Saturday, December 27, 2008

Cynthia Plaster Caster Interview

Cynthia in the early 1970s

This interview originally appeared on Rock in March 2004. 

The term “groupie” is now part of the American lexicon. When it’s even  included in Microsoft’s spellcheck, you know it’s legit. Cynthia Plaster Caster, along with her partner, Diane, achieved lasting infamy as “The Plaster Casters of Chicago”, known for their inventive modus operandi of casting rock stars’ cocks in alginate and preserving the sculptures for posterity. Unlike most of today’s groupies, Cynthia has more to show for her hard work than a possible quickie marriage and sticky divorce. She affectionately refers to her plaster casts as her “babies” and her works have been featured in several art exhibits. Cynthia, like her friend and fellow ex-groupie /current writer Pamela Des Barres, is a pop culture icon. An amiable and engaging interviewee, Cynthia is currently involved in a myriad of projects, including her non-profit organization,, her personal website,, and she's still casting in her home town of Chicago.


JB- How did you come up with the idea for your artistic endeavor, the plaster casts? I read that it was originally for a college art project.

CPC- Umm, I never planned to make a living out of it or have it be what it turned into. I was just trying to get laid.

JB- That’s how a lot of people start their careers.

CPC- You know that’s true. It's certainly how rock stars start their careers. It was an art project that gave me the idea gave me a way of starting up a conversation with Paul Revere and the Raiders about their penises. What I was looking for was an excuse to talk about it. You know when the subject would arise then maybe something else would rise! That would be responsible for the seduction because I just wasn’t capable of it. I was too shy and dorky. And that’s what did happen. I didn’t make a plaster cast. I just got laid.

JB - What was the first rock band you met?

CPC- The Rolling Stones, in 1964 when they were recording 12 by 5 in Chicago. They were practically unknown in America.

JB - What was it like meeting them?

CPC- That’s really what got me going in the groupie groove or wanna be groupie groove. It was so easy. The way I did it was I figured out what hotel they were staying at and showed up at the hotel and stood outside with maybe 4 or 5 other girls and waited for them to arrive and there they were in the flesh, walking. I couldn’t believe it. They were in a taxi; they didn’t even have a limo then.

JB - I bet it was easier to met rock stars in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

CPC- It only was easy in the first few months. Then the girls just kept multiplying. That’s what made me realize that I have a lot of stiff competition here and I’ve got to make myself stand out from the other girls. There are 25 girls standing at this guy’s hotel room door. These are 25 girls that managed to get past all the security. You have to think of something and in my case it had to be goofy.

JB- But it worked! Didn’t you have a business card that you showed the guys?

CPC- That was all part of the goofy shtick. I thought it would be funny if we were traveling sales women with a suitcase full of materials none of which I knew how to use.

JB-Now tell me about your first plaster cast. Now who’s job was it to get the guy "excited?" Was that your job?

CPC- At that point, in the beginning when I got the idea for the art project there was no designated plater. (That’s what I call the fluffer.) There was no designated anything. We were just 2 girls that were running around trying to get laid. As we had a few experiences with bands figuring out how to cast them, we decided to designate roles and because I learned how to mix the mold, I would be the mold mixer. It was too expensive for me to also try to teach somebody to be a mold mixer and my girlfriend Diane at that time had developed a reputation for giving really good head. Automatically, it was logical that she should be the plater. And I hardly ever got laid as a result via plaster casting until later, ironically.

JB -You were to busy mixing the mold, doing the actual casting work.

CPC- It’s really a good idea that there be two girls or two people working on it. I’ve tried double roles if I’ve had the hots for somebody and they had the hots for me, but it’s really not a good idea for the plaster cast.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix’s cast was an unbelievable dream come true. It was their first time in Chicago and they were just the hottest band around. We went to the hotel, (me and Diane and my friend Marilyn, who’d never seen a dick before. She (Marilyn) later became a born-again Christian.)
We even rode the elevator with them instead of climbing the fire escape like we usually did. Like everything went pretty right. I had the hots for Noel Redding who I really wanted to be with, so I cast Jimi and I had sex with Noel. It was a really memorable experience.

The Monkees

I tried to cast Peter during the time I had discovered dental mold and I didn’t know how to use it. Just as I was opening one the can--it was like an old-fashioned Planters’ Peanut type can-- I cut my finger on the edge and cut it so bad so bad it wouldn’t stop bleeding, and Mickey Dolenz had to tourniquet my middle finger. I should probably have gone to the hospital, but it all went well with the finger. No cast of Peter, though. I never really got to see what he was capable of. He really liked being naked. He was so cute-and he looked damn good!

