Monday, September 21, 2020

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 1043


I first became aware of Toots and the Maytals by name only. The group was mentioned in Rolling Stone and Playboy in the late '70s, cited by folks like Linda Ronstadt as a then-current Fave Rave sound. I recall the Maytals' Funky Kingston and Reggae Got Soul LPs being mentioned specifically. I was a college student in my late teens. Toots and the Maytals? Reggae Got Soul? I had no idea what these people were talking about.

That situation would not change for quite some time thereafter. I knew the Maytals' song "Pressure Drop" via a cover version by The Clash. I have no idea when I finally got around to hearing any actual Maytals music. I remember seeing Toots and the Maytals on a TV show called Viva Variety in 1997, performing a smokin' rendition of "54-46 Was My Number." It seems inconceivable that I hadn't heard the Maytals somewhere before that...but I dunno.

I do know that I got a copy of a Toots and the Maytals best-of CD around that time. I was in touch with a small reissue label, which was sending me some of its product as part of a conversation about getting me to oversee a power pop compilation. Though nothing ever came of that project, I asked about maybe getting the label's Maytals set. The label's rep responded, "I didn't know you were into reggae!" I replied, "Man does not live on skinny-tie white boy pop music alone."

It would be wrong to say I ever became a huge reggae fan, or an avid Maytals supporter. But man, I liked this stuff immediately and whole-heartedly. We played Toots and the Maytals on the very first This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio in December of 1998. Our first Maytals spin was a cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads," which was actually a mistake; I meant to play "Pressure Drop," but miscued. Cool consolation choice though, and I think we played "Pressure Drop" on our next show. We've played it many times over the years. It's an irresistible track, and it earns its own chapter in my eventual book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).

This week, I won't pretend to match the sorrow of reggae fans and Maytals fans as we bid farewell to the late, great Toots Hibbert. But I know enough to recognize greatness when I see it, when I hear it. When I dance to it. When I play it on the radio. Reggae got soul. This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio joins the faithful in mourning the passing of one of music's true legends. Now, no one else has that number.

We also say goodbye to Edna Wright of The Honey Cone, and we offer new music from The Morning Announcements and Kid Gallahad alongside the cherished treasures we already love. It is you, oh yeah. This is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a Sunday night in Syracuse this week.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read all about this show's long and weird history here: Boppin' The Whole Friggin' Planet (The History Of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO). TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS are always welcome.

The many fine This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin' pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:


Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset--Benefit For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio:  CD or download

PS: SEND MONEY!!!! We need tech upgrades like Elvis needs boats. Spark Syracuse is supported by listeners like you. Tax-deductible donations are welcome at
http://sparksyracuse.org/support/

You can follow Carl's daily blog Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) at 
https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/

Hey, Carl's writin' a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 165 essays about 165 songs, each one of 'em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of songs can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here.

TIRnRR # 1043: 9/20/2020
TIRnRR FRESH SPINS! Tracks we think we ain't played before are listed in bold.

THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)

--
THE BANGLES: Live (Columbia, All Over The Place)
BIG STAR: September Gurls (Ardent, # 1 Record/Radio City)
DEL AMITRI: Not Where It's At (A & M, Some Other Sucker's Parade)
ULTRAVOX: Saturday Night In The City Of The Dead (Spectrum, The Island Years)
TOOTS & THE MAYTALS: 54 46, That's My Number (Island, Time Tough)
THE ENGLISH BEAT: Save It For Later (Shout Factory, Keep The Beat)
--
KID GULLIVER: Carousel (kidgulliver1.bandcamp.com)
DR. FEELGOOD: Roxette (Rhino, I'm A Man)
THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN: The Return Of The Red Baron (One Way, Anthology)
THE PRIMITIVES: Crash (RCA, Lovely)
EDDIE COCHRAN: Somethin' Else (Razor & Tie, Somethin' Else)
THE TEXTONES: Vacation (Big Beat, single)
--
THE KINGS: This Beat Goes On/Switchin' To Glide (Griffin Music, Unstoppable)
THE KINKS: Australia (Essential, Arthur)
HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES: Don't Leave Me This Way (Epic, The Ultimate Blue Notes)
TELEVISION: Elevation (Elektra, Marquee Moon)
--
MATT SPRINGFIELD: Haunted (Akamusic, Erase All Data)
THE CLASH: Police On My Back (Epic, Clash On Broadway)
THE ROLLING STONES: Not Fade Away (Abkco, Singles Collection: The London Years)
GRAHAM PARKER & THE RUMOUR: Discovering Japan (Spectrum, The Very Best Of Graham Parker & the Rumour)
THE WELL WISHERS: We Grow Up (thewellwishers.bandcamp.com, Shelf Life)
GREGG YETI & THE BEST LIGHTS: My Narcoleptic Sara (Eskimo Kiss, Heart Palpitations Of The Rich And Famous)
--
THE HONEY CONE: One Monkey Don't Stop No Show [Part 1] (Varese Saraband, VA: Soulful Pop)
RUFUS "HOUND DOG" THOMAS: Bear Cat (The Answer To Hound Dog) (Varese Vintage, VA: Sun Records: 25 Blues Classics)
THE BLACKBYRDS: Walking In Rhythm (Rhino, VA: Can You Dig It)
BILLY (THE KID) EMERSON: Red Hot (Varese Vintage, VA: Sun Records: 25 Blues Classics)
TOOTS & THE MAYTALS: Reggae Got Soul (Island, Time Tough)
ROSCO GORDON: The Chicken (Dance With You) (Varese Vintage, VA: Sun Records: 25 Blues Classics)
--
TOOTS & THE MAYTALS: Pressure Drop (Island, Time Tough)
THE BEATLES: Two Of Us (Apple, Let It Be...Naken)
SOFT CELL: Tainted Love [7" version] (Mercury, The Very Best Of Soft Cell)
THE FIRST CLASS: Beach Baby (Varese Sarabande, VA: The Voice Of Tony Burrows)
POP CO-OP: Catching Light (Futureman, Factory Settings)
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: Sit Down I Think I Love You (Rhino, Buffalo Springfield)
--
THE MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS: Don't Leave Recess In Pieces (themorningannouncements.bandcamp.com)
THE 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY: Simon Says (Buddha, The Best Of The 1910 Fruitgum Company)
DEVO: Whip It (Rhino, Pioneers Who Got Scalped)
THE SHIVVERS: Teen Line (Big Beat, VA: Come On Let's Go!)
JIMMY SILVA & THE GOATS: Weight Of The Wind (ESD, Heidi)
THE TOMS: Better Than Anyone Else (Big Beat, VA: Come On Let's Go!)
--
JOE GIDDINGS: If I Don't Have Love (Kool Kat Musik, Better From Here)
THE MOODY BLUES: I Really Haven't Got The Time (Deram, Days Of Future Passed)
THE MONKEES: Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Rhino, Good Times!)
THE RAMONES: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker (Rhino, Rocket To Russia)
CHUCK BERRY: Promised Land (MCA, The Anthology)
THE JAM: In The City (Polydor, Direction Reaction Creation)
JUSTINE & THE UNCLEAN: Fourth Love (Rum Bar, VA: Somebody Out There Is Having A Party Vol. 2)
THE LEARS: The Byrd That Couldn't Fly (Not Lame, VA: Full Circle)
WHISTLESTOP ROCK: Queen Of The Drive-In (whistlestoprock1.bandcamp.com)
THE MERRYMAKERS: I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better (Not Lame, VA: Full Circle)
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: Singing My Song (Razor & Tie, The Partridge Family Album)
THE MUFFS: Rock And Roll Girl (Sympathy For The Record Industry, Hamburger)

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Tonight On THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO


Many of us feel angry and sad. That is our right. We can't offer relief. We can only offer diversion. We'll resume the fight tomorrow. Tonight, we let the music play. Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FMhttp://sparksyracuse.org/

Saturday, September 19, 2020

POP-A-LOOZA: The Ramones, "Babysitter"



Each week, the pop culture website Pop-A-Looza shares some posts from my vast 'n' captivating Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) archive. The latest shared post is another edition of The Other Side Of The Hit (B-Side Appreciation), celebrating "Babysitter" by The Ramones.

The American Beatles. The greatest American rock 'n' roll band of all time. Yeah, I like The Ramones. The Ramones earn three chapters in my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), with individual entries discussing "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?," "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," and "Blitzkrieg Bop;" I wrote a fourth GREM! chapter about The Ramones' cover of "I Don't Want To Grow Up," but decided not to include that in the book. Doesn't mean I love it any less.

I have written so much about The Ramones over the years. I interviewed Joey, Johnny, C.J., and Marky for Goldmine in 1994, and I would still like to collect those interviews in book form; I posted an introduction for that hypothetical book here. I wrote reviews of Rhino's Ramones reissues, also for Goldmine, and a piece about their Subterranean Jungle album for the book Lost In The Grooves. I wrote an obituary of Joey Ramone for Yeah Yeah Yeah magazine, and a review of the Archie Meets Ramones comic book for this very Boppin' blog. I even tried to write my own original Ramones song, "Rocket To Russia," blithely ignoring the fact that I am not a songwriter.

But the two key Ramones pieces I wrote for this blog remain my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery concert memory of seeing The Ramones, The Runaways, and The Flashcubes live in 1978, and my Love At First Spin tribute to the Rocket To Russia album. Yeah, I like The Ramones.


And I like a specific Ramones B-side right up there with my other Ramones favorites. A B-side appreciation of "Babysitter" is the latest Boppin' Pop-A-Looza.

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Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.


This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.


The many fine This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin' pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:


Volume 1: download

Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset--Benefit For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio:  CD or download

Carl's writin' a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of 'em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).




Friday, September 18, 2020

My Next Book? SINGERS, SUPERHEROES, AND SONGS ON THE RADIO: MY LIFE IN POP CULTURE IN THE '60s, '70s, AND '80s



As I continue to work toward the goal of finishing, selling, and eventually publishing my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), I am also thinking ahead to my next book. My current wish is to follow the GREM! book with a personal memoir of listening to records and reading comic books while attempting (and largely failing) to grow up. That would be Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio: My Life In Pop Culture In The '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Early versions of the 1960s and 1982-87 sections of this book have already appeared on the blog, along with the introductory chapter of the '70s section and a number of singer- or superhero-specific interludes. In addition to the daunting prospect of writing about my life and attendant bumps in the road from 1970 to 1982, the project will require significant editing and renovating. But I think it has potential. I'll look into all of that with more serious intent once The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) is further on its path to wherever its path leads.


For now, I want to give you an idea of what I have in mind for this memoir. I've collected a few of the previously-published chapters, and stitched 'em together for your blog-reading enjoyment. 




Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio: My Life In Pop Culture was my first real attempt to write a new, long-form piece for this blog. Well, my aborted rock 'n' roll superhero time travel novel Eternity Man! was technically first, but my autobiographical retrospective of reading comic books and listening to pop songs as a kid in the '60s was the first to find an audience. The first chapter was posted on March 9th of 2016, and the serial ran for a total of nine chapters, all ultimately collected for posterity as a single post on April 1st of that year. Quick work! That '60s portion concluded with a promise to pick up where I left off--September 1970--and resume my tale with a chronicle of my life in the 1970s.




That tale remains unwritten. I confess that I'm intimidated by it, but I still come back to pick at it, here and there, with an intent to follow through some day...soon. Definitely soon. I've addressed pieces of the story in many other posts, but the whole thing? I want to write it. I do. I just haven't been ready for it yet. 


Growing up is hard to do. That may be why I never really completed the whole growin' up thing to begin with. Looking back on the process--the mistakes and missteps, the little victories and crushing defeats, the persistent, gnawing ache of asking Why did I do that...?!, and the sad realization that the only answer is God, I just don't know--is just as hard. 


But I'm going to do it. Definitely soon. "Soon" in the cosmic sense. But soon. Meanwhile, here's a sneak peek at some scattered excerpts from Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio: My Life In Pop Culture In The '60s, '70s, and '80s:




THE 1960s

CHAPTER 1

My earliest memories go back as far as when I was three years old, watching my crib being dismantled and moved to permanent storage.  That would have been 1963.  I can also remember being a music fan since about that time, even before The Beatles played their first Ed Sullivan Show.  My Mom and Dad both worked, so I often traveled from our North Syracuse home to stay with my Godparents, my Aunt Connie and Uncle Nick, at their home in Westvale.  Uncle Nick's sister, my Aunt Anna, lived with them, which meant that Aunt Anna's record collection also lived with them.  Whenever I stayed with my Godparents, I would wait in the afternoon for Aunt Anna to come home from work; when she arrived, I would pounce with my regular daily request:  "Records, Aunt Anny!  Records!"


So music was my first passion.  I've been a music fan literally as far back as I can remember, so much so that as a toddler I would pick up random 45s from our home collection and pretend to play them on my hands; I'd memorized which label represented which record, so I was able to sing the appropriate song for each 45, even though I hadn't yet learned to read.  My other interests--cartoons (especially Popeye), Baron Daemon (Syracuse's popular local vampire TV host), hide-and-seek, even Mary Rose Tamborelli, the pretty little girl who lived across the street from Aunt Connie and Uncle Nick--could not compete with my love of "The Twist," "The Night They Invented Champagne," various Broadway show tunes, Percy freaking Faith, or whatever 45 caught my interest at the J.M. Fields department store.  Music ruled.  And music has remained a passion ever since.


1964, of course, belonged to The Beatles.  I didn't own any Beatles records; I didn't need to, because The Beatles were everywhere, and in a good way.  As I wrote in a previous blog entry:  I was four years old when The Beatles first visited America.  On paper, that means I was too young to have been a Beatles fan at the time, but who are we kidding?  In 1964, everyone knew The Beatles, even a four-year-old suburban kid, and especially a four-year-old suburban kid with teenaged siblings.  The Beatles were everywhere, on TV and on the radio (AND HOW on the radio!), on bubblegum cards, magazine covers, posters and a million miscellaneous Fabmania products--I had a Beatles wallet.  When A Hard Day's Night opened later that year, I was there at the North Drive-In in Cicero, NY to see The Beatles' cinematic debut--and all the girls in all the cars (including ours) were screaming at the screen.  COOL!, I thought.


Media exposure--and it never did seem like overexposure--made The Beatles a part of our everyday lives, delivered by their movies, their TV appearances, their press conferences and their Saturday morning cartoon TV series (a show that had no actual Beatle involvement, sure, but which nonetheless reinforced our already-formed public caricatures of John, Paul, George and Ringo).

My other passion is comic books--specifically, superhero comic books.  That interest doesn't go back quite as far as my love of music, but I can't recall exactly where or when it started, either.  The Popeye cartoons I loved on TV were, in a way, superhero stories, as were the Flash Gordon movie serial chapters that Baron Daemon showed on his afternoon TV show.  The Adventures Of Superman was still being shown in reruns, and I remember watching those, too.  (I also remember that I didn't realize that Clark Kent and Superman were [SPOILER ALERT!] the same person--let's face it, I was a dumbass.)


Everyone loved Superman.  C'mon--faster than a speeding bullet?  More powerful than a locomotive?  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?  Well, case closed.  I had older siblings--my brothers Art and Rob, and my sister Denise, whom I called Nina--and one of them must have brought comic books into the house at some time.


The earliest comic books I remember seeing were two from 1965, a Lois Lane reprint collection (80-Page Giant # 14), and the 16th issue of an odd DC Comics title called Metal Men.   My sister Nina probably read them both to me.  With the Lois Lane book, I was fascinated by seeing TV's Superman and his supporting cast in a comic book.  And I think I was particularly weirded out by one of the stories, "The Shocking Secret Of Lois Lane!," which depicted our poor Lois wearing a bulky iron mask to conceal the fact that her beautiful face had been magically turned into a cat's head.  Wayne Boring's claustrophobic art style seemed to make this extra creepy, all for added impact on this impressionable five-year-old.


