Minstrels add dash of romance to meal


August 28, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

I LIKE THE blues. I like straight-ahead jazz. I like anything Latin. I like rock, I like roll. I like Mozart and Mahler. I like Verdi and Donizetti. I like Porter and Arlen and Brel. I like Cherry Poppin' Daddies. I can even listen to 10 minutes of bluegrass music once a year. But, most of all, I'm a sucker for "La Vie en Rose" played on the violin and backed by accordion and mandolin.

It's old, lovely romance music, the soundtrack from some black-and-white film set in a Parisian bistro. It's not a sound you hear around here every day.

But, we got a dose of it the other night in Hampden.

"La Vie" floated over the dinnertime din at Frazier's on the Avenue as four happy men - Phil McCusker on violin, his son, Tim, on mandolin, John Lockwich on accordion and Joe Farrell on upright bass - played by the front window as evening fell on 36th Street. They played for their supper.

"We play wherever someone will let us play because we love to play," says the elder McCusker, who took fiddle lessons more than 60 years ago and never lost the touch.

He and the boys played "Tales From the Vienna Woods" and "April in Portugal." They played other waltzes and opera tunes, gypsy dances, a Spanish serenade, even a polka. They played "Kalinka" and the theme from "Doctor Zhivago." When they played "Moscow Nights," I was tempted to order a Stoli straight up. (I imagined for a moment that a hip, young Russian woman would slide into the seat next to me and gasp: "Queek, pretend you are vith me.") They even played "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," a reference to this week's hurricane.

The ensemble has no name, though McCusker & Co. were known as the Saturday Afternoon Troubadours when they played regularly at Lucky Stankowski's Canton Liquor House, Fleet Street. Lucky was among the handful of groupies at Frazier's Wednesday night; he pulled out a harmonica and joined McCusker in a duet. Nice scene, good sound, and the steak special was only $9.95. Next time I'll order French fries instead of baked potato.

Voice with staying power

The voice in the Norris Ford radio commercial, the one that erupts in the closing seconds and tells you where the car dealership is, has been burned permanently into my brain, and I say that affectionately. When I hear this voice - "Norris Ford, Beltway Exit 39, Dundalk!" - I try to place it. Male? Female? It's hard to say, the way it's hard to say whether Rocky, Bullwinkle's squirrel sidekick, is male or female. The voice is slightly raspy. It reminds me of waitresses and barmaids I've known. Years ago, up in Section 34 of Memorial Stadium, a female disciple of Wild Bill Hagy must have had a voice like this. It's a voice that's been lived in. She's tough, she's spunky, she's certain. And she knows the way to Dundalk, pal.

Crab conservation

Interestingly, we haven't heard any bellyaching about the suggestion that Chesapeake blue crabs need a break. A significant reduction in harvest - even a moratorium - seems to get the thumbs-up from TJI readers. E-mail to this columnist and postings in SunSpot, the Sun's Web site, indicate a great concern for the future of the crab population. Readers raised a variety of issues.

"Stop the retail sale of undersized crabs," wrote Vernon from Mount Vernon. "Just take a look at the size of crabs on sale at seafood stands and one can see that those crabs never should have been removed from the water."

TJI reader Doug Ebbert, who sails out of Middle River several times each week, finds the number of crab pots in the water staggering. "In many places," he reported, "commercial crab pots are no more than 10 feet from the next one, and this is out in mid-bay, not a river or cove. Sailing has become a 'crab pot dodge' game."

A reader who goes by Weekend Waterman suggested that restaurants and crab houses stop all-you-can-eat specials. "I like to fill up on crabs as much as the next guy," WW wrote, "but the all-you-can-eat promotion effectively encourages people to waste a scarce resource. If people buy crabs by the dozen or half-dozen, they tend to pick them clean and therefore consume fewer crabs."

Weekend Waterman also gave a crabbing report that supports the conclusion of state officials that the harvest this summer is the poorest on record. "I was running 600 feet of trot line on the Magothy River last Friday morning," he says. "I caught four crabs. I know it sounds unbelievable but I have two witnesses. I moved the line to four different locations. I've never seen crabs this scarce."

This Just In appears three times a week. Contact Dan Rodricks at 410-332-6166, or write to TJI at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Dan's e-mail address is TJIDAol.com. Post comment on this and other columns at http://www.sunspot.net

Pub date: 8/28/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.