PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!

CP: Poetry doesn’t usually make for a sexy cover story. Social activism sometimes does, but it tends to generate as much negative feedback as it does positive. The area where those two things meet, though, can be downright explosive, and in Philadelphia, those they meet in Sonia Sanchez, revolutionary black poet and pioneer in the Black Arts Movement. In a very thoughtful and powerful re-appraisal, Bruce Walsh considers why Sanchez isn’t better recognized and more widely known in a city where she’s lived for nearly half her life.

Sonia Sanchez leans forward on the edge of her couch, and again weighs the question at hand carefully in her mind. “Did you know I have written most of my poetry, right here, in a place called Phila-delphia?” she says, as if she herself were surprised by the answer. It’s true. And in a few more years she will have lived in Philly for most of her life.

I spend the next two hours probing for the firebrand radical sometimes extolled by her fans and often lamented by her critics. If that exists, I didn’t find her.

“I still challenge authority. But my problem was I sometimes used to do it by cursing people out, you see. I don’t do that anymore, because all people remember is the curse,” she says. “So now I do it in such a way where I slap somebody and hug them at the same time, so at least they remember the hug.”

We touch on everything from Jackie Robinson’s first appearance at Shibe Park (not Philly’s finest hour) to Sanchez’s recent arrest for protesting the Iraq war with a group called the Granny Peace Brigade.

Her responses tread closer to concerned grandmother than radical revolutionary.

On Mumia: “I don’t know what Mumia did that night. I cannot tell you what he did. I came in as a character witness to say how I knew him in this city: always as a progressive person, as a human being, and certainly as a person who I hoped would get a good trial. Which he did not.”

On MOVE: “When it happened I went down in front of City Hall with the MOVE people. Not that I believe what they believe, but I don’t believe in capital punishment. … There were children in there that burned. So when I wrote about it, I wanted people to feel the horror of a fireman looking at that. And, also, at the same time the horror of not having done anything about it. … At some point we have to understand that we incinerated those people, don’t we?”

Walsh touches on Sanchez’s impact on poetry, social causes, music and more within the city, and his list of sources hint at both her legendary status and her seeming apart-ness from Philadelphia. One academic from Temple says: “You can continue to be you and buck the system, or you can eventually get absorbed into the existing culture. She was never absorbed.” If that’s kept her from receiving her due, it’s a shame, but with the upcoming tribute at Temple, it looks as though her time could be now.

PW: The Food and Drink issue sports can’t-miss recommendations from various food bloggers and restaurant critics — weird that they got one current CP contributor and one former to weigh in, but couldn’t pry loose any recs from their former restaurant critic Adam Erace, who jumped ship several months back? — but what really pulled me in was Brian McManus’ brilliant investigation into the roots of Bob and Barbara’s famous special. How did it so take the city by storm that it’s called “the citywide special” in some quarters?


It’s a not-quite-busy Wednesday happy hour at Bob & Barbara’s (1509 South St.), and the dozen or so drinkers bellying up to the red leather cushion encasing the famous bar are the definition of diversity—young and old, black and white, men and women. Different though they may be, they’re all drinking the same thing. Beer and a shot. Specifically, a 12-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a jigger of Jim Beam, known at B&B simply as “the special.” It’ll cost you $3. Special, indeed.

That $3 is the same price you’d have paid for it when punk icon and bartender Rick D. gave birth to the special a decade ago. Depending whom you ask, you’ll be told the $3 boilermaker that’s become such a Philly standard was delivered in one of two places: Bob and Barbara’s or the bar across the street from it, Tritone, which Rick D. owned.

“The truth is, neither one of the bars can claim credit for it,” says Rick A.—and from here on out, we’re gonna refer to the Ricks as “A.” and “D.” for clarity’s sake. A. has been tending bar for 30 years, a third of them at Tritone, where he’s been since longtime friend D. opened it in 2001. Neither bar can claim credit, in essence, because both can—but there’s definitely one patient-zero bartender.

“Rick [D.] started the special at both places on the same night,” says A. “He’d just opened Tritone, but was still working at Bob and Barbara’s.” Some background: D., who passed tragically of a heart attack in ’07, was a music-scene fixture and bartender at places like Firenze Tavern, Upstairs at Nick’s and JC Dobbs, where he booked bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and Green Day before they hit big on the national stage.

If you knew D., you knew one hell of a good guy, a man born to be behind a bar. He had a natural ease and a kind nature, a whip-sharp wit and the ability to talk about damn near anything with expertise. It makes sense that he’d come up with something as customer-friendly as the special—D. was the type of guy who didn’t think a bar was worth sitting in if you couldn’t buy a round for yourself and a few friends with a $20 bill.

The fancy-cocktail article is nice and all, but I feel a kind of nostalgia for the no-frills, shot-and-a-beer legacy of the Philly bar scene, and it has nothing to do with the current, perhaps-ironic PBR fetish. Thank goodness that’s not citywide either.


CP: I cannot possibly improve on this headline. Facing up to the bald-faced. Oy, what a museum. A BYOB built to last.

PW: Beef tendon and pig ears: Oh yeah. B-Mac on the booze beat. Is the Iron Chef bulletproof? He likes it raw… then vegan… then macrobiotic.

WINNER: “An entreaty”? It’s a bold move to present a dearth of coverage and posit yourself as the cure, but I dig it. It’s way more than part of a First Person Fest preview; it’s practically a crusade. CP takes it.

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