Groupies Today

JB- A few months ago I reread Pamela’s book “I’m With The Band” and when I read about your experiences and Pamela’s it seems like so much fun. Nowadays for girls who want to be groupies there’s so much competition. Girls are having plastic surgery at 17 and it’s a whole different scene.

CPC- Yeah, you know what’s wrong with it? There also was competition and cutthroating in there too. My problem is that the girls nowadays don’t seem to be so much fans of the music the way a lot of us were back then.

JB- It seems that a lot of the groupies who wind up going off with the band members have never listened to a note of the guy’s music.

CPC- Yeah, there have always been starfuckers, but there are more now. I dunno- and I think (they are) fairly common types of girls. They are not very interesting people, with a few exceptions. Oddly enough, I think Winona Ryder and Courtney Love are the only two interesting super groupies around. There are all different ways to be groupies. There are what I call legitimate groupies.

JB- Like journalists? (OK, now you know. I confess!)

CPC- Exactly. Journalists. And wives of other members of certain bands. I’ve been around girls married to a band member and they’ll be hovering around somebody else in the band and claiming “I am not a groupie.”

JB- They’re probably the worst kind-the ones that won’t admit they’re groupies.
CPC- The ones that are in denial are always the worst ones. What is the problem with declaring yourself a groupie when you are one? It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what you are.

JB- Nothing is wrong with wanting to have sex with cute guys.

CPC- Exactly. What’s weird about that? The only people who criticize groupies are rock stars that are mad that they aren’t getting enough groupies or people that are jealous that they’re not groupies.

Tit Casts

The latest I’ve done belongs to Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. She’s lovely, just an awesome performer. I’ve been doing that doing that for a couple years now. I’ve been doing more breasts than dicks lately. Kind of catching up for lost time. Girls are more willing to do it than guys, Girls know pretty much how they are going to come out and guys aren’t sure how they’re gonna stand up to Jimi Hendrix.


JB- Have you had any gallery exhibits of your work?

The first one, which was captured in “Plaster Caster-The Documentary” happened in New York. in 2000 at Thread Waxing Space. It was one of the best days of my life. I just so wish that Frank Zappa was still alive because this is what he dreamed about for me, too.

JB-They’ll never be anyone else like him.

CPC- Not in our lifetime doll. Everything I do I dedicate to him.

JB-When did you first met Frank?

CPC- I met him in ’68. He was on tour with Cream. I was chasing Eric Clapton trying to get him to pose for us. Eric said “Oh yeah sure, I might do it, but I have a friend who might want to do it more..It’s Frank Zappa." Frank came over the next night to Eric’s hotel room, asking me and Diane some questions. Neither of them wanted to be cast. Frank was just really interested in what we did because he was writing this piece for Life Magazine about the new pop culture. And we told him what I was dreaming about-having an exhibit and I wrote diaries and I did drawings. He came back to Chicago and said, “I was thinking about what you do and I’d like to help you.” Frank was doing what I’d like to be doing with Cynthia P He wasn’t doing it in a not for profit way. He wanted to advance people money for whatever they wanted. He wanted his label to give people advances without having to worry about record contracts. It was a very ‘60s dream. Frank just wanted to help. I found out later his business partner had other ideas. (The business partner in question was Herb Cohen, who had temporary ownership of the casts and threatened to sell knock-offs of them as “Cocksicles.” Cynthia won a court judgment against him in 1994. -MM)

Plaster Caster-The Movie

JB- Tell me about the documentary “Plaster Caster” that came out a few
years ago.

CPC- It’s got a commercial release now. It made the film festival circuit for about a year and now its’ commercial release is on DVD. It came about when Jessica Villines, whose the director, vaguely knew me from the rock scene of Chicago. She and her mother, who was the executive producer, out of nowhere let me know that they wanted to make a documentary about me and they were willing to pay me a huge advance. That’s what sold me. It took Jessica and the editor Brian Johnson and director of photography Jeff Economy about 2 to 2 ½ years to put it all together. It’s weird walking around with a mic attached my butt all the time, but I got used to it. In fact, I really found I like being interviewed. They couldn’t stop me from talking!

Cynthia P. Caster Foundation

Our main investor, ironically, his name is Jason Pickleman. He was trying to help me sell casts and said “What do think of selling these casts on a not for profit level?" We thought that the people would help would be struggling artists and musicians like myself. I never thought I would be able to make money on any level doing what I’m doing. I come from a relatively poor background and I just know so many struggling ,creative talented people never see the light of day because they have no money. That tends to be my favorite kind of art and music.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My First Concert: The Rolling Stones at the Chicago Stadium, 1975

This article was first published on on January 3, 2004.

In my middle class, Catholic neighborhood circa 1975 it was impossible to find another 15 year old that idolized weirdos like the Rolling Stones enough to go to one of their concerts. Seriously, all my classmates were into Barry Manilow and the Captain and Tenille. Maybe they'd see America at Ravinia if they were feeling frisky. I'm not joking. I ended up going to the show with the 25 year old schoolteacher sister of one of my brothers' friends. She, of course, could not believe that someone had a spare ticket to see the Stones. By the way, the ticket cost nine fifty. That's nine dollars and fifty cents, not 950 dollars, which is what it probably costs now for a main floor seat to see the Stones.

An interesting tidbit about this concert involved one of the stage props, a large penis shaped balloon that sprang up from under the stage during the naughty classic "Star, Star" (aka "Starfucker"). Mick then proceeded to ride said balloon during the song. . Being young and very into seeing the concert and pissed off that I was going to watch the show from the mezzanine and not the front row, I bought a pair of binoculars especially for the event. When you're 15, its very important that you see and analyze every movement a performer makes in detail with your girlfriends later and giggle over it. You must remember Mick still looked presentable at that time, as it was the tail end of his eyeliner and makeup era.

There were no high-class super venues in the '70s with skyboxes and designer pizza at the concession stand. You were lucky to buy a T-shirt from a grizzled old hippie at a table by the box office. In those days, it was more likely you'd be accosted by some greasy kid outside the stadium selling bootleg T shirts for $5 apiece. The licensing police were non-existent in those days, so the counterfeiters did a brisk business.

Anyhow, the concert itself was great. Some pics of the '75 tour (though not specifically this show) are here.

Just shows you that the Stones did look pretty good once. And see? I wasn't lying about the prop either. I remember there was a mini-controversy about the band using the balloon penis in the Chicago Stadium. The powers that be were aghast at such a pornographic prospect. I'm not sure about the validity of this rumor. Can you imagine the conversation between Mayor Daley Sr. and the police commissioner?

"Mr. Mayor, they are transporting a lewd balloon between state lines."

"Lou? Lou's balloon? Who's Lou?"

In a teen-age girl's view, hair and clothing are very important. How the guitars were tuned and vocal modulation didn't matter too much. My diary noted the costume changes and dance moves, sort of a first foray into music journalism minus the music. It was great fun, though more of a personal experience. It's weird. It's kind of hard to imagine the Stones as young, i.e. to young for the early bird special at Denny's!! In the souvenir program I bought at the '75 show, Mick stated 'I'd rather be dead than sing "Satisfaction" when I'm 45." Time and the promise of Baby Boomers raking over big bucks changes everything. But I suppose if you looked back on interviews with most young rock stars they'd assume they'd be dead or retired to the ranch by 40. Seeing a guy in his 30s strut around is more realistic and sexier than a 60-year-old pretending to be 30. The latter can still be entertaining, as the Stones have proven, but the edge is gone. It's only rock 'n' roll, but as long as it makes money and sends the crowds home happy, we'll like it.

Star***-LA, 1975

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Danseparc-Martha and the Muffins CD Review

Danseparc 25th Anniversary Edition
Martha & The Muffins
Cherry Red UK

by Martha & the Muffins—or M & M, as they preferred to be called now is one of those quietly heralded new wave albums that misses most top of the decade lists, but remains a favorite with diehard music buffs. Martha and the Muffins gained fame with their frothy dance hit “Echo Beach”, but M & M’s founders, Mark Gane and Martha Johnson, had much more to offer as evidenced by the rich tapestry of horns, sound effects, layered vocals and percussion on Danescparc.

First released on vinyl in 1983, Danesparc remained out of print for years, but is now available in a digitally remastered 25th anniversary CD edition on Cherry Red Records, complete with lyric booklet and bonus live tracks

Martha and the Muffins first album, Metro Music, spawned “Echo Beach” and a world tour for this Toronto based band. Shortly after that trek ended, keyboardist Martha Ladley, bassist Carl Finkle and drummer Tim Gane left the group. New drummer Nick Kent and bassist Jocelyne Lanois revamped the Muffins with a more cerebral, cutting-edge playing. Jocelyne suggested her brother Daniel produce their 1981 album This Is The Ice Age and the rest is history. Daniel went on to produce such artist as Bob Dylan and Eno, but cut his teeth, admirably, on several Martha and the Muffins projects.

While the songwriting team of Johnson and Gane had expanded their experimental sound on This Is the Ice Age, Danesparc was their biggest critical success. It proved that Johnson and Gane were Canada’s version of New York post-punk hipsters-- minus the pretentiousness. M &M are more listener-friendly than David Byrne and more intellectual than Human Leauge.. In “Obedience” they pick at the intricacies and foibles of everyday life. This is Johnson’s baby as she she uses her voice as an instrument, using the word “repeat as a mantra against escalating tribal drums. It’s small but specific touches like this that give Danseparc its flavor.

The cover of Danesparc is a photo of a miniature park setting, all tiny trees and grass. While it looks like an aerial photo of a real park at first glance, it is actually a photo of a miniature park model once owned by Gane and Johnson. owned by Gane and Johnson. The park as a social setting provides subject matter and imagery for much of Danesparc. “Boys in the Bushes” was inspired (not surprisingly) by a trip to San Francisco and the extracurricular activities of its gay male residents.The dizzying tone of “Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing” marks its territory with jaunty percussion and Gane’s deadpan vocals, which disintegrate into growls at certain points in the song. Here, the wordplay (and the park theme) continues with lyrics like “a verdant park of small proportions underneath the sky/ the turtles eggs/the dancing suns/the things I can’t explain.” Each song on Danesparc unravels like a stream of consciousness dialouge describing everyday emotions set to a background of horns, hand claps and/or percussion.

The bonus tracks include a live performance of “Sins of the Children” and the dark dance synth of “These Dangerous Machines”, an eerie bit of rock disco that is best played with the lights off. For those who like discovering (or rediscovering) brilliant but often under publicized recordings of ‘80s post-punk and “new wave”, the remastered edition of Danesparc is one of the “lost” gems of that era.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Prima Donna-After Hours CD Review

In the early 70s, glam rock reigned because the guys were really cute, had long hair and sang about sex in a fun, non-threatening way. Some bands were racy, some were fun, & some were both, but they were always flashy and full of life. Glam rock encapsulated all the things that parents at that time hated about rock ‘n’ roll and tied it all together in a brazen, androgynous wink at ya way.

It's good to know some youngins’ are bringing sex and sass back into rock and roll. Take L.A.’s Prima Donna, for example. This quintet punks up old school glam ala early 70s Stones and Dolls. Their songs have a street smart vibe while retaining the glam influence, like an untrippy T-Rex.

After Hours,
Prima Donna’s first release for Acetate Records, is 28 minutes of sleazy fun straight from the fave section of Star Groupie magazine. Frontman Kevin Preston preens and “owws” with the best of ‘em. And all the salient points of the rock lifestyle are addressed in songs like “I Don’t Want You To Love Me “(I don’t want you to love me/I don’t want you to care/I just want you to like it/when I lick you there”), the S & M lite of "Crucify", the “she’s a bitch” dis "Double Crosser", and the “I’m a bad boy’ boasts of "Stray Doll." Aaron Minton’s sax and keyboards distinguish the band from their peers, in the same way the sax parts made X-Ray Spex stand out during the first wave of punk.

Prima Donna have played shows around Southern California since 2004, opening for the likes of Glenn Matlock and the Philistines. They’ve also toured with Texas Terri and and recently played at Wild Weekend Power Pop Fest in Austin. All that and they’re not even in their mid 20s! In contrast, some young Hollywood based glampunkers, like the Sc’oolgirls and Chelsea Doll, who were all over the scene a few years ago, have dropped out of sight. No young band does glampunk as convincingly as Prima Donna. Fads come and go, but talent will out. And these boys have the chops to back up their bravado.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Obscene—How Barney Rosset Published Dirty Books for Fun and Profit

"I feel personally that a word has never been written or uttered that should not be published," was Barney Rosset’s mantra as publisher of Grove Press and the literary journal Evergreen Review. Rosset stayed true to his conviction til he sold the company in 1985, despite several infamous court cases and constant badgering by the U.S. government. Grove Press and its imprints introduced writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Amiri Baraka, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg and Malcolm X to the American public. The documentary, Obscene—How Barney Rosset Published Dirty Books for Fun and Profit traces Rosset’s journey from only child of a conservative Illinois banker to king of literate smut and crusader for free expression during the pivotal 1960s.

