Saturday, December 8, 2007

A co-interview with writer-musician JD Glass, Pt I

(l-r: Shane, JD Glass)
I’ve known JD Glass nearly a decade. We met and bonded over discussions of music and comics. She told me of her own comic book story, and how she was starting to write a novel. That novel turned into “Punk Like Me”, the flashback story of a punk musician and how she came to empowerment. Powerful stuff, while still an amazing and sometimes shocking read (I recently finished it and couldn’t put it down). Since then, she has sequels out (that I’m also determined to read) called “Punk and Zen” and “Red Light”. Soon to be published is “American Goth.” And through all this, she is also a musician in a (sometimes) duo called Life Underwater, with her wonderful partner Shane. Their sound is sort of a mix of Joan Jett and Melissa Etheridge, but a big dose of humor thrown in.

JD recently told me that she wanted to interview me for her blog, and I told her I wanted to do the same for MY blog. So with a smile and MySpace in hand, we starting shooting questions and answers toward each other though the Internet. Here is the result. It is long, so will be in more than one part. To see JD’s blog, go here:

And now, Part I of the JD Glass/Robert Barry Francos co-interview:

RBF: I know you were knee-deep in writing a comic book series about the time I first met you in the late '90s. What happened with that, and how did that lead into "Punk Like Me"?

JDG: After being told by a major house that they loved the concept, but wanted a "straight" character and to outright buy the story (keeping all the rights) I shelved it for a little while.

"Punk Like Me" started as an exercise: what would happen if I made the same character more "real world," replaced fantastical situations with real ones on the one hand, and the other was could I write a series of short stories that would form chapters of a book - each chapter could stand on its own, but together, tell an overarching story.

Ironically, the book now coming out in January is based on that comic/character, and a comic publisher (small house) is interested in doing a story in an anthology for that character.

At the same time we met, you were working on your manuscript of the years and the bands you've seen over the years. How did you first get into this aspect of the music scene? And what about it speaks to you the most?

RBF: The first question sounds like two-parts: How did I get into the music, and how did I come about writing about it. I believe the question about what speaks to me can be addressed by answering the previous ones.

I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which at the time was not exactly known for its diversity, either ethnically, socially, or its habits. In 1985, Yusef Hawkins was shot not far from where I lived, and Al Sharpton would march up and down in front of our abode. This neighborhood conformity was kind of boring to me even in the '70s.

My good pal, Bernie Kugel (who became a ground-breaking musician in Buffalo in the late '70s), was heavily into music, and he dragged -- and I do mean dragged -- me to CBGBs for the first time on June 20, 1975. There were about 20 people in the audience. Talking Heads opening for the Ramones. I was instantly hooked (especially by the Ramones). Before the Pistols, there was more of an angst than anger in the music, which touched me for both it's '60s-based popness, it's harder edge (without being boring metal) and outrageousness (for example, Suicide was very confrontational with the audience, and then there was Wayne County who was amazing, even to a straight boy like me).

I had been more of a folkie before this, into musicians like Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Ochs, and the like, rather than many of my punk contemporaries who had liked KISS and Alice Cooper. To me, this was a new form of protest music, and as time wore on, I found that a lot of the anger (post-Pistols) was really just sped up folk in spirit (much as rock'n'roll was sped up/electrified R&B). And today, many early punkers, such as Joey Shithead of D.O.A., are putting out singer-songwriter style releases.

In 1977, I started a fanzine, named FFanzeen, which ran until 1988. I covered many of the larger and smaller bands, and also had a lot of firsts and lasts (such as being the last person to interview the Cramps with Miriam Linna, and then the first to interview the Nervus Rex with Mirian Linna). While it never became a super hit, it was well known in the community, and I was always getting recordings by bands.

One day in the 1990s, I was at a friend's birthday party, and one of the guests was Mariah Aguier, whom I had known in the day (I drove her and her sister Allison home more than once, and we'd go out for Chinese; also I was there the night Stiv Bators ripped off her dress on CBGB's stage). She said to me, "I always took pictures, and one day I realized what I had was a body of work". I'd been taking pictures at shows, mostly to remember the bands -- there were so many -- since 1977, and I realized that was true for me, as well. I took a year to organize my photos, and recently had some published in a book called "The Encyclopedia of Punk Music and Culture" by Brian Cogan.

I also had a bit of a revelation after reading "Please Kill Me." An excellent effort, but I realized that most books about punk or the New York Scene, tend to deal with the same bands, like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Heartbreakers, Patti Smith, Dictators (DFFD), Sex Pistol and the Clash); and yet, there are so many other bands from that time, like the Marbles, Mong, Willie Alexander, and the Cramps, who were deserving more discussion than they were getting. That got me started on writing some of my own memories and collecting interviews I did with some of those bands. Next thing I knew, I had 400 pages in Word.

What drew YOU to the whole downtown scene all the way from your place of choice and birth, Staten Island, and how did the Greenwich Village scene influence your writing and especially your music? And how did the Ferry schedule affect your choices of who to see (i.e., there were many times I came home in the '70s and '80s as the sun was rising, at a time I'm sure the Ferry schedule was not at it's peak)?


JDG: It's sort of a long story (oh, and I was born in Brooklyn and dragged to Staten Island as a young'n ). Towards the end of Jr. High, my mother worked downtown Manhattan and had to work on weekends. Occasionally, I'd go with her, or she'd have my brother and I travel together to visit her, and we'd all go together to the Village, walking around, just enjoying the atmosphere.

When I graduated to start high school, I got into comics, my friend, Mike Cuttita, invited me to a party where I met his older brother and their friends and...they were all into the whole underground scene - this was a great relief and safe haven for me, because the suburbia that surrounded me I found deadening, soul killing, and horribly narrow in every aspect - horrible bigotries about everything, and not only a fear, but an absolute refusal to even attempt to learn about anything. My brother and I sarcastically (but accurately at the time) referred to the Mall as Staten Island's cultural mecca.

I wasn't allowed to stay out late, but I was allowed my day and early evening trips to the Village, so I went almost every Saturday and Sunday with my brother and then eventually, our friends. So that's how I got started. Yes, the ferry schedule was of utmost importance - if I was in the least bit late getting home, I wouldn't be allowed to go again!

Once I moved out, though, it was a different story - and there were plenty of mornings I watched the sunrise of the bow and walked back to my place from the train station with the sun fully up.

As to who to see...in the early days, I saw whatever I could catch. When I had more independence, I saw whatever caught my eye and ear, and I was lucky enough to work at a night club that featured acts such as Johnny Thunders, Cheetah Chrome (we shared nail polish ) and many more, and I got into DJing what at the time was "alternative" music - which embraced punk and punk sensibility.

All of it influenced me in ways I don't think I can really pull apart to describe, or ascribe in a "this came from here" sort of way. But having said that, I know that the entire experience, the philosphy I absorbed, left me with the conviction that the individual matters to the whole, and that whatever I do, I had to be honest, and real, about it - not the "best" - but unflinchinly honest with myself, with everyone - and I think that comes out in everything I do.

It's still amazing to me that there's so much talent out there that's so under recognized - and even more amazing to me that you undertook and maintained FFanzeen for so long. I know you have a saying about it - would you share the origin of that? What 'zines are you working with now? And (since I've been lucky enough to read as well as view some of your work) do you think you'll one day once more publish a 'zine of your own again? How would you say the art, both then and now, influenced your own work and outlook?

RBF: Don't know why I find this funny, but: JD the DJ. Yeah, I'm a punk nerd.

JDG: I get that a lot - and I love that you're a punk nerd :-) 'cos it's what makes you completely cool.

RBF: The expression and subtitle I had for my fanzine and its philosophy (and I'm hoping to be the name of my book, though many of my friends don't like it...is "Rock'n'Roll With Integrity".

JDG: Your philosophy has also influenced me - truly.

