THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Uncle John’s Band

This appeared previously here at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) in October of 2018. It has been slightly adjusted to reflect how it will appear in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1).

An infinite number of rockin’ pop tracks can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Uncle John’s Band

Written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter

Produced by Bob Matthews. Betty Cantor, and Grateful Dead

From the album Workingman’s Dead, Warner Brothers Records, 1970


It’s the same story the crow told me
It’s the only one he knows
Like the summer sun you come
And like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate
Barely time to wait
Oh, but what I want to know is
Where does the time go?

OCTOBER 21, 2018
We try to hold on. We try to cling to things we cherish. We can’t hold on. We shouldn’t. We can’t.

When I was a teenaged college student matriculatin’ my way through the late ’70s, I actively loathed the Grateful Dead. To this power-poppin’ punk rocker, the Dead’s music, image, and interminably jamming vibe were anathema. Gimme the Ramones. Gimme the Sex Pistolsthe Buzzcocksthe Flashcubes. Gimme British Invasion. Gimme the Monkees. Gimme something short ‘n’ sharp, fast ‘n’ catchy, and play it loud. Gimme some truth. The Grateful Dead? No. Thanks anyway, but no.


Nonetheless, somewhere in this time frame, I heard the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” Maybe not for the first time–it was, after all, released way back in 1970, the lead-off track on the Workingman’s Dead album, and some radio station somewhere must have played it within my sovereign air space–but maybe for the first time that mattered. I still found time to hate the Grateful Dead. I made an exception for “Uncle John’s Band.”

Why? There was something…inviting about the track. I dunno. Something comforting, something pretty, something intrinsically appealing on a deeper level. Something that mattered. By the early ’80s, I quipped that “Uncle John’s Band” was a great track, and that I just wished it was by the Hollies instead of the Dead. I think I said the same thing about Van Halen‘s “Dance The Night Away” and “Lorelei” by Styx, in each case ripping off something I’d once read in Phonograph Record Magazine about “Cherry Baby” by Starz. Collectively, these were the beginnings of my eventual conviction that even a band you despise might be capable of putting out one track you adore.

I grew up. I’m sure I have that in writing somewhere. I graduated from college in 1980, got married in 1984, and became father to a newborn baby girl in 1995. Now, that baby girl is herself a college graduate, herself deep into the process of growing up. And today, she’s moving out of our house. She’ll be close by–not even ten minutes away–and she’ll still carpool to work with her mother during the week. I’m sure I’ll see her often. It’s a good thing, a great thing. A necessary thing. Our pride in our daughter far outshines the fragile nature of our emotions. It is a moment to celebrate. My eyes sting just the same. Where does the time go?

She and her boyfriend are moving into the house where I lived from 1960 until 1980, birth to graduation. My mother’s house. Mom doesn’t live there anymore. Dad passed away in 2012, and my sister (who lives in England) bought the house to keep it in the family as the inevitable marched its odious way in our direction. The inevitable happened faster than anticipated, as my mother fell at home in December of 2017. It soon became apparent that she could no longer live on her own, and she relocated permanently to a nursing home facility by the end of 2017. Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait.

I see Mom every day after work. I check in, I chat, I see if there’s anything she needs, anything I can do for her. I get her audio books, even though her hearing is diminished. I make sure her TV is working, even though she’s now legally blind. I get her to the few doctor’s appointments that aren’t handled on the premises. I check her mail. I handle her accounts. I make sure she’s adequately stocked with whatever is appropriate to keep her as comfortable and content as we can. And then I go home for supper. I am Sisyphus. And like the summer sun I come, and like the wind I go.

I started to develop a little bit of appreciation for the Grateful Dead in the ’80s. Perhaps to my horror, I discovered that I loved their 1987 MTV hit “Touch Of Grey,” and I felt compelled to purchase both their then-current LP In The Dark and the greatest-hits set Skeletons In The Closet. The ’67 psychedelic rocker “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” became another fave rave, much later joined by another debut album track called “Cream Puff War,” plus “Can’t Come Down,” an earlier track dating from when the Dead were billed as the Warlocks. Cool stuff, all of this.

“Uncle John’s Band” remained the kingpin. Such a mystically comforting track, even as we feel time slipping away, the sands within its hourglass dropping at a rate too rapid to comprehend. Come hear Uncle John’s band playing to the tide/Come with me or go alone, he’s come to take his children home. Magnificent sadness, magnificent glory. In spite of the obvious fact that it really doesn’t sound anything like the Kinks, it is somehow a peer to the peerless music of my favorite Kinks album, The Village Green Preservation Society. At 18 or 19, I never envisioned myself speaking glowingly of the Grateful Dead alongside the Kinks. At 18 or 19, I never envisioned the melancholy ache of the question: Where does the time go?
Tomorrow, I’m going to help my daughter install some smoke detectors in her new abode. I’ll see my Mom tonight, like every night. I’ll eat supper with my wife in a house that will seem emptier than it did just a moment ago. I will hold her close. We first met forty years ago this weekend. My roommate at the time was into the Grateful Dead, and he vowed to make a Deadhead out of me. It never happened, except in the ways that it did. 

Well the first days are the hardest days. Life has never looked like Easy Street. There has always been danger at our door. Another singing group tried to tell us that all we’d need was love. We also need to be strong. We need to hold on. Our walls are built of cannonballs. And we’ve got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide. We’re grateful. We ain’t dead yet.

POSTSCRIPT: Mom left us on December 9th, 2021. Time is the enemy. Yet it’s an enemy we’re grateful to have for as long as we have it.