Rosset turns out to be as much of a larger than life character as the writers he championed. As the driving force behind Grove Press, Rosset presided over some of the most tumultuous literary episodes in American history. An overachiever at an experimental high school in Chicago, Rosset joined the Communist party for a time and rated John Dillinger as one of his (anti) heroes. He chummed around with fellow student and future cinematographer Haskell Wexler and dabbled in writing and film. Eventually, he was able to pursue his love of film and photography in the military during World War II. After he returned from the service, Rosset married painter Joan Mitchell and bought a floundering book publisher.

That company, Grove Press, became America’s foremost“avant guard” publisher from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Rosset brought one controversial book after another to the States, going to court to defend Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Lawyers cost a lot of money, and Rosset had to fill the coffers again somehow, so he added other projects to the Grove empire. The publisher produced and distributed films for awhile, and developed the infamous Black Cat series of Victorian and spanking erotica. (Man With a Maid, anyone?) One of Rosset’s biggest moneymakers, turned out to be the Swedish soft core porn film I Am Curious (Yellow).

After funneling most of Grove’s money into court cases (and winning), the problems didn’t stop for Rosset and Grove, but instead regressed to the next level. Grove Press never recovered from the 1-2-3 punch of protests by disgruntled feminists, an attempt to unionize Grove employees, and a bombing of the publishing offices (rumored by some to be perpetrated by the CIA). Curiously, the explosion occurred around the same time Rosset published works by Che Guevara.

The documentary is sprinkled with snippets of an interview Screw publisher Al Goldstein conducted with Rosset on his cable show Midnight Blue. Once NYC counterculture icons, they come across now as endearing old smut peddlers, kibitzing about failed marriages and bad business deals. Al introduces Barney, in part, as a “shitty businessman.”

Filmmakers Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’ Connor interviewed a treasure trove of Grove authors and other writers for Obscene, including John Rechy, Jim Carrol, Erica Jong, Betty Dodson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gore Vidal and Michael McClure. And, of course, no documentary about shocking and allegedly obscene art would be complete without comments from Ray Manzarek and John Waters, and they’re included here. Ortenberg and O’Connor have fashioned a poignant and heartfelt documentary about Rosset, his Grove Press co-conspirators and the authors they published. While Obscene is sympathetic to Rosset and his plight, it’s not candy-coated and cites such problems as Rosset’s bad business acumen, occasional naivete and stern office rules.

Obscene is an historical companion piece to the 2005 film Inside Deep Throat, which chronicled the early pioneers of porn and how they paved the way for today’s billion dollar adult film industry. Grove Press (and on the West Coast, City Lights and Black Sparrow) set the precedent for today’s written erotica, political manifestos and Internet free for alls. Even though Rosset was fired from Grove Press by its new owner in 1985 and lost his Long Island expanse , he’s still feisty as ever at 86, drinking Rum and Coke at dinner parties and trudging up the stairs to his Manhattan walk-up. Obscene reminds us that the freedom we enjoy today to write and publish anything from triple X erotic romance to political satire happened, to a great degree, because of dedicated nonconformists like Barney Rosset.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Motorcycle Boy-Popsicle Reissue

When I wrote for Cover Mag in New York circa 1990, I’d take the subway to my editor’s loft on Varick Street every week. She’d greet me with a shopping bag full of CDs and cassettes containing every conceivable glam and hair metal release, or anything featuring poufy haired guys on the cover. Motorcycle Boy had really good hair, but their album Popsicle was not included in any shopping bag ‘o glam. I found a copy at the Record Explosion on Fifth Avenue and grabbed it instantly. No, I’m not talking about the Scottish band of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” fame, but the Hollywood misfits led by charming gadabout Francois on vocals & bass. I never saw the band in NYC but when I moved to Hollywood, I finally saw the reconstituted version in 2008. Who could have predicted that 18 years later they’d still be around and I’d be back in Hollywood? Perseverance pays off.

