Monthly Archives: July 2011

The death of Amy Winehouse (1983-2011): Alternative Views


At this moment, it is commonly assumed that singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), who was arguably the finest singer the emerge in the 21st century to date, died from either a drug overdose or a lethal combination of drugs, mixed with alcohol and consumed the night before she was found dead in her London apartment. That would make perfect sense, given her notorious history of dangerous drug abuse. But since she’s famous, of course not everyone is satisfied with that explanation. No matter what happened to her, it’s a goddamn shame and a loss to humanity, but as a public service, we’ll now parse the wealth of conspiracy theories that have emerged in recent days:

*Amy Winehouse accidentally drank herself to death: At her eulogy, her father make what many regard as a spectacularly delusional claim: That Amy Winehouse had been clean of drugs for three years prior to her death, and was only working to conquer alcoholism. The woman was known to consume massive amounts of alcohol, particularly vodka, enough to easily kill a woman her size. The list of British musicians to go out that way is a long one, including Jimi Hendrix (allegedly), Bon Scott and John Bonham.

*Amy Winehouse committed suicide: Although everyone who knew her says she was in good spirits in the days prior to her death—the phrase “happier than ever” is used a lot—surface appearances can be deceiving, especially when dealing with someone who started some days by slamming vodka shots. She had just broken up with boyfriend Reg Traviss earlier in the summer; despite his great grief and his kind words of remembrance, there is no evidence of any reconciliation. Her “comeback” tour ended in boos and tears within a few minutes of her first show. The last four years were really rough for her, and one can easily see how these dual setbacks might have sent her over the edge.

*Amy Winehouse was murdered, either by her bodyguard(s) or people who were partying with her the night before she died, for unknown reasons: Official reports say that her bodyguard was the last person to see her alive, when he asked her not to play her drums so loud in the early-morning hours; he later said he heard her walking around after that. Kelly Osborne claimed to have spoken with her for nearly an hour that night, saying she seemed completely fine; it is unclear whether that conversation happened before or after she’d spoken with the bodyguard. At any rate, he found her dead hours later, twice. He saw her unconscious in bed early that morning, assumed she was sleeping, and left her room; it’s unclear at this writing whether he got close enough to confirm that she was still alive at that point. He returned a few hours later, found her unresponsive and called the authorities, who reportedly confirmed her death within five minutes of her arrival. One report said she had “signs of life” initially, but who knows what that means. Either way, the bodyguard needs a thorough interrogation, and perhaps waterboarding.

*Amy Winehouse was killed at the direction of her record label because she was worth more dead than alive: Her recordings have dominated online retail sales in the week after she died, and one can expect that if (more likely when) the new record is released, it will probably sell millions of copies and win a number of Grammy Awards, bookending a brief-but-bounteous career. It’s thus ironic that she’d delayed the long-awaited project for years, first while publicly battling her demons and failing to write new material on schedule, and then because she was yet satisfied with the finished product. She had begun her disastrous final tour before even releasing the album, which is somewhat unusual for an artist her stature; it’s unclear if her legal issues would have even allowed her to perform in theUnited States, her biggest market. Canceling the tour after the meltdown inBelgrade may have cost millions.

What gives this theory legs (well, Amy Winehouse-sized legs) is that is has some basis in history. Courts are still working to establish exactly how and why Michael Jackson was given a fatal drug combination, either by his doctor, himself or some unknown other person. And evidence is slowly accumulating to support the theory that Hendrix’s death was engineered by his then-manager, the villainous Mike Jeffrey, who feared Hendrix was soon to fire him and who himself died in a shady plane crash just three years later.

*Amy Winehouse was deliberately given bad drugs: Anonymous friends of Winehouse reported seeing her buy cocaine, ecstasy and/or heroin from someone the night before she died, and speculated that bad ecstasy was the culprit. One presumes the London Metropolitan Police have made all efforts to indentify said dealer and roust him about sufficient to confirm or deny those theories, but nothing has been said publicly yet. Winehouse was an experienced drug user with a massive tolerance, but may have displayed the kind of carelessness that often comes with addiction, not taking much care to scrutinize her drugs or the people she got them from. But still, if you’re a drug dealer, and you’ve got a customer who’s worth millions and really likes drugs, it makes no sense to give them anything but the best. Then again, people can be malicious and stupid in spades; it’s not unthinkable that someone would poison Amy Winehouse just for shits and giggles, or to exact revenge against her or someone close to her. Things like that happen all the time.

*Amy Winehouse was killed to manipulate public opinion on the Drug War: A common conspiracist view of celebrity death, one that is not entirely absurd. We are all now familiar with the lengths to which governments will go to manipulate public opinion, and the British are, well, the British. Winehouse’s death brings the issue of drug abuse and addiction to the forefront of public debate. Her father reportedly noted in his eulogy that drug addicts in theUK must face a two-year-long waiting list for rehab treatments, unless they can afford the private clinics his daughter made such famous use of. For the singer of “Rehab” to die just weeks after checking out of one of the finest such facilities in the world looks bad for the whole industry.

