Girl Power

Lez Zeppelin plays Manchester

With eyes closed, it’s hard to distinguish Lez Zeppelin from the act they’re honoring. Throbbing rhythm, frenetic lead guitar and ecstatic vocals belie the notion that four musicians are creating this audio juggernaut. Eyes wide open, it is something else entirely; even Jimmy Page couldn’t quite believe it.

As the name suggests, the group is an all-female Led Zeppelin doppelgänger. When Zep’s guitar legend watched them in London he was an instant fan, praising their “superb musicianship” and “extraordinary sensuality.” Post-show, standing with band founder Steph Paynes in an empty arena, Page was blunter.

“He turns and goes, ‘it was so sexual,’” Paynes recalled by phone recently. “It was almost like watching us, he hadn’t even realized … because he’d never seen Led Zeppelin, he was in it. It was this weird, existential moment where he was almost shocked at how sexualized we were, and the music was.”

Paynes believes her band couldn’t exist without that.

“You’re either a sensual being or you’re not,” she said. “You can learn to act a certain way, but that’s not what was happening with Led Zeppelin, [and] playing this music will definitely sexualize you if you’re doing it right.”

What’s remarkable about this she-incarnation is how disciplined they are about Zeppelin’s music, not just their look and feel. As with the original, they are a foursome; no looping or technical tricks to add elements, or special guests. This rigor extends to the studio; in 2010, they recreated Zep’s 1969 debut album with vintage gear — along with producer Eddie Kramer, who engineered five of Zep’s albums, starting with Led Zeppelin II.

Recruiting Kramer “was me with an incredibly giant set of cojones,” Paynes said with a laugh. “Maybe he’ll produce our record, like who does that? It’s moxie, you know what I mean? I’ve been known to have a little bit of that, and it couldn’t hurt to ask.”

Like Page, who sought the band out because of its reputation, Kramer “thought we could do it; otherwise he wouldn’t have done it,” Paynes continued. “Look, I think there are lots of people who feel that they’re great musicians and they can play all the parts. Guess what? That’s not what this is about.”

What it is about is essence.

“To be at that level of musicianship … it’s daunting,” Paynes said, “but [what] underlies it — the feel, the passion, the way you can go into a song and go for it even if you’re gonna hit a million wrong notes, which believe me happens; even if you’re not gonna get the riff — that is where I think our band differs from all the others.”

The latest project for the group — Paynes, singer Marlain Angelides, Joan Chew on bass and keyboards, and drummer Leesa Harrington Squyres — is tackling landmark concerts. The first was a recreation of Zep’s 1970 Royal Albert Hall show in early January.

“Talk about challenging … they were so incredible in their musicianship and dynamics,” Paynes said. “Trying to capture that [is] crazy, but it’s so rewarding when you get close.”

When Paynes started the band in 2004, “it was just an idea to have fun and really get into the playing,” she said, but it took on a life of its own. “The way that it escalated … you can be in the music business your whole life and none of that could happen, and that’s basically the norm, but then if something is meant to be, if it’s meant to strike, then everything happens, and you don’t even know why.”

The current lineup has stayed steady for the past five to six years, though Squyres now has a stand-in due to “physical issues,” Paynes said. The temporary drummer signals a departure. “We actually have a guy, Dave Richmond. Leesa is kind of irreplaceable, it’s really hard to be John Bonham … but this guy is completely and utterly into Zeppelin.”

Such dedication is still the group’s focus.

“It’s about capturing the unknown … the passion, the fury of this music, and the dynamic of it,” Paynes said. “Without sounding obnoxious, if you’re a good enough musician to understand that you really start to get close to what Zeppelin may have done on any given night. I think that when Jimmy saw us do that in London, he wasn’t expecting it. When he saw it, he was just like, ‘Yeah, that’s it; that’s how it should be done. You get it.”

Featured photo: Lez Zeppelin. Photo by Maia Kennedy Photography.

The Music Roundup 24/01/25

Local music news & events

  • Rising sounds: Celebrating its 30th anniversary last year, taiko drum group Drum Tao continues a world tour with an area stop. The show features traditional Japanese instruments, including the large o-daiko and other drums, shinobue flutes and koto harps, woven with elements of rock, pop and classical music, along with exciting sword fighting performances. Thursday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $44 and up at
  • Sibling tribute: A multimedia look at Matthew and Gunnar Nelson’s father is the focus of Ricky Nelson Remembered, including hits like “Hello Mary Lou” and “Garden Party.” Friday, Jan. 26, 7:30 pm., Rex Theatre, 21 Amherst St., Manchester, $45 and $55 at
  • Local showcase: Five regional bands gather under the moniker Jamuary for an evening of classic rock and original songs. The bill has Eljer P. Sloan playing a brand of music called Super Groovy Werewolf Rock, the new-ish band Burn Permit, SumWat Lucky, Corduroy and Diamond Edge. Saturday, Jan. 24, 6 pm., American Legion Post 51, Route 125, Epping. See
  • Good laughs: A night of standup features comic triathlete Dave Rattigan, who tells jokes, runs the shows and once taught comedy as a college course. Hometown favorite Jay Chanoine offers his humorous brand of cranky consternation, and Kathy Gilmour, who claims she conquered her weight problem with the magic words “I now identify as skinny,” rounds out the evening. Saturday, Jan. 27, 8:30 p.m., Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., Manchester, $20 at\
  • Rock show: Before their hit “Cult of Personality” broke on MTV in 1988, Living Colour got help from Mick Jagger to get a deal with CBS Records. “It literally took the intervention of the most famous rock star,” Vernon Reid, the band’s co-founder and guitarist, said a few years ago. Sunday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m., Angel City Music Hall, 179 Elm St., Manchester, $30 ($40 day of show) at

Napoleon (R)

Joaquin Phoenix has some fun with the hat in the Ridley Scott-directed biopic Napoleon.

