About Me

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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.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

BRIGHT LIGHTS! Part 1



BRIGHT LIGHTS aftershow pic by Jeanne Chu (with my head Photoshopped in by Meghan Cafarelli)
"HEY!" I yelled, "YA GOIN' TO THE DANCE TONIGHT?"

July 3rd at Funk 'N Waffles.  We'd had our memories of this Syracuse music scene we loved.  We'd gone through the agony of anticipation.

A tentative reply from a few in the audience:  "Yeah, what else is there?"

On stage, I feigned disgust.  "Man, you guys are outta practice!  We'll try it just once more: HEY! YA GOIN' TO THE DANCE TONIGHT?"

And the audience responded:  "YEAH!  WHAT ELSE IS THERE?"

Satisfied that enough fans in attendance recognized the opening lines of late, lamented Syracuse rockers The Most's 1979 single "Take A Chance," Dana and I declared the 2016 edition of BRIGHT LIGHTS! The Syracuse New Wave Rock 'n' Roll Reunion to be on its way.  We thanked the good folks at Funk 'N Waffles, thanked all those in attendance, and tacitly acknowledged all those who were with us in our hearts.  We dedicated the night to the memory of Norm Mattice, and noted that BRIGHT LIGHTS! was brought to you by the benevolent spirits of The Jabberwocky, The Firebarn, The Insomniac, Squire's East, and Dave Glavin's garage.  And now that blessings had been delivered, BRIGHT LIGHTS! finally began with Maura & the Bright Lights.

As the co-hosts of these live shows, Dana and I like to think of ourselves as the faces of
BRIGHT LIGHTS!  But Maura Kennedy is the literal embodiment of BRIGHT LIGHTS!, its heart and its soul and its fashion sense.  There are a few others who just about match Maura's boundless enthusiasm for the event, but Maura is BRIGHT LIGHTS! in a way that no one else could be BRIGHT LIGHTS!  The best idea we've ever had, in any context, was to have Maura open these shows with the concept we called Maura & the Bright Lights:  Maura, her husband Pete Kennedy, Gary Frenay and Arty Lenin of The Flashcubes and Screen Test, and Cathy LaManna.  The concept calls for Maura & the Bright Lights to perform a set of songs by some of the Syracuse stalwarts we weren't able to get on the bill.

Maura & the Bright Lights:  Arty Lenin, Gary Frenay, Maura Kennedy, Cathy LaManna, Pete Kennedy
As noted, this year's BRIGHT LIGHTS! was dedicated to Norm Mattice; Norm had been a member of a great combo called Dress Code, and he later sang lead with 1.4.5. and The Richards.  He was a terrific talent, but his demons teamed up with flesh-and-blood demons to take him down; he wound up homeless and destitute, and his body was found in Onondaga Lake Park a few months back.  We planned a specific tribute to Norm for later in the night, but Maura--bless 'er!--also wanted to open the show with a salute to Norm.

So BRIGHT LIGHTS! opened with Maura & the Bright Lights covering "Something's Really Wrong," a beautiful song from Dress Code's 1981 EP Alone In The Crowd.  The original recording was a lovely ballad about not fitting in, not wanting to fit in, and trying to resist pressure to fit into a world that often makes no goddamned sense at all; it was written in the wake of John Lennon's murder, and the record included an audio collage of radio voices illustrating a country and planet gone mad.  Maura wanted to recast the song to be specifically about the plight of the homeless, and she asked Dana and I to recite a new script as part of the performance, in place of the original DJ patter.  We were honored to comply.

Such a somber opening number required an immediately uptempo follow-up, so Maura & the Bright Lights powered their irresistible way through selections by The Ohms, My Sin, and (yay!) Maura's own "Summer Coulda Lasted Forever," which was the first song Maura ever wrote, a looooong time ago.  The Bright Lights also added a great new song, "Maybe Someday," which Maura co-wrote with another Syracuse stalwart, B.D. Love (ex- of My Sin and Buddy Love & the Tearjerkers).  Maura and B.D.'s songwriting collaborations (which have already resulted in a fine CD called Villanelle: The Songs Of Maura Kennedy & B.D. Love) were inspired to begin with by Maura & the Bright Lights' set at the first BRIGHT LIGHTS! show in 2014, so Maura thought it fitting to debut this new song at this year's show (and rightly so!).  The recorded version of the song features Flashcubes drummer Tommy Allen, so Tommy joined the Bright Lights for the live performance.  (And I've just been informed that the recorded version also features harmonies from both B.D. Love and John Wicks of The Records, in addition to the fine work of  Maura, Pete, Gary, Arty, and Tommy--power pop summit meeting!)

As always, Maura & the Bright Lights closed their set with The Tearjerkers' "Syracuse Summer," Gary Frenay's gorgeous ode to the mercurial climate of Central New York, a brilliant evocation of everything you've ever loved about anything, from summer fun to summer love to summer music, wishing it could all last forever, and retaining faith that the magic will renew itself in due time.  And that word says it all: magic.  It is my fervent hope that Maura & the Bright Lights record at least one album...maybe someday!



Screen Test was next.  When I interviewed Gary for the liner notes of Screen Test's anthology Inspired Humans Making Noise, he recalled being told by high-falutin' record-biz know-nothings throughout the '80s that there was no market for three-piece pop combos. Nowadays, we refer to such esteemed pundits as "cretins."  Disregarding the ignorance of industry weasels, Screen Test--comprised of once and future Flashcubes Gary Frenay, Arty Lenin, and Tommy Allen--crafted an unforgettable series of nonpareil pop nuggets, each cryin' out for a sympathetic radio and a heart to steal.  Like The Flashcubes, a Screen Test set is never long enough, because the group simply has too much great material to choose from.

But ya can't argue with the result, even if it leaves you wanting more.  Gary's "Sound Of The Radio" is the best pop song ever written about radio, while Arty's "Nothing Really Matters When You're Young" is a heartbreaking--but toe-tapping--summary of teen alienation, a world-weary acknowledgement of why I hated high school, all wrapped up in the prettiest of pretty, pretty paper. And I wish The Monkees would cover Gary's "Make Something Happen," which has always been a monster pop hit, just waiting for the world to appreciate it.

(Screen Test also performed Gary's "Not Today," a vintage Screen Test song, but one they've dug out for a fresh new recording in the recent past.  It remains unreleased as of now, but I hope that status changes soon.  The world could always use more Screen Test music.)

Blogger's startin' to act weird, so we'd best stop here and continue with more BRIGHT LIGHTS! coming soon.  Rest up--it's gonna get loud.