Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vanity Plate No. 5: Queens College and Newsbeat

Introductory piece © Robert Barry Francos, 2012
Main body text and photo by Mark Spector, in Queens College’s
Newsbeat newspaper, 1977

For a year and a half in the mid-1970s, I was Arts Editor of the Kingsborough Community College newspaper, The Scepter. In fact, I joined on a Thursday and was elected to the position on the following Tuesday. When I graduated, I figured I would continue the trend and write for one of the newspapers at Queens College, since my work at KCC was such a positive experience, but found it to be a very tricky and painful at Queens, due to their cliquish nature (I have learned since that this is more common than not). First I tried the Phoenix, and wrote two dozen pieces for them, of which they used, in total, one paragraph. After hearing them talk about me when they thought I wasn’t there about how I wouldn’t write about disco so what was the point of my existence, I went next door to the other, competing major on campus paper, Newsbeat. I tried the same tactic of writing first and hoping they would print me, and managed to get about a dozen pieces published, such as LP reviews of Blondie’s first album on Private Stock, Loretta Lynn’s Somebody Somewhere, and Tanya Tucker’s Here’s Some Love. One day the editor, R___ R___, said that he had enough writers (who were his friends), thanked me for my time, and said buh-bye.

This is when I started
FFanzeen. I figured, if I couldn’t get anyone else to publish my stuff, I would do it myself. And I did, starting out as a 15-page one-sided ‘zine (though it would become much larger and more professionally printed as the years progressed). I was already somewhat well-known across campus for various reasons, one being I was one of only two people who knew anything about the punk rock scene at Queens; the other was a die-hard Ramones fan, but he was more metal oriented. Another reason was my kicking in the door of the radio station, but that’s a tale for another blog.

The ‘zine and my limited notoriety led to someone from
Newsbeat informing me that his editor (the same one who canned me) wanted an article about me and my publication. From the beginning, as he interviewed me in the school’s teacher’s cafeteria (where he also took the photo, above), it was clear that this writer had no interest at all in either me or what I was about, and took as many snarky jabs as he could. He also got a lot of the information wrong, which I will currently comment on via [brackets]. It should be noted for clarity that at the time, the term “new wave” was being used to describe the New York Underground scene, and “punk rock” was the British contribution.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that we were so young then (you never realize it at the time), and therefore had enormous chips on our shoulders. I said some things I look back and feel squeamish about, too. Now, I actually smile when I read this, despite the tone from either of us. We were just in two parallel worlds occupying the same time frame.

At this point I should point out that I did shortly become Arts Editor of a Queens College newspaper,
The Globe, which was focused on the Third World politics (many on the paper were Marxists and revolutionaries).

Please note that there is a follow-up to this story at the end of the article! – RBF, 2012

FFanzeen - New Mag for New Wave Rock
By Mark Spector, July 26, 1977

What do you do when the editors of college newspapers frustrate your attempts to publish esoteric reviews of “new wave” Rock and Roll? Well, if you’re Robert Barry Francos, you publish your own magazine and hope somebody buys it.

The first issue of FFanzeen, which sells for $1 at the [campus] record co-op and some record stores in the Village, features interviews with Tom Petty, Blue Ocean [sic], and – are you ready for this – the Cramps. Never heard of any of them? They all have a following that comes to see them regularly whenever they play CBGBs, and Max’s Kansas City.

Francos looks like your typical burnt-out freak who’s trying to keep his brains functioning after taking one hit of acid too many [his insinuation of my drug taking (not something of interest to me before or after his pronouncement) was because I was so naturally thin, at 115 lbs. My aunt cried when she read this part, dude]. His short, skinny frame is clothed with torn jeans held together by safety pins [never have I worn safety pins to hold my clothes together in my life; however, I did occasionally wear a huge laundry pin in my jacket lapel in 1979 after Sid died in his honor] and a Roxy Music tee shirt. In last Thursday’s 104 degree temperature, he was the only person on campus wearing a dungaree jacket. Holes on the sleeves, underarms, and back provided the air conditioning.

But in spite of his appearance, Francos is not heavily into drugs [heavily?!]. In fact, his disfavor for most of today’s popular bands revolves around their appeal to drugged audiences. “Hard rock is for potheads,” he says. “I’m not a heavy pothead” [what I said was, “I am not a pothead”]. He describes new wave music as just basic rock and roll. “If you strip rock to its barest commodities, rip it to its guts, you’ll have new wave.”

Francos first became interested in new wave music, or “punk rock” as it’s sometimes called, in the summer of 1975 while hanging out at CBGBs. The people sitting at the table next to him got up, plugged in their instruments, and started to play. That group was Talking Head [sic]. After they finished, four guys got up and did the same thing. They were the Ramones.

Since then, Francos has amassed a huge collection of albums and singles by groups like Blondie, the Ramones, the Dictators, Sex Pistol [sic], etc. He recites the lyrics with the same enthusiasm and feeling with which teenie boppers in the 60’s [sic] recited Beatle lyrics. But these lyrics are definitely nothing like what would come from the McCartney-Lennon song factory. For instance, one song on the Dictators’ new album goes: “I’d rather slash my wrists / Cut my throat/ Than have to spend a night with you.” [Not only did he get the name of the band wrong – yes, I knew it was Tuff Darts and told him so – but he got the lyrics partially wrong, as well; and as for the “Lennon-McCartney song factory,” what about “Run For Your Life”?] Like any avid fan, Francos knows the meaning of the song and which groupie it’s dedicated to [sic].

