Between the Lines: Legal Pot? Don’t Make It So Complicated
Aug19

Between the Lines: Legal Pot? Don’t Make It So Complicated

Maybe it’s marijuana’s cultural baggage of Deadheads, dreadlocked Rastafarians, and psychedelic paraphernalia that does it, but there’s something about cannabis that brings out the school marm in certain segments of the population. It just makes the members of the more conservative contingent feel like their neckties are too tight, like their worldview is still endangered by the cultural descendants of the hippies who hoisted a green,...

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Bong King to the Stars: Chris Hubbard’s success with blown glass pot pipes and bongs is out of this world
Aug19

Bong King to the Stars: Chris Hubbard’s success with blown glass pot pipes and bongs is out of this world

A singular event in Bingen, Washington marked Chris Hubbard’s transformation from glassblowing hobbyist to professional: “On Aug. 3, 2005, a SWAT team kicked in my door. They thought the studio was a meth lab,” Hubbard says. He had his medical marijuana card, and was inside “listening to Bob Marley — ‘No Woman, No Cry.’ They didn’t find any meth.” They did, however, discover his marijuana. Though he was licensed to have it to help...

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All About the Books: Readercon, the thinking fan’s sci-fi convention
Aug12

All About the Books: Readercon, the thinking fan’s sci-fi convention

When I was a budding science fiction fan, I stepped into a con — a science fiction convention — for the first time. I was into SF, you know, for the books. The convention, it soon became clear, was about the spectacle of science fiction as delivered via other media. Somehow I came home with a pair of rubber Spock ears, some Ral Partha lead figurines, and a Klingon’s phone number. Once the crippling Mountain Dew hangover passed, I told...

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Between The Lines: Space — It Matters

Now and then, often while we’re preoccupied with some screen or other, something particularly interesting happens in the sky. A very bright star appears, as if it’s suddenly popped through the inky background, and flies across the heavens. It winks out as abruptly as it appeared. It’s startling the first time you see it. The star is, of course, no star, but the International Space Station, hurtling silently above as it rounds the...

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Scene Here: The Runway
Aug12

Scene Here: The Runway

Kelly Dempsey, 31, originally hails from Monson and now she’s on the latest season of Project Runway, which premiered last Thursday. At the packed Pasquale’s Restaurant in East Longmeadow last Thursday, Dempsey’s friends, relatives, acquaintances, and some fond strangers gathered for a premiere party. Though she handled it as if she had always been a star, Dempsey couldn’t travel two feet without the celebrity treatment. “Ohhhh my...

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Together Again: Songwriters Mark Herschler and John Cruz reunite and offer two new solo albums
Jul28

Together Again: Songwriters Mark Herschler and John Cruz reunite and offer two new solo albums

Near the back door of Mark Herschler’s Northampton house and studio sits a group of boulders. “I think there might be Native American spirits in there,” Herschler says with a smile. “I think it’s helping with the recording.” Sitting inside, we can hear a commotion from other current residents of the large Laurel Park house, mostly from the basement studio. “I’m hoping to repeat the Home for Wayward Musicians idea, like I did in...

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Between the Lines: James Tate, 1943-2015
Jul22

Between the Lines: James Tate, 1943-2015

During my poetry MFA thesis defense some years ago, I sat in a professor’s living room, relieved to hear praise from the committee. Then poet James Tate, who’d been peering over with a semi-grin, weighed in. “Mr. Heflin,” he said, “We’ve praised you enough.” He pointed shortcomings out to me that should have been obvious, things like poems bumping up against each other that should have been separated, a poem that pounded its metaphor...

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An Open Letter to Kale: What happened to you?
Jul22

An Open Letter to Kale: What happened to you?

Let me tell you a story, kale. My Uncle Dale — his musical world was anchored by the “Moods in Music” LPs from George Melachrino. He loved those mellow vinyl releases, emblazoned with hair-helmeted women lazing around on shiny upholstery and gazing over Atomic Age decolletages like Nancy Reagan on a valium bender. Melachrino’s shmaltzy rambles and easy listening bliss-outs filled Uncle Dale’s split-level ranch at his many neighborhood...

