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.