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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

EAST COAST BANDS ARE HIP (And Why I Don't Wish They All Could Be California Bands)

Power pop impresario David Bash asked me to write an introduction to the program for the 2003 East Coast edition of International Pop Overthrow, David's much-beloved, multi-act live celebration of power pop music.  I was delighted to answer the call with this piece.  My stodgy homebodiness has prevented me from ever leaving Syracuse long enough to actually attend an IPO show, but...someday!  (And if you don't know about IPO already, discover what you've been missing HERE)

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It's purely a coincidence that two of my all-time three favorite rock 'n' roll bands, The Ramones and The Flashcubes, come from my home state of New York.  (I won't name my other favorite, except to concede that maybe I like 'em so much because I originally thought they were from Liverpool, NEW YORK rather than Liverpool, ENGLAND.  Hey, I was four years old at the time...!)  Pop music recognizes no borders--there's a reason these shindigs aren't called "Regional Pop Overthrow."  But I'm here today to speak on behalf of East Coast power poppers, as the way-fab International Pop Overthrow heads East for its first multi-city blowout in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

And it occurs to me that there really is no such thing as East Coast pop.  Certainly, great rockin' pop music has always existed throught the region, with a long history dating back at least as far as The Four Seasons, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Remains, The Nazz, and The Knickerbockers in the '60s.  But, aside from the buzz created by The Ramones, Blondie, and the rest of New York City's CBGB's/Max's Kansas City crowd in the '70s, there's never been an identifiable East Coast counterpart to the Southern California pop scene, nor to the Midwest pop tradition that gave us The Raspberries, Blue Ash, Shoes, Pezband, Off Broadway, and a little band called Cheap Trick.

Even some of the wonderful acts with roots in the East only achieved greatness after abandoning the ol' home towns to pursue their dreams way out west.  Peter Case left Buffalo and found his fame a million miles away, with The Nerves and The Plimsouls in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.  Joan Jett was born in Philadelphia and lived in Baltimore before growing up to declare her love of rock 'n' roll elsewhere.  Both Chris von Sneidern and Cockeyed Ghost's Adam Marsland ditched their Central New York homes after deciding that Californy was the place they oughtta be.  This even extends to non-performers, as an expatriate New Yorker named David Bash relocated to Los Angeles, and eventually began International Pop Overthrow as a live showcase for rockin' pop bands from around the world.

But if the East Coast offers neither a scene nor a perceived haven for power pop artists, it has undeniably produced a wealth of transcendent pop music.  Even if we ignore the incomparable songwriting history of the Brill Building and its neighbors...wait a second.  Why on Earth would we want to ignore THAT?  If nothing else, the songs-for-hire produced at the Brill Building and at 1650 Broadway (home of Don Kirshner's songwriting stable) created a nonpareil body of tunes for The Drifters, The Monkees, The Animals, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and The Righteous Brothers, among many, many others; of these acts, only The Drifters were actually based in the East (though the music for some of The Monkees' early tracks was indeed cut in NYC), but the songs themselves were originally crafted in New York, and continue to be enjoyed worldwide.

If the songs that make the whole world sing aren't sufficient, consider the work of such acts as Philadelphia's Todd Rundgren (whose late-'70s appearance on TV's The Mike Douglas Show, singing the power pop classic "Couldn't I Just Tell You," remains a personal favorite rock-on-TV moment), Baltimore's Greenberry Woods/Splitsville and Love Nut/Myracle Brah (hmmmm--Baltimore must have a thing for swell pop bands morphing into different, also-swell pop bands), The Real Kids and The Lyres from Boston, The Spongetones from Charlotte, North Carolina, The Reducers from New London, Connecticut, The Grip Weeds, The Smithereens, and Fountains Of Wayne (oh, and that Springsteen guy) from New Jersey, Artful Dodger from Fairfax, Virginia, The Rooks, The Restless, The Jellybricks, The Villas, The Catholic Girls, The Charms, Fireking, Shane Faubert, Eytan Mirsky, and my faves, The Flashcubes--it's an endless list of captivating pop acts with nothing in common save talent and geography.

There is no such thing as "East Coast pop."  Nonetheless, consider this a testimonial to the region's rich pop history, and a toast to the many fine rock 'n' rollers who've contributed (and still contribute) to that ongoing history.  This festival gives you a chance to check some of 'em out, right alongside other supercool pop combos from California, Ohio, Japan...jeez, from all over the world.  Like the song says, it's an international pop overthrow.

Okay:  there is ONE experience that pop acts in the East and the Midwest share that is alien to the West Coast contingent:  Ice.  Snow.  Winter. Jack Frost nippin' at whatever it is Jack Frost nips at.  There ain't no surf in Cleveland, pal, so it figures that The Choir, the roots-of-The-Raspberries band that had a near-hit with "It's Cold Outside" in the '60s, was itself from Cleveland.  As a native of Syracuse, NY [motto:  "Snow?  Yeah, we got snow"], I know how our Midwestern brethren feel, as fall turns to winter and our awe at the brilliant beauty of Autumn leaves turns into a resigned acceptance of our dismal, frozen fate.  Not that we're bitter or anything.

Struck by the dichotomy of listening to sunny pop music while lake effect snow piles up in the driveway, Gary Frenay of The Flashcubes was prompted to write "Syracuse Summer," a Beach Boys-style ode to our mercurial climate.  It was recorded in 1980 by The Tearjerkers, a local group whose claim to fame is that one of its many line-ups included comic Tom Kenny, who later found fame as the voice of SpongBob Squarepants.  Hmph--another Easterner who hadda move to California to make good.  Still, the lyrics of "Syracuse Summer" offer a cool coda for our tribute to pop on the East Coast:

Seasons change, and you live extremes
You've got snowfall coverin' your sunny dreams
You have to wait
But you want it more when it comes

So bundle up, and have a wonderful IPO East Coast!

"Syracuse Summer" written by Gary Frenay