Metal Men, by contrast, was just plain goofy fun:  bickering robots with super-powers and human personalities, saving the world from an outer-space invasion.  One panel from that Metal Men comic book became a classic fave rave in my house, as the Metal Men fought off robot termites, prompting the Metal Man named Mercury to quip, "You're not going to throw ME into an antipasto!"


I laughed.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  For a long time thereafter, Nina would occasionally wrestle and tickle me, and threaten to throw me into an antipasto.  I think she may have finally stopped just after I graduated from college, but I wouldn't put it past her to try again, even now.  And I'd probably still squeal with laughter, just as I did when I was five.


These are happy, happy memories from 1965.  But '65 also gave me my first taste of heartbreak, when my Godmother, Aunt Connie, passed away.  Aunt Connie absolutely doted on me, and I was just crushed when she was gone.  The death of a loved one isn't easy to deal with at any age--really, I'm not all that much better at it now--but it's really hard for a little kid to understand and process.  The situation wasn't helped by the fact that I found out about Aunt Connie's death from some friends on the block, who blurted out the news to me before my parents had been able to figure out how to tell me themselves.


And I had a lot of trouble with this.  I spent the rest of the '60s living in fear that my parents would be taken from me, that I'd lose them just as I lost Aunt Connie.  Maybe this fear made me want to look for heroes, for powerful good guys who could protect little boys from the ravages of a cruel world.  I'm not sure I buy that explanation, but I dunno; if The Beatles' success in America is attributed in part to Americans seeking relief from the sorrow of JFK's assassination, maybe a kid from North Syracuse sought out superheroes to forget his own tears and sadness.


As this kid turned a weary six years old in 1966, a hero was coming.  All the way from Gotham City.

CHAPTER 2


1965 was pop music's best year ever.  Exhibit A for that claim is the list of records that hit # 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart that year.  1964 was pretty great, too, and so was 1966, but every single one of Billboard's # 1 hits in '65 was, at the very least, a better-than-decent pop single, and many of them were out-and-out classics:  "I Feel Fine" by The Beatles; "Downtown" by Petula Clark; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" by The Righteous Brothers; "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys; "My Girl" by The Temptations; "Eight Days A Week" by The Beatles; "Stop! In The Name Of Love" by The Supremes; "I'm Telling You Now" by Freddie and the Dreamers; "Game Of Love" by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders; "Mrs, Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits; "Ticket To Ride" by The Beatles; "Help Me, Rhonda" by The Beach Boys; "Back In My Arms Again" by The Supremes; "I Can't Help Myself" by The Four Tops; "Mr. Tambourine Man" by The Byrds; "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones; "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" by Herman's Hermits; "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher; "Help!" by The Beatles; Barry McGuire's epic everything-sucks anthem, "Eve Of Destruction;" "Hang On Sloopy" by The McCoys; "Yesterday" by The Beatles; "Get Off Of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones; "I Hear A Symphony" by The Supremes; "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by The Byrds; and "Over And Over" by The Dave Clark Five.


When you back up all of the above with more '65 smashes by The Kinks, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, The Animals, The Turtles, The Beau Brummels, Buck Owens, The Who, The Vogues, Roger Miller, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, Gene Pitney, The Dixie Cups, The Ad Libs, Otis Redding, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Strangeloves, The Fortunes, Stevie Wonder, The Hollies, Jay and the Americans, The Sunrays, The Miracles, The Searchers, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Ivy League, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, Edwin Starr, Mavin Gaye, The Impressions, The Castaways, and a long list of others...well, you can understand why years later the British group The Barracudas saluted that miracle year with a song called "I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again."


(Oh, let's also throw in the fictional group The Wonders, and their faux-'65 hit "That Thing You Do!" Because we can.)


Oddly enough, I remember the music of 1964 with far more clarity than the music of '65.  Even though I was only four years old in '64, the pop culture juggernaut of The Beatles planted a huge, Cuban-heeled bootprint on the musical landscape; if you turned on a radio or a TV set in '64, you heard The Beatles, and you knew it.  I also remember The Dave Clark Five's "Bits And Pieces" from '64, but the only '65 records I remember contemporaneously are "Save Your Heart For Me" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, "Liar, Liar" by The Castaways, "King Of The Road" by Roger Miller, "Down In The Boondocks" by Billy Joe Royal, "Get Off Of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones,  maybe some Herman's Hermits, and--of course!--the Whipped Cream & Other Delights LP by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  I mean, the record had a naked girl on the cover, slathered in (fake) whipped cream--of course I remember it!


But, as '65 became '66,  my very favorite record was a rock instrumental based on an Alka-Seltzer commercial, "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" by The T-Bones.  I put this Liberty 45 on my parents' hi-fi and danced to it every day.


1966 would also bring new favorites by The Bobby Fuller Four ("I Fought The Law"), Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"), The Mamas and the Papas ("Monday, Monday"), Tommy James and the Shondells ("Hanky Panky") and The Royal Guardsmen ("Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron"), as well as music from a new TV show called The Monkees, which debuted in September of '66.  We'll be discussing The Monkees in due time.

For me, however, music in 1966 had to make room for my newest addiction:  superheroes.  I've written about the effect the Batman TV show had on six-year-old me HERE ; for now, suffice it to say that Batman hooked me, body and soul, on costumed crimefighters.  Prior to 1966, my parents would occasionally take me to J.M. Fields department store, and allow me to pick out one or two 45s to bring home.


But no longer!  Now, I wanted to go to Sweetheart's Corner grocery store instead, and grab two superhero comic books off the spinner rack.  (Though Fields had opened a department specifically for Batman merchandise, so they didn't lose any money on my switch....)


THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Monkees


I was six years old when The Monkees TV series debuted in September of 1966. That was a big year for television, since it saw the debuts of the three TV series that would have the most lasting effect on my personal pop culture cosmology: The MonkeesStar Trek, and (biggest of all) Batman. I didn't really start watching Star Trek until reruns in the '70s, but I was a Batman fan almost from the start. Batman began in January of '66; The Monkees started walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they'd meet, in September. As I've written previously, my sister Denise sold me on The Monkees by hyping it as like Batman, but with singing, and with a guitar instead of a bat for scene transitions. Sold!


My experience of The Monkees was limited in the '60s. I don't remember which episodes of the show I saw on first run, but I at least knew who Davy Jones was, and I probably knew Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith as well, I betcha. I wasn't exactly a stranger to the hijinks a young rock 'n' roll group could encounter; I'd seen The Beatles in A Hard Day's Night when I was 4, I'd watched their Saturday morning cartoon show (and owned a toy guitar merchandised as a tie-in to that cartoon), and I'd also watched a cartoon series called The Beagles, starring a pair of anthropomorphic canine rock 'n' rollers. Roughly contemporaneous to the debut of The Monkees, I was watching a new Saturday morning superhero cartoon called Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, which offered separate adventures of the super-robot Frankie and the costumed superhero pop band The Impossibles. Superheroes and rock 'n' roll?! One would expect The Impossibles to have been the cathode-ray combo that meant the most to me. A super-power trio!


But no, it was clearly The Monkees that mattered. The Monkees were real, like The Beatles. The behind-the-curtain machinations of fabricating a made-for-TV rock group were unknown, unconsidered. The question of The Monkees' authenticity may or not have concerned me if I'd known about it; by the time I finally heard the whining about The Monkees as a manufactured product that didn't really play, I'd already become enough of a fan that I wouldn't have cared if they'd been crafted by the devil himself. I also learned in short order that The Monkees transcended their plastic roots anyway, and became a flesh-and-blood group that played live concerts, made records, lived, breathed, dreamed, fought, created, and, y'know, mingled earthily with groupies 'n' stuff. Cheer up, sleepy Jean!


These revelations were all far in the future for me in '66 and '67. I saw The Monkees romping on TV and singing songs, and I just loved 'em. I saw Peter Tork and Davy Jones parody Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder as Frogman and Ruben the Tadpole, and I saw all four Monkees take to the sky as Monkeemen. So, there's your rock 'n' roll superhero mashup right there. Monkeeman, AWAY!


The Monkees' music was real, too. I don't think any pop music by anyone at any time is better than what The Beatles were releasing from 1964 through 1966, but The Monkees' records also hold up quite well (and better than, say, The Beagles' "Sharing Wishes" or The Impossibles' "Hey You [Hiddy Hiddy Hoo]," though I would buy either of those in a heartbeat right now). My brother Art had the first two Monkees albums, The Monkees and More Of The Monkees, and there were Monkees songs on the radio, so I had plenty of opportunity to hear Micky, Davy, Peter, and Michael sing and play, even if they weren't really playing until the records they made after that.


As a kid, the Monkees songs that were immediate parts of my world included "(Theme From) The Monkees," the goofy "Gonna Buy Me A Dog," "I'm A Believer," "Saturday's Child," "Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)," "Papa Gene's Blues," probably "Last Train To Clarksville" and "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone)," and most definitely the righteous stomper "She." I remember being in a doctor's waiting room, cooling heels with Art and with one of Art's friends, who was there with his little daughter. The toddler wanted to be held, and would screech whenever she was set on the floor, prompting Art to chuckle and say, "Thy feet shall not touch the ground!" This instantly brought the lyrics of "She" into my mind--She needs someone to walk on so her feet don't touch the ground--and that memory remains indelible, roughly five decades later.


Both Batman and The Monkees were cancelled in 1968, though neither series ever really went away. Batman returned in syndicated reruns, and The Monkees returned on a network, switching from new episodes at 7:30, 6:30 Central time Monday nights on NBC to reruns at noon Saturdays on CBS. I first learned of those Saturday afternoon reruns of The Monkees in a two-page comic book ad for the network's new Saturday lineup, and I wondered if The Monkees were returning as cartoons. I may have been initially disappointed that it wasn't a cartoon, but I disavow that now. Reruns of The Monkees on CBS solidified my Monkees fandom from that point forward.


I also saw The Monkees in new commercials for Kool Aid, and acquired Monkees records off specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. And I was puzzled by both: One Monkee, two Monkees, three Monkees...only three Monkees? Hadn't there been four of them? I thought it was a mistake. I had no idea that Peter Tork had left the group, leaving Micky, Davy, and Michael in sole charge of any ongoing Monkeeshines. Nor did I know when Nesmith split soon thereafter, or that Dolenz and Jones released an album (Changes) as a Monkee duo in 1970. And I didn't know that The Monkees finally ended as a group--such as it was by then--after the dismal sales of Changes. On TV, there were still four Monkees, too busy singing to put anybody down. Hey. hey.


I did hear at least one song from Changes. The CBS reruns dubbed in songs from newer Monkees records, hoping to spur sales to this slightly newer breed of the young generation. I don't really remember any of them except "I Never Thought It Peculiar," a clunky and determinedly uncool Davy Jones vehicle from Changes. Few will speak on behalf of that track, but in my mind, it was a hit like "Last Train To Clarksville" and "I'm  Believer," and I'll always have affection for it. I don't believe in guilty pleasures--you either like a song or you don't like a song--and I remain unbowed in my attachment to "I Never Thought It Peculiar." In college at Brockport in 1977, the campus radio station WBSU had a copy of Changes in its LP library, and I requested it--begged for it, by God!--from indifferent or hostile student DJs who weren't about to play anything by the goddamned Monkees. Frustrating.


As steel is forged in the crucible, so my belief in The Monkees was hardened the more people tried to convince me they were no good, plastic, lesser. Bullshit. I know what I hear, I know what I see, and I know what I like. The Monkees TV series helped to form my sense of comedy, right alongside the droll British humor--humour--of The Beatles' movies, the broad schtick of Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges, and the brilliance of The Marx Brothers. The Monkees' records were terrific. If they'd all been assembled in a laboratory by Dr. Frankenstein and Don Kirshner, they'd still be great records. The fact that Michael, Peter, Micky, and Davy also took some measure of control, and became a band rather than just playing one on TV, just enhances the richness of the Monkees story. The Monkees are one of my favorite groups, and they always will be.


I've seen all four of The Monkees live, but never all of them at the same time. I saw The Peter Tork Project at The Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in...'83, I think. I saw The Monkees' 20th Anniversary reunion tour with Micky, Davy, and Peter at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York in 1986, and again at The Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in '87. I saw Micky at a car show in '87, but he wasn't singing (and plainly didn't want to be there). The New York State Fair gave me Micky and Davy in 1996, and just Davy (on a Teen Idols tour with Peter Noone and Bobby Sherman) in the late '90s. And I saw Micky, Peter, and Michael at Center For The Arts on the University of Buffalo campus in 2012, one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

I've owned VHS recordings of the TV series off cable, a VHS copy of The Monkees' dark 'n' brilliant 1968 feature film Head as it aired on Cinemax, a bootleg of their 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, an official Head VHS tape, an official Head DVD, the complete TV series on DVD, the complete TV series on Blu-ray (including Head and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee), my taped-off-the-TV VHS of the 1997 reunion special Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees, the Heart And Soul VHS, the Justus VHS, all of their albums on CD (many in expanded form), some further repackages, bootlegs, and some solo material as well. Let the official record show that I like The Monkees.

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that I've written more (here, and in Goldmine) about The Monkees over this span of decades than I've written about any other subject, including Batman, The Ramones, power pop, and The Flashcubes. I don't think I'm quite done writing about them yet. I became a fan of The Monkees when I was six years old. There has never been any reason for that to change.


CHAPTER 4


Trouble.  In 1968, even a clueless eight-year-old kid in the Syracuse suburbs could sense there was something not quite right going on in the world.


I didn't watch the news.  I didn't read the newspapers, except maybe to catch up with The Phantom and Family Circus and Dennis The Menace on the comics page.  But I was at least dimly aware that there was a war going on in Viet Nam.  I'd heard that there had been riots somewhere.  I knew there was racial unrest.  I knew there was a drug problem.  And there were hippies.  What was up with hippies?


My family was relatively untouched by the war.  A few years back, while away at school in Fredonia, my brother Rob had been in a terrible car accident; he was one of the lucky ones who survived the crash, but he sustained injuries that still bother him, a lot, even today.  Uncle Sam did not want Rob.  My oldest brother, Art, had problems with his legs that should have likewise precluded any notion of military service.  But some hardass in the draft system didn't agree, so Art had to put everything in his life on hold and go through this awful process of preparing for conscription.  Somewhere, farther down this New Recruit assembly line, a person with authority and brains took one look at Art's leg and said, "How did you get this far?!"  Rejected.  There would be no Cafarelli boys fighting in 'Nam.


I was oblivious to all of this.  I don't recall hearing about any of it until years later, listening to my Dad tell stories.  Dad was always proud of Art--Mom and Dad were always proud of all their kids, really, even the oddball youngest one--and Dad was pissed that Art had to go through all of that unnecessary nonsense, when there was simply no way Art was ever gonna be a soldier, no chance in hell he could pass the physical.  Dad had nearly infinite patience in most situations; he had no patience for fools, and he certainly had no patience for how the draft had disrupted Art's life for no real reason.


But we were lucky.  I can't speak for my siblings, but I don't remember hearing of anyone in our circle of family or friends who had to serve in Viet Nam.  I was eight, and had no opinion on the war.  I suppose, if someone had asked me at the time, that I would have said I supported a war to fight Communism.  That would have seemed like the proper comic-book thing to say.  It would have been wrong, but then again, there were a lot of people older and smarter than me who were just as wrong about the war in early '68.


I doubt that I knew who Martin Luther King, Jr. was.  But when Dr. King was assassinated, that bad news traveled fast.  Schools were closed on the day of King's funeral; I recall getting ready to play outside, putting on my red baseball cap, but pausing to watch the TV coverage of Dr. King's memorial service.  I felt sad.  I was still going to go outside and play, but I needed to stop, just for a few seconds, and pay my own silent respects to the slain civil rights leader.  Later in the year, when Bobby Kennedy was shot, my friend Sharon Doyle tried to organize the neighborhood kids for a parade around our block, offering prayers for Senator Kennedy's recovery.  But Kennedy had passed before we even finished making our signs.  We could have used some superheroes in '68.


Nonetheless, the superhero boom was dying.  The Green Hornet TV series had failed, and was long gone after its first-season cancellation in '67.  Batman's third season had tried to recapture its earlier success, cutting back from a twice-a-week schedule to the standard weekly deal, and adding the character of Batgirl (played by the absolutely gorgeous Yvonne Craig) to lure viewers back to Gotham City; all efforts were for naught, as Batman was cancelled in the Spring of 1968.  The Monkees was also cancelled at about the same time.


For all that, though, 1968 was almost like my annus mirabilis, sort of.  It was the final act of second grade, and I was the teacher's pet.  During that school year, Mrs. Paredes selected me to recite a report she'd written on Yale University for the school-wide morning announcements.  She also cast me in the lead role as Robert Louis Stevenson in our class play.  Let's face it:  I was adorable. (Elizabeth, my co-star in the play, certainly thought I was adorable, and she made sure everyone knew it.)


Even if the general public had tired of superheroes, I still couldn't get enough of them.  I was amassing a collection, and loving every page of every Marvel or DC (or other!) comic book I could lay hands on.  I think my favorite was The Legion Of Super-Heroes, a huge group of teen-aged superheroes in the 30th Century.  I mean, if you like superheroes, what could be better than more superheroes?  The usually-serialized adventures in Marvel Comics sometimes made it to difficult to keep up with what was going on--I missed far more issues than I actually got to read--but I remember an issue of The Fantastic Four that guest-starred Daredevil, Thor, and Spider-Man.  Man, that was something else!  I didn't really know anything yet about the writers and artists who created comic books--I may have known who Stan Lee was--but the artwork on this issue seemed like it could break free on its own, allowing the heroes to continue their battle on the quiet streets of North Syracuse. Jack Kirby.  There was a reason he was called King Kirby.


(I'd also developed a taste for Nancy Drew novels, and an interest in Greek and Roman mythology.  I had been obsessed with studying snakes and other reptiles--so much so that Mrs. Paredes had ordered me to start reading up on a different subject already--but a nightmare about snakes put a sudden end to that interest.)
                                       
 Looking back, it seems odd that I don't remember more about 1968's music.  The Beatles had fallen completely off my radar, so I certainly didn't know The White Album, and don't recall even hearing "Hey Jude" or "Revolution" (though I must have).  It's for damn sure I didn't know about The Monkees' movie Head.  The only song from '68 that jumps out immediately in my memory is "Bend Me, Shape Me" by The American Breed.  Jeez, did I listen to the radio in 1968?  I'm sure I did.  But the memory of it isn't there.

But I do remember the comic books.


For the summer of 1968, rather than just spending a few weeks in Missouri, Mom and I would spend almost the entire summer away from Syracuse.  For the long trip, I was allowed to pick out eight new comic books, with the caveat that I could not read them before the trip. 


(I honored my contract, and did not read any of these comics until after we left Syracuse.  I sure did spend a lot of time admiring the covers, though.)

Unlike previous Missouri sojourns, my California kin the Stouts--Aunt Betty, Uncle Charlie, and cousins Cheryl and Mark--would not be in the Show-Me State at all that summer.  I considered Mark to be my best friend in the world, even though we saw each other with such infrequence.  Mark's absence meant that I had no other kids to play with in Missouri; when it came to keeping myself entertained, I was pretty much on my own.


There were frequent fishing trips, and some of my time was occupied with daily swimming lessons.  I loved the public pool in Aurora, and I transitioned from being a not-terribly-good swimmer to suddenly being...well, competent.  I was not a good swimming student initially, and I think my two teen-aged female swimming instructors were frustrated with my lack of progress.  I very clearly remember the slightly shocked glance they exchanged with each other when I suddenly, unexpectedly, just got it, and took off, swimming proficiently for the very first time.  I never had trouble with swimming again.


Given all of this free time, my comics-buying budget was expanded considerably.  Comic books were still a mere 12 cents, 25 cents for giant issues, and Mom gave me an adequate supply of quarters to feed my addiction.


Then, as now, I thought this stuff was the pinnacle of superhero excitement, and I would be hard-pressed to pick out a favorite, or even a few favorites.  The annual JLA/JSA team-up was terrific, and it introduced the Silver Age incarnation of The Red Tornado.  Avengers Annual # 2 pitted the then-current Avengers against the original Avengers in an alternate-world clash that implicitly linked my first exposure to The Avengers (in Missouri, in 1966) with what I was reading in 1968; it was, I think, also the first time I realized that The Hulk had once been a member of The Avengers--from that point on, I wished that The Hulk could re-join the assembled Avengers on a permanent basis.  The lead story in the Superman 30th Anniversary 80-Page Giant made me weep over the tragic fate of the heroic Hyperman, while the Bizarro Giant tickled me endlessly.  In the pages of The Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby were simply at the top of their game.  The big Marvel Super Heroes issues mixed new lead adventures with obscure reprints from Marvel's archives.  And Not Brand Echh? Hilarious! I quoted goofy lines from that constantly.  I still do!  


Back at my grandparents' house in Verona, I filled a notebook with drawings for my own imaginary comic books.  I concocted hypothetical adventures for existing DC and Marvel characters, and also wrote and drew a story starring a group of my own superhero creations, who imaginatively called themselves "The Avengers."  Yep, I was litigation just waiting to happen.  (That crayon-colored creation is long gone, but I know it also featured a group of super-villains, of whom the only dastardly baddies I can recall are Agent X and The Bolshevik Bat.)  I also expanded the membership of Marvel's real Avengers to include The Hulk, Spider-Man, and even Not Brand Echh's silly Forbush-Man.


(I also found a World War I helmet at the house, and used it to pretend I was the Golden Age Flash, who was featured in that summer's Justice League-Justice Society team-up.  Somewhat less fun was the other thing I found and played with:  what I presumed was a little toy shot gun.  My grandparents saw that and took it away immediately.  It was not loaded.)


What was already quite a summer would soon expand even more.  I have no idea if it was planned from the get-go, or if it was an idea that generated spontaneously over the early course of that summer.  But the word came down from the adults in charge:  we would be seeing the Stouts, after all.  In California!  Get in the car, Carl....


CHAPTER 7


I was always considered weird.  I will pause a moment so you can feign an appropriate level of shock and surprise.  But yeah, I was a square peg from the word go:  a dreamer, not terribly (or at all) athletic, disinterested in sports, overly sensitive, always singing a song or reading a book (or comic book).  My childhood was certainly not unhappy, but I felt more like Charlie Brown than, say, David Watts.


But in third grade, I began to feel something new and unfamiliar:  I began to feel as if I belonged.  It's a feeling I have never been able to recapture since then.

After our third grade production of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, 1969 began with a welcome return:  Batman!  With a tag line of "Holy 1969!," one of our local stations began rerunning the 1966-68 TV series on weekday afternoons.  Batman every day!  Maybe this new Nixon Administration was gonna turn out okay after all!

A Saturday morning TV cartoon series based on the popular Archie comic books had begun the previous fall.  I had read some Archie comic books (and the Sunday comic strip); it wasn't my preferred genre of superheroes, but I liked Archie well enough, I guess.  In retrospect, I'm surprised I never sampled Archie's own comic-book foray into superherodom, as the mighty Pureheart The Powerful (circa the 1966 Batman boom).


Still, I watched The Archie Show.  I think I was a bit put off by Veronica's unexpected Southern accent ("Archiekins!"), but it was fun.  And there was music!  The songs were catchy, engaging bubblegum (though I don't think I'd heard that term yet), and I would sing along with delight.  When The Archies had a # 1 hit record on the radio, the irresistible "Sugar, Sugar" was my favorite song, too.  Other than a few cardboard records cut off the backs of specially-marked boxes of Post breakfast cereals, I never owned any Archies records at the time; I own all of them now.


(Years later, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Ron Dante, the lead singer on The Archies' records.  He was one of the nicest people I ever had the pleasure of interviewing.  Material from that interview was included in my "Informal History Of Bubblegum Music," which will be serialized on this blog in the near future.  Oh, and my current favorite comic book is--surprise!--Archie, though the book's tone today is more somber and serious [if you will] than the Archie of my youth.)


The summer of '69--no, that doesn't make me think of any specific song; why do you ask?--presented a real-life realization of those long-ago Flash Gordon adventures, as Neil Armstrong took one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.  I experienced my first-ever shock of inflation when the price of a single comic book rose from the familiar 12 cents to a whompin', stompin' 15 cents per copy.  Oh, the humanity...!  Mom and I returned to Missouri, and then back to Syracuse for the start of fourth grade.

Bear Road Elementary School at that time housed grades K through 5th.  My fourth grade class was a double-classroom, with two teachers--Miss Lynch and Miss Burns--presiding over something like fifty to sixty kids.  That's crazy.  How they managed that without murdering one or more of us (as far as I know) is a mystery; how we managed to learn anything is equally mystifying.  But somehow, both statements are true.


I got along with, I think, all of my classmates.  We weren't all best buds, but I don't remember any specific rivalries or antagonism either.  It was the only time I ever shared a class with my friend Steve Goettel, who lived across the street from me; like Sharon Doyle, Steve had been my friend for as far back as I could remember.


Fourth grade was the best year I ever had in school.  I don't mean in terms of grades, but in terms of comfort, in terms of camaraderie and companionship...yes, in terms of belonging.  There was a kid in my class, Michael LaHair, who was the first person I ever met who was into comic books just as much as I was.  We got together at his house on Moon Valley Drive to trade comics, and we remained friends for a few years, until he too moved away.


I developed a sudden and vast interest in World War II.  I don't know what prompted it, but it immediately became as pervasive an interest as snakes, astronomy, and mythology had once been in previous years.  A few times, I had to reassure adults (not my parents, by the way--they knew me way better than that) that my interest in learning more about WWII--especially the dictators--was in no way an indication that I was secretly a neo-Nazi or some other odious fascist sympathizer.  I just found the subject interesting.  (And I daresay I knew more about Neville Chamberlain as a ten-year-old in 1970 than right-wing dunderhead Kevin James knew about him during the 2008 presidential election.)


The book store at Bear Road--The Paperback Shack--implicitly embraced the philosophy that all reading is educational, so why not let kids read books they're interested in reading?  I got into something called Big Little Books, which were small-but-thick kids' books starring licensed characters, with pages of text alternating with pages of illustration.  I would later discover that BLBs predated comic books, with the first Big Little Books appearing in the 1930s, starring characters like Tailspin Tommy, Buck Rogers, and Captain Midnight.  My first BLB starred The Fantastic Four, and I subsequently purchased as many of them as I could.  Years later, I sold my BLB collection for rent money.  Wish I still had 'em!


But more importantly, I had friends.  Some of my classmates thought I was funny, some of them liked my drawings...I was bordering on popular!  When the class put on a play for parents, I didn't have a part to play; somehow, I wound up horning in anyway, with an ad-libbed part about a student phoning home from college (and ending the conversation by saying he had to go "bean the Dean").  This was a big hit with my peers.  I had arrived.


My grades were, I guess, better than adequate.  My occasional struggles with math and science made it increasingly clear that I wasn't going to be a brilliant millionaire inventor/crimefighter like Iron Man, but reading and social studies were easy.  And that's where trouble planted its seed.


Tests indicated that I was reading at a ninth-grade level.  Now and forevermore, damn those tests to Hell.  It was decided that I needed more of a challenge; so, for reading, I was separated from the rest of my class.  I had my own, different reading textbook.  I had my own individual reading assignments.  I was...other.  No one in class gave me any kind of hard time about it, but it felt weird.  I was even asked to periodically leave my classroom, and visit another fourth-grade student in another classroom, so that I could tutor him.  That felt really weird.


All of the above would likely have still been okay, if not for the unfortunate decision that came next:  I would skip a grade.  Fifth grade?  Never heard of it.  It was sixth grade or bust.  And, since Bear Road only taught through the fifth grade, that meant I had to leave Bear Road a full year before my friends did.


This was a terrible idea.  Regrets?  I've had a few.  This was the biggest one.


CHAPTER 8


When The Beatles broke up in 1970, I was not aware that it happened.  If I'd known at the time, it would have been one more factor contributing to the growing sense of upheaval in my life.  I was ten years old.  And things were changing too goddamned fast.


As fourth grade ended in June, I was apprehensive about what awaited me in the fall, nervous about what it meant to leapfrog right over fifth grade, to leave all my friends in elementary school behind, and to be forced to start fresh in sixth grade--middle school!--in a new place, a new class, at a school where I would be one of the youngest students in the whole building.  Great.  And while Bear Road Elementary School was a mere half-mile walking distance from my house, Roxboro Road Middle School was in Mattydale, much too far for a ten-year-old to walk.  So it would be bus or bust. Wonderful.


It's worth noting that this situation was not forced upon me; I was given a choice to accept or decline the invitation to bypass fourth grade.  I was intimidated by the prospect of going directly to sixth grade--do not pass Go, do not collect a fifth-grade experience--but I reasoned with myself:  hey, this is an honor!  How could I possibly say no?  It was an offer I could not refuse.


I've made many unwise decisions in my life.  This was likely the worst of them.  Guess it was good to get that out of the way so early in the timeline.


But this was not the only seismic event rocking the Cafarelli household that summer. My sister Denise--by that time, I no longer called her Nina--had just graduated from high school.  She would be a freshman that fall at Adelphi University.  My sister would be leaving home.


Before Denise actually went matriculatin' her way out of North Syracuse, we took a drive downstate to visit the campus.  This was actually kind of exciting:  my first visit to New York City!  In 1970, I was of two minds about the Big Apple:  I knew it was a dirty, polluted place, rife with crime; I also knew it was the capital of the world.


By the age of ten, a lifetime of reading comic books had already instilled in me a pervasive, starry-eyed reverence for New York.  First of  all, New York was where (almost) all of the comic books came from, with both DC and Marvel headquartered in Manhattan.  In the comics themselves, most of the Marvel superheroes also lived in Manhattan; and, although DC favored fictional cities for its heroes to protect and serve, I think we all knew what city Superman's Metropolis and Batman's Gotham represented.


More importantly, the comics had convinced me of New York's vibrance: everything happened in New York!  The best, most exotic foods, the richest entertainment, and--oh yeah!--you could buy every current comic book imaginable at any of New York's 27 gazillion newsstands.  Heaven!

Little did I realize that Adelphi isn't actually in Manhattan; Adelphi is in Garden City, out on Long Island, so my introduction to the presumed wonders of The City That Never Sleeps would be deferred.  But there were still NYC TV stations available in our hotel room--and WPIX was rerunning The Adventures Of Superman!  Not only that, but commercials on PIX were teasing the very first episode of Superman, "Superman On Earth," to be shown the very next day!  Great Caesar's Ghost, this would be a treat!


Bad news from Syracuse put a stop to that.


That evening in the hotel, my parents sat with Denise and I, and gently told us that our Uncle Danny had passed away.  We would need to cut this trip short and return to Syracuse the next day.  We understood.  We watched TV in silence, as my eyes filled and I sat there on the hotel bed, weeping silently.  I had not been especially close to Uncle Danny, but he was my uncle, for God's sake.  It hurt so bad.  I tried to hide my little boy tears--I was on my way to sixth grade, dammit, and big boys don't cry--as my family politely and lovingly let me process my grief, without comment.  It's not like it was any easier for them.


Once again, comic books were my salvation.  Denise's boyfriend George was also moving on from high school, and I guess he felt it was time to let go of childish things. So he gave his entire comic book collection to his girlfriend's kid brother.  And it was a big collection of comics, two very tall stacks tied with twine, including a lot of key early Marvel books.  If they'd been in better condition, those books would have been worth a small fortune today.  But they were worn, tattered, and many were coverless--worthless to a collector.  Priceless to a fan.  These books had already been read and loved.  I would do the same.


Somewhere in this time frame, I acquired two new interests. The first was baseball.  Dad loved baseball--he was a clubhouse manager for the Syracuse Chiefs, our local AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees--but I had never shown even the slightest interest.  But one day, just playing informal ball in my friend Dave Watkins' back yard, something clicked.  Just like that, I was a baseball fan.  I picked the Yankees as my team, played street and back yard ball as often as I could, and eventually joined Little League.  I was...well, "terrible" is probably unfair.  I could hit a little.  I could catch adequately, if not spectacularly.  But I simply could not throw--I had no throwing arm at all.  Dad worked with me patiently and diligently, but it was of no avail.  He would later look back and say firmly that he couldn't fault my effort--it may have been the first time I ever really demonstrated any determination to work hard at something--but that I just didn't have it.  I continued to love the game nonetheless, and it briefly rivaled comics as my main interest.  We'll speak more about baseball when this series resumes, and moves into the early '70s.

The other interest? Heh, heh--Playboy.  Found my brother's stash, and promptly fell in love with Lorrie Menconi, Miss February 1969.  Among others.  I was fickle, but don't try to tell me this wasn't true love.

That summer also included my first trip to Florida, as we flew to Pensacola to visit my Uncle Carl and his family.  I only remember two comic books from that trip (pictured below), but I remember fishing from a bridge.  Dad caught some kind of vicious-looking ribbon fish, or whatever the hell it was.  Dad was not a fisherman, but he generally put up with whatever situation his family put him in.  I also remember returning to Syracuse with an actual tan, probably the only tan I ever had in my life.

But, above everything else that happened that summer, an old interest reasserted its hold on me, and it has never let go.    Music was my first love; perhaps we'd drifted apart in the late '60s, but it was never far from my thoughts, like, ever.  In the summer of 1970, I began listening to the radio on my own--not just in the car, not just when someone else turned on a station he or she wanted to hear.  I became fond of listening to the radio at night, as I lay in bed, wondering where my dreams would take me, worrying about how the real world might ground me.  Mom and Dad objected to the notion of letting the radio play all night long, while I slept; over time, their objections withdrew, and my evening soundtrack was tacitly approved.  Music.  Whatever stations I listened to initially, I remember a mix of recent and not-quite-as-recent pop:  Bobby Sherman; Bobby Goldsboro's "The Straight Life," from 1968; Sandie Shaw; Three Dog Night; The Beatles.  The radio would be my friend--sometimes, it seemed, my only friend--for years to come.  It would be an exaggeration to say I listened to the radio every night from the summer of 1970 until I myself left for college seven years later; it would not be as much of an exaggeration as you think.

The early- to mid-'70s was AM radio's last golden era.  Decades later, I remain grateful that it was there for me when I needed it the most.


THE 1970s

CHAPTER 1 

SEPTEMBER 1970:  Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.


I suppose no one will ever confuse Roxboro Road Middle School in Mattydale, New York with the Hell depicted in Dante's Inferno, but it seemed pretty damned intimidating to me. I was ten years old. I should have still been with my peers, my friends, who were entering fifth grade at Bear Road Elementary in North Syracuse. Why was I bypassing fifth grade? Whose fershlugginer idea was it for me to skip a grade? I'm in sixth grade now?! How in God's name was I supposed to deal with this?


Badly. That's how the answer turned out. I would deal with it badly. But what the hell. At least I got some stories out of it, right?


Looking back, I realize now that some of my problems were of my own doing. I didn't think that at the time, and it took me decades to even consider the possibility that some bad things may have possibly been my fault, in part or in full. Sometimes I thought too much; sometimes I didn't think nearly as much as I should have. I was ten years old. That is neither excuse nor explanation. It's just what I was. I was ten, and already committed to the biggest mistake of my life.


Do they still let kids skip grades? My gut says that anonymous "they" must have learned their lesson by now, that they must have come to understand that a child who is advanced in some academic aspect--like, say, reading comprehension--might not possess commensurate emotional or social tools. He or she may seem a whiz at one thing or another, and still not really be ready to leap forward at a time when surer, steadier, and more gradual steps might be more prudent. I'm convinced that skipping grades is a bad idea. When I build...steal a time machine, my first order of business will be to see The Beatles play in Hamburg, Also my second, third, fourth, and fifth order of business. But eventually, I'd get around to setting the WABAC Machine to 1970, and delaying my entry into middle school until I was eleven.


Roxboro Road Middle School. I was ten. I shouldn't have been there. But there I was. Hijinks ensued.


For all that, it would still be unfair to pin all of my subsequent problems on accelerated entry into middle school. I was born weird; I didn't achieve weirdness, or have weirdness thrust upon me. I would have been weird no matter what. No power on Earth was ever going to change that. In fourth grade, though, I felt like I was beginning to fit in. For the rest of my life, I would never again know that feeling, that elusive sense of belonging. Maybe fifth grade would have helped. I guess we'll never know.

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: THE SHADOW


Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
THE SHADOW knows!

The laughter that follows seems threatening, sinister. Its implied menace is daunting and intimidating, but only the wicked need ever fear it. The innocent will be protected. The guilty will be punished. Vengeance is swift and just. The Shadow knows.


My peripheral introduction to The Shadow came via the most incongruous means: Mad magazine and a comic book based on a television sitcom. Yeah, I'd say my path to The Shadow was unique. More conventional exposure would follow soon enough.


The great cartoonist Sergio Aragones was a regular contributor to Mad magazine. One of Aragones's recurring features in Mad was called "The Shadow Knows," a series of single-panel gags imagining the comic results if a person's shadow could reveal the unchecked impulses of his or her id. Mad's "The Shadow Knows" had nothing whatsoever to do with the pulp and radio hero that inspired its title, but it did nick its tag line from that inspiration: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? THE SHADOW KNOWS."

And that was my outta-left-field, second-hand introduction to The Shadow.


It was probably in the very early '70s. I don't remember if I was reading an issue of Mad or thumbing through one of the many Mad paperback collections. It may have even been The Ridiculously Expensive Mad, a hardcover anthology that I received as a gift from my parents (who inscribed it, "Happy Birthday, Carl E. Neuman." My parents were pretty cool).


By whichever means I first encountered Sergio's Shadow gags, I do remember sharing the experience with Mom and Dad, who responded that those "Who knows what evil?" and "The Shadow Knows" lines came from a popular old radio show. They added their recollection of a fill-in Shadow announcer who once screwed up the introduction: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow do! I laughed (I think), and said it should have been The Shadow does

Eh. Close enough.


This gave me only the barest, broadest strokes of The Shadow. And as weird a beginning as that was, my path to The Shadow gets even weirder after that, as it passes by one Reuben Kincaid, the fictional manager of TV's fictional family band The Partridge Family.


I told you it was weird.

In the early '70s, Charlton Comics had the license to produce a comic book based on the hit ABC-TV sitcom The Partridge Family. I was a fan of the show, and I was a fan of comic books, but the only one of those Partridge Family comic books I ever read was The Partridge Family # 5 from 1971. One of the stories in that issue found ol' Reuben reminiscing about the old-time radio shows that thrilled him when he was a mere lad and a beardless youth. Reuben described each of his radio faves without actually naming them (because, in the words of The Beatles' Christmas AlbumCopyright, John!), and artist Dan Sherwood gave us pictures to go with the words: The Lone Ranger. Fibber McGee and Molly. Jack, Doc, and Reggie from I Love A Mystery. And, of course, the hidden face of the mysterious stranger who knew what and where evil lurked.

And that was my first conscious glimpse of The Shadow.

As I look back upon the subsequent expansion of my awareness of The Shadow in the early '70s, the timeline gets a little jumbled. My Dad liked to quote a line he remembered from The Shadow's radio adventures: He said he didn't remember; The Shadow knows! I heard my first radio adventure of The Shadow courtesy of a weekly program called Radio Rides Again, which I managed to catch on WDDS-FM in Syracuse. That specific episode provided me with another catchphrase for this (apparently sloganeering) Dark Knight: when frightened criminals stammered their question of where that spooky, disembodied voice was coming from, The Shadow sneered his response: HERE! In the SHADOWS!


Yeah. Yeah!


A couple of books at the library--Steranko's History Of The Comics and Jim Harmon's The Great Radio Heroes--offered more background information. I fell hard for the allure of pulp magazines, starting with Doc Savage. The mail-order ads in the back of Vampirella prompted me to buy an LP featuring two original radio broadcasts of The Shadow, and a Shadow jigsaw puzzle. Somewhere in there, I may have seen one of Archie Comics' ill-advised attempts to turn The Shadow into a traditional superhero in the '60s. And it all shifted into overdrive for me when DC Comics announced it would be publishing its Shadow comic book.


Berni Wrightson drew the ad, but it was Michael Kaluta who handled the exquisite artwork for DC's The Shadow # 1. The book was cover-dated October-November 1973, but it was on the racks during the summer of '73. I bought it at a bus station in Springfield, Missouri, and read it and re-read it, oh, a billion times or thereabouts. Writer Denny O'Neil captured the bloodthirsty noir zeitgeist of the pseudonymous Maxwell Grant's original pulp novels of the '30s and '40s. I was fully, hopelessly hooked. I never missed an issue, not even when Frank Robbins took over for Kaluta (and I like Robbins's work much more now than I did then). And when The Shadow met his protégé The Batman in Batman # 253 and 259, I was in my heaven. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay! The Shadow knows!

(Although it was well-known that The Shadow was the single biggest influence on the creation of Batman, it wasn't until decades later that we discovered that Batman co-creator Bill Finger's script for the first Batman story, "The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate" from 1939's Detective Comics # 27, was, um...inspired by a Shadow novel called "Partners Of Peril." Even without that bit of literary larceny, there would be no Batman without The Shadow coming first. It's fitting that Walter Gibson, the prolific writer responsible for most of the Shadow novels credited to the fictitious Maxwell Grant, would finish his long career with a Batman prose short story, "Batman Encounters Gray Face," in Detective Comics # 500 in 1981.)

Radio, comics, and history. That left only the pulp novels themselves for me to discover. Pyramid Books began a series of paperback reprints of The Shadow's pulp adventures, usually with a gorgeous Steranko painting on the cover. I also picked up a trade paperback reprinting two Shadow pulp novels (complete with the original pulp magazine illustrations) on a flea-market mission in the mid '70s. And I joined The Shadow Secret Society. I still have my membership button.

I thought enough of The Shadow to try to write some of my own Shadow adventures. My first attempt was an awful Justice Society of America story guest-starring The Shadow. In 1975, I wrote two Shadow short-shorts for my high school newspaper The NorthCaster.

Maxwell Grant wasn't worried about competition from me. But at least North Syracuse Central High School was safe, thanks to The Shadow.

DC's The Shadow was cancelled with its twelfth issue, also in 1975. The paperback novels got harder and harder to find: I bought them when I could, but missed most of them. Nostalgia moved on. The Shadow faded away.


He would be back. I confess that I've never enjoyed latter-day attempts to revive the character, whether in comic books or on film. But the original pulp novels continue to be available in lovely two-in-one softcover editions curated by Anthony Tollin, The Shadow's # 1 fan. The weed of crime still bears bitter fruit. And there's no question where we can find the one who knows:


Here. In the shadows!

VIRTUAL TICKET STUB GALLERY: KISS

As young rock 'n' roll fans, our needs are pretty basic, and our desires are easily expressed: "I wanna rock and roll all night, and party every day."

My first rock concert was KISS with Uriah Heep, December 16th, 1976 at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse. It was the Rock And Roll Over Tour, though that hardly mattered; the only KISS songs I knew at the time were the few I'd heard on WOLF-AM: "Shout It Out Loud," maybe "Detroit Rock City," probably "Hard Luck Woman," and most certainly the monster single "Beth" and the live "Rock And Roll All Nite." I was 16, about a month shy of my 17th birthday, and I didn't know how I could come up with the outta-reach amount of $6 to pay for a ticket. Salvation arrived in the U.S. mail: a Christmas card from my Aunt Betty and Uncle Charlie in California. The card contained a check as a Christmas gift, and I was on my way to see KISS.

My friend Tom LaMere was the instigator of this whole idea of going to a KISS concert. I wasn't really much of a KISS fan specifically, and I don't think Tom was, either. But it was something to do, and it sounded...well, exciting.  A rock concert! About a year and a half before this, my parents had nixed the idea of me seeing Alice Cooper and the divine Suzi Quatro at the very same concert venue, but there was a world of difference between being too young at barely 15 to old-enough-I-guess at almost 17. I don't think Mom and Dad knew much about KISS at all, but there seemed to be less overt parental fear of KISS than there was of dear ol' Alice. Green light granted. Shout it out loud!

Typical of 1970s rock shows, this was Festival Seating--every dude for himself! Tom drove us there, and we joined the crush of KISS fans racing for position as the gates opened. We found a pair of seats with a decent view, in front of a couple of young ladies willing to share their clandestine bottle of whatever that stuff was--it was the '70s, and frankly, nobody cared much about monitoring or controlling that kind of behavior. Those of us who survived that era--and Tom was not one of the survivors--can only look back now and wonder how we managed it.

The show started with British hard rockers Uriah Heep taking the stage. Opening for KISS was said to be a thankless task for many a rock 'n' roll act; the crowd was there to see KISS, to see KISS's blood and thunder, fireworks and spectacle, to punch the air in lumbering, almost-time to simple party anthems played loud. The opening act? The opening act was in your way, an obstacle, the only thing left standing between you and your ultimate goal of seeing KISS in concert.

That said, I did want to see Uriah Heep. I only knew two of the group's songs--"Stealin'" and "Easy Livin'"--but I liked "Stealin'" a little, and I liked "Easy Livin'" a lot, so I was set to enjoy these sacrificial lambs just fine, thanks. Tom said something to the effect that one of Uriah Heep's key members had left the group, but it was immaterial to me--I barely knew 'em to begin with. It's not like they were Slade or The Sweet or something, man! Or, y'know, The Raspberries. I couldn't tell you now whether Uriah Heep's set was good, bad, or sprawled somewhere in the vast DMZ in between, but they closed with "Easy Livin'," and I sang along.  Pumped. Mission accomplished!

The KISS concert is itself a pyrotechnic blur in my memory. Elsewhere, I've described KISS as the definitive 1970s rock group: loud, garish, celebratory, and as infectious as an arena cheer. Tom filled me in on some of the KISS songs I didn't know, like "Firehouse" and "Cold Gin," as Paul Stanley introduced the latter with (as I'd later discover) the same jivey patter he used on the Alive! album: Anyone here like the taste of alcohol? We responded as one in the affirmative. At 16, I wasn't yet much of a drinker--the lovely bottle-sharin' lasses behind us notwithstanding--but I roared right along with several thousand of my new closest friends.

Gene Simmons spat blood. Smoke billowed from Ace Frehley's guitar. Peter Criss and his massive drum kit rose above the stage like a phoenix ascending from Dresden. Paul Stanley pranced, and the three-man front line shimmied and swayed like the introductory lesson in a glittery, kabuki Motown tutorial, all set to a merciless volume. Noise filled the ears.  Noise. Stanley worked the crowd. Ya know, he said, It's been a long time since we were in Syracuse. But with this kinda audience? You know we'll be comin' back!

Showbiz phonus-balonus? Absolutely. And it worked perfectly. The perceived magic couldn't quite make us believe in Peter Criss, lying on the stage, warbling "Beth" along with a pre-recorded backing track, but it did its job otherwise.  We had been entertained, and we had been inducted: welcome to The KISS Army, Grunt! Ten-HUT!


Riding home, my ears were still filled with a dull buzz, and would remain filled for a few days thereafter. It took me a little while to get around to getting some KISS records, but the concert had made me a fan.  I bought Marvel Comics' first KISS comic in 1977 (following the group's comics debut in the pages of Marvel's Howard The Duck), and received a copy of Rock And Roll Over as a high school graduation gift from my sister. This occurred just as punk rock was beckoning me--I heard The Sex Pistols for the first time that summer of '77--but I kept on as a KISS fan for a little while longer.

I'm not sure that I ever really stopped liking KISS, but I was certainly a lot less interested in them as the '80s trudged on. In the late '80s, as a freelancer for Goldmine magazine, I suggested to editor Jeff Tamarkin that I should write something about KISS. Well, Jeff had been trying to find someone willing to write that story for years, and it became my first Goldmine cover story, dated June 29, 1990.

The Goldmine cover story was sufficient to get me free tickets and backstage passes for a KISS show in nearby Weedsport, a stop on the band's Hot In The Shade tour.  So my lovely wife Brenda and I drove to Weedsport to meet and see KISS. Paul Stanley and drummer Eric Carr skipped the meet-n-greet, but Simmons was there, along with guitarist Bruce Kulick. Simmons was surly and scowling; on the other hand, Bruce Kulick may be the nicest rock star I ever met, and he even complimented me on my KISS piece. "We were just looking at this the other day," Kulick said as he autographed my KISS issue of Goldmine. "We read Goldmine all the time!"

After opening sets by Slaughter and Little Caesar, KISS put on another fine show. Much had changed since 1976; the makeup was long gone, as were most of the incandescent special effects of years past; Peter Criss and Ace Frehley had been out of the group for years; MTV had given KISS a new life as a hard rock pop act, and the group had its first hit single in years, a ballad called "Forever." But they still did the old stuff in concert, too. "Calling Dr. Love." "Detroit Rock City." "Love Gun." "Shout It Out Loud."

This Weedsport show was at an outdoor venue, and the mosquitos were just vicious that night. We scratched and swatted, clawed and rubbed, trying to make it through the concert with our skins intact. The pesky little vampires finally seemed to abate as KISS came back for the encore, to play the one song we all knew was coming.

I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day!  AH CAN'T HEAR YOU!
I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day!

Brenda was waiving her fist in the air, no longer swatting 'skeeters, but instead rocking out to this anthem that had made me a fan decades before.  You drive us wild, and we'll drive you crazy!


In 1976, I was a square-peg teen with an imperfect personality and a sub-standard social life. My friend Tom dragged me to my first rock concert. Tom did not live to see the '80s. But I still think of him now and again; I think of his efforts to pull me out of my self-inflicted shell, to shout it out loud, to rock and roll all night and party every day. If there's Festival Seating in the sky, I hope Tom found a spot near some ladies willing to share their refreshment.  I hope the view's good, and I hope the music's loud. If we listen, maybe we can even hear it from here.

Well, if our ears ever stop buzzing first. Man, these guys were loud.


THE EVERLASTING FIRST: THE DAMNED

Phonograph Record Magazine figures into my first exposure to British punks The Damned, but a larger role in that introduction was ultimately played by a green-eyed girl named Mary Ellen. We'll get to her in just a sec, but we'll start with PRM.  Phonograph Record Magazine's coverage of this exotic, scary, mysteriously intoxicating music called punk captivated me as a senior in high school, 1976-77. I didn't know what any of it sounded like, but I was aching to find out.

I was intrigued by so many of these bands that PRM name-checked so casually in its tabloid pages. The RamonesBlondieThe Sex PistolsEddie and the Hot RodsChris Spedding and the Vibrators! It was a long, long list of acts I'd never heard of before, from The New York DollsThe Dictators, and Milk 'n Cookies through Cheap TrickElvis CostelloIggy Pop, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Yesterday and Today (later shortened to Y & T). I was desperate to learn more.

Even if you're my age or older, it may be difficult to remember just how different the world was just four decades ago. Today, if you encounter a reference to some new musical act, the great 'n' powerful internet can put that act's complete c.v. at your disposal instantly. YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and a bunch of other cloud-borne resources that would have been the stuff of science fiction during the Bicentennial are now humdrum, banal fixtures of everyday living. Hell, a YouTube video was likely your introduction to this new act in the first place. The thrill of the hunt has long since been replaced by the smug, jaded smirk of entitlement.

Heh. I'm a curmudgeon at 58.

With that all said, I have to admit I enjoy the convenience of easily-accessible information. But there was something intangibly thrilling about the sheer mystique and wonder conjured in a young man's mind by the hype and glory of fevered ramblin' in the pages of mid-'70s rock rags like PRM. You couldn't hear the music; you could only imagine how amazing it must sound.

The Damned were among the many loud and angry punks mentioned in the pages of Phonograph Record Magazine. I don't recall the group necessarily getting a lot of ink in the few PRMs I was fortunate enough to grab, but I do remember Flo & Eddie discussing (and dismissing) one of The Damned's singles--either "New Rose" or "Neat Neat Neat"--in their Blind Date column. Flo & Eddie were not impressed with British punk on first exposure.

In the fall of '76, I met Mary Ellen at the ESSPA (Empire State School Press Association)Convention in Syracuse. I was there with a cadre of my fellow North Syracuse High School literary insurgents--Dan BacichTim Schueler, and Sue Caldwell--representing our school literary magazine, The NorthCaster.  At the banquet and awards ceremony, we shared a table with a group representing a magazine from a Rochester area high school, and Mary Ellen was part of that group. I think their magazine was called Brown Bag, and I'm pretty sure they won top honors at ESSPA that year.

Our two groups hit it off pretty well, and it turned out that Mary Ellen was a big rock 'n' roll fan. She was especially fond of The Who; I'd remembered reading ads for some Who bootlegs (probably in The Buyer's Guide For Comics Fandom). I said I'd send her the information, and we exchanged addresses.

She wound up writing to me first, saying she was listening to Montrose and slipping into the terra incognita, a favorite phrase of hers. Starry-eyed teen that I was--I was kinda like Davy Jones on any random episode of The Monkees, except usually without reciprocation--I immediately began to imagine True Love. I was--what's the word?--an idiot. On a January bus ride from Cleveland to Syracuse, traveling back home solo after visiting my sister, I daydreamed about Mary Ellen, about singing Beatles songs together and maybe exchanging a playful kiss. 

But this was all just fancy on my part. I wrote her a long, presumably witty letter, devoid of any attempt at romantic content--I wasn't quite that much of an idiot--and she responded with delight. Further correspondence revealed that we would be switching neighborhoods in the fall; I would be starting college in Brockport, a mere 19 miles from Rochester, while she would be attending Syracuse University. She sent me her phone number at SU.

One fall evening in Brockport, I called Mary Ellen, and we spoke on the phone for about an hour. It was a breezy, banter-filled conversation. I remember mentioning The Raspberries (whom she didn't know all that well) and The Bay City Rollers (which horrified her, since she saw them as not far removed from the dreaded "D-I-S-C-O!"). We had both discovered punk. I don't know how The Damned came up in the conversation, but she asked me if I'd heard them yet; I hadn't, so she cranked up the stereo in her dorm room and played The Damned's LP track "Stab Yor Back" for me. So that was my true, lo-fi introduction to the music of The Damned.

We mentioned earlier how much easier it is nowadays to find out about something or anything. You wanna know what else has changed since 1977? The cost of long-distance phone calls. My 60-minute call to Mary Ellen cost a whompin', stompin' fifty dollars, which is an awful lot of money to spend for a few seconds of The Damned. My parents weren't real happy about paying that bill for me, so that was my Christmas present that year; they threw in a copy of the Alive II album by KISS, because they were really great parents.

But that phone call (and, I think, one subsequent shorter one) were my last positive communications with Mary Ellen. I tried to get in touch with her the next time we were both in Syracuse, but she'd figured out by now that I mighta possibly had hearts in my eyes, and she didn't need that at all. And honestly, I can't blame her. In any case, I was soon involved with Sharon, a girl I met in Brockport, and then also with Theresa (another girl I met in Brockport), and significant complications loomed on my immediate horizon.

It was more than a year until I would be in the same room as a Damned song playing on a damned stereo near me. In the Spring of '78, a friend at school loaned me a compilation album called New WaveNew Wave included The Damned's debut single "New Rose," and I liked it a lot. It turned out that there would be a number of songs by The Damned that I like a lot, especially "Wait For The Blackout" on the group's 1980 LP The Black Album. I'll have to try listening to that over a $50 phone call some day.

THE 1980s

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: THE GO-GO'S


In the early '80s, I had a co-worker at McDonald's of Brockport who called herself Ramona. It wasn't her real name, but she wanted to be a punk, so Ramona became her preferred nom du bop. Ramona had an odd habit of walking up to me at work and giving me a kiss on the cheek. I don't know if she was interested in me or just trying to see what reaction she could provoke, but since I reacted each time with the neutral equivalent of a shrug, nothing ever threatened to progress beyond those chaste little pecks. I already had a girlfriend, and I was serious about that.

Thinking back to my introduction to The Go-Go's makes me think of Ramona, even though she had nothing whatsoever to do with me becoming a Go-Go's fan. In fact, Ramona didn't care for The Go-Go's at all--The Go-Go's image was nowhere near as hard-edged as the punk persona Ramona was trying to develop and project--but Ramona and The Go-Gos are still linked in my memory.

Oh, and my nickname at work was "Sid"--I was the only Sex Pistols fan anyone there had met circa 1981.

Like Ramona, I was a self-professed punk; unlike her, though, I was also an avowed pop fan, equally happy listening to The Clash or The Rubinoos. And The Go-Go's' chosen image--early '60s girl-group filtered through new wave--was both welcome and already familiar to me. The Go-Go's looked and sounded an awful lot like one of my late, lamented Syracuse Fave Raves, The Poptarts.

In the late '70s, The Poptarts created a working prototype for the approach The Go-Go's would take to the Top Of The Pops in the early '80s: a self-contained all-female quintet, dressed in bright colors, cute but not pandering or overtly sexy, playing mostly original tunes, influenced by pre-Beatles girl groups, but also by everyone from The Turtles to The Ramones. The Poptarts broke up in obscurity, undiscovered; The Go-Go's had hit records (four Top 20 singles, and a # 1 album with their debut LP, Beauty And The Beat). I mourned (and still mourn) the lost opportunity of The Poptarts, but I still loved The Go-Go's immediately.

I can't recall the specific circumstances, but I'm certain the first Go-Go's track I ever heard was some version of "We Got The Beat," a version predating the hit version on Beauty And The Beat. A Buffalo FM-rock station called 97 Rock (which could be heard in Brockport) had a Sunday night program called Power Rock, devoted to tracks that were (in theory) edgier than the station's usual AOR fare. I may have heard The Go's-Go's original Stiff Records single of "We Got The Beat" on Power Rock. I most definitely heard a live version of "We Got The Beat" on the soundtrack album Urgh! A Music War, a double-LP set that also included live tracks from The Fleshtones, XTC, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cramps, and a host of other left-of-the-dial superstars (before "left of the dial" was even a thing). I played that Urgh record a lot, and "We Got The Beat" was my favorite among favorites.

I bought Beauty And The Beat upon its release, and I also picked up the "Our Lips Are Sealed" 45, specifically to get its non-LP B-side ("Surfing And Spying," a song The Go-Go's wrote for The Ventures). "We Got The Beat" sounded different without the backing vocals ("they're walkin' in time") I knew from Urgh and (maybe) the Stiff single, but I still adored it anyway. I developed a quick crush on bassist Kathy Valentine, and really fell hard for the music itself. This was such a terrific album, just loaded with unforgettable, hook-filled pop tunes and unconscious rock 'n' roll swagger; it was far and away my favorite album of 1981. (At least it was at the time; I didn't discover Tell America by Fools Face or Drop Out With The Barracudas until a year or two later.)

And I was stunned that so few people seemed to agree with me. A writer in Circus magazine--and yeah, I shoulda known better than to read Circus--dismissed the absurd notion that The Go-Go's could possibly be considered among the best of anything; granted, the writer was a fan of The Grateful Dead, so, y'know, to Hell with him. But everyone seemed to think The Go-Go's were a novelty act. Ramona certainly didn't see their appeal, as she sang along sarcastically when "Vacation," the title tune from their second album, came on the radio at our company picnic in '82. Ah, silly Carl and his pop music....

Screw it. I was long, long used to being outside the mainstream--even the alternative mainstream--so why should things change now? I'd been a fan of The Monkees in the '70s and early '80s, and I'd already learned not to back down from my convictions. I'd put up my Bay City Rollers poster in my dorm, right alongside my Sex Pistols, and KISS, and Suzi Quatro (and, um, Suzanne Somers in a swimsuit) as an act of defiance; I'd argued with a Deadhead on behalf of Shaun Cassidy; I'd preached the virtues of The Ramones while everyone wanted to listen to The Eagles. I knew I was right about all of these (with the possible exception of Suzanne Somers). And I knew I was right about The Go-Go's.

"We Got The Beat" and "Vacation" have remained among my all-time favorite tracks ever since their release. I do still prefer the Stiff single version of the former, but any version's great. The Go-Go's did one more album--1984's Talk Show--before splitting, acrimoniously. They've reunited on several subsequent occasions, usually just for live appearances, but they did a very nice new album called God Bless The Go-Go's in 2001. There was yet another acrimonious split a few years ago--my girl Kathy Valentine wound up suing her former co-workers, and the remaining four did a farewell tour with a ringer on bass--but the five 'em recently reunited for a show in New York, announcing the upcoming Broadway premiere of the new play Head Over Heels, which features the music of The Go-Go's. I regret I never had a chance to see The Go-Go's live.

I haven't seen or heard from Ramona in over thirty-five years. In spite of her repeated kisses on my cheek, and her stated interest in collaborating with me to start a new, arty girlie mag she wanted to call McErotica, I still don't think she had any physical designs on li'l ol' me. I think she saw me as a friendly foil, someone to bounce off of and riff with about stuff she thought would be too cool for the crowd. She hated The Bongos; I loved The Bongos. We both liked The B-52's. And she wanted to keep that dynamic going, even though I was technically one of her bosses. Each time her lips brushed the side of my face, she wasn't making a pass, but reminding me that You could never push me around, Mr. Boss-Man, sir; I wore the tie, and she wore the uniform, but we were both just young punks, and I'd best not forget that. The last time I saw her, we were both on a bus heading out of town; she was going out for a night at a Rochester punk club, and my girlfriend and I were leaving Brockport for good, intent on starting a new life in Buffalo. We exchanged greetings, but didn't speak otherwise. After all that, our lips were sealed.

THE ROAD TO GOLDMINE

CHAPTER ONE: Approaching The Minefield


Recently, it occurred to me that November marked the 30th anniversary of my first published appearance in Goldmine magazine. I wound up freelancing for Goldmine for nearly twenty years. I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to look back. But before I can even start to talk about my time with Goldmine, I also need to look at the precarious path I had to follow just to get there: a minefield called the 1980s.

In 1986, I was twenty-six years old, married, and the manager of a record store in the greater Buffalo area. I was seeing concerts when I could--The Ramones, Prince, The Kinks, The Animals, David Bowie, The Bangles, The Searchers, The Lords of the New Church, Culture Club, Lyres, Let's Active, The Waitresses, The Chesterfield Kings, Talking Heads, The Clash, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, The Fleshtones, David Johansen, The Peter Tork Project, The Monkees, Red Rockers, The Joe Perry Project, The Restless, The Reducers, The Mystic Eyes, and Johnny Thunders were among the many acts I was able to experience live since moving to Buffalo in '82--and I was buying records and comic books at as great a clip as my budget would allow. (I passed up a legit chance to purchase a copy of Batman # 3 or 5--I forget which--for the unbelievably low price of just $50, because I couldn't spare the friggin' $50.) I had been trying to write in my spare time for years and years, and had finally started making freelance writing sales in 1984.

