Monthly Archives: November 2012

Harvey’s Ball: Worcester Magazine’s Janice Harvey’s New Book: Go Figure: 15 Years of Harvey in Worcester Magazine

This article appeared in the Wednesday, November 21, 2012, Worcester Magazine.
by Matt Robert
“My papers are all over the place — in my cellar, everywhere — and I figured, if I drop dead tomorrow, my kids wouldn’t have any kind of a collection of anything I’d ever written,” says Janice Harvey, longtime columnist with Worcester Mag, about the impetus for her new book, “Go Figure: 15 Years of Harvey in Worcester Magazine,” released in September by Lakshmi Books.

Harvey will hold a book signing on December 1 at 1 p.m., at Barnes and Noble, at the Shoppes at Blackstone in Millbury, as a follow-up to her successful signing at Piccolo’s restaurant, on Shrewsbury Street, Worcester, this fall.

“I put it together, mainly because I became a grandparent this year,” she says, adding that this life-defining marker got her “thinking about [her] mortality and how [she] wanted to be remembered.”

“So, I spent the summer doing that,” she says. “It was a fun project actually.”

What Harvey has put together is a greatest-hits package of columns — approximately 45 of them, culled from more than 360 — all written during her long tenure at the local weekly (16 years with her own column and three more writing anonymously in the “First Person” personal-narrative column started by then-editors Paul Della Valle and Walter Crockett), making her, by all estimations, the magazine’s most enduring employee since its inception in 1976.

Her start, you might not guess from the often poignant quality of her column, was not quite so auspicious. “The first thing I sent in, I tried to jump into the mailbox and get it back, because I thought it must be crap. I was just terrified.”

Things got better, though, she says. “They ran a lot of my stuff after that. I was lucky. I didn’t get the sting of rejection right away. That took a little while. I did eventually get it. They were pretty good to me. As a matter of fact, without Walter Crockett and Paul Della Valle, I wouldn’t have anything written.”

Harvey speaks very highly of her first editors, and credits them with teaching her to write. Crockett, in particular, she says, was a critically important mentor, who taught her more than any writing class she ever took. “And I’ve taken a lot of them,” she says.

“Walter,” Harvey says, “was a gentle teacher. He was very respectful of [my] writing. Walter is probably one of the most honest human beings I’ve ever known.”

When it came to sorting the wheat from the chaff, the great columns from the good tries, Harvey says of the difficult culling process, “I tried to think of, what did I enjoy writing and what did I still enjoy reading once I looked it over again. Some stuff I looked at it and said, ‘This is a clunker,’ or ‘Boy, I must have been stretched on this one,’ or ‘this was funny then, but it’s not funny now.’ It was more of a process of elimination on this [book]. Not everything is timeless.”

“Some stuff was still funny, and that’s the stuff that I included, or some stuff was still touching, and I included that. If it still mattered to me when I read it, I thought it might matter to someone else.”

And what is it she’s been writing about all these years, since her scary and tenuous rookie experience under Crockett and Della Valle? The topic every long-term resident becomes an expert in: Worcester itself.

“Worcester,” Harvey says, “is like your mother’s shepherd’s pie, or your favorite slippers: You just can’t throw them out. You just love them in spite of yourself. [Worcester] just trips over itself all the time. I love Worcester, and I can’t really even explain why. It’s that comfortable sweater, I guess.”

She’s also dished out slices (about enough to stock Table Talk Pies) of a life lived in Worcester’s neighborhoods – highlights and lowlights of parents, siblings, extended family, kids, neighbors, and local residents and landmarks.

“The pieces that have had the most impact usually were about other people and the impact that they had on our lives, and those things really generated a big response.”

Harvey’s column isn’t the polarizing polemic that generates water-cooler ranting, like her cross-town rivals Dianne Williamson and Clive McFarlane at the Telegram & Gazette, perhaps due to the more personal, narrative nature of her work.

Except for the occasional one-off about, say, tattooed women.

“That’s the one piece that I — I’m not going to say that I regret writing it, but I definitely — totally! — misjudged my audience on that one and I paid the price on it. I got, I think, the record amount of hate mail on that. I did end up writing a follow-up piece on it, sort of saying that I had made a mistake in not talking to people about tattoos and what the story was. It was a tongue-in-cheek thing. I thought I’d get away with it. Before I ran the thing, I asked two female editors at Worcester Mag, and they both said, ‘It looks fine to me.’ Well, we were all wrong, because that is a sensitive subject. But I did include that, because I have a whole section that’s stuff that got me in trouble.”

While the book is primarily comprised of reprinted columns, one long-form piece, called “Once around the room with Satan,” will be new to readers, and Harvey is quite proud of it. “It’s a very personal, private piece I never published,” she says. “It’s the last one in there. It’s much too long to be a column and it took me about five years to write. It’s about my son’s struggles with drugs. I’m pleased to be able to include it, because it was something readers have never read, either.”

In addition, like a great digitally remastered CD release by your favorite musical artist, Harvey has added copious liner notes. “Everything,” she says, “has an intro on why I wrote it, or what brought it about, or what impact it had.”

