Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Yeah, we're pretty jazzed that This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl will hit show # 850 this coming Sunday, December 4th. It'll be a fitting tribute to whatever the hell it is that Dana and I do--a Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Bandstand, and Where The Action Is!, too--and it streams live this Sunday from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively at

With TIRnRR # 850 now looming large in our legend, here's a passel o' fun facts about how we got here:

FIRST EPISODE: TIRnRR # 1 aired on WXXE-FM Fenner/Syracuse on December 27th, 1998. We have been in that same Sunday night 9 to Midnight slot ever since (though we've missed a few of 'em along the way).

FIRST SONG WE EVER PLAYED: "I Won't Let You Let Me Go" by The Poptarts.

SECOND SONG: "Daydream Believer" by Shonen Knife.

THIRD SONG:  "Regional Girl" by The Monkees. Now, let's move on from that first show....

ALL-TIME MOST-PLAYED ACT: The Beatles, by far.

ALL-TIME MOST-PLAYED SONG: "September Gurls" by Big Star, which just this year edged past our perennial # 1, "Why" by The Stallions.

MOST FREQUENT FEATURED ACT: The Monkees, hands down. The Monkees have been a TIRnRR Featured Act eight times, and that's not counting the times we featured Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, or Peter Tork. I guess we owe Micky Dolenz a turn. The Flashcubes are second with 6 times, and John Lennon is third with 5 times, then Paul McCartney with 4. The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, George Harrison, The Kinks, and KISS have each been featured three times. The Kinks remain the only act to ever take over an entire TIRnRR, and they've done so twice. We have devoted entire shows to The Beatles, The Flashcubes, and The Monkees, but each of those shows also included relevant tracks by other artists.

THEME SHOWS: We're Your Friends For Now, the 1992 predecessor of TIRnRR, used to specialize in theme shows, but TIRnRR has also done a number of theme shows, too. Without checking the archives, my memory tells me we did TIRnRR theme shows centered on covers, tribute albums, Nuggets and '60s garage punk psychedelia, Ken Sharp's power pop books Play On!, B-sides, 1965, rock 'n' roll soundtrack music, live recordings, Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery (acts that Dana or I saw live), female singers, comic books, the music of Syracuse and Central New York, and a series of decade-specific theme shows celebrating the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, and the '00s. In addition, Dana's Funky Soul Pit and the Christmas show are annual traditions on TIRnRR. And Dana has a terrific idea for a new theme show, which we'll try to execute in early 2017.

FIRST WEBCAST SONG: "Sound Of The Radio" by Screen Test.

LAST SONG PLAYED ON THE OLD SYRACUSE COMMUNITY RADIO WEBCAST: I can't tell you what it was, but believe me: it was rude and angry.

FIRST SONG PLAYED ON WESTCOTT RADIO: "Saying Goodbye" by The Muffs, dedicated to Syracuse Community Radio. Our split from SCR in 2007 was not amicable, and I was pissed. We later kissed and made up, and became friends with benefits--appropriate, because they certainly screwed us. We repaid the favor by quietly taking over the outfit. "They" have become "We," and we have no intention of ever again kicking ourselves to the curb.

THE SHOWS THAT DIDN'T COUNT: Sure, Sunday is TIRnRR # 850, but we've also done a bunch of shows that don't figure into that number. The first such show was our sixth-month anniversary celebration, which we counted separately (purely for accounting purposes). Dana occasionally does a solo show in between our Christmas and Countdown shows; since those aren't included in the year-end tally, we call 'em The Many Moods Of Dana Bonn and consider them separate from TIRnRR. Similarly, I did one solo show called CC's Time Machine, and Dana co-hosted The Night Before Boxing Day with my daughter Meghan one year; neither of those count as an episode of TIRnRR, either. Finally, our live webcast with John Wicks and Paul Collins was a special edition, and not one of the 849 TIRnRRs to date.

GUEST HOSTS: Our Who Needs Dana & Carl? Guest Host promotion, wherein generous folks who donate at least $100 to Spark Syracuse earn the opportunity to program the music for an episode of TIRnRR, has been an enormous success. Our very first Guest Host preferred to remain anonymous, and we've had a number of other friends and listeners serve as able Guest Hosts since then.

THE SHOW'S ORIGINAL TITLE: As we were on our way to the studio for that first show on 12/27/98, the show was to be called The Kids Are Alright, and had been announced as such by Eric Strattman, whose own show Unsupervised, I Hit My Head preceded ours. Our intended theme song was a cover of The Who's titular power pop classic, performed by The Pleasers. BUT! I only had that song on a 45, and Dana informed me en route that the studio's turntable wasn't functional. So, a sudden switch to a Ramones CD for our theme song, and This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio was born.

NOTABLE REASONS FOR CANCELLING SHOWS:  Technical issues are a frequent hobgoblin for the delicate little flower that is Westcott Radio; these have included frazzled razzafrazzin' equipment at the studio, and webcast cooties downtown. Inclement weather--it snows a little bit in Syracuse, every once in a while--have forced us to forego the show only a handful of times. We took one Sunday night off in 2012 to go see The Monkees; we regret nothing. When one of us is ill or has a scheduling conflict, the other one usually does the show solo; Dana's done more solo shows than I have, but I've done my share, too. But the most notable cause for killing a week's scheduled show was one Sunday night in...2005, I think? Another car slammed into us at an intersection on Westcott Street, and kept right on going. The miscreant driver didn't stop to leave his card, but he did leave his license plate laying in the street; we were happy to turn that plate over to a nice police officer, secure in the knowledge it could be reunited with its rightful owner.

TIRnRR CDs:  We did three of them! The first two were released by JAM Recordings, while Kool Kat Musik took over for Volume 3. They remain among our proudest achievements in doing this little mutant radio show. Will there ever be a Volume 4? Keep watching the skies. And keep listening to these guys: this is what rock 'n' roll radio sounds like on Sunday nights in Syracuse each week.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016


This Sunday, December 4th, will be the 850th edition of our little mutant radio show This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. To start gettin' set, let's reach back into the archives to this bit of hype from seven years ago, trumpeting the imminent presumed triumph of TIRnRR # 500:


Syracuse's long-running Internet radio show This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl will celebrate its 500th episode on Sunday night September 27th with a three-hour blowout of favorite tunes from its first 499 shows. Billed without humility (and only a little exaggeration) as The Best Three Hours Of Radio On the Whole Friggin' Planet, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio streams live every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight. exclusively at

From its debut on December 27, 1998 to today, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio has been an unlikely success story. Co-hosted by local artist, photographer, and musician DANA BONN and freelance rock 'n' roll journalist CARL CAFARELLI, this should-be-obscure show has somehow found an audience across the country and even around the world: an audience of avid fans of rockin' pop music, eager to find some form of rock 'n' roll radio to believe in. TIRnRR's nominal format is "power pop," the catchy, melodic form of high-energy rock 'n' roll influenced by THE BEATLES, THE KINKS, and THE WHO, and exemplified by BADFINGER, THE RASPBERRIES, and THE RAMONES, among many others. But power pop is just the jumping-off point, and Dana & Carl are just as likely to mix in the the music of soul giant SOLOMON BURKE, underground icons THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, country legends GEORGE JONES and CONWAY TWITTY, rap stars OUTKAST, essential rock 'n' roll from CHUCK BERRY, the left-of-the-dial appeal of THE PIXIES, the sensational sound of THE SEX PISTOLS, and whatever cool tune--new or old, obscure or familiar--might catch their fancy. It's ALL pop music, intended to be part of "a rockin' pop/punk/soul/bubblegum Shangri-La, where TOOTS & THE MAYTALS play poker with THE RAMONES, LITTLE RICHARD arm-wrestles LIZ PHAIR, BIG STAR is a household name, and a record by some group you'v never even heard of can change your life, or at least send you on an interstate dancing spree."

Along the way, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio has inspired two well-received compilation CDs, both released commercially by the JAM Recordings label in Michigan, with tracks contributed by artists such as '60s hitmakers THE COWSILLS, power pop icons JOHN WICKS & THE RECORDS, and local artists SCREEN TEST, THE KENNEDYS, TIM ANTHONY, THE FLASHCUBES, and BEAUTY SCENE OUTLAWS, the latter two of whom even wrote and recorded new tracks specifically about TIRnRR itself ("Carl [You Da Man]" and "Carl Cafarelli," respectively). Dana & Carl have hosted in-studio appearances by JOHN WICKS & PAUL COLLINS, JON NOTARTHOMAS & AIMEE BOBRUK, ADAM MARSLAND, FRISBIE, RAY PAUL, ADAM & CRAIG MARSHALL, and author COLETTE SHAW, and promoted local live shows by THE BEVIS FROND, CHICKLET, COCKEYED GHOST, MANNIX, ROBBIE RIST & KENNY HOWES, DIGBY, BEAUTY SCENE OUTLAWS, THE FALLEN ARCHIESTIM ANTHONY, and KYLE VINCENT.

But the most startling illustration of TIRnRR's unexpected impact came at the end of 2006, when the show's then-host Syracuse Community Radio announced that it would cease its webcast. Responding to Dana & Carl's plea for support, TIRnRR fans stepped up with over $2000 in contributions--at the height of the Christmas season, no less--to effectively save the show and continue webcasting as the newly-created Westcott Radio, where it has continued since then. This outpouring of support for TIRnRR--which one fan compared to the climax of the film It's A Wonderful Life, where a community pools its resources on Christmas Eve to help beloved community figure George Bailey--stunned even the usually-jaded Dana & Carl, who continue to marvel that what they self-mockingly dubbed The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet has, incongruously, found so many folks who agree with that billing.

Carl calls it "a mutant hybrid of the adventurous spirit of underground radio and the giddy rush of AM Top 40." Dana calls it "The Joy Of Radio." As This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio approaches its 500th show, Dana & Carl vow to face the future with whiter teeth, fresher breath, and a pleasantly stubborn faith that this really IS The Best Three Hours Of Radio On The Whole Friggin' Planet. An interstate dancing spree sounds like a mighty fine idea indeed.

Well, I'm convinced!

Since the landmark TIRnRR # 500, we've continued to stumble along the same path as before, blindly secure in the certainty that we're doing perfect pop radio the way it was meant to be done. We've released one more TIRnRR compilation CD (in 2013, on Kool Kat Musik), and we're getting ready to return to terrestrial radio on the all-new SPARK SYRACUSE. Why change now? Maturity wouldn't suit us anyway.

