Monday, February 15, 2021

Marboro Memories: Ushering in the Crazy, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Marboro Memories: Ushering in the Crazy, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

Anyone who has worked in retail or has been a service provider knows that you have stories of dealing with the public. There are lots of “Karen” videos out there on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc., but even before and beyond that, dealing with both a public and oft times fellow staff members, can be a challenge, to put it mildly. Here are some stories of working as an Usher at the Marboro Theater, in southern Brooklyn. The theater, I should add, had been torn down and is now a CVS chain pharmacy.

It was a big, single screen theater at the time (it would be broken into four separate theaters after I left). My job of Usher was to mostly stand in a particular spot in the inner theater lobby by the water fountain on the left side. Because I was positioned inside, I saw films many times. I didn’t often count, but I do know that I saw American Graffiti about 160 times, and The Sting about 140. The average film though, was probably about 40 times. I did get to see a lot of what is now considered classics, such as O! Lucky Man, Jesus Christ Superstar, Billy Jack (the second crowded run after all the ads; the first showing held the record for the least amount of people in a week at the Marboro of 14 paid tickets before I started working there), and Smoky and the Bandit.

Being an Usher, as well as with many other front-line employees, as is making the news lately, are usually paid minimum wage, and know they are easily replaceable. Not only that, because we wear the “uniform,” be it the company apron, a certain color shirt, or in my case a red jacket of questionable material, a white shirt, black pants and shoes, and a clip-on bowtie, we “represent” the company and any resentments were sure to come our way. Our Usher slogan for the insanity was: “The Masses are Asses.”

* * *

My memories of being hired are a bit murky, but I do believe I was recommended at a time when they were short of ushers, by my friend David who worked there, albeit our time did not overlap for long as he left shortly thereafter. I was seventeen years old in 1972, and a mere 110 pounds of skin and bones (as I would remain for the next two decades). The problem was, I was hired by an assistant manager while the manager, Mr. T_____, was on vacation. He came back to a new employee that he had no say on hiring. When he returned, he was not happy with me being there, not to mention I would find that he really did not care for Jews. When David left shortly after, I was the only Jew on staff during his tenure until 1975.

When I met Mr. T_____, I introduced myself as Robert. Instantly, he started calling me Bobby. He didn’t ask, he just did. Soon, all of the staff were calling me that. I didn’t complain because, as I said, I was easily replaceable, even though it seemed like I was the only one who swept up the popcorn from the lobby floor. So Bobby I was, and then for some reason a couple of months later, to my face, he started calling me Stanley. I was confused: on my paycheck, it said Robert; in front of the other Ushers, he would call me Bobby; but when it was just the two of us, he called me Stanley. I think there was someone in his life named Stanley he didn’t like, possibly another Jew back in his home state of Minnesota, that he associated with me. He was not a good person, and after some embarrassment that I don’t remember exactly what, I put some sugar in his gas tank on my way out before heading home for the night.

* * *

Bensonhurst was largely Italian back then, especially the neighboring area around the theater, so it was natural to pick of a smattering of the language. I probably know about 10 phrases and a bunch of words. One evening I was walking through the lobby, sweeping as usual, when a gent who was probably in his 60s came over to me and said something in Italian. I smiled at him and said, “Non capisce Italiano.” Next thing I know, he is screaming at me, in Italian. I’m baffled, so I repeat, “Signore, non capisce Italiano.” He became even redder in the face, getting angrier. My look of confusion was lost on him.

He was creating such a ruckus, one of the older Ushers, Manny – who was Italian (as was most of the staff) – quickly came over to find out what was going on. I shrugged my shoulders to indicate I had no idea, and he turn to the gent and, in Italian, asked a question. The man was vigorously and repeatedly pointing his finger at me, yelling. Manny broke out into a big laugh, which made the man even angrier. Manny calming talked to the guy, pointing at me occasionally, and the man huffed, and walked away. He then explain what happened:

The man had recently come from Italy and was embarrassed that he did not understand English. Being in Bensonhurst, he assumed that everyone who worked there must be (a) Italian and (b) speak Italian. Why he would come to an English language film, I don’t know, but there you go. Manny said that he needed to use the washroom and asked me where it was, and when I said that I didn’t understand, apparently my little Italian was so good, he thought I was mocking him, hence the anger.

