The Lobster Truck Guys suggested Jalopy when I asked for a cool place to see live music in Brooklyn. So I went. They were totally right on. Tucked onto a dark corner not far from the interstate, this understated little bar is a temple to folk music. With honey colored floors and wooden pews, dusty red velvet curtains and strings of cafe lights hung just haphazardly enough, it feels like a forgotten vaudeville act spiffed up for a new generation.
Jessica and I enjoyed a screening of silent films with live musical accompaniment from The Red Hook Ramblers. Their accompaniments were obviously carefully constructed and rehearsed, but they also had a spontaneity and joy that made the films come to life in a whole new way. I appreciated the role of sound effects and score far more while knowing the fellows behind the curtains were doing it all for us right then and there. They employed all sorts of marvelous gizmos in their quest to tell the story on the screen through music. One was a handheld red box with vents along the side. When the crank was turned, it revealed itself to be a siren wailer. More conventional instruments included washboards, tin pans, pianos, harmonicas, trumpets, accordions and one very large and glorious brass tuba. (Don't you always find yourself wanting to know more about what led someone to take up the tuba? It's a patently absurd looking creation. It's probably the one instrument in history that actually wards off girls.)
We watched three different films that night and enjoyed a few of the Redhook Rambler's original songs, which were full of swing and southern panache that made one want to get up and dance. As I watched these flickering old black and white images, I marveled at how much film has changed. Certainly, films now look more lifelike- they are full of crisp clean edges and vibrant color that one could almost mistake for reality. But in another way, the innocence, and charm of old Hollywood has flaked away over the years, to be replaced with a hard impenetrable lacquer of phoniness and calculation. These silent movies were full of spinning houses, tipsy butlers and cartoonish fist fights. But adding the music back into them reinvigorated them and made them pertinent right now. I doubt anyone could do the same for any Jennifer Lopez film in forty years.