My first sales were to a comics fan magazine called Amazing Heroes, which was published by Fantagraphics. The money was pathetic, but it was money: money for writing! With a couple of AH sales now on my resume, I reached out to Krause Publications; Don and Maggie Thompson, editors of Krause's long-running weekly tabloid The Comics Buyer's Guide, had just added a new Krause magazine, Comics Collector. After a few exchanges via the U.S. mail (usually with Kim Metzger, who assisted the Thompsons), I placed a retrospective on the campy 1960s Batman TV series in the Summer 1985 issue of Comics Collector. This was my first of many, many sales to Krause Publications.

It was also the first time I saw my work available on a newsstand. Amazing Heroes was sold mostly in comic book stores, but Comics Collector was a mass-market zine, and the little shopping-mall newsstand right next to my record store in Buffalo's Main Place Mall carried it. It was even available at Wegmans grocery stores! Best of all, the Comics Collector article earned me my very first fan letter, from someone named Jennifer Jones.



Jennifer, honey, I don't know who you are, but I'll love ya forever.

I continued to write for Amazing Heroes, and to send proposals to the Thompsons. I was also trying to write comics, and not just write about them. I sent many spec proposals to DC Comics, both for original creations and existing properties; they were all rejected because of their common trait of outright sucking. These were bad; I was pretty good at the non-fiction commentary and retrospective stuff, but my fiction was terrible. (I have improved significantly since then.)

And, of course, I loved rock 'n' roll as much as I loved comics. Concurrent to my comics-related efforts, I worked on ideas for Creem and Trouser Press. The latter magazine folded before I ever tried to submit anything, and I received a pretty nice rejection letter from Creem editor Billy Altman; I still regret never placing anything with Creem.

And then there was Goldmine.

Goldmine was, at the time, a bi-weekly tabloid for record collectors. I had picked up one issue of Goldmine a few years back--May, 1982--drawn to it by an interview with former Monkee Peter Tork. I saw that issue on sale at World Wide News in Rochester, a large indoor newsstand near the Greyhound bus station, where copies of Goldmine were stacked about midway between the British rock tabloids on the right side of the store and the wall of porn on the left. I enjoyed the Tork interview, and a few other aspects of the magazine; I specifically recall being entertained by a letter from Marshall Crenshaw that was published in that issue. But each issue of Goldmine contained more advertising than editorial content; that was Goldmine's raison d'etre. The ads didn't interest me as much--I didn't have enough spare cash to buy anything in the ads--so I didn't purchase another issue of Goldmine for about three years.

Like Comics Collector and The Comics Buyer's GuideGoldmine was also published by Krause; CBG and Goldmine had similar formats, both tabloids dominated by advertising, but still containing some cool articles and features related to their respective areas of collecting. In 1985 (I think), I took out a subscription to CBG, and therefore started to receive advertising mailers from Krause, hawking the company's other collecting-oriented publications. One of these ads hooked me on Goldmine.

In 1985, I was approaching a crossroads, and I didn't even know it. How had the first half of the '80s brought me here? I feel a digression coming on....

CHAPTER TWO: You've Got To Pay Your Dues If You Want To Write Reviews

Brenda and I were married in 1984. We'd been together since 1978, our second year in college at Brockport, and we'd gone through the highs and not-so-highs a happy loving couple goes through. We moved in together when I graduated in 1980. After two more tumultuous years in Brockport, we moved to Buffalo to start over in August of 1982. I was moody, and subject to occasional depression that could careen into giddy, boyish effervescence, and then plummet right back down into the murky depths of arghh. Swing low, sweet Cheerio. I was frequently clueless, hapless, confused, and confounded by the simplest of situations. I was not anywhere near being, or becoming, the guy I wanted to be.

The transition to this new life in Buffalo in '82 was intimidating; we were alone in an unfamiliar environment, a city where we didn't really know anyone. We claimed to be married, fearing discrimination from prospective landlords; we rented a place in a rattrap old building with four other apartments. Brenda got a job at a day care center, while pursuing graduate studies at the University of Buffalo; I snagged a part-time morning shift at a McDonald's, and looked for something better.

"Better" was an arguable description, I guess, but I wound up as an assistant manager at Mighty Taco beginning in January of 1983. More responsibility! More money! Adulting! It was a disaster. The hours were terrible--Mighty Taco was open until 5 am, catering to the bar crowd--so I would frequently get home from work, reeking of hot sauce and failure, just as Brenda was heading out to the day care center. Hi. Bye. Mighty Taco's customers during the wee, wee hours were often drunk, belligerent assholes; one of 'em, dressed in a three-piece business suit, went wee-wee at the counter while waiting for his order. One night, a customer threw a napkin dispenser at me; I saw red, and stormed out to the lobby and started punching him. The jerk grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled it out; that spot of hair never grew back, earning me a widow's peak at 23. I remember coming to work for a morning shift once, and seeing Patti Rogers, the overnight cleaning girl, still cleaning blood off the wall from a fight that had broken out the night before.

(I was still young enough--or so I thought--that I could burn the candle at both messy ends. Radio station 97 Rock started a weekly series of free live lunchtime concerts, and I made it to most of them. This meant coming home from work around 6 or 6:30 am, air-kissing Brenda as she went off to start her work day, and grabbing a couple of hours sleep on our mattress; we couldn't afford a bed. Then it was off to the club for the noon show. The first such show, starring Red Rockers, was outdoors at The Tralfamadore Cafe, which required travel; subsequent shows were at a recovering former disco in University Plaza, a mere half-mile or so walk from our apartment. The situation saved me from having to make an unwanted choice one evening, when both The Searchers and The Lords Of The New Church were scheduled to play in Buffalo on the same night. Nooooooooo!! But the Lords added a 97 Rock free lunchtime show, so I caught them during the day and then saw The Searchers at the Tralf that night. Serendipity!

And yeah, I might have had a beer or two at those lunchtime shows. When I lived in Buffalo, it is possible I may have been drinking a tiny bit more than I should have been.)


Brenda lost her mother in 1983. It was not unexpected, but it was devastating. We went down to New York for the funeral, and I tried to be a comfort. Afterward, Brenda's father and older sister remained on Staten Island, while Brenda and I returned to our responsibilities in Buffalo. A year later, when the tombstone was unveiled, Mighty Taco would not allow me the time off to attend the ceremony. Brenda had to go without me. I should have quit that goddamned job right then and there.

In '83, I realized I was ready to marry Brenda. We were still too young, really, but it was time, and neither of us could think of a good reason to wait any longer. After a July '84 wedding in Syracuse and a honeymoon in Toronto, we returned to the tenement apartment we shared with the rodent squatters, and we tried our hands at being Mr. and Mrs. Adult.

And, in October, I lost my job.

It wasn't a great job by any means, but it was my only real income. Luckily, I found a new job within a month: working at a record store! It was a management-track position, I was eminently qualified, so this was a match made in Cheektowaga. The store was a chain called Cavages. I trained briefly at the Seneca Mall store, and was transferred to the Thruway Mall location in time for Christmas. At Thruway Mall, one of my co-workers was a terrific guy named Fritz Van Leaven; Fritz and I have remained friends ever since, and he keeps track of our playlist statistics for This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. We can't do a year-end TIRnRR Countdown Show without Fritz.

After Christmas, Cavages needed me at its Main Place Mall location in downtown Buffalo, so I spent most of '85 working there. The atmosphere at an urban mall was decidedly different from the suburban outlets: looser, funkier, more chaotic. Rules? HA!!! I didn't create that environment, but it would come back to bite me nonetheless.

In the '80s, I became a passionate devotee of garage/psychedelic rock 'n' roll, in both its original 1960s form and its then-current Paisleyfuzz revival. My co-workers at Thruway Mall gave me a Chocolate Watchband LP as a birthday gift. While still at Seneca Mall, I bought The Vipers' Outta The Nest! album just because I liked its cover graphic; a co-worker showed it to me, laughing, Who would ever buy something like this?, prompting my immediate response: I WILL!

And that interest in garage is what got me into Goldmine. In 1985, Goldmine partnered with the ROIR label to produce Garage Sale, a cassette-only compilation of '80s acts trying to pretend it was 1966. The cassette was only available to Goldmine subscribers. I became a Goldmine subscriber.

But the minefield was still stretched out in front of me.

CHAPTER FOUR: A Rockier Road

Charles Dickens didn't live in Buffalo in 1985. Nonetheless: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Indecisive bastard, that Dickens.


Working in a record store was the best job I'd ever had. I'll pause now to allow everyone to reply with a passionate Duh. Other than writing--and even that might have been a maybe at that point in my life--this seemed to be what I was born to do. Hey, ya got that record...? Yessir, right over here. Do you know that Bob Dylan song that goes, "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend?" Yep, it's called "Positively 4th Street," it's on his Greatest Hits album; no, you can't return it if I'm wrong, but I'm not wrong. Watching a teenaged girl blush and giggle while asking if Animotion's "Obsession" was the 45 she was looking for, the one with that line, y'know...? ("What do you want me to be to make you sleep with me?," I replied helpfully in song; DON'T SAY THAT OUT LOUD! she protested, blushing even more.) Or the time a customer tried to return a 12" single of Madonna's "Into The Groove" because it was, like, Tears For Fears on the record instead of Madonna; not realizing it was a 45 rpm single, she'd played it at 33 1/3, slowing Ms. Ciccone's normally-chirpy vocals to the point she sounded like a mopey British guy instead. We shared a laugh, and I told her not to be embarrassed. No big deal, right? Here you go, ma'am. Thanks fer shoppin' at Cavages!


Good times.


was still trying to write, too. As noted waaaaay back in Part 1, I made my first freelance sale to Krause Publications with a history of the Batman TV series, published in the Summer 1985 issue of Comics Collector. I continued to write for Amazing Heroes. I tried my hand at more submissions to Creem magazine, to no avail. I wrote a short story, "Thicker Than Water," which I tried to sell to a sword & sorcery anthology book edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley; I missed the submission deadline, but it wouldn't have mattered--the story was abysmal (though the first few paragraphs were pretty good; I should salvage those and start over some day, ditching the rest of it). I wrote an unpublished script for an original superhero called The Electric Angel, intended for a fanzine published by Queen City Bookstore. I worked on a number of submissions to DC Comics; over the course of my time in Buffalo, my DC submissions included pitches for original characters--Captain Infinity, Lawman--and the occasional stab at existing DC properties (The Justice League of America in "The Trial Of Doctor Light!"). The only thing that warranted anything more than a perfunctory rejection slip (if that) from DC was a pitch for a character called The Trident, a World War II-era hero I envisioned as "what if Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had created a two-fisted black superhero in the '40s?" In a letter accompanying a bunch of rejected stuff returned to me by DC, I was informed that my plot outline for The Trident's origin story, "A Trident Glows In Brooklyn!," was being forwarded to the editor of DC's New Talent Showcase for further consideration--"can't promise anything," though. I never heard any more from DC about The Trident, so I'm sure it's still under consideration. Gotta be, right? Hope springs infernal!


And I was also doing a lot of artwork. As a kid, I wanted to become a comic book writer and artist, but my art didn't develop at the same pace my writing did. My eighth grade art teacher encouraged me; my ninth grade art teacher did not, and that was that. But I still have my mid-'80s sketch book, and I tell ya--there was something there. It was raw, undeveloped, and it's doubtful I could have ever done much with it. But I had some basic potential; with time and effort at an earlier age, maybe I could have honed that skill into something worthwhile.



I was experimenting with swipes in my '85 sketches, trying to learn from the best. The bottom two Batman images are copies of Marshall Rogers, my favorite Batman artist. Main figure is probably original, with an idea dating back to my teen years.
That bad guy? He is so screwed...!
My pay as an assistant manager at Cavages wasn't quite enough to keep me in caviar and Kinks records, so I needed to supplement my income. McDonald's was my kind of place, so I took on a part-time job, closing two nights a week at the Bailey Avenue Golden Arches, where I'd previously worked during my first few months in Buffalo back in late '82.

I was 25. I felt like a kid again. Good times? Maybe.

Working in fast food is a peculiar experience, and everyone should do it at least once in his/her life. It can be more physically demanding than critics would concede; one needs to actually work if one expects fast food to be...well, fast. We need twelve regs! Twelve bun crowns in the warmer, twelve frozen, 1/10th of a pound frozen patties slapped on the grill, timer hit. First timer sounds, you sear the meat to the grill. Second timer sounds, you flip the burgers over and apply diced onions. Crowns come out of the warmer, heels go in, and you apply ketchup, mustard and pickle, while yelling out, "Cheese on twelve regs?" Cheese seven, please! Seven slices of cheese on seven almost-done patties, tray of buns now affixed next to the grill. Final timer sounds, patties come off the grill, two at a time, and meet their whitebread partners. Heels are removed from the warmer and are placed, in one movement, atop the finished burgers. The tray of twelve burgers is passed to the guy or gal calling bin. "Regs are up!" Thank you. And on to the next order.


Elapsed time: 90 seconds.


If you were working grill alone, as I usually was, you would also need to take care of the quarter-pounder grill, the Filet-O-Fish vat, the pie vat, and the Chicken McNuggets vat. Workers at the counter took care of the fries. You develop a rhythm. You work fast, but precisely--just like The Ramones! You clean as you go. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean! I'd been an assistant manager at McDonald's of Brockport years before, and had once considered making that my career. Now, I just wanted to work the grill and collect a paycheck. One busy night in '85, I saw that the cashiers were falling behind, so I snuck up to the counter, took one quick order, and then moved back to the grill to keep things moving. The manager on duty saw me, and said, Carl! You know how to work register?! "No, Bill," I replied firmly. "No. I don't. You didn't see that." I could have counted out the registers, done the books, and taken care of the ordering--I had experience in all of that--but now I just wanted to make some extra cash workin' the damned grill. Period.


My most memorable McDonald's shift was one summer night in 1985, as I stood at the grill fryin' up some Big Macs, and I heard a fight break out in the lobby. During my time in Buffalo, I'd have to say that fights were not an unusual occurrence. Like, at all. I ignored it--I was just the cook, man--until someone cried out, He's got a knife!


Well, shit.


I grumbled and tossed aside my spatula, forsaking the Big Mac patties that I would have to discard in a few minutes. I saw the knife-wielder--big guy--already restrained by, I think, three other people, who were struggling to stop him. He still had the knife. I jumped behind him, put one hand behind his head and another around his neck, and started pounding his goddamned head against the counter, calmly but firmly telling him, "Let go of the fucking knife." Rhythmically! Like, "Let go [WHOMP!] of the fucking [WHOMP!] knife [WHOMP!]" A friend of the assailant tried to order me to let him go, to which I replied, "As soon [WHOMP!] as he lets go [WHOMP!] of the fucking [WHOMP!] knife." Police arrived, crowd dispersed, order restored, Big Macs ruined. Waste twelve regs, please? Thank you. 


This McDonald's closed at...11 o'clock? Midnight? I forget. Bars in Buffalo were open until 4 am. Jimmy J's was literally right across the street from my McDonald's. So, after we finished closing, I would often join some of my co-workers for a beer or several. Although I was only 25, some of the girls at McDonald's thought I was a cute and engaging old guy. I bantered and joked, but kept 'em at arm's length. One of them joked that I was the only guy at McDonald's she hadn't slept with yet. I'm pretty sure she was kidding--I think--but I especially kept her at arm's length, just in case. I was married. I wanted to stay married. 