* * *

The Marx Brothers’ film Animal Crackers (1930) was a “lost” film due to a copyright fight, for over forty years, and was finally reissued to theaters in 1974, including at the Marboro, to my delight. One night, I was by the water fountain getting a drink, and when I looked up, I saw a shadow on the wall. I turned around and I was surrounded by a guy. Yes, one guy. He was huge, with slicked back hair, a pencil thin moustache, his polyester shirt open to mid-chest, and his medallions stuck in the hairs of his chest. The first thing he says to me is, “I’m gonna punch yer fuckin’ head in.”

Thinking fast, I looked him right in the eyes, and said, “Hunh?!” with a crackling voice.

“I’m gonna punch yer head in. Whatcha gonna do about it?”
Still looking at him in the face with my head tilted up at a 45-degree angle, I said, “I’m gonna hit you on the side of your head with my flashlight.”
He replied, “Oh, yeah?” and proceed to measuredly cock his fist back, slow but sure. Now, in my belt, I had my flashlight. It was one of those two-D battery heavy black plastic ones with the red tip by the light. I quickly pulled it out and backhanded him with it across his head. Hard. So hard, the flashlight broke, the cap popped off and one of the batteries went flying, the lens was cracked, and my hand was numb. His reaction? His head moved about an inch to the side, and came back, looming over me.

I thought to myself in a brief second, “Well, that is it; that was my best shot. I’m dead. It was a good life.”

His response? His fist came down, he smiled, and he patted my shoulder, “I just wanted to see if you could protect yourself.” And he walked away.

I walked over to Mr. T______’s office. The door was closed, which meant he was counting the money (remember, it was only cash back then), and it was forbidden to enter on threat of being fired. I swung the door wide open.

On his desk were stacks of money. He turned bright red as I sat down in the chair next to his desk, inches from the stacks. “Stanley, what the hell do you think you’re doing!?!?” Then I started to shake uncontrollably as the adrenaline caught up. He became so worried (probably how it would reflect on the theater), he asked what happened. I told him the story, and asked him to call the police. What was his response? That I should hide in the balcony (which was closed except for busy shows and for the other Usher to bring their conquests) until the show was over and the behemoth had left. Thank you Mr. T______, for your support. At least I kept my job right then.

* * *

The other Ushers scored a lot, heading off to the balcony for a quickie tryst. Honestly, the women that they hooked up with were certainly not interested in a thin-as-a-rail, shy guy like me, though I actually found it all amusing, except when I had to do the other Usher’s job because they were literally screwing around.

One night, a woman about my age walked up to me, wearing a pair of teeny shorts up to almost nothing, a tight top with cleavage for miles, a short fuzzy jacket, hair the size of Texas, enough make-up to keep Max Factor going for a year, 6-inch stiletto heels, chewing gum, and holding a clutch bag. She said, “Where’s da bah’troom,” with a smug sense of privilege.

I pointed it out to her, and she turned around without a thank you, and started walking way. I said, behind her, “You’re welcome, mister.” I walked away as fast as possible, counting down from five. Almost on cue, I heard a screech as it finally reached her brain: “Mistah?!” 

* * *

Nearly all of the Ushers had day jobs in the construction field. Because I was the only Usher who was attending or had attended any post high school education, sometimes the other Ushers would occasionally call me “Doc.” One day one of them, who was still in high school, brought one of his friends in. “I hear your smart. Oh, yeah? What’s the square root of [whatever number he gave me]?”

I smiled at him and said, “You just learned that in school, right? I haven’t been to high school in years. Name five parts of the paramecium. Can you?” He didn’t see that I turned it around on him, because I was terrible in math. It was my shining Good Will Hunting moment.

* * *

Some of the Ushers had a con going, which I honestly didn’t participate, because I did not want to go to jail, get fired, or lose a possible recommendation. It was a co-conspiracy between the cashier, the doorman and the Usher (although not all of them were doing it). It went as follows: the cashier would sell the ticket (remember, it was cash only). The doorman would rip the ticket. The customer often would throw the stub on the lobby floor. The Usher would pick up the stub and give it to the doorman. When another customer came in, he would pretend to rip the ticket and palm the whole one, and then give the used stub to the customer. He would then give the unripped ticket to the cashier to resell. They would then split the money three ways. They were making on average $50 to $100 a night when it was busy. I was told that most of them spent it on food or pot. None of it was saved apparently, and in my years there, no one was ever caught, either.

