The American Individualist

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sets of ‘Wonderous’ Music

By Joseph Kellard

Wonderous Stories once played the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Who’s “Tommy” and Yes’s “Close to the Edge” — all in their entirety. While that’s an unusual set for the five-piece band, performing whole albums is a trademark of Wonderous Stories, whose members further pride themselves on never practicing together or following a set list.

At a recent show at Canno’s Swiss Tavern in Lynbrook, the band played no LPs, yet cranked out segments from Pete Townshend’s rock opera, Genesis’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” Keyboardist Mark Bonder opened the show with the eerie wind and cathedral-like synthesizer sounds that introduce “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” as drummer Ricky Martinez did his best Elton John on lead vocals. Bonder and Martinez are two of the band’s multi-instrumental musicians, along with front man Kenny Forgione and Kevin McCann, who both sing and play guitar and bass, and lead guitarist Tommy Williams.

Wonderous Stories’ library features many relatively obscure songs, but is peppered with enough more-familiar tunes. At Swiss Tavern, these included John’s “Honky Cat,” Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Yes’s “Roundabout,” the latter sung by frequent guest vocalist Laura Press.

While band members are faithful to the recorded versions, sometimes uncannily so, they still take enough liberties with the covers that express their particular styles. When, for instance, they wrapped up Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” a light acoustic song that fades out, the band instead abruptly broke into the booming, drum-driven end of Santana’s “Oye Como Va.” Their one constant, however, is their spot-on, tight precision, a quality all the more incredible considering their disdain for rehearsals.

“We’re able to do this because these are all songs we grew up listening to,” says Forgione, who spent his pre-Wonderous Stories days performing with McCann.

The duo’s acoustic gigs ranged from well-known Beatles tunes to Tears for Fears-like pop songs of the day. But they also injected some personal favorites, such as classic Genesis tunes. “And we’d always have some people who would tell us, ‘I can’t believe you’re playing that stuff,’” Forgione recalls.

In 1993, he and McCann formed a trio with Chris Clark, the band’s original keyboardist, who introduced much of the technical, intricate progressive rock like Yes. After adding a drummer, the quartet played more sets of this intense, relatively obscure music.

The following year, Martinez, the drummer on PBS’s “Sesame Street,” replaced the band’s percussionist, and two years later Williams, the musical director for 1980s pop star Debbie Gibson, completed Wonderous Stories (named for a Yes song). More recently, Bonder has filled in when Clark has performed on Broadway. But when Bonder, Martinez and Williams joined the band, each brought more cover songs, from Pink Floyd to Steely Dan.

The idea to play whole albums grew out of Forgione’s love of one in particular. “‘Tommy’ affected me from the time I was a kid,” says Forgione, who keeps his long brown hair in a ponytail. “When I heard it, it freaked me out. So if it did that for me, it must have done it for other people, too.”

“All of us said, ‘Wow, this is really fascinating and challenging, let’s try to pull this off,’” Martinez remembers.

The band first tested the waters with “Sgt. Pepper,” as Clark learned to play the difficult parts, like the strings on “She’s Leaving Home.” “People loved it,” Forgione recalls, “because not only are you playing the hits everyone knows, but also the songs that people forget about.”

The band then played “Tommy,” a double-LP, and several other, mostly “concept” albums, including the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Abbey Road” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” which they performed at Heckscher Park before some 4,000 fans this year.

Wonderous Stories draws many fans in their 40s and 50s, but is attracting a sizable younger crowd, including college-age kids, at its gigs at venues like B.B. King Blues Club in Manhattan, Coyote Grill in Island Park, Mulcahy’s in Wantagh, Jugs-N-Strokers in Merrick and the Jones Beach boardwalk band shell, where 3,000-plus fans showed up for a show at summer’s end.

Williams, who grew up in Merrick listening to the Beatles, Cream, Yes and Genesis when disco and punk were the rage, is surprised and heartened when younger fans sing back to them every lyric of every song, even the obscure ones, from any random album they play. He sees this as their yearning for the album era.

“With the advent of downloading, very few people download a whole album — they mostly take a song or two from many different albums,” Williams said between sets at the Swiss Tavern gig. “So the idea of an album as an entity that you listen to, it’s become like an aging bottle of wine. It's much cooler to get one of those now.”

The band opened its second set with a medley of vintage Genesis songs, including “Watcher of the Skies,” then it plunged into the overture to “Tommy.” From there it tackled “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road, one of several requests from the crowd.

Some audience members asked for a few Doors songs. Before embarking on “Break on Through,” McCann, bass in hand, tells his band mates he has never played the song before. Williams walks him through the chord progression, then turns to Martinez. “Do you know it?” he asks the drummer.

“Sort of,” Martinez says — and the band proceeds to play the tune as if they’d been doing it for years.

To learn more about Wonderous Stories, visit the band's Web site at

Friday, November 24, 2006

Get Your "Letting Go of God" CD

From Joseph Kellard

Julia Sweeney has finally released the CD of her one-woman act, "Letting Go of God"

The website provides some excerpts from the CD, along with passages from the accompanying booklet of Sweeney's entire monologue.