For kicks, here's a look back at what we played on TIRnRR # 500, September 27th, 2009:

RAMONES Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? Rhino, End Of The Century
SCREEN TEST Sound Of The Radio JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 2
FLASHING ASTONISHERS Period Exclamatory JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 1
ANDERSONS! From The Get-Go Lime Vinyl, Separated At Birth
3D Temptation Big Radio, Universal Conquest
DANA AND CARL You Be Me For A While And I'll Be You unreleased
KISS Calling Dr. Love Mercury, Rock And Roll Over
CONCRETES You Can't Hurry Love Astralwerks, The Concretes
RAMONES Blitzkrieg Bop Rhino, Ramones
BEATLES Hey Bulldog Apple, Yellow Submarine Songtrack
MANNIX Highway Lines, Come To California
DANA AND CARL Elvis Season! unreleased
MARY LOU LORD Aim Low Kill Rock Stars, Mary Lou Lord/Sean Na Na
GROOVIE GHOULIES Carly Simon Lookout!, VA:  Lookout!  Freakout!
BAY CITY ROLLERS Wouldn't You LIke It Bell, Wouldn't You Like It
ASTROPUPPEES Over Her Head Hightone, You Win The Bride
STYX Kiss Your Ass Goodbye Sanctuary, Cyclorama
MERRYMAKERS I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better Not Lame, VA:  Full Circle
DANA AND CARL East Side Story unreleased
FINKERS Last Thing On My Mind JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 1
DROWNERS While My Guitar Gently Weeps Jealousy, VA:  He Was Fab
TODD RUNDGREN Couldn't I Just Tell You Rhino, Something/Anything?
P76 Let's Get Back To Where We Started Zip, Into The Sun
TROGGS Our Love Will Still Be There Fontana, Archeology
POWERPUFF GIRLS Love Makes The World Go Round Warner Brothers, Powerpuff Bluff DVD
MAGNETIC FIELDS I Don't Want To Get Over You Merge, 69 Love Songs
CHUCK BERRY Promised Land MCA, The Anthology
CRICKLE Place In My Heart ROIR, VA:  Garage Sale
PIPER DOWNS 10 Speed Doorslammer, Varying Degrees Of Failure And Tunelessness
COCKEYED GHOST I Hate Rock 'n' Roll Big Deal, The Scapegoat Factory
DANA AND CARL A Dream Of Partridges unreleased
PURRBOX Punk Rock LoveFest, PurrBox
ORGONE BOX World Revolves Minus Zero, The Orgone Box
SEX CLARK 5 Fool I Was Skyclad, Antedium
FOOLED BY APRIL Oh Dana LunaSea, VA:  A Tribute To Big Star
FLASHCUBES Carl (You Da Man) JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 1
MOPTOPS Christine Not Lame, VA:  Full Circle
CATHOLIC GIRLS Should Have Been Mine Cinema, Meet The Catholic Girls
LOLAS Sticker JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 1
COWSILLS She Said To Me JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 2
KENNY HOWES AND THE YEAH! Sheila, She TallBoy, Until Dawn
MARLOWES Pilgrim Soul Shiny Fly, Nuclear Suitcase
HOLE Heaven Tonight DGC, Celebrity Skin
FRISBIE Comes N Goes Hear Diagonally, Period.
COTTON MATHER My Before And After Copper, Kontiki
ANNY CELSI Empty Hangers Ragazza, Little Black Dress & Other Stories
SPONGETONES (My Girl) Maryanne Loaded Goat, Always Carry On
EYTAN MIRSKY Don't Bother Me Jealousy, VA:  He Was Fab
KINKS Everybody's Gonna Be Happy Rhino, Greatest Hits
MR. ENCRYPTO The Last Time [a cappella] JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 2
LA'S There She Goes Rhino, VA:  Children Of Nuggets
OHIO EXPRESS Had To Be Me Cameo, Beg, Borrow And Steal
GANTS I Wonder Psychic Circle, VA:  The Electric Coffee House
HELLO HELEN Fall's Far Away JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 1
SINGLES He Can Go, You Can't Stay Rainbow Quartz, Better Than Before
BEAUTY SCENE OUTLAWS Carl Cafarelli JAM, VA:  This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio Volume 2
ONLY ONES Another Girl, Another Planet Rhino, VA:  DIY:  Teenage Kicks
STALLIONS Why Junk, Hey Baby, It's The Stallions
SHADOWS Wonderful Land Scamp, Shadows Are Go!

Nope. We ain't changed at all.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 849

Two weeks ago, we made our first attempt at This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 849, but internet woes 'n' kerfrazzles forced us to postpone the show. We tried again last week, just as the good Lord above chose to casually toss about two feet of snow upon sorry little Syracuse. Cursed? Us? Nah. It just fires up our simple-minded enthusiasm. We're either dedicated, or just plain stupid. Possibly both.

Third time's a charm, so here we are at last with the ol' 8-4-9, featuring new music from Maxi Dunn, The Bottle Kids, and The Maladaptive Solution, a TIRnRR debut from Orbis Max, new archival wonders from Lisa Mychols and Terry Draper, and an invigmoratin' selection of TIRnRR Fave Raves old and new. And the whole thing culminated in our celebratory TOP OF THE TOPS COUNTDOWN!

Vas is das "Top Of The Tops Countdown?" Well! TIRnRR True Believer Fritz Van Leaven gathered up all of the 20 songs that have held or shared the # 1 spot in our year-end countdowns since we began this little mutant radio show back in 1998, and ranked 'em all according to how many times we've played them overall throughout the course of TIRnRR # 1-848. The results appear below; congratulations to our new # 1 of # 1s, and now officially our most played track ever: "September Girls" by Big Star.  Yep. The Greatest Record Ever Made!

NEXT WEEK: our pal Dave Murray steps up to pay tribute to the glory, the splendor, the wonder of Dana & Carl on THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO # 850!!  Be here. We'll try to be here, too. And 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 streams live on Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, exclusively on

TIRnRR # 849: 11/27/16

THE RAMONES: Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? (Rhino, End Of The Century)
THE KINKS: Better Things (Velvel, Give The People What They Want)
THE MONKEES: You Told Me (Rhino, Headquarters)
THE MONKEES: Birth Of An Accidental Hipster (Rhino, Good Times!)
TERRY DRAPER: In Germany (TerryTunes, Window On The World)
KLAATU: California Jam (Klaatunes, 3:47 e.s.t.)
LISA MYCHOLS: Don't Forget Your Man (, In This City)
THE GEORGIA SATELLITES: Don't Pass Me By (Elektra, Essentials)
BADFINGER: No Matter What (Apple, No Dice)
THE WHO: I Can See For Miles (MCA, The Kids Are Alright)
SUZI QUATRO: Tear Me Apart (Razor & Tie, The Wild One)
JOHNNY CASH & JUNE CARTER CASH: If I Were A Carpenter (Columbia, Playlist)
MAXI DUNN: September Sun, October Morning (unreleased)
THE RONETTES: Be My Baby (Sony, Playlist)
ORBIS MAX: You May Be The One (Orbis Max, Orbis Max & Friends)
MUDDY WATERS: Mannish Boy (MCA, Electric Mud)
ONE LIKE SON: Punk Rock Prom Queen (Body Thief, New American Gothic)
RAY PAUL: Pretty Flamingo (Permanent Press, Whimsicality)
THE BOTTLE KIDS: Let Me In On This Action (unreleased)
SQUEEZE: Farfisa Beat [alternate version] (A & M, Argybargy)
THE MALADAPTIVE SOLUTION: Ontology (Form And Content) (
FANTOMES: I Wanna Be Your Dog (Soul Jazz, VA: Les Punks: The French Connection)
1.4.5.: Your Own World (Beautiful Sounds, Rhythm n' Booze)
MARIE ET LES GARCONS: Rien A Dire (Soul Jazz, VA: Les Punks: The French Connection)
THE POPTARTS: I Won't Let You Let Me Go (PlumTone, Fresh...Out Of The Toaster)
THE BANGLES: Real World [demo version] (Omnivore, Ladies And Gentlemen...The Bangles!)
SCREEN TEST: Sound Of The Radio (JAM, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 2)
JIMI HENDRIX: Freedom (Experience Hendrix, Blue Wild Angel)
MARY LOU LORD: Aim Low (Kill Rock Stars, Mary Lou Lord/Sean Na Na)
THE BEVIS FROND: He'd Be A Diamond (Fire, New River Head)
THE SPONGETONES: (My Girl) Maryanne (Loaded Goat, Always Carry On)
LYRES: Help You, Ann (Matador, On Fyre)
COTTON MATHER: My Before And After (Copper, Kontiki)
KENNY HOWES & THE YEAH!: Sheila, She (TallBoy, Until Dawn)
# 20
COCKTAIL SLIPPERS: You Do Run (Wicked Cool, Saint Valentine's Day Massacre)
# 19
THE RED BUTTON: Cruel Girl (n/a, She's About To Cross My Mind)
# 18
EELS: Eyes Down (Disney, VA: Holes OST)
# 17
THE TREND: Electric Chair (Hate, Batman Live At Budokan)
# 16
STEVE STOECKEL & HIS THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO ALL-STARS: I Could Be Good For You (Kool Kate Music, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
# 15
THE HUMBUGS: Calico Eyes (Oddvious, On The Up Side)
# 14
LUGLESS BOOTH: I Blame His Brother (JAM, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 1)
# 13
THE SMITHEREENS: Sorry (Entertainment One, Smithereens 2011)
# 12
ASTROPUPPEES: On My Way (Manatee, Sugar Beat)
# 10 [tie]
ALEX CHILTON: Free Again (Rhino, 19 Years)
EYTAN MIRSKY: This Year's Gonna Be Our Year (M-Squared, Year Of The Mouse)
# 9
THE CATHOLIC GIRLS: Should Have Been Mine (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
# 8
THE GANTS: I Wonder (Rhino, VA: Nuggets)
# 7
MAD MONSTER PARTY: Can't Stop Loving You (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
# 6
# 5
THE LA'S: There She Goes (Rhino, VA: Children Of Nuggets)
# 4
MANNIX: Highway Lines (Kool Kat Musik, VA: This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3)
# 3
THE RAMONES: Blitzkrieg Bop (Rhino, Ramones)
# 2
THE STALLIONS: Why (Junk, Hey Baby, It's The Stallions)
# 1
BIG STAR: September Gurls (Ardent, # 1 Record/Radio City)
THE KINKS: She's Got Everything [Backing Track Take Two] (Sanctuary, The Anthology 1964-1971)

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Sunday, November 27, 2016


Listen, after two weeks of failed attempts at doing This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 849, we're startin' to wonder if that particular show is cursed or sumpin. Nonetheless, we'll soldier on tonight with TIRnRR # 849--Take 3, using a picture of the lovely 'n' talented Lisa Mychols as a positive talisman (and a picture of the lovely 'n' talented Suzi Quatro, because, y'know, Suzi Quatro!). We'll play a track from dear ol' Suzi, as well as a new archival track from our Lisa, and new music from Terry Draper, Maxi Dunn, Orbis Max, The Bottle Kids, and The Maladaptive Solution (with Michael Carpenter, Brad Beard, and Mike Giblin). As befits a near-milestrorm show, we'll also feature a few TIRnRR Fave Raves new and old, and we'll close the show with a special hour-long countdown of all 20 tracks that made it to # 1 in our year-end Countdown shows, ranked by how many times each track has been played overall during the course of 848 shows. And I'll tell ya this: the top two songs on that countdown are also TIRnRR's two most-played songs overall. Third time's a charm, baby! No, really. Don't try to argue with Lisa Mychols and Suzi Quatro. Sunday night, 9 to Midnight Eastern,

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I have two conflicting childhood memories of Thanksgiving. I remember turkey prep in our little suburban kitchen, with my Dad buttering a brown paper bag, placing the turkey in the buttered bag, and then putting the big, bagged turkey into the oven. It sounds like a weird method to cook a turkey, but I tell ya, it results in a moist 'n' delicious bird and a tasty holiday meal.

But I also remember going to my Aunt Mary's house on Park Street in Syracuse for Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know if I've confused different Thanksgivings in my mind, or if my Mom baked the turkey in North Syracuse and we transported it to Aunt Mary's house for the family dinner. Or maybe I'm confusing Thanksgivings with the Christmas Eves we spent at Aunt Mary's. I don't know.

But I think we did go to Aunt Mary's house for most of our Thanksgivings. And my memories of holiday dinners there remain full and vibrant, and plentiful: turkey and stuffing, roasted potatoes, macaroni and meatballs (We're Italian, fercryinoutloud!), and sweet, sumptuous desserts. As far and away the youngest kid at these dinners, I was usually relegated to a meal at the kitchen table rather than the dining room. And I vividly recall loud conversations after the meal was done, as my Uncle Art and Uncle Mike argued politics, and my Dad--ever the peacemaker--tried to referee. It is an indelible, happy memory, no matter how much fuzz my aging brain tries to gather around it.

Uncle Mike passed away in the mid-70s, when I was in high school. Uncle Art died in 1995, when my lovely wife Brenda was pregnant with Meghan, our only child. I lost my Dad in 2012. Aunt Mary, now 93 years old, resides in an assisted living facility; the family house on Park Street, which had belonged to my grandfather, was sold long ago. At 91, my Mom still lives in our old house in North Syracuse, and I check in with her every day.

