Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: Room 37 – The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders
Directed by the Cordero Brothers (Fernando and Vicente)
Industrialism Films / Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
101 minutes, 2019

When the trailer for this film dropped earlier this year, many Johnny Thunders/The New York Dolls/The Heartbreakers (etc.) fans lost their minds in the loosey-goosey way Thunders was portrayed. Yes, from the trailer. I’m also a fan of Thunders (d. 1991), and saw him play dozens of times.

But here’s the thing about biographic films: they’re nearly all filled with bullshit and inaccuracies. People and events are either omitted or combined, stuff is made up and changed for “dramatic purposes” and so there are going to be those who will see a biopic and cry foul, and others will just enjoy wherever the story leads as long as the soundtrack blasts it just right. Just look at the reactions to these three films released recently: The Dirt (2019; about Motley Crüe), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018; Queen/Freddie Mercury) and Rocketman (2019; Elton John). Love it or hate it, the accuracy level is pretty low or, more precisely, over the top.

Leo Ramsey at the beginning of the film
But there is another level of biopic which is for all practical purposes a separate category, and that’s the flight of fancy. This is easily seen in films like Sid and Nancy (1986; Vicious and Spungen) and especially Velvet Goldmine (1998; David Bowie and Iggy Pop). Here, we take a real person or situation and then take it to the metaphysical fiction. This is where I would place Room 37. It’s not really a biopic about Johnny Thunders (JT), it’s what they call in comic book land, a “what if” story. This is also the way it should have been promoted, in my opinion.

Another issue is the overlapping of the real. What I mean by that is while this is a largely fictionalized version of JT, when he gets a phone call from his ex-New York Dolls co-guitarist, Sylvain Sylvain, the voice – easily recognizable – is definitely Sylvain’s. And the music video that accompanies the film, “Crazy Kids,” is by Walter Lure, JT’s co-guitarist in the Heartbreakers, indicating there is some lukewarm credibility.

So, with that in mind, note that I will be reviewing this as a fantasy, not as a biopic (though with some overlap, of course, as Thunders was a real person, and so was some of his situations presented here). If you want the real deal about the man, check out Danny Garcia’s excellent documentary, Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders

In real life, when JT went to New Orleans to stay at St. Peter’s Guest House, he’d been reportedly clean for a while except for methadone, but was also in the later stages of Leukemia. Here, he is fighting to “get clean.” When he was in The Heartbreakers, they sang “Too Much Junkie Business” (which is also named dropped in the story, along with other Heartbreakers’ tunes) in the place of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business,” as drugs are like having a monkey on your back, as the saying goes. Another metaphor for getting clean, of course, is going through hell, so this is where the film is leading us. Right from the start, the hints begin with the hotel proprietor (Jimbo Barnett, whose NoLeans accent comes and goes), in his red vest, saying “I’ll be damned if one of our maids haven’t already cleaned it for ya.” The opening hand has been dealt. And room 37 looks about as peaceful as room 237 at the Overlook Hotel; both also deal with the tub being central, but for this film, it is a symbol for death as the original drummer of the New York Dolls, Billy Murcia, died in one.

Here’s some notes about the film’s version of JT as opposed to seeing him in reality; I never did hang out with him (honestly, I was a chickenshit who was intimidated by him and the drug culture around him in general, so I’d go see the bands, have my one drink and nurse it through the night, and then go home to shower before heading off to Queens College without sleep). On stage, you never knew what you were going to get, the on-fire JT who would tear it up, running one song into the next, or the stoned JT who’s tongue would whip around his lips, or be so out of it that he had trouble fingering his chords (I remember one really bad night at Irving Plaza), but the latter was more rare. One of JT’s traits was to whip around the stage especially during the instrumental parts.

Near the beginning of the film, fictional JT performs while the album version of “Born to Lose” from the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F. plays on the soundtrack (why didn’t they use one from Live at Max’s instead, like “Let Go”?). Interestingly, the Dolls are often name-dropped, but not the Heartbreakers. When Leo Ramsey impersonates JT onstage, he kinda stays in one spot; JT was a whirler who would own the stage by covering as much of it as possible, sometimes jerking around it (and the chords on the guitar) like a ball in a pinball game. After a swan dive off stage in the film, JT states, “Happens all the time…” Oh, no it didn’t as far as I remember.

Ramsey plays JT as very low key for a big personality; from what I understand, JT could be a sweetheart with a sharp sense of humor or a conniving trickster, depending on mood or need of drugs. Here, he’s fidgety, more like late 1970s-early ‘80s days than near the end, but he’s actually okay as JT… at least a fictionalized version of him.

Devin McGregor Ketko
The cast does well in general, and the camera seems to love to focus on what seems to be the only maid in the entire hotel, Iris (Devin McGregor Ketko, who reminds me of a young Mary Woronov). She also seems to be there more for JT to talk to, as a device for the audience to gain some exposition. On a side note, it’s nice to see Kelly Erin Decker in a cameo as a hospital receptionist.

