Monday, January 12, 2009

How I Almost Killed Handsome Dick Manitoba

Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos
All photos taken at the Bottom Line, 10/21/77, except as indicated

The first time I heard of The Dictators was at Bernie Kugel’s house in the spring of 1975. Go Girl Crazy had just been released, and truthfully, at first I didn’t get it. At that time, I didn’t get much. It was just before we had started going to CBGB, and my music taste was more in the Simon & Garfunkel vein than, say, Blue Oyster Cult. I hadn’t even heard the Ramones yet, and wouldn’t until June 20 when I saw them the first time I attended CBGB.

After hearing the album a few times, I was not overly impressed, but agreed to go see them at CBGB during the summer of ’75. That is what made me a believer, seeing this incredibly fun band play. Handsome Dick Manitoba (HDM) was still a guest vocalist at that time, with most of the duties falling ably to Adny Shernoff, who was still mostly on bass and the occasional keyboard, if I remember correctly.

On the way out, we ran into HDM near the door, by the pinball game. Bernie nervously introduced himself, to which HDM boomed loudly, “Hey! Kugel! Like the pudding!” They talked for a short while (though I couldn’t hear what they were saying), and then we left to go to our local White Castle before I dropped Bernie off at his place and headed home as the sun rose.

After that, I began to really enjoy the album, and could see what Bernie was talking about. Also, I had been to CBGB and Max’s Kansas City quite a few times, so my perspectives were also changing.

A couple of years past and in 1977, I was a true fan. Their second, excellent album, Manifest Destiny had been released, and I was totally blown away by it, especially “Steppin’ Out,” “Disease,” “Science Gone Too Far,” and “Young, Fast and Scientific.” To this day, I can still quote the entire intro to “Disease.” As the band’s fan club stated (no, I never did join), DFFD: Dictators Forever Forever Dictators.

I went to see them play at the Bottom Line on October 21, 1977, getting on line early enough to find a seat near the front, slightly off center (the best place since the stage was high, unless you wanted to look up the singer’s nose).

The band was the aforementioned HDM (who was now official lead vox) and Shernoff (mostly keyboards), and included founding members Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Ross the Boss Funicello (Russell Friedman), both on guitar. Recent additions were Richie Teeter on drums and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza on bass pounding. They were a solid unit with a strong bottom and powerful strings.

The show was great, but that was no surprise. At some point in the set, they started up their opening cut from Go Girl Crazy, the wondrous “The Next Big Thing.” The rhythm of it goes Ba-da-da-da-da-DUM, Ba-da-da-da-da-DUM, with the emphasis on the last beat.

Because of the time period this occurred, there was smoking permitted in the club, so the tables had ashtrays. The Bottom Line used thick black plastic ones, which they cleaned and reused after each show. When “The Next Big Thing” started, I grabbed the (unused) ashtray, and started banging it on the table to the rhythm, including adding the emphasis. About the time of the upward key change of the song, I must have hit the ashtray just a bit too hard or at a weird angle, because a one-inch-by-two-inch piece that was half moon shape broke off and flew just a couple of inches past HDM’s head, and had enough momentum that it bounced off the wall way behind him. He must have heard the whiz of it, because he turned his head to see what it was, though he never missed a beat. I don’t believe he figured it out, though. Just a slight change in trajectory, and it might have stuck into his head like a ninja star.

I kept that broken ashtray as a souvenir for a number of years, but eventually tossed it because (a) it didn’t really have a connection to anything other than my memory, which I didn’t need it for, and (b) I don’t smoke.

Many years later, in the summer of 2006, I was giving the Detroit punk band Choking Susan a “punk rock tour” around the East Village (Trash & Vaudeville, Gem Spa, etc.), and brought them over to HDM’s bar, Manitobas. Sure enough, HDM was there behind the bar that night, and I knew the members of Choking Susan were fans, but were a bit starstruck to go over and talk to him. I walked over and introduced myself (as publisher of FFanzeen because odds are he would remember my ‘zine), and then brought him over to meet the band. It was a great moment, as HDM took them around the bar, and using a small flashlight, spent time with them telling them stories that went with the photos on the wall. He also sat with them for a while at a table. HDM is definitely a cool guy. I took the photo of Choking Susan and HDM that CS use on their MySpace site (see below).

[Choking Susan and Handsome Dick Manitoba at Manitobas, 2006]
As the band was getting ready to go and gathering their things, I walked outside and HDM was sitting on the bench out front. I sat next to him, and thanked him for his generosity. He smiled and said he was glad to do so, as we talked for the few minutes while I waited for the band to come out. I wish I had thought to ask him if he remembered something flying by him at that show at the Bottom Line, and to tell him what happened with the piece of ashtray, but truthfully, by the time I remembered, I was already blocks away.


  1. Re: second picture from the top.

    Jerry Seinfeld played with The Dictators?

  2. Yeah, didn't he write "What's Up With That?"

    Oh, no, wait, that was "What's The Deal With...".