Saturday, February 14, 2009

Videowave: Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen, Holly Beth Vincent

Photos and text © Robert Barry Francos
Videos © Alan Abramowitz / Videowave


One of the great joys I had during the 1980s and ‘90s was working on a cable access program called Videowave, created, produced, and run by one of my oldest pals, Alan Abramowitz. Alan and I had met in camp in 1970, and years later found out we were distant cousins.

Videowave centered mainly on music, but also focused on all aspects of fine arts, from dance to spoken word. Usually it was a blend of independent music videos that one tended not to see on places like MTV, mixed with interviews with various artists and bands.

Considering the DIY (and budget) of the show, thanks in part to knowing some connected people (and the wherewithal of Alan to take a chance and, well, ask), Alan managed to secure a number of major acts, but almost always ones that were interesting, like the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell, Bow Wow Wow, Too Much Joy, Dramarama, Nick Cave, Buzzcocks, Lenny Kaye, Steve Wynn, Dick Dale, Jonathan Richman, Ofra Haza, Philip Glass, Frente!, Joey Ramone, Husker Du, and so many others. In all the years, there have been only two artists who committed but did not appear at the shoot without any warning: new recording artist Madonna, and P.I.L. (the publicist confided that the band was out looking for Keith Levene, who was on a drug hunt).

At first, the show was staged in a for-hire television studio on Rivington Street, on the Lower East Side of New York, called Young Filmmakers. My job varied over the years, including floor manager (the person between the talent and the control room), photographer, and occasional cameraman.

[Lene Lovich, Holly Beth Vincent, 1983],
During late 1983, Alan managed to get Lene Lovich, which was quite the coup at the time. She was on with Holly Beth Vincent, of Holly and the Italians, who had a relative hit with “Tell That Girl To Shut Up” (though a great pop song, I preferred Barb Kitson / City Thrill’s “I Must Have Been Dreamin’,” which had a similar feel). Lene and Holly Beth met in England, where they had both transplanted from the Midwest, and become fast friends. On this day, Lene was a joy to work with responding with smiles and enjoying the experience. She treated all of us pro bono studio people with respect and kindness. Holly Beth was just the opposite, looking sullen, being distant, and just surly. She also chain smoked through the whole time she was in the studio. She pretty much disappeared after that, except for a duet with Joey Ramone.

[Lene Lovich, 1990]
Years later, in 1990, Lene was in town again to play at an animal rights rally, and was again being interviewed for Videowave. And once again, I was asked to be floor manager and photographer. This time, however, it was not in a studio, but thanks to both lack of studio space and outside funding, the show had gone gonzo, filming wherever Alan (or the talent) deemed. Since Lene was staying at a hotel a block from Gramercy Park, we shot right outside the park. As before, Lene was amiable and seemed to be enjoying the experience. It was also interesting to see her in the bright sunlight. I had seen her on the dark stage and under the glaring lights of a studio, but this was the closest I had been to her. She’s more beautiful than I had expected or remembered, with bright, intelligent eyes and a generous smile.

One of Lene’s good friends and international star Nina Hagen was also on Videowave, in 1984. The Germanic singer / performance artist was a real terror, and obviously enjoyed being one. She was sitting on the stage in the rented studio, and we were ready to shoot. I was standing by as floor manager, clipboard in hand and headset turned up. The director, way up in the control booth, was screaming in my ear. The reason for this was Nina’s holding a can of guava in front of her face, and refusing to put it down. I’d say, trying to be diplomatic for Alan’s sake, “Please, Nina, put the can down.” She responded in one of her ridiculous, child-like voices, “No!,” pretending to be a spoiled child (well, perhaps not pretending…). I’m sure she thought this behavior was cute and funny, but it was wasting valuable time and money that no one, especially producer Alan, could afford. I explained about how studio time was expensive and that this was not a big media conglomerate that could swallow the cost. Her response was, in the same annoying, dumbass voice, “I don’t want to!”

Finally, one of the cameraman, who was also stuck waiting and listening to the screaming over the headsets, took off and put down his earphones, and calmly walked over to her with a big smile and whispered something in her ear. Still smiling, he walked back to the camera. She looked shocked and her face turned red. Then a big, bright smile came over her face, and she put the damn can down. The interview went well after that. Later, I cornered the guy and asked him what had happened. He said that when he had enough, he walked over to her with that big, warm grin and said, very quietly and with a mild tone, “If you don’t put down that can, you Nazi bitch, I’m going to break every fucking bone in your body.” She thought it was hysterically funny, and was fine afterwards.

While I do have photos I took of Nina, none are yet scanned. Sorry.

One can find information and clips of some of these shows here:
www.geocities.com/videowavemusicmusings
http://videowave-goingunderground.blogspot.com
www.myspace.com/Videowave



7 comments:

  1. I love Lene! No one sounded like that, and I don't think she ever really got her due for her influence.

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  2. I agree with you, Donna. She deserved more credit than she did, perhaps because she was a expat? There was a time there in NYC where it was easier to get gigs if you were from the UK than from NYC (Danceteria period, I called it). Maybe Lene and Holly Beth were trying to get that angle, I don't know. I have to admit that I sort of lost interest in Lene after her second LP, but those first two were very strong.

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  3. We need more shows like Videowave! Not like the absolute garbage that came after for the MTV generation! I especially love when Husker Du was on and acted like complete jerks. And dig the crazy production values, very sparse and punk!If only the Dictators could have been on!!

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  4. What amazes me the most, is that even with the extreme low budget, they had on some incredible guests, from Anti-Nowhere League to the Cucumbers. And I got to meet so many of them by helping out. I was the camera person at the Husker Du interview, and it was tres weird, as Mould just read my fanzine, FFanzeen, through the whole thing.

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  5. What is the song that plays during the videowave opening?

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    Replies
    1. All of the links have been replaced by higher quality downloads.
      I'm unsure as to which one you are referring to?

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  6. "While I do have photos I took of Nina, none are yet scanned. Sorry." Oh wow; from 30+ years ago? I totally forgot about this

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