Edie Le Dee Dee

Edie died over the weekend. She’d found out that she had it bad with lung cancer last summer, and kept us up to date on Facebook on all the goings on with her state of mind and body. As was her nature, Edie maintained a positive, grateful, and joking attitude to her very last post Feb 9, 2015, on the day she was admitted to the hospital and subsequently diagnosed with pneumonia. The next thing you know, her husband Eugene told us she was gone.

I haven’t seen Edie since 1991, when she performed with me in a number I put together for a show at the Comic Strip in NYC. I was doing my own hacked-up and decidedly subversive version of “PDQ Bach”-like classical music parody in live shows and on the radio at the time, and the program director at classical station WQXR invited me to perform on a “Classical Music Comedy” bill that ironically included Peter Schickele himself, the man behind “PDQ Bach”. The show was MC’d by Bob McGrath from Sesame Street and Elliot Forest, the WQXR morning DJ. A morning  DJ on a classical station. Nice guy, but dry, dry, dry, dry, dry.

Bob from Sesame Street was a sweetheart, by the way, just like he is on the show.

The number I decided to perform is one of the stranger things I’ve ever recorded, and one of the only things I’ve ever recorded “lead vocals” on. A goof on a “renaissance” minstrel tune, probably the closest thing I can compare it to is Sir Robin’s minstrels in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Edie was one of the background singers at the live WQXR performance of that number, as was the late, great Michael Klausner (a SUNY Purchase classmate who was funny and talented beyond measure and died way, way too young). I had decided that the punch line for the live act would be me getting clocked in the head from behind with a “stunt” breakaway wine bottle prop by Michael,  then falling to the ground unconscious and getting dragged off the stage. Michael had humiliated himself in a similar fashion for me when he played the lead role in my composition “Drunk Tenor Cantata” a couple years prior, so I wanted to return the favor.

The song, which I had been told by many people was the funniest bit on the radio show, did not work so well as a live act. There were eight or so of us dressed in renaissance garb on the cramped stand-up comedy stage with our instruments. An audience of mainly older classical music fans who had no idea who the fuck I was just sat there and stared. On the last beat of the song when Michael hit me on the head with the bottle from behind, the prop that I’d bought from a specialty prop house for fifty bucks and then lovingly shielded from harm’s way for weeks somehow ricocheted off my head and landed 10 feet away in the lap of a horrified lady in the 2nd row.. I was dragged through the room of silent, confused, and borderline hostile onlookers by Michael and Edie through the packed comedy club to the lobby. My shirt had become an ashtray.

I hid until after the show, when I went up to Peter Schickele because I just had to meet the man. He indulged me in a chat, but I know the entire time he was thinking “wow, you really sucked the wind out of the place tonight, didn’t ya, rookie?”

Edie thought the whole thing was great. She thought it was SPECTACULAR. “Bob, we did it! We performed at the Comic Strip!” The fact that it was a bomb did not cross her mind in the least.

We will miss you, Edie.

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“Ground Rules”

I am going to continue with the story later on in this post, but in the meantime want to give you a greater insight into what’s happening to me as I write this stuff. If you’re not particularly interested in that, feel free to skip to the first photo below.

What’s been most surprising to me, on top of how many memories are coming back in vivid detail, is that as I think about and write these things, I am also re-living the emotions I had at the time in my body. In the same way the human mouth salivates when it thinks of food that isn’t even there, my body is having a physical response (both positive and negative) to the emotions that I experienced 30 years ago as a teenager and young man.

When I wrote about the letter Sue Brennan sent to break up with me when I was living in London at age 18, an event that also helped kicked off my musical infatuation with The Smiths, my body felt the pain all over again, just as my body felt the same sense of delight I experienced in 1986 when I saw them perform for the first time ever.

This “phenomenon” is causing me to not be fully present in other areas of my life, which needless-to-say demand a great deal of my time and energy. For that reason,  after this post I am going to lay off it for a couple days, then resume early next week when I feel like my head (and heart) has stopped spinning.

There is just so, so, so much to this story. I can’t believe how much time it’s already taken me to get through just the tip of the iceberg. Alot of what I am going to be writing about, you wouldn’t believe happened unless you were actually there. Some of you know I also do some “creative writing” on the internet that is mainly fiction-based but still twists the line between fiction and reality. I also employ liberal use of photos doctored in Photoshop in such writing adventures. I want to make myself absolutely clear (Dr. Reich reference for you PA friends). Everything I write about on this blog really happened. That’s why I am including the actual names of the actual people who were there in the stories. It’s not just for editorial color, it’s so they can back me up if anyone has any doubts that this shit is all true.