* * *

During one of the local elections, a neighborhood Assemblyman for the 47th District named Frank Barbaro (pronounced BAR-ba-ro; d. 2016) was up for re-election. He held a fundraiser at the Marboro, and I took the tickets. The special guests were husband-and-wife acting team of Joseph Bologna (d. 2017) and RenĂ©e Taylor. Before the show, Frank came in with his wife, Mary (though she was called Patty) and Mr. T______ and went to pin a button on the lapel of my flammable red jacket. I said, “No thank you.” Confused, he asked why not.

I explained, “You are my Assemblyman, and I don’t vote for you because you are often absent for votes.” His wife, in anger (and my boss was not pleased either, I could easily tell), said, “That’s because he was in court defending a tenant’s rights!”

My response was, “Even so, any lawyer could represent a client in court, but only you can vote, which affects more people than a court case with a single client.” At that moment I thought, well, this was a good job…”

Instead, to his credit, Frank laughed out loud, shook my hand, and said he respected that I said that, and turned to Mr. T______ and said, “I like this guy. Don’t let him lose his job over this.” And I didn’t…over that.

I took pictures of the show, but my camera was new and I didn’t have a flash, so the pictures all came out too dark and blurry, sadly. Barbaro was re-elected and served until 1996, and still remained absent where he was needed most. I never did vote for him, including when he ran for mayor against Ed Koch.

* * *

When Jaws (1975) played, it was huge, and the theater was pretty consistently packed. Let me give a quick logistical aside so this makes sense: the cashiers booth was inside the outer lobby of the theater. The Theater was on Bay Parkway, a four-lane street that was extremely busy. Most of the time, when people lined up, if the line went out the doors, the queue continued along the side of the building and down the block. But not for one Saturday afternoon of Jaws.

As the people lined up and it went out the doors, rather than turning and hugging the building along the sidewalk, they went straight out into the middle of the street. When I first saw this, they were about a car’s length into the road, and shortly the line made it out past the yellow line road separator. Buses and cars were having to go into the opposite lane to get around them. They honked their horns, but no one would move because keeping their place in line was more important than safety. Kind of the same mentality of those who will not wear masks during a pandemic. I stood there and watched, amused to see what would happen, wondering if anyone would catch on.

At this point, Mr. T______ came out the door and I sprung into action, shepherding the people to line up along the storefronts. Calamity was saved, but I wonder how long they would have kept lining up into the street.

* * *

Jaws was also a turning point in when I started to get fired, and I got fired a lot from the Marboro. The first time was during Jaws, in 1975.

During the film showing, they issued special Jaws-designed cups that sold for a dollar extra as souvenirs. Basically they were harder plastic with the Jaws poster on them. We were told by Mr. T______ that someone was taking them out of the stock room, and it had to stop. I was fairly sure I knew who was taking them, but had no proof.

One day, I was in the balcony during my break, and I saw five or six sleeves of the cups tucked away among the seats. I went down and told Mr. T______ about it, and said, “If you keep your eye on them, you can catch whoever is taking them.” I thought that might put me in some better graces with the curmudgeon. Two days later, I get a phone call with him accusing me of taking them, and he fired me.

A few months later, I got a phone call from the new manager. Apparently, Mr. T_____ got into an altercation with some people trying to sneak into the theater and had his hand broken when the thugs slammed one of the exit doors on it. He retired, and the other Ushers urged the new manager – he had a long Italian name that I no longer recall, but everyone called him Mr. D – to rehire me since I had also been doing their chore of cleaning, and he asked me if I wanted the job back. And I did. We got along pretty well.

A few months later, Mr. D was having a conversation in the lobby of the theater with the district manager (DM). The DM said he wanted Mr. D. to hire his nephew as an Usher. Mr. D explained that there was no room for anyone else on the schedule. “Just get rid of someone,” pressed the DM. “And who am I supposed to fire for no reason?”
At that moment, I came into the lobby with the broom to do the cleaning, and the DM pointed to me and said, “Him.” Fired a second time. Two weeks later, when the nephew was caught with his hands literally in the till, he was gone and I was back.

A year or so later, I walked through the lobby near the end of the evening and saw the elderly woman behind the candy counter cleaning out the popcorn bin with the broom I had just used to sweep the floor. Yecch is right. I was upset and explained to her about how unsanitary and disgusting that was. I should have thought first, because she was the assistant manager’s wife. Let go for the third time. Thing is though, they were in their later ‘70s or early ‘80s, and I was their ride home (they gave me two bucks to drive them, though I offered to do it for free, but it would have been $5 or more for car service) in the late hour, and they did not feel safe waiting on the street for the car, so they had me hired back.

