5 Questions with Gad Elmaleh

The French comedian will perform at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Feb. 7

Chances are you haven’t heard of Gad Elmaleh. And he kind of likes it that way.

At least for now.

Imagine: a standup comedian who truly enjoys his anonymity; who’d rather you not know his background before you watch him perform; who’d rather you not know that in France he’s considered one of the funniest people alive.

“It’s refreshing,” says Elmaleh of his newly discovered privacy here in the United States. “To just stand somewhere and stare at people with nobody recognizing me, it’s great. Because I get to live the situation, and to experience it, and enjoy it.”

After more than two decades in comedy in France, and with several TV shows and 22 movies to his credit, Elmaleh took the biggest chance of his career: He moved to America.

Here is a guy known as “the French Jerry Seinfeld”; who broke records by selling out L’Olympia in Paris seven weeks in a row; who was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Minister of Culture. And he’s essentially starting over at age 45.

“I worked very hard on the English,” Elmaleh says during a recent phone interview, his voice revealing not only a French accent, but an animated eagerness and, at times, a sober earnestness. “Two years ago, we couldn’t have had this conversation.”

A stranger in a strange land that keeps getting stranger with every passing day, Elmaleh is currently on tour and will be playing World Cafe Live at The Queen on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“I want to do stand-up,” Elmaleh says. “And what you get from this experience—mentally, physically, emotionally, everything—it’s very hard to find this, and retrieve this, and get this with the cinema. It’s a ride, doing stand-up, a crazy ride [with] risk and pleasure and disappointment and fear and anxiety and reinvention and trying every night.

“Starting over is a big challenge.”

Here, he discusses his passion and why he did what he did—leaving great success behind in his homeland.

O&A: What has been the biggest obstacle for you in coming to America to do comedy, other than having to learn the language?

Elmaleh: I think the language is really not the main thing. Obviously, it’s very hard, and you have to write and translate. And talk in English every day with Americans. And watch TV and [understand] it.
But the really shocking, surprising thing [is playing comedy clubs] unannounced. They have no idea who’s going to be there. It’s just 100 percent Americans who have no idea: “Who is this guy with the weird name trying to do jokes in English?”

And the great thing is I feel I need to earn those laughs. It’s not only that I feel—I have to. Because if I’m not funny there…they’re not going to be nice to me or be like, “Oh, he’s traveling from France, let’s give him a break.” And I love that. It’s a good thing. But it’s also very hard. Because when you bomb, you bomb seriously. It’s humbling.

So when I perform in front of 12,000 [in France] and then I go to the Comedy Cellar in New York in front of 100 people who have no idea who I am, it’s a really, really big challenge. And I love it.

Elmaleh has been called “the French Jerry Seinfeld.” Photo Jon Asher
Elmaleh has been called “the French Jerry Seinfeld.” Photo Jon Asher

O&A: When you were on the Jim and Sam Show [featured 8-11 a.m. on Sirius 206 and XM 103], Jim Norton—who has 26 years of experience in comedy —was talking about how after a bad show he questions himself. And this is a veteran comedian questioning himself. Is it like that?

Elmaleh: You know, it’s both. Because I have this thing in the back of my head all the time that says you have nothing to lose. What’s the worst-case scenario? “Oh, that guy with the bad accent was not funny?” It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It’s a little painful. But it’s not that bad.

Just go home, and I write and rewrite. And listen to my sets, because I record every single set. But I’m lucky that I already made my career in France and made my money and earned my life and had my kids and all that. If I had to struggle and make a living with the standup comedy in the U.S., starting over, I would die. It would be impossible for me.

O&A: There’s this comparison to Jerry Seinfeld. People have been calling you “the French Jerry Seinfeld.” Does that work for you?

Elmaleh: I think it’s kind of lazy to compare people. But it’s good when they compare you to the right person, the person you admire. I do observational comedy…And [Seinfeld and I] have been connected even before we met. Then we became friends, and I went on his show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I open for him often. I travel with him. He comes to Paris sometimes, and performed in Paris in English one night, which I helped arrange.

I always say as a joke, and also to him, that they can compare me to Jerry Seinfeld the day that he performs an hour in French.

O&A: What was that day like, when you did Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Seinfeld? It looked like you had fun. Had you two met before that?

Elmaleh: Yeah, we were friends before. He was really interested in my challenge. He doesn’t understand why I need to come to America to do this. He always makes fun of me and says [in animated voice], “It’s like if you say, ‘OK, I’m going to go to Italy and start a pasta factory, and then I’m going to go to Germany and start building cars!”

And he’s making fun of me and he says, “You know it’s standup comedy. You’re from France. You should stay there.”

But I want him to understand… standup comedy was born in the U.S. If you play soccer you want to be with the best team. If you play baseball, you want to be in the city where baseball is No. 1. So I came to New York.

O&A: You were in the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. You played the detective. And a theme in that movie was that people kept looking back in the past for a golden age. Everyone was looking back into the past. That said, when was the “Golden Age of Comedy” for you? Were there comedians that inspired you? Or would you say now is the best time for comedy?