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Vegetable Valley: Columnist and author Claire Hopley on what to do with all those local veggies
Jul22

Vegetable Valley: Columnist and author Claire Hopley on what to do with all those local veggies

Many of us have faced an inevitable problem. You bring in the bounty of a farm share. You’ve done the right thing, aided the local economy and your health. You should feel proud — your counter is jammed to capacity with celeriac, beets, radishes, carrots, and a wagonload of kale. But it’s a quiet little secret that, at this point, those of us who don’t do things like knit our own leg warmers or whip up four-course meals in minutes...

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CD Shorts: Moonlapse
Jul14

CD Shorts: Moonlapse

Moonlapse Conscious (independent) When you hear the name Moonlapse, you may well figure this is an earthy-crunchy folk group. In fact, this New York City one-man project is cashing in on the spacier connotations of that name. Though the music that directly inspires 21-year-old composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Strick is prog-rock, his is a particular mellow, comfortable incarnation of that genre. Though at its most ornate...

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So About That Flag … Ideas for a new Southern banner
Jul08

So About That Flag … Ideas for a new Southern banner

So look — it may sound like a canard to Northerners, but I get the “Southern heritage” flag thing. When you grow up around Civil War battlefields, it’s impossible not to identify with the locals. Many a monument bears the names of Louisiana regiments, or those of Mississippi, Georgia, or Texas. The wrongness of the Southern cause notwithstanding, Southern kids just aren’t going to identify with the soldiers of New Jersey. The North is...

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Between the Lines: Dear Fellow Oppressed Gay Marriage Opponents
Jul08

Between the Lines: Dear Fellow Oppressed Gay Marriage Opponents

I write to you from the flaming, rainbow-hued ruins of the state of Massachusetts. Let us be a warning to all of you who are now experiencing the first stage of blowback from the latest liberal policy writ large. It is my hope that what we have seen in the Bay State can serve as a guide to you in dark days. Everything was verdant and peaceful here a scant few years ago. This was the state of codfish and dropped Rs, a redoubt of...

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Arts: Mommy greyest
Jul08

Arts: Mommy greyest

When it comes to paintings of someone sitting around glumly, few have reached the level of notoriety of “Whistler’s Mother.” Even though the painting, which indeed does depict painter James McNeill Whistler’s mother, is actually entitled “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1.” The painting was created in London in 1871, and is a rare visitor on these shores. Its Independence Day arrival marked the start of a visit to the Clark Art...

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CD Shorts: Rebirth, This World Is Ours
Jun30

CD Shorts: Rebirth, This World Is Ours

Rebirth This World Of Ours (independent) Valley band Rebirth has one of the most unusual origin stories you’ll hear: the band formed a few years ago when its members lost a friend, activist Julius Ford. Bassist/guitarist/vocalist Cinamon Blair told the Advocate in 2011, “I truly believe Rebirth would have eventually formed with Julius as a member if he were still in the physical form.” The music of Rebirth is an unusual mix of...

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Falcons, Folk Art, and Postcards
Jun30

Falcons, Folk Art, and Postcards

Northampton’s Hosmer Gallery (inside the Forbes Library) offers an intriguing abundance of art this month. For the series “Curatorial 365,” Easthampton’s Leslie Tane (whose work is pictured) created a 4×6-inch postcard every day during 2014. Each was crafted around a phrase from the essays she also read every day. Photographer and newspaper editor Greg Saulmon’s work focuses on the birds of downtown Holyoke, a flock that includes...

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For the Love of the Game: The senior softball players of Western Mass Relics
Jul08

For the Love of the Game: The senior softball players of Western Mass Relics

On a recent Thursday at the Ludlow Fish and Game Club, things were abuzz. The skies were repeatedly ripped through with the blare of engines as aircraft traveled the skies around Westover Air Force Base; gunfire crackled from the firing range nearby. Amid that din, the irregular thunk of softballs hitting plywood echoed. The senior softball players of Western Mass Relics play with underhand pitching, and the ump gets a hand from that...

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Between the Lines: Time for the Twits of the Year
Jun23

Between the Lines: Time for the Twits of the Year

In Monty Python’s sketch “The Upper Class Twit of the Year,” the competition gets fierce. The commentator, voiced by John Cleese, runs down the lineup: “Vivian Smith-Smythe-Smith has an O-level in chemo-hygiene. Simon-Zinc-Trumpet-Harris, married to a very attractive table lamp. Nigel Incubator-Jones, his best friend is a tree, and in his spare time he’s a stockbroker.” After the starting gun, the competitors head off in uncoordinated...

