Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jimi: All Is By My Side

Dinner and a Movie

Jimi Hendrix Near and Far

By Steve Herte

I'm gradually getting used to the crowd at the office, though I must admit some of the voices are difficult to listen to. But I will survive. Our new fiscal year has begun with new challenges and responsibilities. I'm going to make this short because yesterday my new tulips and hyacinths arrived and because of the rain I was unable to plant them. As soon as I finish this I'm changing into my gardening clothes and get it done. I was able to put the amaryllis into their dark pre-winter confines though. As for Friday, it was an adventure and fun. Enjoy!

Jimi: All Is By My Side (Open Road Pictures, 2013) - Director: John Ridley. Writer: John Ridley (s/p). Cast: Andre Benjamin, Imogen Poots, Hayley Atwell, Burn Gorman, Ruth Negga, Tom Dunlea, Ashley Charles, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Oliver Bennett, Laurence Kinlan, Danny McColgan, Amy De Bhrun, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Robbie Jarvis, Andrew Buckley, Jade Yourell, Ger Duffy, & Demetrice Nguyen. Color, 118 minutes.

Forty-six years ago in a music room of Cathedral Prep Seminary in Queens I heard our Senior band play two pieces, “Apache” by Jerry Lorden (originally recorded by the Shadows), and “Purple Haze” written and recorded by Jimi Hendrix. At the end of their performance I ran onto the stage and asked the lead guitarist, Frank Buccello, where they got that amazing song. He told me and I became an instant fan of Hendrix. I bought all his albums and was horrified to learn that he had been performing for two years already but was virtually unknown in America. I reveled in his unique sound and mastery of Les Paul’s invention.

Then in 1969, my friends at Manhattan Community College were all abuzz about the three-day music festival happening at Woodstock and that Hendrix was the closing act. At that time I had neither the money nor the spontaneity I have today and, looking back, would not have liked the mud and the rain. Then one day I was in the student lounge of the “B” building and my friend Vivian comes over to me sadly tells me Jimi was dead. “I know you’re a great fan of his and I thought you’d like to know.” I was crushed. He was 28.

This new biopic was released last year in Canada and then in Stockholm and took until the end of this year to be released in New York. It starts in 1966 with Jimi (Benjamin) playing at the Cheetah Club in New York’s Greenwich Village and getting admiring looks from Linda Keith (Poots). She sees his immense talent and how it’s wasted in this tiny club filled with people who are not even paying attention to him. She, as Keith Richards' girlfriend, decides to use her influence to make Jimi well known and get him into the right circles. She has Chas Chandler (Buckley), the bassist for the Animals, hear Jimi perform and he immediately wants to manage for him. He would be leaving the Animals soon and is eager to try his hand.

After Chas convinces Jimi to go to London with a promise of meeting Eric Clapton (at that time considered a god of guitar playing), Chas stays with Jimi, getting him gigs. And, good to his promise, introduces him to various people, including Clapton (McColgan), at another club where Eric is performing. Jimi asks if Eric would let him jam with him and Eric agrees to Chas’ suggestion. Eric introduces Jimi with a slight smirk and Jimi plugs his guitar in and begins a fantastic wailing jam that the rest of the group picks up easily. Eric’s jaw drops, he unplugs his guitar and goes backstage where Chas meets him. “You didn’t say he was f—ing good!”

Going from club to club, Jimi meets Kathy Etchingham (Altwell) who will become his girlfriend (to the annoyance of Linda), but who will also learn that no one girl can ever be Jimi’s “girlfriend.” He then meets Ida (Negga), a young black woman who introduces him to Michael X, a man of Caribbean extraction, who tries to convince Jimi that he’s only being used by the white population and that he should play for his people. But Jimi counters that they’re all his people and follows it with the show-stopping line,“Hey, when the Power of Love beats the Love of Power, all will be cool.”

By now Jimi has met Noel Redding (Bennet), who will become his bassist and the budding group is looking for a drummer. Two drummers are up for the position and with a coin toss Mitch Mitchell (Dunlea) gets in. The group is formed. Chas introduces Jimi to Michael Jeffery (Gorman), the current manager of the Animals, who takes over and gets them a slot at the Monterey Pops Festival. After an embarrassing gig at a club where Brian Epstein was in attendance, the Jimi Hendrix Experience is slated to open at the Sayville Theater in London. Jimi arrives late and brings a record into the dressing room. It’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles. He plays the opening cut for the others gives them their keys, cues and instructions for when his solo will be. “Paul McCartney (Duffy) and George Harrison are in the audience. Won’t it be insulting?” “Not if we don’t F it up.”

The group plows through an exciting version of the song, Paul’s mouth forms an “O” and the audience is on their feet in a standing ovation at the end. It’s the only entire song played in the movie except for Jimi’s version of “Wild Thing” at the end.

Andre Benjamin is Jimi Hendrix. I never doubted him. He even learned to play guitar left-handed for the role. He has Jimi’s voice and mannerisms down pat, sounding like he was in a drug-induced haze most of the time. But when he had something to say, at one point Linda comments, “It’s really annoying that sometimes you can be so damned profound.”

