Saturday, May 20, 2023

The First Time I Saw Joey Ramone: For His Birthday (May 19, 1951)

Text by Shari Edmands / FFanzeen, 2023

Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2023
Images from the Internet

I became acquainted with Shari while she worked at Max’s Kansas City, in the late 1970s. She is an amazing artist and cartoonist, and I published a few of her humorous Max’s Funnies in the print version of my physical FFanzeen in the early 1980s. This is a reprint of a Facebook blog on May 19, 2023 that she wrote about the first time she was Joey Ramone perform in a pre-Ramones band which shared a bill with SUICIDE, reprinted with her permission. – Robert Barry Francos, 2023



The First Time I Saw Joey Ramone: For His Birthday (May 19, 1951)

The very first time I saw Joey Ramone perform live was as “Jeff Starship,” fronting the glam rock band (we called it “glitter” back then) SNIPER, at Coventry, on Queens Blvd in Sunnyside, Queens in 1973. I was 16 at the time and going to Art & Design High School in the city. SNIPER was opening for a duo that my Art & Design friends and I had heard much about, and we’d gone to check out: SUICIDE. We knew the singer was a painter/sculptor/installation artist that was getting a lot of attention, so we were intrigued.

When we got to the club, we found a place to sit on the floor about twelve feet from the stage. The crowd all found seats on the floor around us. The room filled up fast.

When the lights went down, and SNIPER got on stage, I was immediately spellbound by the lanky front man with bangs and sunglasses. First of all, he was taller than anybody I had ever seen in my entire life – let alone someone fronting a rock and roll band. Even without the 8-inch-high hot pink platform boots he was wearing, he would’ve been taller than anyone I’d ever seen. Super long skinny legs in hot pink shiny hip-hugger spandex pants, hot pink platform boots, and a dangling long black scarf. Long dark wavy hair with short bangs, big cheekbones, and round shades. And he had a stance that looked as if he was hardly moving, but even without moving much, his delivery actually seemed quite aggressive. He had a unique vocal style. Everything about him was unique.

I don’t recall the music very well to tell you the truth. And I don’t recall the other members of the band because I couldn’t keep my eyes off the singer. I just remember thinking “I will never forget this front man for the rest of my life.”

After their set, we were anxious to see the headliner. I’ll make this next part short because this story is really about Joey, but I can’t leave out my first impression of SUICIDE.


It got dark, and all of us in the audience were sitting on the floor, waiting for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, looking at the door behind us from which the duo would be entering. Finally, a guy dressed all in black leather comes into the room, dragging a large thick chain behind him. Slowly approaching the stage, he wields the chain menacingly around the edge of audience, shouting unintelligible stuff, and being incredibly menacing. I can’t remember if he was on a mic yet, but he was loud. And I don’t remember if the keyboard player, Marty Rev, was on stage yet at that point. I only remember my first glimpse of the singer, Alan Vega, and he held us all in thrall. I was sitting there, and I remember thinking, “Okay this is scary. If I get up now and try to leave, I’d have to make my way out by stepping over all these people in the dark, and he’s gonna see me, and he’s gonna come running after me with that goddamn chain...” I had no choice but sit there and wait and see what happens next. So, I stayed. When they were finally on stage, the music was deafeningly loud and strange, and different from anything I’d ever heard before. And despite the terrifying theatrics of Alan’s entrance, the music was actually mesmerizing, and I became of a big fan of SUICIDE. Years later at Max’s, Alan and I would become great friends. He was a real sweetheart. A true innovator.

Back to my Joey story…

For three years, after seeing that show at Coventry, I would remember that strange looking singer I saw fronting that opening band, wondering what ever happened to him, if he was still performing.

By 1976, I was still living at home in Queens, and going to SVA (School of Visual Arts) in the city. One day I was at my boyfriend’s place. He had just bought a new album. It was by this band THE RAMONES; he said that I just had to hear because they were great. Totally different than anyone. Then he showed me the album cover. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s the GUY!!! That’s the GUY!!! That’s that front man I told you about! The lanky one with the bangs and the glasses! It couldn’t be anyone else! That’s the singer of SNIPER!” It was so weird that I was the only one in my crowd that ever saw him play in any band before THE RAMONES. Needless to say, that was a great first album, and the rest is history.

I saw them for the first time at Hurrah’s in August 1978 with my friend Jane. She and I were up front and center, standing right against the stage. And many years later I met his beautiful mom, Charlotte, a very sweet lady. And it was obvious that he inherited those big high cheekbones from her.

Anyway, that’s my Joey Ramone birthday story.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Memories of My Mom on Mother’s Day, 2023

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2023
Images from the Francos collection

A Memory of My Mom on Mother’s Day, 2023

October 19, 2023, would have been my mom's 97th birthday, being born in 1927, but she never made it past June 25, 1981. I am more than a decade older now than she had ever been.

