HEY YOU! YES, YOU!!

HEY YOU! YES, YOU!!


However you may have arrived here, this is the old Not Not Silly Newsroom.

It's a long story -- hardly worth going into here -- but after this place was declared a Brownfield Site, we abandoned it for the NEW! IMPROVED!! Not Now Silly Newsroom.

Feel free to stay and read what you came here to read, but when it's time to leave go to the new place by clicking HERE.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Unpacking Coconut Grove & The Writer

The first pic I ever took of the Charles Avenue Historic Marker, 2009
As I mourn the destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, I've been asked how I came to write about Coconut Grove since I live 35 miles away. Get comfy, kiddies for another chapter in the never-ending series Unpacking The Writer.

Let's face it: I'm a carpetbagger.

In 2009 I was relatively new to Florida. Embedded in my online Performance Art character of Aunty Em Ericann, this happened at almost the same time I started writing for NewsHounds. Coincidentally, I was also 2 years into a research project on Sistrunk Boulevard -- once the vibrant Black business district of the once vibrant Black neighbourhood in Fort Lauderdale.

I was researching Sistrunk because one of the characters in Farce Au Pain will eventually need to leave Detroit in a hurry. I decided to place him near Sistrunk. [See if you can guess who.] Researching Sistrunk meant I was already learning about Race Relations in South Florida. On the day I am about to describe I was also in the middle of reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen. It's a book that explains why every city in this country looks the way it does. The history of Sistrunk is no different than any other Black enclave in the U.S. -- except NYC and, as I was to eventually learn, Coconut Grove, which followed a different path than most cities. [NYC is usually the exception to any rule.]

Hollywood to Homestead

Other stories here about Coconut Grove:

Where the Sidewalk
Ends, Racism Begins:
Part IPart IIPart III


No Skin In The Game


Trolleygate


Soilgate
Meanwhile, when I wasn't at the library reading the stacks about Sistrunk, and when Aunty Em wasn't trolling Right Wing Nut Jobs, I was freelancing for a financial institution (that I won't name). My job involved visiting properties in foreclosure, taking photographs of them, and uploading them to a restricted web site to prove they were still there. My territory was huge: Hollywood to Homestead, including Miami Beach.

It sounds crazy, but I was sent to the same properties every 3-4 weeks and nothing ever changed. About 1/3 of the time I also had to leave a letter. I got triple the fee for those. I always took a pic of me leaving the letter, so there was never a dispute. I even got paid for arriving at a gated community, being denied entry, and taking a pic of the guard who sent me away.

It all seemed like money wasted to me, but the financial institution was shoveling it in my direction. Who was I to say no to Bank Money? It was during the height of the foreclosure crisis and there was no end to the work. Each week I'd get paperwork on some 100-250 properties and I was expected to return pictures of them in 3-5 days.

As an aside: Imagine you needed to visit that many properties. You'd drive yourself bonkers if you tried to chart the most efficient route. Thanks to (the now discontinued) Microsoft Street and Trips. I could plug all the addresses into the laptop, hit OPTIMIZE, and -- after the machine thought about it for a while -- it would spit out the perfect route. If I put my address as the first and last, it would route me down one side of Southeast Florida and up the other.

Being new to South Florida, I couldn't have told you the difference between Coconut Grove, Hialeah, Hollywood, Opa-Locka, Cutler Bay, or Miami Beach -- or how to get there. Thank goodness Microsoft Streets and Trips also had a USB GPS thangie to hang on my windscreen.

A recent pic of 3678 William Avenue, the first
house I ever photographed in Coconut Grove.
One day I was down in Cutler Bay. My next stop was on William Avenue, in Miami (actually Coconut Grove, but I didn't know that then). The GPS directed me to Main Highway and told me to head north.

I remember laughing at the time because it was not a highway. Nor did it seem very main. It was a narrow two lane road -- one in either direction -- which felt hemmed in on both sides by vegetation and the walls of gated communities. I later learned that this actually was once part of the main highway to get from Miami to the very bottom of the state, long before the overseas highway was built to Key West.

Once I was on Main Highway the GPS told to me to turn left onto Charles Avenue. As soon as I did I saw the Charles Avenue Historic Marker. It's rare to see a marker this big on a residential street. Being a history buff I pulled over and read the marker.

Charles Avenue

The first black community on the South Florida mainland began here in the late 1880s when Blacks primarily from the Bahamas came via Key West to work at the Peacock Inn. Their first hand experience with tropical plants and building materials proved invaluable to the development of Coconut Grove. Besides private homes the early buildings included the Odd Fellows Hall, which served as a community center and library, Macedonia Baptist Church, home of the oldest black congregation in the area, and the A.M.E. Church, which housed the community's first school. At the western end of Charles Avenue is one of the areas oldest cemeteries.