It’s not a practical hat, that big angry taco of a bicorn Napoleon wears, and figuring out what to do with it seems to be part of the “in this scene, I’m feeling…” prep for building the character. Sometimes it falls off, sometimes he yanks it off, sometimes he puts it on top of an Egyptian sarcophagus. The hats are busy in this movie.

Headwear in general is a thing here, from the frizzy hair of a guillotined Marie Antoinette to the Caesar-like golden laurels Napoleon wears as he crowns himself Emperor of France. When he first meets Josephine (Vanessa Kirby), she has the hairdo of an aristocrat about to be beheaded. It’s a whole spikey hair thing and she’s sporting it at a Survivor’s Ball, which I Wikipedia-ed and it is apparently a rich-kid party of people who inherited the fortunes of their Reign of Terror-felled relatives and these events may or may not have actually happened. I did a lot of Wikipedia-ing after (and occasionally during) this movie, which assumes I know a lot more about the French Revolution and its aftermath than I do.

Napoleon distinguishes himself at the siege of Toulon, recapturing a port from the British (who were supporting the Royalists). All flush with victory, he wins over Josephine, who seems like she knows how to pick boyfriends on the come up, and then heads off to I think Italy and Egypt. Going on a prolonged work trip right after getting married isn’t great for their relationship — Josephine starts an affair with some handsome young rake. Napoleon returns to France to pout about it — he puts her stuff on the lawn of their house and then they yell at each other for a while — but this visit home also gives him an opportunity to participate in a coup. After getting himself elected as in charge (with the help of some soldiers pointing guns at the representatives doing the electing), he allows himself to be talked into taking a more kingly title to better hang with the other heads of state in Europe. Also, clearly, republican loyalties aside, he wants to be solo ruler. He crowns himself Emperor and crowns Josephine Empress and they live happily ever after for like 10 minutes until he decides that since no amount of sex is leading to a Josephine pregnancy, it’s time for him to find a new, more fertile wife. But he also still likes Josephine, who maybe still likes him? I’d say the jury is out, in the way this movie portrays it, as to whether she was ever all that deeply in love with Napoleon or she just liked the proximity to power and doesn’t like the humiliation of being set aside.

The movie is all over the place with how it feels about this relationship. On the one hand, it uses Napoleon’s letters to Josephine before, during and after their marriage as a way to narrate both military events and his thoughts and feelings. After their divorce and then later after she dies, the movie seems to indicate that Napoleon is increasingly lost without her.

But the movie also doesn’t really seem to care much about their relationship. We don’t often see them relate to each other as husband and wife, and her great influence on him is never really explored. Napoleon’s real interest is in the battle scenes. And they are cool — whether it’s a sneak attack on a fortress or an open infantry charge in a snow-covered clearing, the movie is great about building tension and excitement with these battles. There are times when everything that’s not a battle feels like just time-killing until we get to the next battle.

There is about an hour of movie after the Napoleon/Josephine divorce and I feel like the movie gets a little more unhinged but also more interesting in that hour. While we get two great Phoenix “Napoleon as angry baby” line readings before this point — him yelling “you think you’re so great because you have boats” at a British representative and him snotting that “destiny has brought me this lamb chop” during a dinner fight with Josephine — it’s this last hour where he really starts to flail around in his alternative truth world and become more of a compelling character: his “we’re winning” statements to his troops while they Eeyore around in the rain at the Battle of Waterloo, his holding forth about his greatness with a group of young boys while he’s being held captive. The movie gives us a portrait of a man who, whatever his actual skills and strengths, is being consumed by his ego and his inability to look beyond himself at the objective truths of a situation. Not surprisingly, it’s in these moments where Phoenix feels like he has the best handle on what he wants to do with the characters.

At two hours and 38 minutes, it’s hard to recommend Napoleon for just its weirdo aspects and lovingly constructed battles. But I’m also not sorry I watched it. C+

Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images (for people who can’t take bad stuff happening to animals, be warned that this movie features some real bad days for a lot of horses), sexual content and brief language, according to the MPA on Directed by Ridley Scott with a screenplay by David Scarpa, Napoleon is two hours and 38 minutes long and distributed by Apple Films, which means that while it is currently available for rent or purchase it will probably eventually be available on Apple TV+.

The Color Purple (PG-13)

The life of Celie Harris gets the all-singing, all-dancing, full Technicolor treatment in the film adaptation of the stage musical The Color Purple, based on the Alice Walker novel.

