Keeping it real

Jim Norton talks comedy, cancel culture and more

After a pandemic-induced hiatus of over a year, Jim Norton returned to live comedy last autumn, then stopped performing in early October. He’s back on the road, with a brief Northeast jaunt kicking off at Laconia’s Colonial Theatre on Feb. 17. Norton spoke with the Hippo by phone recently, in an interview that touched on his edgy, no-holds-barred act, the state of comedy in an era of cancel culture, and how far he’s willing to go for his craft (spoiler alert — there are no limits).

Are you the same guy on and off stage, or do you turn it up when you perform?

You have to turn it up. There are times when I’m being 100 percent to-the-word honest, and there are times where I’m just being kind of honest, and there are times where I’m being just an a——. I don’t feel a need to be married to any one of those things if I’m having fun and I’m enjoying the jokes I’m doing. So, yeah, it is an exaggerated form of myself.

That a topic doesn’t have to be funny to be funny in a bit seems like kind of a guiding principle for you.

Throughout comic history things that aren’t funny are used to make people laugh. Go to something as benign as The Three Stooges. The way people literally look at comedy today, Moe would be canceled for slapping Larry and hitting Curly with a wrench. Those are physically violent things, but slapstick is never called out. … Most subjects on their own can be very sad or depressing or unsettling. I never need a subject to be funny to make fun of it.

You’ve observed that actors can play the worst people in the world without being criticized, but comedians are held to a different standard.

I think that’s because people are self-centered and they want their own personal comfort space with humor to be respected [and] they use your joke to springboard into the discussion. … People are too mentally lazy or stupid to start a conversation about the subject on their own. … I have zero respect for that, because I think the whole thing is a lie. … Lenny Bruce was technically a victim of it and Andrew Dice Clay in 1989 was the victim of it. So it’s not this … new soft generation; we’ve always been doing it.

One of your first big breaks was with Dice. What was the milieu like back then?

I expected it to be this wild sex fest on the road with all these hot girls. Meanwhile, after the show, all he wanted to do was hang out with his friends and lay in the hotel room and eat little chocolate treats…. But what an education as far as how to handle an aggressive audience … it made me a much stronger comic.

Is there a line that can’t be crossed?

No, no, no. … The problem is when people want something punitive to happen to the person who made the joke, that’s where it’s wrong. To have your own line is great, and we all have it. The problem is, we should never expect something to be done about it. Someone crossed the line; you didn’t like it. That’s the beginning and end of the conversation.

How about the Neil Young/Spotify controversy?

I would have respected Neil a lot more if he just left, but I also find some of what they’re doing to be a virtue signal. … Joe is a very close friend of mine for almost 30 years, but you know who I go to for medical advice? Doctors. I’m a grown man, and I listen to doctors that I know, so they may agree with Joe about some things, they may disagree with him, [but] I take responsibility for my own finding out of information. I don’t look to a podcaster or a comedian or a news pundit.

What other things are in the pipeline for you that fans should know about?

It’s more like just getting back to doing gigs. I would love to shoot another special but just getting back to gigs for me right now is the most important thing. I’m literally loving it. Like I’ve never taken a break before, and taking that year off was crazy. Going back on, I appreciate it like I haven’t appreciated it since I was in my first or second year, back in the early ’90s.

Jim Norton

When: Thursday, Feb. 17, 8 p.m.
Where: Colonial Theatre, 617 Main St., Laconia
Tickets: $32 to $62 at

Featured photo: Jim Norton. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 22/02/17

Local music news & events

Museum music: The weekly Art After Work series continues with rootsy quintet Hickory Horned Devils holding forth in the Currier’s Winter Garden, with food and drink specials on offer. The acoustic group is all-New England — almost, as singer-guitarist John Sawyer is Tennessee-born and Georgia-raised. They offer “a lively blend of old-time, Americana, alt-country, and blues, with the occasional pop song thrown in for good measure.” Thursday, Feb. 17, 5 p.m., Currier Museum of Art, 150 Ash St., Manchester,

Active rock: With over a decade together, Leaving Eden remains among the most dedicated bands in New England. Last year they released their ninth album, Fable, an effort that found them maturing but still delivering high-energy rock ’n’ roll — and a great cover of “The Rose,” with a significant contribution from new keyboard player Alyssa White, who collaborated on songwriting with guitarist and principal lyricist Eric Gynan. Friday, Feb. 18, 9 p.m., Angel City Music Hall, 179 Elm St., Manchester,

