Roomful Of Teeth




Roomful of Teeth is an intriguing a cappella vocal ensemble devoted to expanding the range of the human voice.  At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, their debut album won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance and in 2013, group member Caroline Shaw won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her vocal composition Partita For 8 Voices. 

I spoke with the founder and artistic director of Roomful of Teeth, Brad Wells, who talked about the company, the human voice, and more.

You can listen to the interview as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio show on WBAI 99.5 FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country by clicking on the triangle above. You’ll also hear some of the extraordinary vocal work of the ensemble.



No, not that one. The ballad of the gunfighter song, done by Lorne Greene. It charted pretty high on the pop charts as I recall; I thought it pretty corny when I was a teen. But seeing this live performance, I had to admit that Lorne Greene was pretty affecting acting this song.

Thanks to YouTuber Allan Sherman’s Nutty Parody Channel

Holiday Greetings, Magic Friends 2019


people standing in front of stage

Photo by Harrison Haines on

Twas the end of the year, and I noticed the clock,
The months had passed by, it was time to take stock
Of our magical friends and the pleasures they’d brought
A harkening back to some memories, I thought.

In my mind there’s a party of magical folk
Right here on my doorstep, but as I awoke
The doorbell was chiming, is this just a dream?
In front of my house, a whole magic team:

Chief Geniis are here, both Richard and Liz
The number one names of the magic news biz.
Hi Dustin, Hi Chloe, they seemed to prefer
No small talk, but writing up ten thousand words

The party began, with effortless ease,
The boundless good will of Juan Tamariz.
And here’s another great Spaniard, ah please!
Not Buddha, but better, Dani DaOrtiz

In walked juggler Penn, with his close partner Teller
Assuring us all, Ray’s back was much well-er
Harrison Greenbaum and Max Maven, too
Came with menorahs, ‘cause they both are Jews.

Next was a couple with talent and looks:
Dorothy Dietrich and partner Dick Brookz.
The next four, indeed, were also a thrill,
Regal and Mancha and Vincent and Spill.

The company’s magic just couldn’t be grander
Without the flotations of Mr. Losander
And candy and ice cream—you wouldn’t believe!
Came tumbling out of dear Rocco’s big sleeve.

Lucy Darling, (Carisa is really her name)
Hilarious magic, she plays a tough dame.
And who says a lawyer can’t be a charmer?
Her fellow Canadian, “Bammo” Bob Farmer.

The English chap Hollingsworth, in tails and in tie,
Did some cool sleight of hand, he’s a heck of a Guy.
Mark Lewis walked by, with some jokes and some jollies
Then immediately sold me a deck of Svengalis.

Pop Haydn, Todd Robbins, they put the log on,
And threw us some hype, ye masters of con.
Then cards flew about and changed at his whim:
The marvelous fingers of Master Shin Lim.

What’s this that we see upon the white drapes?
A bear and a dragon and other strange shapes.
The shadows appeared midst the bottles and cans
Sigh of relief—‘twas Raymond Crowe’s hands.

The bubbly’s flowing it’s time to converse
While Jerry Deutsch shows us some magic perverse.
And here comes Greg Chapman, fresh off of Four F;
Masks off to McBride, you know him as Jeff.

The blowout was awesome, the guests all a treat
To see all those folks on my little street!
Pit Hartling, Yann Frisch, and cool David Blaine,
The greatest legends of legerdemain.

And you were there, too, I remember it well,
Your name is too secret for us to re-tell
You showed us a trick in the house where I dwell
It was there that we all fell beneath your deep spell.

But all of a sudden, without a portent
The house was devoid of a lady or gent.
My head got too dizzy, was feeling all weird
For poof, gone and vanished; it all disappeared!

My eyes they were hurting, both bleary and groggy
I lurched around drunk, too high and egg-noggy.
I shook off the feeling, I got myself sober
But one thing was clear, it now all was over.

The people were gone, the food and the drink
The fantasy popped, but you know what I think?
Don’t look at me strangely, don’t think me insane
While the dream is a whisper, the magic remains.

And so as you enter the coming New Year
Be kind to your neighbors and wish them good cheer
For more than our cards, either red-backed or blue
The magic is in what we say and we do.

This story was brief, but I had a ball.
Happy holidays, my friends, and Peace to you all!

“I Would Want To Drink Their Blood”: Welcome To Hell World, Luke O’Neil




Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches From The American Dystopia, published by OR Books, is the name of a new collection of startling essays of current American life by Luke O’Neil. Rather than do a conventional review, I thought you might best get the flavor of the book and its distinctive voice by my reading of the book’s first essay entitled, “I Would Want To Drink Their Blood.”