I will also be including as many photos, documents, and other items from the period that I still have, and can obtain from others. I was somewhat of a pack-rat back in the day, and saved ALL the Rake’s Progress stuff. People in those photos, and you know who you are, you have been warned. I will publish anything I have with the exception of sex/nudity, illegal drug use, or anything else that could potentially get myself or anyone else in a world of shit. That said, I hereby swear to abide by the following “ground rules” I set for myself when I began this project last week:

  1. Be kind. If someone was being a dick, it’s OK to call that out, but otherwise respect the fact that everybody was doing the best they could, in the best way they could at the time. Most importantly, this rule also applies to myself.
  2. Be completely honest. Tell the story as it happened. Reach out to others who were there to clarify details of events if necessary.
  3. Memory is one hell of a drug. People often have different recollections of the same exact events, especially those that happened 30 years ago. For that reason, I am telling this story from my own perspective. Period.
  4. I will not out anyone who is gay who is not openly gay.
  5. I will not publish any intimate details of my own sexual encounters (which doesn’t mean I won’t say who I had such encounters with) nor any things that anyone did that could get them into any possible trouble (and I define that VERY broadly), without first getting their written approval. If I am ever in doubt about if something I might write or post may potentially harm you, I will reach out to you first to discuss. I value your trust and will not betray that trust.

OK. So. Now that I got THAT part out a way, get a load of THIS whammy my mom sent over a few weeks ago:

co_op_city_timesAbove: An article written about me in the local paper, the Co-op City Times, in 1985. For you non-New Yorkers, Co-op City is the neighborhood I grew up in The Bronx. The gist of the article is true, but contains several inaccuracies. And that headline? Give. Me. A. Fucking. Break! Remember, the journalistic standards of the “Co-op City Times” had not yet risen to the level of their later glory years, when they would go on to win the Pulitzer several times over for their ground-breaking coverage of the “paving over the little league fields to make more parking spaces” scandal.

ossining_01Above: An early Rakes “rehearsal” in 1988, at my home in Ossining New York. Pictured (L to R) my roommate Jon Cohen, Tim, Gregg, Jessica the daughter of my upstairs Hatian neighbors, and myself. We did many such “rehearsals” at my place in those days, which invariably ended in many such morning scenes  as depicted in the photo below.

ossining_02

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Flash forwarding for a moment . . . to send my friends for whom this is the last “work day” of 2014, here is a gift for you – a track from our next-to-last recording sessions ever in 1995 that has never been heard before outside the “inner circle of the band”. You can listen below, or follow the link to listen and (gasp) download for free directly on Bandcamp where there are some “liner notes” as well.

And on that note, I leave you for a few days. For those of you that will be going offline for the holidays, catch you in the New Year. The rest of you, for goodness sake, stop reading this NOW and go have some fun with your various friends and  various families. now Git!!!!

Be back with you shortly.

NEXT–> Shameless namedropping in the service of “journalistic integrity.”

Tapin’ In!

I navigated the Honda Civic into one of those New York City parking spaces where you’re not sure if it’s even a parking space at all, but this was still pre-Giuliani New York City when the police didn’t give a rat’s ass. Since I was still inept with the stick, I stalled 8 or 9 times trying to back into the spot while passers-by looked on disapprovingly. I was a Native New Yorker and yet somehow managed for the first time in my life to be marked as a tourist. Go figure.

It was 6pm and just getting dark, but the sidewalks were already empty. “Where IS everybody?” I thought. I had worked as a foot-messenger in this area as a part-time job back in high school and knew the neighborhood pretty well. Even at 6, it should be packed with people. I turned the corner onto West 28th Street and walked right into a scene from “Taxi Driver” – cars were backed-up the entire length of the block while 8 or 9 hookers in full regalia conga-lined it from car-to-car, hustling for “dates”.

“Oh, THERE they are!” I thought with a sense of relief. The “scene” would move a few blocks this way or that over time, or whenever the heat was on, but the common thread with this was that it would always take place on a block with a hotel, so that once the handshake was made there was a convenient place to go and get the dirty work over with. Apparently, the “scene” had just made it’s way over to the block I was to audition for Gregg & Tim on. Well, at least if the audition sucked I could go back downstairs and drown my sorrows in the sweet arms of Chlamydia.