Not Kansas: In a mashup inspired by urban legend, GoodFoot presents Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon LP as the classic movie The Wizard of Oz screens in the background. Lore holds there’s an amazing synchronicity between the two works of art, though Floyd drummer Nick Mason told MTV in 1997 that the idea was “absolute nonsense,” adding that rather than Oz, “it was all based on The Sound of Music.” Saturday, Feb. 19, 9:30 p.m., Peddler’s Daughter, 48 Main St., Nashua,

Holy sound: The upcoming Realm of God as Jazz Party monthly worship service is a Mardi Gras celebration that the church’s Facebook page said is “inspired by the God-with-us as much in our joy as in the penitential mood of Lent that will follow.” Pastor and vocalist Emilia Halstead is joined by Ed Raczka and Chuck Booth on percussion, Joey Placenti, Jim Wildman and Tim Wildman on horns, bass player Jock Irvine and Annelise Papinsick on accordion. Sunday, Feb. 20, 1 p.m., 177 N. Main St., Concord,

Electric youth: In a show originally scheduled for May 2020, Nickelodeon star JoJo Siwa finally brings her D.R.E.A.M. the Tour to New Hampshire. Along with her music and film output — she starred in 2021’s The J Team — Siwa appeared in the most recent Dancing With the Stars competition, part of the show’s first same-sex duo with Jenna Johnson, as the pair finished second to former NBA player Iman Shumpert. Tuesday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m., SNHU Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester, tickets $39.50 to $69.50 at

At the Sofaplex 22/02/17

Kimi (R)

Zoë Kravitz, Rita Wilson.

Angela (Kravitz) listens professionally — her job for Amygdala is listening to clips recorded from a Siri/Alexa-type device called Kimi and translating, say, a request to order “kitchen towels” into a Kimi-recognized request for paper towels. She is sent streams of audio recorded from Kimi devices and decodes them in her home, where she works, exercises, occasionally sees a neighbor who has become something not quite a boyfriend (Terry, played by Byron Bowers) and does everything else in life. Angela, still healing after an assault and further distressed since the pandemic, is agoraphobic and can’t bring herself to leave her apartment, even to meet Terry for a quick bite at the food truck parked outside their apartments.

In one of the streams Kimi generates, Angela hears something more than just confusing regional slang or a common-word song title. Under a layer of loud music, she hears something that at first she thinks could be a sexual assault but then, as she digs deeper, she believes could be a murder. The more information she gathers, the more Angela realizes that she will have to leave her apartment to find help.

This Steven Soderbergh-directed movie is impressively economical — using everything in exactly the right amounts and pulling in only the characters (and only the amount of the characters and their lives) and story elements it’s going to need. At an hour and 29 minutes, it gives you just the right amount of story as well, turned up to the right speed to give you maximum tension as Angela tries to uncover what has happened and then get that information to the right people before she becomes another victim. Kimi is the sleek, well-crafted answer to the question of how to make a thriller on a budget. B+ Available on HBO Max.

Marry Me (PG-13)

Marry Me (PG-13)

J. Lo plays a pop star who makes the pop decision to marry a rando at her concert in Marry Me, a series of music videos with rom-com-ery squished in between and I am fine with that.

Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) is a pop megastar engaged to fellow pop megastar Bastian (Maluma). After performing their hit song “Marry Me” at a lavishly costumed Kat Valdez concert, the two plan to get married on stage in front of the sold-out audience of concert-goers and millions more online. But during the costume change between the ballad and the ceremony, a story about Bastian cheating on Kat goes viral and Kat sees the report of his infidelities just as a riser brings her up on stage in her dazzling wedding dress, one of many awesome “ooo, nice!” outfits sported by Lopez and others in this movie.

Shocked, heartbroken and already killing it in a great dress, Kat Valdez decides she might as well marry somebody and says “yes, I’ll marry you” to a random guy in the audience holding a “Marry Me” sign: math teacher Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson).

Charlie knows basically nothing about Kat or Bastian or their music or what really is going on. He accepted teacher buddy Parker’s (Bedford’s own Sarah Silverman) invitation to the concert mostly because he thought it would improve his coolness standing with his daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman), who recently started attending Charlie’s school and had been bragging about how fun her mom’s new husband is. He was only holding the sign so that Parker could take a selfie. In the moment he is maybe a little bit dazzled by Kat, a little bit sympathetic to the idea of somebody going through a difficult situation and a little bit just stunned. When she pulls him on stage to marry her, he just sorta goes with it. Later, when her manager, Collin (John Bradley), asks him to basically date Kat for a while so they both look less crazy, Charlie agrees to it in part because she agrees to fundraise for his math team and in part because he genuinely wants to get to know her better.