Elmaleh: It’s funny, because I’ve been inspired as an artist not only by comedians. And it’s really interesting how you can be inspired by different role models that are not necessarily comedians.
The shock that I had when I saw Charlie Chaplin, when I was a kid. And the movie was The Kid. I was a little boy in Casablanca, Morocco. It was a shock. It was really an important moment for me.
Also, I don’t know why, but I also immediately thought of Frank Sinatra. I don’t know why. When I put on a song from Sinatra, it’s not only the music that I hear, I hear a whole time. A time, an epoch, a way of life.

There’s a whole atmosphere. There’s a whole environment. And if I could go back in time, I would really love to attend one of his concerts, and hang out with him, and [see] him hang out with the Rat Pack. There’s something really classic that I’m nostalgic about. Maybe I’m just getting old, but that’s what inspires me.


All In the Timing

Davey Dickens Jr. picked up a guitar six years ago. Next month, his band releases its debut album.

It’s funny how much difference five years can make in a person’s life.

Take local country musician Davey Dickens Jr. for instance. It wasn’t until 2011, when Dickens was 32 years old, that he started playing guitar. Yet, just five years later, in March 2016, he found himself in one of Wilmington’s most esteemed recording studios, performing and recording his songs with some of the area’s most seasoned musicians—members of the then newly formed Davey Dickens Jr. and the Troubadours.

“I’d never stepped foot in a studio, ever,” Dickens says, his voice betraying amazement at where he is today: His band releases its debut self-titled album on Feb. 16 at World Cafe Live at The Queen.

The album features eight songs penned by Dickens and touches on life’s challenges as well as some of its joys. Montana Wildaxe co-founder and guitarist Kurt Houff encouraged the project early on.

“Kurt and I got to be pretty good buddies,” Dickens says. “He started coming up to the house, and we did a couple of song-writing sessions. [Then] we started playing out a lot as The Troubadours.”

The Troubadours came to include a former bandmate of Dickens, Dave Van Allen, on pedal steel, along with Houff’s fellow Montana Wildaxe bassist Tony Cappella and former Caulfields drummer Ritchie Rubini, who did double-duty as producer during the band’s sessions at Studio 825 last year.
“I’m so blessed to have such a force,” says Dickens.

For Dickens, those blessings included attracting the interest of Johnny Neel, famed keyboardist most known for his time with The Allman Brothers. After getting a copy of Dickens’ material, the Wilmington-born Neel agreed to return to his native state to play on the album.

While Dickens is somewhat amazed at the band’s success, he isn’t resting on his laurels. “We’ve got a lot more material,” he says.

Davey Dickens Jr. and the Troubadours play Upstairs at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Feb. 16. Advance tickets are $10 and include a copy of the new album plus a band t-shirt. More details at worldcafelive.com.

Overcoming Our Continental Divide

What a decades-long conservation effort teaches us about America

Our National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday last month. Unfortunately, the party may have been overshadowed by politics.

In an election year that has seen widespread hostilities rising to dangerous levels, our 84 million acres of national parkland offer us more than just temporary escape from the madness. We may find another kind of inspiration as well.

Take the creation story of Grand Teton National Park. A little more than a month after becoming director of the National Park Service in 1929, Horace Albright saw something finally come to fruition that he had fought 12 years for: a bill signed by President Calvin Coolidge that created the 96,000-acre park.

There was just one problem. Albright and a group of local ranchers whose support it took years to garner were not satisfied. While the mountains and lakes were protected, the park did not include the neighboring valley. Thus the area’s ecosystem still was at risk.

Fortunately, Albright and the ranchers had a secret plan underway. Two years earlier, Albright had convinced oil tycoon and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller to begin purchasing land in order to protect the valley from commercialization, over-development, and the inevitable harm to the environment.

The covert conservation mission took the form of the Snake River Land Company, which, unbeknownst to the sellers, bought the land on Rockefeller’s behalf in order to avoid an instant “gold rush” of inflated real estate prices.

In 1930, after more than 35,000 acres had been purchased, Albright and Rockefeller announced the plan to dedicate the land as an extension of the newly created park. The announcement was met with unforeseen backlash. A new wildfire of controversy ignited with anti-government voices crying foul and former landowners launching charges of wrongdoing against the Snake River Land Company.

Through Senate committee hearings, the company was cleared of any illegal activities. However, the matter of the park extension became stuck in a quagmire of public outrage and political gridlock.

That changed in 1943, when Rockefeller wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Having sat on the land for more than 15 years, Rockefeller was now threatening to sell (although his son, Lawrence, would later admit the threat was merely a tactic to get the extension deal done, finally).

Whatever the case may be, the letter worked. A month later, Roosevelt used the power of presidential proclamation to decree 221,000 acres of federal land (including Rockefeller’s property) as the Jackson Hole National Monument, thus effectively protecting the land. In doing so, Roosevelt expended a considerable amount of political clout, vetoing efforts by Congress and the Wyoming delegation to undo the proclamation.

Later, after a series of notable compromises, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill that combined the original 1929 park with Roosevelt’s 1943 monument, thus creating the Grand Teton National Park as we know it today: an attraction that most area residents—including the descendants of those who initially opposed the measure—would likely consider a godsend to both the local economy and the ecology.

A 2001 report by the National Park System Advisory Board, came to the conclusion that “the creation of a national park is an expression of faith in our future.”