Looking from the front door of the house on William Avenue
Instinctively I could read between the lines of this sign:

"If it hadn't been for the Black Bahamians, the White folk would have starved. This is where they lived, close to where they worked in the nascent White tourist industry."

After reading the Charles Avenue Historic Marker, I turned to look at the E.W.F. Stirrup House for the first time. In a neighbourhood filled with one story shotgun shacks and little Conch-style houses, it was this gloriously large 2-story house, painted white with yellow trim, shining brightly in the South Florida sun. I was struck by 3 things: 1). It's beauty; 2). How different it looked from the rest of the houses; and that it was empty.

I moved on to photograph the house on William Avenue. Then I was sent over to an address on SW 27th Avenue, which the GPS told me was exactly a mile away. I wasn't prepared for how the neighbourhood changed from an obviously depressed area to ritzy. So ritzy, in fact, that the nondescript street address I was given was the Ritz-Carlton Residences tower, right next door to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel tower, in Coconut Grove.

I couldn't get past the concierge to deliver the letter I had in my hand. And, I'm not even sure I could have passed the dress code besides. Because I had hundreds of properties to photograph, I took his picture and demanded to know his name for my report.

Looking into the back door of the house on William
However, I couldn't get that yellow and white house on Charles Avenue out of my mind. As soon as I got home I jumped on Google Maps. The first surprise was that on the satellite view there were two houses on the north side of Charles Avenue, across the street from the Stirrup House. Those houses were no longer there. Why? That was the first mystery to solve. After that I was hooked.

I soon learned that the house that I found so attractive for its majestic simplicity (not a contradiction) was known as the E.W.F. Stirrup House. There was scant biographical information for Mr. Stirrup on the net, but I hoovered up what I could as fast as I could.

I also learned that the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the entire country. I had discovered a place of extreme contrasts, but my education on Coconut Grove was just beginning.

It's probably fortunate for all involved that this financial institution sent me back to the address on William every few weeks to make sure it was still there. I'm not sure I would have driven down on my own had it not been for that. After a few visits, following a bunch of research on Charles Avenue, I was hooked on the legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup, which seemed to have been forgotten. His house was empty and undergoing the DEMOLITION BY NEGLECT that I've documented in the 7 years since discovering it.

Furthermore, going back to the same address on William every month, or so, allowed me to follow the progression of this other property over the same 7 year period.

When I first started dropping off letters and taking pics of the house on William, it was still occupied. I'd leave my letter in the screen door. The next time I'd return it was gone and there were signs of recent occupation. However, eventually the last letter I had left was still the door, along with flyers and the other paper detritus that marks the beginning of an empty house. I left the new letter, in case someone was collecting the mail piling up in the mailbox, but reported the house as empty to the financial institution.

The back of the house on William. One of the reasons it
stood out was, like the E.W.F. Stirrup a few blocks away,
was one of the few 2-story houses in this area of West Grove.
One day I arrived to find a fire-engine red notice on the door condemning the property. Right around that time I stopped working for the financial institution because someone undercut my price. However, I continued to visit Coconut Grove for my own research on various stories in Coconut Grove.

SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: Recently I've been working with someone in West Grove to research a complicated story that requires driving around the neighbourhood. Recently they were ranting about a property on William Avenue that was possibly being used as a crack house, but certainly being used by the homeless.

It's the house on William that introduced me to Coconut Grove!!!

The front door is gone. The back door is wide open. It's filled with mold and mildew and the ceilings have fallen in. There's a hole in the roof. Clothing and blankets are scattered through the front of the house and it's clear that people have been sleeping there.

I told my source the story about how this very house led me to discover Coconut Grove.  They told me they've reported this house to the City of Miami and we should go look at it. That's when I took the pics that accompany this article.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Officials' Story ► Throwback Thursday

Officials' 4 song EP with artwork by Barbara Klunder
This Thursday we're going to throw it all the way back to 1989, when I was managing Officials, a Worldbeat band in Toronto that had a lot of promise. 

It was my 3rd -- and my very last -- time managing a band, a thankless task if there ever was one. However, I was a fan of every band I managed. It was never about making money, although it was hoped that that would be the eventual outcome.

The first band I ever managed was Ishan People, Toronto's first Roots Reggae band. I tell that story in greater detail in You Made Me So Very Happy ► My Days With David Clayton-Thomas. However, Ishan People (later Ishan Band) recorded 2 LPs before Canadian Immigration discovered that not everyone in the band had all their documents. The band broke up as some members were deported. Too bad. They were great.


The second band I managed was Drastic Measures. They should have done much better. However, DM was performing Art/Pop Rock when all anyone wanted to hear was Punk. Clever music was simply not breaking through the noise back then.


An unironic cover of the classic Bing Crosby
tune with Nash the Slash on overdubbed violins.


How is that going to break through The Angry Punk Scene? It was all uphill.