For Thanksgiving this year, my brother Rob and sister-in-law Barb invited us to join them in Albany for a family meal. Rob and Barb have a new grandson, whom my Mom had not yet had the opportunity to meet. With that added incentive of allowing Mom to meet her newest great-grandchild, we agreed to make the trip. On Thanksgiving morning, Brenda, Meghan, and I picked up Mom, and set off down the New York State Thruway for Thanksgiving dinner in Albany. (Aunt Mary and my cousin Mary Ann had planned to meet us in Albany, but a morning phone call from Mary Ann informed us that her Mom didn't feel up for the trip. It was the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise-lovely day.)

Travel can be intimidating, even precarious around here at this time of year. Earlier this week, Syracuse had been the unhappy recipient of almost two feet of snow dumped upon our sorry souls; it took my ol' Cub Cadet and me an hour to clear the driveway Monday morning, and I don't want to imagine how long it would have taken (and how much I would be achin') if I'd been armed with just a freakin' snow shovel.

But fortune favors the cold! Or the bold. Whatever. By Thanksgiving, temps had risen, excess snow had melted, and driving conditions were conducive for a road trip.

My wife's car has satellite radio, so Little Steven's Underground Garage channel accompanied and propelled our ride: Moby Grape, James Brown, The Dave Clark Five, The Ramones, and Lesley Gore were among the sounds keeping this intrepid driver on the straight and narrow. We were ahead of schedule, so I added two pit stops near journey's end, just so we wouldn't arrive at my brother's house before they were ready for this Syracuse invasion. We got there just as the other guests started to filter in.

A word about my brother's in-laws: like Tony the Tiger once said of a specific sugary cereal, they're great. I often joke with Brenda that both she and I lucked out when it came to in-laws, and that goes for the extended family, too. I love my family, and Brenda's family, and my sister-in-law Barb's family, and so on through all the attendant family tree branches you could name. I hear so much about people who can't get along with their own family, or with some element of their family, and it saddens me. Even during our holiday dinner this year, Meghan heard from a friend suffering through Thanksgiving with her aunt, in a setting where she didn't feel welcome. I realize it's a common situation, and it's alien to my own experience. I appreciate how lucky I've been to never know that kind of life.

For me, family--even extended family--has always been about love, and delight, and camaraderie. It's not that we all agree about everything--we don't--but we agree on what's basic and important. And we enjoy spending time together, laughing together, remembering what was and hoping for what may be. I wish more of my family could have been there--I wish my brother Art and his family could have come in from Ohio, and I wish my sister Denise and her family could have flown in from England, and I wish Mary Ann could have come with Aunt Mary--but I'm grateful for the opportunity to gather with those who could be there. And I'm aglow with the contented feeling of seeing my daughter grow into the incredible young adult that now stands where my cherished little girl used to be; I look back in awe, and I look on in wonder, and marvel at the grace life has granted me.

I wish we had more time together. I wish we had more time. Meghan joked that we need another wedding, just to gather the family together. I agreed, while thinking to myself, Please, not your wedding next. Not now. Not yet. We last gathered en masse for my Mom's 90th birthday celebration in August of 2015. That was a blast. We need more happy get-togethers like that. We need a chance to toast, and dance, and tell stories, and reminisce.

As a family, like all families, we have suffered loss. We have endured the trials of time and distance, and done what we could to sustain our fragile hearts. Time is cruel, and we are mortal. But we live, we love, and we understand the bounty that we have been given. On Thanksgiving, members of our family gathered once again to enjoy a fabulous meal, and to enjoy our all-too-brief time together. That's sufficient cause for gratitude right there. That's reason enough to just say Thanks.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Joy Of Blogging

130,706 words.

That's a conservative number of how much new material I've written for this blog since its start on January 18th of this year. It doesn't count This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio playlists or hype, it doesn't count any old material from my archives (regardless of whether or not the material had been previously published), nor really anything I wrote for any other purpose and then decided to publish here, too. No, that word count only reflects what I wrote specifically for this blog. That's about 200 typed pages, give or take. And I think most of it has been pretty damned good. Add in the veritable wealth of archival material I've presented in my ongoing quest to post something each 'n' every day, and it would be tough to claim there hasn't been a lot happening here on Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do).

I'm really, really enjoying having this outlet for my writing. Yeah, I wish there were some, y'know, money involved--and saying that gives me an opportunity to once again beg for generous blog supporters to sign up to support me on Patreon for as little as $2 a month: Fund me, baby!--but it's been so, so gratifying to have a reason to write again. 

There are specific perks to writing for one's own blog, and the main perk is that I am the sole arbiter of what's appropriate for me to write here. For example, take my just-completed five-part Flashcubes fiction, A Brighter Light In My Mind. I had a lot of freedom when I was freelancing for Goldmine--then-editor Jeff Tamarkin was a delight to work with--but it's unlikely I could have convinced Goldmine or any other publication to let me concoct a lengthy fake history of a band that's basically unknown outside of a relatively small circle of fans (albeit a small circle of fans who are--let's face it!--smarter than everybody else). But that piece was such a blast to write! It was never anything that I'd planned to do; it was just a notion that occurred without warning, and I found myself at the computer writing it. Yeah, just like that. It almost felt like I was simply recording facts from another reality, rather than effectively makin' stuff up. It flowed quickly, and I'm proud of the result.

My Batman pulp fiction story The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze was almost like that, as well. I had a vague, undefined idea (just the title, actually) for a Batman-Aquaman story when I was a teenager in the mid-'70s; decades later, I wrote a few paragraphs of the story for an online DC Comics bulletin board, but then this year I took those few paragraphs and expanded the piece into a complete short story. It was a similar situation with Eternity Man!, the first five chapters of a rock 'n' roll superhero novel I began on the blog in February, a work which flowed quickly and almost effortlessly from my mind onto the computer screen. 

I don't write a lot of fiction, and the Flashcubes piece is the only fiction I've published here that's gotten any kind of response or reaction. But, it's still my blog, so if I'm moved to post more fiction in the future, that remains my prerogative. I hope someone will dig it...!

Non-fiction is what earns the ol' clicks on here. My most popular posts have been about The Monkees, and I'm grateful for all the attention those pieces have received. I don't have any more Monkees stuff planned in the short term, but I didn't have that Flashcubes piece planned, either. I was thinking about two different Monkees-related ideas today; we'll see what happens (and if it's Wizard Glick's will).

My most popular recent series has been The Greatest Record Ever Made, and there will be many more of those coming. The Everlasting First, my A-Z recollections of my initial exposures to various singers and superheroes, will continue soon, picking up where we left off (J is for The Jam and Jimmy Olsen). My de facto autobiography Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio will also resume with more tales of your future blogger reading comic books and listening to records in the '70s. There will likewise be more in my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery series of concert memories, and there will be more Comic Book Retroviews on the way, too.

Off the blog, I have two other projects in very early stages of not-done-yet. One is a secret for the time being. The other is my long-promised book on The Ramones, collecting my 1994 Ramones interviews for Goldmine under the title Gabba Gabba Hey: Conversations With The Ramones. I don't have a publisher yet--haven't even spoken with anyone about it--and it's a long way from finished. I do have the rough draft preamble/introduction written; that will not be published on the blog any time soon, but it will be available privately in December to my $5-a-month Patreon supporters. Everybody needs a reason to give!

What else? Lots. A daily blog eats up a lot of material, but I aim to keep it comin'. A post a day, every day. And with that, the new material word count just reached 131.132. And the hits just keep on comin'.


Thursday, November 24, 2016


"I Won't Let You Let Me Go" by The Poptarts was the first song ever played on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio.

In November of 2015, as we were just about to hit the milestorm This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio # 800, I went back through all of our playlists to determine a little what 'n' when: what was the first track we ever played by some of our favorite TIRnRR artists, and when did we first play it? The results appear below. TIRnRR # 850 is coming up soon, and we're still here (nearly) every Sunday night from 9 to Midnight Eastern at The weekend? Well. The weekend stops HERE!

[* denotes a track played on TIRnRR # 1]