As we reflect on 100 years of National Parks, we should delight in the beauty of our American landscape. And, in instances such as Grand Teton National Park, we should also see the beauty in what can be achieved when unlikely allies—the visionaries, concerned citizens, public servants and the so-called 1 percent—work together to accomplish something for the benefit and enjoyment of us all.

To find out more about our National Park Service, including how to download your personal copy of the National Parks Owner’s Guide, research travel and hiking suggestions, and make a donation, go to nationalparks.org.

Fiesta with the Best: Our Salsa Taste Test

Wherein our intrepid staff sacrifices taste buds for the benefit of our readers

With Cinco de Mayo fast approaching and symptoms of spring fever already here, your chances of encountering fiesta improvisada, or, as it’s better known in the U.S., the impromptu house party, are greatly increased.

Thankfully we’re here to help. Consider this a public service announcement: the mere presence of chips and salsa may be all it takes to prevent your fiesta from becoming a fiasco.

With that in mind and your best interests at heart, the Out & About staff labored through two days of salsa tasting to find the answer to the question: What’s the best store-bought salsa?

In a blind taste test, we sampled a dozen national brands—all of which you can find at Janssen’s Market and/or your local ShopRite—and scored each on qualities such as flavor, consistency and heat.

From the worst to the best, here’s how they ranked:

12) Tostitos Medium Chunky Salsa
In last place, Tostitos suffered mostly from being unforgivably bland. Yes, this is the Al Gore of salsas. One staff member found it to have a “mass-produced” taste, while another described it as “soggy and boring.” In one word: Nostitos.

11) Pace Original Picante Sauce
Take several paces past this sauce the next time you see it in stores. If Tostitos fared poorly by playing it safe, Pace seemed hell-bent on offending our taste buds. Three of the judges gave it the lowest score possible; two commented that it tasted “like cocktail sauce.”

10) Newman’s Own Medium Chunky Salsa
God bless Paul Newman. He was a talented actor and a wonderful humanitarian. We love that his products raise money for those in need. But when the tasting was over, we wondered if the next charity might be the kitchen that produced this salsa. One staff member called it “awful” while another went as far as to coin a new word: “vomitous.”

9) Xochitl Chipotle Salsa Mild
It’s true: Montezuma got his revenge. Still does. Every time someone buys a jar of this over-priced salsa with the exotic, unpronounceable name—although we researched it. Translated from an ancient Aztec dialect, Xochitl means “we just ripped you off, sucka.” Scored consistently low.

8) Old El Paso Medium Thick ‘n‘ Chunky Salsa
Like an old, drunken gunslinger who may have roamed the streets of El Paso way back when, this salsa was mostly hit or miss. Some enjoyed the sweet heat this veteran brand offered. Others felt it was “too pasty.” One judge simply said, “No.”

7) Herr’s Medium Chunky Salsa
The best thing about this salsa? It was the “best buy” of the budget salsas, outperforming several more expensive competitors. The worst thing? This back-handed compliment from one of our staffers: “I bet this is a tacky brand, but I like the balance between the sauce and chunks.”

6) Frontera Mild Salsa Mexicana
Coming in the top half of the rankings, Frontera’s big chipotle flavor pleased some and annoyed others. “Nice smoky flavor,” one staffer raved, while another said, “I feel like I just got punched in the face by the smoke monster from Lost.”

5) Jardines Medium Texasalsa
Who knows exactly what “Texasalsa” really is, but on the whole, it scored better than average. “Interesting, but lots going on here,” said one. “Smoky tasting, but not hot enough,” said another. A third judge found it “a bit sour.”

4) Field Day Organic Tomato Cilantro Salsa
Scoring just slightly better than Jardine’s, Field Day prides itself on using organic ingredients. Though several staffers enjoyed the cilantro flavor of the salsa, one of the organic ingredients that stuck out too much was water. “Watery,” one said. “Too watery. As thin as Gandhi.”

3) Green Mountain Gringo Medium Salsa
From the verdant hills of Vermont comes this top three finisher. A couple of judges disliked the apple-cider vinegar notes that came with each bite. Many more, however, gave big scores to this brand, commenting on its “zesty” and “robust” flavors and juicy chunks of tomatoes. You ask, “Gringo?” We say, “Bingo!”

2) Blue Smoke Sweet Onion Salsa
Hailing from West Virginia of all places, our silver-medal salsa is also noteworthy for its use of sweet onion as an ingredient. In our test, this brand held the additional distinction of having the widest range of scores, most of which were good. But no one quite figured out why the brand is called “Blue Smoke.” What exactly were they smoking when they thought of that? Maybe something the Gringo sent.

1) Desert Pepper Medium Tequila Salsa
For some it was the heat. For others it was the chunky bits of tomato. And a couple of judges noticed the subtle tequila bite. Whatever the case, at the end of the day, Desert Pepper Trading Co. ran away with the gold. Since the ‘80s, the company has operated near the intersecting borders of Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. Somehow it has managed to capture and distill those influences into a single jar. Nicely done, Desert Pepper!

5 Questions with Craig Ferguson

O&A caught up with the talk show host/stand-up comedian prior to his appearance at The Playhouse on Oct. 18

If the studio heads in Hollywood ever decide to remake Frank Capra’s 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, they should consider letting former late-show host Craig Ferguson reprise the lead role originally played by Jimmy Stewart.