This piece is to celebrate Helen Rosen. The Rosen siblings are, in order of age from eldest to youngest, Miriam, Elsie, Eli and Helen. Elsie is the last remaining sister, approaching the century mark this coming October (living in Boca Raton, Florida, the last time I saw her was on her 90th birthday). I used to love going to her house in Queens before she retired South, and would spend a couple of weeks in Flushing, NY, every summer when my mother could not take my energy anymore. Elsie made the best noodle kugel in the world. But I digress…

Driving mom crazy at Camp HES, about 1965

Helen was born in Brooklyn in 1926, the first American generation of the maternal family, and her first language was Yiddish. She did not learn to speak English until she went to school. She grew up in the then-highly Jewish Williamsburg neighborhood, and was quickly nicknamed – for obvious reasons – Blondie. Eventually, she would go by Lynn. Her neighbors included Mel Brooks, and drummer Buddy Rich. In fact, her best friend then, Millie (aka Lefty), married Mel’s brother right after he returned from World War II from the Air Force where he was a bomber pilot.

Helen on the far left, Chickie next to her
In her teens, the family moved to the Bensonhurst area in one apartment, and then to another where I was conceived (I was born in the no-longer existing Brooklyn Doctor’s Hospital). But more on that later. She attended an all-girl’s high school, which she hated. My mom loved the boys, and the estrogen-fueled locale was not for her. She dropped out of high school, but not before picking up a smoking habit, with Kent being her brand of choice.

During the war, she first dated a guy whose last name was Schmuckman. She eventually told me, “I liked him too much, so I dropped him. I refused to be Mrs. Schmuckman.” She did get engaged to somebody after that, who never returned from the battlefield.

She was on a blind date with a friend, Chickie, in 1947. The story goes, the two men walked into the room, saw them sitting there, and one of the guys turned to the other and said, “The blonde is mine,” though he was being set up with Chickie. That was my father, Leo Francos.

Helen and Leo were married in 1948, and after a Honeymoon in Quebec City, moved into the Rosen apartment. My grandmother, Sadie, did not like my father (he was a handful…think a smaller Archie Bunker), and she and the rest of the family moved out. My immediate family stayed in that apartment, in one form or another, until 2009.

Honeymoon in Quebec
When I was thirteen, after my Bar Mitzvah, my mom did as she said she was going to do: she went to work (her first job since a munitions factory at the Brooklyn Pier during the War). She was a keypunch operator for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and would eventually become the supervisor.

Unlike my dad (until he retired), my mom was a social butterfly, enjoying the company of others, with a cackle of a laugh that ran through the Rosen family, that I adored, and eventually inherited. My parents were known for their wild parties, especially on Halloween (I have the old black and white photos to prove it), and heavy drinking was common. They had a rolling bar in the corner of the living room that stayed until my dad moved out, years after my mom passed on. The parties stopped when they found my older brother, then a toddler, under a table with an open bottle of Scotch in his hands. Even so, we often hosted dinners in the living room that were held on a foldable aluminum table that was kept under my parent’s bed.

Halloween party in our living room

To be fair, while my mom had her kitchen specialties, such as being creative with pineapples as crudité, she was not a very good cook, because she simply did not enjoy the process. Meats were overcooked and tough, and veggies were mushy from cans. My brother Richie said, years later, that he first discovered how good steak was in his early twenties when he went to a steakhouse (he is now an excellent cook).

One of the things I loved about Helen was that she was persistent, knew what she wanted and would settle for nothing less. For example, whenever my father bought a new car every four years or so, it came from Helen’s paycheck. She did not care what brand of car it was, letting my dad handle that end, but she insisted that it had to have a vinyl roof. I never figured out why, but it drove Leo crazy. Yet, he complied every time.

Another occurrence she put her foot down was at Passover when I was a young teen. Tradition decried that two (meat and dairy) separate set of dishes needed to be used during the 8-day holiday, so my mother would climb up and take the Passover dishes down from the upper kitchen cabinet and put the two sets of daily dishes in their place. Of course, living in an apartment in Brooklyn meant cockroaches were a natural part of our environment, thereby Helen would have to wash all the Passover dishes, and eight days later, when she switched them back, she would have to wash all the daily dishware. Finally, she had enough. “Leo,” she said sternly, “I’m not doing this anymore. Ganish [enough]!” This led to a multi-day fight that ended with my mother – all five-feet of her – standing her ground and saying, “Fine, you want it done, Leo, you do it!” And he did. That was the last year we switched dishes. 

At World Fair, Flushing, NY, 1965
Helen had some health issues over the years, such as a cigarette being flicked out of a car window in front of us and landing in my mom’s eye. Another time, she fell down the basement stairs and broke her coccyx (tailbone), giving her pain for the rest of her life. She was warned not to have any more kids, but she had me anyway (I am pretty sure I was unexpected).

