Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Review: SWEAT: The Story of The Fleshtones

Concert photos (c) Robert Barry Francos

Taken at CBGB's, late 1977, Fleshtones on shared bill with the Zantees

During a visit to Buffalo, Bernie Kugel brought me to the local Borders, and pointed out this book, SWEAT: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band (Continuum International Publishing, NY, 2007) by Joe Bonomo (pictured below). The main reason he did this is because I am listed in the bibliography due to an interview I did with the band in 1977, and published in my fanzine, FFanzeen), in 1978. A couple of months later, I bought a copy of the book at the Strand.

The Fleshtones certainly do deserve a tome to them, and Joe gives detail after detail about their background, lifestyle, formation, recording, and friends (including a rightful heavy nod to Miriam Linna, who was more involved with the New York scene than she is rarely given credit). Interviews with everyone involved, including record producers and label executives, are extensive and pretty through. And also often pretty amusing in hindsight, such as Paul Wexler's vexation with the Up-Front sessions (perhaps they should be referred to in the future as the Up-Tight sessions?).

But it's the Fleshtones contribution to blue-eyed R&B that is the main focus of SWEAT, and as well it should be. The true sweat is the audience as they jump around to some of the livliest music that came out of the '70s New York scene. The fact that the band is still around today shows that they are a well-honed music machine.

One of the central characters in the first half of the book is their house, in Whitestone, Queens. I remember being at one of their infamous parties, held Halloween, 1977. The first performance of the Zantees (who would eventually transform into the A-Bones) was held in their basement. It was a wild scene (though not as scary as a late-night forage to a local White Castle that same eve), with enjoyment watching the imbibing aplenty (I was pretty straight-edge already). The reason I bring this up is because as I'd met the Fleshtones in the -- er -- flesh, I can attest to how lively a crew they were. They also attracted a large number of interesting people into their circle, many whom I have associated, such as filmmaker M. Henry Jones and out-there fanzine editor Lisa Baumgartener (who was known to record every conversation she had, whether on the phone or in person).

There are some typos that run throughout the book, and some clear omissions, such as relating how the band shared a bill with Nervus Rex (spelled Nervous Rex in SWEAT) without mentioning that their drummer was Miriam (though Joe does mention her skins affiliation with the Cramps and Zantees). Despite this, the detail of the book is definitely a labor of love (labour of love, for you Canadians) and it clearly shows.

As the book often points out, the Fleshtones were on the forefront of the New York garage scene that would take off just a few short years after their formation, showing them to be ahead of their time. The Fleshtones contibuted much, and so does Bonomo with this book. I look forward to his next endeavor.

More info on Joe Bonomo or the book:

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