Finally, a few weeks later, Mr. D took me aside and explained that it was embarrassing to the company that I kept being fired and rehired, so he was having me transferred to another theater in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, called The Alpine. I said my farewells and moved on to the new theater in 1978, where I worked for another 3 years or so.

* * *

Some of my adventures at the Alpine are HERE.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Singles/Video Reviews: February 2021

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

Singles/Video Reviews: February 2021
Note that these reviews are alphabetical, not listed in a “ratings” order.

Anya Marina
“Notice Me (Live from Rockwood, NYC)”
This is off her sixth album, Alive and Alone in New York, which was recorded at the great Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side, which has sort of become the CBGBs of singer-songwriters (with cleaner bathrooms). “Notice Me” is one of her signature songs, and on the original album, it is produced with a wall of sound that accentuates the mood with overdubs, and a much larger group behind her. For this recording, it’s just her and her guitar, and feels way more personal. With a chantable “do-do-do” chorus, it can easily be a pleasurable ear worm as she feels neglected by her lover. It’s a bit of an upbeat song and doesn’t actually feel as desperate as the topic sounds. It’s coyer and sexier, with a hint of frustration, with Anya’s lovely falsetto voice playfully calling out. The album has 17 tracks covering her career, and this is the first single. You can find the original version on YouTube if you’d like to compare.
Can be heard HERE 


Ben Howard
“What a Day”
Republic Records

From the upcoming album, Collections from the Whiteout, Ben’s fourth full release is a “pastoral” sound as the singer reminisces about where the time goes. It’s a nice, light sounding ballad that has some deep thoughts imbued with a mild, melody backed up by what sounds like a drum machine (though I could be wrong). The production is high, but it doesn’t necessarily overwhelm here. It’s also pretty catchy, which is always a good thing. His British inflection is also endearing. The video seems almost straight out of a Monty Python sketch, with a bit more seriousness. I might actually go listen to the album, at some point.
Can be heard HERE 


Carla Geneve
“Dog Eared”
Dot Dash; Remote Control Records
Australian 22-year-old music teacher hits the pop rock trail on her solo album, Learn to Like It. Filled with encouraging girl power – as one can see in the song’s video – Carla has a strong voice and belts out on choruses, hovering the line between alt pop and rock. Dealing with finding self-worth because she “always feel so useless,” but acknowledges she “still has something to lose,” meaning there is some possibility of positivity. It’s a really good song, the production is tight without being overbearing, and it’s lyrically smart. The road trip video filled with her friends is cheerful, as is, on some level, the song, as she pulls herself up. Liked this one a lot.
Can be heard HERE 


The Cavemen
“Am I a Monster”
Pig Baby Records
Thematically, what if the early Cramps had been a hardcore band instead of voodoobilly? That is one way to look at New Zealand “ghoul punks,” The Cavemen. The song is a three-chord mosh fest with a horror motif. While I heard the recording rather than seeing a video, I have seen picture of them, and they seem quite energetic, which is definitely present in their music that seems highly influenced by the early 1980s H/C and garage scenes. The melody of the song is certainly catchy, though it’s hard to tell what they’re saying much beyond the chorus, which is the song’s title, and a few snippets here and there about loneliness, due to a garage-rock level of vocal fuzz. This definitely harkens back to a minimalist period, pre-extended guitar solos by the likes of Ginn and Mascis, but that’s okay with me; there is a brief and raucous burst, though. A Ramones-ish slagging of basic chords and speed is just what I like. These guys sound like they’re a lot of fun, and this one will get some more listens by me over time.
Can be heard HERE 

Elise Davis
“Yellow Bed”
Tone Tree

Nashville singer-songwriter Davis released her single, “Yellow Bed,” from her third album Anxious, Happy, Chill. I have seen a few of her videos performing live in her bedroom or on stage, and she is really amazing. Her songs are poignant, such as this one about relishing time with her husband. That being said, I had a bit of trouble with this song, recorded in a studio. The sound is very flat and electronic, including the processing of her voice via reverb, which makes it lose its beautiful tone, giving it a kind of impersonal feel when the song should be emotional. I hate saying this since I like her and I enjoy her voice, but it is the production here that squashes her sound. I believe if I saw her do this live, I would enjoy it a lot more. I say go seek her out, find her videos and enjoy. This is the only song off the album I have heard and I’m hoping the rest of it is more loyal to what she has to offer.
Can be heard HERE 