After a heart attack in one occurrence, and then falling on a subway station platform (or perhaps she was pushed), she was informed that she had a brain aneurysm, and would need an operation that was dangerous to remove it. She went under the knife, and technically the operation was successful, but her brain swelled, and she died three days later at age 54, on June 21, 1981.

Day of my Bar Mitzvah, 1968
I still picture my mom sitting at the kitchen table in the evening after supper dishes were done, smoking a Kent and reading a Harlequin romance novel (she read about one per day, and was part of a collective that exchanged books at work). There is so much I would love to ask her about now, but as kids, we did not realize our parents would not live forever.

Other stories about her and photos can be found in earlier blogs, such as How Mel Brooks Set My Mother on FireFor My Mom (on her birthday), and some photos of her with my father, Oh How They DancedFeel free to add your own stories about Helen on the Blog's comments section below.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Jitters on the Toilet (1980)

 Jitters on the Toilet
Text by Dave Post / FFanzeen 1980 / 2023
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen 2023

Image created by Dave Post, photographed by RBF

Ronnie and the Jitters were a fun band. I have written about them before, but this was submitted by a band member. The Jitters are Dave (bass, who wrote this ditty), Ronnie (vocals), Warren (sax), and Steve (drums).

This short piece of humor was published in FFanzeen, No. 6, dated Year-End 1981. – RBF, 2023

Arriving upon the club in our ’68 Dodge Coronet Wagon, the first business the Jitters attend to, even before checking out the stage and sound system, is a meticulous men’s room inspection (Steve, who takes special pride in this work, will sometimes even investigate the ladies’ room!). Each member of the band gives the room a fastidious examination right down to Ronnie, conducting the “white glove” test for dust and grime.

Warren inspects all the mirrors, if there are any left, for cleanliness and breakage, since his face rarely leaves them anyway. This being done, he compulsively checks out each and every urinal, toilet, tap (hot and cold), and specialty devices to see whether or not they function correctly, while my own job is to determine if there is enough paper towels and toilet paper for safely taking a “New Wave” shit.

Steve, a former plumber’s helper from Chicago, inspects all the pipes for leakage and proper drainage, and makes sure there are adequate waste receptacles on hand.

One thing we’ve invariably learned after a year’s tour of duty, is the uncanny comparison of clientele to the geographical locations of the clubs, whether it be Uptown, Downtown, Jersey, or the hinterlands. A perfect example of this is the men’s room at the Meadowbrook: a ritzy New Jersey “New Wave” club with a men’s room attendant (the ladies have a matron). As you wash your hands, he already has a towel in waiting, and will sell you your choice of cologne. This rest room also has a lounge with a couch, military etchings on a wall absent of graffiti, and ice in the urinals.

On the other hand, CBGB on the Bowery, well, no need to elaborate on the denizens of this area, or their bathrooms.

While not at all complete, we hope this guide will help ease the apprehension one feels when entering an unknown “New Wave” facility. So, in the immortal words of the Ramones, flush twice: “It’s a long way back to Germany.”

Image can be made larger by clicking on it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Lot O’ BLOTTO (1981)

© Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1981/2023
Images from the Internet unless indicated

My pal Dennis Concepcion, who turned me onto Blotto, came with me when I went to interview the group at a club on Long Island. Backstage was a weird mix of calm stillness and pandemonium. Their comments on past members is a bit harsh, in my opinion, but the band played on, and they were pretty much self-deprecating anyway, so I took that as the band’s “personality.” After the interview was over, but before they went onstage to play, two members whipped out a chess board and were deeply into it. On the other hand, being a smart ass, I mentioned to Cheese Blotto (d. 1999) that perhaps he should shave his head as he was noticeably balding. Not only did he do it right then and there with one of those tiny travel razors, Dennis documented it with photographic evidence. The pictures are included in the original article, and as far as I know, Cheese remains curds-less.

This interview was published in FFanzeen, No. 8, dated 1981. – RBF, 2023

Rear: Bowtie, Lee Harvey, Sarge
Front: Broadway, Cheese

A Lot O’ Blotto

Rock’n’roll. Blitz. New Romanticism. Punk. Psychedelic Revival. New Wave. Cabaret’n’roll?!


There appears to be a new trend in rock’n’roll which refused to take itself seriously a-toll. Out on the West Coast, there is a group called the Toons, who sing of “Roast Chicken Faces”; in New York City, there’s Junk Rock, who explain the virtues of being a “Sanitation Man.”; and from Albany, NY, there is the more popular leader of this movement, named Blotto.


Blotto came into prominence two years ago with the hit, “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” [which still airs on the radio and weather reports every summer to this day – RBF, 2023], which was played ad nauseam in, in seemed, every club (though the outer boroughs still cheer when it comes up). That cut was off a four-song 12” EP which sold quite well for an independent label, titled Hello! My Name is Blotto, What’s Yours? At that time, the lineup was Broadway Blotto (Bill Polchinski; vocals/guitar), Bowtie Blotto (Paul Jossman; vocals/guitar), Blanche Blotto (Helena Binder; keyboards/vocals), Sergeant Blotto (Greg Haymes, d. 2019; vocals/percussion), Cheese Blotto (Keith Stephenson; bass), and Lee Harvey Blotto (Paul Rapp; drums).


The next year (that is, the last from now), a new EP hit the stands, sans Blanche, with Chevrolet Blotto taking over the keyboards, titled Across and Down. Although none of the songs reached the cult status of “Lifeguard,” the four songs on it were consistently good in their own, bizarre ways.


Now the present, and the release of a new record, this time a 7” 45.


There have been quite a few people who have been onto me because I think these guys are okay. Well, hell, they like what they’re doing: acting a bit irreverent and making damn asses of themselves. Sure, it’s not mainstream rock’n’roll-whatever, but the point is that they are not trying to claim they are. Nothing pretentious here, just a lot of fun.


What amazed me was the fact that they use their stage names all the time, even among themselves. Very weird.


As a rule, they are nice guys, but a bitch to interview. It was nearly impossible to get a straight answer from them. In fact, what follows, is all that was coherent of a ninety-minute interview.


Broadway Blotto: Our new single will be out soon. “When the Second Feature Starts” is on the A-side, and on the B-side is a song called “The B-side.”


FFanzeen: How original!
Broadway: Somebody had to do it!
Sergeant Blotto (Sarge): We figured it was better than running the same song backwards. Like Napoleon XIV [“They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Ha” – Ed, 1981].


FFanzeen: Why a single instead of the usual EP?
Broadway: Why not?! It’s cheaper.
Sarge: Now we can play them in jukeboxes at diners, by the eclairs on the counters. Also, with a song like “B-Side,” you can’t put that on the back of an EP.
Broadway: And also, after we put out our last EP, we said, “We’re not putting out any more EPs. It’s either albums or a single.”


FFanzeen: Why not an album?
Lee Harvey Blotto: We wanted to do a single.
Broadway: You can’t put an album on a jukebox either.


FFanzeen: They used to have a shorter album on the jukebox. They were called EPs. [All laugh]
Lee Harvey: One’s like Frankie Valli.
Broadway: I like Frankie Valli. He’s my favorite.
Sarge: He was okay.
Lee Harvey: Was? Isn’t he still alive?


FFanzeen: That’s debatable. [That was meant career-wise; as of this writing, FV is still alive – RBF, 2023].
Sarge: I don’t know – check the list behind you. [Written on the wall of the club where the interview is taking place is a list of dead rock’n’rollers – Ed., 1981]
Broadway: You mean, “All the people who died, died?”
Sarge: Yeah. “All my friends, they died, died.”
Lee Harvey: Or the sequel, “People who lived.”
Broadway: We were going to put out a song, “People who Dine, Dine.”
Lee Harvey: Did you hear about that band playing, the Dead Lennon?


FFanzeen: Yeah, from Boston.
Lee Harvey: Well, they used to be on Lawrence Welk, didn’t they?
Broadway: Yes, until they died. Arrrggghhh.
Sarge: Then they decomposed.


FFanzeen: Did you ever notice that the music for the chorus of “People Who Died” is identical with “Red Hot”?
Broadway: Yeah [sings “Red Hot”:]. “My gal has died, died” [laughs]. Have you seen the video tape from “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard”? It was filmed at various shoe stores and lakes in Upstate New York.


FFanzeen: The song came out two years ago. Isn’t it a bit late now?
Broadway: Hey, we’re timely guys.
Lee Harvey: It’s kind of a statement because, like, Albany is two years behind everything and we were just noting the other day that Legs Diamond, the gangster, was shot in Albany two or three years after all the gangland slayings in Chicago and New York had taken place. People had already forgotten it and went on to new things, like baseball and other pastimes. So, that’s why our video tape is two years late. Plus, the fact that some guys came up and said, “Hey, we want to do a video tape of you guys and it won’t cost you anything,” and we said, “Well, now you’re talking.”
Sarge: You see, we don’t like to spend our money on video tapes and things like that. Every once in a while, we like to spend it on foolish little things – like food.
Broadway: Luxury items like that. So, is it true that all the street signs in New York (City) are color coordinated? My cousin told me that. In Queens, its white on blue, the Bronx, is blue on yellow, Manhattan’s black on yellow, Staten Island is black and blue –


[At this point, the discussion went on a long tangent on how the band found out about Lennon being shot while on their way to tape an “Uncle Floyd Show” and had to act zany. From there, it went to the imagined shooting of Queen Elizabeth and the shooting of the Pope, and two tourists from Buffalo, NY, where we pick it up.]


Broadway: It was on the tour plan: “Would you like the $1000 tour to Rome and you get to see all the monuments, etc., or would you like the $500 tour where you just see Rome from the bus, or would you like the $25 tour, where you get to see everything, but you have to get shot.”
Lee Harvey: “Well, let’s see – if I save up enough money in Buffalo doing piecework separating weenies from chickens –“


FFanzeen: Tours in the future?
Sarge: On August 24, we’re play the Garden –
Broadway: That’s planting the garden!

FFanzeen: Whatever happened to Blanche Blotto?
Broadway: What’s become of who?
Sarge: That’s old news. Why don’t you ask us what’s become of Chevy (Blotto)?

FFanzeen: Okay, what’s become of Chevy?
Sarge: Well, it’s all pretty strange. Two weeks ago, he dropped out to join the sink-hole worship cult down in Florida, and he’s living in a tent just outside that sink-hole.
Broadway: He’s a Chevrolet that wants to be at one with the Porches. Actually, his warranty ran out. We heard from [Ralph] Nader’s people and we had to recall him from the group.

FFanzeen: Who is replacing him?
Broadway: No one could replace Chevrolet Blotto.
Sarge: Now, we’re just the Blotto Quartet.
Broadway: Actually, Sarge is filling in on keyboard stuff, Lee Harvey is picking up the slack on the vocals, and business as usual.

FFanzeen: Why “Blotto”?
Broadway: Why notto? Well, if you play crossword puzzles – which I don’t – you find the words include “spiflicated” [not in my edition of Websters – Ed., 1981], six letters, beginning with “B,” fifth letter “T,” ending with “O” – with a “LOT” in the middle!




Friday, March 10, 2023

Documentary Review: Pieces of Us

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2023
Images from the Internet

Pieces of Us
Directed by Cheryl Allison
Wow Films; EEC! Productions; Blue Door Films II; Freestyle Digital Media
92 minutes, 2021 /2023

Originally, I was going to say something about how this is a challenging time to be openly gay, what with the rise of Republican autocratic Christianity, and while that is definitely true, I cannot think of a time after, say, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, where is has been safe to be LGBTQetc. Sure, the arrests have gone down (for now) and there is more of a presence on media, but uncalled for and unnecessary violence towards the community continues, if not recently increasing due to hateful pundit right-wing talking points.

I have to admit, growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I had my own biases for most of my early life because I did not know better, but through education and working at a Baskin-Robbins a block away from the Stonewall, I quickly became a proud ally, and have marched in a number of Pride events. That’s me; but it is time to discuss this documentary.

While LGBTQetc. violence is a social problem, it most effects those who has had direct contact with this force. It is the post-violence that is the focus of this film, telling the story of five particular people. What is important to acknowledge is that though these subjects have had horrendous things done to them, it is not these actions that are the main focus, in a woe-in-me fashion, but is rather centered on coming through on the other side, with love and support around them. Despite the pain, this is a positive project.

JP Masterson aka Jipster

The film starts in earnest when we meet Jipster (JP Masterson), a white rapper who works as a middle school psychologist in Brooklyn; he was beaten in a New York subway station - West 4th Street, of all places, the heart of the city’s gay community – for holding hands with Peter, his partner. Interestingly, we see the local television news story about the incident to launch the topic. Masterson is an engaging talker (as a rapper, one would hope). We get to meet his school’s principal, Dakota Keyes, and even some students, who fully support him.

Mykel's flag dance

Flag dance performance artist Mykel picked someone up and brought him home, where he was attacked and beaten. Back in the mid-1980s, I worked with a man named Glen who had a great sarcastic sense of humor, who was murdered by someone he brought home, so I can empathize with the event. While being afraid of reporting this incident to the NYPD, he reaches out to Beverly Tillery, who is the Executive Director of the New York Anti-Violence Project (AVP). She is also interviewed, giving a lifeline for those who may need her services. The person who counseled Mykel was transgender icon, Victoria Cruz.

Victoria Cruz, Mykel

Victoria was at the Stonewall riots in 1969 (as was musician Jayne County), becoming a crisis counselor at AVP, literally saving lives with her generosity of spirit (e.g., to paraphrase, “Don’t say ‘victim,’ say ‘survivor’”). Dressed in Native American paraphernalia, she meets with Mykel at a Brooklyn beach and they talk. I am not ashamed to say I was teary at one point.


Thus, the viewer is introduced to Leia. She is a single mother from Denver, whose 9-year-old son, Jamel, committed suicide after being bullied. In my opinion, this is being fostered by right-leaning hate speech that is flooding the media. To me, outlets like FoxNews is as much to blame as his classmates that bullied him until he could not take it anymore. This is the desired future of the Republican party, while they hypocritically scream “save the children.”

Leia was counseled by members of local and national organization PFLAG, here represented by Bianca and Brett, who explain their services. It is really smart filmmaking to not only show the problems that the people who were attacked went through, and their journeys back to their lives, but also to focus on the organizations that are there to support people in those situations. I respect that a lot. Another example, which is focused on here is the first Straight-Gay Alliance advocacy group, The Swish Ally Fund, founded by Sue Sena, who is also featured.

