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Long Story Short: At least there's art


Illustration by JP Thimot


Come back, Zach


If you’re a certain age—by which I mean old—the name John Zach holds special meaning, because his career as a broadcaster, particularly a news announcer, began in the late fifties and lasted until, well, last week. Zach’s distinctive baritone could first be heard on WNED TV, then WKBW, WGR, and WBEN radio stations. Many reading this  can probably still recall his distinctive newscast signoff, “This is John Zach reporting.”


Zach “retired” from WBEN after eighteen years, but six months later he was drawn back into radio news at WECK (1230 AM/102.9 FM), which features a number of radio icons (from the era when pop radio mattered). On Friday, February 16, after working there only a half year, Zach abruptly told WECK program director, Glenn Topolski, that he was quitting that day. Then he vanished.


What happened next?

Reporters couldn’t reach Zach to find out what was up. WECK owner Buddy Shula couldn’t reach him, and pled ignorance as to why he left. Fans worried that the radio legend, whose career spanned six decades, had become seriously ill.


Zach heard that his fans were concerned, so he finally returned a call from Buffalo News media critic, Alan Pergament, to say he was fine. But that’s about all he said, except that, “The management of the radio station knows exactly why [he left]. They knew it then and they know it now.” Whoa, sounds like someone was unhappy with the station, but it’s anyone’s guess why.


The takeaway:

If you haven’t been paying attention to commercial radio lately, you might not have known that Zach was still in the business. But, for decades, the man has been getting up way before most of us do (1:15 a.m. at WBEN) to get us the news. Glad he’s still around; sorry his latest gig went south.



The infrastructure stimulus that isn’t

Long Story Short predicted that President Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan would not fulfill the dreams of Western New York politicians, and now it’s confirmed. The list of hometown improvement projects that lawmakers were lining up will go unaddressed, according to Congressman Brian Higgins, thanks to Trump’s smoke-and-mirrors proposal. Even Congressman Chris Collins, who has been a passionate Trump supporter through every scandal, misstep, and tweet, “has concerns” about the plan.


The details:

Trump only proposes $200 billion in federal funds, about what we spend now building roads and bridges in Iraq and Afghanistan. And states only get that cash if they expend six dollars and fifty cents for every buck the federal government kicks in.


Trump sugarcoats this by saying it gives states more control over what gets built. But to take advantage of this “stimulus,” states like New York would need to raise taxes. Private industry might accept this federal pocket change, and invest in roads and bridges, like the Canadian highway I accidently took while coming back from Toronto. A couple weeks later I got a bill in the mail saying, hey, you drove on our road; seven dollars, pay-up. Either way, we will pay. 


More bad news

To pay for this modest infrastructure stimulus package, plus the recent massive tax cut that largely benefits the wealthy, Trump goes into reverse Robin Hood mode, cutting Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and Community Development Block Grants. He would also cut the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is cleaning Lake Erie, and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grants, which enabled Buffalo to reopen Main Street to traffic. And he would cut aid to the arts.


Higgins calls this Trump’s “anti-urban agenda.” Collins felt awkwardly compelled to mention that the House Appropriations Committee establishes funding for these programs, not Trump.


The takeaway:

No one is taking Trump’s budget proposal seriously, probably not even Trump. He’s playing to the fringe of his conservative base. But it speaks to his priorities.



Do you believe in magic?

Roswell Park Cancer Institute is now offering cancer treatment with a side of alternative medicine. That’s right; along with the most advance scientific therapies, patients can order up a batch of acupuncture, dietary supplements, reiki, massage, yoga, nutritional counseling, guided imagery, or healing touch, among others.


If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Science has shown that medical treatments with no therapeutic value (sugar pills for example) will result in patient improvement in some percentage of cases. Such fake treatments are called placebos. For real medical treatments to be considered safe and effective, they must outperform placebos in large, well-designed, reproducible double-blind studies. The treatments listed above have been shown to have little to no effect beyond placebos, despite anecdotal testimony of practitioners and patients. Things like yoga, massage, exercise, and proper nutrition are beneficial, but not for treating cancer. Acupuncture may help slightly with pain and nausea, but due to practical impediments, double-blind experiments have not been done.


So why is Roswell providing patients with these treatments? The good folks at Roswell know Americans get medical information from the internet, some of which is unreliable. Eighty-five percent of patients spend a collective $34 billion dollars annually on alternative therapies, frequently without telling their physicians. Some can be dangerous; all are scientifically unproven. So, some medical centers are offering patients what they want, under supervision. It’s all about breaking down doctor/patient barriers.


Fortunately, these alternative treatments are funded by nonprofit organizations and provided free to patients. That’s good, because goofy remedies like reiki can only be justified if it turns out that laughter really is the best medicine.


The takeaway:

The placebo effect is real and significant, so alt-treatments can’t hurt if they’re safe and free.



Two exhibitions to catch

There’s a lot of great art in Buffalo. Occasionally Long Story Short feels compelled to mention exceptional or extraordinary events, small and large. Here are two you shouldn’t miss.


Tony Conrad at three locations

When experimental filmmaker, avant-garde musician, and University at Buffalo Professor, Tony Conrad, died in 2016 at age seventy-six, Buffalo lost a global frontrunner of the avant garde and a major contributor to the local art community.


His middle name (which I never knew until I read some of the many international tributes in major publications after his death) was Schmaltz. The word means “excessive sentimentality, especially in music or movies,” which is incredibly ironic because, Tony was the antithesis of schmaltzy. He was in fact, a maestro of sardonic irony. I knew him as well as most people did—which is to say, not intimately—but I often found him difficult to converse with because I was never sure what was genuine, and what was art-schtick. In fact, Tony’s whole life might be seen as one long performance. I told him this once, and he pled ignorance (of course).


Regardless, whenever I saw one of his films, performances, or artworks, I was, without exception, blown away by the man’s brilliance. He had one of the most intellectually astute and inspired minds I have ever known. But like most people in Buffalo, I only saw a fraction of his creative output, much of which was never exhibited locally.


Now there are three exhibitions that aim to remedy that. If you love conceptual art, and crave a deeper understanding of one of Buffalo’s acknowledged leaders of experimental art and music, these are must see events:

Tony Conrad @ Hallwalls (ongoing through March 4), with a February 27 performance: Tony Tuesday 2 - In Performance: Tony Conrad & Friends

Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective, February 8 – May 26, 2018, UB Art Gallery

Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective, March 3 – May 27, 2018, Albright-Knox Art Gallery


David Mitchel at 500 Seneca Street

First, there’s the venue, a beautiful renovated industrial building that includes (along with offices and apartments) a lobby gallery and boiler room installation space. Exhibitions are hosted by the Cass Project.


I’ve seen three installations by David Mitchel now, and they have all been extraordinary.  His work is visually striking, enigmatic, and layered with allusions to multiple sources. You don’t have to be aware of all the references to appreciate the work though.


Notes on Simian Starchildren and Other Well-Meaning Creatures is the title for the exhibition of photographs and sundry items in the 500 Seneca lobby, which Mitchell intends as support for the main event, the boiler room installation. The bewildering exhibition includes a motion-activated mechanical parakeet, ham bones with pictures of a bone spinning against the sky, like at the start of 2001 a Space Odyssey, and images of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. The human desire to conquer space seems to be the unifying subject for Mtchel’s meditation on death. 


But it’s the boiler room installation that truly dazzles. Mitchel has converted the darkened space into a beach, with several tons of imported sand, and some exceptionally comfortable beach chairs. Projected onto two walls is an eleven-minute digital video of the sea and sky. There is a talking cloud reading excerpts from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley, and a cover version of Beyoncé’s song, XO. Sit back and take it in.


The installation has limited hours:
Thursdays 12–9 p.m., Fridays 12–5 p.m. and Saturdays 12–5 p.m.
There is a closing performance Saturday, February 24, from 7–9 p.m.     



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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