Lots of names are thrown around here (David, Sylvain, Jerry, Arthur; “The Kids are Back,” “Chinese Rocks,” etc.) that fans would recognize but the average viewer would be perplexed. As someone who knows the backstory, I could smile, especially when I recognized Sylvain’s real and easily-identifiable voice on the phone (though I wonder if he regrets lending it now; and get well, Sylvain!).

As the film progresses and JT spirals down after his money and methadone are stolen. JT’s hair seems perpetually greasy for some reason; as the story progresses JT gets more and more desperate and ragged looking. This may be the filmmaker’s way of indicating the leukemia, which causes sweating, a wan pallor and easy bruising (among other symptoms). JT continues to look more and more like a zombie/living dead creature, with racoon eyes and onion paper skin, stumbling around as he involuntarily detoxes. By the end, he’s looking more like MJ (Michael Jackson) than JT.

The big extras, of course, are the three discs, with the film available in High Definition Blu-ray, DVD, and the soundtrack CD. Other than that, what is offered is the trailer, a slideshow that is based on screen shots alone (while the acoustic version of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” plays), and a bunch of other cool Cleopatra trailers. As for the soundtrack CD, well, the first six songs are great, but the rest is pretty much filler. Better to pick up the Dolls’ and Heartbreakers’ collections, and JT’s classic So Alone LP.

Leo Ramsey towards the end of the film.
The film tries hard for symbol-ism, and it’s very stylized with a dingy tone thanks to some lens filters. Some have said this is more “horror,” but more likely possibly supposed to be “drug influence” as LSD was found in JT’s system at time of death (no other lethal level of drugs), thanks to a large dosing by someone. And yes, his money was missing when they found him, though the story adds more mystery to it. The filmmakers imply that much of what is happening in the film is part of his hallucinations from the LSD, but does not indicate (wisely) what is due to cinematic reality or within the character’s (JT’s) head. This works pretty well most of the time, though there is a whole hospital sequence that begins the final act that is a bit ridiculous; that being said, a couple of good jump scares are included.

Overall, it’s not a bad film, but not a great one either. I realize a contingent of JT’s fans are boycotting the film, but while I understand that sentiment, I think it’s better to approach this as fiction rather than biographical in any way, as I stated earlier. That being said, the end of the film gives us some title cards about Johnny’s Leukemia and lack of high drug levels during his autopsy as if to atone for the fiction part of the story.

CD Soundtrack Listing:
1. Born to Lose – Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
2. Stranded in the Jungle (Live Paris 1974) – New York Dolls
3. Alone in a Crowd – Johnny Thunders
4. Crazy Kids – Walter Lure and The Waldos
5. There’s Something Wrong – Sylvain Sylvain
6. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (Rare Version) – Johnny Thunders
7. Ms. Alexander – Jürgen Engler
8. Ghost in the Hall – Jürgen Engler
9. Dreaming Within – Jürgen Engler
10. Crow in the Tub – Jürgen Engler
11. The Wheels Under the Door – Jürgen Engler
12. Jimmy’s Blood – Jürgen Engler
13. Eagle’s Lair – Jürgen Engler
14. Bourbon Street – Jürgen Engler
15. Head Phones – Rusted Robot
16. The Guitar – Rusted Robot
17. The Morgue – Rusted Robot
18. Hospital Chase – Rusted Robot
19. Pillow Talk – Rusted Robot
20. Namira – Rusted Robot
21. Give a Man a Mask – Rusted Robot
22. Not Afraid Anymore – Rusted Robot
23. Room 37 – Rusted Robot

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Three Essential Yet Underemployed Microsoft Office Tools

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from Internet or as noted

Photo by Robert Barry Francos
When creating a document, everyone has their own way to doing things. Having worked in an office nearly all my life, I am conscious of getting as much done as efficiently as possible. That is why approaching some common tools in a new perspective are important.

The Undo Button

Undo is arguably the most important button in the Microsoft universe, no matter what the software (such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher). Most people are familiar with its backward pointing arrow in the upper left corner of the screen, on the Quick Access Toolbar. Obviously, it gets used when a mistake is made – and rightfully so – to bring it back to where you were before the error. Unlike the delete button, which is considered a forward action, this is taking a step back.

The other way to approach this button is to know that you can use it to increase your knowledge of the software, as it gives you the chance to experiment and try new things. Because of the Undo button, you will not harm anything. Try something: if it works, great; if it does not, then just undo it. I have found many shortcuts and increased my efficiency by losing the fear of the unknown, since I am aware I can undo it when necessary.  

The short cut for Undo is to hold down the CTR key and then hit the letter Z. You can usually use it numerous times in a row, depending on your particular computer’s settings.


One of the biggest mistakes most people make is that they will open a new document and do the work necessary on it. Then, at the end, they will Save As. This is not only a bad idea, this can be a dangerous and potentially time-costing one. Here is the better way. As soon as you open up a new document, while it is still blank, use the Save As. Then, as you create the document, get into the habit of regularly saving, rather than just doing it at the end.

