Sunday, December 21, 2008

Coincidence in a Rock and Roll World

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos

When my decades long good friend Joe Viglione isn’t successfully touting with corporate windmills or promoting deserving artists like Marty Balin, he is also fascinated by coincidences. In conversations with him on this very topic, I recalled a couple that were in my life, one directly, and one to someone else.

[Human Switchboard at Irving Plaza, 1980s]
In the early 1980s, I was working in a corporate in-house print shop. It was loud and noisy, and there was a radio always on playing Top 10 music. In other words, I heard “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Rhythm Is Going to Get You” by Gloria Estoban every hour, and since Michael Jackson’s Thriller had recently been released, there was one of his songs playing every 15 minutes, like “Billy Jean” and the title cut, which was driving me insane. It was the period of garage punk revival in my world, and naturally I hated mainstream radio (still do). So I bought myself a Walkman to play tapes to help drown out the dreadful noise.

Around that time, the corporation for which I worked decided to do a big project, and they hired two or three temps for a few days. There I was, working away listening to my Walkman, and I caught the eye of one of the temps. Now at the time, most people who listened to a Walkman usually were playing the same type of industrial noise that was on the radio. This man gave me an eyes-rolled back look, like, “Oh, he’s another one.” This pissed me off.

I had never spoken to this person, so I walked over to him. I said, “I’ll have you know, I am not listening to the same crap that’s playing on that radio over there.”

This Asian man said, in a deep southern accent, “Oh, yeah? Then whut are you listenin’ to?” with a challenge.

“On this tape, I have the Standells’ “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” the Shangri-Las’ “Shout” (best cover of the song after Lulu’s), Chocolate Watchband’s “Don’t Want Your Lovin’,” the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream”….

His attitude totally changed, and he said, “Oh, wow, that’s some great stuff! Yeah, I was in a band in North Carolina up to a couple-a weeks ago that played more punk, but I shore like that kinda stuff.”

Bob Pfiefer of Human Switchboard during interview described in blog]
I had recently come back from Greensboro, staying a week with another good pal, Nancy Neon (and her family), going to amazing clubs like Fridays, seeing my first Big Star food market, going to my first drive-in, and hanging out with a bunch of cool people, including Lynn, who would eventually end up in Love Tractor.

“I know some bands down that way. What was the name of yours?”

“Aw, you never heard of us, trust me.”

“Try me.”

Bernie Worrell backstage at Irving Plaza]
“We were Gang Green. Not the same ones in Boston, we were outta Boone (NC).”

I looked at him, mouth hinged open, and I asked, “Are you Jim Downs?”

The look on his face was probably as priceless and in shock as mine was. “Yeah, who the hell are you?”

“I’m Robert Francos.”

“Robert Barry Francos?”

Seems that while he was in the early stages of the band, he was promoting them, and because of my fanzine, FFanzeen, we had been writing back and forth for a while. As the band dwindled, so had our letters, and I hadn’t heard from him in a while. Jim was preparing to come to New York, and this was his first job to tide him over until he found a real job (now he’s a well respected local New York photographer).

We became fast friends after that for quite the while, until we eventually lost touch. In fact, that meeting in some ways probably led to my getting married. In a nutshell:

[Alex Chilton at Irving Plaza]
Jim started writing a very humorous column in my magazine called “Half Japanese” and did some interviews. One was with Bob Pfeifer, of the band Human Switchboard, done backstage at Irving Plaza (I was there, too; it was a great show with the Switchboard opening for Alex Chilton, with whom Bernie Worrell was guesting). That night, Jim also brought his then girlfriend, Aurora Jones. When they broke up, I remained friends with both. Aurora is an actress, and at some point she told me that she wanted to make a stab at going to LA to try her hand at the craft, but as she was paying such small rent in Little Italy, she needed someone she trusted to take over the apartment for a couple of years, but be willing to leave it if she needed to come back. I volunteered, which gave me a welcoming space to get married and bring my partner. We stayed there for two-and-a-half years, until Aurora came back.

Jim married Denise Nadvornik, and the last I heard they had a son and live in Queens.

Bernie Kugel, Under Acme, NYC, 1998]
The indirect story concerns my pal Bernie Kugel, of The Good, and then Mystic Eyes, both Buffalo core cult bands. When Bernie finished high school in the late ‘70s, he decided to go to Buffalo State College SUNY. Much of his choice was based on two elements: the first is that is was far enough way from his parents to get away, but close enough to come back and visit record stores and clubs like CBGBs. The other was the magazine Shakin’ Street Gazette, which was an extremely hip music magazine that was published by the school. Not only did he attend the school, but he also began writing for SSG, including an interview with the Ramones at Max’s Kansas City the night before they took their infamous first tour of England (yes, I was there for that, too).

