About Me

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Road To GOLDMINE, Part 7: Workin' In A Goldmine

I freelanced for Goldmine magazine for twenty years, with my first GM reviews published in November of 1986. Thirty years later, I'm taking a look back at my road to Goldmine, remembering my life in Buffalo 1982-1987. I recommend you start reading with Part 1: Approaching The Minefield, then continue with Part 2: You've Got To Pay Your Dues If You Want To Write Reviews, Part 3: Fools Gold, Part 4: A Rockier Road, Part 5: A Shaft. A Light., and Part 6: Buffalo Mining Disaster 1986. Our story concludes here.

By early 1987, our time in Buffalo was nearing its end.

Brenda and I were in dire need of another fresh start. Brenda had passed her state teaching certification exam, and had completed her graduate degree at the University of Buffalo, but was still stuck working at a day care center, with little pay and no discernible benefits. Me? I was selling appliances on commission, and hating every second of it. All of this should have been plenty bad enough already. But no, no, no--just when you think you've reached your lowest point, a smug, mocking cosmos often reserves one more vicious kick to the head, just for special little you. Our specific boot to the skull was the predicament of Brenda's dad on Staten Island. Brenda's dad had never really recovered from losing his wife, Brenda's mom, to cancer in 1983. Who really does recover from this? The memory of what you had--what you cherished--can warm you, comfort you, but it can also torture you with the ache of what's been so cruelly taken away. He'd tried, and he'd made a go of it, but by '87 it was clear that he could no longer take care of himself. He needed to get out of Staten Island even more than Brenda and I needed to get out of Buffalo.

But where could we all go? Brenda came up with the answer: Syracuse.

It made sense. I still had a lot of family in the Syracuse area, including both of my parents, so we'd automatically have a support system in place. My folks loved Brenda, so there was no danger of friction there. Yeah, Syracuse was where we needed to be, stat! We just had to figure out the logistics.

I answered an ad for a store manager position at a Record Theater near Syracuse University, and traveled there for the interview, but it was not to be. The appliance chain I worked for had stores in Syracuse; seeking a quicker transition, I asked a company executive if I could be transferred to one of those stores. Yeah, sure, we'll look into that! was the response, followed by the unhelpful sound of crickets. A month passed. Nothing had changed.

So I called another executive--the guy who'd hired me on the spot at my interview the preceding fall--and explained my situation. Well, which store did you have in mind, Carl? I replied that my parents lived in North Syracuse, and there was a store about a half mile from their house--howzabout I look into a transfer there? Can you start Monday? 

This was Thursday.

Yes. Yes, I could start in North Syracuse on Monday. Okay, Carl--be at the North Syracuse store Monday morning at 9:45. 

Click. What...?!

We couldn't move out of our apartment quite that quickly, so Brenda stayed in Buffalo while I packed a few things and moved back to my parents' house on an interim basis. We notified our Buffalo slumlord of our intent to vacate within the month; he was none too pleased, and screwed us out of much of our security deposit, charging us for damages that predated our occupancy (and certainly predated his ownership of that goddamned rat trap), and for the defective wall oven he'd had to replace while we lived there. Bastard. Brenda served notice at her job, worked to tie up loose ends, and joined me in Syracuse on the weekends to go apartment-hunting. We found a place we could afford, a second-floor flat in a beat-up apartment complex on Syracuse's North side.

In late March of 1987, we said goodbye to Buffalo. It was indeed bittersweet. We'd had some good times in the Queen City, made more friends than enemies, and perhaps even grown up--just a little--while living there. But we'd failed. Really failed, me especially. We had no future in Buffalo--none. It was tough to leave. We had to leave. We should have left sooner.

On the drive from Buffalo to Syracuse, as we neared our new home, Brenda noticed more and more cars decked out with orange trim and trappings; the Orangemen, the Syracuse University men's basketball team, were in the Final Four, and people were celebrating. Syracuse's embrace of its college team was infectious; neither Brenda nor I were sports fans at the time, but we got caught up in the enthusiasm anyway. In our empty little apartment, we hooked up an antenna to our tiny TV, and watched SU compete in the national championship game. In the final seconds, the good guys lost to Indiana, 74-73, thanks to a miracle shot by Keith Smart (whose name remains a curse word in Syracuse to this day). But the seed was planted, and Syracuse basketball would eventually rival rock 'n' roll and comic books as one of my primary obsessions.

"Cold man?" No--COLEMAN! Derrick Coleman!
The new apartment was adequate; a year later, when a crazy neighbor went nuts and carved "YOU DIE" in the landing outside our door, we figured we'd finally had our fill of apartment living. We bought a house in the suburbs, and we have lived in that house since 1989. In the mean time, we were able to move Brenda's dad to Syracuse; we found an assisted living facility for him, and he lived long enough to meet his only grandchild, our Meghan, who was born in 1995. If there is a Heaven beyond this physical world, then Brenda's mom and dad are together again, and they smile upon our daughter every day; I betcha they beam with pride. We know how they feel.

In Syracuse, I started writing more. I continued to write reviews for Goldmine, including a review of the Groove In CD by The Flamin' Groovies, which sticks out in my memory for some odd reason. I submitted an unsolicited--WILL I NEVER LEARN?!--poison pen review of the eponymous album by The New Monkees, but editor Jeff Tamarkin batted that one aside with the casual ease of the original Monkees shrugging off Jann Wenner. My first feature article for Goldmine was a history of The Bay City Rollers ("Rollermania: A Hard D-A-Y's Night"), published in the 9/25/87 issue; I later expanded that piece for the 2001 book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and reprised it here.

One Sunday night in 2014, when my This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn took the evening off, I devoted the entirety of that week's show to a retrospective of the music I covered in my twenty-year Goldmine career. I invite you to read that playlist and commentary--Workin' In A Goldmine--but I'll be repeating a few points here.

The main point? I loved writing for Goldmine. It was a terrific freelance gig for me, and it was the gateway to whatever notoriety I eventually achieved. I wrote about my rock 'n' roll passions, from power pop to bubblegum music and The Flashcubes. I interviewed one of my teen crushes, Joan Jett, and the framed, autographed two-page title spread of that article is perched on the wall in my office at home. I met KISS, who were the subject of my first cover story. I got a freakin' phone call from Joey Ramone, a week after I interviewed him and his brudder Ramones. I got praise. I got criticism. I got fan mail! And, y'know, free records. It was a delight to work with Jeff Tamarkin, and it was never quite the same for me when he left the magazine in the late '90s. I soldiered on for several years after that, but with decreasing frequency; I finally decided it wasn't fun anymore, and just stopped sending stuff to Goldmine. There were no hard feelings; by then, I doubt anyone still with GM editorial even knew who I was, so no one noticed I was gone. Goldmine will always loom large in my legend, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

And I don't get to my Goldmine experience without the life in Buffalo that preceded it.

Joe Bompczyk
"I lived in Buffalo, New York for almost five years, from August of 1982 until Mach of 1987. It was an unsteady period in my life, marked by giddy highs and depressing lows; I moved there nursing a broken heart, and I wound up getting married while living there. Saw lots of great rock 'n' roll bands, ate a lot of great junk food, had some righteous good times, but I lived in a rat-infested apartment, often had difficulty making ends meet, and maybe possibly drank a tiny bit too much. Moods? I had those! Many different ones! It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times, just that flat gray area in between, as I tried to figure things out."

I wrote the above paragraph in September of 2010 as part of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio's tribute to the late Joe Bompczyk, veteran of legendary Buffalo bands The Enemies and The Restless. For years, I swore to myself that I would never write about my life in the '80s; I still sometimes feel in danger of buckling under the weight of the emotional debris I accumulated in that unfortunate decade. Plus, a lot of the music sucked. Even now, I look back on my time in Buffalo with both a cringe of regret and a glow of pride. I've written about some of those memories in this series, and still more tumble forth now:

I remember our first evening in Buffalo, sleeping on the floor of our bedroom in this unfamiliar place. I was 22, Brenda was 23. We didn't know anyone in this strange new city. As we tried to sleep, every odd noise, every random bump in the night, felt like danger, like impending disaster, the malevolent intrusion of the witching hour. We held each other more tightly, and prayed we hadn't made a grave mistake in coming here.

At the McDonald's company picnic, I remember coming up to bat in the softball game. Strike one! Fine. Bring it. My coworker Dwayne shouted out, Come on CC, this one's for the rock 'n' roll albums! My bat caught the next pitch square 'n' solid, sending it sailing far over the heads of the outfielders for a home run. This calls for more beer! Another coworker certainly thought so, and she cracked the front end of her car when she tried to drive home after the party. No one hurt. We were a collection of dumbasses nonetheless.

Brenda was a new driver; she didn't get her driver's license until we were living in Buffalo. To force her to acclimate to driving, I took her to work one day and then took the bus home--sink or swim, baby! Before I left for home, I noticed a rummage sale going on in the basement beneath the day care center, and picked up a stack of used soul 45s, including gems by James Brown, Solomon Burke, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett's cover of "Hey Jude" (which quickly became my favorite version of that song). Brenda made it home okay, and was able to drive with greater confidence thereafter.


We saw The Peter Tork Project play at The Tralfamadore Cafe, and we were somehow able to get backstage to meet Tork and get his autograph. We were starstruck. And I told Tork, "I used to watch you on TV when I was six years old!" When The Monkees reunited in '86, that very line became a (sarcastic) part of Tork's live performances of "Your Auntie Grzelda," and has remained there ever since. So, yeah...my work. Sorry about that, Peter. And so sorry, fellow Monkees fans!

At Mighty Taco, there was an employee named...er, let's call him "Malcolm." Malcolm was amiable and friendly, but you could tell he had a temper. During one shift, he confessed to me that he'd--no shit--killed a guy some time before he'd taken the job at Mighty Taco. This was not a case of a coworker just makin' up a story about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. Malcolm had been in a phone booth, and an older guy startled him. Malcolm panicked, and he beat the guy to death with his bare hands. Malcolm was arrested, but I believe he was acquitted; self-defense. It weighed on Malcolm's conscience enough that he wanted to talk about it, but he begged me not to tell the manager. I said...well, I think I knew better than to say Are you out of your flippin' MIND? right then and there, but I told him he'd best tell the manager immediately, or I would indeed tell her myself. He told her within a few days, and was terminated immediately for lying on his application ("Have you ever been arrested?"). I was reprimanded for not telling the manager as soon as I knew about it.

Punk-funk superstar Rick James strolled hurriedly by the Main Place Mall Cavages one day, not stopping nor slowing down as onlookers called after him, Yo', Rick! RICK!! Brenda also saw some members of James' group The Stone City Band at the airport when she was catching a flight to New York.

Also at Main Place, we had r & b group Womack & Womack for an in-store. Just like Spinal Tap's infamous in-store with Artie Fufkin, nobody showed up to see them.

I caught a career shoplifter trying to swipe cassettes at Thruway Mall. The arresting officer remembered me from a previous visit, when he was trying to return a radio; I wasn't authorized to accept returns on radios--all such returns had to be processed by Cavages' main office, no exceptions--but it didn't seem like he accepted the quaint, laughable idea of rules applying to cops. On this subsequent visit, he was more interested in insulting me than he was in taking the suspect into custody.

While still employed by Cavages, I came this close to quitting in favor of a job with a local management company. Starstruck Promotions handled booking and publicity for a number of local rock 'n' roll acts, including powerhouse Buffalo group Talas (with bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan). The money was negligible, and the hours were long, but it could have been a stepping stone to bigger things. The more I thought about the job and what it entailed--hangin' out in bars until 4 am, schmoozing (and presumably boozing) with performers, fans, and their attendant pretty young things, all while trying to seem both in charge and part of the crowd--the more I was convinced that this was not a job for a married man. I declined the job before it was often offered, and the guy I'd been speaking with at Starstruck was pissed. One wonders how different my life would have been if I'd taken that job, but I don't believe it would have been better. And I'm not sure my marriage would have survived it. I'm not sure I would have survived it.

Brenda and I did survive Buffalo. We have some fond memories, and we cherish the friends we made there. The misery and uncertainty of the most difficult times subsided over time. We're still married. We still love each other. She's the lead teacher and support person in an inclusive early childhood classroom. I still sell appliances, but at a different store than the now-defunct chain that hired me in Buffalo; I've been at my current job for over twenty-five years, and I've been much happier since I finally realized that people don't have to be defined by what they do for a living. Once I embraced that, I became a more contented person.

So, what am I? First and foremost, I'm a husband and a father; our daughter is the best thing that ever happened to us. At my core, I also remain what I've always been: I'm a writer. I enjoy writing, and I'm good at it. I felt disconnected from that for years, ever since I bid farewell to Goldmine. I missed it. So I started this blog. I consider Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) the true heir to whatever the hell it was I did for twenty years with Goldmine. Buffalo brought me to Goldmine; Goldmine brought me here.

When Brenda and I moved to Buffalo in 1983, I guess we were hoping to find a path forward. We wanted to find ourselves, to find each other, to find our future, and to find out who we were meant to be. And we found the one thing inside of us that encompassed all of that, and more:

We found gold.

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