If you forget to save when you try to close a document, a window will pop up and ask you whether or not you want to save it. However, if there is an electrical problem such as a brown- or blackout, or computers being computers, if it locks up and freezes, you will lose everything since the last time you saved. There is no reason to lose anything more than a paragraph if you get into the habit of saving often. You can Save numerous times in a row; it will not harm the document.

There are three ways to save: one is to go to the FILE tab on the Ribbon and click on either Save As or Save, or click on the floppy disc icon on the Quick Access Toolbar on the upper left corner of the screen; the third way is to use the keyboard shortcuts, which is F12 for Save As, or hold down the CTR key and then hit the letter S for Save.

Photo by Lyndall Mack
Make it Fun

Learning any new software can be tedious and frustrating. Plus, if it is not used often, it is easy to forget what you have already reviewed. The best way to get past that is to make it personal, and thereby make it more fun.

Unlike proprietary software that is designed explicitly for a company or is job-specific, the Microsoft Office is malleable to working on projects that are more personal. For example, if you are learning Word, work on your resume and cover letter, or create a year-end letter to share with friends and family. For PowerPoint, create a slideshow of your travels, or a topic close to your heart. For Excel, a household budget will improve your skills enormously. Then, when it comes time to get to work on an employment-related project, you will already have the knowledge on how to proceed.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Ken’s Eye View: THE SLICKEE BOYS [1982]

Text by Kenne Highland / FFanzeen, 1982
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

This article was published in FFanzeen, issue #9, dated 1982, by ex-O. Rex, ex-Gizmos, ex-Afrika Korps, ex-the Korps, ex-Hopelessly Obscure, ex-Johnny and the Jumper Cables, ex-Kenne Highland Puppets, ex-the Cryptic Edge, ex-the Grovellers, ex-the Psycho Daisies, ex-Kenne Highland and His Vatican Sex Kittens, Kenne Highland (now known as Kenneth Highland).

The Slickee Boys were definitely a great band, no question. I saw them play (MAG III, in Highland terms) a couple of times at CBGBs, and they were always fun to watch. Honestly, I was a bit jealous of Kim Kane, because he was about the same weight as me, thin as I was, but he was much, much taller, so was even more gaunt.

As for Kenne, I hung out with him quite a few times in the first half of the 1980s, when I would go visit Boston twice a year for long weekends (Memorial Day and Labor Day). It was there that I mentioned about something being “hopelessly obscure,” an expression he loved enough to name his band after it (hence the multiple use of the term in the article). The whole Romeo and Juliet thing he mentions is based on a tale I told him about my high school (find it in HERE). 

Kenne is not what one might call PC. His copious use of words that many will find offensive come off from him as just that, descriptive words used to incite; besides, this is 1981, before the word “Oriental” was deemed offensive (one of my local movie theaters in Brooklyn was named the Loew’s Oriental). As for the Italian descriptor, I never use it, as I grew up in Bensonhurst.

I have a large bunch of postcards from Kenne while he was in the Marines in the late ‘70s, and
all of them are dated 1966 or ’67, so I’m never really sure when they are from; but it does explain some of the comments made here.

The last time I saw Kenne was about a decade ago, while his Vatican Sex Kittens band was playing in Brooklyn at Hank’s Saloon, sharing a bill with the wonderful Canadian band, the Poisoned Aeros. – Robert Barry Francos, 2019
* * *
Editor’s note (i.e., me) from 1982:
Having known Kenne a while now, I can honestly say that this article is identical to the way he speaks – I’ll go as far as to say the way he thinks! There are places where a [sic] would have been appropriate, but if I added them in every place they belong, I think this article would be twice as long! If you wish to further info on anything here, write to Kenne care of
Boston Groupie News [they are on Facebook now, HERE  – RBF, 2019], where he writes a semi-regular column. Kenne is a great guy in my book, and it’s not for no reason he’s known in Boston and around everywhere else simply as Krazee Kenne.

I. Hot! And Cool! (1976-1977)

It was Elizabeth’s fault – she introduced Kim Kane to Marshall Keith. The two giz-tarits met Xmas of ’75 and noodled and doodled, begetting the band Turquoise I-Flats (with an acetate that rivaled Virgin releases). A long-running joke on Steve Lorber’s WGTB radio show in Georgetown (D.C.) was of a ‘60s obscure band called the Slickee Boys, only requests became so intense that Kim and Marshall recruited Martha Hull (vocals), Andy Von Brand (bass) and Chris Rounds (drums) from the band Loneoak, to form a one-shot band by that name.

The Slickee Boys practiced six times and on 6/76, went into the studio and recorded their Hot! And Cool! EP, on Dagoit Records. Kim grew up in Asia nurturing an Oriental fetish; “slickee boy” is Korean for punk and “dagoit” is Burmese for bandit. The EP had four great ‘60s covers, ranging from British R&B (Downliner Sect’s “Brand New Cadillac” and Yardbird’s “Psycho Daisies”) to local ‘60s punk (Hangmen’s “What a Boy Can’t Do”) to an instrumental (Marshall’s guitar sounds like Jeff Beck-meets-Steve Howe on “Exodus”), to Kim’s lone original (“Manganese Android Puppies”), which coined the phrase “Slickeedelic.” Martha’s voice really sounds like Grace Slick in her prime, and Kim’s melody owes a lot to Quicksilver’s “Pride of Man.”

I saw this version of the Slickee Boys innumerable times the first half of 1977, but come June, the rhythm section split: Chris over music direction and Andy to attend law school. Before they went, they recorded the Separated Vegetables LP. One side was Slickeedelic originals by Kim, Martha and Marshall, while the other side was recorded live at the Keg (and not one of the better performances I saw by Slickee Boys MAG I, but a documentary nonetheless). At this time, Kim, Marshall and Martha were session guest stars on the Afrika Korps’ debut LP, Music to Kill By, with Kim writing two songs and Martha singing the best ones.

II. Mersey, Mersey Me! (1978)

Photo by RBF
The Afrika Korps gig at Ft. Meade, Maryland, 9/77, also unleased a horrific debut by Slickee Boys MAG II w/ Howard Wuelfing (from the Look) on bass and Dan Palenski (from the Derbies) on drums. Subsequent practices and many opening gigs for the Razz at the Back Room in the University of Maryland College Grill unloaded what, to me, was the most eclectic – but again short-lived – version of the Slickee Boys. With the addition of Howard’s unique talent of writing catchy pop melodies with Lour Reed eclecticism, four out of five Slickees were now writing! Only one problem: like the Beatles, everyone’s songs were definitely their particular songs; plus they were all pretty mellow, experimental things.

The Mersey, Mersey Me EP, released Summer of 1978, is a clear example of what I mean. It opens with another Kim Kane weirdo classic called “Put a Bullet Through the Jukebox” (originally the flip of a hopelessly obscure tape – i.e., two copies made – recorded especially for my wedding). “Bullet” is an anti-disco number (hey, this was back in the days of punk 1977) and features innumerable references to myself, which I dug greatly. Next up was a cover of the Grass Roots’ “Live For Today,” which has the chorus sung in wop “Yo, Juliet!” “Who cawls?” “Yuh Mutha!”) by engineer Don Zientara. Side two opens with another hopelessly obscure Talking Heads tune, “The Girls Rather Be with the Girls,” which Howeird culled from a Talking Heads practice and loads better than the version the Jealous Heads released on (No) More Songs About Buildings and Food. (What Goes On.) The EP ends with Howard’s masterwork, “Heart On” (which Tina Peel subsequently covered [Tina Peel would transform into the Fuzztones shortly after this was published – RBF, 2019]). The reason the “Mersey” melody works so fine is that it’s stolen from two Hermits songs!

III. Gotta Tell Me Why (1979)

Photo by RBF
Memorial Day ’78, Howard quit and formed the Nurses, while Martha quit a couple of months later for the DCeats, with her boyfriend/guitarist Keith Campbell (not before making their debut on the second Korps LP, Hello World, where Martha turned in a pisser performance on “(I Wanna) Burnout,”  which she covered with both the DCeats and her current band, the Steady Jobs). With another 40% Slickee Boy loss, Dan and Marshall packed it in, leaving Kim Kane holding the bag that Fall, but true to fanatical form, Kim soon recruited two more boys and Marshall, and Dan rejoined (or something like that; the Marine Corps was hopping me between Maryland, Massachusetts and Suck Carolina that Fall, so I may as well have been on Mars!).

I first saw the Slickee Boys MAG III on the tenth anniversary of Woodstock at Ft. Reno Park 8/15/79, and though I wondered how bassist Emory Olexa and signer Mark Noone would fit in three years on, things are lots better going than previous Slickee incarnations. By now, the Slickees were covering three of my songs (see, my legacy was gone but not forgotten!): these tunes were “Jailbait Janet” by the Afrika Korps (Tina Peel do it, too), “Mean Scream” by the Gizmos, and “Dynamite,” which woulda been on the third Korps LP if the USMC hadn’t switched me to SC where I (shudder) played bass in an all-Marine heavy metal band.

Fall ’79 brought what to me was the best Slickees LP since Hot! And Cool!, mostly coz it had another groovy Downliner Sect cover (“Glendora”). Also repeated was the Mark Noon-sung “Golden Love,” which Martha sang on Separated Vegetables, and a good performance, despite the competition. Side one (geez, that was side two – ass backwards!) opens with Mark Noone’s “Gotta Tell Me Why” – actually a Boston radio classic up here! Mark sings like Bryan Ferry over a “Sonic Reducer” lick. “Forbidden Alliance” is also super-cool, lyric-wise!

IV. The Brain That Refused to Die (1980)

Got to catch the Slickees live again at Danceteria, opening for the Blasters 10/4/65 (I mean ’80!) and if you New York punks reading this rag missed it, you deserve Lydia (Lose Your) Lunch! Slickees only got one set, but they also had their new 45 which, unfortunately, didn’t come up to where they are live – I mean, Slickee Boys MAG III is such a pisser live act that you won’t think me insane when I call them my favorite band! (And they’re up there with the Lyres / the soon-to-be defunct Taxi Boys / the now-defunct Insect Surfers / the Chesterfield Kings / Tina Peel / the Runes / the Dawgs…)

But “The Brain That Refused to Die” is still pretty neat. Kim Kane came up with this pseudo-Cramps riff one practice and it eventually turned into a pseudo-Cramps type song (or everyone in the Afrika Korps told me it would, though that was with Miriam [Linna, the original Cramps drummer – RBF 2019], but the Slickees – and Kim especially – have turned out better songs. In fact, true to form, I love the hopelessly obscure live cover (production by Chance and we don’t mean James!) of the chocolate Watchband’s “Are You Gonna Be There at the Love-In.” I remember it being better, tho, at the Psychedelly 8/17/69, when me and famed Rock Institute Duce Joe Sasby pogoed and threw peace sings – Joe actually was there at the Love-in (Woodstock, of course!), but doesn’t remember it; musta been too much Rock Therapy). Still, all peeps should buy “The Brain That Refused to Die” / “Are You Gonna Be there.” I found four in a Nuwave bargain bin at a buck apiece, but two other geeks beat me to ‘em! (Musta been Juliet!). And Kim Kane’s cover art is typically weird as he is; trashy pop culture with Oriental overtones.

V. The Slickee Boys – Here to stay (1981… or is it ’66?)

Caught MAG III Slickees again on Spring break ’81, when they played the University of Maryland. Kim Kane and I, and his groovy girlfriend Carole Albert (whadda doll!) were driving thru the campus and Kimbo mutters, “College kids, college kids – I want a little mustache like the college kids.” I wrote the tune in ten minutes backstage, stole a bunch of Pebbles licks and recorded it Labor Day ’66, with this rag’s publisher on sheer ‘60s maracas! [That was the Hopelessly Obscure, recorded just a few blocks from the Rat. It was me and Donna Lethal on maracas and handclaps, if I remember correctly; I still have the demo cassette somewhere… – RBF, 2019.]

Which brings me to “Here to Stay” / “Porcelain,” the current Slickees ‘66; again, great Oriental cover art with a samurai Slickee and the (a-sexual) side is a true pop classic by Mark and Marshall, which gets airplay every day in Boston (a former Beauracrats roadie bought it last week due to my incessant ravings and wearing of a hopelessly obscure Slickees t-shirt (100 made) – felt the 45 sounded like Pastiche (a fine pop-art band) really letting loose for once, but  just that Mark Noone and Ken Scales come from the Bryan Ferry School of Warbling. But my heart belongs to “Porcelain” coz Kim wrote this fuzzy four-note lick and you know he was listening so hard to his Pebbles LPs.

In fact, “Porcelain China Kittens” (or whatever it’s called; ask Joe Bagdady of the Runes what Costume Jewelry means!) is s’posed to be the follow-up to “Manganese Android Puppies,” and it is truly Kim’s greatest classic since then. I was there for the mixing by ex-Razz bassist Ted Nicely, even!

But hey, folks! Hold the presses! On the 13 of August 1966, the Voxx Battle of the Bands played New York (lack of advance ticket sales in Little New York – a/k/a Boston – cancelled the 15th gig). Slickee Boys played with Chesterfield Kings and ‘Kings do “Are You Gonna Be There,” which leads into Slickees doing “Glendora” /“Going All the Way” (the Squires!) on Bomp’s Battle of the Bands LP.

It’s like 1966 never left with the Slickee Boys!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Review: Woodstock FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Fabled Garden, by Thomas E. Harkins

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

Woodstock FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Fabled Garden
Written by Thomas Edward Harkins
Backbeat Books
360 pages, 2019

When we were both Grad students at New York University in the 1990s, Thomas Harkins and I would have some deep discussions about music filled with humor and respect for each other's tastes. Oh, they could be very different, with me being the punker and him the grunge-lovin’ hippie into Classic Rock. And yet, we found enough common ground in musical acts like the Who and Melanie to keep our conversations lively.

The FAQ series by Backbeat is a bit of a misnomer in that it is not as the acronym states “Frequently Asked Questions,” but rather more as the phonetic sounding of FAQ / Facts. Like Harkins’ previous book from 2016, Pearl Jam FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Seattle’s Most Enduring Band (co-written with Bernard M. Corbett), he takes both a deep look through a fans eyes, without being too sentimental, yet manages to keep it quite personal at the same time. Feel the love, and light your candle in the rain.

In his introduction, Harkins rightfully states that Woodstock “is considered by many to have been the definitive sociocultural event of the 1960s. It is also widely considered the most famous concert of all time.” In my opinion, the Monterrey Music Festival was the prologue and Altamont the conclusion, with Woodstock being the body of the text, if you’ll pardon a print-era analogy.

Harkins takes a topic that has been covered extensively and wisely uses a few formulas that work quite well. For example, he starts with how the 3 Days Festival of Music and Art came to fruition, and then discusses each and every band and/or musician who played over those days. In most of other missives I’ve read that are dedicated to the sometimes grueling weekend, there is a ton written about the main players (e.g., Janis, Jimi, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), or they are mentioned right off the bat, and some of the lesser knowns (Quill, the Keef Hartley Band, the Incredible String Band, etc.) tend to fall by the wayside or as a footnote. Here, Harkins thoughtfully goes chronologically through each and every one who performed. Nice touch, as some of the bands that didn’t make the cut of the film or initial LPs are the ones I am less familiar with and want to learn about more thoroughly.

Each of the chapters referring to the bands are usually broken into three separate sections (with rare exceptions, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who each get a prelude). The leadup to Woodstock (i.e., the history of the band and its members) is subtitled “As the Seeds Were Sown,” the Festival experience for that artist or group is “In the Garden,” and the post-experience “The Harvest Reaped.” Each subtitle is followed by a relative quip, such as “Airplanes, Starships, and a Side of Hot Tuna” for Jefferson Airplane’s later period.

What’s also impressive is that inasmuch as Harkins is a fan, he also is not afraid to shy away from disruptive personalities, nor is he reluctant to discuss substance abuses (like, was there anyone there who wasn’t completely zonked on stage, other than probably Ravi Shankar?). It’s in the third, post-concert section where this is especially true, with too many of those falling into obscurity due to their own self-destructive devices and dependencies (or of their management pulling power plays with the filmmakers during the festival, for example).

Commented on – though almost not as an exact focus – in this book is the sheer amount of songs about Woodstock by the artists that were there (and in Joni Mitchell’s case, who arguably wrote what has become the definitive number about it, she was absent). For me, more than “Woodstock” with it’s iconic refrain “By the time we got to Woodstock / We were half a million strong,” it was Melanie (Safka) and her “Candles in the Rain / Lay Down” that speaks to me about it (“We all had caught the same disease / And we all sang a song of peace”). Another example that Harkins mentions is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s (CCR) B-side “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” which the author describes as “at least, in part, a commentary to the band’s experiences at Woodstock.”

Despite the number of pages, most bands are given a few and concise sheets to sum up their histories and experiences, which is fine, because as I stated, there has been a lot written about that period, including by performers in their autobiographies, and not all of them match the actual history of certain events, which Harkins also wisely addresses. Sometimes it’s easy to tell when the author is excited about a particular band as there will be a bit more about them, such as with the Grateful Dead; I made a note that “Lots of post-Woodstock Dead by a Dead-icated Dead Head” (most pictures of Harkins is of him wearing a tie-dye shirt…). It’s understandable to get excited about one’s heroes, and that is a flag worth waving.

The author
I do have to admit that I don’t always agree with some of Harkins conclusions, such as when he mentions Joplin's truly soulful cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ "which, even under these less than ideal circumstances, added a dimension of emotion that was lacking in the 1967 pop original.” While I am certainly no fan of the Bee Gees’ output from “Jive Takin’” onward, I think their early material is very moving even in it's pop music skin. But differences of opinion are part of what makes music so visceral for us, so personal, and what lead to our interesting conversations about it.

The final chapter deals with the aftermath of the Woodstock Festival, including the films and follow-up concerts that were Woodstock-centric (e.g., anniversaries). Harkins is correct to say that part of the lasting legacy of the weekend was the film that followed, more so I believe more than the three-record soundtrack that was released at first (there have been ever expanded versions of the concert that have been circulated since). One testament to this book is that after finishing it, it inspired me to seek out other media sources and find videos of the performances and spent some time with those.

The book is thoroughly researched, and there is lots of information for those of us who just don’t have the time (or inkling) to read the mass amounts of tomes written about the subject. This is a beautifully concise snapshot full of excitement about a topic of love and scholarly fanship.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Book Review: My Life in the Ghost of Planets: The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was; by Binky Philips

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

My Life in the Ghost of Planets: The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was
Written by the Binky Philips
Self-published and free HERE 
45 pages, 2011

According to the author, “About 8 years ago, Rhino commissioned me to write up the history of my band, The Planets, as it was a portrait of what it was like to not make it during the CBGB era. Yes, it was 100% their idea.”

In typically Binky cynical fashion, this is how he describes his “Single Notes” book. If you’re like me, and are a fan of Philips, that would intrigue you more than put you off. Philips can be a curmudgeon about most topics (lately it’s politics, though that’s wise in this histrionic environment), but grumpy people can more interesting than placid ones.

I had seen The Planets a few times over those early years, when Tally Taliafellow was voxing it up. They were a solid band, and even their covers rocked hard, no matter what genre they pulled it from. I remember once at CBGB, I was horrified to hear them break out into “Boogie Fever,” and made a face of disdain to my companion who rightfully (and strongly) pointed out to notice how they were playing it, not what they were playing. I think it was in that moment I realized that I was impressed by the group.

Binky was the face guy who ran the place at one of my fave St. Mark’s Place record shops, Sounds Records, and I would occasionally go in and talk to Binky about assorted bands, what he was up to, like that. Eventually, though, I had to stop going to Sounds because of budget, space for LPs, and the sheer amount of time I would sort their racks (I used to say, “I can’t go in because I can’t get out”). Because of that, for several years, I lost touch with Binky, but now I follow him on Facebook. I’m fascinated by his large knowledge and ownership of guitars.