*Amy Winehouse was killed by Casey Anthony, perhaps by accident: Maybe she switched-out Winehouse’s vodka for chloroform? The woman has not been seen since she was released from jail in late July, and some feel that she is capable of anything. If there is anyone in the world who might be sympathetic to a young woman who’s been verbally assaulted by commercial media for years, it would be Amy Winehouse. Anthony could probably not walk 1,000 feet in any direction, anywhere inAmerica, without being spat on, beaten or killed outright, so a foreign destination would make sense. My guess, of course, would beMexico; Casey Anthony would probably make a damn good gun moll for some media-savvy cartel boss. That would be epic.

*Amy Winehouse was killed to distract people in advance of another major terrorist attack in the US or Britain: The possibility of such attacks have been teased almost steadily for years, but reached a new peak following the death of Osama bin Laden; it was suggested that the announcement of such would serve as the trigger for terror cells already planted at strategic places in the West. So far, the only thing that’s happened was the atrocity committed against the people ofNorway, which at present shows no outward indication of being connected to al-Qaeda or any known affiliates. Which leads to an extended discussion of this, perhaps the most controversial and convoluted concept of them all:

*The death of Amy Winehouse is somehow connected to the terrorist attacks in Norway, which occurred the day before she died: This is an interesting theory, and not just because I made it up myself for sport. It links easily to many of the other possibilities raised elsewhere. Like all of us, she presumably found out about the attacks on the news; it dominated the BBC for most of her last 48 hours on Earth. Even the most cynical viewer would be sickened, seeing the aftermath of a mass-murder of children on a steady loop, and someone as sensitive as her might have taken it even worse. Maybe she partied even harder to distract herself from those scenes of horror.

But there’s a more unsavory aspect to this theory: What are the odds that her death is directly related? It’s now emerging that suspect Anders Brevik has connections toBritain, where he claims to have been recruited into some shady cabal in 2002. It is unclear when he was last there, but he claims to have been planning the attacks for nine years, even renting a farm in order to stockpile weapons, explosives and the fertilizer used to build the truck-bomb that rockedOslo. He claimed that there were many others connected with his movement, and that other attacks were in the works. Did Anders Brevik ever meet Amy Winehouse? Was she acquainted with any of the Britons who collaborated with Brevik? We will never know.

*Amy Winehouse died of natural causes as yet unexplained: Probably the most unlikely scenario of them all, which speaks to how hard she rolled, but possible. Initial autopsies were inconclusive; had she been murdered, suffered a heart attack or stroke, etc., that would have been revealed immediately. Toxicology reports are not available at this writing, but the intense public interest in Ms. Winehouse’s demise ensures a speedy yet thorough turnaround. Her father claimed she suffered from emphysema due to heavy smoking of crack and/or meth and/or tobacco. She may have suffocated herself during the kind of deep, frenetic sleep that follows a lot of partying; other media suggest that she may have suffered a seizure, possibly delirium tremens.

*We will never know exactly why Amy Winehouse died: An Ambiguous ending to a life that, to many people, just didn’t make any sense. She would have thus share yet another link to the great Robert Johnson, a pioneer of the Delta Blues and one of the most influential musicians in all of history, whose suspicious death (commonly thought to be retaliatory poisoning) inaugurated what has now become known as the “27 Club”. If the toxicology reports don’t reveal anything conclusive, it’s likely the trail will go stone-cold; Winehouse was cremated immediately after her funeral. Rest In Peace!; July 27, 2011

Money Jungle: Generational Warfare


Generational Warfare

Duval County students have no allies in the political system.

One thing the whole world has learned about Florida in recent years is that you can pretty much do anything you want to children and get away with it. Now, I’m not just talking about our pathological coddling of social predators, but a political structure that makes our young people easy subjects for negative influences and anti-social behavior. At its root is the state’s criminally negligent approach to public education.

The latest round of budget cuts include approximately 256 positions across the county, cuts not limited just to teachers. Student-athletes, whose precious summertime should have been spent in study, at practice or just hanging out with their friends, have been reduced to begging on the streets for money that the private sector should have ponied up instantly. The fact that they haven’t speaks to the genuine contempt adults have for the children of this community.

We have underfunded education for longer than many readers have been alive. We have stuck them with a worthless curriculum and rearranged teaching practices to prepare them for standardized testing that is not only inapplicable to the real world, but whose very existence is mostly the result of blatant political corruption on local, state and national levels. We’ve cut arts, music and sports, which are essential to the shaping of young minds and the building of interpersonal bonds that last a lifetime, while also deemphasizing trade and technical education at a time when America’s physical economy is dissipating faster than blunt smoke in a wind tunnel.

We’ve done all these things, knowing full well what the result would be, because we were warned, exhaustively, at every step along the way. For years, children who saw the raw deal they had been given, and reacted appropriately, were labeled as “disruptive” or tagged with the various fake DSM-IV disorders—ADD, ADHD, OCD, etc.—dictated by Big Pharma, and then what? They were drugged, in the millions, creating an entire generation of addicts, prostitutes and potential mass-murderers. The kids were pilled-up to conceal the comprehensive failure of their parents, their teachers and their political leaders. And now that it’s too big to conceal anymore, the decision has been made to just eliminate them altogether, by torpedoing the public school system.