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Stories from All Directions: Tackling the gender gap in publishing
Jun23

Stories from All Directions: Tackling the gender gap in publishing

British/Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie, who wrote her first novel “in Northampton in a studio ’round the corner from Joe’s pizza,” has lately stirred up certain quarters of the literary world with a provocation: She’s called for 2018 to be a year in which publishers only present the work of women writers. She’s not shy about it. In a recent interview, I asked Shamsie, who’s landed on several short lists for prestigious prizes and...

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My Favorite Walk: Ruins and Raptors on Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail
Jun23

My Favorite Walk: Ruins and Raptors on Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail

Rail trails are a dime a dozen around these parts, but Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail is, for me, the finest of them. In the middle of its run, it dissects a nondescript end of town, crossing busy Union Street beside a stripmall, a melancholy ATM, and a gas station. Granted, not far from that crossing you’ll find some intriguing outposts, including Tandem Bagel, a well-landscaped former depot building full of tasty round diversions...

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Breaking Dad, an occassional series of parenting bad-vice: The Cheeto Full Monty
Jun23

Breaking Dad, an occassional series of parenting bad-vice: The Cheeto Full Monty

So this, it turns out, was the Father’s Day I had Cheetos up my nose. Not in a funny way, but more a sort of philosophical reverie way, like that glazed look you get after you’ve had seven ice cream sandwiches and a heat stroke. This was the latest result of my parentage principles, which I have been asked to share with you via this occasional column. (Because, no doubt, I’m a father of three — Dempsey, 3, Winona, 6, Charlene, 13, and...

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CD Shorts: Haelos, Earth Not Above
Jun16

CD Shorts: Haelos, Earth Not Above

Haelos Earth Not Above (Matador) London trio Haelos often manages an unusual feat: the group takes the sterile sounds of electronic instruments and creates from them music that’s drenched with emotion. A couple of minutes into the EP Earth Not Above, there’s a loop-induced state of near-hypnosis through which Haelos’ vocals drift and echo. The songs don’t pay attention to pop convention, particularly in terms of length, unfolding in...

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The Arts: Nominations for the Advocate Grand Band Slam are Open
Jun09
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Between the Lines: Textbooks Gone Wild
Jun09

Between the Lines: Textbooks Gone Wild

I’m a Texan. Sometimes this fact comes in handy — people defer to me when it comes to assigning grades to enchiladas, for instance — and sometimes it compels me to write columns in defense of the good people of the Lone Star State who aren’t a) crazy, b) rabidly conservative, or c) both. This week, I can’t do anything to downplay the crazy. It’s more than any one right-thinking gaucho can stuff under a 10-gallon hat. The state of...

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CD Shorts: Sasha Siem, ‘Most of the Boys’
Jun02

CD Shorts: Sasha Siem, ‘Most of the Boys’

Sasha Siem Most of the Boys (Blue Plum) Somewhere or other, there’s a line of demarcation between “singer/songwriter” and “composer.” London-based Sasha Siem may be a crafter of unusual pop, but she nonetheless seems to have crossed into composer territory, winning a British Composer Award. She is, in a sense, a superbly skilled creator of music too sophisticated to be dismissed with the label “pop,” yet too friendly in length and...

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The Arts: An Artistic Herd
Jun02

The Arts: An Artistic Herd

If you need a bestiary in order to catalogue your animals, who better to make one than a disparate group of artists? Curator Rob Kimmel gathered just such a group for the exhibition/bestiary called Horns to Tale. The artists include, among others, Sophie Argetsinger, Rick Beaupre, Amy Johnquest, Amelia Merrill, Colin Panetta, and Lilly Pereira. Horns to Tale isn’t just a reality-bound bestiary — it includes fantastical creatures in...

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Summer Arts Preview: The Best Up-coming Concerts, Shows, and Events of the Season
Jun02

Summer Arts Preview: The Best Up-coming Concerts, Shows, and Events of the Season

Summertime, and the livin’ is greatly enhanced by a calendar ripe with performances. In a Valley that comes alive with music, theater, and every other incarnation of the arts, it can be tough to know where to turn. We’ve compiled a short list of highlights from the season to come, but with an overabundance of options from which to choose, these are just starting points. Turn over a rock here, and you’ll find a festival, concert, or...