Prince Manvendra Singh-Gohil

The centerpiece of the film is Prince Manvendra Singh-Gohil, the “world’s first openly gay prince,” who is from India. Of course, he received numerous death threats and abandoned by his family, which led him and his husband, Duke DeAndre, to become global ambassadors to LGBTQetc. rights. We meet him in India at a compound set up as a safe place for the LGBTQetc. community in that country. As he visits New York, they touch on the importance of Stonewall, and we see the triangular Christopher Street Park (a place I have been many times), directly across from the Stonewall. Nearly everyone in the film comes together for the coda at the World Pride Parade there (if I may digress, if you have the chance to get to a New York Gay Pride Parade, do it!). It is truly a joyous moment.

The director of this documentary, Cheryl Allison, is an actor, producer, and a filmmaker focused in on sexual-based injustices (e.g., Shatter the Silence in 2019). She does a magnificent job here getting the point across. One aspect of this I particularly liked is that she takes each case study and shows them individually, rarely cross-cutting back and forth between them until further on, when you realize all of the subjects intertwine in their lives one way or another. And yet, they roll from story to story, organically growing as one introduces the other and the effects they had on their lives. This gives a better picture of “flow,” from hurt to healing for each individual, since everyone had their own pathway through PTSD into health.

This film is mostly New York-centric, a “Blue” city in a “Blue” state, where generally being LGBTQetc. is not only broadly recognized, but mostly accepted. And, yet, even in this melting pot, there is a unfounded hatred for the “Other,” be it due to various religious beliefs or just being afraid to come out of the closet (e.g., Republicans like American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who is currently accused to sexually assaulting a male driver during Hershel Walker’s failed campaign). What I would like to see, going forward, is this film become a series, because once one gets below the Mason-Dixon, I am willing to assume that the violence level would increase exponentially, and it needs to be addressed to be able to heal as a country.

This is a powerful testament to love that arises like a phoenix from violence, giving voice to advocacy and positiveness, rather than negativity. It manages to be emotional, inspiring, and pointed, without being maudlin, sappy nor sensationalistic. It is a powerful piece of work. This should be shown in schools across the country, especially in Red states like Florida and Texas, where homophobia is rampant.

The documentary is available on Apple TV, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, DirectTV, and Spectrum, among others.

IMDB listing HERE

Sunday, March 5, 2023

THE VIPERS Interview: The Pure Sound of Marac’n’Roll (1985)

© Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1985/2023
Images from the Internet unless indicated

During the early 1980s, The Vipers were among the garage revival elite from New York, including the likes of The Mosquitoes, The Chesterfield Kings, The A-Bones, The Fuzztones, and The Tryfles. The each had their own niche, be it rockabilly, voodoobilly, or fandom. The Vipers leaned mor towards the pop spectrum of the garage sound.

This was originally published in FFanzeen No. 13, dated 1985. – RBF, 2023

The Vipers: The Pure Sound of Marac’n’Roll (1985)

Vipers. A name that sticks terror in your heart? Nah, not if you’re involved with the local revival of the ‘60s sound here in New York.

And what’s a better place to see and meet a Viper than in a cave? A CaveStomp! that is. For those uninformed, the Dive is a club where the psychedelic crowd meet, and every once in a while, Thursdays belong to the Vipers in what has become known as the CaveStomp!, where the elite get to their feet.

The Vipers are Jon Weiss (lead vox/saxophone/percussion), Paul Martin (lead guitar/vox), Graham May  (bass/vox), Pat Brown (drummer and possibly ex-governor of California), and David Mann (guitar/keyboard/harmonica/vox).

I had been trying to interview the band for a while now, but we never seemed to be at a convenient spot. Well, the first Thursday in September, before their return to the CaveStomp! at the Dive, I connected with Jon, Paul, and Graham.

(ffoto by Robert Barry Francos)

FFanzeen: The Dive gave you back your Thursday night.
Jon Weiss: They forced it back on us – by popular demand.
Paul  Martin: This time it’s only going to be four weeks. Every Thursday in August. In September, the album will be released. We produced the album, and Nadroj Wolrat helped us produce it.

FFanzeen: What’s the name of the album?
Jon: It’s called Outta the Nest!

FFanzeen: “Outta” is a popular –
Graham May: – Eastern drawl.
Jon: The Nest is the name of our studio where we rehearse and we do our four-tracks, so most things are conceived there.
Graham: That’s where we recorded our single [“Never Alone” b/w “Left Your Hold on Me,” on Midnight Records – RBF, 1985].
Paul: We also recorded “Nothing’s From Today” out on Bomp!’s Battle of the Garages, Vol. II there.

FFanzeen: Where do your recordings go from here, after Outta the Nest?
Jon: We have a  lot of new tunes we gotta do.
Paul: We want to do a second album right away. We already got the first song in the band and we will be on the road by October or November.
Jon: We’ll be on the road, playing other dives.

FFanzeen: Why doesn’t any of your recordings sound like you do live?
Paul: We use chintzy recording equipment. It doesn’t sound much like anything.

