WRUR 88.5 Different Radio

Jeff Spevak

As freelance artists in a time of pandemic drought, David Cowles and Josh Gosfield sensed it was time to put matters in their own hands.

“Let’s not wait for art directors to give us jobs,” Cowles says, “let’s do something that we really love.”

Heroes. We love heroes. We need heroes to get us through tough times. Cowles and Gosfield have given us 63 heroes, as defined by 63 artists, for this moment in a new art-driven magazine, Public Eye.

I had my coming-out from COVID-19 about a week and a half ago.

My first indoor concert in more than a year. Two solo acoustic performers: a ridiculously talented young guy, Max Doud, then Tommy Brunett, scratchy-voiced scenester and Fairport whiskey baron. It was a night at The Penthouse at One East Avenue, 11 floors up in the downtown Rochester skyline. It’s a spacious room, and the tables seemed separated enough. All four of the people at our table were fully vaccinated.

A handful of framed gold records lined the otherwise mundane hallway of the Rochester Presbyterian Home, and then on to the walls of the one-room apartment of Ethel Gabriel. She was 91 years old then, but she remembered. 

“How could I forget Elvis?” she said. “I made him famous.”

That was eight years ago, before dementia swept away so many memories of Elvis Presley and of the estimated 2,500 albums -- probably more -- that she produced over the course of a career that began in 1940, when the recording industry was a man's world. 

Hanif Abdurraqib left Connecticut in the spring of 2017, after a painful breakup. Now he was back in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. A wounded writer. Perfect. Anger and bitterness have filled many, many library shelves.

Except, it was too easy to be bitter, he says. “I don’t really write well when I’m bitter. And so I needed to figure out something for myself that served my writing.”

It is such a simple morning ritual. 

Daniel Armbruster gets out of bed. His own bed, after years of so many unfamiliar ones. He pours himself a bowl of granola, sets out the butter and bread for toast. 

There’s some sugar and vitamin C in the cupboard. What’s this, a bottle of C24H28ClN5O3? A chemical formula, better known as Dramamine. The date on the bottle says it’s expired, and it's no longer needed since the high-speed rock-and-roll life has slowed to a more manageable pace. Throw it out. 

And then, on to what “After Coffee" is really about.

Danny Deutsch is watching the charts. Not the Billboard magazine charts. But The New York Times charts, tracking the new COVID-19 cases. And the COVID-19 deaths.

“It’s not something to trifle with,” he says.

Deutsch is the owner of Abilene Bar & Lounge, the tiny downtown Rochester club that’s offered a stage to local musicians -- and small but intriguing national acts -- for more than a dozen years now. But Abilene has been open and closed and open again throughout this coronavirus pandemic year. And closed again since November.

Jenni Werner moved to Rochester 10 years ago. She certainly knew the stories of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Everyone who has sat through a junior history class has encountered those two.

Yet there is so much more to be found here, in widely diverse ways that often depart from standard definitions of history making. 

“The stories are incredible,” Werner says. “Some of the most progressive movements in the country have come from this part of New York state. Both historically, and now.”

“Hundreds and hundreds of plays can be written about this area.”

The images are black and white, the movements of the actors are herky-jerky, which is what we’re used to seeing in silent films. The acting is hammy: Edgar Barrier twists the ends of his handlebar mustache! And the antics are slapstick: Joseph Cotton deftly scampers across an endless landscape of New York City rooftops, wrestling with uncooperative ladders.

The name of one of the great abolitionists now finds itself in rare air: Our rather pedestrian-monikered airport has been renamed the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.

“For Rochester to do that once again reinforces the social justice history, the social justice recognition, that has always been here,” says Carvin Eison.

Since departing Rochester in November, in search of warmer weather and an outdoors environment where COVID-19 might pose less of a threat, Amy Collins and Tim Clark have drawn a circuitous route through the South. Now these high-tech nomads have parked their RV trailer for a week or so in Southern California.

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