“Uncle John’s Band” written by Jerome J. Garcia and Robert Hunter

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

Categories
Boppin'

Fake THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO Playlist: The Songs Of BOPPIN’ (LIKE THE HIP FOLKS DO)

I’ve written about a number of albums over the years (especially when I was freelancing for Goldmine), but I’ve always been a single-song guy. Each of the tracks in today’s fake playlist is an individual song that was the focus of a post right here at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Most of them came from my Greatest Record Ever Made! series, though some were originally posted in some other series instead. The curious can follow links to read my original post about each song. Ready to bop? We’ve got some songs for you.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl–y’know, the real one–airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read all about this show’s long and weird history here: Boppin’ The Whole Friggin’ Planet (The History Of THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO). TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS are always welcome.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:


Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

PS: SEND MONEY!!!! We need tech upgrades like Elvis needs boats. Spark Syracuse is supported by listeners like you. Tax-deductible donations are welcome at 
http://sparksyracuse.org/support/

You can follow Carl’s daily blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) at 
https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/

Fake TIRnRR Playlist: The Songs Of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do)

THE MONKEES: I Never Thought It Peculiar

THE RAMONES: Babysitter

BADFINGER: Baby Blue

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: Midnight Train To Georgia

THE BARBARIANS: Take It Or Leave It

THE GO-GO’S: Surfing And Spying

WHAM!: Freedom

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: I Only Want To Be With You

WILSON PICKETT: In The Midnight Hour

NICK LOWE: So It Goes

WANDA JACKSON: Let’s Have A Party

LITTLE RICHARD: The Girl Can’t Help It

MANNIX: Highway Lines

JOHNNY NASH: I Can See Clearly Now

YOKO ONO: Kiss Kiss Kiss

ELTON JOHN: Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

HEART: Kick It Out

CHUCK BERRY: Promised Land

THE BEATLES: Tell Me Why

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE: Any Way You Want It

MATERIAL ISSUE: Kim The Waitress

PATTI SMITH: Gloria

THE MONKEES: The Girl I Knew Somewhere

LOVE: 7 And 7 Is

BIG STAR: September Gurls

DAVID BOWIE: Life On Mars?

THE RASPBERRIES: I Wanna Be With You

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES: The Tears Of A Clown

CRAZY ELEPHANT: Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’

MELANIE WITH THE EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS: Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)

STEVIE WONDER: I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)

THE BUZZCOCKS: Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)

THE SEARCHERS: Hearts In Her Eyes

THE FLASHCUBES: No Promise

THE RAMONES: I Don’t Want To Grow Up

FIRST AID KIT: America

THE KINKS: Waterloo Sunset

THE GRATEFUL DEAD: Uncle John’s Band

THE SMITHEREENS: Behind The Wall Of Sleep

THE WONDERS: That Thing You Do!

THE CASTAWAYS: Liar, Liar

LESLEY GORE: You Don’t Own Me

THE MONKEES: Porpoise Song (Theme From Head)

THE WHO: I Can’t Explain

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Girls In Their Summer Clothes

GRAND FUNK: We’re An American Band

FREDDIE & THE DREAMERS: Do The Freddie

THE DRIFTERS: On Broadway

THE ROLLING STONES: Happy

THE BEATLES: Thank You, Girl

THE RARE BREED: Beg, Borrow And Steal

THE JAYHAWKS: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies

THE LEFT BANKE: Walk Away, Renee

KISS: Shout It Out Loud

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Rock And Roll Love Letter

THE KINKS: You Really Got Me

EYTAN MIRSKY: This Year’s Gonna Be Our Year

What’s Not On Your iPod?

What’s not on your iPod?

My friend Dave Murray has posed this question a few times. It would be a good subject for a poll of music fans, a chance to explore what seemingly essential artists one would elect personally to just skip entirely. I’d think the discussion should be limited to the plausible; you wouldn’t expect a 58-year-old rockin’ pop fan like me to have much–if any–current Top 40, country, metal, or hip hop in my listening queue, so that’s not what we’re talking about. It’s also not about an iPod specifically, nor any other portable music player. It can be about the music in your head, the stuff you’d listen to when you call the shots and you make the playlist. For the sake of expedience, let’s call that your iPod.

So. What’s not on your iPod?

Dave and I have bounced the question back and forth for a good long time. For me, a lot of my expected pop bogeymen are on my iPod. I’ve got Bob Seger (I like “Get Out Of Denver,” “Heavy Music,” and “Hollywood Nights”). I’ve got The Eagles (“Take It Easy” and “Already Gone”). I’ve got Styx (I love both “Lorelei” and “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye”). I even have the hated REO Speedwagon (“Tough Guys”). I don’t have a lot of Dylan or Springsteen, but they’re there. The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd, too. Amidst my preferred mix of BeatlesKinksRamonesFlashcubesMonkeesChuck Berry, power pop, Motown, British Invasion, soul, bubblegum, surf, punk…well, it’s all part of my preferred mix, up to and including Phil OchsPercy Faith,and Grandmaster Flash. It’s all pop music, anyway.

What’s not on my iPod? Well….

As I was listening to the radio the other day, the local airwaves reminded me of a popular classic rock act whose music always prompts me to change the station, every time. And that act is Lynyrd Skynyrd.

It’s not that I hate Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lynyrd Skynyrd is in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and it’s a group that deserves to be in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I’m not hostile. I’m not exactly indifferent, but it’s music that I just don’t care to listen to. Ever. I understand its appeal. The audience for that appeal does not appeal to me.

There are, of course, many other acts whose records are likewise alien to the rich ‘n’ fertile playground of my iPod. There’s no Frank Sinatra or Stevie Ray Vaughan. There’s no Van Halen, though it’s theoretically possible I would consider adding “Dance The Night Away” or “Runnin’ With The Devil” someday. There’s for damned sure no Dave Matthews Band; that one’s probably a given. And I’d take a truncheon to the damned thing if it tried to play Kid Rock, whom I loathe. But, among worthy acts that just ain’t my cuppa, Lynyrd Skynyrd tops the list of what’s not on my iPod. Turn it up? Turn it off. Your iPod may vary. What’s not on your iPod?

