The second Franorama 2.0 of the year on WPKN was another two-hour drag strip fill-in for Binnie Klein. And time flies when you’re having fun … or memorializing someone. Or someones.
The day before the show, two people who had something to do with my musical life died.
One was Steve Ceslik — also known as Stevo, Steve Deal or Steven Deal, depending on when you came into his musical life. In my case, it was in the Stevo days, in 1987 at the Grotto in New Haven, when he was playing guitar for Bleached Black, a local trio who had one self-done EP (Wrist Slashing Romance) and a self-titled debut album on a big label (Relativity) that spawned a single (“I Was in Your Life”) that was played on eMpTV. It seemed Steve, Greg Prior and Shaun Washburn were ready to reach the same national attention in underground as New Haven’s most famous group of that era, Miracle Legion. Shoulda happened. Shoulda happened with his two groups in the ’90s as well: The Absolute Zeros and especially Chopper, just a pure power pop group.
Anyway, Steve, like many friends from the New Haven days, came back into my life once I had my little passive gender coming-out by joining Facebook two years ago. He was so upbeat, with an extremely witty, wry and sometimes obnoxiously funny sense of humor. And he had those dark Freddie Mercury looks and that mirrored Vespa and that talent on the Rickenbacker. And he was so positive that I had no clue for a few months that he had been battling a rare form of cancer, leiomyosarcoma, which affects maybe five people in a million. Maybe those closer to him heard and saw him at his worst, but not the rest of us. And there he was, offering kind words to me as I was dealing with the hell of the transition and unemployment. (Talk about guilt …) And he remained musically active right up to the end, just past his 47th birthday, playing with another strong group, Radiana.
The other tribute that Thursday morning was to Patty Andrews, the lead voice and last of The Andrews Sisters, who lived to twice Steve’s age.
You see, I didn’t grow up in a a rock’n'roll house, and my folks listened to a lot of old folks’ music, and I pretty
much had to as well. (As if I didn’t stick out already — the shortest hair in my class and the nerdiest clothes and already a target for ridicule for other reasons …) But my father’s music did stick with me in adulthood: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Frankie Laine and the big band sounds.
And that includes Patty, Maxene and LaVerne. They were iconic. And it wasn’t just the harmonies, which flowed as easily as water. I dismissed them as my folks’ music, as kids tend to do, but for some reason, it all came together one day when Channel 11 in New York showed the (barely) prewar Abbott & Costello film Buck Privates — with the girls singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” right about the time Bette Midler’s version hit the charts. I saw the electricity behind the voices.
They were inspired by The Boswell Sisters, but they, in turn, inspired vocal groups. And their music inspired a wave of ’40s nostalgia at the same time George Lucas brought about ’50s/’60s nostalgia. And they also inspire fashion to this day. So many modern rockabilly dolls take their cues from Bettie Page, but deaw a line further back, past the fetish photos, to the everyday wear of the ’40s and what The Andrews Sisters and other women were wearing. The black bangs and red lipstick and insanely high patent pumps might be Bettie’s doing, but most of the dress/fashion inspiration really comes from Patty and Maxene and LaVerne.
And then there was a mini-tribute to a living place: the City of New York, led off by Garland Jeffreys’ new recording, “Coney Island Winter.” It was inspired by a linked posted on Facebook by one of the dearest friends (and the coolest chica) I’ve never met, Miss Cheryl, who lives in Metro New York and styles and rock’n'rolls and knows all the cool kids. She found a link to a list of the Best Songs About New York City and put it up for debate.
Like so many authoritative-sounding musical opinion pieces on the Web these days, it seems as if it were written by a kid in his 20s who thinks he knows everything. I mean, some are on the mark — from his generation, he had to give props to “Empire State of Mind,” and he also included Dylan’s “Talkin’ New York” and Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem.” But any list that includes those prep-school silver-spoons The Strokes or “53rd and 3rd” instead of “Rockaway Beach” is kinda suspect in my book. So, thusly inspired, I came up with my own mini-set, only constrained by time. Had I had more time, it would’ve included “Rockin’ the Bronx” by Black 47, “Waitin’ for the Man” by The Velvets, “King of the New York Streets” by Dion, “Up on the Roof” by The Drifters, “The Bottle” by Gil Scott-Heron, Grandmaster Flash’s “New York, New York” and Aretha’s version of “Spanish Harlem,” among others.
Anyway, it was a fun-packed two hours. I’ll take my fun in small doses wherever I can …
American Beat ’84 — The Fleshtones
Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand — The Beatles
Respectable Street — XTC
Come See About Me — Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels
Floy Joy — The Supremes
Heart — Rockpile
I Was in Your Life — Bleached Black
Pray for Me — Bleached Black
Chelsea — Bleached Black
I Can’t Be Happy — Bleached Black
What the World Needs Now — The Absolute Zeros
In the City (live at The Space, Hamden, 2007) — The Absolute Zeros
New Rose (live at The Space, Hamden, 2007) — The Absolute Zeros
Caitlin Cries — Chopper
Edie — Chopper
The Andrews Sisters:
Bei Mir Bist do Schon
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree
Rum and Coca-Cola
Anything You Can Do (with Bing Crosby & Dick Haymes)
I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time
Coney Island Winter — Garland Jeffreys
Wild in the Streets — Garland Jeffreys
The Only Living Boy in New York — Simon & Garfunkel
Coney Island Baby — The Excellents
Uptown — The Crystals
Rockaway Beach — The Ramones
Destination Greenpoint — The Fleshtones