One thing I have found about Binky is that he is bluntly honest, and that comes across in the book. He easily points to mistakes made by others, such as an ex- that managed the band for a while, and doesn’t hold back errors and regrets in judgment he’s made regarding his career. As he states on the first page, “But more than not, it was my own career-myopia and/or hot ‘n’ cold ego that got in my way. Left me with a mouth full of ashes.” The story about the right choice regarding Iggy Pop and Ray Manzarek, however, is hysterical. Despite the negative tone of the title, this is sometimes an incredibly funny book, more situational than hah-hah, though.

Early on, Binky discusses his influences, which essentially follow the British path of Beatles-to-Stones-to-The Who (especially Pete Townshend). While he doesn’t tell the story about Pete throwing him his guitar at a show at the Met on July 7, 1970, you can find it eventually by searching on Binky’s FB page if you so desire (or perhaps ask him?).

One of the things about being at the advent of any scene, is that you get to meet people who some day may eclipse you in fame, but that doesn’t mean it becomes name dropping when you talk about your relationship with those future stars, such as they were. That was especially true in the pre-CBGB days and well into it (including Max’s Kansas City, Mother’s, etc.). The fact that Binky knew Johnny Thunders from going to rock shows before JT joined the New York Dolls, or Paul Stanley of KISS even before that, comes across as anecdotes rather than bragging, which is incredibly more – err – credible and organic. Plus, there are a number of great stories about them in here.

Many of the big players are here, like how Binky became a big Ramones fan, but he is not afraid to hold back on his opinions. Even though he states, “I have no intention of running a laundry lis’ of dis’ here…” in the very next two paragraphs he mentions “the inane juvenile misogyny and unfunny wisecracks constantly spewing from the mouths of self-consciously loud dimwits… exemplified by the Legs McNeil clique…”, and “Willy Deville, at least a talent I admired, was, with me at any rate, one of the most two-faced paranoid insecure people I have ever had to interact with.”

There are many times I agree with his opinions, such as Talking Heads being a better band pre-signing as a trio. As I said, this is a very brave and no-nonsense look back, and would not expect anything less from Binky, honestly.

Meanwhile, Binky has had a run at a music career, and even has a spankin' new album out as Binky Philips and the Planets – because he has earned the right to name his own band that - called Established 1972 NYC. That and an earlier LP with Sara Lee and Mark Leyland are worth checking out.

Binky is quite knowledgeable on the history of electric guitars and is a collector as well, as his frequent posts portray, and I can see him doing a write-up of that as well. Plus, you just know this book is only a drop in the bucket on what he has experienced and stories to tell.

In the long run, I would love to see him expand these 45 pages into a full book, and I will happily read that, as well.

Binky Philips and the Planets in Rolling Stone Magazine

Monday, August 5, 2019

Reverberating with THE STIMULATORS [1981]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by our Managing Editor, Julia Masi.

I’ve told this story before, but I’ll repeat it: the drummer of the Stimulators, a young Harley Flanagan, was the first person I ever saw slamdance among a very confused pogoing audience at a Siouxi and the Banshees show at Irving Plaza. It baffled a lot of us at first, being horizontal rather than vertical, but it was my introduction to live hardcore behavior. He was ahead of the scene. Later, he would form one of the leading hardcore bands based in New York that would influence many others, the Cro-Mags, and would publish an autobiography in 2016 titled Hard-Core: Life of My Own. The singer, Patrick Mack, died in 1983 of AIDS complications, which closed down the band. Bassist Denise Mercedes would go on to play in heavy metal cover bands. – RBF, 2019

The Stimulators take their name from tiny Chinese acupuncture needles that instantly alleviate pain at the nerve endings. And like their medical metaphor, the collective talents of Denise Mercedes, guitar, Patrick Mack, vocals, Nick Marden, bass, and 14-year-old Harley Flanagan, drums, are a fast, sure, sure-fire cure for the disease of boredom.

The music is a high-decibel mix of raw, gritty rock’n’roll, like “Cradle Robber,” “Loud Fast Rules,” and reggae-style numbers. Most of the music is composed by the band’s raven-haired catalyst and spokesperson, Denise, who formed the Stimulators in 1979, after playing with Rat Scabies (of the Damned) in England. Patrick contributes some of the lyrics, Harley works out rhythms and, recently, Nick has started writing.

Harley, in a recent documentary
They have a repertoire of about 25 songs, but oddly enough, they have only two singles to their credit: “Loud Fast Rules” b/w “You Will Never Break My Heart” on the Irish label Good Vibrations that is considered a collectors item, and an American release of “Loud Fast Rules” with a flip side of “Run, Run, Run,” on their own Stimulators label that is already out of print.

They’re taking their time before they go back into the studio because, Denise says, “We are a very live band. To go into a studio, which tends to have a dull sound; or not just the right sort of equipment; or if you can’t record under the conditions you’d usually play under, it creates this whole other sound that doesn’t sound like the band. And we didn’t want to have this piece of plastic that doesn’t sound like us.”