In a performance that launched him to movie stardom, Stewart brought honesty and wit to the character of Jefferson Smith: a likeable, small-town everyman who is astoundingly elected to the Senate only to have to fight the corrupt powers that helped put him in office.

In addition to being honest and witty, Ferguson also has an incredible gift of gab, as he proved again and again on The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson for nearly 10 years. In fact, the comedian, actor, author and musician can talk in the way that Hercules tossed boulders or wrestled bears—almost effortlessly.

Picture it: Ferguson performing that famous filibuster scene at the end of the movie. Like Stewart’s monologue, it would be funny, moving and meaningful. But where Stewart stuck to the script, Ferguson would improvise. And that is where it really would be different and fun. And where there would be plenty of footage—real, in-the-moment, from-the-heart stuff—from which a director could choose.

Another aspect that brings Ferguson to mind as Jefferson Smith is his love for history. Although the Scottish entertainer became an American citizen just seven years ago, it seems he knows more about the United States than most of us natives.
Which is perhaps why The History Channel recently green-lighted an upcoming show in which Ferguson, again, is your lively host. And maybe it has something to do—at least a little bit—with why he used the term “New Deal” in the title of his current comedy tour, one that brings him to The Playhouse in Wilmington on Sunday, Oct. 18.
We asked him about these things—and more—and here’s what he had to say:

1. It was recently announced that you will be the host of a new show, Join Or Die With Craig Ferguson, on the History Channel. What can you tell us about it?

Basically, I wanted to have a show where you could talk about history. So we’re going to take a bunch of historical figures or events or inventions, and then in a dumb TV-show kind of way, we’re going to [rate and debate them]. So for instance, we’ll take on “The Greatest Invention.” Well, these are all subjective things—it’s not really the greatest invention—it depends on who you are. Is it the wheel? Is it the printing press? Is it the iPod? And we’ll be discussing these topics with, for instance, a celebrity, a comedian, an expert in that field. We’ll mix it up: smart, witty people talking about interesting things. I don’t know if it will work on TV, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

2. I’ve recently read that you actually have a “Join or Die” tattoo on your arm. Is that correct?

Yeah, when I became a citizen of the United States, I got it tattooed on my arm. I have a bunch of tattoos. [But this one] was a tattoo I got to commemorate becoming a citizen. It was the first symbol of the united cause, and so I kind of thought it was appropriate. And, it looks really cool…

And also because Benjamin Franklin put it together and the implication of what it became and the story behind it: [It’s based on] an old wives’ tale at the time that if you cut up a snake and joined the pieces together before sunset, it would survive.
So that’s the political implication that Franklin meant behind the “Join or Die” symbol: We better come together before it’s too late. It’s a very emblematic symbol of the United States.

3. And it makes a very cool tattoo, you’re right about that. So since you have this love of politics and history, did you watch the Republican debate [Sept. 16 on CNN], and if so, what did you get from it?

I only watched about 14 hours of it. After that, I couldn’t take any more. You know what? I have to say that, on pure entertainment terms, I feel it went too long. It could have been cut down to 90 minutes. And they had very interesting characters saying some very weird things. I enjoy the debates, like most people, I think, for a short period of time, and then I find myself getting irritated—by any politician, by the way, on either side—because after a few minutes, you start to smell the spin. It sounds like a bad reality show sometimes. So I watched it for a bit, was entertained for a bit, but then said, “Enough.”

4. It’s interesting to hear you say that because when you were the host of The Late, Late Show, I was always impressed that you could talk as long as you did—very eloquently and very entertainingly—like it was almost stream of conscious. That was very different from what many of the other talk show hosts do, which is tell a few jokes at the start of the show, have a few musical numbers, then have guests on to promote a new movie or show. You just seemed like you’d be more fun at a party because you can seemingly talk about anything. Is that the way you normally are?

[Laughs] Well, it’s kind of—I guess—a lack of training. I just talk. I talk for a living. I do my thing. The way I approached hosting a late night show was, well, define the word “host.” Well, there’s the host of a party. You want to keep things moving; you want to keep things interesting; you don’t want to be a douche; you don’t want to piss everybody off; you don’t want to bore anyone. It’s just like a maître d’, I guess. And that’s the way I approached it. If it had an organic feel to it, I guess it was because I didn’t know how not to do that.

What came from that experience was the absolute lack of adrenaline in the performance environment, which is very useful. When I go onstage now and talk, I don’t feel nervous or adrenalized. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to do this now.” And it’s easy for me to get up onstage in 5,000-seat theaters and talk to the audience as I am talking to you now.

5. It’s funny, because you are talking about the comedy tour you are on—“The New Deal Tour”—and that, too, obviously has a historical, political theme to it. What can you tell us about the tour? Is the comedy focused on anything specific or are you just going off on what you are thinking that particular night?

It’s a little of both. For me, it’s the “new deal,” in the sense that the job that I did for so long, I’m no longer doing. So, it’s like a new deal. Very few people spot the political, historical reference to it [laughs]. But it’s a little bit of that, too. The way I do stand-up is kind of the way I did the late-night show, which is that I have an idea of some bullet points of what’s up ahead, but I’m not going to bend over backwards to hit a bullet point if there’s something more interesting to say.