Celie (Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as a teen, Fantasia Barrino as an adult) and her younger sister Nettie (Halle Berry as a teen, Ciara as an adult) are growing up in the very unhappy home of their father, Alfonso (Deon Cole). A widower since their beloved mother died, Alfonso has been raping Celie for so long that when the story starts she’s pregnant with his second child. Though Celie longs to have these children with her, Alfonso “gives them to God” after they’re born — with the sisters uncertain of exactly what that means until Celie happens to see a baby girl in town wrapped in a blanket she made. Alfonso basically sells Celie in marriage to Albert Johnson, who calls himself Mister (Colman Domingo), a widower with three small children he doesn’t take care of and a house that’s a wreck. Mister had wanted Nettie, but Alfonso refused and sort of strong-arms him into taking Celie, who is unwanted for anything other than her labor.

Though she cares for Mister’s children and brings order to his home, he is abusive to her and unkind even when they are in bed together, always pining for his mistress, the blues singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson). When Nettie comes to live with Celie — escaping Alfonso’s attempts to rape her — Mister is equally awful to Nettie. He attacks her, she fights him off and he throws her out of the house, thus depriving Celie of the only kind person in her life. Which is perhaps why Celie daydreams about Shug, whose photo is on the table next to their bed. When, years later, Shug comes to town, Celie is just as excited to see her as Mister is.

Though plot descriptions call Shug Mister’s mistress and in the movie he makes some statement about how she’s the woman he should have married, you don’t get the sense that Shug feels at all this way about Mister. He is her extremely occasional fling who she can only stand so much of. As such, she seems to take a shine to (and take the side of) Celie, with the women even ending up at a movie theater enjoying some very sweet makeout time.

Though Celie is besotted with Shug, Shug eventually leaves to continue her music career and Celie remains stuck in her soul-crushing life with Mister, whose family now includes Sofia (Danielle Brooks), wife of Mister’s son Harpo (Corey Hawkins). Sofia’s take-no-poop attitude very slowly teaches Celie that she can also stand up for herself.

That song is called “Hell No!” and it’s peppy and upbeat and features some nifty choreography and the whole sequence is, like so many of the musical sections of this movie, fine. Not objectionable, not spectacular, fine. As with several of the musical numbers, the scene is of the “crowds of people singing and dancing along as a character delivers story information” variety. For me, much more successful were the sequences where the songs and settings were expressing something that Celie was feeling, as though we were going inside her head to see her, for example, falling in love with Shug while she helps to bathe and dress her. These songs, usually more intimate and featuring only Barrino singing, pull us close to the character in a way that is the opposite of the “scene on a big stage” feel of the crowd numbers. While those are pretty to look at they don’t offer quite the same charge. The one exception to that is maybe “Miss Celie’s Pants,” a group song about Celie’s pants store (selling some pretty awesome pants, by the way; I will take at least one pair of the red ones Barrino is wearing). Everybody in the scene has a narrative purpose beyond just filling out the stage.

I haven’t really sketched out all of the story here or even all of the significant characters. There is so much story packed into this movie that I feel like we’re speed-walking from this run-in with the corrupt legal system to that tale of early 20th-century colonial oppression in Africa to domestic abuse, picking up speed because we have to get to that long-buried family secret over there before the next big musical number. Which means that nothing feels like it has room to breathe or really leave an impact.

These criticisms aren’t a reason not to watch the movie, more an explanation of why I found myself not feeling more enthusiasm as the movie got to its (soulful, moving) conclusion. From the performances — Barrino, Henson and Brooks in particular — to the very lovely cinematography, The Color Purple is a movie worth experiencing. B

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, violence and language, according to the MPA on Directed by Blitz Bazawule with a screenplay by Marcus Gardley, The Color Purple is two hours and 21 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. It is available for rent or purchase.

Past Lives (PG-13)

Childhood friends reunite in their 20s and again in their 30s in Past Lives, a charming story about memory and connection.

Twelve-year-olds Na Young (Seung Ah Moon) and Hae Sung (Seung Min Yim) are best friends and sort-of sweethearts in Seoul. Na’s mom (Ji Hye Yoon) suggests they go on a “date” — which is more playdate than anything else, with the kids running around a park while the moms watch. As Na’s mom explains, the family is emigrating and she wants Na to have some happy memories of her friend in Korea. And then, abruptly, Na says goodbye to Hae Sung after school one day and the family moves to Canada, where she becomes Nora.

Some 12 years later, after Nora (Greta Lee) has moved to New York City and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) has finished his mandated military service, she discovers a note on the social media page of her father, a filmmaker, from Hae Sung. He’s looking for Na Young, his childhood friend. She looks him up and responds. They begin a Skype relationship, talking about their lives and just sort of happy to see each other and the grown people they’ve become. Neither seems particularly able or willing to cross half the globe to visit the other and soon Nora decides that they need to take a break. She goes to a writers retreat and meets Arthur (John Magaro); we see Hae Sung meets someone too.

Another 12 years later and Nora and Arthur are married, with Nora attending casting sessions for the play she wrote and Arthur attending readings for his book. They live in New York City and Arthur is trying to learn Korean. Hae Sung comes to New York “for a vacation” — as he tells his friends and Nora tells Arthur. But Arthur, Hae Sung, his friends and maybe even Nora know that he’s coming to see her, even though he knows she’s married and he has no particular plans for, like, whisking her away.