Obviously, much of the blame goes to Tallahassee and our pathetic joke of a Governor, but this was happening for years, long before anyone had heard of Rick Scott. For me, this goes on everyone: teachers’ unions, PTAs and the private sector, the school board and administrators, all elected officials including this governor and his predecessor. We also fault a Democratic Party that laid down for Scott, offering no resistance while he blatantly bought the governorship. He makes a convenient scapegoat, and rightfully so, but it’s not like anyone, anywhere, has an alternate vision. He was elected by a majority of voters who all knew exactly what he stood for. Now the children get to see what their parents are really good for—specifically, nothing. That is a form of education.

The entire Board should resign, and maybe the Superintendant, too. I’m not talking about the rank-and-file DCPS employees, who are already suffering and will suffer even more in the future. The seven elected School Board members are all nice folks, but they all violated their oaths and their campaign promises to help improve education. Even though funding was cut, their allocation of funds was terrible, wasteful and contributed to the political environment that allowed such cuts to be forced onto an unwilling citizenry.

Hell, if they’d resigned sooner, it might have been possible to offset the budget cuts for a few more months. But instead, they sat back on their taxpayer-padded asses and pled powerlessness, as they voted to deliberately induce hard times on parents, teachers and students countywide. Not one even had the decency to resign in either protest or shame, because nobody has any shame in Florida.

Whether they like it or not, they are now part of the problem. And now, having forfeited all credibility, they can never be part of the solution, because Tallahassee knows they’ll lay down on-command; their ability to legislate effectively has been broken. The good news is that four of the seven seats are up for grabs in 2012, right after they sign off on the next wave of budget cuts. Districts 1 (Martha Barrett), 3 (WC Gentry), 5 (Betty Burney), and 7 (Tommy Hazouri) constitute a majority stake; Burney and Hazouri are term-limited, so their seats are open.

Students should also consider the idea of organizing and starting the new school year with a mass walk-out in the first week. When the adults prove incapable of protecting their children’s interests, then the kids need to go into business for themselves. That is the Free Market at work!; July 25, 2011


Notes on Daniel Somerson (1958-2011)


[Update, 5:13pm, July 21: The police have announced an arrest in the murder of Daniel Somerson; details will be provided at a press conference scheduled for 6pm. Depending on what they have to say, much of the speculation contained below may be rendered moot. My initial thought was to just wait and post this after editing to reflect the new information. But instead, I’ll just post this as it was written a few days ago, and any supplementary info will be appended later. More coming–stay tuned!]

Notes on Daniel Somerson (1958-2011)

It remains unclear how long the body of Daniel Somerson lay undetected inside his home in Fruit Cove before the police found it on July 8. It was presumed to be him because the home was in his name, bought for $225,000 three years ago. A secretive man, neither known nor liked by any neighbors who’ve said so at this writing, Somerson had not been seen in a couple weeks; someone requested a welfare check by the authorities, and they have probably checked on them, as well. It’s unclear what room he was in, or the position of his body. Was the air conditioner on? Unclear.

There are two things, however, that are apparently clear—or, as clear as it gets in things like this. The first is that Daniel Somerson died so violently that even the police in Florida went out of there way to define it as such, with nothing else by way of follow-up. The second is that Daniel Somerson lived his last few years as if he expected something pretty much like this to happen. Whether these questions are ultimately relevant are also unclear, but still, they are worth asking: What was he afraid of, and why?

Full disclosure: I’ve known the deceased for some time now. Our paths crossed often at various poetry readings and open-mic nights around the region—inRiverside, downtown, San Marco, Arlington, the Beaches, St. Augustine. Although he wrote under the pen name of “Jonathan Orion”, his peers called him “Daniel the Love Poet”, but I was never sure if he liked being called that or not. He always wore the moniker more with sinister irony than a literal embrace. He looked like the love-child of Freddie Mercury and Hitler, but with Mercury’s mustache and a nonexistent fashion sense. He always wore jeans and a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off; I don’t remember what his shoes looked like, and I don’t think I ever noticed, which really says a lot about the man’s ability to hold a conversation.

Amidst a Northeast Florida poetry scene that has produced some of the best talents in this country over the past 20 years (Alan Justiss, Al Letson, Nestor Gil, David Gerard, Matthew Hernandez, Bob Shipp, etc.), Somerson was, in my opinion, pretty good. I always found his stuff entertaining, mainly because his performing style was compelling. He spoke firmly, with a voice modulating between tenor and soprano, projecting such that amplification wasn’t needed. His pronunciation was exacting, though laced with a little lisp that, among other things, fueled speculation about his sexuality. Research indicates that he may have been a classically-trained singer, which explains a lot about his performance style. He also wrote in a classical vein. It was the kind of stuff that college kids wrote to their lovers, 100 years ago.