So what I do is enjoy myself. I’m 50-fucking-three years old right now. You think, “I better start enjoying myself before it’s too late!” So there’s kind of that in it as well. I’m trying carefully to have a better time in my life. And don’t ask me what that looks like, because I don’t know. I’m just trying to wear life a little bit lighter…

It’s that whole thing: The pursuit of happiness. And I’m pursuing it.

Craig Ferguson will talk—very eloquently and very entertainingly—about a wide range of subjects during his comedy show Sunday, Oct. 18, at The Playhouse in Wilmington. For tickets and more information, visit tickets.thegrandwilmginton.org.

5 Questions With Graham Nash & Howard Jones

Graham Nash

The double-Hall-of-Fame rocker comes to Wilmington Aug. 9 ready to play from the heart

Even during the final moment of time itself—when the multitude of galaxies collide and the universe collapses into oblivion—music fans will continue to debate exactly who should and should not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While hundreds of musicians can claim that achievement, only 21 performers to date have been fortunate enough to be inducted twice for being in multiple noteworthy bands or having successful solo careers.

Of all the bands showcased in the Hall, only the Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash hold the distinction of having members who are all double-inductees. And in a manner of speaking, CSN’s Graham Nash will be featured a third time in November when the museum presents an exhibit about his life.

“It’s such an honor,” says Nash, calling from California. “I’ve been gathering all of my original lyrics, and the handwritten stuff, and the things that influenced my life and sending it all to Cleveland.”

A self-described archivist, Nash is looking back on a musical career that spans five decades. Over the phone his voice sounds vibrant, his Lancashire accent giving color to his more passionate comments. At times modest (when speaking about his accomplishments), at other times feisty and fired-up (when talking about protest songs), there isn’t a moment where it feels as if he is holding anything back.

“When getting into music and rock and roll in the early days, you didn’t get into it to make money,” Nash says. “You did it to meet women and to express yourself.”

“I’m an incredibly lucky person, and I’m very fortunate to be an American citizen. This country has treated me greatly, and I want to pay it back.”

One way that Nash looks to give back is through his current tour, which includes an Aug. 9 performance at The Grand in Wilmington. Starting in Vancouver and ending in New York City, the 31-date road trip will be an opportunity for him to raise tens of thousands of dollars for The Guacamole Fund, a charity organization that he supports.

Here’s what the legendary artist had to say about the fund and what he finds vital about music and performing:

1. You are donating proceeds from this tour to The Guacamole Fund. What exactly is that?
It’s a foundation here in California. Tom Campbell, who runs it with his staff, has probably been responsible for a least 85 percent of any of the benefits that me or David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills], or the three of us, or Jackson Browne, or Bonnie Raitt, have ever done.

They are dedicated to making the world a better place. They are dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. They are working to make the environment as sustainable as possible. We’ve loved them, and they’ve been our heroes for more than 45 years now.

2. Using music as activism is nothing new to your career. With musicians today, do you see the same type of enthusiasm to make that kind of impact through song?
I do, actually. And the reason that you are asking that questions is that the media – which controls us all to this day – doesn’t want protest music on their airwaves. They don’t want it on the radio; they don’t want it on their TV programs. They have learned since Vietnam that you don’t face the American public with the amount of American soldiers that were killed during war night after night on the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite. That’s why you never saw any footage about Grenada or the war in Panama. You couldn’t even photograph the flag-covered coffins of the soldiers that died in Iraq, for God’s sake.

The media has learned to control us, so that’s why you don’t hear it. But, for instance, if you go to Neil Young’s Living With War Today website, you can find 3,000 protest songs.

3. Your first solo album, Songs For Beginners, was a really big hit. Is there any aspect of music or the music industry where you still feel like a beginner?
Every day. Every single day of my life I feel like a baby. I’m excited. I love life. I want to communicate. I want to create, and I’m lucky enough to have been in the position of doing that for the past 50 years.

4. As a singer-songwriter, do you feel like there are distinct fundamentals to songwriting, and if so, which is the most important to you?
The ones that come straight from my heart. Those are the songs that are the important songs for me. I’ve written songs you’ll never hear because I, personally, don’t think they’re good enough. But if I can create a song that makes it past my filters, I feel pretty sure you’re going to enjoy it, too. So I like to be creative and I have to create every single day in one form or another or I find it very difficult to sleep.

5. When you are out there on the road, touring solo, how does that compare to some of the bigger shows?
When you’re out there by yourself—or in my case, I’ll be with Shane Fontayne, our second guitar player in the CSN band—you strip the songs down to their very essence. And that’s when you know if it’s a good song or not. If I can sing a song to you on an acoustic guitar and touch your heart and move your mind, I’ve done my job. And that’s what I want to do night after night.

Graham Nash appears at The Grand on Sunday, Aug. 9, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets were still available at press time at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org. For more stories about his career, check out Nash’s most recent book, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. To read more about his adventures in photography, check out the rest of the story at outandaboutnow.com.

Howard Jones

The synth pioneer takes to the road with just one keyboard and a career’s worth of songs

At the dawn of the 1980s, Howard Jones was making a living “rounding” plastic wrap in a factory in High Wycombe, England. By mid-decade he had scored nine Top 40 hits in the UK along with five in the U.S. and was playing to sold-out theaters around the world.