At one point, Arthur talks about how in a story, Nora and Hae Sung would be lovers fated to be together. They weren’t lovers, Nora reminds him, and she’s meant to be where she is, in New York, with Arthur. And she means this, and yet it’s undeniable that Hae Sung is something to her, he’s connected. Maybe not, as Hae Sung says, in this life but in other lives. Their relationship gets to the heart of how people and our connection to them, especially if there’s a physical break in the relationship, get all tangled up in who we were when we knew them, where we were in life. Hae Sung is Nora’s childhood sweetheart, a boy she liked for a certain set of reasons then, but he is also herself at 12 and her life in Korea and how she felt before emigrating. When she sees him, first in her 20s and later in her 30s, she says a sort of astounded “whoa,” which feels like a “whoa” not just at seeing Hae Sung but at seeing that version of herself again. It’s some delicate work, getting us to see that story and perspective, but the movie and Greta Lee do a masterful job. There is a sweetness and kindness and sadness between these friends at every point in their lives (so far) and the movie gives both of them their emotional due. Lee and Teo Yoo have excellent chemistry, as do Lee and John Magaro, who have conversations that sound like real things married people might say to each other (a movie/TV rarity).

Past Lives is a soft, bittersweet story that has a joyfulness about it as well. A

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, according to the MPA on Written and directed by Celine Song, Past Lives is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed by A24. It is available for rent and purchase.

Featured photo: Napoleon.

Album Reviews 24/01/25

Oneohtrix Point Never, Again (Warp Records)

Recently I had a sudden burst of people messaging me on Facebook, writing hundreds of words berating me as a music snob. I’m really not. I’ve earned my wings by reviewing so many horrible albums over the years, and lately I’ve been listening to a ton of old Kiss, which makes me the diametric opposite of a music snob. Music snobs are sick in the head, like the fictional Loudermilk from the same-named Prime show. My wife shot me a “don’t you start” after I cursed upon hearing Sam (whom I love for the most part) say he liked Pavement. Pavement sucks so loud it deafens aliens on Alpha Centauri, and so does this dude, Daniel Lopatin, a bleep-and-bloop electronic “experimentalist” who, if he weren’t on the crazily pretentious Warp Records label, would be totally un-freaking-known. There are moments of melody here, “remembered from his childhood,” but sorry, it’s all dumb, intended for wannabe music snobs who are actually music haters. This album can go bake itself in a pie, and don’t write me for saying it because I’ll just yell right back at you. F —Eric W. Saeger

Afro Peruvian New Trends Orchestra, Cosmic Synchronicities (Blue Spiral Records)

This instrumental music project of multi-project artist Corina Bartra is multi-rhythmic and multidimensional, filled with swing and danceable South and Latin American rhythms. Corina Bartra originals, a majestic, Afro-Peruvian Festejo modulating to a swing groove, “Osiris,” the exuberant, Amazon-inspired “Ecstasy Green,” the moving Landó Ballas “Purple Heart,” “Bailan Todas las Razas” and “Ebano Sky” are full of beautiful melodies, exciting and colorful rhythms. “Baila y Goza” modulates between a Cuban Guajira and an Afro-Peruvian Festejo. The Cuban-inspired “Vinilo y Café” and “Latino Blues” are composed of catchy, danceable hooks, while “Far Away” tables a Brazilian-inspired tune doused in swing rhythm, a breath of fresh air full of pleasantly surprising moments. There are also three tracks that feature the Marinera style of Peruvian Creole music: an original (“Marinera Jazz”), a traditional (“Palmero Siguayayay”) and a medley from Chabuca Granda. For the smartypants out there, there’s “Tun tun tun,” filled with challenging grooves and rhythms to play, which all these top-notch players handle with relative ease. A —Eric W. Saeger


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Tons of new rock ’n’ roll CDs come out this Friday, Jan. 26, because you demanded it! Holy cats, guys, look at ’em all, where were all these music CDs a month ago, when I had literally nothing to talk about in this space, except for metal albums, metal albums and did I mention metal albums? But those days are gone, at least until next year, when I will once again suck wind in public, praying that King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard will release some album with a super-long title, comprised of a bunch of nonsense druggie songs that took them two hours to write and record while they were on drugs, so I can fill up half this space with words simply by repeating the title a few times! Yes, but for now I am safe, just look at all these freakin’ albums, fam, let’s start with a few words about Ty Segall’s forthcoming new album, Three Bells! I know I’ve written a few thousand words about that guy, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything about him or his music. You see, when you’ve reviewed thousands of CDs over your lifetime, selective amnesia sets in, and every week it feels like you’re Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates, rediscovering the special or horrible qualities of bands and artistes whose names ring bells but you can’t for the life of you remember a gosh darn thing about them, which is usually for the best! Anyway, Whatsisname here is one of those people, so I’m sure this’ll be an exercise in disappointment, as I sally on yonder to the YouTube and try to find out what in tarnation this album is about. OK, the first song on this LP is “My Room,” let’s run it down, fam. It’s sort of Nilsson-ish but really boring and un-tuneful; neo-’70s claptrap that would probably be borderline OK if the video had a cheap, trippy cartoon to watch, maybe. OK, that’s it, Ty Segall everyone, that oughta take care of — wait, wait, come back everyone, the next song on the album is called “Eggman,” and it features Whatsisface, dressed as a clown, sitting at a table eating an entire gigantic bowl of eggs! The music is loud and skronky and not completely boring! And plus, a one-man egg-eating contest! I approve of this message!