The music in this movie is typical Hendrix, but sadly, thanks to his estate (they got way too greedy), none of it is his creation. They forbade the use of any of his hits in the film. We only see his disappointment that “Purple Haze” didn’t even make the top 100 on the American charts. We never hear it. The characters are well played, although I thought Ashley Charles made Keith Richards look way too handsome. The “F” word is bandied about freely and this is probably the only movie where this is appropriate, so judge wisely. There are also scenes of drug use, with LSD and pot being consumed. The only violence is when Jimi jealously beats Kathy with a telephone receiver, and a news clip of Buddhist monks immolating themselves is shown.

It’s an excellent film. I now feel as if I’ve seen and heard Jimi Hendrix. The only drawback is that the movie flips between being a biopic and being a docudrama, with news clips and television interviews, which became slightly annoying when I wanted to hear more Jimi. On the other hand, the soundtrack included songs like “Itchycoo Park.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Miller’s Near and Far
65 Rivington Street (bet. Allen and Eldridge Streets)New York

Knowing the capabilities of my camera, I still fall for intriguing pictures of restaurants on Miller’s is one of those. But its menu was just as intriguing. Not having had too much experience in dealing with the named streets of New York’s Lower East Side, I used Googlemaps to get an idea of what this restaurant looked like on the outside and thus make it easier to find. To my surprise, the exterior matched that of an old rusting diner I once saw in a sci-fi film. But I said, “What the heck” and went.

The name of the place is etched into the glass of the only door. Inside, it resembles a diner in décor, but not in kitch. The ceiling is a series of infinity illusions in pale green and white. Likewise, the two end walls are painted pale green and white respectively. If there are 10 tables, it’s a lot, and there are stools lining the open kitchen.

The young man who would eventually become my server greeted me enthusiastically (forgive me, he introduced himself and I forgot his name – good reason to return). He gave me my choice of tables, and I chose one against the near wall under the light. He then presented the single card food menu with drinks, wine and beer on the reverse and left to get me a glass of water.

I learned that there is indeed a “Miller.” Christopher Miller opened the restaurant in 2013. The Near and Far part comes from his knack of combining East and West in his cuisine. Taking that into account I ordered the cocktail “Shiso Cool” not only for its clever name, but also for the ingredients – Plymouth gin, cucumber and Shiso tea. It was refreshing and interesting. The young lady who served the cocktail complimented me on my pale green shirt and tie combination and I had to confess I wore what I wore because it matched the décor of the restaurant. She loved it.

In the absence of the appetizer I had seen on the website – green Buffalo frogs legs with a pickled ramp ranch dressing – I chose the charred octopus – in a salad with citrus yoghurt, hearts of palm, frisée, sliced fingerling potatoes in a sherry vinaigrette and garnished with home-made potato chips. I marvel every time I have octopus and it’s tender. I even liked the potatoes. But the slightly salty, delicate little chips on top made the dish.

The wine list was very reasonably priced and I chose the 2012 Michael Sullberg California Pinot Noir/Gamay varietal. It was strange to be drinking this lovely wine from a non-stemmed glass but, considering the venue, it was appropriate. And . . . it worked well with my meal.

The other dish that attracted me to this restaurant was still being served and I ordered it. The Uni Pappardelle – homemade squid ink pasta made with sea urchin emulsion in a cream sauce and topped with toasted breadcrumbs – was amazing. The lighting added a slightly greenish tinge to the normally black pasta, the cream sauce added a sweet accent to the usually acrid squid, and the uni also sweetened the dish.

The restaurant was filling up rapidly and I was currently sitting at a table for four. I agreed to shift to the other single table when they needed mine. My server was the ultimate host, and didn’t mind chatting every now and then. That’s how I learned that we both went to the same combination of colleges, Manhattan Community and Hunter. (No not at the same time. That would have been too strange.) But really, it’s a small world.

The only dessert available came with the meal and I wouldn’t have refused it anyway. It was Peanut Butter and Jelly Panna Cotta – blueberry compote and chopped peanuts over custard made from thick cream, egg white and honey. It was lovely. I even commented on the tiny size of the blueberries. 

I wasn’t in the mood for a coffee, but an after dinner drink was not out of the running. The second young man who had requested I relinquish a table brought over a choice of two cordials. I chose the Fernet Branca because I’ve never tasted it before. It’s an Italian cordial, somewhat like an amaro. I researched it and found out that among the known ingredients are aloe, gentian root (probably where it gets its purplish color), rhubarb, gum myrrh, red cinchona bark, galanga (a blue variety of ginger) and zedoary (white turmeric). The taste? It was most unusual, somewhere between medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud. Helene would not have liked it. But I found it to be fun.

I felt so at home at Miller’s. I met the entire staff (including the Chef, who checked up on his dishes) and they were wonderful (both staff and dishes). I’ll have to call ahead the next time to make sure they have those frogs legs.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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