We seem to have entered some phase in the culture where, at least for certain feel-good rom-com properties, nobody is that bad. Even Bastian isn’t a horrible villain. Nobody has to degrade anybody, nobody has to be an active jerk. We don’t have to see our heroine humiliated, we don’t have to like our hero in spite of anything. I’m liking this kindness and maturity approach to romance. It makes for a more pleasant viewing experience and it makes a whole lot more sense (wacky setup aside) with these characters who are “north of 35” as someone describes Kat at one point which, like, sure, they’re that, but those actors are also in their young 50s and it would probably be OK if the movie described them that way too.

But, baby steps, I can be happy with people having grown-up responses to things.

As mentioned, large parts of Marry Me do feel like their primary purpose is to get me to buy the Marry Me soundtrack, with songs by Jennifer Lopez and Maluma, which I’m strongly tempted to do because it’s solid pop music, frequently with Latin flair. Lopez is, of course, great at this and at blending the pop-star-performance part with the rom-com-heroine part of this role. Wilson’s role largely just requires him to not get in the way and occasionally be quietly funny — and he performs these functions absolutely fine, even if he doesn’t bring much in the way of his own sparkle to the proceedings.

Marry Me feels very traditional in its story beats and its characters but with just enough tweaks to keep it from feeling fusty and to make the entire experience more chocolate cake than stale candy bar. “Extremely pleasant and surprisingly enjoyable” doesn’t feel like a rave you’ll see on any movie posters but it does feel like a welcome addition to rom-com offerings. B

Rated PG-13. Directed by Kat Coiro with a screenplay by John Rogers & Tami Sagher and Harper Dill (based on the graphic novel by Bobby Crosby), Marry Me is an hour and 52 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures in theaters and via Peacock.

Death on the Nile (PG-13)

Kenneth Branagh mustaches back up as detective Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile, another Agatha Christie adaptation that seems like a really elaborate live-action role-play game of Clue.

Branagh, for the record, is the only one winning at this particular game night. Well, Branagh and all the “below the line” costume, set design, hair and makeup types, who seem like they are also having a ball.

After a flashback to young Poirot that feels like vaguely interesting but irrelevant filler, we see Poirot in 1937 London, where he visits a nightclub that just happens to have a slew of people who will be important to the plot later. We see Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) and her fiance, Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer, bringing a whole layer to this movie that was almost certainly not intended at the time of shooting back in 2019), sexy dancing to the music of blues singer Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), who is managed by her niece, Rosalie Otterbourne (Letitia Wright). Then Jacqueline’s (and, as we learn at some point, Rosalie’s) old friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) arrives. Linnet is exceptionally wealthy and famous and looks like Gal Gadot. Simon, who had just been all but making out with Jacqueline on the dance floor, is instantly smitten with her.

Months later Poirot is vacationing in Egypt when he runs in to his old friend Bouc (Tom Bateman), who is also vacationing in Egypt with his mother, Euphemia (Annette Bening). As it turns out, they aren’t just there on a spontaneous holiday; they are also part of a larger party celebrating the recent wedding of Simon and Linnet. The group includes Linnet’s assistant Louise (Rose Leslie), her financial manager Katchardourian (Ali Fazal), her ex-boyfriend Dr. Windlesham (Russell Brand) and her godmother, Marie Van Schuyler (Jennifer Saunders), who has her own assistant, Bowers (Dawn French).

Also part of the group are the Otterbournes — because Salome was singing the night they met, the new couple brings them along.

Decidedly not invited is Jacqueline, who nevertheless seems to be following the group, insisting that Simon still loves her. Her behavior is so unhinged that Linnet decides to rent a boat so her group can be in its own controlled bubble. But naturally a locked room can still result in a murder and it is soon up to Poirot to catch “ze killah.”

Actually, in fairness, I don’t think he ever says exactly that; it’s more like “dhe mer-der-ehr” but it’s a whole to-do every time he says it. Poirot saying murderer or murder or killer is probably 60 percent of what works in this movie.

I didn’t hate this movie as much as some of the headlines for reviews I’ve been trying to avoid seemed to suggest I’d hate it. But that’s probably about the best I can say for it. This movie takes its pretty people and puts them in a pretty (if stagey) locale but it can’t bring much in the way of liveliness to that scenario. If anything, this movie highlights the flatness that Gal Gadot sometimes brings to her performances and the soap opera smarm of Armie Hammer (which kind of works here but maybe shouldn’t for this to actually be a mystery). Yes, Branagh seems to be having fun with his Agatha Christie cosplay, but he’s almost off in his own movie, having emotional beats where everybody else’s performance is at least 92 percent costume and hairstyle.