• You know, faced with a band named Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes, I expected to see a bunch of rib-eating-contest winners from Alabama, but no, this is an English punk band! Predictably, as if I weren’t already feeling anxious about that, it turned out Carter was in a band called Pure Love with a guitarist named Jim Carroll, who, it turns out, wasn’t the Jim Carroll, you know, the “People Who Died” singer from the 1980s, and yes, I’m so old that I had to do some journalism research whatever work and make sure of that, and now I feel like Rip Van Winkle, I hope you rotten little scamps are all happy. Dark Rainbow is the new album from this band, and the single, “Man Of The Hour,” is, of course, totally not punk, more like Spandau Ballet, you know, gentle cocktail lounge pop. I have no idea what these people are even doing, honestly.

• Wait a second, it’s not-completely-awful emo band Alkaline Trio, with a new album, Blood Hair And Eyeballs! Huh, maybe it’s because of the video, but the title track is OK, if you like Hoobastank etc. You do, right? No? OK, that’s OK.

• We’ll end the week with Baltimore-based synthpop band Future Islands, whose new LP, People Who Aren’t There Anymore, should be decent, please lord, let me have something nice to say. Wow, the opening track, “The Fight,” is cool, the singer sounds like the guy from Elbow, which makes up for the disposable Fright Night-soundtrack-style tuneage. It’s OK! —Eric W. Saeger

Religion of Sports by Gotham Chopra and Joe Levin

When Gotham Chopra was growing up near Boston, it was expected that he would follow the path of his famous father, Deepak Chopra, and go into medicine. Instead all young Chopra could think about was sports.

He loved the Red Sox and the Patriots, but he was especially fixated on basketball and got to attend some Celtics games with a friend of his father who had not just season tickets but VIP access to the team because of his donations to the Celtics’ foundation. At age 11 Chopra watched Michael Jordan score 63 points at TD Garden, a performance that prompted Larry Bird to say, “That wasn’t a basketball player. It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

The remark became part of Chopra’s growing realization that sports have all the hallmarks of religion. That’s an idea that’s been around for millennia, but Chopra brings a fresh take to it in Religion of Sports, co-written with Joe Levin.

The first team sport involving a ball is believed to have been invented by the Mayans; the games were played near the temples, and the losers were sacrificed to the gods. (See, Patriots Nation, this season could have been much, much worse.) The Greeks saw physical training as a religious act. And Pierre de Coubertin, the Frenchman responsible for the 1896 advent of the modern Olympic Games, wrote, “The first essential characteristic of ancient and modern Olympism alike is that of being a religion.”

In Islam, there’s a word for the “true believers” — people who live their faith, rather than paying lip service to it, Chopra and Levin write. The mu’min exist in sports as well, and they are the players that we ordinary mortals worship, like Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant and Jordan. All this could comprise a high-school essay (and probably has). But what distinguishes Religion of Sports from the meh-fest that I’d expected is that Chopra actually knows the people he’s writing about; he is a filmmaker who worked with Brady, for example, on the documentaries Man in the Arena and Tom Versus Time, as well as other athletes including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Simone Biles.

And these are not superficial relationships. Not only has Chopra sat in the Brady family box at Gillette Stadium, but he hung out with Brady in his Brookline house after championship games, and Brady once tossed Chopra the keys to his truck (a Raptor) when he didn’t have a ride home. The anecdotes are rich, especially for fans of Boston teams, and the book is well-researched and surprisingly well-written for the genre.

In chapters that include “Myths,” “Transcendence,” “Moral Codes” and “Pilgrimage,” Chopra and Levin walk through the similarities between traditional religions and what they consider the newest one. Affiliation with other fans, for example, gives us the sense of community that humans have gotten from religious faith; sports likewise offer redemption and deliverance, heaven and hell, curses and miracles, they say.

But, they add, the religion of sports also offers something other faiths don’t: “… the gods are flawed human beings like the rest of us” and “anybody, with the right amount of luck and skill, can become a champion.”

Each chapter introduces us to one or more of these flawed gods and how they became transcendent. In “Myths,” Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, is center stage. Most people know something of her story: how, as a Syracuse University student in 1967, she registered for the race using the initials K.V. Switzer, having researched the rules and learned that the Boston Athletic Association didn’t officially forbid women from running, although no women ever had. She finished, even though the race director tried to pull her off the course just after Mile 4.

Here, her story is told through the prism of religion; for example, we learn that Switzer equated running with religious experience after she started training informally with the Syracuse cross-country team. “Once I got serious and ran over three miles a day, I stopped going to church. I realized it was because I felt closer to God and the universe out in nature than I ever did inside with a group of people.”