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. 

Fake THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO Playlist: Songs THE FLASHCUBES Like

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl is simply too large a concept to be neatly contained within a mere three-hour weekly time slot. Hence these occasional fake TIRnRR playlists, detailing shows we’re never really going to do…but could.

The recent release of the Flashcubes‘ 1979 live set Flashcubes On Fire, has reinforced my ongoing state of giddy Cubic buzz. So here’s a fake playlist gathering a bunch of songs the ‘Cubes covered at least once (or more), whether in live shows or in studio or demo sessions. It is not a comprehensive list, but it makes a damned compelling playlist.

You can read my liner notes for Flashcubes On Fire here, you can buy the album here, and you can link to a whole bunch of my Flashcubes writing through here. Like the Beatles before them, the Flashcubes were and remain true fans of rockin’ pop music, and that love of pop with power informed everything they did, and everything they continue to do today. 

We can expect more recordings of covers performed by the Flashcubes in the very near future; in the mean time, we open this imaginary playlist with a Flashcubes original (as heard on Flashcubes On Fire), a song celebrating the act of rock ‘n’ roll fandom, and then we dive into a selection of tunes the ‘Cubes fancied enough to perform. On stage. In the studio. In the basement with a TEAC 3340. These are some records the Flashcubes like.

I like ’em, too.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl–y’know, the real one–airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read all about this show’s long and weird history here: Boppin’ The Whole Friggin’ Planet (The History Of THIS IS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RADIO). TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS are always welcome.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:


Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

PS: SEND MONEY!!!! We need tech upgrades like Elvis needs boats. Spark Syracuse is supported by listeners like you. Tax-deductible donations are welcome at 
http://sparksyracuse.org/support/

You can follow Carl’s daily blog Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) at 
https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/

Fake TIRnRR Playlist: Songs THE FLASHCUBES Like

THE FLASHCUBES: Face In The Crowd

OASIS: Rock And Roll Star

THE SUPREMES: Stop! In The Name Of Love

THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Wouldn’t You Like It

PAUL COLLINS’ BEAT: All Over The World

TELEVISION: Elevation

THE KINKS: I Need You

THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND: Alone In My Room

PEZBAND: Baby It’s Cold Outside

THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Shake Some Action

ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Soldier Of Love

THE SEX PISTOLS: Pretty Vacant

THE RUTLES: I Must Be In Love

THE HOLLIES: Have You Ever Loved Somebody

THE OHMS: License To Kill

THE MONKEES: She

THE RASPBERRIES: I Wanna Be With You

THE dB’S: Neverland

CHRIS SPEDDING: Boogie City

BADFINGER: No Matter What

THE WHO: I Can’t Explain

THE RAMONES: I Just Want To Have Something To Do

HERMAN’S HERMITS: A Must To Avoid

BIG STAR: September Gurls

THE NEW YORK DOLLS: Personality Crisis

THE MOVE: Forever

THE YARDBIRDS: Heart Full Of Soul

EDDIE COCHRAN: Somethin’ Else

APRIL WINE: Tonight Is A Wonderful Time

THE BOB SEGER SYSTEM: Get Out Of Denver

1.4.5.: She Couldn’t Say No

SCREEN TEST: Sound Of The Radio

STEVE CARR: I Want To Touch You In The Dark

WRECKLESS ERIC: Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.)

THE SEARCHERS: Needles And Pins

LARRY WILLIAMS: Dizzy Miss Lizzy

THE BEATLES: Thank You, Girl

SHAUN CASSIDY: Hey Deanie

THE TROGGS: Wild Thing

NICK LOWE: Heart Of The City

THE BREAKAWAYS: Walking Out On Love

THE POSIES: Flavor Of The Month

SHOES: Tomorrow Night

WIZZARD: Ball Park Incident

XTC: Earn Enough For Us

THE KNICKERBOCKERS: Lies

THE JAM: In The City

THE KINGSMEN: Louie Louie

CHRIS SPEDDING: Hey Miss Betty

THE BEATLES: I’m Down

THE BEATLES: Hold Me Tight

THE RASPBERRIES: Tonight

BADFINGER: Baby Blue

THE RAMONES: I Wanna Be Sedated

THE WHO: The Kids Are Alright

THE KINKS: You Really Got Me

THE SEX PISTOLS: God Save The Queen

EDDIE & THE HOT RODS: Do Anything You Wanna Do

DICK DALE & HIS DEL-TONES: Rawhide

Categories
Boppin'

Pop With POWER!

This piece was commissioned by John M. Borack and S.W. Lauden for Big Stir magazine # 6, a special edition asking that musical question, IS THIS POWER POP? The magazine is still available and highly recommended, and I was damned proud to participate. Here’s my contribution to the discussion.

Pop With POWER!

By Carl Cafarelli

“After all, power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.”

–Gary Sperrazza!, Bomp! magazine

It was a straightforward sequence of events. I broke up with a girl just before my 18th birthday. Just after my 18th birthday, I saw my first power pop band.

That band was the Flashcubes, soon to be called Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse, and quickly perched alongside the Beatles and the Ramones in the trinity of my all-time Fave Raves. When I saw them in January of 1978, few (if any) were calling them “power pop,” a phrase which was just beginning to work its way into the lexicon. The Flashcubes were a punk band. A punk band that covered the Kinks, the Who, the Searchers, the Hollies, and the Yardbirds, sure, but still a punk band.

And they were absolutely power pop. Loud, proud, and hook-laden. Pop with power.

Many deny any relationship between punk and power pop. Yeah, punk’s angry clatter is certainly a breed apart from Badfinger. But within punk’s first wave, groups like the Ramones, Generation X, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Buzzcocks, and the Jam were applying battered hearts to tattered sleeves, running AM radio influences through a primal DIY aesthetic. Some pop fans require jangle and harmonies as power pop prequisites, and dismiss, say, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” for its lack of either. But man, it ain’t power pop if it doesn’t have power.

My idea of power pop came from writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza!, via the power pop issue of Bomp! Magazine in 1978. The phrase predates them; “power pop” was coined by Pete Townshend in 1966, describing what the Who were playing, what the Small Faces were playing, what the Beach Boys had played prior to getting all sober and mature with Pet Sounds. Shaw and Sperrazza! saw the sound of the early Who as the Ur-Example of power pop. Bomp! put forth a simple power pop equation: the punk energy of the Sex Pistols plus the catchy pop of Shaun Cassidy equals the power pop of the Who.

I concur.

(And, whether we start power pop’s shot clock with the Beatles [my choice] or with the Who [Bomp!‘s pick], it’s clear that the style existed in the ’60s. I reject the notion that it was created in the ’70s as an attempt to recapture the excitement of the British Invasion. The latter view reduces power pop to mere revival, no more vital than freakin’ Sha Na Na. Power pop is not a revival. Revivals are well-behaved. Power pop explodes.)

Bomp!‘s power pop issue also extolled the unassailable cred of the Ramones as power pop touchstones. The Ramones wed the promise of AM radio with the 1-2-3-4! ferocity of velocity, pure pop for punk people. When I was corresponding with Shaw in the ’90s, he still maintained that no discussion of power pop could have any meaning if it didn’t include “Rockaway Beach.”

The discussion has continued, long after Shaw and Sperrazza! have departed. As power pop fans, we are passionate and confident in our individual, often contrasting points of view. That’s okay. We’re friends here. Friends can disagree and remain friends. (Except for the guy who called me a ninny for regarding the Ramones as power pop. That guy can take a hike.) Squeeze and Marshall Crenshaw don’t fit within my idea of power pop; I love ’em just the same. You don’t agree that the Ramones are power pop? I won’t let my conviction that you’re wrong prevent you from buying me a beer. Cheers!

My own POV can shift over time. But I have a pretty good idea of how I define power pop, and it goes back to that Bomp! equation: Punk + Pop = Power Pop. Still, there are shades and subtleties to consider. And how many power pop acts are really 100% power pop all of the time? Raspberries did the country-flavored “Last Dance.” Big Star did “The India Song.” The Ramones did “Warthog.” The Who did…well, the Who did a lot of stuff, didn’t they? On the other hand, Styx is certainly not a power pop band, no way, no how…except with “Kiss Your Ass Goodbye,” which is as power pop as anything ever. Musician Marty Ross recently suggested that power pop is an approach rather than a genre. Bomp! said otherwise, but I think Marty’s right on this count. Hey, this means we can have it all!

Do the definitions matter? Yes. And no. Yeah, we should have recognized parameters, common ground to understand what the hell we’re going on about when discussing power pop favorites (or ska favorites, rockabilly favorites, et al.). Power pop’s just a label, a tool to help identify sounds that may appeal to us. Recommended If You Like Cheap Trick. Or, as AM radio told me when it turned me on to Badfinger, “These guys sound like the Beatles.”

My favorite music had a name. I didn’t know that name until I was in college.

“Power pop’” is a misunderstood genre, and there will never be a true consensus on its meaning and parameters. It’s my favorite music. It’s not my only favorite music–I adore so many sounds that fall outside my strict definition of power pop, even many that fall outside a broader, nebulous approximation–but it’s my primary boppin’ raison d’être. My awareness of power pop, my understanding of its meaning, began in 1978 with an incredible magazine called Bomp!

I wrote the above a few years back, introducing a reminiscence about how important Bomp! was to me, particularly in developing my understanding of power pop. Bomp! is still my go-to reference in that regard. Greg Shaw’s equation still holds. Gary Sperrazza!’s statement still rings true: “Power pop means pop with POWER!”

Pop with power. Whimpering simps need not apply. No matter what kind of haircut they have.

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Flashcubes On Fire!

These are my liner notes for Flashcubes On Fire, a new CD preserving the Flashcubes‘  incendiary live show at the Firebarn in Syracuse on May 26, 1979. I’ve been waiting more than 42 years for this. You wanna know why the Flashcubes are up with the Beatles and the Ramones in the pantheon of my all-time favorite groups? This CD offers an invigorating glimpse at the answer.

Writing about the Flashcubes brings out the best in me. Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse. It’s a Saturday night in Syracuse. Get ready. Get set. 

FIRE! 

FLASHCUBES ON FIRE

At its best, live music is alchemy in action, capable of transforming the air around us into pure gold. This mystic process is fueled by so many ingredients, both physical and phantasmic. Sweat. Love. Lust. Hate. Alcohol. Hunger. Ambition. Greed. Generosity. Divine inspiration. Betrayal. Heartbreak. Laughter. Tears. One pill that makes you larger, one pill that makes you small. Amplifiers, power chords, the beat of the bass and drums. Voices rising in anger or exultation. Taking a sad song and making it better. One for the money, two for the show. NOISE. Beautiful, transcendent noise. The sound of gold.

In 1979, I was 19 years old. I reveled in this golden sound. My preferred alchemists were a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll group called the Flashcubes. My go-to goldmine was the Firebarn.

The Firebarn Tavern, a former fire station, was on Montgomery Street in Syracuse. In the mid ’70s, before there were Flashcubes, the Syracuse Cinephile Society held screenings upstairs at the Firebarn; my cousin Maryann took me to see films starring Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn, and my parents endured a long evening indulging me for all twelve chapters of the 1941 Adventures Of Captain Marvel movie serial. 

From the age of 18 on, I saw tons of bands at the Firebarn: the Fast, New Math, the Dead Ducks, the James L. Cortland Band, Distortion, the Most, the Battered Wives, and others that the generous flow of beer blocks in my memory. I was not among the tiny group that witnessed the Flashcubes share a 1978 Firebarn gig with a new British group called the Police. But I was at the Firebarn a lot. The bartender recognized me as I came in, and had an ice-cold Miller ready by the time I got to the bar. 