As a take on the locked room mystery, I could see a version of this movie with a sort of goofy puzzleness (and some fewer number of characters and shorter runtime) that would be above-average entertaining. I’m not saying genuinely funny in the Knives Out sense or campy like the old Clue movie; more like a kind of National Treasure meets Pirates of the Caribbean level of goofiness where everything feels like an amusement park ride version of a set and the characters aren’t afraid to go hammy. Here, Branagh hits those notes but everybody else is just too thin to add up to much more than backdrop for his Poirot.

Looking back at my review for Murder on the Orient Express, I think I disliked this movie less than that one, which might say more about me and my openness to any level of movie spectacle than it does about achievement of this particular movie. It isn’t a failure, but it is set up to only succeed as light popcorn adventure and on that level it just doesn’t offer the fun and chills that it needs to. C+

Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material, according to the MPA on Directed by Kenneth Branagh with a screenplay by Michael Green (based on the book by Agatha Christie), Death on the Nile is two hours and seven minutes long and is distributed in theaters by Twentieth Century Studios

Featured photo: Marry Me.

No Land to Light On, by Yara Zgheib

No Land to Light On, by Yara Zgheib (Atria, 285 pages)

Americans tended to think about the horrific damage of terrorist acts as things that affect only us — the lives lost on 9/11 or in the Boston Marathon bombing, the injuries of those who live, the property destroyed and so on, right down to the perpetual annoyances that stem from these attacks, such as removing our shoes to get through airport security.

But terrorists inflict damage on their native countries and cultures, too, most notably in lasting discrimination borne of fear and suspicion. It would be hard to find a better illustration of this than in No Land to Light On, Yara Zgheib’s poignant novel about the devastation brought on two innocent lives in the wake of an executive order that temporarily suspended the entry of Syrians into the United States.

There was such an order in recent years, yes, and it is easily Googled, but for the most part, Zgheib stays clear of the politics involved and doesn’t mention the president by name. Instead she stays focused on the love story at the heart of the novel: Sama and Hadi, who meet at a social event in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and fall in love despite their vastly different circumstances.

Hadi has been admitted to the U.S. as a refugee after enduring horrific conditions in a Syrian prison — confined to a cell about the size of a coffin — during that nation’s Civil War. Sama, meanwhile, had come here as an anthropology student at Harvard, where she was studying similarities between the migratory journeys of birds and humans. She had left just before the war began and knew little of the country’s current conditions. Sama’s research informs the novel’s title and also the parallel stories the author tells about the migration of the 1,800 species of birds (out of 5,000). For example, sandpipers, also known as “red knots,” are birds “so tiny one could fit in the palm of your hand,” yet they travel each year from the Arctic to Argentina, for reasons that scientists don’t fully understand.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Hadi and Sama get married not long after they meet, and soon after that, conceive a child. In a wonderful scene, after learning that Sama is pregnant, they decide not to share the news with other people yet, but spend an afternoon telling inanimate objects in Boston, such as the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues in the Boston Public Garden. In this way and others, this is an extraordinarily New England book, despite its main characters being from Syria. (There’s even a somewhat comical Dunkin’ Donuts scene, when Sama goes to one for the first time and eats her first doughnut: “Her heart flapped madly in her chest. Columbus must have felt this.”)

But the couple’s brief happiness is coldly upended when Hadi is detained and then deported — because of the just-issued executive order — on his return from a trip home to bury his father. His deportation occurs as Sama, six months pregnant, gets trampled in a protest at Logan Airport, causing her to prematurely go into labor.

Again, the couple’s travails are based on real events. There were protests at airports around the country in 2017; you can see snippets of them on YouTube and Twitter. Politics aside, inasmuch as this is possible in 2022, even people who support this and similar orders understand that they impact innocent families, even as they seek to turn away those who would do Americans harm. And the harm that the order caused this fictional couple (and their newborn son) is heartwrenching, as is the auxiliary heartache of a new mother having to leave a premature baby in the care of a hospital while she herself is discharged.

Told in alternating first-person language from the perspective of Hadi and Sama, the story does not unspool in chronological order, but jumps around, eventually revealing the circumstances of Hadi’s imprisonment and arrival in America. But it never feels disjointed or complex; Zgheib is a masterful storyteller, and the novel’s only real problem is the unrelenting heartache it inflicts upon readers. That, of course, was the author’s intent: to assign faces to the effects of immigration orders, faces that are deeply sympathetic and not vaguely suspicious. No Land to Light On lands as an uncomplicated but deeply affecting novel. A

Book Notes

A decade ago, one of the bestselling parody books was Go the [expletive] to Sleep (Akashic Books, 32 pages), a riotous little book by Adam Mansbach that mimicked peaceful and comforting verse in children’s books in every regard, except for its profane mantra.