It was a journey that would see him push the boundaries of music technology during his shows, where he typically performed an upbeat brand of music between multiple racks of keyboards.

Yet the transformation from blue-collar employee to limelight synth-pop superstar was rooted as much in belief as it was technology or music, Jones said during a recent phone interview from England to promote his upcoming U.S. tour.

“I set out to write lyrics that were very positive and that people could use to get through a bad time—that, indeed, they would overcome,” Jones says. “It was a conscious thing right from the very first song.”

This outlook and approach also were evident in his new-wave-meets-funk hit “Things Can Always Get Better,” released in February, 1985. It was his first single that punched through to the Top 10 in America. Five months after that song hit the charts, the keyboard whiz participated in Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, where he opted to perform solo on a grand piano.

“I did it in a way people weren’t expecting,” says Jones, adding with a laugh, “I don’t think many of [the audience members] even knew I played piano.”

In a similar stripped-down fashion, Jones’ current tour features just him and a single keyboard, standing in for a grand piano.

There will be one exception to that format during the tour—when he plays the Gramercy Theatre in New York City on Aug. 19—the night before his appearance at World Cafe Live at The Queen. In a major shift in gears, he will perform his most recent recorded work, Engage, a project he describes as a multi-media, interactive event that celebrates art, philosophy and the concept of participation.

“When you change things up and mix things up, I think each thing rejuvenates the other,” Jones says in comparing the two shows. “It’s good for me as an artist to deliver my work in lots of different ways.”

Here’s what else Jones had to say about the tour, the Engage project, and taking risks:

1. What can fans expect from these solo shows?
It’s focusing on the songs, and I get a chance to talk about why I wrote the songs and how I feel about them. It’s really about me getting back to being a songwriter. And I really enjoy doing that because for me it’s a really pure performance and communication. It’s just me and my work and the audience.

2. When it comes to music and technology, it seems that you are constantly pushing the envelope. Is that fair to say?
I like to do that. I’ve never been interested in recreating what other people have done. I think you should be influenced by what other people have done and take all the best inspiration from that, but [then] try to do something new. And that’s always been my driving force. It’s actually fighting the influence of conservatism, really. Because people always want to do something that sounds like something else. I don’t. I want to do something that you never heard before, do things in a way that you’ve never even thought of. That’s what constantly keeps me going.

3. What inspired you to become a musician?
Well, I don’t know if I was inspired to become a musician. I was born into a musical family where music was very prevalent. My parents used to sing and the broader family all had connections to music. So it was really part of my family concept.

4. What can you tell us about the Engage project? How did it come about?
I wanted to challenge myself in doing something that I really hadn’t done before and not base it around a new studio recording, to think of it [instead] as a live show, a live event. So it was a very different piece of thinking. I felt liberated by that. I was able to think in a different way about people being at a show and what they would like to see, thinking very visually and also thinking about audience involvement.

5. From a technology standpoint, in relation to your shows, did it ever get too daunting? Did you every worry that all the technology wasn’t going to work – that there would be flubs?
If you try to do things in a different way, one of the things that always happens is that things go wrong. And you just have to build that into your thinking. It is a fact that if you want to be safe, then don’t do new things. So I’ve gotten used to the fact that things go wrong sometimes and you just have to get through it somehow.

Howard Jones will be playing a selection of hits from the past 30-plus years, including one or two new songs from Engage, at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Thursday, Aug. 20. Tickets can be purchased at queen.worldcafelive.com.

Blame It on Bandit

Bandit was just one of hundreds of adoptable pets that come through DHA’s doors each year. Photo courtesy of Delaware Humane Association

A dog on the run helps a pup find a home

The bark seemed to come out of nowhere.

It was the end of the work week. As I left the Out & About office and walked to my car in the parking lot, a dog’s yelp echoed in the windy chill, sounding strange, as if coming from above.

I could hear the animal, but I couldn’t see it anywhere.

Then I remembered that a day earlier our Riverfront neighbors, Delaware Humane Association, had called with a rare alert: unfortunately, one of their dogs had managed to get away from a staff member, and bolted through a temporary construction gate. In a panic, the young beagle with an outlaw’s name, Bandit, proceeded to flee DHA and his “pursuers.”

I followed the sound of his bark, and after few minutes of detective work I found the dog in the office’s recycling dumpster next to our parking lot. He had climbed onto a pile of cardboard boxes, then jumped into the dumpster.

As I peered down on him, he stopped barking and sat there looking cold, wet, dejected and helpless. I knew the folks from DHA had been searching for him day and night. But after a day on the lam, Bandit had managed to apprehend himself.

DHA arrived soon after our find to return Bandit to their watchful care. Little did the lost and confused beagle realize that the facility from which he had bolted housed the best hopes for his future.

Each year, DHA looks after more than 1,000 homeless dogs and cats, animals the agency says are “in search of a warm bed, good meal, and most importantly, a new home.” With an impressive new facility that opened in December—one that offers more than 13,000 square feet of space and resources like an updated medical facility—DHA has never been better suited to meet those needs.

By the time Monday rolled around, my fellow Out & About staff members had already come to the conclusion that I should adopt Bandit. The dog needed a home, and I was the one who found him shivering in a dumpster. It was meant to be.

“No thanks,” I replied. I already had a two-year-old rescue mutt—a cross of small country hound and ball of lightning. No need for more.

