Thursday, July 20, 2017

DAVE STREET’s in the Wild [1981]

Text by Nancy Foster / FFanzeen fanzine, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen blog, 2017
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written by a Nancy Foster, whose Facebook page is kurrently Kandy Kabot.

Dave Street is an odd duck, and I say that with affection. Sure he was a New York-based punk rock stand-up comic back in the day, but he was also a fan and hung out with some of the illuminous stars in the scene. When this interview occurred, it was while he was working at Natasha’s Clothing Store on St. Mark’s Place when it was still cool. This is an insider’s story about hanging out on the scene.

In the period after the interview, he would go on to appear on Uncle Floyd and The Joe Franklin Show and write songs with Bobby Steele and the Undead which still continues. Lately, he works on environmental projects, and is in the process of making a horror film titled Monster Bizzness. Along with other not-for-profit causes such as programs for teenagers in homeless shelters and detention centers, he still writes and performs at various events. – RBF, 2017

FFanzeen: What was the most memorable thing about your writing period?
Dave Street: Trying to get paid as a freelance writer. That is why I ended up working in the store [Natasha; 1 St. Mark’s Place, NYC – RBF, 1981]. You don’t get paid when you write freelance. Also, interviewing Frank Zappa and trying to avoid the Editor-in- Chief…

FFanzeen: After that, you didn’t really want to be connected with writing anymore – you wanted to be involved with something else, like acting?
Dave: I had a punk acting company. We were called Robot Factory. That was before I was funny. That was when I was still negative and violent. We used to go onstage and give people cancer.

FFanzeen: Where did you do your act?
Dave: Our big thing was that we went onstage before the Dead Boys and the Cramps in Hollywood, on the closing night of the Masque (Club).

FFanzeen: When did you first start doing comedy? Did you tell jokes in school? Were you like a class clown?
Dave: No, actually, I’ve led a very painful life, to the point where I was either going to hang it up, literally, or start laughing at myself. I was forced to become a comedian just to be able to deal with my own miserable existence. Sniff, sniff, whine, whine.

FFanzeen: Oh, that’s one of those lines like, “Live been asexual for 5 years!”
Dave: I have. No, that really is the truth. At different points I have hated myself, my parents, my family, my employers and everybody else in the world. Not wanting to be a hateful person, the only alternative I had to hating was laughing. This is a very sombre conversation.

FFanzeen: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
Dave: Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Groucho Marx. I’m sure I forgot a few of them, but those are my main ones. Bob Newhart. Yeah, those are my main comical influences. I listened to a lot of old stand-up comedy albums from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

FFanzeen: Do you listen to comedy albums more than you listen to rock’n’roll?
Dave: Now I do, but I used to always listen to rock’n’roll. I’ve only started listening to comedy albums over the last year. It took me about half a year just to get a collection. One thing that is interesting about collecting comedy records is that the comedy records that you can learn much from, like the most radical comedians who are the most against the system, their records cost more than anybody else’s to buy.

FFanzeen: Like who, for instance?
Dave: Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce – their albums cost about $30. But you find a Marx Brothers album and it’ll cost you about $5.

FFanzeen: Do you think that Lenny Bruce was killed? Some people think he was given a hot shot.
Dave: Yeah, they killed him because he was a junkie.

FFanzeen: You get any ideas for routines from living with your boss?
Dave: I sure do! It is a super real reality. What could be the epitome of the worst possible working relationship than living with your boss?! Especially if you want to do something else with your life. It’s depressing and depression makes me funny. Of course, if I wasn’t depressed all the time, I wouldn’t have to be funny. This not just living with my boss; it’s living with and simultaneously trying to avoid…

FFanzeen: When and where was the first time you did your comedy act?
Dave: Before I did my comedy act, I did a one-man show last Fall at Hurrah’s called I am the Center of the Universe. This was an extension of what I had done with the punk acting company. It was like a violent confrontation of self and the whole “Me! Me! Me!” ego of the 70s.

FFanzeen: Did you abuse the audience?
Dave: Yeah. A writer from the New York Post asked me, wouldn’t everybody else and I be happier if I made people laugh with the same energy instead of trying to project my own unhappiness onto the audience and trying to make them as unhappy as I was? …Anyway, I started to think about it and started writing stand-up routines. A month later, I did my first gig at 5 AM at Studio Zero.