The next year, out in West Babylon on Long Island, Judi Sadinsky (her moniker was the lower case judi) was graduating high school. She wanted to get far enough away from her parents but close enough to come back. She picked up a copy of Shakin’ Street Gazette and there was a huge story about David Bowie. She thought that any school that publishes this kind of in-depth story about Bowie must be okay. She went to Buff State.

While attending the school, she met Bernie and they started off a relationship. She’s the one for whom he wrote his classic tune “Judy” (a talented artist and graphic designer, she also help me with my first issues of FFanzeen). It was well into their relationship that she found out that he’s the one that wrote the Bowie article that brought her there in the first place.

The relationship didn’t last, but…spooky.

Of course, Bernie is now married for over 25 years to the wonderful Tink and they have a son, Ben (a talented guitarist in his own right), who is about to graduate college (yep, Buff State).


  1. Bernie wrote a piece about BOWIE and it scored him a G-I-R-L F-R-E-N?

    At least I now know who I was singing backup vocals about all those years ago.

  2. For those who don't know, Craig was in Mystic Eyes with Bernie. Calling him the bassist would be giving him short shrift about his role in the group. Besides that, he's a great guy. Thanks for the comment, Craig, and hopefully, at some point, maybe a mini-Mystic Eyes reunion (note that lead guitarist Eric passed away, and drummer Scott - also Craig's brother - moved away)...even if it's in one of our living rooms!

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Robert!

    I am not at liberty to openly discuss any mini-reunions, though.

    When I last visited Bernie, he communicated to me from his iron lung, via a series of eye-blinks, that I must be sworn to internet secrecy about such matters.

    I'll add a link to your ffanzine blog so I can keep up with your doings in the new year.

    Merry & Happy to you!

  4. I love it when people write updates on people like Bob Pfeifer from but fail to mention that since the interview just in recent years he has gone to prison, become a convicted felon, being sentenced this month for wiretapping a girlfriend's phones and having her followed who testified about him using blow in a civil trial. His case involves celebrities, prostitutes, him crying in federal court. priceless stuff. look at their website for the details. sad to see a guy fail like that and end up doing blow, hiring hookers tapping phone lines, hurting women and going to prison as a convicted felon :(

  5. Yes, I have heard all about Bob Pf, but this piece wasn't an update about him, nor about the band. That part of the blog was about how I met Jim Downs, and in turn met his then-girlfriend at a Human Switchboard show, which led to my getting married. There was no discussion about Bob Pf other than that night, so there was no "update," and so his legal experiences are irrelevant to what I was talking about. Thanks for YOUR contribution, though!

  6. right. kinda like writing about meeting some people at a show for charles manson and saying how great the show was years later on a blog. charles was some hippie guitar player with a following you guys saw play. post a few pics of him. but fail to mention that now charle's in prison for a lot of bad things he did. but i understand . it's coo.

  7. Wow, okay, I get it, you don't like the guy. I have no opinion about him one way or another (other than I enjoyed his music back then...BEFORE he did any crimes), but comparing him to Manson seems a bit severe, much like the overuse of saying someone is "like Hitler". Yes, Bob harassed people and was involved with wiretapping, which of course I do not condone, but that is not the same as having a number of people murdered.

    But I also know that by listing this as "Anonymous," I can't really respect your opinions about this anyway, without the cojones to be upfront. I recently published a blog that said negative things about Dan Hill, and how I heckled A-Lister Billy Crystal, but I say it as me.

    Lastly, if I HAD met someone during a Charles Manson concert in, say, 1965 (I was 10 years old then, but I'm trying to make a point), yes, I would have left it at that, since I was going for a "that moment" historical perspective. Again, Pfeifer was NOT the focus of the story, the event was.

  8. I think sometimes people remain anonymous when they're posting about someone like Pfeifer for safety reasons. Also if you do a simple background criminal check you'll see he was arrested for beating his (now) ex wife, he put that girl they're writing about in a hospital -she was beat so badly. All public record. Great article though.. thanks for the update. Sometimes our heroes let us down. Drugs got the better hold on Bob (he said so himself in the articles) and he failed. It happens.

  9. Thank you for the kind words about the blog. I have known lots of people who have traveled a hard path due to subtance abuse; some have gotten past it, some still have it, and some have died. Either way, their lives are changed, and always for the negative. This is one of the reasons, as I commented in another blog, that I imbibe in alcohol about twice a year, and drugs I completely stay away from.

    But I also feel the need to repeat, this blog was not about nor an update of Bob Pfeifer. He has absolutely done scummy things. I do not condone violence against anyone, and have been a survivor of that myself (perpetrated, not perpetrator).

    This was meant as a very happy blog about happy memories, not the ills of society, and Bob in particular. While I have no idea where Bob is now, I hope he's gotten some treatment for his excesses, and yes, including violence (a "drug" in itself).

    Thank you, especially, for being willing to put your name out there. I respect that a lot.