But then the holidays arrived, and the thought of a lonely Bandit worked on my conscience. Maybe it was meant to be.

After New Year’s Day, I called DHA. Turned out that in the previous week Bandit had been adopted…and then returned. So I went over there to tour the new facilities and reunite with Bandit in much better surroundings than the dumpster where we first met. The reception was frigid.

Bandit, it turned out, did not like to be around men.

It wasn’t meant to be after all.

However, the premise had acquired real estate in my mind: I was ready to adopt a second dog. My two-year-old canine companion could use a playmate, and I had the space in my house—and, frankly, my heart—for another furry friend.

So I adopted a puppy instead, the last of his litter. He’s as adorable as a living teddy bear, yet seeing his big paws, I wonder how large he’s going to be. I also wonder how, by an odd twist of fate, I owe a runaway rascal namedBandit thanks for helping bring this wonderful canine bundle of joy into my life.

Of course the story doesn’t end there, since the job of DHA is never fully done. With a goal to find “forever homes” for all the animals that come through its doors, DHA is doing work that in a sense requires lifetimes.

Fortunately for Bandit, DHA was able to also find a home that met his needs. But there are plenty of other potential pets looking for parents in this area. For more information about these dogs and cats, visit dehumane.org or call (302) 571-0111.

Seeing Green

Could Delaware eventually legalize recreational marijuana? If so, there may be some lessons the First State could learn from one of the two states that have passed such legislation.

Every day, people in certain areas of Colorado are casually walking into stores and purchasing marijuana: easily, openly, legally, and purely for recreational use.
What’s more, they are growing cannabis plants—also legally.

In the General Election of November, 2012, a majority of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana. (Washington also voted for legalization, but Colorado has been much quicker to implement the legislation.) “Fifty-five-percent of the voters said, ‘We want to try this social experiment: We think we should regulate and tax marijuana,’” says Rachel K. Gillette, a Colorado attorney and executive director of Colorado NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

According to the new law, any resident over the age of 21 can purchase marijuana at a licensed store, travel within the state with as much as an ounce of pot, and grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants privately in a locked space.
“It’s a bold move,” Gillette says. “But I do think it’s the right way to go.”

In terms of regulating and taxing marijuana, the “Colorado experiment” has generated some promising results, giving the Centennial State a much-needed economic lift.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, since Jan. 1 of this year (when stores were first allowed to sell recreational marijuana) through July, sales generated more than $37.5 million in taxes, licenses and fees.

Of course those figures also include this year’s sales of medical marijuana, a practice that became legal in 2000 but only began happening in earnest in 2008, after a five-patient limit that the Colorado Department of Health initially imposed on caregivers was challenged and overturned in court.
Medical marijuana dispensaries were the first outlets in the state allowed to apply for licenses to sell recreational (otherwise known as “retail”) marijuana. For those that did, it was a good move: In just eight months, retail marijuana sales have already begun to eclipse medical marijuana sales. Starting this month, other non-marijuana businesses can begin to apply for the retail marijuana license.

Creating Jobs

Along with the revenues to the state, there are other economic benefits, as pointed out by Mason Tvert, co-director of the campaign supporting Amendment 64 and an advocate for legalization since 2005.

“Not only are the state and its localities generating millions of dollars in new revenues, [but] we’ve seen the creation of thousands of jobs,” says Tvert, who is director of communication for the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest financial backer of the legalization initiative.

According to Tvert, as of August, the Marijuana Enforcement Division had issued more than 13,000 employee badges—certifications required for all employees in Colorado’s marijuana industry.

“Whether it’s cultivation or working at a store or a testing facility, that’s a lot of jobs,” Tvert says.

His enthusiasm is shared by others, including Denver lawyer and entrepreneur Brian Ruden, who owns Starbuds Dispensary, a marijuana store open seven days a week on the north side of town, not far from the Denver Coliseum.

“If we are looking at the financial benefit of having a regulated marijuana system, it’s not just the sales taxes,” Ruden says. “It’s the licensing fees. It’s the bigger-picture impact on the economy because now all the people that work in the industry are earning wages, and payroll taxes are being paid. Architects are hired to build out store fronts. Licensed contractors are used, electricians and HVAC [installers]. Real estate owners now have a whole new market of people [to whom] they can lease space. Real estate itself has been going up. And, of course, tourism. Having marijuana in Colorado is something that attracts people.”

Starbuds Dispensary Manager Anthony Butler, pictured with budtender Amber Tolchin, says tourists make up nearly 80 percent of the store's customers. (Photo courtesy of Starbuds Dispensary)
Starbuds Dispensary Manager Anthony Butler, pictured with budtender Amber Tolchin, says tourists make up nearly 80 percent of the store’s customers. (Photo courtesy of Starbuds Dispensary)

Reasonable Prices

At Starbuds, a staff of “budtenders” help customers choose from 16 varieties of marijuana for both medical and recreational use.

Prices are consistent and reasonable, with a gram of any variety costing $20 and an ounce $380, for Colorado ID-carrying residents over 21 only (out-of-state visitors can only buy up to seven grams).

“Our budtenders, [are] very, very knowledgeable and they can walk people through exactly what the products are, how to use them, and how to be safe with them,” Ruden says.

