Philadelphia: Black and White

It’s so quiet in my room, minus the planes trains and automobiles whizzing and whirling about.  I am holed up in the Holiday Inn just outside of JFK.  Leslie, Sebastian, and Gaby left for California in the wee hours of the morning, and I awoke to an empty room, icy from a blasting AC unit going all night.  I guess it fits the mood though;  A little cold and a little sad.  The dream tour with Ani came to an end last night, but on a great note (npi).  But that is for another time- another blog.  And this episode will be a little different.  The images will be in Black and White.  It fits the mood and besides, there’s something so timeless and classic about B&W; I just love ’em.

We left NYC and the quaint Rockwood Music Hall for the home of Rocky and my beloved Phillies.  People kept asking us, “What are you going to do in Philly?”  I would reply, “Cheese-steak and the Liberty Bell.”  I was really only naming the two most iconic things to do in the city with such a short amount of time.  I didn’t really have a plan or idea of how to do that, but how funny things turned out.  As Gaby manned the navigator position, and with Sebastian at the wheel (“Calm, collected, German.” Steve Zissou speaking on Claus) we made it over the bridge and into the city without a hitch.  Dropping the equipment off at the Electric Factory and heading out to grab lunch, we asked where we could get some food.  We were pointed in the direction of 6th and South and off we went.

Arriving at a quaint avenue of three-story red-bricks with shopfronts and people mulling about, we parked the car to look for food.  Low and behold we found a diner that had a mountain of cheese-steak meat ready to go with a decent little line of patrons.  Couldn’t be that bad, right?  Jim’s Steaks on South St. served up a healthy portion of heart stopping hoagie filled bovine delicious goodness for a tribe of people in one sandwich.  Most people wolfed it down.  Maybe one didn’t… I ain’t saying who!  Either way you slice it, I walked waddled out happy.

Uncomfortably contented, Sebastian and I cruised around while the girls did what girls do: shopped.  As light faded we got on our way, but not before stopping, as luck would have it, at Independence Hall.  My god, we were so close to the Liberty Bell!  After asking a few people we eventually found the cracked piece of forged iron all aglow.  There she was, resting in a glass bosom of protection.  And in a moment of pure honesty with a disappointing contrast against our hopes, Sebastian remarked, “I thought it was bigger than that.”  Me too Sebastian.  Me too.  That being said, we still accomplished my goals for Philly, and I wouldn’t put all this extraneous information in if it weren’t for a bit of useless trivia.  The reason why the Liberty Bell cracked?  They rung it so hard in honor of George Washington’s birthday, it split the bell.  Only to be replaced by the Centennial Bell at our nation’s 100 year anniversary.  There, your Jeopardy preparedness for the day is accomplished.

Returning to the site, The Electric Factory is an altogether different setting versus the the previous night in NY.  The club name conjures up all sorts of images, and I was caught off guard by the marque figure on the outside of the building: Benjamin Franklin.  It couldn’t have been any more obvious!  Inside was a gritty hall with standing room only down on the main section of the floor.  The stage was massive and more or less straddled the width of the building.  With it’s dark black walls and dark black floor, the building exuded a rough and guttural vibe.  The skeleton of the rigging and braces could be seen above, dusted and nasty from a long time exposed.  I walk the back stage halls and musical history was all around.  Poster bills of The Killers, Primus, and Sonic Youth were just a few that lined the hallway.

Dinner time.  I can smell the food.  I enter the room and Ani and crew are sitting at the table, eating quietly.  I sit as far away as possible.  It’s kind of funny.  I feel like I am in grade school, just trying to survive and not get beat by the older kids.  Going with the old mantra, “Just look down and eat your food.  Just look down and eat your food.” I find my place in fear of making an ass of myself in some way, shape, or form.

The History Channel is playing on the TV.  At once I am interested and uncomfortable by what’s on: The Color of War.  The footage consists of old never before seen color footage of WWII, augmented by interviews with the actual men who were there.  The room is eerily quiet and humble.  The black and blue checker board vinyl floor is marked and stained from many a steel toe Doc Martin boot.  The silver trays with steamed salmon and sauteed veggies slowly give of wisps of vapor and aroma.  The voice of the narrator is deep and gruff, containing hints of hubris or arrogance; Like the outcome of the war was victory all along.  Saipan, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa are some of the places being featured.  There are images of dead bodies- Native Islanders, Japanese, and American.  They are burned and distorted.  One of the veterans is being interviewed.  He talks of those days.  His pain of the memories is easily witnessed in his facial expressions and can be heard through longer than normal pauses.  “I see no glory in it at all.  Going off to war.  Seeing your brothers die from a shell,” he laments.  Pausing for a moment and looking up into the camera, he says, “War is horrible.”  A simple “thank you” echoes softly across the room.  It’s Ani.  So loud and outspoken on stage, this time she fills the empty room with a soft and simple phrase that carries just enough volume to make it resonate.  Shortly thereafter I leave the room, and I think about what a day it’s been.

Shaking off the cobwebs, I head back to see how everyone is holding up.  Leslie and Gaby are going over a few chords, with some last minute decisions being made to the song list.  Then it’s out to welcome the crowd.  I am already down in the pit, up front and stage left.  I share the space with a few other photographers, but I don’t really care.  Out come the band, and a large crowd greets them with whistles and hoots.  One yells, “You guys are so cute!”  That they are.

The stage is big, the lights and fog are killer, and the sound is great.  I take as many photos as I can with the three songs I am allotted, and sit back to watch the rest.  “My god, my friends are rock stars,” I think to myself.  I can only laugh.  They feed off the energy of the crowd and play a great set.  They give their thanks and exit the stage.  I race back to meet them coming down and congratulate them on another great performance.

Next Stop: The Big Apple

See you down the road.

-Todd

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