Half Waif
“Orange Blossoms”
Anti- Records
The first single by Half Waif – aka Nandi Rose – is quite lovely, albeit sad. As described by her press, it is “a desperate plea to be rescued from wrestling with everything.” In a voice perfectly suited for the song, the protagonist is in urgent need for help kick-starting her life at the moment, asking repeatedly for “someone” to do things like answer an email, or “make me think I’m worth something.” Thematically, it reminds me of The Allen-Ward Trio’s “I Need a Friend,” but rather than folk, this is more modern singer-songwriter. Yes, she’s listed as alt pop, but I would not personally put this song in this category. There is some lovely harmonies snuck in, backed by an electric piano in the forefront. It’s a powerful, lovely tune and is both bleak and, at the end, hopeful. It’s a keeper.
Can be heard HERE 


Lost Horizons, featuring Marissa Nadler

Lost Horizons is the collaboration, among others, of Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) and Richie Thomas (Dif Juz), and this single is included in their new album, In Quiet Moments, Part 2. They are joined by Marissa Nadler to front it (other songs on the double album are voiced by different singers). As one might expect from Raymonde and Thomas, the song is strongly studio-enhanced, moody and I might add gothic. The shadowy reverb is ramped up and it almost sounds like a ghost is singing it. Nadler has a good voice, somewhere in there, and I would have liked to have actually heard it clearer through the production. The song itself is a quiet, slow, and soft footed ballad, reminiscent of XTC’s “Somnambulist.” After a couple of listens, it is starting to grow on me, more for Nadler, honestly. Because of the production, I couldn’t make out much of the lyrics; however, it sounds melancholic.
Can be heard HERE 


Thee Sacred Souls
“It’s Our Love”
Daptone Records; Penrose Records

Hailing from the San Diego area, this soul trio (perhaps they could have called themselves “Three” Sacred Souls?) fit somewhere in the post-Motown category with the likes of the Ohio Players (sans horns) and Al Green. Vocalist and lyricist Josh Lane uses his falsetto voice to lull the listener about his love in a Barry White ballad speed. Soul is not my forte, honestly, but I was charmed by the sound here, as Sal Samano and Alex Garcia skillfully back him up with their rhythms (guitar and drums). The video is quite simple, as is the tune, mostly shot with the band in the studio.
Can be heard HERE 


 “Seize the Power”
This track is listed as “Dark Alt Pop with Heavy Riffs” on their Facebook page. That feels accurate. It’s definitely modern, with heavy production and added with some pop fusion. It’s like if Lady Gaga’s style was thrown in a blender with some electronica and white rap, fed through some anger and entitlement. It’s decent, as even the rappish parts aren’t too stereotypically done. The positive behind it is its power, as Theresa Jarvis forcefully infuses her lyrics with drive, almost yelling above the British band’s studio-infused minimalist melody.
Can be heard HERE 


“Upstairs Room”
Not to be confused with the Yiddish “Zaydeh,” nor the city in Croatia, their publicity calls them “scathing post punk [sic] from Philadelphia,” sounding like Sisters of Mercy. Really? This song is essentially based on a dissonant B-52s-type rhythm played electronically over an over, with Fred Schneider-style vocals without the charm. Even the lyrics are repetitive and kind of monotonously mundane. I’m not a fan. But then again, I was bored by Sisters of Mercy, as well.
Can be heard HERE 

Friday, February 5, 2021

FFuture FFile reprinted from FFanzeen Magazine, Part 2 [1981-83]

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2021
Images from the Internet

One of the reasons I started my print fanzine in 1977, was to help publicize all the unknown bands that I was going to see that did not get enough notice. In the early 1980s, I started a column called “FFuture FFile,” which were short blurbs about new and up-and-comers, so they could use it for publicity. There were written by different authors. Below, I have reprinted the musicians or bands in alphabetical order (rather than chronologically and by first name if a single artist) who wrote it, and in which year/issue, the piece was published. Even though they had various levels of success, they all deserve some notice. On occasion, I will add an update. Where I can, I will attach a photo and/or video.