And then: upstairs! The movies weren’t upstairs anymore. Upstairs was for bands.

That’s where you’d find the Flashcubes, bending air into gold. They were gonna be the biggest stars in the whole goddamned world. I knew it. If history contradicted me, I regret nothing. I wasn’t wrong. The world was wrong.

But in 1979, the world was poised to get it right. There was an undeniable buzz. When the Flashcubes debuted in 1977, they didn’t seem…normal. Punk rock? Power pop? Original songs? Cover choices that favored the Sex Pistols and Television rather than Zeppelin? In Syracuse…?! 

Things evolved. In 1979, The Syracuse New Times‘ Mike Greenstein proclaimed the Flashcubes the local band of the year. Gigs drew exuberant crowds. On this very set, you can hear future GRAMMY-winning recording engineer Ducky Carlisle introduce the Flashcubes with confidence: “One day, very soon from now, all you people are going to be able to say ‘I saw this band before they were famous.'” 

As the summer of ’79 approached, that day seemed imminent. Gold. Syracuse’s phenomenal pop combo. Gary, Arty, Paul, and Tommy. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo, or Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy, the ‘Cubes were a fab and ferocious four:

Bassist Gary Frenay sang sweetly, played commandingly, and crafted surefire radio-ready confections, Central New York’s songwriting answer to Eric Carmen, Emitt Rhodes, and Paul McCartney. 

Guitarist Arty Lenin lived at the left of the dial before anyone heard the phrase, a six-string (and twelve-string!) shaman preoccupied with a million thoughts at once, from William Faulkner to jazz LPs to Miss September. 

Guitarist Paul Armstrong was this town’s first punk and # 1 rock ‘n’ roll fan, driven and hard-working, the individual most responsible for bringing that energy to the Syracuse scene, and described in local fanzine Poser as “Dennis the Menace all grown up.” 

Drummer Tommy Allen could have appeared on the covers of 16 and Tiger Beat, while simultaneously wielding fast and lethal sticks like heavy artillery in the battle for your heart and your wallet. 

Gold. Precious metal formed by British Invasion, maximum pop, absolute rock ‘n’ roll, the edgy sound of the underground, and the rush of AM Top 40 when AM Top 40 was cool. Put ’em all together. Let ’em play.

The Flashcubes were loud. The Flashcubes were invigorating. And the Flashcubes were on fire.

On May 26, 1979, the Flashcubes recorded a Firebarn show on multitrack, their only 1970s show to be preserved with that level of oomph. You can hear the sweat. The Firebarn’s upstairs could get hot. It was never hotter than this night. Bright lights. Guitars, bass, drums. Volume. Your ears are gonna be ringing for days. Ladies and gentlemen, The Flashcubes!

The tape is the Flashcubes’ greatest hits, live, from Arty’s Playboy appreciation “Taking Inventory” through the one-two bludgeoning of Paul’s “Got No Mind” and the stalwart “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” a Larry Williams song the Beatles taught us, with a little Link Wray to chase us home. It’s got Arty’s gorgeous treasure (and the Flashcubes’ first single) “Christi Girl,” Gary’s urgent “Wait Till Next Week” (their second single), Paul’s angry “Sold Your Heart,” pumpin’ covers of fave raves by the Raspberries, Big Star, the Kinks, the Who, Eddie Cochran, and Arthur Alexander (via a Beatles bootleg), and so much greatness from the Flashcubes’ own songbook. 

“She’s Leaving.” “Gone Too Far.” “No Promise,” which should have been their third and biggest single. Arty’s lost song “Cycle Of Pain” and Paul’s likewise-lost “You For Me,” both making their over-the-counter debuts here. Gary’s “Suellen,” later a single for Gary, Arty, and Tommy’s ace post-‘Cubes outfit Screen Test. “Muscle Beach.” “Beverly.” “Boy Scout Pinup.” “Girl From Germany.” “You’re Not The Police.” “Angry Young Man.” And Paul’s “A Face In The Crowd,” a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy performed by a group THISCLOSE to making it all come true.

Gold? Oh hell, yeah. The Flashcubes were pristine ‘n’ dirty gold. Stars? In 1979, the brass ring wouldn’t even know what grabbed it. As the summer beckoned, the Flashcubes shopped their demo to record labels. They did shows with the Ramones, Joe Jackson, 999, David Johansen. They had interest from high-powered management. My God, the Flashcubes were about to go big time.

And it all went away. 

Bad luck. Bad advice. Bad decisions. Gold traded for pyrite. Paul Armstrong was no longer a Flashcube. The Flashcubes were still great, but one could argue that they were no longer the Flashcubes, not as we knew them. The four would reunite in later years. They would play, they would tour and record, they would become legit legends of power pop. But that flashpoint when material gold was within reach, when the dreams written so large in the sky were near enough to touch and taste and take to the bank, THAT moment….

Gone. Like it was never there. But it was there. I remember it.

In 1979, the Syracuse summer was electric with promise. I was 19, a shy, misfit teen from the Northern suburbs, home from college until the fall, and having the time of my life. I was in love, falling ever more deeply in love with a girl I’d met at school. We saw each other every weekend. I had a full-time summer job, putting a little cash in my pocket. So there was romance, money to spend, and a giddy sense of freedom.

And there was gold. The summer could have lasted forever.

Even nostalgia can’t erase the bad times. By the end of that same summer of 1979, my favorite band had split, and one of my best friends was dead by his own hand. I thought the world would just crush me at that point. 

Yet I still look back on that summer as the best I ever had. See, there will always be heartbreak; there will always be tears and sadness, and there will always be an abyss that taunts us. But there will also be love, and there will also be music. In 1979, the Flashcubes were among the best live rock ‘n’ roll acts anywhere. My ears are still ringing. The moment lives on.