Behind the flowery prose and the trance-inducing voice was a really smart guy with a lot of inner turmoil that was, at times, just barely contained. He’d been asked to leave several events for arguments or outbursts over the years; even in conversation, his tone turned terse and testy when addressing certain subjects, especially politics. I knew he was weird straightaway, because he agreed with most of my work.

Beyond his brutal demise, Daniel Somerson will be remembered as someone who maintained a decade-long rhetorical offensive against theUStrucking industry. He used to drive a mail truck for the United States Postal Service, thus giving him the distinction of being not only a trucker, but a postal employee. This is apparently a highly volatile mix, with contents under heavy pressure. His beef with the government and the United States Trucking Association took deep into the recesses of the federal government—some might say, way too deep.

Among other things, he felt the government needed to be more aggressive about mandating sleep for drivers who, under the existing pay structure, make more money by staying on the road for as long as possible. This has in fact happened, to some extent, but not before a number of awful tragedies involving truckers that were either asleep at the wheel, or so impaired from sleep deprivation and/or stimulant burnout that they were unable to react in time to prevent accidents. Some of the worst such cases happened inFlorida, and this was a subject we discussed countless times. One guy slammed into a vehicle full of children as it idled behind a school bus, killing an entire family and nearly setting the bus on fire, which could have killed many more.

These subjects, while serious, were always discussed collegially. But things changed abruptly following the events of October 25, 2002. On that dayMinnesotasenator Paul Wellstone, then the most progressive among his colleagues, died alongside seven others (including his wife and daughter) in a small plane crash inEveleth,MN, while en-route to a political funeral. Ted Kennedy was also supposed to make that trip, but chose instead to go straight to a Wellstone rally inMinneapolis.

The effects of Wellstone’s death on American history are hard to state precisely, except to say they were tragic. For one thing, it eliminated the most strident critic of the looming war inIraq. The fiasco that Wellstone’s funeral became was cited as a major reason that then-Governor JesseVenturaended his own political career. Wellstone’s seat went Republican, and helped eliminate the last legal check on Bush/Cheney agenda; his successor, Norm Coleman, was beaten by Al Franken in 2008, and one may presume that Wellstone would be pleased by that, if nothing else.

The effects of Paul Wellstone’s death on Daniel Somerson were perhaps as severe. To him, Wellstone represented the last chance for a positive resolution to his dispute, the last chance for proper regulation of the trucking industry. Somerson was just one among probably thousands of Americans who immediately saw something shady to the senator’s demise. The ricin attacks began a year and a half later. Overall, some 62 incidents of possible ricin contamination occurred during this time. No one was ever caught, indicted or arrested. Daniel Somerson is the only person named as part of that investigation.

To this day, there remains wide public suspicion that Daniel Somerson was the person self-identified as the “Fallen Angel” who sent ricin to the White House and US Senate in 2004. Ricin is far more lethal than the more well-known powdery poison anthrax, yet far more accessible to the average person; made from castor beans, the ingredients are common and the instructions widely available online. The government is fully justified in taking note of persons looking up such information. Whereas anthrax spores must be inhaled to be effective, ricin can kill just by touching the skin, making it an ideal vehicle for quick mass-murder.

Somerson was married at least once, perhaps twice. Records indicate a man by his name was married inMainein the ‘80s. He was married to a teacher here for some years during the time I knew him. She, too, was a poet of some skill, but that ended; she never returned to the readings, and he never mentioned her again. She was very pretty, but folks still assumed he was at least bisexual, or that they were both swingers, or that she was a beard. At no point did anyone seem to think he seduced her by traditional means.

Years later, he placed an ad on the Internets seeking a roommate—no, that phrasing doesn’t quite describe it. The ad reads: “A life led by two people together, is a life much easier, more fulfilling and i need your help running this home. Offering trustworthy, responsible female opportunity for no cost housing and modest financial support in exchange for domestic skills and homemaker talents. Gorgeous large home on 1.5 acres, located in a peaceful and tranquil setting. Clean, safe and secure environment. I will work diligently to meet your every reasonable need and desire. Please, you must be a kind, gentle and empathetic person. My intentions are absolutely honorable and my heart is in the right place with this effort to find someone special. This is a committed and monogamous relationship. Complete details and a photo exchange available with your thoughtful response.”

He was offering to trade free lodging for female company, like having a live-in girlfriend, but more to the point and without the slow burn or awkward build-up. Now, that’s technically legal, but it’s obviously a sketchy proposition, one that is reportedly on the upswing inAmericatoday. How that even comes up in conversation among close friends, I have no idea. It essentially offers a legal loophole to prostitution, in many different ways. (The porn industry offers another: It’s illegal to pay a woman for sex, unless you record it and sell the video; that’s just fine.)

The kind of woman who would respond in the affirmative to such an offer, tendered anonymously by a rank stranger, almost certainly constitutes a sort of hyper-dimensional portal into all kinds of bad trouble. Especially if she’s hot. She’d either be a grifter, a runaway, or a girl running from someone who might have the skills to take out Daniel Somerson in his own home. The man was an ex-trucker who lifted weights, knew of weapons and had already turned his home into a fortified compound, living almost in anticipation of possible violence. But if he was still working that kind of angle, I could easily see it all ending up as it did.