This old man (by McDonald's crew standards) was still young enough to get home at 2, 2:30, even 3 in the morning, shower away at least some of that greasy smell, and get up after just a few hours' sleep and head to the ol' day job. I would walk the 1.3 miles from my apartment to LaSalle Station, take the train downtown--with city parking, it made much more sense for Brenda to take the car to work and let me use mass transit--and arrive at Cavages in Main Place Mall just as it opened (at 10 am, if I remember right). I didn't drink coffee yet, so I would caffeinate with a large Mountain Dew and break the fast with a Pizza Pretzel from the Hot Sam's sitting right outside Cavages' doorway. Healthy living? I do not grok your language, sir.

The downtown Cavages was...man, what can I say about this? Awright: the manager was selling drugs in the store, grass at least, maybe more. I knew it, my co-workers knew it, everybody knew it (except maybe--maybe--the cop who worked security for us every day). We all either looked the other way, or shrugged, or just accepted. Indifference is bliss. In retrospect, I guess I should have ratted him out. That was inconceivable to me at the time--who was I, Zal Yanovsky?--and I still can't really picture me doing that. But I'd have been better off in the long haul if I had.


Bad times? I would have denied it at the time. Looking back, however....

It was a pretty wild 'n' wooly place to work. Some of the customers were crazy, all of the staff was loopy in some way (present company included), and the bar upstairs at the mall could count Cavages employees among its regular clientele, even during work hours. Call me a stick in the mud, or call me Ishmael, but I can honestly say that I never--never--worked a shift under the influence of anything stronger than Mountain Dew. I cannot honestly say that I never worked a shift hung over.


The most notable regular at Cavages was a colorful guy named Lou Biondi, aka Mad Louie, or Louie the Mad Vinyl Junkie. Mad Louie worked at City Hall or something, I think, but no one cared about that; no, Mad Louie was a legendary record fanatic, an irascible guy with whom I got along famously. He was thrilled that Cavages had someone like me workin' the retail shelves, someone who actually knew who The Chocolate Watchband were. This would eventually be another brick in my wall, dammit, but it was cool at the time. Mad Louie met his pal Bernie Kugel every day for lunch at the mall; Bernie was the leader of a swell garage band called The Mystic Eyes, and a good guy in his own right.


As much as I loved working in a record store, I knew I needed to make more money. McDonald'swasn't filling in the gap sufficiently, and the writing sure as hell wasn't paying any bills, so I started to look elsewhere. I somehow got an interview, and even a follow-up interview, with the local public television station for some kind of writing job. Because of my lack of any discernible experience, the woman I spoke with there was unsure about me, but reluctant to rule me out for the job. She saw...something in me, it seemed. I wasn't qualified. But maybe...maybe....

In the end, it didn't matter. I had to withdraw my application with the station; Cavages was promoting me. The circumstances of the promotion were troubling: the staff at Cavages' Thruway Mall location, where I'd worked before transferring to Main Place Mall, had been dismissed en masse, for reasons that seemed petty and insignificant. My best pal there, Fritz Van Leaven, had already been let go for even stupider, pickier reasons. Hey, was that some kind of warning shot that just singed my widow's peak? But I went along with it. I needed the money, I'd earned the promotion, and I was getting my own store. I quit McDonald's, and I apologized to the woman at PBS who'd been so nice to me. This ain't no Mudd Club, no CBGB's--I ain't got time for that now. I was managing a record store.


The best of times? The worst of times? Yeah. Both true, I fear. There were better times to come, but there were worse times coming, too.  


CHAPTER FIVE: A Shaft. A Light.


My store. My store. And not just any store: a record store!

I had been an assistant manager with Cavages for about a year, and an assistant manager with Mighty Taco for over a year and a half before that. As 1985 rounded the turn for its final lap, I was set to take over Cavages' Thruway Mall store. This was...September, I think? Thereabouts. Their need was immediate, so I bid seeya-bye to my downtown mall, and headed back to the suburbs.

My store. It was a happy time. It was over and gone before I knew it. I tried to hold on to it. It slipped through my fingers like smoke, no more corporeal than a phantom, as elusive to my grasp as a fading shadow. But, for an all-too brief time, it was mine. For a tiny, fleeting moment, it was real.


I already knew this store well, but this wasn't the homecoming it should have been; all of my friends and former co-workers at Thruway had been jettisoned, for reasons that were never explained to me. Knowing what I know now, I'm prepared to believe they were shafted by the chain, and I probably thought so at the time, as well. But I was in no position to decline this promotion, no matter what I thought about it. Bills to pay. Records to play. Music is your best entertainment value! Welcome to Cavages.


By the time I arrived back at Thruway, Cavages had already assembled my new team. My assistant, Cheryl Dunn, was capable, resourceful, and likely the best single factor in this new arrangement; she soon graduated to a position of greater responsibility at Cavages' warehouse, and later joined her husband Dan Dunn in running their own floral shop, Dunn's Enchanted Florist. I mention that just because I love saying "Dunn's Enchanted Florist." Cheryl and I are still in touch on Facebook, and she and Dan remain among my favorite people.


The sales staff was mostly young, and included Lisa (who had previously worked at the warehouse), Margaret (a pleasant girl who suffered from diabetes, and whom Lisa called "Cookie"), Barb (a singer), Mary (an aspiring fashion model), and Marie (a teacher). There was one additional member of my staff, her name long since forgotten, so I'll just call her Sparky. Sparky got into an immediate conflict with Cheryl over something trivial. We hadn't yet revealed that Cheryl was to be the assistant manager, but Sparky never had a prayer of getting me to side with her in any dispute with Cheryl. Sparky quit instead. Hasta la vista, Sparky.


Mary also didn't quite belong, and she knew it. She had no interest in record stores, and had wanted to work at Cavages' card and gift store instead. She was sweet, and I wish she'd felt more comfortable working with us, and with me. Looking back, I'm sure she thought I was ridiculing her when I corrected her on music-related things (like informing her that George Harrison LPs would not be filed under "Jazz;" he was, y'know, in a rather famous rock 'n' roll group). It was never my intention to alienate her or put her down in any way, but I know I did my part in paving that particular highway to Hell. She quit, and I doubt she has ever looked back on the experience with any fondness whatsoever. I regret that.

After Cheryl, Mary, and--of course--Sparky moved on, my core crew remained Lisa, Margaret, Barb, and Marie, with various other personnel filtering in and out over the ensuing months. I think Barb and Marie also left eventually, and I remember relative newcomers Kathy (who came from a fundamentalist background, so her family disapproved of her working in a place that sold the devil's music), Kathleen (an immensely likable young woman whom I nicknamed KB), Marco, and...I forget the rest. I can picture one other young man, a black guy who was horrified when I told him I didn't like The Police; nice guy, really, and I wish my dyin' brain cells could conjure up his name right now. It was a well-run store. Where the downtown store had a large urban and hip-hop clientele, this suburban outlet sold far more hard rock and metal than the Main Place Mall location ever did. We were clean, we were stocked, and we knew what we were doing. When MTV's embrace of The Monkees led to resurgent Monkeemania in '86, no one could answer the questions of newly-minted Monkees fans with more authority than we could ("No, sorry, that's out of print" might not have been the answer the fans wanted, but hey-hey....)

Honestly, I'm trying to remember some bad stuff to balance out all this kumbaya, but the contented memories overwhelm all such attempts. I was in my heaven. All was right with the world. Hell, my Island Records display--"Cavages Island: Just Sit Right Back And You'll Hear The Tale"--won the competition for best in-store Island promotion. Warner Brothers rep Jack Riehle got it into his head that I was a metal fan (though I really wasn't), so he always brought me a bunch of metal promo LPs each time he visited the store; knowing he was a jazz fan, I rewarded him once by having a Benny Goodman live LP playing when he arrived, and he appreciated that gesture. One day, Columbia Records rep Teddy Marche came in and asked me, "Carl, what are you doing Sunday night?" I dunno, Ted, probably watching TV with the missus, I guess. "No, you're going to see Eddie Murphy," and he put two tickets to Murphy's show in my shirt pocket; he also offered me a chance to see Heart another time, but I was tired and let Cheryl have those tickets instead. Gotta share the wealth--a happy staff is an efficient staff.

At home, my work hours and Brenda's work hours were still out of sync--that has been the case for the entire time we've been together--but at least there were no more late, late nights. We had occasional parties in our apartment, and most of the Cavages staff (and their plus-ones) came to those. Barb quoted Cheap Trick and wrote "I Want You To Want ME!" on a banner for one of the parties, and then was mortified that Brenda might misinterpret her intent. No worries there--we were all friends, and life was good.

During the time that Brenda and I lived in the crappy little converted storefront that our landlord called an apartment building, we were the only constant tenants. The place was full when we first moved there in August of 1982; I don't remember the tenants of the main apartment at all, but I remember an elderly woman (Dolores) who lived upstairs from us, and a student couple (Priscilla and...her anonymous boyfriend) who lived over the main apartment next door. We were cordial to Dolores, and she appreciated the fact that we never gave her any trouble. She didn't get along with Priscilla and Mr. Priscilla, but the young couple had Brenda and I over for dinner once, a fun evening of chatting and listening to Otis Redding's Live In Europe; Priscilla's guy, I may not remember your name, but I remember you turning me on to Otis, and I'm forever grateful for that.

Wait--Mark! That's it. Mark and Priscilla. Thanks, Mark!

But all of them moved away. For a long time, Brenda and I were the only people living in that drafty, rodent-infested firetrap. In the winter, we wound up paying the heating bill for the whole damned, empty place; one $600 National Fuel bill nearly broke us like a butterfly on a wheel. I would often have to go down into the basement and try to light the pilot for our errant gas furnace, usually with a roll of newspaper which I'd set ablaze with a cigarette lighter, stick into the gas jet, and pray for the best. The place was filthy--Brenda was fastidious, and I was no slob myself, but it was just impossible to erase the dust and grime. I remember once discovering a dead rat the size of a tennis shoe, floating in a pail of (presumably toxic) water under our leaky sink. It is conceivable that our absentee landlord could have cared less, but difficult to imagine how much less that could have been.

There seemed to be a potential light on the horizon when this luxury hovel was sold to a new landlord--a local landlord! The slum's new owner did make some minor repairs and upgrades, and we could at least get him or his wife on the phone when we had an issue. And the other apartments were rented: an older, mixed-race couple took over the main apartment; a divorced woman, Jeanne, moved into the apartment over them; and two cute girls, Joanne and Cheryl F, moved in above us.

Brenda and Jeanne hit it off pretty quickly, and they remained buddies for the remainder of our time in Buffalo. Jeanne didn't get along with her downstairs neighbors at all, though I remember them as basically friendly and easy-going (if a bit too religious for me); I think the husband helped inept li'l me install a rear-window defogger on the awful '78 Mercury Bobcat that had replaced our intrepid '69 Impala. God, I hated that Bobcat. And we hung out occasionally with Joanne and Cheryl, both of whom were pretty easy to get along with.

Except for the older couple (who may or may not have been teetotalers), there was much beer involved in the relationships between Brenda and I and our neighbors. Party on, man. One winter week, when the snow basically shut Buffalo down for several days, Cheryl F's boyfriend Chris and I trudged through the frozen murk the half mile to the Bell supermarket, just to be sure we had an adequate supply of Miller High Life. Unable to go to work, I spent much of that week in the apartment, growing a beard and drinking vodka.

Joanne moved out, but Cheryl F stayed. Cheryl and Chris broke up, and Cheryl met a new guy, Chuck. It turned out that Chuck was an asshole, but we didn't realize that at first. Initially, he was just Cheryl's guy, so we saw him around the apartment socially.

One night, as Brenda and I were sleeping, we woke to a weird banging sound coming from...somewhere. The front of the house? I got up to investigate, walked out of our apartment into the vestibule, and opened the door to the apartment building. It was Chuck.

Confused, I said, "Chuck! What's going on?"

He said, "I don't know what's going on." He pushed me aside, and ran upstairs to Cheryl's apartment. More pounding, Cheryl screaming from behind her door for him to go away, and then the crack and thud of Cheryl's door breaking. More loud voices. And I realized with horror what was happening.

Brenda appeared at our apartment door, her face white. I told her to call the police. Now. And I started up the stairs. "Carl, NO!," she cried.

And I turned and said, "Brenda, I'm afraid he's going to kill her."

I reached Cheryl's apartment and walked in. In her bedroom, she was in her bed, Chuck looming over her, his anger simmering, his fists clenched. They were yelling at each other. Cheryl screamed at him, Get out! Go back to your wife! Chuck called her every venomous, sickening name you could think of.

In my life, I have never been more scared than I was in that moment.

Chuck was a big guy. I'm a pretty big guy, too, but I'm not a fighter; Chuck could have snapped me into pieces before I could even formulate a witty, self-effacing quip, and he'd still be free to hurt Cheryl. But I hoped I could at least stall him long enough so that wouldn't happen.

I mustered whatever faux authority I could put into my voice. "You've said your piece, Chuck. Now go."

"Are you gonna make me? You?"

"Am I gonna have to? Just go. This ain't worth it. The cops are on their way. You can leave on your own, or you can go with them."

Chuck hurled more verbal abuse at Cheryl, but didn't lift a finger. Maybe the gravity of the situation finally penetrated his thick, stupid skull. He pushed past me again, and left the apartment. He was met outside by the police, just arriving at the scene. Brenda and I got dressed, and drove Cheryl to the police station to press charges against his sorry ass. I called the landlord the next day, informing him of the damage to the apartment building. Not only had Chuck broken down Cheryl's apartment door, he'd also damaged the front entrance with his attempts to break in. Schmuck. Thirty years later, I'm still angry. And I'm still scared, thinking of all the ways that it could have been even worse.

I don't remember many specifics about my writing attempts in 1986. I sold a couple of capsule TV reviews (of Remington Steele and The American Music Awards) to The Buffalo News, and probably did something for Amazing Heroes, I guess. My favorite TV show was actually Late Night With David Letterman, and my staff was sick to death of me going around the store saying, "He'p me! I'se been hypmotized!" I also wrote my first-ever submission to Goldmine in early '86; we'll talk more about that in our next chapter.

Working and partying took up most of my time. And, contrary to my initial memory of happy Cavages memories, there was some work-related tension: early in '86, the entire staff of Cavages' Main Place Mall store--my alma mater, and my co-workers from just a few months ago--was summarily dismissed in a company house-cleaning. I'm not sure what specific impetus prompted the purge, but the store manager's not-so-secret in-store drug-sellin' sideline either prompted it, or came to light because of it. Either way, that store was scorched earth. And a particularly humorless, unfriendly Cavages executive phoned me to ask if I had any knowledge of this illicit activity taking place during my time at Main Place Mall.

Drugs?! I feigned surprise, perhaps even convincingly. No!! There was no good answer, no acceptable route out of this one. Lying wasn't good, but if I told the truth, the next question would be about why I hadn't come forward with this information myself. And why hadn't I? Because that manager had been a friend at the time, and because I was part of a collective social upbringing that says ya don't freakin' tattle on someone. You just don't. Hell, when I worked at Mighty Taco, I had to fire people because of chronic shortages in their cash drawers, and not a one of 'em would roll over on the guy who was actually pilfering from the register, even though it might have saved them from losing a job in a tough economy. That's how deep the don't-squeal mentality went, and I wasn't immune to it, either.

The Cavages exec took me at my word, at least for the time being. Were things back to normal then? Probably not. The sands were starting to fall faster and faster; you could see a harsh light glaring through the top of my hourglass as it emptied. No refills. No future. No way out.

CHAPTER SIX: Buffalo Mining Disaster 1986

I've written previously about my Goldmine audition (detailed here), my first, failed attempt to sell my writing to GM editor Jeff Tamarkin. It was an unsolicited review of two then-recent albums--Stop! by The Chesterfield Kings and Different Light by The Bangles--which I mailed to Jeff on January 29th, 1986. It was quickly rejected, for a whole bunch of reasons: it was too long; it was unsolicited; both records had already been assigned to other reviewers; and it contained many, many violations of Jeff's editorial edict for writers to keep their first-person references out of the damned review--the word "I" was virtually verboten in Goldmine reviews.