At the recommendation of some HBLers, including Harry Binswanger, I went to see Sweeney's play in Manhattan earlier this year. I enjoyed it immensely.

As Harry wrote in his HBL review back in February 2005: "This play is a unique combination of the light and entertaining with the thoughtful and profound. It begins with Julia Sweeney's early devotion to Catholicism, and as the play continues, we see issues from within the author's mental frame at that stage of her development. So at the beginning we are told, in monologue, how wonderful Catholicism is, how inspiring, what role models nuns are(!).

"But Julia Sweeney wouldn't stop thinking--i.e., asking questions.
And each question answered pried her a little farther from religion."

Jefferson vs. Lincoln as Most Influential

Here is a letter I wrote and emailed to The Atlantic. My letter pertains, not to what I previously posted about regarding the magazine’s discussion of Howard Roark, but to the actual top 100 list itself (see Specifically, my letter targets TA’s placing of Abraham Lincoln at the top, above Thomas Jefferson, as the most influential American ever.

To the Editor,

That Abraham Lincoln tops your list of all-time most influential Americans, particularly above a political prime mover such as Thomas Jefferson, indicates how modern historians shun fundamental values.

True, Lincoln abolished slavery and saved the Union, but what exactly did he save? Well, the freest nation in history -- which Jefferson made possible. For the first time, Jefferson and his fellow founders establishment a nation based on the ideas of “All men are created equal” and “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” -- that is, that each individual, despite such non-essential characteristics as race, has an inherent right to these values.

Yes, some founders like Jefferson owned slaves, but slavery had previously been practiced in virtually every culture throughout history. What’s most important about the founders is that they were the vital bridge between the old world and a new, enlightened, freer one, influencing men away from the dogmas that your life belongs to Gods, kings or tribal groups, to the object fact that each individual has sovereignty over his own life. In short, Jefferson and the founders established a unique nation that remains the most influential beacon of freedom and life ever.

Without the ideas that Jefferson championed, there would have been no Civil War, since men would still have been without the moral and political grounds on which to seriously oppose slavery. Hell, there likely wouldn’t have even been a Union for Lincoln to have saved.

Joseph Kellard

You can email your own letter to The Atlantic at:

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Atlantic Attacks Egoism

By Joseph Kellard

"The 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time." Thus reads the
headline on the cover of the December issue of The Atlantic

I curiously flipped through this magazine's pages and found that
Abraham Lincoln tops the list, according to a group of modern
historians. The article also contains sidebars of other influential
Americans, runners-up from poets to musicians to architects. And,
to my surprise, one architect listed, alongside Frank Lloyd Wright,
is Howard Roark.

TA notes that Roark is fictional, but that Ayn Rand's character was
nonetheless very influential. Well, that's good, right? But wait!
"Influential," like the word "controversial," doesn't necessarily
connote something positive. I mean, when Abraham Lincoln is
listed above such political prime movers as Thomas Jefferson and
George Washington--since he saved the Union that TJ and GW
otherwise established--then these historians obviously have their
priorities (or hierarchies) screwed up. And so there's a good chance
this mention of Roark will be negative. Well, my suspicions were
right, particularly after I read The Atlantic's awful summation of
Roark's character.

Turns out, according to The Atlantic, Roark is responsible for
influencing some of today's worst architects, who go unnamed.
Specifically, it's Roark's egoism that is responsible for these
reprehensible moderns. Yep, the hero of The Fountainhead was
"influential" alright, but primarily for promoting such despicable
things as individualism and selfishness.

Recall that this is the magazine (also known as Atlantic Monthly) that
once featured the essay "Thomas Jefferson: Radical or Racist," by
Conor Cruise O'Brien, in which the author of the Declaration of
Independence was attacked as a radical and racist, and described
as the spiritual father of the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh and
the modern militia movement, according to Robert Tracinski (see
TIA July 1997).

Jefferson did make the top five on The Atlantic's list, since he
wrote those all-important political words: "All men are created
equal." Certainly these are important words. But consider that The
Atlantic is a leftist magazine, and so these words can, and have
been, twisted to mean that all men are created to possess equality of
results, needs, values--not that they all equally have the liberty to
"pursue" their own happiness. No, that would be individualistic and

Friday, November 17, 2006


Watch this 12-minute clip on militant Islam:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How I Voted

Here in New York, I voted mostly for Democrats, including Hillary. I could not have imagined doing that just a few short years ago, not to mention throughout the second half of the 1990s. But such is the state of the Republicans, who are as dreadful, if not worse, than the Dems. From what I know, the Dems picked up some seats in the Senate, but not enough for a majority, and they'll have the majority in the House.

So, it looks like we'll get exactly what I'd hoped for: gridlock, with neither the Dems nor Repubs having enough of a mandate to affect much or any of their real nasty, rights- and life-destroying causes. So long as those two animals, who share the same fundamental philosophy, continue to be at each others throats for the next few years, neither will do anything drastic, and we Objectivists will simply have more time to spread our philosophy throughout this country’s educational system (an effort that is growing considerably now) for a better tomorrow.

I mention that I voted “mostly” for the Dems. I did vote for one Republican, the forgettable Fasso, who ran against Evil Spitzer. I simply could not cast my vote for such a thug of a candidate.