The book actually contained the full expletive on its title page, but of course, it presented a dilemma for reviewers who wrote for publications that would never print the word. But that hasn’t stopped publishers from turning out new titles in the genre, seemingly every few months. It’s as if adding an expletive to a title guarantees an extra measure of sales. The latest to capitalize on the trend is Carolina Dooner, author of 2019’s The [expletive]-It Diet, who is out this month with a follow-up, Tired As [expletive] (Harper Wave, 320 pages).

Presumably we’re tired as, you know, because children who won’t go the (you know) to sleep.

This follows 2020’s Buy Yourself the [expletive] Lilies by Tara Schuster (The Dial Press, 320 pages), 2016’s Un[expletive] Your Brain by Faith Harper (Microcosm, 192 pages) and the ever popular The Subtle Art of Not Giving a [expletive] by Mark Manson (Harper, 224 pages), which came out in 2016 but remains a fixture on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

But as difficult as it is for reviewers to write about these and other books that use expletives in the title, the motherlode of difficulty is in Penguin’s reissue this month of a book by Randall Kennedy that is titled with a racial slur. The subtitle is more respectable: “the strange career of a troublesome word.”

Kennedy is a Harvard law professor and the 20th anniversary edition of his book (Pantheon, 253 pages) is certainly timely, given the recent news coverage of Joe Rogan’s use of the word. But since I can’t even bring myself to type the word into my browser, it will be interesting to see how other media outlets deal with it. (So far, NPR discussed it with an editor’s note that said “The title of the book discussed in this segment contains a racial slur.”) It may be an excellent and important book, but it’s a marketing nightmare. I certainly will not be requesting it at my local library, which actually may bode well for sales.

Book Events

Author events

GARY SAMPSON AND INEZ MCDERMOTT Photographer Sampson and art historian McDermott discuss their book, New Hampshire Now: A Photographic Diary of Life in the Granite State. Sat., Feb. 19, from 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit

ROBERT G. GOODBY Author and professor of anthropology presents his book, A Deep Presence: 13,000 Years of Native American History. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit or call 224-0562.

MARGARET ATWOOD Author presents her book Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 to 2021, and will be in conversation with Judy Blume. Ticketed virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., March 1, at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $30. Held via Zoom. Visit or call 224-0562.

HOWARD MANSFIELD Author presents his new book, Chasing Eden. Sat., March 19, from 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit

BECKY SAKELLERIOU AND HENRY WALTERS Becky Sakelleriou presents her new book, The Possibility of Red, and Henry Walters presents his new book, Field Guide A Tempo. Sat., April 16, from 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit


REBECCA KAISER Poet presents her poetry collection, Girl as Birch. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., April 11, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit or call 224-0562.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email or visit

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email or visit

Album Reviews 22/02/17

Neuro No Neuro, Faces & Fragments (Audiobulb Records)

Meanwhile on Neptune — or in Tucson, Arizona, same thing — electronic music tinkerer Kirk Markarian is still at it, making albums of gently demented noise for people who probably need a few drinks before they crack in half. I have too many big-time connections nowadays to ever have to go back to the days when I was the eclectic-music-blogging world’s central repository for albums made by kooks, but I’ve heard this guy’s name enough times to have grown curious to see what the fuss is about. And, well. These experiments are intended to “blurr the connections between vocabulary, memory, and day-to-day processes,” with tracks that illuminate “fragments of memory and speech, as they wander out of focus in the growing aperture of time.” It’s a littered beach of sound, this thing, gentle waves of synth coming in and out of focus while found sounds, snippets of human speech and random clanks drop out of nowhere. Not a party record, but, you know. B-

Hollan Holmes, Emerald Waters (Spotted Peccary Music)

Well, I’ll be darned, it looks like fate’s decided that both of this week’s album-review slots need to be occupied with similar products; let me explain. Right after I wrote the Neuro No Neuro review for this week, I emphatically deleted a thrash metal album download offer from my email, and literally the next thing that popped up was this record, which is indeed related: Where Neuro No Neuro does have an ocean-like ambiance to its weirdness — whether or not that was Markarian’s intent — this LP from Texas music-scaper Holmes is something far more geared to normies. Holmes, a Berlin School-influenced composer, is big into Tangerine Dream, and that’s what you get here, in a broad sense, but sans any goofy krautrock edge. The ocean-like feel (and if you don’t miss that this time of year there’s something wrong with you) is baked into this stuff, its main ingredient lazily sweeping synths that sometimes form into things that recall the progressive trance of Above & Beyond. Deeply agreeable, soul-soothing stuff here. A+