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Here Comes Everybody: Setting James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to music
May27

Here Comes Everybody: Setting James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake to music

Early 20th-century Modernist literature, at its worst, is uninviting and impenetrable. Take the work of Ezra Pound — at one extreme is his beautiful and accessible imagist poem “In A Station of the Metro”: The apparition of these faces in the crowd; petals on a wet, black bough. At the other is one of his “Cantos” which is yet shorter, but not easily reproduced — it’s a single Chinese character. Imbuing it with meaning is hardly easy,...

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Between the Lines: When Thank You Is Not Enough
May27

Between the Lines: When Thank You Is Not Enough

In a pocket of my work bag, I carry a talisman of sorts. It’s a patch from the First Marine Division, aka “The Old Breed.” A man named Harris Mills gave it to me years ago. He was a family friend, and an imposing, if grandfatherly figure — tall, well-coiffed, and animated, with a big Memphis accent and a flair for storytelling. He often weaved tales of his experiences with The Old Breed, with whom he stepped ashore at Guadalcanal and...

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The Uncanny Valley: Jumpin’ Black Flash, A Cape Cod boogeyman
May27

The Uncanny Valley: Jumpin’ Black Flash, A Cape Cod boogeyman

Spring-Heeled Jack, in addition to being the best-named apparition since the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, was a frequent haunter of Victorian London and, eventually, other parts of Great Britain. He was known and feared for his habits of sudden attack via tearing with metal claws and breathing blue fire, and the black-caped scoundrel often left the scene of a crime via inhuman leaps. There’s an odd echo of Spring-Heeled Jack in the pantheon...

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Between the Lines: Advocate Grand Band Slam Is Back, now with more slam!
May12

Between the Lines: Advocate Grand Band Slam Is Back, now with more slam!

Back in the final year of the 1900s, I stood, guitar in hand, on the steps of Northampton’s old courthouse at the main intersection. The occasion was the (then new) Valley Advocate Grand Band Slam. My bandmates and I had won top honors in the “experimental/progressive” category. The proceedings were festive, and they were modest in a small-town way. I didn’t work at the Advocate then, but I was intrigued to meet some of the staff,...

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A Sad Moment for Valley Music
May12

A Sad Moment for Valley Music

Usually, it’s a happy occasion that puts a band in the paper. This week, it’s tragic news. As you may have heard, The Alchemystics recently lost two of their circle. Drummer Demse Zullo and his longtime friend Brian White were killed when the van they were travelling in rolled over on the Mass Pike. The Alchemystics have brought their blend of reggae and hip-hop to audiences all over the region since 2004, and they’ve gained a lot of...

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CD Shorts: Local release roundup
May06
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CD Shorts: The Replacements, The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990
May20

CD Shorts: The Replacements, The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990

The Replacements The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990 (Rhino) The ’80s dealt some major blows to rock ’n’ roll. Not only did the synth gain a measure of ascendancy in a genre that had, ’til then, been primarily about the ragged tones of the electric guitar, something really weird happened to hard rock. Somehow, much of metal turned into something far more inexplicable, with tough guy strutting turning, sans irony, to androgyny wrapped...

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Ungrounded: Beating Flying Phobia
May06

Ungrounded: Beating Flying Phobia

On a recent Saturday, I stared out an airport window at an Airbus 330, emblazoned with green and the Aer Lingus shamrock. For the first time in a long time, I was staring at a plane I was about to get on. I did a lot of work to get there. Still, it was a moment of commitment a lot like steadying oneself to jump from a crane with a bungee cord attached. So yeah, no drama. Fear of flying — a very common phobia, affecting as many as one...

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The New Chairman
May06

The New Chairman

About a year ago, I gained temporary possession of a chair. The thing was apparently full of weighty significance, stuffed with metaphors and bursting with prosody. The Poet’s Seat poetry contest awards the chair annually to a Franklin County poet via blindly judged submissions, and each year’s winner — 24 and counting — takes home the furniture ’til the next year’s winner gives it a new home. The poets’ names are engraved on a...

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