FFanzeen: It sound a lot pop-ier.
Jon: I think it’s because the conditions are a little more ideal in the studio. Also, live, we rip it up. We go a little too nutty; we get a little manic. Things get a little rougher than in the studio.
Paul: There’s more time for contemplation in the studio.
Graham: You can go over any part you don’t like in the studio.
Jon: They’ve yet to make a tape that can capture the true Vipers sound. It’ll always come out sounding a little more pop-ier until we do a live album. ‘Til then, it cannot be captured!

FFanzeen: You’ve sort of been lumped together with the psychedelic scene, but  I really don’t think you’re psychedelic at all.
Jon: I agree.
Graham: And garage, too.
Jon: I think we’re a garage band. I would like to be termed as a garage band. I think that’s truer.
Paul: More than a psych band.

FFanzeen: Think you’ll make it on a Nuggets 1995?
Jon: I think when we evolve, maybe we’ll end up a psychedelic band. [Laughs]

FFanzeen: The first time I saw you, I thought you sounded more like you were leaning towards a Dick Dale (d. 2019)  and the Del-Tones sound, than to, say, the Standells or Chocolate Watchband.
Paul: We do have a couple of Dick Dale-esque type numbers. We’re probably going to whip them out on the public after the album comes out.
Graham: We’re thinking of using a bit more saxophone-oriented instrumental-type songs, along with the hot numbers we’re doing.
Paul: Do you think we have those leanings?

FFanzeen: Not so much the surf sound, but towards that pop sound.
Jon: What kind of pop would you compare it to?

FFanzeen: I would say more toward (Paul Revere and) the Raiders, or the Monkees.
Jon: We put an emphasis on melody. That’s something that we do do. And yet, it’s very guitar-oriented.

FFanzeen: Not keyboard up front, like most psych bands.
Jon: That’s true. We’re a guitar band, professionally.
Paul: But some of our new stuff is gritty, and not just strictly pop. It’s getting a lot grittier now. Some of our older recordings – we did “Medication” and a couple of other tracks – they were more poppy sounding than what we’re doing now.
Jon: We’re all taking hormone shots. We have put up some pretty wimpy stuff, but as we’ve been around longer, we start to get more confident, and we actually start sacrificing melody for more emotion. A lot of times you can hide behind some pretty nice sounds, and they just sort of gloss over what you’re trying to say.
Paul: Or you try so hard getting it to perfection you never get to lash out.
Jon: That’s something Paul is really against. Like in rehearsal, I’ll say, “Let’s do it again and again,” and he’ll flip, ‘cause it can make it just too sterile; too nice. And now, as we get more confident, we do things on a much rougher scale.
Paul: It’s more comfortable getting hell-bend and going over the edge with it. Having a lot of fun and raunching it up. And it does have that real impact. If you know it well enough to pull it off well, but at the same time not having refined it by going over it note by note – it’s kind of neat to just get up on stage and just raunch out a few numbers.

FFanzeen: Yeah, I think you’re in that period of music that most people forget, between the Dick Dale guitar and the psychedelic Farfisa, which is still garage sounding. I call it maracas music. Most of the garage sound seems to lie in this period.
Jon: Marac’n’roll.
Graham: Like Davy Jones of the Monkees (d. 2012).
Jon: I think why that exists is that a lot of lead singers are front men and can’t play anything, and they need something up there. Like with Davy Jones, well that doesn’t need an explanation.

(ffoto by Robert Barry Francos)

FFanzeen: Well, he always had the tambourine for back-up!
Jon: You need something to play with.
Paul: It’s cute, anyway, seeing this furry little creature playing a tambourine on stage.
Jon: You see, when we stop doing these songs, they’re going to continue. It’s really good, because there are so many bands now, springing up in New York, that have no place to play. This place (the Dive) is cool; this place is real. It’s a place to work out your stuff. Look, here comes Pat Brown, or drummer! Sit down, Pat!

FFanzeen: I’m doing an interview of the band, of which you’re now part.
Jon: Pat’s different than most drummers.
Pat Brown: You might call me a team drummer.
Jon: He’s a primitive stick-and-stone man.

FFanzeen: What’s the most obscure song you guys do?
Pat: “Surprise Surprise” by the Loved Ones. 

FFanzeen: That’s with Gary Pig Gold, one of our occasional columnists.
Jon: Do you have the record?

FFanzeen: No, I don’t have that one. How about something easy now, like how did the band get started?
Paul: Pretty much out of apathy for anything else that’s going on. We wrote half a dozen songs and decided to put it together.
Jon: The fact is that all of us disliked all this music. We said, “Shit, someone’s got to do what we like.” We were all friends in the beginning anyhow; we all shared the same likings. It was the only way to go, since we all played music.