Click on the triangle above to hear the reading as broadcast today on Arts Express on radio station WBAI 99.5 FM NYC.

La Bamba: Playing For Change


Monday Morning, Marisol Hernandez and a host of world class musicians megaphone to the world.

You probably know the Playing For Change deal: get musicians from around the world to collaborate on a song and then seamlessly splice (does anyone use that word anymore in the digital age?) the results into a knockout music video.

There are lots of great musicians (and instruments) on this song, but when “La Marisoul” of La Santa Cecilia takes her turn, the song skyrockets into the stratosphere.

More at Playing For Change


Viv And Bev At The Border






Vivienne and Beverly Shalom are two artist-activists who, I’m also proud to say, are my sisters. I got to sit down and talk with Viv about the weeks the two of them spent together at the Arizona/Mexico border working with various sanctuary groups. In this interview, which was broadcast on the Arts Express program on WBAI radio in NYC, Viv talks about the migrant families she met, the art projects she did with their children, going into the desert to leave water for migrants, the Scott Warren Trial, and how the experience affected her.

You can listen to the interview by clicking on the triangle above.

The song in the intro and outro is “El Hielo” by La Santa Cecilia. You can learn more about it here.


It’s The Thought That Counts: Simon Aronson, An Appreciation


I read the news today, oh boy.

Simon Aronson died this past week.

He was one of the most brilliant and clever creator of card magic effects of the past 50 years. His methods were… shall we say?…memorable. The house of magic is large, as Eugene Burger was fond of saying, and Simon’s creations fit a particular room. His magic was brainy, intellectual, and absolutely fooling. There are magicians who are great at fooling laypeople; there are magicians who are devious enough to fool other magicians; but the amazing thing about Simon’s card magic is that if you were doing it, it would fool even yourself. To this day, there are probably legions of magicians who perform his “Shuffle-Bored” or “Prior Commitment” who still have absolutely no idea why they work. What they know is that they do work, and they blow the minds of people who see them. If the performers themselves can’t figure them out, you can imagine, then, that the spectators have got zero chance. (If you like, we can discuss in the comments about your personal favorite effects of his.)

But make no mistake, Simon’s tricks impressed non-magicians as well. There’s a funny story that magician John Bannon tells in his introduction to one of Aronson’s books. He shows the secretary of Simon’s law firm a card trick, hoping to impress her, and she only smiles pleasantly. Then she says with wide open eyes, “But have you seen Simon’s card magic?”

Speaking of Aronson’s books, I doubt there has ever been a more meticulous, detailed magic writer than he was.  His books—Bound To Please, The Aronson Approach, Simply Simon, Try The Impossible, and Art Decko—are masterpieces of explanation of intricate methods. While Simon was not above using sleights and gaffs in his magic (and he delighted in upsetting fellow magicians’ expectations of what his bag of methods might include) his claim to fame really rests on thinking very hard about a few tools which required mostly sleight of mind. As he would say, just as you have to plan things so that your sleight of hand doesn’t show, you also have to plan effects so that your sleight of mind doesn’t show either. In Simon’s books, he takes you through all his thinking point by point, thoroughly exploring variations and improvements, telling you what versions he threw out as weak or too revealing, giving you his scripting, and moreover, unlocking the reasons why his methods work. Simon’s training as a lawyer shows—his books are not just explanations, but  thorough briefs with points and subpoints. In magic circles people like to debate, with near religious ferocity, whether it’s better to learn magic from books or DVDs. Of course both sides have valid views, but for the book-lovers, their strongest argument is two words: Simon Aronson.

No one would call Simon an extraordinary performer, but on occasion he would step away from the card table to do another kind of magic: his mentalism act that he created with his college sweetheart and wife of many years, Ginny. (There’s a great photo of college-aged Simon and Ginny on the Jerx website that speaks volumes about them. And Bill Mullins on the Genii Forum posted a wonderful remembrance from Simon about his father who was very active in the 60s Civil Rights movement). They did a classic two-person mindreading act, and fortunately it was captured on video as an extra on one of his videos. It’s something that neither he nor Ginny have ever revealed, and while clearly there must be some code going on, I have resigned myself to the fact that if Simon created it, I’m never going to be able to figure it out. You can see their act for yourself in the L&L video I posted above.