Lyn Todd
By Julia Masi
Issue 8; 1981
Lyn Todd’s voice smolders with the seductive raspiness that comes from smoking too many cigarettes and being a life-long veteran of local rock’n’roll bands. She’s been singing since she was 13 and formed her first all-girl band, The Mermaids, in Los Angeles, California. Two years later, she ran away from home to become entrenched in East Coast underground culture. After drifting in and out of a few bands – most notably Peroxide – and hobnobbing with the most influential of New Wave glitterati, she recorded a self-titled album (Lyn Todd on Vanguard Records) and then slipped into a year of self-imposed retirement. The Eastside Angels, her present band, are three Southern gentlemen: Chuck Talbot, guitar; Greg Roberts, drums; and David Piper, bass, who made their way out of Atlanta, Georgia, by backing up rock’n’roll artists on the road. Together, Lyn Todd and the Eastside Angels are an assault on the vacuum surrounding the New York music scene. Having only officially formed in August 1981, the band has already begun headlining in New York City clubs and has been getting ready to record. “The band is young,” says Talbot, who writes most of the songs, “because we want something with a bit of longevity.” The melodies are effervescent pop, but Lyn’s sultry style is suitable for almost any song, from Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” (the single from her album), to ballads, like her own composition, “Looking for You,” or the rockabilly numbers she hopes to incorporate into the act. And that’s what will give Lyn Todd and the Eastside Angels the edge on an ephemeral scene.
[Lyn passed away in 2010. – RBF, 2021]

Mental Notes
By Stacy Mantel
Issue 7; 1981
Recipe: Take one Scott Severin, intelligent lyricist and vocalist whose influences including Cannonball Adderly, Joy Division, Animals, Ramones, and Motown. Stir in Hank Wyatt with his Gibson Les Paul Jr. (circa 1957). Fold in Joe Fish’s powerful funkified bass riffs and some Steve Stagename on skins. Allow to cook for a couple of seconds at 98.6 and what have you got? Fever! And what makes them outstanding? Scott says, “I guarantee no one will get passive when they see us. Our music ranges from rock’n’roll, funk-punk to art dance. It’s very aggressive, baiting music, but there’s show business in there as well.” He explained how their music is intended to be “disturbing.” He expects that the disturbing effect will “appeal to the audiences’ psychological sadomasochistic tendencies and they’ll come back for more.” Although quite a danceable brew, one wonders how they can dance to songs about apocalyptic visions and mind-mutating syndromes. “What I’ve done is tapped onto military and sexual metaphors and used them for amusement and for a statement,” says Severin. “We’re not trying to raise consciousness. What it comes down to is entertainment.”
[Severin resides in Brooklyn, and still records with Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque. – RBF, 2021]

Nekron 99
Julia Masi
Issue 9; 1982
Nekron 99 is the only Chinese-American rock’n’roll band in the world. This New York City-based trio consists of guitarist/singer John Seetoo; bassist James Seetoo; and drummer Joanna Cerew. The brothers John and James write the bulk of the material, ranging from the hopeful anthem, “Survive,” to the eerie, Doors-like, “Secrets,” to the raw-edged accelerated fun of “This Temptation” and “Astro Fighter.” Not surprisingly, they cite John Cale, Johnny Thunders, Jefferson Airplane, and the Pirates as important influences. They are concerned with both political issues and the raising of Asian-American consciousness. “We’re aware that we are two out of a handful of Asian-American musicians,” said John and James. “Although (Joanna’s not Asian), that’s not the point. What does matter is that every time Nekron 99 plays on stage we break down stereotypes of Asian people on both the Asian and the non-Asian sides. The songs “ABC,” Ancestry,” and “East/West/Man/Girl” deal with the Asian-American’s missing cultural identity and stereotypes perpetrated by the media.” Besides the release of their first record, Nekron 99 will also be featured on the upcoming documentary on Asian-Americans, East/West People (tentative title) by Bonita Lei. The film, which includes performances of several songs, plus an interview with the band during a recording session, will premiere this year. The above-mentioned record, The Commercial Success EP, has been named as such for several reasons: “We want this record to appeal to the greatest, most diversified audience possible. Therefore, we didn’t include anything too avant-garde or politically offensive to anyone. If people like this record and go to see us live well, then they’ll definitely get their money’s worth, as well as a better idea of our real strengths.” Incidentally, all four tracks were recorded live with no instrumental overdubs. The band’s sound is an original, unique musical entity.
[There is no indication online that the documentary was released. Nekron 99, named after a character created by Ralph Bakshi, became a foursome before breaking up. – RBF, 2021]