They’re hoping to put an album out this Fall that will include some of their older material, and is what Denise sees as “the first of our albums. We’d like to do it our way, on our time. We’re not sitting around and waiting for somebody to say, ‘Oh, here’s a record deal.’ Most likely somebody would want to have a big, heavy hand in producing it and packaging it a certain way.” And their manager, Donald Murk, agrees: “If there’s gonna be any big, heavy hands on it, they’re gonna be ours.”

Denise (right) in a metal cover band
The forthcoming album [a live recording, Loud Fast Rules is the band’s only full album, which was released in 1982 in cassette form from ROIR – RBF, 2019] will be an attempt to put on records some of the best of their old songs, so that they can be on to new material for their sets. “People want to hear old favorites. Even with a band like ours who doesn’t have three albums, everybody wants to hear stuff off the first record. We’re a little bit being locked into playing our best stuff, just to keep it active. So, I think this album might really help in wanting to move on without wanting to give up the old stuff. You’d have to play for five hours sometimes (to play at all),” says Denise.

Despite their limited amount of records and radio airplay, the Stimulators are still one of the most popular bands of the New York underground, partly because of their unofficial slogan Loud Fast Rules, which has been written in every BMT subway car in the city and billboards in Staten Island by their adoring fans.

“We just wrote it as a song,” added Denise, “but it’s become an identity. In fact, people who have not even heard the band have this preconceived notion of ‘Oh, yeah, the Loud Fast Band,’ which is okay because that’s still basically what we’re doing. People really identify with it. We have people walk past us yelling, ‘Loud Fast Rules!’, and they come in wearing it on their clothes. Most bands don’t get identified by one slogan. It’s just a little thing people can hold onto very easily.”

One thing the Stimulators haven’t hooked onto easily is being labeled a “punk band.” “It would pay for us to define ourselves in one word,” concluded Denise. “It’s just the music of now. It’s 1981. We’re playing the music of 1981. It’s just a modern rock band.”

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Thoughts on Leon Redbone on the day of his passing, May 30, 2019

Text by Brian Dickson, 2019 / FFanzeen
Images selected by Brian Dickson from the Internet

The Internet is loaded with trap doors. Today I reached the end of one random online article or another, and there at the bottom of the page was a selection of others. And, jarringly, one of them was titled, “Leon Redbone dead at 69.” A nice feeling when that happens, isn’t it? Jump over to Google, type in the name to verify, and there you have it. That old familiar jolt when someone you really dig is gone – forever.

I discovered Leon Redbone…when? You know, I can’t even remember. Let’s see. I’ve never seen him perform live, and I greatly regret not buying a ticket to see him at Hugh’s Room in Toronto in December of 2013. He played two shows on a weekend, intimate acoustic sets that would ultimately be among his last live performances. I never caught any of his guest spots on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s, nor did I see him on the “The Tonight Show” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And I only recently learned of his stint at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972, and how he became exposed to a wider audience with an assist from Bob Dylan. This would lead to his signing with Warner Bros. and the release of his debut album, On the Track, in 1975.

I do have five of his albums on compact disc, though: On the Track, Champagne Charlie (1978), Red to Blue (1985), Christmas Island (1987) and Whistling in the Wind (1994). Island was sought out solely for Leon’s duet with Dr. John on “Frosty the Snowman,” but that album has been a Christmastime favorite at our house ever since. [Author’s note: Their rendition of “Frosty” takes on entirely new meaning this Christmas, as Dr. John has, in somewhat perplexing fashion, passed away only a week after Leon, on June 6, 2019.] But, for the life of me, I can’t remember when I became tuned in to Leon’s music and his rag-timey charm. And that seems just about right: mission accomplished on Redbone’s part. He once said, however, “I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there.”

The statement issued by his family today echoes the humor and eccentricity of his craft, and of the man’s enigmatic persona throughout his life in music:

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127. He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing-along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…and good evening everybody.”

Not long ago my wife and I had a nice little propane fireplace installed in a back room of our house, the one that leads out to the deck and then to the back yard. During cold winter months here in Ontario Canada, on nights when the wind and snow are howling outside and I am warm by the fire with my bulldog on the rug by my feet, I like to sip on an aged rye whiskey over ice while the firelight ripples across the ceiling. For a scene such as this Leon’s music is custom-made, and I felt a playlist of favorites would be just the ticket. And after a night or two of ‘settin’ by the fire,’ I was good with the arrangement of tunes on my list, and I made a copy on CD for my older brother. He spends a lot of time in his workshop; he occasionally enjoys a whiskey on the rocks, and the shop’s got stereo speakers and a big ol’ wood stove.

Here is the track list for that mixed disc. Another reason for my renewed interest in Redbone at the time was that I’d just discovered he’d released what would be his last album of new recordings, 2014’s Flying By.

Note: An excellent documentary short film called “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was uploaded to YouTube today. Have a look, it’s good.