FFanzeen: What was the audience’s reaction when you first started this?
Dave: It was like, “Who do you think you are?!” The audience reaction was like one big beer bottle thrown at me.

FFanzeen: Does that mean they like you?
Dave: That means I got a reaction from them anyway, which is better than having them walk away. No one walked away, but a lot of people were antagonized. A lot of people didn’t think what I was saying was funny. They thought it was insulting. A lot of people who share the same pain as I do wanted to laugh at it. But there are others that don’t want to be reminded of it at all. So when I make jokes about it, their attitude is, “I don’t want to hear about that!” The funny thing is that they have that attitude until they meet me. People who threw bottles at me would come in the store with a friend and say, “Hey! I’m the guy who threw the beer bottle at you last week.” And I’d say, “Gee! Thanks! Why’d you do that.” And they’d say that they didn’t agree with what I was saying, but added, “Now that I know you, I’m doing to laugh and I’m going to beat up anyone who does throw a beer bottle!” Note the fact that they still might not agree with me, but the fact that they don’t agree with me has nothing to do with it anymore because they know who I am!

FFanzeen: So, what does that have to do with anything? That you should make friends with the audience so you won’t get killed?
Dave: It shows that the solution is to perform less and throw more parties. I should throw a party before every performance so that everyone knows me. Then, by the time I go on, the whole audience will like me.

FFanzeen: Who was the comedian who opened for the Rockats at the Rock Lounge?
Dave: I don’t talk about other comedians. It is against my principles to talk about anybody who is not helping my career. The only comedian who is helping my career is Tessie Chua, whose movie I am in. I’ve done a film called The Scary Truth About Roaches and Landlords [could not find any reference to the film – RBF 2017], in which I play a deranged tenant, in case you haven’t seen it. It was at the Mudd Club [d. 1983 – RBF, 2017]. Steve Mass [Mudd Club’s owner – RBF, 1981] plays the landlord. He’s one of the main characters. In my scene, I play off Steve Mass. I, of course, have always had a lot of arrogance towards the very premise of the Mudd Club’s existence, so I had a lot of fun working with Steve. I felt a lot of natural hostility in a friendly way [hunh? – NF, 1981] that kind of made it work.

FFanzeen: A love/hate relationship?
Dave: Yeah, it’s like knowing I belong there, but being opposed to being there ideologically [hunh? – NF, 1981]. I am opposed to the fact that there’s someone at the door telling people that they can’t come in [I agreed then and now – RBF, 2017].

FFanzeen: That’s not happening now. They are courting the non-hipsters now, dahling.
Dave: They didn’t let me in last week. I work so hard – 10 hours of the day, every day of the week – and I’m usually too tired to go out at night. But I went there after not being out for about four months, and the doorman didn’t believe that I was Dave Street; so, he didn’t let me in – not because he didn’t know who Dave Street was, but because he thought I was using Dave Street’s name to try and get into the Mudd Club free.

FFanzeen: You should have said you were Gloria Vanderbilt! Oh, I heard that you had a little confrontation with Deborah Harry at the Mudd Club.
Dave: I wish I had. I don’t think I have achieved that world importance yet.

FFanzeen: Tell me about the David Johansen film, Thau in Love [never officially released – RBF, 2017].
Dave: I’m in two brief shots. I might be on the screen two minutes if I’m lucky. But I had a lot of fun working with David. I think David is brilliant at setting up the premise of action – the way he assembled people and set up situations really make it work well.

FFanzeen: Did he write the script, or is he just directing?
Dave: Yeah, he wrote it. I don’t know about other people’s roles, but my script was somewhat improvised – not the storyline, but the actual verbal interaction was partially ad-libbed. I’m in a short shot where I play myself. I come into Marty Thau’s [Red Star Records – RBF, 1981; d. 2014 – RBF, 2017] office. I tell him obnoxious jokes and he blows smoke in my face. In the next scene, I’m a go-go boy.

FFanzeen: What do you wear as a go-go boy?
Dave: I just dressed as a regular person. I just danced funny. As a result of that, I’m working on a whole routine about dancing funny, and I’m in Clem Burke’s video of the Colors, doing the same thing.