Now, “Her bib number, 261, has become a sacred good-luck charm for women runners everywhere,” Chopra and Levin write.

Not all of the stories fit the narrative so easily, however. The story of gymnast Simone Biles and how she came to drop out of the Olympics to preserve her mental health is given as an example of reformation, similar to Martin Luther’s start of the Reformation. (“She was turning her back on one of the most foundational beliefs in sports. She was showing that she interpreted the faith differently than we’d become accustomed to.”)
The late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the concept of “flow,” the state in which we can fully concentrate on activities and perform at peak levels, a state that athletes sometimes call being in “the zone.” Chopra sees this as not just an emotional or mental state but a spiritual one, writing, “It is a feeling that every athlete — every single one, from Little Leaguers to Major League all-stars — has experienced at one time or another.”

Moreover, he argues, sports have a “moral code” that is enforced as strictly as any religion, maybe even more so, by the rules of the games. “Win or lose, opponents shake hands. The lesson: humility. Cheating is never tolerated. The lesson: integrity. Referees enforce the same rules for everybody. The lesson: fairness.”

Again, there’s nothing especially groundbreaking here in the overall message, and the authors veer dangerously close to the land of the cheesy in the final chapter, titled “The Playbook,” which recaps the lessons of the book and invites readers to reflect on questions such as “What is the most magical moment (i.e., miracle) in your team’s history?” and “Which places do your tribe consider to be sacred ground?”) But the book is pleasantly engaging and full of stuff you might otherwise never know — including the fact that a pastor once gave a prayer before the start of a NASCAR game that, among other provocations, gave thanks for his “smokin’ hot wife.”

Religion, in other words, is not nearly as boring as some people think.

B+Jennifer Graham

Taste of Bedford raises funds for DECA

High school nonprofit hosts event with eateries

If you like to eat, then Taste of Bedford is where you and your appetite will want to be on Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Bedford High School Commons, 47 Nashua Road in Bedford. The food-filled fundraiser, featuring numerous area eateries, benefits DECA, a nonprofit organization that prepares youth to be academically ready, community-oriented, professionally responsible and experienced leaders. Admission for the food fest is $15 for individuals, $45 for a family of four, or $60 for a family of five.

“Taste of Bedford is a great fundraiser for our students because it enables the community to come out and taste food from different restaurants all at the same time,” said Betsy Doyle, a business teacher and six-year faculty advisor for Bedford High School’s DECA.

“Participating restaurants serve samples of a selection of their cuisine,” Doyle said, so “it is an easy way to have dinner for a family taken care of.” The icing on the cake? “They sometimes also hand out coupons to encourage attendees to try out their business.”

According to Doyle, last year’s Taste of Bedford was very successful in promoting new businesses that weren’t even around in 2020 or 2019.

Joining the culinary celebration this year will be Alas de Frida, serving authentic Mexican food; Ben & Jerry’s ice cream; Carly’s Custom Cakes, offering pastries; El Rincon Zacatecano Taqueria; Hannaford Supermarkets; Lighthouse Local, home to dozens of local vendors and artisans who prepare everything from sweet to savory baked goods and delicatessen delights; Sweet Ginger, whose Thai cuisine includes a variety of vegetarian options; Taj India, dishes from mild to hot; The Inside Scoop, specializing in ice cream and other frozen desserts; Thousand Crane, known for Chinese and Japanese cuisine, including high-quality fresh sushi, and more.

“The Bedford High School DECA club members sell tickets to the Taste of Bedford event,” Doyle said. “All of the ticket sales get attributed to the individual student who sold the tickets, and those funds reduce their own expenses for future competitions.”

An international nonprofit career and technical student organization, DECA has more than 224,000 members throughout the United States. The Bedford High School group is one of the largest chapters in New Hampshire.

DECA’s mission is to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs by holding business competitions that assess business knowledge and presentation abilities and emulate atmospheres like those of professional business conferences. Students compete through business exams, case studies, interviews and sales presentations. After competing at the New Hampshire level, winning students move on to DECA’s International Career Development Conference, a global competition held at major metropolitan areas across the United States.

“The students gain valuable experience in organizing the event and recruiting the businesses to participate,” according to Doyle, one of three faculty advisors for Bedford High School’s DECA chapter. “All of the advertisements and publicity is taken care of by the students. The running of the event itself — each is done by a student leader. This year the event is led by Brenda Sacramento Cortes, a junior at BHS. Participating restaurants will have one or two student volunteers that will help them set up, serve and break down and load up after the event concludes.”

Aside from giving DECA students real-world hands-on experience with interviewing, problem-solving, and evaluating business situations, Doyle is gratified by her involvement in Taste of Bedford. “My favorite part of the event is seeing the community come together to see what the students are doing. We often have a very high level of participation from our own faculty and staff … and the DECA students love to see them and their families at the event.”

When: Tuesday, Jan. 30, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bedford High School, 47 Nashua Road, Bedford
Admission: individuals $15; family of four $45; family of five $60

Featured photo: Taste of Bedford from previous year. Courtesy photo.