Also, like any fan of anything, Francos knows the complete history of the music he loves. New wave music had its roots in England [I said no such thing; it started in New York City and was adapted in the U.K.] where it was known as punk or “dole rock.” Dole is the British equivalent of welfare and most of the original purveyors of punk rock were on the Dole [Under Margaret Thatcher’s government, a large percentage of youth were on the dole, not just punkers].

Punk rock came to America when Richard Hell (that’s right) and Tom Verlaine approached the owner of a small country blues place in the Village and asked him, “Why don’t you showcase rock and roll?” Hilly Kristal liked the idea and changed the name of his club from Hilly’s to CBGBs. Hell and Verlaine were in a group called Television and that became the first group to play at CBGBs. They were followed by Patty Smith [sic], the Ramones, Talking Head [sic], and Blondie.

As punk rock became popular in New York, the record companies came down. The New York Dolls became the first American Punk Rock band to record [years before the opening of CBGBs, Mark]. Neither of their two albums sold very well. The next group to record was Patty Smith [sic] and Francos is certain to point out that she quickly “rose above the new wave.” He explains that many of her followers from the CBGBs days still consider her new wave, but musically she leans toward jazz-rock.

The Dictators’ first album, Girl Crazy [sic], sold only 6,000 copies but their second album, Manifest Destiny, is doing better. Francos insists that “they’re both great albums.” Other new wave bands to record include Television, Talking Head [sic], and the Ramones. “Glitter rock was dying,” Francos observed. “The only thing that was coming out was disco and a lot of people hated disco.”

Francos insists that there is a strong difference between punk rock in Great Britain and what he calls new wave rock in the United States. “In new wave music, the violence lies in the music and the lyrics,” he says. “In British punk rock the groups get physically violent on stage.” English punk rockers are not afraid to throw beer bottles across the nightclub or at each other while on stage. One girl performs with a safety pin through her pierced cheek [I don’t know who he was talking about, and it didn’t come from me].

But still this music is popular. Recently, Sex Pistols released a song called “God Save the Queen.” With lyrics like “God save the Queen / And her fascist regime / She made you all morons / potential H-bombs,” the song was quickly banned from the radio. However, that didn’t stop the song form rising to the top of the British charts.
While Francos was developing his taste for new wave music, disco was becoming popular, and college newspapers refused to print his stuff. At Kingsborough Community College he was restricted to writing movie reviews and he claims that when he came to Queens, neither Newsbeat nor Phoenix would print his material. “When they did,” he charged,” they butchered it up to the point that I couldn’t recognize it as my own.” So, Francos became publisher, editor-in-chief, layout man, photographer, and the only writer for FFanzeen [that was mostly true for the first issue]. “I just figured that if nobody will publish me, I’ll publish myself.”

FFanzeen is a standard fanzine style publication. It consists of 15 mimeographed pages held together by a staple in the upper left-hand corner. Francos hopes to come out every other month and expects to have a larger staff for the next issue. Friends in Boston, Buffalo, California, and Long Island have all offered to write for him.

In the meanwhile, though, Francos has no trouble filing the magazine himself. Getting interviews is easy. “Most of the performers,” he points out, “don’t even take their music seriously. They’re just out to have a good time and they’re easy to talk to [what I actually said was that many bands are more interested in having fun that being considered serious artists].” Francos pointed out that the Ramones still live with their parents in Forest Hills. “The Dictators have a song – ‘(I Live} For Cars and Girls’ [sic]. That says it best.”

Publishing your own magazine can be a big move and if you’re successful you could make a lot of money. Francos’ ambitions are simple. “I’m giving myself five years to buy the Playboy Mansion, kick Barbie Benton out, and replace her with someone else who looks decent” [while I don’t remember saying that last bit, and am a bit embarrassed by it in hindsight, it is a period piece from when I was very, very young…].

2011 Follow-up
As I was preparing this, I managed to find Mark on Facebook, and we had a pleasant exchange about the whole thing. He now runs his own advertising company as a marketing consultant, copywriter, and creative consultant at There were no hard feelings from either of us, and he seems to have turned out to be an okay guy.

When approached about my reprinting the above, Mark wrote:

Well, Robert,
I'm glad you didn't let that antagonistic and condescending jerk discourage you. It sounds like you had a nice run and a lot of fun with FFanzeen and continue to do so. Very glad to see that! I have no tear sheets (and very few memories) from that period. Though a (big) part of me dreads coming face to face with Mark Spector 1977, none of us are the same people we were back then and hopefully I, like you, can put it in context. I've long since learned to be less full of myself. And congrats on the success and fun you've had with FFanzeen.


  1. Where Can I find newspapers from 1982, 1983??

    1. I graduated in 1979 so I have no idea about painting 82 or 83. Besides I only have a couple of copies of the ones that pertain to me.