• Like it or not, new rock ’n’ roll albums will magically appear in your stores and streaming services on Feb. 18, right in the middle of the worst month of the worst part of the year, not that you should dislike any of those albums for that reason alone (the music will probably be nauseating enough, just sayin’). Our solar system’s sun is a big tease right now, chuckling and yelling “Neener” as it stays too far away from us to give us New Englanders any relief from our North Pole weather, but like I said, there are albums coming out, like Are You Haunted, the fourth full-length from Australian art-indie band Methyl Ethel! I nearly wrote them off as a weak imitation of Tame Impala the first time I heard their 2017 single “Ubu,” but the tune is possessed of an instrumental break that proves they weren’t put on earth just to annoy me, so I’ll proceed with caution in the hope that new single “Proof” is a slight improvement (I don’t know diddly about their third album, Triage, so they’ve had ample time to improve in my eyes). So, the song features vocals from successful-enough singer Stella Donnelly rambling prettily over a polite staccato laptop beat, and then — yup, there it is, a really cool little melodic tangent. Works for me. You know, I have to confess that I always feel a bit funny giving love to Australian bands even today; a lot of them are really good, but it seems to be really difficult for them to break big in America. I mean, they might as well be on Mars, all things considered, but those bands rarely disappoint.

Hurray for the Riff Raff is the Americana-indie project owned and operated by New Orleans singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra. Her seventh album, Life On Earth, is here, daring to step forward to face my judgment and wrath, coming on the heels of her sleepy 2017 album The Navigator, which I’m pretty sure I tossed into the yard sale pile for its mostly unplugged Natalie Merchant verisimilitude — yes, that’s the one. Whatever, “Rhododendron” is the single, and it does have more of a pulse than I’ve felt from her earlier stuff, not that that’s a rock-solid recommendation, mind you. It’s Bonnaroo-hipster stuff but does have something of a punk edge (every time she sings the word “boys” she sounds like she’s describing rotten eggs, which is oh so novel and edgy). The video is pretty awful — where did they get all that bubblegum? — but I don’t know, maybe someone will get something out of it. I sure didn’t.

• OK, I know I’ve heard of Metronomy, let me go look. Ah, yes, they’re an “English electronic music group formed in 1999.” That didn’t help at all, but I know I’ve heard of them, and I’m too lazy to search my archive, so let’s pretend I liked them before, at the very least to have some more positive news in this week’s thingie. Their new album, Small World, is on the way, featuring the single “It’s So Good To Be Back,” comprising a blip-bloopy elevator-music beat and some happy-but-not-aggravating vocals. Jeez, so happy, but I’m not getting angry. What on Earth is happening to me?

• We’ll pull stakes on this week’s column with the new album from boy-girl indie duo Beach House, whose new album Once Twice Melody is probably a bunch of dream-pop songs, because that’s what Wikipedia says, they do dream-pop. My stomach will be able to tolerate that, I’m sure. Yes yes, it’s like My Bloody Valentine but not messy, like your grandmother probably wouldn’t mind this at all. It’s so polite and listenable that I’m starting to get a little mad, so before I start comparing this to 1960s Spanky And Our Gang records and getting jerkish, let’s end it here.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Mein wines

Rediscover the wines of Germany and Austria

German and Austrian wines are often “forgotten wines,” wines that are not typically a “first choice” among those selecting wines, and that is unfortunate. The New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets carry a paltry inventory of these wines. My wife and I gather with a group for a monthly wine tasting. It is both a social event and a lesson in exploring lesser-known wines. When we decided to try out German and Austrian wines, we had to travel to the Boston area for a more expansive inventory of what is available here in New England. The wines offered in this column are two of the more readily available wines to be found in New Hampshire.

Our first wine, the 2020 Landhaus Mayer Grüner Veltliner (originally priced at $13.99 and reduced to $11.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Feb. 27), is a good example of an Austrian white wine from Wien (Vienna), Lower Austria. Some critics of wine coming from this part of Austria consider the residents and tourists of this area to be undemanding of their wine, leading to “sloppiness” in its quality and production. Landhaus Mayer is a winery that runs counter to this perception. It has established a cooperative with the vineyard owners of this region to properly care for and cultivate their vineyards from pruning to the optimal harvest time. Gerhard J. Lobner, production manager of Landhaus Mayer, is a force in the production of quality wines, including riesling, rosé, zweigelt, and, of course, grüner veltliner.