1.4.5.: She Couldn’t Say No [1/2/00]
20/20: Nuclear Boy [3/21/99]
ABBA: Does Your Mother Know [5/2/99]
*ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Soldier Of Love (Lay Down Your Arms) [12/27/98]
HERB ALPERT & THE TIJUANA BRASS:  A Taste Of Honey [12/16/01]
THE ANIMALS: Don’t Bring Me Down [7/16/00]
APPLES IN STEREO: Seems So [9/26/99]
THE ARCHIES: Sugar And Spice [11/14/99]
P.P. ARNOLD: Angel Of The Morning [2/14/99]
ARTFUL DODGER: Follow Me [1/24/99]
ASTROPUPPEES: The Tube [4/1/01]
THE B-52’s: Debbie [6/20/99]
BADFINGER: Dennis [1/24/99]
THE BANGLES: All About You [10/24/99]
THE BARRACUDAS: His Last Summer [1/10/99]
LOU ANN BARTON: Don’t Slander Me [6/6/99]
STEVE BARTON:  Believe [1/2/00]
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Rock And Roll Love Letter [1/3/99]
*THE BEACH BOYS: Don’t Worry Baby [12/27/98]
THE BEAT: Don’t Wait Up For Me [4/11/99]
*THE BEATLES: It’s Only Love [12/27/98]
THE BEAU BRUMMELS: Laugh, Laugh [1/31/99]
BEAUTY SCENE OUTLAWS:  He's No Me [2/22/04]
THE BEE GEES: Turn Of The Century [1/2/00]
CHUCK BERRY: Louie To Frisco [3/21/99]
*THE BEVIS FROND: Now You Know [12/27/98]
LAURIE BIAGINI:  Not The Only Pretty Fish In His Sea [5/2/10]
BIG HELLO: Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow [3/19/00]
*BIG STAR: In The Street [12/27/98]
BLONDIE: (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear [2/21/99]
BLOTTO: The B-Side [1/3/99]
DAVID BOWIE: Suffragette City [6/6/99]
THE BOX TOPS: Neon Rainbow [2/28/99]
THE BRADBURYS: Supersonic [7/30/00]
JAMES BROWN: For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes [5/16/99]
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: Go And Say Goodbye [4/11/99]
THE BURNS SISTERS: I Won’t Turn My Back [4/11/99]
THE BUZZCOCKS: Ever Fallen In Love [2/21/99]
THE BYRDS: Don’t Make Waves [3/14/99]
MICHAEL CARPENTER: Thinking About You [8/15/99]
JOHNNY CASH: Folsom Prison Blues [3/14/99]
SHAUN CASSIDY: Hey Deanie [1/31/99]
THE CATHOLIC GIRLS: Someone New [4/4/99]
JIMMY CAVALLO: Rock The Joint [1/10/99]
ANNY CELSI: Empty Hangers [11/2/03]
THE CHARMS: Marianne [1/19/03]
CHEAP TRICK: Say Goodbye [1/3/99]
THE CHESTERFIELD KINGS: Help You Ann [3/28/99]
CHICKLET: Out Of Sight [7/3/99]
ALEX CHILTON: Free Again [1/17/99]
THE CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND: Don’t Need Your Lovin’ [1/17/99]
THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Any Way You Want It [4/18/99]
THE CLASH: Tommy Gun [3/21/99]
CLOUD ELEVEN: Things Will Work Out Fine [4/18/99]
*COCKEYED GHOST: About Jill [12/27/98]
JOE COCKER: I’ll Cry Instead [7/22/01]
COCKTAIL SLIPPERS:  You Do Run [1/3/10]
ALICE COOPER: School’s Out [10/17/99]
COTTON MATHER: Homefront Cameo [1/17/99]
THE COWSILLS: The Rain, The Park And Other Things [8/8/99]
*CREATION: Making Time [12/27/98]
MARSHALL CRENSHAW: Someplace Where Love Can’t Find Me [8/8/99]
CROWDED HOUSE: Don’t Dream It’s Over [2/21/99]
THE CURE: In Between Days [5/9/99]
DICK DALE: Scalped [4/18/99]
THE DAMNED: Wait For The Blackout [4/18/99]
DANCE HALL CRASHERS:  So Sue Us [6/6/99]
THE dB’s: Love Is For Lovers [6/27/99]
DAVE DEE, DOZY, BEAKY, MICK& TICH: Hold Tight [11/17/02]
DEVO:  Incontrollable Urge [4/29/01]
*THE DICKIES: I Can’t Let Go [12/27/98]
THE DICTATORS: Faster And Louder [1/31/99]
BO DIDDLEY: Roadrunner [1/3/99]
THE DIPSOMANIACS: Pushin’ Red [4/11/99]
DM3: Foolish [1/10/99]
*THE DONNAS: Rock ‘n’ Roll Machine” [12/27/98]
DONOVAN: Colours [8/22/99]
THE DRIFTERS: Sweets For My Sweet [10/24/99]
THE DROWNERS: Bellingham [5/28/00]
*THE DUKES OF STATOSPHEAR:  Vanishing Girl [12/27/98]
BOB DYLAN: Like A Rolling Stone [4/4/99]
THE EASYBEATS: She’s So Fine [1/17/99]
DAVE EDMUNDS: Girls Talk [5/23/99]
THE ELECTRIC PRUNES: Get Me To The World On Time [1/31/99]
THE ENGLISH BEAT: Save It For Later [1/10/99]
THE EVERLY BROTHERS: Man With Money [5/9/99]
THE FACES: Cindy Incidentally [7/25/99]
SHANE FAUBERT: Ophelia [1/3/99]
THE FINKERS: This Time It’s Love [8/8/99]
FIREKING: The Forgotten [7/1/01]
THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: First Plane Home [1/10/99]
*THE FLASHCUBES: It’s You Tonight [12/27/98]
THE FLESHTONES: One More Time [3/14/99]
LANNIE FLOWERS:  Turn Up The Radio [9/16/12]
FOOLS FACE: Even Angels Fall [7/25/99]
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: Denise [4/11/99]
THE FOUR TOPS: Are You Man Enough [6/11/00]
FRISBIE: Momentito [8/6/00]
THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR: Let Her Dance [1/24/99]
GAME THEORY:  Real Nighttime [3/13/05]
GANG OF FOUR: I Found That Essence Rare [5/9/99]
MARVIN GAYE [& TAMMI TERRELL]: You’re All I Need To Get By [1/31/99]
THE GO-GO’S: The Whole World Lost Its Head [8/15/99]
GARY PIG GOLD: Rock And Roll Love Letter [2/6/00]
RACHAEL GORDON: Fun At Your House [4/2/00]
LESLEY GORE:  California Nights [9/14/03]
THE GRATEFUL DEAD: The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) [5/7/01]
AL GREEN: Let’s Stay Together [6/19/00]
THE GRIP WEEDS: Out Of Today [1/10/99]
GEORGE HARRISON: Poor Little Girl [3/7/99]
HAWAII MUD BOMBERS:  Natsu No Hi [12/5/04]
THE HEARTBREAKERS: Chinese Rocks [2/28/99]
RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDS: Blank Generation [2/28/99]
HELLO HELEN: If You Want Me To [1/30/00]
JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: Day Tripper [11/28/99]
HERMAN’S HERMITS: Got A Feeling [3/14/99]
RICHARD X. HEYMAN: Cornerstone [1/17/99]
JOHN HIATT: Thing Called Love [2/27/00]
THE HOLLIES: I Can’t Let Go [5/2/99]
BUDDY HOLLY: That’ll Be The Day [9/12/99]
THE HOODOO GURUS: The Right Time [1/24/99]
THE HUDSON BROTHERS: So You Are A Star [3/21/99]
THE ISLEY BROTHERS: Summer Breeze [5/23/99]
JOE JACKSON: I’m The Man [2/4/01]
WANDA JACKSON: Let’s Have A Party [10/10/99]
THE JAM: And Your Bird Can Sing [1/17/99]
ED JAMES: Party At Joe’s [1/31/99]
*THE JELLYBRICKS: Miss You [12/27/98]
JEREMY: Crying On The Inside [5/2/99]
DAVID JOHANSEN: Cool Metro [1/9/00]
JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS: Josie & the Pussycats (Main Title) [4/2/00]
THE KENNEDYS: Month Of Hours [1/31/99]
THE KINKS: Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy [1/17/99]
KISS: I Love It Loud [2/21/99]
KLAATU: Sub-Rosa Subway [6/24/01]
THE KNACK: Smilin’ [1/3/99]
THE KNICKERBOCKERS: They Ran For Their Lives [1/17/99]
THE LA’S: There She Goes [2/21/99]
THE LAST: You Won’t Win [9/12/99]
STEPHEN LAWRENSON:  Town [1/30/05]
THE LEAVES: Too Many People [1/31/99]
*JOHN LENNON: I’m Losing You [12/27/98]
JULIAN LENNON: Day After Day [3/21/99]
BILL LLOYD: Work In Progress [1/31/99]
THE LOLAS: Yer Gonna Need My Lovin Someday [12/5/99]
THE LONG RYDERS: I Had A Dream [2/28/99]
*MARY LOU LORD: Lights Are Changing [12/27/98]
LOVE: Gimmie A Little Break [1/24/99]
NICK LOWE: So It Goes [1/10/99]
LYRES: But If You’re Happy [1/3/99]
KIRSTY MacCOLL: You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby [3/28/99]
MAD MONSTER PARTY:  Can't Stop Loving You [11/7/10]
THE MARLOWES: Why Didn’t I Think Of That? [3/28/99]
THE MASTICATORS: He’s The One [9/19/99]
MATERIAL ISSUE: Renee Remains The Same [6/6/99]
THE MC5: Kick Out The Jams [1/24/99]
PAUL McCARTNEY: Maybe I’m Amazed [2/14/99]
EYTAN MIRSKY: What Do I Do? [1/30/00]
THE MOBERLYS: Blow Your Life Away [10/3/99]
THE MOCKERS: C’mon Over To My Side [2/28/99]
THE MODERN LOVERS: Roadrunner # 2 [3/14/99]
*THE MONKEES: Regional Girl [12/27/98]
THE MOTORS: Airport [1/10/99]
MOTT THE HOOPLE: All The Young Dudes [7/16/00]
THE MOVE: Do Ya [2/20/00]
MR. ENCRYPTO: Going. Going, Gone [6/2/02]
*THE MUFFS: Sad Tomorrow [12/27/98]
LISA MYCHOLS: Look On [10/7/01]
*MYRACLE BRAH:  Loli La Letta [12/27/98]
THE NAZZ: Open My Eyes [1/31/99]
MICHAEL NESMITH: I Am Not That [2/7/99]
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: The Laws Have Changed [6/22/03]
THE NEW YORK DOLLS: Babylon [1/24/99]
NAZARETH: Holiday [4/18/99]
THE NERVES: Working Too Hard [10/15/00]
HARRY NILSSON: Subterranean Homesick Blues [7/25/99]
NIRVANA: About A Boy [2/28/99]
NIXON’S HEAD: Zoom [5/2/99]
THE OHIO EXPRESS: Sweeter Than Sugar [1/31/99]
THE OOHS: Victim Of The Night Time World [11/12/00]
THE ORGONE BOX: Judy Over The Rainbow [4/1/01]
OUTRAGEOUS CHERRY: Where Do I Go When You Dream? [8/8/99]
THE PANDORAS: It’s About Time [1/24/99]
PARANOID LOVESICK: Universe Boat [3/21/99]
GRAHAM PARKER: Ordinary Girl [2/14/99]
THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY: I Woke Up In Love This Morning [3/28/99]
RAY PAUL: Some Sing, Some Dance [4/30/00]
THE PENETRATORS: Teenage Lifestyle [3/4/01]
TOM PETTY: I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better [3/28/99]
PEZBAND: Baby, It’s Cold Outside [8/15/99]
LIZ PHAIR: What Makes You Happy [1/31/99]
WILSON PICKETT: Sugar, Sugar [2/7/99]
PINK FLOYD: See Emily Play [6/6/99]
GENE PITNEY: 24 Hours From Tulsa [3/19/00]
THE PIXIES: Gigantic [8/29/99]
*THE PLIMSOULS: Playing With Jack [12/27/98]
THE POINTED STICKS:  Apologies [3/18/01]
IGGY POP: Consolation Prizes [10/31/99]
POP IS ART: Baby He Loves You [11/16/03]
POPDUDES: Desperation Time [6/1/03]
JOHNNY POPSTAR LUV EXPLOSION: Guess I’m Just A Friendly Guy [6/27/99]
*THE POPTARTS: I Won’t Let You Let Me Go [12/27/98]
ELVIS PRESLEY: Santa Claus Is Back In Town [12/19/99]
THE PRETENDERS: Brass In Pocket [2/21/99]
THE PRIMITIVES: Through The Flowers [2/28/99]
SUZI QUATRO: Tear Me Apart [1/3/99]
THE RAMONES: I Don’t Want To Grow Up [1/3/99]
THE RASCALS: Love Is A Beautiful Thing [6/25/00]
THE RASPBERRIES: Ecstasy [1/10/99]
THE RECORDS: Hearts Will Be Broken [2/14/99]
REDD KROSS: Annie’s Gone [3/28/99]
OTIS REDDING: Pounds And Hundreds [10/24/99]
LOU REED: Vicious [1/17/99]
R.E.M.: Superman [1/10/99]
PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS: Just Like Me [2/7/99]
CHRIS RICHARDS: It Doesn’t Sound Like You [6/8/03]
AMY RIGBY: Downside Of Love [6/29/03]
THE ROLLING STONES: The Last Time [3/14/99]
THE ROMANTICS: Running Away [1/17/99]
THE ROOKS: Reasons [1/24/99]
PATTI ROTHBERG:  Dish It Out [1/25/04]
ROXY MUSIC: Virginia Plain [8/29/99]
THE RUBINOOS: Saturday Morning Cartoons [4/11/99]
THE RUNAWAYS: Cherry Bomb [3/21/99]
TODD RUNDGREN: Couldn’t I Just Tell You [5/30/99]
THE RUTLES: It’s Looking Good [1/10/99]
SAM & DAVE: Soul Man [4/11/99]
SCREEN TEST: Sound Of The Radio [3/7/99]
SEX CLARK FIVE: The Men Who Didn’t Know Ice [11/19/00]
THE SEX PISTOLS: God Save The Queen [1/10/99]
THE SHADOWS OF KNIGHT: Shake [1/24/99]
DEL SHANNON: Move It On Over [5/2/99]
THE SHAZAM: Let’s Away [1/17/99]
THE SEARCHERS: Have You Ever Loved Somebody [2/28/99]
THE SCRUFFS: She Say Yea [4/11/99]
THE SHANGRI-LAS: Sophisticated Boom Boom [7/25/99]
SHOCKING BLUE: Venus [6/13/99]
SHOES: Tomorrow Night [2/28/99]
*SHONEN KNIFE: Daydream Believer [12/27/98]
SIMON & GARFUNKEL: Cecilia [6/20/99]
THE SKELETONS: The World You Grace [1/3/99]
SLADE: Mama Weer All Crazee Now [3/14/99]
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: Runnin’ Away [2/21/99]
THE SMALL FACES: Whatcha Gonna Do About It? [1/17/99]
THE SMITHEREENS: Some Other Guy [2/28/99]
THE SONICS: Boss Hoss [11/28/99]
THE SPONGETONES: Have You Ever Been Torn Apart? [1/10/99]
DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: Son Of A Preacher Man [2/14/99]
SQUEEZE: Goodbye Girl [1/3/99]
THE SQUIRES OF THE SUBTERRAIN: Intoxicating Violet [2/28/99]
THE STANDELLS: Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White [1/31/99]
RINGO STARR: Photograph [3/7/99]
STATUS QUO: Pictures Of Matchstick Men [6/11/00]
ROD STEWART: (I Know) I’m Losing You [12/12/99]
STYX: Lorelei [7/16/00]
SWEET: Action [1/10/99]
*MATTHEW SWEET: Sick Of Myself [12/27/98]
T. REX: Jeepster [5/2/99]
TAMMY & THE LORDS OF MISRULE: Clockwork [11/12/00]
TEENAGE FANCLUB: Star Sign [5/23/99]
TELEVISION: See No Evil [2/7/99]
THEM: Route 66 [3/21/99]
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: Don’t Let’s Start [10/24/99]
JOHNNY THUNDERS: Short Lives [1/17/99]
*TOOTS & THE MAYTALS: Take Me Home, Country Roads [12/27/98]
THE TREND: Band Aid [2/27/00]
THE TROGGS: Jingle Jangle [1/10/99]
THE TURTLES: Outside Chance [1/31/99]
THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND: That I Remember [1/3/99]
*THE UNDERTONES: Teenage Kicks [12/27/98]
UPTIGHT: The Hitman From Detroit [6/16/02]
BEN VAUGHN: Sundown, Sundown [1/10/99]
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: Rock And Roll [1/17/99]
THE VILLAS: Pull You Back [4/9/00]
KYLE VINCENT: On The Beach [1/17/99]
THE VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE:  Don't Call Me Baby [6/27/99]
CHRIS VON SNEIDERN: Circles [1/3/99]
THE WHO: The Kids Are Alright [3/14/99]
LUCINDA WILLIAMS: Right In Time [1/17/99]
WONDERMINTS: Proto-Pretty [1/24/99]
WRECKLESS ERIC: Whole Wide World [1/10/99]
X-RAY SPEX: Oh Bondage Up Yours! [4/25/99]
XTC: Respectable Street [1/10/99]
THE YARDBIRDS: Little Games [1/17/99]
NEIL YOUNG: Cinnamon Girl [6/6/99]
WARREN ZEVON: Poor Poor Pitiful Me [5/28/00]
THE ZOMBIES: Time Of The Season [3/14/99]