Hooker-copThis image pretty much sums up the police attitude towards “vice” in 1980’s New York CIty. Photo credit: booyorkcity.com

I made my way down the block, found the building, and rang the buzzer. The door buzzed open, and I walked down a narrow, dimly-lit hallway into a very small elevator that was barely enough to fit me and my bass case. I pressed the button for the 6th floor, the door slammed shut with a heavy “thud”, and the elevator jerked upwards with a start, then stopped for a brief moment, then slowly began ascending with a horrible mechanical grinding sound that made me think someone was trying to crush a refrigerator in a trash compactor. This was not alarming in to me in the least, by the way, as most every band rehearsal space in The City was in a similar state – housed in a building that had dodged condemnation for years because the landlords knew who to bribe in the building department and how much to give in order for the guy to look the other way. It was much cheaper to do it that way than actually keep the buildings in functioning order.

I often imagined a modern-day re-enactment of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire taking place in one of these buildings – with dozens of panicked rock band musicians trampling each other in a mad-dash to the exits, draging their still-attached amplifiers behind them.

I stepped off the elevator and onto the 6th floor, then knocked on the studio door. Several bolt-locks were unlatched from the inside, and the door swung open.

“YEAH?????”

There stood a tall, curly-haired, glasses-wearing, pot-bellied-tie-died man who looked just a few years older than I. He was holding a bowl of cat food in his hands. The guy just stood there and looked at me with such an intense expression of disdain and resentment that I would’ve thought I had knocked on the wrong door if I wasn’t so used to it by now.

You see, pretty much everyone I had to deal with in those days in the lower levels of the NYC “rock music ecosystem” was a total dick.  Guitar store salespeople? Dicks. Studio owners? Dicks. Club bookers? Dicks, Dicks, Dicks. All of ’em. I think it was the first item listed on the job requirements to get a sales job at Sam Ash. “OK, now. Let’s take a look at your resume. Hmmmm, I see here it says that you’re a complete and total dick. How does $150k a year sound?”

we buy guitarsAbove: One of the fine establishments on West 48th street in the 1980’s where you could walk in off the street with a pocket full of cash and still get treated like a piece of shit by the staff.

The cat-food-holding man just stood there, staring me down like I was a door-to-door Jehova’s Witness who had just interrupted his family dinner.

“Uh . . . I’m supposed to be meeting some guys named Gregg and Tim here for an audition?”

His cat paced back and forth nervously behind him, awaiting her dinner.

“Mrrrrrroooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww!”

“LUCY………..SHUT!!! THE!!! FUCK!!! UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“MRRRRROOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!”

He turned away abruptly, set down the bowl of cat food, and walked through another door to what I imagined was his “office”, slamming it shut without saying another word.

I entered the “reception area” and could see a door ajar down a dark hall to my left. I headed down the hall, pushed open the door, and standing right there before me was Hank Letterman. Holy shit, it was really him.

“Hey, Bob. Great to meet you!”

Gregg looked exactly the same as he did on TV, and I couldn’t help but burst out in laughter. “I’m sorry, man. I just love your stuff on TV so much that the mere sight of you cracks me up.” I realized that might be taken the wrong way, but he didn’t seem to mind. I think he was used to it.

One of the other two guys, looking like a somewhat slightly younger, thinner version of Morrissey without the coiffed hair-do, came over and introduced himself. “Hey, I’m Tim, thanks for coming down all the way from Westchester. This is Tim Curry, our drummer.”

From the riser, Tim Curry extended his hand with a big smile. He struck me as a bit older than the rest of us, and had a vibe about him that told me “this guy isn’t from New York.”

I put down my bass case, took off my jacket, and began the most awkward part of the audition – the chatty bit that happens while you simultaneously try to unpack your instrument, tune up, and attempt (in vain) to get a halfway-decent sound from the crappy amp provided by the studio.

“Yeah, so the drive down here was crazy. There was an accident on the Hutch.”

“Cool. What kind of bass is that?”

“Oh, it’s an Ibanez Musician, I got it back in high-school.”

The first thing rock band musicians do upon meeting other rock band musicians is is to sniff out each other’s gear. It’s the same exact thing that happens when dogs sniff out each others’ butts. Gregg had a black-and-white Rickenbacker 360 running through a Roland JC-120 guitar amp. This was the standard-issue setup for “alternative rock band guitarists” at the time (as an example, see the same exact guitar/amp setup in the Smiths video on my post from a few days ago). You could basically walk into any guitar store in America and say “give me an REM” and they would hand you a Rick 360 with a JC-120.