It’s possible that the pressures induced by the “Fallen Angel” debacle played some role in wrecking his marriage and sending him on the trajectory that terminated in Fruit Cove a couple weeks ago. (He once implied that FBI agents had interrogated his wife at her place of business, but that is not confirmed.) The authorities have not yet conclusively ruled out suicide, but there’s no indication that anyone feels that way.

I last spoke to him via phone, sometime in late May or early June. He seemed well enough, pleasant and conversational. We caught up on a couple years’ worth of political skullduggery, reviewed the current wars and made predictions about the next ones. He asked if I knew where to score some herb; his previous hookup (a mutual friend) has recently died. I didn’t, but even if I did, I’d have probably said no anyway, because I always assumed that he remained under some kind of government surveillance. Not to be conspiratorial; I just figured that if you draw “Fallen Angel”-type heat, it never cools down completely.

Given his nature, he was obviously not the type to service his habit in nicks, dimes or doubles—more like a quarter-pound at a time. An ounce or more is felony weight, which changes the whole dynamic of any such transaction. Upon hearing that he’d died in a home surrounded with cameras, with no obvious signs of forced entry, I wondered if perhaps he’d found the wrong connection. What kind of person drives out into the middle of nowhere, aka Fruit Cove, to carry out a felony drug deal? My guess is the type of person who didn’t really care about the risks or the consequences, and that is a very dangerous type of person.

Ultimately, who knows what was going on out there? Odds are that the full details of Daniel Somerson’s weird life and weirder death will never be revealed. Certainly most of his secrets went to the grave with him (assuming that he’s been buried), and those that remain will be held tightly by his killer(s) until Death comes for them in some form that leaves no connection to the karma that set it in motion. Until we hear otherwise, we can safely assume that Somerson’s murder was related either to vice or to his vendetta against the trucking industry. Maybe he was the “Fallen Angel”, and in the absence of a provable case, the decision was made to eliminate him. Or maybe not.; July 21, 2011

[Update, 6:13pm: Police announced the arrest of 24 year-old Latoya Jordan, whom they allege had met Somerson via the Internet, then moved into his house. Something happened at some point–those details were not revealed–leading to Somerson’s violent death, by means that also not been mentioned yet. Given the size disparity, one assumes that he was shot, or was killed by other means while sleeping or otherwise incapacitated. The phrase in bold print a few paragraphs up basically summarizes the situation as presently understood. RIP, Love Poet!]

[Update, 2:21 pm, August 1: I received an e-mail from Carrie Coombs, the ex-wife of Daniel Somerson. She read the article above and wanted to add some essential insight. With her permission, her words follow this; I may reprint them in a separate post as well.]

I am Daniel’s ex-wife, the “very pretty” wife you referred to. We were married for 7.5 years, together for 10. I thought you did an EXCELLENT job writing about Daniel’s activism, whistleblowing, and safety advocacy concerning the trucking industry. I was with him when the proverbial *shit* hit the fan. We were in and out of court several times. The case history is all well-documented and available online. This was one of Daniel’s passions, and I thank you for giving the issue the attention it so deserves. Also, your paragraph about Senator Wellstone’s death and it’s affect on Daniel was spot-on. Thank you for reminding me about that ~ I had forgotten. Those several years were very stressful and it’s impossible to remember everything that transpired!

I hesitated to contact you right away after I read your “Notes” article because there were also several things you mentioned that were very distressing to me. I have been very heartbroken over Daniel’s murder. He and I tried reconciling twice after our divorce in 2007. We were last together from January to April in 2009. Even though I had not seen nor spoken to him in 2 years, I have always loved him very much and I so wanted him to meet someone that he could be happy with. His murder came as a tremendous shock to me. I really do believe that Daniel had the best of intentions; unfortunately, he let the wrong person into his home. I have needed some time to process all the emotions and flashfloods of memory the past several weeks before addressing my concerns with you.

First of all, Daniel was very proud of his Jewish heritage and your comment about likening his appearance to a cross between “Hitler and Freddy Mercury” was hurtful to me. Also, I felt that mentioning his manner of dress was irrelevant.

The paragraph in which you mention the (mis)perception of Daniel’s sexuality was very hurtful as well. Daniel loved women – hence all the poetry about his past loves and the poems about me. I can assure you I was not his “beard” nor some sort of cover for him. Our marriage was legit…every part of it. I think some people have that misperception of him because they do not understand his dichotomy: how could a man who professes to be a rough-and-tumble truck driver be so eloquent with poetry? It was really the poetry that enabled Daniel to be more in touch with his feminine side and take the edge off of his surly demeanor. We had a very deep, loving, difficult relationship. We went through hell and back together. I miss him very much.

Shelton, I don’t mean to upset you by this. There were so many other facets of Daniel, about which most people are clueless. I just wanted to set the record straight with you. No obituary has been written, so I consider your article about Daniel as an obituary of sorts.