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

THE FLASHCUBES: A Brighter Light In My Mind (The complete fictional history of my favorite power pop group)

I had an absolute blast writing this five-part alternate-world timeline of Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse, The Flashcubes. For convenience and posterity, today's blog collects all five chapters in one post, plus a postscript from Gary Frenay and Jackie Lewis-Frenay.

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

CHAPTER ONE:  Meet The Flashcubes!

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with my power pop proselytizin' over the last few decades is surely aware of my pervasive and prevailing affection for The Flashcubes. In my liner notes to The Flashcubes' archival CD A Cellarful Of Boys, I mention that "I wish The Flashcubes had been signed immediately, and that the group had released an album on Bomp! in 1978 and another on Sire in 1979, with many more to follow."

Y'know, what's the point of having your own blog if you can't indulge such random flights o' fancy?

A Brighter Light In My Mind will imagine a series of Flashcubes LPs that never existed, a brief run of 'Cubes albums from the late '70s to the early '80s. These albums weren't real...but they shoulda been. And we begin the series with The Flashcubes' imaginary debut album from 1978....

Meet The Flashcubes!
Bomp! 1978

Side One

Christi Girl (Lenin)
Social Mobility (Frenay)
She's Leaving (Armstrong)
I Can't Stop Wanting You (Lenin)
No More Lonely Nights (Frenay)
September Gurls (Alex Chilton)

Side Two

Tonite Is A Wonderful Time (To Fall In Love) (Goodwyn)
You're My Girl (Armstrong)
I Don't Want To Break Your Heart (Frenay)
Stop! In The Name Of Love (Holland-Dozier-Holland)
I Don't Want To Be A Human Being (Lenin)
Got No Mind (Armstrong)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Tonite Is A Wonderful Time"
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocal
Gary Frenay: bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals

Produced by Greg Shaw. "Christi Girl" produced by Bill Murphy and Randy Saex.

In The Flashcubes' real-world chronology, Bomp! Records maestro Greg Shaw was supposed to catch the 'Cubes live at a Spring 1978 show at The Brookside in Syracuse, when our local lads opened for The Runaways and The Ramones. Shaw wound up missing that performance, but did see the band at a later time. He liked the 'Cubes, and promised to write about them in Bomp! magazine; Shaw eventually included "Christi Girl," the A-side of the group's first self-released single, on a Bomp! Records compilation album called Waves, Volume 1.  Other than that, The Flashcubes never recorded for Bomp!

Now, let slip the butterflies: it's time-bendin' time.

Greg Shaw sees The Flashcubes opening for The Runaways and The Ramones in Syracuse in 1978, and goes out of his freakin' mind. This is it! he exclaims to the nubile on his arm. This is the sound I'm looking for! Shaw meets Tommy, Paul, Gary, and Arty, there is a mutual dance of dollar signs in five pairs of starry eyes, and a tentative deal is struck right then and there. The Flashcubes would join Bomp's Galaxy O' Stars.

The Flashcubes had already begun work on their first single, an Arty Lenin love song called "Christi Girl."  The recording was a Syracuse University student project, produced by Bill Murphy and Randy Saex. The 'Cubes completed work on that recording, but trashed plans to self-release the single when the Bomp! contract was finalized. Soon, The Flashcubes were off to California to record their debut album.

Shaw had a few demands. He wanted The Flashcubes to include at least three cover tunes, figuring some material already familiar to pop fans could only help sales. He also wanted to pick all of the songs that would be on the album, but the 'Cubes insisted that each of their three songwriters be represented equally. Compromises were struck, and all parties settled on a mix of 'Cubes originals and a trio of covers.

Arty was represented by two ballads, "Christi Girl" and "I Can't Stop Wanting You," plus the slightly edgier "I Don't Want To Be A Human Being." Gary chose three catchy pop songs, "Social Mobility," "No More Lonely Nights," and "Face To Face," but Shaw convinced the group to go with Gary's "I Don't Want To Break Your Heart" instead of "Face To Face;" "Face To Face" wound up as the non-album B-side of the "Stop! In The Name Of Love" single. Paul wanted to do some of his more aggressive songs--"Student Rape,""I Need Glue,""Damaged Beyond Repair"--but Shaw insisted on the uncharacteristically (for Paul) ultra-pop "You're My Girl," a song which New York Rocker magazine had savaged in a review of a Flashcubes live set at Max's Kansas City. The raucous, randy pop of Paul's "She's Leaving" was acceptable to everyone involved, and Shaw green-lit Paul's punk tour-de-force "Got No Mind" to close the album.

For the cover songs, The Flashcubes and Shaw agreed on the above-mentioned power pop version of The Supremes' "Stop! In The Name Of Love" and Big Star's then-obscure classic "September Gurls." A number of other covers were discussed and demoed: The Kinks' "I Need You," The Beatles' "Hold Me Tight," Herman's Hermits' "A Must To Avoid," a Sex Pistols medley, even dat ole standby "Louie, Louie."  Shaw lobbied long and hard for the 'Cubes to cover "I'd Rather You Leave Me," a forgotten '60s nugget originally recorded by The Choir, but the group decided on April Wine's "Tonite Is A Wonderful Time (To Fall In Love)," a wonderful song that Tommy had discovered (and initially led his bandmates into believing he'd written). The album was recorded quickly and cheaply, and released in September of 1978.

Although candy-coated dreams of stardom were inevitable in this heady environment, no one really expected much to come from the Bomp! deal. Both the album and the "Christi Girl"/"Guernica" single (its non-LP B-side a basement recording of a rare Frenay punk tune) sold respectably by Bomp! standards, prompting "Stop! In The Name Of Love"/"Face To Face" as a follow-up. But suddenly, unexpectedly, that second single just took off. "Stop! In The Name Of Love" caught the attention of college radio and some more adventurous FM radio programmers, and then even some of your standard-variety non-adventurous radio programmers. It wasn't a big hit by any means, but it scraped 'n' scrapped its way onto the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100. A short tour supporting Cheap Trick beckoned, followed by three nights at The Starwood in L.A. After a sold-out show at New York's Palladium (with The Romantics opening) in March of '79, Sire Records president Seymour Stein had seen enough. Seymour met the 'Cubes backstage with candy and treats (metaphorically speaking), contract in hand, and waving an advance check that was much larger than the notoriously miserly Stein was used to writing. Stein was determined. And Stein got his way. The Flashcubes were signed to Sire Records that night.

CHAPTER TWO: Wait Till Next Week

Wait Till Next Week
Sire 1979

Side One

Taking Inventory (Lenin)
Wait Till Next Week (Frenay)
Sold Your Heart (Armstrong)
No Promise (Frenay)
Misunderstanding (Armstrong)

Side Two

Soldier Of Love (Arthur Alexander)
Gone Too Far (Lenin)
Muscle Beach (Armstrong)
Suellen (Frenay)
Somethin' Else (Sheeley-Cochran)
Girl From Germany (Lenin)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, backing vocals
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocals
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals

Produced by Ed Stasium

Acclaim. Great reviews. Street credibility. All nice things to have, but Seymour Stein didn't care about any of them anymore. Stein wanted some goddamned hits.

Stein's label, Sire Records, had invested heavily in punk, or new wave, or whatever the hell they were calling it this week. He'd signed The Ramones, and he didn't really regret that, even though the group's sales had come nowhere near the massive success he'd imagined. Still, he was spending a motherlovin' fortune on their next album, working with that putz Phil Spector in the hope of finally getting a Ramones record that would sellTalking Heads had done okay, but most of these acts he'd acquired--The Flamin' GrooviesRadio BirdmanThe Dead Boys--sold an accumulated total of roughly bupkis. Stein was sick of it. Sire needed a big, big hit, fer Chrissakes.

The Flashcubes had caught Stein's eye. He liked them, but might not have signed them on their own merit. However, they'd done remarkably well on Greg Shaw's label; a # 78 "hit" in Billboard wasn't earth-shaking by itself, but a # 78 hit on a little label like Bomp Records? There were possibilities. There was a buzz about The Flashcubes. With the right record, with the right push, Stein was certain The Flashcubes could deliver the hit Sire needed.

Stein gulped down an Alka-Seltzer. He hoped The Flashcubes could deliver the hit Sire needed.

Time was money. Stein wanted product on the street immediately, wishing to capitalize on The Flashcubes' success with "Stop! In The Name Of Love" on Bomp.  He pushed for a quick single release of the 'Cubes covering The Four Tops' "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," and was surprised when DJs flipped the record over to play its B-side instead: a Gary Frenay original called "Wait Till Next Week."


"Wait Till Next Week" was only a modest hit--it peaked at # 46 in late May of '79--but its relative success was encouraging. Hell, it was higher than The Ramones ever managed. The bonus good news of The Flashcubes connecting with an original song rather than another cover was not lost on Stein; that could bode very well for the group's commercial prospects. Finish that damned album, Flashcubes--time is money!

The album was originally to be titled The Flashcubes' Second Album, an homage to The Beatles' U.S. Capitol Records LP history, following the 'Cubes' own Meet The Flashcubes!; one presumes they would have altered this course before they got to Flashcubes '65. Paul Armstrong pushed for a Rolling Stones reference instead, insisting that the album should be called America's Newest Hitmakers. All of this was mooted when the "Wait Till Next Week" single made its chart ascent; Stein declared that the album would be called Wait Till Next Week, and have you finished the damned thing yet?

Stein's impatience was unwarranted, really; working with producer Ed Stasium, The Flashcubes completed Wait Till Next Week in less than two months, finishing work just before the single dropped out of the Hot 100. The album shipped to retail in July of '79, accompanied by a new single, Frenay's "No Promise" backed with Armstrong's "Muscle Beach."

To promote the single and album, The Flashcubes appeared on American Bandstand. The "Stop! In The Name Of Love" single had been featured the previous year on Bandstand's popular Rate-A-Record feature (though it earned a mere 77 out of 100 rating, and was indeed dismissed with the infamous snub of not having a good beat that one could dance to). But now, The Flashcubes had their first chance to appear on national TV, lip-syncing to both sides of their new single. In between the earnest, effervescent performance of "No Promise" and Armstrong's opportunity to mug his way through "Muscle Beach," The Flashcubes chatted briefly on-camera with Dick Clark about their shared Syracuse roots and their own pop aspirations. Teenaged girls swooned at the sight of Tommy Allen. This was pop music. This was success.

"No Promise" cracked the Top 40, and then the Top 20, bubbling its way to a power pop peak of # 17. The album did even better, briefly sneaking its way to almost the Top 10, stalling at a more-than-respectable # 12. A second single, the Arthur Alexander-via-The Beatles cover "Soldier Of Love" (backed by a non-LP Lenin song, "Angry Young Man") barely made it to the Top 40 at # 39, and the third single, "Gone Too Far"/"Misunderstanding," fared similarly (# 36). But a fourth and final single, "Suellen" backed by Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else," was a two-sided smash; both tracks received significant airplay, and "Suellen" became The Flashcubes' first Top 10 hit at # 8.

With success came more offers and opportunities. The Flashcubes spent November in England, jamming with Chris Spedding and playing shows with The Jam and Rockpile. "Girl From Germany" was selected for use in the soundtrack for an upcoming film called Times Square. And Seymour Stein, who'd signed The Flashcubes to a three-album deal, was anxious for another 'Cubes LP on Sire.

Stein looked at what had worked for The Flashcubes so far. After that first Bomp sorta-hit with a Supremes cover, the 'Cubes had experienced limited success with subsequent covers; "Somethin' Else" had done well enough, but--like "Stop! In The Name Of Love"--that was likely a right song-right time fluke. Singles written by Arty Lenin hadn't sold as much, and Stein regarded Armstrong's stuff as album tracks and B-sides only. But Gary Frenay...! Frenay's songs had sold, and sold increasingly well. As far as Stein was concerned, all future Flashcubes A-sides would need to be written by Gary Frenay. It was Stein's label, so that opinion had damned well better be the one that mattered.

In time, this edict would inflict permanent damage on the band. But, in the short term, it would also lead to The Flashcubes' first--and only--# 1 hit single.

CHAPTER THREE: A Face In The Crowd

A Face In The Crowd
Sire 1980

Side One

She's Not The Girl (Frenay)
I Wanna Stay All Night (Frenay)
I'm Not The Liar (Armstrong)
I Won't Wait Another Night (Lenin)
You For Me (Armstrong)

Side Two

My Little Angel (Frenay)
A Face In The Crowd (Armstrong)
Walking Through The Park (Lenin)
Cycles Of Pain (Lenin)
You're Not The Police (Frenay)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, backing vocals, glockenspiel on "I'm Not The Liar"
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocals, bass on "She's Not The Girl"
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals, piano on "She's Not The Girl"
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals
Chris Spedding: additional guitar on "A Face In The Crowd"
Larry Knechtel: keyboards on "I'm Not The Liar"
Debbie Harry and Mary Weiss: backing vocals on "I'm Not The Liar"

Produced by Chris Spedding. "I'm Not The Liar" produced by Richard Gottehrer.

Does success breed more success? Maybe. But it certainly breeds a hunger to duplicate that success, to recapture lightning in a second bottle, and a third, and a twentieth. The Flashcubes were successful; they weren't superstars, but they were competing in the pop rock marketplace with the likes of Dire StraitsTom Petty & the HeartbreakersThe Police, and The Cars, and holding their own. They returned from the U.K. in December of 1979, just in time to open for The Kinks at Madison Square Garden and then headline a Christmas show at the Onondaga County War Memorial back home in Syracuse. They were getting great coverage in the rock mags--Rolling StoneCircusRock SceneHit Parader--and the editors of Creem took a particular shine to the 'Cubes. The Flashcubes starred in a memorable edition of that magazine's popular Creem's Profiles feature, posing with cans of Creem's fake beer Boy Howdy! alongside porn star Marilyn Chambers.

In search of fresh lightning, open bottles in hand, record labels descended upon Syracuse, hoping to find the next Flashcubes. Seymour Stein himself snapped up The Tearjerkers for Sire. An all-female band called The Poptarts signed with IRS, while an all-male band called The Works went with Columbia. Dress Code and newly-formed teen group The Trend both caught the interest of Stiff AmericaRed Star grabbed The Dead Ducks. And Elektra outbid everyone to snag The Ohms; alas, The Ohms broke up before completing their debut album, and those recordings remain unreleased.

The Flashcubes never had time rest on their laurels...or even just to rest. The 'Cubes welcomed the '80s with a swank and pricey New Year's Eve gig in the ol' home town (with opening act Pat Benatar, who would later have a hit with her own cover of a Flashcubes song). January saw the 'Cubes off on a quick tour of the midwest, supported by Artful Dodger and The Scruffs An appearance on Saturday Night Live was discussed, but postponed; Stein wanted The Flashcubes back in the studio.

Ed Stasium, who had done such a terrific job producing the previous Flashcubes album, was unavailable this time around. A few names were floated as possible replacements: Frenay and Allen were interested in luring Jimmy Ienner, whose work with The Raspberries had been such an inspiration, while Armstrong really wanted Mick Ronson for the job, and Lenin had the unexpected, unconventional choice of Philly soul stalwarts Gamble & Huff. Stein wanted someone cheaper than Phil Spector. But the solution was obvious; The Flashcubes had met Chris Spedding while in London that fall, and Spedding was everything they needed: a stellar musician himself, an accomplished producer, and (to Stein's delight) reasonably priced. The Flashcubes had included Spedding's "Boogie City" in their early live set, so this was a match made in Heaven's record store. Work on the new album commenced in early March of 1980.

Armstrong, Frenay, and Lenin were all still writing new songs at a rapid clip, so there was no shortage of material. Frenay was feeling particularly liberated; in addition to the green light Stein had given him to write more top pop singles, Frenay experienced the thrill of having other artists express interest in covering his compositions. British Invasion heroes (and Sire Records label-mates) The Searchers had already recorded Frenay's "Prince Of Passion," and he was writing a new song for Hall and OatesHall and freakin' Oates! Toppermost of the poppermost, mates!

Meanwhile, Armstrong felt conflicted about his group's musical direction. He loved pop music, but he was a true rock 'n' roller at heart. For God's sake, The Flashcubes had started out as a punk band, not as new wave's answer to The DeFranco Family. The group demoed a new Armstrong tune, "Sex Machine," but there was no way a rude song like that was making its way onto a Flashcubes album. On the other hand, Armstrong couldn't argue with the results of The Flashcubes' pop agenda: Women. Money. Women. Fame. Women. Decent pizza. And girls! What could a poor boy do, but play in a power pop band? Armstrong knew that Seymour Stein wouldn't let him write any of The Flashcubes' singles, but he'd written some way cool pop songs himself, and he'd make sure they were preserved on wax. And he'd make sure they rocked, as well.

As for the group's drummer and other guitarist, Allen and Lenin were likewise having the time of their lives. Tommy Allen was the biggest pop fan on the whole friggin' planet, and he flat-out adored this whole scene, from the teen-beat hype to the recording process itself. Allen developed a passion for studio work, and soaked up as much experience and information as he could about the art and craft of making records. Lenin just wanted to play guitar, and he was like a kid in a candy store with the sheer wealth of six-string and twelve-string toys at his disposal. And the chance to work with a guitar god like Spedding? Yeah, Lenin was content.

In honor of their producer, The Flashcubes wanted to record a Chris Spedding tune, either "Boogie City" or "Hey Miss Betty." But Stein wanted all originals on the album; frankly, one suspects that Stein was tempted to push for an album of just Gary Frenay songs, but likely realized that would create more dissension than the notion was worth.

And pop fans are grateful for that. The album, A Face In The Crowd, is now a recognized pop classic, a collection made stronger by the varied mix of its three accomplished songwriters.

Lenin channeled his love of The Left BankeEmitt Rhodes, and even an incongruously poppier version of The Velvet Underground with his songs "Walking Through The Park" and "I Won't Wait Another Night;" Lenin's frequent public citing of Big Star as the inspiration behind "Cycles Of Pain" was a key component of the buying public's belated discovery of that lost pop group.

Frenay, as usual, outdid himself with a fresh supply of irresistible pop confections. You want singles, Mr. Stein? One could imagine Frenay coyly asking the question, and answering in the same breath, Okay, I've got some singles. "She's Not The Girl" was a stunning midtempo number about a hapless guy trying to understand his liberated girlfriend, "I Wanna Stay All Night" was horny power pop in the style of The Raspberries, and "You're Not The Police" was a defiant warning to a too-possessive lover.  A fourth Frenay song, "My Little Angel," was actually written for The Knack, who very much wanted to record it. Stein heard about that, and asked Frenay if he was out of his gourd. No. No no no. That's going to be your next single, Gary. Don't give it to the goddamned Knack.

But, for all that, Paul Armstrong provided the glue that really held A Face In The Crowd together. Armstrong's title tune was an epic tale of a young rock 'n' roll fan aching to be a star. Autobiographical? Yep. Armstrong and Lenin traded lead vocals (with Arty playing the role of the rock star our young fan emulates), and Spedding turned in a blistering guitar solo. In contrast, "You For Me" was a lovely, lovely love song, propelled by Lenin's Byrdcalling twelve-string leads.

The group also cut another Armstrong song, "I'm Not The Liar," but those sessions never quite gelled. The Spedding-produced version (available on the 2013 expanded deluxe reissue of A Face In The Crowd) was an acceptable attempt to salute both early '60s pop and Johnny Thunders at the same time, but it never quite snapped in the manner its composer envisioned. And time had effectively run out; Spedding returned to England, and Stein was howling for the masters for the presumably-completed album.

But an offhand remark from Lenin, talking about how effectively Johnny Thunders had covered a Shangri-Las song on a recent album, caused a light bulb to appear over Armstrong's head. That's it! Armstrong got on the phone to Stein, and detailed his plan to marry the girl-group sound of The Shangri-Las with both NYC punk and Flashcubes power pop on "I'm Not The Liar."

For all his penny-pinching ways, Stein also had a deep and abiding love of the music. You can make a buck a million different ways, but nothing beats makin' a buck in the music biz, boyo. He liked what Armstrong was saying, and he knew who to call to make it happen. He called Richard Gottehrer.

Stein and Gottehrer went way, way back. Gotterher had been Sire's co-founder, but before that he'd been a very successful songwriter--"My Boyfriend's Back,""Hang On Sloopy," and "I Want Candy" were pretty good items to have on one's songwriting resume--and he'd been a producer. Gottehrer agreed to help out, and he brought with him Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las and Debbie Harry from Blondie to help realize the elusive sound Armstrong heard in his head. With oohs and aahs and handclaps galore, "I'm Not The Liar" soared into the grooves, and the album was finished.

A Face In The Crowd was released in June of 1980, and shot immediately into the Top 10. It peaked at # 2, unable to break Billy Joel's stranglehold on the top spot. But it was all over the radio, especially the first single, "My Little Angel." "My Little Angel" could not be denied, and it was the # 1 record in all the land for four weeks. It was replaced at # 1 by "It's No Secret," the little ditty Frenay had written for Hall and Oates, giving Frenay a combined seven-week berth at the tippy-top of the Hot 100.