Our “awkward pre-audition setup chit-chat” was suddenly interrupted by the loud and unmistakable sound of some heavy-duty duct tape being ripped from it’s roll. I looked over to Tim Curry, and saw him perched atop the drum throne, his right foot held high in the air. In his right hand was his kick-drum pedal, while a really long piece of duct tape dangled from his lips.

In a single motion, he pressed the pedal to his foot, took the tape from his mouth, and started wrapping it around his foot and the pedal together, around and around several times so that his foot was completely, firmly, solidly affixed.

“Tapin’ in, boys! Tapin’ in!”

As he continued to apply additional long strips of tape, wrapping them around the now-joined-together-foot-pedal, getting tighter and tighter with each turn, I stood there completely baffled. I had played with dozens upon dozens of drummers of all shapes, sizes, and levels of ability in my life, and had yet to see anything even remotely close to this. If you’ve ever played the drums before, you know that even though it can look like nothing but a whole lot of heavy-handed booming and bashing, it actually requires a great deal of tactile control and feel on all four limbs, including the legs and by extension the feet.

If you’ve never played a drum kit before, imagine duct-taping your foot to the gas pedal in your car in the manner described above. Can you even imagine trying to drive your car that way?  “Maybe this guy is on to something here,” I thought. “Maybe I should be taping my right thumb to the ‘E’ string, so my hand doesn’t slip off. Don’t need the ‘E’ string much anyway.”

The first song we were to play was one of Tim and Gregg’s original numbers called “Fact of the Matter”.

“You want me to show you the chords?”

“Nah, I play by ear. Just start the song and I’ll pick it up.”

Tim Curry counted us off, and the song began. A mid-tempo intro with a jangly guitar arpeggio, rimshots on the snare drum keeping time.

“D major, walkdown to B minor, walkdown from G to E,” I thought to myself as I joined in. Simple chord changes, piece of cake.

Then Tim began singing. “Stuck in the middle of . . . relationship and lust . . . have I been unjust . . . don’t know who to trust.”

“Man, this guy needs to put away the rhyme dictionary,” I thought to myself as the song built towards the first chorus. The melody was nice. The jangly guitar bits were nice. Tim’s voice was nice. This was sounding pretty good!

Then we hit the chorus and the drums kicked in.

For those of you that have never played bass in a rock band before, the musical relationship you have with the drummer is very intense and intimate – just like the relationship you have with your sex partner. It’s exactly like fucking in the sense that if you can’t get a good rhythm going together, if you keep struggling to get into a groove to no avail,  then you’re in for a very frustrating and unsatisfying time.

We finished the song, and I couldn’t help but imagine what it could sound like with a drummer who didn’t have his foot taped to his kick-drum pedal.

NEXT–> Laying down some “Ground Rules”

Some Drugs Are Stronger Than Heroin

Going down to “The City” to audition for bands I’d met through the Village Voice had become a ritual for me at this point. I was living close to my college in Westchester County New York, and had just purchased my first new car which was the absolute cheapest car on the market aside from the Yugo (even as a college student prone to bad decision making I had the sense to run for my life from that thing). I hadn’t even gotten the hang of driving a stick shift and yet I was making the 45 minute run back and forth once or twice a week to Manhattan for band auditions. This resulted in my brand new car being downgraded to “prop from Sanford and Son” in a single semester.

I think it’s really important to mention that at this point I no longer wanted the life I had built for myself as a “legitimate professional musician”. The gigs were mostly boring and unsatisfying, and I was already making a living at it even though I had just turned 20.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had in fact become addicted to the drug I first tasted when I did those “Kids From The Real Fame School” shows back in high school. I was still chasing that high, to no avail. Playing weddings and bar mitzvahs, in orchestra pits for musicals, and recording sessions for middling singer-songwriters wasn’t doing it. There are only so many times in your life that you can play “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang before you either take the gaspipe or get yourself into some serious heroin.

leonardbornsteinHere’s a Fun Rake’s Progress fact for ya . . . in the late 1980’s both Stu and myself played in the band of “Leonard Bornstein, the Bar Mitzvah King of Northern New Jersey” (pictured above).