Daniel always spoke highly of you and considered you a voice of reason in this *town*. Thank you for your publication.

Notes on Chef Amadeus


Wok Me, Amadeus: A local chef takes his “Southern Passion” to the Food Network

With minimal fanfare and almost no institutional support, Northeast Florida has quickly developed one of the more interesting culinary scenes in the southeast today, with a wide variety of styles and flavors to serve ravenous local appetites. As with other industries, there are also many people from this area plying their trade all over this country. Chef Amadeus is one of them. Born in 1967, the Ribault High graduate recently returned home after an extended engagement in Seattle, home of other notable Duval transplants like Rachel Shimp, Kat Vellos, Ty Harris and Tiger Parker.

Amadeus is among the contestants on “The Extreme Chef”, the latest offering served up by the Food Network, the Marilyn Chambers of what the critics now deride so marketably as “Food Porn”. His episode airs Thursday night, July 28. Hosted by Marsh Mohktari, “Extreme Chef” takes the shopworn gimmick of a cooking competition to, well, extremes. Contestants must prepare their dishes using not only unpredictable and often unwieldy combinations of ingredients, but they must contend with ridiculous ill-suited implements like sporks and Swiss Army knives. They also cook outdoors, in scorching sun with swirling clouds of dust, wildlife and such. The specter of sudden, spectacular failure is amplified under conditions where failure is likely.

While host Mokhtari is not a professional chef himself, he brings broad-based skills to the outdoor table. Born inBritainin 1975, Mokhtari spent his first six years inIran, and later majored in medical physics at Newcastle; he also played rugby for the Newcastle Falcons and American footy for the UK national team. After years doing corporate work in the City ofLondon, he took an abrupt but inspired turn (facilitated by the “Matrix” series) into broadcasting, creating shows like “Death Road” for History Channel and “Perilous Journeys” for National Geographic Channel. He also acted on “Alias”, “Passions”, “Young & the Restless” and “CSI: Miami”.

A lifetime’s experience in the kitchens of restaurants around this country make chefs experts at thriving under unrelenting pressure, and Amadeus comes ready for the task. While “Extreme Chef” marks Amadeus’ national TV debut, he’s no stranger to broadcasting. He hosts the “Southern Passion Lounge” podcast every Wednesday at 4pm on, with back episodes archived on-site. The show, which started last December, focuses on his three favorite activities in life—cooking, travel, and golf.

His palette seems to run toward a fusion of traditional southern-style cooking and the Asian influences so prevalent on the west coast. His food is robust and flavorful, but healthy. Hard-core carnivores can dine side-by-side with vegans at his table, and barely notice the other. A look at his Facebook page offers hints of how he rolls, with dishes like meatballs and broccoli with Chow Fun, seared duck with boysenberry glaze and dirty rice, almond-crusted risotto balls with Puttanesca sauce, veggie chowder make with soy milk and oatmeal flour, mushrooms stuffed with halibut, shrimp strudel, salmon au gratin and something called “Shrimp Rhapsody”, right alongside the collards, fried chicken and dirty rice that one would expect from a Duval man; desserts include stuffed strawberries, and Bananas Foster martinis.

His “Southern Passion Spices” are salt-free blends, available in flavors like “Dos Maria” (named after his mother and grandmother), “Chino5” (which can be used on everything from grilled meats and in desserts), and the flagship “Lil’ Bump”. He’ll be bringing all this together when his first cookbook is released in 2012. Amadeus offers private sessions, while devoting some of his free time to teaching new cooks. Through it all, one gets the sense that he truly enjoys his work. “Extreme Chef” is helping him take his southern passion to wider audiences; they better be hungry!;; July 21, 2011

DVD Review: Martha Argerich/Mischa Maisky


Martha Argerich & Mischa Maisky—Luzerner Sinfonieorchester/Neeme Jarvi (Accentus Music)

The world’s greatest living classical pianist, Martha Argerich, celebrated her 70th birthday this June 5, and having beaten cancer years ago, she shows no sign that age has caught up with her. In fact, age can barely see her at all, she’s so far ahead, and that has always a trait common to her creative endeavors. After studying with the famed teacher and performer Friedrich Gulda (who made some daring forays into the jazz world decades ago that have aged quite well themselves), Argerich made a cannonball splash into the public eye with an award-winning recitals at Geneva and Bolzano in 1957, then Warsaw in 1965 and the ripples she made have continued rolling into the 21st century.

To commemorate the occasion, Accentus Music has released a DVD of a concert recorded in Switzerland on February 9-10. She is joined by longtime collaborator Mischa Maisky (born 1948), quite arguably the world’s greatest living cellist; they are backed by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra (founded 1806), with guest conductor Neeme Jarvi (born 1937), for a program that mixes old and new with seamless precision.