At the first run of mentalist Derren Brown’s Secret here in NYC, Derren pointed to a man in the audience to volunteer for the next effect. It was dark in the theater so I couldn’t see that well, but I thought the man looked familiar; when he said his name was Simon and the woman sitting next to him was Ginny…

I made sure to “accidentally” bump into him as the theater was emptying, and nervously introduced myself to him. He was so nice—he said he knew my name from this blog, and then proceeded to describe the photo I have on the title page of it! I got to talk with him a little longer as we walked together in the rainy weather, and found them a cab back to their hotel. Really couldn’t be nicer people. I treasured that comment from him, as one of the very first essays I wrote on this blog was inspired by an essay of his.

Simon Aronson was a full-out, full-deck memorable mensch, and I’m sorry to hear about his passing. From the Jack of Spades to the Nine of Diamonds, he will not be forgotten.


Wild Pitch

people playing baseball

Photo by Lino Khim Medrina on



The radio station I work for, WBAI in NYC, recently was the subject of criminal trespass by a rogue faction of the Pacifica network to which WBAI belongs. With no official authorization (and in violation of court orders) they broke into the station, stole mics and broadcasting equipment, took over our transmitter, commandeered the bank account, and replaced our programming with a godawful inferior feed from the West Coast. This went on for the month of October. It’s a long story that I’d rather not re-hash, but you can find a good account of it here and here.

Well we’re back on the air, and we’re fundraising, and I recorded the little pitch above for our show, which explains why we think our show, Arts Express, and the station is worth supporting.  If you’d like to donate you can go to and become a supporter. If you do donate, please consider listing Arts Express as your favorite show.

Click on the triangle above for the wind up.

Many Thanks!

Put To The Test: A College Tale

white baby mouse

Photo by Pixabay on


Well, Grubstetter figured he was going to get an easy A in Psych 1, after all, he’s good with people, didn’t he get his college roommate to buy him a keg of beer based on the premise that it would be worth it just to see him get drunk and f’d up? On the other hand, it turned out that the professor didn’t talk once about how to get free drinks from your roommate in his bogus Psych 1 class, in fact they didn’t talk about people or alcohol at all, all they talked about were wily brown rats and albino mice and stimulus-response reaction times. At least that’s what they talked about the last time he was in class, which was also the first time he was in class, when they gave out the syllabus.  He needed to pass the course, because frankly he hadn’t passed many others, and if he didn’t pass this one, he would be kicked out, seeing that he was already on probation for last semester’s stunning non-production.

The term paper was worth 50% and the final exam was worth 50% of the final course  grade. Grubstetter’s calculation was that though he hadn’t gotten it back yet, the term paper was probably an A—at least that’s what it received according to the website he got it from—so really what he had to turn his attention to now was the final. That would have made sense had not the final been so cruelly scheduled for 2:20 pm, two solid hours before Grubstetter’s usual wake up time. His roommate, Porter, who had returned to the room at 2pm from his bio class to grab the other half of the pulled pork sub sandwich which he had left in the room’s mini-refrigerator, didn’t think much at first of seeing Grubstetter passed out on the couch. It was not that unusual a sight at this time of the afternoon. But Grubstetter let out a groan, and Porter suddenly remembered that sometime before Grubstetter had passed out last night, Grubstetter had asked Porter to get him up in time for the big exam.

So Porter slapped Grubstetter’s face a few times and Grubstetter started yelling, but soon calmed down after it was explained to him that he had to get himself to the exam room, and pronto. Grubstetter’s face went ashen, for as he came to, he realized that his study plan of reading the entire Psych text that night—okay, the first and last sentences of each chapter’s final summary paragraph in the Psych text—had been thwarted, due to his inability to read while passed out. It was a genetic fault, he explained.

But Porter ignored his roommate’s excuses, and after rolling Grubstetter out from under the pile of dirt laundry on the couch, he bundled him up in the reclaimed old parka under the broken television set cart that was used as a bed for his girlfriend’s mean tabby cat.  Like a stage manager pushing a reluctant actor onto the stage, Porter gathered all his strength, and pushed his friend out the door.

Grubstetter was immediately stung by the cold of the Maine winter on his now even pinker cheeks, and the glare of the sun on the iced over snow blinded him for a few moments. He fished around in the deep pockets of his coat and pushing aside several Slim Jim wrappers and an invasion of sunflower seed shells, he dug out a pair of pink sparkle-covered sunglasses from some forgotten costume party. “Screw fashion,” he thought to himself as he put them on and got himself re-oriented to the campus quad, the large Clock sounding the quarter hour. He stumbled up the steps of the Founders Hall and marched himself through the corridors to the lecture auditorium, six hundred wooden seats looking down upon an old lab table, with a large projector screen in back of it. Grubstetter stood tentatively in the aisle, looking for a smart student to sit next to, but realized that he knew no one in the class because he had never been to it before. He cursed his rotten circumstances, and took his chances with a student who looked like he might have had intimate knowledge of rats. There was no empty seat exactly near him, but Grubstetter calculated that if he sat three rows behind him, and three seats to the left of him, due to the staggered arrangement of seats in each row, and the greater height of his back row, he would have a perfect diagonal view of the rat lover’s paper.