Let me break it down for you – most “professional musicians” are miserable. I learned this first-hand in my 2nd year of high school when I performed with the New York Philharmonic as part of the All City High School Orchestra program. We did a couple of concerts together every year, with both orchestras onstage at Avery Fischer Hall, alternating seats (meaning I was seated in the bass section in between two members of the Philharmonic bass section). The track I was on with my music at the time was focused on becoming a professional orchestral musician, so getting to have this experience was, to me, like telling my son who loves baseball “hey Theo, guess what….Your little league team is going to play a game together with the Giants against the Dodgers. Pagan, Posey, Pence, and Crawford are batting 2, 4, 6, and  8 in the lineup, and you, Nate, Oscar, Gabe, and Josh are batting in the 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 spots. You’re batting leadoff, Son, go get ’em!” It was kind of nuts to be given this opportunity at such a young age.

The morning of the first concert, we assembled in what I was told was the Philharmonic’s dressing room, backstage at Avery Fischer. They were big, nondescript rooms, one for the women and one for the men, containing various sized lockers, showers, big mirrors, and the rest of what you’d expect in a locker room, nothing fancy. There was to be a morning rehearsal, then an afternoon concert, and there wasn’t much to do at this point but wait around until we were called up to the stage.

After a few more boring minutes, some grown-ups began showing up. They were a pretty rough looking group, unkempt, unshaven, stinky, and not looking happy at all to be there. I turned to my buddy Victor Lawrence and said “holy shit, check it out Vic. This isn’t the Philharmonic’s dressing room – this is the dressing room for the janitorial staff!”

“Yeah, what’s going on with that?”

Our conversation was interrupted by the disembodied voice of the stage manager coming through a loudspeaker. “All-City High School Orchestra Members To The Stage, Please!”

We grabbed our instruments and were led up the stairs and onto the great stage where Leonard Bernstein once held sway. I made my way to my seat in the bass section, and anxiously began warming up by playing the opening measures of “Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila” which was the first piece we were to rehearse with “The Phil” that day. It kicks off with these insanely impossible virtuostic scales that we’d been practicing for months. I was wound up so tightly that it actually felt like I was about to shit my pants right there on stage.

A few moments later, one of the janitors from the locker room came up beside me, a half-smoked unlit cigar dangling from his lower lip. He was holding an incredible looking, rare, Italianate upright bass, and was also moaning somewhat. He plopped his fat butt down in the seat beside me, at which point I realized the man was John Schaeffer, Principal Bassist of the New York Philharmonic. Looking like WC Fields. Smelling like he’d rolled right out the door of the Jameson’s distillery tour in Dublin Ireland.

ny_phil_schaefferAbove: The great John Schaeffer, sans unlit cigar, with his wide head of grey hair and bloated cheeks, as seen in the back of the bass section behind conductor Zubin Mehta

The man didn’t say a single word to me then, nor did he say a single word to me the entire time despite the fact that we were 2 feet away from each other. I don’t think he was a nasty guy. I just think he was miserable.

A few moments later I had a new compadre on the stand to the right of me, one John Deak. He was also somewhat unkempt and grizzled at that hour of the day, but introduced himself in a kind manner and asked how long I’d been studying. I asked him how many years he’d been in the orchestra and his eyes glazed over. “Ohhhhh, I dunnooo… thirty-two, thirty-three yeeeearssss???”

I figured the man was high on drugs, some kind of high-grade grownup drugs that nobody at my high school knew about (and believe me when I tell you I went to high school with some people who were VERY advanced in that area). He was a really nice guy but it was clear to me that he was SO over it. Thirty some-odd years of sitting in the same orchestra, playing the same exact “standard repertoire that the ticket buyers want to hear” year-after-year. These guys were MISERABLE! And this was supposed to be one of the GREATEST ORCHESTRAS IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!! At that moment, I realized that if this was what success looked like as a professional orchestral musician, I wanted no part of it.

I’d get to know John Deak some years later, as I performed his composition “The Ugly Duckling” for my senior recital at Purchase. It turned out he wasn’t on drugs at all, he’s just a really spacy guy sometimes.

There is lots more to this story, and once again I find myself digressing on non-Rakes Progress related things to the extent that I need to steer myself back to the story at hand. There will be time to go back and tell the rest of that one later. The whole purpose of me telling you the story above, is to illustrate that by the time I went down to “The City” to audition for Tim & Gregg I was completely done with wanting to be a “legitimate professional”. I wanted to be in a BAND. A band that wrote and performed the music that I wanted to hear and play, and made records and traveled the world sharing that music with everyone.

In high school, I was the guy spending hours sitting in his room by himself for hours with his bass guitar, listening to records by Rush and Yes, trying to learn the bass lines note-by-note. That, in lieu of hanging with friends or chasing girls or anything else normal teenagers do. I was the guy fantasizing that I was Geddy Lee or Chris Squire or John Entwhistle. This whole “professional musician” thing was DEFINITELY NOT FOR ME.