For the last 30 years, Argerich the musician has existed in two distinct yet still mostly overlapping forms—as the grand dame doyenne of the 88 keys in our modern world, and also as a major facilitator of the musical arts in multiple countries. In a sense, she could be considered somewhat analogous to women like Marian McPartland, Cosima Wagner or even Pannonica de Koenigswarter or Lorraine Gordon, all of whom played a role in developing the most important music of the past 100 years; Argerich is herself a beneficiary of their contributions. She has provided instruction, encouragement and her money to three generations of classical musicians, in addition to the priceless benefits of association with her name, whether in collaboration with Argerich or in conjunction with the various events she is associated with. Argerich serves as president of the International Piano Academy Lake Como, which offers top-shelf training for seven selected pianists per year, and as General Director of the Argerich Music Festival and Encounter in Beppu, Japan, which she founded 15 years ago. Her annual performances at the Lugano Festival are always noteworthy for the new talent she collaborates with.

Argerich has also proven a boon to the more non-musical aspects of the industry, especially in terms of recording. Whether done in-studio or live on-stage, the unique technical challenges involved in getting good sound from a classical session have helped lead the charge in the evolution of recording technology, particularly as it relates to a) the development of stereo sound on the records, and b) the structural features of the records themselves, as the industry moved from 78s to LPs to compact disc and beyond. The jazz world was doing similar work simultaneously, and the resulting methods were applied to other genres, thus making possible the extraordinary, world-changing sonic revolution wrought by rock and roll, R&B and soul.

A free agent from day one, Argerich has recorded for almost every major classical label, and many of the minor ones; only RCA-Victor andColumbiasomehow missed the boat. While it is unclear if the effect was deliberate, but she remains a top seller for all those labels, generating revenue that has allowed those labels to produce more music in an industry where most new albums sell a few thousand copies at best. Some of this material might not have been possible without those few extra dollars—what I like to call “the Norah Jones Effect” (as demonstrated with the resurgence of Blue Note Records). In this manner, countless artists have further profited from their connection to her.

In the case of Accentus, a fairly new label based out ofLeipzig,Germanywith only about ten DVDs out so far, the release of an Argerich disc is crucial to a strong start for the company. While they also carry discs by heavyweights like Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Ricardo Chailly, Joshua Bell, Pierre Boulez and Evgeny Kissin (some of which are previewed on this disc), there is only one Martha Argerich—no one sells like her, and it’s possible that no one ever will again.

While barely out of girlhood, Martha Argerich dove headlong into a classical music world that was then still populated with the giants of 20th century music. Leading orchestras were being conducted by the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan and others. The piano world was dominated by titans like Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter. New stars were coming along like Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein, Mitsuko Uchida, Van Cliburn and Earl Wild. She was, without question, one of the most beautiful women in the world then, but looks alone were not enough. The fact that she was so successful and so widely acclaimed amidst such a tough crowd attests to her skill, in particular her singular facility with the music of Frederic Chopin.

In my opinion (which is shared by others with infinitely more credibility than I), Martha Argerich is the greatest interpreter of Chopin’s music for solo piano than anyone since the composer himself. That fact will be the foundation of her legacy, but there is much more to her than that; she also reaped a mighty harvest from the seeds sown by the Russians Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev, whose works were mainly popularized by Richter and Horowitz. She has worked effectively in everything from solos and chamber groups to symphony orchestras, and is among the most-recorded artists of the past 50 years.

As one might expect, Argerich and the camera get along nicely. Once notorious for canceling concerts, she has been filmed in performance almost every time she actually performs. Every phase of her career has been thoroughly-documented, and in recent years she’s been the subject of several excellent documentaries. She bears much responsibility for the very existence of a “classical video” market; most companies involved with such material have their own Argerich material available.

The DVD reiterates its star’s diverse interests and wide-ranging capabilities. The programme, which runs nearly two hours total, includes pieces by Antonin Dvorak, Cesar Franck and Dmitri Shostakovich. But the concert’s centerpiece is the world premiere of Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s “Romantic Offering”, a piece commissioned and written for these specific performers; he had previously written a piece for Maisky’s 60th birthday, in 2008.

The orchestra begins the set alone, without the featured soloists, sauntering through Dvorak’s “Scherzo capriccioso in D flat Major, Op. 66”. Argerich and Maisky then arrive together—with the latter wearing an incredibly shiny, puffy silver-grey shirt—to begin the Shchedrin piece, which runs about half an hour.

“Romantic Offering” opens in a moderate, ruminative vein, with the soloists working through the piece in public for the first time, before plunging into a sprightly second movement; Argerich’s mastery of the keyboard’s high-end is on display, as Maisky bows like a Muay Thai fighter, with his wild, wooly white hair flying around like he’s playing speed metal—and perhaps he is, in a sense. Talk about aging gracefully! It appears that neither he nor Argerich have lost a step. The horns strike a chord that pushes the reset button, before the whole orchestra jumps in, Argerich leading the way. Thrilling stuff, and probably the DVD’s highest point. The third movement meanders, aiming for a mood that isn’t quite evoked; hard to say whether the composition falters here, or if the band doesn’t quite mesh as well as in the previous movement. My guess is the former.