Flashcubes On Fire documents that precise moment, that pyrotechnic spark when the Flashcubes were at their peak: a quartet of rock ‘n’ rollers dead set for the toppermost of the poppermost. If you were there, you’ll never forget it. If you weren’t there, just close your eyes, open your imagination, and breathe in the gold. 

GOLD. You’re there now. You’re one of us, upstairs at the Firebarn. Grab a beer on your way up. Welcome to this golden world of promise under the bright, bright lights.

Carl Cafarelli

Syracuse Summer 2021

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Records & SpyderPop Records / 2021 Retrospective

Various Artists

Big Stir Records/SpyderPop Records 2021 Retrospective

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-records-spyderpop-records-2021-retrospective

Big Stir and SpyderPop made a good move when teaming up in early 2021. Since then, the paired imprints have released a brace of fabulous recordings and will clearly continue to do so. To mark their first anniversary, the partnered rosters have issued “2021 Retrospective,” which includes samplings of their wonderful wares.

Because each song boasts its own merit, it is a tough job knowing where to start and pencil in favorites. But beginning with the Armoires seems fair, considering this is the band fronted by Big Stir owners Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome. After all, if it wasn’t for these fine folks, there would be no “Retrospective 2021.” So here’s “Great Distances” that blends jiggly rhythms, jingly guitars and unique hooks with equal portions of beauty and bite.

Chris Church’s “Learn” shuffles to a springy slam-banging beat, while Danny Wilkerson’s “You Still Owe Me A Kiss” blossoms with polished piano flourishes, arresting guitar arrangements and industrious breaks. The Stan Laurels take the stage with the gorgeously textured Teenage Fan Club styled “Tomorrow,” where the Speed Of Sound’s “Tomorrow’s World” resonates with modernized new wave elements. 

Power pop icons the Flashcubes and Mimi Betinis of Pezband join forces on a cover of Pezband’s classic “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Steve Stoeckel of the Spongetones fame weighs in with the elegant folky baroque strum of “Birds,” and Nick Frater’s bright and zesty “It’s All Rumours” lifts cues from both Paul McCartney and Billy Joel. 

Irena Pena’s version of Fountain of Wayne’s “It Must Be Summer” is typically poptastic, and “It’s For Fun (That’s All We’re Living For)” by the Forty Nineteens is a swinging slab of perspiration-soaked garage rock sizzling with attitude and action. The legendary Sorrows reincarnate the heart and soul of British Invasion pop with maximum impact on the catchy and charming “Christabelle,” and then there’s the Lunar Laugh’s “I Wanna Know” that rings to the rafters with fresh melodies and handsome West Coast inspired harmonies. 

Truly an embarrassment of riches, “2021 Restrospective” represents what a great record label should be. I could babble on and on about these terrific artists and their contributions, but hear the tunes yourself and raise a toast to their efforts. Peddling diversity and quality, “2021 Retrospective”  magnifies Big Stir/SpyderPop’s impeccable taste in music on every track. It goes without saying they are one of the most interesting and exciting banners around.  

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Marvel Super-Heroes #12-20

As a practicing square peg, I have a long history of digging stuff that is…well, not so much outside the mainstream necessarily, but perhaps just slightly under the radar. A TV show like The Guns Of Will Sonnett, a film like Brain Donors, a terrific local band like The Flashcubes, for example–while none of these essential (to me) pop entities has ever enjoyed massive success and adulation, there are still many who share my enthusiasm for each of them.

But Marvel Super-Heroes, the late ’60s mostly-reprint anthology title from The House Of Ideas? Face front, True Believer: no one will join me in singing the praises of this minor comic book. Perhaps I shouldn’t even sing those praises myself, because it really wasn’t all that great, nor even all that good. But I tell ya: when I discovered this comic as an eight-year-old kid in 1968, it meant almost as much to me at the time as an Avengers King-Size Special or a Justice League-Justice Society team-up.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a follow-up to an earlier Marvel reprint book called (in Stan Lee‘s typical fluent hype) Fantasy MasterpiecesFantasy Masterpieces had begun in 1966 as a regular-sized 12-cent book, reprinting monster and science-fiction stories from early ’60s Marvel titles like Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales. With its third issue, it expanded to a 25-cent giant format, and added Captain America reprints in front of bogeyman tales like “Beware The Uboongi!” and “I Am Prisoner Of The Voodoo King!” Unlike Marvel’s other ongoing 25-cent superhero reprint anthologies (Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors Item Classics), Fantasy Masterpieces reached back all the way to the 1940s for Cap reprints, as well as for reprints of Golden Age Human Torch and Sub-Mariner sagas in subsequent issues. Its final issue was Fantasy Masterpieces # 11 in ’67, at which point it changed its title to Marvel Super-Heroes.

Although Marvel Super-Heroes continued the series numbering from Fantasy Masterpieces (commencing with Marvel Super-Heroes # 12), there had been a previous Marvel Super-Heroes one-shot in 1966. That was another all-reprint book, starring The AvengersDaredevil, and a Golden Age Human Torch versus Sub-Mariner story, but the new ongoing Marvel Super-Heroes series would differentiate itself from its predecessors with its embrace of that very word: new. While the back pages of Marvel Super-Heroes would still be filled with reprints, each issue would cover feature a brand-new Marvel adventure.

Marvel Super-Heroes # 12 and 13 offered the debut appearances of Captain Marvel, a new character created to capitalize on (and trademark!) the familiar name of the original Captain Marvel. The original Captain Marvel had been the most popular comic-book superhero of the ’40s, outselling even Superman and drawing the legal ire of DC Comics, who successfully sued the World’s Mightiest Mortal out of the comics biz entirely. Marvel Comics had no connection whatsoever to that original Captain Marvel, but Stan Lee and writer Roy Thomas recognized the potential value of the name, and ran with it. Marvel owns the trademark to this day.

