Gaslight Gourmet Cookies, located at 272 Ludlow, officially opened this week. They couldn’t have timed it better, what with the nice weather and lots of new things happening in the Gaslight District, including Live at Ludlow Garage. There were plenty of customers when I visited in the middle of the afternoon today, and I smelled success for this new venture. Hours are 6am to 6pm Monday through Saturday, and the store has a Facebook page – just click this link to check it out and “like” it. Also, they have a walk-up window – how old school charming is that? My cookie of choice today was an oatmeal raisin, which is a very important cookie back where I come from. My father has a soft spot for that particular confection, and you can bet that he’s been feted by daughters and daughter-in-laws who all have their own secret recipe going back hundreds of years. So which is his all-time favorite? “I haven’t tasted it yet,” has been his mantra. Well, having sampled the oatmeal raisin cookie from our new store this afternoon, it seems to me that after my father visits Cincinnati next time, he’ll be able to put that mystery to bed for good….Yummy.
Big doings on Ludlow Avenue last night, what with the premier of Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s tribute to Miles Davis that is based on a period when his career (and his life in general) were kind of in limbo. Folks were dressed in their finest, as only befits a film devoted to a musician who, no matter what decade you’re talking about, was known for his stylish threads. I haven’t seen the film yet, but when it opens on April 15th at the Esquire, I’ll forsurely check it out then, as I’ve got good feelings about this one. Shot in Cincinnati, it promises to be both a visual and musical delight.
The other day I arrived at the Esquire Theatre before the trailers had started for Only Yesterday, a Japanese animated film directed by Isao Takahata. At that point there were only two people in the room, and the person two rows in front of me asked if the movie was overdubbed or used subtitles. “You got me,” I said. “If there’s an animated movie on the big screen, that’s all I need to know.” He told that the movie was done with hand-drawn animation, which sounded even better. Only Yesterday has a simple and realistic plot wherein a vacation the main character, Taeko, launches a flood of memories…as well as some major life decisions. Visually a lovely film, Only Yesterday charms with its indoor school and family scenes and awes with its depictions of the woods and fields and the sky—this is definitely one for the big screen. Just as important, the story rings true. It’s fascinating how the tale unfolds piece by piece, leading we’re not sure where…but hang in there, because the ending is both subtle and powerful. I was glad to learn that the Esquire held this for another week, but it won’t be there forever—get there before it’s gone.
The next time you’re playing the music edition of Trivial Pursuit, prepare yourself for this question: What member of Blood, Sweat & Tears collaborated with musicians from the Velvet Underground?
The answer is Steve Katz, who will be performing at Live at the Ludlow Garage on Saturday, April 9. If you sift through his discography you’ll find a sweet spot where it seemed like all he could do was contribute to classic albums.
After leaving the Blues Project, Katz was the guitarist (and sometimes vocalist and songwriter) for the early jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Their first album, Child is Father to the Man, impressed the critics while their eponymous second album was a commercial success and then some.
About the time BS&T was losing steam Katz collaborated with Lou Reed, producing Reed’s great live album Rock ’N’ Roll Animal and the studio follow-up Sally Can’t Dance. Suddenly Lou Reed was a commercial success instead of a genius who deserved a larger audience.
In the 70s Katz also formed the band American Flyer with Doug Yule from a later incarnation of the Velvet Underground.
More evidence that Katz had a habit of being in the right place at the right time: he also performed at the two most famous music festivals from the 1960s, Monterey Pop (as part of the Blues Project) and Woodstock (with BS&T).
On April 9 Katz will be performing in a venue that’s much more intimate but that also has a rich history, the Ludlow Garage. It’s a good bet that you know some of the songs Katz has either played on or produced, and if you’re familiar with the second album by Blood, Sweat & Tears—the really famous one, that sold millions of copies and won three Grammy Awards—then you’ve heard this song that Katz wrote and sang, complete with a haunting melody, melancholy lyrics, and luscious harmonies:
Recently on nextdoorclifton someone posed the question, “What store is missing?” in reference to Ludlow Avenue’s business district. Possibly over a hundred people have responded by now, and while the answers have been all over the place, there were some repeats. I was pleased—and quite surprised—to see how many people exclaim that they would love to see a bookstore return to the Gaslight District.
In a way it seems funny that folks would long for something that in the spiritus mundi tends to be looked upon as antiquated and old-school. As our reading, like everything else, becomes increasingly electronic and digital, the physical book cast set aside for convenience, don’t bookstores have about as much of a place in our world as a zoetrope?
Well, not so soon (and besides, I’d love to own a zoetrope). You may have noticed that record stores (and especially the independent ones) are suddenly all kinds of popular, after that three or four minutes when everyone was convinced that our musical future would totally revolve around our computers. Recently, and tellingly, I’ve seen ads promoting books as “the new vinyl,” which makes sense. And just as veteran Cliftonites remember what it’s like to have a bookstore in the neighborhood, younger folks brought up on walmart are acutely sensitive to the difference between zero personality and color.
Having a bookstore (actually there were two at one point) added a lot to the Gaslight District. On nextdoorclifton.com someone mentioned—but couldn’t remember the name of—Kellerman’s, a store on Ormond that lasted, I don’t know, maybe a year or two. The owner of that store envisioned, but couldn’t quite pull off, a store like Kaldi’s (which, a few years later, pulled all the pieces together and became an enormous success). New World lasted decades, and the people in the neighborhood never took it for granted. Unfortunately, though, big box stores had a ravitational pull over the masses, and amazon could undersell anybody by a huge margin. Since New World folded ebooks entered the equation, providing even more competition to small bookstores, which folded all over America (it wasn’t just Ludlow Avenue). Well, the big boxes are almost all gone, ebooks sales tapered off long before people expected them to, and amazon has built an actual brick and mortar store because it has learned something those of us with any sense have known all along: bookstores are the ultimate platform for marketing books. Not only do you find out that a new book has hit the shelves (I still remember when Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon appeared in New World’s window after everyone thought the famous postmodern novelist had pursued a permanent disappearing act), plus the atmosphere of books gets under your skin. A bookstore on Ludlow Avenue would never be able to offer big fancy amazon-level discounts, but people are waking up to the fact that where you buy something can be as important as what you buy. It can erode a neighborhood, or it can help support a neighborhood.
If a bookstore were to return to the Gaslight District, it would have to do everything right. It should probably do the following:
- Include used books. This close to a university, people are constantly purging and collecting.
- Have a local authors section—and not just the new ones. How about books by Dallas Wiebe or (to go back a couple more years) Lafcadio Hearn?
- Include new novels. Those were popular at New World, and, here’s a case where bookstores + distributors had their system down.
- Sell gift cards. New World sold a lot of gift cards; they added up after a while.
- Sell records and compact discs as well. Records and compact discs could be both new and used. The new and already highly successful Plaid Room Records in Loveland handles a lot of pre-orders for vinyl, which is an ideal business model.
I worked part-time at both Kellerman’s and New World, and I still remember what bookstores brought to the neighborhood. Kellerman’s had lots of fun literary readings that brought together people in the literary community. I well remember how, on Friday nights at New World, people would walk in with ice cream cones asking, “Can I bring in ice cream?” (“That’s required,” I would answer). Some had had a drink or two before strolling in, and there was much frivolity on those nights. Sunday afternoons were quieter, with people sitting down and getting lost in a book. I got called in for New World during its last few weeks, and when people walked in the sense of loss to come was palpable. These are things I think about when I think about what a bookstore would bring to the Gaslight District. You can’t bring back the past, but you can start building new memories.