The Numbers
By Julia Masi
Issue 10; 1983
The Elf is a fast-talking, witty, personification of energy, with a sixth sense for spotting a perfect pop band, which he has recently formed as The Numbers. They are Kevin McCabe, vocals, and guitar; Damien Kim, bass; Shawn McCabe, guitar, and The Elf, drums. As a fledgling record producer, The Elf could name a viable pop tune in two notes. And when he heard Devin’s cleaver and catchy compositions, he knew he’s stumbled on a few potential smash hits. The only problem was that Kevin, who’d been in a few to many stagnating bands, had given up performing. Of course, such minor obstacles cannot deter The Elf. He enlisted the aid of Damien and Shawn, who were equally enthusiastic about the material, booked the band’s first gig, and “tricked” Kevin out of retirement. Kevin originally agreed to just one gig, but one gig led to another, and now the Numbers have committed themselves to entraining the crowds on a regular basis. “We all just clicked,” says Damien. “There’s definitely a chemistry there. Each gig we get better. We get more confident; there seems to be a natural progression. But we’re kind of hard on ourselves. We always think we can do better.” “I’ve always had confidence in his songwriting,” says Shawn of his older brother. It seems like every time he writes a song, we all seem to agree he’s getting better. And that’s what keeps us wanting to play.” With songs like “Smash Hit” and “Live it Up,” they bring with them a fresh breath of originality. Kevin’s voice is incredible. He sings with a sweet androgynous sound that stuns you into sitting up and taking notice. The rest of the band plays with equal competence, and with enough energy to get anyone but a paraplegic dancing.

By Julia Masi
Issue 10; 1983
In another era he would have been the matinee idol. With his thick, dark hair, hypnotic brown eyes, and self-possessed stance, Pat Perone was born for the spotlight. But when he fronts Perone, with John Lee, drums; Peter Bliss, bass; and Pat on vocals and guitar, his visual appeal is upstaged by their music. Incorporating “the swing of the ‘50s” with the essence of rockabilly, while adding a heavier hand on the drums and guitar, Perone has captured a sound that offers an edge of originality to the vacuum of the New York scene. “Actually,” we’re trying rock’n’roll with a ‘50s feel,” says Pat, “because it’s danceable. And what good is a band if you can’t dance? We’re not exactly like some bands that do their rockabilly like it was done in 1955.” He admits that maybe their style isn’t as clean as Bill Haley and the Comets, or the Stray Cats. But that’s because they’re “more geared to a new approach that is going to give the listener something to remember.” And one of the things you’re most likely to remember about Perone is that they are very upbeat and uncomplicated, while still being serious about the music. “A twelve-year-old kid can like it as much as a 75-year-old. It’s real simple rock’n’roll. High energy. It’s not like there’s a cloud around rockabilly. This kind of music is just right there, on the table. There’s nothing to figure out.” Their songs “Stuck Up Girl,” “High School Romance” and “Going Steady” cover the basic love-struck themes, but as Peter points out, “The sincerity is real obvious. There are no pretentions. I don’t have to play like others. I just do what I do. And it comes out and it fits into what we’re doing.” What Perone is doing is very entertaining.
[The best I can figure out, Pat Perone is now an Elvis impersonator. – RBF, 2021]

The Public Servants
By Stacy Mantel
Issue 7; 1981
She proves that the human female voice is virtually limitless in its capacity to charm. Her staccato parrot voicings and vibrato should soon rank her as one of the more popular New Wave vocalists since Lene Lovich, although her style is clearly different. She, like Lovich, uses her voice as an obscure, non-traditional instrument, one brought back, perhaps, from extraterrestrial horizons. She’s Shelley Hirsch, lead singer for the Public Servants, which include: two fire-breathing and squeakingly talented sax artists, Philip Johnston (soprano and alto) and Dave Sewelson (baritone and alto); Wayne Horvitz on keyboards; David Hofstra on fretless bass; Bill Horvitz on prepared and electric guitar; and Richard Dworkin on the skins and some tropical-looking plants. Together, this futuristic ensemble blends art-rock, jazz, swing, pop and rock into a stimulating sound which Johnston things of as “Elephants marching through the jungle doing some sort of funky strut… it’s danceable-funky, but has sinister and mysterious aspects to it at the same time.” They’ve just released “Jungle Hotel” b/w “A Mistake” on their own J-Edible Records (motto: “It’s danceable, but is it Edible?”) to be distributed by Rough Trade. Surely no newcomers to music, the group has played together in different bands for many years and in different styles, which explains their versatility. The plants are cute, too.
[From Wikipedia: Hirsch won a DAAD Residency Grant in Berlin 1992, a Prix Futura award in 1993, and multiple awards from Creative Capital, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, four from NYFA and six from Havestworks Digital Media Arts Center. She was a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition in 2017... In 2018, New York University Special Collections acquired her archive. - RBF, 2021] 