“Some of it riled people up,” she says, “some of it touched people. I have a lot of stuff in there that’s serious that people really responded to and really loved.”

“I have people asking me if I want to do another one. They’ve enjoyed it, and they would like to see more,” Harvey says. And though she thinks it’s a bit premature to look forward to the next book, she admits, “I could probably come up with another 40.”

The experience of the past two decades has meant a lot in Harvey’s life, and “columnist,” she laughs, would probably earn a spot high up on her obituary. “Right under teacher, under ‘rebel without a cause,’” she says laughing. “They’re five dollars a line. You can write anything you want!”

Even after nearly two decades, though, she says, “I’ve never taken for granted that I have a place from which to shout.”

“Go Figure: 15 Years of Harvey in Worcester Magazine” is available in print, online through booksellers like Amazon.com, and even in e-book form for Kindle. Meet Janice Harvey in person and have your copy signed on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 1 p.m., at Barnes and Noble at the Millbury Shoppes at Blackstone Mall.

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Soft Balls: The Balls Dedicate Vincent’s Acoustic Show to Scott Ricciuti

by Matt Robert / photos by Jessica Lovina O’Neill

It takes some serious balls to call your band The Balls, but, then again, The Balls have lots of balls! They’ve been a sensation since their first gigs over a decade ago, and though the band has left and come back, changed their sound and personnel, they still deliver the most outrageous show in town, and, perhaps, just about anywhere. (Bassist Wayno calls it “controlled sexual stage chaos.”)

Frontman (to call him “singer” really doesn’t capture it) Andrei “The General” Krutov is a force – sort of G.G. Allin meets Jerry Lee Lewis meets an atomic bomb – bringing punk to new highs and lows. He delights in brutal, puerile, sexually charged punk, inciting and interacting physically with the crowd as the band (Jon Ho [Jon Wensky], drums; Wayno [Wayne Winslow], guitar; and Johnny Ace [Brian Hoffman], bass) lay down double-barrel garage rock – fast, tight, and straight, on unapologetic ditties, like their legendary “Shiny Nipple,” “Razor Burn,” and “Sucky Laundromat.” If Pussy Riot got thrown in prison for their music, I suspect a much harsher fate would await The Balls in the Gulag.

“Fan participation is key,” says Wayno, “and our fans are as motley as it comes. Most of all, our passion for playing music shows when we play.”

This weekend, though, The Balls hope to show their softer side – the softer side of their balls, if you will – in a special, intimate acoustic show at Vincent’s that they will dedicate to their late local music compadre, Scott Ricciuti, who passed away in the spring of 2012 in a car accident. (See “Scott Ricciuti 1963 – 2012,” in the April 11, 2012 issue.)

Wayno says that the band is “going more Johnny Cash/rockabilly for this show,” and promises that “The General will be telling stories of his Russian youth and rather perverted times of his life, as well.” These stories, according to a Facebook post, include adventures in “motel hot-tub sex” and “doing it in a walk-in freezer” and other legendary exploits that got Krutov in great trouble during his school days in Soviet-era Russia, such as performing an English version of “Smoke on the Water.”

The dedication to Scott, Wayno says, is because “we miss him dearly. He always treated us like the rock star we knew he was.” The Balls fought in the same musical trenches night after night that Scott knew better than anyone, having spent the better part of his life working area clubs. And though the two acts may seem to have been fighting for different armies, Scott’s high energy, punk-sweat live persona has much in common with Krutov’s. “It went deeper than just the drunken ‘I love you, man’ at the end of the night,” Wayno says. “He knew the scene needed contrast and always found a compliment for you.”

Though Wayno hasn’t been in The Balls that long, he has “been playing in this scene for 25-plus years,” he says, and has “jumped up with [Scott’s longtime band] Huck a few times.”

Friday’s Vincent’s show will not be a tribute. Longtime band member Brian Hoffman says that the plan is not to cover Scott’s songs, but rather simply to play a show with him in mind, including mutual friends from the scene, such as Deb Beaudry from Group Action, who Wayno says “will be doing a few covers with us,” and, according to Brian, Scott’s close friend Michael Thibodeau, who “will sit in on mandolin.”

The volume will be lower, but Balls fans shouldn’t be worried. Despite the venue, Wayno assures us that they “play the same now as when we we’re in our twenties.”

“The General,” he says, “is a legend and can hump any crowd into submission. Even if you don’t like the music, you leave entertained.”

Catch The Balls when they play their acoustic set at Vincent’s, 49 Suffolk Street, Worcester on Friday Nov. 9 at 8 p.m.

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A Night of Great Local Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Roadkill Orchestra, Comanchero, Big Eyed Rabbit and Matt Robert – Tammany Hall – Friday, December 7, 2012

A Night of Great Local Rock ‘n’ Roll! The Roadkill Orchestra, Comanchero, Big Eyed Rabbit and Matt Robert Tammany Hall – Friday, December 7, 2012.

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