But it was the most encouraging rejection slip I ever received. Jeff liked my style in general, and he thought I demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter. He was open to having me write for Goldmine; we would just need to agree on an assignment first.


1986 was, for me, the year of The Monkees. If you needed proof of the extent of MTV's influence in '86, just ask someone who was running a record store at the time. Kids--young kids, teens, preteens--had seen reruns of The Monkees on MTV, and they were hooked on Micky, Davy, Peter and Michael. These new fans didn't care that this was an act from twenty years ago, nor that it was an act that was dismissed by serious arbiters of cool from the friggin' get-go; to them, The Monkees were as cool as anyone--Duran Duran, A-Ha, anyone--and maybe cooler. The new fans were the young generation, and they had something to say...thanks to MTV.

I didn't have MTV--Brenda and I couldn't afford cable--but our neighbor Cheryl did. On days when I had the afternoon off, I went upstairs to watch the noon rerun of The Monkees with Cheryl in her apartment. After our confrontation with her neanderthal ex-boyfriend Chuck, Cheryl seemed to think of me as a friendly big brother, and she was fine with having me hang around to watch The Monkees. (Cheryl was a blast. I remember one time that she accompanied Brenda and I to a show at The Continental, and she realized that she hadn't brought any ID. She laughed it off, and said if anyone tried to card her, she'd just open her jacket and say, Do these tits look like they belong to a minor? She got into the club just fine. I think was carded.)


A Monkees reunion--even one without Michael Nesmith--was a dream come true for me. When I discovered that their concert tour would include a stop at Chautauqua, about 80 miles from Buffalo, I bought a pair of tickets immediately. But Brenda couldn't go. The Monkees' show was the night before Brenda's big state teaching certification test, and she couldn't risk a late night prior to such an important exam. I made the drive solo--a longer drive than I anticipated in those days waaaaay before Google Maps--and dispatched the extra ticket to this sold-out show at face value as soon as I arrived. I wished that Brenda could have accompanied me, but I understood, and she was right to skip it.


Things continued to cruise along at Cavages. The uncertainty following the Main Place Mall pink-slip jamboree had given way to confidence, security. My Thruway Mall store was a well-oiled machine. I felt like Cavages' golden boy, referred to by warehouse personnel as a walking musical encyclopedia, and called upon by upper management to run their Boulevard Mall store for a week while its manager was away. Issues? None! I believed that. Once upon a time, I also believed in Santa Claus.


The Main Place Mall location wasn't doing as well. I didn't know its story first-hand, but I gathered that it was chaotic, disorganized, insufficiently maintained, and in need of stronger managerial guidance. One of that outlet's best and longest-standing customers complained, and suggested with great conviction that there was only one guy for the job: Louie the Mad Vinyl Junkie wanted Cavages to make me the new manager at Main Place.


Mad Louie, wherever you are: I know you meant well. It wasn't your fault.


The customer has been known to be right on occasion. Cavages listened to this customer, and I was transferred back to Main Place as its new store manager. Adieu, Thruway Mall. You were the best job I ever had.


But I felt no sadness or trepidation at the time; it was a fresh challenge, and I was sure I was ready for it. I was welcomed back by Mad Louie and The Mystic Eyes' leader Bernie Kugel, and then started re-organizing the store immediately. I would accomplish my goals here quickly. I was certain of it.


And then my Spider-Sense finally warned me of danger, too damned late. And I heard the unctuous tones of the stiff, humorless suit who ran the chain, trilling in my ear: Oh, by the way, Carl: we do need you to take a lie detector test. We're giving you a lot of responsibility. We just want to make sure that we can trust you.

Ah, hell. Hiya, Spider; I'm the fly. But I guess you already knew that.


Would this have occurred if I hadn't returned to Main Place? I'd guess it would have, eventually. Another Cavages executive assured me that the polygraph findings would not be used against me, they just wanted to clear the air. I told myself it was a chance to clean the slate and move forward as the company man I wanted to be. It would be a good thing. It...it....


Cavages asked for my immediate resignation.


I try to look back on it objectively, and I have to concede that Cavages had a right to toss me aside. I had known that the previous Main Place Mall store manager was selling dope in the store, and not only had I not snitched on him, I lied to an officer of the company when asked about it. I had also once pocketed $20 when a cash drawer was over--a singularly stupid move on my part--though I had also kicked in money from my wallet when a drawer was short, so I thought it kinda balanced out. It was still wrong, and I'm not trying to excuse my action. And I should have known better than to believe that above-mentioned store manager when he said a bunch of sidewalk sale bargain LPs had already been written off and paid for as far as the company was concerned--go ahead and take as many of 'em as you like, Carl, and all you guys. I took a stack, some of which I kept, and some of which I traded to Gary Sperrazza! at Apollo Records in exchange for more garage fuzz. It wasn't until much later that it dawned on me that these "free" records still belonged to Cavages, and it wasn't the manager's call to let me have them.


I was a fucking idiot. My blood still boils at the thought of what a cretin I was.


So yeah, you could say Cavages was right to give me the ol' heave-ho. I still think it was a mistake. I'd been trying hard to do things better, to do things the right way, and I'd succeeded in doing all of that. They'd seen my success, seen the results of my efforts. I was worth keeping. 


But I was gone.


I didn't see it coming. I'd convinced myself that I'd be allowed to continue with the company from that fresh point--see above reference to "fucking idiot"--and I was blindsided when the axe fell. I picked Brenda up from work, and I just broke down sobbing when I told her I'd lost my job. I felt desperate, depressed, and...lost. Just lost. Lost. Loser. Stupid, pathetic loser....


Before my sudden exile from Cavages, Jeff Tamarkin and I had agreed on an assignment for two reviews: Laughing At The Pieces by Doctor and the Medics, and a garage compilation called Beasts From The East. I owned a copy of the first record, and had planned to buy Beasts From The East at work that weekend. Now, I had no work, and no money to buy the record I was supposed to review. (Also no money for rent, food, gas, or anything else, for that matter; there would be no unemployment benefits, either, given the disgrace and shame that now clung to me like a shroud.) And I kept asking myself, in absolute, awful terror: What am I going to do?!

I have gone through bouts of depression in my life. This was one of the worst of them. I did not see any way out. I still can't articulate, or even understand, how I got through it.


The Goldmine part was easy; Mad Louie felt terrible about what had happened, even blamed himself for it (which was nonsense). But, because of the circumstances, he broke his personal rule of never lending out any of his records, and let me borrow his copy of Beasts From The East. I wrote the reviews, mailed them off to Jeff Tamarkin, and quickly returned the Beasts From The East LP to its rightful owner. Louie also tried to get me a job over at Record Theater, but it was to no avail. I'm not sure whether it was just a matter of no openings, or if I was now considered tainted. I suspect the latter.


I looked for work, and I wasn't too picky about what I considered. I found myself applying for a job selling major appliances at a local store; I didn't get the job, but I listened carefully to some of the things my interviewer was telling me, about how he required his employees to do things differently from sales staff in other appliance stores. I committed his words to memory, and thought to myself, Maybe these other stores will want a salesman who does the things this guy says his salesmen aren't allowed to do.


That knowledge paid off in my next interview: I said the opposite of what that other store's interviewer said he wanted, and I was hired on the spot. I could be a fast learner when I had to be.


My subscription to Goldmine had lapsed, and I hadn't yet been able to afford renewal. My debut as a Goldmine freelancer hit the stands in October, cover-dated 11/21/86. I tried to keep an eye out for the issue, but I missed it; I didn't even see a copy of it until many years later. 


The new job sucked. It didn't matter. I didn't have a choice, anyway. It was a new store, a chain from Rochester and Syracuse trying to break into the Buffalo market. I was inexperienced, but earnest, hard-working, desperate. I made it through Christmas. Money was still tight, but I made enough for us to get cable and a VCR, albeit all on a shoestring. I survived the chain's purge of excess employees, and was still working there as spring approached.

And I hated it.


I'd enjoyed a teasing taste of what it was like to do something you loved and get paid for it. I'd run a record store, and life had been good. Now, I was trying to convince reluctant shoppers to purchase a new refrigerator or television set. But it was a job. I reminded myself: it was a job. It was not an easy time. It wasn't going to get any easier. We needed to do...something.


We had to get out of Buffalo....


A Letter To My 17-Year-Old Self


Dear Teenaged Me:

First off, I need to tell you that it gets better. No, really. A letter to one's teen self often starts off with that tried and true sentiment, because it fits. It's real. Writing decades later, I know things improved, but you haven't discovered that yet. It won't be better all of the time; there will be both good days and bad days, awful times and celebratory times, and all the shades of experience in between. But you make it through. I'm you, writing to you from more than forty years in the future, so yeah, you survive it all. Not unscathed, possibly not quite intact, but you make it.

Ah. I'm getting ahead of myself. The perils of hindsight.

It's January 17th, 1977. A Monday. You're a senior at North Syracuse Central High School, but there's no school today. The weather outside is frightful, and everything is cancelled all over Central New York. As you look through your window at the quiet suburban street, you see that the frigid elements have transformed Richardson Drive into a chiseled sculpture of ice, its frozen beauty both breathtaking and dangerous. On the radio, WOUR-FM is giving away a free James Montgomery Band LP to the first caller who can identify the U.S. city that was home to the first traffic light; some memory of visits to your sister in Ohio compels you to call and say CLEVELAND!, the correct answer. The album is yours--Happy Birthday, Carl! This is how your 17th year begins.

It's a scary time all around you. That same day, killer Gary Gilmore is executed in Utah, the first time that the death penalty is carried out in the U.S. in nearly ten years. Jimmy Carter, a former peanut farmer and Governor from Georgia, will be sworn in as President in a few days. And you're going to college soon, sooner than seems possible, far sooner than you're ready, yet not soon enough to meet your need for something--anything--positive to happen to you.

You're lonely. You feel alone, in spite of the presence of a family that loves you, and a smattering of friends with whom you share some good times. Is it teen drama? Is it clinical depression? Is it both, or neither? The vantage point of four decades gone has not clarified the answer in my head. Nor could anything I say now at 57 have any real meaning for you at 17. The twisted, uneven path before you remains only yours to tread. Tread carefully.

You have music, and it helps you. Your favorite group is The Beatles, and that will never really change. Your current affection for Boston and Fleetwood Mac will abate somewhat over time, but you'll remain a steadfast fan of The Monkees, and your burgeoning interest in The Kinks will grow stronger. You'll still like KISS, though they won't remain at the very top of your pops for long.

But, within the next year or so, you're going to hear two groups who will join The Beatles as your all-time favorites. You know The Ramones, that group you've been reading about in Phonograph Record Magazine? Yeah, that's right--the scary guys with the leather jackets, and the songs about sniffin' glue and murder and similar fun in the sun. They frighten you now, but once you finally hear them? You're gonna start calling them The American Beatles, the greatest American rock 'n' roll band of all time. Oh, don't roll your eyes at me, young man! Just wait. You'll see. And then just over a year from now, you and your friend Jay Hammond are going to see a local band called The Flashcubes, and you're going to feel like you've just seen God.

You're going to mature, but you're not going to mature all that much. I wish you would, or could. The music you're listening to right now, all that Beatles and British Invasion stuff, plus Sweet and The Raspberries and about a billion others, are going to dovetail with the punk rock you've been reading about, and it's all going to come together as Your Music in this crucible of 1977. Pretty soon, you're going to hear a band called The Rubinoos, and you'll think Heaven formed them just for you. You'll hear The Sex Pistols, and think that your notion of what is and isn't rock 'n' roll is due for redefinition. You're going to forsake The Bay City Rollers, briefly, but you'll come back to them almost immediately.

In later years, you're going to develop an appreciation for some pop sounds that might not be relevant to you just yet. I know you don't really care about The Who; you will. I know you don't like The Beach Boys, at least not the way you like The Dave Clark Five or Paul Revere & the Raiders, but someday, you'll regard The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds as the greatest album of all time. Yeah, even more than that Christmas gift you got last month, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Believe it or not! You're going to like David Bowie more than you do now. You're going to like Bob Dylan less. If I recall the timeline, you're almost ready to start hating The Eagles. You're going to discover Stax; you're going to discover reggae; you're going to discover rockabilly. And you're going to discover a name for your favorite music, the music you've loved the most for the longest time, but never thought about what to call it; it's called power pop. Power pop is going to be almost like a religion for you.

Before this year is done, you're going to write your first article about rock 'n' roll music. You are going to write many, many, many more after that, over a span of decades. You're going to get pretty good at it, but you'll come to bristle whenever someone calls you a rock critic. (The only exception you'll ever make will be when you're thumbing through a book one evening, and discover that you've been quoted, as in "according to rock critic Carl Cafarelli." Yeah, you'll make an exception for that one.)

A little over a year from now, you're going to give up on comic books; you'll come back to them after college. You will not marry Lissa DeAngelo, nor will you hook up with Suzi Quatro. Sorry, man. But you will have girlfriends. In fact, a girl will seduce you, rather eagerly, in the not-too-distant future, and I don't intend to spoil that surprise. Later on, you'll meet a young woman with whom you'll want to spend the rest of your life, and she'll feel the same way about you.

You're going to keep on making mistakes. You'll say things you regret, you'll do things you regret, and I wish I could prevent all of that. But I can't, and I shouldn't. Because fixing even one of those bad, bad things could divert you from the path that leads to your greatest joy: your daughter. Your daughter is something else, man, and just being her father will earn you more pride and fulfillment than anything else you will ever do in this life. You won't even mind that she becomes a better writer than you, because all of her accomplishments make you happier than you can even imagine now.

And you will share a love of music with your daughter. You won't like the same kinds of music--let's not get crazy--but music will fill every fiber of her being, just as it fills yours now.

Keep listening to your music. Keep reading about new sounds. Keep faith in the sounds you already know and cherish. Keep writing. You're gonna get published. You're never going to make much money at it, but you are going to find people interested in what you say, and in the way you say it. I know you lack confidence in yourself, but I know you believe in your writing. Others are going to believe in it, too.

Very soon now, you're going to write a short story that reads like a suicide note. It's just a story; I know. I know. There are people you know right now--at least three of them--who will choose to end their own lives, and will follow through with that fatal decision. You can't save them. You will look back and wish you could. You will look back very often and wish you could have done...something. But it is within your power to save yourself. You can do it. Not to toot my own horn, but I've already proven that you can do it. It will not be easy, but you will succeed.

You've been listening to Sgt. Pepper. You've been singing along, It's getting better all the time. It will get better. You will have triumphs, perhaps modest ones, but you'll feel that elation nonetheless. You will also battle depression. I can't promise you the paradise you crave, because it ain't coming. But you're going to have a good life, marred by disappointments, devastated by tragedies, yet still a life worth savoring, a life that will touch the lives of others in, I hope, mostly positive ways.

Oh. And you're gonna get to see The Animals and The Searchers and The Kinks and The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Tina Turner, The Beach Boys. You're gonna get to meet Gene Simmons, and he's going to be an absolute dickhead to you. You're gonna see The Monkees. As I write this, it looks like you're gonna see Paul McCartney. You're going to ask Ringo Starr a question at a press conference, and he's going to answer you. You're going to see The Ramones nine times! You're going to see a bunch of acts you haven't even heard yet, like Prince and The Lords Of The New Church and The Bangles. There's a lot of music ahead of you.

And this year is crucial. Everything starts for you in 1977. Keep your head held high. You won't get the reference just yet, but keep your head held high. Your life will be saved by rock 'n' roll.

Love,

Much Older (Little Wiser) You

PS: That hope to die before you get old? Stupid notion. Discard it now.



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Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin' pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset--Benefit For This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio:  CD or download

Carl's writin' a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of 'em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).