This is a medium-bodied wine with elegant spicy aromas. It is refreshing and is perfect for pairing with dishes, including grilled chicken or pork, or to enjoy with a snack or sandwich. The color is light straw and to the nose there are notes of grapefruit. To the tongue there is a pleasant citric acidity with some herbal spiciness. It should be served cooled and would be perfect with Wiener schnitzel as its citric notes will complement the butter and lemon in the dish. This wine is a young wine and as such lacks aging potential. It should be consumed within two years of its vintage. Therefore, in purchasing this wine to serve at your next dinner party of Austrian cuisine, plan early, as this 2020 vintage is at its prime today.

Our second wine, the 2020 Valckenberg Gewürztraminer (also originally priced at $13.99 and reduced to $11.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets until Feb. 27), hails from Westhofen, along the Rhine River Valley, in the Palatinate region of Germany. Westhofen is known for its vineyards, with almost 2,000 acres planted, 69 percent in red wine varieties and 31 percent in white wine varieties. It is Germany’s fourth-biggest wine-growing region after Worms, Nierstein and Azey, all located along the Rhine. The soils of this region are gravelly limestone, which add a trace of minerality to the grapes.

For over 230 years P.J. Valckenberg has acted as an ambassador for wines of this region; that is, they purchase wines from 33 of the best vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel River regions. They provide these small vineyards, mostly consisting of well under 100 acres each, a worldwide market for their fine vintages.

This wine had a dry growing season from start to finish resulting in a near perfect grape to create a near perfect wine. With its light straw color and floral notes to the nose, it comes to the tongue with notes of pear and peaches. It is slightly sweet with just the right finish. It is ideally suited to pairing with pork or rich fish such as salmon or tuna, and its slight sweetness is ideal as an accompaniment to spicy foods. This wine is a great value and because of its semi-sweetness it can be cellared for up to five years.

These are two decidedly different wines worthy of exploration. Broadening our palates with new and different varietals and wines will not only lead us to new experiences but may spur the industry to expand inventories to satisfy our curiosity and expanded knowledge of wine.

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Amateur Actress

You know those people who look at an ultra-modern piece of art and get legitimately angry about it?

“That’s not Art! My 5-year-old could paint that!”

Aside from the implication that young children can’t produce real art, I’m always struck by the irony of the situation. Good art is supposed to elicit an emotional reaction. The rage those viewers express is a pretty good indication that the art they are looking at is working on some level.

“Amateur Opossum Actress” by Rebecca Kriz, Used with permission of the artist.

Consider the paintings in hotel rooms or bank lobbies. They are designed to be as inoffensive and unobtrusive as possible. Some of them are easy on the eyes, but how artistic are they?

Then, there’s something like “Amateur Opossum Actress” by Rebecca Kriz.

I contend — hear me out on this — that this painting ranks up there with a Norman Rockwell illustration in terms of striking an emotional chord of recognition. I suspect this opossum and my mother might have a long and fruitful exchange of ideas. Or, alternatively, a long, uncomfortable lunch, blanketed in sullen silence.

Imagine walking through a gallery, looking at impenetrable paintings of storm-wracked beaches or girls in black crying in the rain, and discussing ridiculous things like artists’ use of metaphor in a post-Marxist emotional landscape, then finding yourself in front of this opossum painting.

You would almost certainly laugh out loud.

Never mind the opossum; this painting expresses such a relatable human emotion that you’d have to be a very bitter person to not love it.

And what should you drink while you stand admiring it? Complimentary gallery chardonnay and cheese cubes don’t quite capture the spirit of this piece.

The title is “Amateur Opossum Actress,” which gives us a little bit of context. We want something that, while appealing, tries a little too hard. It should carry a little bit of the sweetness of a picture of an opossum, combined with a touch of the bracing experience of facing an actual opossum.

I suggest this:

The Amateur Actress


  • 2 ounces dry gin — I’m still enthusiastic about Death’s Door.
  • ½ ounce orange curaçao — Grand Marnier or Cointreau would work well here, too.
  • ½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ ounce grenadine (pomegranate syrup)

Shake all ingredients thoroughly.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The twin keys to this cocktail are the use of an overly fancy glass, and drinking it skull-shrinkingly cold. After testing several different methods of chilling glasses, my go-to is rinsing a glass, then putting it in the freezer for 20 minutes. This works especially well in the summer, when humid air will condense into a thin layer of frost on the outside of the glass.

This is a take on a classic drink called a Pink Palace, and the color is definitely part of its appeal. The lime juice provides a good sour bridge from the sweetness of the orange liqueur to the crispness of the gin.

Sweet, like an amateur actress.

Icy, like her rage with her pretty understudy. (A hamster.)

More of this artist’s work can be found on her website at or at

Featured photo: The Amateur Actress. John Fladd photo.