Irish Coffee

If you listen to Irish Coffee Enthusiasts, you will be taken aback by how complicated the process for making one is. The ICEs will go on at some length about how such-and-such a bar makes a pretty good Irish Coffee, considering it isn’t a real Irish Coffee. Apparently, an Irish Coffee isn’t legitimately authentic unless:

(1) it is made by an old, gnarled bartender with an actual Irish accent and a list of stories about growing up in a thatched hut.

(2) who pours the whiskey from an otherwise unmarked jug with three Xs on it,

(3) into a mug with coffee so strong, vaporous little ghosts float screaming from it as he stirs it

(4) while three or four drunk guys at the bar sing “Danny Boy” and weep openly.

The truth of the matter is that making good Irish Coffee isn’t particularly difficult, and it’s definitely not complicated. It is simply a matter of paying attention to details.

Making a Very Nice Cup of Irish Coffee

Fill a glass coffee mug with boiling water. Leave it to heat while you brew the coffee.

Brew 1 to 2 cups of very strong, good coffee. It doesn’t have to be expensive, single-source, hand-picked beans that have passed through a civet. Chock Full o’Nuts will do fine. Make it a little stronger than you normally would. Wash a couple of dishes or watch the prize task on Taskmaster while the coffee brews and the mug heats up.

Pour the water out of the mug, thanking it for a job well done.

Mix 1 tablespoon of brown sugar in the mug with a little of the hot coffee, to dissolve it, then add 2 ounces of decent Irish whiskey. Again, you probably don’t want to use your $45-a-bottle top-shelf stuff, but a good, self-respecting Irish whiskey like Paddy’s will do nicely.

Top off your mug to within half an inch or so of the top with more coffee. Stir gently.

Finish the mug off with two dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream.

This drink will be hot, so unless you’re a professional you probably won’t be able to swig this down, but you should definitely attack it with enthusiasm. If you don’t give yourself a whipped cream mustache, you lack commitment.

Classics are classics for a reason. This is delicious. It tastes of coffee, and caramel, and dairy, and whiskey, and something else — maybe destiny. It will take a great deal of adult restraint to not pound this down far too quickly and then make another. And conceivably many more.

For that reason, here is your guide for drinking good Irish Coffee:

Drink it at brunch. The very best time to drink Irish Coffee is late on a cold, damp afternoon, while reading a good book and thinking of a lost love. Unfortunately, by the time you’re old enough to have any really juicy regrets, you won’t be able to drink coffee that late in the day. Drinking more than one of these in an afternoon or evening will give you more opportunity to reminisce than you were really looking for. Flipping through old photographs and crying at 2 in the morning is not compatible with your New Year’s resolution to be more productive.

If you decide to dive into the Irish Coffee pool with a bunch of friends on a Sunday morning, your boyfriend or Carlos, your Uber driver, can get you home in time to sleep it off before you have to Skype your parents that evening.

1 mug of Irish Coffee: You will feel more positive about life.

2 mugs: You will tell at least one of your friends how much you love them. At this point, your wife or friends should keep you away from Facebook.

3 mugs: There will be singing and uncontrollable laughter.

After this, you will probably forgo the coffee and drink directly from the bottle. There will be more singing, and probably crying.

After this, things get a little murky.

John Fladd is a veteran Hippo writer, a father, writer and cocktail enthusiast, living in New Hampshire.

Featured photo: Irish Coffee. Photo by John Fladd.

The Weekly Dish 24/01/25

News from the local food scene

Wine season: If you’re used to pairing January with a wine tasting, Wentworth by the Sea (588 Wentworth Road in New Castle; is holding its annual Winter Wine Festival with events scheduled into mid-February. Grand vintners’ dinners are scheduled with Far Niente Family of Wineries and Vineyards (Saturday, Jan. 27, at 6 p.m.), Jackson Family Wines (Saturday, Feb. 3, at 6 p.m.) and Raymond Vineyards (Saturday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m.). Flight nights run Mondays through Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. in the lounge and offer the opportunity to taste and compare three different wines, the website said. The Bubbles & Jazz Brunch runs Sundays through Feb. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a different prosecco as the focus each Sunday. And on Friday, Feb. 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. the Wentworth will feature the second of two big tastings, with tickets costing $91.07 for an evening with food, a wide selection of wines to try in a walk-around event and live jazz, according to the website, where you can find pricing and details for all events.

Big reds for cold nights: WineNot Boutique (25 Main St. in Nashua;, 204-5569) has a few red wine tasting events on the schedule. As of earlier this week, tickets were still available for the blind tasting of malbec wines on Thursday, Jan. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets cost $40. Try seven malbecs, paired with cheeses, salumi and chocolate, according to the website. On Thursday, Feb. 22, from 4 to 7 p.m., the focus will be “Tasting of Big and Bold Winter Wines.” Sample 15 wines paired with cheeses and a light appetizer; tickets cost $20, the website said.

Italian wines: Colby Hill Inn’s The Grazing Room (33 The Oaks in Henniker; will hold a five-course dinner paired with Italian wines from Regal Imports on Friday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. The cost is $100 per person, according to the website.

Market Saturday: The Milford NH Indoor Farmers Market will hold the 4th of its seven planned winter markets this Saturday, Jan. 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Milford Town Hall Auditorium (1 Union Sq. on the Oval). The duo Speed the Plough is slated to perform; see for a listing of vendors and guest vendors.