Sales. Airplay. Magazine covers. TV appearances. Concerts. Fans. More fans. Success was everything The Flashcubes had ever hoped it could be. As rock 'n' roll fans themselves, they were giddy at the chance to meet so many of their own idols, and hear icons like Graham Nash compliment their harmonies, or Ray Davies confess to being a 'Cubes fan himself. Looking back, it seemed that the summer and fall of 1980 belonged to The Flashcubes, even though the subsequent single "You're Not The Police" was (ahem) only a # 7 hit. By the time The Flashcubes got around to being on Saturday Night Live in December, the album had spent five months on the higher half of the charts. And even there, the thrill hadn't ended. While in New York for SNL, The Flashcubes had the chance to meet their biggest fan...and his Dad.

CHAPTER FOUR: Nothing Really Matters When You're Young

The Flashcubes
Nothing Really Matters When You're Young
Sire 1981

Side One

Sound Of The Radio (Frenay)
She Couldn't Say No (Armstrong)
There's No Place Like Work (Lenin)
The Boy From Shaker Heights (Frenay)

Side Two

Fourth Of July (Frenay)
Sorry Wrong Number (Armstrong)
Best Seller (Lenin)
Born To Cry (Frenay)
Below The Belt (Armstrong)
Nothing Really Matters When You're Young (Lenin)

Tommy Allen: drums, percussion, vocals
Paul Armstrong: guitar, vocals
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals
The Poptarts (GaelMeegan, Kathy, Margie, Sheena): backing vocals
Eric Carmen: backing vocals on "Sound Of The Radio"
Dave Davies: additional guitar, backing vocals on "Sorry Wrong Number"
Jimmy Destri: keyboards
Mark Doyle: additional guitar on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"
Musketeer Gripweed: backing vocals on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"
Jerry Harrison: keyboards on "The Boy From Shaker Heights"

Produced by The Flashcubes.

The boy was only five years old. And The Flashcubes were his favorite band in the whole world.

Because his Daddy had been a musician, everyone just assumed the child had been immersed in music his whole life. But that wasn't the case. One couldn't describe his days as quiet--what five-year-old's days are quiet?--but music wasn't a big component. There was laughter, and games, and stories, and silliness, and walks in the park, and always, always the love of his ever-present Daddy. Mommy was often busy working; Daddy called her the breadwinner, which confused the boy, since he and Daddy baked all of the bread themselves. Adults made no sense sometimes. But Daddy was with him, all day, every day.

Until Daddy decided he wanted to be a musician again. Until Daddy decided he had to go to work--every day! Intolerable. The boy sulked a bit, even though Daddy always made time for him when he did finally get home from work each night. One day, he asked his father a question:

"Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?"

Amused, the father replied: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Sean?"

"Just a Daddy!"

John Lennon winced. But he would try to make it up to his son as best he could.

Sean's half-brother Julian had given Sean some cassettes to listen to. Julian was more taken with The Sex Pistols than Sean was, though both enjoyed The B-52's. But it was The Flashcubes that really caught Sean's interest. They seemed bubbly and fun, while still remaining serious and cool. Little Sean wore out his Wait Till Next Week and A Face In The Crowd tapes in short order. Daddy replaced both cassettes, and added a home-made cassette of Meet The Flashcubes!, which had not been issued in that format. The family rarely, if ever, watched television, but when The Flashcubes appeared on Saturday Night Live in December of 1980, Mommy and Daddy allowed Sean to stay up and watch his heroes rip through "You're Not The Police" and--Sean's favorite!--"I'm Not The Liar." The elder Lennon observed Sean's pop mania, and he knew exactly how to redeem himself in his son's eyes.

It would be something of an understatement to say that John Lennon knew some people. Phone calls were made, a few stunned Are you shittin' me?!s were tossed about, and arrangements were set. Just. Like. That. Lennon had recently released a new album, Double Fantasy, and was already at work on a follow-up. On Monday, after the day's recording sessions had ended, John's beloved wife Yoko Ono brought Sean to The Hit Factory for a private concert by The Flashcubes.

The Flashcubes were as giddy as Sean was. Any rock 'n' roll musician their age who claimed he wasn't influenced by The Beatles was a goddamned fibber. They opened their set with a Beatles tune, "Thank You, Girl," and played as if they were hoping to pass the audition. At Sean's request, they played "I'm Not The Liar" three times, with Yoko joining members of The Poptarts on backing vocals. When an exhausted Sean finally conceded that it was time for bed, Ono whisked him home, while a grateful John Lennon whipped out his acoustic guitar and joined the dizzy, delirious Flashcubes in renditions of Beatles numbers and '50s rock 'n' roll classics into the wee, wee hours, beginning and ending with "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party." It was the most memorable night of The Flashcubes' career.

(In an odd side note to the evening, they all later learned that police had questioned a suspicious-looking stranger loitering outside the Lennons' luxury apartment. When the cops discovered he was armed, the suspect was taken into custody. He killed himself in his holding cell, and no one ever even found out his name.)

1980 ended with some rare time off for The Flashcubes. As 1981 came in through the bathroom window, Seymour Stein reminded The Flashcubes that they still owed him one more album in their Sire contract. Back to work, 'Cubes!

Throughout 1980, The Flashcubes felt like they never had a chance to catch their breath. Frenay had continued to write songs for other artists; Shaun Cassidy rejuvenated his flagging popularity with a rendition of Frenay's "Boy Scout Pin-Up," Hall and Oates followed up their earlier "It's No Secret" success with "Tell Me It's Alright Now," and Marshall Crenshaw had his first Top 40 hit with "I Am Sincere." Meanwhile, an older Lenin tune called "One More Try" had been exhumed as a British # 1 for The English Beat, and Pat Benatar enjoyed massive radio play with a live cover of Armstrong's "I'm Not The Liar;" she would subsequently score a # 4 hit with a studio take of Armstrong's "Sold Your Heart." Tommy Allen had formed a production company, and was looking to discover and nurture new artists.

A new Flashcubes album, Seymour? Oh, all right....

Of course, the 'Cubes wanted John Lennon to produce their next album. He was interested, but it couldn't be worked out. (As a consolation prize, The Flashcubes accompanied Lennon on a short club tour, which included a stop at Red Creek in Rochester, NY.) A lot of names were floated as potential producers: Nick LoweRoger Bechirian, and Steve Lillywhite were discussed and mooted; George Martin declined. Ultimately, given the group's own studio experience--especially Tommy Allen's growing studio acumen--it was decided that The Flashcubes would produce their own album.

With the working title Inspired Humans Making Noise, The Flashcubes began studio sessions for their fourth album in April of 1981. Armstrong demoed a boppin' new song called "Let's Groove," but the 'Cubes couldn't quite get that groove, and the track was left unfinished. Lenin's quirky, herky-jerky "There's No Place Like Work" was likewise a challenge, but the group managed to complete an appropriate master of that one. Frenay came in with an ambitious, six-minute track called "The Boy From Shaker Heights;" The Flashcubes nailed the basic tracks for that in a day's work.

The recording process dragged on longer than The Flashcubes were used to. One would be tempted to blame this delay on the group's relative inexperience as producers; however, it was just as likely a byproduct of already having done so much in such an astonishingly short period of time. The Flashcubes had formed less than four years ago. They'd played their first gig just over three and a half years ago. In the space of no time at all, they had gone from being a bar band on the receiving end of projectiles tossed by drunken idiots to having smash hit records, pop idolatry, and hanging out with a freakin' Beatle.

The Flashcubes were tired. And they were still too caught up in their own whirlwind to realize how tired they were.

The exhaustion caught up with them in the studio. Tempers flared. Words were exchanged. The occasional apology, the ongoing awareness of perspective, kept things from truly spiraling out of control. The Flashcubes had been friends, and they'd been through an awful lot together, That common, shared experience may have been the only thing that kept fists from flying.

Finally, the album was done. The songs were still good, the performances still top-notch. But, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the weariness underneath it all. The LP, Nothing Really Matters When You're Young, took its title from a simply epic Arty Lenin rumination on alienation and the elusive nature of redemption. It was a million miles away from "Christi Girl."

Nothing Really Matters When You're Young was released at the beginning of August. The first single was Frenay's wonderful "Born To Cry," backed by Lenin's breezy "Best Seller." Armstrong pushed relentlessly for Sire to promote his song "She Couldn't Say No" to radio, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. The album was a more modest success than its predecessor, never quite cracking the Top 20; "Born To Cry," as lovely as it was, still missed the Top 40. The Frenay ballad "Fourth Of July" fared better, peaking at # 12. The Flashcubes were still stars. They just weren't as big as they'd been a year ago.

The Flashcubes had fulfilled their contract with Sire. The relatively disappointing sales of Nothing Really Matters When You're Young notwithstanding, Seymour Stein was keen to sign the 'Cubes to a new contract. But he wasn't the only interested party. There were a lot of labels eager to add The Flashcubes to their roster. The Flashcubes would soon record another album with a bigger label. There was still so much they could do.

But The Flashcubes would have to do it as a trio. Paul Armstrong wanted out.

CHAPTER FIVE: This Is Fiction

The Flashcubes
This Is Fiction
Columbia 1983

Side One

Notes From Trevor (Frenay)
Back Into My Heart (Lenin)
Another Young Girl (Frenay)
Growin' Up Too Fast (Frenay)
Girl's Brand New (Lenin)

Side Two

She's Sure The Girl I Love (Mann-Weil)
You Can't Go Wrong With Me (Lenin)
Anytime (Frenay)
Runnin' With The Bad Guys (Lenin)
I Get Restless (Frenay)

Side Three

Syracuse Summer (Frenay)
Leave Yourself Behind (Lenin)
You Don't Know Me (Frenay)
Hello Suzie (Wood)
Get Me Out Of This Mess (Lenin)

Side Four

My Baby's Stacked (Lenin)
Nothing To Say To You (Frenay)
End Of The Line (Lenin)
I Won't Trust You Anymore (Lenin)
This Is Fiction (Frenay)

Tommy Allen: drums, backing vocals
Gary Frenay: bass, guitar, vocals
Arty Lenin: guitar, vocals
Jim Carney: keyboards
Marshall Crenshaw: backing vocals on "End Of The Line"
Dave Davies: additional guitar on "My Baby's Stacked"
Jools Holland: piano on "Hello Suzie"
Neil Innes: additional guitar on "Nothing To Say To You"
Richard Lloyd: additional guitar on "My Baby's Stacked"
Darlene Love: backing vocals on "She's Sure The Girl I Love"
Charlie Robbins: additional guitar and vocals on "Syracuse Summer"
Mark Rivera: saxophone on "She's Sure The Girl I Love"
Jane Wiedlin: additional guitar on "Syracuse Summer," backing vocals on "This Is Fiction"
Carl Wilson: backing vocals on "Syracuse Summer"
Roy Wood: backing vocals on "Hello Suzie"

Produced by Tommy Allen.

Hello Philadelphia!

As the band took the stage this July afternoon in 1985, it had been almost two years since they had played before an audience, nearly four years since the original line-up had played together at all. But here they were, before an audience of about 100,000 rock 'n' roll fans, plugged in and ready to go.

We're The Flashcubes! As the 'Cubes began their set, each of them shared a single thought: How did we get here?

How, indeed?

Paul Armstrong's departure from The Flashcubes at the end of '81 had been as amicable as anything involving lawyers could be. Armstrong's timing was deliberate: with The Flashcubes' Sire Records contract already fulfilled, it was much easier for him to leave the 'Cubes now rather than try to extricate himself later from a freshly-signed contract with another label. The terms of his exit guaranteed him profit participation in future Flashcubes projects, albeit at a reduced rate. Money wasn't a big problem for Armstrong; Pat Benatar's cover of his song "Sold Your Heart" had been a significant hit, and Sammy Hagar's cover of his "Let's Groove" was included on the soundtrack (and soundtrack album) to the hit film Fast Times At Ridgemont High; that meant a truckload of songwriting royalties, and the added joy of watching actress Phoebe Cates remove her bikini top while his song played in the film. Always a go-getter, Armstrong found himself playing in various projects with Ian HunterAce Frehley,The RomanticsThe Real Kids, former Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, and former Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. Armstrong formed his own new band, The Richards, with lead singer Norm Mattice; The Richards' dizzying success story is a topic for another day.