Hollywood’s Nickel and Dime label reissued Popsicle this summer on as part of a self-titled retrospective of the band’s output. Motorcycle Boy captures the band’s raw garage-punk sound with a remastered version of Popsicle and nine bonus tracks. Produced by the Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, Popsicle is a pure adrenaline rush-- but it doesn’t singe your eardrums. It has a Ramones-y vibe in the sense of short, riff specific tunes and trashy humor.

OK, so on the cassette cover they looked passable enough for the hair metal section at Record Explosion, but that’s where the similarity ends. They were the swaggering glampunk rebuttal to the hair metal scene inundating Hollywood in the late 80s/early 90s (except for stripper and drug dalliances, of course.) Hell, they even had a song called“I Hate the Sunset Strip.” And with other songs like the trippy “Supersonic”, the surf rock tinged “Honolulu Baby” and the single "One Punch/Feel It", their music-and persona- were way too punk for Hollywood in the late ‘80s/early 90s. The Nickel & Dime reissue contains several pages of liner notes by band members, a DVD with a complete show from 1993 and a 1990 rehearsal.

The band was based in New York for a brief time, but returned to Hollywood to record Popsicle. John Blazing had replaced original guitarist Ratboy by this time. After a respite to deal with the usual rock 'n' roll problems, Motorcycle Boy returned to play live shows with a revolving cast of members, including Blackie Onassis of Urge Overkill and Johnny Witmer of The Stitches.

If you’re in Hollywood, catch the band live. They still put on a great show, even without onstage drunkenness and crack breaks. And I’m happy to report that 18 years after Popsicle’s release, Francois still has good hair.

P.S. -
For an upclose and personal look at the band, watch this interview on Rock and rolltv or check out their MySpace page

Friday, September 19, 2008

Libertine Dream-Lit Soul (CD Review)

Libertine Dream, the brainchild of musician/poet Rob Chevelle, is a rare bird in today’s musical climate. A collection of 15 hard rock songs with genuine poetry dotting some of the tracks, it bucks the indie/emo/screamo trends and honors unadorned rock with reflective lyrics in the vein of the Cult.

The CD has that hard rock attitude complete with acoustic interludes, thoughtful poetry and heartfelt (but not heavy-handed) political statements. Libertine Dream combines all these elements seamlessly. Instead of implementing the mishmash approach of throwing in an acoustic song here, a rocker there and some poetry over there, Chevelle and co-producer Eliot Waldhorn obviously put a lot of time and thought into arranging the CD to flow together well. Although Chevelle handles vocals, guitar and percussion, there’s a lot to be said for Waldhorn’s guitar playing and drummer Zag Richards, who complement Chevelle’s vision and lyrics with their steady musicianship. And there’s even a metal guest star--Chris Holmes from WASP contributes the guitar outro to “Alliance”, the final song.

There are glimpses of Helmet and even Metallica in songs like “Eternal.” The two part “Outcast” begins with a lilting acoustic poem and segues into melodic metal for the closing half. “Dreams” does have a soothing, dream-like quality and lends itself to listening via candles and incense in the background. This tune definitely has a psychedelic 60s’ Doors vibe.

Libertine Dream is the third CD in the “Lit Soul” trilogy. Seven Worlds, released in 2002, was Chevelle’s initial foray into poetic hard rock, while 2005’s Lit Soul-Poetry focused mostly on Chevelle’s stream of consciousness poems (accompanied by guitar and piano).With Libertine Dream, Chevelle’s Lit Soul concept has matured and it’s worth checking out if your like your rock with a twist of poetry.


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

It seems REO Speedwagon isn't the only mainstream/arena rock band from my youth marred by battles between the singer and guitarist. Click the link above to read interviews with Steve Perry and Neal Schon of Journey. I can't expound much on this band or their internal squabbles since I'm not as familiar with their history as REO's, but Steve Perry could sing like a mofo. And he looked like a cross between Cher's twin brother and a sexy elf (sorry, couldn't resist). Plus, he's a Ramones fan-he attended the Ramones 30th Anniversary Show at the Avalon in HW a few years ago.

The megahit incarnation of Styx ended badly as well...Chuck Panozzo, their former bass player, was diagnosed with HIV and left the band in 1998. Singer Dennis DeYoung exited the band shortly thereafter and a flurry of lawsuits ensued between him and guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw. Shaw and Young are now touring with a replacement singer and drummer The original drummer, John Panozzo, Chuck's twin brother, died in 1996 after years of alcohol abuse.