In addition to the sage advice, there are other assurances. “All the marijuana here has been lab-tested so we know there are no molds or funguses on it,” Ruden says. “We know there’s no residual pesticide on it. We know that it’s clean [and not contaminated with other substances]. We also have the potency tested so that people know exactly how strong the marijuana is that they are getting.

“It’s also a very safe environment: You take the criminal element out of it. We also only sell to adults who are 21 or older. Every single person gets ID’d. Whereas on the black market, an illicit-drug dealer isn’t going to check someone’s ID.”

This is a major benefit, according to Gillette, who feels that one of the biggest advantages to legalization is consumer protection.

“I’m not going to say there doesn’t still exist some amount of black market in Colorado,” Gillette says. “But I do think we are transitioning to getting people into the legal market and we’re going to see the benefits of that, including a safer product that is overseen by regulatory agencies and tested in certified laboratories, which is just better for the consumer. You don’t see the benefit of any of that when all the control is with drug cartels, black market drug dealers, and street-level drug gangs.”

There’s another inherent danger to letting the black market set policy, Ruden points out. It relates to why many consider marijuana a “gateway drug.”

“A marijuana store that’s regulated by the state will only ever sell marijuana,” Ruden says. “The illicit-drug dealer may sell you marijuana today and may offer you [a harder drug] in the future.”

Gillette believes regulation will eventually lead to the demise of the black market for marijuana, which, she says, will lead to less crime overall. Tvert tends to agree, but points to the potential of misleading data.

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Inside the grow room at Starbuds Dispensary. (Photo courtesy of Starbuds Dispensary)

“The issue is that crime reporting is all over the place, in terms of the federal government’s reporting through the FBI [and] issues with localities reporting accurately,” he says. “What is clear is that [crime] is not going up as a result of these laws.”

In fact, the opposite may be true in Denver. According to the Denver Police Department, homicide, robbery, burglary and motor vehicle theft—crimes typically related to the drug trade—are all down this year compared to the same period in 2013 (January through August). Homicides are down by a whopping 30 percent.

Where There’s Smoke…

Critics point out that while the bump in taxes from recreational drug sales might be promising, tax revenues are still 45 percent below estimates that the non-partisan Colorado Legislative Council submitted to the General Assembly before legalization.
Proponents point to two factors to consider when addressing these discrepancies:
First, revenue from taxes has increased each month in 2014, and figures for the month of July were more than double those of January, indicating a strong potential for growth.
Second, several municipalities—including Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city—have banned retail marijuana sales despite the state’s approval of Amendment 64. Without full participation from municipalities, the new law’s true impact can’t be accurately measured.

Tvert sees the bans as merely a temporary set-back, saying, “I have no doubt that we will see many of those communities shift toward allowing [retail marijuana] businesses.”
Among those supporting the bans and battling against the recent legalization are groups such as the Drug Free America Foundation, who argue that the gains in taxes, jobs and tourism will never compensate for the risks and losses they believe will eventually result from increased use of marijuana.

“If you look at alcohol and tobacco, at a national level, we are not raising enough in tax revenues to cover the societal cost related to those two drugs,” said DFDA Executive Director Calvina Fay in a recent Huffington Post article.

Likewise, in a USA Today editorial, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy lashed out at Amendment 64 supporters for similar reasons.

“There has been a lot of talk about pot lately,” Kennedy wrote. “Discussions of tax revenue, health benefits, violence reduction, and individual liberty. But one issue got completely lost: the developing brains of our children.

“It’s about time we start focusing on the rights of our kids, not pot smokers…I don’t want another massive, heavily commercialized drug industry targeting them. Because addiction is a disease that starts in adolescence, industries know they have to focus on young people for profits. After all, if you don’t start using any drug by age 21, you are unlikely ever to do so.”

Counter to the predictions of some opponents of Amendment 64, recent studies indicate that marijuana use among Colorado teens has not gone up in the past nine months. In fact, if anything, it appears use has been going down gradually since the first medical marijuana stores opened in 2008.

“It’s too early to determine any sort of causal relationship between the shift in policy and the rate of use [among teens],” Tvert admits. “Although it’s certainly worth noting that use started going down… [When medical marijuana stores opened in 2008], we incurred supporters of marijuana prohibition saying [the new law] would inevitably result in an increase in teen marijuana use. And clearly it did not.

“We then heard that if we expand the system for all adults to use marijuana legally that it would result in increased teen use. Marijuana officially became legal in Colorado at the beginning of December 2012. From 2011 to 2013, it went down again at a statistically significant amount, and again, it clearly did not go up.”

Gillette sees the issue from another perspective.

“Personally, as a parent of teen-agers, I love the fact that I can talk to my children and say, ‘In our state, you have to be 21 before you can go buy marijuana.’” Gillette says. “And I love the fact that now we have a system in place whereby you have to show an ID before you can purchase it.”

While retail marijuana is now legal, it certainly has not been accepted throughout the state. Which raises the question: when Gillette’s daughter reaches the age of 21, will the law still be in force? Or will opponents have convinced residents to repeal it?
Advocates such as Tvert and Gillette think their state’s example will be emulated.

“I do think that Colorado is setting an example for the rest of the country,” Gillette says. “And I think more and more politicians will be more likely to embrace that sort of approach.”