FFanzeen: So, you’re broadening your career options? How did you get connected with Johansen?
Dave: He called me up at the store. I do an impersonation of David, too. I do a “Pray-Tell Records” ad which pokes fun at the commercialization of New Wave songs: “Twelve of the greatest unoriginal New Wave hits!” I do David Jo’s grandson doing, “Punky But Weak” [mocking a soulful yet spiritually wracked voice]: “I got a black eye that somebody gave me / When I got into a fight and nobody would save me / I’m punky, punky but weak…” I do that in the film, too, but I might be cut. One never knows what’s going to happen in the editing room. We all know the politics of film are often more important than the actual performances. You can do a great performance and the editor might not like you for personal reasons.

FFanzeen: Do you do spoofs on other rock’n’roll people?
Dave: I do funny marriages. Like if Rachel Sweet married Nick Lowe, she’d be Rachel Sweet’n Lowe. In which case, the FCC would probably find out that listening to her music causes cancer and all her records would have to be taken off the shelves. If Bette Midler married Eddie Money, she’d be Bette Money, but don’t bet your life and never bet more than you can avoid paying back. If Cherry Vanilla married Iggy Pop, she’d be Cherry Pop.

FFanzeen: Yum-yum.
Dave: Fizz, fizz. We completed that routine, anyway.

FFanzeen: Would you ever be part of a comedy duo?
Dave: Occasionally I do do things like that with other people that I can play off of; I’m working on a film script right now with some young people, including Rip Torn’s daughter, Angelica Torn [known as Angelica Page after 2010 – RBF, 2017], and her boyfriend, Joe Witty. It’s going to be a rock’n’roll East Side Kids sort of comedy. It should be about a one hour video.

FFanzeen: When did you get connected with the local rock’n’roll scene?
Dave: I was still living in New Jersey in 1975 [as he does now – RBF, 2017], but I was coming to see the Ramones from the first week they played [1974 – RBF, 2017]. I was hanging out in the scene from the very beginning. I was coming to see the Dolls in the glitter days. I was going to see the Mothers [of Invention] when they were cool, back in 1965. I’m 30 years old and I’ve been coming to New York City since I was 14, seeing these 35 year old guys hanging out in rock’n’roll clubs talking to pretty girls and I said, now I know what I want to do when I’m 35! I don’t want to be a doctor, I don’t want to be a lawyer; I want to hang out in rock’n’roll clubs and talk to pretty girls!

FFanzeen: Do you get a lot of disco-babies coming into the store?
Dave: I sell the exact same clothes to disco people as I sell to punks. Disco people say, “I want these clothes so nobody will say, I’m punk,” and the punks say, “I want these clothes so nobody will say I’m disco.”

FFanzeen: What do you like to do for fun when you’re away from the store?
Dave: I’m not allowed to have fun.

FFanzeen: What about when the two go-go girls came in the store and raped you?
Dave: They broke my year-long asexuality. I said I had sex with them; I didn’t say I had fun with them. I felt an obligation to give in, but I didn’t feel any obligation to have fun. When I get drunk and insult people at the Mudd Club is the only time I ever have fun.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

QUESTION MARK Answers [1981]

Text by Cary Baker / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2017
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

At Cavestomp! 2002 - Pic (c) RB Francos
This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by writer-turned-press agent extraordinaire Cary Baker.

There is no denying that “96 Tears,” ? and the Mysterians biggest hit from 1966, has one of the most infectious organ lines in rock’n’roll. I had the good fortune to see the band play in 2002 at CBGBs during “Cavestomp!,” a garage revival showcase series they were headlining. Between songs, he used the term “bay-behhh” a lot, as in “Hello, bay-behhhs. Great to be here, bay-behhh!” Needless to say, they were amazing. – RBF, 2017

Of all rock’n’roll’s “one-hit wonders,” perhaps the least is known of the arcane man by the name of Question Mark (hereafter referred to as “?”) who, with the equally-inscrutable Mysterians, created the Vox-riffing masterpiece of pop ephemera known as “96 Tears.”