Meanwhile, the three guys who were still in The Flashcubes--Gary Frenay, Arty Lenin, and Tommy Allen--elected not to replace Armstrong, and to continue as a trio. There was some discussion of changing the group's name--"Screen Test" was mentioned as a potential new nom du pop--but really, they'd already established so much recognition as The Flashcubes, and it would have been a mistake to toss all of that away.

The first order of business for this Flashcubes trio would be to secure another record deal. Elektra wanted The Flashcubes, and made a very serious offer; but Columbia wanted 'em more, and proved it with a five-album, multi-million dollar contract. Mitch Miller could not be reached for comment. Bet he was pissed, though. Columbia artist Bruce Springsteen was pleased, and he joined the 'Cubes on stage at a surprise club gig on Long Island in March of 1982, celebrating the group's new Columbia contract. Welcome to the label, lads!

Studio sessions for The Flashcubes' first Columbia album began in April, with Tommy Allen producing. The session began with Frenay's "It's You Tonight," a terrific power pop song they'd recorded for their previous album, but decided to save for a later date. This was a surefire Top 10 hit!

Seymour Stein sure thought it was a hit. That's why he went ahead and released the earlier version on Sire, while the 'Cubes were still in the beginning stages of recording their Columbia debut.

Shit, meet fan. Shit, fan. Fan, shit.

The Flashcubes went ballistic. How could Stein do this to them? Stein was unapologetic; he'd paid for the sessions, the track was recorded while the 'Cubes were still under contract to Sire, it was a goddamned Sire record, and that was that. Legal threats bounced back and forth, and the bickering did precisely nothing to slow the single's chart ascent. The Flashcubes refused to support it in any way, of course, even declining an appearance on The Tonight Show if it meant they had to sing that song. There was brief talk of rush-releasing the new Columbia version as a single, but label execs decided that would be both costly and pointless.  As The Flashcubes looked on, furious, the Sire single made it all the way up to # 3, and remained a Top 10 hit for seven weeks.

Obviously, The Flashcubes scrapped the plan to finish a new recording of "It's You Tonight." The shenanigans with Sire cast a pall over the recording sessions; only a handful of tracks--Lenin's "Girl's Brand New," Frenay's "Growin' Up Too Fast," and a gender-switched cover of The Crystals' "He's Sure The Boy I Love" (with the legendary Darlene Love on backing vocals)--were completed before the 'Cubes decided to take a break.

Columbia wasn't happy about that. To add insult to injury, Sire released a Flashcubes best-of LP called It's You Tonight: The Biggest & Brightest Of The Flashcubes, and that set rocketed to # 1. It was Sire Records' best-selling album to date, and it remained a popular catalog item for years (though Madonna eventually eclipsed The Flashcubes as Sire's all-time top act). So, Sire had a # 3 single and a # 1 album with the act Columbia had just signed. No, Columbia was not happy with that at all.

The Flashcubes had all but ceased playing live. Paul Armstrong had previously been a key factor in getting the group to play and tour as often as they had; without Armstrong, the 'Cubes simply had less desire to play out. But now, The Flashcubes needed to shake off the cobwebs and get back in the game. A series of live shows in Syracuse (where Gary still lived), New York, and Boston proved that The Flashcubes still had that spark. Now, it was time to prove that again in the studio.

Album sessions resumed in July of '82. Energized, The Flashcubes hit these new sessions in earnest, armed with a ton of new songs. It soon became apparent there was just too much top-shelf material to squeeze into one album. The solution was obvious: double album! This would effectively be The Flashcubes' White Album.

Columbia balked at the idea immediately.

Looking back, it's still difficult to understand why Columbia was so skittish about The Flashcubes. The whole debacle with Sire and "It's You Tonight" was unfortunate, but it shouldn't have been anywhere near enough to undermine a label's confidence in a band as obviously great (and popular) as The Flashcubes. For cryin' out loud, The Flashcubes were still on the charts with their Sire best-of! It wouldn't have taken much on Columbia's part to duplicate, or even surpass that demonstrated success.

Nonetheless, the Columbia suits continued to act in increasingly weasely fashion. There were complaints about the spiraling production costs of this new Flashcubes album--double album!--second guesses about the band's direction, even outstandingly dunderheaded suggestions that The Flashcubes bring in some outside songwriters to write 'em some hits. Somehow, The Flashcubes soldiered on, effectively ignoring all of this sniveling corporate noise.

The album, now called This Is Fiction, was completed and delivered to Columbia in September of 1982. It was a consistently engaging two-record set, impeccably played and pristinely produced, and it had "HIT" written all over it. For all of Columbia's grumbling and grousing, The Flashcubes had finished the record in plenty of time to take advantage of Christmas season sales.

Columbia wasn't impressed.

What the hell was wrong with this picture? Over thirty years later, we still don't know what anyone at Columbia was thinking. The Flashcubes had given their label a sure thing, a record that could garner rave reviews and sell like a guaranteed cure for ugly. The label acted like it had been handed a stool sample. The record was not released in time for Christmas; for a while, it seemed destined to not be released at all.

Frustrated, The Flashcubes consulted advisors and experts, and told Columbia those three magic words: breach of contract. Somehow, cooler heads prevailed; Columbia relented and put This Is Fiction on its release schedule. The double-album--the exact same album The Flashcubes had turned over to Columbia back in September--finally hit retail shelves in March of 1983.

Columbia did little (or less) to promote This Is Fiction, but the set sold well nonetheless. The Flashcubes made a video for Frenay's song "You Don't Know Me," and an over-the-top T & A video for Lenin's "My Baby's Stacked," both of which scored a presence on MTV. Columbia released the title track as a single, gave it no support, yet it made the Top 20 anyway.

The Flashcubes hit the road for a tour in support of the album, and played to still-enthusiastic crowds across the country. The tour ended with a homecoming concert in Syracuse on August 27th, 1983; only The Flashcubes themselves knew that was intended to be their last live appearance.

The show was transcendent. The Flashcubes played for two hours, reaching back to old songs they hadn't played in years, mixed with all of the hits, generous bits of This Is Fiction, a few choice covers, and even Paul Armstrong's "Got No Mind," with Arty Lenin singing lead. This did not seem to be the image of a band about to throw in the towel.

But it was. With that show, The Flashcubes were done.

Tension with the label had reached such a state that none of The Flashcubes had any interest in continuing. After the double-album This Is Fiction, The Flashcubes still owed Columbia three more albums in their five-album contract. Tommy Allen went through existing tapes, and assembled a pretty damned good collection of covers, as well as the recording of their final concert. The covers album Hearts In Her Eyes and the double-album End Of The Line were submitted to Columbia to complete The Flashcubes' contract.

(The label howled and sputtered, and litigation went on for years. But eventually, The Flashcubes prevailed, and even managed to regain control of their master tapes. The group's self-released Bright Lights compilation has been a seemingly permanent fixture on Billboard's catalog chart since its release in 2006.)

When The Flashcubes ended in 1983, Gary Frenay turned to songwriting full-time, and continued to pen timeless pop tunes that were eagerly snapped up by artists from The Bangles to KISS; Frenay married his fiance, Jackie Lewis, and together they raised a happy family in Central New York. Arty Lenin had his pick of offers as songwriter and guitarist, and buzzed contentedly through an endless array of collaborations with just about everyone you could name in pop, rock, soul, and jazz. Tommy Allen concentrated on his production company, and became one of the most successful (and one of the most powerful) studio bigwigs in the music industry. The Columbia Records disaster may have stopped The Flashcubes, but it didn't even slow down any of the individual 'Cubes.

And The Flashcubes remained in style. In 1985, director John Hughes used a remix of The Flashcubes' "Nothing Really Matters When You're Young" in a pivotal scene in his film The Breakfast Club. The success of that movie and its soundtrack kept The Flashcubes in the public eye and ear, on the radio and on record store shelves. There were even labels actively looking to snag The Flashcubes for new recordings, Columbia lawsuits be damned, but the 'Cubes were no longer interested.

So The Flashcubes' reunion set was indeed unexpected.

Paul Armstrong had met Bob Geldof during The Flashcubes' first trip to England way back in 1979. By the mid-'80s, Geldof had become actively involved in famine relief for Ethiopia, and had organized an all-star Christmas single under the name Band Aid to raise money and consciousness for this cause. In 1985, Geldof was putting together a massive, massive live concert in London and Philadelphia, all in the hope of raising millions of dollars for this humanitarian end. Geldof had gotten the surviving members of Led Zeppelin to re-unite for this show. And Geldof called Armstrong, and asked bluntly: "Can we have The Flashcubes play?"

Armstrong called Frenay, Lenin, and Allen. And so, on July 13th, 1985. the four of them stood on stage at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, reunited at Live Aid.

100,000 people at Live Aid. Fundamentally, it wasn't all that different from playing for a dozen drunks at a dive bar in DeWitt, New York in 1977. They were The Flashcubes. They knew who they were. They knew what they could do. They'd had but one quick rehearsal, just before their set, but it didn't matter. It never mattered. They were The Flashcubes. All they ever had to do was just play.

And play they did, ripping through an energetic set that has entered pop legend as one of the most exciting live rock 'n' roll performances ever televised. The Flashcubes performed a quick, condensed summary of their best work, from their first single "Christi Girl" through their final album. How did we get here? The question was there, unspoken, understood. And The Flashcubes sang together one last time:

This is fiction
It's stranger than the truth
This must be fiction....

This is fiction.

The Flashcubes never got a record deal in the '70s, never achieved the success they so richly deserved. I've been a fan of the group since January of 1978; last week, I started to imagine what it might have been like if things had gone The Flashcubes' way. This five-part series is the result of that whimsical idea.

Throughout the series, I've tried to tether the flights of fancy to some semblance of the real world. Sure, it may be an extreme notion to picture an alternate timeline where an undiscovered band from Syracuse, NY takes the pop world by storm, but isn't that half the fun? And is it really intrinsically more far-fetched than the real-world story of a bunch of no-account rock 'n' rollers in Liverpool, England surviving violent surroundings in the early '60s, transcending bar-band anonymity, and somehow becoming the goddamned Beatles?

Fine. Maybe it is more far-fetched. But it was a delight to conjure nonetheless.

The power of our imagination can give substance to dreams, can lend gravitas to what's purely pretend. I didn't even get around to telling you about The Monkees having a # 1 hit in 1987 with Gary Frenay's "Make Something Happen." Alternate worlds can be an engaging place to visit. In this world, John Lennon still lives. I don't know whether or not The Beatles ever reunited. But the Challenger still exploded; 9/11 still happened; Veronica Mars was still cancelled; we're still stuck with President-Elect Trump.

No world is perfect; not even a pretend world.

But damn--this pretend world does have brighter lights. The brightest lights. We can still see them shine, even from over here.

POSTSCRIPT: After the final chapter was published, Flashcubes bassist Gary Frenay and his wife Jackie Lewis-Frenay replied with a fictional bio, me:

Carl Cafarelli was snapped up by Creem Magazine in 1979, where he wrote alongside Lester Bangs. Then in 1984, he joined the staff of Rolling Stone, where he went on to be the senior rock writer while penning the definitive Monkees screenplay I’m A Believer (an Oscar-nominated film, directed by Cameron Crowe in 1996), and beating out Peter Guralnick for the Pulitzer Prize in Rock journalism for his definitive two-part history of The Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop in 2004. On the personal side, he was lucky enough to marry the love of his life, Brenda (on the same day in 1984 as Gary and Jackie!). They have a daughter, Meghan, who shares her Dad’s love of music and words.

Awww--thanks, guys!

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