Interesting to note that the most insulting thing you can say to a serious music student at a serious music school is “you’re being unprofessional”.

So, I made it down to the rehearsal studio on West 28th Street where I’d be meeting and playing with Tim, Gregg, and their drummer Tim Curry for the first time. There were 2 main buildings full of band rehearsal studios in Manhattan at the time – one called “The Music Building” and the other one called “The Music Building”. This one was in neither, which was somewhat of a shock as the phone conversation for setting up an audition always ended with “which Music Building, the one on 30th or the one on 8th Avenue?” This time it was in a completely different location, in a building I’d never been to before.

Damn, I did it again. I ran out of time today to get to the story I wanted to tell. That will have to come tomorrow. To tease you old-school Rake’s Progress fans, it will include the story of our first time playing the following songs:

The Fact of the Matter

Charm

Arcade Colors

NEXT–> Tapin’ In!

I Prefer To Be Called Henry!

The way I bonded with my father throughout my teens was through television. We were both avid TV watchers, and one of our favorite shows by far was Late Night with David Letterman. In the 1980’s, Letterman was still subversive.

I was a big enough of a fan that I would regularly attend live tapings of the show at the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center — sometimes 2 or three times a month. It was only 3 short blocks from my high school, and they taped at 5:30pm, so I could just walk over there after 8th period, ask people standing in the audience line if they had any extra tickets, and go in and enjoy the show. It was always a riot, and I got to watch some classic performances in person by comic heroes of the day such as Andy Kaufman and Pee-Wee Herman.

One of the funniest shows they did all year were the Christmas specials, where they would bring in “Dave’s family” for a wholesome evening of songs and Pat-Boone style revelry (Pat Boone was actually on the show too). The family included teenage son Hank Letterman, who basically stole the show every time he opened his mouth. Have a look:

Hank was one of the funniest characters I’d ever seen on one of the funniest shows I’d ever seen.

Which brings me back to the “ad in the Village Voice”. After some back-and-forth leaving of and listening to answering machine messages, I found myself on the phone with a friendly guy named Gregg Lapkin. He told me that he and his friend Tim, whom he’d known since High School, had recently dropped out of the Parson’s School of Design to focus full time on starting a band. They’d been writing songs together, with him writing the music and Tim writing the lyrics.

Through a prior ad, they had already found a drummer and a bass player, but the bass player didn’t work out. He had quit after one rehearsal. The guy called himself “Zebra” –  he wore spandex and told Tim & Gregg that their “situation waszn’t rockin’ it enuff” for him.

Finding bandmates through the Voice was always a delicate situation.

The conversation flowed right off the bat with me and Gregg. Cold-calling people off these ads, you never knew what to expect — I’d done it many times before and the person on the other end of that phone line often turned out to be some type of cluster-fucked mix of delusion and psycopathy. That, or they were just assholes.  It was nice to have a normal conversation with a nice person for a change.

Gregg and I spent some time getting to know each other a bit beyond just discussing music, and at one point he mentioned that he was also involved in some acting.

“You know the David Letterman show? I play this character Hank Letterman on the Christmas specials.”

I froze up. No way.

“That’s YOU?”

“Yeah, I also do commercials and have a manager that sends me on auditions for other stuff sometimes . . . ”

The guy was so completely nonchalant about it, but to me it felt like I was speaking with Robin Williams or something. The rest of our conversation notwithstanding, there was no way at this point that I was NOT going to go down there and audition for these guys.

NEXT–> Some Drugs Are Stronger Than Heroin

 

“You Read Personal Ads In The Village Voice”

Fitting that the story begins within a lyric, as many of Tim’s lyrics were his interpretations of things that actually went on in our lives, of people we knew — tales of funny, strange, and sometimes horrible events.

In 1988 New York City, if you wanted to join a rock band, or were a band looking for new members, you placed and read ads in the “Musicians Wanted” classified section of the Village Voice weekly newspaper (which was the de-facto bible of the local rock scene at the time). Have a listen:

[Side note: You can also hear a bona-fide mellotron in there if you listen closely, performed by Nick Sansano.]

I had begun following the music pages of the Voice since the age of 15, when I met my first bandmates Pete Glasser (son of former head of the ACLU Ira Glasser) and David Goldfarb through one such ad. We formed “Spectre” which played our one and only gig together — an audition night set at CBGB (sensing a pattern here?)

spectreThat’s me on the right, with my hair (which was later removed and taxidermied, and is now on permanent display in the Co-op City hall of fame). Pete is playing guitar on the left, and you can barely see a bit of David off to his left. I don’t remember the drummer’s name.