RBF: I found some of the bigger fanzines, like "The New York Crapper"...I mean "Rocker" was that all they did was complain about the scene; how the scene was dead (please note I mean this as post-Alan Betrock, who remained a defender of the scene until his untimely death). And the "Village Voice," once a baston of punk, turned it's back on it: Robert Christigau, its most influencial critic, turned his back on it and would only review anglofile and R&B music positively (I had a friend who wore a button that said "Christigau: D-"). I swore that if I started to feel that way about the things I was publishing, I would stop rather than whine. Sometime in 1988, after my 15th issue in 11 years, I started to find myself a bit bored...and was also broke (it was expensive publishing a print fanzine, with no or minimal advertising). I knew it was time, and I stopped. Also, quite amusingly, I paid attention to all the people who were such good friends when I published and suddenly disappeared when they didn't have an outlet any more.

JDG: It's funny who you find out is on your side for you and on your side for them when things change. Happens to bands, too - when people think you're on the rise, whoa, the attention and favor. When you do something different...

RBF: Still, I kept many good friends from that period to this day, including Joe Viglione ("The Count"), Nancy Foster (aka Nancy New Age, Suzy Q, and Nancy Neon, depending on the decade), and Gary Pig Gold, to name just a few.

Art wise, I must may I was not very well influenced by fanzines. It was more the content than the production. I was a college newspaper editor and I liked the tabloid style of lots of text and pictures in a recognizable format. I used to get mad at fanzines that tried to be too artistic for their own good, like having a page with 10 words on it, or a wide blank border. I believed in (and this is another of my philosophical statements for the time) "More rock'n'roll per square inch". Yeah, I got reviews that were sometimes nasty, like my favorite (and I quote it often, because I love it so much) was from one of the bigger California hardcore 'zines (honestly, can't remember which one) whose entire review of my mag was "Boring newsprint tabloid". Well, I must add that I got more response and requests for issues from those three words than any other review. I didn't expect everyone to like me or my work, and still don't. It's not punk to base yourself on what others think, e.g., Fonzie wasn't cool because he was always afraid of not been seen as cool...if you are worried about it, you're not.

JDG: I'm with you on that - I don't expect everyone to like what I do - and that's cool, free will and all that. And I have to laugh with you about the Fonzie comparison - I think I did a rant on poseurs in Punk Like Me .

RBF: Meanwhile, when FFanzeen ended, I sort of went into life mode, and just did what I had to do to get some money and live my life. By the early 1990s, I was starting to get the squeemies (yes, I am aware that's not a word, but it says it best) about the music that was around me and needed to listen to something new that wasn't Top 10 crap or die. I wrote to about a dozen fanzines about wanting to review CDs, etc., and a couple wrote back interested. I started writing for excellent mags, but they kept falling away and closing, like "Shredding Paper" and "Oculus".

JDG: I remember both of those - you know, I never really did get to catch them when I wanted to, and they always sold out of the issues I wanted .

RBF: One day around 2001, I was at a show and took a picture of a band called Miracle of 86 (lead singer Kevin Devine), and saw someone taking pictures of the band who I thought was Kevin's dad, and sent it off to Kevin. He wrote back and said, "Why did you send me a picture of Jim Testa?" I had read "Jerey Beat", and other writings of his, but didn't know what Jim looked like. I sent the photo to him and described myself, and he said he had seen me too, but thought that I was a band dad, as well. Since then, I have been writing for "Jersey Beat", and even have my own column, which is called "The Quiet Corner", which deals with all music technically non-punk, but of course I also review punk CDs for themain review section, and have done a few interviews. "Jersey Beat" went away for about 2 years, but it's coming back strong as a Web-zine, and my column and reviews will continue.

JDG: So the beat goes on, so to speak.

RBF: As for my own 'zine, well, I honestly don't have the time or funds to get that up and running again, and I also don't have the computer acumen to keep it up consistently as a Web-zine. So, what I have done instead is start my own blog (this one), otherwise known as the 21 Century fanzine. I cover CD reviews of all types, photos, live reviews, and the like. And now, it will include interviews.

JDG: This is awesome, because you always bring high standards and amazing new material to the board with what you do - you really get the art "out there."

To be continued....JD's blog can be found at her MySpace space: www.myspace.com/jdglass

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