After two issues starring new Captain Marvel adventures, Cap soared off into his own new title. Spider-Man starred in Marvel Super-Heroes # 14, the only time Marvel Super-Heroes would ever feature a new story with a character already starring in its own ongoing series. By now, we were approaching the summer of 1968. And that’s where I came in.

I’ve written extensively in my Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio series about comics I bought off the rack in the ’60s, and particularly of the comics I read while on vacation during that summer of ’68. I recall seeing Marvel Super-Heroes # 15 on the spinner rack at Ramey’s grocery store in Aurora, Missouri, staring back at me with its beguiling Gene Colan cover of the female Inhuman called Medusa. This was a book I perused at the store, but couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase. It was already a back issue by then–it wasn’t uncommon to see the occasional (slightly) older comic mixed with the new, depending upon how vigilant a store’s staff was at policing its comics rack–and I was drawn to the newer issue: Marvel Super-Heroes # 16, starring a brand-new World War I hero, Phantom Eagle.

Okay. This I couldn’t resist. Twenty-five cents later, it was mine.

Hey, watch yer language Phantom Eagle; the Comics Code Authority is watching you!

I didn’t know that Phantom Eagle had previously been the name of a World War II hero published by Fawcett; with the success of the new Captain Marvel in Marvel Super-Heroes, maybe someone at Marvel figured, hey, why not scoop up some more discarded Fawcett names from the dustbin? If Marvel Super-Heroes had lasted longer, would we have seen new Marvel characters named Mr. ScarletBulletmanSpy Smasher, or Ibis the Invincible?

Well…probably not.

Nonetheless, I loved this only starring appearance by Marvel’s Phantom Eagle, written by Gary Friedrich and featuring what’s probably my favorite work from veteran Marvel artist Herb Trimpe. I was disappointed that The Phantom Eagle never got another shot. The character did pop up subsequently in a time-spanning issue of The Incredible Hulk (with more outstanding artwork from Trimpe), but I was apparently The Phantom Eagle’s only fan, and further appearances were not to be.

I was just as taken with the reprints in Marvel Super-Heroes, mostly 1950s stuff starring Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner, and often just drenched in the Cold War. There was also a reprint of the ’50s Arthurian hero The Black Knight, and a ’40s tale starring The Patriot. The stories from the ’50s were so different from Marvel’s contemporary comics in ’68, but I still dug them. I was especially fond of the Sub-Mariner stories; this was the first time I’d ever seen Prince Namor drawn by his creator, Bill Everett, and these stories were so energetic, so over the top, so great. I recall playing at my grandparents’ house in Missouri, and swimming at the public pool in Aurora, and repeating the line I’m Professor Zumbar, fool! in my head. Years later, I would learn a bit more about Bill Everett, and discover that my favorite Sub-Mariner stories were Everett stories (both from the ’50s and when he returned to the character in the ’70s). Everett drew the wildest action scenes, and some of the sexiest comic-book women this side of a Nick Cardy page.

I went back to Ramey’s and picked up Marvel Super-Heroes # 15, with the new Medusa story, backed by more ’50s reprints and a 1940s story starring The Black Marvel. Back home in Syracuse, I bought Marvel Super-Heroes # 17 (starring the Silver Age version of The Black Knight in his first solo story) as soon as it came out.  Reprints in that one included the first few chapters of a story starring The All Winners Squad, Marvel’s short-lived (only two appearances!) attempt to copy the success of DC’s Justice Society of America. The All-Winners Squad reprint was continued into Marvel Super-Heroes # 18, cover-featuring the debut of something called The Guardians Of The Galaxy–wonder whatever became of those guys?–but I wasn’t able to find that issue until years later. I bought a coverless copy of Marvel Super-Heroes # 19 (with the jungle hero Ka-Zar), and finally Marvel Super-Heroes # 20, starring The Fantastic Four‘s evil arch-enemy, Dr. Doom. The concept of a villain starring in a solo story knocked me out, man. This was why Marvel called itself The House Of Ideas, right? Right…?

Alas, Dr. Doom was the final new feature to appear in Marvel Super-Heroes; the last page of that issue promised a new feature called Starhawk to star in Marvel Super-Heroes # 21, but that feature never appeared. The title went all-reprint with its 21st issue. Now, I loved reprints–I still do–but it was the end of a very brief era for me. Still, I continued to pick up issues of Marvel Super-Heroes when I could. The focus in its reprint selection shifted away from the ’40s and ’50s, and concentrated on the dawn of The Marvel Age Of Comics in the early ’60s. My Mom gave me a copy of Marvel Super-Heroes # 22 as a Christmas gift in 1969, and I was thrilled to read these early adventures of The X-Men and Daredevil.

Looking back, though, my allegiance to the memory of Marvel Super-Heroes clearly stems from that brief run in the late ’60s, mixing new trial features with, frankly, a goofy selection of reprints from before I was born. I eventually tracked down the earlier issues I’d missed, the ones with Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man, and The Guardians Of The Galaxy, and I even picked up a few issues of Fantasy Masterpieces, one of which included the first All Winners Squad story. Marvel Super-Heroes still holds a cherished place in my memory, even if I’m the only fan who thinks so.

Categories
Boppin'

POWER POP Q&A (Crib Notes From The Modern Pop Underground)

As mentioned yesterday, my friends (and fellow pop addicts) Bruce BrodeenJohn M. Borack,and I were each interviewed by writer S. W. Lauden for his just-published piece “Notes From The Modern Pop Underground.” For deeper background, here’s the complete text of my conversation with the esteemed Mr. Lauden. And I thank him once again for inviting me to participate.


S.W. LAUDEN: How do you personally define power pop?

