I’m as surprised as many of my friends are that I’ve been haunting the Jalopy Theater in Red Hook over the past couple months. I first heard of the place through my friend Leslie Henkel, whose boyfriend Don was recording a coterie of the neo-folk and pre-prewar pickers who take the stage each Wednesday for the popular Roots & Ruckus series, and my first inclination was to decline. It just wasn’t my thing.
They, along with my friend Glenn Robinson, persisted and I eventually made it to the theater/music school on a Wednesday night last spring. I can’t recall the exact lineup, but the performers were gloriously diverse, approaching old time music from every conceivable direction. Blues picker Hubby Jenkins drew me in with dulcet guitar tones and honeyed vocals, but it was his preternatural, laconic delivery that made me a true believer. This wasn’t hipster posturing or studied naivete. Though the talent can be mixed, the best performers, like Jenkins, and Jalopy regulars Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton and Craig Judelman, transcend their archaic material by connecting with the audience on a purely performative level. “I don’t care too much for thinking about the past,” remarked multi-instrumentalist Frank Fairfield in a feature in LA Weekly last fall. “The truth is just another story. You can remember it any way you want; it’s never gonna’ be the same twice.” And it never is at Jalopy, despite the fact that Fairfield and Paxton — who performed together there last Tuesday — play, dress, act, and speak like apparitions from a nearly-forgotten past.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Salvatore Geloso — a Jalopy regular when he’s not riding the rails or hitchhiking to the west coast — sees the old-time tradition in more post-modern light. “I never want to stop ascending the staircase,” he remarked, explaining the origin of his band’s name, “Up Up We Go!”. “I want to draw from the well of previous things that have died and decomposed, and still go back and fill our cups up, rekindling the old because it resonates with so many people, but my goal is to keep going different places with the style.” Somewhere in the course of my interview with Geloso, his bandmate Eli Dworkin and their friends — who were all busy decorating paper cd sleeves for Up Up We Go!’s self-produced debut — the term gypsy punk emerged to describe the restless, gutteral, but decidedly melodic and lilting music on their eponymous record. The term is probably as close as you’ll get to pigeonholing Geloso’s slippery music, which combines elements of punk, funk, noise, eastern European folk music, caberet, and opera into a deeply unconventional whole.
In the coming month, I hope to transcribe the interviews I have done with Jalopy musicians and share them here. I will also be profiling some of the great musicians I have met there over the course of the last six months, so keep checking back.