Brunched up grapefruit

When you think about brunch, the first thing you may consider is what restaurant you’ll be dining at. I want you to consider something else: having brunch at home. There are definite benefits to this, including being able to enjoy brunch in your coziest pajamas.

A well-rounded brunch will include some fruits and veggies, and you could go with the always popular fruit salad, but I want to suggest a dish that is so much more elegant: brunched up grapefruit.

Many a brunch includes halved grapefruits. This dish takes that idea and adds a few levels of elegance. First, this grapefruit is served with the rind removed, so there’s no awkward digging with a spoon while juice squirts into your eye. Second, each slice is broiled with a pinch of sugar to provide a melding of sweet and sour. Third, the fruit is then topped with silky yogurt and crunchy (and salted) pistachios, as well as a drizzle of honey. It’s a carnival of flavors and textures.

Best of all, this grapefruit has a beautiful presentation but takes all of (maybe) 15 minutes to make. Get your guest list ready and finish creating the menu. I see a delicious brunch in your future!

Brunched up grapefruit
Serves 6

3 large red grapefruit
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup roasted & salted pistachios
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat broiler.
Line a baking sheet with foil.
Slice grapefruit into ¼- to ½-inch slices, width-wise.
Remove rind from each slice using a paring knife.
Transfer slices to foil-lined baking sheet using a spatula. (They are very delicate)
Sprinkle each slice with a small amount of sugar.
Place baking sheet approximately 4 inches under broiler for 5 minutes or until edges are golden.
While grapefruit cooks, chop pistachios into small pieces.
Remove grapefruit from oven.
Divide grapefruit slices between two serving plates.
Top grapefruit with a small dollop of yogurt.
Drizzle honey over yogurt.
Sprinkle with chopped pistachios.
Eat immediately to enjoy the warmth of the grapefruit.

Featured Photo: Brunched up grapefruit. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Reni Mylonas

Reni Mylonas of Danville is the owner of Agape Cakes and Confections (, find her on Facebook and Instagram), a homestead business specializing in custom cakes, cupcakes and assorted Greek pastries using family recipes. A self-taught cake decorator, Mylonas started baking around the age of 9. She also gained experience working in a few local bakeries along the way prior to starting Agape, named after the Greek word meaning “love,” in 2020. In addition to custom-decorated wedding cakes, she accepts orders through her website for a variety of homemade Greek pastries for local delivery, from baklava to braided tea cookies, and she’ll usually offer specialty items around each holiday. Mylonas is also working toward opening a storefront in Raymond — Agape Cakes and Confections is on track to open in the Cozy Corner shopping plaza on Route 27 this April and will feature a weekly case of cupcakes, cookies, Greek pastries and other grab-and-go treats.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

It would probably be a precision scale. That’s like my best friend in the kitchen.

What would you have for your last meal?

Probably pasta. I can eat pasta in a million different variations, and I would never get sick of it.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Nick’s Place in Raymond. Everything that I’ve had on their menu is absolutely amazing, and their atmosphere is so warm and welcoming. … I love their fried seafood and also their roast beef sandwiches.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve made for a client?

I think my personal favorite thing … was actually my first very large wedding cake that I did. It was a huge three-tiered cake that was probably 80 or 90 pounds and it fed 150 to 200 people, which is a lot more than what I’m used to, and it was beautifully decorated with gorgeous orchids. … I’m always up for a challenge, and so it was really rewarding to execute their vision and make it a reality. I was beyond happy with how it came out.

What celebrity would you like to bake for?

I’m a huge sucker for cooking shows. I’d have to say Bobby Flay is my No. 1, and then Anne Burrell or Alex Guarnaschelli. … Their talent is just so amazing to me that it would make my entire life if they had something that I made.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

Cake popsicles. They are a fun spin on cake pops, only a lot bigger and in a popsicle form, so decorating-wise you can do a lot more with them.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

For the past two years I’ve been learning how to do homemade pasta. I love the art and the technique behind it. … Working with the different shapes is almost like working with clay, just kind of building each individual piece.

Homemade chocolate ganache
From the kitchen of Reni Mylonas of Agape Cakes and Confections,

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chocolate chips of choice

Pour the heavy cream into a small pot and let it simmer on medium heat. Place the chocolate chips in a metal bowl (do not use glass). Once the heavy cream has reached a boil, pour over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for three minutes without stirring. After the three minutes are up, whisk until the chocolate is incorporated. Set aside and let it cool before using. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and enjoy on fruit or for use in cakes or cupcakes.

Featured photo: Reni Mylonas. Courtesy photo.

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