The Shakes
Julia Masi
Issue 9; 1982
With equal parts of enthusiasm, imagination and fun, the Shakes – Anna Bosch, keyboards; Eston, bass; Susan Holt, guitar; Daryl Leoce, drums; and Julie Miller, vocals – have blended together a sound that is fresh, versatile, and cerebral, without being pretentious. “Everybody in the band is nuts in a kind of clean way. It’s a natural nuts,” says Anna, who writes and arranges about 95% of the songs. I try to come up with different styles, but I have an insistence on melody. Something for people to remember that flows nicely. We do everything from pop to syncopated jungle. I think we tend to write about pertinent things instead of just, ‘I love you’/boy-meets-girl, but a lot of things that affect ordinary people. Like assuming other roles while still being yourself.” Daryl says, “Basically, we try to keep our stuff danceable. Being about to dance to the music is important ‘cause It’s a fun band. Danceable material is sort of an extra-added attraction, because if you want to start dancing you can. People like to be entertained, especially in light of what’s happening today. I think you can say things as controversial and poignant, but in a lighter way,” as he demonstrates in songs like, “Watch Your White Count,” “Incognito,” and “Blood in Vein.” But despite the strange sounding titles, the Shakes have nothing to do with ghoul rock. “When I think of blood, I think of strength,” adds Daryl. And strength maybe the most accurate adjective to describe this band who are incredibly tight in all aspect of their performances. Or as Julie explains, “We’re not stagnate. We just keep fanning out I think we have a strong sound. As musicians, we’re solid and can grow.”

Tru Fax & the Insaniacs
By Robert Barry Francos
Issue 10; 1983
Pop music…in its literal translation, is a must to avoid nowadays, since it would consist of people like Neil Diamond, Hall & Oats, and REO Speedwagon, to name just a few. But the pop sound has become sort of a section of rock’n’roll unto itself. Usually sung with a tenor (or higher) voice, it has a light, wistful sound that make you want to dance, without being slammed back down. Until recently, the Fast were, at their height, the ultimate pop band on the underground local level. They have now been non-violently usurped by a band originating out of Washington, DC, called Tru Fax and the Insaniacs. Their recent LP, Mental Decay, on DC’s Wasp Records, is a solid piece of work that seems almost impossible to top. Songs like “Washingtron” and “In the Air” (“A man who has orange hair/A man who is not all there/A man who loves the chair/That my President Reagan”) show how clever they are in songwriting, as well as topical. The main components of the group are David Wells and Diana Quinn. David, guitar, has done many solo projects, working on overdubbing tapes, as well as working with Harrison Fisher, the Rhode Island poet. Diana, lead singer and guitarist, is a person of many talents. Not only is she the focal point fronting this band, but she has sung opera in London, played in medieval groups on lute, recorder, and guitar, and sings with a group called the Dynettes. This accomplishment is added to her early training as a classical artist. Formed in 1979, Tru Fax and the Insaniacs released their first single in 1980, “Washingtron.” Despite the overwhelming raves to the record, their album is their first release since that point. This is due to a lackadaisical attitude towards their music, which has caused at least one member of the band, Tim Carter (who appears on the album), to leave because of “unacceptable artistic and financial compromises,” states Bill Asp, their manager, in a press release. Although they have played with major bands who have passed through the Washington area, they have not toured extensively, which is a shame. What the world needs now is pop, sweet pop. Let’s hope they decide to spread their sound around and show us how it is done. We could all use a breath of fresh air right now.
[Quinn is weekend desk manager, writer and producer for CBS News and a member of several local bands, like Honky Tonk Confidential, the Fabulettes, and yes, Tru Fax & The Insaniacs. – RBF, 2021]