The song, innocent as it was when ? wrote “Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying,” has enjoyed a phenomenal revival, thanks more than partially to Garland Jeffreys (who returned it to the Hot 100 this year) and to “Joe “King” Carrasco, whose Mex-merizing version was a live showstopper on last year’s Son of Stiff tour.

Now ? is back with four all-new Mysterians, touring at the peak of commotion brought on by Jeffreys’ cover. And without dispelling too much self-perpetuated “mystery” at the center of his non-myth, ? would like to make a few things crystal clear. Well, translucent, anyway:

Mystery No. 1: While certain rock texts espouse that ? is the nom de disque of Rudy Martinez, the mystery man himself insists it has been legally changed to, well, Question Mark. Asked to see an ID to that effect, he replies that he’s been refused one because no one believes him. Especially the immigration authorities, who deny him passports to the UK. “After all,” he reasons, “anyone can make anything up.”

Mystery No. 2: ? & the Mysterians are not from Brownsville, El Paso, or Austin, but rather from Flint, Michigan. “Outside of town and in the country,” specifically. The other original members (Bobby Bladerrama, guitar; Frank Rodrigues, keyboard; Eddie Serrato, drums [d. 2011]; Frank Lugo, bass guitar; Robert Martinez and Larry Brojas) were from Texas, he explains. Asked if ? himself, of obvious Hispanic descent, was born in Flint, he shrugs, “I won’t say.”

Mystery No. 3: After “96 Tears” topped the charts (the week of October 29, 1966, between “Reach Out” and “Last Train to Clarksville”), ? rebounded with “I Need Somebody” (peaking at No. 22), “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” (No. 36), and “Do Something to Me” (which, karma aside, reached its apex at No. 96). Then, one would have thought, according to all logic, that ? would take the hint and disband the Mysterians. Therein lay Mystery No. 3. Fact is, there has never been a time that ? was without some version of the Mysterians. What’s more, he recorded (though not released) an album every year since 1969. “It was continuous,” he says. “Whoever came in, he was the new Mysterian. But every time I had a new group and it looked right to go on the road, someone would mess it up. I do have albums worth of material for each year.”

Mystery No. 4: A major record trade magazine recently reported that the original Cameo single of “96 Tears” was cut in a garage. Not only is that incorrect, but ? never sought coverage in the magazine. “I just called to see how Garland Jeffreys’ version was doing,” he says. “We were going to play in New York so I thought I’d drop in on ABKCO Records, who took over Cameo.”
* * *
The ? of today is of indeterminate years (“I never tell my age”) and sports a hirsute mane of shoulder-length black hair. Constant are the dark, convex shades that became his trademark a decade before there was a Ramones.

Coming to terms with the New Wave aided his renewed popularity. ? is proud to say that, “Elvis Costello bought an original copy of the 96 Tears album for $250.”

He likes much of what he’s heard, he claims, but doesn’t have a lot of time to spend listening to anyone. “I have heard Kraftwerk,” he says. “They play music with no drummer, no guitarist, no bass player, and no keyboard. Just four guys, and each has an electronic pad. If music goes in that direction, I can’t appreciate it. I wrote a song called, ‘He Plays Guitar.’ In ten thousand years, people are going to ask, ‘What’s a guitar?’ Just get a group of guys up there playing guitar, bass and drums.”

And you didn’t believe he was from within earshot of Detroit?

Central to the ? sound – then and now – is the organ. One hears a lot these days about the Farfisa, the matter-of-fact keyboard that spans an entire four octaves. Vox is the Farfisa’s close cousin, and served the original Mysterians well. “Now the guitar’s more out front,” ? says, “and we’re using a Hammond B-3 instead of a Vox. If I could find one, I’d love to have it because that’s the sound that happened then and can happen now. In Boston, we played with some new group and they had a real Vox. I almost walked out with it.” In an affected tough-kid Mexican inflection, he recapitulates his reaction: “Hey, we need that Vox, you know?!

? has another taboo topic besides his age and birthplace: he refuses to interpret the vision behind his lyrics.

“They’re personal. I write for everybody. I figure everybody has the right to fantasize and put in their own possibilities. As soon as an artist says this song’s about so-and-so, that spoils the mystery.”

Why the recurring theme of mystery in his personal? ? won’t say.