I’d been an avid music listener and performer since the age of 5, and when I was 12 the bass chose me (I was a tall kid and was thus handed the upright bass when it came time to assign instruments for the school orchestra). I’d been playing professionally since the age of 14 when I did my first 2 paying gigs as a bassist while attending high school at the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan (yes, it’s the “Fame” school).

I got recruited for my first job by classmate Jay Rodriguez, who I think had been playing professional club gigs since he was 7 or 8 years old (or at least it seemed like it to me at the time). Jay is one big-time monster of a sax/flute player these days, he plays all over the world with everyone. We had a science teacher, whose name escapes me (I know friends are going to help me out with names as I need them, right???). This teacher had a side-racket going, selling shopping malls in places like Katonah New York and Paramus New Jersey on a show featuring “The Kids From The REAL Fame School.” I was the bass player in the band, and there were dancers who did ballet & modern numbers, actors who did scenes from Shakespeare (including classmate Esai Morales who had just enjoyed major success in his role opposite Sean Penn in the movie “Bad Boys”), and other various shenanigans and goings-on to keep the people in the mall entertained.

The year was 1982, and “Fame” had just been a major hit film, with the spinoff TV show enjoying major success globally. Needless to say, these shows brought in huge crowds of excited and adoring teenage girls. I instantly realized what an incredible aphrodisiac being on stage with an instrument can be. Especially an instrument that’s held so close to one’s “junk”. I had fans . . . FEMALE fans! If I had any doubt at that point about my future of being onstage with an instrument, it was crushed that very moment. I was in.

I have no idea how much money Mr. Whatshisname pocketed on these shows (and there’s definitely no way this whole enterprise was kosher at all — he would’ve gotten fired and probably sued if the school administration ever found out) but we kids had an awesome time, were treated like rock stars, and got a few dollars in our pockets to boot.

My second gig was given to me by my classmate Holly Bartlett, whom I also had a major crush on. Her mother was Doris Bartlett, nee D’Jamin Bartlett, the Broadway actress. D’Jamin had been given a contract to produce and star in a monthlong-run of cabaret show called “D’Jamin Sings Lennon And Sometimes McCartney” at the Vineyard Theater on the East Side of Manhattan. We did 8 shows a week for a month — I went to the theater every day after school and did my homework then puttered around until curtain. The band consisted of her pianist,  daughter Holly on flute, and myself on upright bass and bass guitar. Some instrumentation, eh? The show consisted of campy versions of Beatles tunes, and I looked exactly like a young John Lennon at the time which is why they had hired me in the first place. It was weird. The show got an indifferent review from the NY Times and we enjoyed marginally full houses until the end of the run when the house manager was basically begging me to bring friends in to watch the show, even offering up free bottles of wine to anyone who’d come and tolerate it.

I had already gone through a whole career as a professional musician at age 20 when I met Tim and Gregg through a “personal ad in the Village Voice”. In addition to supporting myself with gigs, I was continuing my “serious” music studies fulltime as a Junior in college at SUNY Purchase. There are loads of stories around my musical adventures during this time, but they are being put aside now so I can turn to how The Rake’s Progress got started. It never, ever, in a million years would’ve happened without this:

I was sitting in the TV room of my place of residence in London England (where I lived for part of 1986) watching the performance above, live on television. I’d never seen or heard anything like it, and rewatching it now for the first time ever (which goes to show pretty much everything that ever happened will wind up on the internet eventually) I’m once again struck at how surreal it all is, the 2 dudes up front spastically “arm dancing” while perched atop their friend’s shoulders, while a coiffed crooner sings this sweet buttery melody of morbid lyrics, the restrained and simple instrumental arrangement sitting above the evidently expert musicianship beneath, and a driving melodic bass line which has always been my thing. I was stunned, my musical world shifted.

The next day I went down to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought a cassette of “The Queen Is Dead” which as it turns out had just been released the day before. I played it constantly, obsessively, in my walkman for months, walking around London. Every song on that album was a masterpiece as far as I was concerned. A few days after seeing that performance, my girlfriend back in New York sent me a letter in which she notified me that she’d been sleeping with other guys and she thought we should break up. That album and “Avalon” by Roxy Music got me through it.