Following a round of applause and flowers presented, the principals (Argerich, Maisky, Jarvi and Shchedrin) exit stage right, returning for a brief curtain call. The bits of backstage interaction are always fun to see, in part because one sees so little of it. After a break (either an intermission, or more likely a cut to footage from the second concert), the group returns to play “Sonata for cello and piano in A Major” by Cesar Franck. To my ears, it sounds almost like Gershwin in parts, if not Aaron Copland.

The set concludes with the infamously splendid “Symphony No. 9 in E flat Major, Op. 70” by another Russian, Dmitri Shostakovich. The piece was written in celebration of the Russian victory in World War II, but was apparently suppressed because the music was deemed too happy for the solemn occasion—typical Soviet-era wrongheadedness. It’s a delightful piece of music, and the orchestra is at their best working these playful melodies and martial rhythms; Argerich and Maisky are not present. The woodwinds get to shine here, with a bespectacled lady oboist the star of the first movement.

Seizing on the expanded capabilities afforded by the format, the DVD also includes about 20 minutes of bonus documentary footage featuring Argerich, Maisky and Shchedrin. Entitled “Behind the Scenes At a World Premiere”, it’s an interesting look at a side of the business rarely visible to outsiders, and a nice way to wrap up a performance. It appears that Argerich’s golden years might be downright platinum.; July 21, 2011

Review: “Coltrane On Coltrane”


Coltrane On Coltrane: the John Coltrane Interviews, by Chris DeVito. Chicago: A Capella Books (an imprint of Chicago Review Press ). 379 pp., illustrated.

The life and legacy of John Coltrane embodies the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt’s battle-tested axiom “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Coltrane recorded extensively in all types of musical settings, but he didn’t seem to make a big deal about it. He just worked and worked, always pushing forward for the next step along what was arguably the most unique path of musical progress ever walked.

“Coltrane On Coltrane” features some 55 articles, essays and interviews related to Coltrane, authored by some of the best jazz writers of that era, including Stanley Dance, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Ralph J. Gleason, Nat Hentoff, Frank Kofsky and Gene Lees. The appendix features interviews with people who knew the subject from his roots in North Carolina and his musical matriculation in the smoking-hot Philadelphia jazz scene of the 1940s and ‘50s.

Coltrane’s status as a tireless student of the game is on full display as he nearly aces one of Downbeat’s famous “Blindfold Tests”. (Incidentally, some day it would be really nice to have all of the blindfold tests collected in an anthology; it’s truly one of the most unique gimmicks ever conceived in the journalism business, and it’s surprising that more media in other genres, especially hip-hop, haven’t made fuller use of it.) One also reads a lot of his love for artists like Ravi Shankar and Ornette Coleman, as well as his perpetual struggle to find the perfect reed. We learn that Coltrane’s rapid mastery of the soprano sax was not nearly so effortless as it might have seemed; the embrochure was very different, and for years he expected to reach an eventual crossroads, forced to choose between horns.

We also learn more than ever before about his early years, and the long, winding road he took to immortality, thanks in part to old interviews with a former childhood friend and one of his first music teachers. A key thing to remember about Coltrane, a fact reiterated over and over through the text, is that he was never particularly satisfied with any of his recorded work. He viewed everything in terms of evolution and exploration; the records were often months or years behind the pace of his restless spirit, and he viewed the records more as souvenirs from his journey.

The text ends around 1965, just as the tumult surrounding “A Love Supreme” gave way to the overt controversy of his last few years, as Coltrane became the crown jewel of the avant-garde movement, with multiple drummers and large horn sections; the transition from McCoy Tyner to Alice Coltrane, and Elvin Jones to Rashied Ali, were not just symbolic of his shift, but vital aspects of it. There’s not much record of how Coltrane felt about himself or his music toward the end; all we know is that he did not stop until he was physically unable to work any more. One has always suspected that the diagnosis of liver cancer that he apparently received around that time may have spurred him to speed up his musical experiments, thus making the schism between past and future even more profound. The critics did what they always do when confronted with art that defies their ability to explain: they either attacked his music or ignored it. To think that John Coltrane was denied coverage in Downbeat for years is unthinkable today, yet that is how strongly his music affected people.

This book is such a well-executed labor of love that offering any criticism at all feels almost bitchy, but there are minor flaws that can be easily corrected in later editions or the paperback version. The painting of Coltrane on the cover is nice, but I’d rather see one of the many iconic images instead, to reinforce the seminal nature of the text; DeVito found several unpublished photos that could be used for this purpose.

Also, a discography and partial bibliography would be nice; since everyone who reads this book will likely be a serious Coltrane buff, such information would make it even easier to follow-up his words with his actions. Granted, Coltrane’s did a massive amount of work in his short life, and the subsequent 45 years have seen countless reissues and a flood of new material being released. Putting together comprehensive backmatter of this sort would have been a full-time job in itself, and one can easily imagine how exhausting DeVito’s job already was. Still, such material would have pushed the text beyond 500 pages and made this book truly indispensable. But, as it is, Coltrane On Coltrane is a must-read for all fans of the artist and the times he lived in. DeVito has done yeoman work, and the results are recommended without hesitation.; July 1, 2011