Dinner, dancing, animals: OK, animals won’t be at the event but proceeds from the Snowball Gala 2024 go to equipment and animal needs at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill in Bedford ( The event will be held Saturday, Feb. 17, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Bedford Village Inn (2 Olde Bedford Way in Bedford) and will include dinner, dancing, and a silent and live auction, according to the EventBrite page. Tickets cost $125; a $175 VIP ticket includes a drink, 10 raffle tickets and a swag bag. See the farm’s website for a link to purchase tickets.

In the kitchen with Ryan Lewis

It was always special for Ryan Lewis, general manager at Napoletana Pizzeria & Bar, when his family would go out to eat at restaurants when he was a child. At home he loved to make food for and with his family and experiment with ingredients, even if the result wasn’t always successful. Despite his love for cooking and restaurants, he didn’t consider a career in food service until he got a job at his favorite local spot while in college where he developed skills and enjoyed the work.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I’ve never really been into gadgets. A clean, organized workspace is really the only thing a chef needs. I train my cooks to fold their kitchen towels when their prep is done. The cook with the largest, neatest stack of towels is unfailingly the best prepared for service on any particular shift

What would you have for your last meal?

The term last meal reminds me of someone on death row — when else would I know I was eating my last meal? That being the case, I would want to make as big a mess as possible when they give me the juice, like a spicy burrito and a couple beers.

What is your favorite local eatery?

Napoletana is my favorite restaurant. It continues to get closer to my vision over time. Of the other 300+ restaurants in the Portsmouth area, I enjoy Green Elephant, Lexi’s Joint, Barrio and Ore Nell’s most.

Name a celebrity you would like to see eating in your restaurant?

Celebrity is relative. I have fed many ‘famous’ people over the years. Were it possible, I would love to see Tony Bourdain and hear his thoughts and suggestions. Even just to be in his presence would be something. Jose Andres and Eric Ripert are other heroes, using their success in their craft to make life better for others.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

It’s kind of an evil question like asking who my favorite employee or family member is. There are things that are unique and those that are pretty pedestrian but well-loved by our guests. Today I ate our hanger steak and it made me pretty happy. It is a unique cut of meat that takes care to butcher properly, and our risotto rosso is a somewhat unusual but fitting accompaniment to it.

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

I have no idea. We, as an industry and community, are still coming back to life after the struggles of the past several years. It is encouraging to see green shoots sprouting here and there. Young entrepreneurs opening new concepts and getting traction; those are the people to watch.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

Jambalaya. It’s almost as versatile as pizza as far as the number of stylistic twists and permutations. That said, I make it 95 percent the same way every time. I like to load my bowl with hot sauce until my eyes sweat.

Mya Blanchard

On The Job – Michael J. White

Party Rental Operator

Michael J. White owns Studios2go, a unique mobile party rental company based in Rochester.

Explain your job and what it entails.

Studios2go is a party rental company. We provide fun and unique activities for birthdays, festivals, school events, church events, team building events, summer camps and more. … We offer a variety of activities for all ages, including a video game truck, nerf and gellyball package, foam parties and inflatable carnival game package.

How long have you had this job?

I am going on my 7th year with Studios2go.

What led you to this career field and your current job?

About seven years ago I was working full-time as a firefighter/paramedic in Maine. Like most firefighters I was looking for a side gig… One of the guys in my department told me he saw these ‘video game trailers’ down south and said it may be something I would like because I am a big gamer. I immediately loved this idea and my coworker was able to build the game truck for me. Seven years later here we are.

What kind of education or training did you need?

Besides having to learn how to back up and drive a trailer, I didn’t need any specific type of education. I have spent many hours … [learning] how to run a business properly, the legal aspects of owning a business, how to set up a website and how to market a business.

What is your typical at-work uniform or attire?

Normal business uniform is just a polo shirt and shorts or pants.

What is the most challenging thing about your work, and how do you deal with it?

The toughest part of the job is the work-life balance. Parties and events are mostly on the weekends, making it hard to make plans with family and friends who work a standard Monday-through-Friday job. … I have established a family day each week that I will never book an event on and is strictly for time with friends and family.

What do you wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

That it is OK to delegate. … It’s hard to give up control because your business is your baby and no one will care about it as much as you. I learned this way of thinking is only sustainable for so long.

What do you wish other people knew about your job?

That it is as fun as it seems.

What was the first job you ever had?

The first job I ever had was as a dishwasher at a pizza restaurant when I was 15.

What’s the best piece of work-related advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I ever received was from another party rental operator who said, ‘Don’t apologize for your prices, ever. Know what your time is worth and what your company is worth. Focus on providing a quality product and experience. You won’t always get everyone’s business and that’s OK.’ — Angie Sykeny

Five favorites
Favorite book: The Stormlight Archive series or really anything but Brandon Sanderson
Favorite movie: The Lord of the Rings
Favorite music: Imagine Dragons
Favorite food: Pizza (Sometimes I wonder if I’m only in this job for all the free pizza.)
Favorite thing about NH: No income tax.

Featured photo: Michael J. White. Courtesy photo.

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