The band fired me after their record producer convinced them they no longer needed a manager because they had a album release. No. Really. I always suspected that he had hoped to manage the band himself, but that never happened. Managerless, Drastic Measures never did break through the noise.

Then in '89 it was Officials. I originally met leader/drummer Roy Garrick when we both worked as waiters in the same restaurant. Somehow he learned that I had managed bands previously and asked me to listen to Officials to see if I wanted to manage them.

The band set up in a small, sweltering basement near Bathurst and Vaughan. The room was so small it barely contained the band and their equipment. There was nowhere to move. Under these static conditions Officials performed an entire, blistering set for me as the only audience member.

I was blown away. They were easily better than any of the bands I was seeing in Toronto clubs at the time. Officials blended various musical genres. The band members were from many different parts of the globe, making them a true World Beat band. I couldn't wait to offer my services as manager.

For bonus points, on guitar and vocals was Del Richardson from Osibisa, whose LPs I had promoted years earlier when I worked for Island Records Canada.


So, we set about putting together a master plan. Aside from gigging as often as humanly possible for as much, or little, money as I could squeeze out of the club owners, that included rolling all profits into recording a 4 song 12" EP as a demo record to use to get signed to a bigger label.

We were grateful to get all these column inches in The Star
One of the jobs of Manager is stroking the media, trying to get them out to gigs or to review the EP. Or, in this case, both.

Yesterday, while going through my analog file cabinet, I came across a letter I sent to The Toronto Star's Craig MacInnes, promoting the hell out of the band. [SYNCHRONICITY ALERT: Recently MacInnes and I became facefriends through a mutual face-to-face-friend.]

This came at a transitional period for the band because there had been a recent change in personnel. Consequently, the band bio that I had spent several weeks writing was no longer operative. MacInnes was asking me for biographical info on the new band members in anticipation of an upcoming interview with Garrick.

My reply began:
Firstly, I'd like to thank you for your continued interest and support of OFFICIALS. Secondly, I'd like to apologize for the rushed nature of this information. We were in the process of preparing a new biography. This request just made me do it all the sooner.
Every review was a feather in my cap
After describing the new members, I ended the letter with as many strokes as I thought I could give MacInnes -- without him thinking I was trying to kiss his ass for a good review -- ending with one last plug for my clients:
Well, Craig, that's about it. 

Nobody knows how hard it is for new independent bands starting out like you do. You must hear hundreds of stories like this. It's good to know you are out there supporting the up and coming bands.

I've been working with OFFICIALS for a year now. I managed ISHAN PEOPLE (Canada's first Reggae band) as well as DRASTIC MEASURES (an early Queen Street W. Art/Rock band). Neither had the staying power and the chance to make it that OFFICIALS do. Unlike other bands working in town now, OFFICIALS are truly a WorldBeat band honestly synthesizing many different rhythms into what we call OFFICIALS' Style. Conventions are unimportant; what's important is what works and what sounds good and positive lyrics and a dancable [sic] beat. Nothing else enters into it. But, don't take my word for it. Come down to the Diamond Club and hear us. I know you'll like the band. 

Thank you for all your time and trouble on our behalf.
The letter led to a phone interview published 3 days later (see above), so I guess it did the trick.

What I find highly amusing in retrospect is that MacInnes begins with his amazement that Roy Garrick has a car phone at a time when The Brick was the new cell phone technology. Now, 27 years later, most of us carry a phone in our pocket.

All good things must come to an end. My tenure with Officials ended spectacularly: I quit after the band held back money owed to me following an extremely well-paying 2-week gig in the Caribbean.

The agreement we had was not the standard manager/band contract. As opposed to a percentage, we split the proceeds equally (after expenses), which gave me a smaller percentage than I would have as a manager. However, it gave us all equal incentive to take it all to the next level.

When I quit I naturally had all of the band's files, including distribution contracts, band bios, glossies, and all the promo material, in my analog file cabinet. I became THAT asshole: I refused to turn it over to the band unless they paid the money owed to me from previous gigs. We settled on $2500 and the band signed a promissory note for the money. It has never been paid. It was also one of the documents I discovered yesterday.

A few years back I created a video from one of Officials' songs. I hope you like it, but I guess I don't really care all that much.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day ► Monday Musical Appreciation

On this Memorial Day, let's remember what's really important: PEACE!!!

“I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”
― George S. McGovern



“Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircraft, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe. ”
― Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire



“I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.”
― Mother Teresa


“Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs."
So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies or anybody else's babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.

So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: "Mary," I said, "I don't think this book of mine will ever be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.

"I tell you what," I said, "I'll call it 'The Children's Crusade.'"

She was my friend after that.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five



“Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor and Franklin


“The wars we haven't had saved many lives.”
― William Stafford


“Melt all the tanks in the world and make them rubbish bins. They will be much more useful for the humanity!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan