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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.

Friday, August 11, 2017

TIRnRR # 4, Track By Track: The Flashcubes, "No Promise"

This is part of a series of short pieces discussing each of the 29 tracks on our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4The CD can be ordered at Kool Kat Musik.

17. THE FLASHCUBES: "No Promise [4 track]"

What is the inspiration that drives us to create?

There are many valid answers, but my preferred answer is that we create to correct something that our imagination and instinct deem incorrect. That's not right, our inner muse may whisper, sweetly or cruelly; You must make it right. So we apply our art and our artifice, our vision, our craft, our ambition, our faith, our bravado, our humility, our sense of elusive balance or seductive chaos, and we re-make what we see into what we think we should see. It's true of the flights of fancy that generate paintings, poetry, literature, music, theater, dance, comedy, sculpture, comics, oratory, and all manner of human artistic expression; it's true of architecture, it should be true of legislation, and it's true of something as prosaic as writing a blog. And, believe it or not, it can even be true of slappin' together a silly little radio show.

It's true of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, anyway. Whether we succeed or whether we fail, TIRnRR manifests from the vague notion that radio--rock 'n' roll radio, hit radio--can be better. We believe this, and that belief drives us. When we started the precursor of TIRnRR in 1992, we believed that radio should be playing The Ramones. We believed that Little Richard, Phil Ochs, Wanda Jackson, Parliament, The Dixie Cups, and Big Star fit comfortably within a single pop format. And, perhaps more than anything else, we believed that Syracuse's own power pop powerhouses The Flashcubes should be international superstars.

And I'll add one more belief as a tangent to that: I believed that "No Promise" by The Flashcubes was The Greatest Record Ever Made.

In 1992, The Flashcubes were a memory, a local band from the late '70s that never quite made it, didn't even get signed, and broke up unknown in 1980. "No Promise" was a song from the group's unreleased demos, traded hand to hand, dream to dream, within a small circle of stubbornly devoted fans. It had recently been released for the first time on a cassette anthology called The Gary Frenay Songbook. Gary was the bassist for The Flashcubes, and he wrote the song as a direct evocation of The Raspberries, a realization of power pop's divine Forms. It was indeed a snappy li'l number. And it should have been a hit.

The Flashcubes were (and are again) Gary, guitarists Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin, and drummer Tommy Allen. They were my favorite band, and not just in the sense of my favorite band playing bars and nightclubs in Syracuse when I was a teenager; in my pop pantheon, the 'Cubes rivaled The Ramones among then-current acts, and even The Beatles among the all-timers. I honestly don't care if you think that's ridiculous. It's my vision of how things should be.

I've written so much about The Flashcubes. I wrote "Bright Lights, Small City", a history of the 'Cubes that appeared in Goldmine magazine before becoming the liner notes for the group's 1997 anthology CD Bright Lights. I wrote a companion piece for their rarities set A Cellar Full Of Boys. I wrote a short 15th anniversary retrospective for The Syracuse New Times, culled from an interview I did with Paul and Gary. In 2014, I wrote and delivered a speech inducting The Flashcubes into The Syracuse Music Hall Of Fame. I wrote (with Gary) a press release for The Flashcubes' 40th Anniversary Show. And I wrote a fictional history of The Flashcubes, "A Brighter Light In My Mind," imagining a world where everyone knew and appreciated the 'Cubes like I do. We create to correct what is incorrect.

But, long before any of that, my first published piece about The Flashcubes was in 1992, a short song and dance called "Remembering The Flashcubes." I wrote it for Radiovision, the giveaway hype sheet for WNMA, the home of the pre-TIRnRR Dana & Carl show We're Your Friends For Now.

Armed with that recently-released Gary Frenay Songbook cassette in '92, The Flashcubes' "No Promise" was a recurring Fave Rave on We're Your Friends For Now. A few years later, "No Promise" was included on the Bright Lights CD, but it wasn't the same version; it was a subsequent version, originally recorded after Mick Walker had replaced Paul in 1979, but now with new guitar parts from the returning prodigal Paul. It's a great rendition, and it is considered The Flashcubes' official studio performance of "No Promise."

I still liked the first version better.

We create to correct. We wanted The Flashcubes on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4. We contacted Gary and asked if we could exhume that original, nearly-forgotten version of "No Promise." The Flashcubes agreed that we could use the track, but locating a suitable master was a challenge. This "No Promise" was a 4-track demo, and it never existed in any other form. Studio wizard Ducky Carlisle took several valiant stabs at cleaning and enhancing, but even his magic couldn't overcome the hiss and distortion permanently attached to the deteriorating master tape.

Finally, both Gary and I independently hit on the idea of mastering directly from the best available source: the cassette of The Gary Frenay Anthology. Even my inept home-made attempt at a new master was an improvement over what we had so far; Ducky, bless 'im, was able to do much, much better than that. Lo and behold: we had preserved the original 4-track of "No Promise" for fresh enjoyment.

As I write this in August of 2017, The Flashcubes' 40th anniversary show is a mere three weeks away on September 1st. The work of prepping TIRnRR # 4 has left me with little time to think about that show, but my God! THE FLASHCUBES' 40th ANNIVERSARY! I'd like to say that this is a thrill I never could have imagined way back when I saw the 'Cubes for the first time, when I was freshly 18 in January of 1978, and I was about to witness power pop transcendence.

But that would be a lie; I absolutely could have imagined it then, and it surely remains a thrill now. I always knew it would be a thrill. I always knew The Flashcubes would matter. No promise lasts forever, but I always knew The Flashcubes' music would last forever, at least as far as I was concerned.

It's the vision my imagination and instinct created. And it is correct.

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