CC: I always go back to writer Gary Sperrazza!‘s words in Bomp! magazine in 1978: “Power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.” Guitar, bass, drums, vocals, la-la-las, and CRUNCH, all leaning forward. Infectious pop music with aggressive intent.

How did you discover power pop? Who are three of your favorite all-time power pop artists? Why?

Before hearing the phrase, I already liked AM radio rockin’ pop designed for high volume, especially Badfinger and the RaspberriesBomp! magazine preached a Gospel, connecting the early Who and Kinks to Raspberries and Ramones. I already loved all of these acts, so I was already a power pop fan.

My favorite power pop act is the Flashcubes, who embody the Bomp! power pop equation of Shaun Cassidy + the Sex Pistols = the early Who. Great songs, great excitement, hell of a live band. The rest of my top 2 rotates (unless I just say Beatles, Ramones, Flashcubes).

Looking around the global power pop community—who would you say are 2-3 of the best bands making modern power pop music these days?

Ignoring my strict view of what is or isn’t power pop, there are tons of great, great acts making fabulous new music within the broad parameters of rockin’ pop. The Flashcubes are still recording. The Grip Weeds are still at it. Pop Co-Op is terrific. Just about anything released by Big Stir RecordsKool Kat MusikFutureman RecordsJem RecordsRed On Red Records, and a bunch of other worthy labels is at least worth a listen, and some of it’s freakin’ transcendent.

What are one or two outlets (DJs, authors, platforms, record stores, magazines, labels, etc.) that you rely on to discover modern power pop music?

It’s all internet. A lot of stuff gets sent to us for airplay on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, and we pay attention to what friends, fans, and other DJs and pundits are saying.

If I use one or more of your quotes (no promises!), how would you like to be credited? 

Example: S.W. Lauden, co-editor of the power pop essay collections Go All The Way and Go Further

Carl Cafarelli, writer, blogger, and co-host (with Dana Bonn) of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

Talk Talk: My Brief Career As A Freelance Interviewer

My thoughts drifted back recently to the worst interview I ever did. I’m not talking about job interviews–I’ve had several less-than-stellar results there–but interviews I conducted for my freelance writing work. The car-wreck status of this particular interview was entirely my fault, and the interviewee bore zero percent responsibility for the ways in which the discussion went south. Frankly, I just wasn’t prepared; it was supposed to be color commentary for something I was writing, it was a subject with which I had some familiarity, so I figured we’d wing it, just chat off the cuff. Big mistake. Without background information, without the wealth of reference material I usually gathered at my fingertips to scan during interviews, without any prepared potential questions to ask, the conversation floundered and failed. It was not my finest hour. My interviewee was game and accommodating, but I’m sure after our fruitless session concluded, an under-the-breath muttering of Well, this Carl guy’s an idiot would not have been inappropriate. A simple and stupid miscalculation on my part, but it still bugs me, decades later, even though I’m the only one who remembers it.

Because I was usually better than that. A lot better than that. I won’t say I was ever a terrific interviewer, but I was more than adequate, and occasionally pretty good at it. More than one interview subject–both Joan Jett and Ben Vaughn spring to mind–complimented my preparedness, and most seemed pleased with the experience and the result. 


Most of my interviews were conducted on behalf of Goldmine, though I did a few for The Syracuse New Times and one each for DISCoveries and Yeah Yeah Yeah. I can’t remember the identity of my first interview subjects; might have been Tom Prendergast and Glenn Morrow of Bar/None Records, which I profiled for a Goldmine record label spotlight in the early ’90s. Although I began freelancing for Goldmine in 1986, and began writing GM feature articles in ’87 (commencing with a retrospective of The Bay City Rollers), my features were research pieces, compiled from previously-published resources and tied together with my attempts at overview and analysis. This was also true of my subsequent features on KISSThe MonkeesThe Ugly DucklingsToni BasilBarry Mann, and–Lord help me–Stars On 45, though I recall interviewing a KISS fan or two to gather background info. I interviewed Cyril Jordan in 1992 for a long history of The Flamin’ Groovies, and he was probably my first musician interview.

So I did a few more: Joan Jett, Ben Vaughn, The RamonesRon DanteJoey LevineGreg KihnGary Frenay and Paul Armstrong of The Flashcubes (for The Syracuse New Times, for whom I also interviewed a few other local musicians, some local radio movers und shakers, even some preschool educators for an ultimately unfinished report on alternative education), Lou Whitney of The SkeletonsMark LindsayLenny KayeDick DoddBarry Tashian, bubblegum producers Kasenetz and KatzRay Paul, bubblegum expert/aficionado Bill Pitzonka, writer Mark EvanierGreg Spencer of Blue Wave Records, and possibly some others I don’t recall in the moment. 

But I grew tired of doing phone interviews; transcribing such things is thankless drudgery, so I decided to discontinue doing them. Most of the interviews for my history of power pop were conducted via email (although those actually predate my Nuggets and bubblegum telephone interviews). Even if I were to ever take on another freelance assignment, I’m unlikely to do any further telephone interviews. It’s just not worth it to me.

Dana and I have done a few interviews on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, though technical complications at our nearly-Flintstones-level studio basically preclude the viability of phone interviews. Such kerfrazzles swallowed our attempted on-air interview with The Charms‘ lead singer Ellie Vee, who gamely soldiered on through a chat where listeners could hear me but couldn’t pick up anything she said (forcing me to repeat all of her responses for the audience: Ellie says she’s happy to be here on TIRnRR!). It was not a situation designed to inspire confidence in performer or audience.

I really wasn’t a bad interviewer. Other than that one jarring incident of trying to tackle an interview without sufficient prep, I’ve been able to come up with the questions the interview required. In-person interviews are a true rarity, but I’ve done all right when guests have appeared in-studio on TIRnRR. But that one bad interview? It was decades ago, yet I know it’s always going to bother me. I try to hold myself to at least a tiny bit higher standard than that one.

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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe FlashcubesChris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.