FFanzeen: Do you ever get any negative press because you do so many originals?
Paul: We get very little negative press.
Jon: Most of our press has been pretty good, the small  amount we’ve received. A lot of people seem to take our strong point as the fact that we’re songwriters. That’s the thing that sets us apart, that we do originals. That we write some pretty good ones.
Graham: We love to play old songs, though, too, so we generally give people who really want those old tunes a lot of that, too; so, it’s not that much of a negative response coming back to us.
Jon: But we’d be cheating ourselves out of a blast if we didn’t play our songs.

FFanzeen: There seems to be a contingent of people who belie that garage bands should be playing these more and more obscure songs.
Paul: If you’re not really into it that much, it’s hard to really get a hold of these things, and to research all of the material that does exist.

FFanzeen: That mentality –
Jon: I understand what you are saying. “First of all, there are very strict rules to be a garage band. Do not make innovations. Do not change the sound.  Go out of your way to get the right fuzz Vox and the right fuzz note setting. Go out of your way to get it no matter how much it costs.” The reason this gets so much bad press is because you have to have the money for the clothes, you have to have the money for the records, and for the instruments. But I think those boundaries are open enough to write just as good a song and to cover those songs, because they’re great, so there’s nothing wrong with it.
Graham: We wouldn’t be able to write them if we didn’t play them. We wouldn’t dare take an original song or an idea for a song and use it to our extremes without having been able to play so many covers exactly the way they were played.
Jon: You might say it’s almost fanatical, to really like something to that point, and a lot of the people who like the sound are  collectors. It’s the last thing that they own. This is the last sound that we own that hasn’t been screwed over by disco. It’s the last thing that has not been screwed up by the guy wearing a dress telling us to dance [Boy George – RBF, 2023]. This is something you can’t let go. We just won’t let it go. The people who like this sound, they get really pissed, and I don’t blame them, if the sound gets too blah. It’s not an exercise. It’s not difficult for us at all, what we do. Other bands seem contrived or seem to work too hard at being a ‘60s band, and that’s not true. It’s the most second-nature, natural thing to do. I do not think anyone who listens to this music resents original tunes. I think they resent tunes that are complete rip-offs, or else they just don’t compare. The only songs they know are the really good ones. And only the really, really good ones make it on the compilations, not the bad ones.

FFanzeen: It seems a lot of people play this game of” Let’s see who can play the most obscure tune.” Sort of like a competition.
Jon: That’s true. We don’t like that. But it’s not done with any malice.  It’s not done, like, “We’re in this club and you can’t join.” They just go in these, like, warehouses and search; and it’s a gas when you finally find something. Some of our best times on the road and stuff is to hit the local record shop, beat the guy silly, and go down to the basement and go through all their records.

FFanzeen: I like to go out on weekends to the suburbs and hit –
Paul: – Tag sales.
Jon: You get little old ladies with stacks that have been sitting in closets for years. Records and clothes. right, Pat? Looking for the perfect shirt?

FFanzeen: And you play music to support your habit, right?
Jon: And a few others.

FFanzeen: As far as collectors go, I’ve been, like, snubbed by a few of these people because, say, I didn’t know every Yardbirds song ever done. “You’re not worth talking to –“
Jon: Oh, man! That’s part of the whole  underlying attitude of this scene going on. People are, “What’s that?” “What’s that?” Passing cassettes around and stuff, but there’s  so much being resurfaced, there’s even less emphasis on that now. I think. Except for the hardcore people; the collectors.
Paul: With us, it’s a matter of sharing, ‘cause we can get up there and do it. DJs are like that, too. They like playing their collections for people.

FFanzeen: To me, collecting records is not paying $35 for an obscure single, it’s going to a garage sale and finding it for a dime. If  someone comes up to me and says, “I’ve got so-and-so by the Hurd,” and I ask “How much did you pay for it?” and he says “$35,” I say, who gives a  shit. Anyone can get it for that money.
Paul: Well, there’s different levels of being a collector, too. You go through that phase of practically having everything, and then you make a list of things you don’t have. Or if you have a double in your collection, you might trade it for something else. But that’s the upper echelon collector.

FFanzeen: But that’s business-like. I do it for fun.
Graham: It’s like, to be able to turn people on to a sound, of when there was a naivete in rock’n’roll, and stuff like that.
Jon: Yeah! Every once in a while, someone will send us a tape of good music. We don’t care if it’s on tape.

FFanzeen: I prefer vinyl because it melts down better to be shot straight into the arm of a true vinyl junkie!
Jon: We’re just enthusiasts.

(ffoto by Robert Barry Francos)

Jon continued to be an enthusiast. He took the CaveStomp! into the new century (I saw one at CBGBs with ? and the Mysterians, the Lyres, etc.), that brought out the newer garage bands, as well as those classic performers. Little Steven (of the E Street Band and now has a podcast) picked up the financial slack and put a large part of himself into the movement that, hopefully, will not die. And while the second Vipers album did not come out, and the band is gone into the ether, what they were striving for, hopefully survives.