So, getting back to the ad in the Village Voice. As one does when looking for bandmates, one cites one’s musical influences in one’s ad. The Smiths was the top of the list in Tim & Gregg’s ad, along with some others like Lloyd Cole and Prefab Sprout whom I’d never heard of before (but would quickly come to get to know and love and still do to this day). The ad said they had guitar, drums, singer, and had written a bunch of original material. They were my age. I dialed the number in the ad.

NEXT->> Without David Letterman, There Would Be No Rake’s Progress

 

What’s This Thing Sitting In The Corner?

This is like wiping layers of dust off old record album covers.

The inevitable happened and someone put “Cheese Food Prostitute” and “Altitude” on YouTube. These are the 2 “major releases” by The Rake’s Progress, which is the band that I co-founded and was part of from 1988 till things fizzled out in 1995 or so.

I have all of the recordings in my house, of course, but for whatever reason I hadn’t given those particular tracks a listen in years. For whatever reason, I decided to go ahead and thus simultaneously delighted and tortured myself by listening to the whole shebang at one go on a flight back to SF from Florida on Wednesday. Memory lane syndrome got me. It got me thinking about everything. Everything that happened, a thousand triumphs and a thousand humiliations. Playing to millions of people on a TV show one day, then driving 16 hours in a van to play to 3 people the next. Near-arrests in Dallas. Blocking out the sounds of your bandmate geting it on in the next bed with his girl while you were getting it on in your bed with yours. Tours interrupted by births and deaths. Alot went on.

There were 5 core members of the group, and there were a few others that came and went at the very beginning (including myself — the other guys chucked me out briefly at one point because I was being a dick and was also butting heads with this engineer/producer we’d hired — more on that another time…).

Those of you that read this who know the band, know of myself, Tim Cloherty, Gregg Lapkin, Pete Klinger, and Stu Klinger. There was also our first drummer Tim Curry, who we did our first ever public performance with (a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons “audition night” set at CBGB). It was also our last performance with him as while he was a very friendly guy and certainly loved to party as much as we all did, he was not such a great drummer and was also clearly troubled. We recently learned he died in his early 30’s from liver failure.

There was Arthur Bacon, a thin, fey black-turtleneck-wearing blonde keyboardist with an asymetrical haircut. I think he did maybe 3 gigs with us, including the one at Lismar Lounge that introduced us to Roger Davis, who became one of the central figures in the history of the band, and without whom we never would have “made it”.

There were others that came and went, both on stage and in the studio, all of which had an impact in one way or another (or not,. I’m just being kind in lieu of a 100% clear memory at this time of the evening).

I think a good place to start this story where it stands today. Tim and Stu still soldier on as professional musicians in NYC, and I have a deep respect for them for that. I wish I had the balls to have stuck to it as a profession as these guys have. Tim leads his band Booga Sugar (which Pete and Gregg were also in at the beginning) that specializes in disco/soul/R&B dance music, and he also writes and performs his original stuff in various incarnations. Stu does a wide variety of performance, recording, teaching, and also runs the Bandwriting Collective summer music camp for kids, which he founded. He put out 2 albums with his band Barnacle Bill  and also performs with his irish music band Streams of Whiskey. Getting back to the topic of people who were in the band briefly, the lineup of Barnacle Bill includes bassist Yianni Naslas who played in the “Bedspins” incarnation of the Rakes for a couple shows towards the end when I took a powder and went on a tour with another band.

Pete lives in a very hip college town in New England with his family and works as a Park Ranger. He has a band called Small Parade that just put out their first album.

Gregg lives in Panama. He founded and runs a backpacker’s hostel called Bambu, in Panama’s 2nd largest city David. He recently wrote and recorded material with Nate “Baby Bam” of the Jungle Brothers, whom he met when he was a guest at the hostel.

I live in San Francisco with my wife and kids, and run the West Coast ops of a small creative agency. I get to be involved in alot of cool stuff and work with great people. Occasionally I kick out the odd music or film/video thingy.

Stu and I also are in a band together at the moment, a project that involves 2 of my friends from high school that is progressing very slowly, since we collectively live in 3 different cites and have our grown-up lives of families and careers to tend to. I think we’ll have something out a year from now. We’ve written and recorded something like 8 or 9 songs I think.

Life is good for all of us today, we’re all happy with our lives. Most of us are parents (Gregg is the lone holdout). I think we’ll get together and play a show at some point in the next few years. We’re all still friends which is the best part.

I’ll try and go back to the beginning next.

NEXT->> A lyrical reference to how some of the band members first met