about them (and often do), but once in the presence of their music on the stereo, I generally tend to fall into raptures and reveries of the sorts normally reserved for mystical experiences and village idiot moments. The Crim are basically capable of turning me into a geeky 13-year old fanboy with hey-presto rapidity.

Robert Fripp, the only constant in their 40-year history, is my favorite guitarist, and also a masterful musical, ethical, social, and business theorist who has written some of the most thought-provoking and attitude-shaping (for me) pieces of rock-related literature that I’ve ever read. Plus he really, really loves his wife and isn’t afraid to say it, a trait which I admire (and share). He has been writing an online diary for ages, well before blogs became the in-thing online, and his views on the music industry and life in general are oftentimes sublime and illuminating.

In May 1998, I laid eyes and ears on Fripp and company for the first (and until this Saturday night) last time, during a show at Valentine’s in Albany by ProjeKCt Two, a “fractal” subset of the then-six-piece King Crimson featuring Fripp, Adrian Belew (playing drums) and Trey Gunn (playing Warr Guitar). I reviewed the show for Metroland, and there’s a copy of the review on the Discipline Global Mobile site, here.

The wrap-up of what I wrote focussed on the potential emotional peril of seeing someone or something you deeply admire and respect, and then being disappointed by what you experience. Fortunately, that didn’t occur that night, as the mostly improvised performance literally moved me to tears at points, it was so beautiful, powerful, and life-affirming to stand in its presence.

I am going to stand in it again soon, as I am off to see King Crimson at the Nokia Theatre in New York City this Saturday night, and I’m already getting butterflies at the thought. The group now features Fripp, Belew, bassist Tony Levin (who I’ve seen and reviewed in Albany a few times as well) and drummers Pat Mastellotto and Gavin Harrison. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour have been rapturous.

I can’t wait.

Centipedes Are the Spiders of the Bathtub

I participated in a conversation yesterday where the title of this post was actually used, in context, sensibly, to contribute to the forward flow of intelligent discussion.

I find it too good a turn of phrase to let it disappear back into the linguistic ether. So I think maybe I should use it as the name of my next musical project. Or maybe just write a short story with that as its title.

For some completely unfathomable and inexplicable reason, the phrase evokes images in my mind of another short story: “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor, a viciously dark Southern Gothic tale of sadness, misery, misunderstanding, suffering and guilt.

I don’t question my odd synaptic links. I just run with them.

Musical Sadness and Goodness

I was saddened to read of Isaac Hayes’ death this weekend, which is unusual, since I don’t usually have any sort of reaction to the passing of people I don’t personally know. I truly admired his work as a singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. Hot Buttered Soul is one of the greatest albums ever recorded, the ultimate in smooth, sexy songcraft, especially on the 19-minute masterpiece “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” If you only know the Glenn Campbell version of that song, you owe it to yourself to hear what Ike did with it. After the song’s 9-minute spoken word over tapped cymbal and organ drone introduction, you can really feel the reason that the song’s protagonist hit the road, and you’re right there with him, and you understand why she just didn’t know that he would really go. A masterpiece.

I’m also thinking that in a few days I may grant that label to a new record I just got today, Darker My Love‘s second full-length album, sensibly titled 2. I first learned of these guys when two of their members were deputized on short notice to join The Fall when Mark E. Smith’s English band walked out on him during an American tour. Guitarist Tim Pressley and bassist Rob Barbato did some monstrous good work with MES in an awesome two-bass lineup that appeared on the under-rated Reformation Post-TLC. Check out the stupendous video for “Two Ways Out” to see what they do in their own band. A very impressive disc that’s making a very strong first impression on me.