The teaching assistant entered the room with a big pile of official looking blank exam booklets. “Oh, no,” thought Grubstetter, “It’s going to be an essay exam.” What good would his superior vantage point mean now? Almost nothing. With a multiple choice test and a bird’s eye view you could delineate the pattern of darkened answer circles from afar, like an astronaut’s view of the Great Wall of China, but with an essay test you had nothing. “Gimme something to work with here,” he muttered to himself. He braced himself for the essay question they were about to receive, summoning up all his considerable powers of bullshittery to the fore, but he was still nervous.

“No multiple choice? No multiple choice? What kind of fresh hell is this place anyway?” he called out. Several students turned around in their seats and shushed him, like patrons of an art movie theater reprimanding a particularly recalcitrant viewer during an Ingmar Bergman film festival. But it was clear to Grubstetter what must have happened. The professor, who was known to give multiple choice tests with a hundred-plus questions, had finally figured out that the answers to the test had been in circulation long before the test date. But the guy was lazy. He didn’t want to make up a new hundred-question test. It was easier to make up an essay question on the spot, and have some grad student mark it, than to put in the sweat necessary to re-make a new multiple choice test. “The inconsiderate indolent bastard,” he said to the woman next to him who ignored him.

The teaching assistant at the front of the auditorium, who for some reason couldn’t get the microphone to work, announced in his loudest voice that the test was about to begin, the essay question would be projected on the screen, and that the students would all have one hour and twenty minutes to complete their essay in the exam books. “The use of computers and other aids are not allowed, no pencil, and be sure to sign the no cheating declaration on the back cover. Do all your scrap work and planning in the book, and when you need a new book, raise your hand and I’ll bring you a new one. Okay, I’ll put up the question on the screen and then you may open up your exam booklets and begin writing.”

There was a sharp intake of air in anticipation from the crowd of students and then after some focusing adjustments, the question appeared on the screen. “Holy Mother of Pringles,” Grubstetter exclaimed. “He’s even lazier than I thought.” Grubstetter again read to himself the essay question which was printed in block capital letters:


“What the—?” The devious bastard. It took him no thought at all to come up with that. Grubstetter started to look up and down his row and along the diagonals in desperation. Students were looking up, biting the ends of their pens, and then suddenly, as if diving for sunken treasure, swooping their heads back down onto the pages, furiously writing, filling up pages. But Grubstetter could only catch snatches of paragraphs amid the bobbing heads and writing implements. Describe the so-and so effect along with its implications and uses wrote the guy to his right. Given the current state of the scienific research regarding so and so, and so and so, which do you think is a more effective approach and why? wrote the woman to his left. Name three methods of behavioral psychology and compare and contrast among them as to their validity and reliability wrote the rat boy three rows ahead of him. Grubstetter shook his head in despair. These intermittent flashes of ideas were not enough to get him started on an essay of his own. He wasn’t familiar with anything enough to even bullshit about it.

And then, all of a sudden, he sat back in his wooden chair, relaxed full of cheer and merriment, and gave a great hardy guffaw, like a jolly king upon his throne. The answer had, miraculously, come to him. Grubstetter wrote like a demon for a few moments, then turned in his exam booklet to the bewildered teaching assistant, and triumphantly marched out the door, a forgotten Slim Jim now victoriously clenched between his teeth.

Yes, the Gods had looked favorably on Grubstetter that memorable day, as he recounted a week later to Porter.  The proof of the passing grade was right there in the professor’s reluctant red ink on Grubstetter’s returned final exam booklet. A big scarlet “A.”

“So how the fuck did you answer the question?” demanded Porter. “You knew nothing, nothing at all. You never went to class, never cracked a book. How the fuck could he have passed you?”

Grubstetter, who by this time was about to pass out again, tossed the exam booklet to Porter. “Read it, kiddo, read it.” And with that, he fell off the couch and slept the sleep of the angels.

Porter opened the booklet and saw:


So you think you’re smart writing an exam question like that? Okay. Here are my answers to the two parts of the essay.



Have a great summer, prof!

Porter closed the exam booklet, struck dumb. For surely, he thought to himself, as he looked at the crumpled sweetly smiling body on the floor next to him and slowly re-read his friend’s exam paper, he was in the presence of genius.