I don't even wanna know what happened to Foreigner...

Cartman sings "Come Sail Away"

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Underrated Guitarists of the 1970s/Early 80s, Vol. 1-Gary Richrath

As a kid growing up on the Southwest side of Chicago, I liked all kinds of music. I had my new wave/punk friends, who wrote poetry and dreamed of living in New York or Los Angeles, and we traveled to the North side to see bands like the Pretenders, the Patti Smith Group, the Waitresses, Wreckless Eric and the Police.

Then I had my mainstream friends who smoked pot, drank beer and got promoted in their retail sales clerk jobs. We’d go to all the arena rock concerts at places like Soldier Field to see bands like the Stones, Peter Frampton, Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Blackfoot, and, before they turned into mush, REO Speedwagon.

A few days ago, I happened upon a video of REO on the Midnight Special from 1978. I kept playing the video over and over-not to see Kevin Cronin’s Howard Stern-esque hair, but to marvel at Gary Richrath’s guitar playing.

Roll With the Changes-Midnight Special, 1978?

“Listen to that tone! I wanna hear that again. It sounds so good.” I clicked 'Play again", instantly transported back to the International Amphitheater in 1979. Damn, and couple that with the keyboard solo, you've got a straightforward rock 'n' roll sound that defies sub-genre classification. I don’t care if you’re a jazz snob or a punk rock snob, ya gotta admit, that band could play! I watched the video so many times I resorted to reading the comments posted underneath it. The posters actually had something to say and most of them were pretty funny.

The YouTube comments made me peruse the REO Speedwagon fan websites and discussion groups. Most of the website comments were written by an intelligent bunch of diehard middle-aged fans, and no one seemed to like the new “playing in your local Wal-Mart parking lot” version of the band. Seems that only causal fans like the current version of REO Speedwagon.

Some of what I read broke my heart, being a fan of their music and soft-hearted when it comes to human melodrama. I’m over it now, but it seems ironic that a band whose music made me so happy and gave me hope when I was a depressed teen could turn out to be so dysfunctional, troubled, and/or petty as real people. The main complaints on the fan message boards concerned Kevin Cronin, the lead singer, who hails from my old childhood haunt, Oak Lawn, Illinois. I used to brag about that to people. Of course, the guitar player from Disturbed is also from Oak Lawn…errr.. maybe I’d be better off not mentioning Oak Lawn at all. There were mucho comments about Cronin’s ego and substance abuse, Richrath’s drinking and “too many girlfriends”, the keyboard player’s mental breakdown, etc. Then there were the lawsuits, one of which resulted in the band apologizing to their fans on the official website, and then the fan club president sued them for insinuating she was a lesbian. It’s like a pathetic, humorless version of Spinal Tap.

So let’s talk about happier times.

"All of a sudden out of the clear blue sky, the telephone rings…"

Ahh, the 80s, the height of rock star fashion…Somewhere else, but not here..dig those melon-colored parachute pants..

157 Riverside Avenue-1985

I only cared for three REO albums-- You Get What You Play For, You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish (such innocent times! People actually thought that was a clever title) and Nine Lives. I adored Nine Lives because it was REO’s “heavy metal” guitar based album. But alas, the music public at large didn’t prefer the hard rockin' REO. Hi Infidelity was released in late 1980 and would forever connect REO with Styx and Journey in the unholy triumvirate of wimp rock.

I didn’t get into that album like the previous ones. After the opening rocker, “Don’t Let Him Go” I lost interest. I bought the next album, Good Trouble, then moved to L.A. and didn’t care anymore. When I glanced at the band’s overproduced mid-80s videos on MTV, REO had morphed into a generic shadow of the rockers I first discovered on a bill they played with headliner Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Each succeeding REO music video featured more and more of Cronin, with Richrath’s guitar and his beautiful dark blonde curls (sigh) hidden in the background, trying to salvage what was left of the “rock” part of “rock band.” Then drummer and founding member Alan Gratzer retired and Richrath was fired. REO soldiered on, and after a few years of low-selling albums on small labels, Wal-Mart parking lots and classic rock tour packages with Journey and Styx beckoned. As for Richrath, he played small clubs with his own band in the ‘90s, then disappeared completely.

A friend dared me to watch the following video, and said he’d give me 20 bucks if I could get through the whole thing. I couldn’t do it.

Come back, Gary Richrath, we need you.

Nixon's Ghost-Tribute to Gary Richrath