“I didn’t just happen to say, ‘Do this.’ It evolved. See, I’ve been in show business since I was five. I was always dancing, always onstage with lights.

“My parents bought me a tape recorder. They would’ve bought me a piano if I’d wanted. I came from a family of ten, so it wasn’t easy. Anyway, I just sat down in a room and sang whatever was in my head and ‘96’ was one of those songs, instrumental arrangements and all.”

But, ?, is it not correct that Sir Doug’s “She’s About a Mover,” and Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” preceded “96 Tears?”

“Yes, they came out first. But I had “96” conceptualized before they came out. As I said, my parents said they’d finance a piano if I wanted it, but I took a look at all those keys and thought, ‘It’d take forever to play this thing. And I have so much music in my head. I can sing it, but I have to find someone who can play what I hear.’”

? consulted the father of a neighborhood record store clerk who attempted to teach him to read music. “He tried to teach me the ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb” bit, but I didn’t have the time,” ? says, “So, he played ’96 Tears’ and for the first time, I heard the music I’d been hearing in my head, thanks to his old man.

“Right away, I started tracking radio stations, writing down how many times they played each song. People thought I was crazy, but I just had to do it. I mean, one day, I was going to be on the radio,” he says.

“96 Tears” was taped in a friend’s living room on a two-track perched outside on a patio. It was March, and the friend’s storm windows were still in.

“Not very acoustical,” he concedes.

The session cost $50. The organist came up with the two-chord run that set the tenor. “And I told him, ‘Hey, I’ve heard that before.’ Then it dawned on me. I wrote that. The old man at the music shop played it for me.”

“’96 Tears’ hit the top of the pops, while follow-ups were no more household than the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” or the Shadows of Knight’s “Willie Jean.” The band embarked on a Dick Clark tour and played Chicago’s Aragon in 1967 with the Four Seasons and Mitch Ryder. A version of “Do Something to Me” (“a year before Tommy James & the Shondells made it a hit”) made No. 5 in Louisiana and Hawaii, and No. 1 in their native Flint.

“If we’d stuck with original material, I’m convinced people would have related better,” he feels. Instead, producers kept feeding them outside contributions.

The eventual demise was far more external than choice of material. The Cameo label, whose president was Neil Bogart (later of Buddah, Casablanca and Boardwalk), collapsed. And since ? was on the road nearly perpetually, he didn’t hear the news until after the Cameo office phone had been disconnected.

Unreleased albums and countless personnel changes ensued. Finally, when the original organist found he couldn’t get along with the new members, the Mysterians took on a new, low-profile visage “with the guitar more out-front.”

There were plans to tour this year, as with every year prior. And then, suddenly, “96 Tears” was on the radio again, and ? was blown out of the water.

“I’ve never heard of Garland Jeffreys. And a friend called and said she’d heard my song on the radio. So I called the radio station and they played it for me. Then, in Columbus, Ohio, someone that called a radio station wanted to know, ‘Where’s the original Question Mark?’ I guess someone from Flint had a sister in Columbus. The DJ said, ‘If you know where he is, call us. If you have an original copy of the record, we’ll pay you $200.’ It just created a whole new interest.

“I like the Jeffreys version. He really listened to the bass line,” ? adds.

In concert, the new Mysterians have a Detroit sound and have the tendency to illuminate a ‘70s influence more than a ‘60s or and ‘80s one. Mitch Ryder’s current band comes to mind, as do the Rockats. And to the letdown of many, ? saves “96 Tears” until the tail end of the second set.

* * *
Mystery No. 5: This tour has been said to be a cash-in on the Tex-Mex craze with no more artistic merit than the return of, say, the Grass Roots or Crazy Elephant.

“I never get sick of doing my songs,” ? says. “One thing about a good song is that you can do it anytime. The band (conducting their soundcheck as we spoke) is playing, ‘Do Something to Me,’ which I recorded in ’68. It still sounds good to me. It doesn’t have to have a time period. If I’d done something disco, someone would have said, ‘Well, that’s good but it’s disco,’ and they wouldn’t appreciate it five years from now.

“That’s the one thing about an original: you can do it any time. The songs relate to any time anyone wants them to.

A later version remake: